Chris held his ground standing squarely infront of the loaded handgun. Ezra kept his index finger along the side of the barrel but the steadfast grip and set jaw told Chris all he needed to know. Standish did not think he had anything left to lose. Larabee was quite familiar with that feeling.

Henry Burkhardt, the man who in just a few short weeks became a surrogate brother to the agent, was dead. Team seven had tossed him out, Denver had become as cold and dead as a deciduous tree in winter time. New York offered him nothing. Ezra Standish was fighting for a reason not to kill the man in front of him. The man Ezra believed Henry to be after just a few weeks.

Ezra narrowed his drying green eyes. The grief he had expressed so openly had found a desirable outlet. The sorrowful loss of Henry manifested itself into a self destructive hate.

“I tried contacting you,” Standish ground out between clenched teeth, “you never answered.”

“Ezra they were blocking your calls,” Chris explained. “Your e-mails never made it out of your computer, the phones were illegally tapped they disconnected you every time you tried to reach us,” Larabee implored trying desperately to reach the man that was slipping through his fingertips.

They had finally found Standish, finally able to physically contact him and now he was falling away from them.

Larabee watched the paling features of the undercover agent. The gun wavered. Either the explanation was sinking in or the continued blood loss was making itself known. Large red droplets hung from the middle finger of his left hand and dripped to the ground. They dripped in rapid succession. As the two men stood there and Standish’s anger grew the drip became a steady stream. He would not last much longer.

Chris hoped the southerner would let them reach him in time.

“You transferred me,” he shot out quietly. He felt dizzy, light headed, his stomach hurt. Larabee seemed to shimmy in and out of focus.

“No Ez, I didn’t,” Chris said quietly stepping forward. Ezra had begun to weave in circular motions. Sweat dotted his face and forehead. “Hawkins knew I was out of town with Vin, he took advantage of it,” Larabee carefully closed the distance, “that’s why he had you leave with such short notice.” Chris placed his hand on the top of the reflective silver gun barrel and slowly angled it down and to the right.

Standish let his arm get redirected. The hand gun suddenly tripled in weight. He felt tired rundown. Chris was still talking to him. The room began to spin and tilt, shades of grey descended down upon him. Roaring filled his ears, he could see Larabee’s lips move but could not make out what was being said.

Larabee easily slipped the gun out of the slack hand. Without looking behind himself he handed the blood stain piece to Vin. Chris kept talking trying to clarify the misconceptions that had plagued them from the beginning. He noticed the green eyes fight to focus then the sudden imbalance. The southerner tried to turn away from them.

Standish’s knees buckled his clenched jaw went slack as he started to melt toward the concrete floor.

Chris grabbed his agent easing his burden gently to the ground. Larabee held Standish close to his chest wrapping a powerful arm around the undercover agent’s chest, mimicking Ezra’s earlier actions with Henry.

“Easy Ez, I’ve got ya,” Chris murmured softly pinning the smaller man to his chest. He eased Ezra’s head under his chin and held him still. “I’ve got ya Ez, you aren’t goin’ anywhere without us,” Larabee repeated over and over.

“You never responded,’” the mumbled southern drawl waived up dejectedly.

“I know Ez, I know,” Larabee responded gripping his agent tighter to his chest doing his best to offer comfort and security.

Nathan ran to meet the EMT’s. He directed them over to the crumpled forms of his teammates.

The NewYork EMTs were used to unruly crowds and over protective parents, they were accustom to working in gang owned streets and under gun fire. They had been in burning buildings and cars, worked hanging from bridges and buildings. There was very little in this world that could frightened a seasoned NewYork based EMT. So when they tried to extract the unconscious burden from the protective agent, they were not worried.

The warning glare from Chris Larabee froze their blood.

Josiah recognized his time to step forward, “Brother you have to let go,” Sanchez did not bother trying to touch or manipulate the grasp Larabee had on Standish. Chris was a formidable force to reckon with when one of his needed protection. He could be a rabid dog when pushed.

Larabee’s hazel eyes found Josiah’s. There was truth in the statement. Larabee relinquished his grip and allowed Josiah to haul him to his feet.

The emergency personnel recognized their chance and quickly went to work. IVs were established, pressure bandages were taped in place and short communication with the hospital started. They lifted the bloody unconscious victim onto the gurney and wheeled him into the ambulance.

