by Hombre

After chasing up a lot of fruitless leads, Vin was contacted by one of his informants and he hoped to finally hear something to his advantage. He agreed to meet the man in a parking lot in the middle of town. When he arrived at the designated place, he got out of his jeep and lounged against the side of it as he kept a beady eye out for the man. He caught a movement out the corner of his eye and he turned his head to discover his informant approaching him from the side.

"Hey Joe," he greeted. "What ya got for me?"

"Just a rumor really. One of my friends thought he saw Paul enter an apartment block down town. He wasn't positive though but I thought you'd wanna check it out anyway."

"Tell me exactly where he saw him," Vin instructed. He really hoped this was the breakthrough they needed. All the men were becoming increasingly worried with their lack of success in finding their quarry. The informant gave directions and Vin smiled and put his hand in his pocket.

"Thanks, Joe." He handed over some money and watched the man leave before pulling out his phone and calling Josiah. He arranged to meet the profiler and then got in his jeep and drove to the rendezvous point. He saw Josiah was already there and he pulled in behind him.

"What you got, Vin?" the profiler asked as he got out his vehicle and turned to face his young friend.

Vin told him what he'd learned and the two men decided to ask the manager of the apartment block they'd been sent to if he recognised Paul's photo. Vin knocked on the door and an elderly gentleman answered it warily.

"Mornin' Sir. We're ATF agents, could you tell us if this man has been living here?" Vin asked as he showed his ID and Paul's photo.

The man put on a pair of spectacles and squinted at the picture Vin held out to him. "Yeah. Seen him around although he hasn't rented an apartment. He's been staying with Hal Brady. Ain't seen Hal though for ages and he never told me he was having a visitor but your fella had the key so I thought it was okay."

"Can we look inside Hal's apartment?" Vin asked.

"Sure, follow me. Hal's a real nice fella. Fought in Vietnam, ya know?" He led them up two floors as he continued talking non stop and got a key out of his pocket to open the door when he received no answer to his knock.

Josiah could tell they were probably going to hear Hal's life story from the manager so he held out a hand and took the key from the man's hand. "We'll take it from here. Thanks for your help, sir," he said with a broad smile. "I'll give the key back on our way out."

The two men waited until the man had gone and Josiah opened the door quietly. Vin went in with his gun drawn and they checked each room systematically but there was no one at home. Vin wrinkled his nose at the smell that pervaded the apartment and wondered what it was.

The two men decided to split up and search properly and Josiah headed to the kitchen first. He found a few items that suggested someone had been there recently but nothing that pointed to Paul in particular.

Vin ambled along to the bedroom and as he opened the door to enter the room he noticed the smell grew even stronger. "Either Paul don't wash or something's gone rotten," the long-haired man said to himself with a grimace.

He sniffed as he tried to track down the smell's source and moved toward the closet. He opened the door and yelled as he leapt backwards when he saw what tumbled from it. "Shit! Josiah? Come look at this, will ya?"

The profiler appeared in the doorway and saw the decomposing body of a man on the floor at the sharpshooter's feet. He pulled out a handkerchief and covered his face as he walked into the room and squatted beside the corpse.

"Musta been in there for weeks poor fella. He sure stinks. Wait a minute, what's that?" Vin asked as he too held one hand over his nose and mouth while pointing with the other at something on the body.

Josiah reached out and picked up what Vin had seen. It was a note that had been pinned to the body. The profiler read it out loud. "Too late, losers. Better luck next time. Paul."

"Shit. The bastard. How can he always be one step ahead? We can't trace anyone giving him information from inside the police. How the hell does he do it?" Vin asked in exasperation as he pulled out his phone and called Chris.

"Chris? We found somewhere that Paul's been staying but he's scarpered and left a dead man behind. He left a gloating note so he knew we were coming, the slippery bastard." Vin slammed the closet door shut furiously as he spoke.

"Jesus Christ. Do you know who the dead man is?"

"Guess it's Hal Brady, the man who rented the apartment. Manager said he ain't seen Hal for ages neither."

"Ask around the area and see if you can turn up anything else. We've gotta chase down any leads we get and this is the best one we've had by far."

