Atlantan Legacy IX - The Girl is Mine
Disclaimer: Not Mine.. no profit.
Acknowledgements: Mog´s Universe - Thank you.
Thanks everyone for the feedback, the suggestions and for answering all my questions about life in America. I´d love to hear where you think this story should go next, if at all. You may have noticed -subtlety is not my strong point!
Title comes from a Paul McCartney Song.
Friday 1st June
Mercy General Hospital
Tracy felt a flash of panic as the call came in from the incoming unit. The young Emergency Room nurse raised her head and yelled to all the medical staff in her immediate vicinity, Incoming Unit, gunshot wounds, Code T7!´
Her announcement provoked a mad stampede for the Doctor´s lounge. Hey you guys don´t abandon me!´
The senior nurse stepped up to the station. Did they say which one?´ She got a negative shake of the head in reply. She sighed. Check. We need to be taking precautions appropriate to which member of the team it is. There was just the one?´
The younger nurse glanced around at ER, nearly completely devoid of Medical Staff, and raised her brows. Isn´t that enough?´ She turned back to the radio. Unit 3, Unit 3 this is Mercy. Which one?´
There was a crackle and a hiss as the incoming ambulance responded. Mercy, Unit 3. Confirm Houdini, repeat Houdini.´ There was another crackle and a beep as they discontinued the transmission.
Yvonne, Senior Nurse on the Night shift, pulled a face. She beckoned to a passing porter. We´ve got Standish coming in, go and check that all the Doctor´s lockers and all the storerooms are secured. Tracy, call security and tell them Houdini´. That´ll make their night.´
By the time Standish had been admitted to the hospital and the remaining members of the team had been chased down and encouraged´ to get their own, lesser, injuries tended, it was past dawn.
Doctor Elias approached the battered looking bunch of ATF Agents. Gentlemen.´
Hey Jake.´ Chris didn´t care to dwell on the fact that every member of his team was familiar enough with the ER to know each member of staff on a first name basis. How´s he doing?´
He´s up in surgery but he should be in recovery soon. Considering how often Ezra is in here he ought to have his own room.´ He smiled at his own joke.
The tense group relaxed slightly.
They have removed the bullet lodged against his ribs, he was lucky, the bones deflected it. The two on either side of his right bicep were only grazes, they´ve been stitched ´
The Doctor focused on the medic. Nathan looked particularly drawn. Jake made a mental note to get him to take a break. Jackson was always the most stressed when one of his team took an injury, mainly because the others seemed to routinely expect him to perform miracles.
There doesn´t seem to be any permanent damage Nate, but he took quite a blow. The tests we performed on his brain function appear, at this point, to be normal. We will just have to watch carefully for any cerebral swelling, you know the drill.´
He watched the group. I don´t suppose I can convince you to go home and no, I thought not. Okay well, you know the way. Try not too upset too many of the surgical staff when you get there and Buck?´
Wilmington paused, already moving to the elevator.
Leave the nurses where you found them please.´
The ladies man grinned and followed his team.
Men´s Surgical Ward
Vin, you´d better get home. Someone has to tell Rorie. Josiah, go with him. Both of you take a break and come back this afternoon. Nate, you and JD head off too. Come back this evening. Buck, you´re with me.´
Chris moved into the single room, now occupied by his wounded undercover agent. He was pretty sure they´d been assigned this one before. He thought it was when JD had been stabbed but it may have been when Vin took a tumble from the rafters during the Fergusson bust. He couldn´t remember.
Ezra lay absolutely motionless. His head was bandaged lightly down the left side, signs of bruising peeking out across his temple. His tanned right arm, also sporting a white bandage, lay easily by his side.
Chris reached a hand forward and brushed the stray curl from his forehead. Damn fool.´
It wasn´t his fault Chris.´ Buck shuffled in the uncomfortable seat, trying to find a better position. Wasn´t yours either.´
Doesn´t make it any easier to take.´ The leader pulled up a chair and settled beside the bed, preparing for another prolonged vigil.
I never meant to let them in Buck.´ His voice was soft.
Yeah I know.´
That damn blue eyed Texan cowboy started it. Now I´ve got the six of you, a kid, Mary, Billy, Casey, Raine Damn, don´t even get me started on the extended family.´
You love it.´
He grunted. Yeah, I suppose I must.´
Buck hid his grin. It was true the Ex-Bounty hunter had opened the gates, getting under his old friend´s skin, but he´d paved the way for Chris to re-enter the land of the living, rather than just the realm of the walking wounded. He wasn´t the same Chris as he´d been before the deaths of Sarah and Adam, he never would be, but he was much more complete, more likable, since allowing the flood of new family to carry him along in their tide.
