Notes: This is for Birgitt. It is a sequel to Missing - how are Ezra and the boys going to cope with the undercover agent´s first assignment back after nearly being killed? I´m not sure I´ve done justice to the idea but I hope it´s alright. If you haven´t read Missing, it´s probably best that you do before reading this, to see what happened to Ezra. The reference book used for this was Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman. The characters Mickey Barnes and Megan were OFC´s in another of my stories on a different web site. Thanks to everyone who has sent me an email about my stories. It´s great to know when you have enjoyed them.
Size: Approx 140K
The bullet shot me and I lay
I did not know if I was dead,
I lay and watched the morning come
And I am dying, then, I thought.
And break the mist before my eyes?
- Elizabeth Jennings (1958)
Ezra shook himself after reciting the poem for the umpteenth time that morning. He´d been repeating it ever since he had been shot four months before. It suited the feelings and circumstances of his experience to a tee and he somehow found that comforting.
He stood on the sidewalk outside the office building and tilted his head back to look up toward the floor that housed the team´s area. He felt a hand on his shoulder and he turned to see Chris standing beside him, frowning in concern.
Are you ready? You are sure you´re not coming back too soon? Chris asked insistently. He studied Ezra as he spoke and knew how the man must be feeling. After nearly losing his life, it must be hard to return to work and try to carry on as if nothing had happened.
Ezra turned a wry smile on his boss, Well, it´s a bit late to say I don´t wish to come back to work after all. It took a lot of soul searching to convince myself to return but I´ll be alright, I´m sure.
Hopefully we can ease you back into it gently so you can regain your confidence. Just make sure you tell me if it gets too much to handle. Josiah´s always around to talk to, as are the rest of us.
I know. Thank you. Ezra took a deep breath and took a step forwards. Chris kept pace with him and the two men got in the elevator and made their way up to their floor. Chris smiled encouragingly at the undercover agent as the elevator doors opened and they both stepped out to
walk along the hallway.
Ezra saw the doorway to his workplace and slowed his pace unconsciously. Chris noticed, however, and put his arm around Ezra´s back to guide him onwards.
Why should I be so reluctant to enter the office, Mr. Larabee? It didn´t even happen here, Ezra asked quietly as he realized what he´d done.
It´s just mind association. You were shot as part of your job and you´re bound to relate everything to do with it to your injury. Are you positive you´re ready? Chris asked again.
Yes. If I don´t do it now I never will. Who would have thought a grown man could make such a fuss about returning to work? Ezra started walking again and noticed that Chris kept a hand on him for comfort.
You´ve got every right to be nervous. Your job is one of the toughest there is. Having to deal with all the unexpected circumstances that are thrown at you. I know I couldn´t do it on a permanent basis and it´s only natural that you´re anxious after what you went through.
The two men reached the office and entered. The rest of the team was there and they all looked up and smiled. Ezra walked to his desk and sat down, noticing that there were no files on his desk to work on.
Hey Ez. Good to have you back, Vin greeted. It´s been funny without you. I´ve kept looking up to speak to you and you ain´t been there. I know we´ve seen you most days outside work, but it ain´t been the same here without you.
I can´t say it´s great to be back. Not yet anyway. Thank you for your kind sentiments though. Ezra turned to Chris and asked, What do you want me to do?
JD´s currently looking through the database for someone. You could help him if you like. He´s got all the info about it, okay?
Yes fine. Ezra rose and walked over to stand next to JD. Mr. Dunne. What would you like me to do to ease your burden?
Could you get through to the Interpol database and look for anyone whose M.O. matches this? I´m checking the FBI one at the moment but we think he could be from abroad. We´ve got a very vague description of him but hopefully we can strike it lucky.
With pleasure. Ezra took the details from the kid and walked back to his desk.
Vin looked at him and smiled. That´s what we´ve been missing around here. Someone who´s polite. This bunch couldn´t be polite if their lives depended on it.
I know what you mean, Mr. Tanner. Decorum is sadly lacking in our fellow workers. Ezra sat down smiling and turned on his computer. He logged on to the Interpol database and started work. He got engrossed in his search after he had wracked his brain to remember how to search the database. Surprising how easy it is to forget which buttons to press when you haven´t used it for a long time, he thought to himself. He finally got going after a few false starts and he jumped when he heard a voice by his side.
