Story #4 in the

Understanding Ezra Series


By JudyL

August 1, 2006



Warnings: I’ve been told by that this one needs a ‘seatbelt’ warning. No drinking, eating or sitting on the edge of your seat while reading, it could be dangerous to your health.


Thanks to DoggyJ, Pat and Ennie for betaing this story. And as always to Cheryl for her continued support of my writing<G>. And to MOG for creating this wonderful ATF AU. And a huge thanks to Kris S. for sending me the second season of M7.




Ezra grabbed his pen, a pad of paper, and his coffee and hurried to the conference room. He wanted to make sure to get his preferred seat. Or, at the very least, one far away from Buck Wilmington.


Ever since Ezra’s birthday dinner with the team Buck had, for some reason, begun a campaign geared to get Ezra to ‘loosen up’ and ‘become part of the family.’ Unfortunately the plan included practical jokes and an undue - in Ezra’s mind - number of pats on the back and friendly punches to the arm. Buck had not yet gone so far as to catch him in a headlock like he did JD, but Ezra did not plan on giving him the opportunity.


As Ezra entered the room, he saw that everyone else was present, but still milling around. Judge Travis was supposed to fill them in on their latest case, and he hadn’t arrived yet. Ezra casually moved into the room, greeting his teammates with a nod and a slight smile as each of them said good morning. He chose a spot as far from Wilmington as possible and leaned against the windowsill.


Judge Orin Travis entered and closed the door behind him. “Have a seat, boys,” he said taking the chair at the head of the table.


Ezra waited until Buck sat down and then slid into a chair across the table from him. Chris sat on Ezra’s right, next to the judge, and Nathan to his left. Vin, JD, Buck and then Josiah on Travis’ other side. Ezra suppressed a grin as he realized that Josiah had been outmaneuvered and left with the last open chair by Judge Travis.


“Have any of you heard of the Eagle’s Nest Men’s Club?” Travis asked as he handed a stack of folders to Chris and Josiah to pass down the table.


“Oh yeah!” Buck replied with a leering grin. “It’s an exclusive, men-only club. I hear they’ve got ‘exclusive’ entertainment, too,” he said with a suggestive waggle of his eyebrows.


“Yes,” Travis agreed brusquely, “they may also be housing a very exclusive drug distribution business. The DEA has been trying to get someone inside for the last three months, but the club only hires women and their client selection process has somehow managed to weed out all of the DEA’s undercover operatives,” he said frustration clear in his voice. “They are asking for our help.”


“Seems like we’ve been helping the DEA an awful lot lately,” Josiah intoned softly.


“Surely,” Ezra spoke up, “they have female agents who could go in as part of the staff.”


Travis nodded wearily. “They’ve sent a couple in, but they either weren’t ‘acceptable’ or were fired shortly after being hired. We suspect an inside leak,” he admitted.


“No one was hurt, I hope,” Nathan said.


“Fortunately, no. they just seem to be very good at spotting cops and keeping a lid on their operations. Agent Stypes was pretty impressed with your team. He suggested we might work together again.” Travis looked at Standish. “Do you think you could get in?”


Ezra looked up at the judge. “Just how many agents have the DEA tried to send in to date?”


Travis shifted in his chair. “Five. Two women and three men, who applied for club memberships.”


“Wonderful,” Ezra drawled sarcastically as he opened his folder and started to read the file. “Give me some time to study the situation,” he said.


“When…” Travis started, only to be interrupted by Ezra’s raised hand.


“I’ll let you know as soon as I know,” he replied without lifting his eyes.


The rest of the team and Judge Travis watched Ezra for several minutes until he looked up and sighed. “You may as well get on with some other business, gentlemen. It will take me at least a few hours to sort through this mess.”


Chris stood. “Let us know if you need anything.”


Ezra nodded, but was already engrossed in the file again before the others even made it out the door.




Ezra exited the elevator and adjusted the stack of files in his arms to make sure he wouldn’t drop them. He crossed the lobby to the security desk and waited for the guard to finish his phone call.


“May I help you?” the guard asked, looking up from the desk.


“Yes,” Ezra replied pleasantly. “I need to arrange for a guest pass. I have a friend coming into town in a day or so.”


“Okay,” the man said pulling out a form. “May I see your ID?”


Ezra set the files on the desk and pulled out his wallet and badge. The guard filled out the information then handed the items back to him. “All right, Agent Standish. What’s your friend's name?”


“Evelyn Sanders.”


“Okay, she’ll need to check in here for her visitors pass and show appropriate ID. You want us to call you when she gets here?” the guard asked.


“No, that’s all right,” Ezra said with a smile. “She knows the way.”




Ezra walked across to Buck’s desk and dropped the envelope onto the surface in front of the other agent. “Congratulations, Mr. Wilmington. You are now a member of ‘the’ most exclusive men’s club in Colorado,” he said with a cocky grin.


Buck picked up the envelope. “What are you talking about, Ez?” He opened the envelope and pulled out an ID card with his name on it. Eagle’s Nest Men’s Club was emblazoned across the card in gold lettering. He was member number 2008. “How? Better yet, why?”


“It’s all part of the plan, my dear sir,” Ezra said enigmatically. He turned on his heel and strode back to his desk, smiling at the sound of Buck’s spluttered confusion.


Chris heard Ezra’s announcement through his open door and joined Buck and the others as they gathered around the undercover man’s desk. “What’s this all about, Ezra?”


“Mr. Larabee,” Ezra greeted with another cocky smile. “As I said, it’s part of the plan.”


“How does having Buck go in, as himself,” JD emphasized, “do us any good?”


“It’s a diversion,” Josiah said with a broad grin.


“You are quite correct, Mr. Sanchez,” Ezra answered. “Part of our problem is that they are expecting us. So why not give them what they expect? Having a man go in under a false name will not work. They fingerprint the prospective members and employees.”


“What?” Larabee snapped. “That’s not in any of the reports.”


Ezra grinned. “No, it’s not. They don’t do it legally. I have a… an acquaintance who is a member. I was able to ask a few discreet questions.”


“So why Buck?” Nathan asked. “Why not just get the membership for yourself?”


“I’m the ‘undercover’ agent in the group,” Ezra replied with aplomb.


“So?” Vin said. “How are you going to get in? Go undercover in drag?” he asked with a snort.


“I’ve done it before,” Ezra said, his eyes twinkling at the challenge.


“That I’d like to see,” Buck guffawed.


“Surely, you gentlemen, don’t doubt my ability after Devareaux?” Ezra asked sounding slightly hurt.


“Of course not,” Chris assured, “but you’ve got to admit, going under as a woman in a men’s club is a whole different thing from playing an overweight, bigoted jackass.”


“I disagree,” Ezra said. “It’s all a matter of playing a part. Male, female… as long as the character is believable, I can pull it off.”


The others chuckled.


“Sorry, Ezra,” Josiah apologized, a smile still on his face, “but I just can’t quite see you as a woman.” He gave the universal hand movement indicating a woman’s curves. “You just aren’t the right shape.”


“So, if I understand you gentlemen,” Ezra contemplated aloud, “you don’t believe I could portray a woman and successfully fool a man.”


JD snickered. “Yep, sorry, Ez. I just don’t think it’s possible.”


Vin crossed his arms, a frown creased his brow as he watched Ezra carefully.


“Would you care to make a small wager?” Ezra asked.


“We’re federal agents, Ezra,” Larabee reminded. “We aren’t supposed to gamble, especially on the clock.”


“Not for money, Mr. Larabee,” Ezra assured, “but perhaps the losers would finance dinner for the winners,” he suggested.


Buck’s eyebrows rose in expectation. He exchanged a glance with Nathan. This could be their chance to get Ezra to go out with the rest of the team again. “Hey, I’m game.”


“Me too,” Nathan said, “but I say Ez succeeds.”


“No way,” Buck countered.


Josiah grabbed a pad of paper and started to write down the wagers. “JD?” he asked.


“No,” JD said, shaking his head.




“Yes,” Vin said meeting Ezra’s amused green gaze.


“Chris?” Josiah asked.


Chris looked at Ezra for a long moment. The agent stared back challengingly. Larabee thought back to the first time he’d seen Andrew Devareaux. Well, damn. I think he just might be able to pull it off. “Yes,” he said finally.


“Okay, and ‘no’ for me” and I’m assuming ‘yes’ for Ezra,” Ezra nodded, “so that’s three ‘no, he can’t pull it off’ and four ‘yes, he can’s.’ Where do we want to eat?” Josiah asked the group at large.


“Chez Richard’s,” Ezra suggested.


“Whoa, pard,” Buck contested, “that’s a bit rich for my blood.”


“I thought you were confident of a win?” Ezra challenged.


“Yeah, well, that’s true, but I don’t want to bankrupt you guys,” Buck hedged.


“How about the Saloon?” Vin suggested. “It’s close, the prices are reasonable and Inez’s chef is a great cook.”


“The Saloon?” Ezra exclaimed with dismay.


Vin slapped him on the shoulder. “Ah, come on, Ez, admit it, you liked it.”


Ezra let his shoulders slump just a bit. “Oh, very well. But the loser picks up the tab for the alcohol as well, then.”


“Deal!” Buck said sticking his hand out.


Ezra shook it with a gleam in his eye that made Buck’s broad smile slip just a bit.




Buck heard the click of high heels on the floor and looked up from his desk. He noted, out of the corner of his eye, that his other teammates had also turned their attention to the newcomer. Buck barely heard the low whistle from Josiah as he was too busy drinking in the sight before him.


Shoulder length auburn waves brushed her shoulders. She walked confidently into the office, then stopped and looked around. Her shoulders lifted slightly as she huffed in disappointment at not finding what she sought. Her tailored, cream jacket and calf-length skirt were attractively set off by the deep green, form fitting turtleneck sweater that the lady filled out quite pleasingly. Strong, shapely calves peaked out from the hem of the skirt leading to a pair of pumps that brought her close to six feet in height.


Buck was on his feet and moving toward her before anyone else could stand. “May I help you?” he asked, his voice deepening slightly.


