What’s Your Mama’s Name?

by Angie

I’ve probably broken some rule in writing this but I couldn’t help myself. I’m a sucker for a happy ending. Thanks to Crystal for beta-reading this and finding my boo-boos. Eve will be a recurring character in several other stories so bear with me. The title of the story comes from the old Tanya Tucker song of the same name. I’m no poet, I did the best I could with the words.

Size: Approx. 240K

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It was an ordinary bust, if any ATF bust could be called ordinary. Routine might have been a better word. The suspects were in the brick, two-story house, surrounded by agents from teams 4 and 7. Chris called on the bullhorn for them to put up their hands and surrender. Four men filed out of the house with their hands above their heads and were immediately set upon and handcuffed by agents.

The Denver PD drove the prisoner van and an officer jumped out to help load the men into the back. Buck and Ezra each had a man from the house while Team 4 managed the other two men. As Buck was guiding the first man into the van there was a loud burst of gunfire from the house. Before anyone could react to the situation, there was an explosion and bricks rained down on the scene.

Buck barely managed to keep his feet under him as he grabbed the door of the van. Ezra and his prisoner were knocked down by the explosion, landing in a jumble of arms and legs in the street several feet away. As soon as the rain of debris stopped, Nathan and Josiah raced to the downed pair.

“Don’t try to move, Ezra, just be still for a minute! Let me look at you!” Nathan commanded as he tried to determine the extent of the damage.

The undercover agent was holding his left shoulder and hissing in pain as he struggled to be free of the prisoner who had landed on top of him. Josiah pulled the prisoner up and guided him toward the van while Nathan tried to restrain Ezra.

“It’s your shoulder again, isn’t it?”

The pain in the green eyes that glared up at him was answer enough. Chris slid to a halt and dropped to his knees as he waited to find out what had happened. Nathan was holding Ezra bodily on the ground while he tried to stabilize the injured shoulder.

“Damn it, Ezra! Lay still and let him take care of you!” Chris growled.

Two hours later, Larabee was standing in the emergency waiting area at the hospital while the doctors tended to Standish. Nathan and Josiah had gone into the examining room with him until the doctors kicked them out a short time ago. Buck had gone with the prisoner van and JD and Vin were sitting in the safflower-color chairs waiting for news.

Doctor Fuller came out and addressed the group.

“His shoulder was dislocated, again. This time we are going to have to send him up to surgery to repair the damage. He was hoping to avoid this after the last injury but it is now unavoidable. I’ll send someone to take you to the surgery lounge and as soon as we’re finished, I’ll let you know more.”

The team moved to the surgery lounge and resumed their wait. After browsing thru the old newspapers and magazines, Chris took the time to call the judge and inform him of where they were and what had happened. Buck arrived a few minutes into the conversation and took the phone to tell Travis what they had learned from the four men who had surrendered.

“There were at least three other men in the house, judge, and the explosion was set to try to create a diversion to cover their escape. We won’t know for sure until they go through the house whether or not any of them survived.”

Dr. Fuller came out after an hour and told them that the surgery had gone well. They were moving him into recovery and he would be in a room in a half hour or so.

The steady beep of the heart monitor awoke him. Ezra tried to turn to his side and was brought forcefully, fully awake by the pain in his shoulder. Firm hands restrained him and a warm voice reminded him not to try to move. Opening his eyes, he found Josiah looking down at him with a mixture of amusement and concern in his blue eyes.

“Are you back with us now, Ezra?”

“Mr. Sanchez, what time is it?”

“Nearly midnight. You’ve been drifting in and out for a couple of hours. Would you like a drink?”

“Please.” He watched as Josiah filled a cup and opened a paper-wrapped straw. Licking his lips in anticipation, Ezra sucked on the straw and slowly emptied the cup. When the straw was withdrawn, he looked around the room for the others. Vin was looking uncomfortable as he was trying to sleep in one of the hard plastic chairs from the waiting room. JD was ensconced in the bay window, his dark head resting on his knees.

“Buck, Nathan and Chris left a little while ago. The nurses thought you would sleep through the night. They’ll be back in the morning.”

“Is it safe for the boy to be sleeping against the window like that? I wouldn’t want to be the cause of him falling to his death.”

“He’ll be fine. Do you want me to get the nurse for you?”

Puzzled eyes looked up for a minute before closing under the brow furrowed in pain. Ezra raised his right hand and rubbed his face, pinching the bridge of his nose for a moment. The hand then drifted over to the heavily bandaged left shoulder and made its way down the arm securely strapped to his chest.

“I was hoping to avoid this. Six weeks of recovery and physical therapy followed by re-qualification on the range. Mr. Larabee must be thoroughly irritated with me this time.”

Sanchez laughed. Ezra had a knack for getting on the team leader’s last nerve. From taking what Larabee declared to be unnecessary risks to his numerous injuries in the line of duty, Standish had often come under the brunt of Chris’s temper.

“No, he’s not upset with you. This wasn’t your fault, there was nothing you could have done any differently. You should try to rest; the doctor said that they would discharge you in a couple of days. Vin and JD are going to be staying with you for the first few days until you get your arm working again.”

“Is that a warning, Mr. Sanchez?”

Josiah chuckled softly as Ezra tried to find a comfortable position in which to sleep.

