An Innocent Man

by Angie

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+ + + + + + +

Dr. Fullerton stared at the forlorn figure. For the past few days, Larabee had spiraled deeper and deeper into depression. He had withdrawn into his own world so completely that he appeared catatonic. Aside from eating and going to the bathroom, the man seemed to have no will to act on his own. He was scheduled to begin ECT again that afternoon.

+ + + + + + +

It was a slow day at the diner. Libby was taking out the trash. She had left the inside door to the kitchen open for the slight breeze thru the screen door. As she gathered the trash bags and moved toward the door she heard the voices in the alley.

“We have to do something, Seth, he’s going to get us caught. He just keeps talking about Taylor and asking questions!”

“Shut up man! If you could just keep your hands to yourself we wouldn’t be in this position. Damn! You just had to go and get into trouble at the party. Gill already died because of this shit.”

The matronly waitress placed her hand over her mouth as the shock and horror of what she was hearing settled firmly in her brain. She backed away from the screen door and leaned against the stainless steel counter. The trash bags slipped from her other hand as she turned and headed for the ladies room.

+ + + + + + +

The nurse finished prepping the patient in the ECT room. She had administered the sedative and attached the restraints and electrodes. Her eyes were drawn to the man’s face as the drugs took effect. His eyes struggled to focus and a look of fear appeared just before he lost consciousness. She patted his arm gently before nodding to Dr. Fullerton.

+ + + + + + +

Johnny snuck thru the darkness to the Franklin house. He made his way around to the window of what was now Jeff’s room. The window was open a few inches to catch the cool night air. He eased the window up a few inches further and lifted himself up onto the sill. Levering his weight carefully, he managed to rest his hips on the window frame and lower himself into the room. The floor was carpeted so his shoes made no sound as he approached the hospital bed.

Jeff’s eyes opened as he felt the hand over his mouth. His right arm was pinned and he groped with his left until he heard the voice hiss in his ear.

“You need to keep your mouth shut, Jeff. Stop asking questions about Taylor. It’d be a real pity if your mother were to come in here and find you dead some morning. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep your mouth shut and go on with your cripple life. Is that clear?”

When Jeff nodded, the hand withdrew and Johnny left the same way he came.

+ + + + + + +

Mickey faced her third period class with a slight smirk on her face. The entire class was dressed out for gym except for one student in the back of the class, JD. She called him to the front of the class.

“Did you think I was kidding yesterday young man? Where are your gym clothes?”

“I don’t know who you think you are, lady, but nobody tells me how to dress. I can do your lame assed exercises dressed like this.”

A hard, hateful look settled in the woman’s eyes as she glared at the young man.

“Very well, you can run laps around the gym while the rest of the class plays basketball. Now move!”

As he walked past some of the students suspected of being involved in the selling of the guns he mumbled aloud.

“Smart ass bitch better watch her back or someone’s likely to put a hole in it.”

A couple of the students exchanged knowing glances as JD started to jog laps around the gym. The rest of the class was surprisingly docile as they went thru a few minutes of warm-ups.

+ + + + + + +

Chris opened his eyes to the face of the nurse as she leaned over to loosen the restraints. He tried to speak to her but his voice caught in his throat. He closed his hands into fists as he tumbled into the silent rage.

The nurse looked up in surprise a couple of hours later when the patient followed the others in his group to the afternoon therapy session. She followed them to the solarium and waited to see if Dr. Long would permit him to stay. After receiving a nod from the doctor, she returned to her ward.

+ + + + + + +

Buck and Josiah made a point of being highly visible in the afternoon when JD left the building. Both men wore their best bad-ass cop expressions as they followed the young man with their eyes. Vin also made it a point to warn several of the kids he knew to stay away from the new student. Since JD had never worked with any of the parties that his friend hosted, it was a good way to put out the word.

There was a small crowd of kids gathered around one of the teacher’s cars. The tires had been slashed and the word ‘bitch’ had been spray painted across the hood. JD made a point of riding his dirt bike past the car and stopping to admire the damage before roaring away.

+ + + + + + +

Over the next several days, Seth and Johnny made a point of watching Jeff. Seth had been furious when he found out that Johnny had threatened the Franklin kid but it was too late to do anything about it. Libby also made a point of watching her nephew. She had debated going to the sheriff but realized that she really couldn’t prove anything.

