Ezra's Missing

by Phyllis

Alternate Universe "Brothers Larabee"

Size: Approx. 104K

Ezra joined JD in the front room. "Are you almost ready to depart? We need to be on the road soon or we will arrive at a most inappropriate time, JD." Ezra checked his watch once again.

"All set! I don’t need much. We’re only going for two days, right?" the younger man asked as he bounded into the room carrying a bugling duffel bag. He looked around and sighed. "You think Chris is still mad at us?"

Ezra studied the young man in front of him. The boy still had a lot to learn about reading people. Maybe that was something they could work on these next two days away from the others. "Chris was not mad at either you or I, JD. He was only expressing his concern that we would be away together. He has some apprehensions as to my ability to protect you in the ‘big city’ of Las Vegas."

"I don’t need protecting," JD protested. "Why do ya’ll treat me like a kid? I’m twenty-three years old. Vin’s only two years older than me and nobody, and I mean nobody treats him that way." JD’s cheeks were red with exasperation. It was infuriating to be treated like a child that had no sense. This ‘big brother’ thing was fast becoming a royal pain in the ass to him.

"Well, as I see it, JD, no matter how old you are, you will still be the youngest and the one that everyone feels they have to look after." He watched as the young man’s eyes rolled and his mouth opened with a retort. Throwing up his hands in a defensive stance, Ezra continued. "Please, do not kill the messenger. I am only trying to explain that you are in a ‘no win’ situation, in that we all want to be looked up to as a ‘big’ brother. We want to be sought after for advice; looked up to as paragons of virtue and good counsel, wise and benevolent benefactors. Of course, we are none of these things and never could be, but little brothers are supposed to ‘worship’ their big brothers. At least in theory." Ezra smiled at JD. "Chris is the ultimate big brother. Having some experience at it, he assumes responsibility for us all. He worries about all of us, but you the most of all, because of the accident. He feels that he was at fault in the unfortunate incident and therefore, responsible for your continued good health."

JD shook his head. "Chris was no more to blame for that accident than.. well heck, then you were. He needs to get over it and stop acting like my personal guardian. Between him and Buck, I’m lucky to go to the bathroom by myself," JD lamented. "At least Buck smiles. Chris just glares at everybody; except Vin. That’s one reason that I agreed to go with you this time. Wanted to get out for a while without someone watching over my shoulder." JD picked up the small bag. He started for the door, speaking as he walked away. "Hell, I couldn’t even get a date with Casey ‘cause Buck was hanging around. Should ‘a just asked her in front of him."

Ezra chuckled. "Buck would have never allowed you a moment of peace had you decided to afford him that opportunity." He followed JD out the door and down the steps to the Jag that sat out front.

JD laughed. "Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of. I’ll just ask her when we get back-over the phone-in my room. Or maybe I could send her a note with Nettie."

Both men laughed as they tossed the bag into the automobile. Ezra got in and started the vehicle. "I hope you have a code worked out with the girl, because Chris and Buck will most likely frisk the poor woman if they suspected your communication was in her possession."

"Yeah, they could try, but they’d draw back stumps if they tried that with Nettie."

They laughed at the vision of Chris or Buck trying to get a note from Nettie Wells. They knew she would broach no nonsense from any of the seven brothers in the home she tended to.

"Might be worth it just to see what happens" JD said. The vision brought smiles to both faces. Ezra dropped the automobile into gear and drove away from the ranch house they called home.

+ + + + + + +

Two men sitting astride horses sat on top of the hill and watched the sleek car drive away. The younger one sat on a tall chestnut, his leg hooked over the saddle horn. He turned to study the stern profile of the man next to him. "What’s got you so worried, Chris? Ain’t like Ezra’s never gone to Vegas before." Vin studied the older brother.

"Don’t know, Vin. Just got a strange feeling this time. Got any idea why he invited JD along this time?" Chris looked at the longhaired man, with one eyebrow raised.

Vin chuckled. "Ain’t got a clue. I ain’t privey to Ezra’s private business." He looked at Chris. He was clearly disturbed about something. "Ezra’ll watch after JD."

Chris shook his head. "I know. I just.."

"Yeah, yeah. Got a bad feeling." Vin completed the statement.

Las Vegas, Nevada

Four hours later, the Jag pulled up in front of the building that housed Ezra’s business. It was a ten-story affair that boasted several entrances, all guarded by security of one type or another. JD got out the car and stretched. Ezra joined him on the passenger side of the sports car and smiled. "Welcome to Standish Security headquarters, JD."

"So, do you have an office here?" the young man asked.

"Yes. We’ve been here for the past three years." Ezra spoke with pride.

"What floor are you on?"

