Saturday 8th April
The day dawned bright and early in the Standish/Tanner household. Too early
for one tired Southern Gambler. Awoken as usual by the loud childish laughter
echoing down the hallways, Ezra groaned and rolled over, burying is head
under the down pillow.
'Daddy, Daddy. Are you 'wake yet?' His bedroom door was flung open with a
'No.' The voice was muffled by the feathers.
'Daaaad-dy!' The mattress bounced as a little body took a flying leap onto
the softness and Ezra let out an 'oomph' as the weight moved heavily on to
the center of his back.
'Com'on Daddy, you promised!' Rorie bounced up and down enjoying the rhythmic
groans emanating from the misshapen lump she sat astride.
Ezra peeked out from the warm depths of the bedding. 'I did?' He gazed at
her in mock confusion. 'Aren't you supposed to be getting ready for school?'
He rolled over onto his back, his daughter shuffling sideways, pushing the
quilt down, until she was comfortably settled on the middle of the now bare
chest. Ezra settled his hands on her hips and smiled at her, showing his
Rorie huffed sending a riot of loose blonde curls dancing over her face with
the expulsion of hot air. 'Daddy it's Saturday. School's closed and you promised
to take me to Uncle Chris's to see the horses.'
'The correct pronunciation is 'yessss' Aurora.'
'Uncle Vin says 'yep' all the time.'
'That may very well be the case. You, however, say 'yessss.'' Once again
he emphasized the 's' on the end of the word. 'Do you understand?'
'Yahuh.' Rorie chuckled as her father raised his eyebrows at her.
'Morning Daddy.' She gripped his bristly cheeks, small elbows digging painfully
into his collarbone, and planted a kiss on his lips. 'Yuck, you're all prickly.'
She ran small fingers over his stubble.
'Perhaps you should leave me to my morning ablutions and we could try it
'You mean 'Go away and let me get dressed' don't you?' Rorie pouted at him.
'Can't I stay?'
'No'. This had become a familiar ritual. The little girl was fascinated by
his morning shadow and always checked to see if it had reappeared overnight.
She also loved to watch him shave it smooth.
'Okay, I'm going. Don't take too long though or we'll leave without you and
Uncle Vin says he'll be taking your car.' Rorie headed for the door that
connected his bedroom to her own.
'Uncle Vin better hadn't!' Ezra raised his voice, sure that Vin was listening
in. 'And Rorie...'
'Yessssssssss, Daddy?' The little faced appeared back in the doorway, grinning.
'You're not going anywhere in your pajamas, get dressed.'
'Be nice to me, Honeybee or there may not be an outing today.' The little
face dropped for a moment before quickly recovering.
'Yessssssssss, Daddy!' Ezra shook his head and growled playfully at her as
he climbed from the warm bed. She shot away giggling.
An hour and a half later saw the threesome arriving at the Larabee Ranch.
Ezra and Vin stepped out of the car and Vin opened the rear door to release
Rorie from the child safety seat, which was fixed in the back on the passenger
side of the Jag. Once again, Rorie had beaten him to the buckle.
'Aurora Standish, how many times have we told ya? Only adults undo the buckle.'
Vin frowned at his niece who deftly re-buckled the locking mechanism. 'Nice
try pumpkin.' Vin undid the buckle again. The child leapt from the car only
to come face to face with Ezra who'd moved around the vehicle and was frowning
'I'm sorry. I'll try to remember not to touch it.' The little face took on
a pitiful expression. 'You're not going to make me go home again are you?'
Ezra sighed, squatting to bring himself level with his child.
'Rorie, we make rules to keep you safe. If you can't follow a simple instruction
with regard to your safety seat, how can I trust you to behave around the
horses? You have to do as you are told, Honeybee.'
Rorie hung her head and scuffed her foot in the dirt. 'I'll be good, promise.'
He regarded her in silence for a minute before she raised her head and gazed
at him in mute appeal.
'All right then, if you promise.' Ezra stood and took hold of her hand, waiting
while Rorie got a good grip on Vin with the other, and the two Agents strode
up to the porch where Chris was waiting, swinging Rorie between them.
''Morning Uncle Chris.'
'Good morning, Rorie. I guess you've been a good girl if your Daddy said
you could come today.' Chris put down his coffee mug and returned the hug
as looked down at the munchkin. Rorie blushed and Chris raised his eyebrows
'I tried, Uncle Chris, I really did.'
Vin laughed. 'Yeah pumpkin, yer teacher said you'd been really tryin'!'
At Chris's questioning look Ezra elaborated, 'She's been at school a week
and I've already received two letters from her teacher.'
