The End of Innocence

by Angie

Vin awoke with a start! His first response was to try to turn over but the shifting grain beneath him reminded him not to move. The sun was just coming up, he could see it shining thru the cracks in the top of the silo. His head still hurt like hell and he was thirsty. His hands had long since gone numb from lack of circulation. Tanner knew that if he didn’t get out soon, he wouldn’t get out at all.

Ezra began to awaken around daybreak. He whimpered in his sleep and tugged against the blankets that had gotten twisted around him as he slept. Josiah touched his shoulder gently and tried to calm him. His eyes opened and struggled to focus before filling with terror. He pulled away from his friend and began to scream at the top of his lungs. Josiah tried unsuccessfully to quiet him. Ezra’s screams gradually tapered off to whimpers and then to ragged sobs.

Chris was pissed. Josiah didn’t show up with Nathan to relieve him from the van. He had dialed Josiah’s cell phone repeatedly but the phone was turned off. He rang Josiah’s house and got the machine. He tried Vin’s home and cell phone and got no answer. Buck agreed to stay another shift in the van with Nathan.

Something was happening in the compound around mid-morning. They were loading boxes into the cars. Chris called Judge Travis to tell him that they needed backup. He didn’t tell Travis that Josiah was missing. Somehow he knew it had to do with their undercover agent and he wanted to let him have as much time as needed to solve that problem.

Team 9 arrived as the convoy of cars left the compound. The ATF agents were forced to scramble as the cars split up in small groups. Chris rode with one of the other agents as they followed one of the cars. He had radioed for permission to stop the cars and search them. When the cars reached the outskirts of Denver, the state patrol set up a roadblock and stopped them.

Chris jumped from the first car as the others jumped from the van they were riding in. The people in the cars meekly surrendered and sat passively as the boxes were searched. Books and clothing! Every box was filled with cast off clothing and second-hand books. It looked like a yard sale had exploded along the roadside as the agents emptied the boxes. <<<<<


Josiah sat at the bedside after Ezra drifted off to sleep. He debated calling Chris and the others but didn’t, not until he had something to tell him one way or the other. He rested his feet on the edge of the bed and lowered his weary head onto his shoulder for a few minutes of precious sleep.

When he wakened later, he could hear Ezra moving around on the bed. He went to the kitchen and made another pot of strong, black coffee before returning to the bedroom.

Josiah rubbed Ezra’s hand and then lightly touched his shoulder. He had seen that the younger man was beginning to awaken and he wanted desperately to talk to him. Ezra began to pull away from his touch again and Josiah took his hand, “It’s okay. Just take it easy.”

Ezra had shut down. He refused to speak or even to look at Josiah. He pulled and twisted away from Josiah. He refused to eat or drink anything and that had the older man worried. Not wanting a repeat of the last night’s physical confrontation, Josiah gave up for a while and let Ezra rest.

The sun beat down on the metal silo and the temperature rose quickly. Vin’s hair was plastered to his head and his clothes were ringing wet. He continued to try to free his hands as he lay on his stomach so as not to sink further into the grain. It was difficult because he kept inhaling the dust from the milo as well as the tiny round pods. The ropes rubbed bloody tracks on his wrists and the grain dust stung as it was rubbed into the raw skin.

When Josiah returned to the room an hour later, he tried to talk to Ezra. It was about as bad as it could be in his estimation. Ezra’s eyes were dull and glassy, either from the drugs still in his system or from giving up. He only slept for a few minutes at a time and woke up pulling at the blankets and wringing wet with sweat.

Josiah decided to move Ezra before any of the team decided to come looking for him. He bundled his friend in a blanket and carried him out to the suburban before returning for the bag of clothes. The mission where he helped out was not far away and they would give him a room and not ask questions.

He knew that moving Ezra from his familiar surroundings would jar him and hopefully cause him to respond. It was also the only way he could keep the suicide attempt from the others. After getting settled in an empty room at the far end of the hall, he paid one of the teenagers at the mission to go and bring back lunch for them.

“Talk to me, Ezra. Tell me what happened. What did they do to you that could be so awful that you would want to die? You have never let anything get you down before.”

