Chris contacted Police Lt. Dave Mathews and quickly got his cooperation. The team, Mathews, and two other officers gathered down the street from the motel. Chris had explicit instructions on how he wanted this handled. The team would move in and apprehend the assailants and transfer custody to Mathews and his men. Chris didn't want the two men holding Ezra to be arrested for the kidnapping of his undercover agent. Mathews would arrest them and locate priors, if they had any, if the didn't something else would be arranged. The team leader didn't want his agent in the middle of a courtroom drama it would destroy his career. He also didn't know if Ezra knew who was behind his abduction, and Chris intended to keep that information from him for as long a possible.
+ + + + + + +
The team had dressed in everyday street clothes and flack jackets, covered by winter coats, and carefully maneuvered around the hotel room door. They were all thankful that most, if not all, the hotels patrons were gone. Except, of course, the two men holding Ezra.
+ + + + + + +
Bob Finch and his brother Larry sat on the hotel beds watching 'Days of Our Lives'. A pile of pizza boxes gathered in the corner of the room on the suit case rack needing desperately to be thrown out. Beer bottles and soda cans littered the small trash can that now seemed to bulge at the seams. Neither bed had been made in days and dirty clothing was strung out on the floor, on the small dresser, and on the beds.
Larry threw the crust of his pizza on the open box on the bed and grabbed for the last can of Mountain Dew. His older brother sat next to the phone waiting for the instructions from Maude. A promised ten grand was all the motivation they needed to do the job they'd been hired for.
+ + + + + + +
Vin knocked on the door numbered 16. "Housekeeping," he yelled, moving out of range in case shots were fired.
+ + + + + + +
Larry turned the TV down and Bob moved closer to the door. "Read the fuckin' sign on the door!" He yelled shaking his head. Bob relaxed and returned to his seat. Larry chuckled and turned the volume back up on the TV.
+ + + + + + +
Vin pulled the 'do not disturb' sign off the door handle and tossed it aside. "What sign? Buck, you see a sign?" the sharpshooter whispered receiving a chuckle from Buck.
Chris looked at all his men and held his hand up. "On the count of three." He motioned with his fingers when the number was up Nathan and Josiah kicked the door in.
+ + + + + + +
The door burst open and wood splintered off the broken door. Bob dove for cover on the other side of the bed and Larry stood frozen with his Mt. Dew in one hand and a napkin in the other.
"Nobody move!" Chris snapped pointing his weapon at the men who seemed frightened by the idea of being shot.
Buck and Nathan moved in and handcuffed both men.
"Where is he?" Josiah grabbed Bob tightly around his forearm using his size to intimidate him.
"Bathroom," Bob replied easily as one of the uniformed police officers took him and his brother into custody.
Josiah didn't wait and he headed straight for the bathroom. The door was closed and the big man opened it up hoping for the best. His heart was racing so fast he couldn't hear if anyone or everyone was behind him. The lights had been shut off and Josiah carefully turned them back on. "Thank God," he whispered finding the undercover agent blindfolded and gagged on the bathroom floor. Ezra's hands were cuffed behind him, socks had been taped to his hands preventing him from picking the locks and his booted feet had been bound.
Ezra jumped when he felt cold hands touch his bare arms. "It's all right Brother." Josiah pulled the Southerner to a sitting position and quickly removed the gag he noticed how tense he was and how cold his skin was.
Nathan squeezed into the confines of the bathroom and squatted next to the upright Southerner. The medic removed the blindfold and waited until Ezra's eyes adjusted to the dim light of the bathroom. "You with us Ezra?" The medic asked, when the team's undercover agent blinked rapidly while looking around the room.
"Obviously," came the dry sarcastic reply. Ezra leaned his head back against the wall as Josiah removed the handcuffs.
"Good." Nathan smiled at Josiah and at Vin and Buck who were peaking in through the door. He reached into his bag and pulled out a bottle of Gatorade and removed the cap. "How long's it been since you had something to eat or drink?"
Ezra shook his head not knowing what day it was, much less since the last time he had something to eat or drink. He continued to work at removing the socks covering his hands until Josiah forcefully grabbed his left hand and removed the tape that had kept the sock in place.
