Ezra Standish: Fugitive

by Armaita

Crossover "The Fugitive"

This is a long one, but I couldn't make it any shorter and still remain true to both the movie and the tv show. If it needs to be split into chapters, that's fine. I have no preference for the break points.

You think you can do better? Go ahead and try.

The words haunted Chris Larabee's thoughts, even as he sat outside Judge Orin Travis' office.

You have no idea how difficult this is.

The ineptness of one US Marshal had cost Chris everything but his life, and even that was still a close thing. 'Sarah, Adam' he thought for the umpteenth time, 'I'm sorry. I should have been there. I could have at least died with you. This isn't a life.' Shaking his head to clear away such morbid thoughts, Chris was interrupted by the Judge's secretary. In another life he might have noticed she was pretty, but in this one he didn't have any use for looks anymore.

"Judge Travis will see you now."

Moving as though in a dream, Chris opened the door, and nodded to the Judge, who sat behind a desk that made the Titanic look like a small dinghy. Then he stood, almost at attention. He had not stood at attention for anyone since his suspension for misconduct after finding out his wife and son had perished in the flames set as a diversion by an escaping convict.

"You look like hell, Chris," the judge's eyes were full of kindness and understanding; he'd lost a son in a drive-by shooting a dozen years prior, "Have a seat."

Chris' mouth set in a firm, uncompromising line. "I'll stand, sir."

Judge Travis looked as though he might protest, but then thought better of it. "Very well... I asked you to come here to offer you a job."

His eyes locked on the wood-paneled wall above the judge's head, Chris stiffly said, "I have a job, sir."

Orin Travis gave a brief laugh. "Going by the discussion I had with your superior, you won't for long. You're angry; you lash out at your coworkers over the tiniest of things..."

"My caseload is the heaviest," Chris said by way of explanation, "and my competence is beyond question."

The judge sighed. "Yes, you still solve more cases than six other officers put together, but the job is all you have. It's not a life. A life is what I'm offering you."

A feral grin crossed Chris' face. "You said you were offering me a job, and now it's a life. With all due respect, sir, cut the crap. Which is it?"

If Judge Travis was shocked by Chris' profanity, he didn't show it. "It can be both, Chris. I want you to put together a team for the US Marshals, to operate under my jurisdiction."

The mourning blonde's eyebrows drew down. "I thought you already had marshals, sir." Incompetent ones that cost my family their lives, but you already had some.

"Yes, well," Judge Travis coughed nervously, "Bob Custer was killed along with most of his team when he entered a booby-trapped building. Only the communications expert survived, and that was because the young man was out in the equipment van."

Chris smiled. As he remembered it, US Marshal Custer and the rest of his team were incompetent, arrogant bastards who would rather take coffee breaks than find his wife and son's killer. "I don't think I ever met their communications expert," Chris stated neutrally.

Judge Travis grimaced. "I doubt you would have. Bob treated that kid like dirt. That young agent was expected to run errands for everybody in the unit; I can't say I understand why he put up with it."

Chris nodded; hope fluttering within him for the first time since...well, in a long time. "What do you want from me?"

Travis held in a sigh of relief. "I want you to consider leading a team of US Marshals; I'm thinking somewhere between four and six members besides yourself. You would be answerable to me, but I'll let you make most decisions about the day-to-day running of the team. Here," he pulled a thick file from a drawer, "are the resumes of people who would probably work best--"

Chris accepted the file, but interrupted, "Buck needs to be on the team, or I won't even consider leading it." His tone brooked no argument, but Travis only smiled, as if amused.

"If you'd look at the first folder..." he prompted.

Had Chris been one to become embarrassed easily, the sight of his long-time friend staring back up at him from the folder would have caused him to blush. As things stood, though, he merely grunted his approval and flipped through the remaining folders. He stopped, surprised, at one.

"No offense, sir," Chris clarified, holding up the file of one Josiah Sanchez expert profiler whose photograph declared him to be in his late fifties, "but isn't he a little close to retirement?"

Judge Travis laughed. "He's older than he looks, he's my age, in fact." The judge was sixty. "But he's healthy as a horse, makes better scores in physical training than men a third his age, and no one could accuse him of senility. He's something of a genius. If you can get him to join, he'd be an invaluable asset."

Slowly, Chris accepted the advice. Then, he demanded, "We need some kind of medical personnel. I won't have my men running through the countryside, dying of bullet wounds or infections."

Judge Travis held back a smile, enjoying the banter too much to instantly assure the taciturn man that he'd already planned for that eventuality. "If you're thinking of Sam Gerard's man, no medic could have changed that."

Who hadn't heard of the youngest member of Sam Gerard's 5th district Northern Illinois US Marshals team, who had been executed by the man who'd framed the fugitive that team was pursuing? Chris' eyes burned with anger. "Yes, sir. I highly doubt any medic could have remedied a bullet to the heart, but it would be an even greater tragedy if I let any of my men die from something that could have been prevented."

Now, Judge Travis did smile. He hadn't heard Chris talk like this since he'd been involved in the Seals. 'His men' was a phrase a selfish, self-destructive Chris Larabee would never have uttered, and Travis had feared, after the fire at his house, that Chris might not have ever said such things again. Here, the mere prospect of a team had Larabee behaving like the leader he was born to be.

"There's a file, about one-third down," Judge Travis said. "Jackson, Nathan. He was a medic in the Army until he decided healing soldiers wasn't his calling. He set up a clinic that treats the underprivileged; he has a few corporate sponsors. He's married to a Dr. Raine Jackson, who runs the clinic; since Nathan doesn't have a medical degree, he can only help in nominal ways. I think he'd jump at this opportunity.

Chris knew his next question would sound bigoted, but he had to be certain the judge knew who he was bringing in. "How do I know somebody with very little medical training will be able to keep my boys alive?"

Judge Travis glared. "Jackson's 'limited medical training' as you call it, kept his entire squad, plus fourteen enemy combatants and three townspeople alive. After that attack, he also helped deliver a baby. Every one of those people survived, so don't talk to me about the limits of his knowledge, Larabee."

Chris chuckled. It was neither long nor loud, but it was the first sign of mirth the judge had seen in his former subordinate in far too long. "Easy, there, judge. I just wanted to confirm his credentials. I know we don't need a doctor out there. Hell, a doctor probably wouldn't know what to do in the situations we'd encounter. No, if he's as good as you say he is then he'll do just fine. Any other recommendations?"

Travis checked his surprise. Chris was a tactical genius; it should come as no shock that he could maneuver the judge into an emotional response. Collecting himself, the judge replied. "In addition to Buck Wilmington, Sanchez, and Jackson, you'll need a communications expert, and a tracker. You should be able to find those in the rest of that pile. Will you at least think this proposition over?" Travis didn't want to sound too hopeful. "We need someone to protect the good people of this society from bad element."

Chris repeated his chuckle, and then stood up to leave, taking the file with him. "Judge, I am the bad element. I'll get back to you."

+ + + + + + +

Standing at the entrance of the police station where one Buck Wilmington had settled, Chris silently cursed himself. He hadn't really been thinking when he'd said he wanted Buck on the team or no team at all. Chris didn't even know if Buck wanted to see him, after all this time. Is any amount of time enough to forgive what I did to him? Chris wondered. Steeling himself, the purportedly fearless man entered the police station.

As his eyes adjusted to the darker interior, Chris observed a countertop with an extremely bored-looking police officer behind it. The officer barely spared Chris a glace, and it wasn't even an appraising one at that. Chris frowned. He had been surprised by his own reflection enough times to know that anyone with a decent head on their shoulders and a well-developed sense of self-preservation would give him a second look, and then a wide berth. Chris guessed that this man probably lacked the former, as it was impossible to be an effective police officer without identifying and worrying about dangerous people.

