Ezra avoided the hospital's front desk by going in a service door, where a delivery was being made. He picked up the lightest box, hiding his bag of supplies under it, and followed a few other deliverymen through the door, ditching his load where they did, but lingering a moment so that he could avoid carrying in another.
'A gentleman,' Ezra thought to himself, 'does not engage in menial labor.' He briskly walked down a hall, glancing briefly in several rooms until he found what he was looking for.
The space was little more than a closet, but it possessed the equipment he would require to fix the hole in his side. Ezra read a couple labels, grabbed a few bottles, winced before taking a syringe, and picked up bandages, antiseptic, and the means for stitching his wound closed. He locked the door, and managed to let out nothing more than the quietest whimper while tending his wound. Bandaging it, Ezra then went farther down the hall.
He next located a place to change his appearance. The room's occupant was unconscious, but seemingly stable. As long as he was quiet, the male patient should not wake and unless the patient's condition deteriorated rapidly, there shouldn't be an abundance of hospital workers encroaching on the room.
Ezra entered the suite's bathroom, pausing in shock as he caught sight of himself in the mirror. Hurriedly but quietly closing the door behind him, Ezra took stock of his appearance. He supposed he could possibly have looked worse, though not by much. 'Perhaps if the train had run over me instead of by me,' he thought briefly, but then banished such morbid notions.
Ezra washed his face, combed his hair and slicked it back with gel, then studied the boxes intently. 'Hm,' he thought, 'Cobalt should do nicely for today.' Without further deliberation, Ezra inserted the colored lenses. He went to the closet and retrieved a set of clothing. The pants fit him well, but the sweater was a bit big, making him look as though he was rather larger round the middle than was actually the case. Smiling, Ezra thought that might work to his benefit. He ripped the jumpsuit down a seam, and stuffed half of it under the sweater, giving the appearance of a beer gut. As an afterthought, Ezra put on the costume glasses, practicing a bored air.
When he re-entered the room proper, Ezra noticed that the patient had not finished his lunch. Only too glad for the food, Ezra downed the drink and took a biscuit in the hand that did not hold his bag.
He silently saluted the patient, thanking the still-unconscious man for the food, and went into the hall, fully intending to walk out the front doors with no one the wiser. Unfortunately, he passed a state trooper, who held a paper. As they passed each other, Ezra recognized his own face on the sheet, and the officer glanced sideways.
'Shit,' Ezra thought, turning around and raising an eyebrow in question. He made an effort to drop his southern accent. Nothing would give him away faster in Colorado than sounding like a true son of the South.
"We're looking for a prisoner from that bus-train wreck last night...might be hurt," the officer continued, oblivious to Ezra's nervousness.
"Uh..." Ezra made sure only his profile was toward the trooper, "what does he look like?"
"5'9'', one-forty, brown hair, green eyes...see anyone like that around?" The trooper inquired.
Ezra smiled self-deprecatingly. "Only every time I look in the mirror, friend. Except for the eyes, of course."
The trooper nodded, his eyes falling to Ezra's middle. Ezra could almost hear the trooper thinking, 'Yeah, except for the eyes and an extra twenty pounds. There no way that guy weighs 140.' "Hey, mister?"
Ezra checked his anxiety, turning to face the officer fully. "Yes?"
Embarrassedly, the trooper pointed below Ezra's waist with one finger and wagged the digit upward.
Glancing down, Ezra almost laughed. Only placing the biscuit in his mouth stopped him from expressing his hilarity at the situation. Caught with his fly down, after all the effort he'd gone through to have an unnoticeable appearance!
Tugging the offending zipper up, Ezra mumbled a "thank you" around the biscuit, nodded to the officer, and left. The trooper did not try to stop him.
Ezra exited by the emergency care entrance, and thus passed an ambulance just as it was unloading. He saw the paramedics were having some trouble with the stretcher; the wheels weren't falling into place, so he went and helped. By the time he realized who was on the stretcher, it was too late; he'd already been made.
The black guard looked up at him, recognition clear in his eyes, but didn't say anything to the paramedics.
"Thanks for the help, mister," one of the medics said. Ezra was too shocked to respond audibly. Instead he nodded and smiled slightly. He understood that the guard had just thanked him too, in his own way. However, how long the guard would be able to remain delinquent in his duties remained to be seen. Not wasting any time, Ezra closed the doors to the ambulance, got in the driver's seat, and pulled out of the hospital, siren blaring.
+ + + + + + +
"Background just came in from Atlanta," Josiah called, pulling papers from the fax machine JD had miraculously rigged to pick up a constant signal despite the mountains.
"About time," Chris said shortly, "what have we got?"
Buck took the papers from Josiah, scanned them, and gave the vital information. "Special Agent Ezra P. Standish, convicted of first degree murder in the killing of his partner, pleaded innocent," Buck sounded skeptical about Standish's claim, "but refused to speak for the rest of his trial. They tried to make the embezzlement charges stick, but no one could find the money."
"He has many friends," Josiah noted, reading over Buck's shoulder, "Doctors, lawyers, FBI and local PD."
"Okay, we're going to start right there," Chris stated. "I want phone taps; first one is on his lawyer."
"Whoa, pard," Buck protested, "you're never going to get that!"
Chris fixed his friend with a less potent version of his Glare. "Call up Judge Travis; he'll give you anything you need."
"Chris!" JD rushed out of the trailer, Vin following. "We just got a call from Lincoln County Hospital. The wounded guard swears he just saw Standish, right outside the emergency room."
"That's hot," Chris commented dryly.
"And an ambulance is missing," Vin added, smirking at their fugitive's audacity.
Buck's brow creased in consternation. "Where the hell's he going in an ambulance?"
"Pretty much wherever he wants to, I'd imagine," Nate replied, remembering his ride-along days in Denver. Paramedics ruled the road; everyone else came second, even police. It was pure genius to take an ambulance, but also short-sighted. It would be simple enough to figure out which ambulance was missing; there weren't that many in the county.
"Deputy Marshal Larabee?" The state trooper who had been assisting the team all day approached, explaining that he had received word on where the ambulance was, and the helicopter was ready to go.
"Let's ride, boys," Chris ordered, "we're running out of luck!" He, Vin and Nathan headed for the chopper while Buck, Josiah and JD took the SUV.
+ + + + + + +
New Ezra indulged in some extremely un-gentlemanly language as he evaded capture in the white and red ambulance. He entered a tunnel without really paying attention to where he was going, and groaned as the other end of said tunnel came into view. When people mentioned a bright light, they must have meant the search light of a landing helicopter in one direction and the spotlights of police vehicles in the other. Knowing he had no option but to lose himself in the tunnel, Ezra exited the ambulance and began searching for an alternative means of egress.