The EMTs normally did not allow anyone to ride in the back of the ambulance with the patient. Chris Larabee became the first. He set many precedents that day.

Buck shoved JD and the others into action as the ambulance pulled away sirens screeching. Larabee of course rode with his downed agent. Wilmington turned and faced the carnage.

Henry Burkhardt’s bloodied body was already being loaded carelessly into the black heavy duty plastic body bags. The coroners officers had been privy to death so many times that the mind worked on rote maneuvers. No sorrowful emotions graced their features. They were a death squad of sorts, body collectors. ‘Bring out your dead’ rang so clearly in Buck’s mind. At one time reciting the line from the Monty Python movie brought a chuckle to his voice. Not today, today death hit one of his family hard. A physical blow that made a bullet wound pale in comparison. An IV, maybe some surgery a little rest and relaxation and the wound would heal, the pain deadened by the magical white pills doctors like to shove at you. The pain of the older man’s death would not be numbed so easily, the empty hollowness created by the violent loss of a friend would not fade behind the dull mask of painkillers. The soul had a hole wrenched in it. Time would only deaden the pain, take the sharp stringent sting out of it but the loss would forever linger. Buck silently prayed for Standish.


“Ok boy’s lets get this mess cleaned up,” Wilmington said with the tired confidence of a law officer who had been involved in such things to many times.

Vin had disappeared to find the sniper. Tanner had taken a few shots in the direction of the shootist but did not get a good look of the assailant. When the EMT’s had arrived and Sanchez quietly diffused Larabee’s fight Tanner focused his frustration on the individual responsible for the sudden violent rift in their friend.

Nathan spoke with the local NYPD and deflected the sufficiently cowed NY based ATF agents. There was animosity between the two groups. Anyone entering the large acre size warehouse could feel it no matter what entrance they used. Electricity hung in the air a storm brewing just waiting for the right conditions to settle heavily in place. Team seven set about their tasks, ignoring the others.

Only Nathan acted as a mediator. They did after all need the resources of New York to get their job done. Jackson would stand amongst the anger and mistrust wade through the dirty looks and ignore the biting remarks. If all went well in a few days the seven would be home again in Denver. All would not be well but they would be heading in the right direction. Jackson hoped Chris could reach Ezra to fix the suspected wrong doings as easily as the surgeon who would have to repair the physical damage. The EMT knew Larabee had the tougher job he stood to lose more, his battle would be more desperate. Standish had lost a brother of sorts. The surgeon only had to retrieve a chunk of lead.

Vin returned triumphantly carrying a rifle. The stock and chamber had been damaged by rifle slugs from the appearance of it. Damn, Josiah mused, Vin was a hell of a shot.

“Found this up over there,” Tanner drawled out as the others drew to him like ball bearings to a magnet. He held up the high powered rifle.

“Ey!” Buck yelled to the crime scene boys. The three men gazed over at the large man with some trepidation. The stories of the events at the NY ATF office circled like wild fire around the neighboring precents. The Denver boys were a little more ‘cowboy’ than cops. The “Hanging” Judge Travis was no better. How did a Federal Judge get mixed up in all this no one knew. But when “Judge Roy Bean” Travis stepped into the arena and backed the Denver Team many opponents backed out. The Judge had no official duty with the ATF. He carried no direct jurisdiction within the organization, but Judge Travis was not a man to be trifled with and his long reach could make many careers take a decidedly bumpy road.

So when the tall Midwestern Wilmington yelled for attention,,he got it. “You finish what your doing there and get up there and dust for prints,” his voice was not condescending, he was not dictatorial. He did not have to be, the crime scene personnel knew they had better do it. The Denver based team tended to get a little physical. Without argument the three men picked up their equipment and headed for the second story rafters that held a collection of stored crates. Tanner led the way.

JD hefted the high powered rifle. It had a spotting scope, not the kind for basic hunting, this was much more elaborate. Dunne recognized the equipment, it came from ATF stores. There was a cancer in NY too. They all knew it. McDermit had fallen to it. Someone tried to blame Ezra rumors floated and soared. No matter how many men Josiah tossed through windows or how man skull’s Vin banged off tables the rumors would stay.

