RATING: PG-13 for language
CATEGORY: Challenge - ATF (yes, I'm giving it a try)
MAJOR CHARACTERS: mostly Ezra, the others are here, but mainly Josiah and Chris
DISCLAIMERS: This is fanfiction. No profit involved. This story is based on the television series "The Magnificent Seven". No infringement upon the copyrights held by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp, TNN, the Hallmark Channel or any others involved with that production is intended.
NOTE: The RoadTrip 2004 Challenge: offered by NotTasha in conjunction with the 2004 Writers RoundUp "The guys are on a long journey -- whether it is by car, horse, wagon, train, plane, boat -- you get the picture.  The story must have at least two of our guys.  The story must be about their journey: something that  happens along the way, the process of continuing the trek, the problems with close contact for so long -- whatever works for you.  AND, it must contain at least one of the following:  a dam, a painfully posed photograph, a badly performed show, a 'magnificent' waterfall, illegal swimming or a search for breakfast food.  It must contain the following words:  canyon, cowboy, optimist, gabby and akimbo ..... One more thing. The story should be under 5,000 words"
SUMMARY: My first ATF story and it's exactly 5000 words long.  Yahoo!  The guys are just driving away on a bit of a vacation.  
FEEDBACK: Yes please! comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated.
DATE: May 26, 2004, housekeeping done February 25, 2005

Just Drive Away:  ATF AU
By NotTasha...don't let this happen to YOU!

“You sure this is right?” JD asked, leaning between the forward seats.

“Can’t say,” Josiah uttered, watching the Ford Explorer leading them up the lonely road.  “Wish we had the map.”

“Damn, I’m ready to eat,” Buck declared from the passenger seat.  “We got anythin’ in that cooler?”

“Lemmie see,” Dunne answered, unbuckling from the first bench seat.  “‘Scuse me, Ez,” he declared, flinging one foot over his bench-seat and onto the back-row where the undercover agent attempted to nap.

Standish grimaced as JD tumbled over him.  “Get off me!” he ordered.

“Chill, Ez,” JD stated.  “We’re hungry.”  The Suburban jostled over a pothole, collapsing Dunne onto Standish.

“Dammit, JD!” Ezra growled.  “Get out of here!” He shoved the kid toward the forward seat.

“Knock it off!  I’m just tryin’ to get a Coke,” JD hollered back.

“Get it elsewhere!” 

“Let him be, Ezra!” Buck chuckled, turning and observing the kid wrestle with the unseen undercover agent.  “Come on, we want somethin’ t’eat.”

“I want to sleep!” Ezra’s moaned pathetically.  “Remove him!”

“There’ll be plenty of time for sleeping once we reach the cabin,” Josiah told Standish, and then added softly, “If we ever reach the cabin.”  He leaned on the steering wheel, glancing at the trees that closed in around them.  This didn’t look like the right road.

Ezra shoved JD back with his foot.  When they went over another bump, JD cheerfully flung his weight on the reclining southerner. “Goddamn it, JD!” Ezra exclaimed.  JD laughed.

“Oh, leave the poor boy alone, Ezra,” Buck sniggered. “And get me a Dr. Pepper and some jerky.”

JD leaned on Ezra as he moved, managing to reach the supplies.  “You want the Teriyaki-Turkey or the Peppered-Beef?” Dunne asked as he rustled through a box.

“Turkey!” Josiah exclaimed.

“Beef!” Buck added, and JD flung the two bags at the men in the front seats.  Buck caught them and dumped the turkey jerky in Josiah’s lap. Josiah opened it with his teeth.

“Want some pork rinds, Ez?” JD inquired, shoving the snack into the agent’s face.  “Pork rinds…yum!”

“I want you off of me!”  Ezra hissed, shoving JD again, but the kid stood firm as he opened the cooler and went through their drinks.

Dunne pushed back the Heinekens and the Budweisers to get to the sodas beneath.  “How ‘bout a Mountain Dew, Ez?” he asked.

“Do the Dew!” Buck cried. “Do it, Ez!”

“Yes, Do,” Josiah added, as JD laughed and drew out a few cans of soda-pop.

“Leave!” Ezra ordered.

“Okay,” JD returned, clutching the cans with one hand, he pressed the other into Ezra’s belly and launched himself over the seat.  He was rewarded with a sharp kick to propel him.  “Thanks, Ez,” JD gleefully responded as he buckled himself.