When Josiah and Vin pulled up in front of the old house they could see Terri Greer facing off with two suited men on the doorstep.
I don´t like the look a´ that.´ Tanner pulled a face and rubbed a weary hand over his eyes as he climbed out of the Jeep.
Josiah nodded in agreement and quickly joined Vin in his approach to the porch.
The nanny caught sight of the two agents. Thank God. Is Ezra coming?´
Vin shook his head and gave her a warning look. Terri raised her brows but didn´t comment further.
What´s goin´ on?´ Vin narrowed his eyes at the suits.
We wish to confer with Mr Standish. Are you gentlemen colleagues of his?´ The man swept his eyes over the pair dismissively.
The man had an accent that resonated with the twang of the Deep South. Both Agents were immediately on alert.
Who are you?´ Josiah´s deep baritone and threatening forward step had the pair taking a quick defensive pace backwards.
Attorneys. We have personal business with Mr Standish. Is his arrival imminent?´
If ya leave ya card I´ll make sure he knows ya wanna talk ta him.´
Perhaps we should wait, or approach him at his office?´
He ain´t available. If ya have a message I kin pass it on.´ Vin narrowed his eyes but didn´t answer the questions.
The two lawyers exchanged glances.
Very well, Mr..?´
Tanner. He´s Sanchez.´ Josiah inclined his head in acknowledgement of the terse introduction.
We are representing the interests of Aurora Standish´s Maternal Grandparents. If you could give him these papers ´ He handed the packet to Josiah and directed him to sign for them, Thank you.´
The man eyed the dishevelled ATF Agents. You are representatives of the Law are you not?´ They indicated that they were. I expect that packet to reach Mr Standish without delay and without interference gentlemen.´ Both Agents took a step forwards. Please, do not take offence. Contained within are official court documents, it is my job to ensure they get to the proper recipient without hindrance.´
He´ll get em.´
Excellent. If you wouldn´t mind, please inform Mr Standish I will be delighted to answer any questions he may have, failing which I will see him in chambers on Monday.´ They made to leave.
That is between my client and Mr Standish, Mr Tanner, and quite frankly, none of your business.´ The pair climbed into a dark sedan and drove away.
I don´t like this brother.´
I think there´s going to be trouble.´ The two men turned to Terri.
They wanted to meet Rorie, to give her a message from her grandmother. Fortunately she and Olivia had already been collected by the car pool for their Ballet lessons.´
Josiah fingered the packet he held in his hand. Maternal Grandparents, Lawyers and a court date.´ He looked at Vin. Are you thinking custody?´
Vin nodded grim faced. What do we do? Ez isn´t conscious.´ He rushed to reassure Terri who´d emitted a gasp. He´ll be okay. He jest took a couple o´ minor flesh wounds an´ a bump on the head but he may be outta it fer a while.´ He looked back at the Profiler. What do we do?´
I think we need to make some calls.´
They moved into the house.
Saturday 2nd June
Chris was surprised when there was a sudden influx of visitors.
He awake yet?´ The medic approached and picked up the chart hanging at the end of the injured Agent´s bed.
No Nathan, not yet.´ Chris rose to his feet. Sir.´ He shook hands with Judge Travis, Something going on boys?´
All the members of the team were present.
It was AD Travis who answered.
I received a disturbing phone call this morning from Agents Sanchez and Tanner.´ Chris looked at his sharpshooter. It seems when they arrived at Agent Standish´s house this morning they were greeted by a pair of Attorneys from Atlanta.´
Oh god not again. How many kids does he have?´
Everyone turned to glare at JD.
They gave a packet of court documents to Mr Sanchez, to be passed to Mr Standish. They were verbally informed that Ezra was expected in court on Monday and that they were representing Rorie´s Maternal Grandparents.´
There was a collective murmur of dismay.
Exactly. Vin and Josiah came to the conclusion, which I have since been able to verify through my own sources, that they are seeking custody of Ezra´s daughter.´
On what grounds? I thought her mother made sure he was named, both as father and as guardian?´
They wish to have Mr Standish declared an unfit parent.´
They can´t do that! Ez is a great father.´
Do you have any details Sir?´
Yes, please elucidate as to why I am to be considered incapable of caring for my daughter.´ They all turned to the undercover agent, temporarily forgotten in the bed.
Ez! How ya feelin´?´ Vin grabbed a carton of juice and poked the straw into the top, lifting it to parched lips so Ezra could drink.
Like some inconsiderate Neanderthal parked a Boeing 747 on my skull. That, however, is not my chief concern at the moment. Director Travis?´
Travis read the worry warring with the pain on the usually expressionless face.
