by Heather F

PART 1 - 2 | PART 3 - 4 | PART 5 - 6 | PART 7 - 8


You can tell everybody 'bout the state I'm in
You won't catch me crying cuz I just can't win
I don't care anymore (I don't care)
I don't care anymore

Josiah, JD and Nathan stood in the hall outside Ezra’s condo door. Their keys had not worked on the door when they had tried to gain entrance to Ezra’s home. When their keys had failed, Tanner had gently knelt down and picked the lock with weak shaking hands, leaning his head heavily against the door frame and letting his hands ‘see’ for him.

He turned the knob and gently eased the door open. JD helped him back to his feet.

They had not been sure what to expect but what they found disturbed them.

JD quietly muttered, “Oh shit.”

Sanchez leaned against an entrance wall, even though that too had not been spared, and closed his eyes though the damage had already been categorized and memorized.

Josiah’s anger boiled forth like an erupting volcano, “JD, get the manager.”

Dunne stood in small entrance way of the apartment and stared at what little he could see of the one time pristine living room. He either ignored or did not hear Josiah.

“JD.” The gruffness in Josiah’s voice had JD turning around and staring at the older man with eyes that warred between anger and regret.

“Go get the manager and get’im up here…now.” The terseness in Sanchez’s voice was not something Dunne had ever heard before. The young agent quickly left the narrow entrance way.

Nathan and Josiah entered the apartment not bothering to the close the door.

Spray painted slurs covered the walls. Broken furniture still littered the floors. Garbage was scattered through out the rooms. Things that the team had purchased and given to their undercover agent, lay vandalized and discarded. Yellow police tape lay tattered on the floors amongst the damaged furniture and personal belongings.

The agents walked from room to room. Torn cushions and mattresses had been left behind. The strong smell of old urine and feces filled the air. Josiah and Nathan entered and then quickly left the master bedroom and headed back through the ruined living room and headed toward the guest room. No wall was spared the curses and slurs, each room lay cluttered with broken furniture or vandalized walls or discarded clothing.

Nathan and Josiah stalked back toward the living room and small kitchen. Tanner leaned quietly against the wall fighting fatigue and his own anger. Buck gently kicked through the debris that marred the one time pristine living room padded carpet. Disgust and revulsion etched his face.

Jackson had his cell phone out and was dialing Chris. He and Josiah stopped short when they found someone watching them.

Barb Stickle, one of Ezra’s neighbors, stood in the juncture between living room and entrance way. Her young son, Jay stood at her hip. “Jay honey, go outside and play.” The young boy simply ducked out from under his mother’s comforting hand and left the apartment.

“Mrs. Stickle, do you know what happened here?” Nathan paused in hitting ‘send’ on his cell phone.

The young woman stood with her arms crossed and stared at the four men. Her animosity was clearly visible.

“Mrs. Stickle, Ezra’s been hurt, we’re just tryin’ to find out what happened,” Nathan implored.

Her countenance shifted slightly, the anger and fight disappeared and worry quickly took its place. “Is he going to be alright?--Did they finally go too far this time?”

Vin leaned his head back against the kitchen wall and softly cursed. His legs trembled with exertion and nausea percolated deep in his stomach. He felt lightheaded and sick. Miserable. He wanted to lie down. He hated himself for it, but all he could think about was getting off his feet and sleeping.

Buck stared out the graffittied glass sliding doors at the rugged mountain tops that loomed in the distance. He leaned heavily against the cool glass. It felt good against his forehead. He felt hot and cold all at once. Goose bumps danced up and down his arms and legs. Black spots popped in and out of his vision. The voices behind him had blurred into a static background of noise. He felt sick, gawd awful sick. He needed to lie down.

Nathan and Josiah both exchanged glances, “Who? Ma’am….what do you mean this time?” Nathan closed his phone and pocketed it. He watched as Vin became noticeably paler and a fine sheen of sweat break out over his features. Jackson turned to Buck and found the big man leaning heavily against the glass, minute tremors shaking his frame.

The two were on the verge of collapse. Like the team. They needed to get Buck and Vin back to the hospital, out of the investigation, maybe somehow get them closer to Ezra.

