Two days later Chris entered room 248 to find Josiah, who had been discharged that morning, sitting in a chair talking to a headachy but alert Nathan. Buck, now in Josiah's old bed, was trying to charm the nurse while JD stood nearby making less than helpful comments. The nurse was laughing so hard she was having trouble checking Buck's vitals. She finally finished and left after promising Buck a sponge bath later.
Over in the corner, Vin, Ezra and Laura had their heads together discussing something. Well Ezra was talking, Laura had a stubborn expression on her face that said she wasn't going along with whatever he wanted and Vin sported an amused smirk that he seemed to wear anytime he listened to Ezra and Laura. Chris figured it had something to do with Laura's contract with the rodeo. Ezra went slightly white every time her trick riding act was mentioned. Laura had canceled her performance's the last two days but now with everyone on the mend she felt it was time to go back. <Damm, sure hate to spoil everyone's good mood. Don't know why this can't wait a couple of days. Maybe I should wait until after lunch to tell em whoops too late Vin's looking over here.>
Vin looked up and caught Chris's eye, one look told him something was wrong. Ever since Buck had woken up the usual steely look had been replaced with a more relaxed one, now the steel was back. <Guess the phone call with Travis didn't go to well. Bet he wants us to leave Josiah here ta watch Buck an Nathan an come back. Well I don't care what the higher ups say, I'm stayin. Some other team can handle whatever it is.>
The sudden tight expression on Vin's face caught Ezra's eye. He stopped trying to convince Laura that using her horse as a springboard for flips was a hairbrain activity and followed the direction of Vin's eyes to where Chris stood in the doorway. <Wonderful, what new indignity are we about to be subjected to. From the look on our fearless leader's face it can't be good.>
Seeing that he had the attention of two of his agents, both obviously aware something was up, Chris sighed and walked further into the room. Clearing his throat he waited until he had everyone's attention before speaking. "I just got off the phone with Travis, he had some bad news." Pausing he scanned the interested faces before continuing. "Seems Fowler wasn't the big boss, the Rangers found evidence pointing to there being someone above him."
The reactions from the rest of the team fluctuated between anger, frustration and disgust.
"Does he think this other guy is still around?"
"No one knows, JD, but I doubt it. The guy could be at any one of several rodeos going on right now." Chris shrugged, "But it does mean that you, Vin, Ezra and I are wanted back at the office. They want our reports, and a couple of us may have to fly to Dallas to meet with the Rangers and Dallas ATF."
"When do we have to leave?" Vin was already going over everything in his head that had to be done before they could take off.
"They want us there first thing in the morning. We should leave tonight by 7:00, it's about a 2 ½ hour drive. We'll go in first thing and try to pound everything out as quickly as possible. Hopefully some of us can be headed back up here by the end of the day..." Chris broke off suddenly, "damm, I forgot about the horses, I have to take them back too."
"Why not leave the horses here. It's no harder for me to take care of four versus two." Laura offered directing a mischievous grin at Vin. "Heck I'll have Peso doing tricks by the time you get back." JD and Ezra both chuckled at the look on Vin's face after that statement.
"That could work, we'll take the company vehicle to Denver and then drive a couple of our own back." Chris was nodding as he worked everything out in his head. "If we don't have to go to Dallas, I'll ask for some time off. That'll give us chance to get everyone healthy enough to go home."
Laura was humming softly to herself as she tended the horses. She had just finished the afternoon performance and was eager to get back to the hospital. Josiah had called earlier to tell her that the others were on their way up from Denver and Laura wanted to be there before they got back. It had taken two days instead of the planned one, but the trip to Dallas had been avoided and all seven men had the next week off. Her thoughts elsewhere, Laura didn't hear the approaching footsteps. The first inkling of another presence was the voice behind her.
"Well, seems life has been kind to you, little sister." The words were sneered not spoken. The speaker, was native american, about 6 foot and would be considered handsome except for the lines of dissipation etched on his face. "Still pretending you're no better than the rest of us."
Laura stiffened her first reaction one of fear. <Easy girl, your not the helpless innocent you were, he can't hurt you now.> With that comforting thought Laura put on a poker face Ezra would have been proud of, then slowly turned around. "Alex, what a, forgive me if I don't say delightful, surprise." The cadence and tone were pure Ezra, only thing missing was the accent. The leering man straightened, his expression darkening, the hate he felt evident. Laura kept her gaze steady, showing nothing, as she gazed at her former brother-in-law. "May I assume you have come to take over the stock for your father?"
"Yeah, I told the old man I'd handle it, you're sure to screw up." Looking over her shoulder he nodded at Peso, "See your still pretending you know how to ride, where'd you get that nag."
"That _nag_ belongs to me." The tone was flat and challenging. Vin and Ezra stood a few feet away having come in just in time to hear Alex's comment about pretending. Both agents were looking at him as if measuring him for a coffin.
A flicker of something flashed across Alex's eyes replaced by another sneer. He turned back to Laura, "Still slumming I see, which one's your boyfriend, or are you into sharing now. You never were before."
Out of the corner of her eye, Laura could see that Ezra had taken off his jacket and was starting to remove his holster. She turned a mocking grin to the man in front of her. "Alex, I think you'd better get out of here while you still can. After all you never liked to hit anyone who could hit back."
A quick glance at the two other men showed Alex the truth of Laura's words. With a shrug he started backing up. "Just joking, you're getting too serious in your old age Laura." Turning, he walked quickly out of the barn.
