Private Investigations

Book Eleven

by Beth AKA Midge

ATF Universe

Chapter 10
Ezra knocked on Pat Guarde´s back door and waited for a response. He could see lights from the house go on and the Southerner took a step back unsure of how his arrival would be taken. Davis opened the door wearing a blue tee shirt and jeans, something Ezra hadn´t expected to see, and he looked at the undercover agent in distain.

“Where is he?” Ezra asked.

Davis moved aside and then started walking back toward the living room. Ezra followed locking the door as he entered. He hadn´t expected to see the elaborate paintings and sculptures gone, as well as the books, or the few family pictures Guarde had sitting around his home. Instead it was only the furniture that remained and a few empty boxes. “Wait here,” Davis ordered, then he headed up the stairs to what Ezra assumed was Pat´s room.

Guarde stepped down off the stairs wearing a long bath robe. His hair was disheveled and he looked to have been woken out of a deep sleep. Ezra could sympathize. “Davis,” Pat motioned for his faithful bodyguard to turn on the music then he motioned for the man standing in front of him to follow. The kitchen was as bare as the rest of the house. Only a few dishes remained, a coffee maker, and a few pieces of silverware. Guarde was getting ready to move and Ezra realized Pat had been waiting for him. “I think some friends of yours are enjoying my conversations a bit too much,” Guarde said, he stuck the filter in the coffee maker and filled it with the dark grounds. “The music drowns out our voices.” He turned and smiled while leaning against the counter. “Do you have something for me?”

Ezra sat the briefcase on the counter and pulled out the file regarding the man that had been hired to kill Samuel Gardner. “He´s a US marine, from what I can tell he travels around a lot so you might have some difficulty locating him.”

Guarde took the file and smiled. “You leave that to me,” he then pulled a sheet of paper out of his robe pocket and handed it to Ezra. “That´s everything you need to know on Parker, all you have to do is wait him out. He´s too dumb to notice anything out of the ordinary, but he´s smart enough to plant snipers all around his drop spot. You´ll want to remember that.”

Ezra nodded his head and rubbed his face. Everything was coming to a close. “You wouldn´t by chance have a Xerox machine, would you?”

Guarde laughed loudly making his belly roll. “Of course,” he said happily, “follow me.” He led Ezra through the living room and back up the stairs. “You know what I will miss most about America?” He opened the door to his room. “The cream to put in your coffee.” He laughed again showed the undercover agent a small office just off the side of his room. A fax machine, copy machine, computer and all its extensions were cramped in the small room. “I´ll buy new when I get to Germany,” he said, then slapped Ezra on the shoulder and left him to his own devices.

Ezra saw the box containing all the files Samuel had collected on the floor next to the printer and immediately he went to work. He didn´t notice Guarde close the door behind him as he started to make copies of everything he needed to get a solid conviction against the Harrison organization.

+ + + + + + +

Chris watched from the window and rubbed his eyes. The sun was just starting to come up over the horizon. He had watched Pat Guarde´s Rolls Royce pull out of the garage at 3:00 am and it had yet to return. The team was confident that Ezra was in the house; they just hoped he was all right.

Josiah handed the team leader a cup of hot brew and Chris took it gratefully. “Go and get some rest Chris…you need it.”

“Have I destroyed this team?” Chris asked seriously. He believed that he might have crossed the line.

Josiah smiled and slipped into the chair that JD usually sat in. “I believe you learned today that this team is going to do what it has to in order to protect one of their own, even go through you if they have to.”

Chris smiled, maybe the big man was right. “What about Ezra?”

“To be honest,” he shrugged his shoulders, “I think you´ve shaken the bridge, but eventually, he´ll come back across. With Vin, JD, and Buck workin´ on him…” Josiah smiled warmly.

“If he comes back…”

“When he comes back,” Josiah quickly corrected.

“Is that your faith talking or your ‘gut instincts´?” Chris asked, pulling his eyes from Josiah´s and turning back toward Guarde´s home.

