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+ + + + + + +
Bucks mood did not improve over breakfast in spite of Nathan and Josiah
trying to convince him that everything would be all right. Mickey remained
mostly silent as she sat in the corner of the booth at the restaurant. Agent
Phillips had made some pretty nasty accusations against the team when he
discovered that they had been holding Malcolm for a few hours before they
turned him in. She could still hear the clipped, New England accent as he
raged at Buck and berated the team in general.
The team headed for the FBI offices after breakfast to see if they had gotten
anything from Malcolm after they picked him up. Agent Phillips sneered at
them as they came into the lobby before gesturing them into a conference
I told you that I would be in touch if and when we had any information
for you. You dont need to keep coming down here and taking up my
Only the restraining hand of Josiah kept Buck in check.
Look, Phillips, one of my men is out there as well as the mother of
one of my men. I will be looking over your shoulder every step of the way.
If you dont like it, I suggest that you transfer the case.
No, you look, Agent Wilmington, youre in my house now. You do
things the way I tell you or Ill have you locked up for interfering
with a Federal Investigation. Maybe you and your friend can get
a room together. I understand things didnt go so well with his last
The cocky FBI agent never saw the fist that slammed into his nose sending
him backwards thru the plate glass panel in the door. It took both Nathan
and Josiah to prevent Buck from going at him again when he struggled to his
feet. The three ATF agents were escorted at gunpoint to a holding area and
their weapons were confiscated.
While they were cooling their heels, Bucks cell phone rang. He ripped
the instrument from his pocket and flipped it open.
Buck, its Chris. Where are you right now?
Right now, Im in a holding cell at the FBI building. Why do you
I lost my temper and punched the investigating officer in the mouth
after he made a nasty remark about Ezra. Weve been sitting here for
a couple of hours. I guess theyre waiting to hear how badly I hurt
the guy before they decide what to do with us.
Okay, Ill call Judge Travis and see you in a little while.
See me? Where are you?
At your hotel.
After both of the captives had made use of the toilet, JD began to carefully
examine the bunker. He didnt really expect to find a way out but it
gave him something to do. Maude sat quietly in the corner, uncharacteristically
quiet. After an hour or so, he gave up and sat down opposite the woman.
You neednt look apologetic, Mr. Dunne. Im sure that if
there were a way out of here you would have found it. We will just have to
wait until my sons friends affect our rescue.
He had to smile, shed said my sons friends not one
of the usual derogatory terms she normally used in referring to the rest
of Team 7.
Would you mind terribly if I sat beside you? This situation is very
unnerving to me. Maudes sapphire eyes showed the fear and uncertainty
she was feeling. When JD nodded, she rose and moved to sit at his side. The
young agent wrapped his arm around the woman and she rested her head on his
+ + + + + + +
By lunchtime, Ezra was feeling decidedly worse. His blood sugar was dangerously
low and the pain had reached the point where he was fighting not to cry out.
The nurses tried to coax him into eating something. When they took the tray
away later, the doctor came in to talk to him.
Mr. Standish, I understand that you are unhappy here but if you continue
to refuse to eat I shall be forced to tube feed you. As unlikely as it seems
right now, you will adjust. I know you had a rough first day but you need
to try to make the best of the situation.
When the only response he received was a hard glare the doctor nodded and
walked away. He returned a few minutes later with two guards and a syringe.
The fight was mercifully brief before the needle bit into his hip and he
slipped into unconsciousness. When he awakened later, he had an IV in one
arm and both hands secured to the rails.
After supper, the nurse picked up an empty tray from the decidedly docile
prisoner. Ezra had forced himself to eat the food on the tray. The doctor,
after talking to the priest, ordered him moved to an isolation cell for the
time being. He was grateful for the chance to be alone even though the nightmares
kept him from being able to close his eyes for more than a moment or two.
+ + + + + + +
Judge Travis made several phone calls. He knew that Wilmington could be hot
headed, he just hoped that having Chris and Vin there would calm him down.
He had agreed not to press charges against Agent Phillips for the sexual
harassment of his man in exchange for Phillips not pressing charges
When the team got back to their hotel, the judge bawled Wilmington out for
his outburst. A very contrite Buck hung up the phone and massaged the side
of his head. Chris clapped him on the shoulder.
You deserved that! Now, we have to try to figure out where the woman
would have taken them. The FBI has her picture at the airports and Feingold
gave up the name shell be trying to use so if she tries to leave the
country, well get her. Also, JD is resourceful. If he can, he will
be working to free himself and get in contact with you. Judge Travis is pushing
the prosecutor to offer Malcolm a deal if he will clear Ezra of the murder
charges. Since the casino isnt out any money, that should be enough
to spring him.