"We will but all the leads so far have turned into dead-ends. It's disheartening, Chris but we won't give up. Paul just seems to have total control of the situation and all the boys are getting increasingly uptight," Vin admitted.

"I know, cowboy. Try to remain positive for Ezra's sake. We'll get Paul in the end."

"Sure hope you're right, Chris. I don't know how much more of this we can take." Vin disconnected with a sigh.

The two men left the apartment and locked the door. Josiah went to question the other tenants on Hal's floor while Vin disappeared to talk to the manager again. The sharpshooter met up with Josiah at his jeep and both men reported negative results.

Vin shook his head and said, "Jesus. Paul must be a silent assassin or somethin'. I can't believe no one heard nothing."

"Think this is another dead, Vin."

"Dead is right, Josiah," Vin said with a grim smile.

After questioning what seemed like every resident in the area the two men returned to the office empty handed. They spent the rest of the day talking to informants and ringing other places that Paul may have taken up residence. At the end of their shift they still had nothing to show for all their efforts. Although they knew they were doing everything possible to get a lead on Paul it still felt like they were letting Ezra down because of their lack of success.

+ + + + + + +

A week after his release, Ezra returned from another physio session at the hospital and was just eating lunch after catching up on some rest. Chris was in the barn and saw him emerge from the house to take a slow walk around the yard. The undercover agent arrived in the barn and sat and watched as Chris mucked out the horses before continuing on his tortuous journey. Chris stood for a moment and watched him hobble painfully toward the corral before turning back to carry on grooming his horse. He looked up after hearing a muffled curse and saw Ezra leaning against the corral rails. The blond narrowed his eyes and noticed his friend seemed to be holding his left foot slightly off the ground. He put the currycomb out of harms way and let himself out of the stall quickly.

"Fucking hell," Ezra yelled and threw one crutch away in frustration.

Chris hurried over and asked in concern, "Ezra? Whatever's wrong?"

"Just twisted my ankle. I really don't know how much more of this I can take, Chris. I hate being so dependent on you. It's really been a shitty year."

"I know it's been bad, Ezra. Come on, let's get you inside so I can look at your ankle properly." Chris made moves to help his friend to stand up straight but he suddenly had to take the man's full weight as he fell against him.

"Ezra? Are you alright?" he asked anxiously. He tried to see his friend's face but Ezra's head was bowed.

"Do you mind if I sit down for a bit? I feel rather faint," Ezra asked weakly as his knees buckled beneath him.

"Sure, Ez. Just take it easy." Chris tightened his grip and helped him sit down on the ground. He leant his friend back against the corral and then squatted in front of him. He rubbed the man's arm and asked, "Do you feel better now?"

"Feel a bit sick. The session today at the hospital was particularly strenuous and it took more out of me that I realized. I guess I overdid it by walking round the yard as well but I just want to speed things up so I can get back to a normal life," Ezra admitted quietly.

"Well, if you do too much you'll be back to square one. You've gotta be sensible about this, Ezra. You've only been having sessions on your leg for a short time, you can't expect instant results." He stopped talking when he noticed that Ezra looked quite upset at his words. "Don't worry about that now though, you just sit tight until you feel okay." Chris sat cross-legged beside him and waited patiently for Ezra to say he felt better.

Ezra tipped his head back until it was leaning on the corral rail and he closed his eyes with a sigh. He rubbed his temples and then ran his fingers through his hair as he waited for the nauseous feeling to pass. Monroe ran over when he saw Ezra and sat down beside him and nudged his arm with his muzzle. Ezra smiled and reached out a hand and stroked the animal's fur distractedly.

Chris looked up as he heard the sound of a vehicle approaching and he watched Nathan drive into the yard. The medic saw the two men and the dog sitting on the ground and he parked nearby and wandered over to them. He saw how wan Ezra looked and he squatted down in front of him. "What ya doing? You okay?"

"Ez twisted his ankle. He felt a bit sick and nearly blacked out. He overdid the exercising I think and he's tired himself out," Chris informed the medic when Ezra didn't answer.