Larabee would be busy with Travis and Kelly and he’d want more information than Nathan had at the moment.

Jackson dialed Nettie. She’d take these two, take them back and make sure they were taken care of, looked after.

Sanchez took a slow step forward, closer to Stickle. His anger and need for answers warred with one another. He really wanted nothing more than to sit down. But not here, not in this vandalized mess that was once Standish’s home.

“You were his friends; how could you let this happen?” Her voice cracked slightly as she scanned the room with her eyes and then settled them back on the four men her kids used to play with for the last year and a half.

“Ma’am, maybe if you could start at the beginning,” Nathan said helpfully as he clicked his phone closed. Nettie was coming, relief for Buck and Vin washed over the ex-chemist.

Nathan focused on the neighbor. He clenched his teeth and fought to maintain an air of friendliness. He knew what happened. He could guess what went on here from time to time. He had seen it before growing up in neighborhoods where ‘his kind’ did not belong. He had seen it in schools where ‘his kind’ were not wanted. The stench of righteous indignation and bigotry was the same no matter the target.

“They urinated in his home….look at the walls, look at what they wrote.” Her piercing blue eyes scanned the marred walls, “How could you let this happen?” Her voice cracked with indignant anger. “You were his friends.” She whispered hoarsely.

“We didn’t know….He never told us, Ma’am,” Nathan answered softly with hurt coloring his own words.

Mrs. Stickle capitulated in her anger, “Come with me boys, the kids should be outside playing.” She led them out of the apartment and down the corridor.

Buck and Vin followed hesitantly after them.

JD jogged after Josiah and Nathan with Mr. Roberts, the manager, on his heels.

In her own apartment, Mrs. Stickle wove a sordid tale of break-ins, home invasions and obscenities that seemed to focus only on the sole apartment down the hall. She recounted the disinterest from DPD, their lackadaisical responses to the frantic calls that she and a few others neighbors made when Standish came home to an un-empty apartment. She recounted the few times he had driven himself to the emergency clinic because he had no one else to call and refused to burden his neighbors. In the end the building manager had requested that Mr. Standish move, for the safety of the other tenants and the children that lived within the building. Agent Standish, of course, agreed after the last ransacking of his small home.

The others listened quietly, sharing angry glances as frustration built.

There was no forwarding address. No one knew where Standish had moved too, three weeks ago.

Vin and Buck sagged within Mrs. Stickle’s couch fighting a losing battle against blood loss and lethargy. They despised their injuries, silently berated themselves for not being able to fight back against the oppressive weariness that weighed so heavily within them. Buck rubbed at his forehead feeling the slow broiling of a low-grade fever. He peered at Tanner’s pale face and saw the sheen of sweat that glistened his skin. Buck figured he had to look better than Vin. “Vin you look like shit,” Buck whispered quietly fighting the rising bile that churned ominously in his belly.

“Fuck you, Bucklin’,” Tanner whispered back, closing his eyes and praying he did not vomit on Mrs. Stickle’s couch.

Neither man heard or noticed their teammates plans for the rest of the day.

Josiah, Nathan and JD decided to split up. Nathan watched over Vin and Buck until Nettie appeared, and with the help of the manager and Mrs. Stickle they got the two injured men into Ms. Nettie’s pickup. She watched disheartened and with a niggling of fear as the two waxy pale men slipped off into uncomfortable dozes. She’d bring them back to the hospital.

Mrs. Stickle and Mr. Roberts watched the old rancher pull away from their complex and disappear into traffic.

Nathan filtered away to follow his own leads. He flipped his cell phone open as he wove through the moving mid morning traffic of one of Denver’s classier suburbs. He contacted Kelly. Jackson needed to know where to find Ezra’s Jag.

24 hrs later

Chris Larabee stood at the head of the conference room, listening to what the others had found. Standish had been moved from the critical care unit earlier that morning. Surgery the evening before had gone well--the wound had been cleaned and debrided and left unsutured to drain into bandages. Antibiotics were administered through the IV and Standish’s fever had begun to drop. Though visitors were not allowed, Larabee left JD to stand sentry by the door with a team of uniform officers that he personally knew.

