Under the Red Sky

Book Ten

by Beth AKA Midge

ATF Universe

Chapter 6
Chris had, as usual, woken early and as a result he´d managed to get the rest of his men up and ready for action. He anticipated four more hours of driving and he wanted to get to the campgrounds before the rest of the teams showed up. Vin and Ezra had both disappeared during the night, against orders, and ended up playing poker until four in the morning at The Alibi Store. Vin had played a few hands until he lost his limited amount of cash then stood by and watched as Ezra cleaned house. They´d played with a man named Bob, who smoked cigarettes like they were going out of style and he blew the smoke out his ears. Kane was the local Geek, he spent the evening eating everything from bolts to raw fish, and it wasn´t sushi. Then there was Miss Wiltse, or the elastic woman; she´d been able to play her cards with her feet while brushing her long brown hair with her hands. Vin was convinced she was really two people disguised as one.

It was almost 4:30 am by the time they made it back to the motel. Vin crawled into the rollaway bed while Ezra took the other double bed. Chris was out cold, or so they thought. In reality Chris had heard them come in and decided that a 6:30am wake up call would do them some good.

+ + + + + + +

As soon as everyone was loaded in the Suburban they were once again on the road with Josiah at the wheel. Nathan sat quietly beside him reading a newly purchased book on prenatal care. Vin threw his jacket over his shoulders and proceeded to fall asleep. JD listened to his headset while resting his head against the window. He could feel a headache headed his way. Ezra flipped his cards through his hands almost unconsciously while looking at the passing landscape. Buck read his new magazine. The ladies man had taken a ‘Hot Rods´ magazine cover and placed it over the top of his ‘Playboy´, he said he read it for the articles. Chris continued to go over the plans for the week. He wanted to make sure everyone knew exactly what they were supposed to be doing.

+ + + + + + +

As soon as they reached their destination everyone piled out of the vehicle. Nathan proceeded to hand out Aspirin to JD and Chris as well as himself. Vin rubbed his face when he stepped out into the bright sunlight. He felt awful. Josiah and Buck took it upon themselves to grab the luggage out of the back; it was obvious to both of them that four of the seven were starting to feel the side effects from the vaccine shot.

Chris entered the cabin right behind Vin. “Feel like you´re back at boot camp?” Chris asked, looking around the room. The cabin was filled with five bunk beds. Pillows and blankets were neatly laid out ready for use on seven of the beds. The training camp organizers had prepared the cabin for its visitors. A door at the end of the room led to the bathroom and showers.

“I hated boot camp,” Vin replied. He jumped up on the first bed claiming the top bunk as his own. He then proceeded to lie down and fall quickly to sleep.

“You´re not the only one,” Chris muttered, throwing his stack of papers and books on the floor then he seated himself on the bed below Vin and rubbed his head. So much for the possibility of getting a headache, now he had one.

JD entered next. All he saw was a bed and that´s what he headed for. Buck, Josiah, and Ezra followed carrying everyone´s bags and the coolers. Ezra paused in the doorway and sighed, at least there was a fireplace in the corner of the room. He had no desire to be cold. Even though the sun was shining it was still cold out. Nathan entered next. He immediately sought out a bed and crashed on the bottom bunk at the far end of the room.

“You boys need anything?” Buck asked, while digging into his duffle bag.

“For you to shut up!” JD yelled, throwing his pillow down at the ladies man hitting him in the back of his head.

Buck threw the pillow back up at JD and headed out the front door. He intended on doing some looking around. The two large buildings they passed on their way in looked like the building where most of the seminars would be held. Maybe there were some female staffers. Buck got a mischievous glint in his eyes as he took off toward the buildings.

Josiah passed by the beds to deposit his toiletries in the bathroom. On his way out he reached up and instinctively checked Vin for a fever by placing his large callused hand over the sharpshooter´s brow. “You feeling alright?” Josiah asked, when Vin´s eyes shot open.

“Hell,” Vin rolled onto his back, “don´t know how Ez does it…stayin´ up all night.”

“He´s half owl,” Nathan said, from across the room. He lay on his back with his arm draped over his eyes.

“Who is half owl?” Ezra asked, stepping back into the cabin after taking a few minutes to look around outside.

Vin chuckled when three pillows flew across the room hitting the Southerner. Chris, Nathan, and JD all yelled, “You are!” before turning their attention elsewhere.

“Imbeciles,” Ezra muttered, throwing the pillows back and then heading outside for some fresh air.

+ + + + + + +

JD had never had a headache that made him wish a train was actually running through his head. Every sound seemed to echo in his ears and they were all loud. He´d covered his head with his pillow trying desperately to close out footsteps hitting the floor, the occasional sniffle and cough, and even the sound of Josiah and Buck talking quietly by the wood stove. Everything was too loud. Nathan and Chris were also suffering the effects of the vaccine by means of a headache but they had the luxury of having fallen asleep. JD, however, was still wired from his 32 oz super gulp from the Shell station they had stopped at before arriving at the campground.

