Ezra woke early after an undisturbed but highly uncomfortable few hours sleep. There wasn't a stick of furniture in the room or any carpet to alleviate the hardness of the floor. He'd tried to stay awake as long as possible expecting a visit from his captors, but when they hadn't come by midnight he'd succumbed to sleep. He didn't feel particularly rested though as he'd tossed and turned continually on the hard surface. He stood up stiffly and stretched, wincing as his injured side set up a protest at the movement. He walked around the room to try and limber up and loosen his sore muscles. He hadn't eaten since the previous morning and his stomach growled in protest. He put a fist to his midriff in the hope of stifling the sound while he wandered over to the window and looked out. He saw a jeep parked outside. Where was the car?
"What does that mean I wonder?" he said to himself. "Has someone else arrived or have they just swapped vehicles?" He suddenly realised he was talking out loud. "First sign of madness. Good God, get a grip you fool." He laughed sourly.
He heard footsteps approaching his room and he moved to the far wall. He'd not seen his captors since the previous day when he'd been abducted. It had given him time to catch up on some sleep for which he was grateful, but he wondered what they had in store for him. The door opened and Ronnie walked in carrying some food and a baseball bat. Ezra sincerely hoped he hadn't come to use it.
He decided to try and get some information. "What do you want with me?" he asked.
Instead of answering, Ronnie asked a question of his own, "Do you know who we are?"
"Should I?" Ezra replied frowning.
"Ronnie Peterson and Paul Simmons."
"Ah. Yes well obviously your reputation is well known further afield, but what do you want with me?"
"You're a cop," Ronnie answered, as if that explained everything.
"Am I? What makes you think that?" Ezra asked.
"Don't try acting all innocent. Your name is Ezra Standish and you work for Chris Larabee. Seeing as we couldn't get him, we thought we'd get one of his team instead."
"You're remarkably well informed, but that still doesn't tell me why I'm here."
"We want to send a message out to cops and villains alike that we're not to be messed with."
"If you think killing me will get you any favours from the police, you're sadly mistaken. They take a dim view of cop killers."
"Who said we're going to kill you?" Ronnie asked.
Ezra narrowed his eyes and studied Ronnie intently. He wasn't sure whether he'd just been given good news or not. Should he be relieved or even more worried about what they had intended for him?
Ronnie tired of the conversation and put the food on the floor and then backed out of the room, locking the door behind him.
"Uneducated oaf," Ezra said disparagingly when Ronnie had gone. He walked over to the food and studied it before sitting down and picking the plate up. It didn't look very appetizing but he ate it just the same. He needed to keep his strength up for when an escape bid could be made. Ronnie hadn't left any cutlery so Ezra had to eat with his fingers. He could really have done with a drink but none had been left. At least his hunger was sated for the time being, which was one small mercy. When he stood up again after eating, he winced as his side hurt. It felt tight and sore and when he looked at the cuts they were red and inflamed. He tried to take his mind off things but there wasn't really much to do, either sit or walk, so he prowled round his room until his captors turned up an hour later.
Ezra turned to face the door when he heard the key in the lock. Ronnie again had his baseball bat and Paul had a set of knuckledusters on his right hand. Ezra's heart dropped into his boots at the sight, knowing he was in for a beating. He stood his ground though and waited for events to unfold. The two men approached and Ronnie raised the bat until it was resting against Ezra's left cheek. Ronnie applied some pressure forcing Ezra's head round to the right.
"Shall we rearrange his pretty face?" Ronnie asked Paul unpleasantly. As he released the pressure slightly, Ezra put a hand up to grab the bat but Ronnie moved it out of reach. Paul stepped forward and sent a reinforced fist into Ezra's stomach. The agent doubled over clutching his midriff and dropped to his knees gasping for breath. God that hurt.
His protagonists didn't strike again straight away. They waited until he'd recovered his breath slightly and then hauled him to his feet. This time Ronnie swung his bat and hit Ezra's right knee hard, again sending him to the floor in agony as his leg collapsed under him. Ronnie kicked the same knee while Ezra lay unable to defend himself and the agent cried out as the pain in his leg doubled. Paul grabbed his arm and pulled him to his feet roughly nearly yanking his arm from its socket. Ezra put his injured leg to the ground and it gave way under him forcing him to hobble about trying to stay upright. He swayed suddenly and fell against Paul who retaliated by pushing him away and sending another vicious punch into his face. Ezra fell to the floor for the last time that morning with blood pouring from his nose. This time he wouldn't be getting up of his own volition for several hours. Darkness tugged at the edges of his vision and he gave into it hoping it would end the beating for the time being.