Chris chuckled. Nice to see the undercover agent getting payback for some
of the grief HE usually got because of Standish's misbehavior. Ezra met the
raised brow with a sardonic twist to his lips. 'Don't even say it.'
'The hamster died of natural causes Daddy. It wasn't my fault. He must have
had a bad heart.' Chris choked on his coffee.
'You killed a hamster?'
'And the poor creature's demise would have nothing whatsoever to do with
the fact that you effected his emancipation in the middle of the school
Rorie smiled disarmingly at her father who rolled his eyes at her explanation.
'He was sad in the cage.'
The conversation was interrupted when Buck and JD emerged from the barn leading
five saddled horses.
'Horses!' Rorie squealed as she jumped off the porch and made a beeline for
the unfortunate animals.
'Stop.' A chorus of five male voices brought her to an abrupt standstill
in the middle of the yard.
'Oops. Switch to reverse Rorie.' The child spoke loudly to herself and began
to retrace her steps, backwards. When she came into contact with the steps
she stood still and gazed up at Ezra. 'Can we try that again?'
Vin stepped into the breech. 'Pumpkin, ya can't jest run up to an animal
ya don't know. Some of them horses don't much like people, even cute snack
sized ones with straw fer hair.' He tugged at her braid. ''Sides ya ain't
Rorie grinned at him. 'Okay Uncle Vin.' She gave her father a wary look.
'Daddy, would you mind making the 'troductions?'
The Southerner sighed dramatically. 'I think this is going to be a long day.'
They waited on the porch while Buck came forward with three of the horses,
JD hanging back holding the other two well away from the child.
'Morning short stuff.'
'Hiya Uncle Buck.'
'Rorie, this is Lady, she's my horse.' He indicated the big gray immediately
to his left. 'She's gentle and won't hurt you if you obey all the rules.'
He raised his brows at the undercover agent.
'She knows the rules. Whether or not she follows them remains to be seen.'
Rorie gave him a reproachful look.
'I promised.' Ezra nodded satisfied.
'Now this little bay is Bailey, JD's horse. Bailey also has good manners.'
'And is that Chaucer?' The child pointed a stubby finger at the third horse
presented by Buck.
'Yes, Honeybee, that is Chaucer. He will be providing you with your ride
today. Once we return you can thank him properly by assisting me to brush
him down. Chaucer is a perfect gentleman and as long as you remember to behave
like a lady you should get along famously.' Ezra stepped forward and took
the reins of his horse, patting his nose and muttering softly too him.
Vin reached down and picked up the little girl who was watching with fascination.
'Now ya listen ta me good, pumpkin pie.' He moved further along the porch
so they had a clear view of JD standing with the other two horses. Chris
'Ya see them horses with Uncle JD?' Rorie nodded and waved and JD waved back.
'The pure black one, that's Pony, Uncle Chris's horse. Now while Pony ain't
exactly bad tempered, he ain't real friendly either. Ya stay away from him
lessen Uncle Chris is with ya, Okay?' Rorie nodded solemnly.
'The other one, that's Peso. He's mine. Ya don't go near him at all, ya
understand me? Peso's right ornery. He doesn't like anybody. He's bad tempered,
he bites and he kicks. Ya stay well clear o' him.'
Rorie eyed the horse which was tossing his head and attempting to sample
JD's shoulder. Vin gripped her chin and turned her to face him. 'Rorie, this
is really important. I don't want Peso ta hurt ya.'
''S'Okay Uncle Vin. I understand. I'll stay away from Peso.'
'Okay boys, let's ride.' Chris jumped down from the porch and headed for
Two Hours Later
The five horses were tied to trees near the slow moving creek. Ezra sat on
a blanket watching Buck and JD trying to teach Rorie to fish. So far all
she'd caught was the seat of Buck's jeans and JD's Newsboy hat. Vin and Chris
had hiked off thirty minutes earlier and had yet to return. He felt his eyes
begin to drift shut.
They hadn't seen much wildlife on the trip out to the creek. The constant
chattering of the excited three-year old had seen to that. She'd sat up in
front of Ezra, and then Buck, as if born to the saddle. How she had managed
to absorb enough information take over directing Buck's horse he would never
know. They had hardly got a word in edgewise. Ezra suspected Buck had been
guiding Lady with his knees while Rorie sawed merrily on her reins.
Ezra was awoken by the return of the hikers to their temporary camp. The
two joined the Southerner on the blanket and laughed at the antics of the
comic threesome at the waterside.
Somehow JD managed to get pushed into the water and came up spluttering.
He climbed from the frigid creek, careful to shake as much water over Buck
as he could, and stomped off to change into spare clothes.