+ + + + + + +

The next few days at the casino made Ezra more and more uncomfortable. Malcolm continued to show up at the start of his shift and placed maximum bets. Jeannie and the pit boss hung over him like a dark cloud. All of the former undercover agent’s internal alarms were blaring and he felt like there was nothing he could do to prevent the disaster he sensed.

By Friday, JD had managed to get tossed out of several of his classes. Buck decided to create the ultimate display that afternoon, he told JD to hit him. The look on his young roommates face was priceless.

“Hit you? You gotta be kidding! I couldn’t hit you, Buck. Besides, you would cream me if it were real. I mean, look at you! No way are they going to buy that I would hit you.”

“Josiah will be there to pull me off, kid. We have to do this. I’ve been harassing you all week, if you don’t make a move, they won’t approach you. I’ll start on you like I did the first day and when I toss you against the truck you sock me. Josiah will pull me off and you can make a big show of threatening me. If that doesn’t draw them out, nothing will.”

+ + + + + + +

Dr. Long went over Chris’s chart again. He had put the man thru several sessions of ECT with little success. The patient was not completely catatonic as he had been but he still remained silent. He had been giving him some participation points in the hope that he would begin to show more improvement. Judge Travis had called that morning and informed him that he was coming to visit that afternoon. His first instinct was to deny the visit but he hoped that maybe seeing his former superior would encourage Larabee to open up.

+ + + + + + +

The phone rang and Buck picked it up without looking at the caller ID.

“ATF, Wilmington.”

“Mr. Wilmington, it’s Ezra. I was just wondering if Mr. Dunne was all right? I have been trying his cell phone and have not been able to get thru. He isn’t hurt, is he?”

“No, Ezra, he’s fine. He’s on an undercover mission over at one of the high schools. Do you want me to have him call you?”

“No, thank you. I was just concerned.”

“Ezra, are you all right?”

“I am doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances, Mr. Wilmington. Thank you for asking. I trust the rest of the team is doing well? Have you heard anything positive about Mr. Larabee?”

“The team is doing fine. Chris isn’t doing well at all. He’s stopped talking and the doctor won’t let us in to see him. They’re using that damned electric shock therapy on him again. It worked before but it isn’t doing him any good now. I don’t know, Ezra, maybe his mind did finally snap. Maybe that girl looking so much like Sarah was too much for him.”

“I don’t believe that for a moment, Mr. Wilmington. Have you had any further luck with finding the miscreants who stole his weapon? What happened with the Cottman boy?”

“The case is getting colder by the minute. Cottman was released. He had proof that he was in another town when the judge was killed. They couldn’t come up with enough evidence to connect him to the gun and the jacket didn’t mean anything to Hornbeck.”

“I regret to hear that. I shall contact some of my former co-workers in Atlanta and see if they can come up with anything helpful.”

The line went silent, each man lost in thought. Finally, Buck took a breath and spoke.

“I wanted to thank you for getting Chris into Devonshire.”

“What makes you think I had anything to do with it?”

“You may be able to fool all of the people some of the time, Ezra, but you can’t fool me. I’ve been doing some digging on my own and I know that your mother pulled the strings.”

“It was the least I could do, after all, he gave me my life back.”

“You didn’t have to leave the team.”

“It was payment for her help. Hopefully, I will soon finish doing my penance with her and I shall be free to pursue other interests.”

“You could always come back to the team.”

The silence on the line was oppressive for the southerner as he struggled to swallow the knot that had developed in his throat.

“Thank you, Mr. Wilmington. Please tell Mr. Dunne that I inquired after him if you would, please. I shall attempt to contact him over the weekend.”

The new leader of Team 7 stared at the phone for several moments before he ran his hands thru his hair. He couldn’t believe how badly he had misjudged the other man.

+ + + + + + +

Judge Travis waited patiently in Dr. Fullerton’s office. An orderly was bringing Chris down from his room. The doctor was brutally frank about the condition of the former team leader. He believed that the man had suffered a severe mental breakdown and the refusal to speak was a manifestation of his guilt.

The orderly escorted Larabee into the room. Orin was stunned at just how rough the man looked. He had not shaved in several days and his eyes were sunken into dark circles. His shoulders were bowed and he shuffled when he walked. Chris’s eyes, however, locked onto Travis’s and held.

