Where´s the money? the man asked Ezra.
In my car outside, Ezra said, wanting to get out of the building to give his team-mates a chance to intervene. His mind was becoming clear again and he knew he had to act cautiously.
You´ve got the whole amount on you?
Where are the keys to the car?
Ezra did have a set of keys but he knew if he gave them to the man he would have suffered the same fate as Black so he said, My partner is waiting in the car to hand the money over. He´s got them.
The man luckily believed him and didn´t check his pockets. He took hold of Ezra´s arm and led him toward the door. We´ll get the money from him then. Don´t try anything. I expect I can get your friend to hand it over without using you for leverage but we´ll take you with us anyway in case he needs persuading.
How do I know you´re not going to take the money and the drugs, like Black thought I was going to do? Ezra asked.
The way we work is like this. We let the original gang set up the deal, find the buyer and all that. We then just step in and take the money. We´re not interested in the drugs. We don´t wanna have to arrange to offload it all again. This way´s much easier. None of the work but all the reward. The buyer´s happy and we´re happy.
Very clever strategy, Ezra agreed.
The man pushed Ezra out of the warehouse in front of him and the two men walked toward the car Ezra was using. Chris had previously hurried to the vehicle when he´d heard Ezra say the money was in it. The blond drove back to the warehouse and stood by the car as if he´d been waiting there for ages. Ezra and his companion had nearly reached him when for the second time in as many minutes Ezra heard a gunshot and the man holding him fell to the ground. He still had a tight hold on Ezra´s arm and he pulled the agent down with him. Ezra looked up in a daze as he heard running feet and he saw Chris´s sneakers hurrying toward him. He felt a hand on his arm prying off his dead companion´s hand and then he was hoisted to his feet and taken quickly to one side behind his car.
Chris pushed him down so he was squatting on the ground. Ezra put his head in his hands and was unable to stop himself from shaking. He felt a comforting hand on his shoulder but he didn´t look up. He heard shouting as the occupants of the warehouse came out to see what had happened. Chris stood and watched as the rest of his team emerged and quickly disarmed or killed the gang members.
Ez? Where´s the money? Chris asked as he reached down and helped Ezra to his feet. Ezra? Did you hear what I said?
Ezra gathered his thoughts and said distractedly, In the warehouse behind some packing cases near the entrance. I thought it best that it wasn´t found on me. He could feel his control slipping again as he realized he had got through the meeting unscathed, in body if not in mind. The feeling of relief was overwhelming and he rubbed his face to try to calm himself.
Chris could hear the slight tremble in Ezra´s voice as he spoke. Are you okay? You´ve got blood on you. You´re not hurt are you? Chris asked anxiously, as he started looking Ezra over for any wounds. As he touched his agent he could feel the man start to shake uncontrollably.
Ezra didn´t answer. He was being bombarded with all sorts of emotions and the nausea he had experienced after his first meeting had returned with a vengeance. He tried to breathe deeply to stave it off. He cut himself off from the activity around him and just concentrated on staying calm. He started to recite his poem again in the hope it would relax him as it had done in the past.
Ez? Chris asked again as he led the man out of sight of everyone else. He put a hand on his agent´s shoulder and watched as the color drained from his face.
Ezra couldn´t fight off the nausea any more and he vomited. He put a hand up to his mouth quickly and sobbed. Chris searched his pockets and passed his friend a tissue. Ezra wiped his mouth and bent forwards, putting his hands on his knees. Chris rubbed his back comfortingly and stayed nearby. Ezra breathed deeply and tried to get his emotions back under control. Chris kept up with the back rubbing but Ezra couldn´t help throwing up again.
Jeez, Ez. It´s alright. It´s over. You did well, buddy.
I´m sorry, Ezra managed to say before breaking down completely. Chris pulled the man upright and took him in his arms. He wasn´t usually the type to hug another man but he knew Ezra needed comforting. As he was the only one available he held his friend tight as the man sobbed uncontrollably. Chris knew Ezra had been under tremendous pressure from the moment he´d decided to return to work and that this outburst was just a reaction to events both past and present.
Buck approached the two men and hung back when he saw what was going on. Chris saw him and beckoned him over.
The money´s still in the warehouse. Ezra hid it behind some packing cases near the entrance. Can you go and find it? Chris asked quietly.
Sure Chris. The ladies´ man turned, not liking the sight of his friend being so upset. He went to carry out the order and bumped into Nathan on the way.
Where´s Ezra? the medic demanded.
He´s with Chris over there. He´s very upset, Nate.
I´ll go and see him. Nathan walked to where Buck had indicated and saw his two friends standing behind a car. He walked up to Chris and said, Have you got the car keys?
Chris handed them over while still keeping hold of Ezra with one arm. Nathan walked to the car and unlocked the front door and pulled it open. He wandered back to the two intertwined men and said, Come and sit down, Ez. He put a hand out and escorted the agent to the seat and helped him sit down.
Ezra wiped his eyes and hiccupped slightly as he tried to stop crying. I´m sorry. It´s just such a relief that it´s over, he said with a trembling voice.
Nothing to be sorry for. How do you feel now? Nathan asked as he rubbed his friend´s upper arm briskly.
Sick, Ezra said as he put a hand to his stomach and rubbed it.
Well, you can hardly have expected to have got away without some sort of ill effect after the pressure you´ve put yourself under this week. You´ve been like a coiled spring since yer first day back and it had to come out in some way. I spect it´s done you good to let it all out, Nathan said as he patted Ezra´s knee.
I think it´s going to take a few assignments before I feel totally at ease again but at least I´ve taken the first somewhat shaky steps.
You sure have. You kept your head and didn´t panic and we got two gangs for the price of one. I´m proud of you, Ez, Chris said. Come on, I´ll take you home. He retrieved the keys from Nathan and went round to the driver´s side. Can you tell the others we´ve gone? he asked the medic.
Okay. You get some rest Ezra. You´ll feel better after a good night´s sleep.
Thank you, Mr. Jackson.
Nathan watched the car drive away and then went back to help clear up after the bust. He met up with Buck again and saw that he now had the briefcase of money with him.
How´s Ez? the ladies´ man asked.
He was just relieved it was all over. He´d worked himself up into such a state over the past week that he just had to let go. Chris´s taken him home.
The team finished up at the crime scene and went back to the office to start processing their prisoners and hoping to receive a phone call from Chris to say how Ezra was coping.
+ + + + + + +
Chris took Ezra back to his ranch. He led the man inside and sat him at the kitchen table. Ezra shivered and looked up at Chris.
What is it, Ez? Chris asked, frowning worriedly as he sat down beside him.
This is exactly where you sat me when they released me from hospital after I was shot. Touch of deja vu, I think. Look Chris. I´m sorry for losing it earlier. I really wasn´t prepared for the return of some of the symptoms that I´d suffered from before. I should have told you the truth about how I was feeling but I felt that Paul and Ronnie were still controlling my life and I didn´t want to give up. I need to get those feelings under control before I do anything else but it´s not until you´re faced with a particular situation that the fears come back to haunt you. The final straw for me today came when for the second time someone was killed as they were standing next to me. I thought the first time it happened that the bullet was meant for me. Buck was right after all.
No, he wasn´t, Ez. You coped admirably if you were feeling as bad as you say. You dealt with things very well all things considered and when the deal went wrong you didn´t let it affect you until it was all over. There´s a lot of things you can draw on in the future from this assignment.
Do you think I could have a drink?
Sure. What do ya fancy? Chris asked.
Better make it a coffee.
Chris rose and made them both a cup. He placed one in front of Ezra who picked it up with a shaking hand and sipped tentatively. He slowly relaxed as he drank although he thought coffee should have had the opposite effect.
Okay? Chris asked.
Yes. Thanks for everything. I know I´ve got to learn not to spend time worrying about things that may never happen. Look at the state I got myself into by worrying needlessly this week. Life´s too short to make yourself miserable for no reason.
That´s the spirit. Don´t let your work become your life. I know it´s easy to say but it is the only way to go. We´d all have been consigned to an institution by now if we continually worried about the job.
Chris´s dog, Arnie, ambled into the kitchen at that point and was drawn like a magnet to the undercover agent. It was almost as if he could sense the man´s state of mind. The dog put his chin on Ezra´s thigh and looked up at him with his big brown eyes while wagging his tail slowly. Chris rose and reached out to take hold of the dog´s collar to move him away. He thought the last thing Ezra needed was to be pestered by the animal.
No, please don´t take him away, Ezra said as he put a hand down to stroke Arnie´s fur. He continued to stroke him and fondle his ears. The touch of his fur was comforting beneath his hand.
Ez? Are you up to telling me what happened today? Chris asked as he sat back down.
Ezra kept his gaze down toward the dog as he spoke. It was going well, as you heard, until the other gang turned up. They threw in some smoke bombs and just picked Black´s lot off like they were ducks on a pond. It all happened so quickly but they didn´t seem to be interested in Black or me at that point. Anyway, Black got hold of me to try to protect himself but once he thought they were going to kill me he backed off. There was a sniper behind us and he killed Black. I really thought they were going to shoot me. Ezra faltered as he remembered the feeling of trepidation as he waited for the expected bullet to hit his body. He stopped talking and then continued, Look, do you mind if we leave it there? I think I´ll take Arnie for a walk. It´ll help clear my head.
Sure. Whatever you want, Ez. Just don´t be gone too long.
Ezra rose and Arnie followed at his heels. Chris watched the man leave and decided that the fresh air and exercise would probably do his friend the world of good. He took the opportunity to phone work and get an update from there.
Hey Buck. It´s Chris. How are things your end? The blond leaned back against the wall and tried to relax.
They´re fine. We´re in the middle of interviewing the ones we captured alive. How´s Ezra? He seemed pretty upset.
He´s taking Arnie for a walk. He´s calmed down a bit and we talked about what happened but we´ll have to keep an eye on him for a while. He´ll get through it I´m sure but it will just take time for him to feel happy with his life again. Anyway as you said in the meeting we had on the first day, we couldn´t expect him to come back and carry on as if nothing happened. Can you hold on a minute, Buck? Chris asked as he put down the phone, his attention drawn by a noise.
He could hear Arnie barking continuously and he wondered what was going on. He wandered to the kitchen door and smiled in surprise as he saw Ezra rolling around on the ground play fighting with the dog. He walked back to the phone and picked it up again. You there, Buck?
Yeah. Is everything alright?
Fine. Ezra´s actually rolling in the dirt with Arnie. You´ve never seen anything like it, Chris laughed.
He seems to be lurching from one emotion to another. You never quite know how he´s feeling from one minute to the next, Buck observed.
Yeah, I know what you mean. Speak to you tomorrow. Chris went back to the kitchen and stood in the doorway watching his agent playing in such a carefree way and totally oblivious to the fact that he was being observed. Arnie eventually saw Chris and ran over to him to try to get him involved too. Ezra lay on the ground looking up at the sky. Chris frowned and wandered over to him.
Everything okay? he asked as he squatted down beside his friend.
Yes. Just worn out. I never had a dog of my own although would have liked one immensely. They make you feel good about life, Ezra said as he rolled over and got to his feet. He looked down at the state of his clothes and burst out laughing. My God, just look at the state of me. Whatever would Mother say?
Never seen you look so dirty, Ez, Chris said laughing too. He herded his friend back inside the ranch house and gave him a towel. Think you´d better have a shower.
Ezra went off to clean himself up and Chris left some of his own clothes on the bed for the man to change into. Ezra ambled back down to the kitchen after about an hour and sat at the table again.
Don´t think black suits me, do you? It probably has suited my mood lately though but I do like a bit of color in my life, Ezra said smiling.
Well, you can either wear my clothes or go around buck naked. I´m not bothered either way but you might frighten the horses if you have nothing on. They´re well bred creatures and not used to such sights, Chris laughed. I´ve got to muck them out as it happens. Do you wanna help?
No, thanks. I´ll catch up on some sleep if you don´t mind.
Sure. There´s the couch in the den if you want to use that unless Arnie´s beaten you to it, Chris said. He left the agent on his own and went out to the barn to catch up on his chores.
Ezra walked into the den and stretched out on the couch and closed his eyes. He was still asleep when Chris came in to check on him. The blond sat down as he could tell Ezra was unsettled. The man was tossing and turning and mumbling in his sleep. Ezra woke suddenly gasping and clamping a hand to his throat.
Ezra? What´s the matter? Chris asked. He stood up and pulled Ezra´s hand away from his neck thinking something was wrong with it. Ezra stood up with a yelp and backed away quickly until he was cowering in the corner of the room. His eyes darted around the room as if he expected to be attacked at any moment.
Chris backed off and held his hands out in front of him. It´s alright, Ez. It´s me, Chris. I´m not going to hurt you.
Ezra was breathing erratically and he wiped a shaky hand over his face as he got to his feet. Shit. I´m sorry.
What´s wrong? Chris asked. Ezra was very pale and trembled continuously. Chris put out a hand and sat the man back down on the couch and then squatted in front of him.
Just something from my captivity. Ever since I returned to work I´ve been having flashbacks about it. I thought I´d buried what happened but it´s all come back to the surface again, Ezra said quietly.
Tell me about it. I know you spoke to someone else but I need to know what happened. It might help me understand how you feel, Chris advised.
It´s not something I find easy to discuss, Ezra said as he looked down at his hands.
I know. There´s no one else here and we´ve got all night. Just take it slow.
Ezra stood and took a deep breath and told Chris every detail of his captivity as he prowled round the room. When he had finished Chris couldn´t help but wipe a few tears from his eyes.
He hugged Ezra and whispered, Jeez, Ez. I knew you had it rough but I´d no idea. I´m sorry to make you relive it all again.
It´s alright. It may help in the long run. Ezra turned and moved to the door. I´ll go to bed if you don´t mind.
Sure. Shout if you want anything, Chris called after him. He sat back down and went back over what Ezra had told him. He was still sitting staring into space when Buck arrived an hour later.
Hey Chris. I used Vin´s key to get in. Hope you don´t mind. He came to a halt as he saw his friend hadn´t moved. He reached out a hand and got the man´s attention. Chris? Are you okay? You look a bit upset.
Chris looked up at him and Buck sat down when he saw the look in his eyes. Ezra just told me about his abduction. You know he can´t stand being touched near his neck? Well, now I know why.
Yeah. I´d noticed, Buck agreed, wondering if Chris was going to tell him the reason.
Well, Paul throttled him until he lost consciousness at the cabin. He´s always been terrified of dying that way and it´s really upset him.
Jesus. That´s why he jumped ten feet in the air that first night I stayed with him. You remember I said he yelled at me? Well, I´d put my hands round his neck from the back. I thought he was gonna have a heart attack he went so pale. I´d never have done it if I´d known.
Well, we know now. We´ll just have to take care with him from now on, Chris said quietly. He rubbed a hand over his face and stood up.
Where is he? Buck asked.
Gone to bed. Just keep an ear out in case he has another nightmare.
The two men heard no more that night and in the morning Ezra came downstairs at an early hour. He sat at the kitchen table after finding something to eat. Chris came in from seeing to the horses and sat down next to him.
You sleep alright? he asked.
Yes, I did actually. I think our chat last night must have helped, Ezra admitted. I think I´ll go home today though, I´ve been a burden to you all long enough.
You can stay as long as you like. It´s no trouble and I don´t like you being on your own.
Thanks for the offer but I´ll be alright. Can you give me a lift home? Ezra asked.
Sure. I´ll just have a shower, Chris agreed. He didn´t want to force Ezra to stay.
Buck arrived in the kitchen and greeted Ezra. Hey Ez. You feel okay?
Yes, I´m fine. I didn´t realize you´d stayed overnight, Ezra said quietly. I´ll see you at work tomorrow. Chris´s gonna drop me home soon.
Buck remembered at the last minute not to touch near Ezra´s neck so he patted his back instead. Sure. Call if need anything.
+ + + + + + +
Vin decided to drop in on the undercover agent to see how he was getting on. He knocked on the front door but got no reply. He wandered round the back and smiled.
What the hell ya doing, Ez? he called.
I feel liberated, Mr. Tanner. There´s nothing like the feel of grass beneath bare feet, Ezra replied. He was walking up and down the grass with his pant legs rolled up and no shoes on his feet and with a look of absolute bliss on his face.
Vin sat down and removed his sneakers and socks and joined Ezra. Hey, that is great. It´s cool and soft.
One of nature´s pleasures, Mr. Tanner.
How do you feel after yesterday at the bust? Vin asked.
Actually I do feel better although it will still take a bit of time before I come to terms with everything. I know I will not get over things quickly, if at all, but I feel more able to cope now. Since I talked at great length to Chris last night I realized I´m stupid to worry about being shot. During my captivity Paul and Ronnie hurt me with fists and feet and other weapons. It wasn´t until the last day that firearms entered the equation. I´ve been so scared of coming face to face with a gun again that I lost all sense of perspective. I thought they were the only things that could kill me. Let´s face it. I could impale myself on the garden fork or electrocute myself while mowing the grass. Life´s full of hazards and the chances of getting killed in the home far outweigh those on the job. It´s only now I realize that fact and it´s an enormous relief in a bizarre way. I should have taken more notice of the subject of my flashbacks too. Only one of them concerned the shooting so perhaps my brain was trying to send me a subconscious message to say I shouldn´t worry about firearms. Anyway, I really feel like a great burden has been lifted from my shoulders. I know that sounds corny but it´s the only way to describe the sensation, Ezra explained.
Ezra? Where are you? a voice yelled.
Round the back, Chris.
The black clad man came into view. My God. What´s going on? he asked as he saw his bare foot agents.
It´s great, Chris. Really cool and relaxing. You should try it, Vin said persuasively.
Maybe later. I´ve got something for you Ezra. It´ll give you something else to think about other than work, Chris said smiling.
Buck appeared with a large box in his arms. He put it down carefully and opened the lid. He reached in and pulled out a puppy. The ball of black and white fur wriggled in his arms as he walked toward Ezra.
There you are, Ez. A companion for you, the ladies´ man said as he saw the look of pure joy on Ezra´s face.
Ezra took the dog and it licked his face excitedly. I don´t know what to say. He´s wonderful. He looked up with misty eyes and laughed delightedly. Thank you although I notice he´s a mongrel. Was that deliberate? Are you trying to tell me something?
Yeah. Well, Chris thought it suited you. I wanted to get you a poodle to go with yer fancy clothes but Chris did think you´d appreciate it, Buck laughed.
Ezra put the puppy down on the grass and played with it until it left a mess in the middle of the grass. Oh God. Look at that. Just because I said I like gardening doesn´t mean I want to clear up after his little accidents. My willingness to get my hands dirty only goes so far.
Don´t be such a wimp, Ezra. He can´t help it. When you´ve gotta go, you´ve gotta go, Buck said laughing. Put a diaper on him until you´ve got him trained to use the bathroom. Which, knowing you, you´ll manage.
Ezra turned a stern look on the puppy. We´ve got to get some ground rules sorted, puppy. No chewing furniture or clothes, no leaving hairs all over the place, no begging for food, Ezra said as he counted the orders off on his fingers.
Give him a break, Ez. He´s only a puppy. I bet Maude didn´t mind you making a mess all over the place when you were a dribbling baby, Vin said grinning.
Don´t you believe it, my friend. Woebetide me if I spilt my baby food over her dress. There was hell to pay for days afterwards, Ezra chuckled.
The puppy sat down in front of the undercover agent and wagged its tail happily. Ezra looked down at it and he relented. Oh, how can I be angry with you when you look at me with those big brown eyes? You remind me of Vin when he sees a cream cake and knows he hasn´t got the money to pay for it.
Are you saying I look like a dog, Ez?
No. I wouldn´t insult my canine companion by saying you look like him, Ezra said smiling.
Hey. That´s not nice. I´m handsome I am, Vin disagreed vehemently. He moved forward threateningly and Ezra bolted across the garden with the sharpshooter and dog chasing behind.
You´re suppose to protect me, you stupid mutt, not think it´s all a game, Ezra complained when he saw the puppy lolloping along with what looked like a grin on its face.
Buck and Chris laughed as they heard Ezra shouting as he ran for all he was worth. Eventually the dog and two men returned and flopped down on the grass exhaustedly.
I´d just like to thank you all for helping me though this case. I know it wasn´t perfect but I do feel better able to carry on now. I really appreciated your unending support and encouragement, Ezra said gratefully.
You´re welcome, Ez. We´re glad you came through it unscathed, Chris replied.
What you gonna call yer dog, Ez? Buck asked suddenly.
Monroe? Why? Buck frowned in puzzlement.
Well, Marilyn Monroe was in a film called The Misfits and I think that sums our team up. I can´t exactly call him Marilyn for obvious reasons, so Monroe it is.
Good choice. I like it, Chris laughed.
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