by Hombre

Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4

Ezra sat at home thinking back over the events of the day. He ran his fingers through his hair and sighed. His mind was racing with all the things that could go wrong with his assignment and he inevitably thought back to his last case. He began to think about the specter of death and he recited his poem again. Death truly frightened him and he just couldn´t imagine not being alive any more. Not hearing, thinking, seeing, just ceasing to exist. He´d come pretty close to death and he remembered the calm that had washed over him all those months before, as he´d thought he was dying. If he could cling onto that thought, rather than the one of fear that had immediately preceded it on that fateful day, then he would be alright. Think positive. Don´t be so morbid, he said to himself.

He stood up suddenly and put on his coat, unable to stay still any longer. He needed to get out of the house and he hurried outside and set off down the street and just kept going. He had no destination in mind, he just needed some air. He lit a cigar and inhaled deeply. It had been over a year since he´d given up smoking but recently he´d found himself desiring the comfort that a cigar provided. He walked briskly until he wore himself out and saw a seat on which to rest before starting back home. He reckoned he must have walked about five miles in a roundabout way. He sat down and looked into his lap and started fiddling with a button on his coat that had a loose thread. He pulled at it in irritation and the button bounced off and onto the sidewalk. He sighed and bent down to retrieve it and when he straightened up he found Nathan standing in front of him.

“Picking yer clothes to pieces, Ezra?”

“Loose thread.” Ezra held up the button for Nathan to see.

“What are ya doing so far from home?”

“Just out walking. Went further than I planned though. Too much on my mind. What are you doing here?”

“Coming to see Rain. She´s visiting a friend who lives over there. Do ya wanna lift home?” Nathan could see his friend was uneasy.

“No, thank you. A nice perambulation will be good for me. Thank you for the offer though. I´ll see you tomorrow.” Ezra stood up before Nathan could question him further and turned in the direction of home. He didn´t hurry and he felt much better when he finally reached his house. He made a quick meal and went on to bed although it took him a while to get to sleep. Even though he´d had quite a busy day it hadn´t been sufficient to make him sleep well. Not that he´d slept well for months. He woke several times in the night and each time it was more difficult to get back to sleep again. The slightest noise would set his heart pounding and he woke up feeling just as tired as when he´d gone to bed.

+ + + + + + +

“Hey Ez,” Vin greeted next morning.

“Mr. Tanner,” Ezra replied.

“Did ya sleep okay?”

“Like the proverbial log, thank you,” Ezra lied. “Pinky hasn´t called, has he?”

“Na. Not yet.”

“Oh well. Mustn´t get impatient for news.” Ezra retrieved Pinky´s map and compared his drawing with a street plan of Castle Rock. A shadow fell across the page and Ezra looked up to discover Chris peering over his shoulder. “Mr. Larabee?”

“Sorry Ezra. I know it´s rude to read over someone´s shoulder but I just couldn´t help myself. Which building is it that they´re using?” Chris asked as he sat down beside his agent while trying to find the building he wanted on the map.

“This one,” Ezra said as he pointed it out.

“Yeah, that´s it. There´s a good apartment block opposite for Vin to use and I phoned round some realtors last night to see if they had any offices on their books that we could use in the area, if we need to. They´ve got quite a few. How do you feel about things now you´ve slept on it?” Chris inquired.

“Actually, I feel surprisingly good. Whether it remains that way is debatable but making the arrangements certainly has set the old heart pumping. It´s good to have something concrete to work on, but I admit to being a trifle jittery about the whole thing.”

“Nerves and fear keep ya sharp, Ez. That´s a good thing,” Vin said from where he sat opposite.

“I think I feel like that Indiana Jones guy in the Last Crusade film. You know where he had to step out over that chasm to get to the Holy Grail. He can´t see if there is anything there to step on to but has to put his faith in God that there is. I feel like that. Rather apprehensive at stepping into the unknown but aware there is no going back.”

“You have got the option of going back though, Ez. Don´t forget that,” Chris reminded him.

“I wouldn´t dream of it. I will be meticulous in my preparations to try to avoid any unwanted circumstances from arising.” Ezra´s phone rang and he answered it quickly as Chris stood up and walked away after hearing who the caller was. “Ah Pinky. How are your arrangements progressing?” Ezra talked with his informant and then put the phone down after about quarter of an hour.

