Chris entered the bull pen feeling good. The few days spent in La Grange Texas had done a lot for his psyche. The explosive symposium was not bad either. It was good to cut loose every once and awhile and the last few days did wonders for him.

Larabee rounded the corner entering the working area of team seven and expected to see five working agents. Five agents he amended, Buck and JD’s idea of work was up there with Standishs’s idea of punctuality. Vin had just pulled in behind Chris in the garage but was fooling with his Harley. He would be up later.

“Morning ladies,” Chris smiled as he walked through the conglomeration of desks. Nathan held up his cup of coffee in greeting.

“Brother Chris,” Josiah called out, “did you two leave La Grange standing in one piece?”

Larabee merely chuckled. JD brushed past him running into the break room before Larabee, “‘scuse me Chris,” Dunne immediately jumped down on the only couch in the room and picked up a magazine as if he had been there all morning reading it.

Buck Wilmington’s voice could be heard bellowing from the men’s room, “JD Dunne your a dead man!”

Chris raised his eyes in question at the snickering kid, “Vaseline on the toilet seat again JD?” And to think he missed the office.

“Nah Chris, Saran Wrap under the seat,” Dunne confessed. He would never lie to Chris.

“How’d the trip go?”

“Good,” Larabee answered pouring himself a cup of coffee. He turned as Buck stormed into the break room. Chris could not help but notice the splash marks on the larger agent’s jeans.

“Buck I hope that’s water,” Chris smirked out. Wilmington was going to have to learn to leave the kid alone. Dunne had been taking lessons from two of the best prankster’s in the outfit. Tanner and Standish.

“ ‘Ey Chris,” Buck bit out just about ignoring his boss and friend. Instead Wilmington glared at the young agent stretched nonchalantly on the couch pretending to be engrossed in a magazine.

“Your dead JD,” Buck closed the distance menacingly slow.

“What?” Dunne sat up innocently his eyes wide, “What’d I do now?”

“Don’t play dumb with me kid,” Wilmington hissed out. He was going to rip the kid limb from limb.

“It aint’ an act,” Tanner tossed in as he leaned against the breakroom door. He had to admit he missed the guys.

Dunne shot a worried glance at Chris then back to Buck his face and tone indignant, “It wasn’t me, ask Chris he’ll tell ya I was in here when he got here.”

Chris leaned against the counter sipping his coffee, technically that was true, “Yup he was Buck,” Larabee confirmed.

Wilmington hesitated. JD took his best shot, “It must have been Ezra, he’s the sly one and Vin was outta town.”

Buck chuckled menacingly, “Ez didn’t do it he hasn’t been here in three days.” Wilmington closed in on the young agent.

“Wait a second,” Larabee said pushing himself upright. “Where the hell’s Ezra’s been?”

Buck stopped turned and faced his oldest friend, “Don’t know haven’t seen or heard from him since you left,” Wilmington answered. JD took the distraction to his advantage and bolted out of the break room. Buck let him go, “figured he’s just catching up on some sleep.”

To be honest, Buck quietly added, he had been worried himself. Wilmington had stopped by the undercover agent’s apartment yesterday saw the Jag and figured he was home just relaxing.

“Well he better drag his sorry southern ass in today.” Larabee remarked in good humor, “there is work needing done.”

+ + + + + + +

Chris had only been sitting at his desk a few minutes when Vin stood in the doorway. Larabee did not like to keep his office door closed. He wanted his team to be able to approach him without any obstacles. Larabee knew first hand that sometimes a closed door was enough of a barrier to keep someone from seeking help.

Larabee gazed up the half grimace that passed as a smile froze on his face. Something was wrong. He waited.

“We’ve got a problem.” The Texan accent left no room for doubt. The confidence behind the statement made Larabee’s heart beat faster. Not a problem a major catastrophe. Tanner was definitely upset.

“What?” Chris asked.

“Ez’s gone,” Tanner answered. His voice laced with both sorrow and disbelief. He really liked the conniving southerner.

“What do ya’mean gone?” Larabee asked pushing away from his desk and standing up. He did not like the sounds of this at all.

Without saying a word Vin walked over to his desk and pointed to the postcard, the alphabet poem and small cactus. They rested discreetly on Tanner’s desk not Ezra’s.