Chris watched as Buck baited the youngster's hook, talking all the while,
and helped her to cast the line into the most promising spot. He was lost
in the memory of sitting in almost the same spot with Sarah as he watched
Buck teach Adam to fish. It had been summer and, like now, they had laughed
at the comedy being played out at the creek side. At times like this he missed
his own child enormously.
Rising to his feet, Chris muttered something about checking the horses, which
were out of sight of the camp, and left. Vin and Ezra watched him go, exchanging
'Leave 'im. He'll git over it.' Ezra nodded and went back to watching the
It wasn't long before the little girl's interest waned and she left Buck,
and the now dry JD, to the fishing and went off for a romp in the grass with
The two played chase close to the camp, the quick, agile Texan slowing his
pace enough to allow himself to be caught by his determined pursuer despite
her much shorter legs. Eventually the game deteriorated into a tickling match,
each giving as good as they got. When they were both exhausted, Vin lay on
his back with a triumphant Rorie lying across his stomach. They remained
in companionable silence for a while, listening to the sounds of the woods.
'Why is Uncle Chris sad?'
Tanner propped himself up on his elbows and looked into the solemn little
face. Choosing his words carefully, he told her a little of the family Chris
'They went to the Angels? Like Mummy?'
'Oh.' There was a pause. 'I'm going back now, you coming?'
'I will in a minute pumpkin. I gotta answer a call o' nature.'
Rorie cocked her head to the side listening intently. 'I don't hear anything.
What's it sound like?'
Vin laughed. 'I gotta pee, baby girl. Go on, I'll catch up with ya.'
'Ohhhhh! Okay.' He watched the child set off towards Ezra and then went to
find a private bush.
When Vin approached the camp a few minutes later there was no sign of the
child. 'Where's Rorie?'
'She went that way.' Ezra nodded towards the direction of the horses. 'Do
not concern yourself, Mr. Tanner. Mr. Larabee was visible when she embarked
upon her quest and well aware of the impending company.'
'Ez, we live in the same house. What happened to 'Vin'?' The Texan sighed
in exasperation and the Southerner winked at him.
'There are instances when 'Mr. Tanner' is the most suitable moniker. On other
occasions, 'Vin' seems infinitely more appropriate. It rather depends upon
my inclination.' Vin just shook his head and then settled down to take a
nap and recoup some of his energy.
Meanwhile, out of sight of the others, Chris sat leaning up against a tree
with Rorie on his lap.
'Uncle Chris? Do you think my Mummy and Aunt Sarah and Adam are friends?'
Chris was startled. 'Uh, I
yes I think so. Probably. Why do you ask?'
'I think they're friends. My Mummy would want to help Aunt Sarah look after
Adam like you and Uncle Vin and Uncle JD and Uncle Buck and Uncle Nathan
and Uncle Josiah...' she puffed, '...all help Daddy look after me.' Chris
accepted this silently.
'Was Adam as much trouble as me?'
Chris found himself smiling. 'Sometimes. I remember once...' Rorie listened
as Chris told her funny stories about Adam, most of which were at Buck's
expense. The two sat for a long while until he ran out of things to say.
'Uncle Chris you don't have to be sad, they aren't gone. They're here.' She
tapped his chest. 'S'long as we remember, they're always there.'
Chris swallowed the lump in his throat as he looked down into the earnest
little face. Wondering who had given her that little piece of wisdom, he
squeezed her tightly and placed a kiss on the tip of her nose.
'We can help each other to remember them can't we, Uncle Chris?'
'Yep, we can.'
By mutual agreement the two climbed to their feet. 'Come on Shorty, time
to go home.'
The five men and the child packed up the campsite, removing any signs of
their stay, and remounted their horses. This time Rorie sat with JD, swapping
back to Ezra when she started to fall asleep in the saddle.
By the time the equine convoy arrived back at the ranch there were three
more cars parked in the driveway.
Nathan and Josiah sat on the porch with Mary Travis as Billy ran out to greet
'Hey Chris, Guys!'
'Hello Billy.' The men all greeted the boy as Chris swung Billy up into the
saddle in front of him for the last few feet of the journey.
'Did you bring the new playstation game JD?'
'Yeah. I expect you and Rorie can play it after lunch.' They pulled up in
front of the house.
Billy looked over at Ezra, seeing the small sleeping bundle with the lolling
blonde head. 'That her?' Ezra nodded. 'She's awful small, just a baby. And
she's a GIRL!' This was delivered with a measure of disgust.
'Billy Travis.' Billy turned to his mother. 'Don't be mean. There is nothing
wrong with girls...' Mary glared at Buck as he snorted a laugh before assuming
an expression of innocence.
'I happen to like girls Mrs. Travis.' His tone was defensive and Mary gave
him a dirty look before continuing her conversation with the boy.