Dunne realized for the first time why Ezra left without fighting. Sure he heard the excuses from the wires and they sounded hollow. Substance suddenly found its way into those few words. One cannot fight rumor. Once they start they mark you for life. There is always someone out there willing to listen offer their opinion and judge you. History repeated itself, or so Standish thought. JD realized Ezra had fought Alanta, depended on friends to back him up friends like Palamon. In the end the more he fought the more tangled he became until finally he went down struggling losing everything that ever mattered to him.

JD ground his teeth his anger rising to new heights. Standish tucked his tail and left because he thought fighting would benefit no one. He left because he thought the rumors would indelibly mark him. Rumors existed in NY. Why couldn’t the stupid southerner see that running to a new place only afforded him a new environment to fall prey to old rumors.

McDermit was just a kid. No, JD corrected, McDermit was an agent that fell to the wrong people and got killed. Standish fell blame. Dunne knew Chris and the others and himself would not go down without a fight. If Standish was going to fall to the wrath of dark whisperings then Team 7 would follow him through the gates of hell watching his back the whole way. JD hoped Chris would reach the undercover agent in time. Pull him back from the pain that threatened to engulf him. If not, JD had every intentions of using Ezra’s weakened state to kick his southern ass and knock some sense into him.

Dunne handed the weapon to an officer. Prints would be taken slugs analyzed and Standish would be off the hook. JD knew this to be true. Knew that with the very essence of his fiber that this gun killed McDermit, just as it had killed Burkhardt, as it had almost killed Ezra. The individual squeezing the trigger would not get away. Justice would prevail. JD believed in the system and due process. It was easy with people like Chris Larabee and Judge Travis on your side.

+ + + + + + +

Chris sat quietly in the recovery room. Standish slept flat on his back his left arm immobilized diagonally across his chest. The EKG pads were stuck to his chest under the paper thin hospital gown. The light blue nondescript pattern of the gown would horrify the undercover agent. There was not class in the design of such inadequate ‘clothing’. An oxygen mask covered his nose and an IV fed his right hand. He had returned to the recovery room only a few minutes ago. The surgeon had explained the bullet caused no major damage, broken ribs, muscle damage and some blood vessels needed repairing, blood loss and shock were the most troublesome obstacles at the moment. Larabee only nodded, the doctor could only see the physical part of the damage.

When Larabee had requested to sit with his agent he was met with the same beaurocratic BS about procedure. The dragon smoldering just below his calm facade had begun to boil. The surgeon recognized this but more importantly the young MD recognized the two muscle men that stood in the entrance of the waiting room. Andre and Terry. From the desolate loss on their faces the young doctor deduced there was more to this situation than a bust gone bad.

The surgeon called a nurse over and had her lead Agent Larabee to his friend.

The surgeon stayed behind. Andre and Terry were as white as bleached laundry. For all their strength both men looked ready to collapse. Henry.

Dr. Tom Fogle stepped forward. He knew the look, had seen it so many times in his line of work had actually given it to the surviving members of families. The expression could say so much and stop the needless use of inadequate words. Dr. Fogle stepped forward and stopped. He did not want to be any closer. Death stood on the lips of his two friends. He did not want to hear what he had told so many others in his career.

Terry stepped forward, “Tom,” He reached out his massive callused hand to the younger man. A little older than Standish and slightly taller, but Henry had touched this young man’s life and influenced it in ways Fogle could not imagine. Tom Fogle loved Henry Burkhardt as much as Terry and Andre. Tom Fogle owed his education to the older man who fought terminal cancer with dignified grace and tenacity. Terry understood the pain, the actual revulsion that crossed the clean worry lined features.

“No,” Tom whispered out. He just came out of surgery. He just saved another man’s life. A man he did not know. Why could he not be allowed to save the life of the man who guided him through this life.

“Henry’s gone, Tom,” Terry said gently. He watched the doctor shake his head in denial. The steady hands worked nervously on the ties of his scrubs.

“How’s he doin’?” Andre asked. Burkhardt died saving the agent he prayed his boss’s life was not sacrificed in vain.

Fogle shook his head as if trying to clear it of the voices that screamed in denial. He stared at Andre for a moment and finally answered, “He’s gonna be fine, just blood loss and few busted ribs.” A thought crossed his mind. The doctors faced clouded with sudden vehemence, “he didn’t...” He never finished the statement.

