Rebuilding the Past

~ Yolande  

Thanks to Mitzi  & NotTasha

Story moved to Blackraptor in October 2009

****Part 1 

“Mr. Evans,” Hoi Chung Li greeted, tilting his head to the side in acknowledgement.  His paper-thin spattering of greying hair was neatly combed to the side; it did little to disguise the balding patch beneath. 

The lean Chinese gentleman strode inside the warehouse, entering through a side door and brimming with confidence, leading an entourage of six younger and powerfully built bodyguards.  He was the owner of a pawnshop business, which operated legally, but also covered as an outlet for supplying weapons onto the street.  He was in the market now of procuring more.  On Hoi Chung Li’s left walked his grandson, Chen Li; he carried a black attaché case attached to his wrist with handcuffs. 

Ezra Standish distanced himself from the crime family boss already present and assuming his pseudo personality of Simon Evans who acted as the middleman between the two groups, he presented a warm welcome to Hoi Chung.  “Mr. Li.”  Standish gripped the thin hand and shook it vigorously, staying in character.  “Mr. Torres is waiting.”  He gestured the older man into the lead. 

Standish listened to the congenial greetings and a small smile curled his lips as the bodyguards from each side postured.  That was as far as the meeting went to plan.  

A black Mercedes interrupted the proceedings, tyres squealing as the driver spun it around into a 180 turn, stopping inches from the collective group.  Averill Torres barrelled inside the backseat, dragging the grandson of Hoi Chung Li and the case containing the stash of money intended for payment of the shipment of weapons, with him. 

“Stop him!”  Li shouted, even as his bodyguards removed him to safety.  

In the same instant, the boom of several voices announced; “ATF!  DROP YOUR WEAPONS!” 

Ezra Standish, finding himself in the centre of the two warring factions leapt around the stack of packing crates and dove low to escape the barrage of gunfire.  “Shit!”  Tucking his head under his elbows he skidded unceremoniously to a halt, scraping skin from his knees and crashing into the barrier of wall-high wooden boxes.  The undercover agent grunted and shimmied about, bringing his own weapon to bear.  He fired his first shot, quickly withdrawing his arm when he felt the hot breath of a bullet snag a hole in his jacket sleeve; fortunately, it didn’t draw blood.  “Hope they remember I’m one of the good guys,” he muttered under his breath.  

Standish grimaced, ducking his head to the asphalt flooring to avoid the bullets that sailed uncomfortably close to his head.  Chips of packing crate burst away, showering the floor and Standish with the wooden slivers.  He poked his finger in the hole that had just been blown through the crate and jimmied off more ply.  Empty!  The large haul of military weapons that had been agreed upon was not inside.  Where Torres had obtained the collection of 9mm Berettas, Lugers, grenades, assault and snipper rifles and the twenty-five bazookas and ammunition, Standish had no way of knowing, but they weren’t the fuck here, where they were supposed to be.  He kicked the other crates close by and they too fell open, empty.   “Shit!” he hissed.  Too late!  The weapons should have been confiscated in the raid. 

Such a total waste of time and effort, the undercover agent groaned, staring at the gaping hole in the crate.  He’d spent months integrating himself into the folds of both factions.  Running the gauntlet between the two parties.  The meet was planned for ten A.M. and following the conclusion of the deal, both sets were headed for the slammer.  Three teams of ATF agents surrounded the building, and at the given time they were to surge on the criminals.  Fortunately, the teams moved in quickly when the meet was castrated abruptly.  Fuck, Torres! 

Torres had reneged on the agreement, kidnapping Hoi Chung Li’s grandson and absconding with the money, before the deal had been completed.  No weapons had exchanged hands and, as it turned out, that was never going to be the case.  Torres had not delivered the ordered merchandise and he’d escaped intact.  With any luck, Li would not blame Standish for the unfolding drama, but he very much doubted this.  His cover wouldn’t easily be re-established following this debacle.  The Li and the Torres families would now escalate their enmity, especially since Torres had abducted Chen Li, the old man’s grandson, and the cash.  Ezra ruminated which of the two the aging Asian considered more worthwhile - during their three month long association, Hoi Chung Li had shown a thin tolerance of his grandson and his participation in the family business.  

The box to Standish’s right ripped open, straining and creaking as the panelling and joints weakened.  “Ezra, it’s time to find a more suitable defence,” he hissed through clenched teeth.  He stretched full length on his belly and ripped off three coarse shots into the melee, rolled to the left and gained his feet in an instant.  He took off at a sprint, firing the weapon as he dodged and successfully wound his way closer to his compatriots at the front of the warehouse.  Panting for breath, Team 7’s ATF undercover agent gained a more feasible cover.  His heart pounded frantically, racing and strumming beneath his shirt.  Sirens wailed in the distance and the noise only seemed to be intensifying.  He looked about wondering whether Li had escaped.  

Ezra pushed a new magazine into the revolver and psyched himself for the next round.  He quickly scanned the warehouse for his friends, expelling a much-relieved breath at finding all six men safely behind some form of cover.  He gestured to Wilmington with a thumbs up, smiling devilishly and receiving a similar grin in return from the gregarious agent.  He saw Larabee wave him backwards, scowling as he did so.  

An explosion of white erupted before Ezra’s eyes and he found himself catapulted through the air and landing with a hard grunt.   He lay stunned on the floor, shaking his head to clear it.  There were more blasts and Standish found himself surrounded by a sheer wall of flames.  Smoke filled the warehouse as materials succumbed to the fire.  Another grenade pierced through the bank of smoke and sputtered to life, throwing itself apart and settling more damaged cargo into spasms.  He jerked backward and came to rest as his world disappeared into oblivion. 

“Ezra!”  The undercover agent’s name was bellowed, but no response was uttered. 


****Part 2 

Buck Wilmington stretched out his long and cramped legs, wriggling his toes within the confines of his boots in an attempt to generate renewed circulation.  His backside was moulded to the seat of the plastic stacking chair and his back was telling his brain that it had been stationary for far too long.  The surveillance expert bent forward in the waiting chair, cast a surreptitious glance at the door, then reached for the laces of his boots.  “Ahhhh…” he sighed, removing his aching feet from the enclosures.  “That’s better.”  

The door flapped open and Chris Larabee entered carrying two Styrofoam mugs of coffee.  He handed one to Buck, arching an eyebrow at Wilmington’s bare feet and wrinkling his nose.  “You trying to kill Ezra with the smell?” 

Buck grinned at his boss, and long time friend, then glanced at the motionless agent in the hospital bed.  Standish had been admitted thirty-two hours ago and had not come round.   His face was pale against the starched white linen and the bruising on his face significant.  He sported a new haircut, curtesy of the ER staff who first attended him; shaved to accommodate the twenty-three stitches that closed over the gaping wound that resulted from being caught in the range of the grenade.  An IV line pumped liquids into a vein in the back of his right hand and a green oxygen mask covered his mouth and nose.  “Nothing else has worked yet.”  Buck had tried talking to the undercover agent until he himself had gone hoarse.  The arrival of the remainder of the team had come and gone without Standish responding to the crowd. 

“Why don’t you take a break…get some fresh air?” 

Buck tipped his head on the side and stepped up to the edge of the bed.  He held Ezra’s hand for a moment and squeezed it tightly.  “Wakey wakey, buddy.”  Buck stood holding Ezra’s hand, willing the agent to open his eyes.  He licked his lips and shook his head despondently.  “Now would be a good time, Ezra.”  He glanced over to where Chris had dropped into the other plastic chair.   With a heavy sigh he nodded.  “Yeah, might do that.” 

Chris Larabee returned the nod.  “Take yer time.  Josiah’s coming in shortly.” 

“Will do.”  Wilmington paused at the door and faced Larabee with an inquiring shrug.  “What?” he questioned, following Chris’ snort. 

“Figured you might not want to scare off too many of the nurses,” Larabee answered cryptically. 


“Shoes, Wilmington.” 

Buck glanced at his bare feet and grinned.  “Oh, yeah.” 


****Part 3 

“Chris…” Josiah slowly drawled out the name, keeping his eyes fixed on Ezra.  

Larabee lifted his eyes from the newspaper, meeting Josiah’s only for a second before they flitted over Standish.  He quickly assessed his agent as still unconscious.  “Yeah?” 

“He looks like he’s dreaming…” 

Chris joined Josiah by the bedside and studied Standish more carefully.  Eyes flashed behind closed lids and while they watched, Ezra grimaced, turning his head and burying it into the pillow. 

“Not something good either, by the looks of it.  Easy there,” Sanchez soothed. 

Larabee stared, unable to tear his eyes away.  His undercover agent began to clench and unfurl his hands, tensing his body and contorting his face into a knot of lines.  His head tossed in agitation and slurred words past his lips.  His legs peddled under the covers as though he was trying to escape.  Chris grasped Ezra’s hand and was surprised when it was squeezed tightly in return.  “Ezra…” Chris winced at the manic grip his hand was crushed in.  “Ezra.  You’re safe.  Nobody’s going to hurt you.”  The agent continued to thrash in the narrow bed. 

Sanchez gathered the agent’s other hand, attempting to stop the IV line from becoming tangled and inadvertently ripped out, but was taken unawares by the ferocity of Ezra’s grip as he clung onto the massive hand.  His breaths were becoming more rapid.  “Ezra, son…it’s just a dream…you gotta wake up and see that nothing’s going to hurt you.”  Sanchez meet Chris’ blue eyes over the top of the agent’s form.   “Should we call someone?” 

Larabee winced as his hand was squeezed even tighter.  “Why don’t we see if he’s going to wake up first?”    


****Part 4 

“Sergei, you finished?” 

Sergei Gaidar nodded his head; a few strands of black hair fell into his eyes and were immediately tucked behind his ear, having escaped the knot at the base of his neck that held the long tresses in a band.  He grinned, a broad and cheerful smile.  “Say the word, man.  Ready whenever you are, Nikoli.” 

Nikoli crouched over a box, touching some buttons and checking his watch.  He glanced over to Gaidar and gestured with undisguised excitement.   Both men were clearly young, probably still in their late teens, but they handled the explosives with expert care and confidence.  Nikoli licked his bottom lip and signalled he was finished.  He backed up from the heavy-duty metal door and picked up the backpack off the polished floor.  They retreated back inside the fire escape, but did not close the door completely.  They hunched together on the stairs, checking their watches. 

Nikoli could hear Gaidar’s nervousness in his breathing and gently shook the other man’s shoulder.  “We’re almost in,” he whispered as encouragement.  Nikoli pulled his black beanie over his ears; it wouldn’t dull the blast when it came, but it would keep his straggly auburn locks from falling in his face. 

