Under the Red Sky

Book Ten

by Beth AKA Midge

Chapter 11
After two days of seminars Chris was convinced this had all been arranged to convince the American public that the government was keeping all their employees´ up to date on current problems and events. In other words it was a line of bull. The rest of the team knew it as well. Chris didn´t let it bother him too much as his men doodled in their notebooks, shuffled cards, picked teeth, and made origami animals.

Vin tapped his pencil on the desk as the instructor finished his statement. He was really bored. He couldn´t remember the last time he felt to isolated in a crowded room. And he liked to be alone. Even the instructors seemed discontented about the whole situation.

Harry had been spending quite a bit of time with Chris and his team. Ezra had made himself scarce when the FBI agent came around and it didn´t go unnoticed but nobody was willing to say anything about it. Harry, however, was just thrilled about the fact that he was slowly getting to know the son of his best friend. Granted it wasn´t under the best circumstances but it always seemed anything surrounding Patrick wasn´t good. In many ways Harry´s relationship with Pat was similar to Chris and Vin´s combined with Buck and JD´s.

Patrick was a man who´d enjoyed a good game of cards, a game of baseball, or a late night with friends. Harry hadn´t liked the man at first. He´d thought Pat to be overly confident and smart assed. But that soon changed when they became partners and found they had more things in common than not. They were both good looking and attracted the ladies like bees to honey. Both liked to have a good time and they both enjoyed a good game of poker.

Harry saw a lot of Patrick in his son and he couldn´t help but think back at some of the things they used to do together. Granted, Maude had tried to be rid Ezra of anything that reminded her of her late husband but the boy was still his son and some things couldn´t be extinguished. When the two of them got married, Harry believed truly that they loved each other. But as sometimes life doesn´t work out the way they´re planned the two of them quickly found themselves going their separate ways. When Ezra was born Patrick saw a new life. He wanted to make sure his son had everything. When he started the trust fund for Ezra he´d intended it to help him get through college and get a solid start in life. However, Maude had different plans and after his unexpected death she´d taken that money and spent it leaving a six-year- old Ezra relying only on his mother. Normally that would be fine except Maude had other plans. She wanted to live life on her own terms and not be tied down to a child. So she wasn´t, except when she needed him.

Patrick knew when he started his job that a lot of the information that came across his desk was confidential and for the most part most of that information was destroyed before anyone else could read it. That was just a part of his job. He also knew that it wasn´t uncommon for certain agents who ‘knew to much´ to suddenly disappear or to get transferred to different departments. His first experience with that issue came when Harry got transferred. There weren´t any warning signs, it just happened, and nobody could do anything about it. So, to defend himself and his son he started the trust fund. Just in case something was to happen to him. He´d called Harry to let him know what he was doing and he asked his longest and most trusting friend to look out for his son. Harry promised he would. Maude had other ideas. After the funeral she´d taken the boy and disappeared leaving Harry and Tim without anyway of finding the boy they thought of as their own. Not until fourteen years later when the CIA and FBI took notice of him because of a college paper he´d written titled ‘Understanding the Criminal Mind´. That paper had caused a lot of people to take notice of a 20-year-old kid´s perception of criminal pathology. Harry Kessler and Timothy Daley now did what they´d promised Patrick Standish they would do. They watched out for his son not knowing each other was doing the same thing. They were doing it for different reasons but they were still doing it. Harry was watching out for Ezra because of a promise he´d made to an old friend. Tim was watching out for him because he felt guilty over the affair he´d had with the boy´s mother.

Harry had watched Ezra´s mannerisms and knew that Patrick had more of an influence on that boy than even he knew. The simple tilt of his head, the wise assed grin, and even the look of distrust he would occasionally give Harry when he spoke up. Patrick was definitely there inside his only son and Harry was thrilled about it.

Harry looked up from his seat on the floor towards the Southerner who sat amongst his teammates high in the auditorium seats. He was content flipping cards between his fingers while occasionally sharing a quiet chuckle with Vin or Buck. Chris sat in the end chair and would occasionally throw a glare to his men if they got to loud. Harry smiled.

When the speaker finally finished the audience all but stood up and applauded. Harry stood up and spoke briefly with the other instructors as the room was quickly abandoned. When Eric Anderson stepped into the auditorium Harry took a deep breath. What was he doing here? It was no secret, especially in the FBI, that Anderson couldn´t stand Standish. Harry was pretty sure the feelings were mutual.

“Agent Kessler,” Anderson said, walking up to the shorter agent.

“Assistant Director,” Harry acknowledged.

“It would appear that I´m required to give a lecture on the importance of following procedure.” He grinned mischievously. “It would appear that certain agents are intentionally ignoring procedures.”

“I´m not sure I´m understanding your implications?” Harry looked hard at Anderson.

Eric smiled, “There aren´t any implications Agent, I was just telling you what I´ve been instructed to do.”

Harry nodded his head indicating to Anderson that he understood. However, he was anything but understanding. He didn´t like Assistant Director Eric Anderson, and more to the point, he didn´t believe anything the man had to say. Especially where Ezra, Chris, or any of them where concerned. “I´ll see you around then.” Harry tipped his head and left the room leaving three instructors and Anderson with questions.