+ + + + + + +

The fire department went through the bombed out shell of the house looking for the three missing bodies. They found two dead men in the back of the house but no sign of the third man. They also recovered three boxes of handguns under a collapsed wall in the basement.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra was discharged from the hospital several days later into Nathan’s capable hands. Vin and JD were on a detail with Team 2 on a stakeout in Purgatory. Arriving at the condo, both men settled on the couch for a while before deciding to order take-out food for lunch. Ezra had already had his first physical therapy session and was achy and cross.

After eating and taking a medication-induced nap, Ezra decided to review his mail. Tossing several pieces of bulk mail into the wastebasket next to the couch, his hand stopped on a 5x7 yellow cushioned envelope. It had no return address and a postmark from New Orleans.

“What’s that?” Nathan asked, seeing the southerner staring at the envelope.

“I have no idea. It’s posted from New Orleans but has no return address. It feels like a cassette tape.” Ezra winced as he tried to open the envelope with his right hand while holding it in his left.

“Here, let me help.” Nathan took the envelope and opened it. A crystal cassette tape case and a folded piece of paper settled into his hand. He handed both items to Ezra.

The cassette was a Memorex, a home recording of some kind, not a professional tape. The paper unfolded to reveal few words.

I hope Ms. Tucker will forgive me for taking liberties with her words.

“What does that mean?” Nathan asked, reading over Ezra’s shoulder.

“I have no idea, Mr. Jackson. Perhaps we should play the tape and see if any other information is forthcoming.”

Nathan took the tape and placed it in the stereo. He moved to sit in the recliner adjacent to the couch as they waited for the recording to begin. The tune to the old, country song was familiar but the words had obviously been changed.

“Eight years and some odd months ago, a young man came from Georgia.

Asking ‘bout a rose that used to blossom in his world.

People never took the time to mind the young man’s questions,

And so he ended up with a completely different girl.

What’s your lover’s name, dear?

What’s your lover’s name?

Has he ever talked about a place called New Orleans?

Has he ever mentioned his name is Ezra Simpson?

What’s your lover’s name, dear?

What’s your lover’s name?

Two years and some odd weeks ago, a young girl drunk in Memphis,

Lost a year of life in labor to the county pen.

Because of that, she lost the little green-eyed girl in question,

And spent the next year going thru a total living hell.

What’s your lover’s name, dear?

What’s your lover’s name?

Has he ever talked about a place called New Orleans?

Has he ever mentioned his name is Ezra Simpson?

What’s your lover’s name, dear?

What’s your lover’s name?

A month and some odd days ago, an aids patient died in Memphis.

Just another junkie girl the wild life had claimed.

Inside the woman’s battered purse, they found a faded picture.

It said: “You have a daughter, and her eyes are Standish green.”

What’s your father’s name, child?

What’s your father’s name?

You heard your momma talk about a place called New Orleans.

No one ever told you, his name was Ezra Standish.

That’s your father’s name, child.

That’s your father’s name.

The music on the tape ended suddenly and the room was filled with the soft static coming from the small speakers mounted in the corners of the room. Nathan got up quietly and shut off the tape and ejected it from the stereo. He handled the cassette and case carefully, suspecting that he’d soon be sending it off for fingerprints.

The years seemed to fly by and Ezra found himself standing once again in the French Quarter of New Orleans. He was on an undercover operation looking into an allegation of bribery and corruption in the State’s Attorneys office. There had been several questionable plea agreements that put some seriously dangerous men back on the street instead of into prison.

There was a small bar near his hotel where he could always find a game of cards and a warm companion for the night. He had noticed the girl in the corner of the bar one evening and asked her to dance. She was only about 18 or 19 but she told him she was 22 when he first asked. Her hair was the color of dark honey and her eyes were light brown. They danced and drank together for several hours that first night.

When he returned the next evening, she was waiting for him. They went for a drive and ended up at a drive-in movie. He couldn’t remember what they saw but he vividly remembered taking her back to his hotel room for the night.

It took three months of undercover work for him to get the evidence he needed. She was with him nearly every night. He learned that she had run away from home at 16 and had been working as a waitress at one of the local restaurants. She had been incredibly fortunate to find friends who would not take advantage of her naiveté.

She wept bitterly on his shoulder when he told her he was leaving. He had never told her his real name.

+ + + + + + +

“Ezra? Are you all right?”

“What? Oh, Mr. Jackson, yes I’m fine. Just lost in memory for a moment there.”

“Do you know what the recording means?”

“It means I have a daughter.”

It was a couple of hours before Ezra found what he was searching for in the computer. He sat staring at an article from a Memphis newspaper. A picture of a haggard looking woman next to a picture of a younger version of the same woman with a small child in her lap filled the computer screen.

“Her name was Emily Turnbull or at least that’s what she told me. I never told her my real name, not even after I returned to Atlanta. She never mentioned a baby.”

Nathan could see that the southerner was fighting sleep and had ignored his pain pill. He picked up the pill and the glass of water that he had brought in earlier and pressed it into Ezra’s hand.

“Okay, you found her. Now you need to get some rest. Take this and go lay down for a while.”

Surprise lifted the ex-medics eyebrows as Standish meekly took the pill and washed it down before climbing unsteadily to his feet and going to bed. After Ezra had gone to sleep, Nathan checked to make sure that he didn’t have any fever before going into the guest room and going to bed.

