Ezra Standish stared at the paper again. It had been typed and folded into thirds. It was thicker than standard office paper and slightly textured. It only contained a few lines. The black deep seeded printed words offered no physical danger to him, yet he felt his heart lurch. His mouth went dry and his hands trembled. He read the few lines again. He double checked the date, not that the date was really important. Standish stared at the off white sheet of paper with a dull roar growing in his ears. He caught his breath. Unconsciously he placed both feet squarely on the thin grey rug that lined all of the twelfth floor. The words did not change, their meaning not altered. He reread the embarrassingly short letter again and again and again. The written words had flashed the first time in his mind like a phosphorous burn, forever imprinted never to be erased. He shut his eyes, the typed letters were still hauntingly visible. In a few short lines his life had been turned upside down again.
He had been ‘TDY’d-Temporary Duty reassignment- effective immediately’, normal enough occurrence by itself in the law enforcement community. Agents were constantly shuttled back and forth between cities amongst different teams.
The last line demarcated, Transfer pending, in bold print. It was not temporary after all. The SAC had signed it: Samuel Hawkins Special Agent in Charge. A permanent letter of transfer was still in the mix. This was not ordinary. Ezra felt his stomach lurch. He was being dismissed from Denver away from Larabee and team 7. Transfer...permanent...Oh gawd...he had been transferred. He gazed quickly around the bullpen, his home. His eyes fell back to the slightly quivering piece of paper. ‘Transfer pending’--Oh gawd, oh gawd, oh gawd. Transferred.
Ezra stared at the too few lines and carefully folded up the page re-creasing the three previously made indention’s. He folded it gently firming the creases with continual sliding of his thumb and forefinger.
This could not be happening. What had he done? What had he done wrong?
New York City. He was being sent to New York City. He had to be there by tomorrow. They were kicking him out of Denver. Ezra tried to calm his breathing. Tomorrow, he had to be in New York by tomorrow.
Standish finally gazed up still clutching the folded notice in his hand. Josiah sat at his desk typing furiously on the keyboard. The large man seemed unconcerned Ezra’s whole world had just fallen apart. How long had they known? When had they decided to get rid of him?
Nathan perused through a manual at his desk adjacent to Sanchez. Jackson appeared as he did everyday. Confident and sure of his position on the team, the Chemist did not seem bothered at all. He never gazed up at the undercover agent never met his eyes. Ezra stared at the two men. Why just yesterday they had shared a friendly beer at Inez’s after work. Had they known then? Were they just stringing him along? They had to have known. A life does not get set asunder like this on a whim. They had to have known. They knew he was getting thrown out. They kept it from him.
Buck and JD could be heard joking in the break room. Laughing. Of all things laughing as if nothing was wrong.
Standish crinkled an edge of the folded paper. His walking papers. He surveyed the room. No one cared. They conned him, he played right into his hands. Ezra closed his eyes. They were throwing him out. Just like Alanta, He played into them just as he had to Palamon.
The undercover agent pushed himself to his feet. He would talk to Larabee. Chris would be straight with him. If Ezra was going to be reassigned again the leader would have the decency to tell him face to face.
Standish rapped his knuckles lightly on the thin wooden door. His hands were remarkably steady, he hoped his voice would remain the same way.
No voice welcomed him into the coveted office. Ezra cracked the door open and peered inside. No Chris. Of course not Chris and Vin had left today for La Grange Texas, a symposium on explosives.
Chris would not give him the decency to face him, allow him to ask why.
Standish had heard the rumors. The whispers ran amok in the ATF Denver office,like whisps of smoke foretelling of an impending inferno. There was a dirty agent among them. Someone was playing both sides of the fence. They had all heard the rumors. Ezra paid little attention to them. Chris and the others knew he was dedicated to the team, faithful to the cause. Standish knew the others did not think him corrupt.
Standish had not worried about the innuendo’s from other agents and other teams. Ezra knew he was clean. Standish knew for a fact Chris was stronger than rumors and whisperings of false accusations. Larabee and team seven would stand by their team member.
Standish peered at the empty office. Maybe the seeds of doubt had planted themselves in the leader’s mind. Maybe the smoldering heat of doubt had always been there and the rumors were just fuel needed to flame the fire.