+ + + + + + +

“Dang it Buck,” JD snapped pulling the Suburban´s speaker wires out of the ladies man´s hand.

“Can´t be any different than rewiring the microwave,” Buck complained, leaning against the back door of the vehicle.

“You mean the microwave that doesn´t work,” JD replied with knowing smile.

“It works just fine…”

“It takes fifteen minutes to heat a muffin!” JD barked, returning his attention to the speaker wires. “I could make muffins faster than it can warm them.”

“Since when do cook ‘Mr. Lets Order Pizza´.” Buck watched as JD rewired the speaker system as though it were a part of him.

“I will have you know that pizza has all the basic food groups,” the kid responded to Buck´s smart assed comment. “Dairy, the cheese. Grains are the crust. Vegetables are mushrooms and peppers. And last but not least the meat.” JD raised his eyebrows daring his friend to contradict him.

“Is that ‘bullshit´ I smell,” Buck replied, waving his hand in front of his face. JD threw the black plastic cover of the speaker system at Buck who turned just in time to prevent being hit by the object. “Harry!” the ladies man gasped, picking up the cover.

“Buck.” Harry smiled shaking his head. “Is Chris around?”

“Yeah,” Buck chuckled, “if that vein is still poppin´ out on his forehead…lookout.” He motioned with a tilt of his head toward the cabin.

“Why´s he pissed?” Harry asked out of curiosity.

“Nate used Chris´ cell phone to call his girl, who´s pregnant, back home.”

Harry shook his head, “What´s the problem?”

“He talked for an hour and a half.” Buck snorted and Harry chuckled. Some things never change.

“Thanks for the warning.” Harry turned and headed up the steps to the cabin shaking his head all the while. It sounded like Chris and his men deserved each other. When Harry stepped into the cabin he noticed Chris and Vin sitting by the stove drinking coffee. The aroma filled the room and fed Harry´s need for the black liquid.

Josiah lay in his buck quietly dozing while a book rested on his chest. “Brother,” the big man said when he realized they weren´t alone anymore. He noticed the worried expression on Harry´s face and quietly he sat up laying the book on the bed next to him. “Is there something wrong?”

Chris turned in his seat to face his longest friend. He motioned with his head for Harry to grab a cup of coffee and join he and Vin by the warm fire. “By the look on your face I´m assuming that what you have to tell me isn´t good.”

Harry poured himself a cup of coffee and seated himself across from Chris. He watched as Josiah quickly joined them. “Assistant Director Anderson is here for a lecture he´s been required to give.”

“Seems a bit trivial for someone like Anderson to come all the way here to give a lecture,” Chris said, looking hard at his friend.

“He´s up for the Directorship, if they asked him to spoon feed monkeys he´d do it. Half this job is kissing ass.” Harry replied.

“If he´s just here for the lecture what´s the problem?” Josiah asked.

“I just wanted you all to know he was here…there´s a long history between Anderson and Standish…I just wanted to let you know.”

Chapter 12

Chris, who never stopped questioning the sensibilities of himself or his men, lay awake on his bunk staring at the wood paneling on the bunk on top of his. He could tell Vin was still awake. The constant movements and the sporadic sighs coming from the top bunk told him so. The others were asleep he was convinced of it. Buck´s snoring, though not at an all time high, was still telling the team leader that he was asleep. JD´s hand hung over the side of the bed. The kid had been the first to fall asleep and it was all Chris could do to keep Buck from dipping the kid´s hand in a bowl of warm water. Josiah had fallen asleep sometime after that, still reading his book. Nathan had removed the leather bound edition of Homer´s Odyssey and covered his friend with a blanket. Buck had crashed awhile afterwards saying he was ‘plum tuckered out´, nobody asked why. They all figured it had something to do with a short blonde. Nathan had conned Ezra into giving him his cell phone. It was odd seeing the medic trying to con the con man. Ezra had, of course, known why Nathan needed the phone. The baby hadn´t even been born yet and here Nathan was calling Raine three times a day making sure she was taking her vitamins and eating alright. Only after the medic had talked with fiancée did he finally lie down and go to sleep. Chris had to shake his head at the sight of Nathan. He wondered how Sara had kept from killing him when he found out she was pregnant. Ezra was the last to get to bed. He´d come in late after spending a few hours with Gabe and a few other ATF agents playing poker. The undercover agent seemed to come alive at night.

Chris looked out the window to the full moon that seemed to light up the whole sky. He could hear voices in the distance and wondered who was up at this time of night. Maybe Ezra wasn´t the only night owl at the camp. He continued to lay in bed trying to be as still as he could so he could hear what was going on outside. They weren´t speaking English that much was clear. Chris looked to his right when the blankets on Ezra´s bed started moving slowly. A hand reached out from under the blanket and into the duffle bag next to the bed. Chris continued to watch in curiosity, not knowing that Vin was doing the same.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra woke when he heard the language his father had taught him so many years ago. Like two friends getting reacquainted the Southerner listened to what was being said. The voices weren´t discussing anything illegal but rather…people. They were to far in the distance to get a clear understanding of what they were saying but Ezra reached into his duffle bag and retrieved his weapon. Careful not to wake the others he slid off his bed and squatted on the floor then checked his clip. He wanted to make sure there was a bullet in the chamber.

