A Raven in the Snow

Book EIght

by Beth AKA Midge

ATF Universe

Previous Stories in this Series
The South Wind
The Mouths of Crocodiles
High and Dry
China Roses
Brothers in Arms
Wayward Son
Calling Elvis

Chapter 1
Judge Orin Travis waited until Chris Larabee and his ATF team was seated comfortably in his office. The team's reports were all in from their last assignment and after six and a half weeks of hard investigative, undercover, and research work the men were looking forward to a few days off. The judge could see how tired the men were and he wanted more than anything to tell them to take the next week off and rest up, but he couldn't, he had different plans for the team.

Judge Travis cleared his throat and adjusted his glasses. "I know you boys are scheduled for some time off but there are some things that have been put off that need attending to." He paused and carefully noted the looks of disappointment as it crossed each man's face. "Agent Wilmington has been required to attend the departmental three day seminar on bomb detonation." Travis looked at Wilmington almost challenging him to object. The judge then turned his attention to Nathan. "Agent Jackson, you need to complete your EMT refresher courses. Agent Dunne..." Travis looked at his notepad and then to JD, "There are some new electronic devices being sent from Washington that are now required to use in conjunction with all your computer software. Agent Hoffman is heading up that Task Force, you'll report to him in the morning."

"This can't wait another week?" Chris asked with a glare. He knew more than anyone how tired his men were and how badly they needed some time off.

Travis shook his head. "In a short time I will go before the State's Supreme Court to defend this team's existence, this remedial work needs to be completed. I can't have any loose ends that may influence the Justices that this team is insufficient." Orin gave Chris a hard look to get his point across. "Agent Tanner was due a month ago for his weapons qualification exams and you Agent Larabee...will be attending the Interagency Seminar on Leadership."

Chris rolled his eyes when he heard the rest of his team chuckle quietly. "What about Ezra and Josiah?"

Travis looked between Standish and Sanchez knowing what he had to say would not go over well between any of the seven men sitting before him. "The FBI has requested another undercover agent to help on one of their current cases." The Judge looked up and greeted Ezra's eyes. "You'll be working with Agent Carson..."

"What?" Chris interjected, knowing the judge knew about the situation regarding his undercover agent and the FBI agent.

"Please allow me to finish." Travis held firm and didn't back down from Larabee's glare. "The FBI has every undercover agent available working this case and they need another one..."

"What kind of a case is it?" Chris interrupted again. He didn't like the idea of Ezra working alone with Carson.

"I understand your concern Agent." Judge Travis took control again. He looked toward Ezra and continued. "You'll be required to go undercover in one of the mental health clinics downtown." He watched Ezra clench his jaw and roll his eyes.

"Somebody finally figured out you're nuts Ez," Buck joked, trying to relieve the tension.

"Shut up Buck," Josiah and Chris said in unison.

"Agent Sanchez, you will work side by side with Agent Carson while Agent Standish is undercover." Everyone seemed to relax when the Judge made mention that Ezra wouldn't be working alone with the FBI Agent. "The case will only last a few days and Agent Carson will inform the both of you what will happen and the details of the case."

"I'm not comfortable with Ezra working with Carson, even if Josiah will be workin' with the man." Chris wanted it on record that he didn't like the idea. He didn't want this to shadow his team should, God forbid, something happen.

"Agent Larabee, your concern has been duly noted but unfortunately things must stay as they are. You all need to get prepared for your designated assignments. Agents Standish and Sanchez, Agent Carson will meet you in the situation room downstairs in half an hour." Judge Travis got to his feet and handed the others each a sheet of paper describing in detail their assignments and the reports they were required to fill out upon completion of their tasks.

Chris took the sheet of paper that the Judge handed him and looked across the room to his undercover agent trying to get some kind of a read on what was going through the man's head. However, that infamous poker face was firmly in place and the team leader realized that even if Ezra had a problem with the case he wouldn't voice his opinion.

"I want those reports by the end of the week. When you're done with your assignments you can take some time off." Judge Travis stepped up to the door and held it open for the men to leave. He saw the disapproving look that Chris threw him before he left the office but once again Travis stood his ground. When Chris had signed the joint transfer papers in order to obtain Standish for the position on his team he'd agreed to share Ezra's talents as an undercover officer with the FBI. Travis's hands were tied; he couldn't tell the FBI they couldn't use Standish for their assignment because on paper he'd already agreed.