The words to the song sliced thru Ezra’s mind all night. Emily’s face appeared in his dreams and he thrashed in the blankets. She died of AIDS! He had a daughter! The phrases rang thru his mind over and over until he jerked himself awake. The sun was just rising over the top of the building and illuminating the mountains to the west.

Standing on the balcony outside of his bedroom, Ezra considered what he had to do. Somewhere out there was a child that belonged to him. The child would be seven years old and was probably living with people who weren’t complete strangers like he was. He didn’t want to take her away if she was being cared for but he wanted to see her. Eve Simpson, the paper had given her name. He guessed that Emily didn’t find out his real last name until after the baby was born. A soft knock at the bedroom door drew his attention.

“Come on in, Mr. Jackson, I’m not asleep.”

“How are you feeling this morning, Ezra? Feel up to some breakfast?”

“No, thank you. I usually just have coffee in the morning. You don’t have to stay all day if you’d rather not, I’ll manage.”

The dark skinned man leaned on the railing and studied the incredible view before him. He knew that the man standing next to him had a lot on his mind and ought not be left alone.

“I was kind of looking forward to a nice quiet day off. Maybe you and I could play a couple of games of chess? Besides, Chris would have my butt in a sling if I left you alone today. So let’s go have some breakfast, besides, you can’t take your pain pill on an empty stomach.”

After breakfast, Ezra sat down and began to make phone calls. It took several tries to get anyone who could tell him anything about the child. He listened to the music on hold for several minutes while being transferred to the worker in charge of the case.

“Caroline Farmer, may I help you?”

“My name is Ezra Standish and I am trying to ascertain the whereabouts of a child, Eve Simpson. I have reason to believe she may be my daughter.”

“Can you tell me why you think she may be your child?”

“I knew her mother. We lived together in New Orleans for a couple of months. I got a recording that hinted that Emily had a child and that she was mine. I looked up her obituary in the computer.”

“Well, obviously, I can’t give you any information on the child until it is determined that you are the father. Have you had any contact with the child Mr. Standish?”

“No, I never even knew there was a child until last night. What do I have to do to establish paternity?”

“We can do a DNA match if you provide a blood sample. It should only take a few days to confirm paternity.”

“Where can I send the lab report? I’m sure either the FBI or the ATF have a profile of my DNA on file and they can send it directly to your lab.”

“Excuse me? Did you say FBI or ATF? Exactly what do you do for a living Mr. Standish?”

“I work for the ATF in Denver. When I knew Emily, I was with the FBI office in Atlanta. She and I met while I was on a case in New Orleans.”

“If you are proven to be the father, what are your intentions, Mr. Standish? Do you plan to take custody of the child?”

“I haven’t really decided. It depends on what her situation is at the moment. Is she in foster care? Can you at least tell me that much? Does Emily have any family? There are so many things I want to know before I decide.”

“All right, send the DNA profile and I will get it checked out. As soon as we have confirmation one way or the other, I’ll be in touch and we can discuss your options.”

After hanging up the phone, Ezra took another pain pill and went to bed. Nathan called Chris to update him on the situation.

“How is he taking it? That’s gotta be blowing his mind!”

“He’s been really quiet, even for Ezra. After he finished talking to the caseworker, he took a pill and went back to bed. I imagine he’ll be going to Memphis as soon as he gets the confirmation that the child is his.”

“Okay, Nathan, I’ll let Travis know. Tell him if he needs anything to call us.”

As Chris was hanging up the phone, Buck stuck his head in the doorway. He had heard only the last bit of the conversation and a concerned look crossed his blue-eyed countenance.

“Ezra okay?”

“Yeah, nothing I can talk about right now, Buck. Are we ready for the meeting?”

While the rest of Team 7 went on with their work, Nathan spent a few hours listening to music on Ezra’s stereo while reading a book he had brought along. He set the book aside when he heard the sounds of footfalls on the carpet of the second floor. Looking up the stairs, he watched the southerner descend to the main floor.

“How do you feel?”

“I don’t know, Nathan. I never considered the possibility of there being a child. My own mother’s maternal skills were less than stellar but Emily was apparently using drugs and she had AIDS! What has that poor child been subjected to and how much of it could have been prevented if I had only know of her existence?”

“Don’t start beating yourself up over this, Ezra. You didn’t know. You would have been there for her if you had known. But I was asking about your shoulder, you have PT in a couple of hours.”

“Good heavens! I forgot all about that. Would you help me with the bandages so that I can shower?”

“Of course. Come over here and sit down.”

The undercover agent had just gotten dressed when the therapist arrived. Nathan watched carefully as she went through the range of motion and stretching exercises. Judging from the tension on his face and the sweat on his brow, Ezra was not enjoying the therapy at all. When the therapist left, the ex-medic brought another pain pill and a glass of water.

Going back upstairs, Nathan thought Ezra was going to lie down. When he went up to check on him an hour later, he found the southerner sitting at the computer. He had been pulling up information on the Internet. On the screen, he was looking at an arrest record for Emily Turnbull. It was not a pretty picture. The woman had been arrested for possession of a controlled substance, possession with intent and a laundry list of other charges. She had spent a year in the custody of the department of corrections. He had tried, unsuccessfully, to access the court reports and find out about the child that was taken into care.