Your occupation is considered hazardous, you share your house with another man and they have labelled you morally corrupt. I think the last one relates to the rumours from your time in the FBI. It will be discarded, of course, as hearsay.´
Damn straight.´ Chris bristled. Ezra winced.
Mr Larabee, please. Whilst I appreciate your fervent support, I would prefer if you could express it quietly.´
Ezra lay in contemplative silence while the others argued amongst themselves as to the best course of action. Vin wanted to move out of the house, immediately. Chris offered to put him up at the Ranch until he found a new apartment. Nathan was quoting many other occupations, equally hazardous, and stating that those workers still had kids. Buck and JD agreed, supporting his argument by naming all the other ATF Agents who had children.
I think, Gentlemen, it would be wise to call in the Big Guns´. Whilst I am confident that I could defeat any argument they make against me, I am not prepared to entertain any risk whatsoever of losing my daughter, under any circumstances. I have to be sure.´
What do you mean Big Guns´?´ JD looked curious.
Mr Sanchez, if you would be so kind as to initiate a call to my mother.´
Sure Ez, you know I´m always willing to talk to Maude.´ Ezra sent him an arch look.
Your mother is the Big Guns´?´ Chris looked sceptical.
Whilst I am certain that even the formidable Madam de Bretagne would be no match for Maude, that is not quite what I have in mind.´ He didn´t elaborate.
How is Rorie, Mr Tanner?´
She´s fine Ez. Wanted ta come see ya but I figured ya´d have a hell of a headache when ya woke up. Jest let me know when yer ready an´ I´ll bring her in.´
I think it will be unnecessary. I need to get home. Mr Jackson, would you please converse with the resident professionals of this fine establishment and get me released?´
Why don´t you wait and see what they say before you leave AMA, Ezra?´ Nathan knew Ezra would leave anyway but he had to try.
The Southerner just shot him an exasperated look. I´m fine.´
There was a collective rolling of the eyes at that pronouncement. Where had they heard that before?
Sunday 3rd June
Ezra had been convinced to stay in the hospital overnight after a long verbal sparring match with the team and the Doctor. He had finally conceded if only to get them to all shut up and stop pounding his aching head. Eventually he was released into Nathan´s care.
Rorie was sitting in the wide-open front door when they arrived at the house.
Daddy!´ She jumped to her feet and hopped from foot to foot but did not step outside. Uncle Vin! Daddy´s here! Can I go out now?´
There was the indistinct rumble of a deep voice from further inside the house and the child shot out to stand by the car as Nathan helped Ezra out of his seat.
Oh poor Daddy!´ The little face took on a pained expression and her green eyes welled with tears. Does it hurt?´
He knelt before her and she laid a gentle finger on his bruised temple, careful not to touch the small plaster further back. Her other hand hovered over his right shoulder where his arm was strapped in a sling.
No Baby Girl, it´s not too bad.´ She looked sceptical and he added, Well, perhaps it aches a little.´ He smiled at her.
She kissed his cheek. Don´t worry Daddy, I can help Uncle Nathan to look after you. I can be your nurse.´
Sounds great, honeybee.´ He returned dryly.
Ezra was wondering if he´d survive her ministrations. She´d been fascinated by all things medical since her own stay in hospital two weeks previously and spent long hours listening and learning from the ever patient Team Medic. Unfortunately for everyone else they had become her guinea pigs, or patients, as she liked to call them.
Personally he thought guinea pigs´ was the more accurate description.
Come inside, Uncle Josiah made chilli.´ She set off for the house, tugging her father along by his empty right jacket sleeve.
Rorie, this is an Armani Suit, show some respect.´
She grinned at him, Yes Daddy´ and blithely continued on her way.
Ezra just sighed. His wardrobe was just not designed to stand up to the rigors of parenthood.
The Seven men and the small child enjoyed a noisy meal, as usual, but no one made any mention of the upcoming custody hearing. Ezra had asked that he be the one to tell her and they had respected his wishes.
After lunch Ezra sat on the back porch swing with Rorie cuddled up on his knee. His injured ribs protested her occupation but he didn´t comment. Having her there more than made up for any discomfort.
Yahuh.´ She was examining the end of one of her braids, rubbing it´s twin against the bridge of her nose.
Dahling, there´s something we need to talk about.´ He rubbed his left hand up and down her spine in a comforting gesture. Whether he was giving comfort or taking it, he wasn´t entirely sure. Both probably.
But but I haven´t done anything!´ She stopped and looked up into his face. Usually that tone meant she was about to get punished for something.
I know. I understand you have been on your best behaviour.´
Yahuh.´ She nodded vigorously.
