Alternate Universe "Brothers Larabee"
Ezra could hear voices from the other side of the door. He approached quietly and listened to the raised voices.
" move the car. Thats all you were supposed to do. Did it take three of you to do that?" Tallmadges voice carried through the door. Ezra had known him long enough to hear the fear that lay under the anger. What was he so afraid of? Ezra knew they planned on hitting the armored car station this morning.
Tallmadge had laid out the plan for the man after he had taken him from the building by force late the previous afternoon. The crew was honing their skills on the previous robberies and now planned the big one for this morning. Ezra thought to himself, "One day and I could have avoided this whole fiasco". He thought of JD. Poor kid probably thought Ezra had abandoned him at the hotel. Tallmadges voice drew his attention back to the door.
"Stupid! Why didnt you just wait until he left? He wasnt going to find anything in the car or at the building. Now, theyll be looked even harder. We might have convinced everyone that Standish went on a business trip."
Now, there was another voice. Damn, Ezra thought. Stewart. The man was the night guard. That was how they made it look like Benning had been in on it.
"The kid was looking for Standish and he wasnt going to quit. He was good enough on that computer that he might have been able to recreate those files we deleted."
"Not before tomorrow. Or should I say, today. If were going to do this, we have four hours to get things in place."
Ezra could hear movement in the other room, but no one came toward the back room that imprisoned him.
"Where did you leave him?"
Realization suddenly hit. JD. Good Lord, they were talking about JD. He had been so preoccupied with trying to hear that he hadnt been truly listening. Without thinking, he began pounding on the door.
A few moments later, the door was flung open. Ezra jumped back to keep from being knocked to the ground. One of Tallmadges goons came through the door, closely followed by the man himself. "Ezra, what is all the noise about?"
Ezra eyes blazed at the man. He wondered, not for the first time in the last twelve hours, how the man could have deceived him this long. "What have you done to my brother? Where is he?"
"Ezra, please calm yourself. The boy was not harmed. Stewart and Randall merely redirected his interests."
Ezra lunged at the man he had called friend. He was brought up short of his goal by the thug standing at the door.
"You, bastard! If that boy is injured " Ezra let the threat hang in the air. "You will have to deal with me, Tallmadge. Me, or one of my brothers."
Tallmadge walked over to his former employer, "Ezra, weve known each other for years. Why do you feel such a strong bond to these men that youve only known for a few months? Why dont you join us? The money will allow us to live in a place of pure luxury for years. If we invest it wisely, well never have to lift a finger again. You can disappear and your mother will be unable to find you. Youll finally be out of her reach to live your life the way you want. She will not be there to look over your shoulder, with her caustic tongue constantly berating you."
"The relationship between my maternal parent and myself is of no concern to you. I entrusted you with my business alliance and my friendship. And this is how you repay me? You defame my company and, with it, my name. Though I have only known my brothers for mere months, I have grown closer to them in those few months then to you over a ten-year acquaintance. Now, as to my original inquiry-what have your miscreants done with my young brother?"
"And I told you that he was unharmed." Tallmadge smiled at the man that stood before him, but that smile did not extend to the mans eyes.
William Tallmadge laughed. "No lasting damage was done. Bruises. Steve was able to prevent any permanent injuries due to his untimely intervention."
Ezra glared at this man that he had once considered a friend. The very idea that this thieving, low-life hypocrite had met with him every two weeks, conferencing about the very thefts that he had engineered had he seeing red. The soft-spoken southerner seethed with the pent up rage.
"You, sir, are a scheming, predatory scoundrel. I shall enjoy the inevitable take down that I predict for your little enterprise." Ezra did not smile with his statement. He took no pleasure in the eventual outcome of this betrayal. The man would be apprehended and, hopefully, it would happen before anyone was seriously injured or killed.
Tallmadge smirked, secure in his conviction of eventual success and riches. He turned and left. He was followed by the man Ezra assumed to be Randall. Ezra listened as the door was locked and the men moved into another part of the small abode. He once again went over the room, looking for a weakness that would allow him to perpetrate his escape. He had a burning urge within him to stop the traitorous Tallmadge. But, more importantly, verify that John Dunne was, indeed, unharmed. He dreaded facing the rest of the Larabee brothers with the news that the youngest member of the clan had once again been injured and that it happened while in his care.