"Are you okay Firefly?"
Ezra was regarding Laura intently, who was watching Alex walk away with a frown on her face. Giving a sigh, she shook her head sharply before turning to the other two men. Ezra opened his arms and she willingly took the offered hug before speaking. "I'm alright," pulling away a bit, she smile warmly, "and I appreciate the fact you were willing to beat him up for me." Dropping a quick kiss on his cheek she stepped back. "But I want you to know, I'm perfectly capable of kicking my ex brother-in-law through the wall myself."
Vin leaned against the stall door and chuckled. "Now that I would like to see."
Laura wrinkled her nose at Vin then surprised him by grabbing him in a quick hug causing Ezra to laugh at the startled expression on his face. Linking her arms through theirs she steered both men toward the door. Seeing the questions simmering in Ezra's eyes she spoke quickly in an attempt to hold them off. "Come on guys, I'm starving, let's go find the others and get some dinner."
Over her head Ezra exchanged a look with Vin that said, 'this isn't finished.'
Ezra groaned as he felt someone shake his shoulder. Prying one eye open he looked at the clock next to his bed. <5:30, no sensible person gets up at this ungodly hour and why are they waking me.> Rolling over he found Vin standing next to the bed and it all came back to him. <Of course, we're going on another little recognizance mission. Vin and JD are going to help me dig into Alex Greyhawk's background.> Nodding to show he was up Ezra crawled out of bed, grabbed a clean pair of boxers and headed into the shower. He had been sharing JD's room since Buck had been in the hospital. Vin and JD were already up and dressed. Ezra was grateful they had waited until the last minute to wake him. After showering, and shaving he headed out into the main room to dress. JD was sitting on his bed pulling on boots while Vin sprawled in a chair next to the door. JD took one look at Ezra and started to laugh. Frowning and motioning toward the closed door between their room and the next Ezra tried without words to remind the young man that Chris was asleep next door and they did NOT want to wake him. JD responded by grabbing a pillow and burying his face in it. Confused Ezra glanced over at Vin to see he also was trying very hard not to laugh. Ezra raised his hands in a 'what' motion which only seemed to amuse the other two men even more. Finally Vin waved his hand at Ezra's shorts and in a choked whisper commented,
"Nice boxers, not somethin I woulda pictured ya in."
Ezra looked down and groaned. During packing his mind had been occupied with worrying about the whole mission and his ability to handle it. He had grabbed the first stack of underwear in his dresser he came to and shoved them in his bag. This morning half asleep he'd picked a pair without even looking at them. Ezra was wearing dark blue boxers with the Tazmainian Devil stitched on the right leg. Shooting a deadly glance at the other two men he hissed.
"They were a birthday present."
"From who, Bugs Bunny?" JD whispered back.
"No, from a young lady of exquisite taste and good sense, unlike some I could name."
JD and Vin exchanged looks and at the same time said, "Angie." ++
Ezra nodded and finished dressing silently reminding himself to check his bag and be sure that the bright purple pair with Tweety on it were not in there.
Once Ezra was ready all three men headed out the door and to the fairgrounds. They wanted to be gone before Chris or Laura woke up and started asking questions.
Chris wasn't worried when he woke up to find the rooms empty. He figured the others had probably gone to find their first morning installment of coffee. It wasn't until after he'd showered, dressed and went outside that Chris had his first hint that maybe the guys weren't getting coffee. Sitting right in front of the room was Ezra's Jag. He had insisted on driving it back up from Denver saying he was tired of being at the mercy of the others. Since bringing it back the southerner had refused to leave it at the motel, seemingly happy to be designated driver. <If they've gone for coffee why is the Jag still here. No, I'm not going to worry. Vin and Ezra are walking arsenals if it comes to trouble.> But Chris was nervous and he wasn't sure exactly why. Maybe it was because they has snuck out so early and instead of using the Jag, Buck's truck was missing. <What could they be up to that was important enough to get Ezra moving this early? Let alone make him ride in Buck's truck, which he refers to as a moving violation. Well, they're big boys and I'm not gonna worry, . at least not till after lunch.>
With that settled in his head, Chris went to find Josiah so they could go have breakfast then head over to the hospital.
By 2:00 Chris was starting to fume, rather than worry Buck, he'd said JD went with Vin and Ezra to help Laura with something. Buck had fallen asleep right after lunch but Chris knew he was living on borrowed time. Any minute now, Josiah would bring Nathan back from their trip outside or Buck would wake up. Either way they were expecting Ezra, JD and Vin to be there and they weren't. Chris was in the middle of debating whether tracking collars were a viable option when he heard voices down the hall. Moments later, JD practically bounced into the room, a satisfied grin on his face. Close on his heels were Vin and Ezra, Ezra went by so fast Chris barely got a glimpse of the expression on his face. Vin was right behind him sporting an unholy grin. The one he always wore when there was the possibility of a fight in the offing. Chris didn't get a chance to start his lecture on notes and keeping your boss informed, before JD started to talk.
"Chris, you'll never guess what!" JD was rocking back and forth on his heels, thumbs hooked in his belt beaming. Without waiting for a reply he continued. "We found Fowler's boss!"
"Are you sure?" Chris demanded though the way Vin and Ezra where acting indicated something was up.
"Yep, think so." Vin confirmed, his drawl a mixture of satisfaction and steel.