That isn´t what we need to discuss. Rorie, your Mummy´s parents want to come and visit you. How would you feel about that?´
No?´ He lifted the defiantly protruding chin with the knuckles of his bandaged limb. Why not?´
I don´t like them. Grandmother doesn´t like me. She is always telling me not to do stuff. I have to be really quiet all the time and she gets cross if I say anything.´
What about your Grandfather?´
He pretends I´m ivis´dibble. He never even speaks to me. Don´t let them come Daddy. We don´t need them.´
I agree. However, they wish to be able to see you.´ He paused and took a breath. Better to tell her everything than have her find out from someone else. They would like you to go and live with them in Atlanta.´
NO! I won´t. I don´t want to. You you you don´t want me to go away do you Daddy?´
No Honeybee, I want you here with me, always. You know that.´ He hastened to reassure the child.
So just tell them to go away.´
I can´t. They have asked a Judge to see if perhaps it would be better for you to live with them. Don´t worry about it honeybee. I´ll fight it. I won´t let them take you.´
Good.´ She settled back against his chest, content that Daddy would protect her. Ezra smiled at her confidence in him. Such trust, so freely given. He was still in awe of that.
Unfortunately, some things were beyond his control.
A short time later there was a ring on the doorbell. JD answered it.
On the step was a slim, elegant blonde of about 50 years of age, flanked on either side by a couple of suits´. Behind, at the end of the path, stood two uncomfortable looking uniformed cops.
Can I help you?´
One of the suits stepped forward. We would like to see Mr Standish. Is he in residence?´
JD´s defences slammed into place at the Southern drawl. These must be the Lawyers which meant he narrowed his eyes at the woman.
And you are?´
Dulcinea de Bretagne. I wish to see my granddaughter.´ She took a step forward at the same moment that JD took a step sideways to completely block the entrance.
One moment please Mrs de Bretagne.´ He turned his head to the side, keeping his eyes on the guests, and yelled over his shoulder. Ezra, get out here!´
The woman winced and took on a look of disgust. What heathens!
Mr Dunne, did you yell?´ Ezra´s voice, laced with humor, came from within. He stepped up to the open doorway and the younger man stepped aside. He felt his humor evaporate.
Mrs de Bretagne, what an unpleasant surprise.´ Both his tone and expression were far from welcoming. Do you have sufficient reason to be interrupting what, until now, has been a pleasant Sunday afternoon?´
Mr Standish. As impolite as ever, I perceive.´ Ezra narrowed his gaze. I am here to collect Aurora. I have authority to take her out for the afternoon, in order to renew our acquaintance.´
The older lawyer handed the undercover agent a sheet of parchment. All stamped and approved as you see.´
Indeed.´ Ezra was thinking fast. He spent a few moments perusing the document, buying for time. Perhaps, in light of the fact that this is an unexpected development, it would be best if you conducted your visit here, in order to cause the least amount of anxiety and disruption to MY daughter.´
I think not. Please have Aurora prepared. We will be visiting a gallery, followed by tea at The Grand. Ensure she is suitable attired.´
Mrs de Bretagne, it really wouldn´t be fair to ´ he was cut off.
Are you disobeying a direct order from the courts Mr Standish? These officers,´ she indicated the cops with a regal wave of her manicured hand, will enforce it if necessary.´
Don´t threaten me Madam. You may wait inside while I prepare Rorie for the outing. She will be returned no later than 6pm,´ he held up a hand to stem the protest on the woman´s lips, since tomorrow is a school day. She needs to be in bed on schedule.´ He watched her mouth work. It would not benefit your cause, madam, if you were to cause disruption to her studies.´
The older lawyer nudged his client and nodded.
Very well. In light of that, make sure she is ready to leave promptly in five minutes.´
She´ll be ready in her own time, not before. Please come in and wait in the living room.´ He stepped aside and allowed the woman he detested to enter his home.
Ezra left them in the lounge and approached the kitchen. He could hear JD´s excited voice as he got closer.
Gentlemen. Where is she?´
Buck´s got her upstairs.´ Chris spoke up. I guess you don´t have a choice in this?´ Ezra shook his head handing him the official notice.
She´s not going to like it, brother.´
I am aware of that.´ Ezra made to leave but Vin caught his sleeve.
Ya want some o´ us ta follow em?´
Ezra smiled at his protectiveness. Thank you Vin, but I think it is unnecessary. She is suing for custody and not likely to abscond.´
Rorie was in a very bad temper by the time she´d been washed and coerced into a frilly frock.
I hate dresses, especially this one.´ She pulled at the pastel pink silk.
Aurora stop it. It is only for a short time and then it´ll be over. You will conduct yourself as befits a lady. Don´t disappoint me.´ Ezra frowned down at her as he somewhat awkwardly fixed her braids, securing them with little pink and white striped ribbons.