Chris tried to keep the scowl off his face at the officer's stupidity, but he must not have been completely successful, because the officer only said, "What's yer problem?" after glancing up from his paperwork.

Clenching teeth and fists, Chris politely requested the whereabouts of Officer Buck Wilmington.

"He'll be in the break room," the officer said, pointing while still clutching a pen in his hand, "second door on the left."

Chris scowled openly. This was the hellhole his friend was working in? He strode to the break room and, not surprisingly, found Buck surrounded by a gaggle of adoring female officers. "The security in this place is terrible," he said, just loud enough to be heard over the women's giggling.

At the sound of his voice, Buck's head snapped around, and the ladies' man abruptly left the circle of his admirers and enfolded his friend in an enthusiastic bear hug.

Chris caught the looks of disappointment and envy in the women's eyes, and nearly laughed. "Careful, pard," Chris cautioned, "folks'll talk."

"Aw hell, they already do!" Buck said, releasing Chris and holding him at arms length. "How've you been?"

Chris shrugged. "I'm better. I've got a job for you, if you're interested."

Buck lowered his voice conspiratorially. "Will there be ladies where we're going?"

Somehow keeping a straight face, Chris replied, "I'd imagine so."

The ladies' man laughed. "Then count me in! Besides, I've heard the security around here sucks." Clapping Chris on the back, Buck waved goodbye to the ladies and strolled out of the station.

+ + + + + + +

"Damn, Chris, who's pullin' the strings on this one? God?" Buck said; amazed at the file Larabee had thrown at him the moment they sat down in Chris' apartment. "I mean, this is like a who's who of best in their field! I've heard of Jackson, he's supposed to be amazing. Sanchez...he makes me look like a novice behind the controls."

Chris was surprised. There was nothing in Sanchez's file to indicate that he was a pilot. He smiled. "That wouldn't be too hard, Bucklin; you are a beginner when it comes to flying."

"Not anymore, Chris," Buck insisted. "I started raking in the hours after you--after I left," he amended.

"I'm sorry, Buck," Chris said, well aware that Buck was trying to avoid talking about the last time they had seen each other. Buck had made the mistake of mentioning Sarah and Adam when Chris was drunk. Chris had beaten Buck soundly, and, at the height of his fury, held a broken bottle to Buck's throat. To this day, neither knew if Chris would have stopped had a long-haired stranger not intervened by knocking Chris out with an almost surgically placed blow to the back of the head.

Buck gave a shadow of his jovial smile. "I know, Cowboy, me too."

Chris couldn't believe his ears. "You're sorry? Why?"

Shrugging, Buck said, "I left."

"I don't blame you, Buck," Chris reassured his friend. "It was too dangerous for you...I was too dangerous."

Buck looked at his leader, the concern apparent, "You needed help, Chris."

Chris glared, Buck recoiled at remembered anger, and Chris' resolve strengthened. He had to make Buck understand. "If the price of my life had been your death, I would've killed myself soon after, pard."

The ladies' man ducked his head, overwhelmed by the sincerity in Chris' voice. Finally, he looked up, studying his friend intently. The leader's expression revealed nothing, but his gaze, the look of a man who had fought the devil and won, promised the truth of his words. Buck relaxed, and then laughed. "I always knew you were a crazy bastard. Just for the record, cowboy," Buck grinned, "if you were to deprive the ladies of this world of such a fine specimen as myself, I would expect you to take over for me, alright?"

"Buck," Chris growled.

"Hey, I'd understand if your glare scared them all away," Buck clarified, "but you've got to promise me you'd at least try."

"Buck," Chris repeated.

"What?" Buck had become distracted, watching a female jogger as she passed the window they were sitting by.

"The only way you're going to see Hell before I do is if you call me 'cowboy' again," Chris threatened, but there was a mischievous glint in his eyes.

"Heck, cow--Chris," Buck caught himself, "you know as well as I do that I'm going to Heaven. If God's a man, it's the least He can do to thank me for spreading joy all over His creation..."

Chris winced at the image that conjured up.

"And if He's a She..." Buck continued, bouncing his eyebrows up and down suggestively.

Chris glared. "Back to work," he ordered, cutting off any divine fantasies Buck might intend to vocalize. "The Judge wants me to get back to him quickly about personnel."

"The Judge?" Buck said in wonderment. "You never told me Ol' Orin was running all this!"

"You never asked," Chris said, "and I wouldn't call him 'old' if I were you." Chris paused to let the statement sink in. "He needs to replace Marshal Bob Custer because most of the team got blown up."

"Blown up?" Buck looked shocked, then determined. "That's it. I'm definitely on your team; can't have you getting yourself blown up," the rest of Chris' statement finally penetrated. "Did you say Marshal?" His face fell, and Chris knew exactly what the ladies' man was thinking.

"You only asked if there would be ladies, Buck," Chris explained himself, "not if you'd be allowed to practice your charm on them. Anyway, you already gave me your word, that you'll join, and..."

"A Wilmington's word is good as done," Buck recited dully. Then his expression brightened.

Chris sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. "What?" he inquired tiredly.

Buck grinned lecherously. "I already know women love a man in uniform, and there will be women in the towns we save from dangerous fugitives. If I were to get injured during an arrest...well, you know the kind of sympathy I could get." The rogue waggled his eyebrows.

Chris shook his head in disgust. "You have a one-track mind. Now about the team..."

"So do you," Buck interrupted, "just not the right track." Buck leaned back in his chair as the same jogger passed by the apartment again, "you know, pard," he commented, "the scenery's a lot prettier on this tra--ahhh!"

Chris grimaced as he slowly climbed out of his chair. He offered a hand to Buck, who had fallen to the floor after his chair tipped over. As Buck accepted the proffered hand, Chris said, "Let's try my track for a while. That way, you can honestly say you got hurt in the line of duty."

Buck winced and rubbed his back as he righted the chair. "Sounds like a good plan. You said 'most' were killed. How much of the good marshal's team is left?"

Chris resumed his seat. "Just some kid we never met when the Marshal was--investigating..." Chris took a deep breath to remind himself that he wasn't standing in the ashes of his family's home and blinked his eyes to prevent tears from forming. "I have his file here somewhere." Buck shuffled through the folders until Chris indicated the one marked 'Dunne.' "Travis says Custer always treated him like his personal errand-boy, and kept him in the surveillance van when they went anywhere. That's why the kid survived."

Buck opened the file, studied it, and whistled, impressed. "This kid doesn't just look young, he is! Did you see his picture?" Chris shook his head, so Buck slid the photo from under the paperclip that attached it to the manila folder, careful to avoid tearing it, and handed it over.

"He doesn't look more than 16," Chris commented, noting the long hair pulled back in a ponytail to keep it above his collar. The smile he wore seemed indicate that he knew darn well how long his hair should be, but wearing it like this kept most people from protesting...too much.

"JD Dunne," Buck reeled off, "did high school in 3 years, college same, criminal justice Bachelors, a short stint with the Boston PD until," Buck flipped to the next page, "he apprehended a fugitive single-handedly. That's when the US Marshals Service recruited him, started him on surveillance, and it looks like he's been wasting away in that van for the past six months. Oh, and Chris," Buck said, smirking, "he's twenty-four."