Mickey looked up from the laptop computer. We may have a problem.
All six agents turned on her. She shrank slightly under the concentrated
Jeannie Sheppard is the cover for a CIA agent, Louisa Reynolds. Shes
been in deep cover with a Boston crime family for over a year. There is some
indication that she may have switched sides. If it is Reynolds, she has contacts
and access that we dont and probably cant get. There are pictures
of her if any of you would care to look.
Only Buck and Nathan had seen the hotel security tapes and both nodded
immediately. Chris picked up the phone and called the judge.
+ + + + + + +
With nothing else to do in the bunker, JD began to talk to Maude about her
You should have seen his face! Chris struggled to keep a straight face
but Vin fell out of his chair laughing. It took him a couple of days, but
Ezra got even with them. He was regaling her with some of the pranks
that had been played on the southerner when he had first joined the team.
And when I got shot the second time, he never left my side. It didnt
matter how sick I was or what I said to him, he stayed. He kept trying to
pass it off like he wasnt really concerned but I could see it in his
eyes. Its getting easier to read him the longer we work together.
As she listened to the young man extol the finer qualities of her son, Maude
felt a lump building in her throat. She kept seeing him as a child. He was
her pride and joy in spite of the fact that she didnt really know how
to mother him. Such a precocious child, he always loved her, no matter how
often she dumped him on other people to have time to herself.
Hearing the sniffles, JD immediately regretted running his mouth. He offered
his handkerchief to Maude.
Im sorry, Mrs. Standish. I didnt mean to make you cry.
Its quite all right, Mr. Dunne. I am gratified to have an opportunity
to see my son thru someone elses eyes. It appears that I have been
most mistaken in my assumption that his association with all of you was bad
for him. You have given him something that I never could, a family of people
who care about him.
He is a very special person, Maam. Weve all learned from
him and hes learned from us. Thats what makes us such a great
team. I also wanted to thank you for getting Chris into that hospital in
Colorado. I cant imagine what might have happened to him if he had
gone to a regular prison.
At his words, Maude again began to sob. JD mentally kicked himself as he
tried to comfort her.
+ + + + + + +
A knock at the door caused all of them to jump. Buck and Josiah drew their
weapons and moved to either side of the doorway while Chris opened the door.
A pair of men stood in the hall, a cool, appraising expression on their faces.
Yes, what can I do for you?
May we come in? He flashed an official looking ID card with a
The men moved into the suite, not looking the least bit bothered by the amount
of hardware pointed in their direction. They took a seat on the couch and
waited. When the rest of the occupants of the room sat they began to speak.
We have been told that you are looking for one of our agents. We have
been assigned to help you find your missing friends.
What makes you think they are still alive?
Agent Sheppard may have switched sides, but I cannot believe that she
would kill an innocent person and especially not another government agent.
Most likely, she had them hidden some place until whatever plan she is running
How do you explain the four dead bodies connected to her?
We have proof that at least one of the murders was committed by Feingold.
We were following up on a tip that Jeannie was in the area and got the murder
of the casino pit boss on tape. We have already released the information
to the FBI so that they can remove that charge from your friends
One murder or three, the penalty wont be very different. We need
to clear Ezra of all the charges. Do you have any other tips on her
We are following up on a few. As soon as we know anything we will be
As the men came to their feet so did Buck. All four of his male teammates
turned to take hold of him as he started toward the CIA agents.
Wait just a damned minute! You cant expect us to just sit here
and wait for you to call us. There has to be something we can do! We want
The best thing you can do is to stay out of the way. Take in a show,
go to the museum, check out the casinos, take a swim on the beach, well
be in touch.
The two men quickly left the room and stood in the hall as they listened
to Bucks tirade.
Are they kidding? Take in a show? Do they think we are here for our
health? The kid is out there somewhere with a woman who may or may not have
switched sides and they want us to sit here on our asses and wait?
Calm down, Buck. Remember what the judge said, one more temper tantrum
and you go on a plane back to Denver. I need you here.
The deadly sincere voice cut thru the red haze in Bucks mind and he
forced himself to realize just how fragile they were all feeling. Chris had
been over a month in a mental hospital. Josiah had spent two nights in the
hospital secure ward with Ezra after he was attacked at the correctional
facility. They were all feeling guilty about losing JD and Maude. He finally
dragged his fingers thru his hair and sat back down.
Thats better. Maybe if we split up and hit some of the places
this Sheppard woman frequented well find someone whos seen her.
