A Tale of Woe

by Heather F

Warnings: Not mine, no money made.

Characters: Ezra, Chris, Josiah and the others

Acknowledgements: Mitzi,of course, Meg T. This story encompasses the Vegas Challenge, April Challenge and May Challenge (from Challenge page)

Warnings: This was written ages ago and has been waiting for a suitable ending...which was written mentally but never typed.

English grammar, spelling and the such are a challenge. Sometimes I think spell check is more wrong than I am...and there are times when Spell check has no idea what I'm trying to say...My real dictionary is elsewhere.

The crisp ironed seam of his grey pant leg tucked and pulled taut with each step. A shined black shoe exposed, from under the tailored pant leg for only a second or less, managed to reflect the fluorescent light from over head with each forward stride.

The matching shoe nearly glistened, except near the toe, where something had left a large splash mark. It matched the same dull liquid pattern that bent and folded the rigid pleat of the lower pant leg. Instead of snapping and straightening like its twin on the other leg, this pleated material folded and rolled in on itself in a soggy manner, disrupting the straight finished lines of the well tailored trousers. The wet material stuck to the haired skin beneath and with every step pulled itself free.

The dark leather briefcase, battered and worn, remained stationary in his left hand despite the brisk pace. A reddened blemish blistered the stretch of skin between thumb and forefinger and extended over the back of the clenched hand that gripped the favored case in a white knuckled manner.

The designer silk tie lay flat in place, secured by a quiet but stunning tie tack. Its loose fashionable gold chain looped in a lazy ‘U’ against the tie itself, highlighting the colors. The simple combination of accessory and necktie brought a crispness to the white starched and ironed shirt that caught wandering eyes as easily as the man himself.

The pristine white shirt and clean shaven man were as eye catching as the cappuccino stain just left of center of the one time immaculate shirt and suit coat. The tastefully colored tie highlighted the tan stain almost as effectively as it did the near flawless white shirt.

Standish strode down the corridor past the secretary’s desk ignoring her pleasant good morning that tripped over itself as her eye got hung on the grotesque stain that haphazardly adorned his clothing.

The sound of his steady steps sounded muffled against the institutional carpet. The undercover agent rounded the corner that demarked the end of the hall and the opening of the Bull Pen that had become home to Team Seven.

The Southerner looked neither left nor right. His green eyes remained fixed straight ahead. He stepped into the open work area never breaking stride. Standish bypassed the break room, Tanner’s desk and Larabee’s office without deviating his direction or his speed until he reached his own work area. He placed his brief case down beside his desk and hit the power button for the computer without pulling out his chair. The fan whirled as the machine kicked on ensuring him that the computer did indeed worked this morning.

"Hey Ez," Tanner leaned back in his chair a smile splitting his face as he raised his hands and clasped them behind his head. He regarded the undercover agent with a curious eye, "Chris is gunnin’ for ye ass again….watch yerself."

Standish nodded once never looking up, effectively ignoring the sharpshooter and headed into the break room. Effectively cutting off the sharpshooter's inquiry about the coffee marred shirt.

Buck Wilmington shared a concerned look with Tanner. The sharpshooter merely shrugged and raised his eyebrows. Buck let out a weary sigh and pushed back from his desk. He unfolded himself from his chair and climbed to his feet all the while shaking his head and twirling the end of his mustache.

Buck headed for the break room with easy ground swallowing strides. He started speaking before he even reached the tiny kitchenette. "Vin ain’t shittin’ ya Ez, Chris is down right pissed about somethin’ ya did….and ye’r later’n normal." Wilmington leaned against the door frame with his ankles crossed. He watched the younger man for a moment. Buck’s gut tighten slightly, "Ya alright Ez?…Your coffee attack ya this morning or somethin’?"

Ezra ignored Wilmington and filled his mug. He took note of the near full pot, the lateness of the hour and the almost solidifying liquid that sludged into his cup. He bit his tongue, clenched his jaw and dumped the coffee into the sink.

No matter how offensive and lingering the after taste of sour chunky milk from his morning’s debacle called a breakfast, he would not stoop so low as to drink the blackened sludge his team mates called coffee. There ought to be a natural law that stated something that was liquid should not turn lumpy or solidify while sitting in a semi refrigerated environment. Just as coffee should flow into a mug and not ‘plunk’ with the thickness of Texas crude oil.

"Ez? Aren’t ya hearing a word I said," Buck pushed off the door frame and stepped into the room watching as the Southerner rinsed his cup out and tossed the rest of the pot of coffee down the drain.

Standish never looked up or acknowledged that someone spoke to him. He shook out his cup and left it face down on the counter.

Tanner entered the break room with his empty coffee mug dangling from his middle finger.

"Hey! What the hell ‘r ya doin’?" Tanner squinted his eyes with a hint of anger as he pushed passed Buck. He was sick of everyone complaining about his coffee. If they wanted something different then they could drag their lazy butts into work earlier. " Ya ain’t the only one in the office ya know," Vin quietly uttered as he dropped his empty coffee stained mug into the sink.