“Should have ridden in the other car,” Ezra muttered.

“No back seat in the Explorer,” Josiah reminded, taking an opened can from JD.  “Can’t lay down.”

“Quieter,” Ezra muttered. “I should’ve figured that a carload of imbeciles would be insufferable.”

“You could switch to the other car when we stop,” Josiah commented.

“I plan to. We’re going to stop?” Ezra asked hopefully.  “Soon?”

Sighing, Josiah glanced about.  This didn’t look like the way to Gravelly Lake.  “Should be getting to the cabin within the hour,” the profiler responded hopefully.

Ezra harrumphed and turned on the narrow seat.  “So, no chance of switching.  I swear, the moment we stop, I’ll be gone,” he grumbled as he settled his head on his folded jacket.  “And I’ll never get to rest.  It’ll be non-stop shenanigans once we reach our destination.”

“Shenanigans,” JD repeated.

“Non-stop shenanigans,” Buck added, and both men laughed.

Ezra muttered discontentedly, “Wish I could’ve just stayed home.”

“Oh no you don’t!” Buck returned.  “We need you here where we can see you.  You still back there, Ez?”  Buck raised up in his seat a fraction, as if he could see into the back.  Ezra responded with a curse.

Josiah chuckled, enjoying the interplay, listening to the gabby conversation between JD and Buck that was intended to annoy Standish.  Ezra moaned again from his hidden bed and tried to ignore them.

Ezra needed rest.  They all did.  The past two months had been rough. They’d worked their tails off on their last case – putting in long hours – doing wearying, mind-numbing work.   Ezra had been undercover, mostly alone.  They’d had regular contact with him, but he’d had to rely on himself most of the time. Seems like he’s on his own too much of the time, Josiah thought sadly. Needs someone to look after him. We’ll take that job.

The bust had gone down perfectly; they’d arrested the bad guys and, as a reward, the team had been granted a long weekend. “Just drive away,” Travis had told them.  “Get out of here for a while. You deserved it.”

Josiah sighed, watching as the lead vehicle braked at a Y in the road.  “We’re lost,” Josiah whispered.  He waited and the car turned right.  Josiah tsked.  “Always turn left at a Y if you don’t know where you’re going,” he told himself, and they were off again.

They traveled for a dozen miles, slowing when they came to a rough “Fishing” sign.  An arrow pointed to a narrow, dirt road on the left.  The Explorer turned up the new path.  With a sigh, Josiah followed.  The road continued for about 100 yards through the trees, and then opened up to a parking-area beside a lake.

Josiah parked alongside the Explorer.  There wasn’t much here:  picnic tables, boat launch, dock, fish-cleaning shelter and a couple of pit toilets.  It was a manmade lake, formed behind a little dam.

“Where the hell are we?” Buck asked as he shoved open the door and stumbled out.

“Come on, Ez,” JD coaxed, thumping on the back of his seat.  “We’ve stopped.  Now’s your chance to try out Nathan’s hospitality.”

“Grmmmmph,” Ezra responded and turned his back was toward Dunne.  JD laughed, and let the exhausted agent be.  He stepped out and headed toward the others.

Nathan, Chris and Vin stiffly strode out of the Explorer and met the others behind their vehicles.  Nathan, frustrated, carried their makeshift map.  Chris and Vin threw the medic disgruntled glances.

“We’re lost!” Buck declared.

Nathan huffed.  “Not lost!” he declared.  “It’s these directions.  Where’d you get them?”

“Mrs. Potter said it’s easy to follow!” JD shot back.

“It’s wrong.  I took the first turn off Jefferson.   It didn’t mention the Y in the road.”  Nathan scratched his head, muttering, “How am I supposed to follow this?”

“Could’ve let us look at it,” Vin said softly as he drew a road map out of his pocket.  “Maybe Cowboy and I can figure out where we took a wrong turn, if we check it against this.”

Chris gave Vin a disgusted look, and Nathan sighed, kicking at the dirt. “All right,” Jackson conceded.

Buck nodded toward the water.  “I want to see the fishin’.  Might want to come back here someday with our rods.”

“Damn!” JD exclaimed as he pointed to the small concrete structure that blocked the creek.  He laughed uproariously.  “Look at that damn lake and that damn dock…and that… dam!”

Buck cuffed him and took off toward the water.  JD ran after Wilmington.  The rest followed at a slower pace.  As they stood at the lakeside, Nathan, Chris and Josiah poured over the map and the crude directions.  Vin, Buck and JD examined the little dam.

It took a few minutes as they examined the maps, but Sanchez finally shouted, “Eureka!” and grabbed the directions from Nathan’s hands.  “Come on, boys!  I figured it out!  We should have taken that ‘other’ first turn off Jefferson!”  He took off at a trot, crying, “I’m leadin’ now.”

JD and Buck were hot on his heels, with JD shouting, “Shotgun!” and Buck swearing.  The three men piled into their vehicle.  The others darted toward theirs. Josiah rumbled with laughter as he got cut off the Explorer, and both cars rocketed down the gravel road.  Sanchez took a right when they reached the larger road and they retraced their path.

Buck turned in his seat, relishing the chance to harass their overworked undercover agent. They hadn’t seen enough of Ezra over the past two months.  “Hey,” Wilmington exclaimed. “Looks like he took you up on your idea.  He’s gone.  Jumped ship.”

Josiah grinned, wondering how Ezra fared in the Explorer with Larabee and the others.  Standish wouldn’t have his own seat in that vehicle.  Sanchez’ smile broadened as he imagined the southerner taking a nap on Larabee’s shoulder.

Good luck, Josiah thought as he pressed down on the gas and kept ahead of the Explorer, and drove as quickly as the road allowed.


Ezra did his best to not touch anything.  Lord, he hated outhouses – but there were times when certain needs outweighed his prejudices.  He was just finishing when he heard the men yelling good-naturedly and then the trucks peeled out.  Just as Ezra pushed open the crude door, the Explorer disappeared into the trees.

He stood in the doorway; one hand still grasped his trousers, holding them at his waist; the other released the door, letting it clap shut.

A smile twitching at his lips, and Ezra allowed them to have their little joke.  Laughing, he zipped his fly and buckled his belt.  He wasn’t going to run after them – no, that was what they expected.  He wasn’t going to lose his temper and curse them.  He’d be as cool as a cucumber.  Slowly, he strode away from the primitive toilet and to the middle of that dirt road.  Certainly, they’d stopped when they were out of sight.  They’d be waiting beyond those trees.

He sauntered as if he had a lady on his arm.  He kept his step light and his expression mild, expecting to see the trucks, and prepared to act as if he’d anticipated this.

They weren’t there.  He walked further.  It was unfair that they’d gone so far.  Well, a few more steps and he’d find them.  They’d laugh like crazy men and attempt to belittle him.  He’d just smile as if they were simple-minded children.

He kept walking.  He wouldn’t hurry.  They would have to wait for him.  Still no sign.  Bastards.  Oh, he’d make them suffer for this one. The main road was just ahead.  They MUST have stopped there.  Sons-of-bitches.  Confidently, he stepped from the narrow road onto the wider but equally empty street.  No one was there.

Assholes! Rat bastards! They’d better burst out of whatever hidey-hole they’d found.  Ezra looked left and right. The road wore a coat of grime that revealed nothing regarding their path.  Asinine pricks.

Folding his arms over his chest, Ezra barked out, “Okay!  Joke’s over.  Funny. Ha Ha!  I’m overcome with amusement.”  He waited, unwilling to wander in search of them.  “Time’s up!” Ezra growled, wishing he’d grabbed his jacket before leaving the car.  It was getting cooler.  “I’m laughing so hard my side hurts.”

He waited a full minute before he realized that they weren’t coming.  The revelation shocked him.  They’d left him behind – just driven away.

He’d been abandoned … again.  An old cold fear caught him -- memories of his childhood. He had so many recollections of Maude driving away, a pretty blonde who hadn’t bothered with goodbyes.  It used to surprise him.  She’d had other things to do and he’d been a burden to her.  He’d been so easy to desert – it was simpler than caring for him.  In time, he’d gotten used to it.  It didn’t hurt anymore.  It was fine.  People were always leaving him.

They’d abandoned him.

Dammit!  He’d have to call on the cell, and ask them to come back for him.  His face felt hot, realizing he’d have to beg them.  “Please, come back for me. Don’t leave me.”

He was so ashamed, and he knew they’d make it rough on him, make him feel like a moron.  He’d never hear the end of it.  “Remember the time Ezra was taking a crap and we drove off?  Didn’t have enough sense to tell anyone he’d gotten out of the car. Ha ha.”

Disgusted with himself, he searched for his cell-phone and groaned when he realized that it was still in his jacket, in the Suburban.  Dammit! Damn it to hell!

Frustrated, he glanced about.  No longer looking for their cars, he searched for the closest phone.  Nothing.  Remembering something Josiah told him, he turned left and trudged up the quiet street.


After a half-hour of backtracking and another half-hour beyond that, Josiah sighted the sign to Gravelly Lake, and then turned onto the road to their rented cabin.  Nathan kept close behind them.  The medic had tried to pass on several occasions, but he was a careful driver.  Josiah, on the other hand, had driven on the Autobahn, had survived Paris, Rome and Boston.  Jackson didn’t stand a chance.

They pulled up to the cabin just as dusk fell, finding parking-spots on either side of the structure.  “Come on!” Chris shouted as Nathan opened the back of the Explorer.  “Let’s get this crap unloaded before dark.”

Josiah picked up a cooler and caught up to Chris on the porch.  “Ezra’s still sleeping?” Sanchez queried.

Chris nodded. “Had a rough time on this one.  Spends too much time with bad company.”

“Lord, that boy works himself too hard,” Josiah muttered as he hefted the heavy, beer-laden chest.  “Missed him.  Hope he can get some rest this weekend.”

”Not much.”  Chris chuckled as he wrestled a box of snacks through the doorway.  “We’ll take care of him.  Has he moved at all?”

“A bit,” Josiah responded with a smirk.  “Just long enough to abandon us.  He behave for you?”

“Behave?”  Chris stopped and dropped the box onto the table.

“After he got into the Explorer?” Josiah went on.

“What’re you talkin’ about?”  Larabee responded.

“After that fishing-hole,” Josiah returned.  Seeing Chris’ confusion, Josiah felt his stomach drop.  “He rode up with you after that… didn’t he?”  Letting the cooler fall with a crash, Josiah demanded, “Didn’t he?!”  Budweisers rolled throughout the kitchen.

“Don’t screw with me, Josiah,” Chris growled.  “He’s in your car.”

Josiah groaned and rushed past Buck and JD as they tried to enter.  JD, loaded with pillows, was pushed back. A quick shoulder from Buck kept him from hitting the ground.

“What’s wrong?” JD called as Chris, yanking a cell phone from his pocket, dashed after the profiler.

Larabee regarded the phone, and shouted, “Goddamn it!” Looking to the others, he declared, “JD!  Buck!  Try your cells.  Anyone getting a signal?”  Why didn’t Standish just stay in the car? Why didn’t he say anything?  How the hell did this happen?

Buck dropped his armload of sleeping bags to the porch and pulled a phone from his pocket.

“What’s wrong?” JD asked as he checked his phone, frowning to find no bars on his display.

“Ezra,” Chris sighed.  “…we left him.”  Son-of-a-bitch!  Son-of-a-bitch!  Goddamn him and Josiah, too.

JD responded without confidence, “He’s in your car.”

Vin, coming out of the cabin, looked at JD skeptically.  “He’s been with you the whole time.”

Josiah leaned his head against the Explorer, and as he gazed into its empty interior.  A sullen rain started to fall.  Sanchez lifted his gaze to the darkening sky, before returning his face to the window.  “Oh God,” he whispered to the pane, fogging it.  “What have I done?”


Ezra kept expecting the cars to appear.  They’d realize their mistake at any moment and come racing back.  They’d be cursing and ordering him into the nearest seat, annoyed with him.  No one came.  He shoved his hands into his pockets and sighed.  He should’ve found a phone by now.

As night fell, a chilling rain joined it.  Perfect, Ezra thought.  On the dark, unlit road, he’d tripped more than once.   Swearing and brushing uselessly at his muddy knees, he’d gotten up and continued onward.  Stupid, he told himself.  You’re so damn stupid.  How could you let a thing like this happen?

Alone.  He was alone again.  It hurt.  The abandonment was worse than the wet and the cold.  God, how he hated his weakness.  They’d just driven away without looking for him.  He hadn’t mattered.

He was used to taking care of himself.  They were used to being without him – he was gone so much of the time, they probably functioned better that way.  Why had he relied on them?  He should’ve had the aforethought to keep his possessions with him.  He shouldn’t have trusted them to look for him – to notice he was gone – to wait for him.  He shouldn’t have trusted them at all.  Bastards!

Finally, soaked to the skin and sniffling, Ezra sighted a light in the distance.  Hope!  He quickened his pace.  A lonely building appeared before him, a roadside tavern.

The place was called “Ruby’s” and the glow of a neon “EATS” sign never looked better to the worn-out agent.  Thank God!  At the doorway, he paused, examining his current state.  Aw hell, this won’t do.  His clothing was muddy and soaking wet.  Screw it!  He’d just step in, use the phone, and order something to eat while the others came to fetch him.

He groaned miserably.  His wallet was in the car with his coat and cell.  Son-of-a-Bitch!  His chin sunk to his chest.  He had no money.  Crap!  Ever the optimist, Ezra decided that the proprietor would, at least, allow him one use of their phone.  He could call the others and then wait quietly by a heater until they arrived.  He hoped he didn’t stink like wet-dog.

Putting on an unaffected expression, Ezra pressed open the door and attempted to enter unnoticed.  His luck was still sour.  The place was nearly empty.   There was nowhere to hide. Two men at the bar scrutinized him, and a plump woman behind the bar thumped a glass to the counter and cried, “Honey, what happened to you?”

Ezra smiled thinly.  “An unfortunate set of circumstances.”

“Don’t you have enough sense to get out of the rain?” a patron asked.

“Hush, Jimbo,” the woman chided, bringing dishtowels from behind the counter.  “Dry yourself off and sit down.”  She smiled warmly as she handed over the clean linens.  “I’ll get some coffee.”

Ezra held up a hand and quietly explained,  “Thank you for your kindness, but I’m afraid I cannot afford anything at the moment.  I was wonderin’ if you would allow me one phone call so I can seek out assistance from my compatriots.”

The woman paused, open-mouthed as she listened to Ezra’s discourse, and then she laughed.  “Sweetheart, you just relax.”  A mug appeared before the agent as he began mopping his soaked hair with the cloths.  “I can spare a cup or two.  You hungry?”

“No,” Ezra responded, hoping his stomach didn’t growl. Jimbo’s chili looked delectable at that moment.   “Thanks for asking,” Standish stated as she filled his cup.  He wrapped one cold hand around the mug and relished its warmth.  “Thank you,” he repeated, holding the cup to his face.  He breathed in the hot steam.

“Henry!” the woman shouted through a window to the kitchen.  “Get me a cheeseburger, pronto.”  She turned to Ezra and asked, “You like cheeseburgers?”

Ezra smiled. “I appreciate the thought, but I cannot pay at the moment.”  And who knew how long it would take to be reunited with his money.

“Cheeseburger!” the woman repeated through the opening, “With lots of fries.”  She smiled warmly as she watched Ezra’s attempts to get dry.  “My name’s Ruby.”

“Ezra,” the agent introduced himself as he set down the towels to take another delicious sip of hot coffee.

“This my place,” Ruby continued, “Won’t be a charge for it.”  She cocked her head and asked, “Care to tell me what happened?”

“Not really,” Ezra muttered and realized he was being unkind to the woman who’d been generous to him.  “I made an imbecilic mistake.  While my traveling companions stopped to examine a fishing area, I slipped out of the car to … well…” he paused, smiling embarrassedly at Ruby.

“Out by Bingham’s Dam?” Ruby asked, incredulous.

Ezra shrugged.  “I believe so.  Anyway, by the time I returned, they’d gone, thinking I was still in the car.”

“They left you?” Ruby cried, placing her arms akimbo.

“Just drove away?” Jimbo added, astounded.  He turned to the other man. “Skippy, you hear that?  This guy had to walk all the way from Bingham’s.”

“Damn,” Skippy responded. “That blows.”

Henry shoved his head through the kitchen window, looking hot and greasy, and put in, “That sucks.”

“Yes,” Ezra said with a sigh.  “It sucks and blows.”

“Your friends are jerks,” Skippy decided.

Quickly, Ezra defended, “It was my fault.”

Ruby furrowed her brow.  “Why would you say that?”

“There were two cars.” Ezra gestured vaguely.  “They thought I’d switched cars and…”

“Didn’t bother to check,” Ruby completed ruefully.

Ezra smiled self-deprecatingly.  This was how things worked for him.  He should’ve expected it.  This was nothing important. “Could I use your phone?”