“What did he say, Ez?” Chris asked anxiously as the undercover agent entered his office.

“He has arranged a meeting with the gang leader tomorrow. If he is happy we will then meet again to conclude our deal.”

“Right. Let´s get things set for your first meeting.” Chris stood and went into the outer office and called loudly to get the rest of the team´s attention. “In the conference room now, please.”

When the men were seated, Chris said, “Okay. Ezra´s got a meeting set up with the leader of the drug gang. Where is it to be held, Ez?”

“I´m meeting them in the bar where we saw Pinky yesterday.”

“So we could have a couple of us in there as customers just to keep an eye on things and to see who´s involved. I think you should wear a wire, Ez.”

“I don´t think that would be wise. Most criminals would look for a wire as a matter of course with a new customer. I also can´t think the main meeting would take place at the bar. They´ll need to check me out and search me before taking me on somewhere else. I can hardly be found with anything incriminating on my person,” Ezra disagreed.

“I´m not happy about you having nothing, Ez. We could lose you and I don´t wanna go through that again.” Chris paused as he considered the options available to him. “Perhaps we could use a tracker instead. We´ve just been given some long range ones that will fit inside your phone. How about that? Also, do ya think Pinky can find out if they intend to move on from the bar?”

“A tracker will be fine. A wire could be used for the second meeting, once the man is satisfied I´m not really an agent of the law. I´m not sure that Pinky would be given all the details concerning the meeting but I will ask him.”

“Okay. Josiah? Can you and Nathan wait in a car outside the bar anyway? We should be covered then. Buck and I will be in the bar with you, Ez. We´ll keep in contact with Vin and JD who will be back here. You guys can co-ordinate everything. Okay is everyone happy?” Chris looked round at each man and got a nod in return.

“What day is the meeting?” Vin asked.

“Tomorrow at 1pm,” Ezra said.

“Okay. Josiah? You get into position by 12.30. Buck and I will get there at noon. Right, I think that´s everything. Sort out what you´re gonna need for tomorrow before you leave today,” Chris instructed them.

The men stood and walked back out to their desks to get ready. They were all uptight and hoping the meeting would go smoothly for Ezra´s sake. Once tomorrow was over perhaps they could feel a bit more relaxed about things.

+ + + + + + +

The men arrived early at work the next day to go over the plans once more and collect the equipment that they had set aside the day before. Ezra was there, for once, by 9 o´clock and he sat at his desk staring into space.

“Alright, Ez?” Josiah asked.

“Yes thank you, Mr. Sanchez. I´m just psyching myself up for what lies ahead.”

“Well, you know Chris and Buck will be there too if anything should go wrong. Just stay calm and focused,” the profiler instructed.

“That´s easy for you to say. Focused, maybe, but calm is a bit more tricky. I´m on a bit of a roller coaster of emotion at the moment. I start off feeling happy with everything and then I gradually begin to doubt myself again.”

“You´re bound to feel that way for quite some time, son. Don´t let it get you down.” Josiah tried to keep Ezra´s mind occupied. “Come on, let´s get your tracker set up. JD? You ready to test it?” Josiah asked.

“Yeah. Here it is Ez. If you wanna just walk outside and round the block, I´ll make sure it´s working properly,” JD said.

“I could do with some fresh air. Do ya mind some company, Ezra?” Chris asked.

“No of course not.” Ezra smiled and the two men left the building. Chris had heard the undercover agent´s comments to Josiah and wanted to give him a bit of moral support.

JD sat and watched his screen and made sure he could follow every step that Ezra took. The tracker worked well and when Ezra and Chris returned, the kid gave them the thumbs up sign.

“Right, Buck. We´d better make tracks. See you later, Ezra,” Chris said before following the ladies´ man out of the office. Ezra watched them go and realized he had butterflies in his stomach and his hands were shaking. He turned away and double- checked his equipment to give himself something to concentrate on. Not that there was much to check. He made sure he had no identification on him, other than his new persona. He checked his gun and looked at the phone again and then sat and fidgeted.

“Got ants in yer pants, Ez?” Vin drawled sympathetically.

“Something along those lines but I hope I´ll be alright once I get out there. It´s the waiting that´s so hard to bear.” The undercover agent watched as Nathan and Josiah disappeared to carry out their orders and then it was suddenly time for him to leave too. He stood up slowly and took a deep breath before picking up the keys to the pool car he would be using. He smiled ruefully at Vin and JD and walked along to the elevator.