Wearing nothing but his blue boxer shorts the undercover agent grasped the gun tightly and moved quietly and efficiently across the room toward the door and windows. He needed to get a better look at what was happening outside. He kept himself out of sight carefully peeking out the windows toward the sound of the voices. Three men stood under the large oak tree a hundred yards from the cabin. They laughed and joked with each other, occasionally slapping an arm. Ezra continued to watch until one of the men looked straight at him, almost as if he knew Ezra would be there. He quickly ducked out of the line of vision and swore to himself. He wasn´t sure if he´d been seen but the pounding in his chest told him differently. He looked back up and noticed the figures were walking back toward the large buildings the seminars were being held in. Ezra relaxed a bit but continued to watch them. None of them looked familiar but it was hard to get a good look at them from the distance he was at and the fact it was dark out, despite the brightness of the moon.

+ + + + + + +

Chris continued to watch his undercover agent wondering what was going on in his head. He didn´t know for sure if Ezra remembered what his father had taught him. Did he know the Russian language? Did the incident from seven weeks ago affect him more than what he is willing to admit? And does he know more than what he´s saying? Chris continued to watch as Ezra relaxed a bit then return to his bed. The Southerner ran a weary hand through his hair and slipped into the jeans he´d brought with him for the field training. He tucked his weapon into the back of his waistband then threw on his jacket and slipped into his shoes. Before Chris could stop him he was out the door.

Careful not to wake the others Chris stood up only to greet Vin´s eyes. “I´ll go,” Vin offered. He knew what Larabee needed to do. “You go have a talk with Harry.”

Chris nodded, “Be careful,” he ordered before changing into his clothing.

+ + + + + + +

Vin followed Ezra as far as the covered bridge then paused when the undercover agent leaned over the railing resting his elbows on the old wood. Vin leaned against the tree and watched him. Maybe this wasn´t about the situation surrounding Harrison; maybe this was about Ezra and his dad.

+ + + + + + +

Chris banged on Harry´s door and waited for his friend to wake from the dead. When the instructor opened the door to his room Chris stood back wanting to do nothing more than laugh.

“What?” Harry demanded leaning against the door frame. His hair stood up on end, his eyes were half hooded, his flannel pajama bottoms appeared to have been made before Moses had been born, and his tee shirt read ‘CIA= Constipation means having an Inactive Asshole´.

“I like your shirt,” Chris chuckled.

“You should see the one I get after I leave the FBI.” Harry motioned for Chris to enter his small room. “What´s this about? I´m sixty-three years old Chris, I need my sleep.”

“There were some men outside the cabin speaking in Russian.”

Harry leaned back in his chair, “Are you sure it was Russian?”

“No,” Chris paused trying to keep his temper in check, “I´m here because someone was reciting French sonnets.” He ran his hand through his hair, “What is goin´ on?”

“Hell Chris,” Harry leaned forward, “you´ve been around long enough to know a pissing contest when you see one.”


“Anderson,” Harry answered with a sigh. “Ezra and Eric have been at each other´s throats from the get go. If it wasn´t Anderson throwing Ezra off a case then it was Ezra throwing cases right back at him.” He met Chris´ eyes and realized he was just concerned about his men. “Anderson in an intellectual fuck up. The only reason he´s in the position he´s in is because he brown noses more than a dog does a manure pile. What makes a man like Anderson dangerous is his willingness to do anything to get what he wants…Ezra´s just a thorn in his side because Standish wasn´t willing to play by the rules. He disobeyed orders and went out of his way to make life hell for Anderson, I´m not defending the man I´m just telling you what I know to be true. Most of the agents under the Assistant Director´s administration are men like himself who look forward to the nine to five jobs, the great benefits, and the retirement package. Field work is ‘beneath them´ as they like to put it. That was never Ezra´s game, he did his job in the field because that´s where he wanted too be…his dad was the same way.”

“Ezra´s not his father,” Chris said, looking at his longtime friend.

“And thank God for that,” Harry nodded his head. “Anderson is just throwing this shit up in Ezra´s face because he know he can and he wants to get a reaction out of him. I´ll guarantee before the end of the week Ezra will do something to get right back at him.”

“So you don´t think this has anything to do with the Harrison case?”

“I think it has everything to do with that case only for different reasons.”

“Shit,” Chris sighed.

“Sit back and enjoy the show,” Harry responded. “Anderson isn´t going to do anything that will threaten his position for the Directorship, Ezra however, has nothing to lose.” He chuckled remembering some of the reports he´d read from Anderson´s district. “Think of it as a cock fight, only your man has an ace up his sleeve.”

“I don´t need you encouraging him.”

“Since when does your undercover agent need any encouragement?” Harry smiled. He´d heard about the loaded brownies and the porn videos from Buck and Vin.

+ + + + + + +

When Chris entered the cabin he found Vin back up on his bunk carving something into the ceiling. Vin smiled sheepishly but continued to carve into the wood. Ezra had restarted the fire and was sitting next to the stove shuffling his cards. The others were still asleep, thankfully. “What in the hell are you doin´?” Chris asked, keeping his voice low as he walked up to the bed.

