Josiah wandered into the office a couple of hours later and saw Buck working
hard, surrounded by piles of paper and dirty mugs of coffee. The man moved
to stand beside the dark-haired agent and leant on the desk as he tried to
see what Buck was doing. Although the profiler hadn't been involved in their
current investigation, Vin had kept him up-to-date with events. "Bucklin?
Anythin' interesting?" the big man asked hopefully.
"I'll say. I could really do with yer input, pard, 'cause I'm getting
real confused," Buck replied. "This is the case that Ez was working on when
he was working for the FBI. I was just thinking about visiting one of the
gang members in jail 'cause he might be able to help. I'd quite like to get
the word from the horse's mouth 'cause this whole situation is weird, and
you never know we might learn something new if we ask the right questions
given what we now know." The ladies' man turned to face Josiah and looked
"Son? What's up?"
"I did some searches on the Internet on suicides and mind control drugs,
and found a link to a government scientist who was looking at how to use
drugs to induce enemy agents to murder their own comrades." Buck could see
Josiah frowning so he tried to explain what he meant. "Look, say one of our
agents makes contact with a foreign agent, drugs them and then leaves a message
in his mind so that the enemy agent would kill off his own colleagues. It
would be a huge advantage to us 'cause they could kill off agents we didn't
even know about and save us losing our own good men in the field if
we tried to get rid of our enemies in the usual ways. The drugged agent would
probably be killed off by this own side because they would think he was a
traitor. It's a perfect setup. Do you understand what I'm saying?" the ladies'
man asked, not sure if he'd made himself clear.
"Yeah, I get what yer saying, son," Josiah agreed as he patted the seated
man's back gently.
"Well, the chief scientist was caught using the information he'd gained from
the experiments for his own purposes but he disappeared before they could
arrest him. The scientist had apparently started doing tests on live humans
before he'd really finalized things. He used his test subjects to try and
perfect the dosage needed and then set them off to kill his rivals. He wasn't
successful every time but enough to make a difference to the science world.
Once the drugs effects wore off, the test subjects remembered nothing of
what they'd done. The government didn't realize what he was doing until it
was too late, but when they found out, they were gonna stop funding the project
and close it down. When they went to check all the notes of his experiments,
they saw he'd started trying to find a way of getting subjects to commit
suicide too, which definitely wasn't part of his remit. He was just taking
his research one step further, I reckon. All sounds faintly familiar, don't
Josiah shifted so that he was now sitting on the edge of the desk. "Sure
does. Just like what was done to Ezra. How long ago were these experiments
"Same time as the original FBI case, but there's more information about him
from last year too. One of the FBI agents had been looking back at the original
drugs case and comparing the details with a new case he was working on to
do with lots of unexplained deaths of prominent people. He was also checking
up on Stokes to try and tie him in to both cases. Rather like we're doing
now. Don't know why he thought the cases were linked 'cause Stokes
ain't mentioned at all in the original FBI case files, but perhaps he'd had
a tip-off. Anyway, his bosses certainly weren't happy that he was reopening
what was considered a closed case. As it happens, the agent was murdered
before he could really dig too far, so that put a convenient end to the
investigation. No-one else bothered to continue looking into it and it was
shelved. Six months after the agent's murder, Ezra was drugged, and then
two months after that the suicides of the other agents began, which is
interesting I think you'll agree. And another thing I found out was that
the scientist is related to our good doctor. That kinda ties things together
nicely in a roundabout way, don't it?"
"Sounds like it, son. Now we just need to tie Stokes in to the FBI case somehow
and finish off what that agent started, once and for all. You've done some
good work, Bucklin. Well done. Do ya fancy some company on yer jail visit?"
"I thought you were needed in court."
"I was, but the case has been delayed 'cause the judge has granted extra
time for the prosecution to look at some new evidence."
"Oh, well, I'd appreciate yer company then in that case, pard. Just need
to collect some things together to take with me and I'd better update Vin
again before we go."
Josiah was still mulling over what he'd been told. "Did they never look into
who killed the FBI agent?"
"Yes, but they just assumed it to be a random killing and no one was ever
convicted for it."
"Seems there's still a lot of work to do. From one case, it now looks like
we're trying to solve about three," Josiah observed as Buck disappeared to
do his chores.
JD wandered in and smiled at Josiah before sitting at his desk to start work
again. Buck came bustling back in and turned with Josiah to leave.
"Hey! Where ya goin'?" JD asked as he stood up.
"Jail, to question a gang member from the FBI case."
"Jeez. I always miss out on all the fun. Always get here too late, don't
I?" the youngster said as he flopped down on his chair and crossed his arms
irritably. All he needed was a pout and he would have completed the picture
of a disgruntled child.
Buck took pity on him. "Look, kid. Do somethin' for me instead, will ya?
Find Dr. Banks who was part of the Stokes experiments. Talk to him and see
if you can learn anything useful. We need to link Stokes to the drugs gang
and Ezra's problems in some way, other than the fact that Stokes and Benson
are related. If we can't, then at least we can close that line of inquiry.
I just ain't got time to try that angle now. It's a long shot but we need
to try every avenue that's open to us. All the details ya need are in that
JD immediately perked up. "Sure, I can do that. Good luck and make sure they
don't keep you locked up at the jail. One look at yer face and they might
mistake you for a criminal."