"Let me see yer ankle, Ez." Nathan studied the joint and saw it was quite swollen. He shook his head and grimaced. "Better get you inside and I'll put some ice on it. You feel okay to stand up again?"

"I'll manage with some help. I threw my other crutch over there in a fit of pique, I'm afraid," Ezra said as he nodded in the implement's direction.

"You're allowed to be frustrated, Ezra," the medic said sympathetically as he rose to collect the discarded item.

Nathan and Chris then helped their friend rise and they moved him slowly back to the house with Monroe trailing behind. They sat him on the couch in the living room and he stretched his leg out along the seat. He closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep as the dog leapt up and lay beside him. Nathan disappeared into the kitchen and wrapped some ice in a towel and then laid it on the injured joint. He left it there for a while and checked back later to see if the swelling had gone down. He saw it had improved and he bandaged the ankle securely.

Ezra woke just as he finished and smiled. "I could keep you in business all by myself couldn't I, Mr. Jackson?"

"You sure could but I'd rather you didn't, Ez. Do ya feel better and don't lie to me," the medic asked as he narrowed his eyes and studied his friend.

"Yes thank you. I feel much better. Thank you for everything, Nathan."

"You're welcome. Just ease up on the exercising or you could have a real set back," Nathan instructed as he walked back to the kitchen.

Ezra closed his eyes and slept for several hours until he was woken by the sound of the phone ringing. He heard Chris answer it and he listened worriedly as the blond raised his voice angrily. Ezra struggled to his feet without his crutches and hobbled to the kitchen door and listened.

Chris had his back to him and was shouting, "You bastard! You come within ten feet of him and I'll kill you." The blond was silent for a while as he listened to the caller ranting on the other end of the line. He interrupted the agitated flow of shouting and said, "I don't give a shit about that. I'll hang you out to dry, do you hear me? You hurt Ezra again and I'll hunt you down. You'll spend the rest of yer life looking over your shoulder and one day I'll be there behind you to finish this once and for all. You got that?"

Chris slammed the phone down and turned as he heard a noise behind him. He saw Ezra wobbling on one leg in the doorway and he cursed under his breath.

"What was that about?" Ezra asked although he thought he had an idea. "Chris? What's going on? It's obviously to do with me. I've got a right to know."

Chris stood and looked at his undercover agent and knew he had to tell him. "Okay. It was Paul."

"I thought as much," Ezra said but he still looked shocked.

"Come and sit down, Ez." He helped the man over to the couch in the living room and said, "Paul's been calling and saying he's gonna kill ya. We've tried to trace the calls but he never stays on long enough to get a location for him."

"How many times has he called?"

"Half a dozen," Chris admitted as he watched his friend closely.

"Why didn't you tell me? I'm putting you in danger being here," Ezra said irritably as he reached for his crutches.

"Come off it, Ez. It's hardly more dangerous that anything else we do," Chris disagreed.

"I don't want anything to happen to one of you because of me. I'm not worth it," Ezra continued as he tried to get up.

Chris reached out a hand and stopped him rising. "Shut up, Ezra. Don't talk like that. The boys have all been working their butts off patrolling the ranch as well as trying to find Paul. We're doing everything possible to keep you safe. We got rid of all our other cases at work 'cause you've been our first priority and I wouldn't have it any other way. I didn't tell you about Paul's threats 'cause I didn't know how'd you react and I didn't want to add to your worries. You ain't leaving here, Ez. I won't allow it."

"I haven't seen anyone patrolling," Ezra said as he stared at his boss in astonishment.

"That was the whole point, Ez. You weren't suppose to see them," Chris said with a wry smile.

"Well, I'm very grateful for all you've done. It makes me even more sorry for my behavior recently and I feel obligated to do my part in ending this whole affair. Let me speak to Paul when he calls again," Ezra said insistently.

"No, Ezra. I don't want you talking to him."

"Why? Do you think he'll tip me over the edge and I'll end up as a gibbering idiot?" Ezra knew he'd hit home when Chris didn't answer. "Thank you for your concern, Mr. Larabee but I need to face him again. It's the only way I can move on. You can't fight all my battles for me."