Paul and Ronnie smiled at one another and left Ezra where he lay in the middle of the floor. He had a jagged cut down his face which was bleeding profusely, as was his nose. His knee had also swollen badly.
He regained consciousness in the early afternoon and lay still while he gathered his strength. He finally sat up and groaned when the pain in his knee kicked in. He rubbed it absently before moving his hand up to his face to explore the damage done there, wincing as his fingers brushed the cut on his cheek. It had stopped bleeding but he thought it was quite likely that it would become infected. His nose was too tender to touch so he left well alone.
He had just finished examining his injuries when he heard the sound of approaching footsteps. He hoped upon hope that they wouldn't enter his room again, but he didn't get his wish. He used the wall to help him get to his feet and leant against it to keep himself upright. He didn't think he could do without its support as his leg was still too painful to put to the ground. However, he decided that he wasn't just going to sit back and take another beating. Bad knee or not he was going to defend himself.
The door opened and Ronnie came in followed by Paul. Ronnie walked straight over to Ezra and stood within a foot of him. Ezra put his foot to the ground and clenched his teeth against the resulting pain. Thinking this was as good an opportunity as any to retaliate, Ezra sent a fist into Ronnie's stomach and when he folded over in reaction to that, Ezra followed up with another fist to the face. He couldn't get much power behind the blows because Ronnie was standing so close to him, but he did a bit of damage. Ronnie moved backwards holding his face, but Paul took his place and used a well-placed kick on Ezra's injured knee to bring the wayward agent to order. Ezra fell as his leg gave way yet again and Paul knelt down beside him and grabbed his face between his fingers.
"That wasn't clever," he said as he slammed Ezra's head against the floor, stunning him, before pulling him to his feet again. Ezra stumbled backwards until he came to rest in the corner of the room. Paul and the now recovered Ronnie followed him and began raining blows from fists and feet on the cowering man. Ezra raised his arms to his head to try and protect himself, but the trapped agent could do little to defend himself. He slid down the wall until he was sitting curled up in the corner. It made it more difficult for his attackers to land so many blows because they got in each others way. Eventually they realised this themselves and Ronnie pulled back to let Paul take charge. After several more minutes of punishment, Ronnie laid a hand on his accomplice's arm and pulled him off Ezra, who was now laying in an unmoving heap at his feet.
"That's enough Paul. He's out of it."
Paul turned away from Ezra rubbing his knuckles and then turned back sending one final kick to the fallen man's side before they left the room.
Chris and Vin had returned from Fort Lupton in the early hours of the morning frustrated with the lack of information they had gleaned there. No one had seen Ezra or his captors. Chris had retired to his office on their return and was looking out the window with his forehead resting against the glass.
"Where are you Ezra?" he asked softly. "Why don't they get in contact?" The more time went by without any communication from the kidnappers the more worried he was becoming. How could they just disappear into thin air?
Vin had come into the room and heard Chris's plaintive question. He wandered over to join his boss by the window. Chris hadn't realised he had spoken aloud until Vin appeared at his side and said, "They'll get in touch when they're ready. Are you alright?"
"Yeah. It's just the more the days go by without hearing anything the more I think we're looking for a body rather than a living person."
"God Chris, come on. Ezra needs you to be positive, don't give up on him yet. He's a tough man despite his fancy ways."
"I know," Chris smiled faintly before continuing seriously, "I just can't imagine why they haven't contacted us. That doesn't bode well for his health."
"We'll get a break some when. There's always an answer to all problems. We just haven't asked the right question to the right person yet." Vin hadn't realised how disheartened Chris had become. He hoped they got a breakthrough soon to give Chris some hope.
