"So, are you enjoying your stay?" the man asked, an ugly sneer on his face.
Chris Larabee glared up at him through the one eye that wasn't swollen shut. "Fuck you, Jarvis!" he snarled.
Raymond Jarvis laughed. "You really must work on your social skills, Larabee," he said. "You won't win any points with that kind of attitude."
"I won't need any points when my men get their hands on you," Chris said icily.
Jarvis chuckled smugly. "What makes you think they're even looking for you?"
"I know my men," Chris said simply.
"Ah, but I know something you don't," Jarvis said, wagging his finger at Chris.
"And what would that be?" Chris demanded.
Jarvis looked at him for a moment, debating whether or not he should tell him. He had been enjoying Larabee's defiance, knowing that his men's continued absence must be gnawing at him. Still, the complete loss of hope when he heard the truth, should be well worth it. He broke into a broad grin.
"At this very moment, your men are running around like the proverbial chickens with their heads cut off, looking for your murderers." Jarvis waited for the information to register. At the shocked look on Chris's face, he laughed again. "That's right, Larabee. Your men think you and the hippie over there are dead -- blown up in that wreck of a jeep. Why else do you think I had my boys yank that tooth out of your head?"
Chris grimaced, remembering how the goons had tied him to the table in the outer room and pulled his rearmost right upper molar out with a pair of rubber-coated pliers. He was never going to complain about getting Novocain shots again.
"I even made sure there was a witness. Of course the bodies weren't yours -- just a couple of homeless guys with the right age, build, and blood types."
"You bastard!" Chris snarled.
"Oh, it gets better," Jarvis snickered. "The witness just happened to be your undercover man, Standish. I waited until he got close enough to see your bodies before I blew them up. Though, he never got close enough to see that it wasn't really you. And with the rocket fuel I added to the mix, there won't be anything else left to dispute that it wasn't the two of you in that jeep."
Chris lunged at him but was halted by a kick to his chest, imparted by one of Jarvis's two thugs. He fell backward, the shackles that encircled his wrists clanking on the cement floor.
"I've been keeping an eye on all of your men," Jarvis continued, as if Chris had never moved. "My men have had them under constant surveillance for the past few weeks. It was quite amusing to see the grief-stricken looks on their faces after your 'deaths'. All except Standish, that is." Jarvis shook his head in puzzlement. "We lost track of him right after the explosion last Saturday. He's a slippery son of a bitch, isn't he?" he said with a chuckle. "Of course, it's not surprising that he disappeared, considering the way the rest of your boys laid into him."
Jarvis walked over to where Vin lay motionless on the floor. Nudging him with his foot, he continued his monologue. "You see, the rest of your 'magnificent ones' blame Standish for what happened to you. Wilmington beat the crap out of him when he arrived at the scene. It was rather entertaining, I must say."
He paused and looked Chris in the eye. "I have to leave for a few days to attend to some business. When I return on Monday, we'll conclude our little game. I'll let you think about the many ways that I might kill you. Oh, and in case you get any ideas about trying to leave this party early, Walter here has a small parting gift for you."
The large man to his right smiled evilly as he drew out a large handgun. Aiming carefully, he fired first at Vin and then at Chris, hitting each man in the thigh. "That should slow 'em down, Mr. Jarvis," Walter said with a laugh.
"I'm not completely heartless," Jarvis said, tossing them several packages of Twinkies and Ring-Dings. "I wouldn't want you to expire from hunger before I return."
Chris shot him the most evil glare he could manage.
As Jarvis left the room, he tossed over his shoulder, "There will be no cavalry coming to the rescue this time, Larabee."
Chris rolled on the floor, reaching for his wounded leg as best he could with his hands cuffed behind his back, finally giving up the futile effort. He clumsily tore a strip off the bottom of his shirt and, with much difficulty and cursing, crawled to Vin's side and tied it around the bullet wound in the other man's leg. His own wound would have to wait. It worried him greatly that Vin had not even reacted when he had been shot. Chris placed a hand on his friend's forehead then leaned against the wall helplessly. The news that Jarvis had imparted dashed any hopes he had of being rescued, leaving it up to them to escape on their own. Considering their current physical conditions, it was a daunting prospect.
* * * * * * * * * *
It was late afternoon when Ezra finally awoke. Sleepily, he turned over, then sucked in a breath as a bolt of pain shot through his back. "Damn." He was long overdue for one of his pain pills and his body was making sure he knew about it. Clenching his teeth against the pain, Ezra carefully pushed himself upright and eased off of the bed to his feet, making his way toward his luggage and the pain relief that resided within.
After a shower, Ezra felt somewhat refreshed and decided to visit the small cafe on the ground floor of the hotel. He hadn't eaten in more than twenty-four hours and, though he wasn't particularly hungry, he decided he should comply with at least one of the doctor's orders. The painkillers had begun to kick in, and Ezra was able to dress quickly, donning a faded pair of jeans and a soft cotton sweater.
As he sat sipping his cup of coffee, Ezra unfolded the newspaper he had picked up in the gift shop, freezing when he saw the pictures on the bottom half of the front page. Slowly, he lowered his mug to the table and stared at the images of his two late associates. The bombing was apparently still front-page news and Ezra forced himself to read the accompanying article despite his churning emotions.
The police had made little progress on the case and Ezra knew the frustration had to be weighing heavily upon his teammates, almost as heavily as the guilt that weighed upon his own head. He could almost picture them, hard at work and foregoing food and sleep in their pursuit of the perpetrators of this heinous crime against two of their own. His expression hardened and Ezra decided that it was time for him to join the pursuit in his own fashion. He had a few resources that not even the others knew about and figured it was time to call in a few favors.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Dammit!" Buck shouted, launching his fist at the wall. The plaster gave way under the blow, leaving a gaping hole in the wall once he removed his bloody hand.
"Shit, Buck!" Nathan said as he hurried toward his injured friend. "That ain't helping anything."
"I know," Buck said, blowing out a frustrated breath. "I really thought we had the right guy."
"So did we, brother." Josiah squeezed the other man's shoulder comfortingly. "But he has an airtight alibi."
They had spent hours that day interrogating Harold Stiles, the suspect they had apprehended the night before, until his lawyer had arrived, complete with alibi. They had been forced to release him and had even been threatened with false arrest and brutality charges.
"We're back to square one, and we've wasted all damn day on a dead end," Buck said angrily while Nathan dabbed antiseptic on his knuckles.
"We'll get 'em, Buck," JD said encouragingly. "We have to."
"Yes, you will. But not like that," the humorless voice of AD Travis said from across the bullpen. "You boys are just lucky that we could get Stiles on parole violations, otherwise we could be facing one hell of a lawsuit." He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I want the bastards who did this just as much as you do, but we have to do it by the book. You wouldn't want to catch up with them and then have to let them go due to a technicality, would you?"
"No sir," JD said.
"Putting your fist through the wall isn't going to help much either, Agent Wilmington," Travis said pointedly.
Buck looked up at the Assistant Director sheepishly. "Sorry sir. I guess I got carried away."
Travis studied the men before him. All of them had dark circles under their eyes and looked as though they hadn't slept or had a decent meal in days -- which they probably hadn't. He admired their determination, but even strong men like these had their limits.
"I want you boys to go home and get some rest. Get a decent meal while you're at it, too." He halted their protests with a raised hand. "You aren't going to do any good if you get sloppy and can't think straight. Don't forget, you still might be targets yourselves." He looked each of them in the eye intently. "I'd hate to lose any of you because you're simply too tired to watch your backs."
"He's right, guys," Nathan agreed. "We're running on fumes right now, and I, for one, really need to recharge."
The others nodded reluctantly in agreement.
Travis smiled. "I don't want to see any of you in here until tomorrow morning... *late*, tomorrow morning."
"That won't be a problem, sir," JD said. "I'm so tired I could sleep for a week."
"Good." Travis turned to leave.
"Sir," Josiah called after him. "Is there any word on Ezra?"
Travis looked down at his hands before turning to reply. "He was seen in the building at 2:00 AM. He left his badge and gun on my desk."
Nathan snorted derisively. "I always knew that southern bastard would run out on us again."
"The man don't care about anyone but himself," Buck muttered angrily.
Josiah shook his head sadly. He had hoped the cocky undercover agent would have returned by now, but it seemed unlikely now that he had turned in his badge and gun. He had watched the young man closely during his tenure with the team and had come to realize that the cool exterior that he presented the world protected a fragile soul that had been hurt before. Running away was simply his way of protecting himself from another painful confrontation. Josiah knew, too, that their treatment of him after the explosion hadn't helped matters any. He was still angry with the younger man, but finding the murderers was more important than placing blame, for the time being.
"I've still got people looking for him," Travis stated. "I'll let you know if I hear anything." He turned again to leave. "Oh, and if he happens to contact any of you, make sure you tell him that I want to see him... and that the funeral is on Saturday."
"We will," JD answered solemnly.
Nathan looked around the other three men, who were all staring silently at each other. "You guys want to go get some dinner?"
"Yeah, I'm starved," JD replied.
"Mario's?" Buck suggested. "I could really go for some veal Parmesan right now."
"Sounds good to me," Josiah agreed.
"Let's go," Nathan said as he pushed himself off the edge of Buck's desk. The four men gathered their coats and headed for the elevator.
* * * * * * * * * *
As he sat shivering in the damp room, Chris recalled what had happened after they left the Saloon that fateful evening.
He and Vin were beyond drunk. They sat, unmoving, at the table while Ezra and Nathan half-carried their companions to Nathan's car. When he realized that Ezra was going to drive them home, Vin had grinned mischievously and whispered his plan to Chris. The moment Ezra disappeared into the bathroom, the two of them lurched their way outside, planning to hide behind the dapper man's Jaguar and jump him while he was searching frantically for them. It was a really lame joke, Chris realized once he was sober, but in their drunken state, they had found it hilarious.
Everything had gone wrong, though, the moment they stepped out the door. Strong hands had grabbed them, pressing sweet-smelling cloths over their faces. After that, they were apparently stuffed into a vehicle and driven to this miserable place. Jarvis had been there, a self-satisfied grin on his face, when they had awakened in chains. Chris hadn't recognized him at first, a fact that had irritated Jarvis to no end. The man had finally identified himself, and Chris realized then that they were in very big trouble.
Raymond Jarvis was the older brother of a man Chris had arrested when he was still a rookie with the Police Department, before being partnered with Buck. Reginald Jarvis had been convicted on multiple rape and murder charges. Some of his victims had been children, a fact that earned him a great deal of animosity in prison. Even the most hardened criminals took a dim view of those who molested children, and eventually, Reginald Jarvis's crimes caught up with him. He was dead, killed in a fight in the cafeteria by a fellow inmate who had himself been a victim of child molestation.
Chris remembered Raymond Jarvis from his brother's trial. The man had insisted that his brother was innocent, and had sent more than one threatening glance in Chris's direction during the trial. Reginald's death had occurred more than five years ago, and Chris had long since forgotten Raymond Jarvis... until now. His actions thus far surprised Chris, because his initial impression of Raymond had been that of a wealthy, upstanding businessman. The man owned a very successful textiles business and spent most of his time overseas, and, despite the animosity he had shown at the trial, Chris had not envisioned the vengeful tyrant he appeared to have become.
Jarvis had made great sport of having his hired goons beat on Vin while forcing Chris to watch helplessly. That hadn't been enough to satisfy him, though, and his thugs had spent a great deal of time practicing their art on Chris as well. He and Vin both were suffering from cracked ribs and bruises, and were growing weaker due to lack of food and exposure in the unheated room where they were imprisoned. Jarvis had only fed them once, two days ago, and that meal had been meager at best.