Mickey, you and Vin hit the casino. Nathan and Josiah, check out her home
and neighborhood. Buck and I are going to the FBI office to see if we can
get any more information.
Are you sure you want me with you, Cowboy? They may shoot first when
I show up down there. I think I saw a wanted poster with my mug
Thats why youre going. They know you mean business.
+ + + + + + +
There were exactly 168 holes in the tile with the water stain on it. Ezra
had been counting the holes in the tile to pass the time. The doctor had
come to see him and said that he would be returned to the general population
the next day starting with breakfast. As much as he wanted to be out of the
tiny isolation cell, he dreaded facing the other prisoners. He had no doubt
that his former cellmate would have told them about what had happened. He
knew that he was now marked as an easy take down. He clenched
his fists. They would have to kill him before he would let them try that
The priest visited with him briefly. He brought a couple of books. After
trying several times to draw Ezra into a conversation, he left. One of the
books was the newest Grishom novel and the other one was A Tale of
Two Cities in French. It seemed that the man had done a little homework
and learned that the new prisoner was intelligent and multilingual.
+ + + + + + +
JD coaxed Maude into drinking water. Even though there was no food in the
bunker, they could survive for several days as long as they had enough water.
It also helped for the temporary feeling of fullness. After telling her all
he could about Ezra, he had gone on to telling he about his own growing up.
He spent hours recounting his childhood. When he realized that the woman
was sleeping, he rested his own head and slept.
+ + + + + + +
The casino was gaily lit and sharply contrasting the mood of the Texan. He
followed behind Mickey as she mingled with customers and dealers. A couple
of women approached him and made suggestive gestures only to get a blue-eyed
glare. Finally, he found himself on the receiving end of a good, hard shake.
Will you wipe that look off of your face and try to look like youre
having a good time? A couple of the dealers remember Ezra and the woman who
was always at his table. You might have better luck talking with some of
them if youd put on that charming Tanner grin.
+ + + + + + +
The address they had for Sheppard or Reynolds was an empty apartment. Josiah
and Nathan asked everyone they could get to talk to them if they had ever
seen anyone coming and going from the apartment, no one could remember seeing
+ + + + + + +
The secretary at the FBI building looked up and shied away from the mustached
agent standing beside the handsome blond man. Without saying a word, she
picked up the phone and called Agent Phillips to the lobby. She looked hesitantly
at the ATF agents before directing them into one of the two conference rooms.
Agent Phillips swept into the room. His face was still horribly bruised from
his last meeting with the ATF agent. He took a seat as far from Buck as he
could. Laying a folder on the table, he slid it toward Chris.
This is all we have for the moment. They took your friends in a helicopter
from the roof. We picked up the pilot and he said that the man flashed him
an FBI ID card and demanded that he land on the roof. He left the roof and
went into the building. A short time later he returned with your agent and
a woman. The woman panicked and was drugged. He landed at the airport and
they took off in a dark sedan. We have been following up on all the tips
we have received on their whereabouts. The CIA has sent over some information
on the woman and we are running it thru our database.
+ + + + + + +
The dejected team gathered in the suite that evening as the sun was going
down. They had bits and pieces and promises to call them if the woman surfaced.
Josiah had contacted the priest at the prison and inquired after Ezra. He
was assured that Standish was well and would be integrated with the general
population the next day. Sanchez asked the man to pass along that they were
still working to free him and that they were praying for him.
+ + + + + + +
The house was just as she left it and that was a good sign. Jeannie clicked
the garage door opener and drove the car inside. She closed the door and
got out of the car. Picking up the picnic basket, she entered the house.
Using her flashlight, she made her way to the basement. She wanted to get
back sooner, but Andre wouldnt let her out of his sight. He had finally
gone to the casino and she slipped out.
The light was on when she opened the bunker door and she pulled the gun from
her belt. She was mildly surprised that they had been able to free themselves
from the handcuffs. Both of the captives were sitting on the floor, asleep,
when she looked inside. Suspecting that it was some kind of trap, she pushed
the basket thru the opening and quickly shut the door. She would call and
let the FBI know where they were in a couple of days after she and Andre
were ready to leave the city.
+ + + + + + +
The guard escorted Ezra to the dining room the next morning. He made his
way thru the line and took a seat at the end of a table, away from any of
the other prisoners. For the most part they ignored the newcomer. He tried
to eat as quickly as his stomach would allow although he had no idea where
he was to go when he finished his meal. Out of the corner of his eye, he
noticed someone setting a tray next to his and he tensed. Suddenly, several
men surrounded him and took seats across from him.