Chris sighed and turned to face Vin, giving him a faint smile. Vin patted him on the back before leaving the office. Chris sat down behind his desk and tried to get on with his work but his mind kept straying to his missing agent. How was he coping with whatever was happening to him? Chris knew Vin was speaking the truth when he'd said Ezra was a strong man, but everyone had a breaking point. With the reputation of the two men involved Chris knew Ezra wouldn't be having things easy.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra woke in the early hours of the morning. God, how many more times was he going to wake up in this room with another set of injuries before his ordeal was over? He moved slowly and stopped when his body spasmed. He was caught in a vicelike grip of pain from head to foot. He wrapped his arms round his stomach and hugged himself to try to make the pain go away, but it was so bad that it took his breath away and he clenched his teeth to stop himself crying out. Perhaps if he stayed still, it would pass, but he didn't hold out much hope. After several minutes the pain did go and his body relaxed, but he was frightened to move again in case it happened for a second time. How the hell was he going to escape in this condition? He lay still for what seemed like ages and then tried moving once more. The same thing happened again and he couldn't help the tears that flowed. The relief when the pain subsided was enormous and he decided not to move until it was absolutely necessary. After an hour of lying totally still and despite his concern he drifted off to sleep.
+ + + + + + +
Chris phoned forensics to hurry along the report on the car. He couldn't understand why it was taking so long. He was assured he would get it later that day. He ran his fingers through his hair and looked up as his door opened and Josiah stepped inside.
"How about knocking?" Chris asked irritably.
"Sorry. Vin asked me to have a word with you. He was worried about what you said earlier. You haven't really given up on finding Ezra alive have you? It's only been two days."
"I know, but for Ezra two days in isolation probably seems more like two years. I just can't help starting to think the worst," Chris admitted tiredly. He rubbed his eyes and then scratched his chin as his mind drifted.
"You know I'm always around if you want to talk," Josiah said, interrupting his thoughts. "Ezra needs all the help he can get at the moment. Don't right him off yet. I know you have to consider all outcomes to prepare yourself for the possibility of things turning out badly, but it doesn't do anything for your sanity."
"Yeah. Tell me about it. Thanks Josiah, I appreciate it."
Chris resumed his paperwork but couldn't concentrate. He stood and walked over to the window again. It was a beautiful day but he was not in the mood to appreciate it. He turned his eyes heavenward and sent a silent prayer for the safe return of his agent up to a God he had lost faith in. He shook his head at his stupidity. God had never answered a prayer from him before so why should things change now? He turned to walk out of his office unable to stay indoors a minute longer. Jesus, he needed some air. He felt stifled, so he hurried out to the elevators and down to the parking lot. He slowed his pace when he got outside and walked once round the block. When he came back to the office entrance, Vin was waiting for him.
"Everything alright?" Vin asked. He looked at Chris intently while he waited for an answer.
"Yeah. I just had to get out. The walls were closing in upstairs. I needed some air."
Vin put a hand on his shoulder and herded him back inside. He knew all the men were becoming a bit stir crazy but Chris seemed to have given up all hope of finding Ezra. Chris was usually the one to egg everyone else on, but the tables were turned this time and he was the one needing extra support.
+ + + + + + +
Paul unlocked the door to Ezra's room and left a tray of food just inside the door. He looked over at his prisoner and saw he was still where they'd left him the day before. He smiled and locked the door again without entering. Perhaps they would leave him alone for a while to recover from his beating. It was no fun beating someone who couldn't appreciate it.
Ezra woke after hearing the door being locked and moved instinctively before he remembered the agony it has caused the night before. The pain did return but certainly not to the same degree. He sighed in relief, perhaps things weren't so bad after all. No revise that, they were still bad and would remain so until he could get away. In his present state though he wasn't sure how he was going to achieve that. He saw the plate of food by the door and cursed. There was nothing for it but to move across the room to get it or stay hungry. He dragged himself slowly forwards until he reached the plate and rested his head on the ground for a few minutes before eventually sitting up. Just moving that small distance had exhausted him, but at least the pain in his body had subsided to allow him to move. Thank God for small mercies, Ezra he told himself, although he wished they would give him a drink too. He was really beginning to feel dehydrated.
+ + + + + + +
Chris finally got the report from forensics on the car and it proved very useful. He sat at his desk and read it through from cover to cover his heart lifting as he finished. At last some tangible proof to go on. He picked the report up and hurried into the outer office.
"Can we all meet in the conference room now? I've got some vital information from forensics," he said as walked on through. The rest of the men got up and followed like the rats of Hamelin. Once they were all seated Chris opened up the file in front of him and pulled out the relevant sheet.