+ + + + + + +
Rick Benning had always been an early riser. When the doorbell rang at 4:45 am, the ex-cop had been up for almost an hour. He put his coffee down and picked up his gun. He lived in a quiet neighborhood, but it was a little early for visitors. He left the kitchen and started toward the front door. His wife was moving down the hall as he reached the door. Shaking his head, he motioned for her to move back to the bedroom.
Checking over his shoulder, he stopped to the left of the door. "Whos there?"
"Mr. Benning? My name is Chris Larabee. Im Ezra Standishs brother. Im here with four of our brothers. We need to speak to you about Ezra." Chris and the others waited.
Rick paused for a moment. He remembered Standish talking about his brothers. He tried to recall the names. Larabee? Sounded familiar. He made a decision and unlocked the door.
He was a little taken back by the size of the group that stood on the other side. The five men ranged in size from short to tall, young to old-well, older. Rick made a note to talk to Julianne and get the story behind their bosss family. He had been with the company for almost three years and knew very little about the man who signed his check. Not that the young receptionist was a gossip, but she was the person closest to Ezra Standish.
"Gentlemen. How can I help you?" Rick stood his ground at the door, not inviting the brothers into the house.
Chris studied the man standing in the doorway, taking notice of the gun held casually in the right hand. "Sorry to call so early, Mr. Benning, but were working against the clock. Our brother has been missing since yesterday afternoon."
Benning lost his relaxed stance in the doorway. "What? How?
His surprise seemed genuine Chris noted. "Thats what we are trying to find out.
Rick looked at Chris and then stepped back to allow the men to enter. They followed him into the living room. Rick removed the clip from his automatic and ejected the shell from the chamber. "If Mr. Standish is missing, I assume that you have reason to think I might know something. That is why youre here, right?"
Chris spoke. "There is evidence that certain information came from your computer, pertaining to the robberies that have been happening to your clients. This information was classified- routes, times, passwords."
"Well, I don't think that there is much I can say that will convince you that I didn't do this, so what can I do to help you prove who did?" Benning asked.
"Who would have access to the type of information that's being leaked?" Chris asked.
Rick thought for a moment. "That would be a short list. Mr. Standish is not a real trusting man. Probably just himself, William Tallmadge, and me. No one else would have all the information, only portions of it."
"Who's Tallmadge?" Vin's quiet voice asked.
"Senior VP. He's been with the company for a long time. I understand that he was there when the Mr. Standish started the business."
JD stepped forward. "Would he have access to your computer? Does he have the passwords?"
"I don't know for sure. He might. I know he picked the computer system out and supervised the installation."
Rick noticed the men shift their eyes to a point beyond his shoulder. He turned and saw his wife, Karin, standing in the doorway. He moved to meet her, noting the change in clothes.
"Gentlemen, this is my wife, Karin. Karin, these men are Ezra Standish's brothers."
The small, dark haired woman nodded to the gathering. Turning to her husband, she admonished him. "Rick, where are your manners? Gentlemen, would you care for some coffee? Rick has not had his breakfast yet and I have more than enough. Please, would you grant us the pleasure of your company for our morning repast?"
Josiah chuckled, as he shook his head. "Ezra would love you way you talk, my dear."
The rest of the brothers nodded in agreement. Chris stepped forward. "Thank you for the offer, but we need to find Ezra."
She placed a hand on the dark sleeved arm. "Its five in the morning. Youll all function a lot better on full stomachs. Rick is worthless if he doesnt eat, so hes not leaving until he does. Please. When did you gentlemen last eat?"
"Breakfast, yesterday morning." JD piped up. He looked sheepishly as Chris turned as harsh gaze in his direction. The young man glanced down and stepped closer to Buck to escape the glare of the unacknowledged head of the family.
Buck grinned as he placed a protective hand on the young mans shoulder. "Chris " he began.
"Gentlemen. I dont believe that Rick has told you that he has a computer here. You can go over whatever you have to, while I cook some breakfast." She turned and walked away, not waiting for an answer.
Rick smirked as she walked away. "She always gets her way. Why dont we see what we can find on the computer?"
The men moved into an office to one side of the living room. Josiah and Buck decided that the room was way too small for six men and left to assist Karin with breakfast. Rick brought his computer on line and he and JD were soon engrossed in the search of the objective the thieves might targeted.
Soon, they were called to the meal. The four men sat down and, as the food was passed around, discussed their findings. Karin moved around making sure everyone had what they needed. She served coffee to each man and, coming around to the youngest, she reached for his cup. JD placed a hand over the cup, and looking up, said, "Thank you, maam, but no thanks."
"How about some milk or juice?"
"Milk would be fine. Thank you."