Had it been anyone’s work space Chris would have wrote it off. Buck and JD thrived in the swill they labeled as work space. Josiah’s was littered with stacks of books, research magazines and papers. Sanchez always claimed he had a system in his stacking but no one had been able to discern it. Jackson’s was not much better but at least his books and chemical journals were marked with note pads and not other books.

Standish alone held a fastidiously neat desk. Hell almost anal. Chris understood the thoughts behind it. Ezra was not overtly neat. Instead the southerner was intensely private. He kept his personal things at home or at least off his desk. The more one knew of him the more one began to appreciate how well he guarded himself. Tanner was much the same way. Though the spur still sat on his desk along with his own cactus plant.

The significance of the moved gifts was not lost on Larabee, “Shit,” He whispered.

The other five men noticed the two agent standing at Vin and Ezra’s desks.

“JD,” Chris called out sternly, “get over here and git on Ezra’s computer.”

JD looked to Buck in confusion but did as he was told. In no time the young computer whiz was sitting comfortably in the swivel chair rebooting the machine.

“When was the last time you guys talked to him?” Larabee asked the occupants of the room in general. By now the other agents converged on the desk. The small innocuous postcard, frame and cactus had become foreshadowers of doom.

“Late morning the day you two went to Texas. He left here around eleven or so,” Buck answered. What was going on, what happened?

“Buck git on the phone and call his place,” Chris directed, “Josiah try his cell.” Larabee stared at the medic of the group, “He look ok to you?” The last case had been hell. The men had been exhausted. They had worked around the clock and seven days a week for months. They took time off here and there but never any real down time. Even with a few hour’s break they were still tense about the case and everyone’s safety. Sometimes that got to people wore them down. Made them act in manners that they would not ordinarily consider.

Buck swore and quickly redialed the number. He cursed again and slammed the handle down on the cradle. Everyone looked to him for an explanation. He took a breath and quietly explained, “Its been disconnected.”

No one spoke for a second or two. Josiah hung up the other desk phone, “Out of service,” He said answering the questioning looks.

“Josiah, Buck and Nathan git over to his place,” Larabee ordered. The three men were already heading toward the elevator before he finished his statement.

The room fell quiet except for the pounding of keys on a computer terminal. Finally JD gazed up at Chris and quietly stated, “He wiped it.”

Larabee shut his eyes. What had happened?

+ + + + + + +

Chris, Vin and JD spent the next twenty minutes checking everyone’s computer’s looking for some kind of correspondence from their missing friend. Nothing.

JD tried the answering machines of the other agents, knowing their codes had been very beneficial. Again no clues. Dunne pointed out though, “Chris your answer’n machine doesn’t work.”

“I know JD, Diablo knocked it over and busted it, erased all my messages,” Larabee answered hotly. The old lab in his excitement to greet his master had destroyed the small machine.

Vin looked over at his boss, “Ya know if Ez was in trouble or leavin’ he’d try an reach you ‘fer he’d try any one of us.” Tanner understood about the loyalty that drove the southerner. It was same steadfast devotion that guided and pushed Tanner.

Then the phone rang. Chris picked it up before the first ring finished sounding.

It was Buck. He was pissed.

+ + + + + + +

Wilmington pinned a ‘Mover’ to the kitchen wall with one hand while he spoke to Chris on the phone with the other. Josiah had another ‘Mover’ sitting in the plush overstuffed leather couch that now sat diagonally across the near empty living room. A large eighteen wheeler sat out front of the apartment. Its silver moving ramp was down. Thick quilted and torn moving blankets laced the floor of the truck and the pieces of furniture that had been whisked away into the wood lined cargo area.

“Chris, there’s movers here carrying Ez’s stuff out, sayin’ they’re suppose to put it in storage, Jag too,” Buck’s disbelief carried clearly across the phone line.

“They don’t know nuthin’” there was a pause, “yeah even Nathan tried diplomatic and all. Me I’m content with just siccin’ Josiah on’em,” Buck said. The others listened to the one-sided conversation. The two movers blanched and stared at one another for support. They did not get paid enough for this bull.

+ + + + + + +

Chris rested his forehead in his hand, “Buck put the guy down,” Larabee could just imagine Wilmington had one of the poor saps nailed to a wall somewhere. Chris’s mind raced. He had to think of something.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah Nathan and Buck watched as the movers replaced all the furniture and placed it back in the original spots. The workers never said a word. They got paid either way besides these guys carried guns and looked like they wanted to use them.

