The disclaimer is and always will be I dont 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 Ezras a child and the remaining seven are adults. In a Modern universe where the boys are working in Chris and Bucks 4C agency as private investigators, bounty hunters and body guards.
I know I just couldnt get this idea out of my head, wondering what would have happened if things have turned out differently. So read on and be aware Im using the Pam Ewing plot twist just because I can. 9/27/01
The brute was just about to pull up Lulu by the wrist when his cell phone rang. The timing of the shrill ring of a phone was a blessing. The sweaty behemoth snarled at the performer before he answered the phone call. Thankfully the disruption had covered any noise that the boy had made. Nicky frantically clamped a hand over Ezras mouth as the youngster desperately tried to breathe through the pain as the well placed shoe ground his fingers into the floor. Salvo was listening to the conversation occurring on the other side of the tapestry as Ezra squirmed slightly in he grasp.
Yes Mr. Merrin no Mr. Merrin No Sir we havent found the boy yet Rocco almost stammered his words as he gave a status report to his boss while little Ezra quietly panted into Nickys hand.
The distraction had given the fully figured red head a chance to calm down. So that by the time the big oaf finished his call she was completely composed and Thankfully he had finally moved away unwittingly freeing a teary eyed Ezra.
Gentlemen honestly I have no idea what you are talking about and since I am on in less that ten minutes I would prefer to be left alone to prepare .
Bitch you better not be lying
Really honey I like my men big and brawny . Lulu cooed the words and Rocco paled slightly.
Boys we have business across town Mr. Merrin wants taken care of immediately... The big man cast a suspicious eye on the performer primping in front of the vanity. I find out you are lying The implied threat hung in the air and the men abruptly left the room. Lulu stared into the mirror carefully checking the final application of lip liner, nonchalantly watching as the Rocco and boys retreating reflections disappeared down the hall until the door slammed shut before harshly whispering to the boys under the dressing table.
Theyre gone wait here until I come back With those words Lulu was gone. Nicky relaxed slightly and slowly removed his hand from the younger boys mouth. Other than taking a shuttering breath Ezra remained stock still crammed in against Salvo trying to ignore the throbbing pain in his fingers as he listened the retreating clip of Lulus shoes.
Mackie you stay here keep an eye out for Nicky and the kid. Rocco growled out as he ordered one of the lummoxes to stay behind staying long enough to watch MacDougal make his way into Priscillas main lounge. The big man didnt know what was worse going to take care of Laymon or being left behind to endure one of those shows, Rocco felt he got the better end of the deal as he and the other two muscle men climbed back into the dark sedan.
Inside Priscillas the entry of the burly man hadnt gone unnoticed. As the dark haired man made his way the bartender Biddy picked up a phone behind the bar and made a quick call before resuming drying the glassware keeping a watchful eye on the club newest customer as he settled down at a table by the door just as the emcee voice interrupted the background music to announce the next act.
The glass shattered as the door slammed open in Dante Laymons office and Rocco Bennadetto stormed in with the other two goons right behind him. He was shocked by what he didnt see. The blubbering gymnasium owner wasnt there instead a lean angry looking blond male was sitting behind the desk with a half smoked cigarillo tightly clamped between his teeth glared back at them.
Who the hell are you? Chris hissed out.
Hey were asking the questions here Rocco barked back but the man wasnt fazed at all he just settled back in the chair and calmly answered.
I dont think so An audible click by his right ear stopped the big man mid sentence as Buck stepped past and began patting them down for hidden weapons while Vin held them in place with a cocked pistol. Chris glared at him for a brief second as he rose from his seat before continuing. Im asking the questions and Im not in the mood for games so listen up because I wont repeat this again. Wheres the boy?
The muffled sound of applause was followed by music when Ezra finally sagged into Nicky still cradling his arm. The boys hand had already begun to swell, his whole body trembled as the pain radiated from his fingers up his right arm, no longer able to stifle his tears they trickled silently down his face. A mortified Nicky was too afraid to move, did the only thing he could for the youngster held on to him as they waited for Lulus return.
In front of the airport ticket counter in the Gulf Port, Mississippi Nathan Jackson patiently stood in place while the ticket agent punched three passages to Denver for the noon flight. He sighed quietly as he alternately stood on one foot then the other trying to bide his time during the long wait. Thankfully Sanchez was in the lounge with Mrs. Standish, Nathan was patient a man he was didnt think he could spend another moment with that woman. Especially since she had offered up no real explanation for abandoning her son, in fact she hadnt said much at all during the ride to the airport she just sat seemingly unflustered gazing out the car window. The entire situation was frustrating for Jackson, he knew the youngster was in danger but it was fairly obvious that the agency wasnt making any money off of this case and he wondered who was actually going to foot the bill certainly not an eleven year old nor did it seem that Mrs. Standish would. They should have not gotten involved and left the kid in the care of child welfare. Nate rubbed a hand over his face and was silently berating himself for having entertaining such a notion when he realized that the ticket agent was trying to get his attention.
Sir your boarding passes
Jackson muttered a gruff thank you and took the proffered slips of paper before heading back towards the airport lounge.
Bennadetto stood in the middle of Dante Laymons office as reality of his current situation sank in as he tried to figure out who he should be more worried about pissing off Mr. Merrin or the man that was slowly walking his way. Rocco hadnt recognized formidable man when he first stepped into the room but it hadnt taken him long to realize just who the blond was. He nervously swallowed because he knew Larabees reputation, as a cop and was completely aware that the man no longer carried a badge to hinder his actions and the two big dopes with him had no idea who they were dealing with.
You better answer him The other guy with dark hair and a mustache gave them a warning.
Yeah right The muscle bound buffoon standing behind Bennadetto grunted out.
Coop shut up Rocco hissed under his breath.
Nah Coop go ahead keep pissing the man off cause we aint going to stop him are we Buck. The slowly drawled words combined with a low chuckle from Buck caused the hair on the back of Roccos neck to stand on end.
With his jaw hanging open Mackie watched as the curtains closed he barely heard the sporadic round of applause in the darkened lounge. Suddenly unsure and very uncomfortable about staying to watch anymore of the entertainment, the hired thug rose from his seat deciding that it would be best to talk to Lulu again. He crossed the floor slowly moving in between a cluster of tables heading towards the dressing rooms downstairs. Mackie was almost at the door when the bouncer intercepted him.
The twenty long minutes that passed by seemed an eternity to Nicky as the effect of being tightly wedged under the dressing table began to take its toll and painful spasms coursed through his body. At some point during the passage of time Ezra had dozed off and was now leaning heavily into the young man only to jolt awake when the sound of approaching footsteps reach their ears. They both cringed when the tapestry was abruptly pulled back. Revealing the buxom red headed Lulu was crouched down in front of them.
Darlings, we had to move quickly and quietly A well-manicured hand reached down and helped Ezra to his feet careful to avoid bumping his injured digits led him swiftly from the dressing room. Salvo groaned as he clambered out shuffling after the pair he headed out the door running smack into the unyielding form of Mackie. A fraction of second passed as Nicky stood there staring up at the huge man before he felt himself lifted off his feet then briefly airborne before he solidly collided with the stage door. The curly haired youth slowly slid down side ways to the floor dazed and disconnected as he fought to stay conscious as the terrifying scene played out in front of him.