Dr. Fullerton sat unobtrusively at his desk, watching. He had not been able to get Larabee to maintain eye contact for over a week. He noticed that Chris’s breathing had deepened and that his hands, which normally remained clenched, were opening and closing convulsively.

“Sit down, Chris. It’s good to see you. I’m sorry I haven’t been up here more often but things have been busy at the office. The guys really wanted to come up and see you but the doctor said you haven’t earned enough points for that.”

The doctor watched as Chris’s body language slowly changed. He was sitting rigidly, his shoulders squared, as he leaned toward his former boss. His facial expression changed from blank to intensely interested. The judge talked for most of a half an hour before he got up to leave.

Chris came to his feet with Orin and reached for his arm. Travis stopped, waiting.

“What is it, Chris? Something you want me to tell the guys?”

An intense struggle was happening inside of the hazel-eyed man. He desperately needed to know about the one man the judge had not mentioned at all during his monolog. Over the screaming of his own voice behind the wall of silence, Chris managed one word.


Orin sighed, he hadn’t heard from the undercover agent all week.

“I don’t know, Chris. I know he talked to JD earlier in the week to find out about his horse. The kid said that he sounded all right.”

Chris sighed deeply before releasing the judge’s arm.

+ + + + + + +

The last bell sounded and JD made his way to his locker. Two boys waited at his locker. One, JD recognized from gym class, the other was a stranger. He opened the locker and shoved his books inside. He was nervous about the upcoming confrontation with Buck.

“Hey, JD, you got plans for tonight?”

“Hey, Zack, no, no plans. Why?”

“We’re having a little party at my place. You interested?”

“Sure, can I bring anything?”

Zack gave him a funny look. JD quickly amended his question.


“No, got plenty. Here’s the address. See you around eight.”

The young agent hurried to get outside before Zack got too far away. He wanted the young man to witness the upcoming event. He called to them as he got outside.

“Hey Zack, wait up!”

Buck moved thru the throng of students like a shark on a blood trail. He grabbed JD by the upper arm and dragged him toward the truck. Flinging the boy against the front fender of the truck, he began to roughly frisk him.

“You can’t do this! You need a reason to search somebody like this!” JD yelled.

“I know you’re up to something, kid. All I need is my suspicion.”

Holding JD against the truck with one hand, he turned to look back at Josiah, who was holding back the two young men who had moved to JD’s rescue. When he turned back, a fist connected solidly with his jaw. He reacted purely out of instinct and slammed the young agent against the truck again and drew back his fist. Josiah caught the descending right hook just before it made contact with JD’s head.

“Don’t do it, partner, he’s not worth getting suspended over!”

Giving JD another good shove, Buck glared at him angrily before jabbing his index finger into the kid’s shoulder.

“One of these days, kid. You better grow eyes in the back of your head because I’m on to you and I’ll catch you.”

“Yeah whatever!” JD yelled as he shoved the hand away and walked away. He was trying hard to cover the knocking of his knees.

+ + + + + + +

Friday night, Ezra was surprised not to find Malcolm or Jeannie at his table when he came onto the floor. He set up his tray and began to open the fresh decks of cards when a hand gripped his upper arm.

“If you would come with me, Mr. Standish. Please don’t make a scene.”

Ezra blinked in confusion at the man before releasing the deck of cards and turning from the table. He was escorted into the casino manager’s office. Just as the door closed behind him, he was roughly shoved into the desk and handcuffed. When he was pulled away from the desk another man addressed him.

“Ezra Standish, you are under arrest for money laundering.”

As the man read him his rights, Ezra’s mind whirled. Suddenly, all the alarms in his mind made such perfect sense. He had been taken. His only hope was that they didn’t have his mother. It would be bad enough for him, being innocent, but if his mother were also arrested he wouldn’t be able to handle it. He was pulled from the casino and placed in the back of the waiting police cruiser.

+ + + + + + +

JD was wired for sound. He had blanched at the sight of the bruise on Buck’s cheek. His roommate assured him that it was all right but he still couldn’t believe he had hit him that hard. Nathan and Mickey were going to be in the surveillance van and Buck, Josiah and Vin were going to be on the nearby rooftops.

“Now remember, we’re after the man on top of this, not necessarily the kids doing the selling. We’ll take the kids and make them a deal to get the bigger fish. Don’t take any chances. I don’t want to spend the next few days at the hospital. This bust isn’t worth you getting hurt.”