Ezra gazed up at Tanner and then down to the empty pot, "My apologies Mr. Tanner I had not realized…" He returned the empty pot back on the automatic coffee maker and left the small break room.

Buck and Vin exchanged glances. Tanner tugged at his own shirt in roughly the same location as the coffee stain on Standish’s shirt and quietly asked, "His fancy coffee go on the offensive this morning?"

"Mighta." Buck answered watching the empty doorway.

Standish returned to the bullpen pretending not to notice his other team mates staring at him. Josiah and Nathan shared a look of concern but Sanchez shook his head "No" about the good intentioned offer of help that Nathan wanted to relay. JD gazed up from his computer watched the two other men and then swung around to see if Buck would be coming back to his desk anytime soon.

Ezra kept his eyes forward and fixed on his desk. He rolled out his chair and sat down to log onto the system when Larabee stormed out of his office. Chris did not miss a step as he hissed, "Standish git yer lazy ass in my office now."

The undercover agent did not look left or right, did not meet anyone’s eyes and simply pushed his wheeled desk chair away from his computer and climbed wearily to his feet.

He pulled on his shirt cuffs tugging them just to the outside of his suit coat and just enough to give the casual observer a hint of the gold cufflings.

Standish sighed, squared his shoulders and walked purposely forward.

"Nice knowin’ ya Ez," JD chimed out waving with just his finger tips.

"JD," Josiah warned the boy and shook his head. This was not the time.

Dunne furrowed his brow.

The undercover agent preceded Larabee into the office. Chris slammed the door closed causing the blinds to rattle and pictures on the wall to shake.

Vin and Buck stood in the entrance way of the break room and stared at the closed door mimicking their unseen teammates who sat at their respective cluttered desks.

The dressing down started then. Any jocularity that the others might have felt quietly seeped from the bullpen as they listened to the muffled roar of Larabee as he berated the undercover agent behind the closed door and shut blinds.

An occasional sentence was punctuated by something being slammed onto Larabee’s desk top. The blinds would quiver as if in echo.

The torrent of words were not intelligible, the reason behind the reprimand muddled at best but the anger was sparkling clear and real.

The bullpen fell into a heavy silence as the man who barely spoke more than six words a day found an exceptional amount to shout about in his office behind a closed door.

After an indeterminately long time, the office door opened and a red faced Ezra Standish exited. He kept his chin up but did not meet the hooded gazes thrown at him by his curious team mates. Instead, he exited Larabee’s office straightening his cuffs once again and headed directly toward his desk.

His private, highly visible oasis.

The Southerner sat at his desk tapped the mouse blinking away the screen saver and finished logging onto the network.

He could feel his ears redden and burn with humiliation and his already scarlet face deepen in color as his co-workers blatantly stared at him.

He checked his email and deleted any from the others that inquired as to what just happened.

+ + + + + + +

Lunch time rolled around. The guys grabbed their coats, checked their wallets and argued where they were going for lunch.

"You comin’ brother?" Josiah stopped next to the undercover agent’s immaculate desk and stood close enough to offer support and camaraderie but far enough not to crowd. Though today, that distance might have stretched into another state.

The deep embarrassed blush that had been slow to diminish from the undercover agent’s fair complexion slowly crept back up his neck.

Standish merely shook his head and continued typing never looking up from the screen as he filled in the blanks on a form. He could feel his face redden again in response to the sudden kindness and sympathy offered by Josiah.

Sometimes Ezra truly hated himself.

JD was about to protest but Buck quickly hauled the kid out of the office by his coat collar. "Knock it off Buck," JD’s disgruntled voice was easily heard.

Vin ducked his head into Larabee’s office and invited their leader to lunch. Chris whipped his coat from the back of his chair and followed his men out.

Standish did not watch them go nor did they look back.

+ + + + + + +

The six returned from lunch. The others knowing no more about the incident that had brought Larabee to a boil than they had that morning.

The six found Standish still working on his computer. Larabee disappeared into his office as the other five made their way to their desks. They offered greetings with a hint of forced cheerfulness. It was returned in like fashion.

Ezra continued to type.

+ + + + + + +

The phone rang on Standish’s desk. He answered it in two rings. Vin could almost feel the apprehension wavering off the man.

He watched as the undercover agent nodded his head mutely, closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose as he listened to a voice on the other end of the line.

A forced sigh escaped as Standish clenched his fist. "No sir, as stated in the accident report, he hit me…" there was a long pause and then a barely controlled frustrated, "I don’t see how that is possible seeing as I was still in ‘Park’ and had yet to put the keys in the ignition….No sir, I did not have time to warn the man and I can hardly believe that the garbage truck…."

Vin watched as Standish clenched his jaw. The masseter muscles bulged and flexed in a symmetrical pattern as the undercover agent ground his teeth. The sharp line of whitening lips pressed angrily together only hinted at the waves of frustration that rolled from the agent.