The only answer he received was a green-eyed gaze. Ezra’s eyes were unfocused and he shuddered periodically as if he was cold. Josiah bundled him in another blanket and settled him on a pillow. Father Ramirez knocked on the door and Sanchez stepped into the hallway to speak with him.

“How is your friend, brother?”

“Not well. Something troubles his spirit and he hasn’t found the words to share it with me.”

“He is a young man to be so burdened.”

Josiah stared hard at the older priest. “You have no idea, Father. That young man has been carrying more than his share all of his life. Pray for him. He needs all the help he can get.”

Chris was getting worried. He had been trying Vin’s cell phone all morning. The longer he went without reaching the sharpshooter, the angrier he became. He drove by Tanner’s Purgatorio apartment and knocked on the door before letting himself in with his spare key. The jeep was sitting on the parking lot, but the dirt bike was not in its usual place in the middle of the living room. Larabee swore at the empty room before getting back into his truck and calling Buck.

Judge Travis looked up from the file he was reading when Evie stuck her head into the study. “Orrin, phone call, it’s Chris. Sounds important.”

“Travis.” His voice tightened as the hair on the back of his neck stood on end, Larabee wouldn’t call him at home on a Saturday unless it was urgent.

“I’m sorry to bother you at home, sir, but Vin has gone missing.”


“I haven’t been able to contact him all day and his bike is missing. I’d like to get someone from Team 9 to sit on the compound while we search for him.”

“What about Sanchez and Standish, can’t they help you?”

“Well, sir, that’s another problem. I don’t know where they are. Ezra took another week off and Josiah went to check on him last night and now they’re both gone as well.”

“Larabee, what in the hell is going on with your Team? How can you not know where they are? Don’t they check in with you? If you couldn’t handle this mission, why didn’t you tell me before I put you on it?”

“I’m sorry, Judge. I had no idea that Josiah would disappear with Ezra. There’s something bothering him and we’ve been trying to give him room to work it out. I’m really concerned for Vin, though, I think he may have gone into the compound to look around. I’m afraid he’s in trouble, I just feel it in my gut.”

Orrin nodded his head as he listened. He knew that Larabee and Tanner had an almost cosmic connection and if Chris felt that Vin was in trouble, you could bet the farm that he was. Travis sighed. “All right, I’ll send Team 9 in to relieve your men in the van. Keep me appraised of the situation.”

Vin had dosed off. The heat in the silo had decreased somewhat, signaling that the sun was going down. He was desperately, achingly thirsty. His head was pounding. It felt like someone was trying to tunnel their way out of his skull with tiny, little jackhammers. He winced and cursed as he resumed trying to loosen the ropes that bound his hands.


The people from the compound assembled their convoy again the next day. Jim Kline, the leader of Team 9, radioed to the agents at the gate to search the cars as they entered the roadway. Each car was identically filled with boxes and each box was filled with clothing or books. Judge Travis was becoming angry, he did not like being made to look foolish and these people were doing just that.

Buck called Chris early that evening. “Josiah hasn’t been back to his place and the door was kicked in at Ezra’s place the other night. The Jag is still on the lot and we haven’t found Josiah’s suburban anywhere. Do you want us to keep looking?”

“No, Josiah will call me when he’s ready. He’s with Ezra and hopefully they can work out whatever is bothering him. I’d sure hate to lose Ezra, he is the best at what he does.”

“JD is worried sick about them both. How’d things go with the Judge today?”

Chris sighed, the people in the compound had gotten a lawyer and gotten an injunction to prevent the harassment of their people by the ATF agents. There was the veiled threat of a lawsuit hanging over Travis’s head if they violated the injunction.

Vin’s head jerked up as he heard cars passing the silo. Enraged that they were leaving him there to die, he pulled harder at his bonds, screaming in pain as the ropes tore into his flesh. As the blood flowed from his wrists, the ropes finally began to slip. With a last yell, his hands slipped free of the bonds and flopped loosely at his sides.

Ignoring the tearing pain in his shoulder, Vin drew his hands up and tried to push himself up off of the grain. His hands only sank into the grain up to his elbows. Finally, in frustration, he rolled onto his back and passed out.


Ezra mumbled in his sleep and shifted uncomfortably on the strange bed. He still had not spoken or responded to Josiah. The only time he tolerated being touched was when he was asleep. He had actually become hysterical when his friend tried to change him out of his sweat soaked pajamas.