"I want you to drink this," Nathan handed the Southerner the bottle of light green Gatorade, "it's got electrolytes in it, it'll help."
Ezra managed to get the other sock off his hand, thanks to Josiah's help. He sighed in relief when he felt the restraints from his ankles removed and he felt Nathan grab his hand and place the bottle in it.
"Drink it slow, don't want you to get sick." Nathan smiled when the Southerner's face contorted with disgust after taking a small sip.
"This is awful." Ezra started to hand the bottle back to the medic. He wasn't that thirsty.
"Drink it," Nathan ordered.
Ezra took another drink and it registered with him how thirsty he was. He continued to drink it slow afraid he would throw it up if he drank too fast.
"I think we should get you to a hospital...get you checked out," Nathan motioned for Josiah to help him get the Southerner to his feet.
"No," Ezra shook his head. He wasn't about to step one foot inside a hospital. He was cold, tired, hungry, and thirsty. He didn't need a doctor poking and prodding him to tell him what he already knew.
"We can make you go." Nathan grabbed Ezra under his arm and Josiah took the other and both men pulled the Southerner up.
"You can try," Ezra's tone changed and everyone standing around realized they weren't going to force him into anything. He'd been through enough already without his teammates forcing him into something he didn't want to do.
Josiah nodded to Nathan for the medic to take a step back. The Southerner wasn't in any mood to be forced into anything and nobody could blame him. The big man let go of Ezra's arm and quickly took off the heavy winter jacket he'd been wearing and threw it over the undercover agent's bare shoulders.
Ezra didn't waste any time slipping into the jacket. His body was relaying its need to be warm over its need to refuse help. He let his eyes slowly adjust to the light coming into the bathroom from the hall. He could see Josiah and Nathan standing next to him and Buck and Vin looking in through the door frame.
+ + + + + + +
Chris reentered the hotel room after speaking with Lt. Mathews about the arrangements for the two brothers. He'd contacted JD and let him know what was happening. The team leader saw Vin and Buck standing by the bathroom door with a grin on their faces. Something he hadn't seen in two days and was thrilled to see again. He could hear Ezra refusing to go to the hospital and Chris couldn't blame him.
"How is he?" Chris asked, moving up beside Vin.
"Good...considering." Vin moved to the side giving Chris access to the bathroom.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan reached into his medical bag and pulled out a dark pair of sunglasses. "Put these on," he handed them to the Southerner, "they'll help with the lights." The medic chuckled when Ezra forced his hands through the end of the jacket sleeves and roughly placed the glasses on.
"Damn Ezra," Buck joked. "I need some food," the ladies man moved out of the door frame and headed back into the main room. "It's been two days since I've had a decent meal...I have a figure to maintain." He yelled from the window receiving a chuckle from his teammates.
Ezra rolled his eyes as he exited the room that had been his jail cell for the past two and a half days. Buck would find humor at his own funeral. The smell of the fresh cold air coming in through the open door filled the Southerner with a sense of relief. He was thankful to be free. Ezra realized everyone was quiet about the details of his disappearance and he couldn't blame them, he knew it was his mother behind his abduction. More than likely she was getting another divorce and needed some money to tie her over. He was just sorry the team had to be involved.
Chris grabbed Nathan's arm as the medic started to walk out of the room and follow the rest of the team. "Is he alright?" The concern on Chris's face made Nathan take a double look and answer truthfully.
"He should be fine...he's slightly dehydrated but it's not serious," Nathan smiled. "I'm sure Buck and Vin will treat Ezra to his first Whopper." The medic slapped Chris on the shoulder and followed the others out to the vehicles.
Chris watched him go and ran a hand over his exhausted face. He was thankful things had turned out like they had. He didn't want to even think about what could have happened. The team leader hoped Maude wouldn't be at the office when they got back, a confrontation wasn't what any of them needed at the moment.