+ + + + + + +
Chris, Vin and Nate stepped down from the helicopter, guns already drawn. They rushed into the tunnel, first checking in and under the cars between them and the stopped ambulance, making sure Standish hadn't stowed away in one of them. They approached and cleared the ambulance, and then nearly ran headlong into Buck, JD and Josiah.
"Tell me you've got something!" Buck yelled, his voice echoing in the tunnel.
"You don't?" Chris replied, frustrated. He pinched the bridge of his nose and leaned his head forward as Nathan, JD, Josiah and Buck discussed how they could have missed the slippery southerner. It was only because Chris was being quiet that he heard the low trickling sound of running water.
His head snapped up. Vin had been trying to make eye contact with him for the past ten seconds; they had had the same thought. As one, they followed the sound to a rusty old grate that looked like it wouldn't even budge come Judgment Day. Chris kicked it, and it came up easily.
Buck and JD moved the grate to the side, and four guns were directed at the hole from four different angles. Buck grimaced. "We've got a gopher."
Chris snorted, trying to not be amused. "Alright, we go in pairs. If you have to split up, be careful. JD, you're with Buck. Nate and Josiah, you two go together." Chris leaped down into the sewer-like tunnel. He heard Vin sigh and Buck laugh.
"Well, I guess you'd better go catch up to the Lone Ranger, Tonto," the ladies man joked.
Vin must have glared, because down in the tunnel, Chris heard JD warn Buck to watch his back.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra pulled the half jumpsuit out of his sweater and left it down one branch of the tunnel system before heading down the opposite one. He came to a sudden drop in his present tunnel, and reached out, blindly, for anything to break his fall. His hand grasped a cable, but his shoulder came out of the socket and his entire body slammed into the curved wall, making a booming echo. Ezra let himself slide the rest of the way down and then quickly threw his shoulder into the wall he landed by, jamming the appendage back into its socket. A flashlight flickered overhead, so Ezra stepped back into the shadows, hoping to surprise whoever his pursuer was.
+ + + + + + +
Chris cursed. He and Vin had split up three minutes ago, due to the many branches of this tunnel system, and he had just heard a loud sound up ahead. He couldn't even call for backup, for fear it would give his position away. Chris knew that he was chasing a former officer of the law. The only advantage either of them had was that neither man knew the other's location. There! The sound came again. Chris hurried up, then slipped as the floor of the tunnel changed to a down slope and slid, coming to a rest in the dark, knee-deep water.
Shaking his head to clear it, Chris felt for his gun, which had fallen from his hand in the drop. He felt the water near his feet, extending his search until he heard a metallic click echo from behind him.
Raising his hands, Chris turned around and found himself face to face with the fugitive, who held Chris' gun in steady hands. Chris thought about going for his backup piece, but Standish spoke first.
"I would not consider that, sir," Ezra said. "No matter how fast you are, I doubt your speed would be adequate in this instance."
Chris kept his hands raised, but felt his anger rising too. "What do you want, Standish?"
Ezra raised an eyebrow and an amused look crossed his face. "A change of clothes, a good meal, a comfortable bed...oh, yes, and the cessation of hostilities between the law and myself."
Chris chuckled; the guy had nerve. "Turning yourself in will get you all of those things, Agent Standish," Chris suggested, using Ezra's title in the hopes that it would relax the man.
Ezra shook his head. "I have tried prison life, Marshal. The clothing is atrocious, the food plain, and the beds are a violation of my eighth amendment rights. Besides," he shrugged, "I didn't kill my partner, and I had nothing to do with the corruption in Atlanta." He spoke as though his protests would change the previous decision of the judicial system.
Now Chris shrugged. "I don't care," he replied, and he didn't. It wasn't his job to judge; it was only his job to capture.
"That is most unfortunate," Ezra said. Chris tensed, it was the sort of statement one man would make before shooting another man, but Standish concluded. "Remain where you are, Marshal. I would prefer to escape without causing fatalities."
Chris growled under his breath, but stayed still until the southerner was out of sight. Then, he retrieved his backup piece from its holster and followed.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra held the newly acquired gun limply at his side as he stared at the end of the tunnel. It would have been bad enough if he'd found a dead end; this was far worse. This actually left him a choice, but not one he preferred to make. Ezra was not suicidal, not today, at least.
Chris caught up with Standish, and saw him standing at the end of the tunnel. Beyond the southerner, Chris could only see sky. They tunnel must open out onto the dam! By Standish's body language, though, he wouldn't try jumping. The man looked defeated.
Chris raised his backup piece and his voice. "Put that gun down!" Standish started and turned to face Chris, the gun still held at his side. "Put it down!" Chris emphasized. Standish complied. Chris nodded. "Get you hands up! Now!"
Reluctantly, Ezra did so. Chris yelled, "Get down on your knees!"
Ezra glanced over the edge, looking at the drop to the water fearfully.
Chris checked his amusement. "I'm not going to push you in, Agent Standish. Now, get on your knees!" Chris sighed in relief as Standish started to do just that, and then gasped when the southerner bounced his knees once and jumped. For a moment, Chris could only stare wide-eyed at the empty space where the fugitive used to be. Then, he walked forward to see if he could spot the man in the water. He could see only the foamy froth where the water hit the reservoir.
Vin, Buck and JD reached Chris then.
Buck looked at Chris questioningly. "What happened? Where'd he go?"
Chris rubbed his eyes and sighed. "The guy pulled a Peter Pan from this very spot," he admitted tiredly.
"Holy shit!" Buck replied.
"He jumped?" Vin asked.
"No," Chris answered sarcastically, "he flew! Of course, he jumped."
"Wow," JD said. "Well, hitting the water from this far up would be like hitting concrete, so he probably couldn't have survived. Can we go home now?"
"No," Chris answered. Then, as much to reassure himself as his men, he repeated, "no. If he hit one of those streams on the way down, that water would break the surface tension, JD. He could've made it."
"Ho-ly shit," Buck repeated slowly, almost reverently.
"That man's got to be crazy!" JD said, shaking his head wonderingly. "Hey, Buck, whadda'ya think the chances are that he made it? I mean, it's not very likely, right?
"Let's get out of here," Chris said. "I want the sheriff to have them drag the bottom of the reservoir."
+ + + + + + +
"I'm beginning to believe our fugitive may have taken the most sensible exit," Josiah commented as they turned the umpteenth corner in the access corridors one floor above the water-logged tunnels.
"Doing the high dive?" JD asked excitedly. "I wouldn't even try that."
"All that shows is that you have more sense than I first thought," Buck replied, trying to swipe the kid's Boston Red Sox cap.
Nate laughed. "Considering Buck didn't think Red Sox fans had any sense at all, I'm guessing that's a compliment, JD."
"There's no way out of here," Chris said despondently.