The little girl, pretty as a picture with the blonde hair and party dress, pulled a grotesque face.
I don´t like it Daddy.´
I´m not asking you to. As it happens, I much care for it myself.´ He kissed her forehead and slipped his arm back into the sling. The activity had made it ache uncomfortably.
I´m coming back aren´t I?´
You will be back here with Uncle Vin and me in time for a bedtime story. Try not to worry and remember I love you.´ He stood and took her hand, leading her down the stairs. She stamped on each step with her Mary Jane shoes until he told her to cease. She thrust out her lower lip instead. He rolled his eyes.
Aurora! Good Afternoon child.´ Dulcinea de Bretagne approached Rorie who took a step back and hid behind Ezra´s leg. She remained stubbornly silent.
The woman´s thin lips all but vanished completely.
I see your sojourn with your father has done nothing for your manners. Greet me properly Aurora.´ The tone was commanding and Ezra stiffened prepared to defend his child.
Good Afternoon Grandmother.´ The voice was subdued.
Much better. Now come along, we are short of time already.´ Ezra stared back calmly in the face of the pointed look.
6pm Madam de Bretagne.´ She nodded curtly and grabbed Rorie´s hand. He stayed the motion as he crouched into his little one´s line of sight.
Be good dahling. I´ll see you later.´ He kissed her and got a curt nod in reply.
It was a while before they actually managed to leave. Rorie had insisted on saying goodbye to each of her surrogate Uncles, giving each a kiss and a squeeze. The two lawyers and the impatient woman watched this display with interest. Ezra could see the calculation in their eyes as they considered how to use it against him.
He watched with a heavy heart as the little girl was strapped into a rented safety seat. He remained standing on the doorstep well after the dark sedan had vanished from sight.
He was still there when his mother arrived.
Ezra?´ Maude´s voice drew him out of his reverie.
Mother!´ The two kissed air. Thank you for coming so promptly.´ He turned to the stocky grey haired man who had accompanied Maude. Harry. Good to see you. I am grateful for your time.´
The older man shook hands with his host and smiled. I always had time for you Ezra, I am delighted to be of assistance.´ Ezra grinned in response.
Please, come inside and let me introduce everyone. We have a campaign to plan.´ They moved into the house.
As usual, everyone had congregated in the huge family kitchen. A despondent group of ATF Agents sat around the table drinking coffee. They all rose to their feet as Maude entered, followed by her son and another man. They greeted Maude politely, visions of red noses, blue hair and boxer shorts foremost in most of their minds.
Ezra presented each of his colleagues to his male guest and he shook hands with each in turn. Gentlemen, this is Henry Bottomley- Stone, Attorney. He was my step-father when I was about fifteen. I am sure you are familiar with his reputation.´
Hard Ass Harry?´ The man nodded grinning at the moniker. You do indeed have a formidable reputation Sir.´ Josiah was impressed. Hard Ass Harry was known for his ruthless destruction of opposing Attorney´s arguments. He was rarely bettered.
Such a fearsome reputation was at odds with his jolly fat man appearance.
I guess this is what you meant by Big Guns´?´ JD knew the answer but asked anyway.
Indeed Mr Dunne.´
Gentlemen, let´s get down to business. Ezra, do you have the documents I asked for?´ Harry rapidly took control of the meeting, showing again and again how sharp his mind was behind the rheumy blue eyes. Even Chris was impressed.
By five o´clock the meeting was over and Hard Ass Harry left to catch his flight back to New York.
I will arrange for the character witness to be available when required, fear not. Don´t be a stranger, boy. I´d like to meet Rorie. She sounds a lot like you were as a child. Do you remember putting playboy centerfolds in my evidence file? The poor court recorder nearly died of shock when she opened it!´
Ezra chuckled. As I recall, Harry, you paid me back, in spades. Don´t ask Gentlemen!´ He cut off the curious questions of his friends. Suffice to say I didn´t manage to get a date for the prom although I had plenty of offers from other students, all male.´
They laughed at his chagrined expression.
By the time Harry and Maude had departed, Give that little Standish a kiss for me Dahlin´ Boy´, it was five fifteen. The seven had retired back to the kitchen and just settled down to talk when there was a crash as the front door was thrown open.
Daddy! Uncle Vin! Uncle Everybody! I´m home!´ Feet pounded down the hallway and a breathless Rorie appeared. Ezra reached out his good arm and caught her as she launched herself at him in a froth of pink silk and a flash of underwear.
Hello, Honeybee. Did you have a good time? You are home much earlier than I anticipated.´ He glanced up to see a furious Dulcinea de Bretagne in the doorway.
