This story follows ‘Second Chances.’
Many thanks to my wonderful cousin and beta, Cheryl for indulging me in a new fandom<G>. You always manage to catch the little things that really tighten up the story.
Warnings: The views expressed in this story are not those of the author. Bad language and bigotry are present.
Chris Larabee knocked briskly on the door to Standish’s apartment. They were picking him up on the way to a meet and hopefully a bust. Standish had been working on his first undercover assignment with Team Seven for the last week and a half and had assured Larabee that this meeting would provide the evidence needed to arrest Lawrence Pierce, gun runner.
Larabee frowned and raised his hand to knock again. Standish wasn’t known for being an early riser and it was not quite . The door opened before his fist landed and Chris did a quick double take at the number on the door. Yep, it was Standish’s apartment.
“We’re looking for Ezra Standish,” he said warily eyeing the stout, middle aged, dark-haired man who had opened the door.
“He should be ready momentarily, gentlemen,” the man said with a very intense Southern accent, similar to Ezra’s but about twice as strong. “Please come in,” he said waving them in.
Everyone had followed Chris up to the second floor apartment out of curiosity. In the little more than four months since Ezra had been on the team, no one had been inside his apartment. He had still been living at a hotel when he’d been injured the month before. They entered the dwelling and couldn’t decide whether to watch the stranger or check out Ezra’s home.
The man’s blue eyes twinkled as he smiled charmingly at the group. “Please make yourselves at home. I’ll go see if Ezra’s ready to go.” He headed down a short hall and into another room.
“Who do you think he is?” Buck asked sidling up to Chris.
Larabee shrugged but kept his eyes on the door the man had disappeared through.
Ezra chuckled to himself as he checked his appearance in the bathroom mirror one final time. His light brown hair was dyed dark, almost black and was slicked back in a less than flattering manner. The touch of gray at the temples enhanced the makeup job that added about fifteen years to his face. A wry grin touched his lips as he tugged at the brick red vest he wore. The crisp white shirt and the dark brown ‘cowboy’ jacket and matching brown slacks were topped off with a bolo tie and leather boots dyed the same red as the vest. Although the clothes were top of the line, they were hardly Ezra’s normal choice of vesture.
He straightened his shoulders and put on a smile as he exited the room to face his teammatess.
“Ah am terribly sorry for mah rudeness gentlemen,” he said hurrying over to Chris. He grabbed the blond’s hand and shook it vigorously. “Andrew Devareaux, at yore service.” He smiled broadly at Chris and then around the room at the others, allowing his teeth to show.
Larabee blinked. The slightly gapped front teeth were set off by a gold canine. Chris’ eyebrows rose slightly.
“Ah’m afraid,” Devareaux continued, “that poor Ezra is feelin’ unda the weather, so Ah will be takin’ his place.” He waited for the inevitable explosion. Larabee didn’t disappoint him.
“What the hell? Standish!” Chris shouted as he stormed past the overweight little man down the hall and into the bedroom. “What kind of game are you…” Chris stopped as he realized there was no one in the room. He turned on his heel and made for Devareaux.
The dark-haired man was grinning like…
Chris stopped. “Ezra?”
Josiah chuckled. His chuckles turned to laughter as he took in the looks on Chris, JD and Nathan’s faces. Vin and Buck were also laughing quietly.
“Yes, Mr. Larabee,” Ezra answered calmly from behind the facade of Andrew Devareaux. He smiled and shook his head. “I suppose this means my disguise is adequate.”
“Adequate?” JD exclaimed as he moved over to Ezra and started to examine him more closely. He poked Ezra in the ample stomach under the red vest. “What is that?”
Ezra grinned. “Prosthetic. I have a friend in the theatre.”
“I suppose,” Larabee drawled still disgruntled by being fooled so easily, “that you expect the ATF to pay for this little disguise?”
Standish straightened and tugged his vest down with a slight huff. “I’ll have you know, sir, that I’ve used this piece several times in the past. I purchased it myself.” He shrugged. “The suit however is strictly Andrew Devareaux, I would hope the department would reimburse me for it.” Ezra shuddered dramatically. “I would certainly nevah wear it myself.”
The others chuckled while Chris just rolled his eyes. “Are you ready for your wire?”
Ezra grinned again and nodded as he began to unbutton his vest and shirt to allow JD to attach the bug.
JD pulled out the equipment then poked at the prosthetic belly again. He looked up at Ezra with concern. “Will the tape stick to it?”
“It should,” Ezra assured.
JD nodded and grinned as he decided that the belly button of the prosthetic made a perfect hiding place for the small device. He tucked the bug in, covered it with flesh colored tape, then looked up into Ezra’s now blue eyes. His grin widened at the smile on Ez’s face.
The undercover agent patted JD on the shoulder and began to straighten his clothing.
“So you’ve been meeting these people in this get-up for the last week and a half?” Buck asked the question on everyone’s mind.