'... And she's two grades ahead of you in school so she should be able to
play on the playstation with you.' Six-year-old Billy again looked over at
the gambler and made a face. 'She's still a baby.'
Rorie had begun to stir as soon as the rhythmic motion of the horse stopped.
She blinked blearily at Billy. 'And you're ugly. At least I'll grow.'
Mary laughed at Billy confounded expression. 'She's just like you Ezra, a
ready riposte for every occasion!'
'My apologies Mrs. Travis for my daughter's rudeness.' He glared at Rorie
as he lifted her down from the saddle. 'Aurora...'
'He started it...'
'And I'm finishing it.' Chris's tone brooked no argument and the two children
stared at each other with mutual dislike. 'Billy, come and help brush down
the horses and then we'll get lunch. Mary.'
Mary grinned at him as he set off for the barn, Billy in tow.
'You too Aurora. Chaucer needs to be brushed and cared for.' Ezra took the
reins and led the horse away, Rorie skipping along beside him, chattering.
Mary turned back to Nathan and Josiah who were watching from chairs set on
the porch. 'Oh dear. They hate each other.'
Josiah laughed. 'You wait. They'll be as thick as thieves by dinnertime and
you'll be wishing they did. They're just establishing dominance.'
Josiah had cause to wish his foresight hadn't been quite so accurate. So
did all the other adults.
After a tense lunch, during which the two short people had studiously ignored
each other, JD set them up on the Playstation. Having ensured they were playing
without causing each other physical damage, he left them in the den and rejoined
the 'grown-ups'. They took turns to look in on the children and it was an
hour later before anyone realized that the sound effects on the game had
slipped into a repetitive holding pattern.
Vin nudged Ezra and asked, 'Want me ta check 'em?'
'I'll go.' Chris set off to the den.
He was back in an instant. 'They're gone.' Mary and Ezra both jumped to their
feet, calling out for their missing kids. Chris checked upstairs while Ezra
searched the ground floor. Vin, Buck and JD went outside. Five minutes later
they all met up in the hallway.
Seeing Chris and Ezra had had no luck and hearing Vin confirm that they were
not in the yard, the group of eight adults split up to try to track them
'You don't think they'd have gone to see the horses do you?' JD set off for
the barn, Josiah electing to go with him. Mary remained on the porch in case
the two 'miscreants' returned. The others split up and headed in different
directions, calling for the children to answer.
Buck came across them by accident.
He was heading for the woodshed when he heard a noise coming from under the
house. Approaching cautiously, just in case it was a wild animal, he dropped
into a crouch when he detected voices.
'Rorie, your foot's in my face.'
'So move it.' There was a shuffling sound. 'Oww! Not my foot Billy, your
face.' The shuffling resumed.
'Okay you two out! Now!' Buck put on his 'sternest parent' tone. All the
noise abruptly ceased.
'I SAID NOW!' His bellow brought the rest of the impromptu search team running.
'Bucklin? Ya found 'em?' Buck indicated the spot under the house. Vin made
'Aurora Standish, William Travis, front and center, this instant.' Chris
Larabee was much better at the stern parent voice and within moments two
filthy urchins materialized before him.
'What were you doing under my house?' He looked down on the bowed heads.
It was Billy who answered while Rorie maintained a stoic silence. 'We were
looking for the mole.'
Chris waited but there was no further explanation.
'Aurora? Elaborate please.' Ezra and Mary had taken up positions on either
side of Chris.
Rorie looked up at her father. She didn't like that expression one bit. 'Well.
Um.' She shuffled her feet and glanced sideways looking for an escape route.
Unfortunately for her, five large Uncles were filling the all the available
She swallowed. 'Well, you know we were playing on the playstation?' He nodded.
'It was all about spies. We had to find the mole and, well, moles live
underground don't they?'
'It's a game. Try again.'
'Ooo-kay. Um, well, we were talking about moles and so we decided
Billy nudged her foot and she glared at him, '...we decided...' this time
he kicked her. 'Owww. Okay, okay. I thought it would be fun to find a real
one so we went looking....'
'Under the HOUSE?' Ezra was livid. 'There could have been snakes or anything
under there Rorie.'
'Billy you know better.' Mary joined in and frowned at her son with disapproval.
'Why did you not tell me you were going outside? You know the rules.' Ezra
watched as the little shoulders slumped. 'What was that?' He hadn't caught
'You wouldn't have let us go, if you knew what we were going to do.'
'So you deliberately disobeyed me?'
'Not exactly, you hadn't said we couldn't.' Rorie looked up in time to catch
the flash of temper crossing his features.
'You knew I would forbid it so you didn't ask. That amounts to the same thing.