By the time JD arrived at the house, the party was in full swing. Loud music poured from the windows. The back yard was a moving mass of young people. Several kegs sat in trashcans full of ice. He recognized several of the kids from school. Zack and the other guy from the afternoon came toward him from inside of the house.

+ + + + + + +

Johnny stopped at the gas station in Maryville to get cigarettes. He noticed the pretty young clerk. They made small talk for a few minutes before he left. A couple of hours later, he was sitting on the parking lot, waiting for her to get off work. He had flattened the tire on her car so that she would not be able to leave.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra was pushed into the police station. His heart sank when he saw his mother, sobbing as she was pulled from an interrogation room and pushed down the hallway toward a cell. He was forced to sit on a wooden bench while the officers got information from the desk clerk. Five minutes later, he was led into another room.

His handcuffs were removed and he was placed in a chair. Two men in suits remained in the room. One took the chair and spun it around to sit straddle of it while the other man stood behind Ezra. They studied him for a while without asking any questions. After rubbing the red marks on his wrists, the southerner dragged his hands thru his hair before fixing his green eyes on the man across the table from him.

“What is it exactly that you want to know?”

“How long did you think you could continue to get away with it?”

“I didn’t know they were laundering money.”

“Do you really expect me to believe that?”

“Whether you believe it or not is immaterial.”

“So you are innocent then?”

“Of money laundering? Yes. I am guilty, however, of letting my mother’s husband win large sums of money from the casino. I was working in collusion with an FBI agent, Jeannie Sheppard. The pit boss was in on the sting they were running. They were trying to bust a mob connection between Malcolm Feingold and some guy he owed money.”

“Right. And next I suppose you’ll be telling me that your mother had nothing to do with any of this. She’s just an innocent bystander, right?”

“It’s true. I only agreed to help Malcolm after my mother was assaulted because of his inability to pay the money he owed. Agent Sheppard agreed not to press charges against her if I would agree to help them with the sting.”

“We checked with the FBI. There is no agent currently working for them named Jeannie Sheppard. I don’t know whom you were working with but it wasn’t an FBI agent. The pit boss was found dead in his car this afternoon.”

The questioning went on for hours and hours. The detectives and FBI agents took turns verbally doing battle with the tiring ex-ATF agent. As the sun was coming up, Ezra finally began to refuse to co-operate. He was too tired to play their word games and didn’t want to take a chance on saying something careless in his exhausted state.

+ + + + + + +

The cashier came out of the gas station to find the flat tires on her car. Before she could get her cell phone out of her purse, Johnny grabbed her. She was thrown into the trunk of another car and driven away. She screamed and pounded on the trunk. When the car came to a stop, she became silent, and terrified.

Time seemed to slow for the frightened woman. She groped around in the dark for anything she could use to defend herself. Her hand closed on the handle of a screwdriver and she clenched it in her fist. She waited for the trunk to open.

+ + + + + + +

Zack introduced JD to several other young men at the party. Two or three times, he was offered hits of Ecstasy and other illegal drugs. He carried a mug of beer around with him and whenever he could, he would pour some of it out and head over to the keg for more. Finally, the subject he was hoping for came up in the conversation.

“Hey, JD, would you really like to get even with that bitch gym teacher?”

“What makes you think I haven’t been getting even? How much do you think she’s spent replacing the tires and repainting her car?”

“I’m talking about really getting even. How would you like to shoot out the windows?”

“What difference does it make whether I shoot them out or take them out with a baseball bat? It costs the same to replace.”

“Yeah, but a bullet hole says ‘I can really mess you up’ so much better.”

“You know, I never thought of that. You know where I can get a piece?”

“Yeah, I can sell you a piece, cheap. Nothing fancy, but enough to put that teacher on notice. It’ll only set you back a hundred.”

“Really? When can I get it?”

“I got it inside if you got the money.”

“Cool! I might just have to go by her house tonight and shoot out a few of her windows there too! Come on, man, let’s see the merchandise.”

Nathan keyed his radio and warned the rest of the team that the kid was making the buy. Vin was plastered against the side of the house, gun in hand, ready to go to the rescue of his young teammate. Buck was also up against the house on the other side, waiting for the signal to move into the house. Josiah and the police backup squad were ready to go into the yard to prevent the others from being in the line of fire.