Sergei grinned, showing his white teeth.  “And together we concur the world…Hey comrade?” he chuckled, laughing at his joke.  “We make a good team.” 

“The best,” Nikoli agreed.  He watched the numbers change on the expensive digital and counted down the time from sixty.  When it reached ten, he softly mouthed the numbers.  “Ten…Nine…Eight…Seven…” 

The explosion came, which triggered another.  The rush of air hurled at the fire escape door forced both men to lean heavily against it to keep from having it throw open.  Nikoli tapped his watch, frowning as the numbers continued to countdown. 

“We did it!”  Sergei punched the air and ripped open the door and ploughed down the corridor. 

“No!”  Nikoli demanded.  Something had gone wrong.  They had set two charges, but they were timed to erupt together.  Something definitely had gone astray.  “SERGEI!”  Nikoli screamed, chasing after his partner.  The young Russian skidded, his rubber soles catching and squeaking on the tiles.  He staggered to a halt seeing Gaidar fixed to the spot, with his hands splayed outwards in defence.  Damn!  It had been a trap after all.  He should have known.  Shouldn’t have taken the risk.   

The metal door swung open and a task force of eight black-suited agents swooped out, holding a barrage of weaponry and toting gas masks.   The agents spread out in a fan through the doorway, inching inside the room.   

Nikoli caught sight of the as yet unexploded charge and with a cocky smile knew their escape was taken care of.  He grinned insolently at the masked team.  He wanted to warn Sergei, but that would also inform the agents.  He cursed under his breath and didn’t come any further inside the room.  All the young Russian could do was bide his time, waiting for the impact, then he and his partner would make their escape. 

Gaidar back-peddled, eyes widened with anger and fear, and pulled the semi-automatic from the back of his belt and shouted.  “Death to all pigs!” 

Nikoli watched in slow motion, stunned.  He screamed, holding up his hand in a stopping motion.  “NOOOOOOOOOO!”  But Sergei continued to draw on the team, and Nikoli watched in horror as his partner was filled with lead, all the while firing into the agents.  His last bullets hit the ceiling as he slumped to the floor, the weapon clattering as it dropped from useless fingers.   

Nikoli’s throat was dry, and he didn’t register any pain as he too was hit with flying metal while stretching out to reach his fallen friend.  He scooped Sergei to his chest, hugging the dead man and rocking back and forwards.  He gulped back the tears and rage battled to escape.  The team had momentarily held their fire, waiting for Nikoli to make the next move.  Nikoli eyed Sergei’s weapon, it lay by his feet; he’d only need to reach out to touch it. 

The lights flickered above his head, the bulb sputtered and failed, leaving the room in a depressing grey light.  Not all the lighting had been damaged.  Great wracking sobs filled the silence; Nikoli tightened his hold on his brother and friend.  He would not go down without a fight!  In the split second he reached for the gun, picking it up in one foul swoop, falling bodily over Gaidar to procure it.  The instant Nikoli moved, the leader of the task force ordered his members to take aim.  He was thrown backward from the bullets that entered his lean frame.  His lifeblood seeping and pumping from his body.  His finger spasmed, twitched on the trigger, but not enough to squeeze out the ammo.  He collapsed onto Sergei, his eyes blinking as his world fell apart.  Black boots filled his vision and he desperately wanted to give in.  Spying the explosive left unattended he managed a feral grin.  “Run if you can,” he slurred. 

The third and final blast tore the room apart. Shrill screams echoed and stopped abruptly with a deadly finality.  Blood and bodies torn and dismembered, decorated the room like a morbid disease.   


****Part 5 

“NOOOOOOOO!   SERGEI!” Ezra screamed, lurching upright in the hospital bed.   His pale green eyes were wide with fear and confusion.  He struggled with the hands that gripped both his arms, and drew his legs to his chest.   He panted and fought all the harder. 

“Ezra.  It’s Josiah and Chris.  You’re in the hospital.”  Sanchez exchanged a puzzled look with Larabee.  What the hell was going on?  

“Ezra…You okay?”  Maybe that blast Standish had been caught in caused more damage then even the doctors had predicted, because the CT scan had been clear.  They’d thought he’d only been suffering a mild concussion. 

Standish abruptly pulled his arms free of Chris and Josiah’s hold and with mistrustful eyes, glanced nervously about the room, all the while pushing his body back into the mattress, trying to get as much distance as he could between himself and the others. 

Chris watched his agent with caution not wanting to startle the concussed man.  He was displaying an awful amount of suspicion and fear, even more then he usually did when he found himself awakened in a hospital.  But the worst part was, Ezra was staring at them as through he didn’t recognise them.  What if Standish had lost his memory?  The doctors had warned it could be a slight possibility.  “Ezra…” Chris called softly, a small smile ghosted across his face when the man looked him square in the eyes and slowly blinked. 

“Mr. Larabee,” Ezra drawled, recognition finally dawning, although his body was still tense and prepared for flight. 

Sanchez cleared his throat and Standish sluggishly turned to acknowledge the sound.  “You gave us a bit of a scare there, son.” 

Standish was slow to reply and this didn’t go unnoticed by either visitor.  “My apologies.”  He glanced past his teammates, absorbing his surroundings.  “Hospital?” 

“Yeah,” Sanchez nodded.  “How you feeling?” 

Ezra furrowed his brow, wincing at the sting and the tight pull of skin.  “Been better.  Stitches?” 

“Yep,” Larabee smirked at the straightforward questioning his normally loquacious agent was using – pity it never lasted, they could always understand him when he was like this. 

“How many?” 


“Why so many?”  Just how large was this gash? 

“Don’t worry,” Josiah reassured.  “You aren’t going to have a huge ugly scar.  And your hair’s going to cover it, when it grows back, in any rate.” 

“Thank you, Dr. Sanchez,” Standish drolled.  Larabee broke into a grin.  

“I’m just repeating what Nathan had said,” Josiah objected.   “You got a headache?” 

Standish shrugged.  “Some.” 

“Must have been a hell of a nightmare you were having,” Sanchez prodded.  He wondered who Sergei was.  He couldn’t recall Ezra ever having mentioned anyone by that name before, but then Standish wasn’t always very forthcoming with information about himself or his past.  The name sounded oddly Russian.  “Want to talk about it?” 

Ezra stared at the profiler, and finally collapsed back against the mattress.  “I don’t remember it.”  Standish dropped his eyes to the blanket and plucked at an invisible spot. 

Josiah pursed his lips, but nodded his head.  “Well, I’m here if you change your mind.” 

“Thank you, all the same.”  Ezra relaxed against the backrest of pillows, almost slipping back into a light doze when he remembered the reason that brought him to this place.  “Torres?  Li?” he asked, sitting bolt upright and swinging his legs over the side. 

“Don’t need to worry over that,” Larabee grunted.  Standish had done a hell of a job on the assignment; even through it had disintegrated badly in the end.  “Torres didn’t get very far.  The boys in blue pulled him up for speeding on the interstate.  And they were a little suspicious upon finding the younger Li unconscious on the backseat.  With your testimony and the recorded conversations and surveillance corroborating it, we’ve got a fairly airtight case for conspiracy, kidnapping and money laundering against them.  Li’s grandson has his attorney trying for a plea bargain, offering his testimony against Torres in exchange for a lesser sentence.” 

“Chen Li has been very talkative,” Sanchez emphasised.  “Couldn’t even get him in lock-up before he was spilling his guts.” 

Standish chuckled; just wait until Li’s grandfather learned of his betrayal.  “And Hoi Chung Li?” 

“We know where he is.  If he tries to make a runner, we’ll pick him up.  We’re gonna let him think he got off scot free this time and hopefully he’ll make another play for those weapons he was after.  We’ll string him out on a line, let him gain back his confidence,” Chris said. 

The Southerner nodded in understanding – it was the obvious thing to do.  “I dare say he’ll be rather disgruntled having lost his money.  He seemed more concerned with that than his grandson’s kidnapping.” 

 “Yep,” Larabee grinned in amusement.  “Could tell they were a real close family,” he added sarcastically.  “Picked up Torres’ Mercedes and impounded that too – proceeds from criminal activities, you know.” 

“You need me to re-establish contact with Li’s people?” 

“Can’t risk it.” 

“So Simon Evans just drops off the planet?” 

Larabee sat his hip in the edge of the bed.  He grinned at his agent.  “We might send him overseas…” 

“Paris?  Or maybe…Sydney?”  He pursed his lips together, and snapped his fingers, a wide grin spreading over his features.  “Aruba!  The perfect escape for the reprehensible Simon Evans, don’t you agree?  No extradition treaties,” he winked. 

Larabee rolled his eyes and swatted the agent on the leg.  “Been checking it out have you?  Now, get back into bed,” he ordered. 


****Part 6 

Standish roamed his townhouse with an air of impatience and confusion.   He’d been released from the hospital early that afternoon, after satisfying the medical staff that he was alert and only suffered a slight headache, accompanying the superficial scratches and bruising. 

Buck Wilmington had dropped him off at his residence, then preceded home himself to catch up on some rest before going into the office to finalise his report. 

Ezra was frustrated.  Two names swirled around in his head – Sergei and Nikoli.  Two friends, comrades and partners, sealed irrevocably together in death.  Sergei had identified his partner as Nikoli; otherwise Ezra would be none the wiser in knowing this name.  But Nikoli had only mentioned Sergei by his Christian name.  So how was it possible for Standish to know intuitively that his full name was, Sergei Gaidar?  What did this scene mean?  And should Ezra pay it any further attention? 

He paced in the compact living room, rubbing his jaw thoughtfully. The more he tried to bring forth the half memory that surfaced in the hospital, the more disturbed he became.  Memory?  Dear Lord!  Was that really what it was?  The normally controlled agent thumped the wall in a rare act of aggression.  He winced as his knuckles connected with the plaster.  He had to get a grip on himself.  “Pull yourself together, Standish!” he reprimanded.  Fighting fatigue and a growing headache, the agent prudently slipped over the back of the couch and lay down in the seat, stretching his legs full length.  After all, he could still contemplate while he was lying down. 

The dreams returned; even though he had no intention of falling asleep, he succumbed just the same.  Standish watched, replaying the perverse images over in his subconscious mind.  The routine was exactly the same as before and ended at the precise moment where he woke in the hospital.  With each new vision he picked up more detail that was missed in other episodes.   Choking back a scream, Standish swung his legs off the couch and dropped his head in his hands.  Beads of sweat broke out on his face and his hands trembled.  Hell, it’s just a dream, Standish!  But in the next breath he muttered; “Then why the fuck, does it seem so real?” 

