Chris stood silently in the doorway checking one last time on the sleeping southerner. From the soft glow of the digital alarm clock he could see the discomfort etched on Ezra's face. There wasn't anything else he could do about the pain. He'd given him the pain medication and put him to bed. Now Ezra would just have to rest.
He yawned. He needed rest, too. Chris quietly pulled the door closed and walked back to the living room. Ezra didn't really need him to stay, but it didn't make a lot of sense to drive back out to the ranch at four o'clock in the morning. He'd stay for now and make sure Ezra was okay, and then drive home after he slept. He lay down on the couch, hoping it was as comfortable as it looked.
His long night had started just after two o'clock with a call from Ezra. The southerner had assured him that it wasn't serious, but he needed a ride home from the Emergency Room at Denver General Hospital. The words of assurance meant nothing to Chris. From prior experience, his men were well known for understating their injuries. However, the fact that Ezra himself had made the call gave a little more credence to his agent’s claim.
Chris made the thirty minute drive from his ranch to the hospital, sipping on a cup of coffee to keep himself alert. The question of why Ezra had called him had crossed his mind as he drove. He lived the furthest away from town and it seemed more likely that the southerner would call Vin or JD. But at least he had called someone, and that was a step forward for the reluctant southerner.
ATF ATF ATF
“Chris Larabee. I'm here for Ezra Standish,” he announced to the receptionist in the Emergency Room.
She checked the computer records, looking for Ezra’s information. “It's been terribly busy here tonight,” she said. “I'm sorry he had to wait so long to be treated.”
“Just how long did he wait,” Chris asked quietly.
“It's just that there were more urgent cases,” she said defensively. “It's not the norm to wait that long.”
“How long?” Chris asked again.
“Well, he checked in just after nine, but we were very busy,” she said again.
Chris checked his watch. Ezra had been at the hospital for more than five hours, with unknown injuries, not serious enough to be treated immediately, but serious enough that he couldn't drive himself home. “Where is he?” He asked, trying his best to remain calm.
“Cubicle 12. You can wait for him there. He should be back from x-ray shortly.” She pointed in the general direction of the treatment rooms.
Chris growled and followed her direction. He found cubicle 12 and stepped inside to wait. Within 10 minutes Ezra was wheeled back to the room. His right arm was encased in a fiberglass cast to just below the elbow. His left arm showed multiple scratches and scrapes. He had a butterfly bandage on his chin, and a black eye.
“Mr. Larabee,” Ezra replied as he carefully moved from the wheelchair to the exam table.
“Did you win?” Chris joked lightly.
“In a manner of speaking,” Ezra said. “I apologize for bringing you out in the middle of the night.”
“Don't worry about it. When can we get you out of here?”
Ezra sighed. “The doctor wanted one more set of x-rays after they put the cast on my wrist. If they are satisfactory, I can go home.”
Chris nodded. “What the hell happened?”
The doctor entered at that moment, sparing Ezra from having to tell his tale of woe. Checking the x-rays, the doctor said, “All right, Mr. Standish. The films look good. You're free to go. I'll leave a prescription for you with the discharge nurse. You can wait here for her. Be sure to set an appointment with your primary care physician.”
Ezra nodded. “Thank you, Dr. Peterson.”
“You're welcome,” he said. “I'm sorry you had such a long wait.”
ATF ATF ATF
Chris glanced over at Ezra as he drove. The Southerner had his eyes closed, discomfort etched on his face. He wanted to ask what had happened, but he figured eventually some glorified version of the real story would make itself known... when Ezra was ready.
Chris turned a corner, and Ezra, sensing the change in direction, without opening his eyes said, “I don't need to go to the ranch.”
Chuckling, Chris countered, “No, but you do need pain meds and the pharmacy on 32nd is open all night.”
“It's not necessary,” said Ezra hastily. He sat up straight. “I'm sure I have some leftover at my condo.”
“We'll get your prescription filled. I'm sure you don't have any antibiotics left over,” Chris said, glancing over at his passenger. “You'd better not or Nathan will have your hide.”
“I'll get it in the morning,” Ezra said.
“We'll get it now,” Chris insisted. Ezra was trying to avoid the pharmacy for some reason, but he would need his pain medication when the local anesthetic wore off. He knew from personal experience how painful a broken bone could be.
It was silent in the truck for a few minutes.
“They won't give it to me,” Ezra said quietly.
Chris glanced over again. Ezra was definitely under the influence of the little pain medication he had been given, or maybe he was just exhausted.