Turning to look back at Nathan, Ezra sighed deeply. He had seen enough to know that the child had been through a lot. Even his own miserable childhood had not been filled with drugs and alcohol. He wondered how the child would feel toward him after all she had been through in her short life.

“Stop beating yourself up, Ezra. You couldn’t have done anything about her because you didn’t know she even existed. Give yourself a break. Come on downstairs and let’s go meet the guys for supper.”

Team 7 met at an Italian restaurant. When everyone had arrived, Ezra filled them in on the recent turn of events. Except for Vin, each of them offered support. The team sharpshooter sat silently for several minutes before speaking his mind.

“You have to go and get her! You can’t leave her there! She’s your own flesh and blood! That has to mean something to you.”

“Mr. Tanner, I don’t even know the child. Suppose she is happy where she is? You would have me take her from her familiar surroundings and bring her to a strange city? Would that not be harmful to her as well?”

“What happens if the people who have her decide to stop doing foster care? They’ll just come in and move her to another place. You don’t know what it’s like, living from day to day, never knowing if the strange car in the driveway is there to take you away again!”

From across the table, Chris’s voice was soft. “Easy, cowboy. Calm down.”

Vin Tanner had been in his share of foster homes growing up. Some were good and some were bad but they all left him with a feeling of uneasiness. Nothing frightened a foster child more than seeing a strange car in the driveway or hearing a strange voice in the house. He could almost feel the despair that came when he arrived at a new ‘placement’ only to find that he had left behind some special, important item that would somehow never turn up again.

Watching the parade of emotions on Vin’s face only tightened Ezra’s resolve to do something for the child even if she turned out not to be his. The rest of the evening was stifled as they sat uncomfortably with the taut emotions of two of their friends.

It took only two days to confirm that Eve Simpson was the biological daughter of Ezra Standish. Mrs. Farmer called to pass on the news.

“So where do we go from here?” Ezra asked Mrs. Farmer.

“How soon can you get to Memphis? We can arrange for a visit with Eve and I can go over your options. You will have to appear before a family court judge to get custody of the child and we will have to have a home study done before you can take her.”

“I understand. I’ll have to check with the airline and arrange a flight. Can you tell me any more about her? Is there anything I should know?”

“Eve is a pleasant child. She came into care over a year ago when Emily was incarcerated. We tried to find a relative to take custody of the child without success. She has been in several placements due to changes within the families. She is quite advanced for her age academically in spite of the moves. She has no ongoing medical problems.”

A deep shuddering sigh carried through the phone and the caseworker felt a wave of sympathy for the man on the other end of the line. She had been overseeing Eve’s case for the past 8 months. She had been with Emily and Eve when the young mother succumbed to the disease that had been ravaging her body for the past few years. She had stood at the child’s side at the funeral.

“Thank you, Mrs. Farmer. I will get back to you when I have the flight information. I will also contact Denver Children and Family Services to begin the home study process. I appreciate all of your help.”

It took him only a couple of hours to arrange for a caseworker to begin his home study. Judge Travis had already greased the wheels and they were expecting his call. A courier arrived an hour later with a stack of papers to be completed and returned. He had tentatively been approved on the judge’s word alone; the paperwork was a formality for the Memphis office. The airline had a flight leaving at ten the next morning and he made arrangements to be on it.

While Ezra was filling out the paperwork, Vin stopped by to see him. Nathan had called and informed Chris of the news and he had informed the others.

“Would you like some company on the trip?” Tanner’s voice was soft as his eyes pleaded for the southerner to agree.

“Mr. Tanner, I do believe I could use some company, especially someone with intimate knowledge of the foster care system. You also have a calming influence, which I find myself lacking as I consider the leap I am about to make into parenthood. The plane departs at ten tomorrow morning and I shall call and make a reservation for you.”

“Thanks, Ezra.” It was all he could say and it was all that was needed.

Nathan showed Vin how to help Ezra with the exercises that had to be done everyday in order for his shoulder to heal properly. The Texan was a little reluctant to be the one to inflict pain on his teammate, but Jackson assured him that it was a very necessary evil.

The paperwork was completed and returned by courier later in the afternoon. Ezra packed a bag and took a nap before supper. Rain brought food for the three of them that they shared before settling in to watch a movie she had rented. In spite of Ezra’s insistence that he go on home, Nathan stayed the night. The ex-medic was concerned about the stress he was seeing in the southerner.

Just after breakfast the next morning, Nathan picked up Vin on their way to the airport. They stood in line at the security checkpoint for nearly 45 minutes before being allowed onto the concourses. They sat in silence as they waited for their flight. Ezra smiled as he watched the Texan reach into his pocket for the bag of M & M’s that he had stashed there.

“Perhaps we could find a place to get a cup of coffee before our flight, Mr. Tanner?”

“Sounds good to me!”

They walked past the souvenir shops until they found a Starbuck’s. After ordering their coffee, Ezra noticed that his companion seemed agitated.

“Are you all right, Mr. Tanner? You seem wound a bit more tightly than usual this morning.”

“Just nerves. You know I hate to fly.”

He had forgotten. Nothing disturbed the sharpshooter like enclosed spaces. He knew from the information on the ticket that they were not flying on a large plane and that it would be stressful for Vin.