Chris reached into his pocket, withdrew out a pill bottle and took two pills out, laying them next to JDs plate. The boy eyed them and then his brother. Chris merely cocked an eyebrow at him. When the milk arrived, the boy placed the capsules in his mouth and washed them down with the milk. Chris gave a quick tight-lipped smile to JD, the first since they had gotten the call the previous evening. The other three brothers ignored the exchange. Rick and Karin saw, but said nothing.
Rick reached for the salt as he detailed the information that they had found. "There are two possibilities that seem likely. We setup security for a show of jewels at one site and gold bullion at another. Both are due to be shipped today. Either one is a good bet to be hit. Theres no way to find out which one could be the target. A five men crew could possibly take down either one at any given point as long as they have the element of surprise."
The men ate in silence as they read through the reports. After a few minutes, the soft drawl of Vin Tanner drew everyone's attention. "Did ya'll read the descriptions of the robbers?"
Each man shuffled through the papers to locate eyewitness statements. Chris glanced at the papers. Picking up his cup of coffee, he turned to the younger man. "What did you catch, Vin?"
The brothers knew the quiet nature of Tanner and understood that he had something important to say if he chose to speak around people he didnt know.
"Seems to me that we got are six, maybe seven, different men described. You could possibly get a count of ten or eleven. Depends on how much you can trust the witness accounts."
JD frowned. "I thought there were only five guys involved in each holdup?"
Josiah and Buck were shaking their heads. Chris studied the reports "If you're right, Vin, we're looking a lot bigger crew than we thought."
"If there are actually that many guys, they would have no problem taking down either of those two targets." Rick noted.
Buck shook his head. "With that size crew, they could take down both targets. They could hit both of them at the same time in two different locations."
Their attention was drawn to JD as he excitedly flipped through the stack of papers beside his plate. Buck grabbed the kid's glass when it threatened to topple over. JD glanced up and turned his bruised face to the older man. "Thanks, Buck."
"No problem, kid." Buck's eyes twinkled with humor. A walking disaster area, that was their kid. JD put his attention back on the papers in front of him.
"If they really have ten or eleven guys, both targets are then venerable and viable." JD had his head down, looking at the papers. Buck looked at the others as he mouthed, 'viable' and raised his expressive eyebrows. Josiah shook his head as Vin frowned at the big man. Chris just ignored the exchange and concentrated on what JD was saying.
Unaware of the mockery, the young man kept talking. "Thing is, how would they coordinate the attacks?" JD looked up and noticed the 'innocent' look Buck quickly sat his features in. Drawing his eyebrows down in a quizzical look, he looked at the third oldest brother while talking to everyone. "Thing is, if the information is inside information, then they know the entire route. And the two routes intersect at the airport."
That brought everyone's head around. "What?" Chris asked.
Rick sat his fork down and grabbed his copy of the papers. "When?"
"It looks to be this morning. They were both loaded and scheduled for pickup this morning, early. The gems are supposed to be at the airport at nine forty-five and the gold is due there at ten-oh-five. The gems fly out ten minutes later and the gold shipment is going out at eleven. That leaves a ten minute period when they're both in the same location."
Rick was nodding as JD spoke, "And he does mean the same location. They are going to the same terminal. How the hell did that happen?"
Chris listened to both men. He glanced over at Vin. Tanner shook his head. "Damn poor planning, if you ask me." Larabee said.
Tanner looked at Larabee. "That. Or damn clever."
"Yeah, I figure if there's ten to twelve bad guys and only six guards, according to the roster, the bad guys are going to win, hands down. Especially if they can take them by surprise." JD noted.
Rick studied the brothers as they looked at one another. These men might not be law enforcement, but they looked more than capable of caring for themselves. It showed in their faces and the set of their shoulders. All but the youngest were men who had seen the world and lived to tell about it.
Chris looked at his watch. It was a little after six in the morning, still too early to go the airport. They still had time to search for Ezra. Vin had his contacts and they needed to check out the guard that had called in sick-Greg Stewart.
"I got a couple of people I can talk to; see if anyone has heard anything." Vin said.
Chris nodded. "I'll go with you. Buck, we'll drop you and Josiah off to get a car and ya'll go check out that guard that called in sick. Rick, could JD stay with.."
"No." The boy had slapped one hand down on the table, as the other braced his sore ribs. Vin, Buck, and Josiah waited; Chris glared. "I will not be left out of this." He knew the boy felt responsible for Ezra being missing, but he was injured. And young; so damn young. Chris was determined to protect the youngest of Linc's children, whether he wanted that protection or not.