Buck shook his head. “No, no. It’s just so…”
“Elaborate,” Josiah furnished draping his arm over Buck’s shoulder.
“Gentlemen,” Ezra said, resisting the urge to sigh, “I have done extensive research into Mr. Pierce. He is a ‘good ol’ boy’ who has certain prejudices and preferences when it comes to people he will trust. I assure you, my appearance was carefully considered and has indeed led me into his good graces much more quickly than even I anticipated.
Buck raised his hands in surrender and smiled. “Easy, Ez. You’re the undercover expert. It’s just the first time we’ve seen ya in action is all.”
“Quite,” Ezra agreed, “But don’t you think we should be heading for our rendezvous?”
“Let’s go,” Chris ordered. “JD, you can check the reception in the van. Ezra we’ll follow you.”
Standish nodded and let the others out then locked his door and headed down to the vehicle he’d borrowed from the car pool. It was a new model Ford Expedition with all the trimmings. Something that Andrew Devareaux would drive, not Ezra Standish.
In the surveillance van, JD turned on the receiver for the bug and chuckled at the sound of Ezra belting out a Conway Twitty song. The suave Southerner finished the song then turned down the radio. His voice came through loud and clear. “If you gentlemen can hear me, flash your headlights.” There was a brief pause as Josiah flashed the van’s headlights then Ezra’s voice filled the air again. “Very good. Now, if you’d like an encore, flash them again.”
Buck snorted. Nathan smiled and shook his head. JD and Josiah laughed out loud. Chris met Vin’s amused eyes and shook his head.
“Ah, well,” Ezra drawled, “there’s no accounting for taste.”
This got a laugh from everyone then they settled in for the drive to the meeting place.
Ezra focused on the meet ahead after his little joke. Lawrence Pierce was a bigoted SOB with a quite healthy illegal weapons business. Ezra, under the guise of Andrew Devareaux, had approached the dealer looking for a large number of automatic rifles to supply his ‘brothers’ with. For protection only, of course. One never knew when one might be assaulted by one of the less desirable members of society.
Ezra shuddered. He hated the persona he’d been forced to assume to get in with Pierce. Devareaux was a nasty little man with no tolerance for anyone whose skin was darker than his own. Pierce loved him. He’d found a kindred spirit in Devareaux.
Ezra just hoped he could keep up a convincing act until the deal went down, then he’d be only too happy to slap the cuffs on Pierce himself.
Nathan’s frown grew deeper as he, JD, Buck and Josiah waited in the van for Ezra’s signal to move on the target. Lawrence Pierce had been entertaining his hired help and ‘Andy’ Devareaux with racial jokes and comments for the last thirty minutes.
From what they knew of Pierce, Nathan wasn’t surprised or actually bothered by the remarks. Just consider the source. However, Ezra’s responses to the bigot’s slurs were beginning to make the normally easy-going medic angry.
He and the others had no choice but to listen to the offensive conversation.
Pierce gave a hearty chuckle and the sound of flesh hitting flesh came clearly through the microphone. “Of course, Andy, of course. Let’s get down to business.”
A moment of silence filled only with footsteps and rustling noises was soon replaced by Ezra’s voice.
“This is most
“Yessiree,” Pierce replied. “Fifty of the finest automatic weapons available along with enough rounds to, let’s just say, your friends won’t have to worry about any uppity…”
Ezra’s voice cut in a bit abruptly. “Splendid! Just splendid. Here’s the agreed upon payment.”
More shuffling noises and clicks followed.
The agents in the truck checked their weapons and JD quietly updated Chris and Vin. Vin had managed to sneak into the warehouse from the roof and was in position. Chris had found a spot outside much closer to the door. In the event things went south, he could back up Ezra and Vin until the others got there. Having everyone milling around the building had been deemed too risky due to the lack of cover.
“Yes, well, there is one more thing, Andy,” Pierce said.
Everyone in the van tensed, waiting for Ezra to give the signal to move in.
“And pray tell, what would that be?” Ezra asked, sounding not the least bit concerned.
“Andy, my friend, I like you,” Pierce said, his voice suddenly much louder as if he’d moved closer to the microphone.
“Well, I’m flattered,
“I’d like to invite you
huntin’ with me next weekend. I have a friend with some property a few hours
“That sounds interesting,” Ezra drawled. “What type of game does he have on the property?”
Pierce laughed out loud.
“I’m a might bit confused, sir,” Ezra admitted.
“Well, Andy,” Pierce chuckled, “that’s all right, son. I just figured since you and I see eye to eye on so many things… Our ‘game’ is of the two-legged variety.”
“Ah see,” Ezra replied, his accent suddenly thicker than normal, even for his Devareaux persona. “Does your friend have a wide variety of ‘stock?’?”
“Indeed he does,” Pierce answered, obviously pleased.