Chris turned his attention to Ezra who was leaning against the wall next to Buck's bed. He was positively smoldering, an expression on his face that Chris had only seen a few times before. The last time he wore that look it had taken both Josiah and Buck to pull him off a suspect. The guy had been selling child pornography along with guns and they'd caught him in the middle of filming. Ezra had sent the 200 lb ex-linebacker to the hospital. Obviously there was more to this than just finding Fowler's boss.
"Ezra, you look mad as hell, what exactly did you guys find out?"
"We, .He, .. It," Ezra was so furious he just sputtered, finally giving up and looking at Vin.
"Vin?" Chris realizing he wasn't going to get a complete sentence out of Ezra directed his attention to the grinning sharpshooter.
"Well ya know how we told ya about that guy harassing Laura last night at the barn?"
"Yes, what does that have to do with this."
"Me an Ezra decided ta check him out a little."
"Meaning, you didn't like him so decided to see if you could find anything on him." Chris translated with a wry grin on his face. He'd noticed Laura avoiding questions about her ex-brother-in-law at dinner. Chris wasn't surprised that Ezra and the others had taken matters into their own hands.
Vin's grin widened and he darted a look at Ezra before continuing. "Anyway, we asked around and JD did some checking with the Stock Contractors Association. Alex Greyhawk looks real fishy."
"How so?" Chris directed the question at JD who still had a highly satisfied look on his face.
The young man was more than eager to explain. "I figured that even rodeo's are computerized now so we went over to the fairgrounds to check it out. Ezra and Vin," here JD paused and sent an amused look at Vin, "distracted the ladies in the main office while I hacked into their computer system."
Chris arched an eyebrow at Vin who looked a little red around the ears now. "So you, distracted, the ladies huh?"
"Ezra did most of the work, I just leaned on the wall." Vin offered then looked at Buck who had woken up and was chuckling at that statement. "What?"
"Like I always say, go with your strengths." The mustached man snorted.
Vin looked confused, JD started giggling and Chris had to grit his teeth to keep from smiling, Vin had no idea how distracting he was to the opposite sex. Josiah and Nathan picked that moment to enter the room. One look at Vin's grin and Ezra's furious expression clued both men to the fact something was up.
"What's wrong with Ezra?" Nathan also recognized the look on the southerners face and remembered the last time he had looked that angry.
"You look ready to explode Brother. Something going on?" Josiah pushed Nathan's wheelchair over to the bed as he spoke.
"The Hardy Boys and JD think they've found the head of our gun ring." Buck explained grimacing as he pushed himself up in bed a bit. "JD was just tellin us what they found out." Buck directed a proud grin at JD who was starting to look embarrassed.
"It was Vin's idea to check him out." The embarrassed youth said.
"Only tryin ta give Ezra a legal reason to pound him." Vin nodded his head toward the still steaming southerner.
Ezra shot a glare at the entire room, " He's nothing but, The man is, " His words trailed off his anger so great he couldn't find the words.
"Lower than a bog sucking bottom feeder?" Buck finished delightedly.
"Yes! Thank you." Ezra tipped his hat at the bed ridden man, starting to calm down a bit.
"Could someone clue me in as to who _he_ is?" Nathan inquired, "And why Ezra wants to take him apart?"
"Sorry Nathan, we're talking about Laura's ex-brother-in-law, Alex Greyhawk. Vin and Ezra caught him threatening her last night when they went out to the fairgrounds. So they decided to dig into his background a little and now they think he's the missing head of our gun ring." Chris explained before turning his attention back to JD. "JD was just telling us what he found out from the computers at the fairground offices. Go on JD."
"Okay, Vin told me that performances of bucking stock are tracked same as the riders. The best performing stock for the year goes to the National Finals."
"How does that lead us to Greyhawk?" Nathan asked as Josiah helped him get settled in bed.
"Well, I followed a hunch and checked all the rodeos that Devil's Leg has been to in the last year. Devil's Leg belonged to Fowler remember?" JD paused and scanned everyone's faces to be sure they were with him. "Then I checked the Greyhawk stock. Turns out that Fowler and Greyhawk worked a lot of the same rodeos. But not in a row, one of them was always down by the border first then they'd be at another rodeo together. Then one would work a rodeo down by Mexico or up by Canada again, then " JD let the sentence trail off and waited for everyone to process what he'd just said.
"And Laura told us the pattern was, meet at a rodeo to exchange drugs for guns then back to the border to trade for more drugs." Josiah summarized turning a broad smile on JD. "Good work son, you may have something there."
JD smiled, basking in the approval of the men who's opinions mattered most to him.
"It is good work, the only problem is, do we have proof linking Alex Greyhawk to those specific rodeo's. Remember Laura said that her father-in-law was shot and she was covering for him." Chris held up his hand to stall the comments he could see were about to be forthcoming. "That could mean he was the one traveling with the stock. But," A thoughtful look crossed Chris's face. "maybe Laura could help us there."
"Laura!" Ezra straightened up a worried expression on his face. "We've got to warn her."
"Calm down Ez, she didn't like the guy so I doubt she'd go anywhere with him." Vin soothed.
"Yes I know that, but what if Greyhawk figures out we're on to him. If he is the head of this ring then he may have shot his own father, a person one would think he had at least a modicum of affection for." Ezra was pale, his voice strained. "You saw him last night, If he'd do that to his father what would he do to someone he hates?"