Follow me Miss Standish. You and I are going to have a little discussion
about obedience.' He turned on his heel and disappeared behind the woodshed.
A horrified Rorie looked at Vin, hoping for a reprieve but he shook his head
at her and pointed to where Ezra had vanished. 'Move it kid, before you give
him another reason to be mad at ya.' Rorie looked even more alarmed and set
off at a scuttle.
'Billy, come with me.' Mary led her son in the opposite direction.
Behind the woodshed Ezra had already sat down on a pile of logs when his
daughter appeared. She stopped well out of arms reach and eyed him warily.
Setting his knees apart, Ezra pointed to a spot directly between his feet.
Sighing, the little girl approached as slowly as she dared and then stood
still, head hanging.
He waited. Eventually his patience was rewarded when she raised tear filled
eyes to his face. 'You're not going to spank me are you?'
Ezra sighed. 'No Honeybee I'm not going to spank you.' He gazed into the
dirty and now tear-stained little face, so much like his own.
'But Rorie, I am going to have to punish you. You were deliberately disobedient.
You knew it was misbehavior and yet you chose to continue with your plan
regardless of the consequences.' She nodded and sniffed and he handed her
his clean handkerchief.
'What you did was foolhardy, and you knew in advance that I wouldn't approve.
Why did you do it?'
'It seemed like fun, going hunting for wild beasts
'It wasn't fun. It wasn't remotely amusing. It was dangerous. You, both of
you, disappeared. We were all worried about you. You could have been hurt
and we wouldn't have known where to find you. Everything you do, good or
bad, affects those who care about you. Do you understand?'
Rorie nodded. 'I'm sorry Daddy.'
'What are you sorry for?'
for not asking to go outside and
for going under
the house when I knew it was naughty.'
'Anything else?' Ezra waited while she thought it through.
'For making you worry about us?'
'I think you understand. Now. As punishment, I will be no computer, playstation
or TV for two weeks.'
'Two whole weeks? Daddy!'
'Would you rather be spanked?'
'I'll take the two weeks.' Ezra grinned. Settling back he lifted the child
onto his lap, heedless of the filth, and she snuggled into his chest, hiccupping.
'I'm really sorry Daddy.'
'I know Honeybee.'
'Mmmm?' Ezra stroked the small back with the palm of his hand.
'Does this mean you're never gonna spank me?' Ezra snorted.
'Don't push me dahlin' I'm saving that one.' He chuckled at her expression
and hugged her tighter before setting her gently on her feet. 'YOU are a
filthy little baggage and I hear Uncle Chris's bath calling your name. You
need to be hosed down before I will allow you in my pristine vehicle.'
It was two very subdued children who left the Larabee Ranch half an hour
By the time Ezra, Vin and Rorie arrived at home, the men were tired of hearing
'Okay Aurora, enough. You are not going to change my mind. You still have
no privileges for two weeks.'
Rorie grinned unrepentantly at Ezra as she climbed out of her seat, AFTER
he'd released her. 'It was worth a try!'
Ezra laughed and tweaked her nose. 'Yes, I suppose it was. However, if you
badger me again, it'll be longer, and if I catch you playing with forbidden
games or watching TV, it will be an extra day each time. Do you understand
'Yahuh.' The child looked forlorn. Vin was no pushover but he couldn't stand
up to that look. Ezra was dad, let him be the disciplinarian.
'So pumpkin, what shall we play? You have an hour until bedtime.'
'Barbie goes tracking!' Vin rolled his eyes and Ezra laughed.
'You offered. I have some calls I need to make. I'll see you both later.'
Vin and Rorie trudged upstairs, the little one holding tightly to Vin's hand,
and Ezra made coffee before disappearing into the study.
Forty-five minutes later, with his calls made, the Southerner went up to
find out what was happening upstairs. He was surprised to find Vin had managed
to get Rorie back into the bath. Twice in one day had to be a record.
Vin was soaping her down while they chatted. Standing in the doorway Ezra
watched as the rough-around-the-edges Texan gently bathed his little girl.
Unsurprisingly, they were telling each other jokes. Eventually the child
exhausted her repertoire and switched tactics.
'Uncle Vin?' The little face looked perplexed.
'Mmmm? Vin lifted her left foot high in the air to wash it, pretending not
to notice that she nearly tipped over backward, and she giggled.
'Uncle Vin? You know Uncle Josiah says that 'time heals all wounds'?'
'Then why do we have belly buttons?'
Vin snorted a laugh.
'If people from Poland are Poles, why aren't people from Holland, 'Holes'?'
He smiled. ''Cause they're Dutch.'
'That doesn't make sense.'