His front door rattled; someone on the outside was pounding urgently.  He dragged his weary body to the entry and checked through the peephole, feeling for his revolver at his back.  One could never be too sure in his line of work.  

“JD!” Ezra sighed, allowing the younger agent to barge through.  He balanced a bottle of coke and spring water on top of the takeout pizza box.  Dunne didn’t stop until he reached the kitchen, leaving Standish holding the door open. 

Dunne swung around and trotted back.  “Ezra?  You feeling all right?” 

Standish absently shut the door.  “Perfectly.” 

JD tilted his head to the side, attempting to pick up the deception.  “I’ve been banging on your door for ages.” 

Ezra was surprised by Dunne’s declaration.  Still recovering from the effects of the concussion, he clearly displayed his puzzlement for JD to see.  “My apologies.  I must have dozed off…” 

“Hey, that’s fine.  Just was getting a bit worried when you didn’t answer.  Thought I might have to break in.” 

“Heaven forbid,” Ezra drawled and rolled his eyes to the ceiling. 

Dunne grinned widely.  “I thought you might not feel up to cooking tonight, so I brought some supplies.” 


JD returned to the kitchen and held up the bottled water.  “Bought you one of these, ‘cause I know how fussy ya are with what you eat.” 

Standish stood in the archway, contemplating, with trepidation, the greasy meal the computer hacker provided.  It was a nice thought, he mused.  “Thank you, that was very considerate.” 

“Let’s eat.” 


****Part 7

Following the evening meal, the two agents retired to the living room.  Dunne slouched in the armchair with both feet dangling over the side.  The TV played in the background, but otherwise the room was silent.  The conversation had lagged following the evening repast. 

“JD…” Ezra licked his lips and asked hesitantly.  His head was a mass of aches and he rubbed his temples, wincing as his fingers came in contact with the stitches.  He didn’t meet the computer expert’s eyes, but hoped JD was listening.  “JD, could you procure some information for me?” 

“Can try.”  Dunne wondered where Standish was going.  “What is it you want me to do?” 

“I need some details,” he started, tipping his head up to stare into the intense brown eyes.  “I have two names…” he paused; crunch time.  Did he really want to involve Dunne in his problems?  He bit his lower lip, uncertain.  How did he know the incident in his dream was real?  There might be nothing to it, but just his imagination running rampant. 

JD nodded.  “So tell me.” 

“Sergei Gaidar and the other name is Nikoli.  I’m presuming if you find Gaidar you will find something on Nikoli.”  Unless neither exists. 

“You don’t have a surname for the second guy?”  Standish shook his head.  “What’d they do?” 

“I’m not sure,” Ezra admitted, but he was certain it was something illegal.  There’d have to be records.  

“I’ll give it a whirl.  You want it ASAP?”  Again Standish nodded.  “Sure.  You’re off until next week, right?” 

“That is the current schedule, but I’ll be in tomorrow.  Thank you for this, JD.  And if I could request your discretion in the matter?”  No point informing the whole department of his new obsession, they already thought Standish was a few cards short of the deck.  

“No sweat, Ezra.” 


****Part 8 

Ezra Standish returned to Team 7’s office just before lunch the next day.  He weathered the friendly insults and wisecracks from the others about not being able to stay away from the place even when he was off on convalescence leave, but his stride didn’t falter until he reached Larabee’s office.  The door was closed and he seemed to pause on the threshold, before knocking and entering at the same time. 

“Mr. Larabee…” 

Chris automatically glanced up at the light rap and expected to see Vin, or even Buck.  He was mildly taken aback to discover the identity of his visitor.  “Ezra!  What are you doing here?  Shouldn’t you be home resting?  Sit down.”  He rushed around the mahogany desk and pushed Standish into the visitor’s chair. 

“Good to be missed,” he drawled sarcastically, grinning wickedly at his superior. 

Chris sat on the corner of his desk and gave Standish the once over.  “Couldn’t stay away, huh?” 

“Actually, I’m here to request another week’s leave.  You don’t have to submit it as sick leave, it can be marked down as annual leave,” he finished in a hurried manner, which didn’t go unnoticed. 

The Southerner was slightly pale and the way he kept wincing suggested the indoor lighting was affecting him to some degree.  Probably still got a headache, Chris figured.  The bruising on the side of his face was turning vivid colours and his left eye was swollen.  The baseball cap was an unusual adornment for the agent, but he guessed it was only worn to hide the stitches and the shaved patch.  Chris frowned and took in the agent’s casual, but neat attire.  Not the general Armani suit as was custom, but jeans and brown leather coat.  He didn’t expect Ezra to wear suits on his time off, but it was strange to see him dressed so casual.  “You got a headache now?  I can get Nathan to get you something.”   Ezra waved off the concern and the offer.   Okay…so why does he want more time off?  “Anything I need to be worried about?” 

Standish met Chris’ eyes and seeing the concern in them, dropped his to the floor.  “No,” he answered, but there was very little conviction behind the single word.  

Larabee wondered if he should keep closer tabs on his agent.  Not that he didn’t trust Ezra, but Standish didn’t seem too convinced himself.  “My door’s always open if you need to unload any shit.” 

“Understood,” he smiled.  

“I’ll fix the paperwork and you can sign it when you return.” 

“Thanks, Chris.” 


****Part 9 

Ezra stepped into the bullpen, his tread light on the floor.  He fastened a smile on his face and straightened his shoulders.  He’d managed to bypass the others on the way in with only a modicum of heckling, but he feared he was destined to catch more on the way out.  “Morning, gentlemen.  I see you are all engrossed in work,” he grinned, meeting each agent’s eye as he passed over them.  They sprawled in varying degrees, but nonetheless, loitering.  None of them gave the impression they were working and all hovered guiltily by the office where Standish and Chris had been speaking.  Had they been eavesdropping?  “Hear any juicy gossip lately?” he taunted, informing them in no uncertain terms that he was wise to their snooping. 

“Morning, Ezra,” Wilmington broke the trance that captured his fellow agents.  “How’s the head?  You coming back to join us soon?”  He reached out to lift the cap off Ezra’s head, but the undercover agent ducked quickly out of range. 

Jackson pushed his way to the centre.  He didn’t say a word as he passed an assessing gaze over the Southerner.  

Ezra rolled his eyes and drawled sarcastically; “Do I meet your requirements?” 

Nathan harrumphed. Grunting when Tanner elbowed him in the ribs.  “Should be taking it easy and resting up, Ezra.  That was a nasty hit you took.” 

“And I wouldn’t be standing before you if I considered I was unable to do so,” Standish counted.  “I have been deemed fit by the staff at the Denver hospital and released into my own recognisance.” 

“That’s debatable,” Jackson disputed, but kept his smile in place so there would be no hard feelings. 

Ezra desperately wanted to question Dunne; he’d delayed leaving his townhouse that morning to allow JD ample time to find any possible information.   He slipped from the centre of the group while the others bantered back and forth and edged toward the back until he was standing beside Dunne.  “JD.  Is it possible, after our discussion last night, that you have acquired something for me?” 

“Sure did.”  Dunne shuffled back to his desk and lifted a manila folder off the top, waving it above his head and instantly drawing curious looks from the rest of the team. 

Standish appeared uncomfortable and eyed the document with suspicion.  He was anxious to know the contents, yet feared them in the same breath.  “Then perhaps you could bring me up to date on the way out?”  Momentarily forgetting that he wasn’t alone, he headed for the elevator ushering Dunne toward the same direction, his face a mask of concentration.  

“Be seeing you next week then, Ezra,” Tanner shouted to Standish’s departing back in a bewildered tone.  

Ezra turned and quickly wiped his face, shocked at his own abysmal manners.  What would Maude think of his slip?  He exchanged a glance with Larabee and realised from Chris’s expression it was up to him to inform his teammates of the change in plans.  “The 29th,” he corrected Vin’s assumption.  That gave him another week before returning to the mundanities of the job. 

“He’s taking an extra week off?” Vin hissed at Chris and Larabee nodded at the four furrowed brows.  They all followed the path Dunne and Standish wove toward the elevators, heads bowed together and deep in conversation. 

“Says he’s got a few things to sort out.” 

“Anything we can help him with?” Sanchez questioned.  

“He knows where we are if he does,” Chris responded. 


****Part 10 

In a hushed tone Standish questioned JD as they walked to the elevator.  “What did you find?”  He was more than a little surprised to discover Dunne had found anything. 

The computer hacker flipped open the cover and read from the notes.  There was only a single page of print out.  “You were right about finding them together.   Sergei Gaidar and Nikoli Venkov,” Dunne paused to see if the names held any significance. “Both KGB.  Gaidar was early twenties and Venkov was a little younger.  The FBI, ATF, CIA and Interpol all spent a couple of years chasing around after them about fifteen years ago.   They were real slick,” he muttered in awe. 

“Obviously not slick enough if they were apprehended,” Ezra muttered. 

 JD chuckled.  “Yeah.  Well they finally got caught up in one of their own schemes.  Took down a whole swat team and wound up pushing up daisies themselves.” 

“Both of them?”  They were dead?  Why did that bother him?  Did he expect them to be serving time in some high security correctional facility?  And why did it perturb him that the two Soviets were held responsible for the annihilation of a team that sought to bring about their demise?  The report was obviously biased. 

“That’s what is says.” 

“And the names of the investigating team?” 

“Armmm…I couldn’t find any except for the ones from the task force team, and all of them were killed.  There were eight of them – they’re listed on the bottom of the page,” he pointed out. 

Standish frowned at the younger agent.  “And there was no mention of any top investigating officers who were involved?” he queried incredulously. 

“Sorry.  I figured they’d all been deleted for security reasons.” 

“Hmmm.”  What did two Soviets have to do with Standish?  And why was he so obsessed with finding a connection?  Hell, his life was complicated enough already, without adding further mystery.    Could it be, that if both men had survived, they would now be the same age as Standish?  Could that be it? he mused.  Is it possible he’d been a childhood friend to one or both?  He wearily sighed and sagged against the wall.  But where could he have possibly met with such men?  “Where are Gaidar and Venkov buried?”  Or were they cremated? 

Dunne shrugged at the unusual request.  “Atlanta.”  JD closed the folder and studied the older man.  “You involved in the sting?” 

“How old do you think I am?” Ezra growled in offence  “Fifteen years ago puts me back in basic training.” 