Chris grimaced. He hated seeing the young throw themselves into deadly situations, but clearly this was what Dunne had wanted. Besides, with his record, Chris knew John Dunne would stay on with the Marshals even if Chris didn't accept him onto the new team. If he did accept the boy, then at least Chris and Buck could keep an eye on him; they could try to keep him safe. "Who looks good for tracking?" Chris asked; eager to change the subject from his morbid contemplations.

Buck shuffled a few files, comparing records and credentials. He checked one more file, and froze; a look of recognition on his face.

"What is it?" Chris asked, his tone intense.

Buck shook his head. "It's probably nothing. We should look at this Tanner guy as the tracker. There are people with fancier histories, but I doubt any would be better."

Buck handed the file over, and Chris flipped through it, barely glancing at the photo. As usual, Buck Wilmington had an eye for talent. If one gave Tanner's record only a sparing glance, the man would be shuffled to the bottom of the pile. Low grades, arrested a few times, enlisted in the Army at sixteen (such things were not supposed to happen in this day and age, but somehow Tanner had managed it), and with a discharge for 'conduct unbecoming', Vincent Andrew Tanner's file read more like a rap sheet than credentials. However, Judge Orin Travis--or at least, whoever had compiled this information--had been thorough. There was a notation in the school record about how Vincent had gone into foster care when he was five years old, and been transferred to more families than years between five and eighteen. There was also the suspicion of a middle school counselor that, in addition to this unstable environment, Vincent might have had an unidentified learning disability...perhaps dyslexia.

The further Chris read, the more he liked this Mr. Tanner. Vincent's performance in the Army was amazing, right up until the dishonorable discharge. Tanner's prowess with a rifle was recognized in Boot Camp. He received training as a sniper and then was assigned to a unit for which there were no records available. That alone, told Chris that this Tanner was good at what he did. Though there were no official records from that time, someone had put in the file a letter of gratitude. It seemed that at one of his postings, a little girl had gone missing. Vincent tracked her down. From the sound of the praises, Tanner was able to track across rocky terrain and water with equal ease to other, more impressionable mediums.

The girl had been taken by a band of men who called themselves warriors, but who were closer to scavengers and scoundrels. On second thought, Buck was a scoundrel. Reading between the lines of this letter, Chris demoted the scoundrels to animals. Though he was alone and armed with only his rifle and a hunting knife, Vincent had rescued the girl and decimated the kidnappers.

Most of the letter was blacked out, as though to protect security interests, so Chris suspected that there was more to that incident than met the eye. Chris would not be surprised if he discovered that Vincent had earned more than a few medals in his time, though none were listed.

The dishonorable discharge was for hitting a superior and allegations of murder. The Army could not prove the latter, and so settled for the former, making Vincent spend six months in Leavenworth.

The man's job history since then was spotty at best and non-existent at worst. He seemed to have wandered around the Southwest, taking jobs as a ranch hand, itinerant crop-picker, or mechanic, and never keeping a single job for very long. Chris suspected that he worked in one place until his past caught up with him, and then moved on. Currently, Tanner's address was in one of the seedier parts of Denver.

Nodding slowly, Chris met Buck's expectant stare. "Someone like him could be useful," Chris admitted, "but let's go find Nathan Jackson first."

"Why?" Buck asked.

Chris smirked wickedly. "To check that you didn't give yourself a concussion, pard." Dodging out of Buck's reach--because, of course, a statement like that deserved retaliation--Chris raced out to his truck, and headed for the clinic that Nathan's wife, Rain, owned.

+ + + + + + +

As Chris parked his Bronco outside the clinic, he knew there was going to be trouble. Buck's Neon pulled up behind Chris' truck. In the rearview mirror, Chris could tell that Buck harbored the same fears that Chris did. The clinic was a run-down two storey building with graffiti on some of the exterior. More disturbing than the appearance, though, was the large group gathering outside. The mob consisted mostly of Hispanic youths, although a few Caucasians were visible. All wore the same gang's colors, and all were clearly waiting for news.

Suddenly, the front door of the clinic was thrown open, and one of the gang's leaders exited, holding the medic, Nathan Jackson, at knifepoint. Shoving the medic into the angry crowd, the leader accused the doctor of killing the member they had brought in for treatment.

"I never said I was a doctor!" Nathan Jackson protested loudly, but none of the gang members were listening. Chris noted the number of weapons that abruptly became visible, and wondered wryly if every gang member present actually thought they would get a chance to use those weapons. "Besides, that man was shot up badly. I doubt even a hospital would have helped. I did everything I could!"

The disgruntled crowd ignored Nathan's pleas, instead picking him up and dragging him toward a nearby park. Someone commented that the deceased gang member had died choking on his own blood, so a hanging seemed fair in response. Rain Jackson ran out of the clinic, yelling for the gang to stop what they were doing, but she was simply knocked down. Standing up and moving to the sidewalk, Rain looked around the street and asked if anyone would do something about this.

Chris' blood, already at a low boil from the initial display of violence, became instantly hot with rage at the sight of a woman being mistreated. He stepped from the vehicle, slamming the door shut, and not caring whether anyone noticed.

Buck ran up beside his friend and placed a restraining hand on Chris' shoulder. "Chris, I know he doesn't deserve it, but...look at them! There must be thirty of them and only two of us. What do you expect to accomplish? We'll only get ourselves killed, and then the Judge will have to go to his next best choice. Do you really want another Custer as Marshal?"

Using the death of Chris' family was a low blow, but the words were lost on Chris. He was staring after the mob, his eyes calculating as most of the members drew their guns and began firing off celebratory rounds into the air.

Chris felt eyes on him. Although he was certain that his appearance in this mostly-minority neighborhood would be cause for alarm, the gaze Chris sensed was of a different sort. It was that of a hunter sizing up another hunter, wondering if joining forces would guarantee their success. Glancing around the street, Chris saw only closed doors and empty windows.

Then, the door to the gun shop across the street opened. A slightly built man wearing jeans and a light-colored leather jacket exited, holding a rifle in one hand and a broom in the other. The shopkeeper followed, clearly flustered.

"If you walk out of here holding that weapon," the shopkeeper said harshly, "you'll lose your job, and I'm calling the cops!"

The armed man smirked and dropped the broom. "I'm probably gonna get myself killed, and now I need to worry about a new job and shoplifting charges? Oh well, I never figured on dying with a broom in my hand anyway." The man lifted his gaze to where Chris and Buck stood in the middle of the street. Chris nodded acknowledgment of the man's intentions, the other man nodded back as though to accept the others' assistance, and Buck's jaw dropped.

"Chris, that's--" Buck started to explain, but Chris had already moved to meet the other man. Buck trailed, drawing his weapon resignedly.

"Ten to one, Buck," Chris commented dryly, "that sounds like our kind of fight."

Buck grumbled, but followed Chris and the gun store clerk out to the park.

In the park--which was really an empty lot that had stood undeveloped so long that a few tall trees had grown there--someone had found a length of rope and a wobbly crate. By the time Chris, Buck and the clerk-turned-shoplifter had arrived, a noose had been tightened around Nathan Jackson's throat, the medic had been forced to stand on the deteriorating crate, and the other end of the rope had already been thrown over a branch of the nearest tree. The proceedings stopped, though, as the gang slowly realized that there were three armed men waiting at the park's edge.

"What do you want?" One of the nearest members called out. Buck noted that young man's features, and resolved to keep an eye on him when the shooting started. Sometimes, big talkers were full of hot air...but other times they were deadly shots.

Chris also glanced momentarily at the speaker, but then his calm gaze slid toward those around the foot of the tree, to those who had control over kicking the box away and killing the medic. "Cut him loose," Chris ordered quietly as he pulled his trench coat aside, revealing two handguns. Despite the fact that the park was in the middle of the city, his voice carried through the empty lot. It possessed great authority, and Buck marveled that the entire gang didn't immediately drop their weapons and vow to walk the straight and narrow from now on.

