Atlantan Legacy XII - Independence Day

by Squeakypeep

Disclaimer: Not Mine.. no profit.

Acknowledgements: Mog’s Universe - Thank you.

I had a lot of trouble with this story. I wrote it once and deleted the whole lot before starting over. Not least of the difficulty was that I know next to nothing about July 4th. I finally changed the emphasis to the day before, July 3rd and the events that took place then, skirting over the holiday celebration as much as possible. This could be a suitable place to end the series. Let me know what you think (Shameless request for feedback I know!)

Tuesday 3rd July
The light colored unmarked sedan trailed behind the ancient suburban as it carefully navigated through the morning traffic in the Denver suburbs. There was silence in the vehicle as the occupants concentrated on keeping their target in sight.

Ahead, Josiah Sanchez hummed along as his small passenger sang out the words to ‘Amazing Grace’, her clear soprano echoing around in the confines of the car. Ezra, Vin and Chris had all had to leave early this morning for a meeting with representatives of the DA’s office. Josiah had volunteered to collect the Southerner’s small daughter and run her over to the summer school since he was due in court a little later and had time to kill. Apart from the occasional bedtime story, he rarely got the chance to spend time alone with Team 7’s unofficial ‘mascot’.

‘Beautiful, Cherub!’ Josiah cast a quick glance over his shoulder at the child as she fell silent, before concentrating back on the road.

‘Thanks Uncle Josiah. It’s my favourite, ‘cept for the Christmas ones.’

‘Mine too. I will be able to face my day with a clearer mind now.’ Rorie chuckled.

‘You’ve go so many stories and sayings in your mind I am surprised you can find anything in there!’

Josiah laughed, a contagious rumbling belly laugh that automatically made the child join in. ‘You’re quite right. I can’t always find the one I want.’ Josiah eased the cumbersome vehicle into a slot outside the school. Children of all ages milled about in the grounds waiting for the bell to call them to their lessons. He climbed out and moved around to let his passenger disembark. She’d already undone the safety buckle and was gathering her sheet music and lunchbox.

‘Aurora Standish!’ His deep voice boomed out chidingly. He looked pointedly from her to her safety seat and back again.

‘Sorry, I forgot.’ She looked sheepish. Climbing out she took hold of the big man’s pinkie in her full fist and the two strolled over to the gate, manned by a uniformed security guard. ‘Bye Uncle Josiah.’ The tall profiler leaned down and picked her up into a big hug. She kissed his chin.

‘Be good. Mrs Greer will be here to pick you up at three.’ She nodded and bid the guard good morning as she walked into the schoolyard.

Sanchez climbed back into the old SUV and waved as he pulled away.

Further down the street the two occupants of the sedan looked at each other.

‘So Sanchez has a weakness. We get his kid and he won’t dare testify.’ The elder man, seated in the driver’s seat, allowed a satisfied smirk to cross his acne-scarred face.

‘You wanna snatch that kid?’ His younger companion was uneasy. He’d do pretty much anything for Aldo Ramirez, but kidnapping? That meant serious time. And if she got hurt, he didn’t want to think about that possibility.

‘The boss told us to find a way to stop him from testifying, anything short of killing him, and the only reason we can’t do that is ‘cause it’s too obvious. C’mon.’ The thickset driver climbed from the car and headed to the school. His reluctant partner followed.

Denver Court House

Josiah was lounging on the hard bench outside the courtroom where the murder trial was taking place, waiting to be called to give his testimony, when his cell phone rang. He fished it out of his jacket pocket and flipped it open automatically, assuming it was Chris checking his progress.


‘Good morning Mr Sanchez. I am calling to make you an offer you can’t refuse.’ An unfamiliar voice purred in his ear.

‘Whatever you’re selling I don’t want one.’

‘You want this, I’m sure. She is such a charmingly cute little girl.’


‘Your daughter. You testify and she dies.’

‘I don’t have…’

‘Forget it Mr Sanchez. We picked her up this morning right after you dropped her at that preppy school. Just shut up and listen. You tell the judge whatever you want, so long as Aldo Ramirez doesn’t get convicted, and you’ll get your kid back alive. If he goes to jail you’d better get one of those pretty little white coffins ready.’

Josiah felt a chill run through his body. Rorie. They were talking about Rorie.

‘Let me speak to her.’ There was a pause. ‘I can’t be sure you have her, you could be bluffing.’