Seeing the concerned look in the southerner’s green eyes, Vin added, “Oh, I’ll be okay, Nathan gave me something to take for it. He said it wouldn’t put me to sleep, just help me to stay calm for the flight.”

“Bless him.” Ezra smiled. He thought for a moment how lucky they were to have a man like Nathan Jackson on their team. The team medic seemed to think of everything.

They had just finished their coffee when the flight was announced over the PA. Both men picked up their suitcases and headed for the gate. Ezra had taken a couple of Tylenol instead of the prescription pain pill that would put him to sleep. Vin had also taken the pill that Nathan had provided. Their seats were in the middle of the first class section and the flight was not crowded.

They landed in Memphis two hours later. Vin took both bags because he could tell that Ezra was hurting. They picked up their rental car and drove to the hotel. Ezra called Mrs. Farmer to let her know that they had arrived in town. She asked him if he wanted to meet with Eve that afternoon.

“So soon? Are you sure that’s wise? Have you told her about me?”

“I spoke to her last night. She’s a little scared about the idea but I think she’ll be okay. The sooner you meet, the sooner you can start getting to know each other. I can meet you at the office and take you to the foster home or you can follow me over there.”

“I need to get some rest before I meet her. Could we meet with her around four this afternoon? Will it be okay if I bring a friend along? One of my co-workers came with me for moral support.”

“That’s fine with me. Let me give you the address of the office.”

After taking down the address and directions, Ezra took one of the pain pills and collapsed onto one of the beds. Vin told him that he would be back by three to take him to the meeting. The Texan had had enough of enclosed spaces and was going to do some sight seeing while the southerner rested.

+ + + + + + +

The rest of the team had met earlier that morning after Nathan dropped the others at the airport. They had been given a surveillance mission and had to work out the details before heading for Fort Collins to begin. It seemed that there were some suspicious shipments of automatic weapons being stolen from military convoys in the area and they were being sent to check it out.

Chris also had a surprise in mind for his undercover agent when he returned from Memphis. The team had decided to convert the guest bedroom in the condo into something more appropriate for a young girl. JD and Casey had gone out and picked out a bedspread and curtains for the wrought iron daybed that Buck had picked up at an estate sale. They were going to set up the room after work that night.

Chris and Buck had spent a part of the day in the surveillance van. They were cataloging the shift changes for the guards and observing the patrols that were made around the convoy trucks. Both men were punchy after spending those few hours in the confined space and they attacked the renovation of the bedroom in Ezra’s condo with a vengeance.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra was a bundle of nerves when they arrived at the Family Services building. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that both men set off the metal detectors going into the lobby. When they flashed their badges at the startled security guards they were told that they couldn’t go any farther than the lobby. While they waited for Mrs. Farmer to come down, Vin paced.

He had spent enough time in places like this one. Every time he had been moved had called for a trip to the office for fresh paperwork. He studied the haunted faces of the dirty, bedraggled children that passed by him on their way to the elevators.

“Bring back memories?” Ezra asked softly, he could see the faraway look in the pale blue eyes.

“I was just like them. It still hurts to think about it.”

Their conversation was halted by the arrival of a casually dressed young woman carrying a satchel full of papers. She had been pointed in their direction by the guards at the desk.

“Mr. Standish? I’m Caroline Farmer. Are you parked in the garage?”

“Yes, pleased to meet you. This is one of my co-workers, Vin Tanner.”

“Very well, if you’ll follow me we’ll get out to the Crawford’s. I spoke to Mrs. Crawford a little while ago and she said that Eve is a little nervous about meeting you. I just want you to be prepared for that.”

They followed the worker’s car to a little subdivision in one of the middleclass areas of Memphis. Vin parked the rental car behind her car and looked at his passenger. Ezra hadn’t moved or unhooked his seatbelt.

“Are you ready for this?”

“No. But I have to be, don’t I?”

After a couple of deep breaths, Ezra unhooked the seatbelt and got out of the car. Vin hurried around the hood to provide support to the undercover agent if needed. The two men followed the woman to the door.

An older woman opened the door and invited them into the house. After the introductions were made the woman offered them a glass of tea and settled them in the living room. Around the room, every flat surface was covered with pictures of children. Both men’s eyes swept the room before looking questioningly at Mrs. Farmer.

“The Crawford’s have been foster parents for a long time. These are all of their kids and some are pictures of ‘grandchildren,’ the children of the kids that passed thru here.”

Mrs. Crawford appeared in the doorway with her hands resting lightly on the shoulders of a slim, young girl. A mop of dark, incredibly curly hair and bright green eyes stared at the men for a moment. Ezra’s breath caught in his throat as he looked at her. Vin’s eyes stung with tears as he saw the emotions racing across the girl’s face. Mrs. Farmer finally broke the silence.

“Come in, Eve and have a seat beside me. We just wanted to stop by for a little while so you could meet Mr. Standish and his friend, Mr. Tanner.”

The green-eyed gaze never wavered from the two men sitting on the couch as Eve made her way to sit next to Caroline. The worker wrapped her arm around the thin shoulders and smiled brightly.

“Do you have any questions for Mr. Standish?” Caroline asked to draw the child out.

“What happened to your arm?” Her eyes rested squarely on the hospital-blue sling.

“I dislocated my shoulder and had to have surgery a couple of weeks ago.”