"Forensics have found a certain type of soil on the car which can only be found near the area around Shawnee. They think the car was driven up from there and dumped at Fort Lupton to make us search the wrong area. Buck, check with the car hire firms again in Castle Rock to see if our suspects have been seen there. They must have some form of transport if they are hidden in the mountains somewhere. JD, check with the police and make sure they've got the photos of Simmons and Peterson. Has anyone got any questions? Okay let's get cracking." The men moved with a lighter step hoping they at last had a more definite idea of where to look for Ezra.
Buck phoned every hire car firm he could find in the phone book and he struck gold with his fourth call.
"Hello, my name is Buck Wilmington and I am an ATF agent in Denver. Could I ask you some questions?"
"Yeah sure, go ahead."
"How many vehicles have you hired out in the last couple of days?"
"Only five. It's a quiet time of year and we're only a small outfit."
"If I send through a couple of faxes, can you tell me whether you have hired a car to either of the men shown on them?"
"Yeah okay." The man gave Buck his fax number. Buck signalled JD to send the faxes through after passing him the number to call.
The man studied the faces and recognised Paul Simmons, although that wasn't the name he'd used when he had hired the jeep.
"Are you still there?" the man asked.
"Yeah. Do you recognise them?" Buck was hopeful. Something in the man's voice told him he was onto something.
"Yeah. The one called Paul Simmons. He came in on a coach from Denver and hired a jeep. He said he was on holiday and was staying in the mountains, but he gave his name as Peter Bates. He had a driving licence in that name so I had no reason to suspect him of anything."
"That's great. We'll come and get a statement from you in due course. How long did he hire the jeep for?"
"A week from Saturday. He came in late evening. We're open twenty- four hours a day so it wasn't unusual to see someone at that time."
"You've been very helpful. Thank you very much. Someone will come in to see you soon as I said before." Buck hung up and hurried in to see Chris.
"Chris. I've got something. Paul Simmons hired a jeep from Castle Rock late on Saturday. He told the hire firm he was staying in the mountains for a week."
"Great. That's hopefully where they're hiding out then. Get the men together will you for a briefing while I call Travis." Chris was feeling a little more confident in finding Ezra. He hoped he was not counting his chickens before they were hatched.
The team gathered and waited for Chris's arrival. Chris walked in briskly and sat at the head of the table.
"Right, I want Vin and JD to stay here in case either Ezra, his captors or John Collins get in touch. Keep things moving this end and pass on anything you get to me. JD keep sorting through the photos and talk to anyone you think might help. The rest of us will go to Castle Rock and start searching there. Buck, can you get a statement from the car hire firm to start with along with details of the jeep. Nathan, take as much equipment as you need. We don't know what condition Ezra might be in. We'll work in pairs and keep in constant contact with each other. I'll keep you updated as well Vin. Any questions? Right let's get moving."
Early hours of Tuesday morning
Back in the cabin Ezra had been left alone. He had been unable to sleep as it was so cold and the solitude was also beginning to wear on his nerves. He tried to get rid of his nervous energy by walking round the room in the hope he would keep warm as well as get his body back into some sort of shape. He laughed quietly as he thought he hadn't had so much exercise for a long time, if only the circumstances that had forced him to do them had been different. When he first started walking around he shuffled like an old man but the more he moved the easier it became but his knee still gave him cause for concern.
Why hadn't his captors come? Not that he should be complaining, he was glad they weren't continuing with their brutality. He sat down against the wall, tired after all his exercise and waited for a couple of hours before deciding to get some sleep. He lay down and tried to get comfy but before he could drop off, he heard the sound of footsteps. Oh God, here we go again, he thought. He sat up and waited for the inevitable sound of the key in the lock. Paul entered on his own, at least that was something.
"Get up," he ordered Ezra as he walked over to where he sat. Ezra rose slowly and kept a wary eye on his adversary. Paul stood looking Ezra straight in the eye before lifting a hand and getting a grip on his opponent's throat. He started to squeeze and Ezra's mind went back to when Paul had done the same thing in the car. Oh God, not again, he thought. It was his worst nightmare come true. Asphyxiation was the one thing he was really terrified of. He considered it an awful way to die. He started gasping for breath almost immediately. He put a frantic hand up to try to make Paul let go, but the pressure on his throat kept increasing. He tried kicking out with his feet but that resulted in a punch to the stomach which drove the last of the air from his body. His vision blurred and he could no longer get oxygen into his lungs. He struggled for all he was worth in a last desperate attempt to get free but Paul slammed his head back against the wall and his efforts got weaker. There was a roaring noise in his ears and the veins in his neck stood out as the pressure kept increasing. Ezra eventually sagged in Paul's grasp as he continued to make dreadful choking noises. His eyes closed and he lost the battle to stay conscious. Paul let go and Ezra fell in a heap on the floor. Paul leant over him to make sure he was just unconscious and not dead and when he was satisfied he turned and left the room.