“Thought I would leave a message of my own,” Vin replied with a smile. “Hey Ez,” Vin called out in a whisper. “How do you spell vasectomy?” When Ezra didn´t respond Vin took off his sock and threw it at the undercover agent.

Ezra picked the dirty sock up off his shoulder with his index finger and thumb and looked disgustingly at the sharpshooter. “Please refrain from assaulting me with your…footwear.”

Vin ignored him, “How do you spell…”

“I heard you the first time Mr. Tanner.” Ezra stood up making sure to hold the sock away from his body. He then walked over to the bunk and handed Vin his sock back. “What are you doing?”

“I´m leavin´ a list of books to read.” Vin grinned like a kid who´s stuck a snake in the teacher´s desk.

Chris looked toward the spot where Vin had been carving and chuckled. “Antlers in the Tree Tops by Whogoose Themoose, Under the Grandstands by Seemore Butts, and The Art of…”

“The Art of Vasectomy by Dr. Onehung Low,” Vin finished, looking proudly at his carving creation.

Ezra smiled when he realized Vin hadn´t finished carving the last book title or author. “V-a-s-e-c-t-o-m-y.” He grinned when the sharpshooter quickly finished his work.

Chris tipped his eyebrow and waited until Vin finished. “You´re both nuts,” he sighed slipping back onto the bottom bunk.

Ezra ignored Chris, “Have you read the book ‘Ten Yards to the Outhouse by Willy Makeit´ or ‘Five Yards More by Betty Won´t´?”

Vin tried to keep from snorting when he heard Chris groan. He then grabbed his knife and started to add the two new books to his list on the ceiling. “Damn,” Vin smiled while hiding a yawn, “I need some coffee.”

“No you don´t,” the voice came from the bottom bunk.

Ezra rolled his eyes and slapped Vin on the knee before heading back to his seat by the fire. He was relieved for the short-lived antics. He had an idea that Chris had disappeared to talk with Harry Kessler. He immediately knew Vin was following him when he stepped under the covered bridge. It didn´t bother him, or so he thought. In a way he was relieved that someone else was there to watch his back, after all he´d been doing it on his own his whole life. As complicated as things were getting he needed all the help he could get, as long as he didn´t have to ask for it.

Chapter 13

Chris sat in the back row with the rest of his men in the auditorium when Assistant Director Anderson stepped on the platform and laid out his papers. Harry sat in the front row off to the side giving him a view of the whole room. He looked amused when Anderson dropped his pen and bent over to pick it up. Chris chuckled in response to Harry´s facial reaction.

Eric Anderson cleared his throat and looked over the group of agents. Giving lectures or speeches to a large group of people wasn´t unfamiliar to him. He´d given presentations to his superiors and law enforcement agencies throughout the country. This was a walk in the park.

Agents had found things to keep themselves occupied. Some learned how truly gifted they were when it came to doodling, others sneaked small radios in and listened by headphones to the baseball game. Crossword puzzles and games of hangman could be seen playing around the room by everyone except the speaker, one of the advantages of auditorium type seating.

JD and Buck played games of tic-tac-toe while Josiah and Nathan played hangman. Vin had brought in a stick to whittle away at. Chris was content drawing caricatures of Anderson, exaggerating his tall thin frame and his thick glasses. Ezra sat in the end seat flipping cards between his fingers. Harry had been right when he said this was going to be a pissing contest between Anderson and Standish. Ezra continued to eye his former boss and Anderson in turn gave his lecture, directing it toward the man that had made his life in the Bureau that much harder. The cockfight had begun.

Anderson finished his lecture and looked up into the audience. “Are there any questions?” he asked, knowing he was laying himself open for Standish to seek revenge.

“You stated that, ‘the majority of agents making arrests are not familiar with or choose to ignore the proper procedures causing ambiguity to surface when it comes to convictions´. How do you intend to reeducate agents without giving the American public the impression that we can´t do our job?” Ezra asked. He leaned back in his seat and waited for the answer he knew would come.

“Agent Standish, I´m not telling you that you don´t know how to do your job. I am saying that because certain procedures are not being followed guilty persons are going free.” Anderson looked around the room knowing that if someone else didn´t ask a question Standish would continue to badger him with questions that would not only confuse the other agents in the room but him as well.

“Statistics prove that more that there are more successful arrests being made now than two years ago,” Ezra continued to argue.

“True,” Anderson agreed, “but think of how many more arrests could be made when following procedures.”

“Everyone in this room is familiar with the proper procedures, however, time does not always allow us to complete these ‘procedures´. Most of the agents in this room work 50 to 60 hours a week and the bureau frowns upon overtime. So my question is, how do you intend to give your personnel more hours to complete their tasks?” Ezra jabbed Anderson where he knew it would hurt. The Assistant Director had no control over the amount of hours the men under his authority had. Ezra knew it.

Anderson silently swore to himself. How was he suppose to tell the 34 agents sitting in front of him that they were supposed to work harder and get their paperwork in within the allotted time. “Listen ‘son´,” Anderson snapped, trying to maintain some control, “I understand your concern when it comes to dealing with the bureaucratic red tape. My job is to tell you what The Associate Deputy Director of Investigations tells me.” Eric folded his notes and replaced them back into his pocket intending to get away before Ezra could throw more questions out at him.