“Sure, dearie,” Ruby responded, pulling a cordless handset from its cradle and handing it to the agent.  “You give them a call.  Have them haul their asses back here. We’ll take care of you ‘til then.”

Ezra smiled, thankful for her generosity, but feeling so tired and alone he could hardly stand himself.


“Damn it,” Chris growled for the hundredth time.  “Where’s the damn turnoff for the dam?”

“There!” JD exclaimed as he leaned between the front seats.

Buck grabbed JD’s shoulder and shoved him back into the bench seat beside him.  “Calm down, kid,” he grumbled.  They were all on edge.  Ever since they left Jefferson and returned to this road, they’d been searching for Standish.  There’d been no sign of him.  What the hell happened to him?  He wasn’t still at the dam, was he?

Josiah turned the Suburban onto the dirt road, and drove through the rain, back to the fishing-hole they’d vacated over two hours earlier. He slowed, letting his headlights shine across the pond, and then did a slow circle.  Please, Sanchez prayed. Let him be sitting under that fish-cleaning shelter, pissed off.

As the Suburban came to a stop, Buck looked to the rear seat again, seeing Ezra’s jacket in one corner.   The windshield-wipers had been going non-stop since they left the cabin.  Ezra didn’t have a coat.  He was out in this rain.  Buck grimaced, not wanting to imagine how Ezra felt right now.

Nathan pulled alongside in the Explorer.  JD looked across at Vin, but the sniper in the back seat was gazing out into the darkness.

“I’ll check the pits,” JD declared  “He’s probably in there – out of the rain.”  Dunne grabbed a flashlight and shoved open the door.  He sprinted to the first toilet and pounded on the door before opening it to shine a flashlight into the dark interior.  Nothing.  He stepped to the women’s toilet and tried it next.  The disappointment was evident as the kid came back toward the vehicles.

Chris glared at Josiah who sunk into his seat.

With slumped shoulders, JD pulled open the door and climbed into the warm, dry interior of the truck.  Nobody spoke as the cars idled side-by-side and smoked in the rain.  Where did he go?  What could they do next?  They needed to find a working phone – check messages – keep looking.  If only the damn cell-phones…

At the chirrup, everyone jumped.  Chris fumbled to find his phone.  He smiled tightly as he stared at the display, finding one bar and a ‘message pending’ notice.  The others waited as Chris dialed in.

“Mr. Larabee,” the recorded southern voice started and paused.  “Ah, Chris.  Look, I bungled this…royally.”  Ezra sounded tired, strained.  “I know it’s inconvenient, but could you consider coming back for me?  I could get a cab, but I don’t know where you are.  Don’t know how to get one…”

Chris swore as the message continued.  The men in the Explorer looked across at occupants of the Suburban, waiting.  Chris finished the message, then attempted to call-back, but the signal had left him again. He closed the flip-phone and placed it in his pocket with deliberate slowness.

Across from them, Nathan rolled down his window.  When Chris followed suit, the medic asked “Well?” as the rain fell between them.

“Ruby’s” Chris said, looking in the direction Ezra had indicated, feeling relieved and disturbed at the same time.


Jimbo, Skippy and Ruby turned as the door to the tavern was thrown back and six aggravated men strode in.   “Now, you fellas, calm down!” Ruby ordered as the six approached.  “I don’t know who you are, but we don’t want any trouble here!”  Her face was etched and harsh.

“Ezra,” Chris demanded.  “Where is he?”

Her expression remained rigid.  With a dip of her head, Ruby indicated a booth in the corner.    Nathan, Buck, JD and Vin strode toward the stall, finding Ezra asleep.  Chris and Josiah stayed by the bar, meeting Ruby’s stare.  “He okay?” Josiah asked earnestly.

“Tired,” Ruby responded, “And feelin’ like crap ‘cause ya’ll left him behind.  Figures it was his fault,” she grumbled. 

Josiah sighed and nodded.  Chris met her fierce stare, then turned, watching as Buck and Nathan sat Ezra up.  The muddy agent nodded to his helpers, muttering as he set aside a blanket, not meeting their eyes.  They got him to his feet and Ezra walked like a somnambulist toward the door.  Josiah stepped back, not ready to bear Ezra condemnation.