Chris wouldn’t leave his agent alone, nor entrust his safety to just anyone with a badge. This morning, on his way back to the office, Chris had stopped by 4C’s Memorial and peered in through the hospital room door to assure himself Ezra still lay where he belonged. He looked grey and alone, but alive. Good enough for now. JD had sat slumped in a chair next to the bed, not caring of hospital rules.

Larabee smiled. His men’s disregard for rules sometimes acted for their benefit.

Larabee pulled himself from his musings and listened to Josiah. The big man rumbled on about a possible connection between Jenkins and Francis McDowell that they were all aware of from the beginning.

None of it was concrete. Larabee didn’t believe in rumor but he was coming to understand the destructive power it held. He needed more.

Nathan slid him a disc he had found under the hide-hole compartment in Ezra’s Jag. Maude’s son was a fountain of tricks and slight of hands. The hidden compartment only opened while applying the parking break at the same time one put the car into reverse and turned on the windshield wipers. No one had been more surprised than Nathan when the compartment under the passenger side dash board clicked and revealed itself as nothing more than a designer flaw created by the engineers of the Jag. He had seen such things before, for smuggling drugs, guns or any other kind of contraband. Somehow it didn’t surprise Jackson that Ezra would have one as well. With a little finagling, Nathan successfully unlatched the compartment door and found the lone compact disc. There was no illegal contraband, no unexplained cash. Jackson was not surprised, not at all.

Concrete evidence lay before Larabee on a silver reflective CD. Ezra had never left them. Why had he believed that the others had abandoned him?

Chris scanned the room full of agents. His fiery green eyes, accusatory in their stare, lanced the room searching for a target that was as elusive as innuendo and rumor.

His cell phone rang.

Larabee was of the mind to ignore it. It rang a second time. He considered hurling it against the wall.

“Phone’s work best when they’re answered,” Josiah pointed out tiredly.

Larabee shot his older agent a glare. He had little patience for sly remarks or foolery.

On the third ring Chris answered it. “Larabee.” He spit his own name as if it scalded his very tongue. The conference room fell silent, waiting.

“Chris its me, JD.” Dunne answered without truly needing too.

Larabee closed his eyes trying to find a hint of patience in a well that had run dry.

“They’ve moved’im back into ICU. His fever ‘s climbed, antibiotics aren’t working. Something with his blood pressure too, not too sure, but it’s not good.” JD’s dry tone lay heavy across the digital phone.

Larabee stared at the conference room wall ignoring the quiet questions the others asked with hesitant gazes.

“Murray thinks it might be best if you find Maude,” JD choked on his words and paused fighting his own voice, “thinks Maude should be here….”

“Stick with’im JD,” Chris ordered, knowing that visitors were not allowed in with Standish, per order of the patient himself, when he had changed his power of attorney and emergency contact some weeks ago. “Just stick with’im.”

JD merely nodded leaning against the hospital wall staring in through the large window at his teammate and friend. “He isn’t gonna make it, is he?” JD whispered, speaking to no one but himself.

Larabee tightened his grip on his phone in an angry fashion, “JD, shut yer trap and stick with him.” The hot anger in Larabee’s voice did little to hide his own fear and frustration.

JD let his head thud against the painted, metal window frame as he powered down his phone, cutting off Larabee’s voice. Dunne rolled his forehead against the glass window and watched as more drugs were pumped into the IV bag that was fed down through a blue, digital pump and into the back of Standish’s hand.

It seemed fruitless to JD. Ezra wasn’t even trying.

+ + + + + + +

Larabee flipped his phone closed and stared across the conference table at Jackson, then Sanchez and finally Wilmington and Tanner, those two shouldn’t even be out of the hospital. Fevers brightened their eyes and the pallor of their skin only highlighted the rosy tinge of rising temperatures. Chris stared at his men for a second and then the table top, trying to get a grip on his anger and frustration.


“He’s back in ICU, Murray says we should get Maude down there.”