As the furniture found its way back into the apartment the duplex manager and a prospective renters entered through the door way.

“Who are you?” Jackson ground out. He had known something was wrong. He should have acted on it. Why had Ezra not come to them? To him. Sure they had their differences but they were friends. Standish should have talked to one of them should have stepped forward. What had happened?

“I’m the manager of this facility,” The middle aged woman said indignantly. The plastic smile on her heavily painted face drooped.

“Yeah well what are you doin’ here?” Buck asked stepping forward a bit menacingly. The three newcomers stepped back as one.

“I’m showing prospective renters this deluxe two room apartment,” The bleach blonde returned.
Josiah would have admired her strength but right now he was just a bit to angry.

“What happened to Ezra?” Jackson asked.

“Ezra?” She responded.

“Yeah Ezra Standish this is his home,” Josiah stood beside Buck. Both men easily blocked access to the now well furnished apartment.

“He moved out at the beginning of the week,” The manager answered. Who were these ruffians?

“Well he just moved back in,” Nathan answered. He brushed past the two agents past the manager the prospective clients and down the stairs. He was going to wring Ezra’s neck when he got a hold of him.

Josiah was the last to leave the apartment. It looked as it always appeared, comfortable, neat, hardly lived in and not at all homey. Damn you Ezra I’m gonna kick your ass. With that thought Sanchez swung the door closed and locked it.

+ + + + + + +

Three weeks passed. Ezra found a comfortable secure friendship with Henry Burkhardt. Andre and Terry followed the two men where ever they ventured. Their protective natures now encompassed the young ATF agent.

Standish continued to try and contact Larabee from the office. He would enter the Federal building in the cover of night. He would meet with Shawn McDermit periodically through out the week, exchanging information. Ezra mostly listened while Shawn talked relating recent discoveries and suspect trails of arms negotiations. All the while either Guidino or Mancini shadowed the younger man. Henry had developed an undying respect and bond for the southern agent. Guidino and Mancini had fallen in their boss’s foot steps.

When Standish left the house under an excuse, surprisingly not a lie, one of the body guards followed at a discreet distance. Hawkins was a dangerous fellow who had no morals. Standish toted a line that very few could even keep in focus. Though Standish was a trained professional he did not have the extensive street knowledge of Terry or Andre. They tracked him with efficiency that would make Vin Tanner take notice.

Shawn McDermit had proven his worth. He was loyal and supportive. His dislike for Hawkins grew. The SAC offered no support for the undercover agent. McDermit even tried to contact Larabee for the southerner. Ezra accepted the show of aid without ire. Spurred by hints dropped by Burkhardt, Standish asked the inspired young New Yorker to delve into the Tedeschi cartel and Hawkins. He admonished McDermit to be careful, watch his back and depend on no one but Ezra himself for support. These were black, dangerous, seas Standish was sending McDermit to navigate. Shawn swelled with pride that the undercover agent trusted him enough to set him on a course on uncharted waters. He would be discreet and careful. Ezra worried constantly if he had made a mistake of asking so much from such a green agent. Then again JD would have rose to the challenge and embraced it with the same enthusiasm as Shawn. There was one important difference Ezra found himself realizing once he returned home, to Burkhardt’s house. JD had Buck and the others to watch his back. Shawn could only rely on Ezra.

The hope of Chris coming to his aid slowly fizzled with the passage of time. It soon became apparent that Larabee had cut all ties with the southern agent and set him a drift, just like Palamon. The thought still sent physical pangs of pain through Standish but they too had begun to fade.

Henry Burkhardt was so much like Chris in his simplicity that it was uncanny. Burkhardt took the world head on, backed down from no one but took the time to enjoy the day. Henry had a love for fly fishing much as Larabee treasured his horses. Burkhardt included Ezra in these activities teaching the young man the ways of tying a knot. Henry had much the same temper of Chris and Standish with a simple remark could inflame the older man. He found pleasure in challenging Henry as much has he had enjoyed riling Chris.

For three weeks Ezra Standish nearly forgot he was an undercover ATF agent. Those twenty-one days he was a little brother learning the joys of fly fishing, home cooked meals and the pleasure of security wrought on by family. A friendly pat on the back or an invitation to join to Andre and Terry in driveway basket ball hammered home a strange sense of belonging. A feeling Ezra did not want to give up readily.

