Authors Note: This is a sequel to my earlier ATF story, "Sunset". Some of the references here may not make sense if you havent read that one.
Moved to Blackraptor November 2009
It was raining in Colorado; miserable gray drizzle that soaked everything it touched and seemed to turn the entire world dark and cold. Ezra Standish, waiting in an early evening traffic jam to get off the freeway and into the city of Denver, sighed as he glanced up at the sky. No silver linings peeked out from the edges of those clouds. He wondered if it was an omen.
The weather had been perfect in Atlanta when he had left early yesterday morning. Cool and pleasant with a soft breeze. He had paused to enjoy the sunrise before setting off on his journey west. The eastern sky had been red and gold shot through with streaks of blue; beautiful enough to match the sunset he had watched the night before while bidding farewell to his home town. Some sentimental part of him had fondly imagined that the city was saying goodbye to him in return.
This new view, a gloomy late-September sky, seemed anything but welcoming. The embers of hope that Ezra had allowed to kindle in his heart were being forced to fight against the endless surrounding downpour to keep from being drowned. Glancing at his watch, he sighed again. It was far too late now to seek out the ATF office that was to be his place of employment. He had wanted to look the place over and get a feel for it before meeting his new coworkers on Monday, but right now, after driving for nearly twelve hours yesterday and another ten today, he was too tired to do much more than seek out a place to stay for the night. The townhouse he had rented through an online agency was not really an option. He still had to sign papers on it and get the key, and even if he had already had it in hand, none of his furniture or other possessions would have arrived yet.
"Now, first things first," he murmured as the traffic ahead of him finally began to move. Pulling into the first well-lit parking lot he came to, Ezra drew out the card that Chris Larabee, his new boss, had given him the day they had met. He didnt really need the card, having long since memorized the numbers printed on it office phone, office fax and personal cell but he often found it calming to have something to hold when he was nervous. And right at this moment, as much as he might wish otherwise, Ezra could not deny to himself that he was exactly that. The moment he had crossed over the Colorado State line, butterflies had begun to dance a mad jig in his stomach.
Retrieving his phone from his coat pocket, Ezra took a deep breath and dialed the cell number on the card. A curt voice answered on the third ring, saying, "Larabee." Ezra could hear the sounds of laughter and talk in the background. A restaurant of some kind, he guessed. Silently berating himself for not having considered that a call at nearly 7:00pm would almost certainly interrupt the mans evening meal, he hesitated. The voice on the other end grew a bit more irritated as it said, "Hello? Is anybody there?"
"I my apologies for calling you so late in the day, Mr. Larabee. Im afraid I hadnt considered the time. This is-"
"Standish!" the voice interrupted, suddenly warming with recognition. "Everything okay? Did you make it into town yet?"
Startled by the welcoming tone, he said, "Fine, thank you. I just got off the freeway and was considering finding someplace to spend the night. I wanted to inform you that I had arrived and would see you on Monday at nine oclock, if that is still convenient." Having spent a number of years working for the FBI, Ezra knew very well the fragility of preset appointment times.
"Thats fine. Hey, did you say the freeway?" Larabee asked, a frown clear in his tone. "Dont tell me you drove all the way from Atlanta in this shitty weather!"
"Well, no. That is, I did drive, but the weather has only been disagreeable since I passed into your oh-so-lovely State." The sarcasm in his voice was unmistakable and Ezra winced as he heard it. Normally, he could control what his best friend at the FBI had liked to call the smart-ass instinct somewhat better, but when he was tired it just spilled out.
Fortunately, Larabee chuckled at the comment. "Yep, never rains but it snows around here. So, where are you now?"
Ezra looked around him, squinting at the sign on the corner. "I paused to get my bearings in a parking lot. Um, it looks like the sign on the corner reads, West Colfax Street. I cant quite make out the rest of it through the rain."
For a moment, Ezra could hear the babble of background voices grow louder as Larabee turned away from the phone to confer with someone. He distinctly heard a voice with some sort of accent Texan by the sound of it say, "Well, that aint gonna help him. Gimme the phone."
Ezra heard a laugh and Larabees voice saying, "You trying to scare him away before he even makes it to the office?"
Then the Texas twang was back, louder and clearer, making it plain that Larabee had given up his cell phone. "Hey! Ezra, right?"
"Ye-ees," he drawled slowly. "And this is?"
"Names Vin Tanner. Im the eye in the sky for this team." By which Ezra understood that he was talking to a sniper, or sharpshooter, or whatever the ATF preferred to call their marksmen. The voice continued. "Listen up, Chris says you pulled over on Colfax. You near the Albertsons store by any chance?"
"Sitting in their parking lot, actually," he said.
"Great, then youre only about a couple miles from us. If you take a left out of the parking lot and get on Broadway, youll be headed in the right direction. Drive straight for about 8 blocks and then You writin this down?"
Ezras mouth worked for a moment before any words managed to escape. This first meeting with one of his new teammates was so far removed from anything he had imagined that he was half convinced that he was asleep and dreaming this conversation. "No, but I believe I can memorize two miles worth of instruction."
Taking him at his word, Vin continued to give directions to someplace called The Saloon, where he said the guys were just settling in for some chow and would like a chance to meet their new teammate. "You up for it?" Vin persisted when Ezra remained silent. "Foods great, I promise, and we can figure you out a good place to stay the night. You bein a stranger here, you dont want to accidentally end up in some flea bag flophouse that charges like a four star hotel, right?"
Something about the wry tone in that strange voice made Ezra smile and the butterflies in his stomach slowed their dance enough for him to realize that the thought of a square meal was appealing. "May I assume that you have some experience in that situation, Mr. Tanner?"
The voice chuckled. "Yep. I mustve been glowin green by the speed with which I got hustled my first time out west. So, what do you say?"
Ezra had long since learned that trust was a rare and precious commodity, not to be given lightly or taken irresponsibly. One never took an offer of any kind at face value and never offered information without expecting something in return. He had been brought up by those rules and the events of recent months had only reinforced the lessons with painful strength. He had opened himself up to comradeship, trust, even love, and it had all blown up in his face. So, the last thing he needed or wanted was an overture of friendship from some faceless stranger on a borrowed mobile telephone. Right?
"Ezra?" It was Chris Larabees voice again, that firm but somehow kind tone that he recognized from their brief meeting in Atlanta. The voice that belonged to a man who had studied all the rumors, all the whispers, all the unprovable but still damning suspicion that had crushed Ezras reputation and ruined his life, had called it all "horse shit" and offered him a chance to be a part of something new. A man Ezra had felt it safe to stake his future on. "You want to join us?" the voice prompted.
"I should be there in about ten minutes," he said, surprising himself with the words. Pausing for a long moment, he added quietly, "Provided youre quite sure that no one will mind."
There was a question in his tone, something far deeper than a simple polite wish not to intrude on a meal. It appeared that Larabee understood the unspoken words, for the smile was back in his voice as he held the phone away from his mouth and asked clearly, "What do you say, guys, we got room at our table for a new teammate?"
A chorus of replies boomed into the phone, not completely understandable but very clearly cordial. Ezra thought he heard someone say, "Welcome to the fold, brother," but he thought he must be mistaken, for who would make such a peculiar comment?
After the din died out a bit, Larabee came back on the line. "That answer your question?"
The last butterfly settled with a soft flutter and Ezra grinned as he restarted the engine of his Jaguar. "Indeed it does, Mr. Larabee. Thank you all. It will be my pleasure to join you."
Suddenly, the world around him looked a great deal brighter.
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