Cuz I've been talkin' to the people
That you call your friends
And it seems to me there's means to an end
They don't care anymore (they don't care)
Ezra glanced in the rear view mirror. The muted lights of the dash board
gave his face a haunted glow. His bloodshot green eyes fixed briefly on
Wilmington. Buck grimaced in return. Worry and concern were easily discernible
even in the low light afforded by the interior lighting of the Jag.
Hes still with us, Ez, Bucks voice was tight with
fear and pain. Pain he felt for Vin and his own physical discomfort.
Dark splash marks marred Bucks face. Blood. Ezra couldnt be sure
if it was Vins or Bucks own. Not that it mattered in the long
run. Both men were injured. Both were in serious need of medical attention
and both were hidden in his Jag under his nefarious guidance.
Good Lord they were in trouble.
He was an outlaw, an outcast, with nowhere to turn. Fear for his friends
had driven him, but fear for his own life and well being kept him driving.
Ezra felt the heavy weight of responsibility settle over him, smothering
and suffocating him with each passing second.
Larabee was going to kill him. Ezra nearly welcomed the thought and
the release of freedom it would bring.
Hold on Buck
just a little longer. Ezras whispered
comment floated within the dark shadows of the sports cars interior
as he threw the Jag into another tight turn. He played with the clutch and
nursed the five speed Hurst slap shift to do his bidding. The Jag purred
The sleek car bent around the corner, never squealing her tires or losing
her grip on the road. The vehicle was made for speed and handling and her
owner nursed her along as if guiding the bending elegance of a dressage champion.
Ez, whatever ya gonna do, do it now
.Vin aint got much
longer. Bucks deep voice was anxious, hesitant and laden with
doubt and pain.
Buck watched the undercover agents profile from the back seat and wondered
what ran through the mans mind. How did he know where to find them?
How did Ezra know they were in trouble? Gawd had he been following them?
Were they that wrong about him
or were they that right?
Ezra felt Wilmingtons eyes burning into his back. He could almost hear
the questions and feel the accusations that swam through his teammates
Ezra had been kept off this case.
Not for the reasons that were circulating around the federal building or
even in Standishs own head. Not for the reasons that seized his stomach
muscles and sent his heart racing.
Despite what others and he himself might have thought, Larabee had kept Ezra
away from the case, simply because he had been gone for most of it. The
southerner had only returned home from a TDY a month ago. Standish was not
familiar with the McDowell case Team Seven was working on and Francis McDowell
was a paranoid psychotic. It would have created too much suspicion if the
ATF tried to infiltrate another undercover agent into McDowells business
dealings. Too much suspicion and certainly too much spilled blood.
Rumors and their creators, however, did not care for truth or safety or the
concern for others. Rumor had started in the Federal building even before
Ezra had made it back from Wyoming. They filtered around morning break rooms,
in locker rooms and by water coolers. Rumor curled and floated in the air,
unseen and virtually undetected but somehow reaching and affecting all that
came in contact with the verbal poison.
Team Seven had already heard the rustling and the side whispers, and they
had ignored the obscure questions. The new undercover agent that had commandeered
Ezras desk while the Southerner was away was simply temporary.
They all knew it. Team Seven never questioned it.
The whole Federal building knew it.
But no one believed it. No one but Team Seven.
Chris and the others ignored the innuendoes, the blatant inquiries and
statements. No one was being replaced or transferred. Team Seven was not
discarding their old undercover agent for new blood. It was ludicrous
to think it. Buck and the others didnt waste breath talking about it.
They didnt waste their time denying the foolish whisperings of those
few that fed off the unrest and despair of others.
Unfortunately, the only ones who did not believe in the rumors and whispers
that spread insidiously inside the organization about the dumping of Ezra
Standish from Chris Larabees team was Team Seven, itself.
Rumors and accusations ran rampant in hushed conversations and behind closed
doors, building strength with each hushed statement, each thoughtful look.
Rumor grew like smoldering coals that finally caught a breath of fresh air.
They sparked a life of their own, growing strength and power with each utterance.
As time passed voices became more brazen, less hesitant, and rumor somehow
began morphing into mystical fact.
As the flames of dissent and righteous anger grew, a simmering of doubt began
to play in the minds of those who knew the rumors to be false. Even Ryan
Kelly had come down to floor twelve to ask Chris about the rumors. Was it
true? Was he cutting Standish loose? And why?
Ezra had returned to the fold amongst the building whispers.
He had come home and had walked onto his teams floor having
already read the questioning looks and accusing glares. Instead of greetings
of welcome home from the secretaries and interns, he had been
met with surprised gazes that easily translated into: What was he doing
Others were not as mute, were not as obscure in their open curiosity, nor
were they kind in their reasons for believing in the dismissal of the undercover
agent by Larabee.
Before Ezra P. Standish had walked back into the office space occupied by
Team Seven after a 5 week TDY he had already heard the rumors, had already
physically felt the repercussions of no longer being under the protective
cloak of Team Seven.
Chris was cutting him loose, was grooming a new undercover agent. And other
Federal agents were not shy in rejecting Larabees discards.
Standish had royally screwed up again. He just couldnt figure out where.
It was believed, yet again, that Standish was dirty. His work flawed and
tainted by undertones of greed and corruption.
Why else would Larabee trash him from the team after so many years of putting
up with the undercover agents garbage? The building had been abuzz
with theories, conspiracies and circumstantial evidence.