Everyone exchanged concerned looks as Chris started issuing orders. "Josiah, you stay with Buck and Nathan, everyone else come with me. We'll go out to the fairgrounds and help Laura with the horses tonight, just to be on the safe side." As the others headed out the door Chris turned back nodding his hat to the men left. "Don't worry, with that devil horse of her's around what could happen? I'll call you from the fairgrounds."
That, devil horse, was the first thing they heard. Concho's frantic cries had Ezra and Vin pulling guns while jumping from Chris's truck as he slowed to a stop. JD followed as soon as Chris slammed the truck into park. Inside, Chris's clown friend, Bill, was propped up in the alleyway outside of Concho's stall. One of the other clowns was trying to tend a bleeding cut on his head, despite his arguments. As soon as he saw the new arrivals he started pointing towards the other end of the barn. "Hurry! Greyhawk and three of his men chased Laura out the other end." Ezra and Vin nodded, speeding up they pounded down the alleyway and out the other end, JD close on their heels. Chris started to stop but Bill waved him on, "I'm okay, just help Laura, they're armed." With a grim nod Chris hurried after his men, grimacing slightly as his still healing leg protested.
Laura knew she had made a serious tactical error. She'd managed to end up in the one fairly deserted spot in the entire fairgrounds. Now she was trapped in the remote parking area where contestants, contractors and employees parked trailers and vehicles while they were at the rodeo. This time of day it was practically empty, well except for her and four maniacs. <Man, if Alex and his goons don't kill me Ezra is gonna. Though in all fairness, I did not wander off by myself intentionally. Yeah Laura, he'll probably really go for that one, not.> Crouching down beside a small two horse trailer Laura tried to catch her breath while listening for her pursuer's. <Okay, now this is not so bad. So there's nobody around and Alex is trying to kill me but hey, .. okay, this _is_ bad. Think girl, you need a plan, I mean how hard can it be to take out four gun toting goons.> Grimacing at that thought Laura leaned out to scan the parking area. From where she was she could see Alex waving at his men to spread out. Watching a bit longer didn't help, only showed one of the men was headed straight for her. <Great, here comes one and he's big and ugly. Now what? Alright desperate measures are necessary, I need a gun and Ugly there has one. Okay, need a plan.> Laura scanned the area. Sighing she finally decided to climb up the side of the trailer, her best bet would be to tackle the guy from above. <What is it Walker is always saying, may the force be with you? Nope that's not it, get a hold of yourself, woman you're getting loopy.> Climbing she continued the silent conversation with herself. <Lord, I know I kind of got myself into this. . Okay, I totally got myself into this, but still, I just found Ezra after all this time. I'd really like to survive long enough to get to know him again. Okay?> Looking down, Laura waited for Ugly to walk underneath where she crouched.
Vin waved at JD to go left while he followed Ezra right. He didn't like letting the younger man go off alone, but Ezra was too worried to be at his best. Right now JD was more in control. The three men started working their way slowly through the vehicles and trailers listening for any sounds.
Chris ran out the other end of the barn and paused in time to see his men disappear into a maze of trucks and trailers about 300 yards away. Swearing under his breath he started moving again trying to conserve the strength in his sore leg. Once into the trailers Chris slowed down, checking his gun while scanning the parking area. A flash of color high up caught his eye. Chris recognized the flash as Laura in a red shirt just as she jumped off the top of a horse trailer. <Now who does that remind me off?> Chris wasn't sure if he should admire her courage or yell at her for being reckless. Putting the decision on hold he hurried toward where she'd disappeared.
Vin was having trouble keeping Ezra in sight and still look out for thugs. The smaller man was zipping around trucks and trailers with a complete disregard for his own safety. <Damm it Ezra, if ya get yourself shot I'm not tellin Chris, or Laura.> Vin rounded a big eight horse trailer just in time to see Ezra attack a guy about the size of Josiah. He winced in sympathy as the southerner took the man out with three savage kicks and one uppercut to the jaw. Walking up Vin pulled out his handcuffs and knelt down to cuff the unconscious man.
"Little rough there pard, he might have been able to tell us something."
Ezra straightened his shirt then picked up his hat before answering. "Perhaps I was slightly over zealous, but when in Rome ." Ezra let the rest of the sentence trail off.
"Hey whatever works, hand me your bandanna."
Ezra passed over the square of cloth from his pocket then watched as Vin rolled it up and gagged the gunman. "What shall we do with the miscreant?" he asked.
"Open that trailer behind ya, we'll throw him in there til we're done."
The two agents locked up their prisoner and started moving through the parked vehicles again. The sounds of a scuffle directed them to the left. Rounding another trailer, they found JD and a guy fighting. Stopping beside the nearest trailer both men watched and waited. It didn't take JD much longer and Vin amused himself by watching the younger man's technique and cataloging each move. <Ouch, good punch JD, Buck taught ya that one. Good ta see you paid attention when I showed ya those kicks. Whew, that's gotta hurt, Chris would be glad to see ya listened to him.> Finally the crook threw up his hands.
"Enough, you win, Greyhawk don't pay well enough for me to take this beating."
"Hands behind your head and spread em then." JD ordered as he pulled out his cuffs. Vin moved forward and in short order the guy was gagged and thrown in another trailer. And if he landed in a slightly fresh cow pie, was that anyone's fault. Might have helped if he'd been able to tell them something useful. Spreading out slightly the three men were starting to move across the parking lot when they heard a shot.