“Why not?” He asked.
Ezra slumped lower in the seat, rubbing his eyes with his left hand. He blew out a soft sigh and muttered, “I don't have my ID.”
Chris smirked. So that was it. That was why Ezra hadn't taken a taxi home. No ID meant no wallet. No wallet meant no money.
“I'll flash my badge. They'll give it to you,” Chris assured. “Where's your ID?”
“On the counter with my cell phone,” Ezra admitted with a sigh.
Chris chuckled softly. “How'd you manage to leave without your wallet or cell phone?”
Ezra muttered, “The door was locked.”
Chris parked the truck. This just kept getting better and better. Getting himself hurt, locking himself out with no wallet or cell phone. “So you called me because I have your spare key?”
“I'd prefer not to bother the managers in the middle of the night,” Ezra said as he opened the truck door.
“But you don't mind calling me?” Chris teased lightly.
“I'd have to tell you what happened anyway, since it will affect my job performance,” Ezra replied tiredly.
Chris walked around the truck in time to catch the mumbled, “It was the only number I could remember without my phone.”
ATF ATF ATF
Chris sipped his second cup of coffee, mentally noting Ezra's brand. It was truly good. He'd have to find some and buy it. He hoped the aroma would rouse Ezra from his bed so he could head back to the ranch, but so far, it hadn't worked.
He made a quick call to Vin to apologize for being late. They had plans to go horseback riding today. Vin assured Chris that he was tending the horses, so there was no reason for Chris to hurry home.
About the time he finished the call, he heard a groan. He winced at the sound of Ezra's cast thumping against something, followed immediately by a string of ungentlemanly curses. Ezra was awake, but he'd wait until the southerner was a little more alert before he checked on him.
A few minutes later Ezra emerged from the bedroom, barefoot, in sweat pants and a tee shirt. His hair was tousled and he looked like he hadn't slept at all.
“Good morning, Ezra,” Chris said.
Ezra grunted and glared, bringing a smile to Chris' face.
“Coffee?” he asked, pushing a mug Ezra's direction and filling it.
Ezra slumped into a chair, inhaled the aroma of the coffee and took a sip. He raised an eyebrow as Chris pushed a plate of toast and his medications toward him.
“Forgive me for being blunt,” Ezra grumbled, “but why are you still here?”
“Just wanted to make sure you could handle things on your own before I head out,” Chris said graciously. He'd let the short tempered remarks go for now, knowing that Ezra wasn't feeling well.
Ezra grimaced and took his pills. “I'm sure I'll be fine.”
“We never did talk about how long you'll be out,” Chris said.
“I suppose that depends on whether I can work a cast into an undercover assignment,” Ezra answered. Looking up and seeing Chris's glare, he added, “The doctor said to take it easy for a couple of days, but it shouldn't prevent me from working. I should be able to work on Monday.”
Chris nodded. That would give Ezra the rest of today and Sunday to relax. “We'll play it by ear.” He took another sip of his coffee. “Are you going to tell me what happened, besides locking yourself out?”
The doorbell rang sparing Ezra from answering.
Chris waved him off. “Eat. I'll see who it is.”
Ezra yawned and rubbed his good eye. He was ready for a nap and he had just gotten up.
Chris opened the door.
A little girl with red braids looked up at him. “You're not Mr. Ezra,” she said.
“No, I'm Chris. I'm a friend of Ezra's,” he answered as he glanced out the door to see if she was there alone. There was a young woman, likely her mother, a few feet away.
“Mama said I could bring these cookies to Mr. Ezra to say thank you.”
Chris couldn't help but smile at the adorable girl as she held up the plate of cookies. She looked to be about six or seven and had a dusting of freckles on her nose and a smile that showed off her missing front tooth.
“Is he home? Mama said he had to go to the hospital because he hurt his arm. He's my hero. Mr. Ezra finded Harry and saved him.”
Chris looked to the mother for confirmation. “We're very grateful,” she added.
“Well, Ezra is here, but he's feeling pretty tired,” Chris explained.
“Nonsense,” said Ezra, walking stiffly to the door. “Hello, Miss Emily. Please excuse my appearance.”
“OH! You got a cast!” Emily said with alarm. “I'm sorry. I was so scared about Harry; I didn't know you hurt your arm. And your eye, too!”
“I'm fine, Miss Emily,” Ezra assured. “It was my pleasure to assist.”
“Oliver is so mean! He made you get hurt and all you were doing was helping,” she said.