Dressed in the tight sequined costume and spike heels Lulu was no match for the much bigger MacDougal, several well placed kicks did little to slow the man down and it wasnt long before the valiant effort to thwart the big man was ended. Mackies meaty paw clipped the red heads jaw and Priscillas prized lounge singer went down like a sack of potatoes while the eleven year-olds self preservation kicked into to full gear and he was already flying across the floor and down the narrow corridor that led out into the alley. The hired goon gazed around the room making sure that these two wouldnt cause any more trouble as he stood there. Mackie was panting at that point and painfully wheezed in a couple of quick breaths trying to muster up the air to chase down little bastard.
The boy was frightened beyond all reason as his slender legs churned under him coming to an abrupt halt at the exit. Ezra was afraid to look back as he frantically heaved on the cold metal push bar with his good hand. The door slowly swung open and he slipped, staggering as the toe of his shoe caught on the cast iron grating outside and he tumbled down the steps his full weight landed on the injured appendage. Ezra screamed as an excruciating pain exploded through his arm, unable stop wailing as he desperately tried to roll away from the pain.
The door slammed open startling poor Ezra as the massive thug stormed down the stairs into the alley after him as eleven year-old tried to scramble away. All it took was three long strides over the patched asphalt for Mackie to latch on to the kids shirt in an attempt to pull the writhing child closer. The small error in judgment earned him a strong kick to his upper thigh. The big man to an end to the frenzied struggle by roughly clamping down on the boys damaged wrist. Ezra immediately sagged, remaining limp and unresponsive in his grasp. He let the boy fall in a heap at his feet before pulling out his cellular phone and hitting the speed dial.
Yeah Mackie here I got the brat
Less than ten minutes later very nervous MacDougal finally strode out of the stair well into the lower level of the parking garage. He would be a lot happier if he could pawn the kid off, the violent scuffle inside Priscillas could cause him some trouble. When he had made his call he was told hed be picked up. But he didnt see anyone around as he scanned area looking for a familiar. At least the Standish kid was quiet. The boy hadnt made a sound since Mackie woke him up in the alley with a few not so gentle slaps. A smart move on the runts part because he had been given an ultimatum to do what he was told or get the other arm busted, one less thing for him to worry about.
A sudden squeal of tires echoed through the garage announced the fast approaching vehicle, it skidded to a halt mere feet from where he and the boy stood. Mackie relaxed when he recognized the car and stepped forward leaning in close to speak with the driver as the tinted window rolled down. He stiffened after seeing the muzzle of a gun.
Let go of the kid Ass Hole! To accentuate the point the muzzle was pressed into the MacDougals nose. The man immediately released the boys arm as one of the rear doors swung open. Hands up where I can see them The hired goon did as he was ordered slowly raising them in full view of the driver.
Wavering on his feet a pale shaky Ezra took several shaky steps back, he couldnt see who was behind the wheel of the car from where he stood. He was terrified as he tried to shrink away from the opening door as one of vehicles occupants climbed out.
Ezra! The eleven year-old was shocked to see Chris Larabee standing in front of him brandishing a weapon. Stay right there The lean blond turned his full attention to muscle man while growling out. On your knees hands on your head.
The boy numbly watched with his injured hand tucked tightly in his small chest as the older man roughly pulled Mackies arms down one at a time and cuffed them securely behind his back. Larabee addressed the driver.
Vin call the cops
The gun that had been holding the man in place was pulled back inside the dark sedan. Ezra didnt realize he had been staring so intently at Mackie until suddenly Chris crouched in front of him blocking his view speaking to him quiet soothing tones.
Ezra, are you all right son?
The mop of light brown hair slowly bobbed up and down.
You came Whispered a small tremulous voice as large green eyes blinked back tears. The tough man carefully reached out and pulled the trembling boy into a gentle hug. Even the sound of approaching sirens didnt break Chris focus away from Ezra as he lightly rubbed the childs back.
Nothing could stop me.
It doesnt even matter
Being patient wasnt Larabees strong suit. He paced a nervous circuit around the waiting area just inside the Emergency room. Ezra had been taken into a nearby room for x-rays. He had accompanied the boy this far but was asked to wait outside for safety reasons. Weary he rubbed a hand over his face and glanced at his watch again. They had already been there for a little over an hour seemed a lot longer to him. A detective had spoken to him earlier and had questioned Ezra but the boy was simply in too much pain and discomfort to coherently answer the officers inquiries.
Mr. Larabee you can come back in now Nurse Fletcher beckoned him back into Room 9 just as Ezra was being pushed back inside his hand was ensconced in a temporary splint. A nurses aide whose name escaped Chris at that moment was helping the boy back out of the wheelchair and onto the gurney. The doctor will be in to talk to you as soon as the x-rays are developed Ms. Fletcher informed him as she slipped by him closing the curtained partition as she left.
He nodded his reply unwilling to take his eyes from the youngster. He watched as Ezra painfully grimaced as while awkwardly trying to settle back against the limp pillow. The nurse aides locked the side rail in place and patted the boy lightly on the knee before disappearing through the curtains. Larabee sidled down on a stool next to the bed. Whatever anger he had Chris left checked at the door. Reaching out he firmly grasped the eleven year-olds uninjured hand.
You squeeze my hand if the pain gets too bad
Staring through pain filled green eyes Ezra mutely nodded and tightened his grip.
I dont care Mitch Larabee quietly snapped back into the cell phone, not wanting to wake his charge. The boy was draped across his lap in the back of a hastily rented SUV. The kids just not safe in Denver Ill let ya know when we get settled . Uh huh okay no Ill call bye. Larabee really didnt care what the Police Captain thought. Christ wasnt it enough that the kid had two broken fingers and had several hair line fractures in his hand but now the mother that had abandoned him to the murderous sharks had arrived back in the city an hour earlier.
I take it he wasnt happy Vin glanced back at him lightly chuckling while he drove.
Eyes on the road Tanner Chris glared at the scruffy Texan but that only caused Vin to laugh harder.
Okay boss .
Shut up Chris sighed and hoped that Buck and the others could deal with everything in town.
A quick phone call announced their impending arrival at the Wells residence by the time they had arrived it was well past seven. Much to Ezras surprise a wiry white haired old woman greeted them.
Vin you can stow that old heap in the barn.
Mizz Nettie thank you
Vin smiled before he jogged back to the SUV and drove inside the dilapidated building.
Christopher Larabee, get that boy in here before he falls over.
A mystified Ezra had revived after the long nap and meekly allowed Chris to steer him inside the modest house. He couldnt fathom the reason for not returning to Denver. They had ended up in an area just north of the city. Another cabin but this was a full time residence with all the comforts of a home.
I think a hot bath and a meal are in order for the lad.
Ezra tried to protest but Nettie wouldnt listen, to her it was obvious the boy was hurt, dirty and a little cold.
Come with me young man
Chris couldnt help but smile at the look of abject horror that overcame the youngster. Vin had just stepped through the door and was wiping his feet on the mat when he noticed Larabee staring at him.
What else happened?
Chris noticed Vin looked around the room.
Nettie took him for a bath.
Vin was thankful that Nettie had gotten Ezra out of the room. He hadnt wanted to say anything in front of the boy and Chris looked like he was about to pop a vein.
Mrs. Wells was running the bath water and the young southerner was stammering from his perch on the toilet. The impending humiliation kept any anguishing thoughts he had temporarily at bay.
Maam I assure you I am quite adept and can proceed to manage my own hygiene. He said as if his right hand was unencumbered by an awkward looking splint and safely tucked inside the support of a sling.
Hush now boy let me help you get out of those dirty clothes and into the tub
Ezra flushed red. There was no way he would submit to this sort of treatment, a bubble bath of all things.