"Forgive me, my mistake," the sarcasm fairly dripped from every carefully pronounced syllable "…waste disposal vehicle," The grip on the telephone handle became white knuckled, "As I was saying, I feel it unlikely the driver of said monstrous vehicle would have heard me over the infernal beeping it was making as it drove over my car."

Tanner gave up all pretenses of working and listened opened mouthed trying to hold back the grin.

The hardness in the emerald eyes across the two desks, aimed sorely at an invisible spot on an unmarred folder, made Vin’s task a little easier.

"No sir, the wallet was taken from the car after I managed to remove myself from what was left of my vehicle…that is why I do not have a credit card for you to imprint." The words squeezed themselves through clenched teeth.

Tanner let a pained expression tweak his face. He turned his attention to the half finished report on his desk and listened to the undercover agent fight to control his anger.

The conversation quickly and quietly came to a close. In the end, whatever needed fixing should be fixed. Ezra assured the individual on the other end of the phone that he would fax over the appropriate insurance forms by the end of the day.

"What happened pard’?….yer car break down again?" Vin smiled halfheartedly trying to add a little levity to the question and hide the fact that he had overheard the terse conversation.

Standish merely looked up, gazed at the Sharpshooter, considered the question and answered with a curt, ‘no’. He resumed his work without uttering another word.

Vin shared a look with Buck across the room, both shrugged and returned to their own work.

+ + + + + + +

Judge Travis stormed into the bullpen. He fixed solely on the man sitting behind a computer monitor typing away. The others noticed his entrance, read his mood and immediately started trying to look busier.

"You are a real disappointment Agent Standish," The Judge stopped and leaned stiff armed on the undercover agent’s desk, "You selfish Son of a Bitch. Why Evelyn ever wasted her time on you is beyond me…." Travis’s eyes nearly sparkled with cold anger. "After all she has done for you….you have the audacity to…."

The others in the room had stopped what they were doing and blatantly stared at the Judge and Standish. The Judge snapped his head up and glared at the others, "Get back to work." His gruff command shot through the room like a clap of thunder. He turned his attention back to the undercover agent, "never again Standish….never again…you disappointed her…I’ll not let you do that again…ever."

The Judge straightened keeping eye contact with Standish. He stared down the younger man until Standish looked away sufficiently cowered. Travis turned his fighting stare at the rest of the room. Five heads immediately dropped and found something to do.

+ + + + + + +

" ‘Ey Ez," Vin spoke quietly as he slowly slid his arms into the sleeves of his coat. Buck and the others waited at the entrance of the corridor just at the juncture of the bullpen, "it’s Friday, boys ‘n me figure you could use a stiff drink….how ‘bout it."

Standish did not look up but continued working on his reports, "No thank you Mr. Tanner. I have work that needs completing."

Vin turned back and looked at the others. Buck and himself mirrored each other’s shrugs. JD had a look that implored the Sharpshooter to try harder and Josiah simply shook his head…not to force the issue. Nathan carried a hurt expression, not knowing how to help the undercover agent.

"Well iffen ya change ya mine ya know where to find us." Tanner adjusted his coat by the zipper edges and headed toward the others. Chris had had a meeting upstairs with the bigwigs, he’d meet them at Inez’s later, if he wasn’t already there.

The five men left the area casting worried looks over their shoulders at the lone man working in half light, lit by the glow of his monitor.

+ + + + + + +

The five men at the saloon were subdued. Others circumvented them, avoided any direct contact with them and seemed to read a no trespassing policy at their table.

The five nursed beers as some of them discussed and tried to figure out what had happened today that sent Chris so far off the deep end. Travis was easy to explain, that was just this last weekend.

The birthday party that the Judge had thrown for his wife, invitation only, had been a huge success. Though Evelyn Travis did not like crowds or fancy parties, she thoroughly enjoyed the BBQ and pot luck style surprise party thrown at Chris’s small ranch. Casey Wells had spent the latter half of her semester making and sending out invitations to what seemed to be everyone and everybody. She had been more than happy to help Judge Travis out and keep it a secret. Everyone had shown, kids ran amok as did most members of team Seven and a plethora of ATF agents and supporting staff. The grills had kept running and beer had kept flowing until late in the evening. The Judge nor anyone else had noticed anything amiss until Evie Travis innocently asked if Mr. Standish was off on assignment and that was why he couldn’t make the gathering. The Judge had fumed. Chris had furrowed his brow and had simply nodded, essentially lying to the older woman.

That had been a week ago.

Buck and Josiah watched the saloon door hoping to catch a glimpse of one or two of their missing teammates.

Chris entered Inez’s saloon with an unexpected flurry of flying snow encircling him. People groaned in realization that another surprise and unannounced snow storm pummeled their door steps. Their impatience with the weather and Larabee grew as the heavy oak door slowly swung close taking its time beating back the swirling snow and freezing wind.

Larabee shot a glare at those shadowed faces closest to him, daring them to verbalize their discontent. When all turned back to their drinks and conversation, the leader of team seven casually shook the thin layer of snow from his coat shoulders.