Soft curses filled the room. Buck pushed himself angrily from the table and gasped at the fiery pain that lanced his shoulder as a violent wave of dizziness nearly shot him out of his chair. He tightly gripped the arms of his chair as his face lost all color and his eyes dilated. He glared unable to focus clearly around the room; silently daring anyone to challenge him. Vin struggled to snap the pencil he was holding with weak shaking hands while Nathan simply closed his eyes and shook his head.

Chris glared at his two injured agents wishing to God they had agreed to be admitted to the hospital. It was a losing battle on all fronts. Ezra was slipping from them without a fight, Buck and Vin were fighting the very people that wanted to help them, and McDowell and Jenkins had slipped below radar.

Hunters were being hunted and the hunted were doing the hunting.

“I’ll find her.” Josiah gently pushed himself from the table and exited the room.


I don't care
What you say (I don't care what you say)
We never played by the same rules anyway (yeah)
I won't be there anymore

Francis McDowell gazed down at the birth son he had given up a lifetime ago. The child had been born unwanted by a young mother who was more interested in her next score than she was in ensuring her newborn’s safety. McDowell had been too young himself to care for the infant. In a fit of blind rage he destroyed the mother of his child and took the young infant and deposited the whelp on the doorstep of a Catholic run hospice. The Sisters of the Assumption were a German order and were reputed to be stern but openhearted--the old fools.

McDowell left his young son and watched him grow from afar. He became an aloof witness to the boy’s mismanaged, hidden violent life. His boy grew up under the name of Wade Jenkins and could have been the son of the devil himself but had the brains and conniving to keep himself from being blatantly caught.

The Nuns tossed him out at 18, the Army picked him up at 19 and the ATF snapped him up at 23. Wade Jenkins had a black heart under a golden smile and the intelligence of his father--a genius. However, he had the inhibitions of his junky mother, i.e. none.

Like his father though, his over-confidence would eventually be his downfall.

Francis McDowell glowered at his son with disgust and animosity. The boy still had much of his mother’s lack of common sense and uncontrolled impulses. McDowell had no tolerance for weak-willed fools. He had had no patience for the junky that bore his son. The son who in all respects should have been terribly marred and brain damaged. Somehow the monster had escaped the doomsday predictions of medical science and had been born healthy. His bedevilment was genetic.

McDowell slapped his son again, sending the younger man crashing into the leather bound books of his library. Blood flew from the corners of the young man’s mouth spraying the mahogany walls and red oriental rugs in a fine mist.

The very sight of the blood, the feel of flesh striking flesh and the surge of power that they infused in McDowell were like a drug. A sense of euphoria flowed through his veins in a rush. He grit his teeth and controlled the sudden desire to see more blood, to exert his strength and power over the product of his one time lapse of reason. Control was what made McDowell a feared and lucrative business man; it was his intelligence and constant dominance over his basic tendencies that kept him a leader in his elite circle and out of sight of the law. Until now.

“You left a Federal agent, alive, and with a means of transportation?” McDowell stalked up on his brazen son. The boy didn’t have the knowledge to even look ashamed. Through slitted eyes and with a hand raised to his mouth to wipe at the pooling blood, the ATF agent stared daggers at his father, daring him to strike him again.

McDowell recognized the wild defiant challenge that the boy’s mother had shown when he had bedded her at his convenience and in response to his own foolishly young desires, hers be damned. She had been a tool and a weak one at that.

Wade Jenkins met his father’s eyes and smiled at him with blood slicked teeth. He’d keep the old bastard alive. He’d prove himself irreplaceable soon enough. He was already on Larabee’s team. It would only be a matter of time until he had control of the unit. Until then, Jenkins would play to the old man’s tune.

“He’s a dead man even if he made it out of there. The ATF isn’t going to help look for him. Hell, half the Federal agents in the state won’t even bother putting on their glasses to search for the bastard.”

“That bastard is back in Larabee’s hands,” McDowell hissed out, “under twenty-four hour guard.” McDowell raised his hand to strike the half grown pup that dared look him in the eye.

Jenkins dropped his gaze not bothering to meet the eyes of his father. This was not the time to show his hand. He would destroy Larabee’s team slowly, one at a time, starting with the undercover agent. He would prove to the old man his worth and then take his place amongst the elite.