Ezra closed the door with a soft click. Buck and JD’s friendly laughter rang from the breakroom. Standish turned around and faced the group. They had to have known he would have received the notice with the interoffice mail service. No one acknowledged his dismissal. No one cared. They had to have known. Did they really think he would turn on them, stomp on their faith and loyalty?
Letter still in hand, Ezra returned to his desk. He had alot to do before tomorrow. The notice had been signed by the SAC. Standish had no choice, just as he had no real choice but to leave Alanta to come to Denver. He had to vacate Denver to got to New York. Well he could always quit, but then what? Ezra Standish had never quit anything in his life, thrown out, yes, quit, no. He would not quit not now. Another dismissal. Why did no one warn him?
Standish neatly folded the notice into fours and slipped it into his pocket. He had work to get done.
In the next twenty minutes, with his mind in turmoil, his heart caught in his throat Ezra Standish erased his few personal files from his computer. He purged his E-mail and checked his desk draws for any errant personal items. He found none. Standish was glad he had resisted all the attempts the others had made to force him to decorate his desk, make it look homey. Ezra had his reasons and they probably knew them. History repeated itself. This time he would spare himself the humiliation of carrying out a box of trinkets to be thrown in a dumptser.
The small silver framed Erte’s Alphabet and cactus still sat on his desk just in front of the juncture between his and Vin’s work area. In one subtle move Ezra slid the only personal effect he had at the office back to onto the desk of Vin Tanner. Vin had offered it to Ezra as a thankyou and a token of friendship.
When Standish had first signed on with Larabee Vin had finagled the undercover agent into a discussion. Ezra remembered the day vividly. It was the day Standish realized he belonged to a group that protected its members like coveted family. Tanner wanted to make damn sure Standish was not a ‘mistake’. The tracker had to be sure Chris was not giving an undeserving malcontent a second chance. Standish remember the conversation clearly, he had already started writing his resignation in his own mind as the nimble tracker swathed a clear cut through Standish’s cloudy intentions. Instead of being offended the undercover agent appreciated the loyal nature of Vin Tanner. Ezra ,from that day on, had worked hard not only at his job but to prove to Vin and the others that he was worthy of their protection and loyalty.
Did Vin and the others allow the rumors to taint their judgment of him. They must have, he was being transferred. Was Tanner following up on the promise he made that cold winter morning during the commute to the office?
The notice bent stiffly in Ezra’s pocket. He was being transferred.
Ezra slid the token of camaraderie just a few inches. The friendship and thanks had been paper thin as thin as the notice in his pocket.
Standish shut down the computer and clicked it off. He sighed slightly and shut his eyes briefly. It was over they were kicking him out.
He pushed back from his desk for the last time.
Ezra grabbed his long tailored coat and draped it over his forearm. He headed out of the bullpen area.
“’Ey Ez, where ya goin?” JD asked as Buck shoved him out of the breakroom. Dunne nailed the older man with a back elbow. Wilmington had been prepared and arched his stomach away from in it.
Standish paused in his stride but continued again. New York. You transferred me.
“Out,” He replied trying to keep his tone light and carefree. Oh gawd this hurt. His guts twisted painfully, nausea rolled through him. His legs shook and his heart fluttered. He had a home here. Oh Gawd they threw me out.
Ezra kept walking.
Buck and JD watched the retreating back of their undercover agent, shrugged unconcerned and returned to their desks.
Ez deserved some time off . After the last bust he needed a break. The undercover stint had lasted months but the hard work had paid off. The intentional gunring that tried to incorporate itself into the Denver area fell and it fell hard.
Team seven had escaped unscathed. No bullet holes, no concussions, just a few bruises on Larabee but not even bad enough to visit the hospital. Tanner had shoved the leader out of harms way. Sparing not only Chris’s life but Ezra of a life time of nightmares. Standish had not seen the shooter just a few feet from him until after the gun discharged. The undercover agent quickly subdued the foolish miscreant all the while watching Vin help Chris to his feet. Everyone was ok.
+ + + + + + +
Standish leaned his head dejectedly against the airplane window. He kept his tray up. He was not hungry, not thirsty, nothing. He was temporarily reassigned, pending permanent transfer. Kicked out. After 18 months he was discarded.