Josiah had gently eased the younger man into a sitting position and tugged the nightshirt up his back. As soon as his hands touched bare skin, Ezra began to scream and flail against Josiah. His eyes were open, but there was no recognition in their depths. The nightshirt entangled his arms and only served to increase his panic. Sanchez did the only thing he could do, he continued to try to ease the shirt off, freeing the hands that sought to push him away.

As soon as the shirt came free, Ezra wrapped his arms around his ribs and shuddered. Josiah eased off of the bed and picked up the clean shirt. Holding it in front of the unseeing eyes, he spoke softly.

“Ezra, put this on. Okay? Come on now, put the dry shirt on and you can go back to sleep.”

Whether it was his voice or the sight of the shirt before his eyes, Ezra finally stretched out a tentative hand and took the nightshirt. Trembling violently, he pulled it on and retreated into the blankets again. When Josiah sat on the edge of the bed and reached out to touch the southerner, he jumped and lay shaking under the gentle hand. After several moments, the shaking stopped and the breathing deepened.

Josiah sat at Ezra’s side as he slept. He managed to coax some soup into the reluctant agent when he woke the next time. Josiah suspected it was purely in self-defense though; he had threatened to pour it down his throat if he didn’t eat it on his own. Knowing that if he made the larger man to force him to eat that it would require direct, physical contact between them, Ezra had meekly consumed the soup. Almost immediately after he finished the soup, his eyelids drooped and he eased back into the pillow.

He was at the warehouse again. An assortment of vehicles was haphazardly parked on the unlined lot. His eyes scanned the area quickly. He was beginning to regret not contacting Mr. Larabee to tell him that they had moved up the meeting. As the other men got out of the car, some inner sense told Ezra that something was wrong. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end as someone pushed him from behind.

The green eyes popped open and he grasped Josiah’s hand. He calmed slightly when he saw the familiar face. “What happened?”

“Which time? Ezra, you tried to kill yourself. You woke up yesterday and completely wigged out when I touched you. You have been crying in your sleep and you won’t tell anyone what’s bothering you.”

Ezra digested all of the information before he turned away. “I don’t want to die, Josiah, I just want the screams to stop. I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I don’t want to talk about what happened, I just want to forget.”

Chris, Nathan, Buck and JD crept along the fence surrounding the compound. In the near dark, they stumbled as they searched for some sign of their missing friend. Using night-vision glasses, they scanned the fields and the trees. By the time they came to the gravel road that came out of the other side of the compound, they had passed so close to Vin’s bike that they could have touched it if they had reached out.

Chris and Buck climbed the gate and entered the compound while Nathan and JD continued on around the perimeter. In the nearly moonless night, the men had to rely heavily on the night-vision glasses. Buck noticed the broken round bales along the fence but it didn’t mean anything to him.

Nathan and JD crept along the fence. Both men were keenly aware of the danger if they were spotted. JD heard something and stopped suddenly. His head turned slowly, letting the cup of his ear capture the dull tapping sound. Nathan stopped when he realized that the young agent was not following him. Returning to JD’s side he studied the pale face.

“What is it?”

“I heard something. A knocking or tapping sound.” JD scanned the compound with the night-vision glasses. “There’s a silo over there. I wish we could get in there and look around.”

Nathan pulled out his cell phone and dialed Chris.

Larabee jumped like he had been shot when the phone rang in his pocket. Hissing and cussing under his breath, he ripped the offensive instrument from his pocket. Seeing that it was Nathan’s number was the only thing that prevented him from ripping the battery out of the phone.


“Chris, JD heard something coming from that silo about fifteen degrees west of your position. Is there any way you can get there to check it out?”

Larabee’s head lifted as he scanned the westward horizon. “Yeah, We’ll check it out. Make sure your phone is set to vibrate, you scared the shit out of me just now.”

“Okay boss.” Nathan chuckled softly as he closed the phone and checked to see that it was set to vibrate instead of ring. “Come on, JD, let’s see if we can find anything else.”

Josiah watched as Ezra rolled away from him and pulled the blankets tightly around himself. He had scarcely touched his supper and had retreated into silence immediately afterward. Finally, the tension left his shoulders and his breathing deepened as he slept. At least he had admitted that he didn’t want to die, that was a good sign. If only he would talk about what had him so upset.