The southerner kept his eyes on his tray as he fought with his hand to still
the nervous tremor that had taken up residence there. He finally gave up
and took hold of his tray as he started to leave the table. A hand shot out
and gripped his forearm and he froze.
Dont rush off, pretty boy. Finish your food. The mans
eyes had a feral glow and he raked over Ezra as he tightened his grip.
Im quite finished, thank you. If youll let go of my arm,
I will dispose of my tray and go about my business. His heart was pounding
so loudly in his ears that he was surprised that they couldnt hear
I said sit down, pretty boy. Youll be joining one of my boys
in a cell tonight and I want to get to know you a little better.
Reluctantly, Ezra sat back down and folded his hands together in his lap.
He stared at the edge of the table as the raucous laughter ran around the
table. The man sitting next to him dropped his hand below the tabletop and
rested it on Ezras thigh. Drawing a deep breath, he tried to move away
from the hand.
Please remove your hand.
The man slowly turned his head as he tightened his grip. His lips curled
back from tobacco stained teeth and he tossed a challenging glare at the
smaller man. A guard paused at the end of the table and leveled a meaningful
look at the offending man and the hand was quickly withdrawn. Ezra grabbed
up his tray and bolted from the table. The laughter that followed him made
him feel sick.
+ + + + + + +
JD opened his eyes when he felt Maude shudder in her sleep. The first thing
he noticed was the basket. He carefully slipped away from the wall and warily
approached the basket. It didnt appear to be wired in any way and he
was too hungry to really care. He opened the top and quickly took inventory.
There were several apples and pears along with a bucket of chicken and a
block of cheese. His stomach called loudly as his mouth watered.
Dragging the basket over to where Maude sat, JD nudged her gently.
Mrs. Standish? They brought us food. Wake up and try to eat
They both ate a piece of fruit and some cheese before setting the basket
aside. They decided to carefully ration the food since they didnt know
how long they would be there.
+ + + + + + +
Mickey and Vin returned to the casino. She took a seat at a slot machine
and slowly fed it nickels while she watched the door. He took a seat at the
end of the bar and nursed a drink. The FBI was not getting anywhere with
Malcolm. The man was guilty of murder and not in the mood to be generous
even to his stepson. He actually laughed when Phillips told him what had
happened on Ezras first night in the big house.
One of the dealers made eye contact with Vin. She was the one who thought
she remembered another man who came in with Jeannie. When the woman tossed
him another direct gaze, he stood up and made his way across the room. At
her table was a very elegantly dressed man who was playing double hands of
Black Jack. Vin raised his eyebrows and looked pointedly at the man and the
dealer nodded. He made his way around until he could get a good look at the
man before he signaled Mickey.
Spilling her chips onto the table, Agent Evers giggled drunkenly as she looked
at the other players. She missed the edge of the stool twice before she managed
to get settled. The dealer looked at her and smiled. After two or three hands,
Mickey ordered a Sloe Gin Fizz. She again giggled and let her unfocused gaze
wander around the room when the drink arrived. On the next deal, she won
and in her excitement, knocked her drink onto the man sitting next to her.
Andre sprang off of the stool and brushed the drink from his pants. The drunken
woman nearly fell off of her stool trying to wipe his jacket with her napkin
before he roughly brushed her hands away. The woman then got to her feet
and stumbled into him as she sobbed and apologized for spilling her drink
on his nice clothes. He finally shoved her away and stormed away from the
Winking at the dealer, Mickey tossed her a couple of chips and left the table,
following the retreating man. Vin was already in front of her, keeping the
man in his sight. Evers went to their rental car while Tanner followed the
man to see what he was driving. When the man stopped to open a Mercedes,
Vin turned and headed for the car that was rolling slowly down the next aisle.
+ + + + + + +
After breakfast, the prisoners were sent to their workstations. Ezra was
guided toward the group that was going to the laundry room. Another prisoner
introduced himself as Tiny and proceeded to explain what he would be doing.
The guards kept a close watch on the prisoners and no one bothered the new
man as he folded and stacked the articles he was given.
At lunch, Tiny invited Ezra to eat with him, seeing that the new prisoner
was frightened of something in the dining hall. Several of the laundry crew
gathered around the table and sheltered the southerner from the group that
had surrounded him at breakfast.
+ + + + + + +
As Mickey carefully followed the Mercedes, Vin called the plate number to
Chris and asked him to have it run. The car pulled into a hotel lot and the
Texan quickly jumped out of the rental car to get inside so that he didnt
lose sight of the man. As he passed a housekeeping cart, he grabbed a stack
of towels and headed for the elevator. The man came into the lobby and headed
for the elevators. Vin stepped on with the man and waited for him to press
a floor button. The man raised a puzzled glance at the towels.