Coming for lunch, Ez? Buck asked.
Lunch time already? I must say it´s nice to be totally occupied. Time was beginning to drag at home. Perhaps it´s not so bad being back at work full time after all. He rose and walked with Buck and the others to a nearby bar. He was certainly feeling a bit more relaxed than he had this morning. He looked round at his friends and smiled. They definitely were a motley lot but they got on particularly well together despite their different backgrounds.
What ya laughing at, Ez? Seen yer reflection in the mirror? Vin asked laughing.
Oh my God. Your wit is too sharp, Mr. Tanner. Mind you don´t cut yourself. I was actually just thinking what a group of misfits we are.
You being the biggest misfit of all, I take it? Chris said smiling.
I wouldn´t want to upset anyone by giving my opinion on that score, Ezra replied laughing.
Chris was glad to see Ezra relaxing. The man had certainly been uptight in the days before his return to work. He´d been constantly on the move while he´d been staying with Chris, unable to sit still for more than an hour at a time. Chris had taken some case files home with him to keep the undercover agent occupied but when Ezra had time on his hands he just couldn´t seem to settle. Chris had found it increasingly difficult to help him stay calm. He´d eventually decided to arrange for Ezra to work a few hours a day in the local police precinct to help prepare him to return to work full time. He also thought a change of scene would be good for the man.
Come on. Can´t get you into bad habits by having long lunches. You´re lazy enough in the mornings without us encouraging you to slack off during the day too, Nathan said as he got up.
Well, I thought you´d let me take it easy on my first day back. You wouldn´t want me to overdo it now, would you? Ezra inquired as Nathan put an arm round his shoulders and walked him out the door.
You? Work hard? Pull the other one Ez. I´ve never seen you break out in a sweat before, the medic teased as the two men walked back to the office. He felt the undercover agent flinch and tense up as he was touched so Nathan eased his grip and removed his hand.
Ezra shrugged his shoulders unconsciously as he felt Nathan let go his hold. You obviously haven´t seen me trying to open a new jar of jam. I´m sure the manufacturer´s never intend you to eat their products, Ezra replied chuckling as he relaxed again.
Nathan laughed and pushed Ezra playfully into the elevator before the others joined them inside. They went back up to their office and Chris put a hand lightly on Ezra´s arm.
Can I have a word in my office?
Certainly. Ezra followed the blond man and sat down by his desk. Chris sat opposite him and opened his desk drawer.
I´m not sure whether you want this back, Ez. The police confiscated it from Paul when they caught him, Chris said, as he retrieved the undercover agent´s gun from the drawer and held it out to him.
Ezra´s eyes glazed over and in his mind he was back in the forest clearing where he had been shot.He moved out from the trees to give himself room to move. Paul emerged from the trees and walked over to join him. He noticed Paul now had a gun. When he looked more closely Ezra could see it was his own gun. Paul raised the weapon so it was lined with Ezra´s chest at point- blank range. Ezra knew he had to fight for his life so he tried to wrest the gun from Paul´s hand or at least move it away. He was not successful and the gun fired twice throwing him from his feet with the force of the shots.
Ezra gasped loudly and closed his eyes as he took a deep breath. He´d unconsciously put a hand up to his chest as he experienced his flashback and his body jerked as he imagined the bullets striking his body. He could feel his heart pounding beneath his palm and he started breathing erratically. When he opened his eyes and looked at his hand he expected to see it covered in blood. He stared at it in confusion as he gathered his scattered thoughts and tried to calm down.
Ez? Are you alright? Chris asked in a concerned tone. He´d seen his agent´s body twitch alarmingly and he wondered what had caused it.
What? Yes, yes. I was just thinking. I never expected to see my gun again and the sight of it just threw me for a minute, the undercover agent replied quietly.
Ezra frowned and stared at the weapon Chris was still holding. Do I really want to use the gun that so nearly killed me? It had caused major damage to his lung and stomach with the two bullets it had fired. He was silent for well over a minute as he contemplated his decision. Well, I suppose it´s the person on the trigger end that is more dangerous than the weapon itself. Perhaps if I keep it, it will serve as a reminder of my lucky escape. I´d rather have it in my possession than come face to face with the wrong end again.
Chris held the gun out toward him and Ezra took hold of the butt tentatively. Chris kept hold of the barrel and made eye contact with the man opposite him. He raised an eyebrow questioningly and Ezra nodded to say he was sure he wanted the gun back. Chris let go his grip and Ezra put the gun in his waistband. He hadn´t put on his underarm holster as he hadn´t had a gun to put in it until now. He rose and walked to the door and Chris watched him go, wondering if he really was alright.
Ezra retook his seat in the outer office just as his phone rang. Standish. He listened and his eyes got a far away look in them. Vin looked up and frowned when he saw his friend´s expression and he waited quietly until Ezra put the phone down slowly after speaking for quite some time.
What´s up Ez? Everything okay? the sharpshooter asked, concernedly.
It seems you may all be in need of my services rather sooner than anticipated. That was one of my contacts with some information about a shipment of drugs. You remember Mickey Barnes? Well, it seems some of his old accomplices have set up a new gang now he´s been imprisoned.
I thought we caught everyone, Buck said from where he was listening to their conversation.
We caught all the ones involved with trying to stop Megan from giving evidence against Barnes but he had a big network of contacts, don´t forget. I´d better alert Mr. Larabee, Ezra said in trepidation. Why did this have to crop up on my first day back? he asked himself. He rose and went back to Chris´s office and knocked on the door.
Chris looked up and beckoned him in. Ez? What´s up?
I´ve just received a tip off about a drugs shipment. My informant has asked me to meet him to get more details. It involves some friends of Mickey Barnes, Ezra informed his boss.
Chris frowned. He knew from experience what they would be up against and he cursed. Okay, I´ll come with you. When did you arrange to meet?
You´re happy to go?
Yes. I´ll meet you outside, shall I? Ezra asked.
+ + + + + + +
The two men walked to a bar a couple of blocks away and took up residence at the counter.
Not a very salubrious establishment, I´m afraid. There´s no accounting for taste, is there? Ezra said as he looked around the room with distaste.
Chris studied the other customers and didn´t recognize anyone. What´s this contact of yours look like? he asked Ezra.
Like a weasel. Small, with a pointed nose, dark hair and mustache. He´s always got a perpetual drip on the end of his nose. Quite repugnant really, but he´s always been reliable with his information.
Chris winced at Ezra´s description and thought that the man sounded positively disgusting. He looked up and spotted the man approaching Ezra from behind. Chris caught his agent´s eye and nodded in the informant´s direction. Ezra stood up and turned round to meet him.
Pinky. What a pleasure, Ezra greeted, holding out a hand. The small man took it and shook it weakly. When he released his grip Ezra couldn´t help but wipe his palm down his pant leg surreptitiously. The man felt positively greasy. God knows where his hands have been, Ezra thought. The undercover agent indicated Chris and said, This is my boss. He was very interested in the information you gave me.
Chris just nodded, not wanting to touch the man after seeing Ezra´s reaction to him. Shall we move to a table out of the way? When they were seated he asked, What can you tell us?
The gang are meeting the shipment in Castle Rock. They´re looking for a buyer for the whole lot. They did have another buyer lined up but he backed out at the last minute and they´re in a bit of a hurry to offload it. I thought you might be interested. The man looked hopefully at the two men sitting with him as he wiped his nose on his sleeve.
You thought correctly, my friend, Ezra replied patting him on the shoulder automatically before cringing in distaste. Jesus, when am I going to learn not to touch him? he asked himself, as he looked at his hand. For some reason he expected it to be dirty or slimy but it looked the same as normal. Do you have exact details?
Chris noticed that Ezra was talking in an excessively loud voice. It wasn´t so loud as to be heard by other customers but it was loud enough. He wondered whether the man was doing it unconsciously in an effort to persuade Chris, or himself, of his returning confidence. Ezra didn´t seem to realize he was doing it anyway. Pinky interrupted his thoughts when he answered Ezra´s question.
Yeah. I brought a map to show exactly where and when. The man patted his pockets before locating the item he was looking for. He pulled a sheet of paper out and opened it up and spread it on the table. It was actually a rough hand drawn sketch, but it gave all the information that Chris desired.
This´s great, Pinky. Thanks, he praised, smiling in satisfaction. He reached into his own pocket and gave some money to the man gratefully. The informant left the two agents alone after hiding his reward away. Chris and Ezra moved back to the far end of the bar to buy a drink.
What do ya think? Chris asked his companion after Pinky had gone.
I´ve never known Pinky to be wrong. He´s always very thorough in his work even if his personal hygiene and habits leave a lot to be desired.
What I meant was, do you feel happy about posing as the buyer? Can we be sure you won´t be recognized? I can get one of the others to do it or ask Steve, who replaced you while you were off, if he could help out. I don´t want you to feel you have to do it, unless you are truly ready. It is only your first day back and I don´t want to force you into anything you´re not comfortable with.
Ezra stood staring into space. Just thinking about it brought him out in a cold sweat. What should I do? I´ll have to get back into the swing of things sooner or later, but I still felt unsure of myself. How would I react if something went wrong? He looked down at the floor and fidgeted, not able to answer straight away.
Ez? Chris persisted. There´s no shame if you don´t want to do it. It´s unfortunate that this came up today. I´ll get one of the others, don´t worry. He patted Ezra´s shoulder and felt his agent squirm under his hand. Chris looked at him curiously, wondering why the man was unhappy about being touched. He´d noticed his earlier reaction when Nathan had put an arm around his shoulders too.
Chris? I´ll do it. If I sit back and let everyone else do my job, I might never get the courage to go back undercover at all, Ezra said quietly. I need to do it for my own peace of mind because I´ve been dreading this moment since making the decision to come back. Besides we caught all of Barnes´s men that we knew about so I think we can be fairly sure these are his out of town contacts.
Chris studied the man standing before him. He wasn´t sure in his own mind that Ezra was ready, but he didn´t want to discourage him from taking the first step to regaining his confidence. If he refused, it might knock him back, thinking that Chris and the rest of the team didn´t trust him any more. It had been hard enough to get him to come back to work without slapping him down at the first hurdle.
Okay. Let´s get back to the office and fill the others in. Chris walked to the door and held it open for Ezra to pass through ahead of him. The two men walked in silence to the office, each caught up with their own thoughts.
As Chris walked in to the team´s area he called to the other men, Come through to the conference room, will ya? We´ve got something to tell you.
They all followed along behind and sat down at the large table. Chris stood at the head of the table and Ezra sat down near him.
Ezra´s contact gave us some good information about a drugs shipment. It´s coming into Castle Rock next week. The gang is made up of some old associates of Mickey Barnes, so you know the sort of thing we´ll be up against. Ezra has agreed to go in as the buyer, Chris said as he studied the rest of his men to see what reaction his words elicited. He could see by their expressions that they were concerned.
Buck frowned and asked straight out, Are you sure you´re up to this, Ez?
Do you think I´m not? Ezra shot back at him angrily. Chris sent a quick look to Ezra, slightly surprised at the venom in his voice. What a change in mood since lunchtime, he thought. Happy one minute, irritable the next.
I didn´t say that, pard. I´m just wondering if you´re doing it for the right reasons. We won´t think any less of you if you refuse to go in this time. Mickey Barnes was tough and any friends of his are bound to be the same.
Do you all feel like Mr. Wilmington? Ezra asked quietly, looking at each occupant of the room individually.
I don´t, Ez. I´ve got every confidence in you, Vin stated firmly. The sharpshooter sent a furious look to Buck as he spoke. He knew it would be hard on Ezra but he needed encouragement, not doubt, about his ability. Ezra´s life depended on his being able to cope with the situation, but he would be the one in the middle of it all, not them. It would be his life on the line. The rest of the team would be observers until such time as they were needed.