Ezra sat back and watched the rest of the team leave the office. It wasn't lost on the Southerner that Chris had been concerned for him in regards to Carson. It was a strange sensation but it felt good not being the only one troubled about the situation at large. Ezra stood up and headed for the door he stopped and looked at the Judge who was, to say the least, understanding, of the undercover agent's concerns. "I want it to go on record that I'm not comfortable working with Agent Carson."

Travis nodded his head. "I'll make note in my report." Ezra nodded and started to walk out. "Be careful Agent," the Judge said, watching him leave. A sudden feeling of uncertainty engulfed him.

+ + + + + +

Josiah glanced across the table as Ezra quietly read through the file. Agent Carson proceeded to turn off the lights and turn on the slide projector. His case had been a direct order from Washington D.C. and he intended to do the best he could. After all, a promotion could come out of it.

Carson explained the case in detail. Four bodies killed in a similar manner had been found over the past two weeks in the Denver area. It was rare for D.C. to give any special attention to such local cases. Under normal circumstances the FBI would work with the local PD and form a Serial Killer Task Force. However, victims had been turning up in large cities throughout the country, all with the same modus operandi, or MO and that warranted their attention. All of the victims were single and had recently been in mental institutions. They didn't have family, and all were physically healthy at the time of their death. The Victims were not gender specific. Bodies of both men and women had been found. All had been mutilated in some way, sometimes the heart was removed, more often the liver, pancreas, lungs and kidneys. In some, the victim was found missing more than one organ. The accompanying slide presentation illustrated exactly how gruesome the murders had been and none of the agents sitting in the room were comfortable looking at the images. The FBI's profilers had come up with several scenarios, one of which was the idea that these murders were perpetrated by a cult with members networked throughout the country, and perhaps was one whose personal scapegoat was the mentally ill. Another idea was multiple serial killers. However, the fact remained, serial killers didn't work in groups. They were notorious for working alone. Only a few cases suggested that a killer had worked with others. D.C. had decided to approach the situation as a cult, until evidence came into light that proved against it.

Only in recent years has the FBI acknowledged the possibility of cultic activity. Murderers such as Charlie Manson and his 'Family' or David Berkowitz the 'Son of Sam' proved to the law enforcement community that cults existed and were capable of this kind of organization. It was soon discovered that these cults networked throughout the country and were involved in various crimes such as drug trafficking, pornography, arson, sexual crimes, and murder. Covens were often formed among the cults. These groups included doctors, lawyers, teachers and even law enforcement personnel. Though the victims of these crimes usually remained within the 'coven' sometimes they did not. Victims, many times, did not survive their ordeals, some were sacrificed to the devil, while others went insane or committed suicide.

The more Josiah saw and the more he read about this case, the more he agreed with the FBI's profiles. It was more probable. He'd listened to everything that Agent Carson had to say and nothing out of the ordinary struck him. Just because there was a lack of satanic symbolism at the sights where the victims were found didn't mean it couldn't be a cult. Secrecy was a large part of the cultic phenomena. It was this secrecy that made it so difficult to prove murders were associated with cults. However, most victims associated with any specific organization or cult usually had distinctive signs, such as electric shock, starvation, sexual assault, or drug use and what made this case unusual was that none of the bodies found had any signs of those types of traumas.

"There are undercover agents from both the Bureau and the PD working in various mental health agencies throughout the city. Agent Standish will be committed for a three-day minimum stay for an attempted suicide at the Delany Hospital for Mental Health. There are three undercover agents already working there as orderlies. Your objective is to gather information and obtain evidence that will help get a conviction." Carson looked at Ezra. He didn't want the rogue agent screwing up HIS case. "There will be an agent in the vicinity for the duration of your stay." Carson looked at his notepad and back to Standish. "Hospital policy says that you'll be allowed to wear a white tee shirt, jeans, and an over shirt. We will fit your jeans with an emergency positioning device," Agent Carson tossed Ezra one of the devices that looked like the rivets on most denim pant pockets, "They are easily disguised and easy to reach." He paused and looked around the room. "Every undercover agent working on this case will have one. Once the device is activated a team of agents will get to you in less than ten minutes."