Housekeeping never leaves enough towels. I went down to the desk to
The man nodded at the explanation and they rode in silence to the eighth
floor. The man stepped out and Vin followed him, pulling his wallet out as
if looking for his room key. Noting the room number, Tanner turned the corner
and waited a moment before returning to the elevators. Mickey was waiting
for him when he reached the lobby.
Hes in 815. Now, we just have to wait and see if the woman shows
+ + + + + + +
Chris and the others arrived a few minutes later. Mickey slipped out with
Buck to put a tag on the Mercedes while the others worked on a plan. Josiah
asked for and got the room right next door to the one they were watching.
It was decided that the team, except for Evers would take turns keeping watch
in the lobby while the others kept watch from the room upstairs.
+ + + + + + +
After lunch, the prisoners were herded outside. Ezra tried to stay with the
group from the laundry but in the crush of bodies in the hall, they got
separated. Before he could get out of the pack, he was shoved from behind
and hustled into a corner. When the curtain of prison uniforms parted, Joshua
stood over the southerner with an evil smile on his face. His arms were held
on either side by monstrous brutes that also leered at Ezra as they tightened
their grips on his arms.
The first blow took his breath away as Joshua hit him in the chest. The second
emptied his stomach as it connected lower. Thru the hazy wall of pain, Ezra
decided to defend himself. Shifting his weight onto his left foot, he lashed
out with his right, hitting his attacker in the groin. In the frenzy of fists
and feet that followed, the southerner lost his battle to remain conscious.
By the time the guards broke up the fight, he was just barely breathing.
+ + + + + + +
The food went a long way toward rejuvenating the pair in the bunker.
Unfortunately, it also left them awake for greater periods of time as they
contemplated what was going to happen to them. Maude had fallen silent as
she stared at a spot on the far wall. JD paced for a while before taking
one of his keys and scratching his name on the wall. He figured that if they
died, at least whoever found them would know who he was.
+ + + + + + +
Jeannie flinched when she saw the Mercedes. She had expected to be back before
Andre returned. She hurried to the room to see if she could make up to him.
He ranted at her about the drunken woman who had spilled her drink all over
him. He demanded to know where she had gone.
I just took some food to our pets. I dont want them to be too
far gone when theyre rescued. Dont worry, I wasnt
How are your little pets?
Theyre fine. They got free of the pipe and found the light switch.
We have to leave soon so that I can call and tell the authorities where they
What makes you think Im going to let you do that? You wanted
the woman killed last week! The other one is a federal agent! If he lives
to identify us, we could get the death penalty. I think I need to take care
of your little pets and get them out of your misery. Come on, lets
get it over with!
No! Andre, I cant kill a federal agent! Were going to
disappear! We dont have to kill them! Please? Just let me call and
tell where they are and we can go wherever you want!
Josiah listened thru the thin wall as Andre killed Jeannie. He heard the
man gathering his belongings and leaving the room.
Chris, hes on his way to kill JD and Maude! Dont lose
Vin and Nathan raced down the hall and into the stairwell before Andre came
out of his room. They reached the lobby and hurried into the parking garage.
Josiah turned to look at Mickey and took a deep breath. He closed his eyes
and began to pray.
+ + + + + + +
The guards made their way thru the crowd at the wall. In the cleared semi-circle
by the wall lay the downed prisoner. The man had curled into a fetal position
in an attempt to protect himself from the onslaught of kicks and punches.
In the time it took to sound a lock down and clear the yard,
the doctor arrived. Following on his heels was the priest. They eased the
injured man onto a backboard, uncurling him in spite of his pain filled protests.
With a guard and the priest at his side, Ezra was loaded into the ambulance
and returned to the hospital where he had been only three days before. The
guard remained with the prisoner while the priest dialed the number he had
written down for the man who had called him the day before. It was a call
he didnt want to make.
Mr. Sanchez? This is Father Ryan from the prison. I dont know
any other way to say this. Your friend was assaulted again in the yard.
Were at Mercy hospital and you might want to be here with him.
Staring down at the dead body of the former CIA agent, Josiah felt his heart
ache. He turned to the police officer that was supervising the crime scene.
I have to leave right now. You have my card, call me if you need anything
else. Ill be at Mercy hospital. Can you have one of your officers drive
us over there?
Mickey looked up, startled. Not JD?
No, Ezra. Lets go. They followed the officer out of the
room and down to the street. The flashing lights and shouts of people asking
questions were shut out as Josiah softly prayed.