"Floor? I’ll have you know we occupy the top three floors. This is not some fly-by-night undertaking, my young friend. We have one hundred and seventy-eight employees. Computers and technical are on eight, files and sales plus accounting are on nine, and the executive offices are on ten. We have an excellent view from both my private office and the conference room." JD noticed the pride that rang through in Ezra’s voice.

Smiling, he turned and looked properly impressed with the size of his sibling’s enterprises. "So, do I get the royal treatment with full tour?"

"Absolutely, my young sibling. We shall start on eight and work our way upward to the executive offices." Ezra placed an arm around JD’s shoulder and led him through the doors. Stopping at the security desk, he obtained a visitors pass and introduced JD to the guards seated behind the desk. Both men seemed genuinely pleased to see Standish. JD smiled and shook their hands as he was introduced.

"Gentlemen, I’d like you to meet my brother, JD. Steve, Terry. These two gentlemen have been with us from the first day of our opening." Ezra informed JD.

"Opening? Ezra, do you own this building?" JD asked.

"Most assuredly. It is just more advantageous to be the proprietor rather than the renter in large firms. We have a much better tax write off if we own the building and keep it in good repair by putting rental fees back into maintenance and improvements."

"That’s pretty cool, Ezra. I’ve never known anyone that owned their own business, much less their own building." JD grinned. Ezra just shook his head. He thought the lad needed to be more aware of his own fortune. Was he oblivious to the fact that he himself was now part owner of a business, that of the ranch? Ezra thought not. Even though the brothers had been together for almost six months now, JD was blissfully enjoying the family and, though included in decisions about the running of the ranch, remained unaware of his true part within the family business. Ezra wondered if he had ever been that innocent and trusting. He thought he might have been once, but it was long ago and his mother had surely cured him of it quickly.

He led JD to the elevators and, after touring the eighth and ninth floors, arrived at the executive floor. They approached the reception desk at the center of the wall in front of the elevators. The young woman looked up and smiled brightly.

"Mr. Standish! How wonderful. You’re a week early. We weren’t expecting you until next week. Have you changed your schedule?"

"No, Miss Craven. I was escorting my young brother around our fair metropolis and wanted to show him my business endeavor in the same journey. Now, if I may, John Dunne let me introduce our lovely, and indispensable, receptionist Miss Julianne Craven. Miss Craven, my youngest brother, John Dunne, better known as JD."

JD blushed which drew a lilting laughter from the woman. She extended her hands and took hold of JD’s extended hand with both of hers. She patted the back of his hand, saying, "Don’t worry, he has a tendency to ‘properly’ introduce everyone that way. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Is it all right if I call you JD?"

"Oh, sure. I’d like that. It took Ezra two months to call me JD," the young man informed her.

"Well, I have known your brother for four years come next October and he and I still use proper names." Julianne and JD laughed. Ezra simply looked at them with a quizzical look.

"I see no humor in the courtesy extended by calling someone by their proper name. It is only respectful to allow a person proper distance from a familiarity which they might not be comfortable with," Ezra tried to explain. Seeing the doubt in their faces, the stylishly dressed man dismissed them both with a wave of his hand. "JD, follow me if you please. Miss Craven, we will see you later this afternoon."

JD flashed Julianne a smile and trailed after Ezra, as he headed for the office at the end of the hallway. Ezra entered and crossed the room to the desk. JD went to the windows and gaped at the view. "Wow. Ezra, this is fantastic. This view is great." He moved from one window to the next, drinking in the sights. He turned toward the desk as he heard the computer booting up.

"Yes, it is a most impressive view, but you really must see it at night. The lights are absolutely breathtaking. If you go onto the roof, you can actually feel the heat of millions of lights coming right off the desert floor. This municipality seems to be using as much energy of the state of Rhode Island I do believe."

JD approached the computer as Ezra logged on. As the computer came up, Ezra slid the chair back and indicated that JD take the position he had just vacated. "All right, my young computer wizard, as we discussed on the journey here, I have need of your computer skills and your discretion."

Ezra stood back and watched as the younger man’s fingers flew over the keyboard. JD needed no introduction to the system. He knew what he was looking for, if not why. Ezra had told him when he asked JD to accompany him that he had suspicions that someone was breaking into the computer system and obtaining information. He was hoping that JD could backtrack and trace the hacker to his location.

JD glanced over his shoulder at Ezra. "Ez, why don’t you go do something? This may take a while, if I can even do it. You’ve got a pretty good security network on your system. Whoever hacked in, is good. I may not be able to trace ‘em."

"All I can ask is that you do your best, JD. And I thank you for that effort, no matter the outcome." Ezra placed his hand on the dark haired youth’s shoulder. "Would you care for a refreshment?"

JD smiled at the confidence Ezra was showing in him. Flashing him a confident grin, he answered, "A coke would be great."

Ezra tossed JD a two-fingered salute and left the room. JD turned back to the computer screen, the smile evaporating from his face. "This is not going to be easy." He thought to himself. He studied the screen again. He watched as the information ran across the screen. "Hmmm…. That was interesting." He scanned the information and decided on a different approach. JD was so absorbed in his task that he barely noticed as his drink arrived. He sat hunched over the keyboard, intent on his task.

Several hours passed and mid afternoon had arrived. Ezra entered as JD was taking sheets of paper from the printer. So intent was the boy that he had failed to notice the other man’s entrance. JD turned to go back to the desk and ran full into the taller man. Ezra quickly grabbed the young man to prevent him from hitting the floor. "Geez, Ezra, make some noise, for crying out loud. You been hanging around Vin?" He bent down and picked up the scattered papers.

"Sorry, JD. It was not my intention to startle you. Have you made any luck or shall we go for a late lunch and relax a while?"

JD looked up from the floor and his face told the story. "I think I have what you’re looking for, Ezra, but I don’t think you’ll like it."

He stood and handed the papers to Ezra. They went to the desk. Ezra took the chair and JD looked over his shoulder. As he scanned the papers, Ezra’s face blanched and then turned crimson as the full impact of the information in front of him hit home. "Damn," he said in an uncharacteristically flat declaration.

"I’m sorry, Ezra. I know it’s not what you were expecting."

Ezra folded the sheets and put them in his breast pocket. "No doubt, I was a little taken back with this disclosure, but I shall prevail, JD. I fear, though, that I will unable to accompany you this afternoon. I had intended to escort you about our fair city. But, in lieu of my company, I shall arrange for a most apt substitute."

"Actually, if you don’t mind, I’d like to just wander around on my own. There’s a lot to see. Then you can show me your favorite places tomorrow. Is that all right?’

"Are you sure, JD? I really do not feel that I should allow.." Ezra stopped speaking as JD’s face darkened.

"I am capable to taking care of myself. I don’t plan on going into any alleys or following someone I don’t know somewhere. Please give me a little more credit than I get from the others, Ezra."

"My apologizes, my young sir. I fear that we are overly protective toward you due to both our age differences and the newness of brotherhood. Of course you are a capable young man and I bow to your wishes." JD smiled. "But shall we make plans for a evening respite at say, oh, eight o’clock at the hotel?" Ezra asked.

"Sure thing. I’ll see you at eight. In the room or the lobby?"

"Room, I think. We can decide where to eat at that time." JD nodded and headed for the door. "Wait just a moment and I’ll arrange for a car to take you to whatever destination you desire."

"Thanks, Ezra. Don’t forget-eight o’clock." JD turned and left.

Ezra picked up the phone and dialed. "Miss Craven? My brother is leaving and I would appreciate if you would be so kind as to order him a car." He listened for a moment. "Yes, that is an excellent idea. When you finish with that please call Mr. Tallmadge and ask him to step into my office? I would appreciate it very much."

He hung up the phone and turned to gaze out the window. He frowned as he thought about the information that JD had ferreted out of the computer. He was disappointed to say the least. His problem now was what to do. How was he to deal with a friend’s betrayal?

Double L Ranch

The four men at the ranch had cleaned up after the evening meal and were lounging around the front room. It was getting close to eleven at night. Nathan was putting in extra time at the hospital and wasn’t expected home until the next morning. Vin was closest to the phone when it rang. He reached around and grabbed it as he took a swig from the bottle Buck had just handed him. "Double L"

He listened for a moment, and then leaned forward, listening intently. Buck had been watching and saw the tense posture the younger man adopted. Buck tossed his bottle cap at Chris. Chris grabbed the cap and pulled back to throw it back, when he saw Buck gesture toward Vin. Chris turned and looked.

"Okay, JD. Calm down. It’s probably nothing. Have you…" Vin was cut off as JD’s voice came through the phone. Chris, Buck, and Josiah were on their feet and gathered around Vin as he pulled the receiver away from his ear. They could almost make out the words as the youngest member of their family babbled on. Silence. "It’s no problem, kid. We’re leaving now. Where are you staying?" Once again, the excited voice came through. "Okay, we’ll be there in three hours-tops. Stay put." Vin listened for a moment. "Okay, hang on."

Vin put the receiver out toward Chris. "JD. What’s wrong?" He listened for a minute. "No. I think you’ve done everything right. Just sit tight. We’re on the way."

Chris hung up the phone. Buck held up his hands. "What’s going on? Where we going?"

"We’re going to Vegas. Ezra’s missing."

There was a moment’s hesitation, then the four moved as one.

Las Vegas, Nevada

Three hours later, Chris’ black Dodge pulled up to the hotel. The four piled out of the 4x4 and headed into the lobby of the hotel. Vin looked around the luxurious entrance. "One thing you can say about Ezra, he knows how to live the high life." Buck grinned and nodded in agreement. They would expect nothing less from the man who dressed like he was meeting royalty every time he went to the stables.

"Yep. That’s our Ezra." Josiah agreed.

Chris headed for the desk, but stopped as a young woman stepped into his path. The others stopped alongside the blond. They formed a strong line in front of the young woman. Chris had a look of wanting to sidestep around her, but the Las Vegas Police badge stopped him.

She smiled as she asked, "Would you gentlemen be from the Double L Ranch?’

The four men instantly tensed and closed the already small distance between the young officer and themselves. She instinctively backed up a step. She did not fear the men in front of her, but the sheer power of their presence was almost overwhelming.

"Is it Ezra?" Chris growled the question at her.

She wore a look of confusion on her face, as she stated, "No, sir I’m here about a young man attacked on the west side of town and brought to the hospital. John Dunne…"

She did not get a chance to finish her statement as Buck took another step forward. "JD!? Is he ok?"

Buck turned to Chris. "You told him to stay here. I heard you. How the hel.." Buck‘s jaw slammed shut as he realized where he was and how loud he was getting, with people stopping to stare. He turned back to the young female officer. "Sorry, ma’am. But that boy could get in trouble if he was asleep in the Lord’s arms."

Chris took Buck by the arm and, holding him in place, he stepped around and confronted the officer. "Yes, ma’am, we’re from the Double L. I’m Chris Larabee. JD is our brother." He indicated the men standing around him.

She looked from man to man and found it hard to see any resemblance, except for the strength of character that all five men had exhibited. She extended her arm toward the door. "Officer Jennifer Calvin. If you gentlemen would follow me." She started to the door, closely followed by a protective wall of brothers.

Once they had exited the front doors, she turned back. "I did not intend to alarm you, but I quite obviously have. I apologize for that. Mr. Dunne was assaulted a couple of hours ago. He was brought into Valley Hospital. He was not really coherent when I spoke to him, but he did manage to convey the need for someone to meet you gentlemen. If you will to follow me, I’ll escort you over to the hospital."

The four men jumped into the Dodge and followed closely behind the police car. They were silent and shaken. Buck sat in the back next to Josiah; his eyes turned away, looking out the window. He watched as the lights flashed by and tried to keep his hands and thoughts still. "That boy must have been born under a curse. I aint’ never seen one soul have so much bad luck," he finally said.

Chris tightened his grip on the steering wheel. "Relax, Buck. We don’t know what happened, so let’s not go off the deep end and think the worst." He glanced in the mirror to see Buck brandish his hand in the air. He shook his head at Buck’s wave off. A chuckle from Vin drew Chris’ attention.

"Buck has a point. Boy must walk under a ladder every day."

Chris nodded. "Maybe. Or maybe he’s just trying too hard. Looks like we’re here." He pulled up in front of the single level building. Because the hour was early, there were plenty of places to park the large pickup. They followed Officer Calvin through the emergency room entrance.

"Dr. Barrows?" she called to a young man in a white coat. He turned and came forward, taking the police officer in a big hug. Under her breath, Chris and the others heard her tell the doctor, "Dan, I told you not to do that."

She pulled away, turning back to the brothers. "Dr. Barrows, these are Mr. Dunne’s brothers."

The young man shook hands with each man, as Chris asked about their young brother. "Doctor, can you tell us how JD is?"

"He’s in pretty good condition. He has a few scrapes and bruises, a cut lip, and some cracked ribs," he informed them. "I have to see to another patient, but you’re welcome to go back and see him if you want. He’s in the third room on the left side. Jen, why don’t you show them the way. I think Jake is still down there finishing up on his statement."

"Thanks, Dan."

The four brothers followed the female officer down the hallway. They entered the room to find JD sitting on the edge of the bed holding his shirt in his hand and trying to slide off. A police officer was trying to keep him on the bed. "Sir, you need to lay back down. The doctor said you were not to get up yet."

The boy’s long dark hair swayed back and forth as he shook his head, his features hidden. "No. What he said was…"

"JD" Chris had spoken softly; but the authority in his voice carried across the room and brought both heads around. Chris and the others got a good look at the young man’s face as his head jerked around. Anger, sympathy, compassion-all these emotions were reflected in the faces of the men standing in the door. JD saw this and turned his face away from his brothers.

The young police officer standing in front of JD laughed softly when he heard a soft, "Oh, shit", whispered under the youth's breath. He stepped back as the four men approached.

Taking a deep breath, JD looked up at four men gathered around. "Chris, Buck, guys, I can explain. I was just trying to save some time. I know I should have waited ‘til ya’ll got here. But I thought.." JD stopped as Chris glared down at him.

Buck had taken him by the chin and was examining the bruises that decorated the young man’s face. His lip was split and swollen, his right eye black. The bruise extended down from his eye down his cheekbone, connecting with the one that ran from the front of his jaw to the back. His ribs were taped and he shifted uncomfortably on the bed. But the bruises on both arms held Chris’ attention more than anything. JD’s arms were bruised at both the wrists and the biceps. That sight infuriated Chris more than anything because it clearly indicated that two men had held the youth while a third had beat him. The bruises did not go unnoticed by the other three brothers either. Chris heard Josiah mumble something under his breath. He heard Buck utter a soft "Ah, kid" in sympathy. He knew if he looked, he would see the muscle in Vin’s jaw muscle flexing and his eyes narrowed.

"Hey, I’m fine. Really." JD tried to grin, but it turned to a grimace as his split lip protested.

"What did Chris tell you over the phone? He told you to not do anything; that we were on the way." Buck said softly. JD opened his mouth to defend his actions when Buck paused to take a breath. Before he could utter a syllable though, Buck cut him off as he waved a hand in front of the boy’s face and continued, not giving the youngest member of the family the chance to answer, "If ya wanted to go off on your own, then why did you call us? And I assume that you were out trying to find Ezra and got mugged because you went to the wrong part of town. I hate to think that you were out wandering around sightseeing after that call you made to the ranch. So, what do ya have to say for yourself? Or don’t you have anything to say?" Buck stood with his hands propped on his hips, his feet spread apart, glowering at the smaller man.

JD just stared at him; eyes wide open. He turned to Chris for assistance. "Don’t look at me. You made that bed, you can lie in it."

JD's appeal turned to Vin and Josiah. Josiah placed a stern, disapproving look in his features in fear of busting out with laughter. Vin returned JD’s puppy dog look with his own lopsided grin, his thumbs stuck in the front of his pants. "Don’t look over here. We broke every traffic law there is getting here only to met by her." Vin turned to Jennifer, dipping his head. "No offense, ma’am."

Jennifer Calvin threw a smile at the longhaired man. "No problem." She had two younger brothers that had had to be dressed down a couple of times themselves so she understood the four men’s frustration with the young member of their clan.

"I only.." JD stopped and looked at the men that had gathered around him. "I only wanted to find Ezra. I felt useless just sitting around the hotel room waiting for you guys to get here."

Chris placed a hand on JD’s shoulder. "We can understand that, JD. Just scared us when Officer Calvin walked up. Thought something really bad had happened to Ezra. It didn’t make it any easier hearing that it was you in the hospital."

"Sorry, Chris. I never for a minute thought something was going to happen. All I did was go to Ezra’s work to see if his car was there."

"And was it?" Vin asked.

"Yeah. It was there. And Steve didn't have any record of Ezra leaving the building." JD said.

"And Steve is..?" Chris asked.

"Oh, he’s the guard at the building. I met him this morning when we got there. Ezra introduced me to him and Terry. Kind ‘a surprised he was still there. Awful long hours if you ask me" he thought out loud.

Chris looked at Buck. They had a place to start. Turning to the officers, Chris asked, "Did you get what you need from him?"

Jennifer Calvin turned to her partner. "Jake, you need anything else?" Then she turned back to Chris. "Oh, I’m sorry. This is my partner, Jake Riley."

The two men shook hands. "I think I got all the information I need. He really couldn’t tell me much. Said there were three men, tall, well built. It was really too dark to see much in the alleyway." Riley almost laughed out loud as the look of dread that crossed the boy's face. The young man rolled his eyes as Buck slowly turned to him again, his mouth sat in a straight line.

"Alley? You went into an alleyway after dark, in a town you know nothing about? Don’t you have any common sense at all, boy? Damn stupid thing to do. No. Damn dangerous thing to do, especially when you ain’t familiar with the area." Buck cuffed JD lightly across the head, ruffling his hair. JD looked appropriately admonished.

"Did the doctor want to keep him here?’ Chris asked Riley.

"No. He said he would release him to leave as soon as someone got here to take him home. You may need to see about the charges or prescriptions, but Dan was okay with him leaving otherwise."

Chris thanked both officers. Buck was lacing JD’s sneakers when he turned back to the others. "Okay. Give me a couple of minutes to go pay. Josiah, see if you find that doctor and get any instructions from him as to what we need to do for the kid."

A mumbled voice reached Chris’ ears. "Ain’t no kid."

"Then don’t act like one." Buck growled. Then, with a twinkle in his eyes, he added as he smiled. "Besides, you’ll always be a kid to the old man there." That brought a smile to JD’s face. He knew that he was forgiven.

Josiah and Chris left to clear JD’s leaving the hospital. While they were gone, JD filled Vin and Buck in on the events of the day as they helped him into his shirt. Buck whistled softly. "Chris has to hear this. Why didn’t ya’ll call?"

"Wasn’t my place. As it stands now, I wish I had. Maybe none of this would have happened." JD frowned at the thoughts that came to mind. "Do you think Ezra is okay?"

Buck sat down next to him and placed a hand on the worried young man’s knee. Vin joined them at the bed, placing a hand on JD’s shoulder. "No way to know, JD. But one thing’s for sure-we will find ‘em. And whoever is responsible will pay. You have my word on that." There was an edge to Vin’s voice that neither man had heard before. Without raising his voice, the young bounty hunter had conveyed a conviction to find their missing sibling and exact vengeance on the ones that had taken him.

Ten minutes later, all five were once again joined and headed out the door. After they got in the truck, Buck told JD to bring Chris and Josiah up to speed on what had transpired earlier in the day.

"Ezra invited me to go with him so I could do some computer work for him. Seems that several of the companies that the he does work for have been robbed. Ezra suspected that someone was getting security codes from his systems. He wanted me to see if I could trace the hacker back to his place and then he would report it to the police."

Chris’ features darkened. "So, did you found anything?"

JD swallowed. "Yeah, I found what he was looking for, but it wasn’t a hacker." He looked at Chris’ eyes in the mirror. "What I found was that it was coming from inside and that they were sending the information out to someone. I printed all the information up and Ezra took it."

Josiah had turned to listen to the boy’s story. He glanced at the profile of the man driving. "If Ezra confronted this person, there might have been an altercation."

"Yeah, that’s what we were thinking." Buck stated and Vin agreed. Now they had an idea what they were looking for and where to start the search. They drove away from the hospital and headed west to Standish Securities.

"Vin, you got any contacts in Vegas?" Chris asked as they drove.

"Might still have some pull. So, you alright with my bounty-hunting now that we need those skills?" Vin knew he was opening old wounds, but couldn’t or wouldn’t stop himself. He watched as Chris tensed. He found himself pinned by the glare the mirror cast at him. If possible, Chris’ mouth grew even tighter than it already was. Guilt settled on Vin’s shoulders. "Sorry, cowboy. Ain’t the right time for that fight. Yeah, I have some people that I can talk to. If there’s a trail, I’ll find it."

Chris had looked back at the road, but Vin’s apology drew his eyes back to the mirror. Green met blue. "Thanks, Vin." The words are small, but conveyed a heartfelt sentiment.

JD breathed a sigh of relief as they avoided an argument between Chris and Vin about the younger man’s occupation. "That’s the building over there." JD said as he sat forward. He was glad they had arrived. Buck had tried to get him to go back to the hotel to rest, but JD protested, saying that he was the only one that could run the computer and find the information they needed. But he found the ride was aggravating his sore ribs.

Chris parked next to Ezra’s Jag. The five men got out and walked around the sports car. There was no sign of trouble around the car. Whatever happened did not occur at the car. "Let’s go inside and talk to the guards." Chris suggested.

Steve looked up as they came in the door. "Hey, JD. Are you supposed to be up?" Steve stood and came around the desk.

JD smiled. "They threw me out. Said to go home and get some rest." JD gestured to the four men behind him. "Steve, those are my brothers. Chris, Buck, Josiah, Vin. We’re still trying to get a line on where Ezra might be. You haven’t heard anything, have ya?"

Steve shook his head. "No. I called Terry at home. He doesn’t remember Mr. Standish leaving either. I was thinking, though, you might talk to Julianne. She would know who Mr. Standish met with this afternoon. No one goes into that office that she doesn’t see."

"I didn’t think about her." JD turned to the others. "She’s the receptionist. She sits in a direct line to Ezra’s office. Steve, do you have her number?"

The guard went back around the desk and pulled out a book. As he flipped the pages, Vin asked. "How many ways are there out of the building?"

Steve’s brow creased in thought, then he glanced up at the longhaired man. "There are five-two public entrances, a freight elevator at the dock, two service doors. Those are around back near the freight elevator."

"Both public entrances guarded?"

"No, just this one. The other door is locked to the outside. You can go out, but there’s no handle on the outside for entering the building. Here ya go, JD." The guard handed the young man a slip of paper with the phone number written on it.

"Thanks, Steve. Okay if we go up?"

"Sure. Hey, you guys let me know if I can help. And I do mean, if you need anything. Mr. Standish is a good man to work for. The idea that something happened to him while I had the duty does not sit well."

The five men acknowledged the significance of the guard’s statement. They had started for the elevators when Vin turned back to the guard. "Steve, JD said you were here this morning. You normally work this long?"

"No, but Greg called in sick and I volunteered to stay. Get a long weekend that way."

"Thanks." Vin joined the others at the elevators. He looked at Chris. "Sick?" The blond had a skeptical look on his face.

Chris pushed the button and, when the car arrived, they took the elevator up to the tenth floor.

JD led his brothers to Ezra’s office. Ezra’s office was on the corner of the building, with two walls of windows. The desk sat facing the door. A second door led into a small hallway, where there were two more doors. One was a large restroom complete with shower and a large closet. The door at the other end of the hall led out into an exterior corridor.

They all looked around, but found nothing that could help them locate the missing man. JD checked the paper shredder near the printer. "I found something." The others quickly joined him. "I can’t be sure, but I think this is the stuff I gave Ezra. This can was empty when I was here."

"JD, can you get that information off the computer again?" Josiah asked.

"Yeah, I should be able to." He headed for the desk.

Chris turned to Vin and Josiah. "Boys, let’s check those other entrances. Buck, you mind staying here?" Chris wore an expression on his face that continued with ‘and keep an eye on JD’. Buck nodded in acknowledgement.

"Sure thing, Chris. I’ll see if I can help out." He swatted at JD’s head when he heard a small "Yeah, right" from him.

"We’ll be back in thirty minutes." With that, the three left.

Buck turned to watch as the computer wiz in the family did his magic at the keyboard. "JD. Where’s that phone number?"

"Dang, I forgot. Let me call her and then you can talk to her while I do this." He pulled the phone closer and dialed the phone the security guard had given him. "Yeah, ah, Julianne? This is JD Dunne. I met you at Standish… oh, hi. I was going to leave a message." He paused as the person on the other spoke.

"No...well, actually, yes. Ezra is missing." JD listened as the young woman started asking questions. "Yeah."

"We don’t know."

"No. No. Wait. Listen. I’m going to put my brother, Buck, on the phone. He wants to ask you about today and I’m going to work on something else. Do you mind talking to Buck? Okay, here he is." JD handed the receiver to the tall man and turned back to the computer. JD ignored the one-sided conversation taking place next to him as he concentrated on the screen in front of him. He was vaguely aware when Buck hung up the receiver, but did not stop what he was doing. They remained silent several minutes before Buck asked "Any luck?"

"Some. Somebody’s tried to erase the stuff I found this afternoon. Files were deleted and rewritten." Buck frowned. JD grinned. "Don’t worry, Buck. I didn’t go through the front door the first time. Whoever it was didn’t do a very good job. What did Julianne say?"

Both men looked up as the door opened. Chris, Vin, and Josiah entered and approached the desk, their faces telling the other two they had found nothing.

Buck asked anyway, "Nothing?"

Josiah shook his head. "We looked around the freight elevator and both service entrances. Wasn’t any use in going to the other door. As public as it is, there wouldn’t be any clues there, I imagine."

JD never looked up from the screen, "Anybody notice if Ezra has cameras at the exits?"

Chris and Vin looked at each other and shook their heads. Vin grabbed the phone and called Steve. After a moment he hung up. He looked from man to man as he informed them that cameras monitored all the doors and the tapes were in a room in the basement. The images were taped and the tapes reused every forty-eight hours.

"Chris, that’s a lot of tape. We don’t even know what door to look at." Buck looked at the others. He shook his head. "I know, I know. We need to be watch them."

"Hey, Buck. What did Julianne say? Did Ezra see anybody after I left?"

Chris propped a hip on the desk to watch JD work. He glanced over at Buck.

"She said that Ezra called a Tallmadge to his office. She says he stayed there about an hour and he left. Nobody else went in that she saw."

Vin sat sprawled in a chair. "She don’t have line of sight on that second door. Someone could have taken him out through that door. She would have never seen them."

Chris slowly nodded and then turned back to the computer screen and the boy working so hard in front of it. Josiah walked over, looking down at the night skyline. "It’s an absolutely breathtaking view from here."

JD’s head whipped around. He stared at Josiah for a moment., then he turned back to the screen. He swiped at the tear as it escaped his eye. Chris reached out and placed his hand on the young man’s shoulder. "What’s wrong, JD?"