"Am I to understand that this device will be within easy reach...should I be restrained?" Ezra's skeptical voice echoed in Carson's ears.

"Even in a strait jacket," Carson replied distastefully.

Josiah looked from Nick Carson to Ezra and decided to break the tension. He and the Southerner were going to have to work with this FBI team no matter what. They might as well make the best of it. "What will my responsibility be?"

Carson diverted his attention toward the big man sitting across from him. "Because of your degree in Psychology and your previous work with the Cult and Satanic Crime Unit in Los Angeles we'll assume you'll know what behavior to look for. You'll be working as a state employee visiting the mental institutions in the Denver area for the next three days. You'll talk with staff, doctors, and patients in each ward. You're going to be our main link to the inside, and the only contact for the undercover agents in each hospital."

"So what exactly are we looking for?" Ezra asked, while going back through the file he'd been given earlier.

"We believe that the cult may have personnel working in these mental hospitals or they're getting information from staff members. Look for employees copying information, stealing files, making suspicious phone calls, or staff that has become interested in one or more patients," Carson concluded. He looked around the room at his men and the two men from the ATF team. Carson proceeded to gather all of the files of information he had brought with him.

Josiah stood up and gathered his own files and looked down at the undercover agent who was still looking through the information. "Should we go Brother?" the big man asked looking between Ezra and Nick.

"Both of you be here in the morning and we'll get you suited up. Your first team meeting is tomorrow morning with Special Agent Ted Brown," Carson said to Josiah, who took the information without much thought. "Agent Standish...bring the jeans you'll be wearing and we'll get the contact device put in, then you'll be taken to Delany's by two FBI Agents posing as Denver Police Officers."

Ezra nodded his head and proceeded to follow Josiah out of the large room. He didn't like the idea of going undercover. Perhaps it was the idea of Nick Carson at the helm that had his gut in a knot but something else was eating at him and he just couldn't put his finger on what it was.

Chapter 2

Chris was pissed. There wasn't any other word in the English dictionary that could better describe the tall muscular blonde. He walked into the Leadership Seminar room and looked toward the podium with a glare that would scare Hannibal Lector himself. Chris had decided to dress like he felt, black jeans, black shirt, black tie, black boots, and a black jacket. If he'd had a black hat he would have worn that as well. He didn't bother to look around the room where the other team leaders, mostly FBI, police lieutenants, and government officials gathered. They were all here to hear this two-day Leadership Seminar. Chris rolled his eyes at the idea. He hated the idea of being stuck in a room with a bunch of suits that couldn't lead a horse to water.

As a team leader he knew what his responsibilities were and one of his responsibilities was to be with his men not stuck here. JD, and Nathan would be fine. They weren't out detonating bombs or trying to pass a weapons exam like Buck or Vin. Granted it was only a training course but things could always go wrong. Ezra and Josiah were a whole other issue he didn't want to think about. Ezra was in a mental ward for seventy-two hours and under any other circumstance Chris would have ribbed the Southerner just as much as the rest of his team, however with Nick Carson involved it gave the team leader an ill feeling all the way through to the soles of his shoes. He would give just about anything for a bottle of Jack Daniels and a handful of Tums.

Chris silently thanked God that Buck wasn't there with him. They'd get kicked out for sure. When the stick figure stepped up to the microphone Chris could hear Buck comparing the man to the scarecrow on the Wizard of Oz. The man even had the yellow stringy hair and facial features that looked like they'd been painted on. The team leader shook his head and pulled out of his back pocket a small book of crossword puzzles. He intended to complete the seminar he just didn't intend to listen.

+ + + + + +

Gadgets. Oh how JD loved them. His face lit up like a beacon in the night when the three Government officials laid out the computer and surveillance parts. More parts. More parts for JD to tweak, jerry rig, and assemble. How he loved his job. The kid in him didn't wait to be invited out it appeared like a ghost at a Halloween party. He looked at the parts like a puzzle that had to be completed in a matter of minutes and he intended to finish it without any help. After all, Chris Larabee didn't hire him because he was good at what he did. Chris Larabee hired him because he was the best at what he did.