Within moments of arriving at the gallery she managed to grievously insult the Artist whose work we were intending to view. We hastily left for tea at the Grand, only to have Aurora decide that her pony´s bowel movements constituted appropriate mealtime conversation.´ She glared at the child. I was ashamed to be associated with her any longer. Her manners seem to have suffered a dramatic deterioration under your influence Mr Standish, though why that surprises me I don´t know. I will see you in court.´ She turned on her designer heel and stormed out, the front door slamming behind her.
There was a moment of silence.
Would you care to explain that to me, Aurora Celestine?´ He understood his daughter and knew there had been deliberate mischief taking place, despite his instructions to the contrary.
Rorie sucked her teeth and fiddled with the ribbons appliquéd to her frock. Um well. I um ´ she looked at Vin.
Don´t look at me pumpkin, I wasn´t there.´
I´m waiting.´ Ezra´s tone was stern. Buck and JD were trying hard not to laugh and he shot them a glare.
We went to a gal´ry to look at pictures. Grandmother was talking to a lady with rabbitty teeth and a furry mole on her chin. She asked me what I thought of her paintings. I just told the truth. I´m supposed to tell the truth aren´t I?´
Ezra considered that. I suppose it is a bit early for me to expect you to display any diplomacy.´
Yahuh. It´ll be ages till I leave school.´
That´s diplo-MA´. What exactly did you say?´
I just told her that I like finger painting too.´ She grinned at the chuckles.
Ezra rolled his eyes. And talking about Cleo´s toilet habits?´
She tried to make me eat truffles. I hate truffles they make me puke. They look just like Cleo´s ´
Stop. I get the picture. I do not care for the term puke´ and I do not wish to hear it from you ever again. Was there anything else?´
No. We left pretty soon after the lady with the hat at the other table spat out her truffles. I thought THAT was rude. If she doesn´t like them why did she eat it?´
Perhaps your rather graphic description spoiled her appetite.´
She was tugging at the dress again and he took pity on her and pushed her off his lap and unfastened the buttons down her back. Go and change into play clothes.´
Rorie wriggled out of the frock, abandoning it in a pool on the kitchen floor, and took off up the stairs dressed in her Mary Jane Shoes, frilly white ankle socks and briefs.
Nathan shook his head as he picked up the discarded clothing and carefully folded it over the back of a chair. The woman over- reacted. You have to expect things like that with a child.´
Yeah. I remember being in a fast food restaurant queue with Adam when he asked me in a loud voice why shit was brown when food comes in all colors.´ Buck grinned at Chris´s story. I found out later that Buck had put him up to it but at the time I was mortified.´ Chris laughed.
As I remember it, you got me back but good. Little devil answered the phone to a lady friend. Told her I was unavailable cause I had an appointment at the VD clinic. Sarah nearly killed us when Adam asked her what a VD clinic was.´ They all laughed, envisioning the small russet haired woman taking the two to task for corrupting her baby boy.
Josiah broke the silence, which settled heavily as the laughter died. Don´t let it bother you Brother, it has no impact on the custody hearing and Rorie survived unscathed. Which is more can be said for her grandmother.´ He smiled toothily.
That´s my girl!´
Judge Roger Garfield watched the combatants as they argued by turn.
He could see that leaving the child in an environment where she had only male influences could be detrimental to her development and he understood that the Father´s job meant that the child could be faced once again with the sudden loss of a parent.
On the other hand, Standish obviously cared deeply for the little girl whilst he was unable to pinpoint the motives of the grandmother. He just couldn´t warm to the woman. It seemed that her main goal was that of possession.
That troubled him.
There was a nanny, a woman with a daughter of her own, living on the premises. That was a point in favour of the Standish camp. However, an employee was a transitory thing, so the de Bretagnes also had a valid argument.
Sir, may I introduce a witness?´
This is not a trial Mr Standish ´
I appreciate that Sir, however, the young lady has information of which believe you should be cognizant in order to make a truly informed decision.´
The judge nodded. I can allow that, but make it brief please.´
Ezra indicated to Vin who was seated near the chamber doors. He got up and poked his head out. A smartly dressed young blonde joined the gathering.
Amelia? What are you doing here? Judge this is my daughter, my other daughter, Amelia. I cannot see what ´
Sit down mother. I have something to say.´ Miss de Bretagne´s voice was harsh.
Well I never ´
No you never did did you? You never accepted Rorie when Celeste was alive. In fact, you turned her out when she told you about the baby. You couldn´t face the shame´. It was as well she had that inheritance from Grandpapa or she would have been in dire straits.´ Amelia turned to the judge.
Sir, when my sister died I was overseas and unable to take care of Rorie until her father came claim her. I regret that. My parents refused to take her in and she ended up in a state children´s facility until he arrived to collect her. They didn´t want her then and they don´t really want her now. They want this.´ She handed a document to the judge.