Josiah pulled the SUV out of the Burger King drive through and chuckled. They'd ordered enough food to feed the US Military to say the least. Josiah had ordered extra for Nathan and Chris, who had taken a different car to check on Mathews, as well as JD who was still back at the office. They wanted to make sure the two brothers agreed to plea guilty to whatever charges the police could apply. The smell of French fries filled the confines of the vehicle and Buck tore into the bags pulling them out, unable to contain the grumbling sounds of his stomach.
The four team members remained quiet, except for the munching of fries and movement of straws through drink lids. Josiah watched the Southerner closely trying to catch a glimpse of what he was feeling. Ezra sat across from him on the passenger side of the vehicle slowly munching on some fries, a large water rested between his knees. The big man couldn't tell what the elusive undercover agent was thinking or feeling. Ezra continued to look out the window of the passenger side door. He was tired, that much was obvious. Two days of facial hair gave the Southerner an appearance the team wasn't used to seeing. It was evident that they were all relieved to have him back, the tension was gone and replaced with relief.
Josiah pulled the SUV to a stop inside the parking garage and was surprised to see the car Chris and Nathan had taken. Their stay at the police station must have been short. Perhaps that was a good sign. Vin and Buck grabbed the bags of food and their milkshakes. Ezra sighed at the sight, as it was truly an acrobatic feat.
+ + + + + + +
Chris entered the offices with Nathan on his heels. The meeting with Police Lt. Mathews had gone well. It turned out that the Finch brothers were wanted in Arizona for two bank robberies. They agreed to plead guilty on both counts to avoid the more severe charge of the kidnapping of a federal officer. It would keep Ezra's identity safe and it would keep the truth out of the papers. Chris didn't know how the Southerner would react if he knew who was behind his abduction.
JD stepped out of the conference room and closed the door behind him. "Chris," the kid ran his hand through his hair. "David Montgomery left about an hour ago...he didn't think he should stick around and wait for everyone to return."
Chris nodded his head in understanding and looked to the conference room door. "Maude still here?"
Chris patted JD shoulder and headed for the conference room. He intended to have a conversation with the woman who was behind all of this.
+ + + + + + +
Maude looked up when the door opened and she placed the briefcase on the floor next to her chair. "Mr. Larabee."
Chris didn't acknowledge her. He pulled a chair out and seated himself across from her. "This is what's going to happen." The team leader rested his elbows on the table laced his fingers together and looked at the blonde woman.
Maude sat back in her chair and waited. "I'm listening."
"First I want the name and address of the man you hired to pose as an FBI agent. We will not prosecute him for taking part in Ezra's abduction but he will be liable for felony charges of impersonating a government official. Second, I don't know what kind of relationship you and my undercover agent share but what I've seen...I don't like." Chris threw a pad and pencil for her to write down the information needed to arrest Jones.
"Are you going to instruct me on parenting?" Maude challenged. She quickly wrote down the information Chris had asked for. She didn't have any trouble giving 'Jones' up to the police. After all she'd only hired him, if he got caught, that was his fault.
Chris clenched his jaw and took a deep breath. "The only reason you're going to be walking out of this building today without handcuffs and a police escort is for Ezra's sake, not yours." He looked hard at Maude challenging her to object. "You ever try something like this again, I guarantee you'll spend the rest of your life behind bars." Never in his life did he want to hit a woman, but the more Maude looked at him as though this was an unbelievable request, the more he wanted to.
"What...are you asking me to do?"
"I want you to leave here and not come back." Chris waited for her response.
"You expect me to abandon my son?"
Chris almost choked, "From what I've seen...you did that years ago."
"Everything I ever did, I did for him." Maude started to collect herself.
"Don't try and bullshit me...I just spent the last two and a half days looking for a member of this team..." Chris stared Maude down, "...only to find out later his mother had him tied in a bathroom for two days...don't tell me what you've done for him."
Maude shifted nervously in her seat and crossed her arms over her chest in defiance. "I did the best I could for him."
"Maybe..." Chris nodded his head and leaned back in his chair, "...but my concern is for the welfare of this team, not yours." He stood up and headed for the door. "He doesn't know you were behind this and I don't want him to know...is that clear?"
Maude raised her eyebrows and smiled. "Crystal." She grabbed the briefcase and stood up.
Chris opened the door. "Are you going to ask if he's alright?"