Dark brown eyes looked up at him, long lashes brushing her cheeks briefly as she blinked in surprise. “I’m looking for Ezra Standish,” she replied in a breathy alto.


Buck’s lips quirked into a friendly smile. “Well, little lady, he’s not here at the moment. Maybe I can help you,” he added hopefully.


“Oh,” she pouted at the news. “Well, I guess I’ll just have to leave a message. I’m only in town for a short time. Ezra knew I was coming in. He left me this pass downstairs.” She caught her lower lip in her teeth for a second then sighed. “Would you tell him Evie dropped in? I’ll leave my cell number, if you have something to write on.”


“Sure thing. Evie?” Buck inquired.


“Yes, Evelyn Sanders,” she replied with a smile and held her hand out.


“Buck Wilmington, at your service, ma’am,” he said taking her well manicured hand and raising it to his lips for a kiss.


“Oh my,” she said softly. “A true gentleman, in this day and age,” she teased playfully.


Buck grinned and released her hand regretfully then grabbed a pen and notepad from the closest desk.


The rest of the team watched with various expressions of mirth. Buck’s charm seemed to work on almost any woman he came in contact with. This Evie didn’t seem to be immune. They all wondered how she knew Ezra.


Buck let Evie write a quick note for Ezra then addressed her again. “I’m not sure when Ezra will be in. He’s working on a very important case. If you’re only in town for a while, maybe I could take you to lunch. It’s seems a shame for you to waste a trip,” he suggested smoothly.


Evie looked Buck up and down appreciatively for a moment. “Well, I did make reservations at Chez Richard’s for lunch. I’d hoped to steal Ezra away for a few hours…”


Vin sat up straight in his chair and took a closer look at Miss Evie.


Buck tugged at the collar of his polo shirt. “Don’t know that I’m appropriately dressed for Chez Richard’s,” he said a bit sheepishly. He knew they required a tie and jacket.


“Ez keeps a change of clothes in his locker,” Vin chimed in, grinning wickedly. “I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if you borrowed a shirt and jacket. Heck, he probably has a tie in there too.”


Evie flashed a quick indecipherable look at Vin before turning a brilliant smile on Buck. “Why that’s a wonderful idea, Buck,” she said, dropping her voice seductively on his name. “I know Ezra wouldn’t mind, since he can’t be here to escort me himself.” She took a step closer and laid her hand on Buck’s forearm.


“Ah, well, okay,” Buck said with a pleased smile. “Just give me a minute to change.”


Evie nodded and watched Buck leave the room before turning to face Vin with a glare.


“If he damages my shirt, Mr. Tanner, you are replacing it,” Evie said in Ezra’s voice.


JD had been leaning back in his chair watching Buck and Evie. At the sudden change in the lady, he jerked forward and the chair slid out from under him sending the young agent to the floor.


“Really, Mr. Dunne,” Ezra said. “You need to cultivate a little grace under pressure.”


“Ezra?” JD squeaked.


Nathan laughed out loud. “Are you going to take Buck to lunch, Evie?” he asked, grinning madly.


Ezra rolled his eyes. “Chez Richard’s would be wasted on Mr. Wilmington,” he admonished jokingly.


“Wow,” Josiah exclaimed under his breath. “I apologize, Ezra. I…” the profiler shook his head as he took in the disguised undercover agent. “Bravo.”


Ezra curtsied and gave that cocky grin then tilted his head toward Chris’ office. “Is Mr. Larabee in?”


Josiah nodded and smiled. “Leave the door open would you?”


Ezra winked and sashayed to the door. He gave the door a couple of light raps and pulled his shoulders back. Chris called ‘come’ and Ezra shook back his hair then entered the office.


Larabee looked up at the stranger. “May I help you?” he asked, standing to greet the lady.


“I do hope so, Mr. Larabee,” Evie exclaimed worriedly. “My name is Evelyn Sanders. I’m a very old friend of Ezra’s.”


“Not that old,” Chris grinned, enjoying the view.


She tilted her head in thanks. “I’ve been looking for Ezra every where and I just can’t find him. He told me to meet him here for lunch, he left a visitors pass and everything, but he’s nowhere to be found.”


Chris frowned. Come to think of it, he hadn’t seen the Southerner all morning. “I know he’s doing some research for a case,” he said heading for the door. He walked out into the bullpen. “Have any of you seen Ezra this morning?”


Eyebrows rose all around the room.


“Um…” Vin said.


“Not precisely,” Josiah covered.


“What do you mean, not precisely?” Chris asked, his frown deepening.


“Well,” Nathan started.


“We talked to him,” JD added quickly.


Chris sighed with relief. “Well, okay. When is he coming in?”


At that moment Buck walked back in, squirming just a bit as he tried to settle the material of Ezra’s shirt and coat. They fit, but only just. He tugged at the sleeves which were a bit short.


Evie moved in beside Chris and looped her arm in his.


Chris tossed a quick glance at the woman missing the quickly covered smirks and smiles on the other agents’ faces.


“Evie?” Buck frowned. “Are you ready for lunch?”


Chris sent a confused look at his old friend. “I thought she was looking for Ezra?” His gaze shifted back down to Evie who had suddenly rested her head against his arm.


“I’m sorry, Buck,” she purred. “I’ve decided to take Mr. Larabee instead. I do love a man in black.”


This was too much for the others. JD and Josiah whooped loudly and started to laugh. Nathan tried to maintain dignity, but his chuckles were just as out of control. Vin merely leaned over his desk, his shaking shoulders the only sign of his amusement.


Chris shrugged out of Evie’s grasp. “What the hell is going on here?”


“That’s what I want to know,” Buck demanded casting a confused glance at Evie.


The woman smirked and lifted one foot to remove her shoe. “Well, Mr. Wilmington, Mr. Larabee,” Ezra said removing the second shoe and wiggling his stocking clad toes as he met their gazes. “I was just testing my disguise. I presume Evie passed with flying colors?”


Buck’s face paled then turned bright red. “You… She… Oh my God!” he stuttered, running a hand through his hair.


Chris stared at his undercover agent as he shook his head. “I had a feeling you would pull it off somehow. I never imagined…” he trailed off as he realized the amount of admiration in his voice. Chris cleared his throat. “All right, boys… and ladies,” he added with a cheeky grin at Ezra. “Let’s get back to work.”


Ezra grinned and saluted Larabee with a tip of an imaginary hat.


“Ezra,” Chris said tipping his head toward his office.


Ezra nodded and followed his boss into the lion’s den. Buck recovered from his embarrassment and entered just a few steps behind Ezra.


“Where did you learn to flirt like that?” Buck demanded.


Standish turned and lifted one eyebrow. “I had a wonderful teacher, one of the best.”


“Hell,” Chris exclaimed, “every agent in the business should take that class.” He tore his gaze away from Ezra’s ensemble and met amused brown eyes. It was disconcerting not to see Ezra’s usual green.


“I’m afraid she’s not sanctioned to teach,” Ezra admitted.


Buck and Chris frowned.


Ezra let a small sigh slip out as he set his shoes down on the chair. “I had ample opportunity to watch an expert at work, gentlemen. My mother has been married five times.”


“You learned that from your mother?!” Buck exclaimed. He flopped into the nearest chair and just sat shaking his head.


Ezra grinned, then turned a more serious look on Larabee. “You wanted to see me about something?”


Larabee bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing at his old friend. Buck looked like - well, he couldn’t find a good description. Needless to say, the ladies man had had quite a shock. Chris looked Ezra in the eye. “I would like to have Judge Travis meet Ms. Sanders.”


“Now?” Ezra asked, contemplating the possibilities.


“Oh yeah,” Chris grinned evilly.


The undercover agent’s face quickly mirrored Larabee’s.




Several days later


“Mr. Davis? It’s Pat, I have that information you were looking for... Yes, sir, the fingerprints match. Evelyn Sanders, age 34. She’s been working in various singing spots for the last few years. Before that she majored in theatre at a school back East… Yes, sir. Thank you sir, you have a nice day now.”




“So, Buck,” Josiah asked, leaning his elbows on his desk. “How are you enjoying your club membership?”


Buck leaned back in his chair and grinned. “I gotta tell you, Josiah, I wouldn’t mind it if this case stretched out just a bit longer. They’ve got some very talented dancers out there.” His eyes grew a bit distant as he recalled the show from the night before.


Chris and Ezra had insisted that Buck’s presence be firmly ensconced at Eagle’s Nest before Evie made her appearance. So, for the last week, Buck had done his duty and gone to the Eagle’s Nest for a little entertainment. He’d seen no sign of the suspected drug deals, but then, they hadn’t expected him to. Buck was merely the distraction and inside backup in case Ezra got into trouble.


Ezra entered the bullpen and greeted his fellow agents with a sly smile.


Buck sat forward and chuckled. “Evie got in,” he stated certainly.


“But of course,” Ezra replied. “Someone has already checked her background and found just what we wanted them to.”


Josiah frowned. “They checked your fingerprints?” he asked, concerned.


“No,” Ezra said with a shake of his head. “They checked Evelyn Sanders fingerprints.”


JD stood up and moved to the front of his desk. He cocked one hip on the edge as he posed the question everyone wanted the answer to. “How did your fingerprints turn up Evelyn Sanders information?”


The undercover agent simply raised his eyebrows. “That, Mr. Dunne, is a trade secret. Now if you don’t mind, I need to make a report to Mr. Larabee.” And with that, Ezra strode past the rest of the team and to their boss’s office.


“How could he do something like that?” JD asked aloud, not expecting an answer. The others were just as confused. Ezra seemed to be working on a level that none of them had experienced in an undercover agent before.


“I’m not sure we want to know,” Vin said softly, his eyes watching Larabee’s closed door.




Buck sat with five of his coworkers at their table at Inez’s Saloon. Evie had the night off, so Buck had taken the opportunity to relax with the team. Ezra had bowed out, claiming he needed the rest.


It was probably true. The undercover agent had spent the last five evenings as Evie Sanders, singing for the ‘boys’ at the club. Buck had to give it to Ezra, the man was good at his job. If Buck didn’t know it was his friend behind those big brown eyes…


Buck shuddered a bit as he realized just how close he’d come to propositioning Ezra that first day he’d met Evie. The ladies man looked around the table and saw Chris’ amused grin.


He shrugged. “You guys really gotta see Ez in action. He deserves an Emmy or something for this performance. He’s got every one of the men in that place hankering for Evie Sanders.”


“Every one, Buck?” Nathan teased.


“Hell, Nate,” Buck replied with a rueful grin. “You saw Evie. I can’t hardly reconcile the two and I know it’s Ezra.”


The others chuckled, but had to admit, at least to themselves, that Ezra’s disguise was… something else.


“No sign of any deals yet?” Chris asked again.


“No. Ezra’s been doing a bit of subtle poking around,” Buck said. “According to him, some of the girls are using.”


“You two be careful,” Chris admonished, swirling his drink slowly. He looked at JD. “He’s wearing his wire, right?”


“Yeah,” JD replied with a slight blush. Once again the theatre prosthetics Ezra wore to ‘fill out’ his costume provided the perfect cover for the listening device. JD squirmed a bit as he recalled placing the bug into the fake breasts. They’d felt… almost real.


“You all right, son?” Josiah asked with a smile.


“Yeah, sure,” JD said taking a quick slurp of his beer. “There’s no way anyone’s gonna find that wire.”


“Well, at least as long as there’s no ‘hanky-panky,’” Buck drawled, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.




Ezra pulled off his high heels and padded down the hall. He stopped at the door to his dressing room and looked both ways down the hall. No one was in sight. He jogged quickly to another door and tried the handle. Locked.


Matthew Davis, the club’s owner, was supposed to be out tonight for the first time since Evie started working. Ezra hoped to take advantage of the event to peruse Davis’ office.


He slipped a set of picks out of his wig and proceeded to unlock the door. Ezra slipped inside and locked the door behind him. After replacing the picks, he pulled up the edge of his skirt and removed a small, flat flashlight from the hem line.


The top of the desk was fairly barren. A phone, pad of paper and pencil holder. He sat down in the chair and slid his hands over the top of the desk. Ezra smiled to himself then checked under the desk. His fingers found a well-concealed button which he pushed.


A portion of the top of the desk slid away and a computer monitor rose from within. The ‘drawer’ below opened to reveal the keyboard and mouse. The monitor came to life. Evidently the button had turned on the entire system.


Ezra frowned when a password screen came up. He tapped his fingers thoughtfully on the desk then went through the drawers looking for the code or some other useful information. Nothing. His eyes landed on the keyboard. Surely not. Ezra flipped the key board over and shook his head. Davis needed to be more careful if he expected his security measures to work. The agent entered the password he’d found and started searching the directories.


Ten minutes later Evie was back on stage starting her last set.




The next morning, Ezra sat nursing his coffee in the conference room waiting for the others to arrive for the meeting. Normally he would have been asleep after working all night, but today he had to let his team know what was going on at the club.


“You all right, Ez?” Nathan asked, taking a seat beside the undercover man.


Ezra looked up and gave him a small smile. “Ah, Mr. Jackson. I’m fine. I just need to catch up on some beauty rest.”


Nathan chuckled. “You’ve got Buck in a tizzy, you know? He can’t stop talking about your… Evie’s performances,” he added with a wicked grin.


Ezra grinned back. “Poor Mr. Wilmington. Perhaps he should visit the local psychologist to clear up his confusion.”


“I ain’t confused, Ez,” Buck denied, taking the chair on the other side of Ezra. He leaned into the other man’s space. “I know a cute little filly when I see one,” he said, staring intensely into Ezra’s green eyes.


Ezra felt the blush creep into his cheeks and knew Wilmington had gotten him back, but good. “Unfortunately, Mr. Wilmington,” he replied with as much dignity as possible, “I don’t date co-workers.”


Buck straightened up in his chair and suddenly burst out laughing. He slapped Ezra on the back as he shook his head. “You’re all right, Ez.”


Ezra managed to keep his coffee from splashing as the force of Buck’s friendly slap jolted him forward. He sent an irritated glare at the man, but it held no ire. In his own, annoying way, Buck was showing himself to be someone Ezra could rely on.


Chris herded the rest of the team in and closed the door. “What do you have for us Ezra?” he asked as he sat down. He hated waiting and that was all most of them had been able to do for the last week and a half. At least Buck had gotten some enjoyment out of the assignment.


“I was able to get into Davis’ office last night. Although he has done a splendid job of keeping his dealings hidden until now, he has no concept of computer security.” Ezra slid the folder in front of him across the table to Chris. “Here is a list of people he’s buying from and a list of clients. All members in the club, as well as a few employees.


As far as I can tell from his records, Davis gets a large shipment of drugs in every two weeks or so. Each one from a different supplier with a different product. He likes to be able to give his clients a choice of their preferred poison,” Ezra grimaced.


“When’s the next drop?” Chris asked, studying the file.


“In two days,” Ezra supplied. “Unfortunately, I am not scheduled to work that day.”


Chris looked up. “Well, get scheduled,” he said sharply.


“It’s not that easy,” Ezra admitted with a sigh. “Davis does all the scheduling and doesn’t allow the girls to swap time slots without his direct approval.” He shrugged.


“Can you convince one of the other performers to ask to switch with you?” Josiah suggested.


“I’ve tried,” Ezra replied, frustrated. “I even offered monetary reimbursement. He’s got them scared to death. I haven’t seen any signs of violence, but I suspect Davis is not above using it to maintain discipline in the ranks.”


“We could make sure one of the girls can’t make it to work,” JD offered. “A flat tire, maybe.”


“There is no guarantee that I will be called to cover the absence, Mr. Dunne,” Ezra advised. “In fact, I believe that the mere fact that Evie is such a new employee would preclude Davis asking me to fill in.”


Larabee stared at Ezra expectantly. Ezra stared back and finally, after taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly, he spoke. “I plan to ‘forget’ something in my dressing room the night before. Perhaps,” he stressed, “that may give me the opportunity to remain at the club and witness the transaction.”


“Good,” Chris said. “Buck, get there early. We’ll set up at that restaurant down the street with the surveillance van. Vin, fill in Stypes and check with Kasinsky for me, see if his team is free to back us up.”


Vin nodded.


Larabee turned his attention back to his undercover agent. “You ready for this?”


Ezra nodded. “I am going home now to rest. When I leave tonight I’ll leave something then drop by the night of the meet to pick it up. I’ll arrive at the club around 7:15. Only the women that are working are allowed into the club before seven, so it won’t be suspicious if I show up a little after that.”


Chris nodded. “What’s our cue to come in?” he asked, looking at both Buck and Ezra.


Buck waved a hand at Ezra. “You’re the one with all the good lines,” he teased.


Ezra smirked.





The rest of the team spent the next few days researching the names on the list Ezra had provided from Davis’ computer. The suspected dealer of the day was one John Valdez. Vin took the information to Ezra around four PM the day of the meet, then amused the others with his tale of catching the undercover agent in the middle of getting ‘made up.’


Buck was at the Eagle’s Nest when the doors opened, pretending to drink and enjoy the floor show while he waited for Valdez to make an appearance. Wilmington watched as Evie entered the building around 7:20 and made her way past the restrooms and through the ‘staff only’ door. He lifted his club soda to his lips. “Ezra’s here,” he spoke softly before taking a sip.


Ezra had given them the general layout of the area beyond the closed door. There were six doors off the long hallway including Davis’ office, two dressing rooms, a back door to the stage, a broom closet and the back door to the building. They figured the deal would go down out behind the building, but it might happen in Davis’ office.


Buck would keep an eye on the front and Ezra would be waiting in the dressing room watching the hall with a fiber optic telescope slipped under the door. He’d be able to give the signal for the teams to move in and make the arrest if the men stayed inside. Vin and Josiah were watching the back door.


Davis is here,” JD announced on the com. Sure enough, the owner walked through the front door seconds later and after stopping to grab a bottle and two glasses he made his way through the door to the back.


You got him, Ez?” Buck asked, ‘sipping’ at his drink again.


Yes,” Ezra replied. “He’s gone into his office. Did you see a man exit the door earlier?”


Buck frowned briefly. “No.


He must have gone backstage,” Ezra said, puzzled. “I did not recognize him.”


No one came out the back,” Vin reported.


Keep an eye out for him,” Ezra requested. “Early thirties, short brown hair, about six foot two, two-hundred-thirty pounds, wearing jeans and a blue shirt with a dark tie and jacket.


It was almost eight-thirty before JD spoke again. “Valdez just got out of his car. He’s carrying a large duffle bag.


Buck clapped and hollered along with the other club members as the current act exited the stage, but his attention was on John Valdez as he entered the room. The drug dealer spoke to the bartender and then headed back to the ‘staff only’ door. “He’s headed in, Ez.”


Got him. He’s going into Davis’ office,” Ezra advised. “No, wait, they’ve both left the office and are heading down the hall. Watch the exit, Vin.”


The exit door was at the very end of the hall and the angle was such that Ezra couldn’t see the door with the telescope unless he pushed it out into the hallway.


No one has come out yet,” Josiah reported.


They’ve had ample time,” Ezra said.


Buck stood and headed for the door. “I’m coming in.


Be careful, Buck,” Chris said.


Buck slowly pulled the door open and peeked into the hall. “There’s no one in sight.” He glanced back and saw that no one was paying attention to him, then slipped in and closed the door. “Ez, have any of the girls been back here to change tonight?”


No,” Ezra replied. “They are using the other dressing room. It has a door connecting right off the back stage area.”


Buck checked the door to Davis’ office and found it locked. So was the door leading to back stage and the second dressing room. “He’s made sure no one will accidentally stumble on the meeting,” he whispered into his com. “Isn’t it kinda strange that there’re only two doors on the one side of the hall? Is the other dressing room bigger, Ez?”


Ezra paused slightly before answering. “No, it is the same size. Brilliant observation, Mr. Wilmington.”


The ladies man grinned at the praise as he examined the wall where a seventh door should be.