+ + + + + + +
Andre arrived at the safe house and parked on the street. He checked the
gun in his pants before he got out and headed for the front of the house.
He pulled his keys and opened the door. Without turning on any of the lights,
he made his way toward the basement.
The rental car bounced over the curb and came to rest on the lawn as the
three ATF agents leapt from the doors. Nathan gave the address to the police
dispatcher as he ran. Vin and Chris kicked the door open and plastered themselves
against the wall until they were sure that they werent going to get
shot immediately. They cautiously entered the darkened house. Vin grabbed
Chris and pulled him close.
Dont these places have bunkers in the basement? Thats the
only place they could keep them in a house like this.
The three made their way toward the basement. It was a blind stairwell. They
would be walking right into the line of fire! If they didnt get down
there quickly, though, JD and Maude could be killed. The two soul brothers
nodded before they raced down. Nathan hung back to give them some backup
and to be available if the other two couldnt take the man down.
As soon as he reached the floor, the shooting started. Chris shoved Vin away
from him as they rolled away from the place where the bullets were chewing
up the concrete. They returned fire, using the muzzle flash to locate the
JD heard the shots outside of the bunker and jumped up to shut off the light.
He grabbed Maude and dragged her to the farthest corner of the room and shoved
her down again. Covering her with his own diminutive frame, he prayed that
they werent about to die.
+ + + + + + +
The hands that restrained him were firm and a voice was telling him to lie
still. It hurt to breathe and he was going to be sick! Ezra tried to turn
to his side until he felt the handcuffs holding him on his back. He lost
the battle with his stomach and began to throw up the blood that he had
swallowed. A voice demanded that the restraint be removed while several hands
lifted him onto his side and turned his head. As soon as his airway was cleared,
he began to gasp for air. He heard a voice say that his lung had collapsed
before he was placed on his back again. Drifting on the edge of consciousness,
he heard another commotion.
The two ATF agents raced thru the emergency room and into the examining room
where their friend was being treated. The prison guard attempted to eject
them and found himself staring down the barrels of their guns. While Mickey
guided the guard to another corner of the room, Josiah holstered his gun
and moved to Ezras side. While the hospital staff stood transfixed,
he gently smoothed the hair from the southerners forehead and spoke
softly into his ear.
Were here, Ezra, weve got your back.
When the frightened man stopped fighting, the medical staff resumed treating
him. They never questioned the big, gray-haired man who stood at the side
of the gurney. He kept up a constant litany of comforting phrases as he stroked
the face and neck of the injured man.
+ + + + + + +
A cry of pain announced that Vins shot had found its mark. The shooter
threw down his gun and began to beg for his life. Chris called for Nathan
to hit the lights and the men found themselves facing the man who was gripping
a bleeding hole in his thigh. While the Texan kept his gun trained on the
shooter, Larabee moved to open the door to the bunker.
JD? Kid are you in here? Chris called as his hand searched for
the light switch.
Chris! Thank Heaven! JD moved back and drew Maude to her feet.
She took a few steps toward the center of the floor before she found her
Mr. Larabee, I am so relieved to see you. Her final steps were
staggered as she fainted. Chris and JD caught her between them and eased
her to the floor.
Within minutes, the police were swarming over the house and basement. An
ambulance took the injured shooter away while a second unit tended to Maude.
Nathans cell phone rang and he answered it.
Nathan? Mickey. Did you find them? Good. Listen, we need all of you
at Mercy hospital, post haste. Its Ezra and its bad. Josiahs
with him right now. They put me and the prison guard out a few minutes
+ + + + + + +
While the doctor was trying to re-inflate the collapsed lung, Ezra had opened
his eyes briefly. Seeing Mickey with her gun and the guard had set him off
and he began to try to roll over. Josiah tried to calm him without success
until the doctor ordered all the unnecessary people out of the room. The
guard meekly protested before leaving the room. The nurse and Josiah managed
to get him calmed down again after a couple of minutes.
When the doctor had completed his basic exam, Josiah asked the obvious question.
He has broken ribs on the right and left. He had a collapsed lung.
There are multiple contusions on his abdomen and possible internal injuries.
I wont know for sure until we get the labs back. We should have the
X-rays back in a minute and Ill know more then.
While they were waiting for the labs and X-rays, the rest of the team arrived.
Like homing pigeons, they went directly to their injured friend. The doctor
started to protest the presence of so many people until he saw the effect
on his patient. Where Ezras blood pressure and heart rate had been
dangerously erratic, they began to level off as soon as the others arrived.