Go on boy aint got anything I havent seen before besides I cant having ya falling asleep in my tub.
Ill help you with your shirt then Ill turn my back so you can strip and get in there.
It would nice to be clean, after a moments hesitation he relented.
If I must...
Nettie did as she promised. She stood listening to the rustle of clothing and finally the sloshing of water as the boy stepped in. The old woman tried not to laugh at the boys modesty. She sat down on a step stool by the door reading Ladys Home Journal while the child ungracefully washed up. Nettie had a feeling that the men needed to talk privately without worrying what Ezra might overhear.
By the time, twenty minutes later a slightly flustered Ezra emerged from the bathroom with Nettie right at his heels, Chris was agitated, a fact that wasnt lost on the already embarrassed boy. Ezra wasn't used to being hovered over and he had hastily dressed in the clothing offered strode back into the living room only to worry about some how having angered the older man. He nervously glanced back and forth between the two men a moment before allowing Nettie to guide him into the kitchen.
The old woman steered the boy into one of the chairs before she went to one of the cabinets and pulled out a bowl filling it with the stew she had left simmering on the stove.
But Ezra tried to protest. He wanted to face whatever issues Mr. Larabee had with him first.
Not another word first take these then eat Nettie handed him two Childrens Tylenol as she set spoon down next to steaming bowl of beef stew and along with a glass of milk. Ezra stared at her for a brief second before quickly swallowing the pills and daring to take a tentative bite. Only after his stomach didnt rebel against that mouthful did he take another slowly spooning down the first meal he had that day in between sips of milk. The boy had finished three quarters of the delicious when he noticed that Larabee stood in the doorway watching him. Unable to finish Ezra delicately set the spoon down and wouldnt look up at Chris when he spoke.
Is Mr. Dunne okay?
Hes okay just has to spend a few day in the hospital Larabee quietly answered unsure exactly how much Ezra really knew.
My apologies for not inquiring sooner...
Stop it The older man took a couple steps closer to the distraught child cutting him off mid sentence not willing to listen to the boy blaming himself. Chris squatted down beside Ezras chair, lightly grasping the boys chin gently redirecting the downcast head so that he could look in Ezras eyes. This isnt your fault Understand? Larabee was rewarded with a weak nod.
I want to help you and in order to do that I need you to tell me about you mother and Mr. Merrin
The overhead fluorescent lighting flickered occasionally reinforcing the headache that sat dull throbbing behind his eyes. This was one aspect of his job that Buck hated, especially when he didnt have all the answers. As he shifted uncomfortably in the hard fiberglass neon yellow chair and could help but smile. They hadnt changed the seating in the interrogation room since he carried a badge.
Something funny Wilmington? An irritated Officer Sharo sat across the table watching him.
No. He shook his head to add some emphasis. At that particular moment nothing seemed funny at all, a highly un-amused Captain Mitchell was on his way into the precinct after abruptly being called away from a family gathering. The root of Mitchell ire was the 4C Agencys recent strong-arm tactics. Particularly the way they had gone about obtaining information on the whereabouts of one eleven year-old Ezra P. Standish. It hadnt gone unnoticed by the local law enforcement and Wilmington was being held despite the fact that none of the parties involved wanted to press charges. Dante Laymon had claimed the incident at his gym was a misunderstanding. Although that might not have been the end of it Larabee and Tanner had further complicated matters by disappearing from the hospital with the kid.
Slumping farther down in his seat shrugging as Sharo eyed him again Buck sighed.
Sorry He had too much time to think in the last few hours and worry about his friends safety. He knew Eduardo Merrin was involved in fiasco but it was becoming rapidly apparent that it was over a lot more than the boys paternity.
Mr. Dunne wake up
An insistent hand shook his shoulder. Bleary brown eyes blinked open and took in the tilted view of the young woman at his bedside.
Who are you? JD barely managed to slur out the words.
A friend of a friend we have to get you out of here She huffed out as the bewildered JD refused to cooperate. Names Casey my aunt is a friend of Vins
Yes Vin we really have to go
Finally the young man stopped struggling and allowed her to help him into the wheelchair.
An indignant voice echoed inside the stairwell of the Gilsum Hotel along with two heavy sets of footsteps accompanying the light clip of high heel shoes.
Is this really necessary? A bead of perspiration trickled down her back as she ascended the stairs. Maude Standishs irritation only grew at the thought the amount of filth had embedded itself between these squalid walls of this fetid den of iniquity.
Yes it is Maam seeing as some folks would like to do more than a little harm to you. Nathan patiently explained again. The investigator had the same response every time she complained.
This foul place is beneath my standards I insist that we vacant the premises and find something more suitable She was beginning to sound more like a petulant child than the elegant woman she went to great lengths to portray.
Well anything more suitable will get us caught Jackson sighed out as he opened the door out onto the third floor. Mrs. Standish pushed passed him with an amused Sanchez following in her wake chuckling as he stepped by.
My friend, patience is a virtue
Shut up Josiah
Despite the warmth of the Wells home a chill ran up the boys spine as he quietly shuffled into the living room. After a moments hesitation the eleven year-old took up a perch on Netties over stuffed sofa sitting on edge of on of the cushions. Ezra scooted down when Chris joined him but wouldnt meet the older mans gaze instead he stared at his feet while lightly cradling his injured arm. Larabee knew it wouldnt be able get answers easily out of the kid, the past few days had Ezra terrified so he would have to go slow. Nettie was keeping busy in the kitchen and Vin watched the pair from the corner of the room.
How about if I start? Chris leaned over and whispered in the youngsters ear. He didnt get a response so he continued. You dont have to say a word you can nod or shake your head when I ask a question. Is that okay?
There was the slightest of nods as a lone tear snaked a trail down Ezras cheek.
I know this isnt easy for you but I cant really help unless I have some answers. Lightly resting a comforting hand on the trembling childs back Chris wrestled to keep up the steady soothing tone when all he wanted to do was to grind the animals responsible for the boys terror into the ground. When Ezra shakily nodded again Larabee continued.
Do you know why Merrin is after your Mother? Chris could feel the boy tense under his touch before nodding.
Was she black mailing him? He sat there watching as the boys gaze shift from the floor the swollen splinted hand in his lap staring a moment before again nodding.
Because he was your father Larabee carefully prodded.
Hes not my father The answer was barely above a whisper.
So softly spoken the older man for the briefest of moments thought he had imagined the response and whispered his own words. Did he know that?
Not at first Ezra shook his head unable to look up at the formidable man that sat by his side.
But he did find out Chris half guessed at the truth.
The child hesitated, cleared his throat before continuing. Yes after we had lived there for a few months
And then we left The youngster snapped his mouth quickly snapped his mouth shut apparently changing his mind about his answer mid sentence.
When he found out you werent his? Larabee tried to finish the answer for the overwrought child.
Yes No because of something else Ezra stopped and looked up at Chris with tear filled eyes. Mr. Larabee is Nicky okay?
Who It took Chris a moment to realize just whom the boy was referring to. Hes okay has a mild concussion and is spending the night at the hospital
Whos watching over him? The youngster was beginning to grow more agitated by the moment.
Because Mr. Merrin will kill him
He could hear them whispering in the other room even though they were trying to be quiet. Ezra was supposed to be asleep he wasnt sure how much time had passed since he lay down in Caseys darkened room. As he lay there on the bed tightly clenching the edge of the bed with one a white knuckle grip while injured hand throbbed painfully he was beginning to regret pretending to take the pain pills and disposing of them in the cushions of the couch. The boy wanted to remain alert despite of Mr. Larabees assurances that he would help, that they believed what he had told them about Mr. Merrin and what happened that day.