Ezra woke up coughing painfully almost immediately and he tried to get much needed air into his lungs. His breath came in short gasps interspersed with bouts of choking. He couldn't help the terrible noises that escaped his lips as he struggled for air. In time he managed to sit up and he rubbed his throat until his breathing settled at last. He couldn't bear to go through that again.
He frowned as he heard a noise outside and sat quietly trying to identify it. Hopefully it wasn't Paul coming back. He strained his ears and heard someone talking outside. He took a painful breath, stood up slowly and hobbled to the window. He looked out into the gathering dawn and saw Paul and Ronnie talking near the jeep. Paul looked flustered so Ezra tried to catch what was being said, but he could only hear the occasional word. The words he did hear gave him cause for hope. Paul had said the following, "we'll have to move him," and "Larabee coming." Ezra interpreted that to mean that Chris knew where he was and that Paul and Ronnie were going to have to relocate him, which presented an opportunity for escape.
He sat back down carefully and waited for the two men to come. He heard the key in the lock and in came Ronnie complete with baseball bat.
"Stand up," he ordered.
Ezra did as he was told, groaning as he did so. Ronnie took hold of his arm and escorted him outside to the jeep. Paul was not in sight and Ezra's heart lightened. He might be able to tackle one of them at a time. Ronnie pulled the jeep's keys from his pocket and let go of Ezra's arm while he opened the door. Ezra decided to act while Ronnie's hands were occupied. He went down on one knee and when Ronnie stooped to pull him to his feet Ezra struck with a well-placed fist to the chin and then got hold of his captor's head and slammed it against the jeep's door. Ronnie dropped without a sound and Ezra relieved him of the baseball bat. He stayed down behind the vehicle and looked around for Paul. Not seeing him, Ezra crouched low and made his way over to the trees and started running as fast as his injured knee would allow. He heard an angry shout behind him but he didn't stop. He crashed through the undergrowth to try and put as much distance between him and the two men. His pace wasn't fast by any stretch of the imagination and before long he was out of breath and in a lot of pain as all his injuries protested at the extreme exercise. Sweat poured from his brow and wiped his face on his sleeve but only succeeded in opening a few cuts which had started to heal. He cursed as he tripped over a root and landed flat on his face. The baseball bat fell from his hand and disappeared into a slight dip. He heard someone coming up fast behind him and didn't dare stop to search for it. He just had to hope he could find another weapon later on. Being in a wooded area certainly gave him the opportunity to find numerous fallen branches. He got to his feet and moved forward again before deciding to hide instead as his pursuer sounded close to him. He dived into a patch of undergrowth and waited until Ronnie came into view. The man didn't stop and kept running right past Ezra's hiding place. Ezra sat back on his heels and regained some energy before setting off again.
+ + + + + + +
Chris and his three team mates had arrived in Castle Rock early and Buck had obtained the jeep's details from the hire firm. The team rendezvoused with some of the local police who had been assigned to help them and then made tracks towards Shawnee. When they reached their designated starting point, they left their vehicles and split into groups to begin searching. Chris and Buck went in one direction while Josiah and Nathan went in another. Each man had a rucksack containing first aid kits and supplies and each had a map and phone to keep in contact with one another.
Chris's mobile rang and he found it was Vin.
"Chris, I just had a call from John. He says Ronnie and Paul have been warned of your arrival and that they are going to move Ezra. It seems Cody Bates is in cahoots with them and has been supplying them with guns. He's the one who tipped them off but at least that means Ezra's still alive."
"Right. Go and arrest Cody Bates and lean on him. We need to find Ezra now before Paul decides he's a liability."
"Okay I'm on my way." Vin rang off and took JD with him to find Cody Bates.
"Buck. Paul's been tipped off about our being here. He's going to move Ezra to another location. Get the police to set up a road block and keep an eye out for the jeep."
Buck did as he was asked and then the two men continued on their journey up into the mountains. Unbeknownst to them, Ezra was heading in roughly the right direction to meet up with them.
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