Standish had been found guilty before the elevator doors had closed behind
him carrying him up to the twelfth floor, to his second home. He had been
condemned by his fellow federal agents without even knowing what transgression
he had supposedly perpetrated. They had started taking their pound of flesh
at every lonely turn he took.
Ezra had ignored the comments because, while Chris Larabee was many things,
he was without a doubt, above listening to rumor. Larabee would tell him
first, to his face, before letting the rumors lead the way for him. Wouldn't
he? Ezra fought the last niggling fear
If he had not been above listening to rumors, Ezra had reassured himself
that morning, Chris never would have sought him out in Atlanta almost two
With a small ball of dread sitting in the pit of his stomach, with flashes
of life back with the FBI struggling to surge to the forefront of his mind,
Ezra Standish had squared his shoulders and had walked through the thick
wall of disgust and disdain and headed for his place amongst his teammates.
He had headed for the Bullpen, his teams work area, their den of sorts,
his safety zone.
Ezra had walked into the Bullpen and stopped short. His dimpled smile slid
from his face. His confidence had wavered while self doubt and insecurity
grew. His stomach clenched and rolled as his heart quickened its pace,
respiration picked up slightly and a slight sheen of sweat dampened his arms.
His confidence faltered, all within a single glance.
There at his desk sat a new body. Dressed much like Vin, but clean cut and
carrying an easy smile, sat another undercover agent. He was younger than
Ezra but older than JD. Someone sat at his desk, using his computer talking
on his phone, and laughing at Buck and JDs antics across the room.
Ezra had stopped and stared. Nathan and Josiah sat staring at Jacksons
computer screen with intensity, darting quick glances to the wall clock as
if they were fighting time itself. Vin spoke quietly into his phone scribbling
notes and constantly checking his watch. Buck and JD worked out the logistics
of some listening devices with Buck constantly pushing Dunne to hurry up.
Standish noted they were fighting a deadline.
The intruder sat at Standishs desk with his heels resting on the corner
speaking into his cell phone. There was no urgency in his frame.
No one acknowledged the return of their fellow agent.
Rumors sometimes had a basis in truth. Ezra had known this, and knew that
Larabee was aware of it as well.
These rumors, however, were not true. Ezra was not dirty; he did not betray
their trust; he was still of use to Larabee. Standish took a breath and gathered
his faltering composure. He would just have to prove it to them again. Remind
them of his worth and abilities. Hell, he didnt even know what he had
been accused and found guilty of, but the dark shadows of Atlanta snaked
around him like an old enemy.
Without question, without raising an eyebrow Standish simply dropped his
briefcase next to Vins desk and gathered his courage. The best way
to deal with rumor was to confront it.
With his heart in his throat, and the hope of misunderstandings keeping his
dreams alive Standish headed for Larabees office door.
It opened before he had a chance to even raise his fist to knock.
Chris stepped out. If he was surprised to see his undercover agent he hid
He merely nodded to his agent with a tight smile and sidestepped him, checking
his own watch, Alright ladies, were running out of time,
with that Larabee headed for the conference room.
Ezra had felt his heart freeze. Was Chris distancing himself from Standish
The members of Team Seven quickly gathered what they were working on and
shuffled into the room with frowns and short nods of acknowledgement tossed
to Standish. The undercover agent paused trying to settle his panicking heart.
Standish slowed his breathing, gathered his courage and entered the conference.
He paused momentarily in the doorway. His seat was commandeered by the
newcomer--Jenkins, Wade Jenkins. With a knot in his gut and his pulse pounding
in his ears, Standish faded to the wall of windows out of the way.
Standish stood back against the window sill trying to appear unconcerned
as he watched his dreams swirl down the drain. His ears roared with his pulse
as he watched his teammates joke and laugh with his replacement. An undercurrent
of tension nearly split the room. Sideways glances and tight smiles were
tossed his way. With a cool air of indifference, as if nothing were amiss,
Standish offered confident smile or nod when appropriate. The pounding of
his heart and the resurgence of old fears and insecurities surged forward.
The ease in which the others joked and laughed distanced him even further,
pushing him further against the wall and into the corner. They acted as if
nothing was amiss, as if they could not feel the tension that tightened the
room. They seemingly ignored it as effortlessly as he did.
He had been gone too long. He didnt understand the one-liners that
sparked sniggers and laughter from the others. He hadnt been with them
the weekends before to understand the jokes and misadventures they had shared.
He had missed it. He had been TDYd. Gone too long.
The others had strode passed him smiling and joking, mumbling greetings and
tossing quick smiles in his direction. They were small offerings, giving
a starving dog a handout before turning away from it and discarding it. They
were easing their own consciences.
This feeling of isolation, of ostracism had been forgotten by Ezra, but suddenly
it blossomed inside like a buried bomb that had suddenly been lit.
He had rubbed at his stomach trying to ease the pain.
Larabee simply nodded at him and turned his attention to the six men sitting
at the conference table as if ignoring his newly returned undercover agent.
A few concerned gazes were thrown his way. There was an air of tension in
Uneasy and uncomfortable expressions were quickly exchanged between the others.
It had not been lost on the Southern undercover agent.
The unease grew exponentially, constricting his heart as his face reddened.
The room had suddenly become too small.
If Larabee noticed it he gave no indication.