"I'm assuming, Mr. Larabee, that because I'm not leaving here with an escort, that he is fine."
The team leader looked disbelievingly at the woman exiting the conference room, how could anyone be so cold? Chris cringed when he saw Ezra, Vin, Buck, and Josiah step out of the elevator. He had wanted to beat the rest of them back and get Maude out of the building before Ezra had a chance to see her.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra stepped out of the elevator and looked up as his mother came out of the conference room followed closely by Chris. JD sat nervously beside the table looking between mother and son unsure of what to do, if anything. Vin, Josiah, and Buck stood behind the Southerner ready and willing to back him if he needed it.
Ezra took the initiative and stepped away from the others. The rest of the team didn't know he knew his mother had been behind his abduction. He had no intention of telling them otherwise. As Maude stepped closer his heart raced. He wanted to hear an apology, he wanted an offering of acceptance, and he wanted something that would instill in him that his mother really did care. But he wouldn't get it. "Mother," he said quietly.
Maude smiled. There wasn't any emotion other than contentment flowing though her ice-cold veins, and the contentment was there because of the money she now carried. "I am so relieved to see you," she smiled and tipped her head, "you gave everyone here quite a scare."
"I'm sorry to have inconvenienced you." Ezra looked at his mother looking for something, anything.
"Yes, well." Maude glanced to her hand holding the briefcase. "When I saw your shirt covered in blood...I thought..."
"Were you disappointed it wasn't mine?" The words came out before he had a chance to think about them. They were spoken in defiance and they were meant to be hurtful.
Maude slapped Ezra across the face and quickly straightened herself. Josiah shook his head in disbelief. Vin turned unable to watch. Buck supported a shocked JD while Nathan just sighed. Chris took a threatening step forward saying more with a look than words could ever express.
"I will call you in a couple of days," she smiled ignoring the glare from Larabee.
Ezra nodded his head and forced a smile onto his face but the pain in his eyes was evident. "You do that," he knew she wouldn't. She'd call in six months once again letting him know she was getting married and needed him to be there. In her eyes this incident never took place.
Maude pulled the strap of her purse up higher on her shoulder and headed out. She didn't stop and say anything to anyone, the time wasn't right.
The room was deathly quiet, as nobody knew what to say until Ezra cleared his throat. "That went well," he said as he turned and ran his hand through his hair. He then headed to the bathroom. He needed to throw some cold water on his face and then he intended to go home and shower.
"Are you alright Brother?" Josiah asked concerned.
"Fine, Mr. Sanchez, fine." Ezra pushed the bathroom door open and disappeared.
Chris looked around the room meeting everyone's gaze, "Josiah...take him home...and don't leave him alone."
"He gonna be all right?" Buck asked leaning against the wall.
"Got me," Nathan shook his head. "By lookin' at him you'd never guess what he'd been through."
"He knows." Vin looked at the bathroom door. "Just cuz we don't see the man's pain don't mean he ain't hurtin' real bad inside."
Ezra slipped into the passenger side of Josiah's Blazer slamming the door and waiting for the big man to do the same. He stared out the window and knew the conversation with Josiah would soon start. Only he wasn't in the mood to talk. This was his problem and he'd deal with it his way.
Josiah took into consideration the Southerner's mood. He didn't want to push, that could make things worse. Vin had found Ezra's keys to his Jag under the car when he found the tranquilizer dart. For now, however, they would keep them hidden until things settled down. Nobody wanted Ezra on the road especially if he needed a drink.
Josiah pulled out of the parking garage and headed to the undercover agent's apartment. "You want to talk about it?" He tried to ask without sounding too concerned. Ezra had taken care of himself for longer than most and nobody was going to talk him into anything he didn't want to do.
"I'm not about to sit here and have an 'Oprah' moment with you Mr. Sanchez." Ezra continued to look out the window.
"I want you to know if you ever need to talk, I've got an open ear." Josiah glanced over at the Southerner and sighed. Ezra made no motion to accept the offer.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah pulled to a stop and started to prepare to get out. "Go home Mr. Sanchez, it looks like you could use the sleep." Ezra shut the door not giving the big man a chance to argue.