Josiah had gotten the kid some warm milk to drink with an Aspirin he´d gotten from Nathan. Nothing seemed to help. His head wouldn´t allow him to move about without pain and his body was betraying what his mind demanded, which was rest. He tried concentrating on the sound of the fire cracking and that seemed to relax him a bit. Thankfully.

Vin had tossed and turned throwing his blankets off only to have them replaced by Josiah or Buck who seemed concerned about the growing fever inside the sharpshooter´s body. It was no wonder he hated doctors. Vin had told Josiah once that he didn´t mind the people in white coats. It was the ones who worked for the government that bothered him. He´d always felt that doctors who salaries were paid by the government had a secret agenda. Well, maybe not agenda but every time he got bronchitis and felt like he was hacking up a lung that someone had it in for him. Vin hated being sick. He hated it when his own body betrayed him.

Ezra had disappeared. He´d quietly made a bet with himself that he could find some information regarding the events for the next week. He wanted to find more than what Chris had told them. There was more to this training event than just a few seminars and field training. He intended to find out what. The idea of biological warfare intrigued him. This was an issue that needed further research, especially when it involved American soil.

Buck rested his feet on the chair across from him watching the fire. He remembered the first time he and Chris had taken Sara, Adam, and who was it…Daphne…on their first camping trip. Daphne was Buck´s latest conquest, and quite possibly the first woman that ever caused the notorious ladies man to think about a serious relationship. But it wasn´t in the cards. For one reason or another they went their separate ways but they had fun in the mean time. The camping trip was Buck´s idea. He smiled at the memory. Sara had, as usual, spent the day prior to leaving for the mountains packing up everything. Everything was supposed to be perfect, but nothing ever is, and she found that out the hard way when a family of raccoons had found the food. Chris and Adam had laughed so hard at Sara as she chased those ‘hoodlums´ out of their campsite that Adam had peed his pants. A food fight later ensued when Sara had given up chasing the beasts and started throwing everything from bread to chips at Chris for not helping. Buck and Daphne had hid in their tent watching in amusement. The ladies man almost laughed out loud at the memory. That´s what he missed about Sara. She always had the best intentions but more times than not, they never worked out the way she had planned. A few months after her and Adams´ death Chris had told him about the time Sara had surprised him by coming to the door dressed only in suran wrap. She´d gone through all the trouble to find a baby sitter for Adam and when the time came to get out of the suran wrap Chris couldn´t find the end to unwrap her. In the heat of the moment he had to go searching for a pair of scissors so he could cut his wife out of the plastic. It figured that he only found Adam´s green plastic safety scissors. So, on their one romantic night alone, Sara drank red wine while Chris searched for the end of the suran wrap so he could undo his wife. After all, Sara didn´t just use a small portion of the roll she used the whole thing. Chris and Buck had laughed themselves to tears that night so many years ago.

“By the way you´re lookin´ Brother it must be something funny?” Josiah questioned. He threw another log onto the fire and returned to his seat.

“Just rememberin´ some of the things Chris and I had done back before Sara and Adam died.”

“They must have been pretty special?” Josiah asked quietly, he didn´t want to wake any of the others.

Buck nodded his head while watching the flames of the fire reach up over the edge of the wood stove. “He ain´t ever going to be the same as when they were livin but he´s closer now than he has been in a long time.” He looked back toward the door when he heard footsteps. “He´s the most stubborn son-of-a-bitch I´ve ever met…that´s for sure.” Buck smiled, that´s what made Chris a great team leader. He wouldn´t quit…no matter what…he wouldn´t quit.

Ezra stepped quietly into the room carrying three large coffees. He´d spent the past few minutes scraping the bottom of his shoes on the steps…he loved spring. He handed a coffee to Buck and Josiah before finding himself a seat next to the warm fire. “It would appear that our compatriots are not the only ones suffering from headaches or fevers,” Ezra took a tentative sip of his coffee before continuing, “Peter Gebb from Kansas City arrived a short while ago with six of his agents down.”

“Damn,” Buck muttered.

They all looked up when Vin´s blankets were once again thrown from the top bunk down to the floor. Josiah stood up and grabbed the blankets. He reached up and placed the palm of his hand over the sharpshooter´s brow and frowned when he noticed Vin´s fever was higher. “How long are these side effects supposed to last?” Josiah asked looking toward Buck and Ezra.

Ezra grabbed Nathan´s bright orange medical bag and pulled out the ear thermometer and handed it to Josiah. “Might we presume that Mr. Tanner isn´t suffering from just the effects of the vaccine?”

Josiah took the thermometer agreeing with Ezra´s assessment. “Does Peter Gebb have a medic on his team?” The big man asked, glancing toward the bed where Nathan was sleeping. The medic was currently suffering on his own and needed his as well.

Before Josiah could get a response, Ezra grabbed his coat and was out the door. Buck joined Josiah at the bed and he waited until the big man read off Vin´s temperature. “One hundred and three,” Josiah replied, keeping his hand on the sharpshooter´s forehead.