Ezra stood back against the wall, wishing for invisibility and recognition
all at the same time. He watched the show. He watched someone else play his
role and respond to the pranks and one-liners that were at one time meant
for him. From that moment on, he had known without a doubt Larabee was slowly
fading him out and replacing him.
He held his ground all through the meeting, offered his advice when asked
and even offered his assistance. He was, of course, shut down abruptly. Not
rudely, Chris occasionally toed the line of rudeness but when it came to
his men he had never crossed it. That day he had granted Standish the same
Larabee had politely listened to Standishs advice and offer to aid
in the resolution of the case, but Larabee had shaken his head and dismissed
the offer and seemingly the man.
Ezra had been gone too long, would be unable to catch up. He would have to
sit this one out. In fact, Chris had even punctuated his casual dismissal
with a placating escape. He had suggested that Ezra go home and get some
rest. Standish had time coming to him. He deserved the break.
At that moment, Ezra decided he would not leave the team without a fight.
And fight he did, quietly, in his own manner. He showed every day at the
office while his teammates worked in and out of the office with a frenzy
A pack on the hunt with the scent of blood in their noses.
Ezra worked hard every day trying to insinuate himself back in amongst his
team, his pack. He struggled and worked amongst the ill disguised whispers
of other teams and other agents. He heard the loud taunts about his work,
his supposed underhanded dealings and he waited for his teammates to put
a stop to it.
He waited in vain, but did not sit idly. Multiple times he had tried to contact
Chris, stop him in the hall only to be brushed aside, or enter his office
with and without knocking trying to get a quick blunt answer out of Mr. Larabee.
Only to be put aside, told to go home, take some time, re-coop his strength
under the guise that the last TDY had been brutal. It had been, but not near
as physically and mentally sickening as knowing he no longer had a place
amongst his teammates.
Standish turned his focus from catching Larabee to working on the McDowell
case from the outside. He was one of them until Chris threw him out the door.
The other teams were not so foolish as to cross Team Seven as a unit. Instead
they targeted the outcast and took strips off him when they found him alone,
cornered. They were righteous in taking their pound of flesh because in the
end Larabee did not trust him. Standish had become a diseased part of a working
unit and was slowly being amputated, for the good of the whole.
Team Seven was letting go, they were easing him down gently. Other federal
agents, however, had no such compunction. Gutting out rot should be done
quickly before it festered and infected the whole. Their jealousy of Team
Seven and the teams unmatched success finally found an outlet and an
explanation. Standish had cheated just as he had in the FBI.
Filth was filth no matter the state or organization. They would take great
pleasure and get self-satisfaction in watching the fall of the overconfident
peacock while brandishing knowing leers at the honest agents of Team Seven.
Every day, Standish drove to the federal building. Every day he sat in his
Jaguar and struggled to unbury the courage to step out of his car and return
to the floor that housed his team. The team he used to joke and laugh with,
a place where he at one time had been apart of the inside jokes,
a place where he did not have to worry about his place amongst them, a place
where he had felt safe and welcomed.
Larabee, Sanchez, Wilmington and the others had been engrossed in their work,
consumed by the case. They worked long hours trying to ensure the safety
of the team while bringing down the frightening madness of McDowell and his
The sly contemptuous looks tossed his way by Jenkins burned the Southerner
with jealous anger. Standish repaid the covert hostility by focusing his
research on Wade Jenkins.
Life in the Federal building had become a brutal game of cat and mouse.
Every day Ezra went home, with a new set of bruises, or new damage to his
car. Each evening he made his way home with new insults and slurs ringing
in his ears. Each day he felt the deafening silence of his teammates as they
engrossed themselves in their case.
For a month he toiled and fought, silently trying to keep his place with
his team. He watched from the sidelines as Buck and Vin worked as contact
for the new undercover agent who had managed to infiltrate McDowells
operation with too much ease. He watched from the outside, while keeping
an eye out for those few federal employees that took it upon themselves to
teach him what fellow law officers did those that stepped across the line
and crossed to the other side.
He had learned quickly not to use the Mens room unless one of Team Seven
was heading there or Team 8. He tried parking his car on different garage
levels and near a security monitor to spare it and himself abuse that seemed
to rain down on him and his treasured Jag in the evenings. Ezra finally found
it easier and safer to park in a public lot owned and run by an acquaintance.
In that dingy pothole marked half paved parking lot the Jag and
himself suffered less damage. Ribs had a chance to heal and the sports car
had respite from the auto body shop.
His precious car had been keyed and a new paint job needed. He now carried
two spare tires in the back of his trunk for the all too often occasion when
someone took a blade to his tires or a screwdriver to the inlet valve. The
few blocks to the Federal building held dangers all their own. He continued
to come to work, holding his side, working to disguise a limp or strained
shoulder. Motrin and Tylenol were as much apart of his morning as coffee
had once been.
Even when masked men, dressed too neatly, and too skilled in the art of hand
to hand combat jumped him in his darkened condo on the pretense of mugging
him, though they never once went for his wallet or struck his face, he continued
to fight back, not hindered by the fear of losing or where to strike. He
had nothing left to lose. He struck at his opponents with every intention
of damaging them to the best of his ability. He left them as walking wounded
to limp through their days at the Federal building with visible bruises.
He knew then that he had already lost, long ago, when he had first step into
the Bullpen under the heavy cloud of rumor, to see a stranger sitting in
his chair taking over his life.