If only it were that simple.
The eleven year-old shifted uncomfortably under the light blanket as he blinked back a stray tear nervously running his tongue over his lower lip.
What he had told them was the truth after all, just a condensed version.
Feeling very much alone, Ezra lay in the dark wondering if all the compassion and concern these men had for him would remain if a more accurate rendition came to light.
That woman and her bastard child had caused him enough grief. Eduardo Merrin mentally cursed as he stared up at the star filled sky ignoring the chill that had settled over the region as dusk of evening passed into the dark of night. He stood in the middle of massive deck that ran the length of his house wondering how he let that conniving bitch worm her way into his home and ever so briefly get the upper hand.
Merrin let out a sigh as he thought to himself.
Not that it mattered now, these loose ends would be tied up soon.
He took one last look up at the moonless sky before he turned away and walked back into his house.
His manners momentarily forgotten Vin Tanner sat on the arm of the sofa, his keen eyes glued to Chris Larabees tense form as the man spoke into the cellular phone his volume escalating as the seconds ticked by. Vin didnt need to hear Buck to know what had happened it was obvious from the one sided conversation that Nicky Salvo had vanished from the hospital.
No I dont want to talk to Walt Chris viciously snapped the phone closed and whipped it across the room. The fragile plastic piece of modern technology sailed towards the far wall only to be deftly snatched mid air by Vin.
Take it that werent good news from Buck
Well? Captain Mitchell stared at Wilmington who sat across the table from him. Walt wasnt sure why he asked because he had known Buck since the man had been a rookie cop walking a beat and the somber look that graced the mustached face spoke volumes.
He hung up Buck muttered. He had managed to get a run down from Chris and the news wasnt good.
Larabees angry voice had echoed through the small home, but now it was eerily quiet as Ezra lay there straining to hear the conversation that was going on beyond the plaster walls of the bedroom. Trying with little success not to think about what had happened that dark day so long ago, events that were forever burned into his young mind.
Leaning heavily on the plexiglas Nickys trembling hands fumbled over the keypad trying to punch in the correct sequence of numbers while staring at the smudged scrap of crumpled paper with a telephone number on it. The young man held tightly onto the handset as listened to the ring. Finally a voice answered on the other end.
I need help Nicky muttered as he slid down the side of the booth.
Mr. Merrin? Mullins nervously called after knocking several times without receiving an answer, with little choice left he stepped quietly into the room where he saw the man sitting behind his desk. Merrin sat there quiet with his eyes closed and if Mullins hadnt known better he would have sworn the man was asleep until he spoke.
Eskie you know I dont like to be disturbed unless it is urgent . So speak up man
Sir you know that Larabee has the Standish kid and that Salvo Knowing that Merrins relaxed manner was only a façade Mullins tried to supply his answer as quickly as he could but he was cut off before he could finish.
Get to the point Merrin coolly interrupted he knew this before Mullins stepped through the door.
I have it on good authority that Maude Standish is in town Eskie stopped mid sentence more that a little unnerved when his boss abruptly sat up.
What I want to hear is that shes in this house With a wave of his hand Eduardo dismissed the flustered man.
Be a good boy and stay out of Eduardos way His mothers parting words came back reminding him that she would be gone for most of the day and not to forget the golden rule. Children should be seen not heard.
Inside the Wells house lying in Caseys bed six years later Ezra hadnt forgotten his mothers words, he remembered them along with everything else that happened that day, he wished he could forget. Trying to close off the memories a rhyme slithered out from the recesses of his childhood.
See No Evil.
Hear No Evil.
Speak No Evil.
If only it were that simple.
At the tender age of eleven he already knew there were some things in life you never forgot.
Mother and he were playing a game. It wasnt fun or the kind that hes seen other children play but it was a game all the same. Ezra knew the rules, Maude had reminded him before they stepped foot inside Mr. Merrins house. Being the clever six year-old he was she only had to say them once.
Never mention the game
Never mention our real names
Stay out of sight and out of mind unless called upon.
Ezra remembered his mothers words as he quietly trod down the stairs looking for Nicky. The older boy was nowhere in sight as he padded down the long hallways carefully peering into the room he passed. The sound of muffled voices caught his attention. Ezra hesitated for a long moment as fear prickled up his spine before tiptoeing towards the ruckus when he thought heard another child sobbing.
Buck, Chris say where he was? Walt asked worried because this case had long ceased to be under his own control. Wilmington hadnt fully explained Merrin involvement in this growing fiasco.
No, may have been a good thing too Buck sighed out, wondering if it had been a wise decision to speak with Mitchell at all considering the high likelihood of there being a more or less direct leak to Merrin.
You really believe someone in my department is leaking information to Merrin? The captain seemed to know what was on the mustached investigators mind. Bucks head popped up locking eyes with the dark man staring at him for a long moment before he answered.
Yeah I do and I dont think we should be having this conversation here The big man stopped, scrubbed a hand over his face with finishing.
Well you already know there are no grounds to keep you here Mitchells instincts had him agreeing with Wilmington. He had already gone against procedure and given the man back his person effects allowing the call to Larabee. No charges had been brought against Buck the afflicted parties had scurried back under their collective rocks. The old police captain knew as much as he wanted there would be no definitive answers tonight.
Maude Standish remained delicately perched in the chair. She refused to lie atop the fetid material the hotel was passing off as bed linen instead she remained firmly seated in the battered desk chair passing the long hours reflecting on the events that led her there. It was of the few times in her life that she was at a loss for words. Not that she would have anything to converse over with these gentlemen, her normal prattle wouldnt go over well at this moment in time. Mr. Jackson and Mr. Sanchez seemed to be concerned with one topic of conversation and she didnt want to discuss her involvement with Eduardo Merrin or why he was after her son. Maude still couldnt understand how she had made the mistake of completely misreading the man and got caught with her hand in the proverbial cookie jar, realizing too late he was a deadly man to trifle with.
After spending years evading Merrin, he had caught up with her or at least her boy. She had been able to piece together what had gone wrong from the snippets of conversation between the two investigators during the long trip back to Denver. Surprised that her eleven year-old son had gone to such great lengths to find her. Maude honestly thought she had taught her boy better.
Ezra rolled over propping his aching limb on the pillow next to his face trying to shut off the flow of images and sounds that surfaced in the forefront of his mind. Silently repeating the same words.
See No Evil.
Hear No Evil.
Speak No Evil.
But they failed to keep the painful memories away.
His short legs crept down the hall towards voices until Ezra reached the partially open door to Mr. Merrins home office. The small boy inched forward until he could see through the tiny space between the door and its jam.
Sucking in a deep breath he wiggled upright against the headboard clumsily rubbing at his tired eyes before sliding off the bed. Ezra slowly shuffled across the darkened room where he quietly opened the door and slipped out into the dimly lit hall in attempt to keep the waking nightmare away.
The mantel clock chimed the late hour. Mizz Nettie had already retired for the evening. Vin had stepped outside into the moonless night to check the grounds. Larabee didnt argue with the obstinate Texans logic instead he had leaned back in the overstuffed recliner resting his eyes. Several minutes later Chris felt rather than heard someone else enter the living room.
Opening his eyes, Chris saw his charge hesitantly standing by the couch wavering slightly. Even in the low light he could see the childs pale young face was drawn and worn out, the horrifying day had taken its toll on the youngster. Ezra didnt say anything he just stood there and stared.
