Chronicles of Skin and Bones

by Twyla Jane

The disclaimer is and always will be I don’t own ‘em and never made a plug nickel off ‘em. Wish I did. This is the first installment in ‘The Chronicles of Skin and Bones’. This is an alternate path that follows the ending of the “A Question of Time Chronicles” sort of.  Follows There are Lambs for the Slaughter. This is a series of stories where Ezra’s a child and the remaining seven are adults. In a Modern universe where the boys are working in Chris’ and Buck’s 4C agency as private investigators, bounty hunters and body guards.

I know I just couldn’t get this idea out of my head, wondering what would have happened if things have turned out differently. So read on and be aware I’m using the Pam Ewing plot twist just because I can. 9/27/01

Shell of a Man: part one
Every fiber of his being hurt, his eyelids refused to obey the command to open even his mouth wouldn’t cooperate. He couldn’t move a muscle. His body was strangely numb and felt weighted down. The constant beeping was beginning to annoy him. Chris heard papers rustle near by. He tried opening his eyes again. The lashes fluttered for a second before he managed to keep them open. A sharp pain lanced through his skull. The vision was blurry at first but he managed to make out the person sitting next to him. Buck? His friend was reading a newspaper and didn’t notice his arrival into the waking world. The man looked a little rough around the edges, like he hadn’t slept in days

“You… look… like… shit.”

Chris managed to croak out, his throat was dry and it was sore. Wilmington was up putting an ice chip in his mouth a relieved smile suddenly broke across his face as he grabbed and pressed the buzzer pinned on the pillow.

“Still better looking than you…”

The nurse who came in to check on Larabee she took his vitals and left the room to inform the doctor of the change interrupted Buck’s sarcastic answer. Having stepped away to give the woman access he pulled the chair up close and patted Chris’ knee.

“Had me scared Old Dog…”


“He’s in pediatric I.C.U. Doctor Dunkling says he has aspiration pneumonia…”

“Gawd Buck…”

“Chris… you were in a coma for the first two days you were here and have been semi-conscious for the last three. Damn Chris I thought… never mind… I just wanted to be the one to tell you… that sick bastard Fowler was never in the same room with ya Chris. Ya gotta to believe me Ezra’s not Adam…but you keep insisting that he is. That conversation with Fowler never happened. The bastard was killed outside the warehouse, his goons confirmed this.”

“Are you sure?”

He whispered back, it seemed so real.

“They did a DNA test…”

Larabee pressed on with his eyes closed

“I want to see him…”

Buck gripped his hand and tried to reassure his friend.

“I know as soon as the Doc says its okay I’ll haul you up there myself… but seeing right now you can’t even lift your head off that pillow…”

Larabee’s doctor walked in at that moment, Chris didn’t even give the woman a chance to blink.

“I want to see Ezra Standish…”

Dr. Matthews just shook her head as she shined a light into her patient’s eyes. His pupils were slow to react, a result from the hairline fracture above his right temple. Chris had an enormously bad headache and his memory was spotty at best. At the moment all he knew was he had to see the boy himself.

“Mr. Larabee that’s not possible…”

Chris growled at the doctor as he pulled himself into a sitting position by grasping onto the bedrail.

“Whoa pard…”

Buck tried to gently restrain his friend only to have a fist weakly connect with his jaw as Chris snarled out a warning. It was enough for Wilmington to back off.

“Get the fuck outta my way…”

Larabee lurched out of bed while the Dr. Mathews buzzed for some interns. Grabbing on to the I.V. pole for support he started for the door only to be intercepted by two beefy orderlies.

“Chris calm down…”

Buck was pleading with the distraught man.

“Doc can he go see the kid? I’m sure it ain’t going to do him any good to be wrestled back into bed by these guys.”

Realizing her patient was going to put up a major fight, she saw some wisdom in Buck’s plan.

“Mr. Larabee… if I agree to this. It can only be for a few minutes and you’ll have to come back here without a fight.”


“If one of you would be kind enough to get Mr. Larabee a wheelchair…”


An exhausted and pale Chris Larabee sat in the Pediatric I.C.U. next to Ezra’s bed. He held the boy’s unresponsive hand while listening to Ezra struggle to take his next breath. The head of the bed was raised up to ease Ezra’s labored breathing. The bed was tilted as far forward as possible to ease the fluid build up in the boy’s lungs at least that what Ezra’s doctor, Dr. Dunkling had explained to him. The near drowning caused the aspiration pneumonia, Chris didn’t remember being shot but he did remember pulling the kid from the water trough. . The man was shaking as he reached out to touch the boy, taking the boy’s hand into his own.

The child’s eyes opened slightly in response to the gentle contact. Chris ran a hand through the boy’s sweat soaked hair watching the befuddled green eyes sluggishly trying to make sense of the situation eventually sliding closed again. He sighed. The oxygen mask was fogging up in time with the boy’s rapid shallow breaths. Shit… the kid was hot. He was scared as he held onto Ezra’s hand and for the first time since the death of his wife Chris Larabee prayed. He didn’t fight them when it was time to go back to his own room his was too tired. Tomorrow would be a different story.

The dawn of a new day brought a coherent Larabee back into the world. By 6 a.m. against his doctor’s orders he signed himself out of the hospital as a patient and he took up a vigil in the Pediatric Unit.

Ezra woke confused. It was difficult to move. He was in pain. It hurt to breathe. At some point someone had inserted a thin tube up his nose, he gagged a little. A quiet voice nearby told him to relax they were draining fluid from his lung.  

 Ezra temperature had peaked at a 105, but the sun rose it had dropped two degrees and he had slept restless on and off through the night, was quieter with Larabee at his side. The hospital staff finally relented and gave Chris an old set of scrubs to wear when they could not convince him to leave. It was eight o’clock in the morning when Buck found his old friend dozing in a chair along side the boy’s bed holding on to Ezra’s hand. The man’s was haggard and drawn from the strain of his own injuries and the weight brought on by serious state of Ezra’s health. Chris quietly spoke without opening his eyes.

“He’s doing a little better this morning.”

“How about you?”

Chris looked up at him for a moment.

“I don’t know how I am supposed to feel. Did they catch the rest Fowler’s cronies?”

“Yeah right after we found you… thank god for the kid otherwise…”

“I know…”

Chris knew Fowler was dead but why did he think he said what he did? Hope. He had always had a slight glimmer of hope that since they had never found a body his soon wasn’t dead. His mind had pulled a cruel trick on him. Dr. Mathews said it wasn’t that uncommon after a serious head injury to have very vivid but false memories. It hurt to know he would never see his alive again but his focus had to be on the frail figure in the bed. A first he thought someone was trying to kill Ezra but there was more to it than that otherwise they would have done that when they were snatched from the ranch.

“Chris you alright?”

Larabee shook his head before answering.

“This whole thing is twisted…”

“Anyone that would want to kill a kid…”

“No Buck there more to it than that…”

What Chris meant finally dawned on the ladies man. A small comfort was that Mitchell still had a man posted on the door. The agency had their work cut out for them.

The boy’s foggy mind refused to co-operate all he knew was he was being sat up again.  The hands. Always the hands firmly with open palm clapped against his bare skinny chest making him cough up phlegm, encouraging him to do so and to breath as deep as he could. Again the quiet voice reassured him.


Larabee was tired. There was no way he was leaving the boy for any length of time. Ezra temperature hovered at 101, down another two degrees since the morning the antibiotic combination was working, the boy slept listlessly on one side slick with sweat facing Larabee. The facemask was traded for a nasal canula. Dull green eyes opened.

“Hey… you’re awake.”

The confused eyes blinked once slowly and a trembling hand snaked up to rub the offending object from his nose.

“Leave it alone, that helps you breathe a little easier.”