“Those other two,” McDowell spit out, “they’re still up and running with Larabee.” He lowered his hand no longer interested in beating the defiance from his blood. “How did Standish know where to be? Can he link you to me?”

“Hell no,” Jenkins barked out.

His lack of tack earned him another backhand which sent him flailing back into the arm of the leather upholstered couch.

“Don’t take that tone with me.” Francis stared down at his son and wondered if he would be condemned to the Ninth level of Hell with Cassius, Brutus and Judas if he were to kill his own son.

“Then how’d Standish know to be there?!” McDowell roared, lunging at his bastard with all the hate and anger he had become infamous for.

Francis McDowell was saved from the heinous act of killing his own son by the same two bodyguards that had gunned down Tanner, Wilmington and Standish. Peter and David wrestled their boss away from the fallen Jenkins for the good of their boss.

The son was of no consequence to them.

“Mr. McDowell, he may be of use to us still.” Peter whispered calmly to the only boss he had ever had in his thirty-eight years.

“We get rid of Standish and the other two and there’ll be no evidence to link any of us to your kid.” Peter spoke quickly and quietly, “they’ll relocate him and we’ll start again. Just think an inside man, your son, in a Federal agency. We’ll always be one step ahead of them.”

Peter and his brother held McDowell back sharing a look. They both knew their boss should not have listened to his over zealous son when he said they could take on Denver and Larabee’s team. They weren’t ready for the likes of Larabee or his vicious pack of lawmen.

They never wanted ATF Team Seven on their tails. McDowell had fallen for his son’s charisma and charm and had believed that his boy could win a spot on Larabee’s team and eventually destroy it from the inside out.

McDowell shook his two bodyguards off and stared contemptibly at Jenkins. The young fool. All they had managed to do was rile Larabee and his sickly loyal gang of agents.

“I want Standish, Wilmington and Tanner dead. I don’t care how. Get rid of them.” McDowell was staring at his son but the order was issued to all three men in the room.

+ + + + + + +

Maude Standish sat beside her son’s bed and held his hand while running her other hand through his damp hair. A nasal canula was taped high on his cheeks with the tubing tucked behind his ears.

Josiah Sanchez sat on the other side of the bed leaning against the raised bed rail, resting his hands on Standish’s hidden forearm.

Once again Ezra groaned and rolled his head mere millimeters before stopping. He shifted a foot and moved slightly parted chapped lips. His discomfort and unease were discernible enough. The medication deemed to help him seemed woefully inadequate.

“Sssshhh, easy son,” Maude intoned as she had every time he had moved or shown any sign of life, “It’s going to be ok.” As she uttered her false platitudes with a forced smile, fighting her own tears, she would pat back his hair in a manner she hoped was comforting, rubbing a shaking thumb on his dry, heated forehead. “It’s going to be ok, son.”

Josiah watched quietly each time, tightening his own grip on Ezra’s forearm hoping to convey some strength and sense of camaraderie.

“He’s a fighter,” Josiah said quietly, trying to force a smile to his own face.

Maude merely nodded, never taking her eyes from her son.

“He’s going to pull through this Maude,” Josiah tried again.

“I lost his father,” Maude choked out, her hand leaving her son’s forehead to rest a bent index finger under her nose. “I lost his father,” Anger laced her voice as she shot a piercing stare across her son’s blanketed chest to the older agent on the other side, “and swore I would not lose my son in a similar manner.” She lowered her head and softly cursed, “Damn him and his foolish choices.” She raised her chin defiantly finding strength in her sudden flash of anger.

Sanchez met her gaze and then dutifully deflected his eyes downward to his young friend. Maude was not much of a mother, of that Josiah was sure, but just as confident as he was that she would never win Mother of the Year, the older agent was sure she loved her son in her own convoluted manner.

“He’s never spoken of his father,” Josiah pointed out.