‘Okay wait.’ There was a clatter and a shuffling noise.

‘Hello?’ The tremulous voice was unmistakable.

Josiah swallowed painfully. ‘Hey Sweetheart. Are you Okay?’

‘Yahuh. What’s happening?’

‘Just do exactly what they tell you, don’t annoy them. This is important Aurora.’

At the other end of the phone Rorie was trying to be brave. She already knew she was in deep trouble. The seriousness of her uncle’s tone and his use of her full name confirmed it. ‘Okay.’

‘We’ll come for you. Sit tight.’

There was a rattle and the man’s voice came back. ‘We’ll be in touch.’ The line went dead.

Josiah took a deep breath and speed dialled the Office number.

‘Agent Dunne.’

‘JD, Josiah.’

‘Hi Josiah, what… Knock it off Buck. I’m on the phone…’

‘JD! Shut up and listen.’ There was silence. ‘JD?’

‘What happened?’ Dunne’s tone was suddenly all business. He knew by the profiler’s voice that there was something very wrong and he held up his hand to forestall Buck’s Nerf ball counter attack. Wilmington raised his brows at the serious face. Nathan got up from his desk and approached. JD listened.

‘I just got a call on my cell. You need to see if you can trace it. Someone has snatched Rorie, threatening to kill her if I testify against Ramirez. I spoke to her. She’s okay at the moment. Call Chris and let him know what’s happening. I’ll try and stall here as long as I can.’ He looked up as his name was called. ‘Gotta go JD.’ He clipped the phone shut and climbed to his feet. Only then did he realize his legs were shaky.

In the office JD looked at the phone for a few seconds in shock before quickly dialling the beeper numbers of the remaining members of the team, sending an emergency code. He filled Buck and Nathan in on what Josiah had said as he typed madly at his keyboard, trying to trace the last number to have called Josiah’s cell.

By the time Chris, Vin and Ezra materialized in the office, accompanied by AD Travis, he had found that the call had originated from a public call box in Purgatorio.

‘Who sent the general alarm?’ Chris glanced around automatically checking the whereabouts of each member of the team. The only one missing was Josiah and he was in court. ‘What’s happening?’

‘You’d better sit down.’ JD looked slightly panicked. Buck took over.

‘Conference Room. Join us Sir, please.’ Travis nodded.

The sombre group trooped into the meeting room and closed the door.

Denver Courthouse
1:00 pm

Judge James J Stimson took the note handed to him by the Bailiff.

He was not in the best humor. It seemed the State’s prime witness to the murder of Frank Detto was wasting his time and he was fast losing his patience. Sanchez was churning out parable after parable after obscure quote and it was making his head ache trying to decipher it all.

He glanced down at the note and his eyes widened as he absorbed the message. He picked up his gavel and thumped the bench.

‘I apologise, Counsellors, Members of the Jury. I have received an urgent message informing me of a family crisis. Court is adjourned until after the 4th July Holiday. We will re-convene at 10am on Thursday.’ He rose to his feet and quickly left.

The accused was taken back to the cells, shuffling in his cuffs and leg irons and casting suspicious looks at the ATF Agent abandoned in the witness box as he was led away. Sanchez just looked confused. And worried. Ramirez smiled and waved.

Josiah scowled at him.

The same bailiff approached the witness with a second note. It was terse. He concluded it was obviously from Chris, although it was unsigned.

Get back to the office.’

Josiah left as quickly as possible.

A thick set man with an acne-scarred face watched from the gallery.

Team 7 Office
Federal Building
2:00 pm

Josiah arrived in the bullpen to a hive of activity. Everyone was on the phone. He headed towards the Undercover Agent who ended his call when the Profiler stopped in front of his desk.

‘Ezra, I’m sorry…’

Standish held up his hand, which trembled slightly. He looked anxious and shaken and unusually dishevelled. ‘Mr Sanchez, Josiah, please do not start assuming guilt. None of this is your fault. Ours is a dangerous job. This is one of the more unpleasant consequences. Such a situation could have arisen when I was testifying, or Vin or any of the others. It would not have changed the fact that none of us are responsible.’ He smiled grimly at the taller man as he rose to his feet and clapped him on the shoulder.

Josiah nodded, reluctantly. ‘Any news?’

‘We are attempting to trace any known associates of Mr Ramirez who are still at large. Most of them have already been incarcerated, but my last call may have some possibilities.’ He headed towards Chris’s office.