“We´ll get him back,” Josiah smiled exposing bright white teeth, “or Vin ‘ill be out hunting him down.”

Chris tried to choke back a chuckle. “I didn´t know that kid could yell like that,” he smiled, “I´m gonna have watch him like a rattlesnake getting ready to strike.” He looked up when Buck made his way into the room carrying a cup of hot coffee and a day old donut.

“Nathan called Raine,” Buck smiled, “he´s getting´ chewed out by Nettie as we speak.” He flopped down on the bed trying not to spill the contents of his cup.

“Why´s he getting yelled at?” Chris asked while watching Guarde´s house.

“Seems he called a bit too early,” Buck replied, taking a bit of his donut.

“Damn it!” Chris yelled, pulling the window blinds up. He saw Vin jog across the street towards Pat Guarde´s home.

+ + + + + + +

Vin knocked gently on the front door waiting for an answer. He knew it would only be a few minutes before Chris and the others discovered what he was doing but he had to do it. He had to make sure that the Southerner was all right. He knocked again on the door a little bit louder this time. When nobody answered he tried the door and it surprised him to realize it was unlocked.

Vin pulled his weapon out of its holster on his belt and slowly entered the house. By all appearances the house looked empty. Carefully he checked each room on the bottom floor expecting at any minute to meet one of Guarde´s bodyguards, but he didn´t. Vin went up the stairs and checked the bedrooms only to find them empty. He entered the last room and was surprised to see simple yet elegant furniture. Even still the room felt and looked baron of anything familiar. He moved slowly to the door on the far side of the room and slowly opened the door. Vin lowered his weapon, he had found Ezra.

+ + + + + + +

Chris and his four remaining men dashed across the street ready to do battle. They all held their grasps their weapons. Buck and Chris entered the house first in a protective stance. They lowered their weapons when they saw Vin coming down the stairs.

“Where is he?” Chris asked concerned.

Vin smiled for the first time in days. “He´s upstairs sleepin´,” he answered, and then headed into the kitchen hoping to find a coffee pot. “Guarde´s gone, whole place is cleared out,” Vin commented before anyone could pose the question.

Nathan and Chris started up the stairs but was stopped by Josiah´s baritone voice, “Let Vin handle this.”

Both Nathan and Chris stepped off the stairs understanding Josiah´s reasoning. JD looked curiously around the house while Buck made himself comfortable on the sofa. They would wait. Vin walked by a few minutes later with two cups of coffee, he didn´t say anything to anyone but rather he focused his attention on the black liquid threatening to spill over the cup rims.

+ + + + + + +

Vin reentered the computer room and sat the cup he´d brought for Ezra down on the table then he took a seat in the spare chair next to the Southerner. Someone had, during the night, thrown a blanket over Ezra´s shoulders while he´d fallen asleep with his head resting in his right arm. A stack of manila envelopes sat next to the copy machine while files, photographs, and Harrison documentation sat in piles around the room.

The sharpshooter rested his left leg on his knee while he played with the cuff of his jeans. He sipped tentatively out of his cup of extra sweet coffee and waited. The argument with Chris, though it was brief, crossed some lines, even perhaps some barriers. For the first time in what seemed like years he spoke his mind, and to Chris of all people. In some ways Vin understood what had to be done, he just hoped Ezra saw that as well. The others seemed to agree, except maybe JD, but then again by the time Chris had said his peace the kid seemed content with what had to be done. Perhaps it was the simple fact that the team leader felt responsible for each person who made up this unique group that caused him to be, at times, overbearing.

Chris treated his men the same way he expected to be treated. Do the best job possible and don´t expect any less. Anything less was unacceptable, not because of numbers or how it would look on his record but because perfection was a reflection of how good he was and how good his men were. Low casualties, high arrest rates, low injuries, and impeccable reports that is what the administration wanted to see, not high hospital bills, suspects with unexplained bruises on their person, reports that would be used as comic relief writing for bathroom shorts, and arrests that would later be thrown out of court because of insufficient evidence.