Laura watched carefully, she had to time this just right. Waiting until the last possible second, she jumped, throwing her full body weight onto the man walking below. The impact sent her and Ugly sprawling and the gun flying. Scrambling up Laura zeroed in on the fallen gun. A roar behind urged her to hurry. Diving frantically she felt the cool metal of the gun under her fingers just as Ugly grabbed her leg and pulled her away. A swift roll and a desperate kick freed her leg. Continuing to roll until she felt the wheel of a trailer against her back Laura pulled her legs underneath coming up on her knees. Regaining her feet she braced herself trying to remember everything she'd ever been told about taking down a larger, meaner opponent. Ugly paused, grinning lewdly and Laura knew she was no where near out of the woods. Still running options in her head, she saw movement behind the man in front of her.
Chris had heard the sounds of struggle and picked up his pace. Moving quietly so as not to give the crook any warning he moved out where Laura could see him. Upon seeing Chris, Laura's expression went from determined to calculating immediately. Ugly took this as a sign of weakness.
"What's wrong girlie, afraid you can't handle me?"
Moving up quickly behind the leering man, Chris hit him with the butt of his gun. He cuffed the dazed man then turned to glare at Laura. "Did you have any sort of plan before you jumped off that trailer?"
"I was working on it." Laura grinned and shrugged her shoulders as she handed him the gun she'd picked up.
"Keep it, you might need it before this is over."
"No, I think she should drop it buddy. And since you look like someone who takes foolish chances you'd better drop yours also. After all, I'd hate to have to shoot you before it's necessary."
Chris felt Laura move closer to him as they both turned their attention to the smirking man behind them. Alex moved forward his gun trained on Chris. Laura paused for just a second before throwing hers away. Chris glared at the other man a bit longer, trying to buy some time. After throwing his gun to the side, Chris put out an arm to pull Laura behind him. Directing the famous Larabee, I'll maim you given a chance, glare at the tall slender indian walking forward he warned. "You'll never get away, even if you kill us, my men will get you. Your best bet is to just give yourself up, while you still can."
"You may be right about that, but I'll take that chance. You and your men cost me my entire operation. Now I was just going to kill Laura there as payback, but since the spirits have seen fit to gift me with you." Alex let the sentence trail off then smiled. "Well who am I to argue with the spirits."
"Your so full of bullshit Alex, as if you care about the spirits." Laura has resisted Chris's efforts to push her completely behind him, now she stepped forward a bit. "How could you do this to your parents? How could you let one of your men shoot Pop?"
The man in front of them smiled evilly. "Silly fool, I shot Pop. I would never ask my men to handle a family matter. Which is why I decided to kill you myself, instead of having it done. After all I do owe Justin something." Alex raised his pistol. "Now I am pressed for time so "
"Pull that trigger mister and you won't have a brain left." Vin's threat was backed up by the gun he had pressed to Alex's head. He'd snuck up while Alex was bragging to Chris. For a moment it looked like the gun runner was not going to comply, but then he relaxed letting his pistol fall to the ground. JD moved forward grabbing the fallen gun while Ezra hurried over to Laura and Chris.
"Are you two all right?" Ezra put his hand on Laura's arm while directing his question to Chris.
"We're fi..," Chris paused then with a small smile continued. "We're okay."
Laura nodded her agreement with Chris. "I'm okay, just a little dirty and bruised." Ezra smiled, keeping one hand on her shoulder as he turned back to Chris. Before he could ask anything else, Alex interrupted.
"How sweet. You always did land on your feet bitch. I thought when I killed Justin, you'd fall apart and I could pick up the pieces. Then I would have had you and your money. Instead you managed to escape to Dallas."
Alex's comment got everyone's attention, Ezra got that intent, slightly crazed look on his face again, but before anyone else could move Laura did. Screaming angrily she threw herself at Alex. The two went down in a tangle of bodies, but Laura came up first. Calling him names, that Ezra was surprised she even knew, she kicked out with her right foot propelling Alex into a truck. With a growl he came at Laura throwing a punch to her head. Ducking under the swing, an enraged Laura returned the favor. Alex managed to partially block her punch, bringing his fist around to hit her. The blow had Laura stumbling back a bit, putting the back of her hand to the corner of her mouth. Ezra now moved to stop the fight, but Chris put a restraining hand on his arm.
"Let her be, I know how she feels." Pausing he looked back to where Alex was starting forward before continuing wryly. "At least until she begins to loose."
Ezra nodded sharply before giving his attention to the fight again. Vin and JD had moved back and were watching the whole thing with big grins on their faces. JD was even offering encouragement.
"Go Laura, hit him again."
Laura did better than that, the blow to her face seemed to calm her down. Now she looked to be thinking as well as fighting. Ducking Alex's next punch, she kicked him hard at the side of his knee. The knee buckled pulling him off balance and almost sent the gun runner sprawling. As Alex regained his balance and started forward, Laura jumped into the air, spinning completely around and catching him in the head with her foot. Alex went down like a pole axed steer. Panting slightly Laura walked forward a step and stared down at the fallen man, angry tears in her eyes. After a moment the others moved in, Ezra slipping his arm around Laura's waist to lead her away. JD pulled the spare set of cuffs he usually carried, handing them to Vin to cuff Alex. Coming closer, the sound of a police siren signaled the arrival of backup. Chris looked at Vin and jerked his head toward where Ezra and Laura stood.