Oh gawd not again. Ezra closed his eyes. The blue sky and soft white clouds the DC-10 cut through offered him little reprieve from his despondency.
The movers would come by the end of the week to pack up his townhouse. He asked that they put his belongings in storage. Ezra knew he would not stay in New York, he would not be allowed to stay in New York. The moving company would be pleasantly surprised to find most of the apartment was already packed. He had never really unpacked. The only thing to accompany him on the plane was his computer and cell phone. The Jag went into storage as well. The phone had been shut off this morning and his mail forwarded to the ATF office in NewYork. All he ever received was bills. Personal correspondences were nil and his mother preferred the telephone or just dropping by unannounced. He had yet to inform her of his new location.
The townhouse complex already had his place on the market.
Ezra ignored the background hum of the four running engines. He opened his cloudy green eyes and stared forlornly out the window. Small linear ice crystals spread from the corners of the rounded windows sparkling slightly in the reflecting sunlight. Food crumbs had somehow managed to finagle away between the many layers of protective plastic. The light blue sky held no luster or clarity. Standish sighed and leaned his head against the cold plastic.
What had he done wrong? Did Chris and the others really believe he dabbled in double cross.
He again recalled the conversation Vin started last year. Tanner had threatened him, albeit, subtle in a bull dozer sort of way, but warned him just the same. If Tanner thought Chris had made a mistake in recruiting the southerner then Vin would see to it Standish was gone. Vin protected their leader fiercely. Neither man was upset or angered during the conversation. It was fact. Both bounty hunter and undercover agent would respect each others desire to watch out for Larabee. Standish appreciated Tanner’s candidness even welcomed it. At least Vin had kept his warning from being water cooler fodder. In strange way the Texan had offered safety to the new team member. Vin kept his musings and doubts to himself.
Ezra had begun to think he fell under that umbrella of rabid protection Vin had for the others, until now.
Ezra had tried calling Larabee, tried to beep Larabee, even sent him an e-mail. No response. Surely the man checked his messages even when away. The cell was out of service but then Chris was out of state. Ezra did not want to fight this, there was no fighting rumor. He just wanted a chance to hear the accusations the reasons for his cold dismissal.
He had fought in Alanta like a cornered Puma. It got him nowhere, the hounds had been set upon him. He lost, he lost his job, his friends their trust and their respect. Standish had stood his ground and raised his hackles. He depended on Palamon to stand by him to back him up. His mentor and friend had turned his back. Standish had been branded, slapped with a label and ostracized. His existence had become miserable but he settled in burrowed his chin and plowed through each and every day striving to prove to those around him he as not corrupt.
It had not worked. Opinions were made, the rumors had transformed into erroneous fact and Ezra’s life plummeted out of control.
Then Chris Larabee entered his life. Tossed him a life line gave him a new start and then a second chance. Chris pulled him from the brink ignored the rumors and judged the southerner for who he was and his ability. Those simple acts which took no physical effort, had forever earned Chris Larabee Standish’s loyalty and devotion.
Ezra understood Vin Tanners over protectiveness. Standish felt the same way. He would act against anyone or anything that threatened his team or their leader. Tanner’s soft spoken promise had not gone unheeded. Instead just the contrary had come of it. Ezra strove diligently at his job to prove to these other six men that he was in fact deserving of the same protection and devotion. It was reciprocated. Ezra had been sure of that, until now.
No one visited him last night as he packed his small bag and set his alarm clock. No one offered him a ride to the airport. No one even so much as gave him a hint as to why he had been shunned from their family. He quietly gathered his things in the darkness of his apartment. He had made his necessary phone calls to disconnect the phone and cable. He did it all very much alone. No one even insisted it was a mistake a foul up. No one cared. He still carried the notice in his pocket.
The plane touched down. The landing gear did not fail, the wings were not shorn from the body of the plane, his seat was not propelled through a tear in the roof sucking him out. All 245 passengers and crew landed safely at La Guadia airport. Standish remained in his seat. He was in no hurry. He had no luggage except an over night bag and toiletries. If they wanted him so quickly then he would make them pay.