+ + + + + + +

The hard concrete slab was cold. Ezra had bundled his jacket under his head before dropping into a deep, exhausted sleep. They wouldn’t tell him anything about his mother. He had asked to see her before he was shoved into the cell. In his mind, he replayed the past week. It all made perfect sense now; he was being set up, probably by Malcolm. He had been afraid of getting caught letting the man win; he never suspected that he was helping him launder money. They had been buying chips with dirty money and winning clean money at the gambling tables.

The cell door opened and the FBI agent ordered him up. Ezra leveled an angry green-eyed gaze on the man as he sat up and shook out his jacket. Foregoing the badly wrinkled garment, he folded it over his arm and stepped into the corridor. He followed the other agent back to the interrogation room.

“Shall we begin again, Mr. Standish? Who else was involved in your plan and where did the woman go? We have pictures of at least three other players at your table who have been identified and found dead in various places throughout the city. Are you meeting her somewhere?”

“Gentlemen, I believe I am entitled to a phone call and legal representation. I shall answer no more of your questions until I have been supplied with both.”

“Very well, Mr. Standish, your mother is being arraigned this morning and then we shall attend to your requests. You may return to the holding cell until your representation arrives.”

“Did you say my m-mother is being arraigned this morning? On what charges?”

“The gun used to kill the pit boss was found in the safe house. She admitted to knowing Malcolm Feingold and to arranging for you to be employed by the casino to help him acquire funds for the mob.”

“My mother would never have admitted something like that, she is innocent! She didn’t know what Malcolm was doing with the money. He probably had her beaten up so I would agree to help him.”

“Either way, she’s going to be held over for trial. I don’t imagine the accommodations will be much to her liking. She was looking decidedly rough around the edges when they handcuffed her this morning.”

The man knew exactly which buttons to push. Ezra dragged his hands thru his hair and rested his palms on his forehead. More than anything, right now, he wanted to call Judge Travis and plead for his help. They would incarcerate his mother just to punish him.

+ + + + + + +

Johnny rapped on the trunk. He had left the woman in there for three or four hours while he smoked his crack pipe. The pleasant feeling settled in his brain and he began to feel powerful. He watched the police cars as they raced toward the gas station. Gleeful laughter issued from his mouth as he started the car and drove away.

An hour later, he pulled off of the logging road he had found and shut off the engine. He went around to the trunk and stuck the key into the lock. His drug-clouded mind didn’t even register the screwdriver sticking out of his chest for several moments. As his heart refused to fill with blood, his thoughts slowed. He swatted at the handle protruding from his breastbone before toppling forward onto the legs of the frightened woman in the trunk.

Denise screeched in fear as her abductor fell into the trunk. She kicked at him while she levered herself out of the trunk. Standing in the middle of the rutted road, she watched to see if the man would move. When he didn’t, she crept forward hesitantly and dumped him the rest of the way into the trunk. After making sure that the keys were still in the ignition, she slammed the trunk closed. Climbing behind the wheel, she drove back to the gas station.

+ + + + + + +

As soon as JD gave the signal, Vin and Buck burst into the house and tried to take the young people into custody. There was a brief burst of gunfire and a flurry of bodies trying to escape the house. The music stopped suddenly as a bullet struck the stereo. There were several loud crashes as furniture shattered under the weight of thrown bodies.

When silence descended over the interior of the house, Josiah turned on the lights. The police quickly swept into the room and began to secure the prisoners. Buck knelt at the side of his fallen roommate. JD had been thrown onto a glass-topped coffee table and was unconscious and bleeding from cuts on his back and shoulders. The team leader keyed his mic and yelled for Nathan to bring his bag and for Mickey to call for an ambulance. The young agent opened his eyes and looked into the intense blue eyes of his friend and leader.

“Please tell me that we got them?”

“Just lay still, kiddo, you got them.”

Nathan darted thru the police to kneel at the side of the downed agent. He carefully checked his pulse and pupils. After asking several questions about exactly what JD felt, he nodded to Buck and the two of them lifted the young agent from the rubble of the table. The cuts were not deep but would require stitches. The paramedics arrived and JD was settled on the stretcher.

“Do I have to go like this? Can’t you just take me in the car? You know I hate riding in the back of an ambulance! Come on, Buck! Josiah could take me in the truck.”