"We have ta go up," Vin said, pointing to a staircase. The six men rapidly ascended, hit the door a few times and burst gratefully out into the mid-afternoon sunlight.
Chris found the sheriff and addressed him in a firm voice. "I want two patrol cars on that bridge down there with four patrolmen, and also have them blast this river upstream and down," he pointed, showing the directions. "Next thing I want to see is a helicopter coming in 100 feet off this river. Make the pilot aware of those wires," Chris pointed to the electric lines running perpendicular to the dam.
"Chris!" Buck protested, "Are you out of your mind? He's dead!"
While Chris glared, Vin commented, "That ought ta make him easy ta find, then."
Chris shared a grateful look with Vin before continuing. "Hounds! I want hounds on both banks of this river for two miles, upstream and downstream." He paused, momentarily out of ideas.
Vin picked up the slack. "You guys got a search-and-rescue team in this county?" The sheriff replied that they did. Vin nodded. "Ya better get them down here and drag the bottom of this spillway."
"Why haven't they turned off the water?" JD wondered aloud, thinking that it would have been easier to catch the fugitive.
The sheriff answered hurriedly; he was quickly learning not to mess with any of the six, not even the youngest. "Somebody from County's working on it."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra knew he had to get out of the water quickly, but he was loath to reveal his scent to the hounds or his tracks to anyone competent enough to read them. Instead, he waited until he passed a sturdy tree branch that dipped low over the river, and hauled his body, all of 145 soaking wet, into its branches to dry off and wait. After a few minutes, he climbed down and went to find a place to hide out.
As he approached a campground, Ezra slowed, wary of the sounds of voices.
"But, Mommy, I don't wanna go back to Georgia yet!" A whiny, young voice said.
"Ellie," a female voice said sternly, and then relented, "honey; Daddy has to be back at work on Monday. Now, we were supposed to leave this morning, but you wanted to go on one last hike. What did we agree on if you got to go on that hike?"
A dramatic sigh was the prelude to the girl's answer. "That I'd help pack up and not whine any more."
"That's right," the girl's mother answered.
"But, Mommy, I'm hungry!"
Ezra stopped listening to the conversation. This was exactly what he needed. He spied the family's RV and waited until the entire family was out picking up the campsite to stow himself aboard. Hopefully, the marshals would not think to close down the national park, or if they did, this family would be well on their way, helping him reach his destination.
+ + + + + + +
One of the sheriff's deputies had been making himself a particular nuisance to Larabee for the past half hour. None of Chris' men intervened, some because they wanted to see what Chris was like when his infinite patience finally gave way, and others because they thought the deputy had a point.
"I don't want to tell you how to do your job, but..." the deputy said.
Chris spoke into the radio one of the sheriff's men had given him. "Put the helicopter up on that bridge," he ordered.
"Come on, Marshal," the deputy continued doggedly, "only one person in a million could survive that fall. The guy is fish food!"
"Okay," Chris said, with a slight smile. "Go get a cane pole, and catch me the fish that ate him."
The deputy stopped in his tracks and the remaining five marshals swept past him. Buck was impressed. Chris was getting his sense of humor back! Josiah mused that the best way to confound a country sheriff's deputy was to prove you knew more fishing terminology than he did. Nathan and Vin smirked, just enjoying the show. JD was agape. Chris had a sense of humor?
+ + + + + + +
Though Ezra tried to fight it, he eventually gave in to the need to sleep. He had curled up in a storage space with a lid that served as the base of a reading nook. As best he could determine, he was in the little girl's room. She was an only child. Her father was an architect and her mother a homemaker.
The space was cramped, but still Ezra fell asleep. When he did, he found himself walking up to his partner's apartment door.
There was no answer.
"Dave?" When the silence continued, Ezra raised his voice. "I must confess mah disappointment in your unseemly lack of mannahs, David Kingsley. Did you not invaht me to your appahtment?"
Ezra glanced at the street. It was empty; devoid even of parked cars. That was strange. Shouldn't people be home by now? Parking was at a premium in this area of Atlanta, Georgia . The street should be jammed with parked cars.
Ezra looked back at the door and only then realized that it had been forced.
"Dave!" he called out, "Are you alright?" Without concern for contaminating a scene, thinking only of protecting his partner, Ezra pushed the door open and ran into the living room. "Dave?"
That was when he saw his partner, sitting on the couch watching the television. The TV was set to a channel and program that Dave avoided like the plague, but though Dave stared straight at the television set, he was not seeing the program. He was dead.
When Ezra saw the bullet hole through his partner's head, he lost his legendary cool. He knelt and grabbed his partner's arms, shaking Dave, trying to get a response from the limp man. As it became apparent that Dave would never wake up, Ezra began crying, leaning his forehead on the dead man's knee for support.
Once he had regained control over himself, Ezra rushed out of the apartment, reaching for his cell phone to call in the murder. Shots rang out, and...
Ezra awoke, pain still searing through his chest where an over-eager rookie and a bought-off veteran cop had taken him down for fleeing the scene because they allegedly believed he'd been reaching for a weapon instead of his cell phone.
By the time Ezra had woken up in the hospital, he was handcuffed to the bed, and charges were about to be brought against him, insinuation and evidence already planted pointing to him as the embezzler who had shot his own partner for finding his scheme out.
"Are you alright?" A high, young voice asked from above Ezra.
'I must be losing my touch,' he thought. He hadn't even noticed the lid of his storage container being lifted and the child peeking in.
"I'm fine, Miss," Ezra stated, being careful to not spook the little girl. He didn't want to be found.
"No, you aren't," she asserted. "You were thrashing around an' saying that Dave had been hurt. Was Dave hurt real bad?" she asked curiously, not knowing the injury her own question caused.
"Yes," Ezra replied. "Dave was hurt very badly."
"Dave was a friend of yours?" she asked, tilting her head, trying to understand how well this man must have known Dave to react so strongly.
"He was my best friend," Ezra said quietly.
"Oh," the little girl said, as though that term explained everything. Perhaps to her it did. "You must be hurt worse than he is," she stated knowledgably.
Ezra felt his eyebrows come together in confusion. "What makes you say that?"
"Because you're still here," she said simply. "When my best friend had to leave Alanta, I was really sad. She was able to call me once, but it was a long way away, so we couldn't talk for long, and she sounded really happy, because she had a whole bunch of new friends, but I got left behind and I still don't have any friends..." The girl trailed off as the reality of her own words sunk in, and she started crying.
Instantly, Ezra extricated himself from the storage space and sat down, drawing the girl into his lap. He hated to see suffering in even the foulest of human beings, but in the young and innocent, it was heart-wrenching.
"You're right," he said. "I don't have any new friends either. Can I be your friend?"
The little girl sniffled. "May," she said.