The thick heavy smell of alcohol and smoke did not seem as welcoming as last week. Chris spotted his men at their normal table in the corner. There were only five. Larabee shook his head not surprised and not sure if he really felt any regret.

Chris headed for the bar intending to keep himself from any prying questions.

He leaned against the bar, thinking on this afternoon’s surprise visit from the Judge and on last weekend. Chris had never given any thought to Standish not showing at the BBQ for Mrs. Travis, in fact he had not even noticed. There had been so much going on at the time. He had dismissed the whole incident, in fact, it had slipped his mind. Well, at least until this afternoon when the Judge had stormed into the bullpen and chewed on Standish. It almost made Larabee regret gnawing on the man earlier that morning.

Chris got over it quickly and sipped his beer. He took surreptitious glances at the table where the others sat and watched his men as they huddled around their customary table. From the postures of the others, Chris could only assume that they were trying to figure out what was going on, everyone but Tanner and Sanchez. Those two seemed to just roll with the waves.

Chris kept to the dark shadows not willing or wanting to mingle with anyone. Gawd damn Southerner created more trouble than he was worth most times.

" ‘Ey Inez turn it up!" It was Ryan Kelly’s voice that shouted over the dull roar of the Friday night crowd. He and his boys steered clear of Team Seven. Larabee and his misfits were looking for a fight without realizing it.

The barmaid paused and stared at the TV with every other patron in the small bar. It was a ‘LIVE’ Special News Bulletin….Hostage situation in progress’.

The crowd watched the small TV screen as it captured flood lights and wind whipped sheets of falling snow.

On the small 20 inch screen, police cruisers and uniformed officers circled a hundred yards or so back from a 7-11 store front. Police cars screamed into the area with lights wailing and windshield wipers sailing back and forth across streaked windows. Officers flung open doors and spilled out of cars before vehicles slid to complete stops. A sea of blue coated officers rushed forth, fighting the wind and snow and attempting to set up roadblocks and barriers to keep cars and pedestrians from encroaching or stumbling into the area. Other officers knelt behind their open doors while others crouched down behind the protection of the engine blocks and front quarter panels of their patrol cars.

Snow showered down on the scene.

"Freakin’ snow…anyone know it was gonna snow tonight?" A disgruntled voice asked from somewhere within the dark recesses of the bar.

Another equally unhappy voice answered, "Suppose to be a clear night, snow Sunday."

"Weather man don’t know shit." A third grumbled.

JD elbowed Buck, " ‘Ey Buck its snowing…isn’t that great?" His audible excitement easily discernable.

"We still got to get those heifers in for Mz Nettie, JD." Vin pointed out less than pleased with the turn in the weather.

"I know," JD answered disgusted with his team mates thinking that a simple snow storm would keep him from helping tomorrow.

Vin and Buck merely nodded. By tomorrow late morning, JD’s exuberance for the snow would be gone.

The TV announcer was slowly being covered in a fine cover of snow as he droned on about a masked man seizing the 7-11 on Okemos and Main and holding the store clerk and an unknown number of hostages captive. The kidnapper’s demands had yet to be stated.

Suddenly, the News caster put a gloved hand to his ear as if blocking out sound and then his face lit up, like a kid at Christmas time, "We have sound…ok run it." Instantly those watching TV across the Metropolitan area of Denver, could hear the shouting of an angry voice and the soft cries of frightened people.

The news caster focused his attention back to the camera, "Ladies and gentlemen a phone within this very store is either off the hook or someone has not disconnect after dialing 9-11…we are now listening to what is occurring Live within this convenience store." Despite his professional appearance, the news caster was unable to disguise the anticipation in his voice.

"Gawd damn News anchors and their friggin’ police scanners…assholes make more of mess of things than they freakin’ realize….someone oughta boil their asses in oil," The disgruntled voice sounded surprisingly like Francis Williard, the mild mannered accountant from the first floor of the Federal Building.

Larabee, Kelly and an assortment of other agents partially raised their glasses and bottles in agreement without taking their eyes off the screen.

"This is actual sound coming from inside this Seven Eleven." The News caster reiterated as his voice brought a hush over the bar.

Larabee and Kelly exchanged glances.

How the Hell had the TV crew managed that?

The leader of team 8 slid closer to his men, to keep them from running off and ‘saving the day’ just as Larabee did the same thing heading toward his own men and their table.

The other leaders of other teams kept cautious watch on their agents.

From all around the bar the Federal agents, soaked with beer and more bravado than good sense shouted suggestions, and modes of actions that would secure the hostages, blow up the building and decimate any and all evil doers… including a few television anchors.

The more the agents talked and spoke up their own team’s bravado, the more grandiose the schemes.

The competing voices in the bar easily drowned out the newscaster’s voice.

Chris meandered his way over to his team and nudged Buck into the booth as he took the corner seat. Chris would add his body as a physical block to keep his men in place. They were apt to rush out and join the stand off or at least cause something to blow up.

Larabee stared at his beer but not before warning JD to keep his seat with a sharp glance. His attention was diverted when someone shouted.