Buck and Chris reached the edge of the clearing where the silo stood. Like JD, they could hear the steady thumping noise. The only thing keeping them from getting closer to the structure was the light mounted on the side, which illuminated the entire clearing. They would have no cover.

Peter and Kim jogged down the gravel road. They had snuck away from the big house after lights out. The pair of young lovers was headed for the haystack near the far perimeter fence. They had brought a blanket so they could make out. Kim Hagan knew her father would beat her if he found out that she was fooling around with Peter.

Buck grabbed Chris by the shoulder as soon as he saw the kids top the hill. Unfortunately, Chris fell, knocking down several corn stalks. Both men fell to the ground on their stomachs and prayed that the kids had neither seen nor heard them.

Peter grabbed Kim and jerked her to a stop as his sharp eyes scanned the clearing.

“There’s someone in the field! Quick, run and get the others! Go!” He shouted at the girl to shake her out of her frozen stare. Peter watched as Kim ran back toward the house before dropping the blanket and pulling the pistol from his waistband. He cautiously approached the end of the row of corn stalks.

Chris pulled himself up to Buck’s ear. “I don’t want to have to kill that kid. See if you can get behind him and knock him on the head or something.” He released his friend and watched him as he crawled away.

Peter pointed the gun at the fallen stalks and crept closer. The snub-nosed 38 trembled in his hands as he stared intently at the plants hoping for a glimpse of whatever he’d heard. He heard the rustle of the stalks moving and jerked the gun toward the sound.

Buck darted into the clearing as Chris created the diversion. He grabbed the boy with one hand and struck the back of his head with the butt of his gun with the other. Unfortunately, the last thought Peter had caused him to squeeze the trigger of the gun.

Vin jumped upright as he heard the gunshot. His heart leapt into his throat as he strained to hear what was happening. He struggled to his knees and began to beat on the sides of the silo with his pocketknife, the only weapon they hadn’t taken from him when they imprisoned him in the silo.

Buck dropped the boy and turned as he heard the banging from inside the silo again. Hard on that sound came the baying cry of dogs being turned out. He looked up as Chris left the end of the row and both men ran for the gate.

Vin heard the dogs barking and pounded harder on the silo. He heard the sound of footfalls on the gravel road. The next sound he heard caused him to dive away from the silo wall as it was the sound of a shotgun being pumped. Suddenly, several new holes appeared in the silo wall where he had been kneeling only a moment before.

Chris and Buck dove into the bushes as the rifle discharged. In the dim moonlight, they could see several men with dogs walking the fence. The dogs continued to bay and pull at the leashes as they followed the scent of the intruders. As Buck was backing away from the fence, his foot struck the dirt bike in the bushes and it fell over. Both men rolled quickly and ran off at in a crouch.

Jonathan stood over Peter as his father eased him up from the ground. He hadn’t missed the quilt lying on the road. His mouth set in a tight line as he glared at the boy he knew had defiled his daughter. The others returned from the fence, rolling the dirt bike.


Ezra woke up and stared at the unfamiliar wall. ‘Where in the world am I now?’ He struggled to remember if he was on an assignment or not. Rolling onto his back, he glanced around the room. ‘A hovel. I am in some kind of hovel.’ He couldn’t remember what assignment he was on.

Finally, he noticed the soft snoring coming from the far side of the room. The early morning sunlight streamed from that direction and the undercover agent had been unwilling to waken enough to look in that direction. Shading his eyes with one hand, he saw Josiah sprawled out on a bed at the other side of the room.

Ezra’s eyes finally fell upon the bedside table. The take-out food boxes and the cup that the soup had been poured into caught his attention. The past few days suddenly slammed into his mind like a freight train and he gasped.

Josiah opened his eyes immediately at the startled, anguished gasp from the other side of the room. Rolling quickly out of bed, he stumbled as the blankets wrapped around his feet. After kicking free of the encumbrance, he cautiously approached the other bed.

“Hey, Ezra. You all right?”

For a moment, Josiah thought Ezra might break down and cry but, as he watched, the poker face slid into place. Only the light sheen of sweat on his upper lip betrayed the calm exterior.

“Mr. Sanchez, where are we and why are we here?”

“What is the last thing you remember?”