"Go see how she is. Tell Ezra he can take her back to the motel if he thinks it's best. I'll talk to the local police, they can get her statement later."
Vin touched the brim of his hat in acknowledgment then walked quickly to where Ezra stood with his arm around Laura talking intently. She had stopped crying and was now just leaning into the support nodding every once in a while. Leaning against the nearest trailer he eyed Laura until she finally couldn't stand it.
Blue eyes twinkling Vin grinned widely. "Nice kick. Remind me never ta make ya that mad."
Laura laughed/gasped slightly as she sat down on the trailer wheel well. Her color coming back a bit, she grabbed Ezra's hand when he started to say something. Then turning back to Vin she shook her head. "Don't worry, I won't be trying that again for a while. I think I did something wrong."
"Looked good ta me an ole Alex sure got the point."
"Yes, well I'm pretty sure that Walker and Trent have never hurt themselves doing that move." Laura gasped as she gave into the pain, cradling her ankle.
Three hours later Team Seven minus Ezra were all gathered in Room 248. Over Chinese takeout Buck, Nathan, and Josiah were being filled in on the chase details. All three men were thoroughly enjoying JD's version of the events.
"So Laura's trying to convince Ezra she hasn't broken her ankle when Cheyenne PD shows up. Of course the first thing they want to know is where the rest of Alex's men are." Here JD stopped and suddenly looked slightly less enthusiastic. Vin had raised his head and was glaring at him. Buck, sensing there was more and it didn't put the youngins in a good light turned to Chris.
"Where were they?"
Chris grinned devilishly, stretching the torment out for his younger agents. "According to Vin, JD an Ezra they were in a couple of horse trailers, cuffed and gagged."
Nathan, Josiah and Buck exchanged confused looks. Chris began to chuckle while Vin and JD started looking a little red around the ears. Unable to stand the suspense Josiah prompted. "The Lord loves a joke, but I'm afraid we're missing it."
Chris didn't try to control his wicked grin as he explained. "We were in the parking lot where all contestants, employees, and stock contractors park. There were almost a hundred trailers there today." Pausing Chris directed a, payback is hell look, at his embarrassed agents. "The Hardy Boys plus one, couldn't remember anything about the trailers except for the color and size. Of course the color and size they remembered was, sorta rusty and big. Took us almost an hour to check all the trailers matching that description."
As the room dissolved into more laughter JD tried to defend himself and the others. "Like Ezra said, we were too busy securing the area to pay attention to such paltry concerns."
Everyone was laughing at that, even JD and Vin when Ezra walked in. "Hey Ez, thought ya were gonna stay in the emergency room with Laura." Vin looked down the hall. "She done?"
Ezra shook his head no as he moved further into the room. "Her exact words were, stop hovering like some sorta demented June Cleaver. Then she threw me out with instructions to go harass the cavalry, meaning you gentlemen." A small smile graced his lips as he sank down into an empty chair.
"JD said she hurt her foot? Is it bad?" Nathan worried about people even when he was in the hospital himself.
"Seems the afflicted limb was merely twisted."
Vin nodded in agreement, "Yeah it's okay Nate. Wasn't the foot she kicked with, was the one she landed on."
"I still wish I could have seen her jump off the top of that trailer." Buck laughed a little directing a look at Chris. "What ran through your head at that point ole buddy."
"That Ezra and she must be blood relation, no matter what they say." Was the wry reply.
"Wait a moment, she jumped OFF a trailer?" Ezra had sat up and was starring at Chris. He'd missed Chris and Laura's statements to the police, being busy searching horse trailers.
"She didn't tell you? When I found her, she'd tackled that ugly guy and tried to take his gun. I arrived just as the two of them were getting ready to face off hand to hand." Chris paused while he ran the whole scene through his head again. Finally looking at Ezra he shook his head. "I'm not so sure she would have lost."
"Well why wasn't she carrying a gun?" Nathan wanted to know. "Never heard of a P.I. who didn't."
"I didn't think I'd need one." Laura spoke from the doorway. She looked tired, her mouth slightly bruised at the corner. There was a bit of a limp as she moved over to sit on the arm of Ezra's chair. "I left my gun in the motel room."
Vin gave her a curious look, "Why do you carry that old colt and derringer?"
"The colt is a birthday present for Walker, it supposedly belonged to a Ranger Hayes. His wife bought it from a dealer here for his birthday. I'm just the delivery person."
"And the derringer?" Buck prompted.
The question got a rather embarrassed smile out of Laura. "The dealer for the Colt had it." Ducking her head a little she looked at Ezra out of the corner of her eye. "Don't know why I bought, cept it reminded me of someone I used to know. Never thought I would see him again, but well, sometimes God steps in."
"God has a way of doing that." Josiah said, "He knows what we need even when we don't."
"Amen Josiah" Laura directed a full 100 watt smile at the older man.
"May I inquire as to what you are doing here? I thought you intended to seek slumber once they finished dissecting you?"
Laura snatched an eggroll before answering Ezra. "Don't rub it in, okay. Soon as I kicked you out, didn't feel like being alone." Waving her hand at the other men in the room she then reached over and ruffled his hair. "So here I am. Sides, you aren't as annoying around these guys."
Everyone smiled or chuckled at Ezra's expression as he tried to smooth out his hair. Buck leaned forward as the amusement quieted down, a big grin under his mustache. "Darlin, we've been hearing about your fight today. Wish I coulda seen it. Where'd you learn all those fancy moves?"
"Walker decided that since he couldn't talk me out of jumping without looking, then I needed to learn to protect myself. He taught me to shoot then introduced me to Trent. He taught me the karate."
Buck's "Who's Trent?" was overlaid by Ezra's "Seems you need a refresher course."
Laura answered Buck first, "Trent, Malloy, karate teacher and friend. He's partners with Carlos Sandoval in Thunder Investigations. I rent space out of their office and sometimes we help each other on cases." Turning her attention to Ezra she shrugged "Was my own fault, I got mad. Can't fight effectively when you're mad an not thinking."
"Well darlin, you know what they say about red heads and their temper." Buck offered, his trademark infectious grin on his face.
The comment made Laura smile for the first time since entering the room. When Ezra looked at Buck and said, "Trust me she's always had the temper but the hair to match is new." Laura's smile widened into a laugh that had the others smiling and chuckling right along with her. Once she stopped laughing she did reach over and lightly slug Ezra's shoulder.
"Don't forget bucko, your mother it the one who told me, a woman's natural color is the one she can pay for."
"What did the doctor say about your ankle?" Nathan asked. He'd noticed the limp but didn't think it was too serious, since Laura was still wearing her boots.
"I'll be fine." Laura answered, shooting a confused look at JD and Buck when they both groaned. Shaking her head in confusion, she turned back to Nathan. "I won't be doing any trick riding for a couple of days, but I can do my ground act until then." Suddenly looking even more tired than when she entered, she stood up. Smiling at the men, she moved toward the door. "I think I will go back to the motel after all. Night everyone."
Ezra followed her to the door and laid his hand on her arm. The others couldn't hear what he said, but they saw Laura cover his hand with her's and nod. Then he pulled her into a hug, before kissing her forehead. Waving at the rest of the team, Laura turned and moved out of sight. Ezra watched until Laura got on the elevator before turning back to the room. Resuming his seat, he leaned back and closed his eyes.
"She gonna be alright?" Chris inclined his head toward the empty doorway even though Ezra wasn't looking at him.
Ezra didn't answer for a moment, then eyes still closed he slowly nodded yes. " We spoke at great length while waiting for the x-ray. She's a survivor. I just wish she hadn't had to survive quite so much." Opening his eyes, he surveyed the rest of the room.
"Ezra, what did Alex mean, about killing Justin so he could get her money?" JD hadn't wanted to ask while Laura was there. "I thought you said her father disowned her?"
"He did, but Laura's maternal grandfather had left her a trust fund. Her father couldn't take that away." Ezra gave the others a grim smile. "But that animal had been so ugly to her before Justin died that she wouldn't have anything to do with him. That's the real reason she went to Dallas." Sighing the southerner stood up. "She assured me of her well being, but I think I'll return to our temporary quarters anyway. It's been a long day."
"I'll go with ya." Vin stood and grabbed his hat. "After all, you're not as annoying around us."
JD laughed and decided to go back also. Chris and Josiah stayed for a bit longer, talking about their plans for the next week. Chris had arranged for the time off and everyone had already decided to stay in Cheyenne. They would head back after Buck had been discharged. Nathan would probably get out the next day, but he had already stated that he could rest at the motel as well as at home.
The rest of the week passed quickly. Ezra and Laura spent as much time together, as possible, catching up. Usually, with Vin and JD, they spent their time at the fairgrounds. Vin said that watching Ezra and Laura 'discuss things' was the best entertainment he'd had in a long time. Every morning, they would spend at least an hour exercising the horses. Chris said his leg was still a little sore, so he let JD ride his black. The leg wasn't really bothering him, but he knew it was better to keep JD busy and out of trouble. Vin and JD enjoyed switching off between Chris's black and Peso. Ezra rode Chance and it was obvious that horse and rider truly enjoyed each other. Ezra also continued to help Laura with her act. She taught him all the signals that Chance knew and in no time the two were stealing the show. Vin rode again in the bucking contest, taking second place for the day. And Ezra found a rodeo event he could participate in. One that was right up his alley, or at least he thought so. Vin, who was there when he signed up, could have warned him, but didn't.
The second to last day of the rodeo, all of Team Seven showed up to watch Ezra compete. Even Buck, who'd only been released the day before, was there. Nathan didn't like it, but Buck had promised to go back and rest right after Ezra's event. Chris had arranged it so they could drive Buck right to the bleachers in the participant's area. So everyone was there when Ezra found out exactly what Cowboy Poker really was.
"Mr. Tanner, all I am going to say is, you have to sleep sometime." Ezra's voice was totally calm, it almost sounded like he was discussing the weather. But Vin felt a cold chill run down his back. He began to wonder if it had been such a good idea to set Ezra up.
"Just remember to hang onto your cards." Chris said, "If you loose them, you loose the game."
Sighing, the southerner settled his hat and started into the arena, as soon as he was out of hearing range, the entire team dissolved into laughter.
"Vin, you are a dead man." JD gasped as he leaned against the end of the bleachers.
"Now JD, knowing Ezra, even if he'd known what he was getting into, he probably still would have signed up." Buck said as they watched the southerner sit down at a table in the middle of the arena.
"The man loves poker and money." Nathan shook his head, grinning. "Hope he doesn't get hurt."