"Yeah, yeah, very funny, kid. Well, I've got my personal bouncer with me
so that ain't likely to happen," Buck replied as he looked up and smiled
The two men set off on their quest and on arrival they were shown through
to a room where the prisoner was already waiting for them. Buck sat down
opposite him and offered him a cigarette. The man took one and Buck lit it
for him, and after allowing the prisoner time to savor the tobacco, Buck
began questioning him.
"You've got another ten years to serve, ain't ya? Well, if you can help us
with the answers to a few questions, I'll see if I can get that reduced."
Buck stared at the man and received a nod of agreement from him. The agent
then placed a tape recorder on the table and switched it on as Josiah stood
and looked out the window for a short while.
"Are you aware that all but one of the agents involved in your arrest have
all died in mysterious circumstances over the past year?"
The man was silent for a minute before nodding. "Yeah, I'd heard and I tell
you I ain't crying over their deaths. If I ever find out who did it, I'll
shake his hand."
Buck growled angrily but kept his cool. "Well, it can't have been anyone
involved in your gang 'cause they were all caught."
"No, they weren't," the prisoner replied matter-of-factly and in a slightly
Buck looked startled and almost started flicking through the case files to
check. He stilled his hand though and frowned at the man opposite him. "Who
did they miss then?"
"He was caught. Logan, wasn't it?" the mustached man said in confusion.
"Nah, he was a boss but not the boss. Don't know who the real
boss was but he was someone high-powered and influential."
"Why wasn't he mentioned at the trial?" Josiah asked quietly.
"Why bother? Didn't know who he was, did I? Logan wouldn't have said nothing
either 'cause he was scared shitless of him."
The ladies' man tried another tangent. "Do you know either of these two men?
Did they have any dealings with your gang?" Buck asked as he pushed two photos
toward the man.
The prisoner studied them carefully and then pointed to the scientist. "This
one. I saw him once or twice at the base. Real evil bastard from what I recall."
"What's his name?"
"Percival Stokes. Yeah, I forgot all about him 'til now."
"What part did he play?" Josiah asked from where he now stood lounging against
the wall near the window. He tried to keep the obvious interest out of his
tone but he couldn't help standing up a bit straighter when the man had linked
Stokes to the gang.
"He was an assassin, but not in the usual sense."
"What the hell does that mean?" Josiah snapped as he moved toward the man
ominously before being waved away by Buck.
"He didn't do no killing himself."
"You said he was an assassin. How could he not kill anyone?" Buck asked,
drawing the man toward the answer he hoped to hear.
"He programmed others to kill for him. He didn't get no blood on his hands."
Buck looked over at Josiah interestedly and raised his eyebrows as he pursed
his lips. He turned back to the man seated opposite him and hoped to learn
something else of use.
"Go on then, don't stop now. How did he do it?"
"Mind control drugs, I think."
"Who did he drug?" Josiah interjected.
"Drug addicts. He offered them free drugs but gave them his drugs instead
of what they were expecting. He gave them somewhere to sleep and promised
to help them give up their addiction. Suckers."
"Who did they murder?"
"Rival gangs and people who campaigned against drugs. We weren't suspected
of any of the killings at all. Some of the addicts who did the killing were
inevitably caught but the police thought they had murdered to finance their
drug habits. It worked like a dream."
The profiler moved across the room and said, "Stokes wasn't caught when your
gang was busted either. Why didn't you mention him at the trial?"
"I ain't no grass."
"Really? Thought that's what you were doin' now," Buck said wryly.
"Yeah, well, I ain't got no links with him now so I don't care," the man
said, trying to justify his actions but knowing he'd failed miserably.
"Do you know what Stokes is doing now?" Josiah asked.
"Heard he's still in business. Think he's turned his attention to killing
off cops and Judges now. Going up in the world, ain't he?"
"Does he work alone?" the profiler asked curiously.
"Not usually. He tried to distance himself as much as possible and get others
to do his dirty work for him."
Buck nodded and then asked, "Do you think he could be responsible for killing
off the FBI agents?"
The man shrugged. "How did they die exactly?"
The man looked thoughtful and then pursed his lips while frowning. "Well,
Stokes was always boasting about somethin' he was working on as another sideline.
He had fingers in God knows how many pies. He worked for us, but he was doing
official research for the government at the same time and his unofficial
research too. Think it had somethin' to do with suicide from what I remember
so he may well be the one you want."
"How did you get to hear that the FBI agents were dead?" Josiah asked as
he watched the man closely.
"I still got people who visit that tell me what's going on," the man mumbled
as he stared at the much taller man.
Buck tried another tangent. "This Stokes fella, has he gotten an acquaintance
called Adam Benson?"
The man was quiet as he thought long and hard. "Yeah, he used to be a doctor,
I think. He's the sorta person who would work with Stokes; someone who don't
give a shit about what he's asked to do."
Buck asked, "Did you ever see Benson?"
"Well, he's the fella in the other photo and is related to Stokes."
"Figures. Stokes liked to keep things in the family. Even got his wife, or
should I say ex-wife, involved on occasion. He was a callous sonofabitch."
"Do you know where we can find Stokes now?"
"Nah. Never had much contact with him before and he always contacted the
boss, never the other way round. He had a special number that he used that
could never be tracked back to him. Don't know how, but that's what I was
told." The man shrugged. "He's still in town though from what I hear, but
moves about a lot to stay one step ahead of the opposition."