Ezra grinned wickedly knowing he´d hit the Assistant Director where it hurt him most. The simple fact that Anderson was still only an assistant said enough. The Southerner leaned back in his chair satisfied with his former boss´ look of feeling uncomfortable. Anderson looked up at Ezra and glared. The undercover agent looked back at him and winked.

Chris shook his head with a knowing smile. He knew Ezra could be trying at times, he was just thankful it wasn´t himself giving the lecture. Chris knew about the bureaucracy within the system and Anderson´s speech was just that. Another way to jab already overworked agents into working harder. So Ezra did what he did best, cut Anderson off at his knees and by doing so he forced him to go on the defensive. The team leader was thankful Ezra hadn´t said anymore that what he did say because a lot of the agents in the room would agree with the Southerner, especially those who worked longer hours. It wasn´t unusual for an undercover agent or agents working surveillance to put in 20 to 30 hours a week on overtime and as a result ‘paper pushers´ informed the hire ups and memos were sent out to every department strongly advising agents to watch their time more closely. The memos were always filed in the circular file and left there.

Harry looked up into the auditorium seats and saw a very content Standish smiling at Anderson. Buck and Chris were smiling as well. Harry tried to keep himself from chuckling. He was watching some of the antics of a very close friend. Harry was seeing more of Patrick each and every day and it thrilled him to the bone.

Anderson excused the agents from the room and walked hastily into the back room all the while muttering under his breath. Harry laughed at the sight.

“Happy with yourself Ezra?” Chris asked, stepping up to his undercover agent.

“I´m not sure I understand your implications,” Ezra responded with a grin that made Chris shake his head even more.

“The hell you don´t,” Chris said, moving past the Southerner with a grin.

+ + + + + + +

Chris looked at the syllabus and sighed, two more days of this…shit. Buck sat in the seat across from him staring blankly at the fire in the wood stove. The others had gone back to the main house to get dinner.

“You gonna have a little talkin´ too with Ezra?” Buck asked with a grin.

“Shit,” Chris sighed, “that man knows how to find trouble like a two year old kid in a room full of glass.”

“I´m not sure I would have called it by that but it sounds ‘bout right.” Buck grinned, earning a chuckle from the lean blonde sitting across from him. “Did you see what Vin was carvin´ on?” Chris shook his head and looked curiously at Buck. “He was carvin´ Anderson´s dick,” Buck snorted, “it was about this long.” He held up his fingers indicating that Vin´s carving was only an inch or so in length.

Chris laughed out right. “Damn, I got a whole team of practical jokers and instigators.”

“It´s not your first,” Buck said, remembering his time back with the SEAL teams.

“I´m not as young as I used to be either.”

“Hell Chris, you´d put kids half your age to shame…and besides forty is just the beginin´ of your prime,” Buck replied, knowing that he was just a couple of years from reaching that age.

“Flattery will get you nowhere Buck,” Chris warned.

“Flattery…shit Chris you got the wrong ‘accessories´ for flattery.” Buck smiled wickedly.

“Do you ever stop thinking about women?”

“Hell no!” Buck gasped.

JD burst through the door smiling from ear to ear. “You should have seen it,” he tried to catch his breath, “Vin stuck that little carvin´ he was working on during the lecture into the spaghetti and meatballs…right between two…”

“We get the picture JD,” Chris finished for the kid. Buck was laughing so hard he was turning red.

Vin, Josiah and Nathan entered next trying to recover themselves. The looks on the short blonde female agent´s face was all Vin needed to see when he found it too difficult to hold his tray of food sending it crashing to the floor. She´d leaned over and whispered, “Is that a self portrait?” in his ear. Josiah had been the one to pull the sharpshooter by the arm directing him toward the door everyone but Ezra following them out.

“Why do I get the feeling we´re never going to be invited back to one of these ‘training camps´.” Chris chuckled lightly as his men found various positions around the room.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra pushed the bottled water button on the vending machine and waited for it to drop. He reached down to retrieve it and saw familiar black shoes. Anderson put his dollar bill into the vending machine and pushed the button to the beverage that he wanted.

“You were a real smart ass in there today,” Anderson acknowledged, grabbing his water out of the vending machine. “You´re still and FBI agent Standish and you can be transferred to another team at any given time.”

“Is this a warning or just some friendly advice?” Ezra asked, while looking hard at Anderson.

“Don´t get overly confident. You pull something like this again I´ll have you working in Fairbanks Alaska investigating civil rights violations against the native Inuits.”

“You do that,” Ezra pushed him. “I´m not your whipping boy anymore and I´ll be damned if I ever am again.” With that said he turned and left content with himself and anger he´d instilled in Anderson.

Harry Kessler watched from inside the door leading to the cafeteria. Unlike Patrick, Ezra didn´t know when to stop pushing. He shook his head and headed back to his room to think. As much of an ass hole Anderson could be he was still someone to watch out for. And threats weren´t to be taken lightly. Harry sighed, thankfully Anderson was heading back to Atlanta.