Ezra rose and said, Perhaps it would be prudent if I was not here. You can then air your opinions freely, but I will say this before I go. I don´t want to be the cause of disharmony in the team, but if I´m to stay at work, you must allow me to do my job again and back me up in it. If we don´t trust one another I might as well resign now. May I also remind you that my injuries didn´t occur while I was working undercover. It was a routine surveillance operation that turned out to be anything but routine. It is something I would not care to repeat, so you may be assured that I will act cautiously. Let me ask you this. If this was a normal case with no undercover work, would you be so worried about me helping out?
Ez? There´s no need to go, Chris pleaded as his agent turned to leave. He could feel the tension in the air and he didn´t want there to be any bad feeling.
I believe there is, Mr. Larabee. Please excuse me. Ezra turned and walked out the door and made his way slowly to his desk. He sat down and tried to take his mind off things by getting on with his database search. He´d said his piece and it was up to them to decide now. He rubbed his brow as he felt a headache developing. They seemed to be a regular ailment at the moment.
Chris turned to Buck and growled, Well done, Bucklin.
All I´m saying is, he should wait a bit before going undercover. I, for one, don´t wanna see him at death´s door again. It´s his first day back for Christ´s sake.
He´s been passed fit for work, both physically and mentally. Are you second guessing the professionals, Buck? Chris asked. I can´t, and don´t want to stand him down unless he proves to be unfit, which we won´t know unless we let him work. It all comes down to his confidence and he ain´t gonna regain it sat behind a desk or being kept out of assignments, or being doubted by us. That´ll only serve to take away what little confidence he´s got left. You wanted him back at work and you can´t turn round and say, sorry Ez, perhaps we were wrong, before he´s even done anything, Chris said angrily.
Yeah and what if he gets killed because he can´t cope? How are ya gonna feel then? Buck challenged.
Can´t we have a back up plan or at least have someone else go in with him? Nathan asked, trying to calm the situation down.
Chris turned to Josiah, What do you think?
If we send someone in with him, it´ll reinforce the feeling of mistrust that he senses. It´s a Catch 22 situation. Try to protect him and he´ll see it as us not trusting him but let him go in and discover that he can´t handle it puts the whole bust and his life in jeopardy, as Buck said. Whatever we decide to do we´ll have to tread carefully. Let me tell you what he´s likely to be feeling throughout this. He´s gonna feel vulnerable for quite some time so we´ve gotta make him feel as safe as possible. He´ll see danger everywhere, even in things that have never troubled him before. Small things may trigger memories of events that happened during his captivity. It´s not gonna be easy for him, believe me.
Are you saying he´s not cured? Vin asked.
There is no cure. He´ll have to live with what happened for the rest of his life. It´s not like an illness where you get hives. You can´t just slap on some ointment and wait for the symptoms to disappear. He may feel totally fine or he might lose control in any situation. Not just a work situation either. We won´t know how he´ll react until he´s actually confronted with something that terrifies him. It could be something as simple as a sound that sets him off but you can´t stop him working because of how he might react. We can´t prejudge him. Everyone´s different. Can you say how you´d cope in his shoes? I think he´s recovered remarkably well, all things considered.
Well, I thought we were gonna ease him back into it gently and this hardly qualifies as a gentle assignment. I just don´t think he´s ready to take it on. I´m only thinking of his welfare. He´s asking a lot of himself if he thinks he can just carry on where he left off four months ago, Buck continued.
Give him some credit, Buck. He ain´t gonna do anything stupid, Vin said sourly. We need to support him on this. It´s his decision to make. As Chris said we can´t override the medical report without due cause. If we don´t let him do this what are we gonna let him do? Six months down the track are you still gonna be doubting him? You can´t wrap him in cotton wool so he won´t get hurt.
Well, it seems like we´re suggesting a kill or cure solution to me and I don´t like it, Buck said.
Chris sighed. He could see his team disintegrating before his very eyes. He was in a real quandary. Whatever decision he made, someone would be unhappy with it. Both sides of the argument were coming up with good points too, which wasn´t helping him make up his mind.
JD? You haven´t said anything yet. What do you think? Chris asked.