Even before Agent Hoffman had a chance to get seated and start explaining all the new computer technologies JD was putting things together and explaining to Hoffman and the rest of the group how certain parts could be improved and by bypassing certain circuits more power could be distributed through the system. It wasn't long before Hoffman and Dunne were throwing ideas off each other and using duct tape to attach ends. It was like watching Picasso reinvent cubism. Only Hoffman was the master's understudy.

+ + + + + +

Nathan sat his medical bag by his chair as he looked around the classroom. He felt like he was back in college. Only this time the class was filled with paramedics, fire fighters, police officers, and just a couple of government agents who were qualified EMT's. What a mixture of people. All of them were from different backgrounds and had decided to help save lives. Nathan couldn't have been more thrilled. This is what it was all about. Doing purpose, regardless of the circumstances. This was his chance at putting his past behind him for the greater good. When the time came down to it, it didn't matter who needed saving, because in reality everyone did. Religious, political, ethnic, and racial issues aside. This is what made life worth living.

Nathan watched as the head trauma surgeon from Mercy General stepped into the classroom and sat her bag of information and medical supplies on the large desk in front of the class. She wore everyday clothing, much like the individuals ordered to take her class. Her long hair was pulled back away from her face exposing the large amount of gray hair at her temples. She looked around the room and smiled when she saw what everyone else had seen when they'd stepped into the room. The importance of saving lives. She was here to instruct them how to do more, in order to save those who normally wouldn't have a chance. The woman believed hard in the power of healing, and the fact that there was always something more that could be done to save a patient. Sometimes it earned her harsh criticism from her colleagues but she stood by her ideas and ideals. She was the best trauma surgeon around. She locked eyes with Nathan and smiled. This was a community of healers and they all respected each other.

+ + + + + +

Buck looked again at the petite blonde woman standing next to him. He couldn't have been luckier than to have been partnered with such a vision of loveliness. Her long blonde hair was pulled back away from her face exposing her soft features and pouting lips. Her eyelashes were long and dark outlining her sky blue eyes. Buck smiled down at her trying to listen to the speaker finish his lesson on plastics detonations but he couldn't seem to keep his mind on the job. The beautiful woman sitting next to him was making it impossible to do so. The blonde looked up at the ladies man. She didn't smile; instead she returned her attention to the speaker up front and lifted her left hand exposing the large diamond engagement ring and wedding band. Then she folded her pinky finger and thumb in toward the palm of her hand and whispered for Buck to read between the lines. Buck simply laughed, he liked a challenge.

+ + + + + +

Vin pulled his bag of beef jerky out of his jacket pocket and received looks of disgust from fellow agents and officers. Maybe he should take up smoking. At least with cigarettes he wouldn't have people calling him a 'cannibal' all the time, he liked beef, preferably dried beef when a juicy steak wasn't available. However, a flame broiled Whopper sure sounded good at the moment. He finished the piece of jerky in his hand and took a long drink of the Coke he'd got out of the vending machine. He would have preferred a carton of chocolate milk but for now the Coke was going to have to do.

Directions came over the speakers for all personnel to put on their protective ear and eyewear. Vin did just that. He waited for the go ahead for the shooting exam to start. Unfortunately, the first day in the three days of testing was always the most grueling. It seemed he and everyone else had to qualify on every weapon used by the police force, FBI, and CIA. It was mandatory for all skilled and qualified shooters.

Vin wished he'd made a bet with Ezra before the day started. He was sure that Chris Larabee would kill someone before his two-day lecture on leadership was over. Ezra probably would have given him even odds and suggestions of his own.

+ + + + + +

Josiah gripped the steering wheel of his rented car as he left the Langley Mental Hospital. It had been his second stop, and for the most part, the most trying one. He couldn't seem to separate himself from memories of his sister Hanna. Walking into these mental wards was bringing up a past he didn't want to revisit. Granted, these wards were different today than they were ten or fifteen years ago but they were still the same when it came to the feelings of being lost, misunderstood, and out of control. These were the things that his sister had to face everyday of her life up until her death, some five years earlier.