Ezra looked away. “Going to sleep in my bed.”

“That’s the way you remember it?” He didn’t miss the slight blanch that crossed the younger man’s face. “You don’t remember me coming into the apartment? You don’t remember why I was there?”

“I don’t want to talk about it, Josiah. I’m tired and hungry and I desperately need to shower and shave.”

He caught the slip from the formal to the familiar as Ezra used his first name. “You need to talk about it. Leaving it festering inside is only going to keep you hurting. Can you honestly tell me that you don’t remember what you were doing before you went to sleep the other night?”

Ezra picked at the blankets before glaring at his hand for betraying the emotional turmoil he was feeling. His mother’s words echoed in his mind, ‘You can’t trust anyone except yourself’ and ‘Emotional entanglements are to be avoided at all costs, no one will ever give you something for nothing’.

“If I tell you, will you promise not to tell them?”

“Depends on what you tell me. Ezra, you’ve been acting really strange and everyone is worried sick about you. There isn’t anything you can say that will change their feelings about you.”

“I won’t tell you unless you promise not to tell them. I can’t take everyone knowing.”

“As long as it isn’t something that will endanger them later.”

Ezra considered the offer. “Okay. But you can’t say anything until it’s all out. You can’t ask any questions. And you have to keep hold of me, okay?”

Josiah tightened his grip on Ezra’s hand.

“My cover was blown and they took me at gunpoint to this factory building. But it wasn’t a factory, it was some kind of rave or something. There were all these teenagers, dancing and partying. They took me to the basement.”

He fell silent for a few minutes as he organized his thoughts. He checked to make sure that he had a firm grip on Josiah’s hand.

“They brought down these two boys and they forced me to watch while they…”

Josiah’s stomach rolled, “Ezra, don’t.”

“You promised. They forced me to watch while they raped the boys and killed them. They eviscerated them.” Ezra’s breathing quickened and he shuddered. He couldn’t close his eyes without seeing it happening all over again. “Then they came for me. They held me down…and they…and they…Oh, God, Josiah! They…hurt me…so bad.”

Ezra’s body was drenched in sweat as his mind replayed the pain and horror. He gave in to the wracking sobs again. Josiah didn’t think about it, he gathered Ezra against his chest and rocked him gently.

Chris paced in Judge Travis’s office as he waited to see if they could get a warrant to search the area around the silo. He was certain that Vin was in there, especially after Buck kicked over his dirt bike as they were trying to get away.

Kim whimpered as she got dressed that morning. Her father had followed her back to the house and taken her to the barn. He had beaten her with his belt for half an hour. She could still feel the places where her gown was stuck to the newly formed scabs on her lower back and hips. The worst part of the whole ordeal had been when Peter’s father had dragged him into the barn and proceeded to beat him with a riding crop. Her father had slapped her repeatedly in the face as she screamed for Peter.

Vin used his knife to try to connect some of the holes that the buckshot had made in the silo wall. He hoped to be able to get out of the silo that way. He flinched as the corrugated metal cut his hands yet again. None of the cuts were deep, but they stung every time he wiped the sweat from his face.

For nearly an hour, Ezra simply leaned against Josiah and sobbed. After the sobbing eased, he actually tightened his arms around the older man and clung to him.

“Every time one of you touched me I felt, dirty and disgusting. I took shower after scalding bath. Every time I closed my eyes I could f-f-feel them holding me down. I hear the screams in my sleep. First the two boys and then my own. And you, Chris and the others asking me what happened. I wanted to scream at you all to leave me alone. I don’t want to be afraid anymore, Josiah. Every day at work, I kept thinking that I could just go on with my life like it never happened, but I can’t. I don’t know how.”

Josiah gently massaged circles on Ezra’s back as he fought to control his own emotions. Of all the situations the undercover agent had been in, of all the injuries he had suffered, the shame of his own violation was the thing that nearly cost him his life. He knew he would never tell the others what had happened to Ezra. It was too deeply personal a thing to share even with the people who cared about him most.

When Ezra finally pushed away from Josiah he realized that he did feel a little better. Perhaps it was time to begin to trust someone else. He knew that those men would lay down their lives for him. He accepted it on an intellectual level, it was part of the job, but on a purely emotional level he had never realized or accepted what that could mean.