"Yes, you will." Chris' voice was low and Buck, Vin, Josiah; they knew what that meant. Even Rick understood the menace in his tone. But JD ignored the warning signs and stood up, leaning toward the blond.
The bruises were livid against his pale skin and JD took shallow breaths, in deference to his ribs. "No. I am not a child. I will not be left here." Each word was spoken slowly, quietly, but the steel in his voice was as strong as the steel in Chris'. "Either I am an equal in this family or I'm not. You decide which it will be." And he calmly sat down and started to eat the remainder of his meal.
Three watched as the fourth thought about what JD had said. "JD, I know you're an equal. We depend on you in so many ways. But, there is no need for you to go. You're hurt and sore and tired. You are staying out of this."
The young man calmly lay down his fork and wiped his mouth with his napkin. "Fine."
Standing, he asked Karin if he could use the phone. Everyone sat quietly, listening as he called for a cab. Vin stared at the boy's back and then turned his gaze to Chris. Larabee shook his head. Vin flexed his hands as they rested on the table. "JD, we can drop you at the hotel. Ain't no need for a cab." Tanner spoke up.
JD returned to the table and sat down. He reached for the half full glass of milk as he thanked Vin. "It's okay, I don't mind. Don't want to hold ya'll up."
Buck frowned. JD was too calm. "We'll meet you back at the hotel after we get Ezra back. Okay, kid?"
"I won't be there. I plan on heading to the ranch. I can get a flight and be home in forty-five minutes. No need to hang around." He was interrupted by the sound of a horn. Standing, he continued, "I have to go. I'll call and check on Ezra later." He turned and headed for the door.
Buck jumped to his feet and followed the boy out of the kitchen. Rick Benning sat at the table with his head down. Karin sat next to her husband, one hand covering her mouth and the other holding Rick's hand. Vin and Josiah both looked at the unofficial leader of their family. The man's face was glowering. He didn't like being forced into something. And at this moment, he felt as if he stood with his back against the wall. 'Damn kid!' he thought.
Buck grabbed JD's elbow. "Now, just hold on a minute, kid. What do you mean,' you'll call later'? You're talking about from the ranch, right? You're just mad about Chris treating ya like a kid, ain't that it?" But Buck knew better. He could read this kid like a book. Chris had pushed him past his breaking point and he was leaving. Buck knew it; he could feel it.
JD turned to the tall man, his face older looking in his sorrow. "I'm sorry, Buck. I can't stay. I'm going home, to Boston. Chris doesn't want me involved. I know it's because he doesn't want me to get hurt, but I'm a man, I have to do whats in my heart. I wont stay if hes going to continue to treat me like a kid. I know you understand. I'll write. Tell Ezra I'm glad he's okay. I know ya'll find him before anything happens to him." The cabby honked again. "Goodbye, Buck." He opened the door and left a very upset Buck Wilmington standing in the hall.
In the kitchen, Chris practically snarled as he stood and stormed out of the room. Brushing past Buck, he threw the door open and stalked up behind JD. Grabbing his arm, Chris spun him around. "What the hell are you doing?"
JDs breath caught in his throat as his ribs protested the sudden movement but he recovered quickly. "I'm doing what I feel I have to." JD met Chris' gaze without flinching. The two men stood toe-to-toe, eyes locked for a silent minute. Chris's gaze broke away first.
Sighing, he asked. "JD, what do you want from me?"
Keeping a steady gaze, the young man told him. "I want to be thought of and treated like an adult. I want you to forgive yourself for the accident that injured you more than it did me. I want you to stop acting like my father and start acting like a brother-a brother who teaches me how to be a man, how to defend myself, and how to stand up for what I believe, no matter what it costs me. That is what I want. That is what I need from you."
Chris looked into the hazel eyes of Linc's youngest and saw the man that struggled to stand on an equal footing with six big brothers. "JD, please don't do this. Don't leave the ranch."
Shaking his head, he smiled faintly at his brother. "I have to, Chris." He stepped away from the blond and turned to the cab.
Chris grabbed JD and pulled him around into a brief, but heartfelt, hug. With one hand still on the boy's neck, he said, "No. You don't. I'm sorry, JD. You're right. I'm not treating you as an equal. It's a character flaw, I guess. Just feel the need to protect you; all of you. I apologize for treating you that way. I can't promise I won't do it again if you decide to stay. But I will try. That I will promise."