“Think maybe he picked up a bug?” Buck asked. Medicine was not his strong suit. When he got sick he usually ended up making love to the porcelain goddess until his stomach quit heaving. Then he took a few Aspirin and slept until he felt better. Vin wasn´t throwing up though, he was only running a fever, that coupled with the fact he and Ezra had been out all night would explain why he was so tired.

Josiah shook his head. He didn´t have a clue either. He threw the blanket back over Vin who had managed to get out of his jacket and now seemed to sleep comfortably in his white tee shirt and jeans. Josiah pulled the sharpshooter´s boots off and chuckled when the switchblade fell out of the right boot. Vin was like Ezra, never unarmed.

Rain started to poor out of the sky hitting the windows with a tremendous force. Spring had defiantly arrived. Ezra burst through the front door with his coat covering his head and a man about Buck´s age following him. Both were soaked to the bone. “Mr. Sanchez, Mr. Wilmington, this is Agent Gabe Steele. He´s the EMT for Special Agent Gebb´s unit.” Ezra hung his coat on a nail next to the door. “He´s here to offer his services.”

Gabe stuck his hand out for Josiah and Buck to shake and they did. He was a big man, almost as tall as Nathan. It was obvious he was of Native American decent. Though his hair was cut short it was black and his high cheekbones and wide eyes set him apart from the others in the room. He had a kind presence about him but the others didn´t let it slide that, like Nathan, he was a healer but would stop at nothing to protect the ones he cared about. “I hear you boys are suffering from the now famous ‘vaccine´,” he said it with a smile. “Headaches and fevers?” He latched eyes with Josiah and he confirmed with a nod of his head.

“We think Vin, here,” Buck motioned to the sharpshooter who was oblivious to what was going on around him, “maybe caught a bug or somethin´.”

“Probably just the vaccine.” Gabe moved toward the bed and with experienced hands checked Vin´s forehead. Vin quickly moved away from the touch but remained asleep. Gabe didn´t let the reaction bother him. “Ol´ Jimmy had a fever of 104 last night…I swear, someone sneezes and that man catches cold…anyway, we threw him in a cold tub of water cooled him down some and he slept through the night.” Gabe looked at the others in the room who seemed to be sleeping, “Keep an eye on his fever, if he gets to warm throw him in a cold shower for a while and if he´s still too warm you might want to take him to the emergency clinic down the road. They can do some blood work and make sure he´s not got a bug.”

“Thank you Agent Steele,” Josiah said.

“Call me Gabe,” he replied good-naturedly. “I s´pose I should get back. Mac tried to commandeer a Greyhound bus last night, damn fool, so I need to rewrap his ankle.” Gabe grabbed his jacket and started for the door. “If you need anythin´…” he let it hang, knowing they would take him up on his offer if they needed it. He quickly disappeared out the door and rushed back toward his cabin.

“I think he and Nate are goin´ to get along real good,” Buck said, looking at Ezra and Josiah.

Chapter 7

Josiah continued to listen too the rain hit the roof and the windowpanes as the sun disappeared over the mountains. He watched Vin like a hawk, keeping those blankets covering him and he kept checking for a rise in his fever. JD, Nathan, and Chris all continued to sleep comfortably. The long drive coupled with the headaches had caused them all to become exhausted. Buck continued to stoke the fire keeping the cabin warm. Ezra had finally dozed off on the bottom bunk closest to the fire, the lack of a previous night´s sleep catching up with him.

Buck grabbed the bag of Cheetos and finished off the bag. He continuously wiped his orange cheesy fingers on his right pant leg creating a huge stain. He was, however, oblivious to it. He continued to read his ‘Hot Rods´ magazine while Josiah looked over the impeding schedule for the week. They could both hear car doors slamming indicating that the last two teams had arrived.

When Vin threw his blankets off for what seemed like the hundredth time, Josiah got up and grabbed once again the ear thermometer. He placed the palm of his head over the sharpshooter´s brow and sighed. He could tell without the scientific proof of the thermometer that Vin´s fever was up. “Damn,” he sighed, when the reading was 104.6. “Buck!” Josiah snapped, waking Vin from his nap, “get the shower going…just the cold water,” he ordered, practically pulling the sharpshooter from the top bunk.

Buck quickly did what he was told. He knew by the tone of Josiah´s voice that they needed to get Vin´s temperature down. He turned the shower on and looked up as the big man practically carried the lean sharpshooter in the room. Thank goodness the cabin had community showers because Buck didn´t think both of them could fit into one stall.

Josiah wrapped his arm around the front of Vin´s middle and gently held his face away from the shower spray. They didn´t bother to strip Vin down, not willing to waste the time. Vin weakly fought Josiah´s strong hands as the cold water showered his body. “Come on son,” Josiah encouraged.

Buck grabbed the stack of towels that were in the small cubby across the room from the showers. “Can I do anything else?” he asked out of concern.

“What the hell?” Vin mumbled, struggling to get away from Josiah´s firm grasp and the cold water that seemed to reach his very bones.

“Hey Pard,” Buck said, leaning against the tile wall. “How are you feelin´?”