Adrift on the ocean of pain and fear, Ezra had been clinging to the deep
voice and gentle hands that held him. Suddenly, he heard the other voices.
He felt the other hands. Nathan asked for the medical information. Buck and
Vin each picked up a hand and squeezed firmly. One hand clasped his shoulder
and demanded that he open his eyes. In spite of the pain, he looked up and
smiled into the hazel-eyed blond.
Youll do anything to get out of work, wont you, Ezra?
Chris teased softly. Seeing the green eyes trying to focus farther away,
he supplied the answer. JDs right here. Were all here.
And were not leaving you. We got the guy who killed those others.
Youre going home with us just as soon as the doctor springs you.
The six men refused to leave Ezras side until he was unconscious again.
Nathan stayed with him while they ran a few more tests while the others stared
down the cowed prison guard. By the time that Ezra was moved to a regular
room, the guard had been called away. The seven of them camped out in the
hospital room after Josiah refused to allow Mickey to return to the hotel.
He understood that she felt like an outsider. Maude was treated for shock
and released. Instead of remaining at the hospital, she looked in on her
baby boy and then left him in the capable hands of his brothers.
The next couple of days were long ones for the team. They stayed with Ezra
around the clock the first day until he was able to stay awake for more than
a few minutes at a time. Chris had contacted the judge to let him know what
happened. The team then split up and began to spend shifts with the southerner
at the hospital. Only one person stayed at his side continuously, Chris would
not leave. He was at Ezras side every moment, holding his hand or soothing
his nightmares. It was the least he could do.
There but for the grace of God. The blond man whispered when
it was just he and Josiah in the room. All of this could have happened
to me and he would never have been harmed.
He willingly made the sacrifice, Chris. It was his way of paying you
back for giving him the chance to be part of the team.
I over heard the doctors talking earlier. This wasnt the worst
of it, was it?
Chris moved closer to the head of the bed and brushed a wrinkle from the
pillowcase. He had been physically ill when he overheard the doctors talking
about his condition when he had been admitted the first time. The doctor
said that it had taken four of them to hold Ezra down to get him sedated.
No, this wasnt the worst of it. He knows that Nathan and I know
what happened but I dont know if he realizes that any of the others
know. We didnt tell JD. I dont know how the kid will deal with
After two days, Ezra was growing frustrated with his confinement. He wanted
nothing more than to get out of Atlantic City. He wanted to look out of his
window and see mountains and he wanted to stop seeing the look of guilt on
Chris Larabees face.
He was sitting up on the bed, playing cards with Vin and JD when the doctor
came to see him. He submitted to the poking and prodding before he began
his impassioned plea for freedom.
There is nothing being done for me here that cannot be done at home.
I can convalesce in my own abode. My broken bones will heal as well in Denver
as here. I want to go home!
The doctor consulted the chart. The patient was doing well on a minimal amount
of pain medicine. He was eating and sleeping, although he was still disturbed
by violent nightmares. The broken ribs would continue to heal as long as
he was not jarred unduly. He had spent some time talking with the team medic
and knew that the man would be well tended.
As long as you continue to do well today, I see no reason not to discharge
you in the morning. I will provide you with medication for pain that your
friend can administer until you are under the care of your personal
The entire team arrived to pick him up from the hospital the next morning.
The IV had been discontinued and Josiah had brought him some of his own clothes.
Maude stopped by to see him before he left the hospital. They left her alone
with him for several minutes.
Ezra, dear, I know that you are not going to believe this but I know
that you are going to be in good hands. These people, these friends of yours,
care for you in a way that I am want to understand. They are your brothers
in every sense of the word. I was wrong to try to wrest you away from
Thank you, Mother. It has been my fondest wish that you would come
to see them the way I do. They have given me something I have never had,
a home and a family, a sense of belonging. I am truly going home.
The flight back to Denver was one of the longest Ezra could remember. Nathan
administered a large dose of pain medicine before they boarded the plane.
The broken ribs left him feeling especially wrung out in spite of the wheelchair
they insisted he use. He took a seat by the window so that they would not
be climbing over him during the flight. As soon they lifted off, he allowed
himself to sleep.
Chris took the seat next to Ezra and watched him closely as he dozed. Nathan
made sure that he was covered warmly and as comfortable as possible, all
things considered. The rest of the team surrounded their injured friend,
taking seats in front of and behind him. Vin and JD, in front of Ezra, kept
peering over the top of their seats to watch him sleep.