“He was just trying to protect what's his,” Ezra assured. “I'm fine.”
“Me and Mama made these for you,” she said handing him the plate of cookies.
“Thank you, darlin'. And how is Master Harry today?” he asked, passing the plate to Chris and bending down to Emily's eye-level.
She put her hands on her hips and scowled. “Mama and me told him never to go outside alone ever again.”
“That's good,” Ezra replied. “I'm glad everything turned out alright.”
Emily stood on her tiptoes and kissed Ezra on the cheek. “Thank you, Mr. Ezra. You're my hero!”
Chris grinned as Ezra blushed slightly.
“Thank you, Ezra,” said Emily’s mother from the doorway.
“It was my pleasure,” Ezra replied.
“Come along, Emily,” said her mother. “We need to check on Harry and let Ezra rest.”
The little girl waved as they left and Ezra closed the door.
“A hero, huh?” said Chris.
“I assure you, it was nothing, Mr. Larabee.”
Ezra sat wearily in the chair, but snagged one of the cookies and bit into it.
“It looks like a little more than ‘nothing,’” Chris said, hoping to hear the rest of the story. “Maybe I should have a little chat with this ‘Oliver’ character.”
Ezra smirked. “That would be an interesting conversation, I’m sure. But, I’d rather just forget all of this. It really was nothing, Chris. And I’d like it to stay that way.”
Chris looked at Ezra and nodded in appreciation of his wishes. “You know the guys are going to ask.”
“Yes, but that will give me two days to recuperate before I have to face them.”
Chris chuckled. “Get some rest, Ezra. Call me if you need anything.”
Ezra stood and followed Chris to the door. “Thank you.”
“No problem,” Chris said. “See you Monday.”
ATF ATF ATF
Monday morning arrived and six of the seven were digging into the week's work at their desks. Vin glanced at the clock, concerned about Ezra's tardiness.
Chris came out of his office and Vin reached for the phone. “Gonna call him,” he said.
“No need,” said Chris leaning his hip on the edge of Ezra's desk. “He won't be in until his doctor gives him clearance.”
“What?” asked Nathan, concerned about why Ezra would need a doctor.
“What happened?” asked Josiah.
Chris shrugged slightly. “I'm not exactly sure of all the details. Ezra was closed lipped about it. Apparently he was injured rescuing a little boy.” He paused for a moment. “Nothing too serious. He fractured his wrist and has a bunch of scratches and bruises.”
“When did this happen?” asked Buck.
“Friday evening,” said Chris.
“Why didn't he call us? We would have been there for him,” JD said.
“He did,” Chris said with a smirk. “He called me in the middle of the night for a ride home. Apparently in the midst of the chaos of the rescue, he managed to lock himself out of his condo with his cellphone and wallet inside.”
Smiles broke out around the room. They couldn't help it. It was perfect ammunition to tease the southerner.
“So what happened?” asked Josiah. “I didn't see anything on the news.”
Chris shrugged. “It didn't sound like the police were involved. Just a neighbor's boy that went out on his own and got lost. Ezra mentioned something about tangling with some rose bushes, but his neighbor girl said some guy named Oliver knocked him down. Ezra tried to make light of it, but I don't think he got a black eye from a rose bush.”
“Who is this Oliver guy?” Vin growled. “Point me in his direction. I can find a “rose bush” for him to tangle with.”
“I won't need a rose bush,” Josiah warned.
Chris raised his hands in an appeasing motion. “Ezra doesn't want a big deal made of it.”
“Well, that's too bad,” said Buck. “Our boy done good and nobody messes with Team Seven.”
“That's right,” JD chimed in, high fiving with Buck.
Nathan checked his watch, then glanced at the pile of paperwork on his desk.
“No,” said Chris. “You do not need to go check on him, Nate. He's fine. He just needs another day before he comes in. No one...” he paused and looked around the room. “No one needs to just happen to drop by on their lunch hour either.” He stood and moved toward his office. “Let's get some work done.”
He stepped into his office, shaking his head as he heard Buck say, “Kid, do you think you can find out who this Oliver guy is?”
ATF ATF ATF
The doorbell rang again and Ezra groaned.
“Stay put. I'll get it,” said Vin.
Ezra rolled his eyes... at least his good eye. His right eye was swollen and an incredible array of purple and blue. Four of his teammates sprawled around the room on his furniture, and it was a sure thing, the remaining two were at his door.
Vin opened the door and found Buck and JD standing outside.