"I don't want you fighting at all, Ez. I'm not happy about you meeting him either if that's what you're thinking."

"Just let me speak to him, that's all I'm asking," Ezra pleaded.

Chris sighed and gave in although he was not convinced that Ezra could deal with Paul on his own.

"You okay on yer own?" Chris asked as he stood up with a heartfelt sigh. He knew he wouldn't be able to change his friend's mind no matter how much he wanted to. Ezra nodded and the blond patted his shoulder and went back outside to finish his chores. He heard the dogs barking and he shouted at them to be quiet. They'd been really noisy lately and Chris didn't know what had got into them. The dogs came toward him from the trees with heads down and tails between their legs at his reprimand. The blond reached down a hand and patted both dogs apologetically and then wandered over to the barn with them following at his heels.

+ + + + + + +

The next day passed uneventfully and it wasn't until late the following day that Paul phoned again. Chris answered it and then passed the receiver to Ezra reluctantly.

"Mr. Simmons? I believe we have some unfinished business," Ezra said calmly enough, although he was clutching the phone as if his very life depended on it.

"Yeah. Just you and me, Standish. I want to kill you with my bare hands. I wanna be there when the last spark of life goes out from your eyes."

"Not if I have anything to do with it, you won't. Where shall we meet?" Ezra looked up and saw Chris waving his hands frantically and shaking his head to try and put him off making arrangements to meet with Paul.

"There's an empty building about three miles from Larabee's ranch. It was an old factory. I'll meet you there the day after tomorrow at six," Paul instructed.

"I'll need someone to bring me. I still can't drive," Ezra said hoping he would then have a body guard.

"Larabee can drop you off. You won't need collecting though. Get him to arrange a hearse instead." Paul disconnected and Ezra stood staring at the phone in his hand.

Chris walked quickly over to him and took it from his hand and led him to a chair. He helped the man sit down and then squatted in front of him as he tried to read his friend's face. When Ezra didn't speak, the blond asked, "What did he say?"

"We're meeting at the old factory near here the day after tomorrow. He said you could drop me off but that I wouldn't need collecting. He said to arrange a hearse instead. He said he wanted to kill me with his bare hands," Ezra blurted out with a shaking voice as he wiped a hand over his face.

"Shit, Ezra. I don't want you to do this." Chris knew exactly how Paul was going to kill Ezra. Strangulation, his biggest fear.

"You want Paul, don't you? This seems the perfect opportunity to catch him."

"I don't like using you as bait."

"Well, you haven't had much luck in catching him so far, have you? I'd say you don't have much choice in the matter. Besides, I need to lay my ghosts to rest, Mr. Larabee. If that means I join them in the afterlife then so be it."

"Don't say that. We'll make sure it doesn't come to that." Chris rose and went to the phone. He punched in Vin's number with short jabbing movements and waited impatiently for him to answer.

"Vin? Paul's just phoned and Ezra's arranged to meet him out at the factory near here. Can you go and check it out for me tomorrow? Once you've looked it over can you take Ez there too so he knows the layout? Get some kinda plan in place, will ya? I'll leave it to you to deal with, okay?"

"Sure, cowboy. Are you sure Ezra's up to this?" Vin asked anxiously.

"No, but it's all arranged and we'll just have to go with it. I'll speak to ya tomorrow afternoon when you come to pick up Ez."

Vin rang off and called Nathan and JD to arrange to meet them at the factory early the next day. None of them were happy that Ezra was going to meet Paul but they hoped they could catch the fugitive before the two men actually met.

+ + + + + + +

The next day dawned and Chris and Ezra were on their own for a short while. Buck and Josiah were due out at the ranch shortly to collect Ezra to take him back to the hospital for another physio session.

Chris had jobs to do around his ranch and he left Ezra in the kitchen eating breakfast while he went to the barn. He called the two dogs but neither materialized. Probably out hunting rabbits together. Arnie's certainly enjoyed having Monroe about to play with, Chris thought to himself with a smile. He went into the first stall and mucked it out before he started grooming the horse. He spent about twenty minutes giving it a good brush down. He let himself out when he'd finished and moved along to the next one. The blond heard a slight noise behind him but before he could find out what had caused it he felt a blow to his head. He fell on his hands and knees in the straw with a cry and with colored lights dancing at the edge of his vision. He was given no chance to recover at all by his attacker. His hair was suddenly grabbed and his head smashed against the wall viciously. He heard Paul's voice through the fog in his mind before he lost consciousness.

"When you wake up, your friend will be history," Paul said as he turned to walk to the ranch house leaving the unconscious man in the straw.

Paul entered the house through the side door and walked quietly in the direction of the kitchen. He heard Ezra moving about in the room and he waited for a few minutes before acting. Ezra wandered through to the living room and Paul was there behind the door to greet him.

"Hello, Standish."

Ezra turned round slowly and came face to face with his enemy. Paul stood leaning against the wall with a gun held loosely in his hand. He hadn't got it aimed at Ezra but the agent knew that could change at any minute.

"What happens now?" Ezra asked, trying to sound calm. He looked out the window quickly and tried to see if Chris was around but the yard was deserted. He turned his attention back to Paul and waited for his instructions.

"Walk over into the middle of the room," Paul ordered with a flick of his hand. "Stop there and turn round. Ain't ya surprised to see me?"

Ezra did as he was told and said truthfully, "Nothing you do surprises me. It's just the sort of thing a person like you would do, going back on what had been arranged." Ezra stared at the man and continued talking as realization dawned, "You did it deliberately so the others would be off checking the factory, didn't you?"

"Yeah, Clever or what? Drugged the dogs too so they couldn't tell you I was around. Thought they were gonna give me away earlier in the week when I was here checking things out." Paul paused and then said gloatingly, "Larabee won't be rescuing you neither. I saw to him first."

Paul was within inches of him and he stood grinning but Ezra didn't say a word. He was shocked to hear about Chris and the dogs and he hoped Paul had just rendered them unconscious and not killed them. He tried to take a step backward to get away from Paul but the man reached out a hand and grabbed his shirt. Ezra stopped and waited quietly to see what Paul was going to do next and tried not to show the fear he felt. His foe lifted his gun and held it against Ezra's windpipe. He increased the pressure and Ezra managed only half a step backward before Paul pulled him roughly toward him again. The man laughed and lowered the gun while Ezra raised a hand and rubbed his neck as he coughed. He could feel anger surging through him and he tried to keep a lid on it. He wasn't going to let Paul kill him in the way that most terrified him.

Paul let go his hold and moved away slightly so Ezra took advantage and acted fast. He raised his crutch and caught the man hard on his temple. Paul stumbled and fell and Ezra hit him again while he lay at his feet. Paul reached up and struck Ezra's bad leg hard with the gun butt. The agent cried out in pain and crashed to the floor too as he dropped the crutches and tried to save himself by reaching out his hands. Paul scrambled across the floor and picked one crutch up before Ezra could retrieve it and he then kicked the other one away so Ezra couldn't reach it easily. Paul got to his feet and hit Ezra across his back with the crutch, which he swung like a baseball bat. He raised it again but Ezra somehow managed to stick out a foot and trip the man up. The undercover agent then crawled to the fallen man and straddled him. He wrested the crutch from his grasp and placed it across the man's throat.

"How do you like it, Paul? Enjoy being throttled, do you, you bastard?" Ezra asked as he pressed down. The man under him wriggled and coughed but Ezra didn't let go. He kept increasing the pressure and Paul choked and started to turn red as he fought for breath. He tried to get Ezra off him but the agent sat tight like a limpet on a rock. The green-eyed man had never felt so much rage and he couldn't have stopped hurting Paul if he'd tried. He could hear someone yelling and screaming and he suddenly recognized the voice as his own and it stopped him in his tracks momentarily. He looked down at his foe again and saw that Paul still had hold of the gun. The man raised it with his last ounce of strength and aimed it at the undercover agent.

+ + + + + + +

Buck and Josiah drove into the yard and pulled to a halt out front of the house. As Josiah got out he heard someone yelling at the top of his voice inside the ranch house. Buck exchanged glances with the profiler and both men pulled out their guns.

"Bucklin!" a voice yelled from the direction of the barn.

Buck turned his head and saw Chris staggering toward him with blood covering his face. The ladies' man ran to his friend and caught him in his arms as he collapsed.

He lowered him gently to the ground and asked anxiously, "Chris! What's happened? Where's Ezra?"

"In the house. Paul's here. Find him. Don't let that bastard kill him," the blond gasped breathlessly.

Josiah had already entered the house on his own and had just got to the end of the hallway when he heard a gunshot. His heart leapt into his throat and he quickened his pace fearfully.

In the yard, Chris and Buck both looked at one another frantically. "Go and find out what happened, Buck," Chris pleaded. "I'll wait here."

Buck rose and hurried toward the house with a feeling of dread. He really didn't want to find Ezra dead.

Josiah, meanwhile, found Ezra and Paul in the living room. Ezra heard the sound of running footsteps but ignored them. He was too intent on doing harm to Paul to take any notice of anything else. He suddenly felt arms encircling him and he was pulled off his attacker while continuing to shout hysterically. He fiercely resisted the person who had hold of him but he heard a calm voice talking to him and he looked round with tears in his eyes and saw Josiah.

"Ezra? Leave him be, brother. He ain't gonna hurt you no more. He's dead." Ezra was still screaming like a banshee and Josiah let go of him and forced him to sit down away from Paul. He knelt next to him and took the man's face gently between his hands. He maintained eye contact with his friend and said loudly, "Ezra, I don't wanna have to hit you but I will if you don't calm down." The profiler studied his friend closely and then hugged him tight in his arms as he felt the tension leave Ezra's body. He asked gently, "You okay, Ez?"

Ezra nodded distractedly and took a deep calming breath as he finally fell still and silent in his friend's arms. The feeling of the arms encircling him was comforting and Ezra snuggled in closer to Josiah's chest and felt the big man tighten his hold again. The profiler turned as he heard approaching footsteps and saw Buck enter the room.

"Oh God, not again!........... Josiah?" the ladies' man asked anxiously as he saw the undercover agent lying so still.

The profiler smiled and leant back so Buck could see what had been hidden from view. Buck looked past him, not understanding, and saw Paul lying dead behind the two men. There was a neat bullet hole in his forehead like a third eye.

"Oh shit. I thought he'd hurt Ez again when I heard the gunshot and then saw him in yer arms like that." Buck sat down on the couch heavily like a burst balloon, his long limbs going in all directions. "He okay?"

"Yeah, just worn out."

"You lied to me, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra said from the depths of Josiah's embrace.

"Me?" the ladies' man said innocently.

"Yes, you. You said Paul was probably in Mexico when you knew all along he was here."

"Ah, well, I was just following Chris's orders. You take it up with him if you got a complaint and good luck to ya," Buck said with a laugh. "Anyway it was a good lie. It stopped you from fretting too much, didn't it?"

"Crap!" Ezra replied quietly as he yawned and fell silent again.

"How's Chris?" Josiah asked Buck as maintained his hold on the undercover agent. He could feel the man trembling and he rubbed his arm comfortingly.

"I need to get him to the hospital. He's got a cut as big as the Grand Canyon on his forehead. I'd better get back to him." Buck rose and hurried back outside.

"Bucklin?" Chris asked anxiously as soon as his friend drew near. He'd found the waiting nearly too much to bear.

"He's alright. It's Paul that's dead," Buck said with a relieved smile before adding, "Don't know whether Josiah or Ezra killed him though."

"Don't care as long as he's outta Ezra's life permanently," Chris said with a smile.

At that moment Josiah came out of the house. "Chris? Have you seen the dogs? Paul told Ezra he drugged them."

"Shit. No, I thought they were just off rabbiting when they didn't come to my call earlier. They've been real noisy lately. I bet Paul's been hanging around and they were trying to warn us he was about. Jesus, what's the point of having a dog if I ignore it?"

Josiah nodded his head and said, "Ezra just told me that Paul had been watching the ranch earlier in the week. You did all you could to keep Ez safe so there's no cause for recriminations, Chris. It's over and the right man's dead. You go with Buck to the hospital and I'll look for the dogs and I'll take Ezra home with me when you get back. You can do without taking care of him if you're feeling sick. Don't you worry about anything. I got it under control."