“How would one get to his property?” Ezra asked.
“You want to come?”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Ezra declared.
“Good! Let me just give you directions real quick and you can get on to your appointment. I must say, it’s been a pleasure doin’ business with you, Andy. It’s not often I find a gentleman such as yourself who truly understands the way things should be,” Pierce’s voice had moved away from the microphone again.
“I know what you mean,
“That’s a go!” JD said into his com unit to let Chris and Vin know they were moving. The agents exited the van and jogged toward the warehouse.
Inside Ezra waited for the others to bust in. He felt decidedly nauseous and couldn’t wait to get out of Pierce’s presence. He had only extended the visit with the hopes of getting more information on this ‘hunt.’ Ezra was shocked that Pierce had divulged so much to him, but at the same time he couldn’t wait to see the son of a bitch in jail.
Pierce turned back to Ezra and handed him the instructions he’d written out to the property. “Here you go, Andy. We usually meet up there about day break. Gives us the entire day. Bradley does a great job of selecting his stock, the last time I spent six hours hunting one of them bastards down,” he said with a broad, sated grin. “I tell ya, there’s nothin’ like it.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Ezra said, barely managing to keep the smile on his face.
“Just ‘til Saturday, my boy,” Pierce said slapping Ezra on the back yet again. “Then you’ll know what I mean.”
Thankfully at that moment, the rest of Team 7 burst in. “Freeze, ATF, lay down your weapons and put your hands in the air.”
Ezra glanced at Pierce and the look on the gun dealer’s face had the undercover agent making a fast decision. Ezra turned and ran for the nearest door. He only got about fifty feet before someone tackled him from behind and they both hit the floor hard.
Ezra twisted and sent a pulled punch at the man on top of him as he struggled to regain his feet. He caught a glimpse of the other agent and mentally grimaced. It was Nathan and the medic looked none too pleased.
“Don’t you know what ‘freeze’ means?” Nathan growled as he grabbed for Ezra’s arm to put Devareaux under arrest.
“Get your filthy hands off me!” Ezra demanded, pushing
Nathan in the chest with both hands. He took advantage of
They both went down again, but this time Nathan came up furious. He punched Ezra in the stomach, completely forgetting about the prosthetic belly. Ezra ‘oomphed’ and fell back allowing Nathan time to catch his arm and flip him onto his stomach. The black agent slapped the cuffs on his fellow officer and hauled Ezra to his feet.
“Way to go, Andy!” Pierce shouted encouragingly as Buck guided the handcuffed arms dealer toward the front door. “Don’t let that darkie push you around!”
“Move it!” Buck growled, forcing Pierce to walk a little faster.
Nathan brought Ezra over to the boxes of weapons. He rubbed his stomach where Ezra had hit him. “Josiah,” he said abruptly. “Take this piece of trash out of my sight,” Nathan snarled. He gave Ezra a last push in Josiah’s direction and then moved to help Vin and JD secure the other suspects.
Chris sent a questioning glance at Nathan then Josiah.
Josiah just shrugged and started to remove Ezra’s handcuffs.
“Ah demand fair treatment!” Ezra said loudly. He glanced over his shoulder toward the door and the other prisoners. “I want my lawyer. You will not get away with this!”
Chris frowned and met Ezra’s gaze. The undercover agent’s eyes widened slightly and he tilted his head toward the door. Evidently he wanted to continue the charade a while longer. Larabee sighed. “Josiah, get this man down to the station and make sure you follow ‘proper’ procedure. We wouldn’t want his majesty to get off on a technicality, would we?” he asked sarcastically, meeting Ezra’s eyes once more.
Ezra grinned quickly then continued his tirade. “I’ll have you know, I have the finest lawyers at my beck and call.” Josiah started to lead him out, suppressing his smile at Ezra’s theatrics. “I’ll have you all walking the beat before this is through. Mark my words!”
ATF offices – later that day
Ezra stood up from his desk and grabbed his report from the printer as it spat out the last page. He was reviewing it casually as he walked toward Chris’ office, so he didn’t see Nathan until it was too late.
They bumped into each other and both looked up in surprise.
“I do apologize, Mr. Jackson. I wasn’t watching where I was treading,” Ezra said with an apologetic smile. “I’d also like to ap…”
“Yeah. Whatever,” Nathan grumbled, then pushed his way on past the Southerner and headed out the door.
Ezra watched him leave then took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He winced as the prosthetic he was wearing pulled at his scar. The knife wound from last month had healed well, but the scar tissue was still tender and the glue he’d used to secure the prosthetic belly tended to get uncomfortable after a while. He just wanted to get home and take a shower.
He went to Chris’ door and knocked, entering after hearing Larabee’s brusque ‘come.’
“Here is my report,” Ezra said, handing Larabee the papers.
“Great.” Chris looked up and grinned. “You staying with the new look?”
Ezra sighed. “I wanted to get the events of this morning down while they were still fresh. If you are no longer in need of my services, I would appreciate the opportunity to return home and divest myself of Andrew Devareaux, once and for all.”
Chris eyed him for a moment. “I’m sorry, Ez. Judge Travis asked to talk to you after I told him about that little ‘hunt’ Pierce mentioned. We’ve got a meeting in about half an hour.”
“Very well. I suppose I have time to shower and change here.”
“Do you have a change of clothes?” Chris asked, grinning at the thought of Travis seeing Standish in this getup.
“Fortunately, yes,” Ezra said. “I always come prepared.”
“Didn’t know you were a Boy Scout, Ez,” Larabee teased.
“There is a great deal you do not know about me, Mr. Larabee,” Ezra replied with a lifted eyebrow.
“I bet there is,” Chris said reflectively. “Go on. Get changed and meet me in Travis’ office in twenty.”
Ezra sat down on the bench in the locker room and grimaced as he tried to pull the prosthetic away from his skin. He usually used a special glue remover, but although he did have a change of clothes at the office, for emergencies, he had not planned on removing his disguise here.
“Need some help, Ez?” JD asked, grinning when Ezra jumped in surprise.
“Mr. Dunne. I did not hear you come in.”
“You seemed a bit preoccupied,” the younger agent grinned.
“Yes,” Ezra admitted. “I am having a little difficulty. You wouldn’t happen to have any solvent on you?”
“No. Sorry, Ezra,” JD said. He frowned thoughtfully. “Would hot water soften the glue enough to get it off?”
“It might,” Ezra said a bit more brightly. “It didn’t occur to me to shower with this thing on.”
JD laughed. “Yeah, well, it’ll probably look a bit funny, but no one’s gonna watch.”
Ezra chuckled. “Indeed. Thank you for your timely suggestion, Mr. Dunne.”
“It’s just ‘JD,’ Ez,” JD teased.
“It’s ‘Ezra,’ JD,” Ezra replied in kind.
Judge Travis’ office
“That is the impression he gave, Judge,” Ezra said. “I have
started a search on my computer for missing persons in the
“Good thinking, Agent Standish,” Travis replied. He studied the undercover agent closely. Something was different about him. “I want you to go in as this Devareaux character and get the lay of the land. We need to find out exactly what’s going on. Your team and Team 4 will be listening in from nearby. I’ll let you,” he nodded to Chris, “set up the plans.”
Larabee nodded. He hated sending Standish into a situation with so little to go on, but with Pierce in custody, they didn’t have any other contacts.
“What about Pierce?” Ezra asked. “If he’s told this Bradley about me and is still able to make contact with people on the outside, my cover may be blown.”
“Isn’t that why you had us follow through at the warehouse?” Chris asked, frowning. “To make it look like Devareaux was for real? You certainly had Nathan going,” Larabee added with a concerned shake of his head.
Ezra frowned. “I did indeed hope to mislead Pierce, but that does not guarantee the integrity of my masquerade. Especially since he thinks Andy is incarcerated as well.”
“According to Buck,” Chris interjected, “Pierce was singing your praises all the way down town. I don’t think Andy’s character will be in doubt, as to the other...”
“It should be safe. I’ve taken care of Pierce and his men,” Judge Travis advised them. “They are under strict quarantine until Sunday, no contact allowed. Under the circumstances, we have just cause.”
“Oh, I’m sure he’s pleased about that,” Chris grinned wickedly.
“So,” Ezra drawled, “can we begin planning for this soiree tomorrow after, say, ten in the morning?”
Travis’ eyebrows rose, but he nodded. “That’s fine by me. As I said, the planning is all up to your team.”
Chris smirked. “It’s not the planning Ezra’s concerned about, Judge,” Ezra rolled his eyes, recognizing Larabee’s teasing tone of voice. “It’s the fact that he missed out on sleeping in this morning, and probably wants another shower.”
The judge took a deep breath and shook his head to cover his confusion. He had no idea what Larabee was talking about. Maybe his secretary would know. Linda seemed to know everything. “Go on. I have work to do,” Travis admonished with a wave of his hand. He stared at Standish as the two men rose from their chairs. “Agent Standish,” he said, suddenly realizing what had changed.
“Yes, Judge,” Ezra asked turning back to face the man.
“You dyed your hair,” Travis said, matter-of-factly.
Chris laughed out loud.
Ezra’s blue eyes twinkled as he grinned and gave the judge a two fingered salute tipping an imaginary hat.
Travis rolled his eyes. The agents left, pulling the door closed behind them. Blue! Doesn’t Standish have green eyes?
Andrew Devareaux stepped out of his truck and threw a friendly grin and wave at the four men ahead of him. They all appeared to be dressed for safari.
The rest of the week had passed quickly for the most part. Plans were drawn up for the raid on Bradley’s ‘ranch,’ while Pierce sat stewing in a jail cell.
Ezra had tried to talk to Nathan several times. He wanted to apologize for the things he’d been forced to say to stay in character at the warehouse, but the medic had steered clear of the Southerner. Ezra feared his teammate had misconstrued the purpose of his actions.
“Gentlemen,” Ezra greeted as he neared the men. “I’m Andrew Devareaux, an acquaintance of Mr. Pierce. He invited me out this weekend.”
“Bob Riley,” one of the men said, sticking his hand out to shake Ezra’s. “How is old Larry? Haven’t seen him in a while.”
“I believe he is on a little vacation,” Ezra said with a grin. “I do hope you have room for one more,” he queried.
“Sure,” another man replied. “Silas Turner,” he said by way of introduction. “This is Pat Starns and Chris White. Bradley’s men should be down in a few minutes.” He glanced at the gate across the road then back to Ezra. “Just to warn you, they always frisk us down. He’s real tight with security.”
“Well,” Ezra said, “I can certainly understand why. I’d hate to have someone stumble in and break up our little party,” he added with a knowing grin.
The other men chuckled then faced the gate when they heard a vehicle down the road.
Ezra stood easily for the pat-down, secure in the knowledge that JD’s bug would not be found. They’d taken the time to insert the bug into the padded prosthetic and tested it to make sure there was no loss of signal.
They were soon following the men’s jeep onto the property.
Ezra jogged behind the other men carrying the shotgun Bradley had provided. He was no hunter, but he thought they were getting closer to the man that they’d been chasing. Ezra was still trying to come up with a better way to rescue the ‘prey’ than just coming out and arresting the other hunters. He didn’t want to get shot.
The others stopped and Ezra lagged a bit behind, pretending to be out of shape. A flutter of color caught his eye and he deftly snagged the bit of cloth off the bush beside him. Ezra stretched casually as his eyes scanned the area. Damn. If one knew where to look, you could easily see the man they’d been chasing hiding in the underbrush.
Ezra turned slowly back toward the others and walked around the clearing gingerly as if still trying to catch his breath. He knelt suddenly and stuck his hand into a bush. “What’s this?” he asked aloud, holding up the bit of cloth.
The other men hurried over to examine it.
“Hot damn,” White said excitedly. “That’s from his shirt. Come on boys, we’re getting close.” He led the way into the brush.
Riley stopped beside Ezra. “You okay, Andy?” he asked, concerned.
“I believe I am more out of shape than I thought, Bob,” Ezra wheezed convincingly. “You go ahead. I’m going to make my way back to the house,” he said leaning over with his hands braced on his knees.
“You sure?” Bob asked, torn between wanting to help and wanting to continue the hunt.
“I’d never forgive myself if I tore you away from your fun,” Ezra said softly, glad that Riley could not see the disgust on his face.
“Okay, Andy. You take it easy,” Riley said as he jogged after the others.
Ezra waited until the man was gone then stood up straight. He went slowly back to the man’s hiding place. “You can come out, sir. I’m a federal agent. We are here to rescue you.” He put made a show of emptying his shot gun, then set it on the ground. “I am undercover, so I don’t have my badge, but I can assure you, I mean you no harm.”
The black man stood slowly, staring uncertainly at the white man before him. “What’s your name?”
“Ezra Standish, ATF. We just learned of this facility three days ago. Can you tell me if there are any others?”
The man ran his hand over his face wearily and nodded. “Three more. John’s in pretty bad shape. He refused to run last week and they beat the crap out of him.” He shook his head. “I guess they figured on letting him heal up then trying again to see if he ‘learnt his lesson.’”
Ezra grimaced. “I am going to make my way back to the house. I saw a place where you can hide until my teammatess move in to arrest these heathens. I wish I could get you out of here now, but I must get to those other men.”
“That’s all right,” the man said, holding out his hand. “My name’s Rick Johnson.” They shook hands. “I thought I was dead when you saw me.”
“I’m glad you stayed hidden,” Ezra said as he picked up his shotgun. “I dreaded having to defend us against those odds.”
“Yeah,” Rick agreed, “they wouldn’t have hesitated to shoot the both of us.”
“Come on, I’ll show you where you can wait,” Ezra said, heading back toward the main house.
Ezra left Johnson in what he hoped was a safe place and started back toward the house. He gave his report as he trotted along.
“The four gentlemen, and I use the term loosely, that I came in with are about a half mile south of the house headed southeast at the moment. When I entered the property, there were two men who led us in and two more plus Bradley at the house. Per Mr. Johnson, there are three more captives being held in one of the smaller buildings to the west of the main house. I am attempting to make my way there and will update you as to the location of the remaining suspects when I arrive.”
When he reached the edge of the clearing surrounding the main house, Ezra stopped and knelt behind a bush. He couldn’t see any of the guards, but the jeep was still parked in front by the other vehicles. Ezra opened his shirt and carefully worked his hand between the prosthetic belly and his skin.
At JD’s suggestion, he’d left one edge unglued with an opening large enough to hide his gun. Ezra eased the weapon out, tucked it into his belt and buttoned his shirt back up. He sighed his relief at having protection other than the unwieldy shotgun. “I am more appropriately armed, gentlemen,” Ezra informed his teammatess. “No one is visible. I’m going to make my way to the building where the prisoners are being held.”
Ezra limped out into the clearing, using the shotgun like a cane. He made it all the way to the building the prisoners were being held in before he saw anyone.
Devareaux smiled wearily up at the guard as he opened the door. “Ah, finally, I found someone. I twisted my ankle something fierce.”
The guard frowned. “You can wait back at the main house,” he grumbled with a nod in the direction of the larger building.
“Oh,” Ezra replied forlornly. “I’m missing out on the main event. I was sort of hoping I might get in a little sport with one of the others. Mr. Bradley did say there was a bit of a selection, yes?”
The man nodded uncertainly.
“I promise not to do any permanent damage,” Devareaux grinned wickedly.
The guard smirked. “All right. I don’t see the harm. I’ve been known to have a little fun with ‘em myself,” he chuckled.
Ezra forced back the bile that threatened to flood his mouth and smiled as he followed the man inside. Originally, the building must have been a tool shed. Now it had been turned into a small prison. Four individual cells lined the far wall. Three cells each held one man apiece, the fourth was empty. Two of the men stared at the white men as they moved closer to the bars. The third man lay still on his cot.
Ezra turned slowly to look about the room. “They have you watching these boys all by your lonesome?” he asked sympathetically.
“Yeah,” the guard admitted. “And not even a T.V. to keep me busy,” he grumbled.
“Pity,” Ezra said as he finished his turn ending up behind the guard. He brought the shotgun butt up and slammed it into the man’s head. The guard collapsed. “Do you know where they keep the keys to the cells, gentlemen?” Ezra asked as he did a quick search of the guard on the floor. He removed the man’s gun and a knife before looking up at the prisoners.
“Over there,” one man said, pointing toward the wall by the door. “In that lock box on the wall.”
Ezra nodded and used the shotgun as a bludgeon again, only this time to open the lock box. “My name is Ezra Standish, I’m with the ATF. We’re here to rescue you. Mr. Johnson is safe at the moment. We just have to wait for the rest of the cavalry to arrive.”
He pried the bent lock box door open and pulled out the keys, then went to open the doors for the two men who were awake. Ezra held the shotgun and the guard’s gun out to the still suspicious men. “Can I trust you to be careful what you aim these at?” he asked with a slight smile. “We simply have to hold the building, but I would like to check on John and that means relying on you to watch my back,” he added seriously.
One of the men nodded. “Go ahead, Agent Standish, we’ll keep watch.”
Ezra nodded and went into the last cell. “You might want to tie up our friend there and toss him into a cell. Wouldn’t hurt to gag him either, just in case he wakes up before help arrives.” The agent grinned to himself as he started to check on the unconscious man. The other two would make sure the guard was secured.
“This man’s in bad shape,” Ezra said somberly, both to himself and to inform his co-workers. “He needs immediate attention.”
“He wouldn’t play their sick game,” the second man spat, “so they beat him. I thought they were going to kill him right there in front of us, but that man Bradley stopped them. Said John wouldn’t be any good to him dead.” He backed out of the cell where they’d just placed the guard and slammed the door shut.
“I’m sorry,” Ezra said sincerely. “We didn’t know.”
“Well,” the first man said, “it’s not like they advertised the place. We’re just lucky you found us.”
Ezra watched as the four kidnap victims were loaded into ambulances. John would be staying at the hospital for a while, but the other three just needed to be examined and treated for a few bumps and abrasions. The agent sighed. His team and their backup had swooped in and apprehended the last of the outlaws without firing a shot. Ezra and his companions had simply waited for the ‘all clear.’
Bradley, his men and the four hunters were cuffed and stuffed into the backs of several squad cars.
Ezra looked up and saw Larabee striding toward him. The undercover agent made an effort to straighten from his slouch against the fence. “Yes, Mr. Larabee?”
“Get on back to the office, Ezra,” Chris said, not unkindly. He’d seen the exhaustion in Standish’s face before the man controlled his features. “Turn in the truck and get cleaned up, then you can work on your report. If we get this wrapped up today, maybe we’ll get a chance to enjoy the rest of the weekend.”
Ezra simply nodded and headed toward the Ford he’d borrowed from the car pool. He never saw the confused look Nathan shot him.
“Hey, Chris,” Nathan said as his boss returned from talking with Ezra. “I’d like to do the interviews with the victims, if that’s all right with you.”
“Sure,” Larabee replied, he glanced at his watch. “Let me know if you can’t make it back to the office by five.”
