Rebuilding the Past
Thanks to Mitzi & NotTasha
Story moved to Blackraptor in October 2009
“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
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.
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
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.
Buck glanced at his bare feet and grinned.
“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?”
“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.
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
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,”
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.
“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
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
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.
“Why so many?” Just how large was
“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
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
“Can’t risk it.”
“So Simon Evans just drops off the
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.
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
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
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.
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
“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
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
“No sweat, Ezra.”
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.
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
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.”
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
“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
“Anything we can help him with?”
“He knows where we are if he does,”
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
“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
“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
“Nope…and there was pretty tight
security getting access to the information.”
“I hope I haven’t caused you any
“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
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.”
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
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
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
“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?
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
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
“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
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.
“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
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
“There is very little documented on the
pair and the accounts from the media are always disjointed and only half truths
“So you want something straight from the
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
Ezra returned to the study, content to
examine the report at his leisure.
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.
“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
“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
“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
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
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.”
“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.”
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
“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 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
Standish’s lips curled into a small
smile, the first to grace his face in the past few days, as he watched Larabee
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
Standish snorted, leaving the files in
disarray and following Larabee to the kitchen. “You’re going to
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
“Pretty much. You want more than
“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.
“What happened in Atlanta?” Chris
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.”
“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.”
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.
“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
“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.
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
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
“Like I’d blab,” JD retorted.
“I’ll be seeing you on Monday.”
“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
“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.”
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
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
“Ezra,” Chris stopped him at the door.
“You want me to tell Buck everything?”
“If you’d be so kind, yes.”
“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
“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
“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
“I’ll come with you,” Larabee
“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
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
“Sure, Ezra,” Wilmington answered
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.
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,”
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
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
“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
“He seems to know you,” Wilmington
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?”
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
“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.
“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
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