“What are you doing here?” Buck asked.
“What are YOU doing here?” Vin countered.
“Just wanted to see if Ezra wanted a piece of the action,” Buck said as he entered the great room, grinned as he saw the rest of the team, and walked over to where the southerner sat. “Woo-wee, Ezra, that's gotta hurt,” he said gently turning Ezra's chin to the left.
Ezra scowled and batted his hand away. “What ARE you doing here?” Ezra asked.
“Just want to see if you're all right and if you want in on it,” Buck said.
“In on what?” Ezra asked.
“JD and me did some digging,” Buck answered.
“And you? Hah!” said JD.
“Okay, well, JD did some digging, and we know where this Oliver scum lives, and we thought we'd put a little fear of God into him.”
“Excuse me?” Ezra said. “What are you talking about?”
“Paybacks,” Vin tossed into the conversation. “Nobody hurts one of us and gets away with it.”
“We can't really hurt him,” JD hedged. “But we can make him wish he didn't hurt you.”
Ezra's mouth dropped open. He shook his head. “What are you talking about?”
“Oliver Guthrie's going to be sorry he hurt you,” said Buck.
Ezra looked at Chris, then Josiah, trying to find a voice of reason in the group. He turned back to Buck and JD. “Are you serious?”
Buck gave a single nod.
“And just what crime do you proposed an 83 year old man perpetrated upon me? Running over me with his walker?”
“Huh?” said JD.
Nathan snickered. “Did you think to check his age JD?”
“Eighty three?” asked JD.
“Eighty three and one of the finest gentlemen in the neighborhood,” Ezra confirmed.
“Oops,” JD mumbled.
Josiah laughed. “You know they meant well, Ezra.”
Chris sat in the recliner shaking his head. He tried to give Ezra the space he requested, but he knew they'd show up and go overboard in their reactions.
“Threatening my neighbors...” Ezra mumbled.
The doorbell rang again.
“Wonder who that is?” Vin asked. “Everybody's here.”
“I propose someone answer the door,” growled Ezra.
JD opened the door. “Well, hello there,” he said to the little girl.
“Is Mr. Ezra home?”
“What's your name, sweetheart?” Buck asked kneeling down next to her.
“Emily. Are you friends with Mr. Ezra? I brought him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because his arm is hurt and he can't make dinner.” She held out a slightly smashed sandwich in a plastic bag.
“That looks delicious, Darlin',” said Buck. “You can take it to him.”
He glanced outside the door, spying Emily's beautiful mother nearby as Emily moved past him. “Well, hello,” he said.
JD elbowed him. “Chill!” he whispered. “It's Ezra's neighbor.” He offered a sheepish little wave to the lady outside the door. She smiled and joined JD just inside the door as he motioned her in.
“Whoa,” said Buck as a gray cat scooted past him into the condo. He cringed thinking Ezra was going to go ballistic.
The cat jumped up on the back of the sofa, walking across the top to where Ezra sat. It started purring.
Buck waited for the explosion, but Ezra simply reached up with his good hand and scratched the cat's head. The cat purred louder.
“I brought your dinner,” said Emily climbing up on the couch and settling beside him.
“Thank you, Miss Emily. Let me introduce you to my friends,” said Ezra. “You've already met Chris.”
“Hi Mr. Chris,” she said with a little wave.
“And this is Josiah and this is Nathan.”
“Hi. Do you work with Mr. Ezra?” she asked.
“Yes, we do,” said Josiah.
“What's your name?” Emily asked, sliding off the couch and moving over to Vin. “I like you.”
Vin tried not to blush. “My name is Vin, Ma'am.”
“Is that your cat?” Vin asked her, nodding toward the gray purring machine, which was now rubbing against the back of Ezra's head.
“Uh-huh. Did you know Mr. Ezra is a hero?”
Ezra started to say something, but Vin interrupted. “I did hear that, but I didn't hear how it happened.”
Ezra groaned and slouched slightly.
“Yeah, tell us what happened, Darlin',” said Buck.
The cat climbed down the back of the couch and stepped onto Ezra's lap, kneading before it laid down, purring loudly as Ezra absently scratched its head.
Josiah shook his head and smiled, surprised at the affection Ezra was showing the cat. Maybe all those times when they thought he was pretending to pick lint off his sleeves, he was actually picking cat hair.
Emily scooted closer to her hero. “Well, Harry went outside by himself,” she said. “He's not supposed to. We telled him not to.” She paused and petted the cat. “And he got lost. Mr. Ezra saw me crying and said he would help me find Harry.”