Chapter 14

Ezra sat on the chair on the porch of the cabin and watched the sun make its decent. He flipped cards casually through his fingers while thinking about Anderson´s words of warning. The glow from the fire from within the cabin reflected off the glass windows as the wind suddenly picked up.

Buck burst through the door with JD on his heels. The kid was covered in water and shaving cream. He jumped down off the steps and chased the ladies man toward the creek. They both shot across the grassy lawn as though they were running for their lives.

Ezra peeked back through the opened door and noticed Vin and Josiah laughing hysterically. An empty basin lay on the floor next to the bathroom door. Obviously Buck had played a joke on JD and was now getting the pay back. Ezra returned his gaze to the creek where he could hear the kid yelling and Buck´s attempt to keep his composure. He was failing miserably. The Southerner shook his head. Half the fun of playing a practical joke on someone was playing it as a witness, not the prankster. If the victim didn´t know who to blame the results were usually funnier.

Nathan stepped out onto the porch and chuckled when he noticed Buck walking behind JD as they headed back to the cabin. The kid managed to get his revenge. Buck was soaking wet. JD looked satisfied with himself as he walked up the steps.

“Anybody else up for a practical joke!” JD snapped, daring anyone who even remotely looked like they might.

Nathan raised his hands in mock surrender as the kid stormed passed them with a grin. He needed to get cleaned up.

“Shut up!” Buck snapped, following JD into the cabin. He didn´t give them anytime to voice their teasing.

Nathan laughed and looked up into the sky noticing a flash of light in the distance. “Looks like we´re going to get another storm.”

“Unfortunately, yes. I tend to agree with you Mr. Jackson,” Ezra kept his voice low as he answered while he continued to shuffle his cards.

“You alright?” Nathan asked out of concern.

“I´m fine Mr. Jackson, but perhaps you should see to Mr. Wilmington, he seemed to be walking with a limp.” Ezra smiled up at the medic then returned his gaze toward the oncoming storm.

Nathan nodded his head and turned back toward the entrance, “You sure your alright?” he asked again feeling as though the Southerner needed to talk.

Ezra paused before answering, “Thank you for your concern but I´m fine.” Nathan nodded his head again and disappeared inside the cabin.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan grabbed an ace bandage out of his medical bag and forced Buck into a chair. “Take your sock off,” he ordered, squatting down in front of the chair.

Buck had taken the time to change into some dry clothes all the while trying to swallow his humility. Getting caught by JD was not something he´d planned on. “Damn near broke my foot,” the ladies man complained. “The kid runs like a jack rabbit in heat.”

Chris chuckled at Buck´s comment, “If you´d a thrown a pale of water and soap on me I´ll guarantee you´d be covered in more than just water and suffering from more than a sprained ankle.”

“Well you don´t have to tell me twice,” Buck snapped back when Nathan inadvertently moved the ladies man´s ankle wrong. “Damn Nate, I kinda want to keep it.”

Nathan sighed, if it wasn´t for the fact that half the team was a bunch of babies the other half said they were ‘fine´ when they weren´t. “Stop your complaining,” he ordered, while gently wrapping the ankle. “I ain´t never had to deal with a more complicated bunch.”

Vin patted Nathan´s shoulder as he slipped by heading toward his bunk. “Hell, we could be worse Nate.”

“Not by much,” Nathan muttered under his breath earning a chuckle from Buck and Josiah.

+ + + + + + +

Rain poured out of the sky in buckets and Ezra listened to the water hit the ground. Puddles quickly formed but thankfully the wind had died down. He wasn´t sure how long he´d been sitting on the porch content to just look out at the raging storm that seemed to mirror the one inside him. He knew the threats Anderson threw at him were serious but he couldn´t stop himself. He pushed people as far as he could because he knew they´d show their true colors. Anderson had an impeccable record as the Assistant Director and Standish had tried to tarnish that.

Ezra stood up and pulled his coat closer around his shoulders. He put his deck of cards away and decided to face the weather. He needed some answers and he intended to find them.

+ + + + + + +

Chris watched Ezra head up to the main building all the while wishing he could do something to help. He turned back toward the beds that now held his men and paused. Some things were better left private.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra knocked hard on Harry Kessler´s room door. He didn´t care who else he woke when he glanced up at the clock above the stairs and sighed, it read 3:30 am. He ignored the puddle collecting at his feet, he was soaked to the bone and his hair was plastered to his skull. He didn´t care.

Harry opened the door and looked surprisingly at the son of his best friend. Nothing was said immediately as they looked at each other deciding how to start. It was obvious Harry hadn´t been sleeping, that much was clear; he was still in his clothes and the cup of coffee in his hand indicated that he had no intention of heading to bed. He´d pushed his glasses up close to his eyes and looked in wonder at the young man standing before him. It had been so long.

Ezra cleared his throat, “You were there,” he said, remembering Harry´s face at his fathers funeral. He remembered the tears the older now gray haired man had shed unashamedly as they lowered the casket into the ground. The casket that was filled with nothing but the ashes of Ezra´s father.