Chris took a cool damp cloth and wiped sweat from the boy’s face. A tiny spark of life but Ezra didn’t have either oar in the water let alone the boat. The boy was staring at the bandage wrapped around Chris’ head and reached a shaky hand out to touch it. Larabee didn’t pull away instead leaned forward allowing the fingers to caress the bandage before being withdrawn.

 “I’m fine, a concussion and a few stitches.”


Ezra tried to speak but broke off in a painful hacking cough. Larabee pulled him closer as sat him up a little the coughing eased as Chris soothe him while he rubbed a hand lightly across his back.

“You shouldn’t try to talk. You been very ill…”

As the quiet voice reassured him he settled down and relaxed against the older man eventually drifting back to sleep.


Three days later when his fever finally broke Ezra Standish was transferred from the I.C.U. to a private room on the second floor. Chris Larabee hadn’t left his side, Ezra couldn’t remember a time when he woke and the man wasn’t there. He wasn’t sure why the man stayed but it felt oddly comforting so he never asked why he stay and he was afraid if he did Mr. Larabee would stop. Dr. Dunkling had explained earlier to him that he had aspiration pneumonia, whatever that meant, he had trouble recollecting the events of the last few days. The last thing he did remember was a desire to see the horses on the Larabee Ranch. It troubled him he couldn’t recall much of the last week and a half a few frightening hazy memories of being in a dark room but neither the doctor nor Mr. Larabee seemed concerned.

Chris had discussed the options with the others. He didn’t want any doubts about what he wanted his men to undertake. A federal agent had been assigned to the kidnapping case. Maude Standish appeared to have fallen off the known world. No trace of her could be found, all leads dead-ended at the Hilton the week she enrolled Ezra at the Pendleton School. Larabee and the others devised a plan to protect the boy after his release from the hospital.


Ezra slowly recovered eventually he was sent home in Larabee’s care. Only home wasn’t the ranch, it wasn’t safe anymore. It was decided that Chris and Vin would go into hiding with the boy to buy them some more time. Under the cover of darkness and several changes of vehicles they had arrived at the final destination. A small well stocked cabin deep in the woods of Colorado.

  Skeletons in the closet

The stars were high in the night sky as the rusted out Ford Bronco pulled up next to the small cabin. Tanner stepped out of the SUV first donning his night vision goggles made a slow circuit around the building before he went to help Chris out of the vehicle. Despite his best front Larabee was still recovering from his injuries still suffering from bouts of dizziness that was the only reason he let Vin carry Ezra inside. The boy hadn’t stirred once during the transfer from the backseat of the Ford wrapped snugly in a blanket.


Vin said in a quiet tone that wouldn’t accept an alternative. The older man quickly relented and sat down in an old battered rocking chair. Chris was carefully handed the boy, the young southerner shifted slightly nestling his head into the crook of the man’s neck before settling down. Larabee watched as Tanner set up a bed for Ezra on one of the two couches after bringing in the foam wedge pillow the boy left the hospital with, using it was a precautionary measure because of the high risk of relapse for aspiration pneumonia. He would have to be propped up while he slept. At some point Chris had drifted off only to be awakened as Vin lifted the boy up, where he watched as the lean Texan tucked in Ezra.

“Want me to tuck you in too?”

Vin drawled with a wicked grin.

“Fuck you Tanner.”

“Jist fer that I ain’t gonna tell ya a bedtime story…”

“Shut up…”


The light was beginning to filter through the small cabin, Larabee heard an odd quiet sound close by. He had to open his eyes to understand just was the soft rhythmic noise was, a deck of cards was being continuously shuffled. The aroma of coffee wafted through the air as he turned to see Ezra sitting at the kitchen table across from Vin who was nursing a cup of coffee. Chris watched the pair sit there in a companionable silence for a few moments until Tanner noticed he was awake. The shuffling stopped as he shuffled towards the kitchen.

“”Bout time you woke. Wanna a cup? Ez made it.”

The kid didn’t look like he could hold his head up let alone manage a coffee pot. An untouched mug sat in front of the boy as he loosely held the deck of cards in one hand while he rapidly blinked bleary eyes, resumed shuffling the cards before dealing out another game of solitaire. Chris over the boy’s head at Vin who shrugged his shoulders, apparently the pair had been up for a while.

“I’m gonna throw some grub on….”

Tanner pushed away from the table and started routing through the cabinets while Larabee sipped the bitter brew, watching on as cards were quietly played and laid out of the table. Ezra held the well-worn deck as he snapped down another card. The kid was intent on finishing the game paying no heed to what was going on about him only looking up when Chris laid a hand over the card he was attempting to play.

“Why don’t you put up the cards so that we can eat?”


Ezra was in a haze as he dealt out the cards. He shuddered violently when a hand touched his causing the cards he held to suddenly flutter through the air as the boy shot out of the chair. The wooden kitchen chair slammed against the wall as Ezra scrambled away quickly darting under the table and against the wall. Trying not to make the same mistake Chris crouched on the floor instead of trying to touch the boy again. Vin had seen Ezra’s reaction and hauled Chris away from the table, giving his friend a look that told him to leave the boy be, motioning for him to step outside. After a moment they did just that quietly closing the door behind them.

“What the hell was that all about?”

Larabee’s voice was escalating to the point of shouting until Vin put his finger to his lips in an effort to shush the irate man.

“He woke up that way…wound real tight… yer not helping any by yellin’...”

“He say why?”

Tanner stared at him like he was a moron.

It was a stupid question. What the kid had been through the last few weeks was enough to make an adult to go over the edge and Ezra at eleven years old had people try to kill him and seen others die. The delayed reaction was understandable. Vin patted him on the shoulder and stepped back inside. He gazed out at the rising sun wondering what the hell had happened. Even he didn’t have his head screwed on right. Especially after waking in the hospital believing that Fowler had said Ezra was his son. Early on he had become completely unglued at any hint that it wasn’t true, it had taken an insistent Buck and a blood test to convince him otherwise. Yelling wasn’t going to help. Nothing short of catching those behind this and he wasn’t sure that even would help. After a moment in the cool mountain air Chris composed himself before he went in again.


The sun had barely risen when JD Dunne arrived outside the 4C offices. He wanted to get a few hours research in before the others arrived. The young man had been tirelessly studying for his investigator’s license if it meant working long hours he put in the extra effort. He struggled to open the outer door while trying to juggle an armload of files, a large coffee and a bag of jelly donuts. After a few minutes he stepped inside the darkened reception area, he didn’t have to hit the light to know that there was something wrong, the front desk was over turned drawers were pulled out, papers littered the floor. Dunne was trying to back out of the door when a chair sailed across the room connecting with his head. Coffee splattered against the wall. Papers flew up into the air. The bag of pastries was crushed as JD fell on top on them when he hit the floor.


The breakfast dishes were dried and put away long before the tension began to ease. The boy, who hadn’t said a word all morning, sat at the kitchen table playing solitaire while Chris and Vin shuffled through piles of paperwork. Buck had called earlier on a satellite phone reporting on the progress made in Denver, it hadn’t been much. That information confirmed what they already knew some one hired Fowler to kidnap the boy, that tidbit had come from the thugs that worked for the dead man. The underlings were kept blissful ignorant, which meant they were no closer to finding out why than before. Ezra Standish was the glass key that about to break. A few quiet whispers occasionally broke the silence even the constant shuffling of cards had stopped, the nervous feet stilled under the table as he thought about what he was going to say. Mother… where had she gone… he knew that she wouldn’t approve of his behavior. Appearing weak wasn’t allowed unless there was profit to be had. He had lied to Mr. Larabee. Maude had left him for longer periods of time with out so much a phone call or a letter, but the normally unflappable woman was nervous the last time he saw her. He knew something was wrong more from what she didn’t say, never in his life had she entrusted him with such a large sum of money. Maude Standish preferred to keep her son blissfully ignorant of such dealings, unless she needed her boy to be involved. His mother wasn’t one to leave such a stash for the authorities so the contents of the safety deposit box had shocked him more than he let on. Ezra’s mind was made up as he slowly stood up carefully gathering his cards before joining the others.