Despite these abuses, despite the silent battle to face each day more isolated
and separated from the men he once considered family, he never once thought
about quitting. He never once thought about throwing up his hands and walking
away. He stopped asking Why?. He stopped trying to pin Chris
Larabee down never realizing how evasive the man could be when he wanted
to be. Ezra stopped lapping after him like a lost puppy trying to make amends
with his alpha.
His pride wouldnt let him continue. His faith in his teammates
wouldnt allow it. As loneliness clenched his gut and at times hit him
so hard as to drive the wind from his lungs, he trudged ahead. Old bruises
faded as new ones graced his torso, legs and arms.
As he curled around the porcelain toilet seat of his littered condo, or heaved
the meager contents of his stomach onto the cracked pavement of a back alley,
he continued to have faith in his team. He continued to wait and play it
out, knowing he held a losing hand. In those moments when his stomach lurched
itself violently into his throat, and his back arched stretching muscles
and pulling on bruised ribs, in those moments he squatted and leaned against
a wall shaking, he wondered if this was the kind of faith that Josiah kept
Ezra had never believed he had faith in anything other than himself. It was
frightening to discover he had been wrong, it was terrifying to realize his
faith may have been misdirected.
Visits to the emergency room for radiographs and pain killers diminished
slowly over the progression of weeks as his own personal medicine cabinet
became filled and the feel of hairline fractures and extensive bruising were
easily discernible as two distinct entities.
As he avoided and worked his way out of the physical confrontations with
other Federal agents in and outside the ATF, Ezra was better able to avoid
the gentle questioning of the Emergency room staff. He had to lie and prevaricate
less to those who only wanted to help him.
Team Seven never asked. They whisked in and out of their area hot on the
scent of a killer. Ezra watched them with a sense of loss but continued his
own sideline investigation.
If Ezra could prove his worth to his team, he would be back within the fold.
He had never given up on Maude, and he would surely not give up on Chris
and the others.
They had been a team once. They had been unbeatable and unshakeable. Hell,
they had been untouchable. Ezra could not let go of the feeling of camaraderie
He hungered to feel it again, hungered after it like a drug.
He had tried to talk to Buck, to Vin, Josiah, the others but to no avail.
Something always drew them away; an urgent call, a directive from Larabee,
a meeting; they or he was told to relax get some rest,
go home--No one seemed willing to talk to him. He couldnt
seem to gain anytime with them and was slowly losing the desire to discover
So he had worked on the case that his friends were busily trying to wrap
up, even though they did not discuss it with him, or include him in it. He
worked from the sidelines at the office at a desk that was no longer his
and from the cool environment of his new apartment.
His desk trinkets had been all boxed up and placed in the break room for
him by the new undercover agent. An apology had been softly uttered by Vin
and then Buck when they found Standish quietly fingering the clear packing
tape that sealed the box in the break room. They had tried to explain that
between Jenkins laptop and the desk computer already at Ezras
desk, they left no room for much else. There had been a fear that the little
mementos would be jostled from the desk and be broken.
The souvenirs that the others had given him over the years that had resided
in his original condo lay broken in an open box beside the dumpster at his
old place, scavenged by the kids that still lived in the complex.
Standish continued to work the case, cursing himself for his foolish loyalty,
for craving friendships that were long lost. Ezra eyed Larabee trying to
understand where his devotion to this man and his team stemmed from and why
couldnt he uproot it.
Chris had too many things on the burner. A new undercover agent he didnt
quite trust, two contact men, Buck and Vin, and too much research and paperwork
to worry about the bruised and misguided ego of one over-proficient Southern
Undercover agent, who badly needed a break from work. The Wyoming TDY case
from last month had left the whole region of Jackson numb with fear and horror.
Chris could only think his undercover agent suffered as well. The man looked
run down and haggard.
Why couldnt Ezra just take a break and let them handle this case?
McDowell was a sick bastard and Larabee wouldnt endanger Standish.
His agent wasnt prepared for this case and Chris would not risk
Ezras safety or life.
Well you can tell everyone I'm a down disgrace
Or drag my name all over the place
I don't care anymore (I don't care)
Ezra maneuvered the Jag through the blackened night. He looked in the rearview
mirror again and watched as Wilmington slumped in the back seat folded and
crammed next Tanner.
The smell of blood hung heavy in the car, the heater blew fiercely trying
to subdue the chills that wracked each man.
There was so much blood.
Everywhere Ezra looked, smears and drying congealing pools of blood darkened
his vision. Bucks face and clothing, Vins sneakers that rested
against the back passenger window, the car seats, smudged hand prints on
the doors and passenger seats. Even his own face had blood splatter. None
of it his own. Gawd if it was only his own, it would be okay.
He would never be that lucky. It was his friends blood. They were slowly
fading from him just as he had been from them over the last few weeks. This,
however, heralded a more permanent fissure.
The sickly, coppery smell of blood was over-powering in the small car. The
harsh, forced breaths of pain and fear pulsed through the interior.
He was losing his friends.
Ezra flipped opened his cell phone. Taking his eye briefly from the desolate
rural roads that twisted and turned through a wooded mountainside, he punched
numbers from memory. He had no other recourse.
He hit the only speed dial number he had yet to erase. The other numbers
were already gone. He had erased them after he had moved from his vandalized
apartment a few weeks ago.
It was then, when he had been forced to move, that he had resigned himself
to his fate and lack of ability to keep friends as well as a job. He had
erased one of the last ties he had to the others.