"Yeah right," jeered another. "You think we'd back down for just three guys?"

Buck had to fight not to laugh. He explained the situation for the gang members that weren't already shifting nervously from foot to foot at the sight of three armed, and clearly confident, men. Buck nodded slowly and commented, "Y'all shot a lot of holes in the sky on your way over here." He paused a beat to let that information sink in. "Any of you stop to reload?"

The clerk hefted his stolen rifle but did not aim it. "I reckon all of ya would be a lot happier if you just went home."

Later, none of the three could tell where the first shot came from, but since it narrowly missed Chris' head, the trio returned fire quickly. During the first few exchanges, gang members with no bullets left, ones who hadn't had guns at all, and those with the good sense to not wait for the black-clad man and his two friends to kill them, all scattered, disappearing into the neighborhood. That left only the hardcore gang members, the ones who were shooting to kill. One of them kicked over the box the medic had been standing on, and Nathan Jackson began to swing and gasp for breath.

Buck took cover behind some metal garbage cans, Chris ducked behind some concrete blocks, and the third man clambered up the adjacent building's fire escape, taking careful aim at the wildly swinging rope.

Incredibly, the rifle-wielding man's third shot severed the rope. His first just barely missed, and then he needed to take down the gang member standing nearest the struggling medic--the first of whom was peppering the fire escape with bullets--before severing the rope with one more shot.

Buck was careful to aim for the extremities of the gang members he was fighting. Sure, they might file a lawsuit or hold a grudge, but at least Buck wouldn't be tried for murder.

It was with great regret that Chris aimed for non-lethal areas. Even so, Chris was a sight to behold. The anger in his eyes and the lithe, murderous movements that allowed him to duck from cover to cover, steadily working closer to the still bound but no longer gasping medic.

When Chris was still ten feet away, Nathan had crawled to the fallen gang member, relieving him of a knife and freeing his hands with it. Guns fell silent as he accomplished this,--the remainder of the would-be lynch mob had decided to disperse before the authorities made an appearance--and Chris crossed the space to help Nathan up and relieve him of the noose. Instead of accepting the proffered hand, Nathan's gaze went past Chris, and he threw the knife he had borrowed. The gun a fallen gang member had been pointing at Chris' back spun away as the blade buried itself in the offender's hand.

"You never shoot anybody in the back," Chris directed at the disarmed gang member, quietly yet vehemently. Chris nodded his thanks to Nathan, and lifted the medic from the ground. "My name's Chris Larabee," the new US Marshal introduced himself. "That's Buck Wilmington. We're forming a new team of Marshals, and you were one of the possible applicants."

Nathan smiled grimly. "Lucky for me," he stated. "Who are you?"

The object of the question seemed uncomfortable at suddenly being the center of attention. Before Buck could answer, the gun store clerk stated simply, "Vin Tanner."

Chris was surprised, but not disappointed. He had barely glanced at Vincent Tanner's photo in the résumé file, and had been slightly unsure of the man's usefulness, given his dishonorable discharge from the Rangers. Elite groups like that did not easily make the decision to let a man go, so his misconduct must have been such a concern that it would have disrupted the entire team's performance, perhaps endangering its very survival. Now that he had fought beside the man, seen him in action, Chris' suspicions were both confirmed and put to rest. Yes, Vin Tanner was as good as his file claimed, but also, the Rangers had been foolish to disown him, because in one look, Chris had sensed that this man's conscience was a force of nature. None of his actions would have been lightly undertaken, and therefore the fault must be in the Ranger's interpretation of Vin's action, rather than the action itself. "You were on the list, too," Chris said...or at least, that was what he meant to say.

The words were not spoken, but Vin replied, "I can't do that kind of work anymore."

Buck was startled by Vin Tanner's astute guess that he, too, was on the list of possible Marshal Team 7 members. "Sure you can," Buck responded jovially. "We just saw you in action. You're more than capable."

The look Vin fixed on Buck would have frozen boiling water instantly, and yet there was no overt anger in it. "I don't much care for killing. That's what I'd be...a final option if a fugitive backed one of y'all into a trap you couldn't spring yourselves from."

"That isn't all you would do," Chris interrupted the chastisement. "We've seen your file; we know you can track. Join the team, and maybe you won't have to kill if your tracking helps us capture a fugitive on our terms instead of his."

Vin gave another look, this one directed at Chris, but it was almost whining. Chris clearly had the impression of the words, 'That's a cheap shot, Mister.'

Chris shrugged, as though to say, 'That doesn't make it any less true, though.'

Vin frowned slightly. "I'll think about it," he hedged, turning back down the street to return the rifle.

Chris turned to Nathan Jackson. "What do you think of my offer?"

Nervously, Nathan apologized, "I'm no doctor."

Buck grinned. "We don't need a doctor. We need someone who's cool under fire. From what I saw of your file, you fit the bill."

Raising another issue, Nathan protested, "Rain can't run the clinic by herself..."

Chris shook his head. "This little dust-up won't be forgotten any time soon. The gangs will find they need a doctor who doesn't call the police on them. I'm guessing you and your wife met that need?" When Nathan nodded his uncomfortable acknowledgment, Chris continued, "They will probably leave the clinic alone...if you aren't working at it. In time, they may forgive you, or at least forget their member's death."

Nathan snorted derisively. "I doubt it. People in this neighborhood have long memories and short tempers."

Chris nodded, "And the hardware to back up those feelings. I understand, but at least this way, there's a chance. If you stay, you're only endangering everyone."

Nathan sighed. "You're right. Fine. Let me get a small medical kit together, and then we can leave the area before things get worse. By the way, call me Nate. I was only ever called Nathan when I was in trouble with my parents."

Buck accompanied Nathan back to the clinic, and Chris headed for the gun shop, thinking to smooth things over with the owner if the older man was still sore about Vin Tanner taking that rifle. Maybe if he claimed Vin had been deputized, and therefore the seizure of weapons and ammunition had been legal...but he found such assurances were not necessary. The owner had watched the entire shootout--from a safe distance and adequate cover, of course--and as Chris came back into hearing range, Vin tried to hand the rifle back, saying, "The sight's a little off."

The older man said, "No, keep it. You'll do more good with that rifle than anyone who would buy it from me. Good luck!"

With a lopsided smile, Vin joined Chris and both men entered Chris' Bronco. Nate and Buck boarded the Neon, and all four headed out to recruit their profiler.

+ + + + + + +

"You want Josiah Sanchez to work with us?" Nathan Jackson asked uncertainly.

"Do you know him?" Buck inquired. "Chris told me that he's good."

Nate laughed as Buck took the next turn. "We've met," he said shortly, "and 'good' is an understatement. If you really want him to join this team, let me talk to him first," Nate cautioned.

Buck pulled up to a stop light and glanced over at the medic. "Why?"

Nate looked uneasy. "He's...eccentric. Don't judge him harshly if he starts talking about crows. They've plagued him since ' Nam ."

"Just how long have you known this guy?" Buck wondered. For a simple 'we've met' it sure sounded like Nate knew Josiah Sanchez well.

"He flew the helicopter that pulled me out of...a difficult place," Nate explained, which clarified nothing, really. "We kept in touch ever since. You know where to find him?"

Guessing that whatever mission Nate was referring to must be classified--that would certainly justify Nate's reticence about discussing it--Buck replied, "Yeah, the file said that his current job was construction, somewhere outside the city. Chris has the address."

Nate smiled. "I suppose you could call it construction," he commented, but refused to say anything else when pressed for more information.

+ + + + + + +

When they reached the construction site Buck hurried over to the car the Chris and Vin were getting out of. He asked them to stay back, claiming that Nate and Josiah Sanchez were old friends, and the job offer probably wouldn't be accepted if all of them entered the dilapidated structure.

Chris nodded and leaned against the ram, waiting for Nate to return. After a moment, Chris' expression became unreadable. "Buck, you feel that?"

"Feel what?" Buck inquired. There was a light breeze coming down off the mountains, but other than that, he could not sense anything.

"We're being watched," Vin said quietly.

"Yep," Chris agreed, "Go check on it, Buck. Let us know what you find."

Buck looked from Chris to Vin and back...and then shrugged his shoulders and slipped away. Chris had been infamous in the Seal teams for his instincts. Often, he could tell that there were dangers long before satellite imagery or humint informed them. Those instincts had saved each man on Chris' Seal team several times over, though only Buck was still around to know it.

Buck walked the perimeter, finally finding the source of Vin and Chris' unease...crouched behind a dumpster. The figure was holding a gun. He wore jeans, a flannel shirt and a Boston Red Sox baseball cap, and he was counting. Buck drew his gun, circled around to sneak up on the armed man, and listened to what the man was saying.

As Buck did this, Josiah Sanchez exited the tumbledown building with Nate. The half-hidden man counted, his gun bobbing slightly with each number recited. "One, two three, four--"

Buck brought the barrel of his gun up to the back of the man's head, but kept his finger off the trigger. "Five," Buck concluded. "If you're trying to stay hidden, it's best to take off your hat. Who are you, and why are you following us?"

The man turned his head, and Buck instantly recognized the photo from among the files that Judge Orin Travis had given them. "My name's JD Dunne. I wasn't following you...I was making sure you weren't followed by any members of that gang."

Buck shook his head. His time as a cop told him that the man in front of him, John Daniel Dunne was telling the truth, but not all of it. Buck holstered his weapon. John Dunne did likewise and rose. "Try again, kid," Buck admonished the young man, "that ain't the only reason."

John Dunne blushed. "I also wanted to see if I get to keep my job. Obviously you recognize me, but who are you?"

"The name's Buck Wilmington," the older man said shortly. "We'd better get you back to Chris before he decides to come looking for me. He's the sort that would shoot first and let the coroner ask the questions," Buck shared what he thought was an amusing tale, but JD went pale.

"Would that be Chris Larabee?" JD Dunne asked nervously. As Buck nodded and departed from the alleyway where JD had hidden, JD followed and continued, "I was on the team when we lost that fugitive. I told Marshal Custer that we ought to be looking in the more deserted areas...that was where the fugitive was most comfortable, but he said I was new and couldn't possibly know what I was talking about, and then he sent me to get coffee, and--"

Buck grinned even though the memory of that fugitive setting Chris' house on fire in order to distract the authorities had haunted him. Had the fugitive, a man named Cletus Fowler, not known that Sarah and Adam were inside, or had the monster simply not cared? "Slow down, kid. Don't you ever stop for breath?" Becoming serious, Buck informed JD, "Don't mention that subject around Chris. He's still a little touchy about it."

JD nodded vehemently. "I understand. No problem. Well, actually, I don't and it probably is...do you think he'll want to fire me because I was working for Custer when..." JD couldn't finish the sentence.

Grimacing, Buck led the way to the Bronco, where four men now waited. "Ask him yourself." Raising his voice, Buck called out, "Found our security breach, Chris. It was the stupid hat that gave him away."

JD scowled when Buck criticized his hat, but schooled his features into a somber expression when Chris looked his way.

"You should really go home, son," Chris stated firmly, but quietly. "Marry a nice girl, get a safe job...we don't need some green kid getting all of us killed because he thinks he can catch a fugitive on his own. Besides," Chris stated with an air of finality, "you're not the type." He turned his back on Marshal Dunne.

JD bristled at the accusation, and eager to prove himself, JD replied angrily, "A man comes to you because he respects you...'cause he'd be proud to work with you. This is how you treat him? I can shoot as well as any of you." He ignored Vin's whisper of 'I doubt that' and continued, "I can track a fugitive using my computer skills." Buck laughed, and JD thought he heard the term 'nerd' bandied about. Pressing onward, JD insisted, "I was with the Boston PD, received three commendations, and I have six months more experience with the Marshals than any of you. You'll need me, even if it's only to liaise with other agencies and local police departments."

Chris exchanged a look with Vin. Vin shrugged his shoulders and gave a lopsided smile. Sighing, Chris said, "Buck?"

Buck smiled. "No problem, Chris. Come on, kid. You can show us where our office is. So, Mr. Sanchez, will you be joining us?"

"It'll be one hell of a job," Vin stated with certainty, as though that had been the selling point for him.

Josiah Sanchez stared levelly at Vin before shaking his head slowly. "Hell? I've already been there," he replied and then walked back into the building, picking up a box of nails on the way.

"It's the crows," Nate clarified. "Maybe we'll see you later, Josiah," he called after the man, but got no response.

JD led the way on his motorcycle, back to the office space in the city's Department of Justice building.

+ + + + + + +

The following day, the members of U.S. Marshal Team 7 had just settled into their office space when Josiah Sanchez attempted to slip inconspicuously through the door.

At over six feet tall and built more like a snow plough than a sports car, the attempt failed completely, but it was still a valiant effort.

Nathan was the first to approach their reluctant newest member, "Josiah!" he greeted the defrocked priest warmly, "What made you change your mind?"

Josiah looked around nervously, but four of the other six men were all going about their work with commendable studiousness. Even if they were listening intently for the reason, none wanted to make him uncomfortable by blatantly eavesdropping. Of the six, only JD had not picked up the message. He hurried over, meaning to talk to Josiah, but Buck intercepted the young Marshal and steered him away. Noting this, Chris nodded his thanks to Buck for the intervention. Josiah was too experienced, too valuable an asset to jeopardize his joining the team by allowing one curious young man to embarrass the man.

Ducking his head and consciously making his voice softer than its customary, booming basso rumble, Josiah whispered. "I decided to meet the crows head on. Let my obituary say that I died doing something important."

Nathan shook his head. Josiah had always been like this, melancholy and possessing a death wish. In the few years that Nathan had known Josiah--Nate attended a healthcare professionals convention for the medical talks and Josiah came for the psychological ones, they had met in the cafeteria and become fast friends--he had come to expect these mood swings. Patting Josiah on the shoulder and guiding him toward Chris Larabee, Nate commented, "You can't die anytime soon, Preacher," he used the man's unofficial title and nickname, "because I don't want to do your eulogy."

Josiah smiled sadly. "I can't control what the omens tell me."

Nathan shrugged. "Who says those birds were after you? Just talk to the team. I'm sure you'll love it here."

Nate's prediction proved true. By the end of the day, Josiah had adopted the entire team as his new 'congregation'. He was determined to save Buck from his lust, Chris from his anger, and others from their various vices, though he did not voice the plan. The reverse was also true; the members of Colorado Marshal Team Seven immediately liked the long-winded, philosophical older man.

A quiet day around the office was followed by a restless night, because sometime after midnight, Chris received an emergency page from Judge Travis. Quickly, he called Team Seven's other five members. They rendezvoused at the office and then piled into Chris' six-passenger SUV. He drove to the scene of the bus/train wreck. The train had carried only freight, but the bus was a prison transport. There was a possibility that some or all of the four convicts had escaped.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra Standish, former FBI agent, fought the urge to remove himself from his restraints.

He had been transferred out of state while awaiting his execution--evidently, the presiding judge had feared for Ezra Standish's safety. A dimpled smirk wormed its way onto his lips despite his best efforts. The irony was almost too much to bear. His career had been so successful that it was not safe to place him in a prison anywhere near Atlanta, Georgia . That he had been convicted of the cold-blooded murder of his own partner meant that the entire law enforcement community had demanded he be kept safe until his time of execution. As a result, Ezra had been secretly taken to a Colorado prison, and now, as his time neared, he was being shuttled back.

"Coleman," a prison guard called out, and received a rather colorful reply that, while informing of said prisoner's presence, also called into question the guard's lineage. "Pipe down, Coleman," the guard said before continuing, "Fredericks... Meeks... Standish."

Between each name, the guard stopped and waited for the prisoner to acknowledge. When Ezra Standish's name was called, Ezra made eye contact with the guard and then brought his right hand up, as though touching the brim of an invisible hat in salute. The guard shivered slightly in response, and Ezra smiled.

There were definite advantages to having the prison guards believe he had murdered his partner. Those who wanted to hurt him for killing a fellow law enforcement officer were under orders not to--no judge wanted to risk a delay of the execution while a prison guard answered assault charges--and the rest feared they might be the next to die if they so much as looked at him wrong.

As the four prisoners were led out to the waiting bus, Ezra Standish reflected that while he would not murder any of his captors, escape would be laughably easy, given his dark history. Ezra Standish did not have a criminal record, but that was partially due to his mother's money and influence and somewhat because of his own silver tongue and impressive skills. However, his spotless record was deceiving. Ezra knew how to swindle, gamble, lie, and conceal himself with ease. He was a cross between a black ops soldier and a reprobate con man, with a veneer of being a southern gentleman.

As such, however, one did not engage in menial labor. Escape, no matter how possible, would involve an unseemly display of ungentlemanly behavior. Ezra boarded the bus silently and tried to bury the true nature of his thoughts, even from himself.

David Kingsley had been more that simply Ezra's partner. He had been Ezra Standish's closest friend in the Bureau. In an organization where his coworkers were suspicious of anyone with too much money, Ezra was a pariah. David Kingsley had been different. At first he did not like Ezra, but they had been called on to make a few high-risk arrests together, so David had come to trust Ezra quite quickly. The friendship came later.

David's death had hit Ezra hard. Where the Bureau had tolerated Ezra before, he now experienced only cold shoulders if not hateful derision. The one person who had continued to support Ezra through the arrest, trial, sentencing, and incarceration was his mentor, Charles Solomon. That came as no surprise. Charlie had trained Ezra; he knew what Standish was capable of, and though Ezra had killed several times in his career, murder was not in his nature. Despite Charlie's testimony to Ezra's character, the evidence had been damning, and Ezra refused to defend himself or hire a competent lawyer.

In the front of the bus, the two guards riding along were complaining about how much longer the ride would be. This jaunt was the other three criminals' destination, but Standish was only being driven to a prison with an airstrip, where an FBI plane and crew would take custody of him for the flight to Atlanta.

Ezra glanced around the bus, more out of habit than from any real interest. His extensive training as both a con artist and a federal agent meant that attention to one's surroundings was paramount and instinctive.

Fredericks was digging in his jumpsuit for something while Meeks had just palmed a pill from Coleman. Coleman saw Standish notice the exchange and shot a dirty look in Ezra's direction, silently warning him not to say anything.

Ezra gave a slight shrug of his shoulders. He honestly did not care what the other three were planning; he couldn't possibly get into any more trouble than he already was.

Meeks swallowed what he had palmed and began convulsing and foaming at the mouth. Coleman and Fredericks started yelling for the officers to help Meeks, and Ezra sat back, calmly watching an orderly and routine prisoner transfer turn into a chaotic prison break.

The younger of the two escorting officers was naïve enough to open the locked door and try to assist Meeks. Fredericks stabbed that guard and Meeks displayed an instantaneous recovery, going after the older guard. A struggle ensued, a shotgun discharged twice. Once sent Fredericks tumbling lifelessly backward, and the second shot killed the driver.

Not wanting to be caught in the crossfire, Ezra grabbed the bloody shiv from where Fredericks had dropped it and used the implement to free himself. 'No sense in speeding the inevitable,' was Ezra's thought as he headed for the back of the bus.

The older escorting guard shouted for Ezra to stop and then fired his handgun, but the bus shifted unexpectedly at the last minute, and the man's hand was jostled to one side, instead killing Meeks, who had been reaching for his own improvised weapon.

The bus started to roll down a hill, and Ezra found his avoidance of violent impacts at high velocities abruptly ruined. He fell into the wall of the bus, then the ceiling, and then he stopped keeping track because it was more important to keep his head and neck sheltered than to identify the various surfaces he was hitting.

When the bus finally came to a rest, Ezra was still near the back of the vehicle but he noticed the window in the back door was at a crooked angle. Out of a side window, Ezra was blinded by headlights. It took him a moment to realize that the configuration of the lights was incorrect even for a semi and that the largest of vehicles on rubber wheels did not make the ground treble as they approached. Ezra sighed. "Good Lord," he complained. "What are the chances of that?" Shaking himself out of his indifference because other people's lives were at stake, Ezra turned, and notified the remaining passengers of the oncoming danger.

Only one was able to respond. The driver, Meeks and Fredericks were dead, the older escorting guard had been knocked unconscious when the bus rolled, and the younger guard was trying to breath without coughing up blood. Aside from Ezra, only Coleman was mobile, and he made good use of that ability, fleeing the train that was bearing down on them by squeezing through the broken front window of the bus.

"Wait!" Ezra called out after the escaping convict. "Help me get these men out!" Coleman paid no heed, and Ezra was left with the option of saving himself or his fellow law enforcement officers. Considering the speed and distance of the rapidly encroaching train, Ezra doubted he could effect all three remaining survivors' emancipation from this metallic deathtrap.

Suppressing his innate and overdeveloped sense of self-preservation--with a mother as conniving and selfish as his, Ezra had learned at an early age that no one could be trusted to protect his interests except himself--Ezra dragged the now semi-conscious guard from the train and, groaning at his own stupidity, returned for the severely injured one. As Ezra lowered the younger escorting guard out of the bus, he glanced at the train, which had begun sounding its horn to warn of imminent impact.

Grimacing, Ezra launched himself from the bus, tucking and rolling as he hit the ground. Against his better judgment, Ezra's hand shot out and snatched something from the older escorting guard, and then Ezra came out of the roll, instantly looking for somewhere to hide.

He would have been perfectly safe staying where he was and merely hitting the deck, but after the train crash, Ezra would not be able to guarantee that he would be the first to regain consciousness. If he were unlucky--and though Ezra had run more than a few cons in his time, he abhorred gambling and as such left nothing to chance--Ezra might very well wake to find himself in handcuffs again and headed for the execution chamber. Perhaps it was his self-centered upbringing or a reawakened desire for justice, but the cloudbank of indifference he had been adrift in finished burning away in an instant, and Ezra knew he needed his life and his freedom...so he ran.

Ezra spotted a shallow creek that had a small bridge of tracks laid over it. He dove into the creek and grabbed a hold of the bridge support beams as the remains of the bus and the teetering train sped overhead.

When the last of the debris had passed him, Ezra stood shakily and unclasped the hand that had stolen something from the older of the two escorting officers, completely without instructions from him. Honestly, he sometimes thought his hands had a mind of their own. He was able to shuffle cards expertly without even realizing that he was holding a deck.

There, resting in the center of his palm; clutched so tightly until moments ago that it had left an impression on his skin, were the keys to the handcuffs. Ezra absentmindedly nodded his approval at the unintentional theft. Most handcuffs used the same or similar keys, and should he find himself restrained in the near future, having an alternate means of release was simply good planning. After all, he left nothing to chance.

Ezra frowned at the thought as he pocketed the keys. That was not strictly true. If he had never left anything to chance, then David Kingsley would still be alive. Ezra had made the mistake of assuming that his partner and close friend was as careful as he.

As Ezra stood in the cold, knee-deep water, he became aware of a stabbing, throbbing pain in his side. Looking down, Ezra pulled back his torn and bloody jumpsuit to see a ragged, gaping wound. How he had sustained the injury, Ezra was not entirely certain. That he needed to obtain medical care if he hoped to clear his name and find David Kingsley's murders was apparent.

Ezra set off as quickly as his wound would allow, wading in the creek until it widened and deepened into being a river...hoping to hide his tracks for a time. With any luck, Ezra would escape the inevitable cordon of police officers unnoticed, but a healthy dose of cunning could only serve to improve his odds. Ezra gave a dimpled smile and half-swam / half-walked, fleeing into the early morning darkness.

+ + + + + + +

Chris stepped out from the driver's side of the black SUV the entire team had piled into to reach the scene of the prisoner transferring bus-train wreck. He took in the camera lights, medical teams, police officers and dazed survivors of the accident. He shared a look with Buck, who nodded his agreement.

"It's a circus," Buck stated. The both knew how police procedure tended to go out the window when officers were faced with cameras. The only question was; would that eagerness to please the public cause the officers to allow dangerous fugitives to escape into that same public's midst?

As the team of six approached the scene, five dug their badges out of pockets. The sixth depended on his air of authority to get him through. It didn't work. Almost immediately, a uniformed officer accosted Chris Larabee.

"Hold it, sir," the man said, gesturing in a stopping motion with one hand. "Only authorized personnel can--"

Chris pulled the Velcro from over his badge, and glared; he had not appreciated being woken at this hour.

"I--I'm sorry, sir," the officer stuttered.

Larabee dropped the glare, realizing that alienating the local police force would only make this night longer. He knew from personal experience; federal agents who tried to throw their weight around on a case had usually received less than stellar work from Chris when he had been a police officer. "Who's in charge?"

The officer looked relieved that he had not offended the imposing man. "Sheriff Watkins, just follow the TV lights."

"Sheriff Watkins, good," Chris confirmed, brushing past the officer. His men followed. "Sheriff Walton," he said, wondering if he could get away with misnaming the man on camera. That would certainly put a crimp in the sheriff's style, not being important enough to be properly addressed.

"Sheriff Watkins," five voices reminded him in unison, with the kid adding a hesitant "sir" after his correction. Darn, Chris thought, that would have been fun though.

"Vin," Chris said, pointing past the train, "check the area down there and take JD with you. Let me know if you find anything unusual."

"Sure thing, Cowboy," Vin replied. "Come on, kid."

Chris didn't bristle at the nickname; he had bigger fish to fry at the moment, like Sheriff Watkins. "Nate," he continued, "check if anyone needs medical assistance down there, and see if you can learn anything from the remaining prisoners, alright?"

Without a word, Nate also departed. The remaining three men worked their way through a large group of officers, reporters and cameramen. A battered and bleeding, portly officer was giving his account of the wreck.

"The bus rolled over several times before it settled at the bottom of the hill here," the officer stated. "I don't know if I passed out or what, but when I looked up, the train was bearing down on us, fast. I don't know how, it's still kind of hazy, but somehow I grabbed him and--and I pushed him out of the bus." The officer seemed slightly nervous about the last part, as though afraid he would not be believed.

"You're a brave man; you could've both been killed," Sheriff Watkins responded with raised eyebrows indicating how impressed and amazed he was with the officer's actions.

"Yeah, I know!" the officer said with feeling. With an exaggerated look of humbleness, the officer concluded, "but, hell, he's my partner. He would've done the same for me."

Chris figured it was as good a time as any to interrupt the self-congratulating convention. "Excuse me, sheriff, I'm Deputy U.S. Marshal Christopher Larabee, and I'd like to talk to you--"

Sheriff Watkins smiled dismissively, raised one finger to forestall further speech from Chris and said, "Ah, I'll be with you in just a minute."

Though miffed by the slight, Chris replied with a testy, "Okay."

Watkins turned his attention back to the escorting officer. "One more time, just for the record...these three prisoners are dead, and, uh, this one?" He held up a sheet with the picture of a brown-haired man in his thirties on it. The blurb under the picture read, 'Ezra Standish former FBI agent out of Atlanta, GA, convicted of murder and embezzling. Sentence: Death by lethal injection.'

The escorting officer now looked even more nervous. "Everything happened so fast...I, uh...no, I don't think he made it." His eyes darted around as he spoke, further undermining the validity of his statement.

Sheriff Watkins looked smug as he folded the sheet in half and glanced back to Chris. "Well," he said, "looks like you came a long way for nothing."

Chris' expression hardened. "With all due respect, Sheriff Watkins...I'd like to recommend checkpoints on a 15-mile radius at 50, 385, and US 70 over by..."

The sheriff seemed to think this precaution was overkill. "Whoa, whoa, whoa...The prisoners are all dead. The only thing checkpoints are going to do is get a lot of good people frantic around here and flood my office with calls."

Buck tried to grin good-naturedly, but it was soured by the sheriff's uncaring attitude. "Well, shit, Sheriff," he said sarcastically, "we can't have that now, can we?"

Chris shared Buck's expression, and added, "I guess that means I'll just have to take over your investigation."

Only now did the sheriff show indignation. Possible fugitives loose in his own backyard was evidently nothing to worry about. Being bested by someone in front of cameras though, now there was a cause for concern.

Forcing out a laugh, Sheriff Watkins asked, "On what authority?"

Josiah tapped the sheriff on the shoulder and presented him with a sheaf of papers. "The governor of the state of Colorado, the United States ' Marshal's Office, 7th District, Central Colorado," the big man claimed authoritatively.

Sheriff Watkins visibly deflated at the news. Brightening, he addressed Chris. "Alright, fine, you want jurisdiction over this mess? You got it." He turned to his officers. "Okay, boys, gather round here and listen up. We're shutting it down. Wyatt Earp here," the sheriff tilted his head toward Chris, "is going to mop up..."

Glancing in Buck's direction, Chris asked, "Did he just call me a cowboy, Buck?"

Buck chuckled, remembering the old joke they had pulled on anybody back in the Seals who got just a little too cocky with Chris. "I think he did, Chris," Buck replied, sending a look in Sheriff Watkins' direction that suggested he start arranging for his own funeral. After a pause, Buck continued, "At least once."

Not one to be left out of the festivities, Josiah added a rejoinder, "He hates that."

"Did you call me a cowboy?" Chris inquired, offering the out that he had given anyone else who had challenged his authority.

The sheriff began shaking his head in vehement denial. Unfortunately, before the drama could proceed any further, Vin and JD returned, Vin holding out two sets of leg irons. "Chris," Vin called urgently, pushing his way through the crowd to his leader.

"Well," Chris proclaimed loudly, "look at what we got here!" He waved the leg irons in the escorting officers' face, saying, "You know, we're always fascinated when we find leg irons with no legs in them. Who held the key?"

The escorting officer looked as though he wished he'd stayed on the doomed bus, rather than face Chris' glare and accusations. "Me," he answered weakly.

Chris continued his interrogation. "Where're those keys at?"

Helplessly, the escorting officer replied, "I don't know."

"Would you like to change your statement?" Chris pressed.

The escorting officer was surprised at the question. "What?"

Buck growled. "Do you wanna change your bullshit story, mister?"

Chris gave a nod of thanks to Buck and a directed a feral grin at the irresponsible escorting officer. Under the scrutiny of Larabee, his men, the sheriff, the remaining officers and the media, the escorting officer caved.

Glancing at the sheet entitled 'Ezra Standish,' which Josiah held up, the escorting officer quietly admitted, "He might've got out."

Mockingly, but at the same time disappointed, Chris repeated, "He might've got out."

Suddenly, Sheriff Watkins was quite animated. "What the hell is this? A minute ago you're tellin' me he was a part of the wreckage and now he might've got out?"

Chris interrupted. The last thing they needed right now were theatrics. There was at least one fugitive on the loose. "Set up operations by the fire truck," he said to the officers in the immediate vicinity.

He continued in a louder voice. "Listen up, ladies and gentlemen! Our fugitive has been on the run for 90 minutes. Average foot speed, over uneven ground, barring injury, is four miles an hour....That gives us a radius of six," he gestured the number with his hands while still holding the leg irons, "miles. What I want out of each and every one of you is a hard target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, outhouse, hen house, and doghouse in that area. Checkpoints go up at 15 miles. Your fugitive's name is Agent Ezra Standish." Chris put as much disdain into the title and name as he could, concluding with, "Go get him."

+ + + + + + +

Despite the seeping wound in his abdomen, Ezra Standish had managed to travel what he estimated to be about 30 miles over the course of the night. As much as he could stand it without going into shock, a lot of that distance had been covered in the water, hoping to throw any hounds the law enforcement officials might use off of his scent.

Shortly after dawn, the river became too shallow to swim in, so he climbed out, belatedly realizing that he was nearing an isolated convenience store, which no doubt doubled as a truck stop. Nervously, Ezra Standish ducked back into the scanty cover provided by the dwindling river's banks.

New As he hid, a small truck pulled up, and a tired driver got out, stretched, and proceeded to disrobe. Ezra was relieved to see that the clothing the man took off was little more than a one-piece jumpsuit, blue, and with no distinguishing characteristics, and that it was the outer layer of his clothing. The man would not freeze for the lack of his outfit, and Ezra desperately needed to ditch the bright orange prison clothes he presently wore. Losing the dogs would do him no good if someone spotted him wearing a Colorado Department of Corrections prisoner's uniform.

Ezra snuck up to the truck, snatched the jumpsuit and retreated to behind the convenience store, where he changed and rummaged in the trash for his first meal as a free man. Looking at his meager feast and his state of attire, not to mention how he must appear, having not had the luxury of a shower or even a comb after his extended swim in the river, Ezra sighed. "Mother would be appalled," he noted dryly, then smiled. If his mother was disappointed in anything he did, then he'd probably done something right.

Musing on this, Ezra resolved to find some means of patching up his wound, before the blood loss became too severe or an infection set in. That left only the problem of going somewhere his pursuers would not think to look. A hospital was out of the question...or was it? Glancing back down at his new, drab, utilitarian outfit, a dimpled smile spread slowly across his face. This just might work.

Ezra watched the store, checked the back door, found it unlocked, and waited. He watched the man whose clothing he'd stolen get back in his truck and leave. Then he waited until a worker from the store came out the front to have a smoke. Ezra slipped in the back, silently praying that this was a small enough store to have only one employee on any given shift, but large enough to have what he wanted.

He was in luck on both counts. The teenaged boy who had stepped outside was the only worker, and there was a broad selection of colored contact lenses. Ezra selected several sets of various colors, a pair of non prescription glasses, cologne, deodorant, and most importantly, a comb and some hair gel. 'Appearances are everything,' his mother's advice echoed in Ezra's head as he nicked a bag, placed his purloined items in it, and ducked out the back door just as the employee returned through the front one.

+ + + + + + +

Back at the crash site, Chris exited a trailer to see most of his team scurrying around, accomplishing various tasks. Buck was on the phone, arguing with someone over jurisdiction. Chris ignored the conversation. If it was going to become a problem, he would hear about it soon enough. If it wasn't, then he wasn't going to worry about it. Vin was out with the police and dogs, trying to find a trail. Nathan was still down at the wreckage, hoping to pull someone else from it. That hope was quickly fading in the harsh light of day. Josiah was pointing at a topographical map and talking to a state trooper who had been hanging around the marshals, eager to help in any way, even if that only meant getting coffee. JD was sitting on a chair, staring blankly into space.

Chris' cell phone rang. He quickly plucked it from his back pocket and flipped it open. "Larabee. You did? Good, I'll tell them. Thanks, Vin." He turned to his team. "Josiah, Vin's founds a blood trail..." Chris walked over to the map and pointed, "here. I want you to get over there with Nate, take a sample and type it against the missing and dead prisoners. Buck," he called, "Get Nate up here. JD," his voice took on a heavy quality. He'd expected the kid to pull his own weight, not loaf around. "What are you doing?"

JD shrugged, but met Chris' gaze. "I'm thinking."

"Yeah?" Chris somehow managed not to smile. He wanted to ask what the kid was thinking about, but restrained himself. Instead of sending him on a coffee run, which Judge Travis had told him the late Marshal Custer had done, Chris decided to give the young man a task related to the chase. "Well, can you think about how to fax a picture of Standish to all the area hospitals and then think about how to follow that up with troopers?"

JD smiled and bounced up. "Sure, I'll get right on it, Chris!"

Chris watched the kid go, amazed that the young man had so much energy. They all been up all night, and yet Dunne was still rearing to go.

"We've got a live one!" Nathan Jackson's exuberant shout was easily recognized by the men of Marshal Team Seven. They all rushed down to the wreck, momentarily forgetting whatever task Chris had assigned them. Buck was already down there; because he'd been attempting to retrieve Nathan when the medic had spotted the injured guard the escorting officer had supposedly 'saved' but then conveniently misplaced near the wreckage the previous night.

"Somebody get that ambulance down here!" Buck shouted. He sounded even more excited then Nathan, but that wasn't difficult; Buck could sound excited about anything.

Chris saw the guard to the ambulance. "You're going to be fine," he reassured the young, black guard.

"Where's--" the guard's breath caught painfully before he could finish, "Standish?"

"Don't worry," Chris said grimly, "we'll get him."

"No!" the guard tried to sit up, but fell back in pain.

Worry lines creased Chris' forehead as he allowed the guard to grip his hand hard and ride out the wave of pain. "What's wrong?"

"He..saved me," the guard whispered, "wanted to--ahh," the black man grimaced as the pain hit him again, "thank him."

Now Chris was confused. A convicted murderer--worse, a dirty cop, had gone out of his way to extricate a guard from the bus, at great risk to himself? Chris was too shocked to respond as the paramedics took the guard away from both Nate and him.

"Don't tell the others," Chris ordered Nate. "I don't want it clouding anyone's judgment. We still have to bring him in. One good deed doesn't clear him of everything else."

Nate's mouth was a thin line of disapproval, but he replied, "I understand, Chris, but if it becomes relevant, I'll tell the guys."

Chris nodded. "Fair enough," he responded quietly. Pivoting, he saw the remainder of the team standing nearby, but probably out of earshot of the injured guard's confession. He glared. "What are you all standing around for? Get back to work!"