The dark haired moppet only nodded. Mrs. Crawford tried to draw the child out.

“Don’t you have other questions for him? We talked about a lot of things you wanted to know last night after Caroline left.”

“Will I be able to have my own room?”

“Yes. I will have the guest room fixed up for you.”

“Do you have any pets?”

“I have a horse that I keep at my boss’s ranch. Do you ride?”

The green eyes lit up and she leaned forward a little. “Really? I’ve ridden a couple of times with my scout troop.”

“Then we shall have to acquire a suitable mount for you so that you can ride with us when we get together at the ranch.”

A long, nervous pause descended on the living room again. Eve looked at both men and another question popped into her head.

“Do you have, umm, other kids? Are you married?”

“No. I don’t have other children or a wife at the present. I’m afraid it will be just you and me. Is that all right?”

“Yes. It’s okay. What do you do for work?”

Ezra spent the next few minutes explaining his work in as simple terms as he could. He tried not to make it sound too scary. Eve was enchanted by the idea that he got to pretend to be someone else at work. She asked several questions before turning on Vin.

“What about you, what do you do? How long have you known him?”

The Texan looked surprised to have been pulled into the conversation. He looked to Ezra for a confirming nod before he explained his work. As Ezra had done, he tried to keep the scarier elements out of his explanation. When Vin’s voice fell silent, Eve turned on her father again.

“How come you didn’t ever visit me?”

“To be perfectly honest, dear, I didn’t know about you. Your mother and I didn’t keep in touch after I left New Orleans. If I had known about you I would have been here for you.”

After considering his words, she asked the question that tore at his heart. “Did you love her? Did you love my momma, mister?”

“I cared for her a great deal. But I only knew her for a short time. I never considered whether I loved her or not, I never thought about it.”

When the awkward pause descended again, Mrs. Crawford cleared her throat.

“Would the two of you like to stay for supper? I have plenty.”

Eve’s eyes lit and she squealed. “And it’s lasagna night! Meg makes the best lasagna! Will you stay? Please?”

It wouldn’t have mattered if he wanted to or not. The pleading tone in the girl’s voice decided for him and Ezra nodded. Caroline stood and announced that she couldn’t stay, that her sitter was expecting her. She hugged Eve and assured her that they would talk the next afternoon.

When supper was set out, Vin and Ezra discovered that the Crawford’s had four other foster children in the house. They roared down the stairs as soon as the caseworker pulled away from the curb. The conversation over the table consisted mostly of Eve relating what she had learned about the two visitors. Mr. and Mrs. Crawford carefully redirected any of the questions that seemed a bit too personal.

By the time they left that night, Eve was comfortable enough with them to give Ezra a shy hug as they stood in the yard. She asked him to come back the next night as they were having Chinese food.

Ezra was quiet on the drive back to the hotel. Vin knew that he had a lot on his mind and so he didn’t press him to talk. When they reached the room, Ezra took a pain pill and, after apologizing to Vin for not staying up with him, went straight to bed.

Pulling the door to the bedroom closed, Vin sat down with his cell phone to update the team. He related the details of the visit and got an update on the remodeling of the guestroom. He couldn’t keep the smile off of his face as JD described the comic events that surrounded getting the room ready.

The phone rang early the next morning. Caroline had gotten the preliminary report from the Denver Family Services office and had some questions. She wanted to know if she could come by the hotel and discuss the situation.

Both men had showered and grabbed a light breakfast by the time the worker arrived. She had a thick folder tucked under her arm and a ‘no-nonsense’ look on her face.

“I will be perfectly honest with you, Mr. Standish. Your home study is spotless. The recommendations from Judge Travis and your friends are glowing. You seem to have both adequate space and sufficient means to support your daughter. The only thing that concerns me is your work.”

“My work?”

“Yes. I did some checking of my own this morning. Are you aware that you have spent at least 48 days in the hospital in the past year? Have you given any consideration as to who will care for Eve when these work related injuries occur?”

“No, I really haven’t given it any thought. I haven’t thought it any farther than meeting her and taking her home. Does it matter?”

“I am only thinking of what is best for Eve. I have to be certain that she will be safe and cared for in her new home. The fact that you have no spouse and no support system in place to provide for her in the event that something happens to you concerns me.”

Vin couldn’t hold his tongue any longer. “Excuse me, Ma’am. He has a support system. Who do you think sits with him at the hospital? He may not have a wife but he has six friends who will look after the little girl. Our team is closer than just people working together, we’re a family! No one will ever hurt that child as long as one of us is around!”

As the sting of tears burned in his eyes, Ezra rested a hand on the Texan’s shoulder.

“I should elaborate on Mr. Tanner’s explanation. I will hire a housekeeper or nanny to be there with Eve if I am ever unavailable. The other members of my team will be like uncles to her. I assure you that I will work out any problem you can find with my living arrangement.”

“Well, you still have to speak to the judge. He will have the final say in the matter. We have a hearing set for two in the afternoon the day after tomorrow. If you would like to, you can pick Eve up and take her out to dinner or spend a few hours with her.”

“I’ll do that. Thank you, Mrs. Farmer.”

After the woman left, Vin turned to Ezra. “I think you should have a lawyer. If she goes in there and tells the judge that she doesn’t think you are the best choice for Eve, they can keep her here.”