“Good luck, Ez,” he heard the two men call after him.

Once he got in the car and drove out onto the street he began to get really uptight. He mentally kicked himself to make him concentrate on the task at hand. He knew he couldn´t afford to let his nerves get the better of him but it was easier said than done. He drove to the bar and parked outside, taking note of Nathan and Josiah in a car opposite. He got out and walked as confidently as he could into the bar and made his way to the counter. He turned his back to it after ordering a drink and scanned the room´s occupants. His eyes passed over his two friends and settled briefly on a man in the corner. Ezra thought he looked like a potential spy from the gang and he´d felt the man´s gaze on him ever since he´d entered the bar. Ezra made it seem as though their eyes had met accidentally and the undercover agent stopped his perusal and turned back to face the bar and picked up his drink.

He looked in the mirror behind the bar and saw the door to the room open. He watched as Pinky and a very tall man entered and stood just inside the door looking over the bar´s clients. Ezra gave no hint that he had seen them come in. Let them make the first approach, he thought. He took another quick sip from his glass to help calm his nerves and waited for the men to come over. He felt cold and realized his skin had erupted in goose bumps. His palms felt sweaty too and he wiped them on his sleeve discretely. How can I be hot and cold at the same time? he wondered. He felt a hand on his shoulder and he turned to discover Pinky standing in front of him.

“Ah Pinky. A pleasure as always.”

“This is Mr. Black,” the small man said earnestly, indicating his much taller companion.

Talk about David and Goliath, Ezra thought to himself wryly.

“Mr. Black. I hope it will be a productive meeting. My name is Ulysses Jackson. Can I get you a drink?” Ezra held out a hand and the man gripped it tightly in return.

“No, thank you. Would you follow me?”

Ezra nodded and the two men walked toward the rest room leaving Pinky alone at the counter. Chris and Buck exchanged glances nervously, hating for Ezra to be out of their sight. They stayed where they were though, knowing there was no exit through that way. Once inside the rest room, Mr. Black made sure no one else was there and started checking Ezra over for hidden weapons and wires. He didn´t give the phone a second glance but he pulled out Ezra´s gun and emptied it of bullets, much to the undercover agent´s unease. He knew Black wouldn´t let him keep it but he felt naked without it and very vulnerable. It would have looked very odd if he´d turned up at the meeting with no weapon at all and although he had known it would be confiscated it still unsettled him.

The man put both the bullets and gun in his own pocket before turning to go back outside. “You won´t be needing those. I´ll give them back to you when we´ve concluded business. Come with me.”

Ezra followed the man once again and Mr. Black collected Pinky and led both men outside onto the sidewalk. He opened the door of a car parked there and indicated for Ezra to climb in, which he did reluctantly and with a sinking heart. Black then turned to Pinky and paid him off.

Back in the bar, Chris watched his agent leave and then walked to the door once he had exited the building. He bought a packet of cigarettes from the vending machine by the door in case he was being watched. He looked up and saw Ezra get in the car and cursed. The car pulled away and he saw Josiah pull out into the traffic too about two car- lengths behind.

“Don´t get too close Josiah,” he muttered to himself anxiously. He then walked outside and pulled out his phone and called Vin. He lit a cigarette and walked along the sidewalk away from the bar as he waited for the sharpshooter to answer. He was positive there had been a spy in the bar and he didn´t want the man to think he had anything to do with Ezra. When Vin answered he related what had happened.

Vin sensed the blond man´s unease and said, “Okay. Don´t panic. We´ve got him on the screen as plain as day. If Josiah loses him, we´ve got it covered from here.”

“Great. Let´s hope that doesn´t happen. I really hate not being able to hear what´s going on though. Thanks Vin, we´ll come back to the office.” Chris turned and found Buck standing close by.

“Everything okay?” the ladies´ man asked.

“Yeah. Vin´s got Ezra on the tracking device. Come on, let´s get back to work. There´s nothing more we can do here.”

+ + + + + + +

Ezra found the trip in the car unnerving. As he climbed in, he experienced another flashback about a car journey he´d endured during his abduction.

He was still driving out of town toward the north. Ronnie who was in the passenger seat next to him suddenly poked the gun against his temple and said, “Pull over. I´ll take it from here.”