“Oh…sorry.”  He thought for some reason Standish had been in the service a little longer than that.  With a few calculations he figured Ezra to be twenty when he joined the force.  Wonder what he was doing before he joined up?  Probably seeing the world in the lap of luxury at Maude Devereux’s expense.  Ezra’s mother was one fine lady, but she didn’t seem to approve of his career choice.  She was frequently on his back, hassling him to meet up with her in Rome or Paris, wherever she was in a particular week.  Dunne had met her a few times and was always left with the impression that Maude only tolerated her son for the sake of appearances.  Strange woman. 

“Are there photos of the pair? Or even an identikit?” 

“Nope…and there was pretty tight security getting access to the information.” 

“I hope I haven’t caused you any problems.” 

“Nah.   Knew a few backdoors.”  JD handed the document to Standish.  “If you need anything else…” he left the sentence open. 

“There is one other thing…” 

Dunne smiled widely; he loved it when the guys asked for his help.  It made him feel more an equal member of the team.   “What’s that?” 

“Could you get files for me on all the agents involved in the bungled fiasco?” 

“Sure…anything in particular you’re looking for?” 

Standish shrugged.  “I don’t know…past cases they were working on, any connection between them and the two Soviets.  Who their supervisors were, any family…” 

“Sure, I know the drill.  I’ll get on to it.” 

“Thanks, JD.”


****Part 11 

Ezra smiled benignly at the flight attendant, hopefully answering in all the correct places.  The flight was paid for in cash and boarded on impulse.  Lord was he mad?  What was he doing flying back to Atlanta?  When he left two years ago to join Larabee’s ATF team, he vowed after all the trouble he’d had, that he wouldn’t return.  But here he was thirty minutes outside of his old haunting grounds. 

He emptied several items from a yellow envelope onto the drop-down tray and spread them apart with his fingers.  He lightly touched each piece, attempting to draw inspiration from the small collection - a printed document and half a dozen photostatted articles from the Atlanta Journal Constitution - but other than a slight tingling in his fingers, there was nothing.  Between everything he’d found, he still only had a vague understanding about what happened to the two Soviets so many years ago.  What was the most frustrating part was why he was bothered with attempting to discover more. 

Ezra tipped his head back, closed his eyes and rubbed his neck.  After divesting and memorising all the pertinent information JD had procured, which wasn’t a lot, Ezra had made a beeline to the library for fiche on all Atlantean newspapers around June 10th 1987, and for several weeks after and then before.  This was the date given for Gaidar and Venkov’s deaths.  It didn’t take him long to pick up the thread of espionage reported in the paper, and he now held in his possession a number of short journalist accounts of the pair’s supposed activities during 1986 and 1987 with very basic backgrounds and two very sketchy and grainy scans of photos – he sat forward and studied each again, hoping to find something he’d missed before.  The first was clearer, and it distinctly showed Sergei Gaidar exiting Kurt’s Restaurant in central Atlanta; he was, without a doubt the man from Ezra’s nightmares.  The second included both Russians climbing into the back of a taxi.  It wasn’t a good angle, but both KGB agents were looking directly into the camera.  He wondered if they knew they’d been captured on film.  As it was, the photo had been enlarged so many times, that the faces disappeared without any definition.  Standish squinted to get a better image of Venkov, and scowled.  Without knowing why, he knew he should recognise this man.  

The plane landed and he collected his single bag and left the airport in a blue rental Pontiac, driving directly to the historic Oakland cemetery.  The sky was overcast and the threat of rain was imminent.  As he passed from under the overpass, heavy drops splattered the windshield, and he automatically eased his foot off the accelerator.  Other drivers obviously had the same idea as the road ahead showed a mass of brake lights being applied. 

By the time the undercover agent had parked the Pontiac, the rain was fairly bucketing down.  He crossed his arms and leant over the steering wheel to look out the windshield at the sky.  The mass of rain-swollen clouds showed no signs of letting up any time soon.  He sighed dramatically and made a dash from the car, running towards the registry.  He pulled his jacket up in an attempt to keep off some of the downpour, but he was soaked by the time he reached cover.  The miserable weather was a mirror image, reflecting his grey mood. 

Ezra Standish shook off the excess water and stepped up to the counter.  He smiled brightly at the woman standing on the opposite side.  “Ma’am,” he drawled in honey-accented tones, “I’ve come straight from the airport, only recently becoming aware that two of my former…friends…have been interned at this cemetery.” 

She nodded in understanding and rolled her chair in front of a computer screen.  She tapped in her code and returned her attention to Ezra.  “Sir, do you have a date?  And their names please?” 

“Sergei Gaidar and Nikoli Venkov,” he answered the woman.  “10th July 1987.” 

She made no comment and set to work.  After a short pause she scribbled two numbers on a note page and handed it over to Ezra.  She stood and began by pointing out the way he’d entered.  “You can drive down this road and take the first left…” she explained the easiest way to get there.  When she finished she added; “There won’t be anything to see, Sir.”  At Standish’s raised eyebrows she softened her tone.  “There are no headstones for either of your friends.”  Therefore no inscriptions to read. 

Ezra nodded his thanks.  Did he expect anything different really?  No!  They were, after all, spies.  Why would the government fork out money to pay for a headstone when a pauper’s grave would be adequate?  And if no family came forward to claim their bodies, what else could be done? 


****Part 12 

Standish returned to the car, stowing his drenched jacket across the opposite seat.  The rain had petered off to a light drizzle leaving the air crisp and clean.  His need to visit the graves had been compelling, but ultimately a worthless exercise.  As the woman in the registry had informed him, there were no headstones marking the graves of either Russian.  No new information to be garnered here.  The only adornment on each site was the allotted number; the rusted metal markers the only indication of the deceased buried beneath the ground.   He stood over the sites recalling his furtive nightmare that had hounded him so brutally, and attempted to feel something other than remorse and a sense of failure as he stared at the empty patches of grass, but only more questions came to the surface.  Unpleasant ones at that. 

He searched the back of his mind, hoping to decide his next move and snapped his fingers.  

Standish knew of one man who could possibly assist his investigation, but where to find the aging recluse was anyone’s guess.  Donald Hargraves.  The former chief of police would be well into his seventies, having retired from the force close on a decade ago.  Ezra remembered the older man as a straightforward, no nonsense, and law-abiding cop.  And he’d been dedicated to the force for his whole working life and retired on his sixty-third birthday.  Standish had been twenty-four at the time.  It had also been many years since the undercover agent had spoken with, or even seen Hargraves, but he knew he’d be given the run-around if he approached the Atlanta PD or his former associates at the FBI, and hoped to get some information that would otherwise not be given him, solely because of his reputation and past history with the aforementioned teams. 

He keyed the blue rental into operation and returned to the main road, stopping at the nearest roadside diner and foregoing his usual standards to order a meal.  He then checked the phone book. 

“Hargraves,” the gravely voice on the end of the phone line answered. 

“Donald Hargraves?” Standish verified.  This had been the eighth number he’d dialled, so far without result, and two of them had not answered. 

“Yeah.  What’d you want?” 

“Evening, Sir.  My name is Ezra Standish, and please forgive my bad manners in calling at such an inconvenient hour.”  He checked his wristwatch and grimaced inwardly – 8.20 p.m. – it wasn’t extremely late by his timescale, but for an older person it may seem rude.  And he still hadn’t acquired accommodation for the night. 

“I ain’t so old that I’ve had to retire to bed yet,” Hargraves griped.  A short pause lengthened over the line.  “Standish, ya say?” 

“That’s right.  You probably don’t remember me…” 

Hargraves cut in abruptly; “Just ‘cause I’m a little white around the ears don’t make me senile,” he growled.  “Remember all the boys I trained.  Ezra Standish…you got transferred out to Denver a few years back…with the ATF now ain’t you?”  He still kept in contact with friends who were on the force, liking to keep abreast with all the changes in the department.  In fact, he was a firm friend with the present deputy chief of police.  There was only so much truth you could attribute the media with supplying accurately.  He would have been deaf and blind to have missed all the innuendo and furore that surrounded Standish in the last two years he was with the FBI.  By all accounts Standish had been an excellent undercover agent and he’d heard nought about any misdeeds since his transfer to Larabee’s team in Denver.  Did he believe the rumours that branded Standish of being on the take?  He reserved judgement, claiming he didn’t know all the facts.  

“That is correct…” suitably impressed with Hargraves quick recall. 

“You planning on coming back to Atlanta?  That why yer calling me?  ’Cause if you’re after a character reference, I don’t believe I can supply you with one,” he retorted. 

“No, Sir.  I’m investigating a case from fifteen years ago and only sought your assistance, if you’d be willing to discuss it with me.” 

“Oh…You figure I’m the only one who’s still around who might remember or the only one who’ll speak with you?” 

Ezra bit his lip and frowned; grateful the older man couldn’t see his expressions.  His past was always there to haunt him.  He should have expected the put down, but coming from someone who Ezra had always respected, he couldn’t mask the hurt.  Not one to give up so easily, he persevered.  Refusing to respond to the cutting remark, he asked; “I’m following up a case involving two Soviets, names of Gaidar and Venkov…” 

“They were both killed,” he whispered thoughtfully.  “What’s yer angle, Standish?  I’m not about to support you in bringing down some of Atlanta’s finest.” 

Ezra sighed, so that was the way of it.  “I just thought you’d recollect the case.”  The long silence stretched interminably over the phone line; Standish was on the point of hanging up, when the rasping voice returned. 

“You in Atlanta?” 

“Arrived here this afternoon.” 

“You know how to get to Forsyth?”  Hargraves told Standish a street name and number where they could meet. 

“I believe I’m familiar with the district.” 

“If you can get out here in a couple of hours, then you’ve got ‘til daylight to bend my ear.  After that, yer on yer own, ‘cause my grandson’s graduating from the police academy tomorrow and I’m not about to disappoint him by missing it,” he growled.  

“I’ll be there shortly, sir.” 

“Just don’t go taking any liberties, hear?  There are road rules in Georgia, like anywhere else,” he warned. 

“Yes, sir,” Ezra chuckled and ended the call. 


****Part 13 

Standish stood on the welcome mat, his knuckles poised inches from the wooden door.  He hesitated before knocking, anticipating the reception he was going to receive.  It was one thing going on assignment, expecting the worst to happen at the most inane timing, but it was an entirely different situation when he couldn’t hide behind a bogus persona and he was facing an enigma from his past.  Standish trusted this man, Hargraves.  And knowing the retired cop held a lowly opinion of Standish, Ezra wanted in earnest to present a good impression.  He wanted Hargraves to take him on face values, not as his former fellow co-workers with the FBI.  He’d left Atlanta under a cloud of suspicion, rumours of his corruption dogging his tail.  His record since then had been impeccable, but it in no way proved his innocence.  

The door flew open, spewing a shaft of light onto the patio and capturing Ezra in a trance.  “You planning on camping out on my doorstep all night?” 