“You’re going in the ambulance, young man. Now lay down and bleed quietly!” Buck growled as the dark haired kid sighed. “Vin, you and Nathan go with him. We’ll meet you there as soon as we drop off the van.”

+ + + + + + +

Orin Travis stared at the phone. He had been dialing Standish for most of two days. The phone rang and he left messages but he had yet to hear anything. He had a nagging feeling that something was wrong. His secretary buzzed him that he had an urgent call coming in on another line. Directing her to send the call thru, he picked up the receiver again.

“Orin Travis.”

“Judge Travis? This is Maude Standish. I didn’t know whom else to call. You must do something! They want to put my baby boy in jail for something that he didn’t do! They won’t let me see him or talk to him! They have been questioning him constantly for hours and hours!”

“Calm yourself, Ma’am! Now tell me what exactly is happening.”

+ + + + + + +

The police opened the trunk and pulled the dead body out for identification. Denise collapsed, sobbing, into the arms of her father who had reported her missing when she didn’t arrive home after her shift. After pulling the wallet out of the dead man’s pocket, the body was zipped into a body bag.

+ + + + + + +

Sliding the yellow legal tablet across the table, Ezra averted his eyes. He couldn’t bear the haughty look on the face of the FBI agent. They had thrown his checkered past into his face as further proof that he couldn’t be as innocent as he appeared. In a last ditch, desperate effort, he had agreed to tell them everything he knew in exchange for Maude’s freedom. He had no doubt that they wouldn’t find her prints on the gun but he couldn’t bear the thought of her being locked up like a common criminal.

“That’s all of it?”

“I have outlined my participation in the money laundering scheme. I am left to assume that if you had not taken me away when you did that I would most likely have been the next target on her murderous rampage. I have no idea where she is or where she is going. I never met anyone in the organization except the people who came to my table each night.”

“Very well, Mr. Standish. You will be taken and booked and arraigned in a few hours. Your mother will be released immediately. By the way, we didn’t find her prints on the gun.”

“I had no doubt that would be the case. My mother would never touch anything like that. It just isn’t in her nature.”

+ + + + + + +

Dr. Long studied his patient and the notes made by Dr. Fullerton. They were preparing to try another course of medication on the former ATF agent. There was a new, experimental drug that had gotten good results in lowering the resistance of mental barriers. They had contacted Judge Travis and asked him to send up one of Larabee’s friends. The procedure would not begin until the other man arrived.

+ + + + + + +

The team left the hospital after JD’s minor wounds had been stitched and dressed. The three friends drove out to the ranch and collapsed into bed, exhausted. The ringing of the phone stirred the team leader out of his stupor and he rolled over to pick up the receiver. He had barely pressed the handset to his ear when the authoritative voice demanded his attention.

“Wilmington? Orin Travis. Listen carefully! I realize that your team is exhausted but I need all of you in the office as soon as possible. I have already notified the others. I expect to see you in an hour.”

The line went dead before he had a chance to say anything. Buck rolled over again and replaced the receiver in its cradle before scrubbing the sleep from his eyes. He looked up as the others appeared in the doorway, looking as bedraggled as he felt.

“That was the judge. We have to be in the office in an hour.”

Following quick showers, the three men piled into Buck’s truck and headed for work. The rest of the team was already there when they arrived. Nathan and Josiah pressed cups of coffee into their hands as they found their chairs. Orin swept into the room and made a quick headcount before taking the seat at the head of the table.

“Okay, two things. Vin, you need to head for the Devonshire facility. They want you there when they try the next course of drugs on Chris.”

The rest of the team looked decidedly uneasy about not being sent to the hospital. The sharpshooter looked sheepishly around the table.

“I’m sorry, they will only allow one person to be there and they asked for Vin. I need the rest of you for the other issue that has come up. I got a call from Maude Standish this morning. It seems that Ezra has been arrested and I need you to get up there and find out what is going on.”

“What’s he being charged with?” Buck asked as concern lit his handsome features.

“Money laundering and four counts of conspiracy to commit murder.”

“Ezra? Murder? They have to be kidding, right?” JD’s voice rose stridently.

“I wish they were, JD. I need you and Mickey to fly to Knoxville. A man was killed after kidnapping a young woman from a gas station in Maryville. He’s the brother of the Lightner woman. I want his DNA checked against the evidence taken from the other dead girls. He has been suspiciously linked to the situation from the beginning.”