"Thanks, Josiah. Ezra really is alright, isn't he?" Chris asked persistently as he fixed the profiler with a penetrating stare.

"Yeah. Just tired and a bit upset. Good night's sleep will do him the world of good. I'll get Nate to stay over too just in case but I don't anticipate any problems."

Buck took the blond to the hospital and while they were gone Josiah searched for the dogs and finally found them out the back of the house. Both animals were on the verge of waking up of their own accord. As soon as Buck arrived back with Chris, the profiler set off home with his two charges and called on Nathan on the way. The medic joined the two men overnight just to keep an eye on the undercover agent. Nathan made sure his charge had a good meal and then packed him off to bed with his dog for company.

Ezra found it impossible to sleep because his mind was full of the days events. He was still uptight and just couldn't seem to relax. Every time he closed his eyes he kept seeing Paul and he'd replay all his experiences in his mind from the moment he'd been thrown through the window. When Josiah checked on him at two in the morning he found him still awake. The profiler turned on the light and sat on the bed.

"What's up, Ez?"

"Can't sleep. I'm all a quiver and I can't turn my brain off."

"Do ya want something to help ya sleep?"

"Yeah, I s'pose. I've tried counting backwards from a thousand but even that didn't work."

Josiah smiled and stood up to go and find some medication. He found what he was looking for in the bathroom and he passed a couple of pills to his friend with a glass of water. Josiah took a seat beside him and stayed in the bedroom until he was sure Ezra was asleep. The big man closed the door quietly behind him and bumped into Nathan as he returned to his own room.

"Everything okay?" the medic asked worriedly.

"Yeah. He's just gone to sleep. I had to give him some pills 'cause he was still wide awake when I went to check on him."

"Not surprised. He's certainly had a lot to mull over. See ya in the morning," Nathan said as the two men went their separate ways.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra still woke early the next morning despite the pills and he got out of bed to find Monroe waiting with his leash in his mouth. "Bit early, Monroe, isn't it?"

The dog barked and wagged his tail before running to the door. Ezra smiled and got dressed slowly. He left a note on the kitchen table for Josiah and left the house quietly. He did a slow circuit of the block with his companion and when he came back, Chris was sitting in the kitchen.

"Mr. Larabee. To what do we owe the pleasure?"

"Just came to see how you were."

"I'm okay. I'll just be glad to see the back of these crutches, although I have to say the medical aid has many uses. For something that is supposed to help injured people it can also make a formidable weapon. It came in very handy yesterday against Paul. I never realized rage was such a powerful emotion. It was a bit unsettling to find out what you're capable of when in the grip of it."

"Tell me about it," Chris agreed solemnly with a bleak smile. "Are you really okay, Ez?"

"Yes. I'm fine and I will get over all that's happened. I feel much better all ready."

Chris smiled as he watched his friend closely. "Who killed Paul? You or Josiah?"

"That pleasure was mine. He aimed the gun at me while I had him pinned to the floor. I managed to knock it out of his hand with the crutch and grabbed hold of it before he could. I know I shouldn't take pleasure in killing someone but I'm glad he's dead. I'm going to put this all behind me and to quote that dear saying, 'today is the first day of the rest of my life'." Ezra smiled and changed the subject abruptly and asked, "How's your head? Josiah said you needed stitches." Ezra had been dozing when Chris had returned from the hospital the day before and hadn't seen him from first to last.

"Just got a headache. I'm glad everything turned out alright for you, Ez. Hopefully you can look forward to a better year."

"Well, I reckon I'm due one, don't you? I hope that's my share of bad luck for a while. Least I've got Monroe to cheer me up. I know I said it at the time but thank you for giving him to me. He's changed my life and it's nice to have someone to come home to at night. I know some people might prefer a beautiful woman but I'm quite happy with my dog. He's all I can handle at the moment."

"Glad you like him, Ez. You make a lovely couple," Chris said with a laugh.

The End

Comments to: