The End of Innocence

by Angie

“Anybody know what’s eating Ezra?” Buck asked as he entered the conference room that Monday morning. Knowing glances pass around the table. “I just stuck my head in his office to tell him about the meeting and he offered to remove my tonsils thru my nose!”

Chris shook his head. Something was definitely bothering the undercover agent but no one could figure out what. He had been injured on his last mission, that was why he was on light duty for the past week but it didn’t explain the way Ezra had been acting for the past few days.

The undercover agent had been as jumpy as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. He remained in his office as much as possible, avoiding interaction with the others. He had turned down every invitation to join them for drinks or dinner after work. His harsh, green-eyed glare was the usual response to any question directed his way.

Buck had seen Ezra going into the gym on his second day back to work. He had followed out of curiosity, none of them had ever seen the man work out. A member of another ATF team was sparring with one of the guards in the boxing ring. Wilmington had been surprised to see Standish challenge either of the men to a match.

The security guard was a good foot taller than the undercover agent and out weighed him by a good 60 or 70 pounds. He had tossed a haughty look at Ezra before taking him up on his challenge. Buck had watched in amazement as Standish landed several good blows to the larger man’s body without being touched by him. ‘Damn, he’s quick.’ Several minutes into the bout, the guard pinned Ezra against the ropes. The explosion of temper that followed had agents rushing from all over the gym to try to restrain the southerner as he attacked the guard in a fit of rage. It took six men to remove Ezra from the ring.

Every member of the team had commented that Ezra was more abrasive than normal, even for Ezra. Chris had tried talking to him, only to have him walk out of the office and slam the door.

Nathan had followed Ezra into the men’s room to try to talk to him about what was bothering him. He leaned against the sink as he waited for the undercover agent to come out of the stall.

“You want to talk about it?” He watched as Ezra turned on the tap and washed his hands. The response he got was not at all the one he expected! The undercover agent grabbed him by the lapels of his coat and slammed him into the wall.

“You will cease prying into my personal affairs, Agent Jackson, or I shall be forced to remember why I don’t like you!”

Not even JD could draw out what was bothering the man. When he approached Ezra as he came out of the men’s room, the look of malevolence in his green eyes had stopped the young man in his tracks.

“Our next mission is an investigation of a complaint the ATF had received about a group of isolationists setting up shop outside of the city of Golden. The complaint said that the group was bringing in large amounts of fertilizer and other chemicals reminiscent of the Oklahoma City disaster. We’ve been assigned to go with team 9 to investigate the compound and ascertain the threat posed by the group. It looks like a fairly straightforward mission. I don’t really expect to have any difficulty. Ezra is assigned to the surveillance van in case there is a problem.”

Ezra walked into the meeting and took his seat as if he were not 15 minutes late. There was a long, awkward pause as Chris tried to decide how to handle the recalcitrant agent. Standish’s carefully neutral poker face decided the issue.

“Ezra, if you cannot arrive on time for the meeting, perhaps you should sit this one out.”

His only response was a shrug of his shoulder as he picked up his note pad and walked out of the room.

Five pairs of eyes watched in amazement as Chris let Ezra walk out of the meeting without saying another word. Nervous fingers drummed lightly on the tabletop as Chris strove to control the urge to go and physically replace Ezra in the chair.

“Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.” Chris said softly as he drew deep breaths. “Okay, JD, I’m going to put you in the van in his place. Any questions? Josiah?”

“Do you want me to talk to him?”

“No, I need to nip this in the bud before he gets any farther out of hand. We’re done here.”

The meeting broke up and the men filed out silently as they made their way to the coffee machine at the far end of the break room. No one spoke until they were well out of earshot of Chris. Buck began pouring coffee for everyone just to have something to do with his hands.

“Ezra’s really pushing it this time isn’t he?” JD said softly. “I thought Chris was going to body slam him back into that chair before he got out of the room.”

Nathan shook his head, “Something sure is eating him, though. I just asked him how he was doing in the restroom and he came unglued on me. It was like something just snapped in him.”

Chris walked into Ezra’s office without knocking. “I’ll ask you just one more time. What’s bothering you, Agent Standish, and before you open your mouth, know that your job is on the line. You’ve been wound up tighter than my eight-day clock for the past week. If you’re not up to being back to work, say so. No one is forcing you to be here if you are not physically ready to be back to work.”

The poker face was perfect as Ezra replied, “I need a few days off. I will be back next week Monday.”

End of discussion. Ezra shut down his computer and locked his desk without so much as looking up to see what Chris’s reaction was. He walked out of the office and down the hall to the elevator. The other team members peaked out of the break room as he walked by them.

Josiah came back up the hall as the elevator doors closed. “You’re just going to let him leave like that? Did he say anything at all about what’s bothering him?”

“Just that he needed another week off. He’ll be back on Monday. Do me a favor? Push someone at the hospital and get me his discharge summary. I want to know how badly he was hurt this time.”


That was the thing that had the team most worried about the undercover agent, he had checked into the hospital under one of his alias’s and had stayed there for several days before informing them that he was there. The team had rushed to the hospital to find that Ezra had been discharged and had already left for home. Chris rubbed the bridge of his nose as he remembered the angry confrontation in Standish’s apartment. The entire team had raced over there after leaving the hospital.

“Why didn’t you call us when you were admitted? And for that matter, why didn’t you go to the hospital you normally go to?” Ezra had checked into the small hospital outside of Golden instead of Denver General where the team always went when injured on duty.

Only the briefest hint of anger showed in the green eyes as he replied, “I thought to avoid the inevitable bedside vigil. I just needed to rest and recuperate and I can’t do that with all of you hovering over me.” Ezra’s voice was devoid of emotion as he spoke.

“Hovering? Well pardon the hell out of me for showing some concern for your sorry ass! I thought we were a team! I never realized that we were taking up too much of your valuable time! As long as you put in your 40 hours I guess you don’t want us around you the rest of the time! Fine! I won’t bother you with my concerns.”

The green eyes bored into the hazel eyes before looking away. “Mr. Larabee, kindly lower your voice or wait until I get into the office on Monday if you wish to continue with your tirade. Right now, I am fatigued and I wish to lie down in my own bed and get some rest.”

Buck intercepted Chris as he got to his feet and started across the room. Larabee had every intention of slapping some sense into the arrogant young agent. The infamous Larabee glare chilled the air in the room for several moments before he turned and stormed out of the apartment.

The other four members of the team sat in an awkward silence for a minute after hearing the roar of Chris’s truck engine and the scream of his tires as he raced off of the parking lot. JD looked nervously from Josiah to Nathan as he tried to work up the courage to speak.

Nathan leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees for a moment as he considered Ezra. There was something bothering him about the way the younger man held himself in the chair. He could see that Standish was sweating either from pain or nerves, he couldn’t tell which.

“Ezra, did the doctor give you any medication when you were discharged?”

“Yes, he gave me some pain pills.”

“What kind? What did he prescribe them for?”

“Mr. Jackson, please, I am quite capable of taking my medicine. I have been able to read for some time and the directions are printed on the side of the bottle. If I wanted to discuss my medical situation with you, I would have done so by now. If you don’t mind, I am really past my limit and would like it very much if you would leave.”

Nathan slowly drew a deep breath and let it out before standing and looking around the room. The other men wore similar expressions of ‘we don’t know what to do either.’ He shook his head and left the apartment.

Josiah, Vin and JD sat for a while longer hoping that Standish would open up to one of them. When Ezra locked himself in his bedroom, they gave up and returned to the office.


A few hours later, Josiah returned from the hospital with a thick folder and an x-ray. He dropped the folder on Chris’s desk and sighed. “You’re not gonna like this. Ezra told the hospital that if they released his records that he would sue for the right to shoot them like dogs. Not even the form he signed agreeing to the release of information relating to his qualification to carry a firearm would persuade them to give me anything from this most recent trip to the emergency room.”

“So what is all this?”

Josiah smiled, “Ill gotten gains. I have to take the records clerk out to a very expensive dinner on you. She gave me most of his file.”

They spent several hours reading thru the file and looking up the meaning of the words they didn’t know before they gave up in frustration. Post Traumatic Shock Syndrome was the only thing they found that made any sense. There were descriptions of old injuries and broken bones but nothing else to give a clue as to what was bothering Ezra. <<<<<


Ezra’s hands trembled as he looked at the 9mm. He just wanted it to be over. He couldn’t bear the questions any more. If he were dead, he wouldn’t have to be afraid anymore. No one can hurt you when you’re dead. He raised the weapon and pressed it to his temple. No one can hurt you when you’re dead.

His eyes swept around the living room of the apartment. At least they wouldn’t have much to pack up, he hadn’t unpacked much. Sweat trickled down his forehead and stung his eyes. He could hear his heart beating loudly in the silence. Peripherally, he was aware of the sounds outside. People going about their lives having no idea of the agony he was going thru.

His hand wouldn’t stop shaking. He put the gun back on the table. A little voice whispered that his mother would never forgive him for blowing his head off. He would have to find another way to stop the pain and silence the screams in his head when he closed his eyes.


The other six members of Team 7 met with Team 9 on the parking lot. Each man was wearing an identical Kevlar vest and ATF jacket. Each man had a rifle as well as their regular duty weapon. They piled into the vans and headed out for the compound outside of Golden.

The ride took only an hour but for Josiah it seemed longer. He had tried repeatedly to call Ezra the night before, getting only the answering machine. He drove over and had knocked on the door for an hour before giving up and going home. He could hear the stereo playing in the apartment and the volume increased each time he knocked, so he knew Ezra was alive in the apartment. He couldn’t help feeling that they had missed something important.

The vans stopped at the gate leading into the compound. Judge Travis and Chris approached the men guarding the gate. Each of the four men carried a weapon. They lined up shoulder-to-shoulder and bristled as the judge explained that he had a court order to search the property. After reviewing the order, one of the men radioed to the house that ‘the feds were coming in to search.’

As the judge returned to the van, Chris remained on the road watching the men as the gate was opened so that the vans could come thru. He climbed onto the bumper of the surveillance van as it rolled thru behind the other two vans full of agents. The glare that the four guards threw at him was clearly menacing.

The vans came to a stop in front of the rambling farmhouse that was in the center of the property. People lined the porch as the agents left the vans and huddled up to get last minute directions from the judge. Orin looked at each man for a moment before he began to speak.

“Okay, we know they are armed. Don’t take any unnecessary risks. Be polite but firm when you talk to them but don’t try to bully them. We want to see registration for any weapons that you find. Team 9 will take the barn and out buildings. Team 7 takes the house. Try to get names, especially of the children. Damn, I wish Standish was here; he’d have those kids eating out of his hands.”

Several pairs of eyes swung toward Chris briefly before returning to the judge. “All right, stay in radio contact. Watch your backs!”

While Travis waited with JD in the surveillance van, the others spread out to begin their search. Chris and his team approached the house. There were several women standing on the porch with their hands clutching children. Vin knelt down in front of a pretty little girl with bright blue eyes and smiled. Before he could say anything, one of the women called to the girl and she turned away. Tanner sighed, this was not going to be easy.

The leader of the group was the man listed as the owner of the property. Jonathan Hagan was listed as being a retired Marine. The man still wore the military haircut and looked as if he ate small cars for breakfast. He was surprisingly soft spoken and polite when Chris questioned him about the compound and the people living there.

Mr. Hagan produced permits for all the weapons on the property as well as a special exemption certificate for a religious organization that allowed him to have more than just his immediate family living on the property with him. He took Chris on a tour of the house, showing him the classrooms for the children and the kitchen and dining facilities.

Buck and Vin searched each of the small bedrooms but found nothing out of the ordinary. Nathan and Josiah attempted to get the names of the women and children. It soon became apparent that these people had a problem with being questioned by a person of color. All of Nathan’s questions were met with tight-lipped stares.

Team 9 searched the barn. The compound had only two horses. The huge draft animals were snuggly housed in the large barn in stalls that had been enlarged for their comfort. There were chickens roaming freely around the house and barn. The loft was filled with bales of hay. Several teenaged boys were working at mucking out the stalls and throwing down fresh hay for the animals.

Every feed bin was opened and searched. It was a slow process. When the agents finished with the barn, they moved to the storage silos and smaller out buildings. It had been a large ranch at one time and still retained most of the original property. One of the agents radioed back that he had found several barrels of fertilizer in one of the buildings. Travis ordered pictures of the barrels for evidence.

When they finished with the house, Mr. Hagan took Chris on a tour of the rest of the property. With Josiah and Nathan in tow, they walked the perimeter of the property for a couple of hours. If it had not been that they thought this man was up to something illegal, Larabee could have liked him. Jonathan had a genuine love for the land that was apparent in the way he explained which fields were planted and which lay fallow this growing season.

Chris stood at the edge of the wheat field and watched as the wind rippled the plants like ocean waves. The sweet smell of the plants and the earth filled him with a sense of peace. Squatting down, he parted the plants and dug his fingers into the warm dirt. He didn’t look up as Nathan took a position beside him.

“What do you think, Nate? Are these people planning something?”

“I don’t know Chris. Why would they need all the guns if they were truly only interested in farming the land. They don’t have enough livestock to support the number of people who live here. It just doesn’t feel right.”

Jonathan and Josiah returned from their tour of the cornfield as Chris stood and brushed the dirt from his hands. The two men were deep in some philosophical discussion about the land and didn’t even acknowledge the others as they joined them for the walk back to the vans.

JD radioed Chris. “The judge wants to know how far you are from the vans. We’re all done here and he wants to get out of here as soon as possible.”

“We’ll be there in five minutes, JD.”

Jonathan shook Josiah’s hand as they reached the van. “I have enjoyed talking with you, brother, please do come again and we will continue the debate.”

Josiah nodded as he firmly shook Jonathan’s hand. “I might just have to do that. You have a unique view of the world and I would like to explore it with you again. Thank you.”

Buck pounded on the dash of the van as Chris pulled back onto the highway. “All that time and energy wasted! We didn’t find one thing wrong out there! It was like talking to the Stepford wives! Every answer was so rehearsed.”

“Calm down Buck. You ever think that it may have been some crank with an axe to grind who made the complaint? Wouldn’t be the first time that ever happened. A new group moves into an area and people are naturally suspicious.”

JD called enthusiastically from the back of the van. “Hey Buck, how about we stop at Inez’s place on the way home and play a couple of games of killer foosball!”

Vin turned a puzzled gaze on the youngest agent. “Killer foosball? What is killer foosball?”

“Anything goes, no holds barred, all out killer foosball! It’s great! You should try it, Vin.”

“No thanks, JD. I’m gonna swing by Ezra’s place on the way home and see how he’s doing. I feel bad that he was feeling poorly and we treated him kinda rough.”

Chris smiled, leave it to Vin to feel badly for Standish. The man yelled at them and treated them like freckle-faced step children and Tanner’s tender heart felt bad for him.

Buck laced his fingers together behind his head and laughed. “I’ll go to Inez’s tonight, kid, but I ain’t playing foosball with you. I got my heart set on that new waitress they hired last week, the one with the red hair and the green eyes.”

Josiah’s soft voice carried from the farthest corner of the van. “Buck Wilmington, that girl isn’t much older than JD, shouldn’t you leave her in the water until she grows a little more?” Any answer the ladies man may have had was drowned out by the raucous laughter that broke out among the rest of the team.

After grabbing a shower and changing into the extra clothes he kept in his locker, Vin headed for Ezra’s. When he arrived at the apartment he was prepared to be turned away as Josiah had been. When the door opened at his knock he was mildly surprised.

“I just wanted to come by and see how you were doing. Chris said you were gonna take another week of leave. I don’t think anyone realized how bad you must have been hurt.”

There was an ever so brief flash of anger in the green eyes before Ezra managed to control it. “I would not have expected any of you to know. I kept it to myself. I’ve never been comfortable with people knowing every little thing, you know.”

“Well, the other guys are worried about you. Do you feel up to going out maybe and grabbing a bite to eat? After all that walking today, I could sure go for a nice, juicy steak.”

To Vin’s surprise, Ezra did agree to go out to eat but he didn’t want to go to Inez’ so they went to a steak house on the other side of town. Vin didn’t pry as Ezra sat staring out the window of the Jeep on the drive across town. The radio softly played country music to fill the quiet.

They ordered their steaks and drinks and sat in a companionable silence as they watched the people in the restaurant. A toddler wandered away from her mother and straight into Ezra’s arms. An indulgent smile filled his face for a moment as the child babbled nonsense to him. As soon as the mother reclaimed the child his poker face slipped back into place.

The food arrived and Vin dug in with a vengeance. He hadn’t lied about his appetite. Ezra started on his baked potato claiming that the steak needed to cool. He had eaten about half of his potato and the other vegetables before he glanced over at Vin’s plate. Suddenly, he was violently ill. He ran from the table to the men’s room.

Vin glanced up as Ezra bolted from the table. He caught the waiter’s attention, “Box it up, okay?” He then hurried after his friend. He could hear Ezra vomiting as soon and he reached the door. He waited until the sounds stopped before going in after him. “Ezra? Are you all right?”

“No, I am most certainly not all right, Mr. Tanner. It seems that I have contracted some kind of stomach bug. I’m sorry if I’ve ruined your dinner.”

Vin watched as Ezra came out of the stall. He was pale and trembling. Vin reached out to steady him and caught a look of stark terror in his eyes as he backed away. The expression was smothered so quickly that Vin almost thought he had imagined it.

“Don’t touch me, Vin. I’m okay. Just don’t touch me!”

Vin held his palms up to show that he wouldn’t. Ezra leaned against the cool wall for a moment. “You want to go home?” Ezra nodded. “I’ll take care of the bill. They’re boxing up the food. Can you make it out to the car?” Another nod.

Ezra didn’t speak on the ride home. Vin reached over to tune the radio and Ezra shied away as if he was going to hit him. Something was definitely wrong. He dropped Ezra at his apartment. “Call me if you get to feeling worse, okay Ezra?” Another nod. <<<<<


He sat on the couch, alone and weeping. He caressed the 9mm with both hands. It should be so easy. Pull the trigger and no more pain. No more questions. No more voices screaming in his sleep.

It should be so easy.

The concerned face of Vin Tanner crossed his mind and he was filled with an indescribable feeling of peace and calm. He stared at the gun before laying it on the table and collapsing on the couch.


Vin recounted the previous nights events to the rest of the team. “His body language is all off. The facial expression is all Ezra but the body language is wrong. I can’t put my finger on it but we’ve got to do something!”

Josiah sighed, “At least you got to see him. He wouldn’t even open the door for me.”

“Just give him a while. Ezra has always bounced back. He just needs to know that we’re all here for him when he’s ready to talk about it.” JD’s optimism did little to quell the worry that had settled in Vin’s mind.

In spite of the lack of evidence, Judge Travis wanted to keep Team 7 on the compound outside of Golden. He was sure that they were up to something and he needed proof of it before he could go in again. He desperately wanted to send Ezra in undercover to try to ferret them out but Ezra was still on light duty. Since the people in the compound had seen all of the others, he decided to wait until he could put someone on the inside. In the mean time, however, he put the surveillance van on watch full time to monitor the compound.

Each pair of agents was scheduled for an eight-hour shift in the van. Chris and Vin had the first full shift, from 2PM to 10PM. The judge had gotten an order for a wiretap and they had set a couple of bugs around the property during the search. There were only a handful of phone calls to the compound all afternoon and the agents were bored silly.

Buck and JD had the first overnight shift. They spent the night playing cards and various games on their Gameboys. They drank so much of Buck’s coffee that by the time Nathan and Josiah arrived to relieve them at 6AM, they were both on a serious caffeine trip.

Ezra spent the day pacing in the apartment. He had showered several times that day. Every time he dozed off to sleep, he awoke drenched in sweat with his heart pounding and feeling sick to his stomach. He hadn’t been able to keep anything down and despised the throwing up, so he avoided eating.

Josiah tried again that evening. Ezra opened the door and invited him in. He was just watching a movie. They sat on opposite ends of the couch in front of the TV for more than an hour. Josiah called a local deli and ordered food for both of them. He was pleased to see Ezra eat, even though he picked at his food, it was something at least.

“There is something going on out there, Ezra, I could just feel it. All those people with their painted-on smiles, it was too perfect. The leader of the group, Jonathan Hagan seems nice enough. He has a really interesting perspective on the world. I just hope we can stop them before anyone gets hurt. They have all these kids out there, little ones, home schooling them.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Josiah watched the younger man as he ate. Vin was right, the body language was all wrong. Ezra normally exuded confidence, but the man sitting across from him was tense and nervous. He watched every move the older man made as if he expected to be attacked by him.

“Please extend my apology to Mr. Dunne, I know he was looking forward to being with the rest of you when the raid went down. I shall have to find a way to make it up to him.”

“He understands, Ezra. JD knows you’re not feeling well.”

Around 9:30, Josiah finally decided to head home. Ezra walked him to the door. Josiah turned and reached out to put his hand on Standish’s shoulder only to meet a hard gaze.


Josiah drew back his hand as if he had been slapped. “Okay. I’m sorry. I just wanted you to know that we’re all here for you if you need to talk.” Ezra nodded and closed the door in his face. <<<<<


He sat in the bathtub filled with hot water. It would be better this way. His mother couldn’t complain as long as he could still be presentable for his funeral. The water was scalding hot. He’d heard that it would make it easier. His hands trembled as he picked up the razor blade from the side of the tub. He laid the blade against his wrist. The memory of Vin’s steak rose in his vision and he dropped the blade into the water and lurched out of the tub to be sick to his stomach.

As he sat on the floor of the bathroom resting his head against the toilet, Ezra wept. Despair and disgust washed over him in waves as his stomach continued to heave weakly. When he finally began to shiver from the cool air blowing out of the vent in the wall, he dragged himself up from the floor and went to bed.


Josiah spoke on the phone to Chris, “It was eerie. He was fine up until I got ready to leave and then he kind of came apart. And in his eyes, Chris, we’ve seen Ezra scared before but this was something else. He looked like he thought I was going to hit him or something. At least he ate his dinner, that was good to see.”

“I’ll go by there tonight. I have some papers he needs to sign. I guess if we all keep after him, maybe he will come around.”

Josiah hung up the phone. He couldn’t get the image of Ezra’s frightened green eyes out of his mind. He spoke to Nathan at length about the uneasy feeling he had about the way the younger agent was acting. There was little else to do during their shift in the surveillance van. They photographed and catalogued every person and vehicle that entered or left the compound.

Ezra unlocked his safe and drew out the leather pouch containing his most important papers. With trembling hands, he opened the latest revision of his will. He had changed it after he decided to stay in Denver. It was the first time that he acknowledged that the men he worked with meant something to him. A bitter smile lifted the corners of his mouth as he thought about how his mother was going to react. He had left almost everything he owned to the six remaining members of Team 7 to be divided as they saw fit.

Aside from a few special bequests, he really didn’t care what happened to the material goods he had accumulated during his brief sojourn on earth. He folded the paper and slid it back into the leather pouch. The title to his Jag and the property he had bought that bordered Chris’s ranch were safely tucked away in his safety deposit box at the bank. In the bottom of the pouch was the citation he had gotten while he was with the FBI. He had been so proud of it, until they accused him of being on the take. Before the bitter rage could build in his heart again, he put the pouch back into the safe and closed it gently.

Turning on his computer, he began to check the last few reports he had completed. He didn’t want to leave any loose ends. He spent the next few hours checking the narratives before E-mailing them to Chris at the office. He then lay down for a nap.

Chris remembered an Italian restaurant that Standish had raved about so he called and ordered food to pick up on the way to Ezra’s place. He knocked on the door and waited. No answer. He knocked again. Finally, the door opened. Chris was surprised to see that Ezra was still in his bathrobe.

They sat at the dinner table and shared a pleasant meal.

“Mr. Larabee, I appreciate your stopping by, but you really could have dropped the papers in the mail. You didn’t have to come all the way over here.”

“It’s no trouble, Ezra. I wanted to see how you were feeling.” He caught a brief glimpse of green eyes before Standish turned to search the credenza for a pen to sign the papers.

Chris pulled his pen from his jacket pocket and moved around the table to offer it to Ezra. He saw it for just an instant; that look beyond fear that the others had described. Standish recoiled from Chris as if he were offering a poisonous snake instead of a simple ink pen.

The rest of the evening was a little stilted. Ezra looked like he was afraid that Chris would ask him questions and Chris was afraid he wouldn’t like the answers. <<<<<


Ezra sat behind the wheel of the Jag and contemplated the barricade in front of him. It will hurt, his mind screamed. It will hurt and it may not kill you. Even if the gas tank explodes, it may not work. He was afraid of being disfigured and surviving. The screams would still be there.

He backed the Jag up and turned it around. Spinning his tires he threw only gravel over the barricade. He spent the next few hours driving around Denver. Several times, he found himself on the parking lot of the bar where Inez worked. Once, he almost got out and went inside. As he placed his hand on the door handle, a truck pulled up and three big, rough looking guys got out. Ezra shuddered as he withdrew his hand and started the car again.

Around midnight, Ezra sat outside of Nathan’s apartment. He would have gone to the door but Rain’s Toyota was parked on the lot and he didn’t want to disturb the ex-medic if his lady friend was there. He sat for a few minutes before driving back to his apartment.


JD spent the better part of his day surfing the web gathering information on the people they had on the list coming and going from the compound. He was close to making a connection, he could just feel it. Some how they were connected to organized crime. He knew that if he turned enough stones, he would find the one piece of information that was eluding the others.

Ezra awoke and sat bolt upright in his bed. The tee shirt he was wearing was plastered to him like a second skin. His heart was racing and his stomach was clenched up so tightly that it hurt. As the reality of where he was sank in, he was able to disentangle his fists from the sheet and swing his feet out of bed. While he waited for his heart to stop racing he came up with a plan.

Vin, like JD and Josiah, could not shake the feeling that there was something wrong at the compound. He decided to sneak in and snoop around. It was easy to get onto the property, only the front gate was patrolled. He took his dirt bike and rode around to a deserted gravel road that left the far side of the compound. He parked the bike in the bushes and slipped under the gate.

Like Chris, Vin appreciated the raw beauty of the land. The rolling hills and the gently bobbing tassels in the tops of the corn stalks rippling in the breeze was a sight to see. As he reached the crest of a hill he heard the sound of cars coming toward him. He quickly ducked into the corn and dropped to his stomach. A small Ford Ranger rolled past him with several barrels in the back. Behind the truck was a box van with a local delivery service logo on the side.

Vin followed the vehicles to one of the small out buildings that had been searched by Team 9. He watched in amazement as the giant round bales of hay along the fence were broken apart and more barrels loaded into the van. They had hidden the evidence in the hay! He was so intent on observing the men as they moved the barrels that he didn’t see the man who crept up behind him and struck the back of his head with the butt of a rifle.

“Jonathan, we got trouble!”

The big man looked up from where he was loading the barrels into the van. Steve was dragging a body from the cornfield. All six men rushed over to see who had been spying on them. Jonathan took hold of Vin’s hair and lifted his head so he could see his face.

“It’s one of the feds that was here before. Take his weapon and tie him up. We’ll put him in one of the silos for now. They won’t be bothering us again any time soon. He’ll be dead by the time they find him.”

Ezra sat on the couch with a tablet in his lap. He had been trying for hours to write a note to his friends. He wanted to try to ease their minds. After the first few tries ended up crumpled in the trash, he changed his mind and tried to write a letter to his mother. He tried to summon the emotions he wanted to express. He wanted to tell her how badly it had hurt him for her to leave him all those times when he was growing up. Looking at the paper for the umpteenth time, he saw only ‘Dear Mother.’ With a sigh, he dropped the pad and let his head drop to his chest as he slept.

Vin awoke and immediately began to cough. The dust in the silo was thick. His head ached fiercely and it hurt to move. He found his hands tied behind his back and his feet tied together. As soon as he began to try to wiggle his hands he began to sink into the milo beneath him. He immediately lay still; the loose grain was like quick sand, if he continued to struggle, he would bury himself!

JD went to Ezra’s apartment that evening. He, too, remembered a pizza place that Ezra had enjoyed and he went and picked up food for both of them. He arrived at the apartment and was invited in. He talked nearly nonstop the whole time he was there. Filling the silence with the sound of his own voice, he hardly realized that Ezra wasn’t saying anything.

At the end of his visit, JD stood at the door. He looked at Ezra for a long moment, before he realize how it happened, he found himself in the undercover agent’s embrace. He felt Ezra tighten up in his grasp, the fear was almost palpable to the young man. He felt the ragged breathing and then the trembling arm that touched his shoulder.

“Don’t. JD, I can’t take this.” Ezra whispered as he pushed the young agent away.

Even after the door closed, JD continued to stand there. He heard the great sobs that wracked his friend and he felt like crying himself. He had to talk to someone about what was happening to Ezra.

JD called Josiah and asked if he could come over and talk. He drove to Josiah’s and poured out his heart. It only left Josiah more confused. There was something there, he was sure of it, if he could just put his finger on it. <<<<<


Ezra had been to the pharmacy. He had filled the same prescription at three other places. He now had the perfect means of silencing the voices once and for all. It wouldn’t hurt at all, he would just go to sleep. He wouldn’t have to be afraid anymore. Mother couldn’t complain. He wouldn’t have to answer their questions. No one would have to know. <<<<<


Josiah couldn’t shake the feeling of dread. Something had happened. Ezra had allowed JD to embrace him. The boy clearly described the terrible feeling of fear that had permeated the other man. The body language was wrong. He rolled over in his bed and struggled to put his finger on the thought that was dancing just outside of his perception.

A couple of hours later Josiah awoke with a start. It was all suddenly so clear! Ezra was going to end his life! He bolted out of bed and pulled on his clothes. He raced across the city to get to the apartment before it was too late. He debated calling the others, but he decided to wait and see if he was right. He so much did not want to be right. <<<<<


Ezra had taken every pill in all four bottles. He laughed bitterly at himself as he had taken them with milk. He didn’t want to lose this chance to an upset stomach. He was beginning to feel numb. Soon he wouldn’t be able to hear himself screaming anymore. <<<<<


Josiah knocked on the door. He didn’t expect an answer. After several minutes, he kicked in the door. “Ezra! Where are you? EZRA!” He began turning on lights in the apartment. He made his way toward the master bedroom. “Ezra!”

He couldn’t believe it! Just when he had found the perfect way to end his miserable existence! He reached for the gun on the nightstand. It didn’t matter what his mother would think anymore. He wouldn’t see the sunrise, he just wouldn’t.

Josiah found the bedroom door locked. It took only a moment to kick it open. “Ezra, no!” He lunged across the bed and snatched the 9mm from the other man’s hand. He rolled off the bed and raced around to kneel in front of Ezra.

The pain filled green eyes were glassy. Ezra struggled to focus on the man kneeling at his feet. “Touch me again and you’ll be drawing with the other hand, Sanchez!” His normal drawl was slurred by the drugs.

“Just tell me why! What happened to you? Ezra, it can’t possibly be bad enough to die over.”

“You’d like to know, wouldn’t you? You all want to know. If you heard the screams, you wouldn’t want to know. Does it hurt to die, Josiah? Because I don’t feel anything.”

Ezra toppled from the bed into Josiah’s arms. It was only then that Josiah saw the pill bottle clutched in his hand. “Oh, no, Ezra, no!” He knew he had only moments to decide what to do. The prescription was for pain pills and there were enough to stop his heart. He snatched the smaller man up and dragged him into the bathroom. It took only a moment for him to get Ezra to throw up. Josiah noticed that most of the pills were not dissolved yet; hopefully he was not too late.


Josiah debated calling Nathan. He knew what the ex-medic would want to do though and decided against it. He would just have to handle this on his own.

After washing Ezra’s face, he carried him back to his bed. Josiah checked the bed and the nightstand for weapons before going into the kitchen and making a pot of coffee. He poured two cups of coffee and cooled one with an ice cube before taking it into the bedroom.

“Okay, Ezra, you gotta sit up and drink this for me.” He pulled the younger man until he was sitting up and shoved a pillow behind him for support. Lifting the cup to Ezra’s face, he began to coax the coffee into him. After a couple of swallows, Ezra began to resist, trying to turn away from the cup until Josiah gripped his jaw firmly and held it still.


They had beaten him beforehand. His contact grabbed his jaw and forced him to look at the bodies of the boys on the floor. He saw the knife flash again in the light. The evil laugh echoed in his mind as they removed the handcuffs and dragged him across the floor.

The effect was immediate, Ezra slapped the cup from Josiah’s hand and administered a karate chop to his rib cage! The glassy green eyes were wide and frightened. Josiah managed to block the next couple of blows before managing to wrap his arms around the smaller man and pinning him to the bed.

Ezra struggled for a few more minutes before he began whisper. Josiah had to strain to hear him but the words made his blood run cold.

“Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me! Please don’t touch me!” Finally tapering off with a plaintive cry. “Don’t let them hurt me anymore!”

Josiah sprang away from Ezra and looked down at him. His eyes were unfocused and he was shaking uncontrollably. As soon as he was released, Ezra curled up on his side, wrapping his arms around himself as he sobbed quietly into his pillow.

When he had calmed somewhat, Josiah managed to get most of a cup of coffee into him before letting him go to sleep. He woke the undercover agent every hour afterward, coaxing more coffee into him. As long as he didn’t touch him too much, Ezra stayed calm and drank the coffee he was given.