Ezra adjusted his telescope to get a view of Buck at the end of the hall. He was just in time to see the ‘wall’ open and Mr. Wilmington be pulled inside. “Code red. I repeat, code red. They have Buck,” Ezra explained as he jerked the telescope back and opened the door. He pulled his gun and ran down the hall to the secret door. After a few seconds he figured out how to release the mechanism and shouldered the door open, his weapon at the ready.


The large stranger Ezra had seen earlier had Buck bent over a table with a gun to his head. Valdez stood to the side holding a briefcase to his chest. Davis had his back to Ezra and pointed a gun at Buck as well.


Ezra moved quickly and put his gun against Davis’ back. “Nobody move, ATF. Raise your hands and keep them where I can see them.”


All three men raised their hands. Valdez lifted the briefcase as well, not willing to put his money down.


Buck stood and took the gun from the big guy. “Nice timing,” he said with a smile.


“You’re welcome,” Ezra replied taking the gun from Davis’ right hand. He kept his weapon firmly to the manager’s back. “Get down on your knees and put your hands behind your head,” Ezra ordered. He could hear footsteps in the hall and knew backup was only seconds away.


Davis glanced over his shoulder. “What the hell? Evie?”


Ezra grinned sardonically.


“You bitch!”


“You wound me,” Ezra purred. “Get on your knees.”


Davis started to kneel then seemed to lose his balance. Ezra instinctively reached for his arm. The owner of the Eagle’s Nest spun suddenly to his left knocking Ezra’s gun hand to one side and brought his right hand up and around in a slashing arc.


Ezra’s vision was suddenly obscured by a haze of red. He grabbed blindly at Davis’ right hand. Ezra’s gun went flying when his hands abruptly made contact with Davis’s. A fiery pain erupted in his face preventing Ezra from being able to do more than simply hold on to Davis’s arm and try to keep it away from his head.


Davis took advantage of his opponent’s pain and jabbed Ezra in the side with his left fist. Ezra grunted but did not let go. He knew Davis had some kind of weapon in the hand he held, a weapon that could do more damage than any fist - especially when Ezra couldn’t see to defend himself.


Suddenly other bodies were around them and Davis was gone. Ezra pushed away from the shadowy figures. He could see out of his right eye, but the pain in the left made everything fuzzy.


“Easy, Ezra,” Nathan’s voice finally cut through the fog. “Let me see. No, keep your hands down.”


“Nathan?” Chris asked, moving closer to the pair as the DEA agents took over the scene.


“We need to get him to the hospital,” the medic said, his voice carefully neutral.


“How bad is it?” Ezra whispered, afraid to ask.


“Well, now,” Nathan said calmly, helping guide Ezra out into the hall, “you know the face bleeds a lot, even with a small cut, Ez. And right now, that’s about all I can see is blood. We’ll have to wait ‘til the doctor can clean it up.”


“Is Buck all right?” Ezra inquired, turning to try and find the ladies man.


“Right here, pard. You just do what Nathan tells you.”


“The ambulance should be here in a couple of minutes,” JD said, casting a worried look at Ezra.


“Wait,” Ezra said as Nathan tried to keep him moving.


“Now don’t argue, Ezra, you have to see a doctor.”


“It’s not that,” Ezra explained. “But I’d prefer to lose my disguise before…”


Nathan stopped and looked his friend up and down, just now realizing that Ezra was still dressed as Evie. He chuckled. “Well, yeah, that might be a good idea.”


Ezra grinned then grimaced as pain radiated from his cheek to his eye. His heart was hammering, despite Nathan’s assurances. He’d been cut often enough to know a serious injury from a minor one. Nevertheless, he had an image to protect. “Perhaps Mr. Dunne would be so kind as to assist me, since he’s already familiar with the applications.”


JD blushed furiously as the rest of the team laughed. Granted the laughter had an edge to it, but it still helped reduce the tension, as Ezra had intended. JD looked around and saw the effect Ezra’s comment had on his friends. The computer tech took a deep breath and walked over to the injured man. He placed his hand on Ezra’s shoulder and squeezed gently. “Sure, Ez. Anytime. I’ll be glad to help you.” He took Ezra’s other arm and helped Nathan take the shaky undercover man into the dressing room.


JD backed up to give Ezra some space. Ezra gave the younger man a nod and started to unbutton his shirt. Though his vision was still not clear he could see the others milling around. With a careful smirk he addressed them. “This isn’t a peep show, gentlemen. A little privacy, please?”


That earned another chuckle and the rest of the team filed out. Nathan turned at the door. “Sit down before you fall down, Ez,” he instructed.


“Yes, mother,” Ezra replied, but allowed JD to help him into a nearby chair. Nathan nodded and closed the door behind him.


“That looks like it hurts bad,” JD said as he helped the undercover agent remove his shirt.


“Your observations are quite correct, Mr. Dunne,” Ezra said through gritted teeth. He concentrated on removing his costume, and simply redressed in the jeans and shirt he’d worn as Evie. While they didn’t fit Ezra properly, they would do until he could get home. “Would you mind taking care of these things for me? I’d hate to lose such valuable tools.”


“Of course,” JD said looking around for something to put the prosthetics in. He found a bag and packed the items then turned back to Ezra. “You want me to get Nathan? Or help you outside?”


“I think I’ll just sit here until the ambulance arrives, JD,” Ezra answered wearily. Just the thought of standing made him nauseous.


“Okay, I’ll tell the others.” JD opened the door and stopped. The other five men were waiting right outside. “Guess you heard, huh?”


“Yeah,” Buck said reaching for the bag. “I’ll take care of this.”


“No, that’s okay,” JD said, “I’ve got it.”


Buck looked the younger man in the eye for a moment then nodded. He lifted his gaze to see how Ezra was doing. Nathan knelt beside him, carefully wiping some of the blood from the injured man’s face. He gently placed a large pad against the side of Ezra’s face and let him hold it in place.


“Where’s the injured party?” a voice said from behind Buck. He turned to see two paramedics. “Do we need a gurney?”


“Yeah, he’s a bit wobbly from shock and blood loss, I’d guess,” Buck advised.


The second medic nodded and they both jogged back down the hall.


Buck stuck his head into the room. “Ambulance is here, they’re bringing a gurney.”


“I can walk,” Ezra claimed as he pushed himself up from the chair.


Nathan caught his arm as Ezra’s knees started to give out. “Sure you can. And in a little while you’ll be able to fly too.”


JD chuckled at Ezra’s grimace, but the undercover agent didn’t put up any further argument. The paramedics returned and loaded Ezra onto the gurney.


“We’ll see you at the hospital, Ezra,” Chris said as they wheeled Ez down the hall.


Ezra lifted his free hand and gave a little wave.


Nathan watched with worried eyes.




“How bad is it, Nathan?” Buck asked as they all piled into the surveillance van. He could pick up his car later. Actually, they’d need to get Ezra’s too.


“Like I told Ez, I really couldn’t tell under all the blood,” Nathan said. He paused for a moment then continued, “But the cut started above his eye and slashed down along his cheek, almost to his ear. I don’t know if his eye was injured or how deep the cut is.”


“He didn’t even make a sound when Davis cut him,” Buck said, mostly to himself.


“That’s not surprising,” Nathan said. “Between the adrenalin from the fight and the surprise of the attack, he probably doesn’t even recall getting injured… just the pain after the fact.”


“What was he cut with, anyway?” Buck asked. “I never saw it coming.”


“It was a box opener,” Vin supplied quietly.


“Good Lord,” Josiah sighed.




Six of the seven man team sat, stood or paced in the waiting room while the doctor treated their injured seventh. Each of them recalled the last time they’d been to the hospital, also waiting for news on the undercover agent. Last time the injury had been potentially life-threatening. This time they knew Ezra would live, but not how the injury would affect his life.


A woman in scrubs came out of the treatment area. “I’m Dr. Lewis. Who’s here for Ezra Standish?”


“That would be us,” Chris advised. He met her halfway. “How is he?”


She tilted her head briefly to one side. “I’ve called in a consult with a plastic surgeon and an ophthalmologist. The swelling around his eye is keeping me from examining the eye itself. There is a cut on the eyelid, but I can’t tell if it’s gone all the way through or not.” She licked her lips and continued. “The cut is deep in places. I don’t believe there’s been irreparable damage to any of the facial nerves, but it’s hard to tell. I want Newman and Becker to look at the injury before we decide what course of action to take.”


“How soon will you be able to tell about his eye?” Nathan asked.


“We’ve got to get the swelling down a bit. We’re using cold packs at the moment.”


“Shouldn’t you sew it up now?” Buck asked.


The doctor shook her head. “If I do a patch job, it’ll cause scarring that would just need to be fixed later. I’m hoping the surgeon may be able to do the job right the first time and avoid Mr. Standish having to go under for further corrective surgery.” She sighed. “It still may be necessary, but I’m hopeful.”


“When can we see him?” Vin asked.


“As long as you don’t get him over excited,” she cautioned, “I’ll let you visit for a few minutes. The surgeons will be down within the half hour.” She pointed them through to the examination room.


“Thank you,” Buck said with a sincere smile.


“You’re welcome,” the doctor smiled back.




Ezra turned his head slightly, careful to keep the pressure of the ice pack steady against his face as he saw the rest of his team enter the room. He suppressed a sigh. “There is no reason for you to hang about looking like a bunch of lost puppies. The doctor has assured me that…”


“Ezra,” Chris interrupted, “she told us what’s going on.”


Ezra relaxed deeper into the pillow propped behind his back. “I believe that’s a breech of doctor/patient confidentiality,” he said without rancor.


“Nope,” Chris argued. “I’m your boss. I have a right to know. It says so in your contract.”


“I don’t remember reading that,” Ezra countered.


“Yeah, well, you’re not exactly up to par at the moment, are you?” Chris parried.


Ezra lifted one eyebrow as he met Larabee’s gaze, then closed his good right eye. He just didn’t have the energy to match wits at the moment. His entire world was being turned upside down and he couldn’t handle pity from these men right now.


“Now, now, brother Ezra,” Josiah said, patting Ezra on the leg. “Don’t count your chickens. Let’s wait to see what the surgeon says.”


Ezra opened his eye and stared at the older agent. “Why on earth would I want to tally fowl that I don’t own in the first place?”