Terry recognized the question right away, “No, no Tom, Henry died saving his life.” The body guard did not want misunderstanding to bloom between the two people Burkhardt had tried to reach and help. There were few things Burkhardt did in his younger life that could have been called charitable and most were reprehensible, but in the end Henry tried rectify his mistakes.

+ + + + + + +

Chris watched as his agent stirred. Standish brushed mindlessly at the oxygen mask pushing it askew on his wrinkling features. “Leave it alone Ez,” Larabee softly intoned knowing his words would not reach the waking mind. Chris leaned over and adjusted the mask properly. Standish settled down again.

+ + + + + + +

Buck herded the others into the NYPD van. They had been graciously offered a ride to the hospital without having to ask. Wilmington figured the cops were trying to avoid another traffic jam. The team was thankful for the proffered ride and readily accepted it. None of them every really got a handle on communicating with the taxi drivers.

The gun had been shuttled off to the lab. The warehouse was dusted, especially the areas Vin pointed out. Tedeschi and his cohorts had been unceremoniously cuffed and tossed into patrol cars. It seemed NewYorkers did not endear themselves to gun runners. Buck wished one of the Tedeschi’s would resist arrest it would allow some of the New York guys to blow off some steam. But now in the days of litigation and lawyers such techniques were frowned upon. Buck sighed deeply sometimes he longed for days of an eye for an eye. Sure it might leave you blind but sometimes it was preferable to stewing idly.

Tanner led the group through the pneumatic doors. The five men entered like a storm. They would not be kept from the rest of their team again. They had fought to long and hard to be put off again. They wanted to be next to Larabee and wanted to be the first sight Standish saw when he opened his eyes. The super models and prank strippers could wait.

Vin had lost all his soft Texan shyness when he approached the reception desk. He had had his fill of NY, he had had it with the abundance of people, the lack of personnel space and the down right callousness of city dwellers. “Where’s Ezra?” He asked direct and to the point. A simple question deserves a simple answer.

The receptionist was tired of being pushed around. She was tired of everyone thinking she held the answers to all of lifes questions, she was especially fed up with people expressing their frustrations and worries at her. She did not get paid enough to put up with the surly attitude of every two bit punk that stood before her Formica counter.

She cocked an unamused eyebrow, “He have a last name?” Her accent added to her wise sneer. She had been behind this counter facing that same computer for the past eight and a half hours. In fifteen minutes the hospital community could go to hell. Her shift would be over and she was going home.

“Standish, Ezra Standish,” Vin returned with ire. His Texan drawl was no match for the biting ice of a New York accent but New York had never tangled with this riled Texan.

Nathan read the body language felt the tension and cutting remarks and quickly stepped forward.
He smiled he most congenial smile, offering empathetic understanding and wondered how someone could wake up everyday and come to do this kind of job. No wonder there were gun laws.

“He’s a gun shot victim came in a few hours ago,” He clarified hoping she could empathize with their plight.

Her reaction or lack there of only reinforced Jacksons previous read on her occupation.

“Room 407, next building over,” she intoned a might bored with the whole proceedings. Tonight she would go to her small brick apartment, feed her cat, watch some television and try to finish her term paper. Earning her associates degree was getting to be a real trial.


Chris sat forward resting his forearms on his knees when he watched the green eyes flutter open. Larabee waited patiently as the eyes opened and closed repeadily. He recognized the dazed expression the disorientation and tried to comfort those fears the only way he knew how.

“Ezra?” He spoke softly getting to his feet. His muscles were stiff and sore from sitting. He had followed the gurney up from the recovery room to here. A private room, well almost, the other bed was empty. Chris held onto the cold bed railing watching as the half hooded eyes found him and settled on him.

A slow half smirk weakly touched the southerners face, “Henry?” His voice was soft confident that the older man stood over him offering him some respite from whatever ailed him.

“No Ez, its me Chris,” Larabee responded trying to disguise the wrenching in his gut. His weak attempt at a smile fell terribly short.

“Henry?” Again the same name but the question was truly an inquiry. Larabee recognized it. He understood that Standish had regained enough of his senses to ask about the old man that had died saving his life.

“He’s gone Ez,” Larabee answered quietly. He made a motion to reach out to his agent but stopped himself. Standish would not recognize the effort or the touch. Instead he gripped the bars tighter infrustration.