“Every day, Ezra would run to the couch, stand on its seat to peer out the window and watch for his father to pull into the driveway. Every day his father did.” Except one day. “One day he did not come back.” Maude spoke quietly, angrily, as she relived that day. The day her husband did not come home, the day the phone rang instead and delivered devastating news to a small growing family. News that had crushed a young woman and her dreams. “He never understood it.” Maude finally spoke again, her gaze staring at the pale slack features of her son. “He never understood. And every day he ran to that damnable couch and stood leaning over the back looking out the window, looking for his father’s car. He refused to come to the dinner table, refused to leave that couch. He would have stayed there all his life looking out that foolish window.” Maude’s anger rose with the clarity of the memory. As the misty flashes of memory became more clear, crisper, she could see her young son, all of 5 years old, standing on the davenport forehead pressed to the glass, incessantly asking when his father was coming home, where was he?…How many times did she have to explain to him that his father was gone? Why couldn’t her son understand that his father was never coming back. Even after the funeral. Ezra had wanted to rush home to see if his father’s car was in the driveway. He had stood on that couch day after day at the same time every afternoon looking, searching for his father.

Josiah watched Ezra’s mother fight the memories trying to bring them under control. “He was young then?” Sanchez knew that to be true, not from reading any reports or back history on his fellow teammate but from knowing the man himself. Ezra still had certain insecurities that heralded a lost child seeking some kind of understanding. Assistance.

Maude simply nodded, “If he would have just stopped standing on that couch, stopped asking when his father was coming home.” She could see the soft yellow embroided couch that her husband had picked out when they had purchased their first and only home together. They had such high aspirations for themselves, for their son. Lofty dreams were only for the foolish and the naïve. Maude had learned her lesson.

Josiah watched as the mother relived her years as a new widow and felt some of her pain and wondered at the scars that kept her from settling down again.

“That afternoon he stood on that couch--searching, waiting. Lord knows what he was thinking. He refused to come eat the dinner some well-wisher had brought us, saying he was waiting for his father.” Maude smiled sadly staring at her son, brushing her fingertips over his forehead. His hair was stiff and clumped with old sweat and oil.

A stifled sob choked her, “I was so tired of hearing it. So tired. I just grabbed his arm and hauled him off the davenport, I raised my voice to him,” She paused and then stared at Josiah, green eyes wavering under unshed salty tears, “and then my hand.” She turned her attention back to her son and ran her hand carefully down sunken pale cheeks, feeling the dry heat of a persistent fever, “It was the first and last time I had ever raised my hand to him.” She paused focusing her gaze on memory, “he was so tiny for his age.” A tear wavered over her lower eyelid and when she blinked it rolled down her cheek picking up speed as it trickled passed her nose. “That night I sent him to my aunt’s house, and after that boarding schools---I didn’t know how to deal with him, couldn’t understand what he needed. I sent him away.” She whispered to herself staring at the slack features of her son, watching as he once again started to slip from her.

She couldn’t remember the exact time Ezra had slowly seeped from her life. She couldn’t recall when he had become merely an interesting topic of conversation and no longer an integral part of her daily concerns. Perhaps it had started when his father died, when she had sent him away for the first time? Somewhere along the way she had stopped being a mother to him and had become merely another instructor and acquaintance. When had he stopped fighting for her attention? She couldn’t remember the exact moment but had slowly come to realize that he had given up trying to garner her attention and gain entrance into her life.

Josiah watched Mrs. Standish silently finding no recourse to judge her, having failed his own sister in a manner more horrific than the mother that sat across from him watching her son fade from existence.

There were no words or reassurances. It was past history. Maude had sent her son away, and he had learned to survive without depending on her. She taught him to survive through example and harsh lessons, and he gravitated to them as only the very young could do in order to survive. And survive he had.

Perhaps that was where Josiah had failed with Hannah. She had been sheltered for a time by their mother and then somewhat by himself. When their mother was ripped from them, Hannah still had her big brother to protect her from the wrath of their vengeful father. She had had her brother right up until Josiah could affect his own escape. Escape he had, leaving his sister to fend for herself. A skill she had no proficiency at, she lacked the skill to survive on her own. Perhaps she had been too old to become proficient.

“He turned out alright Maude,” Josiah finally answered. He had turned out better than Hannah.

“No, he did not,” Venom laced her words. Fierce green eyes stared brutally at Josiah begging him to defy her, to give her a target.

Sanchez remained mute, not willing to fight when the battle seemed futile. They fought the wrong the war.