A short time into the flight, the nightmare started. Chris leaned close and
began to try to calm him without waking him. Josiah and Nathan leaned over
the seat from behind and also tried to comfort Ezra as he fought his way
thru the dream. Buck and Mickey watched from across the aisle. Larabee gave
up on coaxing the southerner out of the dream without waking him and took
hold of Ezras shoulder and shook him firmly.
Ezra? Wake up. Youre dreaming. Its all right.
He opened his eyes to the concerned gaze of three of his teammates. Tipping
up his head, he saw two more pairs of eyes. Looking past Chris, he caught
the other two. He let his head lay back against the seat and closed his eyes
Im sorry if Ive alarmed you. The images are quite disturbing.
I will try to rest quietly.
Would you like a drink? A soda or something? Chris watched Ezra
No, thank you, Mr. Larabee. I dont think my stomach could tolerate
anything just now. I will just try to rest.
A hand caressed his forehead and he sighed as Nathan satisfied his need to
know that he didnt have a fever. Two fingers pressed lightly against
his neck and checked his pulse before his hand placed a reassuring pat on
Twice more on the flight home, Chris had to waken him from the nightmare.
The second time it was harder to rouse him and Josiah leaned over the seat
to add his presence to the struggle. Vin and JD reached back and took hold
of Ezras hands as the stewardess stopped to observe the situation.
Buck gently but firmly advised her to move along.
After waking up to all of their concerned faces for the third time, he gave
up on sleeping and pulled the cards from his pocket. The familiar feel and
the sound of the cards sliding thru his hands was soothing to both Ezra and
the rest of the team.
Instead of going to his condo, Ezra was delivered to the local hospital to
be checked. After one of the teams regular doctors reviewed the charts
the doctors at Mercy hospital had given Nathan, they discharged him with
another prescription for pain medicine and a mild sedative that would allow
him to rest without being interrupted by the nightmares.
Leaving the hospital, they headed for the ranch. Ezra knew it was coming,
he had overheard them discussing it while he was dressing. He had to suppress
a smile as he pretended to be frustrated at being forced to convalesce at
the ranch. Deep down, he was relieved that he would not be alone when the
nightmares came again. Somehow, he had known he wouldnt be.
A week later, the team met at the office for the first time since returning
to Denver. Ezra was still pale and moving gingerly but he was glad to be
there. As the group filed in to the conference room, there was a moment of
confusion when Ezra and Mickey both headed for the same chair. The woman
immediately retreated to the far end of the table and took a seat. Chris
moved to the head of the table and rested his hands on the tabletop. A broad
grin split his face.
This feels good! If I ever complain about the burden of leading this
team, please remind me of just how close I came to losing it forever. I want
to thank Buck for his capable leadership during my absence. I also want to
thank Agent Evers for filling the vacancy on the team. She will be reassigned
to Team 4 pending the return of one of their members from maternity leave.
There were a few nervous glances passed around the table at the last
To recap the past few weeks. Johnny Lightner killed his sister Wynsome
after Seth Fielder injected me with insulin. He also killed Judge Cross according
to the forensic evidence collected from the body. Jeff Franklin was given
probation for his part in concealing the murder. Seth Fielder was convicted
of conspiracy to commit murder as well as a list of minor charges, it will
be a long while before he breathes as a free man.
Casting a meaningful glance at his undercover agent, Chris continued.
Ezra and Maude were both cleared of charges in the money laundering
and murders in Atlantic City. Agent Jeannie Sheppard or Louisa Reynolds was
killed by Andre Kline. Mr. Kline also admitted to the murders of the other
three members of the little group. Malcolm Feingold was convicted of killing
the pit boss from the casino. His marriage to Maude was annulled by a Federal
It was actually several weeks before the entire team was able to take on
a case together. Chris had to be weaned off of the anti psychotic medicine
from Dr. Fullerton and them re-qualify with his firearm. Ezra had to be medically
cleared to return to duty and also had to re-qualify at the range with his
firearm. He spent a couple of hours every day at the gym to build up his
stamina and strength. Vin worked with him in the evenings on his self-defense
When the entire team was finally cleared for duty, they had an all-day bash
at the ranch with all of their friends and family. A stiff breeze could have
knocked Ezra over when his mother stepped out of Josiahs suburban.
She sailed into the crowd and placed a kiss on her sons cheek before
turning to mingle with the other guests.
I would not have believed it if I didnt see it for myself. My
mother is socializing with my friends and not one of them looks piqued. Mr.
Jackson, pinch me, I think I must be dreaming.
Watching as Maude Standish moved to tousle JDs hair and place a motherly
kiss on his cheek, Nathan laughed. I dont think youre dreaming,
Ezra, I think Maude was just welcomed into the family.
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