A lone tear slid down from the corner of Standish’s eye. He turned his gaze up to the ceiling unaware of the tiny salt water display of remorse. Ezra slowly turned his head to his left side and saw Chris still standing there looking down at him. Ezra closed his eyes allowing another tear to escape. Dick Palamon had done the same thing.

Henry’s words came back to him, ‘Something’s are worth the fight if not for anything else but the outside chance you might win.’ Ezra watched Chris for a bit. The man seemed truly concerned but then so did Palamon.

Standish heeded Burkhardt’s advice. He would offer up one last morsel of defense, “I never crossed the line.”

Chris chuckled, “Never thought you did,” Larabee intoned with confidence. He wondered if it penetrated the sluggish mind.

“Palamon said the same thing,” Ezra returned weakly, the fight had left him. He would not argue he would not battle these people. It hurt just to damn much.

Larabee’s expression become somber. He silently wished he could kill Palamon again. The bastard did more damage than any bullet. Chris reached out and this time squeezed the trapped left forearm. The pressure made Standish open his eyes and refocus on Larabee.

“I’m not Palamon,” Chris’s authoritative voice cut through the drugs and mistrust for a moment. The green eyes seemed to clear for a brief moment. His only response was a nod in agreement then Standish drifted off yet again.

+ + + + + + +

JD had had it. He had his fill of rumors, he had reached his tolerance for blind cruel remarks. He would no longer turn the other cheek. Dunne did something that surprised the men he had become associated.

The large security guard that loomed near the elevators did not bother editing his remarks. He had heard that a dirty cop had been shot. It did not matter that the information came from an unreliable source. It was juicy tidbit of information and it helped pass the hours. It gave him time to mull over the fact, that though he was not an officer of the law he was at least held himself above those who crossed the law. Sure he dabbled in side betting and the occasional illegal gaming that was known to occur in New York but at least he was not tainted. He never really crossed the line, not like the dumb sap upstairs recovering from a gunshot wound.

He made the mistake of uttering his opinion to the five men that entered the elevator. The security guard noted their faces and their sizes’ especially the bigger men. The long haired blue eyed one was probably a flower child or a druggy from his long hair and fringed leather jacket. The young one looked to small, unthreatening to give much notice too.

When a body flew from the closing elevator door at the poorly informed mutterings of the security officer. The officer realized he took note of the wrong men.

JD Dunne hurled himself from the elevator like a charging bull from the chute. The others simply stepped out of the small car out of curiosity. The man in blue never stood a chance. Dunne was tornado of activity. “You rotten Son of a Bitch!” Dunne hollered over the surprised yelps.

In less time it takes to take a breath, in less time takes for a lead ball to sink to the bottom of a tub, JD had the larger man on the ground and in an elbow and wrist lock. He rested his right foot squarely on the man’s cheek distorting his face and shoving the left side of his face into to the spotted tiled floor.

Buck, Vin, Josiah and Nathan leaned against various objects watching the display with amused fascination. Tanner nodded in approval. The take down went smoothly JD had retained his own balance. Vin and he had been working on that little move for a couple of weeks now and Dunne kept getting knocked off balance by the weight change. It would seem he figured out that little obstacle.

Nathan leaned against a cylindrical support beam with arms folded across his chest. The wrist lock was not bad. Jackson would have preferred it if JD braced the offending elbow against his knee but the foot to the cheek though not a terrible sound maneuver did take some of the spit and vinegar out of his opponent.

Wilmington beamed with pride. That was his best friend. JD might be small but he was spit fire when angered. Buck just wanted to hug him, but seeing the condition of the security guard he would wait for the hackles on his young friend to settle down some.

Josiah chuckled out loud, “Brother Dunne why don’t you let our wayward friend back up,” Sanchez squatted down in front of the prone man’s bleeding face, “I’m sure he has learned his lesson about listening to unsound rumors.” Though the words were said to JD, the security man who stared into the blue eyes of the squatting giant knew they were only meant for him.

“Com’n JD lets go see Ez,” Buck said easing his young friend away from the target of his anger.

Vin signaled for the elevator which chimed open instantly. JD grudgingly let go of the man that now sported the imprint of a Nike sneaker on his cheek. Dunne turned back and spit out, “Ez ain’t dirty,” His brown eyes had taken a hard edge that made Buck wonder if the kid was more like Chris than the others realized. They rode the elevator in silence listening to the drone of muffled music.

Larabee snapped his head up when the others piled into the room.