A quick call to Judge Travis gave them the name of a reputable attorney and they called to make an appointment. As soon as he heard who had referred them, the lawyer told them to come right away. After hearing the details of the case he nodded.

“Your friend is correct, Mr. Standish. The child has been in care for a long time and the state is concerned for your ability to protect and shelter her. But, on the other hand, you are the only biological relative seeking custody at the present time. If you are convincing, the judge may transfer her custody to the state of Colorado and let them supervise you. The state would have legal custody of your daughter and you would have physical custody.”

“How long would that continue?”

“Usually a year, six months in some cases. A worker would be assigned to do home visits and make sure that she was being cared for and properly supervised. At the end of that period of time, you would be granted full custody.”

“Then that is what we should strive for. I want to take my daughter home with me.”

Both men were feeling a little more confident when they left the lawyer’s office. They stopped and had lunch before returning to the hotel to do Ezra’s exercises and let him rest before they went to pick up Eve. Vin slipped out while Ezra napped and asked around the hotel to find a place where they could go for the evening. By the time the southerner awoke, Tanner had the place all picked out. Chuck E. Cheese, the place had everything, pizza, games, prizes and lots of other kids to interact with. He just hoped Ezra could take it.

They arrived at the Crawford’s. Mrs. Crawford invited them and asked to speak with them privately before they took Eve.

“I just want you to know that you seem like very fine young men.”

“But?” Vin asked softly.

“I’m concerned for Eve. I don’t know how good it will be for her to be put into an unusual living situation at her age.”

“Unusual living situation?” Ezra’s voice was tinged slightly with anger.

“I’m sure that it’s acceptable in other places but I was brought up in a Christian home and I was taught that it’s just wrong!”

Realization dawned on both men at the same time. Ezra looked shocked and Vin blushed to the roots of his hair. It was several seconds before either of them could find their voices.

“Mrs. Crawford, let me assure you that Mr. Tanner and I are not lovers. As I explained when I was here yesterday, I work with six other men on my team. Vin was kind enough to offer to accompany me here because I can’t drive and because, as a former foster child, he thought he might be able to help me to understand Eve better.”

A deeply embarrassed blush followed the look of relief that crossed the woman’s face. She looked from one man to the other before letting go of a nervous chuckle.

“Allow me to apologize. Please? I’m so sorry but the two of you come in here looking so much like …”

“No apology is needed. I’m glad that you are concerned enough for my daughter to ask those questions. Now, can we take Eve out to supper? And what time would you like her home by? Is there anything she shouldn’t eat or is she allergic to anything? I just realized, I have so much to learn.”

Mrs. Crawford laughed and went to call Eve down.

“She isn’t allergic to anything. If you would have her home by eight so she can get bathed and into bed on time, I would appreciate it.”

The three of them had a wonderful evening. Vin was little more than an overgrown kid and he and Eve played games and collected tickets until they were almost out of tokens. Eve finally approached Ezra and asked him to play air hockey with her. It was the one thing they felt they could do together without risking injury to his shoulder.

At the end of the evening, Eve had a large stuffed animal and several smaller prizes squirreled away in her pockets. When they reached the door of her house, she hugged Vin ferociously before turning to place a one armed hug around Ezra’s neck. The gentle kiss she placed on his cheek left tears in his eyes as she went into the house.

By the time they reached the hotel, Ezra was nearly asleep on his feet. Vin waited until he was sure that Standish was deeply asleep before he called Chris. After explaining the situation to the team leader, he watched a little television before going to bed.

Chris placed a quick call to Judge Travis to let him know what Vin had said. His first instinct had been to load the team on a plane and fly to Memphis to be there for the hearing but he knew he couldn’t bail out in the middle of an assignment.

+ + + + + + +

The surveillance van was parked on the commuter parking lot across the highway from the convoy’s secure parking lot. Josiah and Nathan had the shift and were sitting in nearly complete silence as they watched the boxes being loaded into the trucks. Each box had been tagged with a GPS tracking tag so that they could keep tabs on them. They paid special attention to the jeeps that zipped back and forth between the guard shack and the hangar.

+ + + + + + +

Orin Travis arrived at his office early the next morning. He made several phone calls to his friends in the Family Court division. By the time he left for lunch, he had his plan firmly in place. He let a broad smile settle on his face as he called his wife to confirm his thoughts. Evie Travis never hesitated when her husband told her what he had in mind, she agreed.

+ + + + + + +

The two ATF agents met with the lawyer before driving over to the courthouse for the hearing. Caroline was not pleased to see that they arrived with a lawyer and she made her displeasure known.

“Mr. Standish, I know that you think having an attorney here will help your case, but you are mistaken. If my recommendation is for Eve to stay where she is, having a lawyer at your side won’t help.”

Before Ezra could open his mouth, another voice addressed the caseworker.

“Will having a judge at his side help, Ma’am?”

Ezra’s eyes went big as saucers as he turned to find Judge Travis and Evie standing behind him. He looked from one face to the other and stammered for several moments before he could speak clearly.

“Judge Travis, what are you doing here?”

“Vin called and informed me of the problem that you were facing and Evie and I thought we would come and offer our support. The rest of the team wanted to be here but they are on an assignment right now and I couldn’t afford to replace them.”