Judge Travis stormed into the office and flung the folder across his desk. He looked into the hazel eyes of the leader of Team 7 and shook his head. “They won’t give it to me. The injunction stands, we can’t go onto the compound unless we can provide hard proof that they are holding Tanner. You are hereby ordered to avoid all contact with the people in the compound.”

“Damn, do they understand that he’s been missing for three days now? He was alive last night, he may not be much longer if we don’t get in there and get him out! I can’t just sit here and leave my man out there!”

“Chris, calm down. I don’t like it any better than you do, but my hands are tied for now.”

Even before Judge Travis had completed his sentence, Larabee had slammed the door.

Vin kicked at the metal while holding himself up by using the cross beams in the ceiling. He felt the metal pop as the sections he had not been able to cut thru gave way. The next blow caused the metal to begin to bend outward. After several more kicks, the opening was clear. He dropped carefully, reaching for the hole in case he sank in the loose grain. Pulling himself out of the opening, he dropped the ten or twelve feet to the ground.

Josiah could see that Standish was still mulling over the situation and decided to give him some time and space to think. He slipped out of the room and sent someone to get breakfast for the two of them. When he came back, Ezra was sitting on the edge of the bed running his hands thru his hair.

So much of the undercover agent’s behavior over the past couple of weeks made sense now. Shame at what had happened had driven him to check into the other hospital and hide from his co-workers. Shame and fear had put the barbs on the walls he had built around himself. The fear and the strange body language that the others had noticed suddenly seemed perfectly clear. He looked up to see that Ezra was staring at him.

“You want to talk about it some more?”

“Not yet, Josiah. What I would really like is a shower and shave and then a nice, hot breakfast. What day is it anyway?”

“It’s Monday. You were pretty much out of it Saturday and Sunday.”

The soft knock at the door distracted Josiah from saying anything else. He told the kid to share the food with his friends and took only the two cups of coffee back into the room with him. Handing one to Ezra, he sat down with the other cup and blew on it for a moment while feeling around on the floor with his feet for his shoes.

The remaining members of Team 7 met in the conference room. Regardless of what the judge had said, they were going to try to rescue Vin. They piled into Buck’s truck and headed out.

After Ezra had showered and put on clean clothes, both men climbed into the suburban and sought a restaurant to get that hot breakfast that Ezra wanted. <<<<<<



When the convoy left the compound, the ATF agents could only watch helplessly as the cars drove past them. They followed the cars into the city limits of Denver. The convoy assembled around the ATF building in the middle of the day. The Denver police converged on the group to remove them. No one noticed the delivery truck as it left the compound and headed for the courthouse.

Vin stumbled over to the pump at the edge of the clearing. He looked skyward as he prayed for it to work. As the first jets of water shot out of the spigot, Tanner wept for joy. He dropped to his knees and stuck his face in the cold, clear water. When he had drunk his fill, he got slowly to his feet. In spite of his hunger, he felt like he could take on the world.

Buck brought the truck to a stop and stared at the open gate. Just as he was turning to Chris to ask what he wanted to do, JD yelled.

“There’s Vin! Buck, do you see him? It’s Vin!” The young agent leapt from the bed of the truck and raced to Tanner’s side. The others jumped from the cab and followed him. The sharpshooter all but collapsed into JD’s arms as the excited youth tackled him.

Vin looked at Chris and the memory of what he had seen the other night came pouring out.

“Chris, they’re using a delivery truck! They have barrels and barrels of fertilizer and chemicals! The convoy of cars is just a distraction! They’re using the UPS delivery truck! The barrels were here all along, in the round bales, that’s why we couldn’t find them!”

Nathan noticed the bloody cuts on Vin’s hands and forearms and reached for him. “Chris, he needs tending to and we gotta get out of here. Let’s get out of here.”

Chris was on the phone with the judge before Buck made it to the highway.

“Judge Travis, Larabee here. The convoy is a decoy. They’re using a delivery truck to haul the bomb! Vin saw it the other night. They’ve got a UPS truck!”

Looking out the window, Orrin Travis felt his throat go dry. A UPS truck sat in front of the building and the driver was just climbing out. “Oh my God!”

Chris heard the startled cry and then a muffled explosion before the line went dead. Out of the corner of his eye, Buck saw his friend pale.