“How’s he doin’?” Buck asked. He immediately walked to the head of the bed. He faced Chris but kept his gaze downward at his obliviously sleeping friend.

Nathan had found the chart at the nurses station and rummaged through it before entering the room. Surgery went smoothly, no complications just typical antibiotics and pain killers. So far so good. The doctors did their job now the rest was up to the others and Ezra himself.

“Doc said he’s gonna be ok,” Larabee answered skirting the issue.

Josiah would not let it go so neatly, “Hows HE doing?” Sanchez emphasized.

Chris sighed, “Asked for Burkhardt when he first came too.”

“You tell him?” Tanner asked. He leaned against the window sill. The fourth floor window only offered a view of the backside of an old brick building and a dirty ally. How could people live here?

“Yeah,” Chris breathed out sitting down.

“And,” Nathan asked. Damn getting information was like trying to get Vin to stop eating candy bars.

“Nothin’ said he wasn’t dirty,” Larabee figured he had better get the whole story out before they hit him with twenty questions since none of them were willing to drop it.

“Ahh hell Chris we knew that,” Buck said with exasperation. His frustration audible for all to hear.

“I know,” Larabee answered tiredly, “I told him so.”

“But?” Jackson encouraged trying to coax the whole story from their leader, ‘I swear to Gawd I’m gonna strangle the man,’ Nathan seethed impatiently.

“But he said Palamon said the same thing,” Chris answered. This remark earned groans and sighs of anger.

They settled in for the wait.

Every time Standish opened his eyes one of the team was there, if not all of them. The first day he fluttered in and out of sleep his conscious moments just hazy memories with no real time line. Buck was telling him dirty jokes trying to make him laugh. Ezra appreciated the effort but could not seem to hold a thought in his head for very long and when the punch line hit he missed the point. Ezra smiled when he thought it was appropriate.

He remembered a security detail coming into the room, an argument erupted and then Nathan threatening to sic The Kid on them. That confused Standish and he wanted to ask but there was to much commotion.

Vin hovered near by telling him to quick sleeping so much he wanted to get home to Denver. Ezra tried to inform him that he wanted to stay awake but they kept putting things in his IV. It did not come out quite the way he hoped. The perfectly formed words in his head came out as an inarticulate grouping of sound. It made Vin furrow his brow some, “Ya best git some rest Ez, your mouth ain’t ready for yer brain jist yet,” Tanner patted his good shoulder in reassurance.

Josiah flittered in an out on that first day and night. His soft baritone voice seemed to cut through the haze. His large hands offered some comfort when they rested on his right shoulder. He gave Ezra a second blanket when the southerner tried to bury below the one that covered him. For some reason the simple gesture reminded him of Burkhardt. Ezra quietly whispered, “Henry,” his loss captured in the simple name. Sanchez rested his hand on the dark brown head of hair and whispered his apologies. Sorry for the death, sorry for the pain inflicted by the passing of Burkhardt, but more importantly sorry for not knowing how to dull the agony of the loss. Sanchez kept a paternal hand on the undercover agents head until the green eyes fluttered close and he slipped back to a dreamless sleep.

The second day Ezra woke to find Chris sitting with him. Standish lay quiet for a moment. The doctor had come in earlier checked the bandages asked him a few questions, which Ezra could not seem to recall, and then left. Standish had drifted off again.

Now he stared quietly at Larabee. The older agent sat reading an article in People Magazine. Ezra furrowed his brow, that did not seem like the kind of magazine Larabee would read. Buck or JD yes but not Chris. Then Larabee gazed up and found Standish staring at him.

Chris felt eyes watching him. He looked up and noticed Ezra scrutinizing him or his choice of literature. Larabee smiled and moved closer to the bed. His agent appeared more coherent than he did yesterday or last night. They had cut back on the sedation and pain meds allowing their patient to wake fully.

“How ya feelin’?” Chris leaned on the bed railing holding the cool metal in his tight grasp.

“Better I think?” Ezra answered hoarsely. Larabee offered him some orange juice the nurse had left for him. Standish sucked greedily from the straw. There was not enough to quench his thirst but the oral tissue quickly absorbed what little fluid it received.

There was an uncomfortable silence. Chris took more motion and time than needed to toss the empty orange juice container away. It landed in the small plastic lined trash bucket with a tinny bang.