Before they could continue their conversation, the bailiff called them into the courtroom.

Inside the courtroom, Ezra and his lawyer were seated at one table and the caseworker sat at the other table with several other people. Vin and the Travis’s took chairs along the wall behind Ezra and waited for the hearing to begin.

“In the interest of the minor child Eve Simpson. The court has received a petition to give custody of the child to her biological father, Ezra Standish. Present for the state are the child’s caseworker, the guardian ad litem, and the Family Services attorney. Also present are the father and the father’s attorney. We’ll begin with the caseworker. Mrs. Farmer, will you take the stand?”

The caseworker moved to sit in the witness stand and the judge began to ask questions.

“Mrs. Farmer, did your department make a good faith effort to find the child’s biological father? And if so, can you tell me what you did?”

“We had very little to go on, your honor, Emily Turnbull had very little information on the father. She had no social security number or even a date of birth. We learned that the name he used while they were together in New Orleans was an alias.”

“And how did Mr. Standish come to be aware that he had a daughter?”

“I don’t know exactly. He said that he got a recording of a song that hinted that he might have fathered a child. He looked on the Internet and discovered that Emily had died and that’s when he found out about Eve.”

“Do you feel that Mr. Standish is an appropriate placement for the minor child?”

“No, I do not. Mr. Standish is employed by the ATF and has a very dangerous job. He has been hospitalized for at least 48 days in the past year. His work often keeps him away from home for days and weeks on end. I am concerned that the child will not have adequate supervision.”

“Do you have a current home study?”

“Yes, we received the paperwork from the Denver worker. She has approved the home. There were also several letters of recommendation from Mr. Standish’s friends and co-workers.”

“Does anyone else have any questions?”

Ezra’s attorney raised his hand and the judge nodded.

“Has Mr. Standish explained how the child would be cared for in his absence?”

“He stated that he would hire a housekeeper or nanny to stay with her.”

“And this is not satisfactory to you?”

“A young girl needs a stable home environment. I do not feel that the father is able to provide that to her at this time.”

The guardian ad litem asked only one question. “What does Eve think about her father?”

“She is only seven years old, not really old enough to have a serious understanding of the situation. Mr. Standish promised to buy her a horse and told her that she would have her own room. My own children would go and live with him for that much.”

After several minutes of questions to the worker, the judge dismissed her. He called Ezra up to testify.

“Mr. Standish, how did you come to know that Eve Simpson might be your daughter?”

“I received a cassette tape from someone in New Orleans that hinted that I had a child. I did some research on the Internet and discovered that Emily had died.”

“And is it your intention to take custody of the child?”

“Yes. After speaking with one of my co-workers who has experience in the matter, I have decided that I want to raise my daughter.”

“You don’t dispute Mrs. Farmer’s statement that your work is dangerous? What will you do with Eve while you are on a stake out or undercover or in the hospital?”

“I told Mrs. Farmer that I would hire a nanny to be there for Eve and my teammates will look after her if I am not available.”

“Are any of your teammates female?”

“No, but Mr. Jackson is married and Mr. Dunne has a girlfriend, the child will not lack for female influence.”

Judge Travis stood and cleared his throat. “Your honor, if I might address the court?”

“And you are?”

“Judge Orin Travis. Mr. Standish and his team work for me.”

“Very well, go ahead.”

Ezra looked to Vin and got a wide-eyed shoulder shrug. They had no idea what Travis was going to say.

“Your honor, my wife and I would be willing to look after Eve in the event that her father is unavailable. We live near Mr. Standish and we are able to provide a stable environment for her. The men on his team are like sons to me and Eve would be like family.”

The courtroom was deadly silent after Travis finished speaking. The Family Court judge looked over some papers on his desk before addressing the other man.

“I see here that you took the liberty of having a home study done on your home as well, Judge Travis. It is an unusual move for someone to be willing to commit to the care of an employees child.”

“As I said, these men are like sons to me. We spend time together regularly. I can also assure you that Eve will acquire six ‘uncles’ who will love and spoil her rotten. No child will be cared for any better by anyone. He is her father and he should have a chance to know his daughter.”

The judge looked to the other table. “Comments?”

The Family Services attorney shook his head. “No problem in giving the child to the father as long as he has a support system in place.”

The guardian ad litem shook her head. “No problem. I spoke with Eve this morning at school and she was eager to get to know her father. She expressed a desire to retain contact with her foster family, but that shouldn’t be a problem.”

Caroline Farmer sighed. “If the others have no objections, I will agree.”

The judge nodded and addressed the secretary to his right. “Draft an order giving Mr. Standish custody of his daughter. I will order that Denver Family Services will supervise the placement and that the child receive counseling as needed.”

The room fell silent and Ezra looked up from the witness stand, puzzled. “Are we finished, then?”

As the people began to stand, Vin rushed across to his sputtering friend. He grabbed Ezra’s hand and shook it.

“You won! You get to keep her.”

The normally controlled southerner drew out his handkerchief and began to wipe the tears from his eyes as he made his way over to where the Travis’s were talking with his lawyer.

“Judge Travis, I don’t know how I shall ever be able to repay you for this.”

“Just take care of your little girl, Mr. Standish. That’s all the payment I could ask for.”

Evie Travis reached out and carefully embraced the undercover agent. Her smile was warm and motherly as she congratulated him.