"Ezra!" Josiah yelled sliding out of his Blazer, "are you going to be alright?" He was sincere in asking and a brief look of shock swept its way across the Southerner's face.
"I'll see you in the morning." The undercover agent smiled and headed up to his apartment. Just like always, he was fine. He'd make it through this like he made it through everything else. This was a bump in the road compared to the mountains he'd already climbed.
Josiah watched from his truck as the Southerner made it to his apartment and with the spare key he'd gotten from his desk open the door and disappeared inside. The big man ran a hand over his face and decided to park across the street and keep an eye out. He had a heavy coat in the back seat and a bag of 'munchies' he'd intended to take for a group of kids at the local YMCA. He was set and this definitely wouldn't be the first time he'd ever sat on an unofficial 'Stake Out'. This time, however, he was thankful his former partner Rally wasn't with him. Now there was a man who could drive the mildest soul to violence.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah woke with a start and glanced down at his watch. It was almost midnight. He rubbed the palm of his right hand against the window and removed the condensation that had gathered there and he looked up towards the Southerner's apartment. The lights were out and he had to wonder if the undercover agent made a point of getting to sleep early.
The big man pulled the coat he'd thrown on up closer around his shoulders. Winters cold bite was hitting hard tonight. He looked again at the apartment and decided to bang on Ezra's door. He needed a warm night's sleep.
Josiah banged on the front door and didn't get a response from inside. He waited before banging again and grabbing the door handle he took a step back realizing it wasn't locked. "Ezra?" He called before entering. He didn't want to get shot for trespassing. The Southerner had more guns than Nathan had knives, well, almost. He flipped the lights on in the small foyer and checked the living room. Nothing. "Ezra?" He called again gently knocking on the bedroom door. When Josiah entered he noticed right away that the room was empty. The bed had been slept in and Ezra's clothing had been thrown into the hamper by the closet. Nothing was amiss. He checked the bathroom and found a damp towel hanging from rack next to the shower. A wet washcloth hung in the shower dripping water. No Ezra. Josiah grabbed his cell phone and dialed Chris's number.
The six remaining members of Chris's team met at JD's and Buck's apartment or as Chris and Vin deemed it, the 'center for disease control'. Ezra and Nathan had called it the hazardous waist depository. Josiah's only remark had been, 'if cleanliness is next to Godliness, Buck and JD were going to hell in a handcart'.
Nathan and Josiah sat uncomfortably on the Futon that functioned part time as a couch. Vin leaned against the patio doors his arms crossed over his chest. Chris leaned over the bar that was used as the eating surface and JD and Buck claimed the bar stools.
"I still say he went to get himself drunk." Buck looked around the room noticing for the first time that his 'hot chicks, cool cars' poster was hanging at an odd angle.
"I agree with Buck," JD piped in, wishing he had a large Coke to drink. "That's the first thing I would do." He shook his head still not believing what the Southerner's mother had done for some cash.
"Any of you ever seen Ez drunk?" Vin picked up a pop can that was stuck to the speaker that sat near by. A ring of the sugared substance now lined the black plastic surface. "We've known him four months and I ain't never seen him drink more than he could handle."
"Vin's right," Josiah spoke up. "Ezra's life is focused around control...much like yours Vin," the big man looked to the shy sharpshooter. "We all live our lives by how we see ourselves. Whether or not we're willing to admit it...Ezra and you, Vin, value yourselves by your ability to control your actions and feelings." The big man ran his hands together and continued, "Nathan's sees his value in honor, Chris's is in his authority, Buck's is free-spiritedness, and JD's is his need for independence."
"So what are you saying?" Buck leaned back in his seat.
"I'm saying that for two days Ezra was out of control of the situation with his mother...he sees himself as vulnerable and needing to get that control back," Josiah shrugged his shoulders offering the only explanation he could under the circumstances.
"So what are you sayin' we should do?" Vin moved across the room and entered the kitchen needing a glass of water.
"Let him be," Josiah cleared his throat. "Let him work it out in his own time."
"How could his own mother do that?" JD looked around the room at the men who couldn't answer his question.