“Mr. Larabee?”

Chris looked up from the paperwork.

“Yes Ezra…”

“I haven’t been entirely forthright concerning my mother.”

Larabee didn’t say a word instead he waited for the boy to continue, in the meantime Ezra took a seat on the edge of the couch across from him. He nervously picked at a loose thread on his sweat pants trying to find the words unable to look these men in the eyes.

“There is one thing you should know I’m not used to telling the truth… to anyone. I don’t know where my mother is. It would be so much easier if I did, I lied when I told you she had never been gone this long before, and the longest was almost a year. She left me with the safety deposit key… she’s never done that before. I know that you don’t approve of her but please you have to find her…”

“Ezra, I give you my word we are trying… there is so much that I don’t know about the circumstances that surrounded your mother’s disappearance. Is there anything else you could tell me?”

“I don’t know… other than the way she acted in the Tea Room…”

Ezra just shrugged his shoulders unsure of Chris meant.

“How did she act?”

“Strange… nervous…”


“I’m not really sure…”

“Can you answer a question truthfully for me? Why would you think that the ‘Skank’ would know where your mother was?”

“Maude was using him as a front man in her handicapping scheme.”

“That doesn’t really answer the question…”

Chris was trying to be patient but it was beginning to wear thin.

“She picked up percentage on a regular basis… it was a quick way to parlay a minimal cash flow….”

The boy hesitated, as he tried to explain his own mother’s actions.

“You were placing the bets?”

The explanation had raised an eyebrow or two in the room.

“My mother taught me well, besides she would never openly associate with such a cretin.”

Ezra was a little insulted that they didn’t think him at all capable of such a scheme.

“You just said she picked up her money on a regular basis…”

“Always at a predetermined location and with a go between. Mr. Larabee appearances are everything to my mother.”

“You didn’t tell me what happened in the Tea Room?”

Larabee had suddenly switched his line of questioning.

“Nothing all that unusual, except she gave me the key… Maude never parts with what’s hers…”

 Ezra slowly answered the man not liking where the conversation was heading.

“She left you enough to hire me.”

“She didn’t…”

Chris’ jaw dropped open but he quickly recovered

“Then where did you get the money?”

“I was short of funds…. So I skimmed a little and got the rest through placing bets… I’m trying to be straightforward with you but I fail to see the relevance of these questions?”

Some how Ezra had skirted around fully answering Chris’s questions, he wouldn’t get one today at this rate so he gave in for the moment.

“Okay…. If you remember anything else you tell me.”

The kid hadn’t really told them anything earth shattering but at least he was talking maybe he would trust them enough to confide about what was going on. His thoughts were shattered as an alarm sounded. Vin who had been quiet listening to the conversation, reached for his gun while Chris pulled out his own.

“The perimeter has been breached…”


“Not the good kind…”

Tanner shoved the kitchen table to one side, pulling aside the throw rug revealing a trap door.

“You guys go down the hatch while I check out what is going on…”

 Larabee wrapped Ezra in a blanket then lowered him down inside the cool musty smelling tunnel before going down himself.

“Here’s a flashlight. If I’m not back in five head out.”

Tanner whispered as he handed down the light the he shut the trap door leaving the pair in the pitch-black darkness. Tanner grabbed the rug quickly covering over the hatchway then pushed the table on top again. With a tight grip on his weapon he headed for the front door.

One Step Closer


The damn kid left the place unlocked again. Buck Wilmington shook his head as he pulled open the front door. He knew the kid had come in early to work he’d seen the Toyota sitting in its usual place parked in the front of the building that housed the 4C Offices. The man wasn’t prepared for what awaited him inside. The reception area had been trashed. Files of paperwork were strewn across the floor. The desk had been upended, its drawers emptied and tossed to the side. Buck pulled out his gun as he stepped across the debris-ridden floors.


He called out to his young friend. The only sound he heard was the occasional car passing as he looked through the remaining offices. Whoever had done this was gone along. But where was JD? Not until Wilmington stepped back into reception tucking his weapon back into place did he notice the trampled bag of doughnuts and the wall splattered with coffee only then he see the blood on the floor.


The man mustached man finally noticed the cryptic message skewered to the front wall with a switchblade.


The five minutes had already passed since Tanner shut them into the earthen tunnel under the cabin. Larabee hadn’t heard anything to indicate what was happening topside. He switched on the flashlight and began to crawl through the cramped passage. There almost wasn’t enough room for that but he pressed forward occasionally reaching back with his free hand to make sure Ezra was still with him. The rough opening was ten feet ahead of him, a soft light filtering through it prompting him to shut off the one he carried and slowly inching forward as he pulled his weapon from his waist band. Larabee had gone over the lay out of the cabin and the surrounding only briefly with Vin but he did remember that the tunnel led into the densely wooded area across from where the Bronco was hidden. The passage widened into a small natural cave. At least there was enough room for him to crouch inside with Ezra as he peered out the rocky gap. All he could see through the lush growth was the rusty old Ford covered with brush. Vin had thankfully planned ahead. But where was that longhaired Texan now? Chris tensed as he heard soft footsteps approaching them. He shoved Ezra back into the tunnel and waited. Larabee relaxed when a low whistle came from nearby and he responded with one of his own. A moment later Tanner came into view carefully stepping through dead leaves and fallen branches scanning the surrounding trees as he made his way towards them eventually he slipped into the tight crevasse next to Chris.


Nate had made it into the office in record time Josiah was on his heels as he entered the building to find Buck standing in the middle of the trashed room with a tightly gripped cellular in one hand and a crumpled note in the other. The frantic call was beginning to make sense.

“Buck you call the cops?”

Jackson asked his friend, he could tell from the strained look that the man hadn’t. Wilmington handed the note to Nate without saying a word. Noticing the shocked look that came over Nate, Sanchez pulled the paper away and paled slightly as he read the message.


“Seen three so far…they charged the house...”

Tanner kept his voice low as he spoke peering around as he did.

“Think they find the trap door?”
”Likely...let’s get to the Bronco ‘fore they figure it out…I’ll go first with the kid ya can cover us both…”

Ezra was still huddled down in the tunnel. He had started to tremble despite a concerted effort not to. These people hadn’t stopped trying to find him and he was afraid that this time they would succeed. Mr. Larabee gently pulled him from the tunnel, maneuvering him until he was face to face with Mr. Tanner. He didn’t fight as he was picked up instead he wrapped his arms tightly around Vin’s neck as they ran to the SUV. Ezra watched as Chris followed with his gun drawn watching for any signs of the intruders. The Texan shoved Ezra down on to the floorboards as Chris took the wheel, shifting the vehicle into neutral and it quietly rolled down the incline before popping the clutch and the engine roared to life as it started up while barreling down the hill.


“We have to call Chris…”

Nathan was nervously rubbing his left palm when he made the suggestion to an agitated Wilmington.

“I tried calling… got no answer on either the Sat. phone, or their cells.”

“Holy mother…”

Josiah didn’t finish instead he closed eyes and said a silent prayer.

“Exactly…  I am going to try again… maybe….”

Buck mumbled as he dialed the cell number again and smiled when he got a terse voice on the other end.


“You guys okay?”

Vin didn’t get a chance to reply when the rear windshield shattered as a bullet perforated the glass.

Buck stood there listening to dead air on the other end of the line.


JD was having difficultly time breathing. The combination of a broken nose and being gagged limited his ability to take in air. Being tightly bound sitting straight up to a chair did little to ease his discomfort or the growing nausea. The additional pressure from the blindfold made his nose hurt even more and made his headache feel worse. But he was trying to keep what little wits he had left. Panicking now wouldn’t help at least his captures hadn’t harmed him any further. He could clearly hear the conversation being held in the other room.