The girl smiled. "Mommy says it's 'can' is like 'I can dress myself' and may is like permis--permish--"
"Permission?" Ezra supplied.
"Oh, I do beg your pardon, Miss," Ezra said with exaggerated sincerity. "My name is Ezra. May I be your friend?"
The little girl giggled. "You talk funny. Yes," she smiled, "you may be my friend. I'm Ellie, and this is my room until we get back to Alanta."
"You live in Atlanta too?" Ezra asked. "That's where my friend Dave lived."
"Did he have to move away?" The little girl said, her eyes watching him trustingly.
"Yes," Ezra answered, and then thought to himself, 'I suppose you could call the procession to the cemetery moving away, 'but I wasn't even allowed to attend that event.'
"Did he ever call you?"
"No," Ezra said honestly, "the distance was too big for him to call."
"That's too bad. I hope he's happy now," Ellie said.
Ezra smiled sadly. "I'm sure he is."
Ellie sat up straighter. "I'm hungry. Would you like some food?"
"There may be some difficulty with that..." Ezra said hesitantly.
Ezra swallowed. All police interrogators ought to be five-year-old girls; it was impossible to hide anything from them. "Did your parents pass any policemen on their way out of the park?"
"Nope," Ellie said. Ezra nearly sighed in relief. "We passed a police-woman, though. She gave us a piece of paper...hang on..." Ellie leapt out of Ezra's lap, with no regard for how she stood up.
Ezra thanked his mother for every single one of her lessons in not showing emotion as he tried not to curl up in a fetal position.
New Ellie walked back into her room at a far more sedate pace, reading the words on the paper. She liked to read; she already had a library of her favorites at home. The words on the page were upsetting, though. She looked from the picture, to the name, to Ezra and back.
"This says you did murder," she said uncertainly. "Is that like killing?"
Ezra decided to be completely honest. "Murder is worse, Ellie. It means that someone meant or wanted to kill another person for their own enjoyment or personal benefit."
"Who did you murder?" Ellie asked in a scared whisper, edging back toward the door. Ezra knew that if he couldn't convince her, she would run for her parents.
"I have never murdered," Ezra replied evenly. "I have killed people who were going to hurt other people, but I have never murdered."
"O-kay," Ellie drew out the word, trying to think of alternatives. "So, are you in trouble for killing someone?"
"No." Ezra closed his eyes and leaned his head against the mattress behind him. "I am in trouble because someone made it look like I murdered my best friend."
"Oh," Ellie nodded, still clearly shaken by the serious turn this conversation had taken. "One time, when I was in preschool, Jared took Kevin's crayons and then Jared told Kevin that I'd taken them, and Kevin was mad...is this like that?"
Ezra smiled gently. "Yes, sort of," Ezra admitted. "Except the teacher in my case said that I had to be killed to make it alright that I had allegedly killed Dave."
Ellie's face screwed up in concentration. "What's legedy?"
"Allegedly," Ezra said the word slowly, "means that someone said I did something. Since the court, you know, judges and juries..."
"Like on TV?" Ellie interjected helpfully.
"Sure, like on TV, since they all believed the proof, they said I had to die."
"But you didn't kill Dave!" Ellie declared shrilly.
Ezra put a finger to his lips in the universal sign for silence. "How can you be so certain, Ellie?" It was refreshing to be cleared, if even only in the eyes of one person.
"Cause he's your best friend. People don't kill their best friends." Ellie reasoned.
Ezra smiled. Obviously, she had never heard of Caesar and Brutus, Abel and Cain, or Banquo and Macbeth. "You're right," he said, "I didn't."
"But if you're going to die," Ellie looked upset on his behalf, "then they must have victed you."
"Sorry?" Ezra thought he knew what she meant, but was enjoying the logical process Ellie was undertaking too much to subvert it.
"Victed," Ellie explained. "One of the jury peoples says 'we find the fendant guilty as charged'" she held the paper before her as though reading a vote from it, "and then the judge makes a sentence. That's victed."
"Yes, I was convicted," Ezra confirmed her suspicions.
Ellie sat down, the paper by her on the floor. "What I don't understand is...if you didn't do it, then how could you be con-victed? That's not right. The judge is always right."
"Ellie," Ezra said, catching her gaze and holding it, "in these TV shows you watch, is the defendant always around to tell his side of the story?" Ellie nodded. "I wasn't."
"Why not?" Ellie asked. "Did you want to be con-victed?"
"Of course not!" Ezra exclaimed, careful to keep his voice low. "When I was having that nightmare, do you know what it was about?" Ellie shook her head. He resolved to tell a version that wouldn't scar this young girl for the rest of her life. "I was dreaming about what happened in Atlanta. The night I found Dave murdered, I went to get help."
Ellie nodded. "That's what a good friend would do," she agreed.
New Ezra cringed. He believed that a good friend would have seen the danger coming and been able to stop it. He ploughed on. "When I went to get help, some men hurt me badly."
"Did you have to go to the 'ospital?" Elli asked astutely.
"Yes. I was hurt so badly that I didn't wake up for a while." Ezra's gut tightened at his next memory. "When I woke up, everyone had decided what had happened. They made false evidence...that's bad proof. I wasn't around to change their minds. When it came time for the trial, I didn't even try to defend myself."
Ellie frowned. "Why not? If you were right, then you should have said so."
Ezra shrugged. "Everyone thought I was guilty. I didn't see any point in delaying the inevitable."
Ezra checked a sigh. He had to remember to watch his language. "Inevitable is what must happen. It was inevitable that I would be found guilty. The way I saw it, the only good agent in the city had already died. I didn't mind joining him."
"Hmm." Ellie tried to understand. "You wanted to see your best friend again."
"So, why did you run? The policewoman said you ran after the accident," Ellie confided. "If you wanted to die, why didn't you wait for the police? Wouldn't they have taken you where you wanted to go?"
Ezra ducked his head. "They would have. After the bus crashed, though, I realized that if I had died, I would never have found out who Dave's killer was."
"And that's why you're going back to Alanta," Ellie concluded.
New "Precisely," Ezra replied. This girl was a genius.
"Do all the policemen want you dead?" Ellie asked, seemingly unrelated to her conclusion.
Now, Ezra frowned. "In Atlanta, probably. The ones who are behind Dave's murder don't want me finding them, and the rest think I am a murderer."
"Then who's going to help you?" Ellie seemed honestly concerned.
Ezra had not seen such open emotion in too long. Even in Dave, moments of raw emotion like this were always tempered by his experience. Only children were completely pure in their intentions. "No one will help me until I get proof of my innocence. After that...do you have a computer?"
Ellie's eyes brightened. "Yeah. Mommy and Daddy got me one for my birthday. They like when I type on it."