His life crumbled and collapsed within itself from the time he slid his index finger under the sealed lip of the envelop. Transferred. Damn them.
Ezra stood as the last of the stragglers shuffled past him. He reached into the overhead bin and removed his designer duffel bag. He begrudgingly left the plane. All connections with Denver severed as he stepped out onto the gate. Standish already hated New York.
JD bounced out of the elevator carrying his shiny black motorcycle helmet. The tinted face shield had been lifted to accommodate his hand. The bright blue, red, and yellow lightening flashes decorated the helmet adding a touch of madness to the design. It had ‘hot dogger’ written all over it. It suited Dunne just fine. He had parked his sleek candy apple read Ninja next to the empty spot where the Jag would be parked. Ezra always parked the shiny black sports car against the concrete support pole. That simple move protected the exorbitant paint job from other car door dings. The passenger door did assume some of the risk but JD normally parked his bike on that side of the car. Dunne knew Ez would never hit the bike, it would scratch the Jag. Through mutual desire to protect their own vehicles they continued this daily ritual for over 15 months.
“JD you drive that organ donor bike of yours into work this morning?” Nathan asked. Damn kid took more chances than necessary.
“Ahh come on Nathan. Its sunny out not a speck of ice on the roads.” JD answered brushing off the EMT’s concern.
Josiah smiled as he sipped from his coffee. The morning rituals had not changed much since the team first met. Jackson warned JD of the continued dangers of riding a motorcycle. Dunne continued to ignore the older agent. Tanner was spared this scrutiny. Though he was not much older than the young computer whiz, the ex-bounty hunter had been on his own a life time and did not need the same overt guidance. Ezra would be late as usual. Probably later than normal now that the case was over.
Chris and Vin had been sent to La Grange, Texas. With the cat away....Buck would be louder, lunch breaks would push closer to two hours. Coffee would actually taste good for a few days. Peace and quite would descend on this tiny island of the twelfth floor. Very little work would get accomplished.
Sanchez knew Larabee would be understanding. It had been a tough couple of months. Vin’s life had been threatened. Standish had all but disappeared, contacting them only when absolutely necessary. Dunne and Jackson had been crammed into a surveillance van for weeks. Buck had been swamped with forms and requisitions for the surveillance equipment needed. Sanchez and Wilmington had spent their days and nights keeping wires operating properly and shadowing their undercover agent. During all this Chris had to play puppet master. He had to know which strings to pull which ones to let sit and orchestrate the show. In the end it all fell into place.
Team seven had a reason to relax. Vin and Chris headed for La Grange, a symposium and a little R&R. Buck and JD did as little work as possible, Jackson and Sanchez were content to watch them and casually write their reports. Josiah gazed at the empty desk of Ezra Standish. Apparently the undercover agent decided to catch up on some much needed sleep.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra trudged through the airport. People milled around waiting at gates. Some lounged in the uncomfortable black, soft, plastic covered chairs. Newspapers were folded and ruffled as people finished articles to concentrate on others. Some lay on the floor leaning against walls stretching legs that would soon be cramped in the inadequate leg space offered by the airlines. Smoke seemed to hang in the air, even in the ‘no smoking’ sections. No one liked being told what to do. Other travelers munched on pretzels and hot-dogs, trying to pass the time. An abundance of coffee was consumed though none of the captivating aroma seemed to reach much further than the person consuming it. High tinted windows reflected light and dimmed the glare of the greyish black snow that lined the runways and parkways. Kids sat on the venting systems smudging fingers against the protective glass. Fathers and mothers and occasionally older siblings pointed out airplanes landing and taking off to younger kids trying to keep the children occupied and distracted as they waited.
In airports, no matter where in the world, waiting was a commodity. Things were bought and sold to stave off the boredom. No one liked to wait, delays became intolerable,lines moved with a snail like pace. Magazines, Newspapers, books and food were proffered. TV monitors hung from the ceiling, CNN offering some respite to the drudgery.
Standish did not register any of it. The background roar of people and their attempts of distraction were lost on the ATF agent. With black duffel bag in hand, he quietly flowed with the crowd. He took an escalator down to the baggage carousel. Ignoring the gathering of the impatient crowd, he headed for the taxi stand. He moved like a weary fish caught in a current.