“How did you find out about the Lightner boy’s death?” Vin’s voice was soft.

“Funny you should ask, Vin, she said to tell you that she was still worried about you. It was the waitress from the diner, Libby something. She said she overheard him talking with Seth Fielder making threats against her nephew. She thinks that Jeff McClain knows something about the murder.”

As soon as the meeting ended, the men gathered around Vin. The young man was apprehensive about being there alone when the doctors did things to Chris. Each one tried to say something positive to the sharpshooter and to remind him to give Larabee their best wishes. Mickey had slipped out of the room and was pulling up airline information.

+ + + + + + +

After the arraignment hearing, Ezra was transferred to another facility. The judge had ordered him held without bail because of the murder charges. A cold feeling of despair settled in his chest as he was led from the police van. He surrendered his clothing and was given a prison jumpsuit. The degrading experience of the thorough search and being watched while he showered was not one he would soon forget.

The guard shoved the new prisoner into a cell and closed the door. Ezra flinched involuntarily at the sound before looking up at his new roommate. The man towered over him and his eyes were cold as he intimidated the new meat. The guard slapped his nightstick against the bars and motioned for the man to move away from the new inmate. Struggling to cover the shaking in his knees, Ezra climbed into the upper bunk and lay down, covering his eyes with his arm.

+ + + + + + +

Arriving at the Devonshire Facility, Vin searched his soul for his tenuous connection to Chris. He had felt nothing from his friend for the past several days. Swallowing hard, he warily approached the doors. The orderly came to get him and escorted him to Dr. Long’s office.

Chris lay on the couch in the office. The doctors had explained the procedure to Vin in the hall before allowing him into the room. They would administer the drugs and then they would try to get Larabee to talk. Vin would be given a signal before he was to speak. They wanted to try to get Chris to respond to the doctors before they allowed his friend to speak to him.

+ + + + + + +

The three ATF agents boarded the plane for Atlantic City. They had not been able to get much information from the police when they called. They were referred to the FBI agent in charge of the investigation. The agent, Phillips, was surly and brusque. He told them that their friend had confessed to his crimes. Buck was so angry by the time they got on the plane that he didn’t even notice the lovely stewardess who stared longingly at him during the flight.

+ + + + + + +

Because of JD’s injuries, he and Mickey were the first ones boarded for the flight to Knoxville. The young agent had explained everything that had happened prior to Evers joining the team. He recounted the trial and the events in the town. The female agent was surprised at how forgiving the kid was with regard to the kids who had tried to run him down.

When they made their way onto the concourse, a voice called out to JD. The agents stared curiously at the man who approached them until he flashed his badge and introduced himself.

“Agent Kinder, Knoxville FBI. You would be JD Dunne and Michaela Evers? Judge Travis informed me that you were arriving and I decided to pick you up. We managed to acquire the Lightner boy’s body and had it sent to the lab for analysis. I’ll take you by the hotel so you can drop off your bags and then we’ll go by the office and pull up the results they have so far.”

+ + + + + + +

The concrete wall was unforgivably hard as he slammed into it. Joshua, his new bunkmate, tackled him, sending both into the corner. Ezra curled up, trying to create a smaller target for the flying feet that assaulted him. When it became clear that he wouldn’t fight back, the big man lost interest in the beating. He grabbed the smaller man by the arm and hauled him to his feet. Pinning him into the corner with his considerable bulk, Joshua groped the helpless man while he laughed softly into his ear.

Pain! Fear! Revulsion! His emotions raced as he strove to remain passive. He hoped that the man would lose interest if he didn’t offer any resistance. He gasped as the brute’s hand groped him and he tensed. The evil laughter made him feel sick to his stomach and he swallowed the bile that was rapidly threatening to erupt.

The loud clang of the nightstick on the bars separated the two men. Joshua faced the guard and smiled innocently.

“He stumbled when he jumped from the bunk. I was just helping him up.”

“You just keep your hands to yourself Joshua. Your last bunkmate is still in the infirmary crapping into a colostomy bag!”

The guard’s laughter only added to the tension in Ezra’s shoulders as he climbed back onto the upper bunk. He wondered how long the brute would wait before beginning to toy with him. Rolling toward the wall, he practiced his deep breathing in an attempt to calm his nervous stomach.