Your hand bothering you? Chris spoke to the boy in a quiet soothing tone. The only noticeable response he got was the blinking of bleary green eyes.
When he didnt get an immediate yes or no answer the older man rose from his seat and headed for the kitchen only to return a moment later holding out a small glass and two childrens Tylenol which Ezra reluctantly took from him obediently swallowing the pills.
That task accomplished Chris steered the boy towards the couch rearranging the cushions under the injured arm as he settled him in before grabbing the afghan off the recliner and draping over the exhausted child.
The brown curly mop of hair nodded slowly.
Ill be over here if you need Chris gestured back towards the chair he had been resting in earlier, stopping mid sentence because Ezra was already asleep. He gently patted the boy on the leg, looking down at the exhausted child for a moment before returning to the recliner waiting for Vin to return from his foray into the darkened night.
A sharp rap outside his office woke a lightly dozing Merrin. He idly glanced over and acknowledged Mullins as the man poked his head through the open door.
I hope you are disturbing with good news?
Yes sir weve found them
The sun hadnt even crested over the horizon when Buck turned the key in the dead bolt and slipped through the front doors into the offices that housed the 4C agency. He hadnt even finished flipping on the overhead florescent lights when he noticed the answering machines message indicator was flashing. He strode over and let the digital recording play. A husky feminine voice prattled out.
Oh damn I hate those little beeps Hi! Mr. Larabee and friends I should start off by saying we have a mutual little acquaintance in common and I just wanted you to know that his traveling companion would love to arrange a luncheon date hopefully sometime soonish Call this number and they will relay the message Buck quickly snatched a pen up off the desk and wrote the singsong number across his palm. And tell em that Lulu told you to give her a ring chow! The message ended with Wilmington staring at his open palm with a sudden realization of what the caller was trying to convey and with out a moments hesitation he depressed the button and deleted the message before picking up the reception areas desk phone.
Occasionally glancing into the rearview mirror as he drove Chris watched the bleary eyed boy blankly gazing out the car window. The early departure from the Wells residence hadnt given Ezra much time to recover from the previous day. Tanner slept oblivious hunkered down in the passenger seat with his head leaning heavily into the SUVs window. Larabee was suffering ill effects of the excruciating long day as well. His muscles burned and his bones ached. Although awake he faced the morning with armed with a hot coffee and stern face because before the caffeine had hit his system he had received two sobering phone calls. The first was from Buck relaying the cryptic message left on the agencys answering machine along with Walt Mitchells insistence that they return with the boy. The second call was from Josiah alerting him that Maude Standish would be making a statement at the police department but the big man hadnt gone into detail about what she would say. The day hadnt started well and showed no signs of improving.
There still was a bit of a chill in the air as the mustached investigator half jogged down the alley and knocked on the steel door. There was no immediate answer and the ladies man scanned his surrounding to see if there was anything out of place beside him in the shadows. Buck had called Lulu and this was where the meet was supposed to take place. He was beginning to wonder if this was a waste of time when door began to slowly creak open. A hand with long well manicured nails snaked out and beckoned him.
When he had been hustled into the car Ezra didnt bother to ask where they were going he already knew. He had overheard them talking before Mr. Larabee came in to wake him. It hardly mattered he wasnt given a choice. The boy stared at the road watching the mileage markers as they went streaming by and try as he might Ezra couldnt keep the memories away.
His short legs crept down the hall towards voices until Ezra reached the partially open door to Mr. Merrins home office. The small boy inched forward until he could see through the tiny space between the door and its jam. All he could see was the back of a man dressed in a gray suit even at the tender age of five he knew it was expensive. The idle thought skittered away as the some one else in the room started yelling.
WHY DID YOU HAVE TO BRING HIM HERE?
The gray suit stepped away revealing an angry Mr. Merrin and somewhere out of Ezras sight the sound of a childs sobbing renewed.
Then where was I supposed to take him? The gray suited man bit back, it didnt seem to the young Ezra that he was afraid at all of Mr. Merrin, like everyone else even Mother was afraid, but not this man. The child shrank further into the shadows as the well dressed man paced passed him.
Escorted into the 8th precinct police station Maude Standish cool demeanor didnt manage to hide her agitation. She was being hauled in like a common criminal and she was far from common. Mr. Jackson and Mr. Sanchez could not be swayed in their mission with recent events leaving her with little choice in the matter she dutifully followed them in to the building waiting patiently as Mr. Jackson spoke with the officer behind the desk and heard his answer.
Captain Mitchell is waiting for you Officer Danby will bring you up.
Maude was mildly surprised that it was a woman that came conduct them towards an interrogation room within Major Crimes.
The phone rang only once Eskie Mullins neatly scooped up the handset and gave his long practiced greeting.
Merrin residence The rote was halted as the personal assistant listened. No no hell want to be there Ill let him know immediately The slim man hadnt given the caller a chance to utter another word before hanging up. Eskie punched a phone extension tensing as he spoke. Mr. Merrin He could hear the line open but didnt wait for a proper response he proceeded to relay the message.
Vin I want you to take the kid to Travis for safe keeping Larabee broke the silence that had settled over the SUV since leaving Netties house. Tanner had woken ten minutes earlier with a scowl on his face as they entered the city limits the man hadnt gotten his quota of morning coffee. Vin just nodded not asking why they had pulled to a complete stop in the parking lot of a supermarket instead he listened to Chris. Youre going keep the rental after you drop me off.
The scruffy Texan shot him a dirty look before he got out and took over the drivers seat.
Once they had settled in Vin restarted the engine while drawling out. Where we going?
Make a right turn out of the parking lot Chris instructed before he explained where he was going and why.
Walt Mitchell stood behind the two-way mirror waiting for the interview with Maude Standish to be conducted. He had just returned to the station house after a long conversation with Buck Wilmington over coffee in an all night diner four blocks away. What the private investigator revealed was unnerving and for that reason Walt thought it would be best if he removed himself from the Standish case due to his growing personal involvement. If they succeeded of taking down Merrin he didnt want the monster to get off on any technicalities.
The big black man sighed leaning into the wall and kept a silent vigil beyond the glass as the detective, he had passed the case off to, casually stepped into the room.
As the green SUV approached its destination the young boy in the back seat snapped out of his reverie. Why are we back here? Ezra wondered as Vin effortlessly guided the vehicle down the back alley and pulled to a stop. Chris wordlessly climbed out of the passenger seat and purposefully strode into the shadows towards the heavy metal backstage door that led into Priscillas. The SUVs door had barely clicked shut Tanner already had the vehicle in motion heading towards the main street when a dark sedan pulled out in front of them effectively blocking their exit.
Get down on the floor was all lanky Texan managed to get out before the windshield exploded sending glass flying as two slugs sliced over his head.
A moment later he was being hauled from the back seat by Mackie and caught a glimpse of a stunned Vin sprawled out face down on the blacktop held there by the well placed boot of Rocco Benadetto while their cohort Coop bound the subdued mans hands.
Mac lets get these two inside and Coop ditch their car before someone notices our handy work.
The clubs interior remained dim the morning sun was softly muted by over sized vertical blinds. Rocco hauled Tanner across the show floor finally shoving him through an open room. Staggering as he was pushed through the door Vin floundered as his struggled to keep his balance.
Nice of you to join us The smug voice belonged to Eduardo Merrin.
The interview with Maude Standish had just begun. She had been giving Detective Michaels details on she became involved with Eduardo Merrin when theres was a rap at the door and the weary looking man was waved from the room. Mitchell watched the scene with confusion at first then suspicion when the detective returned a several minutes later only to slide a post it note towards the woman who quickly glanced at it and noticeably paled. The captain was stunned when she palmed the piece of paper before politely excusing herself and left the interrogation room.