“Agent Standish?” A young man approached him cautiously.
Ezra paused and stared at the young man. He did not think anyone would meet him. Then again whoever got stuck with him probably wanted to be sure he showed up for work.
“Yes,” Ezra drawled out. The young man before him could not have been much older than JD. They had the same brown eyes and boyish features.
“Hi, I’m Shawn McDermit,” The young man held out his hand in greeting. He smiled friendly enough. Freckles lightly crossed his cheeks and nose, matching his curly brown hair perfectly.
“Sam Hawkins sent me to meet ya.”
Ezra stared at the boy. His young looks and trusting features reminded him so much of JD. Standish silently wondered if JD parked his bike in his normal spot, attempting to buffer the Jag that would never show. Standish pulled himself back to the man in front of him. He accepted the outstretched hand and smiled half heartily.
“Mr. McDermit,” The southerner repeated committing the name and young face to memory. It proved a useful trick his mother had taught him as a young boy. Repeat the name look into the eyes and say the name again over in your head, the name would now match the face. People always liked to be remembered.
+ + + + + + +
They sat trapped in afternoon NewYork traffic. Standish did not really care, he had no where pressing to be at the moment. His world had been turned upside down again, whether he sat in a car or in a new ATF office one thing remained unchanged he no longer was apart of Larabee’s team.
“You ever been to New York before?” McDermit asked. He noticed the southern agent did not say much. In fact making idle conversation with him was about as easy as convincing a cabby not to charge a fair.
“Yes,” the reply was short and to the point. Ezra wished the kid would just drive. Skyscrapers loomed over heard. They too were a tinge of grey just like the water. Everything in shades of grey.
“Good then we can skip the tourist sites,” Shawn said seriously. Bad enough he had to work for a jerk like Hawkins now he has to chauffeur mister smiley around. Maybe he should have hired on with the FBI.
McDermit was tired of sitting in the middle lane watching the cars to the left and right lanes race past. Just like his career, he was at a standstill while everyone else whizzed by him. Without using a blinker and without warning he quickly gunned the engine and slid the Buick into the right lane.
Standish caught his breath watching in the passenger mirror as the car behind them slammed on its brakes trying to avoid an accident. A horn bleared echoing its owners distinct dislike for the ambitious move. Ezra watched in silence as McDermit let loose with a string of profanity, cracked the drivers side window and flashed the driver behind them the finger.
“Oh Lord,” Ezra muttered. He really hated NewYork.
Shawn McDermit took great pride in his driving ability and fluency with ‘New York’ sign language, best yet he enjoyed the paling complexion of his difficult passenger.
“You always drive like this or are you just trying to show off?” Ezra asked a might peeved that the younger man took pleasure in his discomfort.
“Hawkins wants you in the office before three,” Shawn bit out. Now the southern bum was criticizing his driving. What was next?
Ezra looked out the passenger side window watching the driver in the other lane. The commuter flipped the ATF agent off. Standish smiled and flashed his badge. Was everyone in this town hostile?
“You don’t like Mr. Samuel Hawkins very much.” It was a statement. Ezra turned and faced the young man trying to gauge his reaction. A talented or ‘important’ agent would not get sent to do such menial duty. If it was Chris any one of them would have been sent, not out of punishment but to keep the peace in the office. The seven men in the same office tended to get a little rowdy. Most boss’s did not work like Chris or think like him, then again most leaders did not have Larabee’s success record. Hawkin’s own men hated him from the sounds of it. Great.
McDermit turned and faced the man beside him. He did not know much about Standish except he came from Denver but his accent sure as hell did not peg him from Colorado. A redneck southern boy was more like it. Damn drawl made him sound slow, he dragged out his syllables stretching phases out instead of just ‘saying’ them. Now the redneck was trying to ‘read’ him. Shawn had to concede he had been pegged to sights.
“He’s the boss,” McDermit said.
Ezra eyed the younger man. The southerner noticed the car still advanced at an impatient clip but the vehicles in front of them had stopped. McDermit still kept his hesitant gaze on the ATF agent.
“You gonna slow down?” Standish asked nonchalantly.