Ezra swallowed the rising bile, biting the inside of his cheek.  He smiled brightly at the elderly gent, but the sentiment was forced and his brittle façade was in dire straights.  “Mr. Hargraves…” 

“Well, don’t just stand there, get on inside,” he ordered. 

Standish was ushered inside the two-storied, brick rendered home.  He stalled in the entry, waiting for further directions. 

Hargraves led a path down a short hallway until he met the bottom of the stairs.  Then he slowly climbed the staircase and turned right at the top, passing a closed doorway on the left and another on the right, finally stopping at the study.  He motioned the Southerner ahead.  “Let’s hear it then.” He took up the chair behind the desk and pointed Standish to take the other. 

The Southerner slowly dropped in the cushioned chair, uncertain how to begin.  He explained again, with as little detail why he was interested in the two Soviets. 

“What makes you believe I could help you?” 

“There is very little documented on the pair and the accounts from the media are always disjointed and only half truths and misconceptions.” 

“So you want something straight from the horse’s mouth?” 

Ezra flushed.  

Hargraves swivelled in his seat and faced a small filing cabinet.  He turned the key and opened the bottom draw, removing a folder and placing it on the desk.  “Hot Chocolate always puts me to sleep, and I rest so soundly after imbibing.”  He stepped from behind the desk and yawned.  “Reckon I’ll put on the kettle…you want something?”  Standish shook his head.  “I might take it in the living room.  You don’t mind waiting in here?”  Hargraves was shuffling down the hallway as he finished the question. 

Ezra arched a single eyebrow over his green eyes.  He stayed seated in front of the desk, listening to the former police chief as he shuffled down the hall, and his footfalls softly disappeared down the stairs.  All the while Ezra’s eyes wandered curiously to the folder abandoned on top of the desk.  Once Hargraves arrived at the kitchen the older man moved noisily, dropping a mug and grumbling stridently at the shattered pottery he needed to clean up.  He kept up a steady litany loud enough for Ezra to follow his position in a room some distance away. 

Standish casually reached out and snagged the folder, drawing it to his lap.  This must be from the older man’s private collection and the undercover agent was not above snooping to find out.  The aged cover was not labelled and he ruminated on the chief’s filing system, but it didn’t occupy his mind for very long.  Spreading out the folder he bobbed his head; there were several newspaper clippings from different papers.  Some were the same as the ones Standish had already collected.  He read the others carefully, absorbing them and remembering.  He’d like to have taken the file with him, but that was probably out of the question.  He eyed the printer and scanner thoughtfully. 

After some time had past, Ezra lifted his head from the document, alarmed by the strange silence that filled the house.  He deposited the folder on the desk and vacated the den.  When he stepped from the small office his eyes complained, squinting to adjust to the inky black hallway.  He slid his hand along the walls until he came to the head of the stairs and softly padded down.  Ezra stood undecided at the bottom, wondering which way to go.  A street lamp glowed brightly outside and the light found a path through the lace curtain that draped the window beside the solid oak door.  There was a room off to the right and one adjacent, leading to the left.  Standish rubbed his neck, contemplating if he should precede any further – he didn’t want to be accused of violating Hargraves’ trust.  His legs found the impetuous to move, and slowly and cautiously he found the kitchen, its fluorescent light blazing in the early morning hours, but it was empty.  

Another room led off from the kitchen and Standish crept through, following the stagnant aroma hot chocolate.  Here, in the living room, Ezra found Hargraves stretched out on the couch; the empty mug stood on the coffee table at his head.  The light spilled from the kitchen, but otherwise the room was in darkness; the heavy drapes pulled closed to deflect any outside street lighting from entering. Standish stood motionless, barely daring to breath.  Should he just leave and return at a later date?  Or should he return to the den upstairs and finish reading the document, Hargraves had compiled?  His feet itched to return, knowing the former cop had given his permission to peruse the documents, but refused to discuss it with him.  He sighed, rubbing his face tiredly in his hands. 

Donald Hargraves moaned, shifted on the sofa and rolling on his side his arm dropped off the seat, his knuckles grazing the floor.  His lips smacked together and a loud snort broke the silence.  A few slurred words past his lips before his breathing settled into a steady rhythm. 

Ezra returned to the study, content to examine the report at his leisure. 


****Part 14 

Standish paid the cab driver, giving him a tip for getting him home in a most expedious manner.  Ezra was thankful he wasn’t presented with an account of the cabby’s life history or having had to watch how many fries could fit inside a mouth at one time while still managing a conversation.  He shuddered at that particularly unpleasant experience.  The drive from the Denver airport to his abode was finally over.  Just a few steps and he could fall into bed and sleep for a week.  Well, he could always hope.  Spending almost two days in Atlanta without so much as a wink of sleep, and topping it off with two flights across the continent in as many days was exhausting. 

His second day in Atlanta had been spent perusing a number of libraries, compiling his own file on the two Soviets with as many different media reports he could find.  It was mostly a futile search though, as he found there was very little to find in the public domain.  With little time remaining before he needed to return to the airport, Standish strayed to the reference section of the library.  He browsed the shelves, running his fingers along the spines as he read the titles.  His fingers faltered at the ‘Traveller’s Guide to Russian Phases.’  Standish nervously plucked the tome from the shelf, and flicked it open.  His quick eyes scanned the phrases and their English interpretations, his mouth automatically struggling to sound out the words.   Ezra’s frown deepened, not recognising anything, but the English written explanations.  He jumped, startled at the librarian’s soft purr. 

“We have an audio book Sir that might be more useful in learning another language.”  She had directed Ezra to the section and left him.  He thanked her and settled into a private booth where he wouldn’t be interrupted. 

Ezra listened intently to the disc, intrigued with the strong accented Russian words that echoed through the headphone.  A haunted grimace had crossed his face, as each new phrase was spoken.  By the end of half an hour, Ezra was translating the Russian words into English in time with the interpreter on the disc.  He recognised the spoken words, but not the written.  It troubled him to discover this part of himself that he’d not been aware of.  This had only been one more detail to add to the growing tally. 

The Southerner was drawn back to the present as the taxi turned into the street and shone a stream of light directly up the sidewalk.  He glanced at his watch – 12.50 A.M.  The past two days had lasted an eternity.  The days rolled into night and back again without so much as a breather.  His head reeled with the assault on his mental facilities.  Standish trudged up the sidewalk and unlocked his front door.  He dropped his overnight bag by his feet, and spun on his heels at the sudden movement that came from the shadows to his left.   “Chris!?” 

“Ezra,” Larabee answered tiredly.  

“What…why…has something occurred during my absence?” he floundered, finally able to complete the query.  It wasn’t often he’d find Chris Larabee on his doorstep, and never at this time of night.  Or morning, he amended. 

Chris smothered a yawn.  He couldn’t believe he’d fallen asleep in the Ram, waiting for Ezra to return home.  “Nothing’s happened,” he grunted, ushering the agent inside and flipping on the hall light.  “Where the hell have you been?”  His anger was coming to a boil after wasting all his Friday night standing sentry over the empty townhouse.  He’d given up counting the number of times he’d attempted to call Standish on his cell phone and he was reluctant to admit how much it had bothered him when Ezra had not answered.  

But he had promised JD after he left the office that night that he would drop off some files Ezra had requested.  This was a legitimate reason, not an excuse, he reminded himself.  Chris could have left a message on the Southerner’s answering machine to come and collect the reports when he came in, but again, Larabee was reluctant to leave the address until his agent had returned. Chris hadn’t planned on staying all night, but he had expected Standish to come back before now.  He was, after all, supposed to be recovering from a head injury.  And it wasn’t like Chris could just slip the thick folders under the agent’s door. 

“Is there something I can do for you?” Standish asked brusquely.  

Chris stepped further inside, kicking the door closed with the heel of his boot.  He studied the slumped shoulders and the haggard appearance of Ezra, the deep-set lines around his mouth and the dark smudges circling his eyes.  He took in the tickets attached to the straps of his bag.   “You been out of the country?” 

Ezra grimaced, a muscle tightening about his jaw.  “No…Atlanta,” he replied and edged to the kitchen hitting the lights as he moved through the townhouse.  

Atlanta?  Why the fuck did Standish want to visit Atlanta?   “There something you need to tell me?”  Ezra wasn’t planning on leaving the team and heading back to Georgia, was he?  Hell, Standish was the best undercover agent he’d ever come across.  A pain in the ass at times, too, but also someone whom Chris considered a good friend.  Team 7 wouldn’t be the same without the cocky agent.  And he’d be damned if he’d give the Southerner up without a fight. 

Ezra sighed, rubbing the palms of his hands to his eyes.  “Can we do this over a coffee?”  Without getting consent Ezra filled the coffeemaker; adding an extra-heaped spoonful of coffee beans, he knew would only keep him wide awake, but he craved a strong brew, and pouring in the water before flipping the switch on the coffeemaker.  “You haven’t explained why you are here, Mr. Larabee.” 

Chris pulled a chair from the table and settled in it.  “JD had plans with Casey tonight.”  

“So?” he drawled, not seeing the connection. 

“You had him working on some files.  I said I’d deliver them here.  There are about eight of the things.”  And Larabee was curious to know why Standish was interested in these deceased agents.  

“Oh.”  He had forgotten the task he’d requested of Dunne.  “And where are they?”  Larabee hadn’t been carrying anything when he entered the agent’s home. 

“In the Ram.  I’ll get ‘em later.  Your turn.” He nodded thanks as Ezra set a mug before him. 

“Chris, I wouldn’t know where to start.” 


****Part 15 

Taking a sip of coffee, he kept his eyes downcast.  If he didn’t have to look at Chris and see his expressions, then it would seem like he was rehashing it over with himself.  He took a deep breath and began.  “While I was in the hospital recently, I started having these…flashbacks, if you will.”  He spent the next fifteen minutes explaining the scene to Chris that kept replaying constantly over in his mind.   He remembered nothing else, other than that single incident involving the two Russians, but with each account the images became clearer and his emotions more out of control.  The confusion and quandary that surrounded the nightmare had ultimately prompted Ezra’s research into the deaths of Russians. 

Larabee listened.  He could hear the overshadowing ambiguity in Standish’s voice as his spoke.  “You think you were there when it happened?” Chris clarified. 

“Yes.”  The answer was firm and decisive.  And the rest. 

“So, you were there,” Chris couldn’t see why Standish was so worked up.  “What’s the big deal?” 

Ezra sighed, pushing the coffee away.  “You don’t understand.” 

“Then tell me.” 