Ezra chuckled. "That's nice. Does it have the Internet?"
Nodding, Ellie said, "yes, but it's got blockers on so nothing bad can find its way to me. Do you want to see it?"
New "Yes, I would, thank you." Ezra waited while she dug the computer out of her backpack. She logged on and clicked the icon for the internet.
"When I get enough proof," Ezra said, searching a database for various photos, searching by the district he had escape in and matching it to the marshal he had disarmed. He found out from a personnel website that the marshal he had accosted was the leader of five others, "then these men might help me. I think they'll be impartial. They can look at my case and not assume that I'm guilty. This one," Ezra pointed at Chris' picture, reading the caption, "Chris Larabee, is the leader. He could help me fight Dave's murderers."
"Uh-huh," Ellie mused. "May I?" With deft movements, she copied and pasted all of the marshals' pictures and names into a word file, opened up a folder labeled 'Pretty Pictures' and saved it as 'Good Meanie'.
Ezra nearly rolled on the floor laughing. "Why did you call it that?" he asked, gasping for breath.
Ellie's eyes widened. It was obvious to her. "You say this one," she pointed at Chris' picture, "is a good guy, but he looks like a meanie to me, so that makes him a good meanie.
Ezra nodded and adopted a sober expression. "That makes perfect sense. In fact," Ezra continued, "I've met Mr. Larabee, and I believe your description is accurate."
Ellie looked suddenly horrified. "I was going to get food, but I forgot when I saw your picture! You're going to need lots of food. It's hungry work, helping friends." With that she marched matter-of-factly from her room.
Ezra leaned back and closed his eyes. This just might work.
+ + + + + + +
"Yes!" JD said exuberantly, punching his arm into the air in victory. "Hey, Chris, I think we've got him!"
Chris stared. "Standish?"
"No," JD admitted sadly, "the second set of leg irons, well, they finally finished pulling all the human remains out of the wreckage, and Leon Copeland's body wasn't found."
"We have two fugitives?" Nate asked in irritation.
"Why didn't anyone catch that earlier?" Josiah asked, although his tone was more contemplative than accusative.
"You saw the sheriff, 'siah," Vin theorized.
Chris nodded. "Vin's right. I doubt either the sheriff or his men wanted bad publicity, so they weren't about to borrow trouble. We'd already made them admit to one fugitive. You said you have a lead on him, JD?"
"I looked up his acquaintances in the area," JD reported, "and there's a lady ten miles from here who he used to be--uh--deeply involved with," JD said, stumbling over the concept.
"Aw hell, kid," Buck said, smiling and slapping JD on the back. "Why don't you just say they enjoyed each other's company on a regular nightly basis?"
New JD blushed.
"Buck," Chris said warningly. "JD, do you have an address?"
JD nodded. "One of her coworkers saw them leave together after her shift ended. I called the local PD; they say her car is outside her house right now."
"Does she run with anybody in the area?" Chris wanted to know
"No," JD said, his confidence returning, "nobody I could find, and no family either."
"Okay..." Chris said, "Tell the police not to move until we get there. We'll go first thing in the morning. Buck, does you cousin still have that van?" At Buck's acknowledgment, Chris continued, "Call him. Tell him we need it.
+ + + + + + +
Chris exited the van marked 'M. DiFoggio & Sons, Plumbing and Sewer Contractors', and walked around to the back. He opened the door and Vin jumped out. He was dressed in full combat gear, wearing a helmet, a bullet-proof vest and packing enough ordnance to start World War III.
Chris pinched the bridge of his nose, warding off an impending headache. "Was I talking to the wall when I told the team, 'undercover' and 'low-key', Tanner?"
"Nope," Vin said with a lopsided smirk, "you were talkin' to the rest of the guys. There's no way I'm going in with any less protection than this. Didn't you see what Copeland was in for?"
"Yes," Chris hissed, "armed robbery, rape and triple homicide; this is not the way to go after him. Look at this neighborhood!" Chris gestured emphatically at their surroundings while trying to keep his voice low. "If any of us looks like a cop, Copeland will hear about it before we even get across the street!"
The lopsided smirk broadened. "Do I look like a cop to you, Cowboy?"
Chris finally chuckled. "No, you look like the Terminator if they ever cast Sylvester Stallone for it." Abashedly, Chris asked, "Do you have any extra flash-bangs?"
Vin laughed, took off a few and tossed them to his new friend. "I knew you'd come around."
+ + + + + + +
"Embarrassed, Brother Nate?" Josiah couldn't hide his amusement.
"I am going to kill Chris," Nathan vowed.
"I don't see why you are upset," Josiah commented, "You get to wear the least...restrictive camouflage of us all."
"That's because it's a dress, Josiah," Nate huffed. "Why couldn't you be the bag lady, huh?"
New "My figure could never be mistaken for a feminine form," Josiah assured Nate, "whereas yours..."
+ + + + + + +
"Not like that, kid," Buck chastised as he swerved on his feet, "you've got to be less steady. Be drunk, JD."
"I'm working on it!" JD snapped, pushing Buck in retaliation for his constant corrections. JD accidentally tripped over a protruding root and pin wheeled his arms to avoid falling flat on his face.
"That's the spirit, kid!" Buck said enthusiastically.
JD blushed. "Shut up, Buck."
"In all seriousness, though," Buck continued, "I don't want you getting lost in there; you stick with me, got it?"
JD drew his firearm when Buck did and retorted, "I've done this sort of thing before, you know."
"Yeah, yeah," Buck said, dismissively. "Just stay close, kid."
The door went down with little resistance and Buck and JD started to clear the house, both calling out " U.S. Marshals! Everybody down!"
As was Buck's wont, he headed for the bedroom, and JD followed. They passed a woman, who screamed at the sight of them, but continued their search elsewhere when it became apparent that Coleman wasn't in the bed and that the woman wasn't carrying a weapon.
Buck went right, clearing another section of the small house while JD went left. JD was just coming through a doorway when someone grabbed his gun and the back of his neck, steering him farther into the hallway. JD held still as soon as he realized that his attacker was none other than Leon Coleman.
+ + + + + + +
Coleman called out an ultimatum, but Chris hardly heard it. He processed only two things. One: one of his boys was in danger. Two: he was darn well going to do something to rectify that problem.
Chris entered the house through the front door and charged past Buck, who indicated a short hallway on the side of the house. Nodding, Chris walked through the bedroom and peeked into the hallway, sizing up the situation. Coleman was yelling something about wanting a car out front or else he was going to blow JD's brains out.
That was simply too much for Chris. He waited until the gun Coleman was holding was not pointing directly at the kid's head, and then squeezed off two quick rounds, his expression one of cold rage.