That special number he mentioned sounds rather like the number that was
used to call Ezra, Buck thought to himself.
Buck looked at Josiah and stood up after turning off the cassette recorder.
"Thanks for yer help. We may be back if we need to learn anything else but
I'll put in a good word with the parole board, not," Buck said as he turned
and walked away as the man began shouting angrily.
+ + + + + + +
Back at the office, Nathan had arrived back from his session at the hospital.
"Hey, kid. What you up to?"
"Gotta track down the man who was in charge of the drug experiments that
Stokes was doing for the government."
"Any luck?" the medic asked as he collected a mug of coffee and sipped it
"Not yet, but I've just been given another number to try. Ninety-ninth time
lucky, eh?" the youngster grinned as he picked up the phone once more.
JD punched in the number and Nathan eventually heard him talking to Dr. Banks
and arranging a meeting. The man was fortunately still in Denver so he wouldn't
have far to travel to see him.
"Can I come too?" Nathan asked as JD rang off.
"Sure. Why should Buck and Josiah get all the outings?" the kid said as he
rose from his seat.
He accompanied Nathan down to the parking garage and climbed into the man's
Explorer. The medic pulled out onto the street and followed JD's directions.
The youngster was still thinking deeply about their problem. "Nate? Why do
ya reckon they tried to kill Ez first? Why kill him at all seeing as he left
the FBI years ago?"
"I really don't know, JD. Belated revenge or they may have assumed that the
murdered FBI agent had contacted his old colleagues when he began digging
into the case again. As to why Ezra was targeted first; he lived alone and
the house was empty for a good part of the day. Bet he was the easiest. The
rest may have had families so it wouldn't have been so easy to get into their
homes without being seen."
"Yeah, you're probably right. We don't yet know how they targeted the other
agents either. May have used different methods altogether for all we know."
"Yeah, we've only gotten evidence of how Ezra was drugged to go on. Seems
they would have resorted to any lengths to reach their goal though. Don't
seem like they've got any morals."
JD nodded as he looked out the window and pointed out the bar that he'd agreed
to meet Banks in. Nathan drew in the front and parked. They walked inside
and went to the only customer there in the hope that he was the correct person.
"Dr. Banks? I'm John Dunne. I called earlier. This is a colleague of mine;
The man stood and shook hands before indicating the empty chairs near him.
"Take a seat and ask whatever you wanna know."
JD smiled and got straight down to business. "What can you tell me about
"Other than that he was a bastard, ya mean? We didn't get on and I wouldn't
have trusted him as far as I could throw him. There was just somethin' nasty
about him. He was always secretive and the fact he was caught doing what
he did don't surprise me at all."
"Do you know any of his associates?" Nathan asked hopefully.
"Well, I brought a list of everyone's names who worked with us. You may recognize
someone but I can point out two people he was real buddy-buddy with, but
neither of them were implicated in any wrongdoing." The man ran his finger
down the list of names and pointed out the two to JD.
The kid took a deep breath. "Wow."
Nathan took the sheet from JD's hands and looked too. A slow smile spread
across his face as he exchanged glances with the kid.
Dr. Banks put his head on one side questioningly and asked with a smile,
"I should say so. One man you picked is wanted for trying to kill a friend
of ours. Hopefully the other one is his partner who we haven't yet been able
to put a name to. He wasn't a blond, by any chance?" JD asked as he pointed
to the name he was interested in.
"Yeah, he was."
JD grinned broadly. "This is great, sir. It links things together nicely."
"I can get photos of the two men you're interested in, if you like. Everyone
had photo ID so I can check back and find them for you. Would the notes from
Stokes experiments be of any help? Both the official and unofficial ones."
"Would they ever!" JD said enthusiastically. The kid stood and shook the
man's hand and arranged for the files and ID photos to be sent to the office.
"Thanks for all yer help. This is great."
Nathan patted JD's back when they reached the truck. "There ya are, kid.
Knew we'd get a breakthrough eventually. Justice will prevail as Josiah would
say. We've got a lot to report to the rest of the guys, but most significantly
we got a name for the blond. That's real progress."
"Still don't know where he is though, do we?"
"No, but at least with a name we stand a better chance of tracing him. Can't
get all the answers at once, JD. I know you've felt like you've been taking
one step forward and six steps back, but things are about to change in our
The youngster and Nathan headed back to the office and they ran into Buck
who had just returned from the jail. "Bucklin? Adam Benson and the blond
both worked with Stokes on the government project."
"What?" the ladies' man asked incredulously.
"Benson used his medical knowledge in the research and the blond was a lab
assistant. Got the blond's name too. Tim Boulter."
"Well done, kid. Things are really happening, ain't they?"
"I'll say. Dr. Banks is sending over a photo of the blond along with all
the notes from the experiments, including the induced suicide notes. I'll
start looking through them, if ya like, when they get here but I want to
look the blond up on the computer now we know his name. Then I can compare
photos when the others come."
"Yeah, you do that, kid, and let me know what you find. Check all the phone
records too for the FBI agents and see if there's anything unusual in those."
Nathan perched on the edge of JD's desk as the younger man typed the blond's
name into one of the police databases. Almost immediately details came on
"Hey, he's worked for several high-profile drug companies and was caught
stealing and selling off tranquilizers. Look, he's even committed murder,"
JD squealed in delight as he pointed to the details on the computer.
"Calm down, kid," Nathan said as he smiled and patted the kid's back.
JD next managed to get access to all the phone records for the murdere
FBI agents. "Wow, see who called them all. Bucklin?! Bucklin? Come and see
Buck wandered over after hearing his housemate's excited tones. He leaned
over him with one hand on the desk on either side of his friend and JD could
feel the man's breath ruffling his hair. Buck read the details that JD had
found on both searches with increasing interest. "I'll contact Vin to give
him the good news."
"I'm going back to the hospital, Bucklin. I'll tell him everything," Nathan
offered as he stood up and headed to the door.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan arrived at the hospital and made his way to his friend's room. He
sat next to Chris's bed and updated the blond and Vin about everything they
"Great. Well, done, Nate," Vin said appreciatively as his mind digested the
As the three men sat talking, they heard a groan from the other bed.
Vin moved to sit beside Ezra and held his hand gently. "Ezra?" The green
eyes turned slowly toward him. "Do you know who I am?"
"And this?" Vin pointed up at Nathan who was now standing beside him.
Ezra moved his eyes toward the medic and then licked his lips apprehensively
before saying with a slight questioning tone in his voice, "Mr. Jackson?"
"Yeah, that's right, Ez," Vin said and smiled encouragingly when he saw how
uneasy the injured man appeared. "Do you remember what happened to you?"
Ezra frowned and then shook his head. He looked worried and darted his eyes
around the room nervously. His gaze settled briefly on Chris and then the
injured man looked back at the medic with tears in his eyes.
Nathan put out a comforting hand and said, "Okay, okay, Ez. That's probably
to be expected, so don't upset yerself. Can't assume that you'll remember
everything straightway." The medic was amazed at how alert Ezra seemed, although
he could tell that the man's attentive state wouldn't last long. He noticed
that Ezra was already desperately trying to stay focused on what was going
"Why am I here? Why is Mr. Larabee here?" Ezra asked in confusion as he looked
at Chris once more while wiping his eyes on the back of his hand. "You were
both shot but yer gonna be fine," Nathan informed the man as he kept his
hand on Ezra's shoulder.
"Who shot me?" Ezra inquired while staring at Vin with squinting eyes.
Awkward but inevitable question, the sharpshooter grimaced. Vin hesitated
and looked up at Nathan anxiously, not sure whether to tell the man or not.
The medic smiled and put his hand on Ezra's cheek as he moved to sit on the
bed beside him. "You shot yerself."
Ezra looked even more confused but asked tentatively as if he already knew
the answer, "Who shot Chris?"
Ezra gulped and stayed silent for a while before asking, "Why? Why
would I do that?" The injured man sounded deeply upset at knowing he'd hurt
his boss and friend.
The sharpshooter patted Ezra's leg. "It was an accident, Ez."
"I don't understand. How could it have been?" Ezra asked desperately.
"Not strictly true either, Vin," Chris interrupted wryly from his bed.
Vin decided to explain. "You remember when you were given the PCP-like drug
last year?" He received a nod in reply and the first light of understanding
appeared in the undercover agent's eyes. "Well, we always assumed that you
had been programmed to kill someone but we never realized that the person
would be you. We hadn't thought of suicide as a possibility. We think it's
something to do with a case you worked on when you were in the FBI. Several
other agents, who worked on the case with you, have killed themselves over
the past year. They all died in different ways but their deaths are now being
treated as suspicious."
"Oh, God," Ezra said softly as he tried to stay awake, but he knew he was
losing the battle.
"I think they tried to get you to kill yourself once before too, but at the
time we put it down to the effects of the drug overdose you were given. I
think you were their lab rat too 'cause you were probably the first agent
they tried it on."
"The razor blade at the hospital?" Ezra asked quietly as he began to unravel
the threads of the puzzle. His friends' voices were fading and he began feeling
increasingly sleepy, dizzy and faint.
"Yeah, that's right," the sharpshooter said as he shivered at the memory.
Ezra put a hand to his head and winced as he touched the wound on his forehead.
"Alright, Ez. Don't fret. Get some rest now 'cause it's been a lot to take
in all at once. Don't tire yerself out," Nathan said quietly as he patted
Ezra's arm gently and smiled at him. The medic stood up and straightened
the sheets that had become crumpled where he had been sitting. He then took
the other seat next to the bed and kept a hand on Ezra's arm. He watched
the green eyes blink and fade shut before opening wide again as the undercover
agent resisted sleep.
"Give into it, Ez. Don't fight it," Nathan whispered and smiled as Ezra's
eyes finally closed fully.
The doctor popped his head round the door just as Ezra fell asleep. "How
is he, guys?"
"Seems to have a bit of memory loss concerning recent events but he remembers
things from last year and before," Nathan explained.
"That's probably nothing to worry about. It'll come back to him in time and
we'll keep a close eye on him over the next few days."
The doctor left and Vin began pacing back and forth as he tried to decide
what to do next. He had enough information about Stokes and Benson to act
and he wanted to get started as soon as he could.
Chris reached out a hand and caught Vin's arm lightly as the sharpshooter
passed by the man's bed for the umpteenth time.
The younger man looked up and asked, "What's up, cowboy?"
"What ya gonna do? I ain't much use to ya here, am I?"
"Chris, we'll handle it. This don't involve you," Vin said as he walked to
"I am involved, Vin."
Vin whirled round. "You know what I mean. Just lay there and relax while
we take care of everythin'. I want to get started as soon as possible, so
will you be okay on yer own for a bit? It's just with both of you in here,
it leaves us short if we stay to keep ya company as well."
"We'll be fine. We can keep each other entertained," Chris said wryly as
he looked across at the sleeping form of Ezra. The undercover agent would
probably do nothing but sleep for the foreseeable future, but Chris
was used to amusing himself and he liked his own company.
"Yeah, I'd prefer that you got the bastards before they try again, rather
than wasting your time talking pleasantries to me."
"Okay, I'll come in later to update you but I'll arrange a guard here to
protect you both. I ain't taking any chances."
+ + + + + + +
Vin and Nathan arrived back at the office and the sharpshooter sat and read
all the new evidence. He rubbed a hand over his eyes and then called the
rest of the team together and ushered them into the conference room. The
four other men settled in their favorite chairs round the table and Vin began
to tell them his plans.
"Okay, we need to concentrate our efforts on catching these bastards before
they get another chance to hurt Ezra. They ain't gonna let him live after
everythin' they've done to kill him so far, and we can't guarantee that just
because he's in the hospital they won't tackle him there. They hurt him while
he was in there before, if you remember. They've, no doubt, heard that we've
been asking questions again so they ain't gonna wait long before acting.
We all need to take care given what happened to the FBI agents, so I want
everyone to have company at all times. I've posted guards at the hospital
so Ez and Chris should be safe too."
"How we gonna get them, pard? Seems impossible after last time," Buck replied.
"We know a bit more about what's going on but we gotta confirm it."
"We know a lot more thanks to your and JD's hard work, Bucklin," Vin
praised. "Well, I've gotten an idea. We need to give out some false information
about Ezra's condition. I had a word with the hospital and they said they
had one phone call on the day that Ez was admitted and another one yesterday
from someone asking how Ezra was. The callers, who the hospital is sure is
one and the same person, wouldn't say who they were, so the hospital only
told them that Ezra was alive. They didn't give them any details about the
injuries involved. I've arranged for them to tell anyone who phones, or asks
in person, about Ezra that he will be released because his injuries were
not as bad as first thought. JD? I want you to go to Ezra's house and pretend
to be him. I have his cell phone, which I want you to have as well. Seeing
as they keep checking in on Ezra's condition, they're more likely to act
quickly when they hear that he's been released. Hopefully the person we want
will phone again and say the trigger-word. If that happens we should then
be able to negate that word's effects from Ezra's brain. Nate, you said hypnosis
could be used to do that, didn't you?"
"Yeah. Once we know the word, we can tell Ez that it's harmless when he hears
"What if they don't phone? What if they try to kill JD by their own hand?
They've failed twice with Ezra's trigger-word so they may try other means,"
Buck said worriedly
"We'll be around, Bucklin. We won't leave the kid unprotected. I've asked
the hospital to let me know if they have any inquiries their end so that
should, at least, give us a bit of warning. I want you at Ezra's tomorrow,
kid, so everyone get what you need for a long stakeout. The rest of you put
the word out on the street to say that Ezra's gonna be released. Hopefully
Stokes will get to hear the news one way or another. I'm just gonna go and
update Chris but I'll be back soon."
Vin returned after an hour and patted JD's back. "All set, kid? Chris sent
his best wishes. We're gonna record all the calls that you get just in case
the word turns out to be foreign or something weird. We can also keep an
eye on what's goin' on by using those miniature cameras that the doctor set
up in Ezra's house last year. Just stay alert and cool whatever happens,
"Sure, Vin. How do I get to Ezra's?"
"Well, if we smuggle you into the hospital early tomorrow, I'll then turn
up to collect you later and take you home to Ezra's. I've asked the hospital
to bandage yer shoulder up so ya look the part, so just move like yer real
stiff and sore."
"Sure, I can do that. Always wanted to be an actor."
"This is no joke, JD," the sharpshooter scolded.
"I know but it's all just gotten a bit intense."
"Yeah, well, this has been hanging over all our heads for the past year."
The next morning, JD was smuggled into the hospital by Josiah and then Vin
appeared a few hours later to collect him to take him back to Ezra's house.
The youngster wore a set of Ezra's clothes and had a hat on so that his features
couldn't be distinguished properly. The sharpshooter escorted the youngster
out to his jeep and JD walked stiffly as if he were genuinely hurt. When
they got inside the house Vin stayed for a couple of hours before leaving.
He hoped any onlooker would assume he'd been seeing to the injured man's
needs before leaving him alone. Only JD wasn't alone. Buck was hiding
in the yard and Nathan was in a room upstairs.
The men waited impatiently all day for action, but nothing happened. JD was
getting fidgety and he jumped when his radio crackled to life late afternoon.
"JD? It's only me, kid," Vin said. "Josiah and I will be joining Nate now
while Buck goes back to the office. How are ya getting on?"
"Getting jumpy. I hate waiting for something that might never happen," JD
replied as he paced up and down the living room.
"Well, now you know how Ezra has been feeling for the past twelve months."
"Yeah, I was just thinking the same thing. I'll see ya later, Vin."
The changeover of lookouts happened seamlessly and in the early hours of
the morning, Vin's voice could be heard on all their earpieces.
"Listen up, guys. Movement at the back of the house. One male who looks a
lot like our doctor friend. Stay sharp, boys."
JD feigned sleep in Ezra's big bed although he was finding it hard to lay
still. He was fully clothed under the covers and wearing body armor, which
wasn't the most comfortable thing to lay down in. He fidgeted a bit but then
forced himself to stop so that he could listen out for any unusual noises
heading in his direction. Vin watched the intruder enter the house and followed
behind at a safe distance. Josiah took up the commentary and kept the other
agents informed about the man's movements inside the house. They'd set up
the surveillance cameras and the profiler was using those to track the man's
JD heard soft footsteps approaching his room and he tensed slightly in
anticipation. He saw the bedroom door open slowly and watch the person walk
closer to the bed. Before anything could happen, JD sat upright and Josiah,
Nathan and Vin rushed through the door behind the doctor.
"What the hell?" the man muttered.
"Keep yer hands where I can see them," Vin instructed as he kept the man
Josiah walked toward the man and took a syringe carefully from his hand and
put it out of harm's way. He then patted the doctor down for any other concealed
weapons and found a gun in his pocket. The prisoner was cuffed roughly and
read his rights and then pushed up against the wall. JD had now freed himself
from the comforter and he rose to join his teammates. The sharpshooter flicked
at look at the youngster before turning back to his prisoner. "Where's yer
partner and Stokes?" Vin snarled, as he held his gun to the back of the man's
"Don't know who yer talking about."
"Oh, really, Benson? I thought you'd want to share a nice comfy jail cell
together. One's a blond guy, Tom Boulter's his name, and the other's yer
cousin who's called Percival Stokes, ain't he?"
"Jail for what?" the man asked, not denying his connection with the two named
"Breakin' and enterin' for starters. Then there's the small matter of four
murders and two attempted murders. How does that sound? Do ya fancy goin'
down for that little lot?" Nathan snapped.
"Don't know what you mean. I ain't killed no-one."
"I don't agree but perhaps you'd like to tell me why yer in this house instead?
Sure looked like you intended harm. Don't think it was a friendly visit at
this time of night with a syringe, do you?" Josiah said wryly.
"I'm a diabetic."
"Crap." Vin slammed the man up against the wall again, turning him back to
face them in the process. "Let me tell you what I already know about you.
You were a doctor once, weren't ya? I can prove that you were practicing
medicine last year even though you'd been struck off for malpractice. I can
prove you tried to kill a friend of ours and that you've now entered his
house with the same intent. It's all starting to stack up against ya, ain't
it? Think yer about up to yer neck so far. How long do ya think all those
crimes amount to in jail time, Josiah?"
"Oh life, definitely."
"Feel like talking now? Why take all the blame? We know you ain't the brains
behind all this and you sure as hell weren't working on yer own." Vin's pager
beeped, interrupting his questioning. "Dammit, answer it, Josiah, will ya?
I still got business with this fella."
Josiah found Vin's pager and read the message. He found his cell phone and
called Buck as requested and spoke quietly for quite some time before
"Well, well, Vin. That was Bucklin. He's come up trumps for us. This fella's
apparently confirmed as having something to do with the death of one of the
FBI agents. Buck compared a fingerprint at the victim's house with our friend's
here. They're a perfect match. It was found on a water bottle near the victim's
body. Sounds familiar, don't it? Unfortunately they didn't test the water
at the time to see if it contained any drugs but it sounds the same M.O.
as Ezra, don't it?"
The doctor looked slightly panic-stricken and mumbled something.
"What's that? You gotten somethin' to say?" Nathan said as he turned the
man's face roughly toward him.
"I was following orders. I'll tell ya everything, but I want a lawyer first."
Nathan shook his head in despair, but also in relief. He hoped the man would
now tell them all they needed to know. "I bet you do. Just one thing I need
to know right now. What was the trigger-word you buried in our friend's mind?"
The prisoner looked at all the agents in turn and clenched his jaw anxiously
as he wondered whether to tell them.
"Come on, pal. Why keep it a secret? If you don't tell me and something happens
to Ezra in the meantime, I'm warnin' ya that I'll nail you to the wall myself
by yer balls, you hear me?" Vin yelled. "What was the word?"
"Felo-de-se," the man muttered.
"What?" JD asked as he frowned. He wondered if he'd misheard but he when
he saw the looks on two out of three of his companions' faces he knew it
was something unusual.
"Felo-de-se," the man repeated.
"What the hell is that?" Vin asked as he turned to Josiah in confusion.
Josiah said quietly and with a growl in his tone, "It means kill oneself,
self murder or suicide. Take yer pick."
"Jesus, you bastard," Vin said angrily as he hustled the man out the door.
+ + + + + + +
Vin walked wearily into Chris and Ezra's room the next morning. He slumped
into the chair beside the blond and groaned.
"Cowboy? You okay?" Chris asked worriedly as he watched Vin tip his head
back and close his eyes.
"I think I've aged thirty years in the last day, Chris. Feel old, cranky
and utterly spent."
"What happened? Is JD okay?" the blond asked, his heart fluttering in panic.
"Yeah, he's fine. We've been up all night interviewing Adam Benson."
"You got him?"
"Yeah. He spilt his guts but it weren't nice listening to what he had to
say. He just didn't seem to care about what he did to Ez or the others. Talked
about it as if it was everyday practice. Probably was. I felt like hitting
him, Chris. Honest to God, I coulda knocked his damned head off." Vin sighed
and rubbed his eyes. "Buck and JD are out looking for Boulter, and Nate and
Josiah are going after the real gang leader from the FBI case. He's a politician,
would you believe? Running our country and preaching about the evil of drugs
while running a cartel of his own. Using our money that we pay in taxes to
"All politicians are bent. Ask 'em a question and they never answer it straight
out," Chris said wearily. "Did ya find out why they started killing the FBI
"Yeah. After the death of the man in prison, the politician decided some
revenge was in order. He then heard that the original case had been reopened
and that was the last straw. He hired Benson, Stokes and the blond and assumed
the killings would never be traced back to him. Seeing as all the agents
had moved onto other jobs, and five years had passed since the case, he never
expected things to be tied together. Sure got that wrong, didn't he?"
"Yeah, he didn't expect to have a pack of well-trained bloodhounds after
him, did he?" Chris said with a smile before his expression changed to be
serious again. "Did ya manage to find out what the trigger-word was?"
"Yeah, ain't tellin' ya until Ez is cured though. Don't wanna set him off.
It was a real sneaky word, though, real Ezra-like. Still gotta track down
Stokes, but I've put out an alert for him. Once he hears Benson has been
caught, he'll try to skip the country, I bet."
"Mr. Tanner?" Ezra said when he was woken by the sound of voices.
Vin looked over to the other bed as he heard his name being called. He stood
up and leaned over his injured friend. "Hey, Ez. Ain't spoken to ya since
yesterday. How ya feelin'?"
Ezra rubbed a hand over his face and took a shuddering breath. "Feel sick
and have gotten a tremendous headache."
"Do ya want something for it?" the sharpshooter asked sympathetically when
he noticed the man pale considerably.
The undercover agent nodded slightly as he covered his eyes with his forearm.
Vin walked out of the room quickly and returned with Dr. Richmond, who gave
Ezra some medication. Ezra sighed and lay quietly as he waited impatiently
for the drugs to work.
"Alright, Ez. You'll feel better soon, buddy. We got one of the bastards
that made you do this to yerself and we know the trigger-word too. You ain't
got nothing to fret about anymore." Vin reached out a hand and patted his
Ezra finally fell asleep as Vin stayed beside him holding his hand. The doctor
entered the room half an hour later and checked the sleeping man's vitals
to make sure he was alright.
"Will he be okay, doc?" Chris asked quietly.
"Yes, I'm sure he'll be fine but he's bound to be a bit up and down as a
result of his head injury. He had a bad night, as you know, and it's still
early days after all. Don't be surprised if he doesn't progress quickly or
even seems to get worse again. Head injuries are always bad news and it's
difficult to predict how patients will react to them."
Chris and Vin talked quietly to each other until the rest of the team finally
turned up three hours later and took seats around the room.
"How did ya get on, guys?" Vin asked as he signaled for them to talk in hushed
voices so as not to disturb Ezra.
"Real good. We all met up at the politician's office in the end. You'll never
guess what, but the blond worked as an aide on the politician's staff. He
was sat at his desk writing up some speech on stamping out murder, drugs
and extortion. He's a fine one to tell us what to do, ain't he?" Buck asked.
"Anyway, we questioned them both and they've confirmed everything we'd guessed.
Least we know Ez can rest in peace."
Vin shook his head and said, "Stokes."
"Sorry, Vin. That was our last bit of good news. He was picked up at the
airport using his own passport and everything. You'd think he'd have had
the sense to use a false name and documents, wouldn't you? He was so careful
in everything else he did and then messed up at the end 'cause he was in
too much of a hurry. We searched his home too and found his special phone.
It'd got some contraption attached to it that scrambled things when he called
anyone so that it couldn't be traced back to him. It was quite a sophisticated
bit of equipment." Buck smiled in triumph that the case was finally over.
He then put a hand on his young colleague's shoulder and said, "JD's got
something else to say, ain't ya, kid?"
"Yeah. Dr. Banks sent over the files on those experiments that Stokes was
doing. Anyway, I looked at the unofficial research notes first and there's
a list of the drugs that were used. They match exactly the ones used on Ez
last year. Stokes kept detailed notes about someone he was experimenting
on although it doesn't give a name. However, when I checked the dates, times
and locations, I can tie it in to Ez. Seems the blond was watching nearly
every minute of every day on the cameras they set up in Ezra's house, and
he also followed him around when he was out and about, to see how he was
reacting to the dosage."
"Terrific, kid. That certainly seals his fate then, don't it? Well done,
guys. You've done real well," Chris praised as he patted Vin's arm
+ + + + + + +
After Ezra's one short-lived period of lucidity on the first day that he'd
woken, the undercover agent reverted to a semi- conscious state. It was
interspersed with the odd spell of confused wakefulness, which usually only
lasted for a minute at most. Nathan had believed, at the time, that the seemingly
miraculous start to Ezra's recovery would not continue, and he'd been proved
It wasn't until a month later that Ezra was finally released from the hospital
into Nathan's care. After a few quiet days to allow Ezra to settle in, the
medic decided it was high time to bring up the subject of the trigger-word
because it was playing on all their minds. During an evening meal, when Ezra
seemed most relaxed, Nathan finally broached the subject with his friend.
"Ez?" Nathan said after taking a sip of coffee.
"Yes, Mr. Jackson?"
The medic looked at his friend and pursed his lips thoughtfully. "You know
we discovered the trigger-word that they planted in yer mind?"
"Well, how would you feel about being hypnotized?"
Ezra looked unsettled and fidgeted in his chair as he asked, "What for?"
"So that we can eliminate that word's effects on you."
"I don't know," Ezra replied apprehensively as he shook his head negatively.
"I don't think I want anyone, no matter their experience, tinkering with
my mind. After last year, it's all a bit too much to contemplate."
"I can understand that, Ez, but until we negate its effects, you're still
vulnerable. Someone could say the word and you'd be unable to stop hurting
The undercover agent bowed his head and sighed deeply.
Nathan reached out and patted his back sympathetically. "I can imagine how
ya feel, Ez. All the guys know the word involved so yer safe with us, but
you could hear it on the tube or radio and that would be it. It ain't likely
to happen as it's a word that ain't in everyday use, but I don't wanna take
that chance with yer life. Take some time to think about things but it
is the only way to cure you."
Ezra nodded before standing and going out onto the street to think. He heard
passersby talking, and realized he was beginning to listen to every word
they said while wondering if the next one would the one to make him kill
"Shit!" he cursed uncharacteristically and hurried back inside.
"Ez? You okay?" Nathan asked as the dark-haired man almost ran back into
"I'll do it," the undercover agent replied breathlessly.
Nathan studied him as he wondered about the sudden change of heart. "You
sure? Why don't you take some more time?"
"No, I can't live my life wondering if the next word I hear will kill me.
I couldn't even stand outside just now without listening to what was being
said around me," Ezra said frantically as he almost clawed at the medic in
Nathan reached out a gentle hand and put it on Ezra's arm to try and calm
him down. "Okay, Ez, I'll arrange everything. Someone I used to work with
is a qualified hypnotist and you can trust him fully."
"Thank you, Nathan," Ezra replied quietly, hoping he wasn't going to regret
+ + + + + + +
Nathan and Chris accompanied Ezra to his session two days later, and after
an hour Ezra came out looking pensive and not in the least bit relaxed.
"Hey, Ez. How'd it go?" Chris asked as he stood and placed a hand on his
"I have no idea. He could've asked me to run down the street naked for all
I know," the undercover agent replied with an uncomfortable shrug.
Chris smiled. "I'm sure he didn't, Ez. Come on, let's go home 'cause all
the boys are meeting us out at the ranch to see how you got on."
They arrived to find three of their friends there and they gathered in the
ranch's living room as they waited for Vin to arrive. Chris made some drinks
and handed them round, along with some cookies, to keep his guests happy.
As the men talked amongst themselves, Ezra's cell phone rang and he answered
it apprehensively. "Hello?"
Ezra frowned deeply and when he looked at his fellow agents, who were scattered
round the room, he could see them all looking tense and on edge. Chris even
looked as though he was reaching for his gun. "Mr. Tanner? Is that you? What
are you playing at by saying that to me? You know what it means, don't you?
If this is your idea of a joke, I can assure you that I am not laughing
and it is in very poor taste."
Vin sighed and said, "It weren't no hoax. How ya feelin' right now,
"Perfectly fine. Now will you please answer my questions?" the man snapped
"We were just making sure the hypnosis worked."
"I beg your pardon?" Ezra said quietly as he sat down shakily, realization
dawning. He felt his skin bristle with goose bumps and he couldn't help shivering
"I just gave you the trigger-word," Vin explained.
Ezra heart jumped and he wiped a hand over his face, so Chris reached out
and took the cell from his hand and put it up to his mouth and said, "Thanks,
cowboy. Everything's okay so come on in."
Ezra looked round, not understanding, as he saw Vin walk in from the kitchen.
He was flabbergasted to see that the sharpshooter had been in the house all
Chris put the phone down as he turned and squatted before Ezra. "Ez? You
okay?" he asked as he saw the tears in the man's eyes.
The undercover agent nodded unconvincingly. "Yes, thank you. It's just hit
home how easy it would've been to kill me. I'd never really considered it
until now and it just makes me feel rather shaky and nauseous. "
"I understand, but it's over now so you don't have to worry any more, Ez,"
the blond said as he rubbed the man's arm encouragingly.
"I know," Ezra replied quietly as the tears trickled down his cheeks. He
curled over until his chest rested against his knees as he hugged his body
The blond sat beside his friend and rubbed his back with gentle circular
strokes in an attempt to comfort the man. They'd all been involved in a nightmare
for the past year but for Ezra the situation must have been intolerable.
"Thank you, Chris. I'm sorry." Ezra wiped his cheeks on the back of his hands
and smiled softly as he sat up straight again.
Chris tried to lighten the mood. "Well, now all we've got to worry about
is if the hypnotist really did tell you to run down the street naked at some
point in the future."
Ezra laughed out loud. "After what's happened during the last two years,
I don't think I would be unduly concerned by that."
"You may not, pard, but just think of the rest of us who would have to witness
such a spectacle."
"I'm sure you'll survive, Bucklin. I don't possess anything that you don't."
"Thank God for that. Don't know what I'd do if I found you had a tail or
somethin' worse," Buck replied as he looked his friend up and down worriedly.