He wanted to remember Hanna as she had been in her youth, when she was full of life and full of hope. Not the shell of a person she had become after adolescence. They had been fairly close in age, only a couple years separated them but she couldn't handle their father's bitterness and anger that plagued him after the death of their mother. In many ways Hanna was blamed for her death and she couldn't handle the pain or guilt her father pounded into her as a young girl. Josiah had been lucky, he was older and a man therefore able to leave. He blamed himself for her death and her illness. Visiting these hospitals brought all those memories back in full force.

Josiah pulled into the last hospital he was going to be visiting for the day thankful that he would be seeing a familiar face. Ezra would have been dropped off already. Josiah had to chuckle at the thought. This is not someplace the Southerner would want to be, even though he was undercover.

+ + + + + +

Ezra was in hell. There wasn't a better way to describe his current circumstances. Two undercover FBI Agents had dropped him off at the front desk. From there he had been taken to the lab and had his blood drawn. If that wasn't bad enough he then had to pee in a cup. Something about a drug test. He was going to tell the Judge exactly what he thought about this assignment the first chance he got, even if he got a reprimand in the process.

The Southerner couldn't believe Carson had put him undercover as an attempted suicide. How was he supposed to find anything when people were going to be watching his every move for the next seventy-two hours? Carson knew as much about undercover work as he did about hair. Which was nothing. At least Ezra was able to wear his own clothing. Wearing the hospital garb would push him over the edge.

When the agents had dropped him off at the desk their only advice had been to 'act depressed'. No shit. He was supposed to be someone who'd attempted suicide; he wouldn't exactly be partying with Weird Al Yankovich. Although, the more Ezra thought about it the more he realized he would have to kill himself if he partied with Weird Al.

+ + + + + +

Josiah entered the building and felt for the first time in a day a feeling of relief. This wasn't like the other two hospitals he'd visited. There was a feeling of closeness and understanding inside these walls. There weren't any bars on the windows or doors. Instead the windows' blinds were opened showing the beautiful winter sky outside. He was sure the windows were thick plexiglass rather than regular glass. Uniformed staff was carefully guarding the hospital's doors. They helped bring a more human aspect to a patient's period of detention.

Patients walked freely around, some dressed in everyday street clothes and others in pajamas or hospital attire. For the most part they kept to themselves occasionally talking with other patients or hospital staff. Some played games, read magazines, watched TV, and some stared out the windows at something only they could see.

Josiah smiled when a woman wearing a long white hospital coat and dress suit stepped out of her office and walk toward him. Glasses hung around her neck by a gold chain and her long gray hair was pulled back into a loose bun away from her aging face. "Dr. Karen Ryder," Josiah said sticking his hand out for the woman to shake.

"Dr. Burrows." Karen smiled shaking the offered hand. "I understand you're going to be observing the mental hospitals in the Denver area over the next three days?" Her tone was smooth and understanding.

Josiah nodded his head trying to take everything about his surroundings in. "It's been over six months since this institution has had a state representative monitor your proceedings." He smiled knowing what he was saying was true. "I'm just here to observe, watch, talk with supporting staff, doctors, and patients...I'm sure everything is well within state regulations."

"I've arranged a meeting with the staff and doctors tomorrow at 2:00, is that an okay time with you?"

Josiah nodded his head looking around again at the patients and hospital staff attending them. "2:00 would be appropriate."

"Why don't you have a look around, feel free to speak with the staff." She squeezed his arm and started back toward her office.

"Excuse me Dr. Ryder," Josiah said catching up with the woman. "Who is that?" He pointed toward the far corner of the room toward the young man who sat alone.

"Carl Dietrich." Karen stopped. She had just left his file in her office and was going over it. "He's a new patient here, came in this morning as an attempted suicide. He has no family to speak of and from what we can gather he has no signs of drug use, mental disorders, or a history with depression."

"Then why did he try and kill himself?" Josiah knew why Ezra was here, he just wanted to know how the doctors would portray him. He also wanted to make sure the Southerner wasn't a candidate for murder.

"Perhaps you can tell us?" The woman smiled, knowing Josiah would talk to the young man first. She didn't mind, her goal was to see all patients treated with care.

Josiah nodded his head and started for the young man in the corner of the room. Ezra fit the part of a person suffering from a severe case of depression to a tee. He looked like he was staring out at the snow covered trees but the big man knew Ezra was watching everything that was going on around him. "Carl?" Josiah stopped in front of the Southerner and using his undercover name, spoke to him in a low smooth voice. Ezra looked up at the big man and then returned his gaze out the window. Josiah pulled the empty chair closer to the seat where the undercover agent sat and made himself comfortable. He wanted to look like he was trying to get the young man to open up.