“The others?” Ezra finally asked trying to break the uncomfortable silence.

Chris smiled relieved this would take sometime and give him an obtuse direction to enter the subject he did not want to broach, “Well it seems yesterday JD flew off the handle and took out a security guard downstairs.”

Larabee smiled at the shock that registered on the clean shaven face. That was nothing, thought Chris, wait until he finds out what happened to the ATF office.

“Security took exception to that I assume?” Standish asked managing to finagle it into a statement somehow.

“Oh yeah,” Chris confirmed, “They wanted to bring him down town press charges but...”

“Buck took exception,” Standish filled in for his leader.

Chris nodded. His smile faded some they were getting closer to the meat of the problem.
“Yeah but the Judge showed up with the Commissioner and calmed things down some,” Larabee paused and then took the leap, “he had Watkins with him.” He did not need to clarify that Watkins was head of the ATF branch here in NY.

Larabee watched as his undercover agent closed his eyes in resignation. Chris in his normal fashion took the bull by the horns and wrestled the problem in a head on fashion.

“Ezra,” Chris started getting Standish’s attention. He was going to dive into this twisted story only once.

“Hawkins arranged for your TDY, no one authorized your transfer but him,” Chris paused and continued, “he waited until I was out of town and gave you short notice, cuz he knew you would only talk to me about it.” Larabee met the gaze of his agent. Standish appeared just as angry as confused.

“He played me like a fiddle,” Ezra bit out disgusted at himself.

“All’f us,” Chris intoned not liking the self incrimination he was seeing in his friend, “Hawkins was dirty, he was leaking information to Tedeschi. He needed a scape goat. Hawkins figured with your rep. and shady background that you would be an easy mark to take the fall. He killed McDermitt, ballistics match the rifle, same one he used to shoot Burkhardt and you. Left his finger prints all over the crates and the gun.”

“Like Palamon,” Ezra said quietly, his southern drawl heavy with regret. The older agent whom Ezra had followed, much like JD did Buck, (but with more class he would like to think) had used the young southern agent as a scape goat. The betrayal of his older friend tore at him more than the rumors that ran amok in Alanta.

“Yeah,” Chris agreed, “but he did not count on us or on Burkhardt.” Larabee saw the surprise in the expression.

“Burkhardt knew you were ATF,” Chris smiled at the unadulterated shock that registered on the younger man’s face. “He sent Terry Guidino to Denver to find us.” Larabee paused and jumped into the crux of the matter, “Hawkins was blocking your phone calls, they never reached Denver, all the times you tried to e-mail me, they never left your computer. JD hacked into them here in NY. We had no idea where you were until Guidino showed up on my doorstep one night.”

Chris spoke the plain truth. Standish knew it and never expected any less from the man at his bed side. Still Henry was dead, that would not change, it would never change.

“How long have you been here?” Ezra asked. How long has the team been watching him backing him up without him knowing it.

“Long enough to know you sent the male stripper to Vin,” Chris smiled for the first time in weeks.

Standish closed his eyes and groaned, “Oh gawd you bugged the house,” the damage was done. Ezra laid his right hand across his face. Tanner would be unmerciful and JD and Buck had some payback headed his way.

“Yup had to make sure you were alright,” Larabee answered. He could just imagine Ezra was right now running through the hundreds of conversations he and Henry had, all the funny stories and simple revealing inquires. “Sorry Ez but damage control won’t work for you on this one,” Chris chuckled at the audible groan.

Ezra simply nodded and let his hand slip from his face. He stared up at Chris and wondered why he had doubted the man. Standish silently reprimanded himself for not having more faith in his team.

“Was there a security problem here the other day?” Ezra asked. He still could not quite get a grasp of yesterday.

Larabee laughed outright. Standish had to smile at the sound. There were so few things in this world that made Chris actually laugh, “Oh yeah,” He shook his head. This was one tale he did not mind delving into.

“Seems NY city hospitals have visiting hours,” Chris said. He saw his explanation fell a little short. “They tried to make Vin and Nathan leave,” Larabee clarified.

“There was resistance?” Standish asked not surprised. Those two were formidable when forced to do something they did not feel was necessary.

“Lets just say you’re getting released today,” Chris did not think NY was ready for his men and worse yet his men were Not ready for New York. It was with mutual agreement that the Denver based ATF team was not welcomed anytime soon to this bustling East port city.


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