“I can recall setting the explosives, the touch under my fingertips.  The numbers as they counted down and picking up the backpack from the floor.  Chris, I remember running to the fire escape and hiding behind the door, waiting for the explosion.  I get shivers up my spine each time the explosives detonate and Sergei races headlong into the swat team.  My stomach rolls in memory as they pump him full of lead and my chest aches with its own pains.”  He turned his hand over and rubbed an old scar.  Ezra lifted his head and tears shone in his eyes.  “I can remember seeing bodies torn apart and splattered against the floor and wall.  Chris, nobody survived that incident,” he let his comments sink in and finally added;  “Or so the reports say.” 

Larabee swallowed the brew and it sat heavy in his gut.  He struggled to understand what Ezra was inferring.  He opened his mouth, but couldn’t pull the words from his mind.  What did he say?  What exactly did Standish want him to say?  “You saw it in a training video…” he suggested as an alternate answer. 

“No.  There was never any footage,” he crushed the obvious suggestion. 

“Then you were one of the swat team….” 

Ezra laughed a self-depreciating bark.  “You really think they’d allow a rookie on that prestigious team?  Going in after two professionals?  They were after Sergei and… Venkov’s heads, they wouldn’t involve a novice.  And besides, they were all killed in the blast, Chris.”  Did he have to spell it out to the ATF team leader?  He reached inside his coat and placed the clipping before Chris, pointing directly at Venkov.  “We’re the same age, and even though it’s not a good picture, surely you can pick up the similarities?”  Not to mention his disquieting discovery that he understood Russian. 

“You think you’re…this, Nikoli Venkov?”  Now he knew his agent had lost his marbles.  “Ezra, how do you explain…” 

Standish held up his hand, his mouth turned to a thin line.  “Let me tell you something first.  I joined the force fifteen years ago in October 1987 in Atlanta.  Venkov was supposedly killed on the 10th of June the same year, in Atlanta.” 

“Go on.” 

“I woke up in a hospital near the end of August that same year, without a past.  I was told I’d been in a car accident and had been in a coma since the beginning of June.”


****Part 16 

Chris stared open mouthed at his agent.  “Tell me that again.” 

“I’m certain you heard.” 

Larabee swallowed the thick lump in his throat.  “So, what happened when you woke up?” 

“Ahhhh,” he rubbed his neck tiredly.  “They gave me a new life.” 

“Come on, Standish!  Cut the crap!” 

“Fine!” he scoffed, scaping back the chair.  “Please, see yourself out.   I’m going to take a shower and then retire.  Goodnight, Mr. Larabee,” he dismissed.  He was worn-out, cold and couldn’t think straight.  And he was struggling to come to terms with the implications himself. 

“Wait!  Just tell me the rest, Ezra.” 

Ezra leaned against the wall, wary about adding anything further.  Larabee had already branded him a nutcase; there was no point hammering in more nails.  “It is not of importance.  I regret having wasted your time.” 

Larabee stood and crossed to the door, his hand resting on the knob.  “I’m going to bring in those files from the Ram and you’re gonna take that shower and then we’ll sort this out,” he ordered. 

Standish’s lips curled into a small smile, the first to grace his face in the past few days, as he watched Larabee slip outside. 


****Part 17 

Larabee dropped the thick report on the coffee table, returning it to the pile.  He’d taken the first four names and left the second stack for Standish to muddle through.  Dunne had compiled a comprehensive file on each agent.  But the only things that connected the eight agents was the fact that they were all from other states, drawn together for their one and only bust as a team and they all were killed that fateful day.  None of the agents were married or engaged and had little or no family.  They’d been selected primarily for their lack of ties.  He rubbed his temples in thought; not liking any of the scenarios his mind was plotting.  He yawned and stretched both arms over his head.  “Want another coffee?” 

Ezra glanced at the empty mug and grimaced.  How many had he had since he’d come home?  His belly was starting to slosh with the foul brew.  “I’ll pass.” 

Chris grinned ruefully at the expression on Standish’s face and agreed that he couldn’t commit to another cup either.  “So, how about we fix something to eat?  I’ll cook and you can watch.” 

Standish snorted, leaving the files in disarray and following Larabee to the kitchen.  “You’re going to cook?” 

Chris stood bent-over examining the contents of the fridge and he glanced back over his shoulder at the Southerner.  “I’ll have you know, I can cook a mean slice of toast,” he smiled at the agent’s burst of laugher.   “I can boil an egg too…” 

“Is that the extent of your repertoire?” 

“Pretty much.  You want more than that?” 

“No,” he answered in amusement.  “Egg on toast is fine.” 

“Good.”  Chris locked his fingers together and flexed them inversely away from his chest.  “Pull up a seat, and you can supervise.” 

Standish complied and sat a chair backwards, resting his arms across the back.  He watched in awe as Larabee demolished his kitchen while concocting the simple fare.  This was one agent unaccustomed to organising his own meals. 

Larabee smirked as he placed the meagre meal down on the table with a thump.  “Done!” 

“You don’t do this very often, do you?” Ezra asked, glancing pointedly at the chaos that his kitchen resembled. 

“Just eat,” Chris scolded.  “By the way,” he waited until Ezra had his mouth full before adding, “You now owe me a meal.” 

“Ahhhh,” Ezra drawling knowingly, choking and having to cough.  


****Part 18 

“What happened in Atlanta?” Chris questioned. 

Standish stifled another yawn, covering it with his hand.  He shrugged philosophically.  “Visited their graves…and before you ask, there were no markers to indicate their presence six feet below.” 

“Anything else?” 

“I visited Donald Hargraves, he was the chief of police of Atlanta PD when I joined.  He retired ten years ago.” 

“He have anything to say?” 

After a long pause, Ezra finally admitted; “Not a lot.”  He wasn’t lying; Hargraves had told him nothing, but still, Ezra had gained some valuable information from the retired cop’s portfolio and the copied report was tucked neatly inside his travel bag.  It was something he’d like to discuss with the older man, but that would come later. That was assuming he could convince the aged former cop to speak with him. Perhaps Ezra would make another visit to Georgia with the full intent of solely conversing with Hargraves.  With all the information he’d collated, Standish was convinced there had to be a reason behind the interest in the Soviets – Standish was convinced Hargraves knew something vital, but was reluctant to talk.  With all his experience he was certain he could ply the information from Hargraves, but that was for another time. 

Chris waited for Standish to elaborate, but the agent had clammed up.  “I know how we can prove your theory wrong.”  Standish raised his eyebrows speculatively, his green eyes gleaming with puzzlement.  Chris picked up his cell phone and pressed one of the speed dial buttons.  He smiled, pleased with himself.  “JD?  Chris.  Yeah I know what time it is.  Could you meet us at the office?  Ezra and me.  Yeah.  I know…shouldn’t take too long.  See you in an hour.”  Chris finished the call and turned to Standish.  “We’ll take the Ram.  Let’s go.” 


****Part 19 

Dunne was already inside the building and fixing the coffee machine when he heard the ding of the elevator arriving on the floor.  He met the older agents in the foyer.   “Hey, Chris.  Ezra.” 


“Mr. Dunne.” 

“Let’s get this over and done with,” Larabee announced passing the two agents on the route to Dunne’s desk. 

“What exactly are we doing?” the hacker queried.  He trusted Chris implicitly and would do anything for the team, but he needed a little background information before he could start. 

“Good point, JD.  I’m curious myself,” Ezra admitted.  Chris had dragged the Southerner from his home and had refused to comment on what he had planned – although Standish had his suspicions. 

“JD, I want you to find a birth registration for Ezra Patrick Standish, mother Maude… she have a maiden name?” he asked Ezra. 


“Maude Wainwright and father…?” 

Ezra frowned at the invasive inquisition; this information was not available on his files.  “I trust you both to keep this information to yourselves?  His name was Clayton.” 

“JD…you think you can find a match?” 

“This’ll be easy,” he predicted and quickly worked his magic over the keyboard.  Larabee and Standish flanked his seat.  After a few false starts and some terse grumbling, Dunne sat back, a huge grin dawning across his sleepy face.  “Look,” he pointed, tapping at the screen in excitement.  “Told ya!”  There was never any doubt that he wouldn’t accomplish the task.  “Ezra Patrick Standish, born on the 8th of September 1967.  Parents are Maude Wainwright and Clayton Standish.”  It was too simple, for the computer genesis.  He crossed his arms and considered for a moment why they wanted to search for this information.  “You having trouble getting a birth certificate or something?” Dunne pried. 

“Or something.” 

Chris hooted and clapped his agent’s shoulder soundly.  “There is no way around it, Ezra.  You are, who you are.”  Now they could put an end to this hogwash.  

Standish stared at the computer screen in utter disbelief, that he staggered backwards uncertain of the emotions that raged rampant through his mind.  Was it possible Maude Standish Devereux was indeed his natural parent? The turmoil and upheaval he’d put himself through in the past days had muddied the waters to the point where he couldn’t depend on believing even the simple facts.  He’d become blasé to the possibility that the con-woman was in no way related.  She’d never cared for him like a normal mother would her child.  

Waking up fifteen years ago without a past had finally been explained, if he were to believe he was this Russian, Nikoli Venkov.  His distrust and unfamiliar and awkward feelings towards Maude, when they’d first meet were made clearer.  Maude Standish had waltzed into his life and attempted to fill in all the blank spaces.  She’d given him a brief account of his background and a childhood filled, albeit with vast holes and even greater mystery.  He had accepted it before, because he wanted so badly to believe.  There were no childhood snapshots of him growing up as a young boy or early teens, which was easily explained away by stating that Ezra was a wild child and would never stand still long enough to capture his image on film. And only a few of him as an infant and some when he was a young man in the same photo as Maude.  He wondered now if they might not have been doctored in some way and the baby photos where not even he.  

When he’d questioned the woman’s unnatural distance and his own lack of sentiment toward her, even bordering on antipathy, she doused his curiosity by stating, that although she was inordinately proud of her son, theirs was a strained relationship – always had been.  She’d gone on further to admit that perhaps her nomadic lifestyle had attributed to this, having left Ezra with aunts and uncles while he grew up and later spending years in boarding schools while she travelled abroad.  Standish had accepted this because he had nothing else to fall back on.  No one else stepped forward with any knowledge of him.  Not even the supposed numerous aunts and uncles he’d spent many years boarding with.  

To top everything off, if it hadn’t been for Maude making known her utter disgust and abject horror to Ezra’s career choice in joining the police force, he presumed, on reflection, that he would not have joined.  Supposedly, Ezra had filled in the paperwork a mere week before his accident.  He had often struggled for comprehension as to why Maude had given him that piece of information; after all, he’d lost his entire memory.  It wasn’t like he had remembered signing up.  If she’d never mentioned it Ezra would probably never have considered it.  With a dawning realisation, he speculated on whose idea it was to have him begin a career in law enforcement?  Who the fuck was pulling his chain? 