Burkhardt had kept his knowledge of the undercover agents true occupation to himself. Instead he took Ezra in as a younger brother. The age difference only heightened the loss of Patrick Conner. The ATF agent and arms dealer could be found playing cards into the early morning hours, sharing tumblers of brandy and matching intellectual wits. Even more rewarding were the little things Henry taught the southern man. The simple pleasure of Macaroni and Cheese from a box with a Coke. A meal the southerner would have turned away. Henry would laugh and admonish the younger man, “It’s the simple things in life one must enjoy to appreciate life.” For three weeks Ezra’s life floated above the cesspool of despair Hawkins tried to drag him through.

For three weeks Henry Burkhardt relived Patrick Conner’s life through Ezra Standish.

Those twenty-one days soon came crashing to an end.


For three weeks Chris Larabee and his team tore through the halls of the Federal building in Denver. Ryan Kelly and his team joined the effort. The magnificent Seven had taken a serious blow. One of their own was missing with no explanation, no hint as to why. Phone calls were made and favors call in, desperate plays for information were carried out. The Denver Agency became menacingly charged.

Though they had not successfully ruled out kidnapping or foul play of the criminal type,it started to fall down on the list of possibilities. Standish had left a forwarding address. New York ATF. When they had contacted the Eastern office they found he had been TDY’d a permanent transfer was pending.

Chris Larabee became a frightening picture of a man gone mad. Projectiles whistled through the air crashing off his office walls. Profanity and black oaths vibrated around the office. Dry wall would need replacing and picture frames remolded. One of his agents had been scooped up from under his nose. Stolen away, possibly permanently? No, not one of his men, Chris would fight to keep his team together.

Kelly Ryan took the reins on that dilemma and started to untangle, undo the paper trail of a transfer.

Larabee hit stone walls for the first time in his career. New York told him it was ‘Need to know basis”. Need to know? Chris became infuriated. He was not authorized to know the location of his agent? Deep cover? What the hell did that mean? Even undercover Ezra always had a life line. Chris always had away to pull his man out if necessary. Who was watching Standish’s back if his team was in Denver? The incompetent souls in New York who kept denying Chris information on his agent?

What kind of games was their parent agency playing? What did the ATF hope to gain by sending a man undercover without the benefit of his own team backing him. Was New York stalling?

What was going on? Would Standish turn up dead somewhere? Would he just walk away?

Did Ezra just get tired of working? Not hardly, no one believed it. “Deep undercover?” “Need to know?” Why had Ezra not found away to contact them?

The sudden hole in the team began to drag them down. Tempers flared, conversations became biting remarks. Chris strode through the office like a wounded predator, striking at anything that encroached his space.

Ezra did not run out on them. He knew that, they all did, somewhere deep down inside they all knew Standish had not turned his back on them. He had a home here and friends.

The seven lived in a type of symbiosis. To survive they needed all seven. One was missing from their ranks. The group turned on the world, everyone a suspect, everyone to blame, no one to accuse. With hackles raised and stiff legged posturing of angered wolves the remnants of team seven raged through the days. The whole Denver Agency was on the prowl.

One of the pack had been snatched up without a clue. No one was willing to accept it, least of all team seven.

JD buried himself in his computer tracking down electronic leads much like Vin tracked a mountain lion.

Buck and Josiah followed a paper trail that spiraled into dead ends.

Tanner delved into areas of his past he thought he had laid to rest and buried. His bounty hunter acquaintances pulled up empty handed. A little clandestine activity into the postoffice rewarded the team with the forward. The simple knowledge put a whole new twist on the disappearance.

Jackson stewed while searching through Standish’s belongings for some kind of hint. What motivated the man that had disappeared? What was the driving force behind the mysterious disappearance.

Team 8 shadowed their counterparts offering tentative suggestions, making their own inquiries. Offering support when the need presented itself. They ran interference when unsuspecting potential victims crossed to close to one of the seven.

At the close of twenty-one days they received their first big break.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra Standish looked at the message again. McDermit wanted to meet with him. He had already met with the kid yesterday. Still no word from Larabee. Shawn had uncovered a questionable background on Hawkins but nothing to clearly link him to Tedeschi. Standish grit his teeth he wanted to act on those dark innuendo’s but without proof he would be no different than the callous souls that marked himself as corrupt.