Amelia! What are you doing? Judge, this is irrelevant I insist ´
I´d rather you didn´t. Be quiet please Mrs de Bretagne.´ The woman gaped like a fish and dropped into her seat. Her Attorney leaned over to whisper in her ear.
Mr Standish, are you aware of this?´ He waved the papers at Ezra who looked confused.
I´m sorry Sir I don´t ´
He doesn´t know. I just told him I would speak in defence of his character. He has no idea of the contents of that file.´ Amelia smiled at Ezra. I´m sorry Ezra. I needed to be sure you wanted Rorie because you loved her and not because she was an heiress.´
An heiress?´ Ezra sat down. He was shaken. What sort of heiress? How?´
Our grandfather was the steel magnate Lucius Applegate. He sold his business before he died and left his fortune in trust for his grandchildren. There were ten of us and so Celeste had a one tenth share. Her capital was bequeathed, in it´s entirety, to Rorie as her only issue, to be held in trust until she´s twenty- five. As her Guardian you are one trustee, I am another and the third is an Attorney in Philadelphia. Under the terms of Celeste´s will, if mother were to wrest guardianship from you she would gain control of the money. Not the capital, which is held by the trust, but the annual income from the capital. That is available to her legal guardian to be put to use for her benefit, or invested on her behalf. The dividends alone amount to quite a considerable sum.´
Ezra was speechless. The judge wasn´t.
Mrs de Bretagne do you have anything to add?´
Dulcinea wasn´t about to give in gracefully.
Your Honor I feel that my grand-daughter would greatly benefit from a stable home environment, which she clearly cannot receive with this man and his friends´.´ Her tone betrayed her distaste, Clearly the Financial status of the child is an issue but I am a woman of independent wealth and have no need to steal from a child. I love little Aurora.´ She patted her eyes dramatically with a delicate lace handkerchief.
The members of Team 7 exchanged looks of disbelief, which were duly noted by the Honorable Roger Garfield.
Perhaps it is time to speak with the child. Bailiff, please ask Miss Standish to join us. You,´ he glared at every person in the room, will remain silent unless I address you. Is that understood?´ They all acquiesced immediately.
Rorie appeared in the doorway looking very small next to the big court officer.
Rorie?´ She looked up at the judge. Can you answer a few questions for me?´
Do I get to sweartotellthetruththewholetruthandnothingbuthetruthsohelpmegod? 6; The judge chuckled.
I think perhaps you watch too much TV, young lady!´ Rorie grinned at him.
Not so much. I get banned.´ She sighed dramatically. Her uncles grinned collectively.
You do? Why?´
Cause sometimes I can be a handful.´
You mean you´re naughty?´
Not much.´ There was a snort from the gallery. She glared at Tanner.
Okay, sometimes.´ Her father gave a not so discreet cough.
Okay, so quite a lot.´ She poked her tongue out at him and he shook his head at her in warning. He then proceeded to ruin the effect completely when he winked.
So being prevented from watching television is a punishment. From you father? She nodded. Rorie, tell me about living with your father.´
She thought about that for a long moment.
Well I don´t have a Mummy. She went to the Angels. Did you know that already?´ The judge nodded. Well now I have a Daddy and a Uncle Vin and a Uncle Chris and a Uncle Nathan and a Uncle Buck and a Uncle Josiah and a Uncle JD.´ She looked at him as if that should explain exactly what she meant.
Well it´s not zactly like in books is it?´ He agreed that it wasn´t.
Cause I got Daddy and he loves me better than anyone. He can be kinda tough but he doesn´t spank me, even when I put shaving cream in his toothpaste.´
There was a series of snorts from the audience. The judge raised his brows and the ATF Agents controlled themselves.
And I have Uncle Vin. He plays Barbie with me as much as I want and he helps me play tricks on the others. When Daddy´s not there, or if he´s sleep, he does that a lot, specially in the morning, Uncle Vin lets me cuddle with him and never minds when I put my feet on his tummy to warm them up.´ This seemed to be a high recommendation in the child´s eyes and the judge gave it the seriousness it warranted. He shot a look at Agent Tanner who smiled and shrugged.
Uncle Chris is sad sometimes cause he lost his little boy and Aunt Sarah but we´re going to help each other to remember them together so they´re always in here.´ She tapped her chest.
Uncle Buck makes me laugh, he can be very silly, and he sneaks me candy on weekdays.´
Ezra raised his brows at Buck and filed that little snippet away for future discussion. A smirking Wilmington gazed at the ceiling as if he´d never seen one before.