“That bitch Maude Standish is going to regret crossing me….”


“Yes Ernesto?”

“We lost the boy…”

There was a pop followed by a loud crash, a dull thud then a brief silence.


“Yes Boss…”

An icy feeling overcame Dunne when he realized what happened.

“Nicky, must I be the only one with a plan… this is why we took Larabee’s young friend. He’ll either hand the boy over or young Mr. Dunne will be sent back to him one piece at a time. Now tell me that you have found that bitch…”

“Sir she was just spotted in Biloxi, unfortunately she did manage to slip away.”

A loud thump stopped the men in mid conversation. They went to check on their captive only to find the young man on the floor unconscious still tied the toppled over chair. 

Eduardo Merrin knelt down by the fallen youth feeling for a pulse and found one. He swiped his hand over Dunne’s matted hair that was still sticky with congealing blood. The digits came back wet with fresh blood revealing the head wound had reopened.  

“Nicky, please clean up our guest and settle him in the guest room. This time just handcuff him to the bedpost.”

 The seemingly calm man strode through the door leaving his man to deal with their hostage.


After several tense minutes of dialing and redialing Tanner’s cell number it was Buck’s phone that finally rang.

“Hey Bucklin…”

“Thank God Vin, you guys okay?”

“Fer now, had to bail out of the cabin quick… had unexpected company.”

“So did we…”

Chris could only hear only half of the conversation and couldn’t figure out why Tanner suddenly went quiet listening instead to Buck.

“Yep I understand I’ll call ya went we get where we’re going.”


A muffled ringing started the three men. Sanchez found the phone and answered it.

“4C Investigations, Sanchez speaking…”

”The ante has been upped, Mrs. Standish has been seen in Biloxi Mississippi find her for me, I’ll forget about the child and Mr. Dunne will be released unharmed. Fail to do that within the required time… I will follow through with my plans….”

The phone abruptly cut out. A slightly paled Josiah pressed the phone into his forehead then gently setting it in its cradle before relaying the message. They had exactly forty-eight hours to find Maude Standish or they would be forced to hand over Ezra, until then JD was being held as insurance.


The Bronco pulled off the road and traveled over a hundred gut wrenching bone jarring yards before it screeched to a shuttering halt. Chris released the white-knuckle grip he held on the steering wheel and massaged circulation back into his hands. Tanner released his hold on Ezra, who was still curled in a tight ball almost under the front passenger seat, and patted him lightly on the knee.

“I think ya can come up fer air Ez.”

He gave the boy a crooked grin as he stared wide-eyed at him. Chris shook his head. Wondering just how Tanner managed to find the humor in the situation. It was the wily and demented side of his friend.

“What did Buck have to say?”

When he didn’t get an immediate answer he turned around. One look from the intense blue eyes told him.

“What the hell happened?”

Larabee’s seething was building into full-blown fury.

“Someone broke into the offices…”

“And there’s more?”

The grim nod spoke volumes.
”JD is missing. Whoever took him gave us two days to hand over Maude…or…”

“How the fuck are we supposed to do that? We don’t…”

“Yeah we do Biloxi…Nate and Josiah are headed there now.”

Vin answered the question before Chris had a chance to ask it. Ezra just sat mutely in the back numb with the realization that his mother wasn’t coming back for him this time and Mr. Dunne was in deep trouble. The youngster knew for certain who was behind this. Mr. Merrin. The only person who could scare his mother was the man she had burned years earlier. The last time Maude crossed paths with Merrin, she disappeared and Ezra ended up in the hospital. Six months passed by before she came back to claim her son and whisked him away to Europe in a matter of hours. Ezra barely managed to listen to the conversation going on next to him. Larabee was quite angry when he punched the dashboard causing Ezra to involuntarily jerk back into the seat from the sound. 


“Chris, we better head to our alternate safe house.”

Tanner tried to calm his friend and remind him that now wasn’t the time for this, they weren’t out of the woods yet literally and figuratively.

“I’m sorry…”

Ezra’s quiet words effectively silenced the angry man. He whipped around to see the boy cringing farther into the gap between the seat and car door. The icy glare melted away.

“No need to be… you’ve done nothing wrong…”

The tense man wiped his hands over his face, the kid was terrified and acting this way wasn’t helping matters.

“He’s right Ez…. And Cowboy I think you better let me drive.”

The few moments were spent changing seats and ensuring the kid was warm enough rewrapping him in the now filthy blanket before buckling him in. As they drove to this new hideaway he couldn’t help but think despite everything they had said he felt responsible.


I need a little room to breathe
‘Cause I’m one step closer to the edge
And I’m about to break

I find the answers are not so clear
Wish I could find a way to disappear
All these thoughts make no sense
I find bliss in ignorance
Nothing seems to go away

One Step Closer- Linkin’ Park 2001

The Pendulum swings

Time is a valuable thing
Watch it fly by as the pendulum swings
Watch it count down to the end of the day
The clock ticks life away

In The End – Linkin’ Park-2001


Even though the world around him was blurry, JD was relieved that the blindfold had been removed. He rolled his head on the pillow to get a better look at his surroundings. The room was full of shadows that eerily shifted as he moved. The pain had deadened somewhat since the pressure of the tight bindings had been alleviated. The young man tried to lower his left arm but couldn’t. A dull clatter of metal against wood combined with the growing awareness that there was a steady constriction around his wrist…. handcuffs? Oh God… Dunne thoughts caused him to struggle to free himself as the disjointed memories came flooding back. The door creaked open and JD ceased all movements. A man had entered the room, he could barely make out the man’s face only that it was dark and strangely distorted. The individual without saying a word quickly strode to his side and before JD realized his felt a pinch inside his right elbow followed by a burning sensation that slowly went up his arm after weakly trying to fight the drug after a moment the world faded from his dim view.


Nicky Salvo didn’t like this part of the job. He worked for Eduardo Merrin paying off a family debt, he should have been in college instead he was there as the resident houseboy Just call me Kato. The Boss said to keep Dunne quiet, so he did his best to fill the part of nursemaid and jailer. The small man sat down on the edge of the bed and watched on as the young man briefly fought to remain conscious before succumbing to the effects of the tranquilizer. Only then did Nicky pull off the dark wool ski mask revealing a mop of curly black hair and a broad olive skinned face. Evident in his youthful mixed Italian/Hispanic features the fact was no older than JD. Salvo was thankful that so far the young investigator hadn’t seen his captors and he intended to keep it that way. He wasn’t about to anger Mr. Merrin and give him another reason to kill Dunne. His boss was not a man sane people wanted to provoke because those who did suffered the deadly consequences. Nicky shivered knowing that Maude Standish would suffer the man’s full-blown wrath. The real shame was the young man secured to the bed was a bystander that could be freed if Merrin’s demands were met or die if they weren’t.  Nicky pushed the thoughts from his mind setting the empty hypodermic on the bed stand next to the bowl of cold water while he checked to see if JD had injured himself any further. Satisfied that the other young man hadn’t he reached into the metal basin he wrung out a wet cloth and laid it over the bruised eyes and swollen nose. Salvo gathered up his impromptu med kit and left.


The 4C Office doors remained locked to the outside world. The current caseload had been put on hold as Josiah and Nathan flew out to Mississippi to pursue Mrs. Standish. Buck had been left behind to hold down the fort. He was sifting through the scattered paperwork when he got an idea and he picked up the phone. Quickly dialing the number from memory.

“Hey darling…yeah it’s ole Buck… I’ve missed you too babe…. I was wondering if you could do me favor?”

After a lengthy pause the mustached investigator smiled.

“Yeah dinner would be good… Friday that would be great… Can you look at something for me? Uh huh… Yeah the contents of the safety deposit box the Standish kid opened… Yeah I need the info off the passports…Okay it just I can’t wait on this… call me back as soon as ya can. Love ya for this darling.”

Wilmington rubbed his face after he hung up. He desperately hoped he was onto something.