"Hey! Isn’t that Standish?" Heads snapped up as one as the six members of Team Seven stared at the television over the bar.

On the small hanging TV screen, the saloon room full of federal agents, watched as a hunched over Ezra Standish stalked toward the Seven Eleven, fighting the wind and snow, with his hands buried deep in his pockets, his coat collar pulled up and his eyes down cast. Even with the long wool overcoat, the patrons in the Saloon noticed the undercover agent strode with a quiet defeated step.

"What the Hell is he doin’?" An unknown voice echoed the thoughts of the others in the tavern.

"Doesn’t he even see what’s goin’ on?" Kirk Gustin asked of no one in particular

Larabee watched the screen and his agent and realized that, No his agent did not understand what he was blindly walking into.

Figures…no surprise there...damn man has had his head up his ass all week…that is "If" what Timolty had said was true…which it probably was…no reason not to believe the SAC over in Phoenix…He was reputed to be a good man. And Ezra was known to be a stubborn SOB at times.

The police blockades had not been placed at all avenues. The officers were still trying to secure the rapidly developing scene, fighting as they were, with the weather, traffic and gathering crowd.

Standish simply slipped on through.

Oily Son of a Bitch. Larabee elbowed his beer bottle out of his way, sliding it on the marred table top.

Voices shot out questions as the agents and patrons watched the undercover agent open the door to the 7-11 and disappear into the small convenience store.

The newscaster had the good sense to keep his dialogue down. The bar quieted as everyone listened to the voices from inside the store.

"Sorry sir, we’re closed," A timid voice nearly cracked with hysteria.

The clerk. Josiah surmised as he listened intently to the voices over the tiny speakers. Sanchez watched the front of the Seven-Eleven store on the TV screen.

"Just need some milk, young man," Ezra’s accent had thickened, the weary defeated lilt of his voice easily discernible even as it projected over the hidden receiver and across thousands of Televisions city wide.

The saloon listened to the scrape of his shoes as the undercover agent walked toward the back of the store heading for the refrigerators.

"’Ey are ya stupid!…the dumb kid said they’re closed!"

Gunman….panicked…not comfortable he has control…or is afraid of losing control… Sanchez took a breath and forced himself to relax so he could garner as much information as possible. Easy Ezra…don’t push him…Josiah silently sent up prayer.

Chris shut his eyes. Shit…Standish just keep your mouth shut and open your eyes….see what’s going on around you.

Some of the federal agents in the saloon turned and faced the volatile men of team seven. Buck and the others kept their eyes glued to the TV and the deceivingly quiet snow scene of a city store front.

Standish seemingly ignored the remark.

The sounds of a refrigerator door opening and then closing could be heard.

There were footsteps heading back toward the counter and the unseen receiver. The sound of a carton of milk being placed on the counter had people squinting at the small screen hoping to see through the building’s store front.

"Do you take checks young man?…I have ID." The Southern drawl sounded tired, oblivious to the danger surrounding him.

Damn Son, look up, look around you…Notice the situation you’re in. Josiah ignored the others he sat with and focused on the television screen.

"No sir, but we accept credit card or debit card…" The clerk’s voice stabilized with the return of something familiar.

"’Ey stupid…ya closed remember."

Gunman. Incredulous…can’t understand what’s going on around him…He’s going to panic…come on brother open your eyes…listen to what’s happening around you…

"An apparently ravenous ATM machine devoured my card for breakfast," The incredulity of the morning’s events could still be heard in the Southerner’s quiet voice, "and my wallet was stolen this morning." Standish explained with a profound weariness.

"That really sucks Mister, but, I’m sorry store policy, no checks."

Clerk. Apologetic…but confident, back into something he’s familiar with…calmer now. Come on Brother pay attention.

There was a pause, a shifting of feet and a tired sigh, "Can you perhaps make an exception just this one time…." Standish’s disenchanted southern drawl had an edge.

Been pushed too far already today….short fuse…easy brother, hold it together….keep calm…don’t get angry now…look around you…notice the danger…

"Listen asshole, I’m havin’ a real bad day!….so git yer ass on the floor with the rest of’em before I fill ya full of holes!"

Josiah closed his eyes to the sound of the hysterical bravado of the unseen gunman. Do what he says Ezra…do what you’re told…he’s going to pull the trigger, son. Sit down…milk isn’t worth dying over…

Federal agents, in Inez’s saloon, held their breath as they listened to someone shove one of Larabee’s agents in a convenience store across town.

Son of a Bitch! Larabee fought the urge to stand up and rush out of the saloon.

A heavy silence filled the small bar as eyes skittered between the TV set and the far corner table that held six very intense men.

"You’re having a bad day?" The incredulous Southern tone grabbed everyone’s attention and turned it back to the TV set that showed only the store’s front doors….

"You…are… having….a bad day?" The southern accent deepened as the question was repeated, as if for clarification. Anger and disbelief clearly rose in the voice….