Vin didn´t answer he just continued to fight the tight hold Josiah had on him. “Let me go.” The sharpshooter struggled harder. If he didn´t feel so tired then maybe he could get out of the embrace.

“We need to cool you down Brother,” Josiah tried to explain. He continued to push Vin´s head up against his left shoulder.

“I´m cool enough,” Vin protested again, but this time he earned a chuckle from both Buck and Josiah.

“Do you mean metaphorically or literally?” Josiah asked with a smile.

“Both…I think,” Vin returned.

“Buck,” Josiah said, looking at the ladies man, “I sat the thermometer on the sink. Can you grab it?”

Before Josiah could finish Buck was back with the instrument. “I´ll go grab you some clothes to change into?” Buck squeezed Vin´s arm and went to grab some dry clothes out of the sharpshooter´s duffle bag.

“I´m okay,” Vin said in a low tone. He stopped struggling and planted his feet firmly on the tile floor.

Josiah released him slowly making sure he was steady on his feet. “I´m going to take your temp real fast,” the big man warned.

“As long as you don´t do it rectally…I´d have to kill you.”

Josiah grinned then sighed in relief when he noticed the digital readout on the thermometer read 102.3. “You feelin´ better?” he asked, as Vin leaned heavily against him.

“Cold,” Vin responded, pushing his hair back away from his face. Damn, he felt weak. All he wanted to do was sleep for a year.

Josiah guided Vin out of the shower and got him sitting on the short bench across from the lockers. He then threw a towel over the sharpshooter´s head and shoulders. “You had us worried there for a bit,” Josiah said with a smile. He squatted in front of the sharpshooter and laid his hand on Vin´s knee and waited to get a response.

“Where´s everyone?” Vin asked, meeting Josiah´s eyes.

“Chris, Nathan, and JD are sleeping off what Brother Nathan called, ‘a hangover without feeling barfy´, Ezra finally fell asleep an hour or so ago.” Josiah looked up when Buck reentered the bathroom and handed him a pile of dry clothes for him and Vin. “You need some help changing?” He asked. Vin looked like he was having a hard enough time sitting up.

“I can manage,” Vin replied with a grin. He wasn´t that weak.

Josiah stood up and proceeded to pull off his own shirt that was soaking wet. He noticed Vin hesitantly pull at his tee shirt then in one swift move pulled the shirt over his head. Buck had turned to grab a towel for Josiah and when he turned back toward Vin and the big man, he noticed the long jagged scar that stretched from the top of Vin´s right shoulder blade and disappeared under the left side of the waistband of his trousers. Josiah shook his head. The scar was old but it looked like it had been a painful injury.

Vin didn´t need to turn around to know both Josiah and Buck were looking curiously at the scar on his back. “When I was thirteen my foster father threw me through the slidin´ glass door of ‘is home,” he answered the question before it could be asked. He continued to dry his hair then reached for the dry tee shirt that sat to his left.

“Sorry Vin…” Buck started.

“S´all right. Can´t keep it hid forever I s´pose.” He slipped the dry shirt over his head and shoulders.

“Why´d he do it?” Josiah asked? He buttoned the front of his own shirt. He noticed Vin didn´t look at either one of them but kept his back to he and Buck. Perhaps it was his way of distancing himself from the care of others.

“Said I stole fifty bucks out of his wallet.” Vin shrugged his shoulders. “Don´t think he ever had fifty bucks to begin with.” He grabbed his sweat pants and fidgeted with the waistband. “Don´t really matter I s´pose…”

“If it matters to you Vin…then it matters,” Josiah replied in a soft comforting tone. Each team member had a file that held extensive information on them, everything from schooling to arrests. What they didn´t hold were things like this. This is what was learned after the friendships were formed.

Chapter 8

Chris woke bright and early. His headache was gone and for that he was thankful. The sun was just coming up over the horizon and the smell in the air was evidence of the previous night´s hard rain. Chris stood up and realized he´d slept in his clothes. His hair stood up in spots but he didn´t care as he walked toward the window and admired the image of the sun seeping through the branches of the trees. He noticed the others were still sleeping and Chris quietly grabbed his duffle bag and headed for the showers.

Josiah woke when he heard the showers and immediately turned his attention to Vin. He sat up and swung his feet over the edge of the small bed and rubbed his face. He´d finally allowed himself to get some sleep after the sharpshooter´s temperature had continued to drop. Josiah stood up and immediately reached up and checked Vin´s forehead. Relieved that the fever hadn´t returned he immediately sought out the coffee and the coffee maker.

JD´s arm hung over the side of the top bunk and his face was buried in his pillow. Buck lay on the bottom bunk with his right foot resting on the floor. His sock was half off and the cuff gathered around his ankle. Nathan slept in the bunk across from Buck with his left arm draped over the pillow he had covering his face. Ezra slept on the bottom bunk closest to the stove. He was curled up on his left side completely submerged beneath his pile of blankets.