Coleman crumpled, and JD hunched over, not quite believing he was free. Chris let his eyes check the kid for wounds. When he found none, he ducked out of the hallway and nodded to Buck. Buck was always better at the whole 'being comforting' thing.
A side door splintered and Josiah barged in with Nate following closely, but tripping over his dress.
"Don't shoot," Vin said from near Chris.
'Shit,' Chris thought, 'has he been there the whole time? I didn't hear him.'
"Chris took care of it," Vin concluded. Nate and Josiah holstered their weapons.
"Josiah, Nate," Chris directed, "take the woman into custody. I'm sure the local PD has some questions for her, like why she harbored a fugitive. Vin, check the place over, make sure we haven't missed anything. Buck...what are you doing?"
Buck was supporting the woman, walking her out of the house and toward a squad car. He must have missed Chris' nod telling him to look after the kid.
Chris sighed. Some days, you just had to do everything yourself. Chris left the house, glancing up and down the street, looking for JD. Eventually, Chris spotted him, sitting on the fender of the plumbers' van and holding one hand up to his right ear. Chris approached JD and crossed his arms over his chest, waiting for the young man to make the first statement.
New "I can't hear anything," JD confessed. "My ear, it's..." he sighed, "I can't believe you did that." JD wouldn't meet Chris' gaze.
Chris kept his features neutral and said evenly, "You think I should have bargained with that guy."
JD's gaze firmly met Chris'. "Yeah. I do," he said quietly. "You could have missed. You could have killed me."
"Yeah?" Chris didn't know whether to be amused or insulted. Did this kid honestly think he would miss on such an important shot? JD just nodded, so Chris changed the subject. "How's that ear?"
Now JD shook his head. "It's terrible. I think I'm going to have permanent hearing damage."
Chris said, "Let me see it. Come here," he said gently, gesturing for JD to lean closer, and then he quietly said, "Can you hear what I'm saying now?" directly into JD's ear.
"Yeah," JD acknowledged.
Chris lowered his voice to a breathy whisper. "I...don't...bargain," he stated, before raising his voice. "Could you hear that?"
The tone of JD's voice conveyed that he had lost some of his confidence in Chris. "Yes, sir."
"Good," Chris said, throwing a spare jacket over the kid's shoulders, "you'll be fine." He started to cross the street, intending to check back with Vin; see what he'd found, and then Chris realized what the kid needed to hear. He turned around, calling out, "JD?" The kid's head snapped up. "I don't miss either." The hope Chris witnessed crossing JD's face was reward enough for Chris to not regret his moment of weakness.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra blinked his eyes at the quiet voice.
Where was he?
"Ezzie, you gotta wake up, we're in Alanta!"
Ezra sat up abruptly, bumping his head on the bedpost. He opened his eyes to find Ellie standing over him and holding a neon green backpack.
"These are your supplies," Ellie said, shoving the pack into his hands. "And you'll need an umbrella 'cause it's been raining a lot since we left. This," she handed Ezra a battered brown umbrella, "is one mommy was going to give away at church."
"Ellie, I can't take your backpack," Ezra was loath to accept charity, especially when one so young probably didn't understand her actions.
"It's not my favorite," Ellie stated. "Auntie Liz gave it to me for my birthday; she didn't know I like pink best."
"Oh," Ezra said, not quite sure how to react to such a declaration, "all right."
"You have to go soon because we're giving this back to the Renters," Ellie said. "I'll distract Mommy and Daddy and the Renter when we stop and then you can sneak out and help your friend," she explained.
"Thank you," Ezra said, overwhelmed by the depths of Ellie's kindness.
Ezra suddenly found that he couldn't breathe due to the crushing hug in which Ellie was enveloping him. "Be careful. You shouldn't join your friend yet."
Before he could reply, Ellie was gone; running toward the front of the RV, and Ezra tucked the umbrella into a side pouch of the backpack. He found a trap door leading to the roof of the traveling monstrosity and bided his time. When they entered the rental place, Ezra slipped from the roof and went out into Ellie's Alanta.
+ + + + + + +
"I don't think they're going to find Standish in the state park," Chris admitted, collapsing into a chair in the hotel room the six men were using as a conference room.
"I believe Agent Standish had already vacated the premises when we initiated the roadblock at the front entrance," Josiah stated, closing his eyes and laying down on one of the room's two beds.
"I think we won't find him til he wants to be found," Vin said as he leaned against the bathroom's doorway. Everyone nodded their frustrated agreement.
Chris' cell phone rang, and he picked it up, hoping for a lead. "Larabee."
The other five men cringed at the volume and tone issuing from the earpiece of the cell phone. Chris listened to the content of the tirade and then became angry.
"Judge, listen. Mr. Copeland was a bad man. He was about to shoot one of my boys. I'm sorry it's giving you bad publicity, but you can go ahead and blame me, because I'm not sorry I shot him, and I'd do it again if I had to." Chris ended the call and then turned the phone off.
Vin shot Chris an empathetic look. "Is there going to be trouble?"
"Nah," Buck asserted, "ole Orin just wants Chris to know who's really in charge."
"In other words," Chris said, grinning, "me. No, it won't be a problem."
"Kid, ya get any louder, and I'm gonna go deaf," Buck complained.
"Some of us have headaches," Nathan stated from the other bed, "so, please, keep it down in here."
"What have you got, JD," Chris asked, not really expecting any miracles.
"Well, I set up this program, because, if Standish is as smart as everybody's saying he is, then he'll want to know his enemies," JD explained at a rapid-fire pace. "And, at the moment..."
"We're his enemies," Buck concluded. "Good thinking, kid."
"Thanks! Well, anyway, I set up this program to track computers requesting our records, names, pictures, et cetera," JD continued.
"What did ya find?" Vin inquired from the doorway.
JD grinned wickedly as he addressed Vin's question. "You have a fan club, Vin. It's a bunch of teenaged girls in Nova Scotia who--"
"JD," Chris growled as Vin blushed, "focus."
"Right, er," JD said, "most of the hits were routine, Judge Travis or some senator checking up on our progress as a team, you know, the usual stuff. One was from a personal computer that was on the move, it kept changing its access points, which makes me think it's a wireless connection--"
"JD," Josiah said with his eyes still closed, "English for those of us born in the Dark Ages, please."
"Okay. The bottom line is," JD concluded, "I tracked the signature to a residence in Atlanta."
After a brief period of silence, Buck gave a victorious yell. "Our boy came home!"
Chris and Vin shared a look. "He showed up not dead," Chris said quietly.
"That was an incredible dive," JD said, latching on to Chris' comment. "I wonder if he ever did swimming professionally." A second later, he was typing away again, researching Standish's past as an athlete, his own success momentarily forgotten.