Ezra ran his hand over his face and glanced over to the man sitting next to him. "I'm warning you first hand Mr. Sanchez. I will seek my revenge in a very careful manner."

Josiah chuckled but didn't look at him. "Should I warn the Judge you're intending to send him a pan of homemade brownies?"

Ezra rolled his eyes but kept his face turned toward the glass window noticing that a large raven had taken up residence in one of the trees. "I was thinking more on the lines of sending him and his wife a monthly supply of pornographic videos."

"You do realize Mrs. Travis is on the board for protecting today's youth from pornography."


Josiah stifled the laugh he so wanted to share. "Damn Ezra..." the big man paused, "...you are ruthless."

Ezra smiled but continued to look out the window. "Did you learn anything today that could prove useful?"

"Unfortunately no," Josiah shook his head, "but it's just the first day. I have meetings all day tomorrow with hospital staff and I'll meet with you and the other undercover agents on this case. To be truthful, I don't know what I'm going to find in a matter of three days."

"Being that this is Agent Carson's case," Ezra looked skeptically at Josiah, "I doubt very much that we're going to find anything substantial. He seems to be under the impression that evidence is gathered with a pitch fork."

"I'm surprised you know what a pitch fork is." Josiah looked momentarily at the Southerner before turning back toward the window. "You going to be alright?"

"Lights go out in this place at 9:00 Mr. Sanchez, I'll probably catch up on some much needed sleep."

"Be careful." Josiah stood up and headed out.

Chapter 3

Chris leaned back in his chair and sighed. He was thankful the two-day lecture had come to an end. He was also thankful he hadn't killed anyone within the last two days. Tom Barker had come close to being strangled. The man could talk about nothing longer than most men could watch a football game without taking a piss.

Chris had taken the initiative and checked on the status of his men. Vin had one more day of weapons exams and from what Chris understood the sharpshooter was acing all of his test and driving everyone crazy with his 'jerky'. The team leader had to chuckle at the thought. Vin had probably bought a king sized bag from Costco. Buck's attention, on the other hand, had gotten disciplined for not paying attention in class. Not a big surprise where the ladies man was concerned. If there was a beautiful woman in the vicinity then Bucks attention was focused elsewhere. However, after the bomb instructor got wise and decided to pair Buck with someone with less estrogen and more testosterone, his orders were then attended to. JD had taken it upon himself to install the new devices sent from D.C. into everyone's computers. The kid couldn't have been more thrilled. He'd even booby-trapped Buck's computer to read his horoscope when he turned it on. JD couldn't wait until the ladies man found out he was gay...well, according to the horoscope of course. Ezra and Vin would be proud. Nathan had repacked his medical bag and took to heart everything that the instructor had told him. He felt good about receiving new medical information; anything that could help save a life was worthy of his time. Ezra was still undercover and had thirty-seven hours of his seventy-two hour stay left. Chris had to wonder what kind of retaliation the Southerner would use to get back at the judge for making him work undercover in a mental ward. However, Josiah was Chris's real concern. The man was still fighting demons that only he could see. The team leader knew about the big man's sister and the circumstances surrounding of how she died. He also knew about the mental illness that had plagued her for most of her adult life. Josiah was taking this all to heart. Spending, though it had only been two days, his time within the confines of mental wards talking with patients, doctors and staff. The big man was hurting and Chris wanted this assignment over as soon as possible.

Chris leaned back in his chair and folded his fingers behind his head. It was late, almost 8:30pm, and most of the building had called it a day. However, there were a few die-hard employees staying late trying to finish up or trying to prepare, for what Chris figured was a three-day weekend. The lean blonde could hear the vacuums running on the floor beneath his. A knock at the door caused him to almost fall out of his chair but he quickly regained his balance and called for the visitor to enter.

Judge Travis opened the door thankful that Chris had decided to come to the office after his last required lecture on leadership. "Agent Larabee," Travis said, slipping comfortably into the chair in front of the team leaders desk.