McDermit turned his attention forward and noticed he was about to rear end the Cadillac in front of him, “Oh Shit!” He swerved partially into the left lane just missing the Caddy but forcing the black Neon beside them to veer into the other lane. Horns bleered, hand signals were thrown and voices shouted indignantly behind closed windows.
Ezra peered at the young man beside him. McDermit was too consumed with shouting obscenities at the drivers around them to notice the undercover agent’s scrutiny.
“Son, you want me to drive?” Standish asked. Damn the plane might not have crashed but the way they were going they were not going to live to see three o’clock.
“Oh shut up,” McDermit hissed.
Standish chuckled and sat back. Not even in the city thirty minutes and he already pissed one of his co-workers off. Good ole’ Standish tact, very subtle indeed.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan glanced at the clock. It read 1130am. Still no Standish. “Think someone should call him?” Jackson asked. He could not shake the feeling of dread that had begun to knot itself in his gut.
Josiah sighed. He had been contemplating the same thing himself. Buck and JD paused their game of one on one basketball and turned their attention to the other two agents. Wilmington used Dunne’s momentary distraction to fake left then right and toss the paper ‘ball’ into the waste basket.
“Wilmington scores from outside!” Buck MC’d doing a short victory dance waving his arms.
JD scowled, “Figures ya gutta cheat to win Buck.” The two then fell into another argument about rules.
Sanchez and Jackson watched the two roommates and turned back to their respective computers.
Buck and JD did not seem concerned. They would wait.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra dug out his cell phone. They had been in the car a good hour and traveled all of a few miles. Standish sighed and tried Chris’s number again. He got the machine. Ezra left a brief message requesting Larabee to call him. Standish left his cell phone number. The southerner sighed tiredly the apprehensive nausea had yet to leave him. Why had he fallen victim to rumors? Why did people believe so readily that he was a ‘bad’ cop? Ezra peered out the window and stared at the black snow. The grime coated everything. The pristine white snow had become soiled and blackened. Standish longed for the blinding white color that decorated the surrounding areas of Denver. He would never see it again.
McDermit watched the man beside him. Shawn might be young but he recognized dejection readily enough. Hell working with Hawkins he had experienced it more times than he could count. Something had happened to the southerner that landed him here in New York. Whatever it was ate at him and this Larabee fellow might be of some help. McDermit knew what it was like to be on the outs with a group. Since being assigned to Hawkin’s team, his leader had done everything he could to shuffle the young agent to the side. Almost as if forcing him to quit by keeping him out. Shawn was not one to quit. He had worked to hard for his place in the ATF agency. He would out last Samuel Hawkins and earn his place as a valued member of the agency.
The Southerner appeared beaten and tired. Shawn had to chuckle mirthlessly to himself. Standish looked how McDermit felt every time he had to go to the office.
He would try again.
“Hey you like Jimmy Buffet?” McDermit asked. Maybe there was an ally somewhere in the Denver man.
Ezra lifted his head from the back of the seat rest. Jimmy Buffet. Eighteen months ago he had only heard of the singer. Now thanks to Mr. Wilmington and his obsession with the Midwestern singer Ezra could easily boast he knew the words to most of the singers songs. It was not a boast he would make publicly.
“I had a friend who revered his music and lyrics,” Standish answered.
“You like him?” Shawn asked again. Damn couldn’t this guy just give a simple answer, “Do you like his music?” McDermit was frustrated. He did not care what the answer was he would play the cassette anyway just to miff the SOB beside him.
Ezra contemplated the question. Did he like the ‘Beach music’ (as Buck labeled it)? Standish knew he liked the camaraderie that came with the songs. Buck always sang along, boisterously and though Ezra complained incessantly about the crooning of his fellow agent he felt sense of belonging.
“Yes, Yes I do,” Standish answered, not sure if it were the truth or not but he longed for home, longed for his friends. If music was as close as he was going to get than he would settle for it.
Shawn McDermit smiled pushing in the cassette. Finally they were making some head way. At least the redneck had decent taste in music.
The rode the rest of the way in silence. Buffet’s voice floated through the car singing of beaches, boats, bars and cheeseburgers. Shawn sang along softly thinking of fun and the sun. Ezra sat back and stared out the window wondering if Buck felt as betrayed as he did.
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