The wind whipped the through the old Ford SUV, Ezra shivered despite being bundled in a blanket. Problem being he wasn’t just cold, Larabee was furious. Even though had had said earlier he wasn’t to blame the boy could feel the anger permeate off the man in growing waves and he tried not to cower from him as Chris eventually turned around to spew out seething words at him. 

“Mind telling me what the fuck that was all about?”

“Excuse me?”

Some how Ezra managed to keep his voice steady. Never let them see any sign of weakness Honey…  his mother’s words echoed through his mind

“Someone has gone through a lot trouble to get you…”

Mr. Larabee seething mad, a vein was beginning to pop out in the man’s forehead as Ezra nervously licked at his lower lip without answering.

“And now they got one of my men…”

Larabee’s anger was escalating and he missed the fear that flittered across the boy’s face.

“Chris stop…”

Vin quietly said the words without taking his eyes from the road.

“The little bastard is hiding something and I want to know what it is…”

The angry blond turned his attention back to the boy.  

“Mind telling me what?”

“I don’t…”

“Christ why the hell are you protecting your Mother …”

Larabee didn’t get to finish. Tanner had braked hard causing the Bronco to swerve and shutter as they slid to a halt in the middle of the dirt road where he lit into his best friend.


Vin was quite for a second then cleared his throat.

“Now ya said enough jist turn around an’ zip it.”

The Texan got the desired result as the older man although he was still fuming he shut his mouth and turned around.


The shrill ring almost caused Buck to topple from his chair. He picked up the phone.

“ 4C Agency Wilmington speaking…holo darlin’… Great… Hold on now …”

He shuffled through the files until he found a pen, while jotting down the information he came across a piece of paper that made him pause.

“Sorry hon… want to tell that to me again… okay…Thanks I’ll see ya on Friday… eight o’clock.”

The page he found riveted Buck’s attention not noticing as the telephone handset clattered onto the desk when he missed its cradle.


Eduardo Merrin wasn’t a patient man. When he wanted results he got them, the last call he got from the boys in the field was the departure of the investigators Jackson and Sanchez, they were bound for Mississippi. That damn woman had gotten by his usual defenses and ripped him off. Three millions wasn’t a huge sum compared to the wealth of his mass empire. It was the principle, Maude Standish had humiliated Eduardo and there were repercussions for her actions, a price that would be personally exacted when the time came. The child was a problem. How could an eleven year-old boy outsmart his men? Fowler had fucked up, he should of killed Larabee and brought young Standish directly to him, but the man thought he could squeeze more money out of his client. For that reason alone Eduardo had dispatched his own men to retrieve the boy unfortunately Larabee’s boys arrived there first. To cut losses Fowler was dispensed with in the parking lot. a high powered rifle shot through the right mastoid bone splattering his brains on a nearby car. Shame really… He thought. It would have been nice to snap every bone in his body first. Ah well there was Mrs. Standish and her boy…


The rain poured from the skies as a major storm hit the Gulf coast, it did little to relieve the sweltering heat wave that gripped the area at least the air conditioner worked in the rental car Josiah was thankful for that. Nathan had the map opened across his lap making sure that they were following the most direct route to the Grand Casino, Maude Standish’s last known whereabouts. They had spent an hour at the airport only to discover she hadn’t taken a flight out of there. Josiah had spoken at length with the Grand Hotel’s concierge as far as he knew Mrs. Standish was still in the Biloxi/Gulfport area. All they had to identify her with was Ezra’s tattered photograph that was tucked securely in the older man’s billfold. Neither man had said what thought was on their minds but it was a similar one. How could a mother just leave their child in such danger?


The shot up rusted out Bronco was exchanged for an old faded maroon colored Chevy Van with matching shag-carpeted interior. Butchie Bartlet was the old wrinkled toothless seventy some odd year-old man that was involved in the swap was a friend of Tanner’s. The bounty hunter, Ezra discovered unsavory as it was, had spent a lot of his time in the back woods roughing it and had encountered Bartlet on one particular outing several years earlier. The old man in the boy’s unvoiced opinion was a disgusting harbinger of germs and filth. Ezra did his utmost to avoid both Larabee and Bartlet, and hovered near Mr. Tanner. Mr. Larabee transferred the bags between the two vehicles Ezra stood back waiting for the man to finish before climbing into the back of the van. The boy buckled himself into one of the rear seats while watching the interaction between Tanner and Larabee. The longhaired Texan was angry, he could tell that much but he couldn’t hear what was being said, Vin wasn’t yelling and Larabee just nodded his head once walked a few feet away while Tanner said his thanks to the old man. Ezra sank further into the seat. Oh God he caused vast amount of trouble for Larabee. All of this was all this trouble was because of him and he had to find a way to amends.


With in an hour the trio was back inside Denver. Ezra hadn’t said a word since Chris’ angry barrage of words. The boy sat in the back seat looking out at the streets as they passed by, unwilling to gaze forward. Larabee regretted his harsh words. He never should have said them to a client let alone an eleven year-old boy who was supposed under his protection and in his care. The kid… the whole situation some how managed to push his buttons. Chris turned around looked at Ezra, the boy was visibly pale and thin he hadn’t had any time to recuperate.  He’d have a word with him later when the time was right and try to straighten this mess out. Vin had slowed the van down as they approached a Quickie Gas Mart they had to stop for food and to refuel. Once they had stopped Ezra wanted to relieve himself so Tanner accompanied him to the bathroom while Larabee filled the van.

The door quietly clicked shut behind him as he stepped up on the toilet. He had slipped once almost falling into the bowl before he managed to climb through the small window in the bathroom and out onto the street below. He had put his trust in Larabee and in the end he had failed the man. Ezra knew what he had to do as he quickly walked away from back of the gas station down the sidewalk disappearing into a throng of people.


“Mr. Merrin you have a phone call…”

“I told you not to interrupt me…”

“Sir… you may want to take this one…” 

Count Down

It’s so unreal
Didn’t look out below
Watch the time go right out the window
Trying to hold on
But didn’t even know
Wasted it all just to
Watch you go

In the end- Linkin’ Park 2001





Vin jogged back to the van. Chris had just come out the doors of the Quickie Gas Mart to his panicked co-worker heading his way.

“Where’s Ezra?”

“Gone… Slipped out the bathroom window.”

He breathed out never looking Chris in the instead he was looking around in an effort to spot the kid.

“Damn it…” Chris threw the van keys to Vin. “I’ll start out back, just drive around the block and see if you can find him.” The blond sprinted off leaving a guilty Tanner behind. The bounty hunter regained his composure after a brief moment, hopped back into the purple nightmare they were driving and pulled out of the station.

Ten minutes Larabee was still desperately scanning the crowded street with no luck. His frustration was apparent, the mob giving him wide berth as they were forced to pass him. The maroon van was inching up the street. Tanner… Any hope was dashed as the vehicle slowed to a stop revealing Vin as the sole occupant.

“Didn’t see ‘im...”

“Shit…now what? What the hell is he thinking?”

The lean Texan stared at him for a moment shook his head as he spoke.

“Get in Larabee…”

The agitated man climbed in, buckling up as Vin guided the old beat up van in the flow of traffic.

“That this is his fault…”

”You heard me. Shit Chris, if he hadn’t asked you for help JD’s life wouldn’t be in danger…”


“You asked what he was thinkin’, he’s an eleven year old kid whose mother abandoned him, knowing someone would try to get to her through him…”

 The words effectively stopped Larabee’s growing tirade. “Why don’t you call Buck… ain’t much we can do…‘sides we don’t know where to look or where Ezra might go.”


Just outside Denver…


Merrin snapped into the phone. Dante Laymon had been insistent, the weasel refusing to be put off without speaking with him personally.

“Boss it’s Dante…that kid…just walked into my place telling me I should call you.”