Standish continued to stare, stunned at the screen.  He just hadn’t counted on this.  After another stretch of bewildered silence, he quietly asked Dunne to search for a death of the infant child of Clayton and Maude Standish.  After all, Maude was a con-woman and one of the best.  Surely she could pull this off. 

JD turned back to the screen and started a new search.  He checked the remainder of 1967, which was only four months, and then 1968.  He ran his finger down the screen, mentally ticking off the surplus names. His mouth dropped open, as the child’s name appeared seven months after his birth.  “Oh, my God!”  He clapped his hand over his mouth. 

Ezra immediately found the match following Dunne’s startled exclamation; his jaw tightened and his gut knotted.  Unfortunately, this was what he’d expected.  His life was a total lie and one of his workmates had just confirmed it.  Someone had reordered his very existence and Maude Standish had been a party to the sham.  What did she get out of this?  Did they pay her to pretend to be his mother?  Why would she do it?  What could she possibly gain?  He didn’t say a word, not that he could, as he sprinted to the washroom. 

Chris gaped riveted on the names and dates.  Ezra Patrick Standish had died when he was seven months old.  Their Ezra, in the eyes of the law, didn’t exist; he was a fraud, assuming another’s identity.  He’d met with Maude on several occasions, how could she have done this?  “How do we know this is the same kid?”  There had to be some other explanation.  

“Aw, come, on, Chris.  Look at the names!  They all fit.” 

“What if…go with me on this, JD…what if there were twins…and the names were just mixed up when one of them died?” 

Dunne tore his gaze from Larabee and returned to the previous page.  It was feasible, he construed.  “I’ll need to check the entire birth list for 1967.”  And that could take a while.  “It ain’t alphabeticalised and we don’t know what other name to look up.  Will be easier to run down the parents names to find another match,” he mumbled to himself.  After twenty minutes he had run through all the births registered in 1967 and shook his head.  “There’s only the one child registered to Maude and Clayton Standish in 1967,” JD told Chris. 

“Thanks, JD.  You can go back home now.  I’ll go find Ezra and take him home.  What we did tonight and found out, does not leave this room,” he warned, wagging a finger in front of Dunne’s face. 

“Like I’d blab,” JD retorted.  “I’ll be seeing you on Monday.” 


****Part 20 

“Ezra?”  Larabee knocked outside the restroom and waited another few minutes before he entered.  It gave Standish time to prepare for the intrusion.  That was assuming Ezra was indeed in the room.  He needn’t have worried on that score, for he immediately saw his agent when he came inside.  Standish had his back to the wall and slid down it, his knees were pulled up to his chest, and his head rested on his knees.  Chris traversed the tiled floor and sank in a similar pose beside Standish.  “Ezra.  You know, none of this changes who you are.” 

“And who exactly would that be?” he asked tersely.  “Ezra Standish died as a baby and Nikoli Venkov was killed in his late teens.  I visited his grave, Chris, and there was nothing there.  I wonder if Maude had one erected for her son?”  Ezra threw back his head, hitting the wall with a thud and laughed bitterly.  “Hell, I do it all the time - create a new persona, a character and background, I could be anyone,” he raged. 

“Ezra…” Chris spoke softly attempting to calm the bewildered agent. 

Standish jumped to his feet, eyes wide with alarm.  “DON’T call me that!  You saw!  Ezra Standish doesn’t exist!”  He covered his face in his hands and leant against the wall, a choked sob escaped between his fingers – his emotions were in turmoil.  It was some minutes before he could speak.  “I listened to some Russian phrases on some discs while I was in Atlanta.  Would you believe, I understood everything that was said?”  Chris was stunned into silence.  Ezra threw back his head and laughed bitterly, Larabee finally believed him.  “What does that tell you?” he retorted, and punched the tiled wall, wincing as his knuckles hit. 

Chris patted Standish on the back; he wanted to do more, offer some words, something that could ease the pain or take away the chaos that had overrun his life, but nothing Chris could say or do, would alter the facts.  And not knowing how much Ezra would accept, made it difficult also.  When Ezra didn’t flinch or move away from Larabee, Chris draped his arm over Ezra’s shoulder and hugged the shorted man closer.  “I’ll take you home.  We can talk some more in the morning.  It’s about time you caught a few Z’s.” 


****Part 21 

Chris Larabee frowned; glancing at the closed bedroom door, he promptly strode to answer the loud insistent knocking.  Standish had fallen into a heavy sleep almost from the time they’d returned to the townhouse that morning and he’d shown no signs of waking yet.  It was dark outside now.  He swung open Ezra’s main door and holding a finger to his lips, ushered the ladies’ man inside.  “Buck.” 

“Hey, Chris.  Here ya go.”  He delivered the requested overnight bag.  “You want to tell me what’s going on?  What are you doing here?  Is Ezra all right?  Should we take him back to the ER?” 

“It ain’t anything like that, but I can’t explain everything right now, Buck.  Let’s just say, Ezra’s had a bit of a rough trot lately, and I thought I’d hang around to make certain he’s doing okay.” 

“This got something to do with why JD left in the middle of the night and straggled in at seven?” 


“And something to do with that research Ezra had JD doing for him?”  Chris lifted his shoulders into a shrug.  “And anything to do with those nightmares he had in the hospital?”  Wilmington folded his arms over his chest, daring Chris to deny his conclusions.  

“He’d blanked out some painful memories, and when they resurfaced, they hit him for six.” 

“And?” he prompted. 

“I can’t tell you any more, Buck.  It’s not my place to.” 

So immersed in their efforts to keep the noise down, they failed to hear Ezra wake.  “Are you gentlemen moving in?” 

Wilmington spun around; a wide grin welcomed the undercover agent.  “Ezra!  I was beginning to think Chris was here alone.” 

“How you doing?” Larabee questioned. 

“I’m going out for a run,” he evaded.  “When I return it would be nice to find you both gone.” 

“Now you don’t mean that…” Buck stated.  “We’re your friends, and we’re here to help.”  With whatever it is you got spinning around inside that thick skull of yours. 

“Like Buck says, Ezra.  You’re stuck with us.” 

“Good Lord,” he drawled.  

“Well, what’s it gonna be?  You gonna tell your best buddy what’s going on?” 

“My best buddy?  And who would that be?”  He held his hand up in resignation, forestalling the retort.  “Mr. Larabee is up to speed with all you need to know.  I’m going for a run.” 

“Ezra,” Chris stopped him at the door.  “You want me to tell Buck everything?” 

“If you’d be so kind, yes.”


****Part 22 

“And you believe all this?” Buck swallowed down the dregs of his coffee, finding it hard to take in everything Chris had told him.  

“I was sceptical to begin with, but with each new revelation it all makes sense.” 

“How’s Ezra handling all this?”  

“Difficult to say.  You now how closed off he is.”  But he’s certainly been more open than usual regarding his personal life, Chris mused.  “And it just seems to be one thing on top of the next, like he’s riding a roller coaster – might hit him hard when he gets off on the other side.” 

“So what’s the next step?  Does he get DNA tests done?” 

“Ain’t gonna prove anything we don’t already know.  He isn’t Maude’s true son.  And it can’t tell us who he really is.” 

“So he’s a crim and a spy.  Shouldn’t we do something about that?  Maybe we ought to tell AD Travis…” 

“Listen to yourself, Buck!   Ezra is our friend.  We’ve worked with him for two years, and he’s risked his life, I don’t know how many times, for you and me…hell for all of us!  This is not the same man who was Nikoli Venkov. Other than that one scene, he doesn’t have any other recollections of his life before he became Ezra Standish.”  Apart from realising he spoke the language, Larabee added thoughtfully.  No need for Buck to know that just yet. 

“And how long will it take, Chris?  What if, one day he suddenly remembers everything, and wants to take off on that track again?” 

“And what if he doesn’t?  He’s been on the right side of the law for longer than he was stealing, God only knows what.  That’s got to play a major role in how he relates.  Think about it, Buck.  Are you willing to risk your friendship and everything we’ve all worked so hard for, to throw him to the wolves?  He didn’t do this on his own!  Somebody out there,” he waved his hand around the room, “went to a hell of a lot of trouble to create a new life for Venkov.  Doesn’t it make you wonder why?” 

“Any theories why someone would want to do that for me?” Standish drawled from just inside the entry.  Both agents visibly startled, not hearing the Southerner return.  

Larabee swallowed the lump that rose to his throat.  How long had Ezra been standing there?  How much had he heard?  Chris exchanged an aggrieved look with Wilmington, and he could tell by the rising colour in the tall agent’s cheeks that Buck had been thinking precisely the same things.  It would be something Standish would need to confront Buck about in private, if he wanted to pursue the issue.   “Do you want to know?” 

“Not particularly,” Ezra admitted, “but I need to.” 

“Then I guess you need to dig a little deeper into your old life as Venkov.  You could start with the Russian Embassy, there’s one in Seattle.” 

“Appears I am to make another interstate flight.” 

“I’ll come with you,” Larabee challenged. 

“You can’t, Chris.  You’ve got that meeting with Travis on Monday…” Wilmington reminded his boss.  

“Hell, I forgot.” 

“I got some leave owing.  Don’t worry.  Ole, Buck will make sure he doesn’t get into any trouble.” 

“That is most gracious of you to offer, Buck, but unnecessary,” Standish drawled sarcastically. 

“Take him up on it, Ezra!” Chris ordered, then he softened his tone and added; “Please?” 

“Oh, very well,” he accepted, albeit with reservations. 


****Part 23 

Standish had requested his own room; he refused to share with Buck Wilmington, but for some reason the gregarious agent had made himself comfortable in Ezra’s designated room.  Ezra glared impatiently at his co-worker, but Wilmington ignored the gesture as he lounged over the large king-sized bed with his feet dangling just off the quilt.  “Buck,” Standish groaned, “doesn’t your room have a bed?” 


“Why are you still here?  I distinctly recall being in agreement to rendezvous at eight in morning, where upon we would indulge in some nourishment before departing for the embassy.” 

“Yep, you said that,” Buck grinned, his mouth twitching and lifting his moustache. 

“Then…?” he drawled, struggling to complete the sentence. 

Wilmington sat up on the bed, swinging his feet to the floor and his face morphed into stern lines.  “Ezra, we need to clear the air between us.” 

“I don’t know what you mean.” 