He told Shawn to keep digging, to watch his back, and whatever he did do not trust anyone. There was a dark rip current tearing through the heart of this case just waiting to take down victims. Standish would be damned if he was pulled under and he would protect Shawn the best he could.

Both McDermit and Standish tried to reach Larabee. No answer. Ezra did not want to believe that Chris had abandoned him but with no response he could not deny the growing sense of loss.

Standish quietly slipped out of the house. He did not want to lie to Henry, no readily than he would lie to Chris. Without a word Ezra slipped into the night heading for the warehouse district of New York’s ocean bound shipping community. Standish did not like the feel of it. He felt himself bristle with fear and apprehension. This did not sit right.

Ezra paid the cabby walking the last three blocks to the designated meeting place. Why here? What did McDermit find that made him seek such an isolated spot. Every instinct in Ezra’s body told him to turn around, go back to Henry’s place. Go home.

Shawn thought he found something important. Ezra owed him as much to hear him out. The kid had placed himself in great jeopardy by backing the southerner. Standish figured he would admonish the youngster about his poor choice of meeting places when they got face to face. This was insanity.

Ezra strode confidently under a streetlight. Moisture hung in the air and draped like a physical entity over everything. The smell of fish filled the air. Muddy puddles dotted the large paved loading docks. Water lapped gently against the pier. Pilons were decorated with the timeless digestive remains of an infinite number of seagulls and other ocean faring scavengers.

Standish marched on, his leather wing tips echoing hollowly in the oppressive night. Yes, when he got his hands on the kid he would strangle him for choosing such an a foolish place. This was the stuff of spy novels and intrigue not real life risks faced by law enforcement agents. Damn McDermit was living a spy novel, to much like JD, Standish mused.

The undercover agent pulled his long tailored coat tighter around himself. The sea breeze was wet and carried a chill all it’s own. It did nothing but add to the growing unease that coiled in his gut. Instinct told him to turn around, walk away.

He owed McDermit. He needed to protect Shawn and teach him. The kid had potential. He had Dunne’s spirit and enthusiasm just a little more jaded.

Ezra rounded the last set of shipping crates and entered an open floor. Shawn was already there.
Standish felt immediate relief. The kid was alright.

“Kid,” Standish drawled out. It had become the name Ezra stuck to the agent. McDermit bristled the first time but since had come to accept it.

Anyone else and Shawn figured he would knock their teeth out. Coming from the Redneck it sounded affectionate and almost protective. He would learn alot from this hillbilly.

“Red,” Shawn returned. ‘Red’ short for Redneck. McDermit had to explain on their first meeting. It did not anger the older agent as much as Shawn thought. Good, ‘Red’ had a sense of humor.

“What’s so important that you’ve dragged me out so late at night and to this God forsaken place?” Ezra drawled on ignoring his contact and peering around the incredibly large warehouse. To many places to hide, to many places someone could squirrel away and observe them.

“Me?” Shawn raised his voice slightly indignant. It was the first time in a week he actually had plans with his girlfriend and had to dust her off to come here.

Ezra’s green eyes suddenly widened in alarm, “You did not send me the note?”

McDermit was about to utter off a wise ass comment when a rifle shot cracked through the area.

Standish was knocked off his feet by the sudden weight of the Kid. Both men crashed to the cement floor. Ezra quickly wiggled out from the listless form and struggled to a squatting position trying to offer some protection to the younger agent. He searched vainly for any hint of the shooter. Nothing.

He took a furtive glance down at the kid. The left side of his chest held a gaping hole the size of an adult thumb. Blood pumped from it like a running hose with no nozzle. Light blue eyes stared lifelessly at the two story metal rafter ceiling.

Shawn McDermit fifth and youngest son of Carolynne and Liam McDermit was dead before the shot was ever heard.

Standish reacted on instinct. Fight of flight. Maude had taught him flight, to protect her only son. Chris had instilled fight, to protect his team. Ezra fought.

He leaned stiff armed over the wound trying to staunch the endless flow. “Hang on Shawn,son of a bitch hang on kid, don’t you die on me now JD! Don’t you stop fighting you son of a bitch,don’t you dare!” Ezra whispered desperately, peering left and right trying to find help where none was to be found. Blood bubbled persistently around the applied pressure. Standish quietly repeated his orders, praying the corpse would listen.