Instead of confronting Sanchez, Standish met Chris with a chagrinned and tired expression.  “I owe this woman,” Ezra said softly, his gaze remaining low.  “If you would pay my bill, I’ll reimburse you as soon as I’m reintroduced to my wallet.”  Chris nodded his consent.  Ezra turned to Ruby and drawled congenially, “Thank you, my lady, you’ve been entirely too kind.”

“Not at all,” Ruby returned.

As the others carefully propelled Ezra through the door, Larabee faced the woman and pulled out his wallet.  “How much?” Chris asked.

Ruby shrugged.  “I told him that he didn’t have to pay.  I meant it.  Jimbo would’ve taken him wherever he needed to go – but Ezra didn’t know where that was.”  She frowned at the men and added, “You just drove away and left him?”

“It was an accident,” Josiah said half-heartedly.

“I got seven kids and never left any of them behind.”  Ruby grunted.  “You should take better care of him in the future.”

Chris and Josiah could only nod, offer their thanks, and then follow the men through he door.


“Ezra, about what happened,” Josiah tried, as he stared across the table at the drowsy undercover agent the next morning. 

Standish frowned as the preacher’s disturbed his Cocoa-Krispies breakfast.  He explained, “An unfortunate mistake on my part. I’m sorry that you had to suffer over it.”

“Suffer?” Josiah exclaimed.

Ezra held up a hand.  “I apologize about the inconvenience.  It won’t happen again.”

Josiah sputtered, and Chris, standing in the doorway, responded, “You’re damn right.”

With a swallow, Ezra met his boss’ gaze.  Dryly, he stated, “I left the vehicle without informing anyone of my whereabouts.  I should’ve followed standard protocol.”

“Shut up, Ezra,” Chris responded sharply.

“Soon as we figured you weren’t with us, I should’ve stopped,” Josiah stated.  “Should’ve waited for Nathan, and checked with him.  I was too set on keeping ahead.  This shouldn’t have happened.”

“I’m in charge of you idiots,” Chris cut in, letting Josiah off the hook.  “I’m the one who didn’t follow protocol.  We should’ve taken a headcount.”

“Damn right,” Ezra muttered, returning his attention to the bowl, feeling the heat of embarrassment again.  Why couldn’t they drop this? Don’t I feel bad enough already? If I could just drive away from this discussion...  “We’ve agreed on this point, so let me finish my breakfast,” he said, with a gesture over his bowl.

“Ezra, I’m so sorry,” Josiah continued. “I had no intention of leaving you.”

“Clearly,” Ezra said with a forced smile.  “My departure only caused irritation to all.”  The memory only made him feel like crap and he was damn tired of that sensation.  “Perhaps we can move beyond this?”

“Ezra,” Larabee grumbled.  “This isn’t over.  We screwed up, Josiah and me.  What happened was unconscionable.  We need to look out for each other – not just on the job, but off, too. I should’ve laid down some rules.”

Apparently, they weren’t going to let go.  “Mr. Larabee,” Ezra laughed, dimpling his cheeks.  “It was a simple mistake.  It could’ve happened to anyone.”

Yeah, Larabee thought, but it happened to you… again.

“It’s not a problem,” Ezra continued.  “I’m quite capable of taking care of myself.  Now, my Krispies are getting soggy and there’s nothing I deplore more than soggy Krispies.  Please, go!” Ezra made a dismissive gesture and returned his attention to his bowl.

“We’ll talk more later,” Chris declared, feeling as if he was talking across a canyon to the agent.

“After my nap,” Ezra decided, foreseeing plenty of napping in the near future.  Even now, after a night’s rest, he was ready to return to bed. He scraped a spoon through the chocolaty milk in his bowl and waited for their departure.

“Ezra,” Chris started.

“Later,” Ezra responded, not lifting his head.

Seeing that they’d get no further presently, the two men left the kitchen.   “He doesn’t understand, does he?” Josiah asked when they reached the back porch.

“Nope,” Chris returned.

“He just blames himself.”

With an unhappy look, Chris stated, “Maude got to him first.

“Can’t he see it’s my fault?”

“Our fault.  Crappy thing to happen.”

Sanchez bowed his head, thinking of the efforts that had been undone in one rash decision – to just drive away without knowing where Ezra was. “We’ll make this better,” he said.  “Somehow.”

“Yeah, somehow,” Chris returned, and strode off the porch. “Sometime soon.”


Hope you enjoyed the story.  I'd love to hear your  comments and suggestions

Back to Index