+ + + + + + +

Chris stepped out of the shower and quickly changed into his traditional black jeans. He towel dried his hair then looked at himself in the mirror while bracing his hands on the edge of the sink preparing himself for a new day. He felt well rested and ready to take on what lay ahead. Chris threw on a light blue shirt and hung the towel on the hook next to the lockers. He noticed the pile of towels as well as clothing that hung from various nails, hooks, and locker doors. He quietly wondered if the boys had a water fight during the night.

The smell of coffee brewing greeted Chris´ nose like the sweet smell of roses. Josiah handed him a cup without being asked to. “Thanks,” Chris said, while pouring the steaming hot fluid into his cup. “Anything happen last night?”

Josiah got himself seated after having restarted the fire in the wood stove. “Vin´s fever got pretty high last night.” He watched Chris´ reaction. Immediately the team leader looked toward the bunk where Vin was still sleeping. “Buck and I got him in the shower and cooled him down…he´s doing fine now.”

Chris sighed in relief. “He still feverish?”

“No,” Josiah replied, he looked up when the pile of blankets on the bunk closest to them started moving.

“What about the others?”

“No fevers, just headaches.” Josiah took a long sip of his coffee. He chuckled with Chris when Ezra got out of bed, grabbed the handle on his duffle bag, and drug it into the bathroom behind him. The man was not a morning person. The bathroom door was locked and almost immediately then the shower started.

“Better make some more coffee,” Chris said, with a grin on his face. “The way Ezra looks he might need it.”

JD sat up in bed and sneezed four times before looking around the room. His hair was a mess and the shirt he was wearing was wrinkled beyond recognition. JD rubbed his eyes and jumped down off the bunk and almost immediately he headed for the cooler and pulled out a can of Coke.

“How are you feelin´ JD?” Josiah asked with a chuckle. The kid slid into the chair next to him drinking like a lush out of his can.

“Fine,” JD answered, nodding head. “What time is orientation?”

“Ten,” Chris replied, taking another drink of his coffee.

Buck got up out of bed wearing red boxer shorts with white lips. “Boys,” he said, with a grin. He stretched his back and walked over to the fire so he could enjoy the heat. JD tossed him a package of Twinkies and the ladies man quickly opened the package and stuffed one into his mouth.

Chris and Josiah chuckled at the sight. There Buck stood with his hair sticking up randomly, his mouth full of Twinkie, red and white boxer shorts, and socks that were half on. If this was any indication of what the next week was going to hold Chris seriously thought about taking an early retirement.

Chapter 9

Coffee cups clattered and voices could be heard throughout the auditorium. Thirty-four seats were filled with FBI and ATF agents who were all required to attend the training seminar. The majority of the audience was men ranging in ages from 25 to 65. A few ladies were attending which suited Buck just fine.

FBI instructor Andy Newman entered the auditorium and the room went silent almost immediately. He was balding and faced the fact rather than trying to hide it from not only himself but others as well. He stood of average height and looked to keep himself in excellent shape despite his growing age. The occasional sound of paper shuffling or the clicking of a pen could be heard but for the most part the room was deathly quiet. The individuals in this room were professional and they acted that way. The days of college were over, now everyone acted with the same incentive. They were here to learn.

Instructor Newman quickly passed out packets and manuals to everyone in the room. It described in great detail the seminars for the next six days. Chris looked at the list content with what he was seeing. Instructors from both the FBI Academy and the ATF Training Center would be assisting with the seminars. Harry Kessler´s name was on the list and Chris nodded his head in understanding when Buck elbowed him having also seen Harry´s name.

The orientation was short and to the point. Andy Newman obviously wasn´t someone who liked to repeat what he had to say four or five times. He figured that if students didn´t hear it the first time they wouldn´t hear it at all. He answered a few questions and introduced the instructors.

When Harry Kessler´s eyes met Chris´ he knew immediately that they needed to talk. Andy Newman quickly dismissed the group and almost immediately the noise level in the room grew. Several people exited the auditorium while Harry made his way to Chris and his men.

“Chris,” Harry stretched his hand out and he grasped the tall blond´s with a firm grip.

“You know the boys,” Chris motioned for his men.

“Ezra Standish,” Ezra said, when he realized he wasn´t going to be introduced. Harry nodded his head and shook the Southerner´s hand. Like father like son, he thought when he saw Ezra´s mannerisms. “If you will excuse me.” The undercover agent moved passed Chris and the others and headed out through the main doors.

“We need to talk,” Chris said, looking hard at his friend. He noticed Buck tip his head in support before he followed the rest of his men out.

Harry waited until the room was cleared and only himself and Chris remained. He sat in the desk next to his longtime friend and waited. He had a feeling that he knew what this was about, but he wanted Chris to make the first move.

“I think we should take a walk,” Chris motioned toward the door.

Harry stood up and followed the lean blonde. He understood Chris´ hesitance and his need to speak in a more private area. Harry threw his coat on as they headed outside and he watched as Chris did the same. The clouds were indicating a storm brewing but thankfully nothing was happening at the moment. Harry stopped next to a tree when Chris had yet to say anything. They were a couple hundred yards from the building and Harry wanted to know what was going on before they got any farther out. “Are you going to explain to me what is going on?”