'I expect there's a lot that doesn't make sense to you Pumpkin.'
This time Vin was prepared. 'What Rorie?'
'If you 'spect the unexpected doesn't that make the unexpected 'spected?'
There was a silence as Vin deciphered that. He chuckled. 'Ask Uncle Josiah.
Jest don't do it when he's takin' a drink or he'll be squirtin' coffee through
Vin took a deep breath. There's more? 'What Rorie?'
'If a cow laughs does milk come out of its nose?'
'Oh God!' Vin fell down in a chortling heap. Ezra, standing unnoticed at
the doorway, also began to laugh.
'That's enough Rorie.' The little girl, chin deep in bubbles, grinned at
'But Daddy, you said I could ask you anything!' Her grin got bigger.
'How long have you been thinking those up?'
The naked shoulders shrugged. 'I've been practicing.'
'I see. Come on now, out you come. It's bedtime.' He lifted her out and Vin
enveloped her in a huge fluffy towel.
It wasn't long before the tired child was asleep. Vin and Ezra sat in comfortable
silence in the sitting room, watching the news. Tomorrow was Sunday. Both
wondered if they'd survive to go back to work.
Tuesday 11th April
For two days, life had gone fairly smoothly.
It couldn't last.
It was midmorning, two days later, when Chris came out of his office, a concerned
look on his face. 'Conference room.' Everyone stopped what they were doing
and followed him in. AD Travis and two FBI Agents immediately joined the
'We have an armed gunman, or possibly gunmen, holding hostages in a school.
So far we have two confirmed victims, condition unknown. Teams 2 and 5 have
been alerted and are already taking up positions on the campus.' Chris paused
and looked up at his undercover agent.
'Mr. Larabee?' Ezra turned towards the AD who was eyeing him sympathetically.
'NO! Goddamnit! No'. He shot to his feet and made for the door. The rest
of the team also made to rise.
'Agent Standish, sit down.' Travis's order made the anxious parent pause
but did not reclaim his seat.
'We don't know that your daughter is involved, Agent Standish, most of the
children at the Academy have been evacuated.' The Senior FBI Agent tried
to be conciliatory. 'You are a Government Agent, familiar with the school.
We need you to give us any information you have with regard to the interior
layout, hazards, access, you know the drill.'
Vin was tapping his feet on the floor in agitation. 'You ever known Rorie
not to be involved when there's trouble, Cowboy? She's a Standish.' Vin produced
a poor imitation of his usual lopsided smile as he looked up at Larabee who
had remained glued to the floor throughout his Agent's outburst.
'We can't get involved Vin. I'm sorry Ezra, we're too close. Sir, I'd like
your permission to go and wait with the other families
'And if I don't give it you'll go anyway.' The AD smiled sadly. 'Go.' As
he spoke Ezra's phone rang. He answered it before the first ring had died
'Standish. Rorie, Thank God. You Okay? You're WHAT?' Ezra looked dumbstruck.
'Hide the phone and come back in a couple of minutes. Rorie, RORIE! Sorry
honeybee I didn't mean to shout at you. Leave the line open Okay?' Placing
his hand over the mouthpiece, he turned to the assembled group who were watching
him closely. 'She's inside the building. She pilfered the teacher's cell
phone from her purse when they were rounded up by the gunmen.'
'Gunmen? Did she say how many? We don't have much information yet.' Ezra
shot the Senior FBI Agent a withering look.
'Just 'bad men with guns', Sir.' The insult was evident in the sarcastic
drawl on the title.
'Agent Standish I realize this is difficult for you. But we have contact
with the inside and I don't need to tell you how important it is to get as
much information as possible from the source
'She is not a 'Source' she is a three-year-old being held hostage by madmen.
And you do not have a link to the inside, I have contact with my daughter.'
Pale and trembling, Ezra was furious.
'Gentlemen,' AD Travis spoke up, 'this is getting us nowhere. Ezra you can't
do anything to help her at the moment. You CAN, however, help to bring this
whole sorry mess to a painless conclusion. Are we going to get your cooperation?'
'Senior Agent Travis, I cannot allow you to...' the Senior Agent in question
interrupted the FBI man's protest.
'YOU do not allow or disallow ME anything. Right now this man is not an Agent,
he is a father, give him the respect he is due under the circumstances.'
Travis turned to Ezra. 'Well?'
Buck patted his shoulder. 'It's the best way to help.'
'Rorie needs you to do whatever you can, Brother.'
The undercover Agent was chalk white and shaking. He slumped into his seat,
quickly checking if Rorie was back on the line. She wasn't. 'I'll ask her
but she only speaks to me or one of the Team.'
The FBI Agent bristled but subsided under the Larabee glare.