"She's without conscience JD." Josiah looked across the room to the confused young man. "In her eyes she didn't do anything wrong."
"So you think she's some kind of psychopath?"
Josiah nodded his head sadly. "In a sense...but she's more on the lines of an antisocial personality." He looked again to the faces of his teammates, his friends realizing they didn't understand. "In order to be diagnosed with the antisocial personality disorder certain criterias must be met," Josiah took a deep breath and continued. "She has a lack of remorse, she's irresponsible, and she'll do what she has to in order to gain disregarding, in this case, Ezra's safety. She's also impulsive, and deceitful." The big man scratched the stubble on his chin. "There're all kinds out there...some even more subtle than Maude."
Chris nodded his head in agreement with the man who had a master's degree in psychology. "I'm not going to disagree with you Josiah, but I do think we should find him."
"I agree with Chris," Vin tossed the empty can he'd been holding into the garbage can. "He might do somethin' and get himself into some trouble...hell," he grabbed his coat off the chair next to the TV, "...with Carson's sorry ass still hangin' around..."
"He might be lookin' for a fight," Buck finished Vin's sentence. The ladies man grabbed his jacket off the floor next to his stool and watched as the rest of the team threw on their coats as well.
Chris grabbed his keys and started for the door when Buck and JD's phone started to ring. If the situation hadn't have been so serious it would have been rather funny as everyone looked at the ringing phone almost afraid to pick it up.
"Damn," Buck almost laughed. "I've seen less tension at bomb sites." He headed for the phone. "Yeah." He smiled trying to relax not only himself but also the other men standing around. The sound of Inez's soft voice echoed over the phone lines and Buck's face went from relaxed to concerned. The team gathered around Buck and the phone wanting to know what was being said. The change in the ladies man's voice didn't go unnoticed by the others. Buck hung the phone up and shrugged his shoulders. "That was Inez, she said Ez is at the bar."
"He drunk?" Chris asked.
"Nope, she said he's still workin' on a beer he bought over two hours ago. But she wants to close up pretty quick and she thinks someone should come down and get 'im." Buck waited for the instructions from Chris.
"We all go down there he's gonna bolt." Chris looked to his men. "Josiah and I'll go...the rest of you get some sleep."
"Sure you don't want any backup?" Vin smiled looking at the team leader. "He still owes you for hitting 'im at our first assignment."
Chris nodded his head and chuckled, "That he does." He turned and headed back for the door Josiah on his heels. "I'll see you all in the morning...bright and early." An echo of moans could be heard behind him as he and Josiah exited the apartment.
The ride to The Saloon was made in silence. Both Josiah and Chris were lost in their own thoughts. Josiah continued to analyze Maude's behavior. He couldn't understand how a mother could act in such a way toward her own child. He finally came to the conclusion that he'd never truly understand her actions or behaviors. She was the one with the disorder, not him, and until medical science could dissect the human mind behaviorists would never be able to truly understand the criminal mind. Or the motivations behind their actions, they could continue to theorize, profile, and study the pathology of criminals while at the same time never truly understanding their motivation. What interested Josiah more than the criminal's actions were the actions of the victims. How they learned to deal with their pain, or how they hid it. The big man knew from reading Chris's past record how he handled the deaths of his wife and son. He had stopped living; instead he poured himself a glass of whiskey and lived in a bottle for almost a year before life hit him in the face again. Still today the tall blonde had a difficult time facing the reality that his family was gone and he still mourned their loss. But he looked now to this team and its members, and whether he admitted it or not he found comfort in their presence. Nathan, too, had lost his father in a tragic shooting some five years earlier. The medic's father had been a uniformed New York City police officer and had been shot while in civilian clothing because he was a black man in a white neighborhood. He'd been killed by his own family in blue. Nathan had taken the incident and decided to better his life and the name his father had left him. Obediah, had been a proud man with a strong conviction and he instilled that into his son and Nathan wore that conviction with honor.
Josiah didn't think Ezra would play the part of a victim for very long. It wasn't in his best interest to do so and the Southerner had been through enough already. He looked at life as a gamble, take the good with the bad and let the rest slide off your back, or at least try and let it slide off your back. Josiah wasn't just good at his job he was great at it. His ability to understand a victim was a blessing, as well as a curse.
+ + + + + + +
Chris thought about Sara and he thought about Adam. If it was Adam that would have been kidnapped it would have torn him to pieces. Nothing would have stopped him from getting his son back. Sara would have acted the same way. She protected that boy with everything she had. Even before he was born Sara did everything by the book. Chris couldn't even smoke a cigarette around her because she didn't want it to affect their unborn child. After Adam had been born Sara was limited to eating potatoes and rice because Adam had food allergies and she wanted him to breast-feed. The doctors had told her she could put him on soy milk but she refused. After all she could make the sacrifice for her son.
Chris pulled the Ram to a stop in front of the saloon and noticed a couple cars parked nearby. The 'Coors' and 'Bud' lights still flashed in the windows but the 'closed' sign was out. He looked at his watch and sighed, it was 2:15 in the morning, late by Chris's standards.
Josiah took a deep breath. "Looks like Inez has got more company than just Ezra."
"Don't see any busted glass." Chris grinned looking at the big man. "That's got to account for something."
+ + + + + + +
Josiah and Chris entered the saloon and found Inez counting up the till. She placed her pencil behind her ear and walked to the edge of the bar. "Senors." She smiled.
"Buck gave us your message." Chris glanced around the saloon looking for his undercover agent.
"Senor Standish is sitting in the back by the piano...haven't heard anything out of him since he came in," Inez glanced toward the back of the saloon. "I got worried and decided to call Buck...is everything alright?"
"It will be." Josiah tapped Inez on the arm and smiled.
Inez smiled and headed back to the cash machine while Chris and Josiah headed towards the back of the saloon. Chris noticed right away three men sitting at one of the tables not far from the Southerner. Two men he didn't recognize, the other was FBI Agent Carson. They seemed to be finishing a pitcher of beer. The two men sitting next to the FBI agent were darkly dressed. One was older and had his gray hair cut short as to not focus on his baldness. The other man was younger and had light brown hair. Chris guessed him to be in his late thirties while the other man was closer to Josiah's age.
"Larabee," Carson raised his beer glass. "We've been trying to talk Standish..." he motioned with his beer glass to where Ezra was sitting, "...into playing us a tune on the piano." Carson laughed mischievously and received a slap on the shoulder from the younger man sitting next to him. "Jack here would like to hear the Hungarian Rhapsody." Nick laughed again and took a drink of his beer.
"You're drunk Carson." Chris looked at the man disappointedly. "Why don't you and your boys go home."
+ + + + + + +
Josiah caught sight of Ezra sitting at the piano bench obviously lost in thought as he stared blankly at the black and ivory keys. The Southerner took a long pull from his warm beer and placed it back on the piano edge. He didn't acknowledge Chris, Josiah or Carson for that matter.
"Brother," Josiah spoke walking up to the piano.
"Mr. Sanchez." Ezra looked up with his poker face firmly in place.
"You play the piano?" Josiah tried to pull the question off. He wanted Ezra to answer on his own volition.
Ezra smiled knowingly. "I used to," he responded then took another pull from his beer. He didn't turn when he heard Carson laugh from behind him.
"I've got a hundred bucks here Standish that says your 'used to' is actually a never. Besides," Carson laughed harder, "if you were really any good you wouldn't be a washed up dirty FBI agent working on this 'experimental' ATF team." Nick stopped laughing. "I think you're lying. I think you're lying now just like you did in your deposition when you were accused."
"Enough!" Chris snapped and took a step closer to the table.
Ezra turned on the stool and looked to the table where Carson and the two others sat. "A hundred dollars?" The Southerner looked at Carson with his eyebrows raised. "Hardly worth my time." He started to get up.
Carson looked at the two men sitting next to him. "Three hundred...but I get to pick the number."
Ezra thought for a moment, he didn't want to appear too agreeable. "Four hundred and you've got yourself a bet."
Again Carson looked to the men sitting next to him and received a nod from each of them, "Agreed." He smiled. "Lets hear the Hungarian Rhapsody, and not just the first few bars...the whole thing...and no mistakes."
Ezra smiled and turned back to face the piano. He finished the last of his beer and paused.
Josiah looked at the Southerner with a concerned eye. "How long has it been since you've played?" he asked. Though he couldn't play or read music he understood how difficult the piece Carson had asked him to play was. It wasn't lost on Josiah that Ezra didn't have any sheet music to read either. So if the Southerner was going to play he'd have to play from memory.
Josiah looked blankly at Ezra unsure if the willing gambler knew the risk he was taking. Four hundred dollars was a lot to lose in a matter of minutes and Josiah didn't think Carson or his two friends would be willing to take a check.
Ezra ran his fingers over the piano keys with an old familiarity. In many ways they were friends being reunited under extraordinary circumstances. There wasn't a need to be reintroduced or an explanation of actions. He stroked the keys with such a practiced ear that even the most accomplished pianist wouldn't have guessed it had been ten years since the piano player and the piano had parted ways.
Josiah watched the two friends reunite and he sighed. Ezra was good there was no denying it. He seemed more at ease with the piano than he did with the men he worked with. Even Chris had stopped and waited until the music stopped. The dexterity in Ezra's fingers was amazing and Josiah figured it was the constant handling of poker cards that gave the undercover agent the gift of hand eye coordination.
Chris noticed the reactions of Carson and his two friends. The younger man Carson referred to as Jack seemed impressed but continued to casually drink his beer. Carson angrily reached into his wallet realizing he was going to lose some money. The older man, however, caught Chris's attention. He didn't seem impressed, or surprised but rather expectant of not only Ezra's piano playing ability, but the bet as well.
Ezra stood up and walked over to the table where the three men sat and Chris stood. He was looking for a fight and didn't care who got in his way to achieve one. Chris included. Josiah followed the undercover agent knowing their might be trouble.
The three men threw their money into a pile on the table and looked at the Southerner as he leaned over the table and braced his hands on the table's edge. "Do you have evidence against me that nobody else has, or are you content to continue throwing accusations at me that you can't prove?" Ezra ignored the looks from the other two men at the table and eyed Carson.
"You're dirty." Carson sat up in his chair trying to make himself look more threatening. "I just think the FBI's initial investigation into you wasn't thorough enough...maybe you had some help on the inside."
Ezra shook his head in disbelief and chuckled lightly. "Not thorough enough?" He looked harder at Carson and at the faces of the men sitting with him. "Every fucking aspect of my life was investigated and nothing was found!" Ezra snapped losing his usually composed manner. "Bank records, surveillance photos, tails, and interviews...nothing was found because there wasn't anything to find."
"Something had to tip the higher ups off, stuff like this isn't brought up for no reason."
"You want to know what I think." Ezra stood up straighter and eyed Carson again waiting for the indication the man wanted to know what he thought. Carson nodded his head surprised Ezra had offered. "I think I scared the shit out of someone, I think I found something that nobody wanted found and by destroying my credibility it makes me bringing any and all information I find questionable."
Carson shook his head, "If that were the case they would have just killed you."
"Not that they haven't tried." Ezra grabbed the cash on the table and looked harder at the two men sitting with Carson. The one name Jack didn't look familiar but when green eyes met brown something clicked inside the Southerner's mind. There was something familiar about the older man sitting at the table. Ezra continued to look at him trying to pull from his memory anything that would help.
The older gray haired man continued to keep eye contact with the undercover agent almost willing him to remember but it wouldn't happen. Not tonight. He noticed the tall blonde wearing nothing but black pull on Ezra's arm motioning for him to move toward the front door of the saloon. All the while Ezra looked back at the table feeling more than ever the importance of remembering a face.
Josiah followed Chris and Ezra out of the saloon noticing all the while how Ezra maintained eye contact with the older man sitting at the table. He didn't know what to think but he knew it was important. Not for just the Southerner but for the team as well. Certain things didn't fit. The more Josiah thought about it the more confused he got. He knew in his gut that this mess Ezra was in somehow tied in with this team. The key was finding out how.
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Continues in: Calling Elvis