Vin began to stir, rousing Chris from his reverie. "Vin? Can you hear me?"
In response, Vin groaned and tried to roll to his side. "Chris?"
"Don't try to move," Chris warned.
"Damn, my head hurts," Vin complained.
"Yeah, he walloped you good," Chris said with a slight chuckle.
Vin opened his eyes and met Chris' concerned gaze. "Ya look like hell, cowboy," he said hoarsely.
Chris smirked at him. "You ain't lookin' so hot yourself."
Vin gave him a pained smile, his perceptive eyes coming to rest on the large patch of blood soaking through his friend's jeans. "What happened?" he asked, his voice heavy with concern.
"Jarvis is going away for a few days and he didn't want us getting any ideas," Chris answered coldly. "You have a matching hole in your own leg, in case you haven't noticed." Chris nodded toward Vin's bandage.
"Aw hell. Like stealing our shoes wasn't bad enough," Vin moaned. "I'm really starting to hate that son of a bitch."
"Yeah, well, that's not the worst of it..." Chris related what Jarvis had told him about the rest of their team.
"Shit!" Vin said heatedly. "If I ever get my hands on him..."
"You'll have to get in line behind me," Chris said in a voice that promised retribution.
"We have to get out of here."
"Yeah," Chris agreed. "Any ideas?"
"One," Vin replied, flashing him a mischievous smile. "Help me get my belt off."
Chris raised an eyebrow curiously, but did as he was asked. It took a few minutes to remove the heavy leather belt, since his hands were cuffed behind his back, as were Vin's. He handed it to Vin, who had managed to raise himself to a seated position, leaning against the wall. "What now?"
"Gimme a minute," he said, concentrating on his task. A triumphant smile crossed his face and Vin then rolled to the side to show Chris what he had retrieved from the hidden pocket in his belt.
"Lockpick?" Chris said appreciatively, the corners of his mouth turning up in a smile. "You know what to do with that?"
"'Course," Vin said as he began working on the heavy cuffs on his wrists.
Chris snorted. "You've been spending too much time with Ezra."
"Hey, I knew how to pick locks long 'fore I met Ezra," Vin said with mock indignation. "He's just helpin' me to 'hone mah skills'."
Chris chuckled at Vin's impression of the cocky southerner. "So why didn't you use your *skills* earlier?"
"Hell, Chris. There was always at least one of 'em out there all the time. Even if I let us loose, they woulda been on us 'fore we got too far."
"Good point," Chris agreed.
With a grunt, Vin released one of his wrists and slowly brought his arms around to the front. "Damn that feels good." He shook his arms out for a moment then moved behind Chris and began working on his shackles. Within minutes, Chris was free and stretching his arms carefully.
"Are you going to get that other one off?" Chris pointed to the shackle that still encircled Vin's right wrist.
"Nah, I can't do it left-handed," he said with a sheepish shrug. "I can get it off later, once we're outta this hell hole."
"Here," Chris tossed him some of the junk food Jarvis had left. "Jarvis was being 'generous'."
"Great, I'm starved," Vin said as he tore into the packages.
"It's a 'poor excuse for sustenance', as Ezra would say," Chris grumbled as he bit into the sugary cakes. "I'd much rather have a big, juicy steak."
"Shut up, Chris," Vin complained. "You're just makin' me hungrier."
"Yeah, well, dinner's on me when we get back home."
"You're on," Vin agreed. "So what're we waiting for?"
Anxious to leave himself, Chris nodded in agreement. "Any ideas on how we're going to get out of here?"
"I've been thinkin' on it, an' I only see one option." He grimaced and looked Chris in the eye. "You ain't gonna like it -- hell, I don't even like it."
"What?" Chris demanded.
Vin gave him an apologetic look and pointed upward.
Chris looked to where he indicated and snorted incredulously. "You've got to be kidding."
Vin lifted his hands in a helpless gesture. "I'm open to suggestions, cowboy."