Rocco, please bring our guests in Merrin smiled as Tanner and the Standish boy were escorted into the managers office. The longhaired Texan wasnt completely surprised that there were other guests in the tight quarters besides himself and Ezra as he surveyed the room. A pissed off Larabee was cuffed to the desk chair his eyes boring holes into Merrins men as they entered. Wilmington was bound hand and foot and lay dazed between the chair legs. Vin vaguely recognized the dark curly haired young man and the buxom performer from the other day.
What now boss? He was only partially listening to the conversation between Benadetto and Merrin as the goon roughly pushed him down against the wall until he was seated on the tiled floor.
We wait and make sure they dont get away this time The smug man exited leaving Rocco and Mackie to watch over the guests. Vin shifted around trying to find a more comfortable position watching as the big red head whispered something in Ezras ear. The boys widened but he remained silent as he stepped across room and brushing passed Tanner unwilling to make eye contact with anyone as he sat down.
His heart thumped wildly Ezra pulled his knees in close resting his splinted hand atop them trying to ease the throbbing pain that had settled into the limb. Leaning his head back until it lightly thudded against the wall the boy closed his eyes emotions betraying him as a lone tear trickled down the side of his face. Old memories of a horrifying day flooded his mind and the pitiful sobbing voice whose words rung in his ears.
Daddy why cant you find me Daddy? Five year Ezra Standish for the first time could see the little boy when the gray suited man stepped by his niche behind the door. The other child was messy and damp dressed in over sized rumpled clothes, as he stood in front of Mr. Merrin beet face red and wailed.
Shut up Kid or Ill give you a reason to cry The older man growled out, the frightened boys mouth immediately snapped shut. Fowler you were a fool to bring him here you shouldve killed him.
You hired me to keep the law out of your business I did what I saw fit Fowler screamed back.
The escalating argument had Ezra quietly inching away until he had cleared the door and padding down the hall careful not to draw any unnecessary attention.
The moment Ezra woke up in Adam Larabees old room he had realized just who the child in his nightmares had been and he never said a word.
The occasional hitched sob could be heard from Lulu as the performer tended to the lax form of Nicky Salvo precariously draped over sequined thighs. A groan slipped from Wilmingtons lips as he unsuccessfully tried to shift onto his back. Chris sat there stock-still his anger smoldering just under his stony façade. A nod from Vin as he quietly watched his captors told Larabee he was ready for what was to come.
The boy was startled from his intense thoughts his eyes flying wide open when a voice broke through the silence that had settled over the room.
Travel arrangements have been made Eduardo Merrin addressed his men as he stepped back inside the open door. Why dont you two make sure everything is set up while I have a word with our guests. Rocco stalked out of the room. Mackie briefly glared back at Ezra before following in his cohorts footsteps.
Young man, I see youve already irritated Mr. MacDougal not to worry your mother should be here soon In spite the fear that coursed through to his very bones the youngster never let it show as he staunchly met the older mans gaze. Ezra heard a low growl emanating off to his right and immediately located the source, Mr. Larabee. Merrin slowly backed away from him and turned his attention to the former police officer.
Ah Mr. Larabee persistent to the last it seems that you havent learned your lesson after all Merrin didnt wait for other man to reply. What would that be? No no I dont mind answering Theres a heavy price for interfering with my business youve paid dearly already
What the hell are you talking about? Chris snarled out not particularly caring that this mad man was baiting him.
Your family Mr. Larabee your beautiful wife Sarah and your handsome son Adam Eduardo gloated, broadly smiling as the shock registered in Larabees face.
You fucking monster Chris snapped and he violently strained against his bonds.
Pity I had to have them killed A sinister smirk graced Merrins face as he spoke trying to goad Larabee.
His efforts were abruptly interrupted the room fell silent when Ezra screamed out a single word.
You dare raise you voice to me boy? Eduardo hissed out as he took a menacing step in Ezras direction.
Adam Larabees not dead The stunning statement was forced out by the eleven year-old who tried not the cringe as Merrin stepped towards him again. Mustering up resolve the boy shot a pained look in Larabees direction before he continued. Mr. Salvo gave him to a woman who took him away
Well well Mr. Larabee, it seems your client has been keeping secrets from you. Pity really because Id like to hear young Ezra explain his way out of this but none of that matters because this time I cant let any you survive Eduardo Merrin wasnt prepared when an enraged Chris Larabee lunged for him while still handcuffed to the chair. Somehow Chris had managed to twist around enough to clench the heavy wooden seat as a weapon and charge towards the mad man. Despite all his bravado Merrin back-pedaled a few steps and scrambled from the room with Larabee storming down the hall after him.
Larabees pursuit of Merrin was abruptly cut short when he was blindsided by a well-placed thick knuckled fist. Though briefly stunned Chris managed to recover enough to launch another attack swinging the chair two fisted into Rocco who blocked his path as the retreating form of Eduardo Merrin disappeared down the hall. A heavy wooden leg clipped Benadettos forehead. Blood started to flow down the bigger mans face, he staggered and swayed in place as he ineffectually fended off a second blow before sinking to his knees on the tile floor staring up wide eyed as Larabee hefted up the chair again while letting loose a guttural howl.
A silly grin spread across Roccos face as the man knelt in front him. The odd reaction caused Chris to hesitate for a split second, the blinding pain exploded in his head. The world grayed and completely blackened before he had hit the floor oblivious as a booted foot connected with his ribs.
The partially opened door was kicked into the wall as Rocco dragged Larabee back into the managers office. Chris was roughly dropped against the back wall, his head lolled limply to the side. Vin silently bored holes into the man as the pissed off goon take another cheap shot at the downed man. Benadetto was about to kick Chris again when Mackie interrupted him.
Come on we gotta go
Now? Rocco snapped out as he swung around more than a little displeased at the interruption.
Yeah now Boss says well get the bitch later after we take care of this mess here Mackie shrugged his shoulders and smiled at the little boy partially hidden behind the long haired investigator barely noticing as Rocco nodded, the man obviously not wanting to question Merrins rational. The pair stepped out of the office. The sound of the dead bolt sliding into place reverberated through the small space.
Larabee let out a low groan that turned to a hiss when cracked ribs protested as he tried to roll onto his side. Breathing raggedly through the sudden discomfort for a few long seconds before his eyes fluttered opened then closed Chris lay there unable to comprehend why someone was lightly tugging on his wrists. He heard Vin call out his name but at the particular moment he couldnt muster the right amount of coordination and motor skills to respond with out bringing on further pain. Larabee lay there listening to Tanners calm quiet voice speaking in close proximity able only to catch fragments of the ongoing conversation before hearing a click and the clatter of metal against the floor and the sensation of blood rushing back to his hands as they were suddenly freed.
Gonna sit ya up He felt Vins breath against his neck as he muttered into his ear before slowly pulling him up into a sitting position. Yall right? Think ya can walk? Chris nodded as he began to regain his bearings, his mind grasped that something was wrong but could quite figure out just what it was as he looked around the room. His gaze returned to the wiry Texan was crouched next to him only catching part of what Vin had said. cause we gotta get out of here . A small cough caught his attention, Ezra. The boy was standing across the room diligently fiddling one handed with the dead bolt as wisps of smoke steadily floated up from under the door. Tanners urgency finally struck home. Fuck
Yeah bout sums it up Cowboy on yer feet
Vin hauled Chris to his feet, leaving the man steadying himself against the wall stepping over to help Lulu with Nicky. The young man hadnt regained consciousness.