“Buck, they hit our building.” <<<<<<



During breakfast, Josiah saw the news report about the explosion at the Federal Building. Pulling out his cell phone, he called Chris.


“Chris, it’s Josiah. Is everyone all right? I just saw the news report.”

“Yeah, we’re fine. What about you? Ezra’s with you, isn’t he?”

“We’re okay.” He let his gaze rest on the undercover agent for a moment. “Is there anything we can do? Do you know how bad it is?”

“I don’t know anything yet, Josiah. We were at the compound when it blew. I know that the Judge was in the building. We’re going to try to find Evie and Mary. Are you coming in?”

“I don’t know if Ezra’s ready for that, Chris. Let me ask him and I’ll call you back.”

“What happened to him, Josiah?” Getting no answer, Larabee felt his hackles rising. “Where are you? We went by your place and by Standish’s.”

“I’ll have to call you back, Chris.”

As the line went dead in his hand, Buck’s truck came to a stop at the roadblock that the police had set up several blocks from the building. Flashing his badge and ID, Chris asked where the families were gathering. The officer radioed and told them to go to the Convention Center building.

Josiah turned to watch the newscaster as he explained what little information they had on the situation.

“Ezra? Do you think you can go with me down there? Chris said that the judge was in the building and he’s going to be with Mary and Evie until they get word.”

The newscaster cut to a reporter who was at the Convention Center. The scene was a mad house filled with people hugging and hanging on each other and crying. Ezra shuddered at the thought of all those people crowding around him. A moment later, the first of the injured was shown being loaded into an ambulance and the southerner bolted from the table.

Josiah pulled his phone and called Chris back.

“I’m going to need a few vacation days, Chris. I can’t tell you any more than that. Please tell Mary and Evie that we are thinking about them and I hope that the judge is all right. You’ll just have to trust me on this one. I have to go now. Please call me when you find out anything.”

Ezra returned from the restroom looking pale and clutching his stomach.

“Mr. Larabee is not happy?”

Josiah chuckled. “Your habit of irritating him may have rubbed off on me.”

“I appreciate you not telling him.”

“I said I wouldn’t and I won’t.”

“Have they any information on the judge yet?”

“Not yet. I told him I’d leave my phone on so he can call me. Do you want to try to eat something else?”

Ezra blanched as he watched the television. “I don’t think I could keep it down. Perhaps it would be better if we returned to the mission so I can lay back down.”

Chris filled the others in on Josiah and Ezra on the way. He and the others flashed their badges to gain entry to the Convention Center. It took only a few minutes for them to find the Travis women. Mary immediately buried her face in Chris’s chest as soon as she saw him. Buck enveloped Evie in his arms as she finally broke down. The two women had been putting on their brave faces for each other.

Nathan touched Chris on the shoulder and gestured toward Vin. When Chris nodded, he led the younger man toward a folding chair and set out the first aid kit he had taken from behind the seat of Buck’s truck. JD followed Vin and took the chair next to him as Nathan began to clean the small cuts on Tanner’s hands and arms.

A few minutes later, Casey threw herself into JD’s arms, sobbing. Nettie stood behind her niece with tears streaming down her cheeks as she watched Nathan tending to Vin.

JD pushed Casey away and held her by the shoulders. “Casey, what’s wrong?”

“Oh, JD, we saw the news report and we were afraid you might have been in the building! I was so afraid I would never see you again!” She buried her face in his chest and cried again.

Vin looked up at Nettie. “How’d you two get in here? I thought they were only letting family in.”

“Have you forgotten that you listed me as your emergency contact? Casey is shown on JD’s file and so they let both of us in to wait for news.”

Nathan finished cleaning the wounds on Vin’s arms and moved out of the way as the young man wrapped his arms around Nettie Wells and buried his face in her stomach. The stress of the past few days poured out of him as he broke down and cried.

Chris steered Mary and Evie to the chairs next to the others and went to try to find out how the information would be distributed regarding the injured and deceased. Nathan went to get something for Vin to eat, knowing that he hadn’t had anything for the past few days.

“Where are Josiah and Ezra?” Mary asked when she realized that they weren’t there.

