MAIN CHARACTERS: Ezra, Chris
Editor's Note: The original version of this story first appeared in the Mag 7 zine, Let's Ride #10, published by Neon RainBow Press, Cinda Gillilan and Jody Norman, editors. When we all decided to post the stories that have appeared in the issues of Let's Ride that are more than two years old, we opted to use a generic pen name because, while Kacey Tucker is the primary authors of this story, they had so much help from the other folks writing for the press that it just made sense to consider the story to be written by the Neon RainBow Press Collective! Resistance was futile. So, thanks to the whole Neon Gang Dori Adams, Sierra Chaves, Dana Ely, Michelle Fortado, Patricia Grace, Deyna Greywolf, Dani Martin, Erica Michaels, Karson Raine, Nina Talbot, Kacey Tucker, Rebecca Wright, and Lorin and Mary Fallon Zane. Story lasted edited 6-5-2008. Art by Shiloh (email@example.com)
Ezra kept up a constant stream of softly muttered conversation as he drove back to the federal building. He was in trouble, and he knew it. But there had to be a way out. Surely the man would understand that it wasn't his fault, wouldn't he?
No, probably not.
But there hadn't been a damn thing he could have done. It wasn't as if they had expected the arms dealers to find out who they were. Hell, who would go looking for someone in Wiggins, Colorado?
Unless they already knew who he was, and where he was.
And how the devil had they pulled that off? He was a consummate professional. He did not make mistakes, and certainly not the kind of mistakes that could get him killed!
He shook his head, unable to come up with a reasonable explanation for what had transpired a couple hours earlier.
Glancing up at the cloud-dotted sky above him, he wondered briefly if he could just ignore the situation. It was a vain hope, to be sure, but oh if he only could. But that would not be possible.
And they would most certainly have to set up another meeting with Abernathy in another annoyingly obscure location, but definitely something more local to Denver if he had anything to say about it, which he probably wouldn't. Larabee would see to that, especially now.
He sighed heavily, the sound rich with the sound of his martyrdom.
He was going to need to put his vest on before he reached the office. That, at least, would give him a fighting chance of surviving what was sure to happen once he broke the bad news.
"Damn, damn, damn, damn," he chanted softly. Why me? Why?
Why hadn't he been able to talk his way out of this mess? He was always able to talk his way out of sticky situations. But no, not this time, and he didn't stand a snowball's chance in hell of talking his way out of the looming confrontation.
He was doomed. Well and truly fu Well, you know.
All he could do now was tell the truth and hope for the best. With luck, the others might be able to keep him from being gutted on the spot.
But he hadn't been that lucky of late.
He sucked in a deep breath and contemplated how he would go about telling the truth, something that did not come as naturally to him as he might like at least right now.
The "how" might make all the difference, provided he got the chance to actually get beyond the opening sentence, that was.
What were the facts?
Larabee had sent him.
He had arrived at the location, confident that he had not been followed.
Rio was there with Abernathy, giving the older man a hard time. Vin was there as well, apparently well ensconced as Abernathy's most recently hired bodyguard.
Abernathy actually appeared ready to shoot Rio, and he had asked Ezra Well, Vic, to find out what the hell the kid was trying to tell them. Rio was excitable, but he settled down fairly quickly when Ezra began his interrogation.
He had offered the kid something to drink, fetched it, but then they had been interrupted by the arrival of Abernathy's rival, Johnson, and his henchmen, on motorcycles and coming fast.
There was absolutely no time to think, only to react.
He escorted Rio safely into Tanner's vehicle, but Vin had needed time to get away.
Someone had to hold off Johnson until Vin was safely away, and there was no one else there to do it except for him.
So, he had done the only thing he possibly could. He had driven out to meet them, drawing their fire and getting in some good shots of his own. One man, at least, was out of commission permanently.
The goal was achieved. Tanner got Abernathy and Rio away before any harm could come to them. The mission had been saved, and his currency with Abernathy ought to be better than gold.
And wasn't that what really mattered?
He shook his head. No, probably not to him.
But it wasn't as if the damn thing was a total loss. Repairs could be made. A good specialist, and there wouldn't even be any traces left to tell the heroic tale.
But would he listen? Would he be willing to be reasonable?
He moaned quietly, pulling off the freeway and getting closer to the building. His heart rate picked up and his palms began to sweat. A few more minutes and he would have to face the wrath.
He briefly considered turning around and just disappearing, but he knew that would be hopeless. He would be tracked down, and that would only make things worse. No, it would be better to face the music now and get it over with before he could change his mind.
He pulled up and parked in Larabee's usual space, but he couldn't force himself out of the cab. He gripped the steering wheel tighter to keep his hands from shaking.
Buck up, he snapped at himself. Face it like a man.