Josiah chuckled, earning a slight eye roll from Ezra. “You don’t have to try so hard, Ez. We know you’re hurting.” The profiler caught Ezra’s gaze with his own until he saw the younger man concede. “We’re here for you, son. Let us help.”


Ezra closed his eye and remained silent for a long while. He had not had anyone to depend on, to trust with his feelings for so long, that he wasn’t sure that he knew how anymore. He knew these six men would be there for him ‘on the job.’ He’d known that almost from the beginning, but to trust them with his heart, his soul? Ezra wasn’t quite ready to let anyone that close again.


He gave Josiah a small smile and simply said, “Thank you.” Let them think what they liked. Right now he only wanted to crawl into his den and lick his wounds.


The door opened and the emergency doctor came in with two other men.


“All right,” she said, “you’ve had your visit, now out. Doctors Newman and Becker need to look at the patient.”




Vin sat down beside Josiah in the waiting room. “He’s not ready to trust us yet,” he stated.


“I know,” Josiah replied. “But I had to let him know that the offer was out there. He’ll come around.”


“Yeah,” Vin sighed.




Ezra put on his best poker face as he waited for the doctors to finish their exams. Neither of them said much while they poked and prodded. The ER doctor stood in the background alternately watching her fellow physicians and Ezra. He ignored her ‘kind’ glances for the moment. He had to maintain his stoicism or he’d lose control.


“Well, gentlemen? What’s the verdict?” Ezra asked as calmly as he could.


Dr. Newman, the plastic surgeon, looked up from the pad he was making notes on. “I assume you want it straight, Mr. Standish?”


Ezra nodded.


Newman continued. “The cut above your eyebrow is deep and severed one of the facial nerves. It appears to be a clean cut though and should be easily repaired. I don’t foresee any loss of motion or sensitivity in that area. As for the cut on your cheek, it’s not as deep, but it is long. None of the tests I did indicate nerve damage, so the main challenge will be keeping the scarring to a minimum. It may require a second procedure if the scarring is too pronounced.” Dr. Newman glanced at Dr. Becker briefly. “The cut on your eyelid is more severe. It went all the way through the lid. Fortunately, the edge of the lid was not compromised, the cut is basically up and down in the center and I believe can be repaired without complication.”


The ophthalmologist stepped forward. “The damage to your eye is what has us the most concerned. I can see that there is a cut on the cornea, but until we have you under anesthesia, I can’t tell if it will need suturing or not.”


“Suture? My eye?” Ezra asked, startled by the revelation. “I didn’t know you could do that.”


“We can and do, but only if the cut is too long or deep,” Dr. Becker informed him. “With the blood and swelling around the eye, not to mention the pain my messing with it would cause,” he admitted candidly, “I can’t get a clear enough look. Once you’re under, we can clean the eye and I’ll do what I need to. The goal is to keep your eyesight as close to normal as possible. Dr. Newman will work his magic once I’m finished.”


Ezra frowned. “What exactly are the chances that I’ll lose my sight in this eye?” he asked worriedly.


Becker shook his head. “I really can’t say until I know what the real damage is. If it’s not too deep, it should heal fine. You may have a slight loss of clarity - maybe need reading glasses. But if it’s deeper and has penetrated the globe,” he paused as he held Ezra’s gaze, “the prognosis in that case is not good. However, from what little I can tell, I don’t believe the eye has been ruptured and that is good news.”


Ezra nodded slowly. “When do we get started?”


Dr. Newman gave Ezra a slight smile. “I’ll go arrange for an OR. We’ll get you set up and into surgery within the hour. The less time we wait, the better the results all around.”




Five hours later


“Mr. Larabee?” Dr. Becker asked.


Chris looked up in surprise. They’d been waiting so long that he’d actually dozed off. He stood. “Yes, Doctor? How is he?”


Becker smiled. “Everything went very well. The cornea on his left eye was cut, but it wasn’t severe enough to require suturing. We’ll keep the eye packed with antibiotic ointment and covered for a few days and see how it’s healing. Dr. Newman felt very good about the repairs to the laceration on his forehead, cheek and eyelid. Of course we’ll have to wait and see how the nerve regenerates above his eyebrow, but that shouldn’t cause too much trouble.”


“Is he awake?” Nathan asked.


“No,” Dr. Becker said shaking his head. “We just finished. Mr. Standish is in recovery. The nurse will let you know when he’s been moved to a room. I’ll check on him tomorrow afternoon to see how his eye is doing. As long as I like what I see and Dr. Newman approves, then he can be released.”


“That soon?” Buck asked, surprised.


“It wasn’t a life threatening injury,” Becker explained. “My main concern is that we don’t see any infection. He will need someone with him for a few days after he’s released. The blood loss, antibiotics and pain killers will leave Mr. Standish pretty loopy,” he said with a grin. “Not to mention the lack of depth perception with only one eye in use. No driving for sure.”


Chris nodded. “He can stay with me.”


Becker nodded. “If you have any questions, just ask the nurses. I’ll leave my card with his take home instructions. It’s imperative that you call me if any of the symptoms on the sheet occur. He could lose his sight if there’s infection.”


“Nathan here is a medic, doc,” Vin said. “He’ll keep an eye on Ezra’s eye,” he finished with a wry grin.


The doctor chuckled. “Good. Well, good day, gentlemen,” he added, then walked back the way he’d come.


“Getting Ez to agree to stay at the ranch should be fun,” Buck said slyly.


“Well,” Chris grumbled, “it’s either that, or one of us stays at his place again.”




The next morning


Ezra fought his way out of the darkness, trying to remember what had happened. He’d been undercover, Evelyn, drug deal, Davis… He frowned, then groaned as the motion made his face hurt. Ezra struggled to open his eyes, but couldn’t seem to get them to cooperate fully.


“Come on, Ez,” Buck’s voice urged. “Time to wake up.” He paused, then added, “he sure sleeps like a baby, don’t he?”


“You,” Ez started to say, then cleared his throat as the word came out hoarse.


“What was that, Ez?” Buck asked, leaning closer.


“You owe me dinner,” Ezra whispered, finally managing to get his right eye to open.


Buck’s mustached face cracked into a broad grin when he saw the green of Ezra’s eye. “Yeah, you got me there, pard. Once they let you out of this joint and you’re feeling up to it, we’ll settle that bet, okay?” Buck promised, squeezing Ezra shoulder gently.


Ezra nodded slightly. He moved his head and looked around to see that all of his teammates were sitting or standing in the room. “I’m fairly certain hospital policy does not allow this many visitors at one time,” he drawled softly.


“Yeah,” Chris agreed, “but we were armed.”


Ezra grinned, then grimaced at the pain in his cheek. He lifted a hand to the left side of his face and found bandages. “How…” he started, then faded off, not wanting to admit his fear.


“The doctors were pleased,” Nathan filled him in. “The ophthalmologist said that the cut on your eye should heal on its own, and he doesn’t think it will affect your vision much at all.”


“That’s a relief,” Ezra sighed, dropping his hand back to the bed as he yawned. The action pulled on the sutures in his cheek again. “And the other?” he asked reluctantly.


“Dr. Newman was happy with the results,” Nathan replied. “They’ll both be in to check on you later this afternoon.”


Ezra nodded, his eye slipping closed. He was still very tired. “You all don’t have to stay,” he mumbled as sleep started to take him once more.


“Yeah we do, Ez,” Vin told him, giving his leg a light pat. “Sleep. We’ll watch yer back for ya.”




Despite Vin’s words, they all couldn’t stay. There was work that needed to be done. Buck took the first shift while the others went back to the office to start the paperwork. JD ran by Ezra’s place and grabbed some clothes and toiletries for the undercover agent. Vin would take them to the hospital when he took over for Buck in a few hours.


Buck flipped through a few magazines then turned on the TV, keeping the sound low. About an hour later, he became aware that he was being watched. Buck grinned. “Hey, Ez. How ya doing?”


One green eye blinked. “Fine.” Ezra licked his lips.


“Want something to drink?” Buck asked reaching for the controls to the bed.




Buck raised the head of the bed so that Ezra was able to sit more upright then grabbed a cup from the bedside table and filled it with water. “Here you go,” he said keeping a helping hand on the cup while Ezra drank. “Not too fast, Hoss.”


“Thank you,” Ezra said when he finished. He looked up at Buck. “Were you injured?”


Buck blinked then shook his head. “A few bumps and bruises,” he grinned slightly. “Your timing was impeccable.”


Ezra nodded and closed his eye. “I’m poor company. I keep… falling… ‘sleep.”


Buck grinned fondly as the Southerner drifted back to sleep. “That’s okay, Ez.”




“I need you to wake up, Mr. Standish,” a vaguely familiar voice said.


Ezra opened his eye and blinked a few times to bring the white-coated figure into focus.


“That’s it. Remember me?” the man asked with a wry smile.


“Dr. Becker?” Ezra replied quietly, still not completely awake.


The doctor nodded. “I want to check your eye. Dr. Newman should be down soon to look at your face. If we both agree, you can go home tonight.”


Ezra ran that information through his mind twice before his drug-hazed brain could process it correctly. “Home? Tonight?”


“Yes,” Dr. Becker said. “I’m going sit you up here and remove these bandages,” he continued, putting his words into action.


“What about going back to work?” Ezra asked, shaking off some of his lethargy.


“Well, you won’t be driving until your eye has healed and we determine the effect on your vision, but I don’t see why you can’t go back to desk duty in a couple of days. By then, you should be able to make do with the pain meds at night. I want you to wear a patch on that eye until further notice.” Dr. Becker caught Ezra’s gaze. “Even though it’ll be healed enough for you to see, the tissue will still be fragile. I don’t want you accidentally rubbing it or getting something in there that might cause further damage.”


Ezra nodded. “I understand.”


Becker removed the last of the bandage and the pad over Ezra’s eye. “This is going to be a bit bright for you, I’m afraid, but I need to see how it’s healing.”


The doctor gently wiped the goop - a combination of tears and antibiotic ointment, from Ezra’s left eye. “All right, Mr. Standish, open your eye.”


Ezra did so, then quickly slammed it shut again.