He plays tea parties with me and always wears the hats I give him even though they´re too small and really for girls. Uncle JD lets me play on his con´tuter and shows me how to find all the cool stuff on the Internet. You know, he didn´t even get mad at me when I lost his work and he had to spend ages trying to find it. That´s pretty cool.´
Uncle Josiah tells me lots of stuff I don´t really understand and then he splains it. Sometimes I don´t even understand it then but don´t tell him that!´ This was delivered in a stage whisper and the judge chuckled. Agent Sanchez looked sheepish. He´s teaching me to play chess and if you put you ear on his tummy you can hear it talking to itself!´ The little girl obviously thought this was a very clever trick. He played along.
What does it say?´
Rorie shot him a look like he´d lost his mind. It doesn´t speak English.´
Oh.´ The judge looked confused. He changed the subject.
What about Uncle Nathan?´
He cares for everybody and he fixes us.´
When we get hurted. He took a big splinter out of my foot. It was normous.´ She held her hands wide, like a fisherman boasting of his catch. I didn´t even cry!´
You´re very brave.´
Ezra rolled his eyes.
I see.´ He didn´t really but he knew from talking to the child that she loved each of those hard looking men and they loved her right back.
What about your grandmother?´
What do you think of your grandmother?´ He clarified.
I try not to. She doesn´t like me much. I have to keep quiet all the time. Do you know how difficult that is?´
I can imagine.´ His tone was wry.
She´s mean and I don´t like her.´
Dulcinea rose to her feet. Ezra immediately followed. He prided himself on being able to read people; it was what kept him alive when he was undercover.
He did not care for the expression on her face.
Rorie didn´t see her coming and continued with her litany. Mummy didn´t like her much either. She told me she was very unhappy when she was a little girl and she ´ Rorie found herself being swung around by the arm.
You little beast! How dare you?´ Dulcinea had raised her hand to slap the impertinent child when her wrist was caught in an iron grip. She turned to look into green eyes, glittering with rage.
You strike that child and you may not live to regret it, Madam.´
She turned to the judge pulling her wrist from Ezra´s grasp. He threatened me. You heard him. He threatened to kill me! I want him arrested.´
Mr Tanner, if you would be so kind as to remove Aurora. Rorie, thank you for talking to me.´ Vin took the wide-eyed Rorie´s hand and led her away. I will see the attorneys in my chambers. Mr Larabee, perhaps I could ask you to contain this situation.´ He nodded at Standish and Dulcinea, facing off in the aisle.
Josiah had decided to bake a cake so they could celebrate winning with Rorie.
What happened to the packet?´ He rifled through the cupboards. I know there was a Cake Mix in here yesterday.´ He started again, shuffling things side to side as he hunted.
The others sat around in the kitchen, making the place look untidy. Rorie was sitting on Chris´s knee. She thought she´d better change the subject.
So I don´t have to see them´ ever again?´
Not if you don´t want to honeybee. I thought it was a nice gesture to see them off at the airport. You didn´t have to do that.´ Ezra took a sip of his Whiskey.
She wanted ta make sure they really went didn´t ya pumpkin?´
Yahuh.´ Rorie fiddled with her braids and looked at the floor.
Vin and Ezra exchanged glances.
Ezra took on his stern parent voice. Aurora, what did you do?´
What do you mean?´ She took on an over exaggerated expression of innocence.
She was instantly the center of attention.
She sighed. They were too clever by half. She couldn´t get away with anything anymore. If Daddy didn´t catch her, which he usually did, then one of the others took up the slack. She looked at the expectant faces. Time to come clean.
You can stop looking Uncle Josiah. It isn´t in there. I borrowed it.´
Aurora, WHAT DID YOU DO?´ Ezra was fast loosing patience. His head ached and he needed a painkiller.
Well. It´s a funny story really.´
I put it into lots of little baggies, you know the ones with I get for school, for my sandwiches.´
It was easier to hide.´
Hide? Where did you hide it?´
In grandmother´s suitcase. And her handbag. And her pockets.´ She twiddled with the braids again.
Ezra digested that.
Vin spoke up. Ya mean ya made it look like ´ he was stunned. Where did she learn that?
Ezra also wanted to know. Where did you see that? TV?´
I think I need to be more vigilant in respect of your programme choices.´
I´m staying then?´
Oh yes, you may be trouble, baby girl, but you´re mine.´
Dulcinea de Bretagne pulled her pocket book out of her handbag, not noticing the small bag of white powder that accidentally fell to the floor.
A vigilant Security Officer caught sight of the white flash and kindly bent down to retrieve it for her.
Excuse me Ma´am you dropped ´
It was the early hours of Wednesday morning before the forensics lab identified the thirty odd packages from the irate suspect´s luggage as being one of Betty Crocker´s finest Devils Food Cake´ mixes.
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