There was a squawk from the phone in Ezra's hand and he immediately brought
it back to his ear.
'Rorie? Hello Honeybee. Are you being really careful they can't see you?
I see, good girl. Dahling' how many men are there? Did you see their guns?
Ah-ha. Where are they now? All right. Rorie how many children are with you?
Any teachers or staff? Okay. Listen to me carefully now. I want to you to
switch off the phone and call me back in about half an hour Okay? If anything
important happens before then you can ring me. Be careful Dahling'. Yes,
I love you too.' Ezra was nearly in tears as he finished the call. He placed
his forehead on the coolness of the tabletop. Vin reached over and gripped
his shoulder in a brief squeeze.
'Hang tight buddy, she's Okay at the moment.' Buck put his arm around his
back from the opposite side. Ezra did not, for once, withdraw from the comfort
The FBI Agent was almost bouncing in his seat.
'Ezra? Larabee's tone was gentle. 'What did she tell you?'
Standish slowly raised his head to look at his boss.
'From what she said I deduce the following: There are two hostiles. Apparently,
they're younger than JD, which probably means they're adolescent males. Both
are white and one has red hair. They are carrying handguns, she didn't see
any other weapons and they are wearing only jeans and t-shirts, which suggests
that they are without further ammunition. She heard some shots fired earlier,
possibly eight but she isn't sure. There are seventeen children, the Principal
and his secretary being held in separate areas of the school kitchen. The
adults have been tied up. One gunman is in the Dining room and the other
is covering the delivery entrance. They are communicating with walkie-talkies
and alternating checks on the hostages.'
'You got all that from a three-year-old?' The FBI Agent, Miller, looked dubious.
'An extremely special three-year-old, Mr. Miller. She's very smart. Which,
incidentally, is how she got to be a student in a school for gifted children.'
Nathan spoke up for the first time.
'Buck, get the information down to Turner in team 5. Nathan, take Ez and
Vin down to the site. They need to be there. Josiah go with them.' He exchanged
looks with both the Medic and the Profiler. They knew each man's skills might
yet be needed, depending on the outcome of the operation.
'JD get me the blueprints for that school. We'll check the lie of the land
and join you boys as soon as we can.'
Everyone was pleased to have something to do. Chris gripped Vin's arm as
he passed, noticing from the corner of his eye that the FBI Agent was on
'Keep an eye on him Vin, I'm trusting you not to let him get himself killed.'
Vin nodded and hurried to catch up with the other agents.
By the time Chris, Buck and JD rejoined their teammates at the cordoned off
school it was approaching the time for Rorie to call back. Ezra was pacing
back and forth across the tarmac of the teacher's car park, base of operations
for the assembled SWAT teams.
Chris approached his opposite numbers from teams 2 and 5, Wendle and Turner.
'Sorry, Larabee, nothing new as yet. How's your man holding up?' Chris looked
over at his Agent, surrounded by the rest of the team.
'He'll keep it together.'
There was a hush as Standish's phone started to ring and the three senior
agents joined the group.
'Hello Honeybee. You Okay? How are the others? They are? Why what's the matter
with her? Okay, I'll see what I can arrange. What? All right. Sit tight Dahling',
we'll get you out as soon as we can. Yes, I love you too. Yes, I'll tell
them.' He disconnected the call and looked at his friends, seeing the worry
etched on each face.
'She sends her love. The battery is going flat. She probably won't be able
to call again. The kids are all fine, the gunmen are being 'kinda nice'.'
He smiled wryly and without humor. 'It seems that the Principal's Secretary,
Mrs. Davis, is experiencing some difficulties, apparently she is breathing
rapidly and is pale. I have met Mrs. Davis and I believe she is an asthmatic.'
He focused his gaze on Larabee.
Chris quickly caught on to Ezra's idea. 'If we can get the gunmen to check
the hostages independently, we may be able to get a medic into the building.'
He looked at Nathan who nodded eagerly.
'Look Larabee,' Turner stepped forward, 'There's no way any of your team
can get involved in this
'You know of any other Agent who can be a convincing Paramedic?'
Turner was silenced.
'I also hear that your sniper is having difficulty getting a bead on the
guy in the Dining Room because of the angle. Who's the best sniper, Turner?'
The leader of Team 5 turned to Tanner. 'Maybury will get the shot
'He's not the best Turner. Who would you want taking the shot if it were
your kid in that school?' Larabee was firm.
'Okay fine.' Turner threw up his hands. 'Tanner go see if you can help Maybury.'
He rounded on Larabee. 'You get to explain this to Travis.'
The siege of the school had been going on for four hours when the young gunmen
allowed a paramedic to enter the building. As he'd expected, Nathan was frisked
for weapons before being told to check the kids.