He did as he was told and came to a smooth stop by the sidewalk. Paul, who was sitting behind him, put his arm around Ezra´s neck while Ronnie got out and moved round to the driver´s side.

“Put your hands where I can see them and move slowly across to the other seat,” he was told as the hold on him was released. As Ezra slid across, so Paul moved over behind him. Ronnie got in and restarted the engine while Paul again put his arm around Ezra´s throat.

“Don´t try anything,” he ordered. Ezra gasped for breath and put his hands on Paul´s arms to try to loosen the pressure. He coughed as his throat felt like it was being crushed under Paul´s forearm. He started to panic.

Ezra heard the sound of a car horn and he jumped slightly as his mind came back to the present. He shook his head and tried to control his breathing. None of the vehicle´s occupants spoke and he hoped none of them had noticed his panicked state. He looked out the window and tried to keep calm by keeping track of the route they were taking. They were heading out of town toward Castle Rock but they stopped well before they reached that town and pulled up outside a warehouse.

Mr. Black got out first and waited while Ezra climbed out too. He escorted the agent inside and Ezra looked around him to get his bearings. There were only two exits that he could see as he followed the man into an office at the back and sat down where he was told. He saw two henchmen take up positions outside the door. No easy escape if I need one, he thought to himself apprehensively.

“Is this where the shipment will be delivered?” he asked as he tried to keep his mind on the job.

“No. We´ll tell you that nearer the time. I want to arrange for a down payment to be made first. I want half the money paid up front to know that you´re genuine.” Mr. Black studied Ezra intently with a piercing stare.

“One million? Fair enough. When do you want it by?” Ezra asked calmly, trying not to be put off by the scrutiny from his companion.

“Friday. The shipment is coming in on Monday. I want used notes only and not too many of a large denomination,” Mr. Black instructed.

“Fine. I can get things rolling when I leave you. How should I contact you?”

“You don´t. We´ll contact you through Pinky. He´ll tell you where to meet us and when.”

“Very efficient. I´ll look forward to hearing from you. Is that all you needed to say to me?” Ezra asked hopefully as he started to rise from his chair.

“No. Will you be bringing any other men with you when you come to collect the shipment?”

Ezra hovered midair in the chair before sitting back down again. “Naturally I will need some help to move it all, but they needn´t arrive until you´ve gone if you prefer. I certainly won´t tell them where the shipment is going to be collected from until the last minute, in case they get any ideas of taking it for themselves. I don´t entirely trust them all,” Ezra smiled.

“That sounds acceptable. Pinky will contact you on Friday to see if you have the money and to tell you where to drop it and then he´ll contact you again on Monday when the shipment is ready.”

“Well, I must say it is a pleasure working with someone who is so well organized.” Ezra stood as Mr. Black indicated he could now leave.

“I´ll get my driver to take you back to the bar to collect your car.” The man walked out with him and passed Ezra´s gun and bullets to the car´s driver. “He´ll give them back to you when you reach the bar,” Black explained.

“Thank you.” Ezra said. He was driven swiftly back to the bar and dropped outside as promised. The driver passed his gun and bullets to him out through the window and then drove off. Ezra sighed with relief when the man had gone and he looked over to the other side of the street just in time to see Josiah pull up. He suddenly felt sick as he realized that he had completed the first part of his assignment successfully. He hadn´t noticed how tense he´d been until now. He´d thought he´d been fairly relaxed once he´d got involved in the meeting but he was obviously wrong. He´d been on a heightened sense of alert, expecting something to go wrong after he´d been disarmed. Now he´d finished and his expectations hadn´t been realized he felt overwhelmed and shaky and he decided to make use of the bar´s rest room. He didn´t think Josiah and Nathan would follow him in because they would assume he was still on his assignment.

Josiah saw him go into the bar and asked, “Where´s he going?”

“Well, he either feels the need of a strong whiskey or he´s still working. We´ll wait out here in any case,” Nathan replied. He thought Ezra had looked a bit flustered.