But he felt more like a mouse a very stupid mouse that was preparing to walk into a tiger's cage and bait the beast.
With considerable effort he forced his fingers to relinquish their death grip, then swallowed hard and reached for the door handle. He slipped bonelessly from the cab, his knees almost giving way when his feet hit the pavement.
Tottering slightly, he plodded to the elevator and paused, finger ready to stab the up button. Mexico wasn't that far away.
He shook the thought from his mind, drew a deep breath, and commanded his finger to jab the button.
His finger obeyed, but his feet refused to carry him into the car when it arrived.
Move, damn you, he ordered them. There was no use prolonging the inevitable. Better to end his suffering as swiftly as possible. Surely the paradise that awaited him had to be better than this Assuming he could con his way past the pearly gates, of course.
He shuffled into the elevator car, riding up without drawing a breath. He stepped out on his floor, his knees beginning to quake again. He gulped in air and hoped he didn't pass out in the hallway.
At the doorway to the office he paused, glancing around.
Buck and JD were working at one of the computers. Josiah was standing at the copy machine and Nathan was on the phone. There was no sign of him.
Another hard swallow and several seconds of screaming at himself, and he was moving again. He crossed the space, finally arriving at his desk. And, as soon as he did, Larabee stepped out of his office and started over to him.
He opened his mouth to speak, but no words escaped past the lump of terror that was lodged in his throat. Sweat broke out all along his upper lip.
"Hey, Ezra," JD greeted him, appearing as if from nowhere behind the undercover man.
Standish flinched, expecting a killing blow from behind.
Josiah, Nathan and Buck looked over at him.
"We heard what happened at the airport," Jackson said. "You okay?"
He nodded, sure that was pity he saw in the man's eyes. He already knew. "Er " was all he was able to articulate.
"Junior's on his way back," Buck added.
Was that sympathy in the ladies' man's eyes as well? Didn't they plan to help him? Were they simply going to watch as he was flayed before their very eyes.
Josiah stepped up next to him, resting his hand on Ezra's shoulder. The fearless profiler trembled. "Good shootin'," he praised him.
Ezra's eyes slid closed as he waited for the sharp burn of the knife he was sure would be slipped between his ribs at any moment. The tiger was toying with him, stringing it out for as long as he could. But he refused to meet death with his eyes closed. He forced them open again.
"It wasn't my fault," he heard himself nearly whimper.
"What?" Chris asked him.
Ezra shook his head, unable to repeat the words. He waited for his life to flash before his eyes, but it didn't happen.
"Are you sure you're all right?" Nathan asked him, looking more concerned now.
Standish nodded, then squared his shoulders and turned to face the blond. "Mr. Larabee, I did not have other options. I had to cover Vin, and they were well armed."
Chris cocked his head slightly to the side. "Yeah, Vin told us."
"If I could have prevented it from happening, I would have believe me but I simply couldn't. It wasn't my fault!"
"Ezra," Josiah said, reaching out to grip the man's shoulder again, "we heard what happened. Vin said you saved his butt out there. Good job."
JD and Buck nodded. So did Nathan.
They didn't understand! They didn't know!
Ezra dipped his head, shaking it back and forth. "I know, I know, but " He looked up, meeting Larabee's concerned gaze. "I am so terribly sorry, truly I am."
Chris's brow furrowed. "What?"
"I didn't mean for it to happen. You must believe me."
"What to happen?" the team leader repeated.
Ezra nodded. "I'm sure the holes"
"can be fixed."
Standish nodded. "I'm sorry, I couldn't"
"Those bastards," Larabee growled. "I swear, I get a clean shot, I'll take it."
The undercover man's eyes rounded in surprise. "T-Them? You're mad at them?"
Chris looked at the man. "Hell yes I'm mad at them! They shot up my goddamn truck! You have any idea what it's like, dealing with the insurance company for this kinda thing?"
The undercover man's knees almost buckled. He staggered to his chair and collapsed into it, gulping in deep breaths of air.
"You sure you're okay?" Nathan asked him for the third time.
Ezra nodded. He was spared. God had looked down upon his plight and spared him. It was a miracle, and he wasn't a man who generally believed in miracles.
Larabee scowled as he looked down at the undercover man. "Ezra, what the hell's wrong with you?"
"Nothing," he managed to whisper, "I just saw my life flash before my eyes."
Larabee stuck his hand out. "Keys?"
Standish nodded and fished the Ram's keys from his pocket, handing them over. He hand was still shaking badly.
The blond took the key and headed off to check the damage. As he left he called over his shoulder, "Take the rest of the day off, you earned it."
Ezra's head came up, his eyes rounding. My God, two miracles in one day! But then again, he thought, since he had met these men, his life had been full of miracles, hadn't it