+ + + + + + +

Once the drugs were administered, the doctors began talking to Chris. They started with simple questions, his name, where he lived, his parent’s names. After going thru the questions a few times, he began to answer. The words were hesitant, as if something was holding him back. When Dr. Long asked him if he knew where he was, there was no answer. The doctor motioned for Vin to repeat the question.

“Chris? Do you know where you are?”

The hazel eyes began to search for the source of the voice. His hands braced against the couch and he pushed himself upright. He turned his head and locked his eyes on his friend. The right hand swung out and Vin moved to clasp the forearm as he knelt beside the couch.

“Do you know where you are?”

“Make him stop, Vin. He thinks he’s helping. I can’t stand it anymore!”

“Make who stop? Who’s trying to help?”

“Adam. He keeps pulling me back! He won’t let me out!”

Dr. Fullerton whipped open the folder on his lap to find out who ‘Adam’ was and why he would be preventing the man from communicating.

Vin immediately recognized the reference to the son Chris had lost. His mind searched for a suggestion that would free his friend. A small smile crossed his face and he gripped the blond man by the shoulder.

“What about Sarah? Can’t she make him stop? She knows that you didn’t kill that girl, she was there with you. Let her help you, Cowboy. Call to her!”

The only image he could summon of his beloved wife was the one of her charred body as it lay in the morgue. His mouth opened and a cry of horror rang unnaturally loud in the silent room. Dr. Fullerton immediately shoved a picture of Sarah and Adam into Vin’s hand.

“Come on, Cowboy! Let Sarah help you! Get her to keep Adam busy for a while. Can you do that for me? Chris?”

Something was happening. The hazel eyes were filled with tears as they became unfocused. The grip on Vin’s hand shook visibly as the blond man fought the internal battle.

+ + + + + + +

The dark, furious cloud that was Buck Wilmington charged into the FBI office. His blue eyes wore a mask of rage. Agent Phillips refused to come to his feet as the three ATF agents entered his office. His smile of smug confidence irritated them and he knew it.

“What can I do for you, gentlemen?”

“You can start by dropping this nonsense against Ezra Standish. The man would no more commit a murder than I would. His mother is behind this somehow.”

“It’s funny that you should say that because he vehemently denied her involvement. His confession paints her as an innocent bystander.”

“She’s the one that blackmailed him to get him out here! She’s the one who got him the job at the casino! Ezra would never have willingly done anything illegal.”

“You obviously overlooked his file from his days with the FBI. He was dirty then and they couldn’t prove it. We have him now and I intend to make it stick.”

“We want to see him!”

“Visiting day at the correctional facility is Saturday, I guess you’ll just have to wait until then. Now, I have a very busy schedule and would like to get back to work if you don’t mind.”

It took both Nathan and Josiah to get Buck out of the office. They returned to their hotel to call the judge. While Sanchez briefed Travis on Agent Phillips, Jackson was doing his best to calm the dark tornado in the other room.

+ + + + + + +

His bunkmate waited until after lights out to make his move. Ezra felt the meaty arm wrap around his throat, cutting off both sound and air. He was pulled from the upper bunk and pinned to the lower one by the large man. Bright spots of color appeared before his closed lids as he struggled for breath. He was on his stomach below the much heavier man and one arm was pinned under his own body. Ezra let himself go limp hoping to gain a little breathing room.

Joshua chuckled softly as the body beneath him relaxed. Without releasing his grip on the smaller man’s throat, he groped under him to unbutton the jumpsuit. He dragged sleeve off of one arm and then shifted his weight to free the other arm. As he removed his arm from around the unconscious man’s neck, he was suddenly thrown from the bunk to the floor.

Rolling off of the bunk, Ezra carefully avoided the large man coming to his hands and knees in the middle of the cell. In the dim light, he missed the sign that the man was going to charge him. The hulk hit him in the stomach with his shoulder, slamming him into the bars. As his head contacted with the bars, he saw more spots of color. The hard right that connected with his jaw sent him into oblivion before the series of rabbit punches battered his ribs.

The guard nudged his companion and gestured to the monitor.

“Shouldn’t we stop him? I know Phillips said to let Joshua mess with him but that big bastard will kill him if we don’t do something.”

“Just let him get a little taste, he may be going away for a long time, he needs to get used to being the bitch.”

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