It wasnt as hard as he thought it would have been. Not after a month
of struggling, fighting, desperately hoping to be thrown a bone of friendship
or protection. Each time his thumb hit the erase button on his
phone, the sting had been there but he had grown used to it. The dull constant
throb of rejection and solitude that had settled in his gut had flared briefly
when he cleared his phone book one number at time, but then the
loss had died back down to smolder and burn with its achingly familiar background
He had faced this before. Promised himself that he would never go through
it again, only to realize that he failed even himself.
The Seven were still Seven: apparently they just had a new face. He told
himself it didnt matter, it didnt bother him. When he had lain
awake at night feeling the cold dread of isolation clinch his innards, he
had told himself he was stronger for the experience. This wouldnt and
hadnt killed him, so it stood to reason he would be made a stronger,
Except, the very thought of the others laughing and not including him, no
longer being invited to join the others on weekend gatherings, stole the
breath from him. Whenever he thought of his expulsion, it brought physical
pain that nearly made him double over. His stomach clenched whenever he watched
the others laugh and joke at things he was no longer privy too. Excluded.
Somehow he was stronger for it. He had to be.
He just couldnt lift his chin enough to see it in his reflections in
He told himself, night after night, in his new apartment, staring up at the
ceiling knowing his phone would not be ringing in the early morning hours
with friends looking for him to go out for a ride or badger him into helping
them with some project or some foolishness they had planned. They would not
be trying to convince him to participate or help create a prank that would
supercede all others before it.
At night, as he stared at that blank ceiling, he told himself it didnt
matter. He had survived worse, he would survive this. He just couldnt
convince himself he really wanted too.
In the darkened interior of his car, with the heavy smell of blood and the
sharp sounds of desperate breathing, the crushing weight of despair draped
Standish gripped the cell phone and pulled his thoughts back to the problem
There had been no reason to keep the other numbers. No reason at all. He
had deleted them long ago, with the exception of Larabees. Somehow
that one number demanded loyalty.
The rumors about his dismissal had been true. Larabee probably had too much
going on to write Standishs permanent transfer papers.
Ezra saw no need to keep the phone numbers for the members of Team Seven.
They would not be wanting to contact him nor he them.
It was mutual.
With a familiarity that ached his heart, he pushed in the code that he knew
by rote. It was the only stored number he had left on his cell phone. The
one he could not erase no matter how many times he had gone through the motions.
Before the first ring finished a voice barked over the phone,
Without understanding why, Ezra felt instantly relieved and inexplicably
frightened. His bloodied hand tightened on the steering wheel as his eyes
darted to the rear view mirror. The mess that had embroiled Wilmington and
Tanner was not of his making. He had simply found evidence and an old dead
trail and merely followed it.
It led him to a dark, cold, back alley and an almost execution style murder
of two ATF agents.
He had intervened.
Would it save his job? Ezra didnt think so nor was he sure he wanted
it back. The revelation didnt surprise him, and somehow even that hurt.
Mr. Larabee, Tension easily laced his words.
Ezra? I dont have time for your shit, Larabee stated none
to friendly. Why couldnt the man just enjoy his freedom and not worry
about a case that was not his headache? The team had been working nonstop
for weeks. Hell, they hadnt even had a weekend off to play. Why
couldnt Ezra just sit back and relax and let others bare the headaches
of working a case from the inside? Was Standish that much of a control freak?
Chris had heard the rumors about dumping Standish from the team. Hell, he
had Ryan Kelly riding his ass about it as well as some of the other teams
and even Travis. Chris had heard the rumors and ignored them because they
were just that, rumors, and he would not give credence to office hearsay.
Ezra and his team knew that, why didnt anyone else? When Travis had
come down into his office to tell him to address the growing problem, Larabee
had become angry. There was nothing to discuss, and no reason to give credibility
to lies and foolish gossip that had no basis in fact. He would not fuel the
flames by addressing them. The Judge had left as angry as Chris.
Ryan Kelly had stopped him only days before, cornered him really and cursed
him for letting Standish swing like a dying man from a rope. If Larabee was
going to cut him loose then he should do it quickly and end the mans
suffering. Larabee had shoved Kelly back into a wall and told him to quit
buying into gossip like an old maid.
Chris had more important things to worry about. He had two men who were late
checking in and his new temporary undercover agent might be dirty. He
didnt have time for office scandal, not when lives were on the line.
The lives of his men, his friends. He needed his phone line open not tied
up trying to soothe slighted egos.
Standish was a big boy and could handle himself. The man was stronger than
rumor and he had Chriss loyalty. Larabee knew it to be enough.
Ezra repeated again, tearing his eyes from
the two men bleeding to death in the back of his car. He fixed his gaze forward,
staring straight ahead as he wove the Jag down the rural back road. Large
birch and pine trees lined the roadway like quiet sentinels, flashing in
the glare of his head lights.
Ezra git the Hell off this line
Buck and Vin, Ezra blurted out as he feared Mr. Larabee was about
to hit the End button on the cell phone.
Chriss thumb paused just short of disconnecting the call and put the
phone back to his ear.
What about them, Ezra? A clear warning tolled across the phone.
I have them. Ezra paused, the thick smell of blood was nauseating,
Theyve been shot
Im being followed.
Where the Hell are you!
Ezra cringed at the tone. He fought the urge to point out, this was
not his fault. Instead, he took a steadying breath, I am uncertain
at the moment.