Maam, be best if ya help Buck up and leave this one to me. Vins quiet stern tone didnt leave the big red head any room to argue as he hefted Salvo over his shoulder just as Ezras efforts paid off the deadbolt clicked open. Tanner grunted under the extra weight moving forward just as the wary boy glanced over at Larabee before slowly opening the door disappearing into the smoke filled hallway.
A few panicked moments later the boy came staggering out of the fire door stumbling down the steps and before stopping to take in a few deep breaths of clean air. Grimy hands rubbed at tearing eyes as Ezra tried to get his bearings he was startled as an irate Chris Larabee painfully spun him around and shook him.
You little bastard all this time you knew didnt say a fucking word and you knew . Chris rasped out, his tirade was strangled short by other bout forceful coughing before falling to his knees. Twisting free of Larabees grasp Ezra took several steps back distancing himself from the wheezing man as and would have slipped away if it hadnt been for a uniformed officer that had arrived on the scene and herded the reluctant boy towards an approaching paramedic just as Tanner slammed open the fire door. Ezra stole a few more glances over his shoulder as Buck and finally the buxom Lulu followed Vin out of the building.
More sirens sounded off in the distance. Red and white flashing lights danced dully up the brick buildings that lined the street. The blaze set by Merrins thugs was almost under control. The heavy dark smoke that had been billowing into the mid morning sky had been replaced by light wisps of off white as Ezra wrapped in a blanket sat on the bumper of an ambulance watching the scene as the firemen scurried around the smoldering building while ignoring the questions the persistent female E.M.T. was asking him occasionally giving a sideways glance to where Mr. Larabee was hunched over on the curb. The private investigators face was had smudges of dark soot smeared across his face and neck. The older man sat there loosely holding an oxygen mask in place while trying to take steady breathes with an equally grimy Tanner holding a steadying arm across his back. Neither man looked in his direction. Off to his left Ezra watched as a woozy Buck was being securely strapped to a gurney. A hysterical Lulu had been taken away in an ambulance with Nicky only moments earlier. The young boy scanned the crowd already forming along the street but his mother was nowhere in sight. He didnt resist the paramedic that guided him inside the back of the ambulance.
Bright florescent lights flickered and buzzed overhead were a constant reminder of just where he was. Inside Denver Memorials E.R. trying not to think about why he was there again. He hadnt been asleep not really he had been just resting his eyes. Ezra kept them closed. It was far easier to do that than answer questions. Maybe they had forgotten he was even there now that they knew the truth. The boy sincerely hoped so as he lay there listening to the sounds of the emergency room. The quiet click of a pair of high-heel shoes against the tile floor caused the boys eyes to flutter open.
Mother? Somehow in some inexplicable way she was there, hovering over his bedside trying to rouse him.
Darling its time to go Maude whispered as she lowered the rail on the gurney. Waiting as the Ezra sat up and swung his legs over edge of the mattress before slipping sneakers over bare feet, then helped him make the awkward maneuver out of the bed. Allowing the child a full minute to steady himself then steered him towards the door.
The doctor patted him lightly on the arm before disappearing through the curtains that partitioned off the emergency room bed allowing him a brief moment of privacy. Chris lay there emotionally taut as a tidal surge of conflicting feelings flowed over him. The lingering hope that he struggled to hang onto for years, that his son was indeed alive had been confirmed not by one by two people in a warped convoluted conversation.
Damn The oath quietly hissed out as he struggled to sit up. A deep seeded regret began to take hold as he remembered what he had said to the eleven year-old, who had been a silent witness to the crime. Guilt gnawed at Larabee after having time to reflect on the stunning information fully aware that Ezra had born the brunt of his anger for something he could have neither foreseen or prevented and was just a child little older than his own son Adam. Leaving him wondering if that boy had ever told anyone.
A battered and bruised Larabee gingerly tugged on the pale colored short sleeved t-shirt Tanner had bought in the gift shop along with a pair of lightweight pants. The remnants of Chris filthy tattered clothes were neatly folded into the plastic sack at the end of the gurney along with the rest of his belongings. Vin was sporting a few spectacular bruises of his own as he slouched heavily into the wall against the cool tiles that covered emergency rooms walls watching the older man dress.
She left with him Chris
Who? What are you talking about?
Maude took her son . they left a little under an hour ago Vin didnt say anything else he didnt need to. The hard cold truth finally sank into Larabees brain.
How could that happen? Chris snarled out but he already knew the answer, despite everything that had happened she was still his mother. Chris sank heavily into the unyielding hideous orange fiberglass chair, knowing in the end he had failed the boy. So wrapped up in the dark tendrils of his own anguish he had forgotten about Ezra. Forgotten the promise he made to the boy to keep him safe because of Adam and the faint glimmer of hope that his own son still may be alive. The only person who knew for sure was a madman who somehow managed to vanish in broad daylight and evade police custody.
A place for my head:
Skin and Bones
The last time I felt I left a piece of myself
I was so broken up
I shoulda stayed down
Heaven can you help me
Im losing the war
I wont die young from just battle scars
Keep the devil
Out of my soul
Come on and save me
From a heart of stone
Tell the lord he can take me now
Im shell of a man just skin and bones .
Good times and bad times I remember them all
Must have been the thunder and alcohol
Keep the devil out of my soul
From a heart of stone
Tell the lord he can take me now
Im shell of a man just skin and bones .
Skeletons in the closet keep me awake at night
The things that really scare me
Are the monsters I live with everyday
Gilby Clarke-Pawn Shop Guitars 1994
A week later
One thing Chris Larabee knew as he stared out at the setting sun was that his life had been twisted upside down and there wasnt a thing he could do about it. Tracing outline of the horizon across the cool glass of the bay window ignoring the persistent messages left on his answering machine. Chris hadnt spoken to his friends since ushered Vin from the house after being driven home from the hospital. He knew that Buck and JD were recovering, hell even the Salvo kid would be okay. Earlier in the day Mitchell had called informing him that Merrin had fled into Mexico.
At the moment Chris didnt want to deal with anyone, wanting a little time to think on his own, he sagged down on the sofa. Staring out the window as the light slowly faded from the room.
Dulles Airport Washington D.C.
Gently smoothing back a stray curl before Maude kissed her son lightly on the forehead. Not worried for once over the uncharacteristic public display of affection.
Maam The young female flight attendant felt awkward for having to interrupt the tender moment between mother and son. The pilot is getting ready to taxi
I understand The elegantly dressed woman smiled caressing the boys cheek
Exhaustion had finally taken its toll on Chris Larabee, it was the third night in a row that he had fallen asleep on the couch. He was in pain. The emotional wound was worse than his healing physical injuries. But he hadnt turned to seek solace in the bottle instead he had taken some time off and spent it on the ranch. Working from dawn to dusk painting, repairing fences and cleaning tack basically anything to keep from thinking. At two in the morning he was roused from a restless slumber by the insistent ringing of the telephone unable to ignore it any longer he rolled over and picked up the handset.
Larabee The voice on the other end caused him to bolt upright listening intently. Uh huh no no Im on my way At that moment Chris knew that life was either a kick in the pants or a kick in the teeth but on a rare occasion sometimes you got what you needed.
The parking lot was nearly empty when Chris pulled in. He parked and quickly secured the vehicle before briskly jogging across the black towards the main airport terminal. The fluorescent lighting made the nearly empty building seem that more surreal almost as if he was in a dream as he entered and headed directly for the security offices.