Now is not the time to look for a fight, son. Walk away, he has a gun. He’s willing to pull the trigger. Don’t fight with him Brother, he’s not worth it. Josiah took a deep breath and held it.

"Listen asshole…," The gunman stuttered.

"Asshole?" aggravation and annoyance seeped into every southern laden syllable.

Chris covered his eyes and rested his head in his hand…..shit…

"You have had a bad day?" Thousands of viewers across the Denver community could hear Standish push away from the counter…. "You have had a bad day," Each syllable was clearly pronounced and emphasized. There was a minute pause, "Let me tell you about a bad day…." The disbelieving tone metamorphosed into threatening irritation.

Oh brother don’t do this…

"Mister… I’ve gut a gun…’n I ain’t afraid to use it.…I told ya I ain’t in the mood for yer shit."

He’s panicking, son, back off. Don’t go Larabee on us now. Sanchez shot a poisonous glare at his team leader.

Josiah and Chris made eye contact, Chris furrowed his brow in confusion. What was Josiah thinking over there? Larabee’s attention was drawn back to the TV and unmoving image of the Seven-Eleven store front when his undercover agent started speaking again.

"I have a gun and am not afraid to use it," Standish corrected through what seemed gritted teeth.

Irritating pain in the ass. Larabee bit his tongue not sure who he wanted to strangle more, the perp or his own agent.

Standish continued to speak, his tone almost conversational, "I have a gun too….and its bigger…and I’m a much better shot."

Pompous ass. You’re not that good. Larabee knotted his hands, just itching to hit something.

"I’m warnin’ ya, ya fuckin’ idiot… my day ain’t getting’ any better… I ain’t got the patience for ya bullshit…"

Me neither,…Larabee rubbed at his eyes.

A soft southern chuckle echoed across the tiny TV set, the mocking edge was not cleverly disguised. "Let me tell you about a bad day; It started at 4am this morning….when my upstairs neighbors toilet overflowed and leached down through the ceiling…." Standish’s voice had adopted a carefree cadence.

Agents, in Inez’s bar, grimaced and cringed.

Talking things out is good, Brother, just don’t push him into anything…lead him real slow…let him think he still has control…Don’t follow Chris’s example… Josiah stared at his team leader with a warning gaze. The man was actually a detriment to the word diplomacy.

Larabee swiveled around in his seat confused at the heated gaze directed at him. What the Hell was Josiah staring at him for… like this was all his fault?

They heard a food rack get shifted and feet scuttle to maintain their balance…it sounded like someone got shoved… both men turned back to the TV screen.

Ezra, son, don’t go shoving a man with a gun…even if yours is bigger…

"The warranty on my refrigerator ended last week so it decided not to work this week. Hence, the milk is chewy, the lettuce liquefied and the meat has acquired a bit of a sweet odor."

The newscaster made a small disgusted noise over the mic.

Standish’s voice continued, "My prized onyx, leather interior1994 Jaguar XJS Coupe was run over by a prehistoric ‘Waste Removal Vehicle’," The words were spoken with a snarl.

The agents in the bar cringed in sympathy.

"My wallet was absconded by some lowlife scum such as yourself."

Josiah closed his eyes…that is not the way to diffuse the animosity in this situation…

The undercover agent’s voice continued, "The ATM gorged itself on my debit card…" The tempo picked up as the frustration mounted with each phrase.

Foot steps could be heard shuffling backward away from the receiver with each staccato phrase.

Getting angry, unstable. Pay attention Mister, a few dollars isn’t worth the headache… put the gun down… Josiah closed his eyes trying to picture the scene. If the gunman had any common sense he would recognize the danger he was in…but then again if he had any sense he would not be robbing a convenience store in downtown Denver.

Ezra’s heated voice rang with clarity over the tiny receiver.

"I have no cash…no prospect for lunch or dinner or even breakfast tomorrow…." More foot steps could be heard stalking forward while another pair shuffled backward.

Just put the gun down and let our brother defuse before he blows…Sanchez coached quietly from a bar seat across town.

"Listen Mister." The once demanding voice sounded almost hesitant, plaintive.

"Oh no… you listen," Seething ire laced with bitter contempt grated across the store and into a tiny hidden receiver, "my boss took the word of stranger, over mine, as gospel…."

Five men at the table glanced at Larabee with a hint of accusation.

Was that what the big blow up was all about this morning Cowboy? Vin paused in taking a sip from his long neck bottle. That’s a major screw up…Vin shook his head in disappointment.

Heads turned from across the bar but quickly turned back around to the TV when Larabee stared back at them through the thick shadows of the saloon.

Chris turned his attention back to the TV screen. You weren’t convincing…you hardly even tried to talk your way through the mess. Who the Hell was I suppose to believe?

"His boss felt the need to openly discuss my absence at a function for which I was never invited…" quiet fury spit from the words.

The others stared at Dunne. JD blushed and shrugged his shoulders. He had no idea why Ezra didn’t get an invitation…Casey sent them out not him. Dunne wondered if the Judge was watching the Television.