What the fuck is going on?!
I do not know Mr. Larabee, but it was a setup
to explain as his phone beeped singling the imminent end of his battery.
Gawd damn right it was a set up?!
..You fuckin undercover
Chris knew Jenkins was dirty. He had suspected it and
had JD and Josiah started digging into their temporary replacement and was
still waiting for solid evidence. Larabee had tried contacting Standish at
home, had even drove by his Condo seeking help and advice, but had been unable
to find his undercover agent. Chris had noticed some of the kids in the complex
playing with the pirate ship and Jolly Roger that the others had given Standish
a few years back as gifts from one of their cases/vacations. It surprised
the Group Supervisor to see the kids of Ezras condo complex playing
with them outside but then again, Standish had a big heart when it came to
children. Jenkins, the bastard, would eat kids for breakfast. How that ass
got through the Federal screening application was beyond Larabee.
Dirty Son of Bitch! Larabee slapped his hand down on his desk
as his anger at Jenkins blossomed.
Ezra closed his eyes at the sounds of the exclamation.
His phone died. The empty battery blinked rapidly before the tiny phone lost
its illumination and went dark in the small confines of the car.
Ezras hope faded with the electronic smile that blinked once and switched
off with the draining of the battery.
Standish clenched the soft leather of the steering wheel and felt his heart
sink as his anger and frustration spiked. He flung the phone over into the
passenger seat and cursed. He cursed himself, the Federal government, Larabee,
and the two men sitting in the back seat of his car who, for all intents
and purposes, were bleeding to death.
He cursed the whole damn world, hating his old team, but no one did he hate
more vehemently than he hated himself.
Ezra pressed the accelerator to the floor, the car surged forward as he
mindlessly slapped the shift into fifth gear. He kept his eyes on the road
watching the double yellow line snake and extend far beyond the range of
his head lights. He pressed his foot downward trying to find a little more
speed, trying to put a little more distance between himself the bloody men
in his back seat and the mess that had become his life.
He checked the side mirrors searching for the tell tale headlights of his
pursuers. They were back there--somewhere.
+ + + + + + +
Larabee stared at his phone and swore.
+ + + + + + +
Buck fought against the hands that grabbed and dragged at him. He grasped
Vin tighter to himself trying to protect the sharpshooter the best he could.
He wouldnt let these bastards get Vin or himself without a fight. And
fight he did.
Please, Mr. Wilmington, stop fighting us.
A decidedly irritated southern accent cut through the thick muddy haze that
had enveloped Buck.
and yes Mr. Wilmington, it is me. Now let go of Mr. Tanner
so we can get him onto a gurney.
Where are we, Ez? Buck asked as he hesitantly relinquishing his
grip on the unconscious Texan.
A hospital Mr. Wilmington; we must hurry. The urgency in
Standishs voice was lost on Buck as the large surveillance expert drifted
in and out of lucidity.
Ezra stepped aside and backed onto the sidewalk and watched as his two friends
were unfolded from the backseat of his car and whisked away from him through
pneumatic doors in a flurry of activity. He stood on the concrete sidewalk
bathed in the fluorescent light of the Emergency entrance, covered in blood
that was not his own, feeling every bit as hurt as the two men that had
disappeared into the harsh illumination of a hospital emergency entrance.
He stood mutely staring at the concrete sidewalk, feeling the night breeze
gently brush his hair. The tacky smell of congealing blood faded as the scent
of a parking lot at night bled in around him.
They were gone. Ezra raised his head and turned, facing the bright lights
of the emergency entrance, wanting to follow but terrified of what he might
Standish stood for a brief moment staring blankly at the now empty corridor
as a cold breeze tugged at his pant legs and coat tails. He sighed, closed
his eyes and dragged in a deep breath. The coppery stench of blood nearly
It was time to try to figure out what to do next. It seemed too difficult
to even consider moving, too difficult to decipher which way to go. To his
car? Or follow Buck and Vin?
It was then he noticed two policemen walking toward him in a brisk, business-like
matter. Gunshot wounds had to be reported.
There were no such things as allies or safe havens. There were no sanctuaries.
Not for one of those that crossed the line, that dipped their hands into
the stank waters of crime and dabbled in corruption.
There would be no friendly fortresses to hide behind.
After all these years, Ezra suddenly realized how right his mother had been.
Loyalty, friendship and sworn duty were nothing more than plot twists for
epics and myths.
He was labeled a dirty cop, Larabee was fading him off the team.
Fuckin undercover agents got Larabees two friends
Dirty son of a bitch. Larabees words haunted his mind.
The words replayed with a crystal clarity that could not be matched with
He was still being hunted by the people who had shot Buck and Vin. Larabee
would be here soon--he would find his men and would protect them and hunt
down the dirty bastard Chris thought was responsible.
Standish blanched at the stark reality that his life was forfeit, not by
enemies but by friends. Colleagues he had respected. He would be hunted by
people who knew him better than any others. Mother had warned him about
familiarity and the sharp double blade of friendship. Yet, he had allowed
it to happen, he allowed himself to fall into friendship and the dependency
that it brought. It would herald his continued downfall. The others knew
his habits, his mannerisms, his tastes. They would be hunting for him.
The two police officers continued their brisk purposeful pace toward him.