Rorie, smiled at him as he approached but in no way betrayed that she knew
Having checked over the children, who appeared to range in age from Rorie,
as the youngest, to a bookish Asian boy of about 12, Nathan moved over to
the adults. He received a nod of reassurance from the Headmaster and turned
to the secretary. Removing her gag he began to administer pre-prepared medication
and oxygen through a breathing tube. He spoke in a quiet tone to Charles
'The Children are fine.' Sinclair nodded and Nathan lowered his voice further,
conscious of the nervous young man watching his every move from a short distance.
'We're working to get you out. Something should happen soon.'
No sooner had he spoken than there was a shot from outside and a cry of pain
from the Dining room. There was the sound of doors crashing open and a call
of 'Freeze, ATF.'
Nathan turned in a blinding movement. A knife appeared from nowhere and was
launched towards the panicked boy waving his gun around. The hilt protruded
from a bloody wound in his right shoulder before any of the hostages realized
their rescue was taking place. The boy howled and dropped the gun.
Jackson rose to his feet and approached cautiously, kicking the gun away
into a corner. The youngster had fallen to his knees and was gripping his
injured shoulder. 'Jeez, man, what kind of a paramedic are you?'
The room was slowly filling with armed men in Kevlar vests. Many of the children,
previously calm, were beginning to sob uncontrollably.
'Hey it's Okay. These are the good guys.' Rorie jumped to her feet and dashed
over to the Dark Medic. 'Hiya Uncle Nathan!' Jackson handed over his prisoner
to another Agent and bent down to scoop the little girl into his arms. He
gave her a huge hug and she grinned at him. Looking up into the bemused eyes
of the Principal, Nathan held out his hand.
'Nathan Jackson, Sir. I work with Agent Standish.'
Charles Sinclair had been released and was attempting to calm the frightened
group. He accepted the handshake and murmured his thanks.
Outside, behind a woman on a gurney, the troupe of tired children was being
shepherded by the teacher. An anxious group of armed men and women, some
in uniform, approached them and some of the children whimpered with fright.
'Hey kids, it's Okay. We're police officers. We'll just get you all checked
out by the medics and you can see your parents Okay?' The female officer
directed the group to the fleet of waiting ambulances, well away from the
prying eyes of the press. She noticed another child being carried by a tall
black man and tried to get her to go to the paramedics.
'No. Thanks, but I got my own.' Rorie grinned at Nathan and patted his cheek.
He winked at her.
' The young woman was cut off in mid flow.
'Daddy!' Wriggling down from Nathan's embrace, the little blonde in the oversized
uniform, half undone braids and droopy socks dashed over to the heavily armed
group of ATF Agents and leapt at the small Southerner.
Ezra dropped to his knees, heedless of the Armani suit pants and clasped
the chattering bundle of energy tight against his chest. 'Thank God, Thank
Each of the other hardened men, wearing incongruous silly grins, reached
out to touch her head, her shoulders, whichever part they could reach. Squirming
away from her father she gave each man a big hug in turn. Returning to Ezra,
she turned back towards the cop who was watching the reunion with a smile.
'I got my fam'ly!'
Chris had been pleasantly surprised that Director Travis had just congratulated
him on a job well done when he'd been called to his office to give his accounting
to his superior.
'Frankly Chris, I expected no less when I let you and those yahoos you call
a team to go down to the school yesterday.' He smiled at the leader of his
best team. 'I was a parent myself and I would also have gone to the wire
for my child. I trusted you to keep your men from getting themselves shot.'
'Thanks Orrin, that means a lot to me, and to the boys.'
'Just don't do it again.'
'I hope we won't have to but the kid's a Standish, Orrin, what can I do?'
Travis laughed. 'So when am I going to get to meet this little monster?'
'Ezra and Vin took the morning off. The school is closed until next week
and Ez won't let Rorie out of his sight. He'll ease off when he knows she's
Okay. I understand they are planning to bring her into the office this
'God help us. One Standish in the building is more than enough to cope with!
Let me know when they arrive, I'd like to meet her.'
Wednesday 12th April
Unbeknownst to Ezra, Rorie and Vin had spent the best part of their usual
early morning cuddle making elaborate plans for the upcoming trip to the
As they stood in the elevator, rapidly ascending to the Team 7 offices, he
became suspicious. He knew something was up, he could read it in their over
innocent expressions. He considered putting a stop to it right then but changed
his mind. He wanted Rorie to re-establish her balance in whatever way she
could, even if it meant putting up with a little mischief. He was a highly
trained Government Agent, he would cope. Besides which, he trusted Vin to
keep the wayward child under some control.
He really should have known better.
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