“Okay,” Nathan said hurrying off to catch a ride with one of the ambulances.
Ezra stopped at the first convenience store he saw and purchased a bottle of water, a coffee, a small plastic case and saline solution. Back in the truck he took long swig of the hot caffeine. He’d need it to stay awake. The water was to help replenish some of the fluids he’d lost sweating under the fake belly. It was hot and starting to make him itch. Ezra took another sip of coffee then filled the small plastic container with saline. He removed the blue contacts and placed them in the case.
He rubbed his tired, grainy eyes and leaned his forehead on
the steering wheel for a moment before starting the engine and heading back to
Dealing with the hatred and bigotry of the men at the ranch and having to pretend to feel the same way had drained Ezra’s reserves. Despite his protests that he’d recovered completely from the knife wound from the month before, Ezra still found himself lacking his normal energy at times. It was his body’s way of telling him to slow down. No one lost that much blood without consequence.
He finally reached the office. After turning the truck back in to the car pool, Ezra headed upstairs to their locker room to remove his disguise and clean up.
Once again, he took JD’s advice and simply allowed the hot water from the shower to loosen the glue between him and the prosthetic. After almost falling asleep while leaning against the wall of the shower stall, Ezra yawned and turned off the water. He toweled off then wrapped the towel around his waist and padded slowly out to the bench where he’d left his clothes.
Ezra sat down and stared at the floor, not seeing anything. Unidentifiable thoughts flew through his tired mind. He rubbed a hand across his face and started to dress. Somehow he still had to get a coherent report written.
Several minutes later, looking much more like Ezra Standish, except for the darker hair, he made his way into Team 7’s bullpen. He was a bit surprised to see that the others had not yet returned, but then realized that they were probably busy taking statements from the victims and the men they’d arrested. A fleeting glimmer of guilt for not doing his part was quickly chased away by the knowledge that he had carried the largest part, not to mention the most dangerous part, of the assignment. Also, Chris had ordered him back to the office.
With a slight shrug, Ezra went to his desk and sat down. He turned on his computer and started to type.
Chris walked into the bullpen and stopped cold. His heart jumped into his throat and only Buck running into his back got it started again.
“What the hell?” Buck asked with less than half his usual volume. “Damn,” he said as he saw what had stopped Chris in his tracks.
Both men rushed over to Ezra’s desk and stopped again, afraid of what they’d find. Ezra was in much the same position that they’d found him in last month. His head resting on his crossed arms on the desk.
“He wasn’t hurt,” Buck said uncertainly.
Chris shook his head. “Ezra,” he said, cautiously putting a hand on the man’s shoulder. “Ezra?”
The man in question bolted up and looked around wide eyed. He had red blotches on his face where it had rested on his watch. Bleary green eyes blinked and tried to focus. “What? What time is it?” Ezra asked.
“It’s almost four, pard,” Buck replied. “You okay?”
Ezra licked his lips and ran a hand through his hair as he struggled to wake up. “I am fine, sir. Just a bit tired.”
“Yeah,” Chris agreed, “well, maybe you should go home and get some sleep. You just about gave me a heart attack, finding you lying across your desk like that.”
Standish frowned, uncertain what Larabee meant.
“Never mind, Ez,” Chris said. “Do you need a ride home?”
“No, thank you,” Ezra said standing slowly. “I’ll come in tomorrow to finish my report.”
“It can wait ‘til Monday,” Larabee said as he watched his agent move ever so carefully to pick up a duffle bag.
“Let me give you a hand with that,” Buck offered with a
chuckle. It was pretty clear that their undercover man wasn’t operating on all
“And you won’t now, Mr. Wilmington,” Ezra drawled.
Chris grinned, reassured by the tart reply that Ezra was simply exhausted and not injured. Buck would make sure he got home safely.
Ezra tugged on his robe as he shuffled to the front door. The insistent knocking sounded again. “Hold your horses,” he grumbled. He yawned and ran a hand through his hair forgetting to tie his robe closed as he looked through the peep hole. Eyebrows rose in surprise and Ezra opened the door.
“Mr. Jackson. What are you doing here at this ungodly hour?” he inquired.
“It’s two in the afternoon, Ezra,” Nathan replied.
“Really?” Ezra asked turning slightly to look at the clock on the mantle. He faced the team medic. “So it is. What brings you to my neck of the woods then, on a Sunday afternoon?”
Nathan pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Mind if I come in?”
Ezra blinked then backed away, pulling the door further open and gesturing for Nathan to enter.
“Thanks,” Nathan said moving into the room. “Chris told me you were pretty wiped when he got to the office yesterday. I figured I should check and make sure you were all right.”
Ezra closed the door, suppressing another yawn as he went into the kitchen. Nathan followed. “As I told Mr. Larabee, I’m uninjured. Just tired. It was a… difficult assignment.”