Without a second thought, Ezra ran around his car and slid through the open
door into the drivers seat. From the corner of his eye he saw the two
policemen break into a run reaching for their guns. One reached up to key
the radio and spoke into the handy mike resting on his shoulder.
Ezra fired up the Jag. Throwing it into gear, squealing tires and boiling
grey smoke from spinning wheels, he peeled out of the emergency entrance.
The back door slammed shut on its own, trapping the repugnant odor of drying
Running from the cops, abandoning his once close teammates, Standish fled
the lights of the hospital running from the law and his inescapable past---just
as his mother had taught him.
The Jaguar disappeared into the night with a set of headlights trailing patiently
3 hrs later
Chris Larabee stormed into the emergency room of Crested Buttes little
community hospital demanding to see his men.
Josiah Sanchez, Nathan Jackson and JD Dunne followed close on his heels,
no less intimidating but somewhat less threatening.
Larabee didnt throw tantrums, did not wave his arms or holler. Instead,
he slid into the waiting area like a stalking tiger ready to make a kill.
He used no excess movement nor raised his voice--yet his very demeanor demanded
respect and sparked fear.
The men that flanked him moved as one, in his shadow, but not obscured.
The receptionist was overwhelmed and soon a doctor came out. He too felt
the heat of interrogation as Larabee silently threatened with just body language,
Chris, hold back
.Let the man speak, Nathan Jackson finally
stepped forward. Ezra was right, sometimes the others had no tact and
terrorizing people would get them no answers.
The medic thought about their undercover agent and wondered if he was ok?
Knowing that deep down it wasnt the case. Nathan knew that in amongst
the swirl of rumors and overt innuendo Ezra had felt himself isolated from
the group and cast adrift. Surely Ezra didnt believe in rumor, surely
he understood that once this case was over he would have his desk back, his
own phone and his turf would once again be truly his. Certainly
Ezra understood this. Nathan just wished he had found some time to reassure
his friend. Nathan and Josiah had stopped by Ezras place a few days
ago but found no one home and the Jag gone. Standish had been scarce at best
the last few weeks. Jackson had persuaded himself to believe Ezra was merely
recuperating from his last TDY, it was reportedly a hellish case. Nathan
wanted to believe the simple explanation. He desperately wanted that shallow
offering to work, to blind himself from the visible disaster he saw building.
Nathan shook himself from his reverie when he noticed the doctor hesitate
in the face of Larabees anger. Chris, ease off.
Thank you, Mr
Jackson, but lets skip the pleasantries
.Our friends were brought
they were shot. Nathan tried to keep his words brief for
Chriss sake, but did try to disguise his impatience for the doctors
Mr. Tanner, the gunshot to the back of the shoulder
the side of his neck, The doctor held up a hand stalling the angry
blonde from speaking, No nerve damage from what we can tell
burrowed its way along the side of his neck and tunneled into his shoulder.
There doesnt seem to be any major nerve damage. He has lost a quite
a bit of blood. The subclavien vein was nicked. The dark haired doctor
added a few more grey hairs to his already salt and pepper appearance. His
patient should have died. He forestalled the youngest mans query,
Hes critical but stable.
As for the other one, Again he held up his hand in a placating
manner, the gunshot victim to the upper right trapezius muscle, Mr.
Wilmington, has a broken clavicle and has lost a tremendous amount of blood
as well. We have realigned the bone and are replacing what blood hes
Chris waited impatiently. With no more answers forthcoming he curtly snarled
out, and the third, Agent Standish?
The Doctor truly looked puzzled and concerned, There wasnt a
third. He said it hesitantly looking over his shoulder at the receptionist.
Her eyes widened and she shrugged her shoulders, The man that dropped
them off took off as soon as Rick and Thomas saw him.
Josiah stepped up to the receptionists desk and tried to etch out a
pleasant smile, Rick and Thomas?
Sheriffs deputies, the doctor explained, Two gunshot
victims were brought through our doors. He said in way of explanation.
Chris swore again, pivoted on his heel and headed toward the exit doors pulling
his cell phone out. He turned and looked over his shoulder at the others,
Josiah, youre with me. Nathan, JD stay with Buck and Vin. Keep
an eye onem. Ill send Kelly and his group over here to lend a
hand. This was a gawd damn set up.
Larabee disappeared out the doors and into the night calling the local Sheriff
+ + + + + + +
Ezra swore as he tripped over another root. He stumbled to the ground, catching
himself with his hands. Wet earth and sticks abraded his palms and scraped
his wrists. His lungs burned and his heart raced.
He peered over his shoulder and could see the headlights of the second car
through the trees. They still hounded him. He cursed himself a thousand times
a fool. He had guided the Jag down a dead end---didnt anyone think
to mark these rural roads? Good Lord how was one to run from pursuers
if there were no decent road markers?
Ezra scrambled part way to his feet still gazing over his shoulder at the
silent dark Jag. Behind it was another car, its engine running and headlight
lancing around the Jag and through the trees. He could not see his pursuers
and it frightened him. Then again the harsh glow of high beams through the
knot of trees effectively blinded him. Ezra turned away from the cars, still
in a three point position, and made to gain his feet and continue running---but
bumped right into the mountain of a man that had snuck up and around him.
Shit. Standish made to stand but found his way effectively blocked.
Ezra cursed. He was not made for this Daniel Boone madness--not like Mr.
Well, well, look what we found. A booted foot nudged Standish
back into the dirt and pine needles.