“Why didn´t you tell me that you worked with Ezra´s father?” Chris asked right off. He only wanted the truth.

Harry cleared his throat and leaned against the tree. “Because I wanted you to hire him because he´s a good agent, not because of the fact I worked with his father.”

“Do you know anything about this mess he´s involved in?”

“I know that it´s not just him that´s involved in it,” Harry eyed Chris before he continued, “the FBI agent who worked on the case involving Sara and Adam´s death was a kid by the name of Samuel Gardner.”

“I recognize the name,” Chris acknowledged.

“Gardner was killed in the line of duty four months ago. He was Ezra´s roommate during the academy. Somehow, there´s a connection between you, Gardner, and Standish.”

“This just keeps getting better and better,” Chris muttered. “How are we connected?”

“I don´t know…but if I were you I would start researching the cases you were investigating when your family got killed.” Harry watched Chris´ reaction. He knew he was adding more pieces to the puzzle but that´s all he could do at the moment. Even he didn´t have all the answers.

“I´ve done that Harry!” Chris snapped. He ran his hand through his hair and looked toward the dark clouds that seemed to become angrier by the minute.

“Do it again!” Harry yelled back. “Patrick was my best friend Chris.” He looked hard at his friend. “I loved him like a brother.”

Chris met Harry´s eyes and saw a piece of himself there. If the rolls were reversed he´d be doing the same thing. If it were Vin´s, or Buck´s son, well hell, anyone of their son´s he´d do everything he could for them. No questions asked. That´s what family did. “What happened to him?” Chris took a chance and asked.

“Hell,” Harry sighed and looked away from the tall blonde. “Patrick and I met in 1962. We were partnered together because of our backgrounds. Part of our job was to investigate the KGB and because Pat spoke the Russian language he was automatically assigned to that department. It was his job to transcribe incoming and outgoing letters to Russia. If it wasn´t the space program we were working on then it was the whole fucking communist party.” Harry ran a hand through his hair that desperately needed to be cut. “He met Maude in 1966 and married her six months later,” he smiled at the memory, “Pat wanted eight kids, Maude didn´t want any.” Harry took a long breath before continuing, “She ended up having two abortions before Pat figured out what she was doing. So when she got pregnant with Ezra, Pat watched her like a hawk, wouldn´t let her out of his sight…damn woman.” He looked up at the dark clouds. “Do you have any idea how difficult it was for a woman to get an abortion back then? She´s lucky she got pregnant with Ezra…”

“Does Ezra know all this?”

“No,” Harry responded, “and he doesn´t need to.” He moved away from the tree and started walking toward the small covered bridge that served as a walking path over the creek. “In 1969 when Ezra was born you have to remember what was happening, Nixon was ordering B-52s to bomb Communist strongholds in Cambodia, the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks were going on between us and the USSR, we were fighting a war in Vietnam here on our college campuses…hell Chris the whole damn country was in a mess and those of us trying to keep it together were getting fucked in the process.” Harry leaned against the railing of the covered bridge. He carefully pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and handed Chris a black and white photograph. “That´s me on the right, in the middle is Pat and a three year old Ezra.”

Chris smiled when he looked at the photograph. He looked closer at the photo and noticed the third man standing of Patrick Standish´s left. The face was familiar. “Who´s this?” Chris pointed to the other man and waited for Harry to answer.

“Timothy Daley,” Harry answered. “After I got transferred to Navy Intelligence, Tim became Pat´s new partner.”

“He was at the saloon a few months ago with Agent Carson,” Chris said, remembering back.

“Daley´s not someone who would hang around a man like Carson, if he was at the saloon like you say he was then he was there for a different reason.” Harry took back the photograph and replaced it in his wallet. “Daley´s a good man, he bleeds CIA…but he´s a good man,” he tried to ease Chris´ concern.

“I hear another ‘but´ in there.” Chris leaned over the edge of the railing interlacing his fingers together.

“Tim and Maude had an affair and when Pat found out about it he threatened to take Ezra and leave,” Harry sighed, “which is what he should have done but despite his better judgment and Maude´s promise to break it off, he stayed. Tim was real apologetic but,” he shook his head, “Pat never trusted him after that…Ezra meant more to that man than anything,” Harry said, remembering back. “He asked me to watch over his son should something happen to him,” he met Chris´ eyes, “a week later I get a phone call from Maude and she told me Pat had been killed in a car crash a few miles from home.” Harry returned his gaze toward the water running beneath the bridge. “The funeral was the last time I saw Ezra or his mother, last I heard she´d dropped him off at some boarding school and went and got herself married. When I first told you about Ezra I did meet him while I was working undercover…that was the truth. At the time I didn´t know he was an undercover, until of course, he saved my ass.”

Chris understood the anger in Harry´s voice. He wasn´t sure how he would feel if something like this had happened to him. “Did you have anything to do with Ezra getting recruited by the Bureau?”