‘Mr Larabee?’

‘Yeah Ez? You got something?’

‘Perhaps. One of my snitches wishes to sell me some information. Perhaps Mr Tanner and I could meet him together?’ Ezra knew Chris would never let him go alone, not in his present state of mind, as a worried parent. He suggested Vin accompany him, knowing he would be the easiest on his frayed nerves.

‘Go ahead. Leave the details of your meet with JD. Josiah come in and shut the door.’

The undercover agent moved off to collect the Texan and the profiler shut the door and took a seat.

‘Not your fault.’

‘I know. Doesn’t make it any easier.’ Josiah ran a hand over his face wearily, forehead to chin.

‘Travis has agreed to let us handle this. We have to keep it as quiet as possible if you are to retain credibility as an impartial witness.’

‘He arranged for the Judge to postpone until after the holiday?’

‘Yeah he called in a favour. You will have to testify regardless of whether we find her Josiah. You know that?’

Sanchez was silent for a minute. To testify could mean a death warrant to the child. Not to testify would mean imprisonment for him, not Ramirez, and the child could still die. Chris gazed at him steadily. He sighed. ‘I know, Chris. I just hope we can find her first.’

‘So do I’

Abandoned Office Building

Rorie was sitting perched on the edge of a rough hewn wooden crate. Her jailer, the young man who had been partly responsible for snatching her from the schoolyard sat across the room, fidgeting nervously. Rorie eyed him in speculation.

‘You have anything to play with?’ The man jumped when she spoke.


‘I’m scared Mister. I just… have you got anything to play with?’

The man, whose name she learned was Steve, looked at her as if she’d grown a second head. Finally he produced a pack of cards from his pocket. He watched the child for a minute. She was just a baby, she couldn’t possibly cause him any trouble. He actually felt kind of sorry for her. He’d play cards with her if it helped to ease her fear.

Pretty soon the two were involved in a cutthroat game of go fish.

The game ended abruptly with the arrival of the older thug. He shot his partner a disgusted look and roughly picked the child up by the arm, dragging her along a corridor to a darkened office. He shoved her inside and locked the door. Not a word was spoken during the whole trip. Rorie stood rubbing her abused arm and bit back the tears.

She would NOT cry. She was a big four year old. She would NOT cry.

Tears tumbled down her cheeks despite her best efforts to hold them back, leaving white trails in the accumulated dirt. She blinked through them, roughly brushing the back of her hand across her eyes and further smearing the dirt. She looked around her prison.

The furnishings consisted of a lopsided desk against one wall, a couple of three legged chairs and an overturned metal filing cabinet that appeared to have vomited papers all over the filthy floor. She trotted over to the grimy window and peered out. They were high up. There was no way she could climb out.

Rorie listened to the yelling coming from the other side of the closed door. Steve was getting told off. It was all in Spanish and she didn’t understand a word but she knew anger when she heard it. Some of the words she recognised as things Inez had said to Uncle Buck but she didn’t know what they meant.

She wondered what her Daddy was doing now.

Mario’s Bar and Grill

Ezra slid into the shaded booth opposite his informant, Stan ‘Slink’ Nyder. He narrowed his eyes at him and watched, reading his face.

The greasy little snitch smiled at him showing a mouth full of decayed teeth. The smile vanished as Tanner shoved him over and closed off his escape. He started to protest

‘Do you have something for me Mr Nyder?’ Ezra cut through the blustering.

‘Ya payin?’ He glanced from one to the other and back again.

‘I will pay your usual fee, if your information proves pertinent.’ He pulled a fat billfold from his pocket and the man’s ratty eyes bulged. ‘Talk.’

‘Ramirez has a cousin.’

Standish just gazed steadily at him with hard green eyes, his expression inscrutable. Tanner was intimidating purely by his silence. Slink spoke faster.

‘His name’s Juan Domingo. Has a place on West Grenada Avenue.’

Ezra peeled off a bill but didn’t hand it over. ‘And?’

‘He ain’t been there much today.’ He cast a quick look at the silent Texan who seemed to be gazing into space. ‘Crunch the Banker, saw him and young Stevie Panetti hanging round an old office block on the corner of Questo and Gandol. Ain’t nobody been in there for years. Place is condemned.’

There was a silence. ‘That it?’ The scruffy Texan final spoke.

Slink looked over at the Southerner. ‘It’s good info. Worth at least a fifty.’ His gaze fell to the billfold in Standish’s hand.

Ezra nodded and handed him the money. The two agents quietly melted away. Nyder lived up to his name and slinked out the back door into an alley before vanishing into the shadows.

‘Whaddya think?’ They were seated in Vin’s battered blue jeep, headed back towards the office. ‘He reliable?’

‘Usually.’ Standish was slumped in his seat, gaze fixed on the passing scenery, if you could call the rundown streets of the Ghetto scenery. His eyes were hidden behind designer sunglasses.

Vin glanced at his friend. He was so worried about Rorie, he felt nauseous. God knew how Ez felt. ‘We’ll get her back.’

Standish smiled grimly. ‘I am prepared to die trying, Mr Tanner.’

Vin chuckled. ‘So am I pard, but I hope it don’t come ta that!’

Ezra looked over at him, realizing for the first time that he was not the only one who was suffering. ‘Thank you Vin.’

The Ex-bounty Hunter nodded, keeping his eyes on the road. ‘I love her too.’

Eleven Blocks away from where Vin and Ezra had met with the snitch, Rorie had gone from terrified to resigned to angry. She paced around the room, faster and faster, not unlike a caged tiger at the zoo. On one pass through the paper debris she kicked something hard with her foot. It clunked.

Curious, she bent down to have a look. It was a tool box! She opened it carefully only to be mightily disappointed. The only thing inside was a bent screwdriver. She threw it down and kicked the box, quickly resuming her pacing. She had completed two more circuits before she came up with a plan.

It took her a few minutes to find the screwdriver. She shuffled along behind the desk, squeezing into the narrow space. She set to work on the grate in the wall, partially hidden behind the discarded furniture.

When Steve arrived an hour later with a stale sandwich and a Styrofoam cup full of water she turned on the crocodile tears. Assuming her ‘sweet innocent child’ face she begged him not to lock the door, claiming she was scared in there by herself and asking him to stay with her.

Steve proved as defenceless against this onslaught as most people. He pulled out his cards and tried to coax her into another game of cards.

They’d been playing for an hour when he left her alone to take a leak. He only went a little way down the corridor but when he returned to the office moments later she’d vanished. Steve panicked. He hunted around for her for twenty minutes, checking the street and every nook and cranny he could imagine a small child concealing herself. He was back in the corridor outside the office when Juan found him. He was furious.

‘You what? How the hell could you let her escape? She’s just a little kid! Just how dumb are you, Asshole?’ He pulled out a gun. Steve paled. ‘Don’t just stand there shithead! Find the little fucker!’

They set off in opposite directions but had only gone a few paces when there was a cry of ‘FREEZE, ATF’

Stevie Panetti immediately gave himself up to Nathan and Chris who quickly cuffed him before moving off to further secure the area.

Domingo tried to run but was quickly brought down by a shot in the thigh from the sharpshooter. JD and Buck cuffed him and guarded both prisoners while the others scanned the building and checked for Rorie.

Having searched every level without success, they approached the two suspects. Chris watched his Undercover Agent as he stood over the two men. He vowed not to interfere.

‘Where is she?’ Standish’s tone and expression were chilling, bordering on madness. He was every inch a killer.

Domingo answered by spitting at his shoes. ‘Where’s who, pig? This is police brutality! I need medical attention. My lawyer’s gonna hear about this and I’ll sue you for everything you’ve got asshole.’

Standish held up a yellow and white striped ribbon. Josiah recognised it as the one Rorie had worn at the end of her braid that morning. Domingo screamed as the Southerner put his heel on the wounded man’s thigh and pressed.

‘Holy Shit. Get this motherfucker off me he’s crazy!’

‘Where. Is. My. Daughter?’ Ezra emphasised each word with a grind of his heel on the bloody gunshot wound. Domingo shrieked and passed out.

‘Think he’s out fer a while pard. Wanna try this one?’ Tanner lifted the terrified younger suspect’s head off the floor by his hair as he crouched over him, blue eyes steely.

Panetti tried to back-pedal as the crazy cop approached. ‘I don’t get it man. We took Sanchez’s kid. We don’t got…’

‘Wrong. You took MY kid.’ Ezra placed his heel on Panetti’s groin. ‘Are you going to tell me where she is?’ He pressed lightly.

The young suspect winced. This guy was loco. He looked around for support but saw by the uninterested faces he wasn’t going to get any. These guys were going to stand aside and let the madman torture him. The pressure on his balls increased to painful. ‘She got away.’ His voice was an octave higher than normal, nearly soprano.

The ATF Agents exchanged looks. They really should have been more surprised but with a Standish, even a small one, you always had to expect the unexpected.

‘Tell me, all of it, do not omit any details.’

Panetti breathlessly related how the little girl had cried and asked him to keep her company. How he’d gone out for just a minute and when he’d returned she’d disappeared.

‘She was unharmed?’

Steve Panetti looked over into the cold green eyes of Chris Larabee. ‘Yessir! I ain’t got nothing against the kid. It was his idea.’ He nodded at the slumbering Domingo. ‘He made me do it.’

‘Buck, JD, take these two scumbags to the nearest lockup then come back and help us look. Josiah, put an APB out on Rorie. Let’s move.’ Chris caught his Undercover Agent’s arm as he passed. ‘She’ll be Okay Ez. We’re halfway there.’

Ezra’s response was wry. ‘I just wish she’d stay where she’s put Mr Larabee! Life would be infinitely simpler but no, she had to effect her own emancipation.’ He wasn’t sure whether he should be angry or proud.

Vin clapped him on the shoulder. ‘Takes after her old man.’

‘To whom are you referring as ‘old’ Mr Tanner?’ Chris smiled at the banter. They all felt somewhat better but they couldn’t relax yet. They had a miniature escapee to catch.

Three hours later it was getting dark and they were still combing the streets. They met up in a small park in the centre of the search area. Various on and off duty cops, ATF Agents and concerned citizens had joined the hunt.

‘She wouldn’t have gone home would she?’

‘Too far.’

‘Nobody’s seen hide nor hair of her. A little kid wandering around on her own can’t be hard to miss, surely.’

‘What concerns me, Gentlemen, is that she knows how to call for help. Why has she not done so?’ Ezra’s soft question had them all sinking back into deep worry. Inez gripped his hand and squeezed and he responded with a small unconvincing smile. She hugged him.

Two blocks away, Rorie squirmed uncomfortably and opened her eyes. It took a full minute for her to work out where she was. It was pitch black and cold. Whimpering as she tried to get her cramped muscles to cooperate she shuffled cautiously back the way she came.

The office in the abandoned building was deathly quiet. She lay still for as long as she could before pushing the grill away from the air vent. It let out a metallic squeal of protest and she froze.

She held her breath and listened. Nothing.

She stuck her head out and looked around. The room was empty and dark. She was surprised to see it was nearly nighttime. She’d slept for longer than she thought.

Climbing out of the low vent she looked around. Everything was as she’d left it except… her ribbon was gone. She peeked out the door but couldn’t see very much in the darkness.

Trying to quell the fear creeping up her spine, she muttered to herself as she hurried as fast as she could from the building. Her voice echoed loudly in the emptiness, despite the fact she was mumbling.

‘You’re a Standish. You are not afraid. You will be fine Rorie. Don’t be a baby. Oh God. Where’s Daddy? Oh God. I am afraid. Oh God.’ She stepped outside and slipped into the shadows, taking great gulps of air and hugging the wall.

‘I’m out. I’m free. I’m okay.’ She looked around and burst into tears. ‘I’m lost!’

There was a scuffling noise from the alley to her left and she jumped backwards, losing control of her bladder in shock. ‘Oh No!’ She cried harder, backing away from the scary noise.

‘It’s Okay honey. I ain’t gonna hurt ya. It’s jest Old Thelma, and she ain’t never hurt nobody.’

Rorie’s eyes widened as one of the shadows moved, evolving into a ragged old woman in filthy clothes. Her black skin was dulled with dirt and her teeth glowed yellow in the lamplight. The distressed child took another step backwards. The woman stopped.

‘I kin help ya honey. Yeah I can.’ She nodded and pointed up the street. ‘There’s a phone one block over an’ ya kin call the cops iffn you’s lost.’ She stood still, waiting for the small dirty child to decide.

Rorie darted a quick look up and down the empty street and then nodded slowly.

‘Ya want I should walk with ya?’ The child nodded again and Thelma set off for the phone booth, Rorie trailing behind. At a distance.

The Search Party had been assigned new areas and were beginning to split up when the Southerner’s phone rang. The close-knit group gathered in the centre of the milling crowd all stopped still.


‘Agent Standish, this is 911 operator Gwen Rogers. We have a caller on line claiming to be your Missing Juvenile. If we connect you will you please confirm?’

‘Yes!’ Ezra’s heart bumped in double time as he held his breath. There was a click.

‘Go ahead caller.’

‘Daddy?’ His knees gave way and he leaned heavily against a patrol car. He took a shaky breath and ran his free hand through his hair.

‘RORIE! Are you all right? Where are you?’ A grinning Buck howled and grabbed JD, swinging him round in a circle. Josiah bent forward at the waist, hands on knees, and breathed again for what felt like the first time in hours. Nathan patted his back. Inez hugged Chris and Vin who were both grinning cheesily.

‘Okay. Stay there. DO NOT MOVE you understand me? I can be there in two minutes. Stay on the phone. 911?’

‘Yes Agent Standish?’

‘Confirm Missing Juvenile. I’ll pick her up. Can you keep the connection open?’

‘Yes Sir! Congratulations.’

Ezra climbed into the Jag with Inez, still clutching the phone. The others followed in their own vehicles, with the exception of Chris and Buck who stayed behind to call off the search and thank those who had given up their free time on the eve of a holiday to help locate a missing child.

As they pulled away there was a cheer as the good news spread through the throng.

Ezra screeched to a stop in front of the phone booth and leapt out of the car. A filthy, wet Rorie ran into his outstretched arms.

‘Honeybee. Are you okay?’ He kissed the top of her head and looked down at her. She nodded.

‘This is Thelma. She helped me find the phone.’ She pointed to the place where she’d last seen her friend but the woman had gone. There was a squeal of tyres as the vehicles of the rest of the team pulled up behind the Jag. Rorie panicked. ‘Daddy quick. You can’t let them see me. I had an accident!’

‘What sort of… oh!’ He noticed her wet jeans. He shook his head at the approaching group, hiding his child behind his body. ‘One moment please, Gentlemen. Rorie just wants to do something before she says hello.’

He shoved her into the car to Inez who had already pulled out some spare clothes from the glove compartment. The young senorita quickly changed her jeans and washed her face with wet wipes. Ezra watched. The fact that she was fretting about her Uncles knowing she’d wet her pants actually gave him some relief from his concern about her ability to deal with this latest trauma. If she was worried about her appearance she was probably okay.

‘Thanks Miss Recillos.’ Inez returned the soft kiss and the smile that so resembled that of the man she secretly adored.

‘Thank you Inez.’ Ezra rewarded her with a matching smile, his green eyes glistening with unshed tears in the streetlights. He picked up his daughter and hugged her tightly before reluctantly releasing her to Vin who kissed her forehead and passed her to JD who hugged her before giving her to Josiah.

The big profiler squeezed the little girl until she protested his grip. She looked up into his face. ‘Uncle Josiah, why are you crying?’ Vin and Ezra exchanged looks.

‘I’m sorry Cherub. They took you to stop me from giving evidence against their friend. It was my fault. I’m so sorry darling.’ His voice was choked, rumbling even deeper than usual.

Placing a dirty hand on each bristled cheek the filthy child smiled at him, baby teeth glowing in the dimness. ‘They did it not you. I wasn’t scared…’ Josiah’s eyebrows shot up, ‘…well, maybe a little. You gotta put the bad guys in jail Uncle Josiah. It’s important. If you didn’t maybe they’d hurt other little girls. You told me on the phone you’d come for me and I knew you would. You always keep your promises.’ She shrugged, her faith in her family absolute. Josiah felt his heart skip a beat at the unconditional trust.

‘So why didn’t you wait for us to come?’ Nathan took the little girl from his friend and sat her on the hood of Vin’s jeep. He quickly checked her over.

‘I did wait.’

‘So where were ya?’ Vin rested one foot on the bumper and watched as the Medic ran his hands down her arms and legs again, checking for any injury he’d missed and gaining extra reassurance from the contact at the same time. ‘She’s fine.’

‘In the air vent.’ She grinned at the astonished expressions. ‘You took so long I fell asleep.’

Ezra scooped her up onto his hip and she rested her head against his shoulder. ‘Are you chastising us for being tardy, young lady?’ His tone was teasing but his face was etched with fatigue from his worrying ordeal. He felt incredibly old.

‘If the boots fit….’

‘It’s ‘iffn the shoe fits’ pumpkin.’