Chris sighed and scanned the room hopefully. It was small, about ten foot square, with no windows and four walls of solid concrete, interrupted only by the entry door, which was locked from the outside, and the door to the tiny, windowless bathroom that was attached to it. He looked up once again and groaned at the thought of trying to squeeze their way out through the ventilation ducts. The opening appeared large enough, but it was going to be exceedingly painful to utilize it with cracked ribs and bullet wounds.
"You want to go first?" Chris asked.
"Be easier for you to boost me up, seein's how I'm lighter than you," Vin reasoned. "Gotta get that cover off first, though."
Chris pursed his lips in thought then reluctantly agreed. "Why don't you get up on my shoulders?"
Chris lowered himself gingerly to one knee, gritting his teeth against the pain in his ribs and leg. Moving stiffly, Vin eased his way onto Chris's shoulders. Taking a deep breath, Chris slowly stood, allowing Vin to reach the ventilation grille. "Ya might wanna hurry, Vin," Chris urged, breathing shallowly.
"Almost got it," Vin said, working the screws furiously with the flat end of his lockpick. "Watch your head," he said as the grille dropped to the floor with a metallic clatter.
Chris grunted as the weight on his shoulders shifted and then blessedly disappeared. He raised his head in time to see Vin's legs disappearing into the narrow hole. There was some noisy shuffling as Vin inched his way backward in the shaft, and finally his head and arms appeared in the opening.
"Care to join me, cowboy?" Vin grinned down at his scowling friend.
"You sure you can pull me up?" Chris asked doubtfully.
"Got no choice," he said firmly. "Don't know if I can get the door open on the other side, and I sure as hell ain't leaving you here." He reached both of his arms down, grasping his blond friend's forearms tightly.
Chris reciprocated the gesture, feeling the trembling of Vin's muscles as he slowly hauled him upward. When he was close enough, he gripped the edge of the opening and pulled himself into the dark shaft. With a powerful and painful lunge, Chris drew his legs the rest of the way into the passage and inched his way forward to allow Vin some room to move.
"Y'okay up there, Chris?" Vin asked.
Vin chortled. "I'll take that as a yes."
"Let's not do this again."
"Ya get no argument from me," Vin answered. "How's about we get out of here now?" He hated enclosed spaces, and this was about as enclosed as it got.
Chris didn't reply, but began crawling along the dusty ductwork as quickly as he could, knowing Vin's phobia of small spaces. Progress was slow, though, since there wasn't much room to move and they were forced to rely on the smaller movements of their hands and feet to propel themselves forward.
Vin sneezed at the dust being stirred up in Chris' wake. "Shit, I feel like a goddamn snake slitherin' through the dirt," Vin muttered, then sneezed again violently.
"Cheer up, we're almost out." Then, with obvious mirth in his voice, "I see light at the end of the tunnel."
Vin groaned. "Fuckin' smartass. Thinks he's a comedian," he grumbled sarcastically. Chris's forward progress halted abruptly and Vin suddenly found his nose pressed against the bottom of his foot. "Damn, Larabee. Ya gotta change your socks more often."
"You ain't exactly Mr. Sunshine Fresh yourself," Chris retorted.
"What'cha doin' up there, anyway?" Vin groused. "Ain't no time to be taking a nap."
"I have to get these screws out," Chris said with a grunt. "Not easy doing it from this side."
Vin mumbled a reply and laid his head on his outstretched arms while he waited. A few minutes later, a clanging noise announced Chris's success and he wasted no time in continuing forward. Vin followed, stopping when his fingers encountered open space. He waited with barely-concealed impatience as his lanky friend squirmed his way quickly through the hole, landing with a muffled thump on the floor below.
"All yours, Vin," Chris called in a pained voice. "Watch that first step, though. It's a doozy."
Peering through the rectangular hole, Vin grimaced at the sight of his friend sprawled on the floor, clutching his injured leg. "Y'best move 'fore I land on you."
Chris rolled out of the way and Vin quickly wriggled his way out of the ductwork, landing in a heap next to him.