Glances were exchanged around the room, each man knowing it would be impossible for them to resist the adorable little girl and her pleas for help.
“And he did!” She looked earnestly at Vin. “He found where Harry was hiding and he climbed up the tree and got him.”
Ezra closed his eyes. Maybe if he kept them shut this would all go away.
“And then that mean old Oliver!” She scowled and folded her arms across her chest. “He always scares Harry. And he came running outside and knocked me down. And Mr. Ezra was trying to help me up and Oliver knocked him down, too. I think that's when Mr. Ezra hurt his arm.”
She looked at Ezra for confirmation. Ezra nodded slightly.
“Harry was crying and trying to get away and then Mrs. Davis yelled at Oliver and he runned off.”
Vin broke into a grin as the real story made itself clear. Emily called all the adults Mr. or Mrs. She never referred to Harry or Oliver with a title. Every time she said Harry, she petted the cat. Ezra had broken his arm saving a cat.
“Emily, we need to go now,” said her mother. “Say goodbye to Ezra and we'll leave him alone with his friends.”
“Bye, Mr. Ezra,” Emily said, scooting up on her knees on the couch and kissing him on the cheek. “Thank you.”
The cat jumped down and strutted toward the door.
“You're very welcome, Miss Emily,” said Ezra. “Thank you for the fine dinner.”
Emily giggled and trotted over to the door.
As she stepped out onto the porch, she yelled, “Oliver! No!” A cat yowled and a dog started barking.
Ezra sighed, then looked around his laughing teammates, shaking his head.
“Oh, no!” Emily wailed from the yard.
“Laugh it up,” Ezra said, “but I'm not able to effect the rescue.” He waved his casted arm. “Perhaps Mr. Willmington or Mr Dunne should do the honors since they wanted to teach Oliver a lesson.”
“Oh, no,” said Nathan. “They'll wind up in the E.R.”
“Hey!” complained JD.
“I'll do it,” said Vin.
“You'll likely find Harry in the Oak tree,” said Ezra. “I suggest long sleeves and gloves.”
“Come on, guys,” said Vin. “I'm not doing this alone.”
The team followed him out the door, with Chris and Ezra bringing up the rear.
“That's Oliver?” Buck asked, breaking into laughter, and pointing at the short little pug snorting and jumping at the base of the tree. “How'd that little thing break your arm?”
Ezra dropped his head and covered his eyes. He would never hear the end of this.
Chris put a hand on his shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze. “You did good, Ezra,” he said softly. “Someone corral that dog,” Chris hollered. “We're already down a man. I don't want to be explaining two.”
“Good Lord,” Ezra muttered under his breath at the chaos in front of him. Vin dangled from the tree with an unhappy cat hissing his displeasure. And four big tough ATF agents chased a little yapping pug around the yard. He felt a small hand slip into his, and he looked down and smiled at Emily.
“Your friends are funny,” she said.
Ezra chuckled, then winced as JD and Buck tumbled into the rose bushes. He knew how that felt.
“Got ya, you little...”
“Buck!” Nathan warned. “Little ears.”
“Sorry,” Buck said, standing up with “mean old Oliver” in his arms. The pug snorted and licked his cheek.
“Here you are, Miss Emily,” said Vin. “Harry's all safe and sound.”
“Thank you, Mr. Vin,” she said.
“I'll take him,” her mother said, hoping to prevent another escape.
Vin gladly handed the cat to her.
“Thank you all for your help,” Emily's mother said. “Come on, Emily. Time to go home.”
Emily tugged on Vin's sleeve, then crooked a finger at him asking him to lean down. She stood on tiptoe and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you.”
She hurried over to join her mother. As they walked away Emily said, “Momma, all Mr. Ezra's friends are heroes, too!”
“You're a good man, Ezra Standish,” said Vin, punching the southerner's shoulder.
JD came over and slapped him on the back. “Good job, Ez,” he said.
Buck looked like he was going to hug him, but Ezra darted into the condo. The others followed him in, helping themselves to snacks and drinks and eventually settling down, haphazardly sprawled around the room. They laughed and teased Ezra about his heroic rescue, but to a man, they had to admit to themselves that they would have done the same thing.
“Here's to Ez,” Vin said lifting his beer bottle in a toast.
“Here, here,” Buck agreed.
Ezra shook his head. “To Emily's heroes,” he said quietly. “One and all.”
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