"Is there something I can do for you Judge?"

"State Supreme Court Justice Temp Marshal called me today. A Right of Four has been granted." The judge leaned back in his seat and watched the blonde man sitting across from him.

"That's good news," Chris said, knowing that in order for the team to continue, four of the seven Supreme

Court Judges had to agree to listen to Judge Travis's petition to keep this team together and working for the state of Colorado.

"Very," Travis agreed. "In six weeks I'll go back before the court and argue the importance of this team on behalf of the law enforcement community. The Judges will then either order you disbanded or pass the six month probation period that was ordered when this team was started."

"Do you foresee a problem?"

"No," Judge Travis shook his head. "Justices Marshal, Harrowitz, and Kline are in full support of this team. Tripp and Barns have reservations but with the right argument I don't see any problems. However, Justices Hoffman and Cooper will need more convincing. If we can get a full consensus this team won't be in jeopardy of being disbanded."

"Good," Chris agreed, nodding his head in understanding.

The Judge cleared his throat and looked hard at Chris. "You've created an environment where you and these men are able to excel, even beyond their own expectations...that is something to be proud of."

"You don't sound convinced?"

"At first I wasn't," Travis admitted. "When you brought Tanner on I seriously questioned your sanity. The man didn't have a college degree and his last job was working for a bail bondsman in Nevada. Not exactly the kind of individual that qualifies for a job such as this."

"Maybe not," Chris agreed. "But he's the best sniper in the field," the team leader threw the sharpshooter's latest test scores in front of the Judge, "and I wouldn't trade him for anyone else."

"I'm not arguing with you Chris. I'm only showing you what those Justices are going to see."

"If you want results..."

"Why did you hire Standish?" Travis cut to the chase.

"Because he's the best at what he does."

Judge Travis reached into his brief case and removed a thin file. "Some information was sent to me by a friend of mine in DC." Travis replaced his case at his feet and looked at Chris. "How well do you trust Harry Kessler?"

Chris clenched his jaw. How did Travis know that Harry had been the one to tell him about Ezra? "Harry was one of mine and Bucks instructors when we joined the SEALS. I trust him with my life."

"Do you trust him with the lives of your men?" Travis challenged.

"What's this about?"

"Harry Kessler worked with the CIA before the SEALS and then the FBI." The Judge opened the file. "When he worked for the CIA his partner was a man by the name of Patrick Standish."

Chris furrowed his brow and took a deep breath. Ezra's middle name was Patrick. "Ezra's father?"

Travis nodded. "He was supposedly killed in a car crash in 1975."

"What do you mean 'supposedly'?"

"According to the coroner's report there were some inconsistencies for the body to have died in the car crash. However, the body was cremated before a full autopsy could be performed."

"Do you think Kessler had somethin' to do with that?" Chris wanted to believe in his friend.

"I don't know what to think. I am hoping Harry Kessler spoke on Ezra's behalf because he is the son of his old partner." Judge Travis shrugged his shoulders. "Watch your men Chris. I don't like the idea of the CIA being involved in this. I'll do what I can but I won't reach beyond the law." Travis handed the file he'd been holding to the man sitting stunned across from him. "I've spoken with Assistant Director Harding and requested that you work with Special Agent Carson on the case he's investigating."

Chris took the file and looked questionably at the Judge. "Carson's comfortable with this?"

"No," Travis shook his head, "but I want you and your team on it. Have your men informed about this by 1:30 Friday afternoon at which time you'll meet with Carson, myself and all the other agents working on the case. Agents Sanchez and Standish will be there as well." The Judge got to his feet and started for the door. "Something about this case has my stomach in a knot." He turned and looked at Chris. "I think it would be best if everyone was there and involved."

"Thank you Judge." Chris followed the man toward the elevator. He had to agree with Travis, there was something about the case Josiah and Ezra were working on that made him overly concerned.

"Chris, when this case is done you and your boys take some quality time...I don't want you to burn out before you complete your first year as a team." Travis forced a smile on his face and watched the elevator doors close him in.

Chris ran his hand through his hair and headed back toward his office. With the way his gut was talking he should have bought stock in Mylanta. Things could never be easy and he was concerned about the case two of his men were working on. He would feel better when the team was together and doing what they do best. Working together.


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