Ezra stepped inside the rest room and was pleased to see it was empty. He walked to the sink and turned on the faucet and dipped his hand in the water. He washed his face and began to feel slightly less nauseous and a bit more human. He patted his face dry with a paper towel and looked at his reflection in the cracked mirror over the sink. After taking a few deep breaths he thought that the sick feeling was probably going to remain with him for a some time. Perhaps he´d be able to get away early from work before arousing the suspicions of his co-workers. He stood up straight and walked back out to his car without looking to see if the two agents were watching him. He climbed in and pulled out into the traffic. He kept a check in his rear view mirror to make sure he was not followed by anyone other than his fellow agents. If he had noticed anyone suspicious, he would have driven to a safe house which had been set aside for him to use during the case if he needed to. However he couldn´t see anyone so he went straight back to the office.

He waited in the parking lot for Josiah and Nathan to arrive and the three men went up in the elevator together.

“Everything go okay, Ez?” Josiah asked. He looked at his fellow agent and couldn´t read his expression. Ezra always did have a poker face when required.

“Very well. I admit I was a trifle perturbed when he confiscated my gun but it was proper procedure.” Ezra tried to sound normal but he took a deep breath every so often to try and stifle the constant nauseous sensation. His stomach muscles felt tight and he consciously tried to relax them. His breathing, however, became more rapid although he didn´t notice that fact for himself.

“Breathe properly, Ez. You´re hyperventilating. Do ya feel okay?” Nathan inquired, looking at him suspiciously.

“I´m sorry. I didn´t think the fact that I was still breathing would annoy you so much,” Ezra grumbled before raising his hands. “Just joking. I´m fine, really. I was just thinking back over events. I was a tad nervous back in the bar but I settled into it after that.” Although he tried to make light of things he had to admit he still felt on edge and he mentally shook himself. Nathan had obviously noticed something was amiss and Ezra couldn´t afford to show how he was really feeling. He sighed as he realized he was developing another headache. There was a band of tightness across his forehead and the more he thought about it the worse it became.

The men reached the office and Chris called Ezra into his own office to get a briefing from his agent first. Chris indicated for him to sit down and placed a cup of coffee before him.

“Well, the tracker worked superbly. We were with you every step of the way. How did it go?”

“I´ve got to get a million dollars by Friday. Mr. Black wants a down payment to show my good faith. Then on Monday he´ll phone with details for where the shipment is, but of course we already know that. I said I´d go to pick it up alone and then call my men in after he and his men had gone. He seemed happy with that.”

“Great. I wouldn´t want to tempt fate but let´s hope things go as smoothly then as they did today. The first part of your assignment has been completed. You should be pleased with what you´ve achieved today,” Chris said encouragingly. He thought Ezra looked a bit pale but that was quite natural after the day he´d had. It had been like a baptism of fire for the agent and Chris knew he must have been very apprehensive about the whole thing.

“Do you mind if I go home early, Chris? It´s been quite a taxing day and I could do with a break.” He hoped Chris would accept that and not read any more into his request.

“Sure. You did really well Ez. I´ll start making arrangements for getting the money and I´ll speak to you again tomorrow.”

“Thanks,” Ezra said as he hurriedly rose and left the room.

Chris watched him go and scratched his forehead at the man´s hasty exit. He wandered into the outer office and caught Josiah´s eye. The big man rose and walked over to meet him. Chris ushered him into his office and then wandered over to look out the window before speaking.

“How do you think Ezra is? He seemed in a hurry to go home. From what you saw today, did everything go as you expected?”

“Yeah. The only thing was, he went back into the bar after he was dropped back to collect his car after the meeting. I don´t think he met anyone in there but we didn´t dare follow him inside in case he did. He was gone for about five minutes and then came out and drove back here.”

“Could have been a call of nature or he may have wanted a drink. Just keep an eye on him tomorrow, will ya? He´s not likely to say if he´s having second thoughts about things but I need to catch him before he goes in, if he´s not feeling alright,” Chris said.

“Sure. I expect it was a call of nature as you say but better to be safe than sorry. Do you want me to go and see him tonight? Just turn up unexpectedly and see how he is?”

“Good idea but perhaps let Buck go instead. They get on well together and he might take a visit from him better than from one of us. Just make sure Buck doesn´t let on that we arranged it. I don´t want Ezra to think we´re trying to catch him out. Not that we are. We´re just making sure he´s okay,” Chris added hastily.

“I know what you mean. I´ll make sure he understands.” Josiah rose and went back outside to talk to the ladies´ man.

Buck rose and followed Josiah into the conference room frowning as he wondered what was going on.

“Buck? Could you go and see Ezra tonight and check he´s alright? Chris is just a bit worried about him, but make sure you don´t tell him that we asked you to visit him. Invite him out for a drink or something,” Josiah suggested.

“Course I will. I´ll ring Chris once I´ve checked him out.” Buck would be glad when this case was over. He felt as nervous as Ezra and he wanted to keep a close eye on his friend and help him get through it any way he could.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra arrived home and poured himself a whiskey and lit a cigar. He sat down on the back porch with his glass and the bottle and stared off into the distance as he took the occasional sip of his drink. His mind drifted after he heard the sound of footsteps and he relived another event from his captivity.

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 him straight in the eye before lifting a hand and getting a grip on his opponent´s throat. He started to squeeze and Ezra started to gasp for air almost immediately. He put a frantic hand up to try to make Paul let go but the pressure kept increasing.

Ezra felt hands round the back of his neck and he leapt up shouting and spilling the remainder of his drink over his pants. He swayed suddenly and felt as if he was about to pass out. He put a hand to his head and took a deep breath against a bout of nausea. He felt a hand on his elbow steadying him and he looked up and saw Buck.

“Fucking hell! You damned jerk! What the hell do you think you´re doing creeping up behind me?” Ezra yelled angrily. He came to an abrupt halt as he saw the astonished look on Buck´s face.

“Jesus. Sorry, pard,” Buck apologized. “Are you okay? You look a bit pale.” He chastised himself for scaring his already uptight friend, although it seemed an excessively severe reaction to a simple touch. “I couldn´t get any answer at the front door so I came round the side. Didn´t mean to startle you. I didn´t get to see you before you left work today so I thought I´d come and take you out for a drink to celebrate your return to work but I see you´ve started without me.” Buck noticed the cigar between Ezra´s fingers and frowned. The man had managed to keep hold of that well enough despite his fright. Buck hadn´t seen him smoke in a long time.

Ezra ran his fingers through his hair and sighed. “That´s a kind thought Bucklin but I´m really quite tired. It´s hard to start back after such a long lay off and work through a whole day again. Also after today, I could do with a night in. God, I´ve only been back three days and already want a break. I´m really sorry for shouting at you but my mind was elsewhere and you scared me. I´m just a bit testy at the moment.”

“The meeting went okay, didn´t it? Chris seemed pleased.” Buck studied the man standing in front of him. He tried to ascertain how he was by sight alone. He wasn´t sure whether Ezra would tell him how he was really feeling. The man would bluff if he could although he´d been fairly honest so far. Buck kept a grip on his friend´s arm because he still looked slightly distracted.

“Yes it was fine, but it will just take me a while to get back into my stride again. I felt like it was my first ever assignment. I was as nervous as a bride on her wedding night,” Ezra said as he smiled wanly.

The ladies´ man picked up the bottle of whiskey and saw it was nearly empty. “How much have you had?”

“Not as much as you think. Only half a glass because some idiot made me spill the rest,” Ezra replied smiling sadly as he wiped his pants down with both hands.

Buck punched him playfully on the arm and poured him another drink. Ezra took it gratefully and sat back down on the porch. Buck sat next to him and put an arm around his shoulders and felt Ezra flinch. He looked at his friend and frowned as he removed his arm again. He kicked himself for making the same mistake again. Why don´t you like being touched, Ezra? he wondered. They sat in silence and looked out at the garden. Buck could see some work had recently been done on a new seat near the house.

“Who did that?” Buck asked as he pointed the structure out.

“I did,” Ezra stated as he stubbed out his cigar and lit another one straight away.

“Jeez. Things must be bad if you´re getting yer hands dirty building things. Never figured you for a carpenter but it looks good.”

“Thank you, Mr. Wilmington but the extent of the things you don´t know about me would fill the Domesday Book. I expect you think I employ a handyman and gardener to do everything, but I´ve been helping with the gardening, when I´ve been here, ever since the shooting. I know I always complain about doing manual labor but I find it therapeutic. I spend hours out here just pottering about and it keeps my mind occupied although I grant you I won´t keep it up.”

Buck stared at his friend in amazement. There were definitely many layers to the man, rather like an onion he thought, although Buck doubted Ezra would appreciate the comparison. The team, it seemed, had just scratched the surface of his many talents. “Well, I´m astounded Ezra. I´ve always admired your garden but I still can´t picture you out there with a shovel and a wheelbarrow.”

Ezra snorted with laughter at the image. “Yes, I can see it would be hard to imagine but it is true, I assure you.”

He was quiet for quite some time as he studied his shoes and puffed his cigar. “I expected you to say, I told you so,” he eventually said as his mind went back to the day´s meeting and the feelings it had evoked in him.

“I told you so, about what?” Buck asked, confusedly.

“That I would find it hard to cope,” Ezra replied quietly.

“I wasn´t right. You did what you had to and you did it well. I said I´d support you through this. I don´t regret saying what I did in the meeting as I was only thinking of your health but I´d never gloat about being right. You don´t think you failed, do you?”

“Not really, but it was harder than I was prepared for. There were a few times today when I wondered what I was doing there and the biggest test is yet to come, Bucklin.” Ezra wiped a hand over his face as he spoke.

“I know, but once you´ve got through that you´ll wonder what all the fuss was about. Do you want me to stay tonight? I expect JD would appreciate some time on his own.”

“Yeah. Thanks.” For once in his life Ezra craved the company of a fellow human being. He usually tried to cope with things alone but he was beginning to realize that was not always possible. Perhaps those bullets had been good in one sense in getting him to acknowledge that fact.

“Okay, I´ll just phone him and let him know.” Buck stood and patted his back before wandering indoors so Ezra couldn´t hear him phone Chris.

“Larabee,” Chris said as he answered his phone.

“Chris, it´s Buck. Look, I´m staying with Ezra tonight. He´s okay but I think he just wants a bit of company. He seems a bit overwhelmed by things and he´s very jumpy but I´m sure he´ll be fine. Can you phone JD and tell him I´m staying here? That´s who Ezra thinks I´m talking to now,” Buck said.

“Yeah. Thanks for doing this Buck. I know you didn´t want him to do the job but I appreciate your support.”

+ + + + + + +

Buck and Ezra arrived at work the next day and Buck went in search of Chris. He met him coming back from Travis´s office.

“Everything alright, Buck?”

“Yeah. He seems okay. I heard him wandering around several times during the night and he still looks tired. He´s started smoking again too. One thing though. I touched him and you´d have thought I was trying to kill him. He swore blue murder which is most unlike him. He really yelled at me.”

“We can´t stop him working just ‘cause he lost his temper with you. Hell, if that´s a criteria of the job I´d never do any work,” Chris smiled before asking. “Is he eating?”

“Yeah but not much and only things like cookies. I tried cooking last night but he said he wasn´t hungry. I think he´s just too tense to want to eat if that sounds right,” Buck said doubtfully.

Chris said. “I need to speak to him now anyway. I´ll see if I can get him talking.”

As the two men arrived back in their office area, Chris called Ezra to join him in his own office. “I´ve got the money arranged for tomorrow. Travis has given me permission to use some of the money confiscated from that counterfeit batch we caught about six months ago. The drug gang won´t notice. They are the best fakes I´ve ever seen.”

“I´d certainly feel safer with a million in fake money rather than the real thing. I shan´t mind if I get mugged.”

“Don´t joke about it, Ez. How did you get on last night? Did ya get some sleep?”

“Yes. Mr. Wilmington turned up and stayed the night. I was certainly glad of the company. Although everything went to plan yesterday I couldn´t help starting to doubt that I´d acted adequately,” Ezra admitted.

“Buck stayed? That´s good,” Chris replied innocently. “Why do you doubt yourself, Ez?”

“It´s just that, feeling as uptight as I was, I wondered whether Mr. Black noticed my unease.”

“I don´t think he´d be put off by nervousness. He´d probably put it down to his influence over you. He went through with things so he must´ve been happy. Don´t pick yer every move to pieces, Ez. You did just fine.”

Ezra changed the subject, “Are we going to case the joint, so to speak?”

“What? Oh, you mean the warehouse in Castle Rock? I thought I´d send Vin. I wouldn´t want you to be seen in the area in case Black´s got some men there already.”

“Fair enough. I´ll wait for Pinky to call then. He said he´d get back to me about the pick up point for tomorrow. I doubt he´ll be able to find out where it is though. What do you want me to do while I wait?”

“Have you finished that search that JD gave you?”

“No. I´ll do that then.”


Comments to: