"Mr. Tanner? Please can you inform Mr. Larabee that I am unwell and will
not be in today?"
"Sure, Ez. What's up?" Vin asked as he detected the shaky nature of his friend's
"I just feel less than my exuberant self. Headache, nausea, need I go on?"
"Take care, Ez, and I hope you feel better soon. I'll come by on my way home,
if ya like. I'd like to check on you just for my own peace of mind," the
sharpshooter said earnestly. Ezra very rarely had days off through sickness
so he must be feeling really bad to decide not to come in. The man usually
had most time off for injuries obtained in the line of duty.
"How very kind. I will look forward to seeing you. Thank you, Vin."
Vin put down the phone, stood up and ambled to Chris's office to relay the
message. He knocked on his boss's door and saw that the blond was talking
on his own phone, which was why Ezra hadn't been able to contact him direct.
Chris looked up and beckoned the sharpshooter in while he finished his call.
"Vin? What can I do for you?" he asked briskly.
"Ez just called to say he ain't well. He tried to call you himself but you
were otherwise engaged," Vin said as he pointed to Chris's phone.
The black-clad man nodded in understanding. "Nothing serious, is it?"
Vin shrugged. "No, don't think so. I said I'd check on him on my way home
so I'll let you know."
+ + + + + + +
Vin knocked on Ezra's door and the undercover agent opened it after a long
few minutes had passed by. Because Ezra had been so long in answering, the
sharpshooter had been on the verge of gaining entry with the spare set of
keys that he had. When Ezra appeared though, he dropped them back into his
pocket and patted them to make sure they were safe.
"Hello, Mr. Tanner," the sick man greeted weakly as he stepped back to allow
his friend access.
The long-haired agent studied his friend quietly and thought he looked rather
frail. "Hey, Ez. How ya getting on?"
Ezra shrugged uncertainly. "I think my medical complaint is progressing toward
bad rather than better. I had to keep going outside earlier for some fresh
air because I felt so stifled, dizzy and sick. I stayed out there for an
hour each time and felt much better, but now I seem to have developed stomachache
and sickness on top of my headache."
"Do you want me to sleep over?" Vin asked as Ezra led the way slowly to the
living room. The undercover agent walked in a less than straight line on
the journey, which showed just how dizzy he was.
"No, that's quite alright. I wouldn't want to infect you too," the undercover
agent said as he lowered himself carefully onto the couch and rubbed his
"Probably already have, Ez," Vin said with a grin as he sat down opposite
his ailing friend. "Can I get you something to eat or drink? Bet you ain't
had anythin' all day."
Ezra shook his head and put a hand up to his brow when the movement caused
more pain and dizziness. "No, thank you. I really can't face anything."
"Okay, bud," the sharpshooter said. "I think I'll stay with you for a while
now and then come back in the morning on my way to work too," Vin offered,
thinking that he didn't really want to leave the man alone at all.
"There's really no need," Ezra said as he made a feeble denying gesture with
Vin wasn't going to be put off that easily. "Humor me, Ez. You should have
company when yer sick."
The undercover agent admitted truthfully, "Well, I'd sooner have your company
than Mr. Jackson's. At least you won't poke or prod me and stick a thermometer
where I least expect one."
Vin laughed. "Well, I can always call him if yer missing his treatment."
"Don't you dare! I just need peace and quiet, and you fit the bill
nicely," Ezra said as he lay his head back and closed his eyes. Sleep seemed
to be trying to claim him and he resisted it for as long as he could, not
wanting to fall asleep when his friend had made the effort to visit him.
The two men sat together in a companionable silence until Ezra finally voiced
his thoughts on retiring to bed when he began to feel increasingly sick.
"Call me if you need me," Vin said insistently as he lay a worried hand on
his friend's arm.
"You are a very good friend to come and check up on me like this. I am lucky
to know you, Vin," Ezra said as he showed the man out and waved good-bye
when he drove away.
As he set off for home, Vin realized he'd developed a headache too and was
also feeling drowsy. He rubbed his brow and sighed as he opened the window
wide to wake himself up a bit. "Jeez, guess you did infect me after all,
Ez. Chris'll blow his top if I call in sick too."
He reached his apartment and after a couple of hours had passed, the sharpshooter
noticed that the pain in his head had gone. Vin was certainly relieved at
being spared the rest of Ezra's symptoms. The sharpshooter hated being sick.
"You've gotten a sick house, that's what it is, Ez. That's the problem,"
he said as a joke explanation. He was very nearly right though.
Back at Ezra's, the undercover agent climbed into bed feeling dog-tired.
He was feeling worse the more that time went by. His stomachache had now
progressed to diarrhea and he had also developed chest pains.
"Hopefully a good night's sleep will be all I need," he muttered to himself
although he didn't sound convinced. He rubbed his chest once and closed his
eyes with a groan as he drifted off to sleep.
Vin, meanwhile, climbed into bed in his apartment and lay staring at the
ceiling. Something was really bugging him about Ezra's sickness. He had a
feeling that he should know what was wrong with the man, but he couldn't
quite put his finger on it. He drifted off to sleep but woke a couple of
hours later as his comment about the sick house somehow slotted into the
dream he was having. He woke and sat up straight with a puzzled frown furrowing
his brow. He considered Ezra's symptoms again and the fact that the man had
said that he felt better when going out into the fresh air. Vin then thought
of his own headache and tiredness that had disappeared after leaving Ezra's
"Shit!" he cursed as he leapt out of bed and headed to the phone.
He punched in Ezra's number and waited for his friend to answer. While he
waited, he managed to get dressed and then headed downstairs to the jeep
with the cell permanently clamped to his ear. Still no answer from his sick
friend though. He cursed and punched in Nathan's number instead.
"Yeah?" the medic's sleepy voice said after a couple of minutes.
"Nate? Get over to Ezra's now and I'll meet you there." Vin didn't give any
explanation for his demand but knew that the medic would do as he'd asked.
He just hoped they weren't too late.
He drove fast through the empty streets to reach Ezra's house within half
an hour. He opened the front door with his spare set of keys and stepped
inside anxiously. "Ez?" he yelled as he pounded up the stairs. He hurried
to the bedroom and switched on the light. Ezra was in bed, as expected, but
when Vin reached out a hand to feel for a pulse he couldn't find one. The
sick man was still breathing but while Vin was checking him, Ezra blew out
one more soft breath and then stopped altogether. Ezra's skin looked slightly
pink and Vin knew that his worst fears had come to fruition. The sharpshooter
prayed that he'd be able to bring his friend back to life and he knew that
every second counted.
"Shit!" he swore as he scooped the smaller man into his arms before running
downstairs and stumbling out into the open air.
He lay his friend down on the ground and began CPR immediately.
"Come on, Ez. I can't keep this up for too long," Vin mumbled as he did his
ninth set of chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth breaths. Ezra still showed
no signs of life despite his friend's valiant efforts.
Nathan arrived with a squealing of brakes and pulled up in the drive. "Vin?
What happened?" the medic asked as he leapt out of the vehicle and took over
from the tired sharpshooter.
"Carbon monoxide poisoning. He didn't have a pulse but was still breathing
when I got here but he then stopped breathing too. If you're alright to continue
on yer own for a bit, I'm gonna call for an ambulance. I'd better let Chris
know what's going on too, I s'pose."
"Yeah, you call, but can you help do the chest compressions when you've finished?
It's easier with two people to share the work."
"Sure. I'll be quick."
The long-haired man arranged for an emergency vehicle to come and then called
Chris. "Chris? It was carbon monoxide poisoning that was making Ezra sick."
"What? Where are you?" the blond asked, sounding half-asleep.
"At Ezra's. He ain't breathing. I'm out in the front yard with Nate and we're
trying to revive him, cowboy," Vin said in between taking deep breaths as
he tried to refill his tired, aching lungs.
"Shit! Okay, I'll call the others and we'll meet you at the hospital."
Vin put away the phone and knelt beside Nathan again after first getting
a blanket from his jeep and laying it over Ezra's lower half. The sharpshooter
took over the chest compressions while Nathan continued breathing into Ezra's
lungs. After another couple of minutes, the medic gave out a loud sigh of
relief. Ezra had finally taken his first breath and now had a pulse again
"Thank God. Just hope he weren't without a pulse for too long before you
found him." The medic stood up and collected the oxygen that he always kept
in the back of his truck and started Ezra on it.
The ambulance arrived quickly and loaded the undercover agent into the back.
Nathan knew Vin wasn't in any fit state to drive so he told the paramedics
that they would follow along together behind.
"Get in the Explorer, Vin. You look kinda white. Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'll be fine. Feel a bit sick but that don't matter. I just wanna
be with Ez."
"Okay, we'll be with him soon," Nathan said as he set off behind the emergency
Vin and Nathan went straight through to the waiting room on arrival at the
hospital and were soon joined by three of their four other friends.
Nathan sat beside Vin and asked just loud enough for the others to hear,
"What happened exactly?"
"I went to see Ez after work and he said he was feeling worse, but he turned
down my offer to stay overnight with him. He also told me that he'd been
spending time out in the fresh air during the day because he felt better
out there than indoors. Anyway, when I left his house I realized that I had
a headache too, but after I'd been home for a while it had cleared. I grumbled
that Ezra had a sick house to cause such a reaction. During the night, I
woke up and suddenly realized that that may well be true, so I drove back
to check on him after I couldn't raise him on the phone. I'd kinda matched
his symptoms to that of carbon monoxide poisoning, see? He stopped breathing
when I got there, as I told you before, and I thought that it was my fault
for not realizing quicker what was wrong."
The medic patted Vin's back. "You did great to figure out what was wrong.
You've gotten nothing to beat yerself up about."
Chris came running into the room breathlessly just after Nathan had finished
talking. "Guys? Vin, you okay?"
"Yeah, just a bit shook up."
"Mr. Tanner?" a doctor called from behind Chris.
"Yes?" the sharpshooter said as he stood up and hurried toward the man.
"Mr. Standish is in ICU. He's improving slowly but he's been badly affected
by the carbon monoxide. He's unconscious, I'm afraid, and is still being
"He will be alright though, won't he?"
The doctor nodded and smiled. "Yes, but we'll keep him here for a few days,
I should think."
"Can we see him?" Vin asked, wanting to see his friend for himself.
"Yes, of course," the doctor agreed as he led the way to Ezra's room.
Vin immediately moved to sit beside his sick friend quietly and Nathan took
up position on the other side of the bed.
"Call us, guys. We'll leave you to it," Chris said as he indicated for the
rest of the team to leave. He knew that Vin and Nathan needed some time alone
together with the man whose life they had just saved. The others could visit
later on if they wanted.
The two men said goodbye to their friends and then sat quietly together watching
over Ezra. After half an hour, Vin felt his eyes becoming heavy, so he rested
his head on the bedcovers and fell asleep. Nathan dozed in his chair too,
snoring quietly. The two men were exhausted after their night-time rescue
mission and were beginning to feel the effects of it.
The sharpshooter woke when he felt something ruffling his hair and realized
it was somebody's fingers. He lifted his head slowly and was just in time
to see Ezra's hand fall back onto the mattress.
"Ez?" the sharpshooter said as he quickly picked up his friend's hand. He
saw, though, that he was too late and Ezra's eyes were now closed again.
"Vin?" Nathan said as he sat up straight and rubbed his eyes. "Everythin'
"Ez woke up. He was touching my hair but by the time I realized what was
happening he was asleep again."
"I'll go and let the doc know but that sure is good news." The medic stood
up and went on his errand and returned with a couple of drinks as well as
The doctor checked his patient and smiled encouragingly at the two agents
before leaving the room. Vin and Nathan settled down once more, but they
stayed awake this time now that Ezra had shown the first signs of consciousness.
They were rewarded, when several hours later, Ezra woke again.
"Hey, Ez. Jeez, you had me worried," Vin said quietly as he ran tender fingers
through Ezra's hair. "How ya feelin'?"
"Headache," the undercover agent said with a groan as he reached out to hold
Vin's free hand tightly.
"Well, get some more rest. You nearly died; well you did die, ya know?" Vin
informed Ezra before the weary man fell asleep once more, still holding Vin's
The sharpshooter's pager suddenly beeped at that moment and he cursed slightly
while letting go of Ezra's hand gently. He then hurried outside and called
Chris back on his cell.
"Cowboy? What's up?"
"We checked out Ezra's house to see what caused the poison buildup. Someone's
tampered with his gas fires. Just enough so that it took several days to
really affect him," Chris said angrily. "His death was supposed to look like
"We've gotten forensics in to see if they can find anything to help us catch
the bastard that did it."
Vin nodded. "I've gotten news too. Ez woke just a minute ago. Was gonna call
to tell ya but you beat me to it."
Chris sighed loudly in relief at Ezra's recovery. "Great. Did they say when
he could go home?"
"Hopefully day after tomorrow, all being well. He's still on oxygen at the
moment but they'll see how he gets on. He's gotten a real bad headache and
is pretty tired. Don't think he had much good quality sleep recently because
of his induced sickness."
"Keep in touch and let me know if you want a break."
"Sure, thanks, Chris, but I'd rather stay until he's released."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra was finally discharged and he went to stay with Vin because he didn't
feel like going back to his own house at the moment. Not that his friends
had any intention of leaving the man alone in the foreseeable future anyway,
seeing as someone seemed intent on trying to kill him.
"Where are you sleeping, Mr. Tanner?" Ezra asked as he was shown into his
friend's own bedroom.
"On the couch in the living room," Vin replied in a matter-of-fact tone.
"But I can't take over your boudoir," the smaller man objected as he stopped
dead and turned to face the sharpshooter in anguish.
"Yes, you can, 'cause yer my guest. Can't have a guest sleeping on the couch,
can I? You're still recovering so you need a bit of comfort. I'll be fine."
The undercover agent studied the long-haired man for a while and then nodded
gratefully, seeing that Vin wouldn't change his mind on the matter. "Thank
Ezra headed straight to bed but still felt guilty about taking over Vin's
room. His guilt didn't stop him from falling sleep almost immediately though.
Vin checked on him periodically during the night but his friend slept through
without interruption. The sharpshooter left the man to get up when he felt
like it, knowing he needed some recovery time after his ordeal.
"Can I go to work today?" Ezra asked the next morning when he finally appeared
in the kitchen for a very late breakfast.
"No, Ez. Maybe tomorrow. You've missed half the day already as it is," Vin
grinned as he patted Ezra's back gently.
Ezra took a quick look at his watch and saw that it was noon. "Oh my. I hope
Mr. Larabee didn't expect you in," he said worriedly.
"Nah, he didn't. I called him to say we wouldn't be there today. Anyway,
it's quite nice to have a lazy day at home, I reckon."
"Oh, yes. I'm all for lazy days and rising late," Ezra said as he grinned
broadly. "I really don't function well in the mornings. I'm much more of
"Wouldn't have guessed that after the evidence of last night. Didn't hear
a peep outta you," Vin said quietly.
Ezra smiled as he picked up the bowl of cereal that Vin pushed toward him
and then wandered through to the living room with it. He sighed and flopped
down on the couch and drew his legs up under him.
He took a mouthful of food and then asked, "Have they found out anything
else at my house?"
"No, but someone sure had it in for you, Ez. Damn near succeeded in killin'
ya too. Until we find out who did it, you're staying with me," Vin replied
as he sat down opposite his friend and watched him carefully.
"I don't want to put anyone else in danger," the dark-haired man said quietly
as he looked back at Vin seriously. "Maybe I'd better find somewhere else
"No way, Ez. I want you where I can see ya; danger or no danger," Vin said
forcefully, putting an end to the discussion with the look in his eye.
Ezra didn't dare disagree and he really rather wanted the company of one
of his friends at the moment.
+ + + + + + +
Vin and Ezra climbed in the jeep the next morning and headed off to work.
As the long-haired man drew up at an intersection to turn left, another car
pulled up on Ezra's side as if to turn right. As the lights changed, Vin
had a very strange feeling come over him and he turned his head just in time
to see a gun being aimed at Ezra from the car beside him.
"Get down, Ez," he yelled just as a shot sounded, shattering the windshield.
He put the pedal to the metal and with a squeal of tires drove off fast toward
the hospital. He pushed out the remnants of the blood-spattered windshield
as he drove so that he could see where he was going. He looked over at his
blood-covered passenger and saw that Ezra was slumped forward and slightly
to the left. The only thing holding him up was the seatbelt.
"Ez?" the sharpshooter called frantically as he shivered in fright. "Ez,
talk to me."
Vin cursed when he received no reply. Ezra coughed and Vin heard the dreadful
bubbling sound that the man produced. He looked over at his friend again
and saw bright red blood seeping from his mouth to join the large patch that
had blossomed on the man's chest.
The sharpshooter almost gagged at the sight. "Hold on, Ez. Just hold on.
Vin could see that the strange car was still following him at high speed
so he pulled out his radio and immediately changed the direction of his journey.
"Chris? I'm coming in with someone tight on my tail. Ez has been shot but
I daren't go to the hospital until I've lost this bastard. I really need
ya help, cowboy."
"We'll meet you downstairs. Come on in, Vin, and we'll be ready for him,"
the blond promised.
As Vin turned into the street that housed his workplace, he increased his
speed and then wrenched the steering wheel hard to head straight into the
parking garage. Chris and the others had just run out onto the sidewalk and
spread out across the road with guns drawn. The occupants of the chasing
car decided that they had had enough when they saw the welcoming committee.
The car did a one-eighty turn and headed back the way it had come, leaving
behind a smell of burnt tires and a cloud of smoke.
Chris looked over his men and could see JD's lips moving. The dark-haired
man had superb eyesight and the blond had the feeling that the youngster
was busy memorizing the car tag. He really hoped so because it would prove
vital in their search for Ezra's attackers. JD saw the blond watching him
so he pulled out his radio and began talking, asking for an APB to be put
out immediately on the vehicle.
The five agents waited until the car was out of sight and then ran into the
parking garage to find Vin just inside, leaning in the open passenger door
of the jeep.
"Vin? Move aside," Nathan instructed urgently. "Get out of the way."
"He's been hit in the back, Nate," Vin said as he straightened up. His hands
were covered in blood and he wiped them down his pant legs.
"Ezra? Can you hear me?" the medic called worriedly as he saw how seriously
injured his friend was.
The medic tried to move Ezra forward so that he could check the entry wound
in the man's back. As he did so, the smaller man in his arms screamed, even
though he'd only been moved less than an inch.
"Alright, Ez. I've got ya. Hold still and let's see what's wrong."
Nathan kept a firm, but gentle, grip on Ezra and looked down the small gap
between the man's back and the seat. He cursed when he saw that a metal spring
from the seat was stuck deep in Ezra's back.
"Shit," he cursed. "Okay, Ez. Try and relax."
Blood was now dribbling continuously from Ezra's mouth. The man coughed wetly
and it sounded as if he was drowning. Well, he was, in blood. The pain, as
well as the real difficulty in breathing, finally rendered Ezra semi-conscious.
"What happened?" Chris asked Vin when he heard Ezra moaning in pain.
"The car pulled up next to us at the intersection and the person in the back
shot Ez. The bullet went right through him and out the windshield in front
of me. He only shot him just before the lights changed so I had no chance,
Chris. I'm sorry."
"Josiah? Get the oxygen outta the Explorer, will ya?" Nathan called urgently
from inside the jeep as he handed over his keys blindly.
The profiler ran to Nathan's vehicle and came back quickly with the requested
equipment. Nathan tilted the front seat back and put the oxygen mask over
Ezra's nose and mouth. He then climbed in the back and put his hands round
his patient, keeping a hold on the pad covering the massive exit wound in
Ezra's chest, as well as keeping an eye on the oxygen supply.
"Need to get him to the hospital pronto 'cause he's gotten real serious chest
injuries. A spring from the seat has pierced his back too so he's kinda nailed
to the seat with it."
"I'll drive," Vin said as he jumped back in the jeep again. He looked across
at Ezra and then flicked a terrified glance at Nathan. He certainly didn't
like the expression on the medic's face and it told him all he needed to
know about Nathan's thoughts on the future for the undercover agent. Basically,
Ezra probably wouldn't have one.
"Go, Vin. Fast as ya can," Nathan ordered insistently. "He's having real
"I'll let 'em know that yer on yer way, Nate," Chris said before the vehicle
The remaining men headed for Josiah's truck and followed their friends to
In the jeep, Vin was driving flat out. He had his emergency light flashing
on the dash as he weaved in and out of the heavy traffic. Vin kept one hand
on the steering wheel and the other on Ezra's thigh for comfort. The touch
was as much for him as for his seriously injured friend. Vin only ever broke
the contact when he needed both hands to steer round a corner or change gear.
"Hold on, Ez. Nearly there. Don't you dare give up on us, you hear me?
Everything's gonna be alright. Everything's gonna be just fine," the sharpshooter
said, hoping that Ezra could hear him as he repeated his assurances over
and over again.
Halfway through the journey, Chris radioed through to say that the fire
department would be waiting for them at the hospital to release Ezra from
his confinement. When Vin arrived at the medical facility, he screeched to
a halt beside the large emergency vehicle and jumped out anxiously.
"Guys? What can we do?" the firefighter asked as he ran up to the jeep.
"We need to free him from his seat. A spring is embedded in his back so he
needs cutting out," Nathan said as he joined Vin outside the vehicle. "Do
it fast 'cause he won't survive much longer without treatment."
Two firefighters got to work immediately and within minutes the section of
seat concerned had been cut away. A doctor and nurse were hovering nearby
with a gurney and as soon as they got the go-ahead they carefully extricated
the injured man. They lay him gently on his side and then ran inside the
medical facility shouting out instructions as they went.
+ + + + + + +
The six anxious men spread themselves around the waiting room, dealing with
things as best they could. Buck was pretending to doze, with his feet up
on the chair opposite; JD sat beside him staring at the floor; Chris was
prowling about, and Vin stood staring out the window. Josiah and Nathan sat
side-by-side and talked quietly; the only two men who felt the need to express
"How bad was he, Nate?" the profiler asked in trepidation.
"The bullet struck his lung for sure and there was a massive exit wound in
his chest, Josiah. He'd broken some ribs and he was bleeding heavily," Nathan
replied dejectedly. He knew Josiah just wanted him to voice what Ezra's chances
of survival were but the medic didn't want to confirm that the wounded man
only had a very slim chance of recovery. He knew that all his friends really
knew that fact for themselves without having it confirmed by him.
The hours ticked by with no news and the men became increasing concerned
for their friend's welfare. They didn't see Ezra for another twelve hours
and by that time their nerves were shattered.
Just after midnight, a very tired doctor finally appeared in the doorway.
"Hello," he greeted. "I've just finished working on your friend. He's on
life support and is in a critical condition. The bullet went into his body
at an angle from right to left. It did appalling damage to his right lung
and the bullet also clipped his left lung slightly. Because he was shot through
the seat, debris from that was carried into his body. You already know about
the spring that pierced him, don't you? As well as that, bones from the ribs
at his back were carried into his right lung and one piece embedded itself
shallowly in the wall of his heart but luckily not enough to cause irreparable
damage. He's clinging on to life but it could go either way. I'd prepare
for the worst, though, if I were you," the man advised quietly.
Chris kicked the wall and swore angrily before walking out. Vin stayed motionless
and felt his eyes brimming with tears. Buck grimaced and set off after his
oldest friend while Josiah automatically headed for Vin.
"Sit down, son," the big man instructed as he reached out a hand and placed
it on the younger man's elbow.
"I feel sick. I'm sorry, I've gotta go," Vin mumbled as he shook off Josiah's
hand before hurrying out to find the nearest restroom. He felt as if he was
suffocating and he couldn't breathe properly, which made him feel dizzy.
Josiah followed behind and was just in time to see the sharpshooter dive
into a room just up the hallway. The profiler hurried along and entered the
john in time to hear the man throwing up. Vin emerged and walked to the sink
where he splashed his face with water.
"I'm sorry, Josiah. I didn't see the gun until it was too late. There was
so much blood; he was choking on it. I shoulda come straight here instead
of going to the office," the younger man said shakily, sounding close to
tears as he dragged in deep lungfuls of air.
"No, you did the right thing. You couldn't have dealt with a car-load of
people intent on killing Ez. He woulda been a sitting duck."
"He already was a sitting duck," Vin said forcefully as his voice
cracked. The long-haired man then turned round and headed back to the cubicle
where he threw up once more.
When he came out again several minutes later, Josiah reached out a hand and
rubbed his back gently. "Shall I take ya home? Maybe Nate should take a look
at you 'cause you may be shocked, son."
"No, I'll be okay. I'm alright now."
The profiler escorted the pale man back to the waiting room and sat him in
the corner. He then walked over to Nathan and sat down beside him while flicking
another quick look at the man he had just left behind.
"Keep an eye on Vin, will ya? I think he's suffering from a bit of shock.
He's real shaken, brother Nate."
"I'll go sit with him." The medic wandered over and took the seat beside
Vin. "Hey, Vin."
The sharpshooter flicked a look across at Nathan and smiled quietly. In truth,
he was glad of the company. "Josiah been telling tales?"
Nathan smiled an admission. "He's concerned about you, and rightly
so by the look of it. Yer real pale and yer shaking too, Vin. I could get
you admitted, you know?"
"No, please don't make a fuss," Vin begged, sounding distressed.
"Okay, okay, but if I feel the need I'll call someone to check you out, whether
you like it or not," Nathan said as he patted the man's knee.
Meanwhile, outside, Buck had finally caught up with the fiercely pacing blond.
"Godammit, Bucklin. I shoulda insisted on a safe house as soon as we knew
that someone had tampered with his fires. I was negligent and it could now
cost him his life," Chris said savagely as he came to a halt in front of
his oldest friend. He stood with hands on hips and stared at Buck for a minute
before dropping his gaze to the ground with a defeated sigh.
"You couldn't have foreseen this," Buck said as he lay a hand on the man's
"Shoulda done. If they'd tried to kill him once, they'd try again
when they found out that they'd failed, wouldn't they? I'm a damned fool
for not protecting him properly. Vin coulda been killed too. We coulda lost
two friends." Chris shrugged unhappily. "May still lose one
by the sound of it."
"Look, we need to concentrate our efforts on Ezra, not who's to blame for
what. Vin didn't look none too good earlier from what I saw of him. As you
say, he coulda been killed too and he needs yer support right at this moment,
pard. Bet he's blaming himself for what happened," Buck said, knowing that
the blond would immediately go to his best friend's aid.
The blond flicked a quick, agonized look at his friend before running back
inside, just as Buck had foretold.
"Vin? You okay?" Chris asked as he came to a halt by the long-haired man
and squatted down in front of him.
The sharpshooter kept his eyes downcast. "Fine. Just a bit upset and sick."
The blond looked at Nathan and received an imperceptible nod from the man.
Chris sat down on the other side of the pale younger agent and patted his
back. He looked round the room and saw the shattered looks on the faces of
all his men. He immediately pushed his own regrets and thoughts to the back
of his mind as he promised himself that he would help his men through this
tough patch. He would only give into his own emotions if the worst came to
the worst and they lost Ezra. Even then, he would carry on hiding his own
grief until he knew that the rest of his men were alright. His thoughts were
then interrupted when the doctor returned, looking even more tired.
"Can we see him now?" the black-clad man asked as he stood up rapidly.
The man nodded but added a proviso. "Just two of you."
"Vin? You and Chris go," Buck said quietly.
The two men headed up to their friend's room in ICU, walked up to his bed
and studied him silently. Ezra's chest was covered in a huge dressing that
stretched from armpit to armpit, and from collarbone to stomach. The injured
man had another matching dressing on his back but, naturally, his friends
couldn't see it, although they were aware of its existence. He was on a
ventilator because his badly injured lung was incapable of functioning at
the moment and for the foreseeable future.
"I'm sorry, Chris," Vin said quietly as he went over and over in his mind
what had happened. He continued to stare at his bed-ridden friend and couldn't
believe that he might die.
"Shoulda taken better care of him. You entrusted him to me and I let you
"No, Vin. If anyone's to blame it's me, but I don't want us getting
bogged down in recriminations. We need to catch the bastards who did this,
as well as helping Ezra recover," Chris said forcefully as he looked at the
The younger man shook his head negatively as he returned the blond's look
sadly. "The exit wound was the worst I've seen in a long time, Chris. I really
don't think he's gonna recover from this," he said truthfully.
"He'd better," the blond said as he shivered, knowing Vin probably spoke
Vin sat beside Ezra and fiddled distractedly with the sheet. He then moved
his hand and lay his palm over the back of Ezra's hand and interlaced his
fingers with those of his friend. "Come on, stay with us, Ez," he whispered.
"Please don't die."
Chris sighed and moved to the window. "You gonna stay with him for the moment?"
"Yes, I won't be able to concentrate on work, knowing that he could die.
No one should die alone."
The blond was silent for a moment as he sincerely hoped that it didn't come
to that. "Okay, will you be alright here on yer own, though? I just want
to have as many of us out looking for those bastards as I can."
"Yes, I'll be fine. I'll call if his condition changes," the younger man
promised as he tightened his grip on Ezra's hand.
"See ya later then and don't give up on him." The blond patted Vin's
back. "Talk to him, Vin, to let him know that you're here. Maybe he'll hear
Chris went out and back to the waiting room where the rest of his men were
still waiting patiently. He'd only just got one foot in the room when they
all turned to face him and took an anxious pace forward.
"Pard? How is he?"
"Difficult to say, Bucklin, but he looks bad. Vin's gonna stay with him but
I want to get to the bottom of why Ezra's been targeted like this. Shoulda
started long before now 'cause they could be anywhere by now. JD? You gotten
anything you wanna tell me, kid?"
The youngster looked startled at being singled out but then realized what
Chris wanted to know. "Yeah, I got the car tag and it was a California plate.
I put out an APB on it but we ain't heard nothing yet," the dark-haired man
replied as he shrugged unhappily. He really wanted to have had some positive
news to give to his boss. They could all do with it.
"Check it out. See if it was stolen. Bucklin, check any CCTV footage from
around the area of the shooting. We may get something useful from that. It
happened at the intersection of First and Divine and I know there are several
traffic cameras around there," the black-clad man said as he began thinking
of exactly what needed to be done in their search for clues.
"Sure, pard. Come on, kid." The tall agent ushered his roommate out to get
started on their assigned tasks.
"Josiah? Check back with forensics and see if they have found anything else
at Ezra's house. See if they can find the bullet at the intersection too.
Highly unlikely I know, but we need to find it for matching." Chris sighed
as he ran both hands through his hair slowly. "I s'pose I need to contact
Maude to give her the bad news."
"What can I do, Chris?" Nathan asked as he stepped up beside his boss. The
blond turned to face him. "Check with Ezra's neighbors. See if anyone has
been hangin' around. Get Ezra's car checked too. If they were trying to kill
him they'd maybe have tampered with his brakes or something. If they have,
they coulda left some evidence behind so that we can track them down that
way. Check with Vin's neighbors too. They may have seen the BMW hanging round
there as well. I want every little detail checked and rechecked."
"Sure, leave it to me."
"I'll coordinate things back at the office. Keep in touch," the black-clad
man said as the three men left the waiting room together.
+ + + + + + +
JD was back at the office and already had an answer to his assigned question.
As soon as he saw Chris arrive, he stood up and intercepted the man.
"Chris? The car tag don't belong to a black BMW. I checked the details and
it was supposedly registered to a Cadillac, but that vehicle was written
off a couple of weeks ago. So that might mean that the car tag was probably
stolen from the wrecker's yard at some point. I've checked with the original
owner and he seems honest and was happy to fax me all the details of the
related accident. I don't think he's gotten anything to do with what happened
"Find the wrecker's yard concerned and check their records. See if there
has been any dodgy dealings going on there and let me know what ya find out.
They could be chop shop for all we know," Chris said. "I'm just gonna call
Ezra's mother to tell her what's happened so don't interrupt me until after
I've done that, will ya?"
Chris hated this task. It wasn't as bad as informing someone that a relative
was dead but with Ezra's present condition that may well turn out to be the
case later on. He sat staring at the phone for five minutes without moving
as he tried to pluck up the courage to call. He eventually sighed and knew
that he couldn't put if off any longer. He punched in the required number.
"Maude? It's Chris."
"What's wrong? You only ever call me when Ezra's hurt," she pointed out
"He's been shot in the back and is in a critical condition in the hospital.
I really think you need to come this time."
There was a moment of silence as Maude digested the news and the underlying
hint that Chris had given her. "He's not expected to survive, is he?"
"It's 50/50, Maude. His lung's a mess and he's gotten other massive chest
injuries. We've been advised to expect the worst. I'm really sorry," he said
as he rested his brow in the palm of his hand, feeling like crying.
"I'll be there as soon as I can. Call me on my cell if anything happens in
Buck came back at that moment with the tape from the various cameras at the
intersection. He took one look at his friend and knew what task he'd just
"You okay, Chris?" the tall man asked his troubled friend.
"Yeah, just called Maude," the blond replied, confirming Buck's thoughts.
"Oh, how'd she take it?"
"She's coming straightaway."
Buck nodded. He tightened his grip on the tape that he had in his hand and
showed it to the upset man. "You up to looking at the surveillance tapes
from First and Divine?"
Chris looked up and shook himself out of his dark mood, knowing he needed
to concentrate on the job at hand if he was to get through the next few hours.
"Yeah, sure I am."
Buck put the tape in the machine in Chris's office and JD joined his friends
to watch it. Buck wound it on until he spotted Vin's jeep in the picture.
He stopped the tape and wound it back a couple of minutes. He then started
it running again and watched to see if the suspect car had been hanging around
that area or actually following Vin. They soon saw that the car had been
following. On the screen, Vin drew up at the lights and the BMW drew upsides.
Buck slowed the speed of the tape and they watched the occupants of the car
closely. They saw the gun come out of the rear passenger window tilted upwards
to aim at Ezra who was higher up because of the size of Vin's jeep. Chris
watched in horror as he saw Ezra slump forward just as Vin drove off like
a maniac out of frame with his shattered, bloodstained windshield obscuring
"Right, Buck. Work yer way from Vin's apartment to here and try to get all
the surveillance tapes and traffic camera footage along that route. Look
at every inch of them to see if you can tell where the Beemer joined Vin."
Chris pointed to the TV. "Get the shooting section of this tape analyzed
and see if you can identify the occupants of the car, especially the
rear passenger. I want that bastard."
Chris indicated for the two agents to leave but JD hung back. "Chris? I've
gotten some news about the wrecker's yard. It's been under surveillance for
the past six months 'cause they think, as you did, that it is a chop shop."
"Thanks, kid. Pass on the information that we've got and they can add it
to their case files."
"Already done," JD said with a smile as he wandered back out, leaving Chris
standing thoughtfully by the window.