Harry shook his head not understanding what Ezra was referring to. He reached around the back of his door and grabbed his jacket not wanting to discuss anything within hearing range of anyone else. “Lets talk outside.” Harry directed Ezra toward the stairs and then followed him out of the building.

The rain continued to poor out of the sky as both men headed to the covered bridge. Nothing was said as they moved. Harry continued to think about what he was going to say. How much should he say? “I was where Ezra?” he asked, stopping in the center of the bridge.

Ezra ran his hand through his hair wondering if this wasn´t a mistake. “The funeral, you were at his funeral,” he stammered.

Harry nodded his head. “Yes…I was there.” He crossed his arms over his chest and watched Patrick´s son, he watched the familiar mannerisms, and the familiar personal argument. “Your father was a lot like you…”

“Don´t start with the ‘family resemblance´ bullshit,” Ezra snapped out of frustration.

“What is it you want to know?” Harry asked in a low even tone. He didn´t want to put the Southerner on the defensive before he had a chance to have the first real talk in over 25 years.

“Why´d he do it?” Ezra turned pain filled eyes toward the man he hoped could answer his question.

“I don´t understand what you´re asking?” Harry furrowed his brow. “What did he do?”

“The car accident?” Ezra snapped again, frustrated with himself for asking and frustrated with Harry for not understanding.

Harry paused and stood up straighter when he realized what Ezra was asking. “You think your father killed himself by running into that tree?” he asked almost in shock.

Ezra rolled his eyes and looked toward the ceiling of the covered bridge. Obviously, Harry didn´t know. “Who was with you at the funeral, the man who couldn´t leave his hands off my ‘grieving´ mother?” he asked, almost in disbelief.

“Timothy Daley was your father´s partner after I got transferred…and yes he and your mother had an affair,” Harry answered before Ezra could ask the question.

“I was six, Mr. Kessler, not blind to their fraternizing.” Ezra´s shoulders slumped and he leaned against the railing of the bridge. “Did you ask Mr. Larabee to hire me?”

“Yes,” Harry answered honestly. “After the funeral your mother took off with you, she wouldn´t even tell Tim where she was taking you…I promised your father I would watch out for you if something should ever happen to him.” Ezra nodded his head in acceptance of the response. “Your father was a good man, he never would have run himself into that tree.”

Ezra didn´t respond but continued to watch the speed of the creek water increase. “I apologize for disturbing you at such a late hour.” He tipped his head and went to move past Harry.

Harry grabbed Ezra´s jacket sleeve. “You meant the world to your father.” He met Ezra´s eyes and saw disbelief and confusion.

“Mr. Kessler,” Ezra replied, heading back out into the rain toward the cabin leaving Harry to watch and wonder.

Chapter 15

Chris watched his men with the practiced eye of a leader. The last day of the training seminar was wearing thin on everyone´s nerves. Buck had resorted to mocking Dr. Mark Rosenberg, the licensed psychologist that had been required to observe and talk about team relations. Nathan continued to read a medical magazine while Josiah secretly finished reading the novel he´d brought with him. Vin had been banned from bringing in his whittling knife or any wood. JD kept himself occupied by playing tic-tac-toe with himself. Ezra stared blankly at Dr. Rosenberg´s pencil he was waving around as if he was trying to escape a fly.

“Communications within the teams unit is extremely important and those of you who are familiar with the lack of communication should bear witness to those who aren´t…” Rosenberg continued.

“Sounds to me like he´s blowin´ smoke up his ass,” Vin complained, keeping his voice low enough so he wouldn´t be heard by anyone except those seated closest to him.

The agent sitting in the seat in front of Vin snorted and tried to get himself collected. Dr. Rosenberg stopped his lecture and looked up into the seats. His hair was much to long and his nose was shaped like a parrot´s beak. It wouldn´t have been so bad, but the fact he wore all black with his white socks that seemed to glow every time he took a deep breath causing his pants to pull up past his ankles.

“Is there a problem?” Rosenberg asked, pulling his glasses off.

“No sir,” the agent replied, trying to get his composure in check.

“Obviously Agent Hanson there is something on your mind, perhaps you would like to share it with the rest of us?” The psychologist placed his pencil on the podium and turned to face the audience.

“My apologies,” Hanson tried to back his way out of a no win situation.

“I insist that you ‘communicate´ what it was that distracted you.” Mark Rosenberg confidently leaned against the podium and waited for a response. “Or perhaps it was Agent Tanner who distracted you and it is he who needs to share with the rest of us his reasoning for the disruption.”

Vin sank lower in his chair trying to make himself disappear. Everyone knew the sharpshooter didn´t like to put on the spot and even more so he didn´t like to the center of attention. Each person was surprised when Ezra chuckled loud enough for everybody to hear.

“Would you like to say something Agent Standish?” The good doctor dared him.

“Ezra,” Chris warned. He watched as Vin sighed in relief when Ezra took the attention that was intended for the sharpshooter.

The Southerner didn´t acknowledge his boss but rather focused his attention toward the ‘head doctor´. “Every person in this room had to pass a psychological exam before joining the bureau so I believe everything you´ve been telling us for the past hour is not only repetitive but unnecessary.”

The doctor laughed and returned his gaze to Ezra. “So should I presume the ‘communications´ within your particular team are extensive?”