If Ezra feels happy, I say let him do it. It´s like falling off a horse, you´ve gotta get straight back on. Giving him an easy case to start with won´t help. There´ll still be the question in the back of his mind, and ours, as to whether he can cope with anything more dangerous. It´ll prey on his mind and become like an itch he can´t scratch. The longer we keep him from going undercover, the harder it´ll be for him in the long run. He could blow things out of all proportion and that would be far more damaging for all of us. After what Josiah just told us I think it´s good he won't be totally undercover. We'll be able to see him everyday to make sure he's okay.
Thanks, JD, Chris said sighing. Another good point well made, he thought.
Look Chris. I´ll support whatever you decide, but if he goes in, he can´t afford to hesitate. He´ll have to act decisively even if he feels unsure of himself. Are you sure he can do that? Buck asked.
Chris sat and thought for quite some time, weighing up what he had heard from his team. He knew his answer meant he was giving a possible life or death decision concerning his undercover agent. He answered Buck´s question first. Yes, I think he can and I think we should let him proceed. As he said himself, if it was a normal case we wouldn´t have a problem with him participating. He´s gotta start back sometime with this type of work. I´ll go out and tell him and get him to set things up with Pinky. Just wait here for a few minutes, will ya? He rose and left the room.
Ez? Chris walked toward his agent and sat on the corner of his desk. The others agree that you can pose as the buyer.
I bet it wasn´t a unanimous decision, Ezra replied as he turned his gaze to the blond man.
They´re just worried about you but they´ve gotta learn to let you make up your own mind. You´re the only one who really knows how you feel. We´ll be with you all the way and have got every confidence in you. Chris knew that all the men would rally behind Ezra now the decision had been reached even if they didn´t agree with it.
Thanks Chris. I appreciate your faith in me and I hope I won´t let you down. Ezra felt his stomach churn as he realized he was actually going undercover.
Course you won´t, Chris smiled as he turned and walked into his own office as the other men emerged from the conference room.
Buck made a beeline for Ezra and pulled up a chair next to him. Ez? I´m sorry if you thought I wasn´t supporting you earlier. I just didn´t want you making any hasty decisions. You know, marry in haste, repent at leisure. I couldn´t bear to see you hurt again. I really thought we´d lost you last time and I think that we´ve all got to get our confidence back after what happened. It knocked us for six and it´ll take time for us, and you, to get back to the way things were. If you go undercover any time soon we´re gonna be anxious as to how it´ll turn out. It´s not just this case. Do you understand what I´m trying to say, pard?
Yes, of course I do, Bucklin. I was selfish and I didn´t consider how this whole nasty business would have affected you all.
You weren´t selfish. You´re the one who has to take the biggest step but just remember we´re all here for you, whatever happens. I still feel responsible for losing you in the first place so we´ll get through it together.
You weren´t to blame, Bucklin. I know this case won´t be easy and I admit that the thought of going undercover is daunting. I will try not to give you cause to regret your decision to let me do this.
Never thought you would, pard. Buck stood and patted Ezra´s back before returning to his own desk. Ezra watched him go and smiled.
You okay, Ez? Vin asked.
Fine. Thank you for sticking up for me earlier, Mr. Tanner. I appreciated your support, Ezra replied and picked up the phone to try and contact Pinky. He eventually tracked the man down and asked him to tell the drug gang that he had found a buyer for the shipment. After sorting that out, the afternoon passed quickly with all the arrangements that needed to be made. Buck offered him a lift home and he gladly accepted.
When the two men had gone, Josiah wandered along to Chris´s office and knocked on the door. Chris beckoned him in and the big man sat down in front of the desk.
You okay, Chris?
Yeah. I hope I made the right choice. I´ll never forgive myself if something happened to him. What if he can´t handle it, like Buck says? Chris asked anxiously as he scratched his elbow.
Well, it´s better he discovers it now rather than later, although we all hope he won´t pay for it with his life. He´s stronger than we give him credit for. He recovered from his injuries, didn´t he? That took strength of body and character. He´s also coped well with the mental trauma he suffered. He´s gonna be assaulted by images about what happened for quite a while but he´ll come through this, I´m sure, Josiah assured him.
I hope you´re right, Josiah. I really do.
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