“I know, it’s a bit painful. Lean your head back.” Becker tilted Ezra’s chin back and trickled a few drops of something into the corner of his eye. “Blink a few times. It’s a topical anesthetic, should help ease the irritation.”


Ezra lowered his head, nodding as he blinked and was finally able to open his eye without pain.


“How’s that?” the doctor asked.


“Better. Everything’s fuzzy, but I can see,” Ezra replied, relieved.


“Good. I want you to keep treating it with the antibiotic cream for another forty-eight hours. Keep the bandage on between treatments. I understand one of your teammates is a medic,” Becker said as he applied more cream to Ezra’s eye.


Ezra nodded.


“Good, I’ll give him the instructions. We have to make sure there’s no infection. You could lose your eye,” he said seriously. “Follow my instructions and you should be fine. I want to see you back in two days and we’ll re-evaluate the eye.”


“Thank you, doctor,” Ezra said.


Becker smiled. “You’re welcome. I’m going to leave the bandages off since Dr. Newman will be here any time now.” He slipped an elastic banded patch over Ezra’s head and settled it gently over his eye. “Keep this on temporarily. Don’t rub!”


Ezra nodded. “Doctor?” he asked before Becker reached the door. “I’d like to see…” he waved a hand toward his face.


Becker shook his head. “Why don’t you wait and talk to Dr. Newman. There is a lot of swelling and bruising, not to mention the sutures. The surgery went very well and I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. Wait until the sutures come out. Trust me,” he advised.


Ezra nodded slowly and watched the doctor leave. He hated waiting. He was good at it, but he hated it. Especially when he was perfectly capable of getting up and seeing for himself. Ezra slipped his legs over the edge of the bed and eased his feet to the floor. After waiting just a moment to ward off any dizziness, he made his way slowly to the bathroom. He saw the mirror but kept his eye focused on his feet until he was directly in front of the glass then removed the patch and looked up.


“Oh Lord…” he whispered, it was almost a plea. The face that looked back at him couldn’t possibly be his. Ezra lifted his hand and shuddered when the hand in the reflection touched the face at the same time as he felt it on his cheek. “No…”


The left side of his face was swollen. Red, blue, purple, and black bruising colored the flesh from above his eyebrow to his jawbone. Dark, black sutures dotted along the angry, red gash that started on his forehead, crossed his left eyelid and then ran down his cheek almost to his ear.


He couldn’t let anyone see this. He’d always known he was a bit vain about his appearance, but the man in this reflection was hideous. “That’s not…” he stammered. “No. No!” Ezra grabbed the drinking glass off the sink and slammed it into the mirror. “NO!!” he roared as the mirror shattered. Ezra backed away from the broken reflection. “That’s not me!” he sobbed. He threw the glass at the mirror and backed up, running into the door frame. He slid slowly to the floor and covered his face with both hands as tears started to flow.




Vin was heading back to Ezra’s room with a cup of coffee when he heard the sound of breaking glass. He dropped the cup into the nearest trash can and pulled his gun as he ran down the hall. Vin nudged the door open, cautiously peered around the edge then pushed the door the rest of the way and stepped into the room covering it with his weapon. “Ezra?” he called. The bed was empty and there was no sign of a struggle.


He’d met Dr. Becker at the elevator near the vending machines and they’d spoken briefly. Vin knew that the plastic surgeon was supposed to be coming to check on Ezra as well. Vin lowered his gun and peeked around the door into the bathroom. He frowned. He could see Ezra’s shoulder leaning against the frame. The floor was covered in glass and the mirror was shattered.


Vin holstered his gun and took a step into the bathroom before crouching down beside Ezra. “Ez?”


The undercover agent didn’t move. He was sitting on the floor with his knees pulled up to his chest and both hands covering his face.


Vin laid a comforting hand on Ezra’s shoulder. “Come on, Ezra. Let’s get you back into bed.”


Ezra shrugged off his hand. “Please leave me alone,” he mumbled through his hands.


“Dr. Newman’s gonna be here soon and he won’t be happy to find you sitting on the floor.”


“Fine,” Ezra muttered, “just leave. I’ll get back in bed myself.”


“Now you know I ain’t gonna do that, Ez,” Vin cajoled. “Come on, let me help you.”


“NO!” Ezra shouted. “Go away. I don’t want anyone to see me,” he trailed off still keeping his head turned and ducked away from Vin.


“Ezra,” Vin sighed, “the doctor said things went really good. He didn’t even think you’d have to have a second surgery.”


“If that’s the case,” Ezra’s angry replied was muffled by his hands, “then I’m going to sue that hack for everything he owns.”


Vin grinned. “Now, Ez. I’m guessing your face is looking a little raw at the moment, but it’ll be fine. Give yourself time to heal.”


“Fine?!” Ezra exclaimed. “Do you call this fine!” he demanded as he looked up at Vin.


The sharpshooter took a quick breath as he saw the swollen, badly bruised flesh. He paused for a moment trying to keep what he felt from showing on his face. Vin was pretty sure Ezra could read him easily, but now was not the time to let that happen.


“Well,” Vin stalled, “I don’t suppose you’ll be doing any female impersonations for a while,” a confused frown formed on Ezra’s face as Vin paused for a moment, “but I think you’ll make Buck jealous taking the attention of all the ladies in the office. That scar’s gonna make you look awful rakish for a while, and you know what that does to the feminine heart,” Vin said conspiratorially.


Ezra stared at him for a moment, then gave a half chuckle-half sob and shook his head. “Mr. Tanner, you do have the most unusual way of looking at the bright side of things.”


Vin grinned and caught hold of Ezra’s arm. “Come on, let’s get you back into bed so Dr. Newman doesn’t tear my ears off and reattach them some place inappropriate.”


That made Ezra chuckle for real this time and he accepted Vin’s help across the room. They’d just gotten him settled back on the bed with the patch in place when Dr. Newman entered.


“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” he said, then addressed Vin. “I need to examine my patient, if you don’t mind stepping out for a moment.”


“Actually,” Ezra interrupted, “is it all right if he stays?”


Newman looked at Ezra then Vin. He shrugged. “If that’s what you want.” He sat down on the edge of the bed and took off the eye patch then proceeded to gently examine the repairs he’d done. Newman smiled. “This looks very good. You have a little loss of sensation above the left eyebrow, that’s where one of the nerves was cut, but I am confident that the nerve will heal. You shouldn’t have any significant loss of motion.”


Ezra frowned, but listened as the doctor continued.


“The cut on your eyelid should also heal fine. We’ll have to see how cleanly the laceration on your cheek heals. It’s not as deep, but the length of it may make it more noticeable. If you aren’t satisfied with the results after a couple of months, we can schedule another procedure to…”


“Excuse me?” Ezra gaped. “Satisfied? With this!” he asked waving a hand at his face.


Dr. Newman suppressed a smile and grabbed the binder he’d set down when he came in. “I thought you might be a bit distressed by the current appearance of your injury. I brought some before and after photos.” He handed Ezra the binder and Vin moved closer to the bed to see as well.


“As you can see, some of those people were injured far more seriously than you and came out of it with normal appearances,” Newman said.


Ezra turned the pages, slowly taking in the bruised, battered and in some cases, burned, ‘before’ photos of Newman’s patients and then compared the features with the ‘after’ pictures. It was hard to tell that some of them were the same people, but enough of them matched to convince Ezra that Newman knew what he was talking about.


“So,” Ezra said, then cleared his throat, “this… condition is… temporary?”


Dr. Newman did smile this time. “Yes, Mr. Standish. The face tends to bruise magnificently, as you’ve no doubt noticed. The good thing is that the rich blood supply that is currently causing you such distress will also help your injury heal fast. The swelling will go down quickly. The bruises will change color and eventually fade. I’ll take the sutures out in about four or five days as long as everything looks good.”


Ezra looked at Dr. Newman. “Dr. Becker said I might be able to go home tonight,” he said hopefully.


The doctor paused then nodded. “I don’t see why not. You do have someone to stay with you?”


Ezra nodded slowly.


“Yes, he does,” Vin assured the doctor.


“All right. I’m going to have the nurse come in and bandage your face. For the next few days, we need to keep that area protected. You’ll have instructions with your prescriptions. Let me know if you have any questions,” Newman instructed. He stood and collected the binder from Ezra.


“Thank you, doctor,” Ezra said, a bit embarrassed by his behavior.


Newman nodded. “Give it time, Mr. Standish. I’m pretty proud of my work and I think you’ll be pleased with the final results.”


Ezra met the doctor’s cocky grin with a small smile


“See, Ez,” Vin said. “Everything’s gonna be fine.” He waited until Ezra met his eyes then smiled reassuringly. “Look, Ez, I promised Chris I’d call when we found out when you could go home. You gonna be all right for a few minutes?”


Ezra waved a hand carelessly. “Of course, Mr. Tanner. Be sure to tell Mr. Larabee that there is no need to fuss over my homecoming. I can always catch a cab.”


Vin snorted. “Yeah, right. Like that’ll happen,” he said as he left the room. He went to the nurse’s station down the hall and borrowed the phone since cell phones couldn’t be used inside the hospital.


He thought about the damage to Ezra’s face while he waited for Chris to pick up. Vin shivered involuntarily. “Hey, Chris. Yeah, the doctor’s gonna release him a little later this afternoon. Naw, he don’t want no fuss,” Vin grinned at the expected response. “I wanted to let you guys know, I saw Ezra’s face. He saw it too. He’s pretty upset. The doctor’s still very optimistic, but he’s pretty bruised and battered right now. I just wanted to make sure no one says anything stupid.”


Vin listened to Chris repeat the message to the others and grinned when he heard Buck and JD squawking that they’d never joke about something like this. Chris came back on the line sounding amused and worried, all at the same time. “He’s not gonna appreciate that, cowboy,” Vin replied, not quite able to remove the smirk from his lips. “Okay, okay. I’ll make sure he stays put until ya’ll get here.”




“I do not need a babysitter!” Ezra said for the fourth time. He was tired and sore and just wanted to be by himself, but somehow the entire team had shown up when it came time to leave the hospital. He’d accepted the ride home reluctantly, politely declining Larabee’s offer to stay at his ranch, only to be told that someone would then be staying with him at his apartment for the next few days.