+ + + + + + +

Andre Mancini watched the two agents in the shadow of the crates. ‘What the hell were these two thinking meeting out here?’ Mancini cursed inwardly, ‘did they want to get themselves killed?’ Andre saw the sudden change in stance in the Southerner. Something was wrong. A shot whistled out. McDermit was flung forward like a convulsing marionette. Both agents crashed to the floor.

Andre hesitated only a fraction of second, waiting for Standish to move. ThankGod he was still alive. The crazy SOB was trying to revive McDermit. Even from this distance Mancini could see the large amount of pooling coagulating blood. The young contact was obviously dead. Obvious to anyone but the southern man trying to ebb the defiant tide of death.

Mancini ran forward Sig in hand. He grabbed Standish by the upper arm hauling the smaller man brutally from the fallen agent.

“Noo!” Ezra screamed trying to wrestle free, trying to get back to Shawn, hoping to save JD.

Mancini tightened his grip dragging his friend with him.

Standish fought him. He would not leave his charge alone. Larabee would never leave, Chris would die rather than desert one of his men.

“Come’n we’ve got to go!” Mancini shouted articulating each word, trying to break through the desperation that ensnared the southern man.

“No!” Ezra stated fiercely. Chris would never leave him to die alone. Ezra would not leave JD, no, he corrected himself, Shawn. He tried to wrench his arm free again.

Without a second thought, Andre snapped out a meaty solid jab. His squared mutely knuckled fist connected heavily with Ezra’s jaw. Standish’s head was snapped around to the right. His knees buckled as he collapsed toward the wet pavement. Mancini quickly changed position and scooped up the dead weight in a fire man’s carry across both shoulders. He trotted the best he could toward the waiting car.

He hoped Henry had a plan.

+ + + + + + +

Paul Tedeschi stared at the grinning man beside him. Tedeschi had met snakes before but until now he had never felt such loathing for another human being. Samuel Hawkins lay beside him with a .308 rifle in his hand. A small whisp of smoke still waifed from the barrel. Below them about two hundred yards away one ATF agent lay dead another fought desperately to stave off a death that had already settled. A promising future had just been brutality set asunder. Paul understood the necessity of the action but despised the man who squeezed the trigger.

Hawkins was suppose to be the kid’s leader, his confidant. Instead he was his murderer. Not only that in a few minutes the older ATF agent would ruin the reputation of the dead young man. It was not enough he destroyed a young life and tore at the hearts of the family left behind. Hawkins would rip any dignity or pride the family might have felt for their fallen member.

Paul Tedeschi had been sent by his father. Michael Tedeschi was a powerful man. Men fell before him and did his bidding without question. The sons were no different. They too stood in awe of their sire. Michael treated his sons fairly but made them climb the ladder of the business. They were not granted elevated positions in the family corporation because of birth rite. Each son started at the bottom and clawed their way upward. Each son struggled through school each earned their college degrees followed by MBA’s. They were to run a complicated far reaching arms business. Guns incorporated was not as farfetched as it sounded.

Paul accompanied this slithering fool because his father asked it of him.

The Tedeschi Family was not made of fools. Their success and ruthlessness proved it time and time again. The arms dealer was fair in an alternate translation of the word. He dealt kindly with his people and harshly with those who crossed him. Michael Tedeschi knew instinctively who to trust and who not to trust. The father recognized a similar trait in his middle son, Paul. With this quiet knowledge the Patriach sent his middle child to accompany the faithless monster that now held the murder weapon.

Paul did not like or trust Hawkins. For the proper price the ATF agent would turn on anyone. His loyalty went to the highest bidder. The Tedeschi’s used the monster for the simple fact that they needed someone on the inside of the ATF organization.

“Quit screwing around,” Tedeschi hissed softly, “take out the other one.” Paul would recommend to his father to ‘dispose’ of this fetid piece of flesh, when this sorrid deal was done. Though Shawn McDermit was just an ATF agent he deserved better than the likes of Hawkins. His family should have the right of revenge.

Samual Hawkins narrowed his small eyes back down the gun barrel putting the cross hairs on the Standish’s left arm pit. He slowly started to depress the trigger. Suddenly the target was yanked out of the line of site.

“Mancini,” Tedeschi whispered out hoarsely, “son of a bitch.” With Mancini in the area that could only mean that Guidino or maybe one of the others lurked about under the cover of night.

“Lets git out of here,” Paul uttered under his breath. He crawled away backward keeping himself close to the crate surface.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra heard someone talking. Not talking to him but someone else he could not hear. Someone was on a phone. Had Chris called him? No, Larabee had tossed him adrift like trash off a cruise liner.

It was Mancini’s voice. They were in a car. The sudden realization hit him, Shawn! Ezra bolted upright in the passenger seat. The seat belt cinched down on him preventing excess movement.
Standish still groggy fought with the belt that confined him. He had to get back to McDermit help the kid. Oh God so much blood.

“Geezus, kid sit still,” Mancini tersely commanded. He weaved the car down one way streets and narrow alleys heading out of town toward the incinerator. Andre laid a beefy arm across the struggling man beside him.

The sudden added restraint forced Standish to squirm more. His body began to respond readily to commands and soon Mancini had a full fledge fight on his hands.

“Gawd Damnit kid,” Mancini bit out in frustration. He swung the car over to a soft shoulder throwing it into park. In irritation born from frustration and an over load of adrenaline he reached over and grabbed the southerner by the front of his bloodied suit coat and shirt.

“Knock it off!” He hollered in the confines of the car. He shook the smaller man snapping his head back and forth on a tense neck.

“Git your hands off me,” Ezra shouted back. He had to get back to Shawn. He had to help the kid, save JD. It was his fault McDermit fell to a sniper’s bullet.

“You can’t help’m he’s dead,” Mancini pointed out. He knew all to well what the southerner was going through. In his line of work the body guard had lost many associates and friends.

“No he’s not,” Standish continued to struggle against the man that held him and the seatbelt.

Andre had lost his patience, Guidino was blessed with that virtue not Mancini. The body guard lashed out with another solid punch. Fist connected to jaw the dark brown head snapped back against the window and then rested on his blood stained chest.

“Sorry kid, its for your own good,” Mancini muttered pulling back onto the road heading once again toward the incinerator.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra woke to someone pulling his shirt off. His bare shoulder sat on cold concrete. A strange burning odor offended his sense of smell. His back felt cold yet heat waifed over him. His shoes were then yanked off followed by his socks. He moved a foot sluggishly, rolled his head and opened his eyes. Standish tried to focus on a dancing light. Someone was throwing something into the monstrous flames. Fire. Camping? Someone touched his belt. He jerked at the movement brushing his hands at whatever tugged at him.

Mancini bit back a chuckle. Last time he had to do this for Guidino, the big lug snapped awake the minute his belt was touched. Andre had a hell of a fight on his hands before he could convince Terry that everything was alright. Standish seemed to fall into the same mold.

Andre wanted to avoid another fight, besides the kid already took two solid blows to the jaw. A third would only hurt him.

“Easy kid,” Mancini intoned gently. He watched the green eyes flutter open and stare owlishly at the flame of the incinerator. “We got to git these bloody clothes off ya,” the body guard explained quietly. The humor in his voice sounded hollow in the face of the recent death.

Mancini pulled steadily on the pant legs sliding them off the groggy man. Standish immediately sat up his eyes wild. Andre sighed. Why were things never easy? Andre came forward and laid two massive hands on the younger man’s bare shoulders, “ ‘Ey Ezra,” He commanded, “Ezra!” he shouted until the green eyes landed on him. The pupils were equal just sluggish.

“We got to git rid of these bloody clothes,” Mancini repeated again. He waited. No reaction. Instead the southerner just stared at him.

“Shawn?” He mumbled out.

“No kid, he didn’t make it,” Mancini added softly trying to land the news gently, “come’n kid lets git you cleaned up and back home.” Andre with some ‘help’ from Standish managed to strip off the rest of the blood stained clothing and tossed them into the consuming flames.

Mancini pulled a change of clothes from the trunk helping the unsteady nude form into a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. He guided the barefoot agent back into the car. They drove the hour and a half back to Burkhardt’s home in silence.

Henry had a plan. Mancini completed his role, he got Ezra home safely. Guidino was fulfilling his part. Others were at the warehouse erasing any evidence of a second man. For all intents and purposes Special Agent Shawn McDermit died alone.


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