"And now I can’t even buy a simple carton of milk…because of the store policy which won’t accept a perfectly good check…."

The last straw…please Mister if you want to get out of this, just put the gun down…Brother Standish is going to go ‘Larabee’ very soon…Josiah watched the TV without blinking…listening intently.

"Listen, Mister, your day is about to get worse." Some lost bravado was found.

Don’t do it… just put the gun down. Josiah shook his head. Why were criminals so dumb?

"Or what? You are going to shoot me?…" There was a mocking half hearted chuckle.

Larabee cringed. He really hated that sarcastic, ‘I know something you don’t, so kiss my ass’, chuckle.

Come on, Son, fighting won’t solve today’s problems.

"Do you know how many times I’ve been shot?" Standish’s hardened voice did not brook an answer.

It sounded as if someone got shoved into a food display.

"Do you?" at the slight pause, Buck, JD and Vin quickly held up digits trying to out guess one another. They looked to Nathan who held up the correct number of fingers. The others nodded and shrugged in defeat. Jackson would know. They shrugged and looked back to the TV screen.

"Its really quite amazing I don’t look like a flooded colander when I drink water."

Nathan nodded in silent agreement.

"…and now you’re going to shoot me?" The southerner’s voice bordered between rage and skepticism. "With that?…For goodness sakes, man, get yourself a real gun…"

Oh, brother, don’t do this… Josiah rested his forehead on his hands.

There was a pause over the Television and then the very low lethal sound of metal leaving a leather holster, "like this one." The snide threat with its haughty tone was not lost on anyone.

There was a second pause, "Federal agent. You are under arrest… Put your gun down and hands in the air or I will shoot you…." Each word was articulated slowly, carefully and with confidence.

Josiah raised his eyes from his hands and shot a glare over at Larabee …He picked that attitude up from you…

Chris felt the heated gaze again and turned to find Josiah staring daggers at him…Chris furrowed his brow…what the Hell did I do? Larabee shook his head in frustration. His men were losing their minds. He turned his attention back to the TV hanging over the corner of the bar.

"Geezus Fuckin’ Christ…yer a Gawd Damn Fed?…." the sound of a gun hitting a tile floor resounded across the floor to the tiny receiver. "Yer fucked up…ya know that…totally fucked up!…And they let you carry a fuckin’ Gun? Yer totally fucked, man!"

Yes he is…Josiah nodded into his hands unable and unwilling to watch the still scene of the Seven-Eleven store front.

Finally, someone else realizes it. Chris released a breath.

A quiet southern chuckle sparked more nods of consent from the viewing crowd, "You, my good sir, have no idea."

The clinking sound of hand cuffs snapping closed traveled up and through the receiver.

The bar erupted with cheers and high fives. Agents laughed and slapped one another on the back taking pride in the actions of one of there own.

The general consensus across the bar also agreed that Team Seven was made of Loonies.

Three of the five men in the corner booth sat quietly and stared at one another.

Ezra had a bit of an attitude…

Josiah stared at Chris silently blaming the leader for his team’s maverick tendencies.

Chris leaned back in the booth and wondered why Josiah was staring daggers at him. Maybe he should take a vacation.

Then a tiny voice spoke up traveling from the Seven-Eleven receiver, through the television.

The rowdy bar immediately silenced.

"Excuse me?….Sir," it was a timid feminine voice, shy, almost apologetic but somewhat determined, "Excuse me? Mr. Federal Agent sir?" There was a slight pause and the crowd in the bar quieted down listening to the unseen voice that carried over the TV speakers. "…It looks like you might have spilled something on your shirt….and shoe…oh my and your pant leg too…maybe some coffee?"

There was a tired sigh and forced polite reply, "Thank you ma’am. I’m well aware of it."

Larabee watched the TV screen trying to ignore the somewhat accusatory stare Josiah threw at him.

Like the others in the bar, the tension seeped from Chris’s system as he watched his undercover agent exit the 7-11 and step onto the snow covered sidewalk.

The snow seemed deep enough to cover the soles of Ezra’s shoes. The whipping wind and the furious haphazard swirling of flying snow effectively obscured his features.

The snow was truly coming down frightfully fast.

Larabee slid out of the booth with his team following on his heels. It would seem Standish would need a ride home. Why the damn fool just didn’t ask for help was beyond Chris, but Larabee had to conceded he too would probably keep quiet and work out his own problems and avoid the possibility of being let down by his close associates. Larabee bit the inside of his cheek…that stupid SOB of a Southerner had more holes in his logic than chicken wire…

He couldn’t fault his agent for his independent attitude and even recognized it in himself but he surely didn’t have to like it or accept.

Chris pulled his coat on ignoring Buck as he swiped JD in the back of the head with the New England Patriots hat. If one didn’t believe in miracles, Super Bowl Sunday should have made believers out of some people. Hell might have actually froze over that Sunday. Chris cringed he still smarted over the loss of funds to Ezra and had suffered through JD’s gloating and preening for the past year.