* * * * * * * * * *
While he waited for his laptop computer to start up, Ezra picked up the phone and dialed a number. "Mr. Morrison? It's Ezra Standish."
"Ezra! How good to hear from you," the other man returned his greeting amiably. "How is that lovely mother of yours?"
"Maude is... Maude, as you well know," Ezra replied noncommittally.
"Yes, I remember," Morrison said with a laugh. "So what have you been doing with yourself? I heard you transferred to the ATF?"
"Bruce, I wish this were a social call," Ezra said with a sigh. "... but I really need some information."
"Ah yes, the unpleasant incident with your fellow agents, I assume?" Bruce asked. "I read about it in the paper. I didn't know you were close to them."
"I'm afraid so. No one has made any progress in locating the miscreants who perpetrated this atrocity, and I was hoping you might ask a few discreet questions."
"For you, my friend, I'll do this," Bruce said sincerely.
"You know I wouldn't ask if it weren't important," Ezra explained.
"Yes, I know," Bruce answered with a chuckle. "I'm glad you called me. I would do the same if someone had done this to my friends."
"I believe you would do much worse," Ezra said slyly.
Bruce laughed. "You know me too well, especially for a federal agent." Then, on a more serious note, "I will do what I can."
"Call my cell phone," Ezra replied, reciting the number. "Again, I thank you for your assistance."
"You take care, my friend."
Ezra clicked off his phone, feeling a small ember of hope sparking in his weary soul. Bruce Morrison, a.k.a. Bruno Morelli, had dated his mother years earlier. He was one of a very few of Maude's paramours that he had actually liked, especially after Bruce had revealed his real name upon discovering that Ezra was an FBI agent. His father was Pasquale Morelli, a noted member of a New York organized crime family, and Bruce had not wanted Ezra to get into any trouble via association with him.
Bruce had changed his name and moved to California, determined to make his own way in the legitimate business world. His father had given him his blessing, since he had three other sons to take up the 'family business', and though he was no longer a part of that world, Bruce remained under their protection. Maude's relationship with the man hadn't lasted very long, but Ezra had kept in touch, admiring Bruce's determination to have his own life.
Bruce had occasionally called him with information regarding other crime family activities, though never his own. They were still his relatives after all. Ezra had only requested his help once, when his cover had been blown on an important assignment and the FBI had accused him of blowing the bust on purpose. Bruce's information had saved his career... that time. Now, though, Ezra hoped that he might be able to get a lead on this case. Bruce still knew who all the players were, and if there was any information to be had, he would have a better chance of finding it than anyone else Ezra knew.
* * * * * * * * * *
Vin scanned the room in which they had landed. "Didn't leave us much, did they?"
Chris looked around, finding nothing but empty beer cans and food wrappers. The room was as barren as their former prison. "Damn! I was hoping they might have left some food. I'm hungry enough to consider eating more of that plastic-wrapped shit you like so much."
"Hey!" Vin said, pretending to be insulted. "That stuff hasn't hurt me none."
Chris grinned at him and painfully crawled to his feet. "Give it time."
Still grumbling, Vin pushed himself up, balancing carefully on his uninjured leg. "A first aid kit would be nice right now."
"Sit down," Chris gestured to the three metal folding chairs that sat next to a folded card table that was leaning against the wall. "Drop your pants first."
Vin smirked at him. "Hell, I don't like ya that much."
Chris swatted him in the arm. "Shut up and park it, cowboy."
Vin stuck out his tongue at Chris, but did as he was directed. Chris pulled one of the other chairs closer and sat down, inspecting the new hole in Vin's leg. The wound was still bleeding and Vin grimaced as he pressed the bandage against it. Chris stood and went to the sink that was located on one side of the room. He washed out an empty plastic cup and filled it with water, then returned to Vin's side. He cleaned the injury as best he could, then checked for an exit wound.
"Damn, would you look at that!" Chris exclaimed.
"What?" Vin asked, craning his head for a look.