“The FBI nearly destroyed him,” She squeezed her son’s hand as she replayed some of the conversations they had had while he struggled with the condemnation and accusations of his coworkers in Atlanta. She had tactfully ignored his choice of conversations and always changed the direction of their talks when she had visited him in those dark months. She feigned indifference hoping he would understand that there was no quarter in this world that could help him. He had to help himself. In the end he had come to realize it. Only he fell right back within the same soup---different letters. ATF was no different than FBI, though perhaps the egos were a little less.

“I want my son back, Mr. Sanchez,” Maude whispered out once again turning her attention back to Ezra.

“Perhaps you should tell him that,” Josiah answered quietly.

+ + + + + + +

Mr. Von Hauken watched from the window of ICU as his wife of five years sat with her son and the older agent. He did not break his stare from the window when someone stood beside him to stare into the ICU room.

“I want to help, Mr. Larabee,” Von Hauken’s thick German accent did not muddle his determination.

“It’s a Federal matter,” Chris politely but sternly pushed the request aside.

“He is my son,” Seething anger slid to the surface. Von Hauken was not used to having his requests brushed aside so lightly.

Chris turned and nailed the older man beside him with an impatient glare. He had no time for spoiled overtly rich men seeking a little adventure in their lives or trying to salvage a probably failing marriage to the likes of Maude Standish. Chris wouldn’t tolerate it, especially with Ezra dwindling precariously in the middle. “He’s your stepson,” Larabee hissed stressing the ‘step’ part, clearly stating his thoughts on the matter and all rights and privileges of what a ‘step’ parent brought to the table, at least concerning his agent Standish. A stepfather had no say in Ezra’s life, not now, not at this age, not when at the best of times so many step-fathers before had been nothing but mere shadows, negligent in their duties to their stepson’s shuffled childhood, and at the worst of times neglectful or abusive.

Chris would not stomach the posturing of a wealthy 6th husband at the back end of a long line of Steps. He had work to do.

“When I married his mother, he became my son.” Von Hauken uttered out between clenched teeth. “That might not mean anything to you Mr. Larabee, but it is something I hold dear.”

Larabee met Von Hauken nearly toe to toe. They were matched in height, both had dirty blonde hair, and though Maude’s husband had a closer association with heavy weights and curling bars. Chris sparked an almost savage animalistic aggression that no strength training with free weights could match.

Neither man backed down.

Buck and Nathan watched from the elevator corridor. The building tension had the nurses fingering the phones not sure whether to call security. Vin Tanner’s easy smile and gentle shake of the head told them ‘No.’

In the end, Tanner’s smile grew wider, as if he had just won a bet with himself. The tension leeched out of Buck’s shoulders and Nathan’s hands unconsciously dropped from the concealed hilt of a knife he kept under his shirt. Vin was always curious what Nathan would do if he had to ever pull his knife and in thinking on it the Texan was sure he did not really want to know the answer. Nathan never bluffed. That was one reason he did so poorly playing poker.

Larabee let a small smile crease his face, “What can you bring to the table, Mr. Von Hauken?”

Von Hauken smiled a cocky grin, “Let us go someplace private where I may use my cell phone and speak freely with my people.”

Larabee quirked an eyebrow.

+ + + + + + +

Forty-five minutes later, the mobile agents of Team Seven buried themselves in new leads using new resources. JD openly admired Ezra’s step-father, more precisely the electronics and computers the man had at his fingertips. Buck rested his head on the table and asked if he could be adopted. Tanner suggested that Von Hauken take Buck on as the family pet. Nathan chuckled for the first time in days. Chris, Vin and Von Hauken left the hospital conference room and started on their new tasks. Buck and JD headed back to the office with the CD Nathan had found in Ezra’s car. Von Hauken had been able to decode the encryption on the disc and left it up the ATF agents to translate the classical Latin and musical notes in which the data had been stored.

Nathan headed back upstairs to fill in Josiah and look in on Ezra. There were also security tapes in the Federal building garage to be studied. Someone had been taking a pound of flesh from his friend and Jackson intended to find out who. He had every intention of inviting Josiah to help him. Then there was Jenkins.

Buck and JD would uncover the truth when the disc was translated.

They were getting closer to answers.

Jackson leaned heavily against the elevator wall and closed his eyes. , Sure, they were getting closer, but it seemed Ezra was drifting away from them. Buck and Vin, it seemed, forgot what it felt like to feel healthy. The two men should have been taking in fluids, resting and recovering, instead they were dragging themselves across the city trying to unravel the tangled web that had somehow ensnared them all without their knowledge.

The elevator chimed. The doors slid open. Nathan pushed himself off the wall and headed for ICU and Josiah. Maybe Ezra would be looking better today. Maybe Maude wouldn’t stare at them, accusing them of stealing her son’s will away.

Maybe. And maybe he’d win the lottery tonight.

The answers were on the disc. Buck and JD carried the ball. Nathan wanted the security tapes.

+ + + + + + +

Buck Wilmington slid down in his chair, too tired to grimace at the lancing pain that wanted to steal his breath away if he could just capture a decent one.

“Buck,” JD’s soft whisper in the darkened office space matched the bewildered look on his face. “I can’t--,” JD’s voice tapered off as the printer across the room shot out page after printed page of documents from the disc.

“Best call Chris and get the ball rolling,” Buck said. Sweat dotted his forehead as the words dribbled from his mouth. He was just too damn exhausted to feel anything anymore but the constant ache in his shoulder.

JD nodded his head and hit speed dial for Larabee’s cell phone.

+ + + + + + +

Larabee clicked his phone closed and stared at Tanner. The man was on the verge of collapse. He wouldn’t last much longer, and it wouldn’t be much longer before he was in a bed beside Standish in ICU.

“JD and Buck broke the case,” Larabee flipped his phone back open and punched in a number. Chris slowed the Ram down and pulled an illegal U-turn. “Jenkins is rot. He’s related to McDowell, been feeding him information about our case. That’s how you and Buck got set up.”

Tanner merely nodded, not surprised at all. Jenkins was a snake disguised as a rabbit. The sharpshooter slunk even lower in the front seat of the pick-up unable to prevent the movement.

He half listened to Larabee contact Ryan Kelly. Tanner leaned his head against the glass. Kelly and his bunch would be sure to make a shoot out of things. They were crazy.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan Jackson and Josiah Sanchez sat in a small audio/visual room and examined tape after tape. Some were discarded and forgotten while others were watched, rewound and re-examined at slower speeds.

With growing ire and rising blood pressures the two agents noted heights, builds and mannerisms of the four repeated individuals that stalked and brazenly attacked Standish within the Federal Parking Garage.

The first step was to discover why security never made note of the incidents.

The two agents from Team Seven recognized and memorized the cowards that found strength in their numbers to attack a lone individual. Johnson of Team 11 seemed to be the ring leader. The damn fool could hide his face and hands but he couldn’t disguise his build and height and mannerisms. It was no wonder he failed so soundly at undercover operations. The rest of his little gang of bullies were slowly identified as the tapes were examined over and over again.

Each passing frame they watched their teammate get taken down. Standish made them pay, that much was clear, but in the end he was out numbered and with no backup.

He fought alone.

One of their friends faced the world alone.

Josiah hit rewind on one of the last garage tapes. Nathan and he watched the grainy black and white tape as an elevator chimed and the doors slip open. With heavy hearts they witnessed as Standish slid himself under his car, clutching his midsection, hiding from sight as Buck and JD stepped from the elevator and headed for their respective vehicles unaware of the assault that had taken place only moments before.

Standish had hid from them. Damn that man and his pride. Josiah fumed. He found his anger directed at the perpetrators and their victim. All the fool had to do was say something or reveal just a hint of the trouble he was in and they all would have come to his aid.

“I’ll ring his damn neck,” Jackson muttered, sickened at the abuse and lack of faith one of his friends seemed to have in him.

The ringing of Josiah’s cell phone shattered the eerie quiet of the darkened room. Sanchez pulled it off his belt springing the belt clip across the room.


“Git up to the office; JD and Buck translated the disc.” Larabee’s shortened temper shot across the phone like a bolt of electricity.