Peering through the partly open door he rapped on the doorframe. A short black heavyset woman beckoned him in.
Im Chris Larabee As he introduced himself the woman smiled. Ms. Johnson where is he? She didnt say a word instead she stepped across the room and opened a door to the darkened back office. The light revealed the sleeping child. Chris walked over to the boy staring at him for a moment before he lightly shook a slim shoulder careful not to jar the arm with the splinted fingers.
Ezra, wake up its time to go home
Dark lashes fluttered and bleary green eyes stared up at Chris trying to make sense of the older mans presence.
Chr Mr. Larabee? As the boy slowly sat the light blanket slipped from his shoulders onto the upholstered seats of the small loveseat. Ezra wasnt even sure where he was. All he remembered was being escorted onto a charter jet by a flight attendant in D.C.s Dulles Airport then there were vague disjointed recollections of deplaning and being brought into an office. The youngster muddled brain just accepted the bewildering facts and figured when he woke up he would understand better.
Its nice to see ya even if youre a dream The softly spoken words came out skewed almost unrecognizable. Ezras sluggish reactions and slurred speech worried Larabee as he lightly grasped the childs chin and watched the roving eyes. It almost seemed that the boy had been drugged.
Come on buddy were going home Chris soothed as he hefted the boy up in his arms. Maam where are his belongings?
In the outer office Ill have security help you out to your car
The highway was illuminated by the glow of street lamps and the occasional headlights of a passing car Chris Larabee glanced at the form occupying his passenger seat. The boy was hunkered down, as far as the seat belt would allow, oblivious to the world around him. The late night call was unexpected, for reasons Chris couldnt fathom Maude Standish had sent her son back without so much as a phone call or a note just the convoluted instruction given to the charter pilot to have security contact him upon arrival in Denver. Thankfully Larabee still had the custodial paperwork to show them and the child was quickly released into his care, freeing him to take the boy home with him.
Instead of going straight to the ranch Larabee made a stop at the Denver Memorial. After filling out myriad of forms the Emergency Room physician had verified Chris suspicions. Ezra had indeed been tranquilized before he was put on the flight, the doctor wanted to keep the boy in the hospital overnight to make sure the eleven year old suffered no ill effects from being heavily drugged. The only good news was the fractured bones in the boys hand were healing nicely and as Ezras temporary guardian Chris would be allowed to stay at his side.
The blinds had been lowered effectively filtering the bright morning sunshine and casting odd shadows across the semi-private room. A light blanket covered the slight boy as he slept on his side unaware of the warm hand that gripped his own. Chris hadnt called anyone to tell them what had transpired during the early morning hours but just the same he looked up to see Vin standing in the doorway watching him with a grimace on his tan face.
He all right? Tanner asked in a hushed voice. Behind him the clatter of breakfast trays being dutifully collected filled the hallway along with broken bits of conversation as the nursing staff passed by the room.
Chris stiffly sat up as he leaned against the bed rail and gently caressed boys face before answering. Physically he will be okay as soon as the tranquilizers wear off he woke up a couple times already doesnt even know where he is thinks Im a dream
You okay? The lanky Texan stepped farther into the room in closer to get a better look at his friend.
Chris managed a tight smile, seemed funny to answer the question because Tanner was a better judge of his moods than anyone. He let loose a heavy sigh as he spoke. Dont know
Thought ya might like to know that Ole Buck and JD are driving Nate crazy since hes been over their place watching over them an all, theyre even trying Josiahs patience Vin wore a lopsided grin, as he relayed the information, which dimmed as Chris bowed his head and stared at the floor running a callused hand over his face. He hadnt seen or spoke to any of the boys since the day of the fire. They werent gonna say this but I sure as hell will . Is just wondering when you were going git yer head out yer ass? The quietly drawled remark caused the older mans head to snap up. A flash of anger flittered across his handsome face but it didnt dissuade Tanner. Larabee you aint dead yet so dont act like it
Sinking back into the chair Chris maintained eye contact with his friend and shifted uneasily in his seat. He didnt seem to know what to say at first but after a several long minutes he managed to respond.
Ive been acting like a jack ass
I aint gonna argue with ya there pard
Thanks a lot Larabee let out a tight chuckle.
I know it aint been easy on ya Vins smile fell away and he became somber as he tried to continue but Chris deftly interrupted him with a discourse of his own.
You know what the funny part is not too long ago this would have driven me over the edge Ive have plenty of time to think about a lot things over during the past week especially this morning Id give the world to have my son back . this kids mother dopes him up and sends him packing half way across the country not even knowing if anyone would care enough to safely pick him up
I know When Larabee gave him an odd look Tanner just grinned. One of Bucks lady friends works downstairs in admissions
I take it thats how you found me here? Larabee gazed up at the other man not at all surprised that his boys managed to keep tabs on him.
Yep you know that Merrin had someone on his payroll inside the police department? Vin drawled out as he leaned on the edge of the hospital bed, lightly patting on of Ezras legs as he eased down.
I did talked to Walt Mitchell less than an hour ago . Seems that Detective Michaels conveniently disappeared shortly after his interview with Mrs. Standish . Chris turned his gaze back to Ezra listening to the boys quiet snores as Vin spoke.
Thought ya should know that arrest warrants were sworn out for Merrin and his boys thanks to the statement given Nicky Salvo wanted for suspicion of murder, kidnapping and conspiracy
The cops will have to catch him first Larabee sighed lord he was tired and at that instant in time it seemed almost amusing that he felt almost devoid of anger, oh it was still there though bubbling just under the surface but at the moment he had other priorities to consider.
What are you going to do about Adam? It almost seemed like Vin was reading Chris mind.
The only thing I can keep looking
I suppose you wouldnt be surprised I reported Maude Standish to Social Services.
Nope so what now?
I apply for permanent custody and go from there
Wary since waking in the hospital, Ezra stole a quick glance in Chris Larabees direction as his sat in the Dodge Rams passenger seat more than a little bewildered by the older mans recent course of actions. He thought for sure that Mr. Larabee would want nothing to do with him but here they were pulling out of the Denver Memorial parking lot heading back to the ranch. The turn of events had the boy baffled and more than a little worried that the hardened investigator would snap and lash out again despite the quiet reassurance that been made that morning.
The boys uncharacteristic silence ate at Chris, making him wonder if taking Ezra home with him was such a good idea but he refused to be one of a steady stream of people that walked out the eleven year olds life. He would find a way to make this work he just wasnt sure how he would pull it off. Not a man gifted with the fine art of conversation, he could only be straight forth and honest. Hopefully it would be enough.
The return trip had been silent neither said a word and both were wrapped up in their own thoughts as the vehicle finally pulled to a halt on the gravel drive. Even though Chris had already exited through the drivers side door, the boy remained in his seat watching a single horse pacing along the freshly painted white fence. Ezra hadnt realized how long he had been staring until his door pulled opened and couldnt help but flinch at the older mans close proximity.
Sorry The apology gushed out as the eleven year-old valiantly tried to regain his composure as he struggled to unlatch the seat belt one handed. His ears flushed red as Chris reached across and with one touch freed him then stepped back allowing Ezra to climb out on his own.
Come on Larabee gently guided the young southerner across the yard towards the paddock.
The pair leaned against the fence watching the chestnut-gelding prance across the modest enclosure.
Ezra Carefully watching the boy Chris started off. Not stopping when the youngster didnt respond. I wanted to apologize
The statement was rewarded with a sideways glance and barely audible. Why?