"That." Chris pointed to the side of Vin's thigh, where a small rounded piece of metal protruded from his skin.
"That what I think it is?"
"Yep," Chris replied. "The bullet almost went all the way through."
"Ain't never seen that before," Vin commented.
"Ya just gonna look at it?" Vin growled impatiently.
"Nope." Chris reached down and grabbed the bullet firmly with his fingers, yanking it the rest of the way out of Vin's leg.
"Sorry," Chris said sympathetically, tossing the bullet aside as he put the makeshift bandage back in place.
"Okay, cowboy. Your turn." Vin stood slowly and pulled his pants back on.
Chris glared at him, but complied silently.
Vin checked over the wound, cleaning it as Chris had done for his. "Bad news, Chris. The bullet's still in there."
"I figured as much," Chris said with a sigh.
"Ain't much we can do about it now," Vin said. "We'd best get the hell outta here, 'case they decide to come back early."
Chris limped toward the window by the front door. "It's almost dark. You up for this?"
"Hell yeah!" Vin hobbled over to join him, eagerly pushing his way out the door.
* * * * * * * * * *
Ezra rubbed his tired eyes, staring at the information that scrolled across the screen of his laptop computer. It was just past midnight on Wednesday -- Thursday morning now. After speaking with his friend Bruce, he had hacked into the ATF computer system to find out what information the rest of his team had gathered, unsurprised at finding that his teammates were offline at this time of night. He discovered, though, that they had been very busy, and it was taking him some time to sort through the large volume of information. Their investigations had been very thorough, but most of the leads they had turned up had not amounted to anything. "They must be exceedingly frustrated," he muttered to himself. Ezra hoped he would have better luck.
His cell phone rang, startling him momentarily. Hoping that it was Bruce, he picked up the phone and answered. "Standish."
"Ezra?" Josiah's voice came over the line.
Ezra cursed himself inwardly for not checking the calling number before answering. He didn't want to speak with any of his teammates right now. With a sigh, he said, "Yes, Mr. Sanchez."
"Where are you, son?" Josiah said evenly, surprised that he had reached the other man.
"Somewhere else," Ezra replied quietly.
"You've had us all worried."
"I highly doubt that," Ezra said with a sarcastic snort.
"Look, Ezra, I know this is difficult for you -- hell, it's been difficult for all of us," Josiah reasoned. "Running away isn't going to make it better."
"At least I don't have any more fists aiming for my face," Ezra said bitterly.
"I know how you feel, brother," Josiah said soothingly, hoping to placate the undercover agent. "We all do..."
"No!" Ezra interrupted hotly. "You *don't* know. You haven't the slightest idea how I feel. You weren't there. You didn't see them..." Ezra trailed off, unable to continue.
"Ezra..." Josiah intoned softly.
"I'm sorry, Josiah," said Ezra as he ran a shaking hand through his hair. "I have to go now."
He clicked off the phone, unsurprised when it rang again momentarily. It was Josiah's number, so he ignored it and went back to his computer. He was more determined than ever to solve this case. If he could bring the person responsible for Chris and Vin's deaths to justice, the others might just find it in their hearts to forgive him. It was the only thing that was keeping him going.
* * * * * * * * * *
Josiah hung up the phone with a sigh. After his calls had gone unanswered for an hour, he realized that Ezra was not going to talk to him anymore -- not yet, anyway. His anger with the younger man had abated somewhat the instant he heard the degree of anguish in his voice. Ezra was hurting, maybe even more than the rest of them. Josiah could tell from the tone of his voice that the missing agent was blaming himself for the tragedy.
He and the others at least had each other for support during this difficult time. Ezra had nobody, and Josiah was afraid that the aloof undercover agent wasn't dealing with situation, pushing it aside as he usually did with such feelings. With his continued isolation from the rest of the team, there was a real danger that he would have an emotional breakdown and there would be no one there to help him. Josiah shook his head sadly. It was bad enough that they had already lost two members of the team; now they were at risk of losing another. "Hell of a week," Josiah muttered to himself.
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