The ‘businessman’ had used a lot influence throughout the city to track down the Standish boy. A substantial reward would go to the person who found him and Laymon wanted to be sure Merrin knew.

“Are you sure it’s him?”

“Yeah Boss, kid walked in bold as brass all by his lonesome … I got him sitting across from me in the backroom.”

“Good… keep him out of sight. I’ll have one of the boys over in ten to fetch him…”


The phone clattered off its cradle as Ezra did his best not to look afraid as he sat within the confines Laymon’s office. The brutish man speaking into the handset ran on the numbers for the local kingpin, would have no problem with keeping his word to Merrin in any manner he saw fit. Dante ran his covert business from the backroom of his gym. The boy had a vague idea where he was going when he climbed through the window at the gas station. After briskly walking five blocks he had seen a familiar name on a sign. LAYMON’S GYM was painted on the plate glass window. As he passed by he recognized Dante, he had only seen the man once before and that was in Merrin’s Boulder Estate many years ago back when mother was setting up the scam as a widow. Knowing that this was the only way he had stepped through the glass doors into the dank room that heavily emanated the mixed musty odor of sweating bodies and dust.                                           


Folding the papers carefully he slipped it into his pocket then pulled his gun out and checked the ammo before holstering the weapon again. Buck flipped off the light and locked the door behind him. Wishing that his partner were there wasn’t going to help. This case was getting a little too personal for his liking. Damn… Damn… Damn…  … how could they have missed it but he suddenly knew why… the goddamned name was on a page mixed in with the papers the JD had brought in that day. Apparently the young man had made progress into Ezra’s background. Right now he needed a favor… the type you had to ask for in person. How the hell am I supposed to tell Chris? The thought weighed heavy on his mind as he headed towards the 8th precinct station to talk to Captain Mitchell.


Biloxi Mississippi…

The worn photograph did little justice to Maude Standish’s striking beauty. Josiah was the first to notice her presence. The elegant woman was neatly attired in a lightweight pale yellow summer suit gracefully strode across Biloxi’s Grand Casino escorted in by an obviously affluent older man. The former missionary headed in her direction, Jackson following closely behind.

“Ma’am may we have a word?”

“Gentlemen, should I know you?”

“You are Maude Standish…we are here about your son…”

“My name is Emmaline Simmons…you are sadly mistaken I have no son…”

Sanchez handed the worn photograph the woman. She whispered something into her companion’s ear.

“Darlin’ if you need me I’ll be at the roulette table…”

The silver haired gentleman gracefully kissed her hand before he stepped away.


“Sanchez and this is Mr. Jackson. We work for the 4C Investigations in Denver, Colorado…”

“Well Mr. Sanchez I hardly see what that had to do with me…”

 “There’s a boy back in Denver says you’re his mother… he is in danger.”

“I’ve already told you I have no son…. Though I will admit this woman does bear a striking resemblance to me so I can see why your error in judgment was made. So if you’ll excuse me.”

The woman smiled graciously before she turned and walked away leaving two stunned men in her wake.

“Now what?” Mumbled Jackson as he received a blank look from Josiah.


Outside Denver…

Salvo quietly ushered the youngster in then effortlessly clicking shut the heavy door behind him.

“Larabee send you?”

The boy never wavered in his stance and shook his head slightly.

“No… he doesn’t know… about Mr. Dunne…what will happen to him?”

“Master Standish… of course I’ll have to free him… a deal is after all a deal…”

Merrin pressed on button on his intercom.

“Nicky is the room prepared for our new guest?”

“Yes Sir...”

The tinny reply came over the speaker.

“Good I want you to escort young Master Standish there and make sure that Mr. Dunne is ready for his departure with Thorpe.” Eduardo smiled at Ezra. “You see my boy as easy as that…nothing to fret over…”


Watching the man trying carefully not to reveal how terrified he truly felt Ezra held his tongue. Hoping desperately that the man would honor his word for JD’s sake. But he knew adults lied, never had a promise kept until… Mr. Larabee. Why?  It didn’t matter now, as much as he wanted to believe he knew the private investigator once his friend was returned there was no reason for him to come looking for him the money he had paid the man ran out long ago. Even Mother… the boy pushed the thought away. Why had she brought him back here and after what he had done to them? She knew the man was still here. No need to cry now and he sighed. The dark curly haired young man stepped back into the room. The boy stared at Nicky for a long moment wondering why this young man was so familiar.

“Come on …”

He led a confused Ezra out of the room. They were well down the hall from Merrin’s office when the boy whispered.

“I remember you…”

Salvo said nothing as he opened a door and gently shoved the young southerner inside a comfortably decorated room. The audible sound of the lock being engaged cut off any hope Ezra may have had as he listened to the soft footsteps continue down the hall. Unchecked tears ran down his face, a feeling of terror threatened to overwhelm him as the long stifled memories rushed back as he sank down onto the carpeting behind the door. Mentally screaming Please… Please… Please.


Salvo sucked in a deep breath before he entered the room where Dunne was. The chilling implications of Ezra Standish’s arrival were setting in. Six years had passed by since that night. Trying to quell the onslaught of fear he slipped on his ski mask and stepped inside the darkened room. The other young man was still heavily drugged, Merrin had insisted on it and Nicky had little choice but to comply. The houseboy sat next to JD as he tied the blindfold in place, followed by the gag. After releasing the handcuffs he bound the unconscious man hand and foot before calling in his boss’s muscle, then silently prayed that Merrin would return the young investigator alive to his friends. The beefy Thorpe arrived, simply slinging a limp Dunne over his shoulder and left Nicky sitting on a corner of the bed.


The 4C agency phone rang six times the answering machine picked up. Chris hung up and punched in the numbers for Buck’s cell phone only to be presented again with another out of service message.

“Let’s head back to the office… maybe Buck left a message.”

Tanner hit the blinker as he pulled up to a stoplight and waited until it was clear to make the left turn before heading across town.


Outside the Grand Casino in the pouring rain…

Nathan and Josiah scanned the lot for their car getting drenched because after Mrs. Standish or Simmons had called casino security on the pair of investigators and they were unceremoniously ushered from the building. The situation had gotten messy in a hurry.  It seemed that Mr. Pierson, her gentleman friend apparently was the owner of the establishment. The men were told in no uncertain terms that if they attempted to get within a hundred feet of Emmeline Simmons they would be arrested for harassment and whatever else the local law enforcement could come up with. There was little Jackson and Sanchez could do except find their rental car, regroup and put a call back into the agency.



Almost twenty minutes later a dark sedan with tinted windows pulled into an alley its two passengers stepped out and walked back to the open trunk. Effortlessly hefting out its live cargo, a blindfolded and bound Dunne, then roughly dropping the unconscious man onto the buckled cement before driving away

At that precise moment a phone rang in the empty 4C offices the answering machine picked up.

“You kept your end of the bargain… you’ll find mine in an alley behind McGhee’s Pawn Shop.”

The message ended as Tanner opened the front door.

To the end of the day

Sirens were blaring in the distance. JD lay on the cool cement trying to figure out why he hurt so bad unable to understand why his eyes wouldn’t open. The pain kept him from moving up until he heard footsteps running towards him, the young man tried to roll over but was only rewarded with a stabbing pain in his head. Unseen hands reached out and gently steadied him mumbling reassuring words.

“Whoa Kid…”


“Take it easy… don’t try to move…”

Down the alley came more footsteps JD wasn’t concerned because Buck was there and he would keep him safe. That thought followed him as he drifted but into oblivion.

Squatting down by his young friend Wilmington couldn’t help but worry he had been in Captain Mitchell’s office when the call from Chris came in. No one even tried to keep him away from this and for that he was thankful. The paramedics had finally arrived and Buck moved enough to get out of their way thought remaining close enough to leave a hand on the kid’s shoulder as the E.M.T.’s began checking Dunne’s vitals.