JD swallowed to force the lump out of his throat. He glanced up at Chris, his chin quivering. "Ezra told me the same thing this afternoon, or yesterday, I guess now." He looked back at the computer. Chris gave his shoulder another light squeeze. Chris saw Buck shrug his shoulders.

"Find anything, JD?"

The kid smiled a little and looked up again. "I’m getting there. The secret is start at the end and work your way back." He stopped speaking as he concentrated on the screen. "Got it!"

The four men gathered close to the desk. JD pushed back from the desk and pointed to the printer as it began to hum. The center of attention shifted from the desk to the printer. Chris pulled out the papers as they were fed out. He looked at the figures and frowned. He passed each sheet around and everyone studied them. They looked at each other and the papers. Chris shook his head, smiling. "Okay, we give up. What’s it say?"

JD just looked at them. He laughed. "Sorry. What this is telling us is that a man named Rick Benning’s computer was sending out information on when and where money shipments were going out. The codes, passwords, routes, everything. Ezra was really sure that it wasn’t him or anyone else here. We talked about it on the way. ‘Course, he didn’t know the information was coming from the inside then. He was sure who ever was doing the robberies, was hacking ‘into’ the system. He was real upset when I gave him the news. He talked about how next to no one had access to all the information. So, in his mind, it couldn’t be anyone inside." JD looked at his brothers' reaction to this news.

"Okay. So how much have they taken so far?" Vin asked.

"Ezra reckoned it was two and a half million."

Chris’ brow creased in question. "How many men were in on the thefts? Did he say?"

JD thought for a minute. "I think he said the police reported five men at each holdup."

Vin looked at Chris and shook his head. Buck and Josiah were having the same type of reaction to the news.

"What?" JD asked, confused.

"Well, JD, two, three million is a lot of money. But not after you split it five ways. Not for the risk that they’re taking." Vin explained. "They’re planning on something bigger. These robberies are just practice runs."

Josiah nodded in agreement. "And it’s probably soon. If Ezra confronted the person responsible, they might have taken him ‘til they do whatever it is they are planning."

Buck looked at Josiah. "So, you think that they’re just holding him ‘til they do the robbery?"

"Maybe. Hope so."

"And if they aren’t?" JD asked hesitantly.

Josiah placed a hand on JD’s neck and gently gripped. "JD, Ezra knows who is running the show. If they’re planning on leaving after the big take, they might just leave Ezra stashed somewhere. If not.." Josiah knew the boy had followed the same train of thought as the rest when he saw the tears flood the hazel eyes and the boy tense as he came to the same conclusion as the others.

Buck watched as Josiah explained the situation to JD. He saw the fair skin turn pale and the muscles tremble. He stepped over and wrapped his arm around the younger man's shoulders in a warm embrace. "Don’t think the worst, kid. Let’s see, how does that go? ‘Worry is interest paid on a debt not yet due.’ Linc used to tell us." He looked into the troubled hazel orbs and grinned. "Hey, let’s go find that errant brother of ours. Okay?"

JD took a deep breath and drew himself up straight, nodding. "Let’s go."

Josiah, JD, and Buck looked at the other two. Chris glanced at the three and turned his head toward Vin. "Benning?"

"Sounds like a good place to start to me." Vin agreed.

Chris turned so that he faced the wiry young man. "Vin, we don’t have the experience in tracking that you do. I know what I said about this bounty-hunting thing. I can’t like that you take a chance with your life just to hunt down some bond jumper. But this is family. We need your help."

Vin gazed at Chris. He saw the intense look and honest appeal. He could feel three more pairs of eyes watching. "It’s four o’clock. Don’t want to wait ‘til they open to talk to Benning. We can stop and get his address from Steve and head over there."

As one, they headed for the door. Going down in the elevator, Vin added, "We should check out that guard that called in sick, also."

The elevator arrived at the ground floor and, exiting the car, they headed over to the guard desk. Two men stood as they approached. JD stepped forward and extended his hand. "Morning, Terry. What are you doing here so early?"

"Well, Steve called about Mr. Standish and I thought maybe I could help, so I came in a little early."

Steve laughed, "Yeah, four hours early." Terry just shrugged. Chris and the others were impressed with the loyalty that Ezra inspired in his employees. "We were thinking that maybe you could use us to go through the surveillance tapes. Our doing that will free you up to do something else. That is if you want to trust us with it?"

Chris glanced around and got a nod from each of the others. "We would be grateful. We have another lead to check out. If you find anything, here’s my cell number. Call us, please."

Terry headed to the video room as Steve nodded. Chris thanked the two guards and turned to his brothers. "Let’s move out, boys."


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