“Immensely,” Ezra lied.

“So then if you´re so free to share your past and your feelings with your team why don´t you share a little bit of it with us,” the doctor dared.

Ezra smiled and quickly sat up straighter in his seat. “What is it you would like me to ‘communicate´ with you?”

“Whatever you want,” Rosenberg left the floor open and waited for the unexpected.

“I believe most psychologists do what they do because of their own inability to communicate with themselves much less a patient. Frankly ones ‘personal feelings´ are just that ‘personal feelings´ and they have little value in the work place.”

“Agent Standish, I won´t discount what you have to say but to think that personal feelings should be ignored in the workplace is not only dangerous but unavoidable…” Rosenberg paused, “How would you feel if faced with a death of a fellow agent or a possible betrayal?”

“Why should I feel anything about something that is bound to happen?” Ezra responded in a confident tone because he´d already lived it.

“So you wouldn´t care if the man sitting next to you were to get…”

“Dr. Rosenberg,” Harry interrupted, “I find your line of questioning offensive and would strongly suggest you change it.” Every agent in the audience knew it was taboo to talk about an officer of the law dying and Harry Kessler only voiced what everyone wanted to say.

Rosenberg nodded his head in understanding and turned his attention back toward the agent high in the audience. “I apologize for my lack of knowledge,” he said in recognition of his mistake. “Do any of the rest of you feel the same way as Agent Standish?”

Chris looked up into the audience and smiled when three other hands were raised from different teams. Every undercover agent in the room raised their hands and Chris had to chuckle at the thought. Secrecy is how they survived and no one was going to challenge how they did their jobs and if the psychologist was smart then he´d see it as well. Even Harry was shaking his head in disbelief, as a former undercover agent himself he understood the difficulties the job entailed and even more so he understood the secrets that had to be kept. Harry tipped his head to Chris who chuckled at the response. But some things were learned the hard way.

+ + + + + + +

JD threw the last bag into the back of the suburban thankful the week was at an end. He was ready to see Casey and take a long hot bath. He was even wishing for some of Nettie´s homemade stew. Buck came up behind him and grabbed the bag of pretzels, he couldn´t go anywhere without something too much on. The ladies man tapped the CD cover on top of the kid´s head and quickly moved out the way as JD reached out to push him.

“You boys though?” Chris asked, stepping out of the cabin.

Josiah and Nathan walked up carrying bags of bottled water with Harry Kessler following closely behind. JD took the bags and placed them in the back with the rest of the luggage.

“Harry,” Buck smiled, extending his hand. “It´s been good seein´ ya.”

“Same here Buck.” Harry smiled, shaking his friends hand. He shook the others as well and then stepped away from the back of the vehicle to visit briefly with Chris.

Vin and Ezra exited the cabin last. Ezra couldn´t wait to get back and sleep in his own bed while Vin took a deep breath of the mountain air. He was going to miss the fresh air and being locked up in the suburban for the next fifteen hours wasn´t going to be thrilling. Vin watched as JD crawled over the seat to get into the back. Buck threw the bag of pretzels at the kid when he got settled.

“We have to stop at the gas station so I can grab a Coke!” JD all but yelled, pulling a pretzel out of the bag and shoving it into his mouth.

“Great,” Nathan muttered. “So we can listen to him belch the alphabet.” Nathan gripped the book on prenatal care tighter as he opened the front passenger side door.

“Well Brother,” Josiah paused looking at the landscape, drinking in its beauty. “Better to belch than to fart.”

“You will not hear any argument from me Mr. Sanchez,” Ezra replied, wondering when the team was going to get going. When he saw Harry and Chris off in the distance it was all he needed to know, they were going to be a while.

Vin joined JD in the back seat and grabbed a couple of pretzels. He smiled when the kid handed him his Gameboy and a new carton of batteries. Perhaps the trip wouldn´t be uneventful.

+ + + + + + +

Harry smiled when Chris chuckled at his team´s antics over the past week. It had been good to see the team leader looking at life from a new perspective. Granted it could be trying at times, watching not only himself but his men fight their pasts, but in the end it would be well worth it.

“If you or your men ever need anything please don´t hesitate to call me,” Harry stressed the last point and waited until Chris nodded his head in acceptance.

“I really appreciate what you´ve done Harry.”

“I haven´t done enough but it´s a start,” Harry looked back toward the suburban and noticed Chris´ team getting ready to go.

“You want to say goodbye to the guys?”

Harry shook his head. “I think it would be best if I just go…I meant what I said. You or any of your men need anything…”

“We´ll watch his back,” Chris reaffirmed. He knew his friends strongest concern was with Ezra and he couldn´t blame him.

Harry smiled; he should have known he wasn´t going to get anything by the team leader. “I can´t get over how much he reminds me of his father.” He shook his head and clasped Chris´ hand firmly. “Do what you have to.”

“I intend to,” Chris´ voice matched the power in his hand. He watched as Harry headed back up to the main house more determined than ever to keep his men, his team safe. Chris headed back toward the suburban and chuckled when Buck was shoved out of the vehicle; obviously the previous night´s chili was hitting him.

The End

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Continues in: Private Investigations