Harry shook his head. “The CIA had their eye on him long before the FBI did. They knew he was Pat´s son but when they realized he couldn´t speak the Russian language they turned a blind eye to him.” Chris furrowed his brow but didn´t say anything. “When the FBI recruited him they initially wanted him as a profiler, after all he did get his degree in Criminal Pathology, but they soon discovered he make a better undercover agent…and that´s the story.”

Chris nodded his head. “Why didn´t the CIA think Ezra could speak Russian?”

“You know he can?” Harry raised his eyebrows and waited for the answer.

Chris looked hard at his friend before he answered. “Ezra said his father would only speak too him Russian.”

“He told you that?” Harry asked in disbelief. He watched as Chris nodded his head. “Keep it quiet Chris, don´t let anyone know. If the CIA gets wind of it,” Harry shook his head at the thought. Just because the cold war was over didn´t mean spy´s still weren´t needed. “Pat was convinced that the USSR would become the world´s next superpower, and at the time it looked like they might. He only spoke Russian to his son because he wanted Ezra to be fluent in the language, in case the need arose for him to be.” He looked at his longtime friend, “This is a tough business and I always thought of you like the son I never had and I knew when I found out you were running this crack team that I could count on you to do what I couldn´t…I´m sorry for having kept this from you.”

“Hell, Harry,” Chris looked up at his friend, “whose to say I´d done it differently if I were in your shoes.”

“I´ve seen a lot of good men die in this business…” Harry looked up when a bolt of lighting lit up the sky. “When Pat died it felt like a part of my family died and when Maude took off with Ezra I felt like I´d let him down…”

“You´ve done good by him Harry,” Chris acknowledged. “I couldn´t ask you to do more for my own son.”

“That means a lot coming from you.” Harry smiled and reached up to squeeze Chris´ shoulder.

Chapter 10

Vin looked up when Chris and Harry entered the large cafeteria, soaking wet. He smiled noticing their calm demeanor. He turned his attention back to JD and Buck who seemed to be discussing the ingredients in the supposed ‘coleslaw´. Ezra was content reading through the manual, while Josiah and Nathan watched in amusement the activities and antics of the other teams.

“Boys,” Chris said, stepping up to the table. A look of amusement was on his face when he noticed Buck and JD had separated their coleslaw into categories orange stuff, purple stuff, white stuff, and apparently soupy stuff.

“How´s it hangin´ Harry?” Buck asked, setting his fork on his tray.

“I can always rely on the fact that you´re never going to change Buck,” Harry said with a smile.

Ezra closed the manual and watched the interaction between Harry Kessler and the rest of the team. Part of him wanted to get to know the man better and find out what he´d forgotten about his father. The other part of him wasn´t sure if he could trust anything the man had to say. The later part was winning out.

“Well, hell, if I go and change what are all those pretty ladies gonna think?”

“Thanking the heavens would be my guess,” Ezra replied, earning a chuckle from Josiah and Nathan.

“See that pretty little filly over there,” Buck pointed to the blonde beauty that sat at the table adjacent their own. “She´s been givin´ me the eye all day.” He winked at her to prove his point. She responded by smiling and waving her dainty fingers in his direction. “That, Gentlemen, is my call to arms.” Buck stood up and made his way to the woman.

“I don´t know how he does it,” Vin said, shaking his head.

“I think it´s inbreeding,” JD responded, earning an echo of snorts from around the table.

+ + + + + + +

Chris sat with Harry, Vin, Josiah and Nathan. Buck had disappeared with his latest conquest while Ezra and JD had gone back to the cabin. The storm still raged outside the building and ATF and FBI agents continued to talk amongst themselves while instructors prepared last minute details to their impending seminars.

“So what was Brother Ezra´s father like?” Josiah asked, after he noticed that everyone had avoided the subject.

“You want the long or short of it?” Harry asked with a smile.

Chris chuckled. “Sounds like he was a handful.”

“He wasn´t an easy man to get to know but once you did…” Harry laughed at some of the antics he used to pull with the man. “Our CO called Pat and I into his office to reprimand us for insubordinate behavior, something that wasn´t totally uncommon,” Harry leaned back and shook his head. “You have to understand Standish´s wicked sense of humor,” he noticed the others roll their eyes, “I don´t know how he talked me into it but the next thing I know we´re disassembling the CO´s Mercedes Benz…we put that thing back together in his office over the weekend.”

“Don´t tell that to Ezra.” Vin laughed realizing the Southerner didn´t need any advice when it came to getting revenge.

“Like father like son I take it?” Harry laughed.

“More than you realize by the sound of it,” Chris responded with a chuckle of his own.

“Was Ezra and his father close?” Nathan asked out of curiosity.

Harry reached into his wallet to retrieve the same photograph he´d showed Chris earlier. “Pat´s whole existence surrounded that boy,” he handed to the photo to Nathan. “He did the best he could for him under the circumstances. Maude was never around and when she did come home Ezra looked at her like she was a stranger. He wouldn´t go to her he just hid behind his father.” Harry shook his head at the memories. “I saw Ezra for the last time at his father´s funeral, I think he was six at the time, he just stood there like a statue. Didn´t talk to anyone, he looked like a kid who´d lost everything and knew it.” He ran a hand through his hair before scratching his chin.