"Josiah," Chris ordered, "call the Judge and see how soon he can get us to Atlanta. The rest of you..." he looked around the room, for the first time seeing the beer cans and pizza boxes littering most horizontal surfaces, "get this place cleaned up!"
+ + + + + + +
Ezra Standish disdainfully donned his patented 'homeless person' costume. Even though it was unseasonably cold in Atlanta, Ezra couldn't wear too many layers; that would look suspicious. Instead, he merely dressed in the dirtiest, most torn up clothes he could salvage and headed for the gym that a majority of the city's FBI agents used.
Unless his former supervisor had changed his habits in the year since Ezra had been a free man, Charles Solomon was about to finish his racquetball game. After that, Charlie would drive to the nearest McDonalds and order a Big Mac Meal. Ezra could not help being observant; he was one of the three men Agent Solomon usually played against, and they'd gone to lunch together afterward a few times, namely those times when Ezra hadn't been able to escape the car before Charlie pulled out into traffic, and he'd noticed such things.
Ezra walked the route he suspected Charlie would take, and was rewarded as the black BMW pulled up to a red light less than twenty feet away. He knocked on the passenger-side window after noting that Charlie was alone in the vehicle.
"No, I don't want any--" Agent Solomon said, evidently fooled by Ezra's attire. As Charlie looked at more than just the clothing, his eyes widened in recognition. He pushed a button to roll down the window. "Oh, my God...Ezra!"
Ezra reached through the window to shake Charlie's hand. "How are you, Charlie?"
New "Jesus, you're back," Charlie said, still in shock.
Ezra hated to ask, but he had no choice. His accounts had undoubtedly been frozen. "I need some money."
Charlie didn't hesitate. "Sure, sure. Get in."
"No," Ezra waved, dismissing the offer, "I can't; just whatever you have on you. You're under surveillance, my friend. If you're not now, you will be soon."
"Have you got a place to stay?" Charlie asked, reaching for some cash. "I mean, how can I help you?"
A siren sounded from behind Charlie Solomon's car. There was a police car right behind them! "You've got a green light, sir. Please move on," was broadcasted from the car.
Ezra grabbed the money, saying, "I'll call you." He turned away, keeping his head bowed and praying the policeman wouldn't recognize him.
Charlie was flustered. "But, Ezra..."
But Ezra had already disappeared down a side street.
+ + + + + + +
Chris Larabee descended on the elementary school like an avenging angel. If Standish had harmed this little girl in any way, he would look forward to the relief of Hell compared with what Chris had in mind for him.
"We need to talk to Ellie Matheson," Chris demanded of an intimidated secretary.
"I'm sorry, only family or approved guardians can take a student out of class," the secretary protested politely.
"That's just fine, Ma'am," Buck intervened, know Chris' prowess in burning the wrong bridges. "Mrs. Matheson will be here in a minute. The marshal here just jumped the gun a bit. Ah, there she is! Mrs. Matheson? Could you please assure the lovely..." in barely a second, he read the nameplate on the woman's desk, "Ms. White here that we can talk to your daughter?"
"It alright, Terri," Angela Matheson told the secretary. "We all need to see her. It's the third classroom, right?"
+ + + + + + +
When Ellie followed her mother to an empty classroom, she didn't know what to expect. If her mother wanted to talk to her, then they would have stopped right outside her classroom, not walked clear down the hall. The six men who greeted her in the new classroom looked exactly like their pictures.
Ellie smiled. They were here to help Ezra, right? "Are you going to help Ezzie?" she asked, hoping for immediate reassurance.
"Where did you meet Ezra, Ellie?" the Good Meanie asked.
"He was in my room when we left the state park," she answered. "He was asleep, but then he had a nightmare. He has nightmares because some bad people said he was guilty of mur...dering" she stumbled over the harder word, "his best friend. Nobody could ever kill their best friend, not even by accident!" Ellie declared.
"How do you know he's innocent, Ellie?" the Kid asked.
Ellie smiled. "You're the Kid, aren't you?"
The Joker tugged his mustache. "How do you know what we call him, Miss?"
Ellie shrugged. "After Ezzie showed me your pictures, he fell asleep. I was bored, so I made up names for each of you. You," she pointed at Nathan, "are Jamal, because you look like him. Jamal is a boy in my class. You," she pointed to Josiah, "are grandpa." That evidently needed no more explanation because she proceeded directly to Vin. "You're Tarzan, you," she pointed at Buck, "are the Joker, cause in every picture you were smiling, and you," she pointed one last time, now at Chris, "are the Good Meanie, because Ezzie said you would be im-part-al, but you looked like a meanie to me."
Josiah was suppressing a laugh, but glancing in Vin's direction. "Tarzan," finally escaped from the older marshal's lips, followed by a guffaw of laughter.
Vin glared. "Watch it, grandpa."
No one dared comment on Chris' nickname, so he took up the cause of returning the conversation to its proper course. "Ellie, did Ezra have any evidence of his innocence?"
Ellie shook her head emphatically. "All the policemen are going to want to kill him until he finds some, though," she said, "and then the bad ones will still want him to die. Ezzie said he didn't want to die until he found out who murdered his partner. That's why he ran away. I told him not to go join his friend yet."
"Join his friend?" JD started to ask, confused, but Josiah, who had reined in his amusement, accurately guessed what Ellie meant.
"You don't want him to die while he is proving his innocence?" Josiah clarified.
"Why don't you tell us where he is so that we can help him?" Chris asked, feeling terrible for playing into the little girl's fantasy. He wasn't some brave knight who rode in to save the day. More often than not, he was merely the unfortunate man who got stuck picking up the pieces.
"I don't know where he is," Ellie said calmly.
"Ellie," Angela Matheson prodded, "you shouldn't lie to these men."
"I'm not lying," Ellie insisted. "He disappeared when we took the big car back to the Renter."
Angela Matheson's eyes widened. "The last place you saw him was at the RV rental place?" She dug around in her purse, coming up with a card. "Here's their business card. Ellie isn't going to be in trouble, is she? She didn't understand what she was doing..." Angela clutched her daughter close, protectively, as though afraid the marshals would rip her away.
"I reckon she knew exactly what she was doin', Ma'am," Vin said.
"However," Josiah interjected, "since she is a minor and you clearly did not know the fugitive was in your vehicle, charges will not be pressed, right Mr. Larabee?"
Chris did not acknowledge the question. Instead, he addressed Mrs. Matheson. "Nate here is a medic. If you want, he can examine your daughter...make sure she wasn't harmed."
"I don't need a doctor," Ellie proclaimed, "but Ezzie does. He was hurt here," she put her hand over her heart as though saying the Pledge, "here," she pointed to the side Ezra had curled protectively against while asleep, "and, I think..." she hesitated before pointing between her legs, "here. At least, he was sitting kind of funny when I came back from going to get him some food."