“Ezra wasn’t feeling well and Josiah was staying with him for the past few days. They called as soon as they heard. Ezra wasn’t feeling up to being around people. Josiah said to tell you that he was praying for you and for the judge.” Buck explained.

Josiah borrowed a portable television and carried it to the room he and Ezra were using. He cruised the channels, catching as much information as he could about the damage to the building and the people. It didn’t look that bad from what he could tell. The reports said that the fire department was confident that the building was structurally sound and that there wouldn’t be the catastrophic collapse that had devastated the Oklahoma City building.

Some time after one in the afternoon, a police officer approached Evie and told her that the judge had been transported to the hospital with only minor cuts from the window that had shattered in his office. Chris volunteered to drive them to the hospital while the rest of the team followed in Buck’s truck.

Nathan called Josiah to let him know that the judge was all right.

By the time darkness descended on Denver, the tally of the deaths was surprisingly low. One security guard was killed along with one man who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The driver of the truck, a man identified as Jonathan Hagan, was also killed.

The five members of Team 7 sat in the bar toasting the fickle hand of fate. Who ever had set up the bomb had mixed the chemicals incorrectly, resulting in a much smaller explosion than they had hoped for. It would only take a few days to replace the broken glass and repair the minor damage to the front of the building. Because their office was on the other side of the building, they were undamaged.

Josiah turned off the television and settled down to sleep.

That night was a precursor for the days to come. Ezra slept for only a few hours before he awoke, screaming and shaking. Josiah couldn’t touch him until he had come out from under the nightmare because Ezra was strong enough to hurt him.

Josiah waited until Ezra was asleep again before settling into the chair in the corner. He wanted to be there when the nightmares began in the hope of waking him or comforting him before it got too bad.

It started almost the moment he closed his eyes. He could feel the vibration of the music pouring from the speakers. He could see the dancers under the strobe lights. The pungent smell of beer and sweat and illicit drugs hung thick in the air, his nose twitched. He felt something hard shoved into his ribs as a firm hand took hold of his arm.

“This way, Agent Standish.”

He had blinked hard at that statement. Suddenly, he knew his cover had been blown. He felt the hand that crept around and relieved him of his gun. Someone shoved him from behind and he stumbled into a young woman.

She couldn’t have been more than 17 or 18. The white halter-top she wore was a stark contrast to the deep tan and dark eyes. She reached out and wrapped her arms around his neck as her body molded itself to his. Her lips sought his and Ezra remembered the taste and smell of her.

The woman was shoved away from him as he was led to the stairs. His mind raced as he tried to figure a way out of the predicament he found himself in. Scanning the building for exits as he was shoved down the steps, he was dazed by the blow to the back of his head.

When his vision cleared, he was in a cavernous room. The music was somewhat muted. His hands were cuffed behind his back around a steel beam. He allowed a small smile to cross his face, if they thought they could hold Ezra P. Standish with his own handcuffs, they had better think again.

Then they brought in the two young men. Standing just at the edge of the circle of light, they began to beat the captives. He could hear the blows falling and groans of pain. Finally, one of the boys began to plead for them to stop. Ezra closed his eyes as the battered, half naked body was thrown directly into the circle of light.

The man who had been his contact stepped into the light. The glint of the knife struck Ezra’s eyes as he knelt down and rolled the boy onto his back.

The sudden change in Ezra’s breathing signaled the beginning of the nightmare. Josiah called his name as he approached the bed. He carefully reached out and touched Ezra on the shoulder. The undercover agent struggled against the blankets. Josiah removed the heavy comforter from the bed and let it fall to the floor. He noticed that Ezra had both hands wrapped tightly around the spindles on the headboard. Gently, he pried Ezra’s hands from the spindles. Immediately, he clasped Josiah’s hand.

The green eyes sprang open as the gasp of terror stuck in Ezra’s throat. His breathing was coming in ragged heaves as he scanned the room before settling on Josiah.

“Dear God. I simply cannot go thru this again.” Ezra’s voice was a hoarse whisper.

Josiah watched as Ezra sank back into the pillow and wrapped his arms tightly around his ribs as he shook. Unable to close his eyes, Standish lay staring at the ceiling as the headlights of the cars on the street below cast moving shadows. Sanchez waited to see if his young friend would talk about the dream but dozed off a couple of hours later, leaving Ezra alone with his demons.