“You’ve hardly spoken a word since Chris dropped us off at the airport.  Now I figure it’s something to do with me.”  Standish must have heard Buck’s thoughtless diatribe on handing Ezra over to whatever law was chasing Nikoli Venkov.  As soon as it left his mouth Buck realised it was wrong and wished he could have eaten the words.  They were spoken on impulse and he regretted allowing the thought to penetrate his good sense.  It was too late to take them back, but it wasn’t too late to affirm with Ezra his friendship.  That was if Standish would let him back in. 

“There isn’t always something to say,” the agent dismissed with a shrug. 

Buck snorted.  “Ezra, that’s never stopped you before.” 

Standish finished empting his suitcase and stood holding open the wardrobe door.  His face was masked in the shadow. 

“Listen, I spoke without considering all the facts.  You know me…stuck with my boot in my mouth,” he trailed off softly.  Taking another breath he surged on; at least Ezra was listening.  “Look, Ezra, it don’t matter what yer name is to me – hell, I’d still like ya if you were a Charlie Brown, Melvin or a Dudley.  You’re still the same person inside,” he thumped his chest over his heart.  “And yer the best damn undercover agent I’ve ever come across; you really know yer stuff, and that’s saying something, ‘cause it takes a lot to impress ole Buck.  And I never once thought you were on the take – that was just a whole hog of who-hash, you’re too damn honest for yer own good.  I thought we’d come a long way since you first joined the team…thought we’d broken down all those prickly walls you were hiding behind.  Thought we could share stuff…you know,” he lowered his head and mumbled the final entreaty.  “Thought we were brothers…all seven of us…” 

“Yes, well,” Ezra sighed, overwhelmed by Buck’s sincere claim, and uncertain of how he should react to it.  Resorting to what he knew best, he chose to take flight rather than face the implications.  “Do you think you might consider returning to your lodgings?  I am feeling rather fatigued and would like to retire early for a change.” 

“Sure, Ezra,” Wilmington answered solemnly.  


****Part 24 

Ezra was unusually nervous, and it showed with all his fidgeting and abysmal behaviour.  He snapped at Wilmington, glaring at and provoking Buck to respond with anger, but the jovial agent was tapped into Ezra’s way of thinking and refused to participate. 

“Sit down, Ezra.  You’re gonna wear tread marks in the fancy carpeting.” 

Standish scowled once more at Buck and deliberately tracked another pass in front of him.  He gained no satisfaction though as Buck tipped his chair back on two legs and interlocked his fingers behind his head and returned a lopsided grin.  Ezra spun a slow circle and with despondency, consulted his watch.  They had been designated to this office waiting now for two and a half hours.  He sighed audibly and grimly met Buck’s concerned eyes.  “My sincerest apologies, Mr. Wilmington.  I shouldn’t be taking my frustrations out on you.  It is not your fault that we are still ensconced here.”  He wiped his face and sank into the visitor’s chair.  “You are not required here, Buck.  Why don’t you take a stroll around the grounds and we can meet up later.  I’ll give you a call when I’ve finished.” 

Wilmington set the chair back on four legs.  “I’ve waited this long with you already, I’m hell-bent on meeting this ignoramus who’s kept us sitting in here twiddling our thumbs.” 

Standish smirked, relieved to have the tension broken.  “Not what you’d describe as punctual is he?” 

“Hey!  I didn’t know you knew the word punctual, Ezra,” Buck harassed good-naturedly.  It was a common occurrence for Standish to come into work well after the official time, but he always made up for this by finishing later.  Much later on many occasions.  

“Ha, ha!” 

Finally after three-hours the bespectacled official arrived.  His arms were filled with folders and he juggled holding them with a mug of coffee in one hand and a clipboard in the other.  “Gentlemen, forgive my tardiness,” he brusquely announced as way of greeting.  “Phillip Salts,” he held out his hand once he’d dropped everything onto the desk.  “How may we assist you?”  He glanced from Ezra to Buck and back to Standish, a large smile on his face; a gesture that was obviously for their benefit as it was insincere and in no way reflected the hard glint of his eyes that smouldered behind his glasses.  His accent was thick, but his grasp on the English language was adequate so they had little trouble understanding him. 

Ezra’s shoulders slumped.  He’d already explained three times to the lines of bureaucracy set up to run interference why he was visiting the embassy, in order to make it this far, and now he was expected to repeat it again.  He exchanged a look with Buck and nodded appreciatively as the older agent slapped him on the shoulder in encouragement.  Didn’t anyone in this place relay information?  With a long-suffering sigh, he began.  “My name’s Ezra Standish, this is Buck Wilmington.   We’re agents with the ATF in Denver.  We’ve been investigating a case, though we are not at liberty to discuss the details with you, and two Soviets are somehow connected with this case.”  They had decided the night before to come up with a cover story as to why they wanted information on Gaidar and Venkov, without inferring any relationship between Ezra and Nikoli. 

“What is it that you expect from us, Mr. Standish?” 

Ezra took the time to acquaint Salts with the little information he possessed on Venkov and Gaidar. 

Phillip Salts peered over the rims of his glasses.  “If they are dead, how could they possibly be involved with your current case?” 

“That’s what we need to find out,” Buck interjected. 

Salts hummed thoughtfully.  His phone on the desk rang shrilly and he excused the intrusion, but answered the call.  * “Da,” he answered and his eyes darted momentarily to the two agents on the opposite side of his desk.  He swivelled in his chair and faced out the window, listening intently to the person on the other end of the line.  He muttered a few more monosyllabic answers and finished the call. The smile was back in place, but the gesture was insincere.  “My apologies, gentlemen.”  He rose and joined the ATF agents on the other side of his desk.  “I believe that the embassy can not be of any service to you.  I regret that you may have been given the impression that we could have been able to help, but we have no records for the gentlemen you seek.  I regret any time you have wasted in your search.  Good day to you both.”  He stood at the door, holding it open. 

Buck was the first to react.  He pulled Standish from his seat.  “Yeah…Thanks for all your help,” he snarled caustically. 

Ezra blinked several times, but allowed Wilmington to escort him physically from the office.  They traced their path to the elevator and pressed the down button.  “He was instructed not to divulge anything,” Ezra spat suspiciously.  “Why?  What is it they are trying to hide?” 

Buck bobbed his head in agreement.  That phone call had been a little too coincidental, for all intent and purposes.  “There’ll be other leads.  Reckon we’ll stay the night and catch the early bird flight out tomorrow.” 

“What’s the rush?” Standish asked despondently.  What did he have in Denver to return to?  He could just as easily pull up stakes and go anywhere.   

“It’s your home,” Wilmington simply replied, roughly jabbing the button for the elevator again as it had not arrived. 


****Part 25 


“Bless you,” Standish said. 


“You sneezed, didn’t you?” 


“Hey!  Phist…Over here!” a voice tersely hissed from behind the white columns.  A sleeved arm snaked out and urgently signalled at them. 

“Is he referring to us?” Standish asked Wilmington, arching his eyebrow. 

“He is kinda waving at us,” Buck agreed, although he checked behind them to discover if the gesture was indeed intended for someone else.  “You want to find out what he wants?” 

Standish shrugged.   This trip so far had been a total waste of time.  “If he’s after our wallets then I’m not interested in becoming involved…” 

“Mr. Standish?” the insistent stranger beckoned. 

“He seems to know you,” Wilmington chuckled. 

The two ATF agents detoured, and followed the departing back of the stranger.  They caught up with him in the dense cluster of trees that acted as a perimeter about the embassy.  

“What’s with all the cloak and dagger stuff?” Wilmington groaned, puffing slightly. 

“The building has more ears and eyes than those on a fly,” he answered cryptically. 

“Is there something we can assist you with?” Standish drawled. 

“I have this.  It might interest you.”  He removed a wide padded envelope from under his coat and handed it to Ezra.  “Please don’t seek me out again, I shall deny ever meeting you and giving you this.” 

“What is it?” Ezra flipped it over to open, but the stranger’s hand covered his own. 

“Don’t open it here.  Check out Vladimir Lukchenski’s history.”  


“It’s all in there.  Take my advice, and be discreet.  And be aware, that you should trust your instincts and be particularly vigilant of all government officials.”  The stranger nervously searched the grounds. 

“What the hell does that mean?” Wilmington snarled. 

The informant glanced at the ladies’ man and abruptly stepped backward.  “Do you trust this man?” 

“With my life.”  Ezra watched Buck stand a little taller and puff out his chest.  A pleased grin spread across his face.  It wasn’t everyday, Ezra vowed his allegiance with one of his team members. 

“Be careful.  The rules have changed.  You would have been wise not to follow this path.” 

“Who are you?” 

“You are better off not knowing.  Now I must return, before my absence is noticed.  Take care of our mutual friend, Mr. Wilmington.” 

“Wait!” Ezra called out, but the stranger had already disappeared through the trees. 

“You know him?” Buck asked, pulling the Southerner from his introspection and propelling him towards the taxi rank. 

“Never seen him before in my life…at least not in the past fifteen years that I do remember,” he amended. 


****Part 26 

“So?” Wilmington stretched the word into a long distortion of its former self.  

“Give me a minute, Buck.”  Standish unfolded the pages within the non-descript envelope.  On first glance he identified them as being photocopies.  “They’re pages from a dossier.” 

Wilmington’s interest peaked and he jumped on the bed behind the Southerner and leant over his shoulder so he could read for himself.  He felt no compunctions in doing so, especially after Ezra had openly declared his confidence in the taller agent.  “It’s a profile on Vladimir Lukchenski?”  The name seemed to jump off the page and meet him.  

“It would appear so.” 

“Born in St Petersburg, 1940 and married Leonie Boulay in Strasburg, France 1965.  Offspring - male, twenty-first November 1967 Nikoli Kirill Lukchenski …” Wilmington paused, glanced at the Southerner to gage Ezra’s reaction at reading the child’s name.  “…You think this is you?”  

Standish shook his head, clearly puzzled.  If Nikoli Lukchenski was the same person as Nikoli Venkov, then why would he have changed his surname?  Yet again?  Was it to protect someone else?  Or only his own hide?  And why would the stranger from the embassy alert them to this document, if there weren’t some connection.  “I don’t know.”  Nikoli wasn’t a particularly exclusive name; there could be any number of plausible explanations. 

They continued to read through the copied report.  When Ezra folded down the last page he gasped audibly. 

Wilmington watched the colour drain from his friend’s face as he stared wide-eyed at the scanned image stapled on the inside cover at the back.  “You recognise him?” 

“Yes,” Ezra rasped.  “He’s my father.”




* - ‘Net’ -  No

* - ‘Do skoroy vstryechee’ – See you soon.

* - ‘Da’ - Yes