Vin looked at the Southerner and smiled when slowly his head came up out of his arm. Ezra leaned back in his chair and groaned at the pain it caused his battered ribs. “Who the hell hit me?” he muttered rubbing his face with his hand.

“A car, and by the looks of it, it was a large one,” Vin answered, hoping he wouldn´t get tossed out on his ear when things flooded back to Ezra´s mind. “I´m real sorry about what happened last night.”

Ezra looked hard at Vin and saw sincerity in his eyes. “I seem to recall kicking someone?”

“Chris,” the sharpshooter answered, “can´t say that he didn´t deserve it though,” he said with a smile.

Ezra nodded his head and stood up. He grabbed his briefcase and started filling it with the manila envelopes he´d been working on all through the night. He´d separated them into piles and then put the remaining information that was scattered in the room into one large file. He made sure to check the copy machine for missed information and then he stuffed everything into his briefcase. Everything that remained he shredded. He didn´t say anything else to Vin who assumed he was either uncomfortable or working to intently on his paperwork.

Vin continued to sit uncomfortably in his seat unsure of what to say or do. He didn´t let it go unnoticed that Ezra didn´t bother with the coffee he´d brought him. Vin understood why. Should he expect anything different? Ezra reminded Vin of a lawyer getting ready for his closing argument. Ezra´s face was lined with worry and concern, his movements were methodical, and his demeanor undeniable.

Ezra reached into his duffle bag and retrieved some clean clothing. Then he grabbed his duffle bag and briefcase and headed to the bathroom that was at the end of the hall outside the bedroom door. Vin took a deep breath and shook his head. Ezra wasn´t going to make this easy on them. The sharpshooter heard the shower start and he stood up and headed down the stairs.

Chris looked up from the window where he´d been standing and he turned to face his friend. “How is he?”

Vin shrugged his shoulders. “He asked me who he kicked.” He moved across the room and sat his coffee cup down on one of the end tables. “He ain´t sorry about it,” he looked hard at Chris. “And I can´t say as I blame ‘im.”

+ + + + + + +

Ezra stepped out of the shower and got himself dressed. The bruising on his ribcage spread from under his left arm clear down to his hip. He didn´t bother rewrapping his ribs as it was too painful trying to maneuver his arms around. He would have preferred a suit as opposed to the beige flat front Dockers and a white shirt but considering the condition of his attire he couldn´t complain too badly. Being seen going before Special Agent in Charge Bryce Pooley looking less than ‘official´ wasn´t on Ezra´s to do list, but he didn´t have much of a choice.

Quickly he shaved and slid his Sig Sauer into his belt holster then flipped his FBI badge onto his neck chain that hung just below his heart. He did it to avoid any possible harassment. With his Glock and Derringer tucked away in his duffle bag and his life´s work enclosed inside the leather briefcase, Ezra looked at himself in the mirror knowing exactly what he had to do.

+ + + + + + +

Chris continued to burn a path into the floor constantly pacing between the now empty bookcase and the front door. Buck watched him like a kitten watching a laser dot he didn´t know how to catch. Josiah sat comfortably in a large overstuffed chair thinking about the right things to say but knowing when it came down to it there wasn´t anything ‘right´ to say. Nathan fidgeted with a broken curtain hook wishing he had something to keep his mind off the situation. JD, ever the one to see the good in bad circumstances, sat contentedly on the sofa next to Buck content to wait for the undercover agent.

JD jumped up when Ezra came down the stairs looking much better than he did the day before. Gripped tightly in his left hand was his brown leather case and slung over his shoulder was his duffle bag. It was like looking back in time. JD remembered the first time Ezra walked into the ATF offices on the sixth floor of the Denver Federal Building. Today he was wearing the same mask of indifference.

Chris stepped forward not allowing the Southerner to get past him. “We´re here to help, what do you need us to do?” he was sincere in his question and everyone knew it. This had been and still was Ezra´s investigation. Granted they were all involved but Ezra was the key that put it all together. For whatever reason he needed them and they needed him.

“Go back to Denver Mr. Larabee, everything here is finished.” He said it confidently and the others knew he´d made up his mind as to how he was going to handle the Harrison case.

“Will you be joining us?” Chris asked barely loud enough so that the others could hear.

“I´m not a yo-yo that can be tossed from one agency to the next,” Ezra´s eyes said more than his words. He was through.

Chris instincts went up and he knew he had to get through to his undercover agent. “Judge Travis will sign your permanent transfer papers faster than you can blink,” his voice went up and he stood firm in front of his man, his friend. “We´ll fight this Ezra!”

“For how long?” Ezra challenged, “Until someone in this room ends up dead?!”

“You are a part of this fucking team!”

“I´m an FBI agent…Agent Larabee, and I have a job to do.” With that said Ezra made a move to get past the team leader.

Chris pulled Ezra to a stop, “Our flight leaves tomorrow afternoon at 3:00. I hope you´re there.” He let go of the Southerner´s arm and watched him leave the house and slide into an awaiting cab. “Let´s get packed up,” Chris ordered, leaving the house with the rest of his men following him.

Chapter 11

Ezra entered the FBI Building and without being announced he entered Agent Pooley´s office. Bryce stood up rather surprised by the action. “It was my understanding Agent, that you´re supposed to be undercover.”

“Pat Guarde has fled the area to an unknown location. I am under the assumption that he may be heading to Canada to reestablish his business dealings there.” Ezra lied, sitting down on the chair before the large oak desk.

“He what?” Pooley asked in disbelief. He paused and ran his hand over his face. He needed this case to be a success because he was up for a promotion.

“Guarde´s largest competitor is a man by the name of William Parker. He has been buying weapons, or so it has been alleged, from shipping yards on the Eastern coast. It is also believed that he and Guarde are now working together to squeeze out smaller dealers within the area. With Guarde working in Canada and Parker in the States…” Ezra continued to lie. He would continue to do so until Pooley dropped the issue with Guarde and focused his attention to Parker.

“Do you have anything on Parker?”

Ezra pulled out of the side pocket of his briefcase a small file and handed it to Agent Pooley. “I was able to recover documents with the date, time, and location of Parker´s next weapons purchase. It is believed Guarde may be there as well…to help solidify the deal.”

Pooley looked at the file and smiled. “How did you manage to get all of this in a matter of seven days?”

Ezra ignored the question and redirected Parker´s attention. “I was warned that Parker likes to have snipers stationed up high, so it might be wise to secure the area days before the purchase date.”

“I must say agent that I am rather pleased with your progress.” Pooley looked up and smiled. “I´ll expect a full report by the end of the week and then Monday I´ll inform you of your next assignment.”

Ezra pulled another thin file from the side pocket of his briefcase and handed it to the Agent sitting across from him. “That is my full report.” Ezra stood up and handed Pooley his badge. “You will find my resignation is in there as well.”

“You´re quitting?” Bryce asked, slightly surprised.

Ezra turned and left the office without giving him an answer. With his duffle bag hanging off his shoulder and his briefcase in his hand he headed out of the building feeling alone, unsure, and terrified.

+ + + + + + +

Chris stood with his men in the airport terminal hoping and waiting for what Josiah called their ‘estranged brother´. For the first time in years the team leader was questioning his tactics and motivations regarding one of their own. Nobody knew what to say or how to react. Was Ezra leaving the team? Would he go back to work for the FBI? Chris didn´t think he would. But then again, if Ezra was anything, he was full of surprises.

Buck and JD sat in the dull orange seats. The lady´s man was asking questions regarding the pros and cons of breast implants. JD was rather annoyed while Buck continually told the kid he had a lot to learn about women. The kid ignored him. Josiah stood with his arms crossed over his chest watching the planes land and take off. Chris could only wonder what it was the big man was thinking about. Nathan tried to keep himself busy, he´d called Raine twice and then lectured JD on his eating habits and finally he´d settled down to read the sports page. Vin had disappeared first needing to find a bathroom, then needing to find ‘real coffee´, and then he needed to go down to the main gift shop and find a decent puzzle book. Chris had just told him to make sure he was back in time because he didn´t want him missing the plane.

The sound of the flight announcement came over the intercom and everyone´s head looked up to the ticket announcer. They weren´t ready to leave. Chris looked up when Vin came down the corridor carrying a plastic bag full of magazines and junk food.

A line of travelers slowly gathered in front of the ticket counter and handed over their travel documents. As the line dwindled down Chris faced the inevitable. Ezra wasn´t coming. The team leader grabbed up his carry on bag and started toward the end of the line, he was soon followed by the others. Vin reached into his sack of newly purchases and pulled out a bag of beef jerky. Chris looked at him and smiled, at least some things never change.

Buck pushed JD forward and then he smiled when the tall thin brunette with a body that deserved to be in a Playboy magazine smiled when she took his ticket then turned her attention to the man behind him. Josiah grinned when Buck turned to look at the person who had captured the raving beauty´s attention. He shook his head and followed JD into the tunnel heading to the plane.

“You better watch yourself Josiah,” Nathan joked handing over his ticket, “Buck might get on his beautifying kick again.”

“Let´s pray he doesn´t.” Josiah laughed remembering the last time Buck had been turned down by a woman. Poor JD had suffered the consequences becoming the ladies man´s guinea pig. He´d been on the receiving end for anything that could prove useful in getting Buck´s ‘animal magnetism´ back. The kid had finally stayed a few nights with Vin and then a night with Chris before Buck had gotten a successful hit at his workout club. Unfortunately it had been a guy who hit on the ladies man. Of course Buck didn´t know it but Ezra had been the one to instigate the incident and with Vin and JD´s help they had talked one of the weight lifters into playing the joke.

Chris watched as Nathan and Josiah headed down toward the plane entrance and he handed his ticket to the agent. His gut was in a knot. He was afraid that he failed.

“I do hope Mr. Tanner that you don´t consume that entire bag of bovine on this flight.” The Southern voice came from behind.

Vin smiled before turning around. “I bought more than one bag Ez,” he said, offering the Southerner a piece of the jerky.

Chris turned around and looked at his undercover agent and at his sharpshooter. “You´re late,” was all he said, before turning back around and heading toward the plane smiling all the while.

Vin walked down the corridor beside Ezra. “Glad you made it,” he said, stepping into the plane entrance.

“Me too,” Ezra replied barely above a whisper but the sharpshooter heard it.

+ + + + + + +

Buck tapped JD on the shoulder. “Kid you´re in the wrong seat,” he said, motioning with his eyebrows to the woman in the seat next to the kid.

JD reluctantly stood up and took the seat that had originally been Buck´s. It was a window seat so the kid didn´t mind too much. Nathan and Josiah slid into the seats next to him after depositing their carry on luggage. The medic elbowed his friend in the ribs and motioned with a tilt of his head toward the front of the plane.

Chris walked toward his men with a newfound confidence. He nodded his head to his team members and slid into the seat across the aisle from JD and the others. Vin tossed his purchases under the seat in front of him as the others welcomed Ezra back. Nathan immediately started asking health questions, are your ribs sore, why aren´t you wearing a brace on you shoulder, how´s the head? JD reached out and shook Ezra´s hand then immediately started with questions of his own. The others sat back and listened content that they were all together again. Ezra did what anyone of them would have done, he ignored the questions and got himself buckled into his seat and looked forward to the drink cart.

When the plane took off people started doing the normal things air passengers do when they fly. Pulled out their books, played on their GameBoysä, read the newspaper, and leaned back in their seats content to fall asleep.

Vin looked at Ezra and knew he was thinking about everything that had happened. It was far from over but this was a new start for not only each other but the team as a whole. “What happened with the FBI?” he quietly asked.

“I am currently a civilian Mr. Tanner,” Ezra answered, leaning his head against the back of the seat.

“You quit?” Vin asked surprised.

Ezra simply nodded unsure if he´d made the right decision. He sighed in relief when he heard the flight attendants pulling out the beverage cart. He needed a drink.

“Don´t start thinking about collecting unemployment yet,” Chris said knowingly.

Vin chuckled. “What about Harrison?” he decided to ask.

A smile crept across the Southerner´s face. “It has been taken care of,” he responded confidently.

Chris leaned forward and took a good look at his undercover agent. The team leader knew the risks. He´d heard Timothy Daley´s words of warning he´d given the Southerner. “Ezra?” his voice was full of concern. It wasn´t just the team´s lives his agent was dealing with; it was the lives of their whole family.

“Really Mr. Larabee,” Ezra sighed. He looked up when the drink cart got closer. “I am in no position to take on the likes of that particular organization alone.”

Chris moaned audibly. What in the hell was that supposed to mean?

Chapter 12

Ezra sat alone at the bar dressed in unfamiliar blue jeans, a blue work shirt over a white tee shirt, his baseball cap sat low on his brow as he worked on the beer he´d been served just minutes before. The small town of Briton wasn´t busy and the Saturday crowd seemed nonexistent. Two TVs rested at the upper corners of the bar behind the counter. One was showing a baseball game and the other was showing CNN.

He´d come here to get away. He needed some time to think and decide what he was going to do with his life. Chris had offered him an official job on the team but Ezra had only replied that he needed time to think about it. The only reason he´d gotten on that airline was because if he didn´t he knew he´d never go back. He actually liked Denver and he wanted to stay.

The first thing he did when he arrived home was head straight to his bank, where he proceeded to rent a security box. Stored in that box was every ounce of information on the Harrison organization and subsequent investigation of crimes ranging from weapon sales to treason. He then went to another bank and rented another security box where he stored the key to the first box. One could never be too diligent or cautious.

Chris had come over to his apartment and tried to explain his actions but Ezra didn´t know how to react. Should he be angry with the man for being concerned for him? The Southerner shook his head unsure of how to answer his own question. Trust was a very complicated word. It was never a word he felt comfortable with and one he never used. Unless, of course, he was undercover and the lie was necessary. Regardless, he did trust these men to do what they thought to be the right thing.

Ezra looked up when the bell above the door sounded. He should have known Tanner would find him. Vin walked over to the bar and ordered himself a drink then sat down next to the Southerner.

“Just want you to know, I ain´t here alone.” He smiled then turned toward the door where the last five members of the team entered the saloon.

“I was wondering what had taken you so long?” Ezra asked with a smile.

“Hell,” Vin sighed, “I´m surprised that car of yours ain´t got wings.”

Chris leaned against the bar, “Beer,” he said to the tender. He then pulled out a small black leather case and pushed it toward Ezra. The Southerner picked it up and smiled. It was his official ATF badge and identification. “You´re due back in the office on Monday with the rest of us…and for once be on time.”

“I´ve got twenty bucks sayin´ he don´t make it,” Buck said, jumping into the action.

“You´re on,” JD responded. He was just thrilled with the fact that Ezra was back on the team.

Ezra pulled his attention away from the others as the CNN newscaster started in on her next story. He pulled himself up on the bar and turned the volume up on the TV and reseated himself. The others turned their attention to the news broadcast.

“CNN investigative reporters have discovered evidence that weapons and drug dealer Jared Harrison is actually an larger widespread organization. The Harrison Conspiracy, as it is now being known, includes members of government and the law enforcement community. Indictments have been filed against former Secretary of State Virgil Kaiser and US Senators Ella Gains, Frank Elliot, Guy Royal and Lucas James along with six congressmen and three FBI officials. Those indictments include, treason, illegal sale of confiscated weapons, and drug trafficking. Thirteen more individuals are pending investigation for lesser charges of aiding and abetting…”

Chris reached up and turned the volume down on the television. He looked at Ezra with a grin on his face. He knew what the Southerner had done. He´d managed to expose Harrison without involving himself or the others therefore keeping them safe. “Seems Agent Carson received suspension papers today pending further investigation into his relationship with former Assistant Director Eric Anderson.”

“I guess that could be considered an acceptable outcome,” Ezra replied. He took a long drink of his beer.

“You ain´t gonna take the credit for blowing open this case?” JD asked.

Ezra raised his eyebrow in speculation.

“What about clearin´ your name?” Vin asked.

“What about it Mr. Tanner?” Ezra knew the questions they were going to ask and he didn´t have answers for them. Whether or not he cleared his name the dirt would always be there. The speculation, the questions, the accusations, they would always be there. Granted ‘Harrison´ was the biggest case to get blown open for years but he didn´t want to have anything to do with it. For almost six years he´d battled the rumors and the questioning stares. Why would it be any different now?

Vin nodded his head in understanding. He wouldn´t harass the Southerner about it. The case was over and when the courtroom drama ended everything would get back to business.

“Well shit,” Buck said standing up. “I say we get drunk.”

“Who´s buyin´ the drinks?” Nathan asked with a smile. Six stale pretzels were thrown across the room hitting the medic in the back when he turned away from the impending missiles. “Well if I buy,” Nathan smiled, “I get two hours of free baby sittin´ from each of you.”

“Deal!” JD yelled before he could really think about what he agreed to.

Buck grabbed the kid around the neck and rubbed his knuckles into the top of his skull causing JD to struggle in protest. Chris grabbed the basket of pretzels and headed toward a table in the back with Vin following him. Nathan ordered a pitcher of beer and then grabbed the tray the bartender handed him.

Josiah sat momentarily with Ezra who was still sitting comfortably at the bar. “You going to be all right Brother?” The big man rested his hand on the undercover agent´s shoulder.

Ezra smiled lightly. “I´ll be fine Mr. Sanchez.” He turned his stool and got to his feet. “If I´m going to spend two hours worth of baby sitting I intend to drink a lot of beer.” He gently slapped Josiah on the shoulder then headed for the table in the back of the bar.

Vin scooted over as Ezra slid in beside him into the booth. All seven men looked up when the bell above the door rang and seven elderly men entered. Josiah sat back and smiled. It was like looking twenty-five years into the future. The first man stopped at the bar and ordered drinks. Though his hair was gray and receding it still held the color of his youth. His mustache and goatee were still dark and mischievous eyes lit up his face. The next man was taller than any of the others and slightly older than the rest. He was confident in his steps and his white hair was cut short in the military style. When he took off his jacket three tattoos jumped off his skin. Josiah smiled. The next man was the youngest though not by much. His hair was still black but elegantly cut and he wore thick glasses that made his eyes look larger than they really were. The next gentleman was tall and slender but held an authority about him that the others didn´t. His hair, a tad too long even under his baseball cap fell loosely around his ears. When the next man grabbed a chair and seated himself Josiah had to chuckle. It was like watching a fifty- five year old Vin Tanner. They shared the same fluid motions and the same sense of joy. Josiah almost dropped his glass of beer when he looked at the last two men. One had hair that reached the middle of his back that was neatly pulled back into a braided ponytail. His high cheekbones and dark deep-set eyes let everyone know of his Indian heritage. He was proud of it. The last man was elegantly dressed and smiled when he seated himself at the table with his friends. Immediately he pulled out a deck of cards and the game began. At first glance none of the individuals at the table looked like they would be friends or even acquaintances but their demeanor and shared smiles told Josiah and the others differently.

“That could be us in a few years,” JD said with enthusiasm.

“More than just a few years Mr. Dunne,” Ezra replied with a grin. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a deck of cards and immediately started shuffling them.

“To friendship,” Nathan said proudly holding his glass of beer above the table. The others joined him in his toast while waiting in anticipation of their cards.

“Five card stud, Jacks´ are wild.” Ezra started dealing out the cards.

“How do we know you ain´t cheatin´?” Buck asked, looking rather disgusted with his hand.

“You don´t,” Ezra replied with a grin.

The End

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Continues in: Things We've Handed Down