“Yeah,” Nathan muttered. He turned to look back out into the living room while Ezra set up the coffee pot. The room was pleasantly furnished, but he couldn’t see much of anything that seemed personal. Everything could have been taken right out of a catalog. Oh, there were a few books on one shelf and a plant by the window, but the afghan blanket that lay haphazardly across the back of the sofa and the open photo album on the coffee table were the only other signs that this was an apartment and not a hotel room.
Nathan walked over to the coffee table and casually took a look at the open book. His eyes widened in surprise and he looked up as Ezra came into the room carrying two mugs.
“Cream and sugar,” Ezra said handing the cup to Nathan.
“Thanks,” the medic replied. He hadn’t realized that Ezra knew how he liked his coffee.
Ezra’s one sided grin showed his gold tooth. “It’s what I do, Mr. Jackson. I observe people. Try to figure out what makes them tick.” He sat down and motioned for Nathan to take a seat as well. “The more I know about someone, the less chance I have of making a mistake… during an assignment,” Ezra qualified.
“Sure,” Nathan said, beginning to realize that maybe Ezra wasn’t as self-assured as he portrayed himself. “Look, Ez, I need to apologize to you.”
“Whatever for?” Ezra asked surprised.
“Ever since we busted Pierce,” Nathan said, shame coloring his tone, “well, I’ve made a few assumptions about you that weren’t fair.”
Ezra remained silent.
Nathan looked up and met his gaze. “I assumed that since it
was so easy for you to ‘get along’ with Pierce and those others at the ranch,
that, well, that you agreed with them.” Nate sat his cup on the table and
clasped his hands together. “I’d been avoiding you so I didn’t have to deal
with it, but I knew you were just as
bigoted as the men we’d arrested.”
“Mr. Jackson,” Ezra started.
Nathan interrupted him. “Please let me finish. I got to thinking after we made the bust at the ranch, about everything you’d done to try and protect those men. It didn’t seem to me to be the actions a bigot would take.” He took a deep breath and continued. “I interviewed the victims and they were all very grateful to you.” Nate shrugged. “To all of us, but you were the first they saw and interacted with. Mr. Johnson told me how you convinced him you were there to help.”
“But surely you heard me talking to Mr. Johnson,” Ezra supplied.
“Hearing it is not the same as being there, Ez,” Nathan countered. “I didn’t know anything but the words and how you said them. And that’s what got me in trouble before. I couldn’t see how hard it was for you to be Andrew Devareaux.”
Ezra dropped his gaze, uncomfortable with the turn of the conversation. His eyes landed on the open photo album. He sighed and stretched his hand out unconsciously to caress one of the pictures.
“She’s beautiful,” Nathan said, watching the undercover man closely. “Who is she?”
“An old… acquaintance,” Ezra replied closing the book and slapping on his poker face as he looked back at Nathan.
“Looks like more than an acquaintance from the photos,” Nathan pushed.
“Her parents didn’t approve,” Ezra said, standing abruptly. “I need to get dressed.”
Nathan stood and allowed Ezra to usher him to the door. He turned and faced the shorter man. “I’m sorry I misjudged you, Ezra,” Nathan said holding out his hand.
“I’m sorry I had to give you reason to doubt me, Mr. Jackson,” Ezra said in reply, taking Nathan’s hand.
“Everyone’s going out to Chris’ place for dinner,” Nathan said. “You’re invited, you know.”
Ezra smiled. “Please give them my apologies, but I believe I need a bit more rest if I’m to be of any use tomorrow.”
The door was opened and Nathan went out, but turned and faced Ezra once more. “Sometimes being with friends is more relaxing than sleeping, Ez,” Nathan replied hopefully.
A slight frown creased Ezra’s forehead but was gone so quickly that Nathan thought maybe he’d imagined it. “I shall keep that in mind, Mr. Jackson.”
“You do that, Mr. Standish,” Nathan said with a wry smile. He watched the door close then shook his head. He’d hoped for some answers and only come up with more questions. Oh well. Ezra had accepted his apology. And one of these days he was going to accept their invitation to join the rest of the boys after work. Even if Nathan had to drag the stubborn Southerner by his tie. Nathan grinned at the thought as he went down to his car. Maybe Buck or Vin would have some ideas.
Ezra went back over to the sofa and sat down. He picked up
the photo album and opened it. The dark skinned woman in the pictures smiled up
at him with the same bright smile she always had. “Ah,
He’d had such a different life then, so much hope for the
A change of schools, a couple of degrees later and he’d
It’s only been… six years? Where are you, Eva? Would we have a chance now? Ezra closed the album and set it back on the coffee table. He gathered the two cups and took them into the kitchen. What did your father say to convince you to leave? He rinsed the cups and set them in the dishwasher. “You didn’t even say good-bye.”
So what do you think? Like it? Please let me know. JudyL