“The doctor said you’d need help while you’re on those pain medications,” Nathan reasoned. “And you’ll need help medicating that eye and changing the bandage.”


“There’s no need for someone to stay 24/7,” Ezra argued, he avoided looking anyone in the eye. He just didn’t have it in him tonight.


“You didn’t put up a fight last time,” Chris contributed, trying to figure out why Ezra was being so stubborn.


Ezra closed his eye and leaned back into the cushion on his couch. “Last time, I…” He waved a hand carelessly in the air. “Do what you will,” he conceded. He listened as first silence and then muted voices filled the room. Ezra must have dozed off at some point, because the next thing he knew, Nathan was gently shaking his shoulder.


“Come on, Ezra. Why don’t you go to bed? It’ll be more comfortable,” the medic suggested kindly.


A yawn was the undercover agent’s answer.


“Here,” Nathan said, handing Ezra a glass of water and a couple of pills. “Take your antibiotics and pain meds. You should have time to get ready for bed before they knock you out,” he grinned.


Ezra grimaced, but couldn’t really deny that he could use the pain pills. He took the pills then handed the glass back to Nathan. “You really don’t have to stay,” he said with another yawn.


“I know,” Nathan placated. He watched Ezra make his way unsteadily down the hall to the bedroom and through the door. Nathan sat down to watch a little TV. He’d check on Ezra in a few minutes to make sure he was comfortable.




The next morning, Ezra wandered out into his living room wearing only his bathrobe over a pair of boxers. The smell of eggs and coffee had woken him. Nathan smiled from his place at the dining table.


“Good morning. You ready for something to eat?” Nathan asked.


Ezra nodded as he sat down. He ran a hand through his hair and watched while Nathan fixed him a plate. “Thank you,” Ezra said when Nathan put the full plate in front of him.


“No problem. When you’re done, I can treat your eye and replace the bandages.”


The fork full of eggs stopped halfway to Ezra’s mouth. He glanced up at Nathan then lowered his gaze and the fork to the plate. He’d suddenly lost his appetite.


“Eat, Ez,” Nathan encouraged.


Ezra put a tight rein on his emotions and forced himself to eat. He did not want anyone to see him like this. Perhaps he could convince Mr. Jackson that his assistance was not needed. Ezra glanced at the medic and sighed to himself. The man was as tenacious as a dog with a bone.


“If you’re done playing with your food,” Nathan’s voice teased gently, “I’ll see to your eye now.”


Ezra’s head jerked up and he looked at the clock, realizing just how long he’d been poking at his food. The slight grin on Nathan’s face told the undercover agent that the lack of food missing from his plate had not gone unnoticed. Ezra placed his fork on the table and let his shoulders drop slightly. For some reason he just didn’t feel he could win a battle of wills against this man over this particular topic.


“Come on, Ezra,” Nathan continued, “the sooner you let me help, the sooner I’ll be out of your hair.”


“Very well,” Ezra acquiesced reluctantly. He pushed his plate toward the middle of the table and watched as Nathan set out the bandages and ointments. He watched Nathan’s face closely as the black man carefully removed the tape that held the bandages to his face.


To Nathan’s credit, he didn’t even blink as the last of the bandages came off. He gently wiped the skin around the lacerations with antiseptic pads then changed his gloves before picking up the eye ointment. “Lean your head back, Ezra. It’ll be easier for me to put the medicine in.”


Ezra complied. Once Nathan finished with his eye, Ezra straightened up and the medic slathered another cream on the cuts above and below his eye.


“This cream has Vitamin E in it,” Nathan explained. “If you use it on the cuts every day, it should help minimize the scar.”


Ezra waited for the opportunity and caught Nathan’s gaze. “Do you… I mean, have you ever…” Ezra fumbled, uncertain how he could phrase the question without seeming vain.


Nathan regarded Ezra sympathetically for a moment, then continued to replace the bandages on his face. “I’ve seen a few facial injuries during my time as a paramedic. Don’t usually get to see the final results when you ride an ambulance,” he answered. “I do know that Dr. Newman has done some work on a few other agents in the building. He does good work.”


The undercover man unconsciously smoothed the bandages once Nathan finished. He stared off thoughtfully for a few moments then sighed and met Nathan’s concerned eyes. Ezra smiled slightly. “Thank you for your assistance. I’m going to get dressed. If you need to leave, I’ll be fine.”


Nathan frowned as Ezra stood and walked toward his room. “You should take those pain meds with your antibiotics.”


Ezra stopped and turned to look at Nathan with a lopsided grin. “It really isn’t that sore, Nathan. I think I can go without the pain pills until this evening. I can’t very well go into the office hyped up on pain medications, now can I?”


“Into the office?” Nathan repeated as Ezra disappeared into the bedroom. “What do you mean?” he asked. “You can’t go into the office today! Ezra!”




Buck looked up with a smile to greet whoever was coming into the bull pen. His smile faded to a frown. “Hey, Ezra. I didn’t expect to see you in here today,” he said, searching the younger man’s face. The white bandages on Ezra’s left cheek and over his eye stood out in stark contrast to his slightly pale, but otherwise healthy complexion. Buck could make out a bit of bruising along the edges of the bandages, but the rest of the damage was hidden from the world.


“Good morning to you, too, Mr. Wilmington,” Ezra replied with a slight smirk. He continued across to his desk.


Buck’s attention turned to Nathan’s angry muttering as the black medic stomped into the room. “’Morning, Nate,” Buck greeted.


“Damn fool… stubborn… grumble… mule-headed…” Nathan grumbled as he strode past Buck and flopped down at his desk. The medic sent a scathing glare toward the seemingly oblivious Southerner.


Wilmington grinned as he realized what had happened. “So, Nathan,” he drawled, “I thought Ezra was going to have a few days off.”


Nathan’s head jerked around and he leveled a Chris Larabee style glare on Buck. “That… that stubborn… He threatened to take a cab when I said I wouldn’t drive him.”


“The doctor said I could return to work within a few days of my surgery,” Ezra said smoothly, not even lifting his gaze from his computer screen. “Technically, it has been a ‘few’ days.”


“Barely two,” Nathan argued.


Ezra nodded. “Exactly.”


“Argh!” Nathan exclaimed.


Buck just grinned.


The others trickled in slowly. Josiah, JD and Vin all stopped by Ezra’s desk to see how he was feeling before settling in for the morning paperwork. Chris had yet to make his appearance by nine AM.


At 9:10, Larabee stormed into the bullpen, shouted, “Conference room, now!” and proceeded into said room without a look at anyone.


The other six team members exchanged worried glances as they followed the order.


Ezra sat at the end of the table farthest from Chris and with his right side facing his boss. So far he’d skated by without too much trouble or guff, but Larabee would not hesitate to send him home. There was no reason to remind him so blatantly of Ezra’s recent injury.


“What’s up, cowboy?” Vin asked as he slouched into a chair and stretched his long legs out in front of him.


“We’ve got a new case,” Chris answered tossing the folders he’d just had copied into the center of the table. “One of the gangs in town has decided to go into business for themselves selling weapons.”


Everyone grabbed a folder and started to look through the information as Larabee spoke.


“According to the DPD Gang Unit, the Desperados have been small time ‘til now. Arrests for concealed weapon violations, drug possession, assault, and the like,” Chris said, flipping color photos of the known gang members onto the table. “A few days ago they moved into the big time. One of the senior Desperados was picked up with a 9mm pistol. It was loaded with cop killers.”


Six faces looked up in dismay.


Larabee nodded, his face grim. “The GU has information that the Desperados are working a deal with someone that will raise the gang’s status to full fledged gun runners. With the CK ammo,” Chris’s frown deepened, “the GU decided the case was more ours than theirs.”


Buck leaned his elbows on the table. “So what’s the plan?”


Chris sighed. “I figure we need to set someone up as a buyer. There’s not enough time to infiltrate the gang, even if it were possible. And with Ezra…” Chris’s eyes narrowed as he focused on the undercover agent. “What the hell are you doing here?”


One calm green eye met blazing green. “My job,” Ezra replied.


Chuckles from the others were quickly cut short by Larabee’s glare.


Nathan raised his hands in self-defense as the glare landed on him. “Don’t look at me. I tried to keep the stubborn fool at home this morning. He threatened to take a cab.”


Chris leveled his gaze back on his injured agent. “Well?”


Ezra lifted his right eyebrow. “The doctor gave his consent for me to return to work. There was no need for me to lie around my apartment, drugged to the gills with pain medication when my services might be better utilized here.”


Larabee sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. Standish was going to give him an ulcer or a migraine. At the moment it was a toss up. “All right,” he exhaled. “Let’s get to work on this, see if we can find an angle.” He looked at Vin. “You feeling up to going in as the buyer?”


Vin nodded.


“I thought that was my job,” Ezra interrupted the exchange.


“You just got out of the hospital!” Nathan exclaimed, frustration clearly evident on his face and in his voice.


“And your injury,” Josiah added reluctantly, not sure how to finish.


Ezra tilted his head at the profiler. “Could be just the thing to earn their trust,” he said with a shrug. “Who would ever suspect a cop to work with such an obviously fresh injury?”


“Damn,” Chris murmured. The man was way too smart. That just might work. “We’ll think about it, Ez,” he said, ignoring the astonished stares from the rest of the team. “But first we need some more information. Everyone see what you can find out from your street contacts. Let’s get to work. We’ll meet back here at four to compare notes.”


They all rose and headed for the bullpen.


“Ezra,” Chris called softly.


“Yes, sir?” Ezra replied, turning toward his boss.


“Take it easy. If you need a break, take it. If Nathan or anyone else thinks you’re overdoing it, I’ll take you home myself, capishe?”


Ezra grinned and nodded.


Chris nodded. “Go on. Find us that in.”


Standish gave him a two fingered salute as if tipping his hat and sauntered toward his desk.


Larabee leaned against the door frame and shook his head. What was he going to do with that man?