Knowing it would do nothing to run across town at this point Chris replayed the message on the answering machine again carefully listening to the words.

“You kept your end of the bargain…”

A stunning realization came to mind.

“Ezra.” Larabee breathed out the child’s name.

“He went to this guy.” Tanner quietly voiced words were a statement of fact rather than a question. The lean Texan shifted from where he stood by Chris and strode over plucking his cell phone out of his jacket. Punched in a few numbers and spoke to the person on the other end. “Hey Ruiz got a favor to ask…yeah… I know how ‘bout tickets to the game… need to find someone quick…”

Chris watched on as Vin leaned heavily against the desk while proceeding to give Ruiz the needed details.


Outside the Grand Casino a soggy Sanchez and Jackson sat in the rental car waiting. The machine had picked up their first call back to the agency. Larabee answered their second effort apparently all was not well back in Denver. The Standish boy had disappeared, which made speaking to Maude Standish more important than ever, so they waited in a lot across from the porte-cochere for the woman to emerge from the building figuring if she drove at all her car would be brought around by a valet.


Sequestered deep within the Merrin estate, Ezra picked at the snack Nicky Salvo had provided him, leaving the boy to wonder where he knew from. Not that it was really important but he was trying not to ponder on what Eduardo Merrin would do with him once Maude failed to show. Ezra mentally quashed those thoughts. He was a Standish after all his mother’s son and trained to manipulate the odds in his favor. Others had under estimated him equating his intellect to be on par with his age. No one was coming to his aid so he bolstered his waning courage by gazing around the room, soaking in all the minute details to see if there was a potential for escape.

In the kitchen Salvo grabbed a tepid cup a coffee, not wanting to attract attention by not going through his regular routine. Nicky didn’t dawdle over his coffee gulping it down before heading off to restock the bar.


The bright lights of the emergency room had JD wrinkling his brow abruptly causing his nose to throb. A groan slipped out. He cracked open his swollen eyes a blurry figure sat at his side. His vision cleared enough to make out Buck’s smiling face as reached over him to press the call button.

“Hey Kid…”

 All Dunne could do was blink, his muddled brain couldn’t put together where he was let alone why he was there. Instead he listened as his older friend spoke some hushed reassuring words until the doctor stepped inside the cubicle forcing Buck out of the way and into a corner. The confused brown eyes never broke contact with Wilmington’s seeking him out when the doctor blocked his view. More indiscernible words were exchanged and the rogue was once again at his side while the intern finished the exam and was still there when he drifted off.

Three hours had passed and JD was resting comfortably in a private hospital room where he would remain under observation. Buck hadn’t left his side since the found him in the alley almost caused a scene in the emergency room when they tried to separate him from JD. The staff eventually relented. The moderate concussion and being heavily drugged during his abduction were the reason for JD’s extended stay. The only other injuries he had were the broken nose, the ragged gash in his head that took six stitches to sew up and the bruising around his wrists. The young man was lucky. Fortunately for the moment he didn’t know the high price had been paid for his freedom. The door opened Larabee walked in to see his long time friend next to the bed leaning over JD listening intently to the quietly slurred words as the younger man fought the losing battle against the narcotics in his system.

“You get some rest …” Buck patted a blanketed shoulder and looked up at Chris. The grim face spoke volumes. 


The rain had abated leaving the coast hot and humid by the time ‘Emmaline Simmons’ emerged from the Grand Casino minus her escort Mr. Pierson. Unaware that she was being watched got into a long black stretch limo and the driver directions to her destination. Not noticing the dark green sedan pull out behind them as the limo drove out of the lot.


Within Memorial Hospital a somber Buck lead Chris just out the private room passing the officer posted at the door.

“We have to talk privately…”

Not understanding the change in his friend’s tone Larabee had no choice but to follow Wilmington down an empty waiting room. As soon as they cleared the entrance Chris wanted to get to the point.

“What’s up?”

‘”Hear me out… I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before but I called in a few favors regarding the contents of the safety deposit box…”
”A wad of cash some passport and a encrypted address book…” Larabee was low on patience they had already been over this.

“Chris…” Buck shot him a pained look before continuing. “I found some information that may interest you… it was in the notes scattered across the office… JD figured out a connection…One the passports listed Ezra as Eduardo Merrin Jr.”  The conversation went silent as the implications sunk in.


“This is major Chris… I already talked to Walt about it…”

Across town Tanner was on his way to met with Jorge Ruiz. The cocky little southerner hadn’t made his escape from the Quickie-Mart completely unnoticed and Ruiz was one of Vin’s eyes and ears on the street. The sawed off two bit street hustler was known to play both sides of the fence when it came to selling info but a sense of loyalty kept intentions honorable when it came to dealing with Vin. The displaced Texan almost chuckled but quickly quelled his amusement as the little man walked out of Fast Eddie’s Bar and Grill towards Tanner’s classic lime green El Camino as he pulled the car to a halt. The windows on the heap were already rolled down when Ruiz popped open the door from the inside and climbed in.


“Ruiz, what’s the word?”

“Ain’t good man…”

“What ain’t good?”

“That kid was seen going into Dante’s…”

“You sure?”

“Clean little anglo boy yep I’m sure… got picked up in a swank car not long after… Sorry that’s all I could get.”

“Thanks…” Vin handed him a twenty. “Ya find out anything else lemme know.”

“Right.” Ruiz nodded and left Tanner watching him as he disappeared inside the greasy diner.


 It was now or never… like there was a choice…he was dead if he got caught.

After years of living on the estate he knew what the routines were and where the surveillance cameras were located. He strode down the hall with a tray laden with the noontime meal towards the extravagant home’s security command center. Knocking he waited to be buzzed in.

“Hey Nicky what’s for lunch today?”

Cotton Devane manning the desk smiled at him as he stepped through the door. The young man set the covered tray on the table as Devane swipes the lid off revealing a grilled salmon steak and a baked potato.

“Left over’s…”

“This looks great where’d you get it?”

“You be surprised…”

Cotton Devane barely felt the prick as the hypodermic was plunged into his neck. A second later Salvo eased him back into his chair before he disengaged the alarm system, grabbed the master keys and slipped back out the door carefully shutting it behind him.

There was no turning back now he quietly walked away.

The sound of the door opening had the boy slowly backing off the bed until his feet hit the floor. Slightly relieved when he realized it was the young man that brought him his snack.

“Look I don’t have time to explain if you want to get out of here you have to do what I say…” Nicky received a dubious shrug. “That young investigator has already been released… it would be good idea if we left now.” Ezra gave him a slow nod. “Good let’s go…” Salvo waved for the boy to join him and when he did the pair tiptoed out of the room.


A single word broke the silence.


The two men stood in the middle of the waiting room.

“That’s why I talked to Walt, apparently they still can’t pin any dirty dealings on him.”

Buck watched the pained expression on his long time friend’s face. He rubbed a hand over his chin before he continued

“So what does this have to do with the kid?”

The growing frustration was coming off Larabee in waves.

“Apparently she claimed that the boy was his son and not long after she married him, made the society columns. That’s what JD found out… that there was a tie… rumor was that Ez’s ma skipped town with the kid and a tidy sum of Merrin’s money.”

“How long ago was this?”

“Almost six years ago…”

“Long time to hold a grudge.”

“Well Walt thinks she may have got a hold of more than money, that’s totally off the record though.”

“So Merrin has the kid snatched… what’s gonna happen when Maude’s a no show?” Larabee already knew what had happened at the casino and that there was no way to prove that Merrin had anything to do with this. Hell they didn’t even know where the man was.


For the first time since departing the Grand Casino, Emmaline Simmons limo driver noticed that they were being followed.

“Ms. Simmons?”
”Yes Paul?”
”It seems that a green sedan has been behind us for the last three miles…”

Her rigid discipline took over as she casually pulled out a compact checking out her make up and the vehicle that hung back several car lengths almost immediately recognizing the sedan’s occupants.