"I didn't know he had a chest wound," Nate said in concern. How far could a fugitive get with an untended chest wound?
"No, you silly," Ellie said, rounding on Nathan imperially. "He's hurt because his best friend was murdered, and that's not a hurt you can fix."
Now Vin laughed. "She's got you there, Nate." He winked at Ellie, showing he understood. "Thanks fer all your help, Miss Ellie."
+ + + + + + +
Vin studied his friend and leader as Chris drove the six of them from the RV rental lot to their new base of operations; yet another hotel room. The RV rental place's owner hadn't seen anything and Standish did not appear on any of the surveillance tapes. "So?" Vin asked.
Chris chanced a glance in Vin's direction despite the traffic. "So what?"
Vin didn't sigh, though he wanted to. "You believe her?"
Chris snorted. "I believe she thought he was telling the truth."
Shaking his head, Vin looked out the window, watching the crowded streets.
"You think he's innocent?" Chris inquired, perplexed by Vin's concern.
"It doesn't matter, right?" Vin chuckled. "'We always get our man,'" he recited the motto of the Canadian Mounties, since it seemed to apply to the U.S. Marshals as well. "Yup. We get our man and then throw him to his death."
"His actions led to his death, Vin," Chris said coldly. "We can't excuse his behavior. We aren't a last line of defense for the guilty."
"You say you don't care," Vin hypothesized. "What if we were the last line of defense for the innocent, though? Would that make a difference?"
"Nope," Chris replied, eyes riveted to the road.
"Damn, you're a cold bastard, Larabee," Vin kept his eyes focused elsewhere so Chris wouldn't see the anger in them.
"I would still do my best to catch him," Chris continued, pointedly ignoring Vin's insult. "In this case, it has simply become important for one of you to prove his innocence before I catch up with him."
+ + + + + + +
Colorado Marshals Team 7 stalked into Atlanta's FBI headquarters. Chris wasn't happy about being ordered to pick up the files on Standish's transgressions in person. As a result of his bad mood, the rest of the team was in equivalent spirits. Chris and his team stormed the front desk, flashed their badges and proceeded directly to the appropriate floor. Finding the jerk that had made them all come down here was equally easy.
New "We're here, Agent Collins," Chris growled. "Now, where are the files you promised us and why the hell couldn't you have them sent to my office?"
Agent Collins leaned back in his chair and drawled out, "Besahds the fact that your 'office' is a hotel room at the Mariott?" Collins chuckled. "I just wanted ta see the man Ezra bested, Deputy U.S. Marshal Larabee."
JD wondered if Collins knew he was in immediate danger of being incinerated on the spot by Chris' glare.
"You got some personal int'rest in whether Standish makes a clean getaway, Collins?" Vin asked from beside Chris, not trusting his leader to conduct himself nicely.
Agent Collins shrugged. "We went through Quantico together. I thought I was one of his friends." He grimaced. "Then, when I found out what he did to people like Dave, I was glad not to count myself as a friend of his."
Chris gave a feral grin, signaling to Vin that he was back in control of his emotions, if barely. "Agent Collins, if you're so well-informed about the darker side of Standish, then tell us, why did Ezra Standish kill his partner?"
"He did it for the money," Agent Collins asserted.
"What do you mean, 'he did it for the money'?" JD asked, thinking of some figures he had found earlier. "He's independently wealthy; he wouldn't have to work a day of his life if he didn't want to."
Collins shook his head. "The Bureau is more rich."
JD rolled his eyes, doubting that, given the numbers he'd seen. Chris pressed on. "Is this the entire Bureau file?"
"Yes," Collins replied. "That's everything; it's all there."
"Okay," Chris said, picking up one folder and handing the second one to Vin. "Let's go, boys."
After they had exited the Federal Building, JD asked, "Why didn't you want to talk in front of Agent Collins, Chris?"
Chris sighed, staring at JD. "Ask Vin," he said shortly.
"Huh?" JD was confused by the redirect.
"If Standish was innocent," Vin replied to JD's question, "that office is full a' people who didn't try ta prove it the first time around."
"Oh," JD said, wondering how he'd missed it.
"Don't worry, kid," Buck said, draping an arm around JD's slim shoulders. "It's good that you couldn't see that probably everyone in that office was crooked."
"It is?" Now JD was even more confused.
New "Yes, JD," Josiah said from where he walked with Nathan, both of them behind Buck and JD, "Your youthful conviction would have made the guilty parties suspicious."
"What he's saying, JD," Nate explained, "is that we've still got an edge over them, because they don't know we think some of them are dirty."
"I want to redo any interviews they have in these files, plus interview anyone he knew that the agents missed," Chris said. "We'll take it in teams. Josiah...Vin, you're with me," he grasped his folder tighter and smiled. "Nate, try to keep Buck out of trouble."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra stared around the spartan accommodations he had rented, paying in cash, from the Russian lady who lived on the first and second floors of the house. She and her son had discussed him at length, in Russian, to his face, with the broad son wondering how such a dainty man had ended up so far from home. Ezra had had to stifle a laugh by coughing. He had returned to the city of his birth, and yet the man was right. Ezra was completely out of his element. He did not let on that he knew the language, thinking that it might serve him well later. If people living in such poor conditions as these should realize who he was and think to turn him in, then hearing them discuss their plans in Russian might be the only advantage he had.
The basement did have four exits; three windows and a door to the main floor of the house, but Ezra believed if the police were to storm the place, they would probably be proficient in sealing all entrances before breaching the front door. 'Then again,' Ezra thought dryly, 'I have overestimated my opponents before.'
At least the bed was comfortable. Ezra resolved to visit the downtown police department when he next awoke.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra felt tears on his face, and realized he was back in David's apartment. He reached a hand up, dried them, and then ran out the front door, reaching for his cell phone.
Three shots rang out and he fell to the pavement. His cell phone fell from his limp hand and he heard a too-young voice say, "Oh my God! He was going for his cell phone, I didn't know. I shot him...what am I going to do?"
"Calm down, Freddie," the other officer's voice rang out. "Two of those bullets are mine. We'll tell the truth: he was approaching us threateningly and looked like he was going for a gun."
Tires screeched and a car raced down the street. Ezra raised his head, fearing the officers had left him.
"You'd better call that one in, Freddie."
"But he's dying--"
"Call it in."
"Yessir." Freddie called in a dark blue or black late model Chrysler sedan for running a red light and advised a unit to respond. Only then did the older partner let Freddie call for an ambulance.
Ezra felt himself slipping from consciousness, but then someone was hammering on his chest. He gasped, drawing breath, and became instantly aware of the pain in his chest and abdomen. He screamed and--
Sitting up abruptly, Ezra found tears on his face, tears for Dave. He only slept fitfully through the rest of the night.