Should I know you gentlemen? Ezra inquired with a light smile
on his face. He tried to create distance by creeping backward on his elbows.
If he could gain just enough space to make it to his feet, he could rabbit
He backed into a set of unseen legs. Standish peered over his shoulder and
looked upward and upward at a man that had no right being that tall. Ezra
offered a weak, but forcibly pleasant smile. A second body blocked his escape.
How could he have missed two such huge men? Damn, he was made for city life,
not skipping out the backwoods of a nowhere forest. Did he look like a
gawd damn squirrel? Down a city street, or into an alley, sure Ezra knew
where to hide, where to watch, how to step and what turns to make. His mother,
after all, was no better than an alley cat
hadnt he accused
her of that at one time? Wasnt he nothing more than a stray, raised
on the false cheer of handouts. Out here in the gawd forsaken wilderness
everything looked the same. Where was a good dumpster to act as a
or a parking lot for that matter? Damn trees were all
brown trunks, green needles and branches
the matter with diversity in nature?
Wheres the CD with the files, Fed?
Would you believe I dont know what you fine gentlemen are alluding
Shut the fuck up and just answer the damn question! The man behind
Standish kneed him in the shoulders and proceeded to step on one of his hands,
crushing his fingers into the mud.
Ezra gasped. I dont know of any files, he spoke through
You want us to believe that? Come on, Fed, we aint that dumb.
Ezra quirked an eyebrow, You disguise it well, Ezra replied with
mock admiration. It earned him a slap off the back of the head.
A third voice spoke up.
Hes telling the truth. Larabees been keeping him out of
this, working him away from the others, so when he transfers his sorry ass
it wont be such a shock to the team. The man who spoke stepped
into the light cast by the headlights of the car. Hell, hes dirtier
than I am---damn Fibbies didnt want him and the ATF are just pulling
their heads out of their asses and figuring it out. Jenkins laughed
at the fury that burned in the shadowed eyes of the southern undercover agent.
Jenkins squatted down in front of Ezra and smiled. Hows it feel
to know that Larabees gonna dump your ass for me? Shit, with my
connections---Hell, I got it figured Ill make a killing keeping my
bosses informed and getting just enough arrests to keep Larabee happy and
keep that old Judge off our asses. Jenkins furrowed his brow, might
have to have Sanchez and Jackson taken out though, then work on the kid ---Hell,
if I play this right Larabee will eventually be making a whole new team.
Ezra growled and made to lunge at Jenkins but the man behind him latched
onto his shoulder and kept him still. You wont get away with
it--The others will figure you out--Buck and Vin already have--Youve
Jenkins stood up and laughed, Wilmington and Tanner will be dead before
morning and Larabees gonna hit the bottle after he loses his two closest
friends. As for you--Youre going to precede your two friends, but
dont worry theres already enough rumors circulating to link you
to their murders. Jenkins turned to walk away, but stopped and faced
the undercover agent he usurped just over four weeks ago, I want you
to know theyll curse your name--They wont even go to your lousy
funeral. Larabees already got my papers signed to bring me on
board--youre history Standish one way or another. Jenkins laughed
at the minute change in body language in the downed undercover agent.
His lies had hit their mark.
Killim boys. Jenkins melted back into the bright illuminance
of the headlights his silhouette disappearing behind the shimmering glare
of high beams.
You too gutless to shoot me yourself, Jenkins? Standish shouted
out. His ears still rang with the truth of the other mans words.
Fifty dollars says you havent the testicular fortitude to pull
the trigger. Why Ezra? he berated himself silently, why taunt
the man to shoot you? Its all Mr. Wilmingtons fault, man is
incorrigible. Buck really was a bad influence on him
. The thought
dropped his heart a little closer to his shoes. Mr. Wilmington and the others
would have nothing to do with him. He had been cast out, exiled.
Larabee had truly planned on shipping him out. Ezra had known it, convinced
himself he could live with it and really didnt care, but hearing it
now, it hurt, had hurt and it burned as intensely as the first time he had
realized it to be true weeks ago. It fired and charred his gut like a
Unfortunately, at the moment, he had bigger problems. Ezra Standish tried
to play his last Ace, which wasnt much at the moment.
I despise violence, Mr. Standish, Jenkins answered back hidden
behind the glow of headlights. A car door opened, there was a pause and then
a careless chuckle, Make it painful, Peter.
Ezra stared up at the man who apparently answered to the name Peter. A handgun
materialized. A Gloc. Ezra tried scrambling backward again, Now, now
gentlemen, you dont truly want to shoot a federal agent do you?
A weak smile brushed his features, surely you realize the penalty for
such a crime. Ezra tried to jostle to his feet and make a run for it,
but the man behind him pre-empted his attempt and threw him back to the ground.
Ezra rolled and tried to push himself to his feet when he heard the roar
of the gun. He felt the solid blow and a flash of burning pain explode in
his side. It stole his breath and then his strength. He was flung to the
ground as if tackled. Instinctively he curled into a fetal position unable
to move, unable to do anything but gasp for an elusive breath.
Youre gonna die out here, Pig, all alone
aint no one
gonna miss you. They might look for you but only to blame you for your
friends death. One of the men used a foot to roll Standish onto
Ezra glared up at them. His hands clutched his midsection as his knees drew
themselves up to his chest. Go to Hell. Blood bubbled between
You first, but dont worry--your two buddies wont be far
behind. With that the two men disappeared behind the brilliance of