He saw the boy consider his plea and knew the moment it was accepted. JD's eyes smiled first, quickly followed by his mouth. "I'm going to hold you to that."
Chris was aware as Josiah moved past and paid the cab driver. As the cab pulled away, the men went back into the house. Chris' eyes met Vin's; they spoke volumes. If JD had left, Vin would have followed soon after. Chris was scared; scared that another brother might be injured or lost, but he knew he had done the right thing.
"I'll go with Buck and Josiah, Chris." JD informed him.
"Good. Everyone set?" Four heads nodded. "Let's get started."
Rick stopped them at the door. Tossing Josiah a set of keys, he said. "I know people that I can trust. I'll have a team at the terminal before eight. We'll be ready when they show up. Those are the keys to Karin's truck. She won't need it today." Karin smiled behind him.
Chris' nodded. "We'll see you there." The five Larabee brothers exited the house with their brother's fate weighing heavy on their minds.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra was awakened to the sound of men coming into the room. He was pulled from the bed and dragged into the front room. It was still dark outside, but the sun was beginning to tinge the horizon a deep purple. He pulled free of the restraining hands and adjusted his clothes as he locked eyes with Tallmadge.
"Well, sir, do we have a plan for this mornings distractions? A party, perhaps? Or maybe a trip to the casinos to try our luck? I am feeling extremely lucky today. You?"
"Nice to see you in such an excellent mood, Ezra. If you want to live through the day, maintain that uplifting repartee. I might allow you to live if you continue to entertain us."
"And I might allow your continued existence once this fiasco has run its course, upon confirmation of my brother's well-being, of course, William." Ezra's face bore a pleasant expression, but his eyes burned with a fire that Tallmadge had never seen. In their ten-year relationship, Tallmadge had never seen such intense emotions of the southerner's face. The man drew a deep breath and continued with bravado that he didn't feel.
"I have already informed you; the boy was not seriously injured. Some bruises, a bloody lip. Steve got out there within a minute. Stewart left rather quickly, not wanting to be seen." He leaned in close to Ezra and said softly, "If the man could only follow orders. He is rather an unintelligent sort. I told him to move the car, not beat up a child."
Ezra stepped away from the man and said. "JD is not a child. He is more a man at his tender age than you could ever aspire to be."
Tallmadge growled and backhanded Standish across the cheek. The large signet ring he wore cut a bloody gash across Ezra's cheek, but Standish did not flinch. As Tallmadge stepped back, breathing hard in his anger, the southerner carefully removed a handkerchief from the inner pocket of his jacket and blotted at the thin trail of blood on his cheek. Ezra gazed at the blood that stained the silk. He brought his eyes back up and green blazed at brown.
For the first time, Ezra noticed the murky color of Tallmadge's eyes. He found a lack of warmth in the man's eyes. A shiver ran up Ezra's spine as his mind compared the eyes before him to those of a shark- cold and dead looking. Standish came to the realization that at one time he would have considered William Tallmadge a good friend, a confidant, but that time was past. Since becoming part of the Larabee family, he had discovered what true friendship was. He discovered that the foundation he had based all his relationships on was flawed and out of balance with what was truly important in life. His supposed 'friendship' with Tallmadge was just one example of that misconception. Ezra drew his head down and looked at Tallmadge through his lashes, his nostrils slightly flared and sneer on his lips.
"Sir, my brothers will, no doubt, have been informed of young JD's situation by now. They will be here soon, if they are not already. Therein lies the most basic difference between them and you, William. They have honor and loyalty. These are apparently things that you, not only do not possess, but do not a working knowledge of either."
Tallmadge listened to Standish and appeared unaffected by the speech. Only someone who had known the man a long time would notice the slight twitch at the corner of his mouth or the dampness around his hairline. Ezra had known Tallmadge that long. Standish straightened his jacket and glowered at the former confidant.
A shiver ran up the mans spine, but he remained outwardly calm. Glancing at his watch, he stepped back. "Stewart, its about time. We need to meet the rest of crew. We have work to do."
Ezra chuckled and glanced around at each of the three men in the room. "Work? Is that what you call it? Open your eyes, William. At least acknowledge what you do. You steal, you rob, you are a thief. Its not work, it is an illicit act."
Tallmadge turned to the door as Stewart and another man grabbed Ezra by the arms. "Whatever you care to call it, Ezra, its time to leave. Bring him along, gentlemen."
The four men left the security guards home and silence descended on the residence. No one noticed the bloodstained handkerchief lying on the floor.
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