Ezra frowned at his reflection in the mirror. It had been three days since the doctor removed the sutures. The swelling had gone down quite a bit, but the bruising had taken on a life of its own. He gently fingered his left cheek. Surely, every color of the rainbow was represented. Ezra sighed and placed the leather eye patch over his left eye.


There at least, was good news. His sight had continued to improve and Dr. Becker was confident that the cut had healed well. Ezra still wore the patch, as advised by the ophthalmologist, to prevent inadvertently rubbing the still vulnerable tissue. And the current patch, leather with metal studs around the edges, leant authenticity to his gun-purchasing street punk identity.


Ezra smiled thinking back on that first meet with the Desperados. Chris had refused to let him go in alone, so Vin and Ezra had gone under as potential buyers. After a little show and tell, where Ezra blamed his scar and loss of his sight in that eye on the police, the Desperados were eager to do business. The look on Vin’s face when Ezra showed the gang’s leader his ‘dead’ eye was priceless.


Of course Ezra had only applied the white contact with Dr. Becker’s approval and had carefully removed it as soon as they left the meet. The visual effect had been most convincing to the gang and cinched the deal.


Now he and Vin were going in with the money to collect their purchases, as well as make a few arrests.




Chris and Josiah ‘helped’ the two men into the back of the police van and climbed in after them. They waited until JD pulled the van onto the main highway before removing the cuffs from Vin and Ezra.


“Good job you two,” Chris said as he watched his men rub their wrists. “Kasinsky’s boys are wrapping it up.” He smiled at the sight before him.


Vin’s hair was gelled so that the shorter top stuck up at all angles and it had a decidedly blue tinge to it. He wore a black muscle shirt and black jeans over biker boots. Ezra was similarly clad, only he had purple hair and the eye patch.


They looked like your stereotypical thugs, but had evidently fooled the Desperados.


“Thank you,” Ezra replied as he removed the eye patch and popped out the white contact. He blinked several times then leaned back against the wall of the van.


“You holdin’ up okay, Ezra?” Nathan asked, leaning toward the undercover agent to judge his condition.


“Fine, Mr. Jackson. Just fine.”


“Well,” Buck interrupted. “I’m hungry. Let’s grab some grub before we head back to the office. I won’t be able to concentrate on my reports over the sound of my stomach.”


“Neither will we,” JD chimed in, earning a chuckle from the others and a gentle cuff to the back of the head from Buck.


“I could eat,” Vin added.


Chris nodded, seeing Josiah and Nathan’s agreement. He looked at Ezra. One eyebrow rose questioningly.


Ezra met his gaze with a devilish glint in his eyes. “I do believe there’s a small matter of a bet to be resolved.”


Vin, Nathan and Chris grinned evilly.


“That’s right,” Vin said cheerfully. “You guys owe us dinner,” he reminded Buck, JD and Josiah.


Josiah smiled as he shook his head regretfully. “You are indeed correct, my brother. But are you sure you want to eat at Inez’s looking like that?”


Vin frowned and looked down at himself then back up at Josiah. “Whadda ya mean?” He shot a quick look at Chris.


Larabee couldn’t contain his chuckle as he reached over and tugged on one long lank of the sharpshooter’s blue hair.


Vin groaned and tossed a despairing glance at Ezra.


“Do not look at me, my blue friend,” Ezra replied. He reached under the bench and dragged out a bag. A moment later he pulled a baseball cap snugly over his own purple coiffeur and grinned unrepentantly at Vin.


“Damn it, Ez,” Vin cursed, grabbing the bag and pulling it into his lap. He dug through it and finally came up triumphant. “Ah ha!” he said whipping another cap out with a flourish.


Ezra shrugged at the questioning looks from the rest of the team. “It pays to be prepared.” He reached up to rub his tired eyes only to have a hand latch roughly to his wrist. “Mr. Jackson?” he queried, looking from the hand to Nathan’s frustrated face.


“Put the patch back on, Ezra,” Nathan admonished.


Ezra blinked as he realized what he’d been about to do. “Thank you, Nathan,” he said sincerely as he donned the eye patch.


“No problem,” Nathan replied. “So, can we go eat or do we need to let these two clowns change?” he asked with a grin.


“Clowns!” Ezra protested.


“Hey!” Vin exclaimed at the same time.


The others just laughed.


As they reached The Saloon, Ezra found himself becoming more and more anxious about the outing. He hadn’t been anywhere public without bandages covering his injury. He didn’t consider the time spent undercover to be ‘public.’ They exited the van and Ezra followed slowly, edging his way to the back of the group.


Finally it was only himself and Chris left to enter the building. Ezra stopped just outside the door.


“Ezra?” Chris asked with a frown.


“I find myself more fatigued by the day’s events than I thought,” Ezra replied, unconsciously running his thumb along the still tender scar on his cheek. “Perhaps I’ll pass on the meal and…”


Chris grabbed his arm. “Oh, no you don’t. You need to unwind. And besides, Buck springing for dinner is too rare an occurrence for you to miss.”


“I…” Ezra stammered looking down at the ground.


“Look, Ez,” Chris said with a sigh, not sure what to say to make the younger man feel more comfortable, “we come here all the time after a bust. They’re used to seeing us bruised and battered and splinted up. Hell, I think Inez has a running pool on who’s going to be hurt next and how.”


Ezra looked up in alarm. “Just how many injuries have there been since Judge Travis formed Team 7?” The team had been established less than six months before Ezra signed on.


Chris frowned thoughtfully then shrugged. “Before you came on?” he asked with a poorly hidden grin.


Ezra frowned and flicked an imaginary piece of lint from his sleeve. “Really, Mr. Larabee. If I had known how dangerous this assignment would be…” he paused dramatically. “I do believe you overlooked the necessary rules of disclosure,” he advised smoothly.


Chris opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He looked at his agent in disbelief then noticed the twinkle in the green eye. “You!” he growled, then grabbed Standish’s arm and dragged him inside.


Ezra chuckled briefly, then had to concentrate on putting up a brave front for the rest of the team.


“There you two are,” Buck greeted enthusiastically. “Thought you’d gotten lost. We ordered the first round.”


“Wonderful,” Ezra complained genially as he slid into a chair between Vin and Josiah. “What, may I ask, did you order? Hopefully not some domestic brew.”


“Naw,” JD answered. “We remembered that foreign beer you ordered last time.”


Inez came over to the table when the waiter returned with their drinks. “Bueńos noches, seńors. I hope everyone is well,” she said with a smile, her gaze wandering over each of the men.


Ezra turned his head slightly.


“Sorry, Inez,” Buck answered with a sloppy smile. “We escaped unscathed this time around.” He caught her eye and nodded emphatically toward Vin while the sharpshooter passed Ezra his beer. Inez frowned and Buck pointed to his head and mimed lifting a hat off, he turned his actions into an over-exaggerated stretch when Vin looked up.


Inez backed up a step and looked at Vin’s head. A bemused smile came to her lips. “Seńor Vin,” she said, lifting the baseball cap from his head. Vin grabbed for the cap, but was not fast enough. “Are you going for a new look?” she asked playfully.


Buck and the others guffawed while Vin turned several shades of red.


Ezra scooted his chair away from Vin and put a hand on his own cap, casting a quick glance at Inez, hoping to avoid similar embarrassment. He looked away just as quickly, but not before Inez saw his cheek. He missed the flash of dismay on her face and the quick shake of Chris’s head when Inez sent a questioning glance his way.


She smiled back at Vin, hiding her concern. “I never would have suspected this from you, Seńor Vin,” she teased.


“It was part of our cover,” Vin mumbled sending deadly glares Wilmington’s way. Buck’s grin just widened.


“Cover. I see,” Inez grinned. “Well, enjoy your meal, gentlemen,” she said turning to go. “Let me know if you need anything,” she threw a scalding look at Buck. “Not a word, Seńor Wilmington.”


Buck opened his mouth to protest while the others laughed.


“She’s got you pegged, Buck,” JD razzed, tossing a wadded up napkin at the ladies man.


“Ah, now JD, you just don’t understand the subtler communications of the female sex. That’s just her way of telling me she’s interested, but wants me to work for it,” Buck grinned as he leaned back in his chair.


“Sounds to me as if you need a better translator, Mr. Wilmington,” Ezra drawled through a lopsided smile.


“You have to be willin’ to listen for a translator to do ya any good,” Vin said, shooting another look at Buck. He settled the cap on his head then took it off with a sigh and stuffed it in his back pocket. It was a bit late to hide now.


“Even with a translator,” Josiah added with an amused rumble, “some people only hear what they want.”


Buck shook his head like a man sorely misunderstood. “Ya’ll just don’t understand.”


“Sure we do, Buck,” Chris said softly.


He shared a quick glance with JD and the two men spoke together. “You’re full of crap.” Chris and JD laughed at the shocked look on the ladies man’s face.


The look swiftly morphed into an amused grin and the men moved on to the topic of what to have for dinner.




Ezra closed his front door and yawned. Dinner had been fun. Chris had been correct, he had needed to unwind. Now he needed to sleep. But first, to wash his hair. The dye wasn’t permanent, but would require several washings to remove. Ezra went into his bathroom and started the water running, then gathered clean clothes while it was warming up.


He shaved, showered and dressed for bed before wandering back into the living room and seeing that the light on his answering machine was blinking. Ezra pushed the button and smiled wryly as he recognized his mother’s voice.


“Ezra, dear, I seem to have missed you. I just wanted to let you know I have to postpone my trip to visit you for a while longer. I’ve come across what promises to be a most lucrative business opportunity. I just cannot pass it up. I hope you’ve found a suitable place to live. I still cannot imagine what enticed you to Denver. Nevertheless, I do hope your new co-workers are more accommodating than those fumbling bureaucratic idiots you used to work for,” Maude said, anger lacing her words. She paused and continued on a more even keel. “Keep yourself safe, son. I’ll call you again in a few days.”


The message ended with a beep and Ezra fingered his scar. “I wonder what you’ll think, Mother, when you see the damage?” He sighed and deleted the message. He had a small reprieve at least. Perhaps, if he was lucky, Maude would be kept occupied by this business venture long enough for him to heal.


Somehow, he doubted he’d be so fortunate.






Feedback is greatly appreciated. Judy