‘Yeah but most of you wear boots!’ She chuckled but it was a poor attempt at humor. ‘Can we go home now? I want to be ready for Uncle Chris’s barbeque tomorrow. Are we having fireworks?’

Larabee Ranch
4th July – Independence Day

If those familiar with Ezra’s daughter were surprised to see her in a dress they didn’t comment. The little white sundress, with embroidered smocking across the bodice and hem made her look every inch the innocent child. All hoped that she’d retained that innocence despite the trauma of the previous day.

Ezra and Vin sat side by side on deck chairs with their legs stretched out in front of them as they watched Casey and JD play catch with Rorie and Billy.

‘Ya think she needs ta see a shrink?’

‘I am considering the possibility.’ Ezra turned his head towards Josiah. ‘Mr Sanchez?’

The profiler slouched against the porch rail behind them. ‘Wouldn’t hurt.’ He paused. ‘Although she’d probably tie him in knots.’

Ezra and Vin laughed. ‘Probably. She would likely confuse him with her skewed logic and ask impossible questions about the meaning of life. He’d end up having to have his own head examined.’

‘I reckon she’s doin’ Okay. Iffn she needs ta talk she knows she kin talk ta one of us.’

‘We’ll see.’ Ezra wasn’t ruling out the possibility but neither did he wish to give up his treasured position as her chief confidant.

‘Ow! Billy! That hurt!’ The object of their discussion clutched her hand to her forehead where she’d been struck with the baseball. There was suddenly movement all around the yard as the adults made to rush to her aid.

‘Come here and let me see.’ Ezra’s voice was startlingly loud, he almost shouted. The concerned grown-ups came to a collective halt, staring in astonishment at the usually soft-spoken Southerner. He glared at all of them. ‘Gentlemen, she is not made of glass.’ He crooked his finger at the child but she shook her head at him.

‘I’m okay Daddy!’ He nodded. The game resumed.

Later, once the two children had been shepherded off by Nettie Welles and Evie Travis to help with washing the dishes, the men settled in the living room to watch the game.

‘You care to explain your yelling Ez?’ Chris gazed at Standish.

Ezra realized he was the focus of their collective attention.

‘I do not yell, Mr Larabee. Such uncouth behaviour would be in contradiction to the refined manners of a gentleman such as myself. I merely raised my voice to be heard.’ Chris raised a brow and waited, knowing the verbose Undercover Agent would explain once he’d got that off his chest. He wasn’t disappointed.

‘She is still Rorie. If we were to become excessively protective it would lead her to conclude something was amiss. If we allow her to continue to be herself, she will inform us if she requires extra attention.’

Josiah nodded. ‘I agree. If we fuss too much she’ll think she’s done something wrong. It could drive her away. We are a intimidating lot when we get protective.’

‘Tell me about it! I’m grateful not to be the youngest anymore.’ JD’s comment was heartfelt.

‘You’re still the ‘Kid’, kid.’ Buck grabbed JD and noogied him.

‘Knock it off Buck!’ The younger Agent fought to free himself.

After the game, once darkness began to fall, it was time for the fireworks. Most years Ezra was the one who arranged the display of pyrotechnics since he had a known affinity and flair for things that went ‘boom’. This year he chose to be a spectator, allowing Vin and JD to provide the entertainment, under his supervision of course.

Sitting on the porch step, with Inez tucked into his side and Rorie on his lap, surrounded by friends and family, Ezra breathed in the smell of cordite as he watched the night sky light up with explosions of color and shape. He looked down at the child on his knee, seeing the innocent slack mouthed wonder lit up in the colorful flashes of light and felt an incredible sense of completeness wash over him.

Inez leaned closer, also watching the child rather than the sky, and smiled softly. She raised her eyes to wink at the handsome Southerner.

Ezra bent down and brushed his lips over hers, gently, without heat. It was a kiss of companionship and caring rather than lust and she recognized and welcomed its significance. She smiled at him, the reflection of the exploding fireworks dancing in her dark eyes.

Ezra grinned, his gold tooth flashing as brilliantly as the fireworks.

He was celebrating his Independence Day with the loss of his personal independence.

He had become a man with responsibilities and dependents.

His life was no longer his alone.

He wouldn’t change that for all the gold in Fort Knox.

The End

To Atlantan Legacy XIII - Firestorm

Back to Atlantan Legacy Index

Comments: - be nice.