They watched as Ezra started dealing to the other men at the table. As he did one of the bucking chutes opened and a very ugly shorthorn bull came charging out. The bull circled the table a couple of times while the three cowboys and Ezra continued to play. Then with a bellow he charged the seated men. The table was thrown in the air about five feet, while poker players scrambled to get out of the way. The crowd went wild, clapping and cheering. There was a mad dash for the fence as the bull continued to attack the helpless card table. Well the others dashed, Ezra calmly strolled to the gate which only made the crowd scream more. At the gate, he paused and removing his hat swept a deep bow to the audience. When his hand, and the hand of the only other player who still had his cards were compared, Ezra was the winner with two pair.
The morning after found everyone gathered at the fairgrounds again, to load horses and say goodbye. Chris' horses were loaded, now the seven men were waiting on Laura. She'd said she had one last thing to take care of before leaving. They were sitting outside barn visiting when an old blue truck, with a beat up horse trailer attached, pulled up next to the barn. With a sort of groaning sound it shuddered to a stop and out hopped Laura.
"Hi guys, sorry I'm late, but it took longer than I thought it would to get the title's changed around on the trucks." Laura waved a hand at the beat up vehicle behind her. "Well, what do you think?"
There was a pause, while everyone gazed at the truck. Josiah's eyes had a sort of religious fervor to them. After all it almost looked worse than his Surburban, he wanted to get under the hood and start poking around. Nathan started trying to decide what the "accident waiting to happen" factor was. Vin and JD were looking back and forth, from the truck to Ezra's face. They were already anticipating the "discussion" this promised to be. Chris and Buck exchanged a "women should never be allowed to buy vehicles" look then grinned. Ezra, meanwhile, stared in horror before gathering himself. "First I need to know what it is."
Laura laughed, "This is a classic big brother." Patting the hood she recited. "This is a 1962 International, step-side pickup. International doesn't even make regular pickups anymore."
"I can see why." Ezra replied, "Did it come with a tow truck or are you planning to push it to Dallas?"
"No," Laura rolled her eyes a bit, "but it did come with a horse trailer. Now I have a way to get the horses home." Ezra's eye's darkened at the reminder of why Laura needed a bigger pickup. The Greyhawk family had pulled their stock and had it shipped home.. Laura said she couldn't blame them, since, indirectly, she had cost them two sons. Ezra was not so charitable.
"Thought ya were gonna buy a new truck?" Vin finished his walk around the old truck. "How much did this cost?"
"Oh that's the great part, I traded my Ranger straight across for the truck. I bought the trailer from the same guy and he threw in a bonus." Laura beamed ignoring the fact that everyone, except for possibly Josiah, thought she was crazy. "Well I'd better get the horses, I'll be right back. JD can you help me?"
The two were back shortly, JD was leading a beautiful palomino yearling, while Laura followed with Chance. Concho followed on his own, prancing and showing off. Vin gave a low whistle, walking over for a closer look at the golden horse. Nodding to the new horse, she asked. "Well what do you think of my bonus?" Laura handed off Chance to Ezra, grabbing Concho's lead to put him in the trailer. Chris and Buck joined Vin in checking out the new horse. When Laura came back out of the trailer, Ezra was waiting with Chance.
"Firefly, how are you going to fit three horses into a two horse trailer?"
Laura smiled and reached out to stroke Chance's nose. "I'm not." She held out an envelope with the other hand. "These are his papers, Coggins test and a bill of sale."
Ezra was stunned, he looked from the bay, who was nuzzling his shoulder to the woman. Then he tried to hand the envelope back, "It's a lovely thought, but I can't take him, where would I keep him?"
"You can keep him at the ranch." Chris spoke up from behind. "Heck I keep horses for Vin, Buck and JD, what's one more. Won't even charge you, though you will have to come out and help when we stack hay an fix fences." The last bit was accompanied by a devilish grin.
Ezra groaned dramatically, but he was petting Chance as he did so.
"Come on Ezra, take a 'chance'." JD's joke got him smacked with Buck's hat even as the others laughed.
Vin led the palomino into the trailer while Laura handed Ezra another package wrapped in bright pink paper. "This is for Angie, it's a piece of classic western literature. She'll love it." ++
Ezra inspected the package critically, "What it is?"
"Hank the Cowdog." Laura gave him a stern look. "And don't even think about not giving it to her. I'm coming to visit one of these days and I plan to meet her." Turning to the others she gave each one, even Chris who looked a bit surprised, and barely returned it, a hug. "You guys think about coming to Dallas sometime. I can get tickets to most any Cowboys game and my place is huge. It's been wonderful to meet you all." Turning she pulled Ezra close for a tight hug as the others moved away a bit to let them say goodbye privately. "I love you Maverick, keep in touch okay."
"I will Firefly, let me know when you get home. The image of you in that old wreck, is going to haunt me."
Laura smiled, then got in the truck, leaning out the window she waved at the others then winked at Ezra. "Don't worry, ran into an old friend yesterday. He needs a lift to Dallas. McGyver, is a wizard when it comes to engines. Anything breaks he'll find a way to fix it. I'm picking him up at the truck stop." With a final wave to everyone and some coaxing of the truck, Laura pulled away.
Ezra joined the others shaking his head. Vin clapped him on the shoulder. "So what did ya think of your first rodeo?"
A pointed glare was his only answer.
Note: ++ Angie the character Laura sends the book to appears courtesy of Derry. If you would like to read more about this lovely young lady check out "Angie".