“The report that Judge Travis gave me stated that Ezra´s father was ‘supposedly´ killed in a car crash?” Chris asked. He knew he would get the truth out of Harry.

“That´s what I understand.” Harry understood what Chris was getting at. “Tim Daley was there when he and Maude found him and if he´s lying about it he´s doing it for a good reason.”

“You´ve never questioned him?” Josiah asked his curiosity was growing.

“I knew better than to ask,” Harry replied with a firm stare. Something´s got answered while others didn´t.

Josiah nodded his head in understanding. If Harry´s answers were good enough for Chris then they were good enough for the rest of them as well. For now anyway.

Harry stood up and squeezed Chris´s right shoulder. “I´ll see you boys in the morning,” he smiled, “8:00 am is our first meeting.”

Josiah continued to look at the photo he held carefully in his hand while Harry exited the building. He found himself respecting Ezra´s father despite never having known him. The family resemblance was obvious. They shared the same smile, the same mischievous eyes and the same build. In many ways there was the feeling of envy when he saw the love between Ezra and his father that wasn´t there between him and his dad. Josiah passed the picture to Vin who took it with a smile. The sharpshooter secretly wished the photograph were of a three year old Ezra in the buff, that way he could rib the Southerner about it.

“Think Ezra´s seen this?” Vin asked, handing the photo to Chris.

“I´m not going to start throwing parts of his past in his face. If he wants to know about his father…he can ask Harry about him himself.” Chris slipped the photograph into his wallet intending to give it back to Harry when he saw him again. The team leader watched as Buck slipped his arm over the blonde´s shoulders and together they headed for who knows where. Chris stood up and followed the rest of his men out toward their cabin.

+ + + + + + +

JD lay on his bunk reading the obscenities that had been written over the years by campers. The ceiling was covered with them. “Looks like Buck´s been here before,” he said with a smile.

“I take it you´ve discovered the more primal use of the King´s English,” Ezra replied, stoking the fire. He tried to warm his hands by the small flame that seemed to be growing.

“What´s the King´s English?” JD asked, looking over to where Ezra squatted next to the fire.

“Anything that isn´t written on the ceiling,” Ezra answered with a grin.

JD sat up on his bunk and looked toward the Southerner. “Can I ask you somethin´?”

“You can ask but I reserve the right to answer accordingly.” Ezra stood up and turned his chair so that it rested between the stove and JD´s bunk.

“Do you miss your father?” JD looked hard at Ezra wanting nothing more than to get a straight answer.

Ezra paused and thought about the question before answering. In truth he didn´t know how to answer. He ran his hand over his face and pulled out of his jacket pocket his deck of cards and unconsciously started shuffling them. “To be truthful Mr. Dunne, I don´t remember a whole lot about him.”

“But you were six when he died?” JD rested his elbows on his knees wanting to hear more.

Ezra shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. It´s not that he didn´t want to remember it but he didn´t remember. “I can´t give you anymore than that JD.” Ezra stood up and headed for the bathroom intending to throw some water on his face.

“Shit,” JD sighed, jumping off the bunk. “Ezra!” JD called, walking up and leaning on the door frame of the bathroom. “I´m sorry, I didn´t mean to pry.”

“Don´t apologize for your curiosity.” Ezra wiped his face on a hand towel he grabbed out of the rack beside the lockers and looked at JD who stood ashamedly in the doorway.

JD nodded his head in acceptance all the while looking toward the tile floor. “My ma never talked about my father. I always wondered what he was like.” He raised his chin and looked Ezra in the eyes.

Ezra tipped his head in understanding. “I can´t presume to understand your mother´s reasoning for keeping that information from you Mr. Dunne, but whatever her reasons,” he locked eyes with JD, “know that it wasn´t because she was ashamed of you.”

“I´d always hoped she would talk to me about him…but after she got sick, I just didn´t think about ‘im a whole lot.”

“Quite understandable,” Ezra nodded his head. In a way he understood why JD wanted to know about his father. It was the natural order of things.

“I just thought that because Chris and Buck´s friend Harry Kessler knew your dad you´d want to learn all you could about him…seein´ that you were pretty young when he died.”

“Agent Kessler´s opinion of my father is just that…an opinion. In order to get to know someone you have to know them on a personal basis otherwise everything you hear is just rumors and misdirected impressions.” Ezra tried to respond in a compliant tone.

“It´s still information,” JD tried to argue.

“I learned a long time ago Mr. Dunne, believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.” Ezra patted JD´s shoulder then slipped by him.

JD looked stunned as Ezra uttered those words to him. He knew the Southerner had a hard time trusting others, he just didn´t understand how hard it was for him. JD shrugged his shoulders and went to grab himself another Coke out of the cooler. He watched as Ezra seated himself back in his chair next to the fire content to shuffle his cards and stare at the bright orange flames of the fire.


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