“Paul would you be a love and take the next left…”


The shrill ring interrupted the conversation as Chris flipped open the phone. “Larabee.” But he didn’t say another word intently listening to what was said. Buck eyed him expectantly and was about to ask who it was but was abruptly waved off. The phone was gripped tighter as Chris responded. “Ah huh… shit… I’ll have to call ya back.”


“Vin just confirmed it… Ezra was seen downtown going into Laymon’s Gym…”
 “He’s one of Merrin’s toadies…We gonna pay him a visit?”



The long stretch of beach was almost completely barren as the limo stopped in the sparsely occupied parking lot, the many tourists kept at bay by the sporadic heavy rain showers. The green rental driven by Nathan Jackson made no attempt to hide merely parked directly behind the limo making it impossible for the vehicle to move in any direction before Josiah and he climbed out.


The gate guard paid little mind to Nicky Salvo as he drove off the estate grounds in a Minivan after all it was his day to go food shopping. Like clockwork after the mid-day meals were served. The young man was waved through just as alarms started to go off. The young man floored the gas pedal causing the van to shutter as he took off praying under his breath while he sped off. Nicky hadn’t thought much beyond getting out of the estate. There was no plan… he saw the false carpet panel flip up in the back as Ezra crawled from his hiding place, curled up where the spare tire was supposed to be, and made his way forward.

“Where to? Cause I can’t take you to Larabee… that’s the first place they’ll check…”

“601 Havana Street.”

“All right … oh and buckle up don’t need any cops to pull us over.”

The situation had taken on a surreal quality for Ezra but he belted himself in anyway while gazing at the person who some inexplicable reason freed him.


The last thing Dante has expected was company or at least not the arrival of three imposing men. He had been counting the money in the till when a lean angry looking blond man stepped through the front door of his gym followed closely big dark haired mustached man and a smaller long haired scruffy individual. The trio head straight for him as he ducked into the back room. The door slammed open right after he closed it. The man clad entirely in black crushed Laymon up against the wall in less than two seconds.

“Where is he?”


“Now’s not the time to play games… where’s the kid?” Larabee hiked the rapidly paling man high up the wall.


The darkly tinted window rolled down revealing the placid features of ‘Ms. Simmons’.


“Ma’am just wanted you to know the stakes have been raised someone has taken your son…”

The elegantly dressed woman blinked at them for a moment and then motioned them to join her inside the limo.


“HOW COULD YOU LET THIS FUCKING HAPPEN!!!” A red-faced Eduardo Merrin bellowed at the four remaining members of his security staff, who were afraid to do little more than cringe. Knowing that Cotton Devane had paid a heavy price when Merrin was informed of the boy’s escape he never got a chance to wake, his neck was brutally snapped by the enraged man ranting before them. A switch was flipped and he was calmly speaking to them, the murderous rage that had overcome Merrin had disappeared in the blink of an eye.

“Find him and quickly.”


“Kid? I don’t…”

Laymon swallowed nervously as he tried to balance himself on the tips of his toes. Trying hard to keep his eyes locked with Larabee’s angry hazel ones as his squirmed against the wall.

“I’m not in the mood for this… because whether you realize it or not, Merrin is not your biggest problem I am!” Chris’ hot breath caressed the uneasy man’s face with each syllable spoken.

“I don’t want to have anything to do with that maniac.”

Dante was sweating profusely as he considered his limited options.

“Ya really wouldn’t want to see Ole Chris here get pissed ain’t that right Buck?”

The softly drawled words took Dante by surprise as he for the first time took notice of the other men in the room. The wry smile and evil gleam in the blue eyes contradicted with the easy tone. Wilmington just shrugged as if this were an everyday occurrence. It was enough to give Dante Laymon pause. Die now or die later.

 “Okay… Merrin’s got him but I swear I don’t know where.”

Larabee just huffed in the man’s face.

“Ah Dante I don’t think that Chris here believes ya. Whadya think Vin?”

“Nah, don’t look that way.”

“I just have his number that’s it…” The words squeaked out as the frightened man eyed each man not knowing how he would get out of this mess.


Sitting in the back of the limo the stylishly dressed woman calmly lit her cigarette inhaling deeply before slowly exhaling the smoke didn’t respond in a predictable way to the revelation.

“Sins of the past…” The words were highly sighed out. “And I suppose you gentlemen are here to return me to Eduardo?”

“Ma’am … Mrs. Standish…”

“Maude if you must call me something…”

“Exactly why is this Eduardo after you Maude?”           

“Hardly matter’s now… what were the demands?”

“For your return…”

“Then we should not disappoint him.”


Standing outside the back door of ‘Priscilla’s Birds of a Feather’ Nicky Salvo watched Ezra rap on the door nervously eyeing the overhead camera.

“Your sure this is were you wanted to go?” The young boy nodded and smiled as a melodic voice sang out.

“Coming my darlings…” The door swung open and the two were quickly waved inside.


“Boss…” Eskie Mullins tried o keep his voice steady as he called out to the man carefully typing away at a computer keyboard within his posh home office.

“Yes, what is it Mullins?”

“Rocco found the van…”


“No sign of Salvo or the kid but the boys are scouring the area…”

Eskie visibly cringed as he waited for Merrin to blow but was more stunned by the quiet response.

“Keep me informed… ”

An irritated gesture shooed Mullins away from the office.


Inside the cramped office of Dante Laymon, the trembling man was making a show of trying to find Eduardo Merrin’s number by quickly flipping through his Rolodex. A sharp shrill ring almost made him jump out of his skin. He desperately tried to keep his eyes down as he listened to Larabee answer the cell call.

“Yeah…” There was a long pause before the blond spoke to one of his companions in the room. “They got her.” Dante jerked back as Wilmington sat on the edge of his desk and started thumbing through the address card himself.

“M… now who would of thought to look there?” The ladies man’s grin made the already edgy Laymon shrink back further. Tanner was already on his own phone making a call.


“Okay Chris we’ll be on the next flight back…”

Another puff of smoke floated across the limo as Jackson finished the phone conversation with Larabee.

“Paul I will leaving with these gentlemen will you please be a love and give Mr. Pierson my regards.” Maude smiled politely and gracefully exited the vehicle not waiting to see if Nathan and Josiah were following her.


Four formidable men made their way through the front door of Priscilla’s the establishment was nearly empty. A few patrons were scattered about sitting at the tables waiting for the next act to come out on stage. The bartender Biddy noticed the newcomers’ arrival and tapped a waiter named Gus on the arm whispering something into his ear. Gus quickly disappeared into the kitchen as the men approached the bar.

Behind the kitchen Lulu ushered the two youths into a pantry while speaking quickly and quietly in a low husky tone.

“Darlings the show is about to start so come with me.” Lulu motioned for Nicky and Ezra to follow. The pair traipsed after the tall voluptuous figure dressed in a tight sequined dress, spike heels and immaculately coiffed wig down the spiral staircase into a tight passageway that ran under the stage. Then it was up another set of stairs the steady clip clop of the high heals stopped as they stepped through a beaded curtain entry to a small dressing room and were quickly swept into the cramped space. The heavy tapestry that draped across the front of the vanity was lifted and a well-manicured hand signaled for them to climb in.

“My little sweet face babies get in here and don’t worry Lulu will take care of everything.”

 The nearby stage door slammed open just as Nicky and Ezra had squeezed under the table.

Looking at the men approach in the reflection of the large mirror Lulu patted on a fine layer of powder before beginning to apply a vivid red lipstick.

“No autographs darlings until after the show…”

The largest of the men slammed a meaty hand down on the make up table causing the well-disciplined performer to flinch.

“Where’s the Kid?”

Under the table, painfully squeezed inside its tight confines Ezra although terrified waited trying not to a sound as big brute of a man unknowingly stepped on his small hand, a little squeak slipped out before he could stop it.