"Eat it up boys," Buck announced to the room, "Team Seven is still the best…" Wilmington took an exaggerated bow to the chuckles, boos and hisses from an over exuberant crowd.

"Wilmington, ya pansy ass, it was that gawd damn Rebel bullshitter that saved the day….not your sorry ass." Someone shouted out from near the bar.

"Colby ya jist jealous, we got the looks and the brains," Buck strutted playing to the audience keeping Inez in his peripheral vision as he spoke. He reveled in her laughing smile. Lord, but she was beautiful.

"Only brains I’ve seen on your team are that foul tempered SAC of yours and the brainiac computer kid with letters for a name." Harold spoke up good naturedly following the exiting team with his eyes.

"You wound me brother," Josiah’s rumbling voice rolled over the crowd.

"Damn, Sanchez no one understands half the crap you spout anyhow…"

"Too much free love when he was younger." Someone else spoke up.

Sanchez gave the crowd a toothy grin and brought up the rear of his team.

Chris shook his head ignoring the comments and headed for the heavy oak door. The crowd simply parted before him.

Any attempts at back slapping him in congratulations were stalled and redirected at Wilmington and Tanner and the others of his team.

Larabee hid the smile that tried to quirk itself onto his face when other team leaders offered their condolences for having to work with such an egotistical personality as the Southern undercover agent. Standish was full of more shit than a weak old calf with scours.

Larabee merely nodded his agreement.

The TV still droned on in the background. Chris paid it no attention. His man was safe and that was all that mattered at the moment.

The sharp intake of breath from the news announcer had Larabee stopping abruptly and swinging back toward the TV with the rest of his team.

The Saloon immediately quieted down and Inez stretched reaching up to turn the volume back to high.

"Oh No! Move! Someone get him out of the way! Git out of the way!" Disembodied voices shouted off screen as uniformed police officers dove for cover. The one time hostages exiting the convenient store were quickly shoved and pushed back inside by converging DPD officers.

Standish, oblivious to the sudden commotion, continued to walk toward a black and white with his hands buried in his coat pockets and his head tucked low into the raised collar of his coat, protecting his bared ears from the whirling wind whipped snow.

He apparently did not see nor hear the officers waving and shouting at him. Nor could anyone see his face.

Two uniform police officers jumped to their feet to run at him.

It was then Chris and the others saw the danger.

Buck’s eyes grew wide, he unconsciously crushed the visor of JD’s hat in his clenched hands.

"Oh my Gosh," JD breathed out.

"Dear God." Josiah simply brushed the man standing in front of him to the side as if the five foot eleven agent from team 8 was a mere child. Kirk Gustin took the shove without ire.

It all happened in less than a few seconds. In less time than it takes to blink four or five times, less time than it takes to switch channels on a remote and much less time than it takes to go from standing to sitting.

Funny how time seemed to slow down and almost freeze while the mind memorized every frame of a scene, yet things moved far too quickly for intervention. A paradox of visible tragedy, when vision and light moved faster than the physical world. The danger was so evident, the need for intervention clear, the simple solution so visible and yet no one or nothing could move or act in time to prevent the catastrophe. Almost like a rogue wave building off the port side of ship building and building, looming ever so closer seemingly in slow motion but swallowing the crew all the same.

The agents at the saloon, the viewers around the city of Denver, the police and civilians at the scene watched in chilling horror. The up coming catastrophe was so visible, noticeable and with just enough time to catalogue and memorize the tragedy but not enough warning to prevent the damage.

The lime green Volkswagen Bug slid sideways into the camera view, half on and half off the sidewalk. The driver’s silhouette could be seen wrestling with the wheel. The tires were pointing west while the car continued to slide North.

The undercover agent, who had had such a terrible, cursed day, never saw the pea green beetle bug with its big blue morning flower adorning its door. He never truly saw it…even after it broad-sided him.

Standish’s legs were thrown out from under him in the same direction the sliding car still traveled. His upper body was slapped in the opposite direction into and over the hood of the car. His head cracked the windshield. With his hands trapped deep in the pockets of his coat, he cart wheeled sideways, heels flying over and past his shoulders, up toward the sky,. His body tumbled over the rounded hood of the car, his feet and legs careening toward the ground whipping his upper body around like that last cars on a roller coaster.

There was not enough snow to puff upward with his landing. Instead, he slid a few yards folded on his side, rolled over a shoulder with the side of his head and shoulders bulldozing a small path in the building skiff of snow.

A bare patch of exposed road marked his unconscious progress.

He slowed to a stop and lay crumpled in the road surrounded by whirling snow, his coated back to the camera. One arm lay slung out by his head and while the other still lay trapped within his coat.

The beetle bug car continued to slide sideways uninterrupted by the small obstacle it plowed through. The little green car careened onward until it wrapped its passenger side door around a utility pole.

The utility pole wavered and shook. It creaked and groaned. Wood splintered and popped as it was buffered by solid blasts of blizzard-like wind.

No one noticed the damaged pole, their eyes remained intent, in macabre fascination, on the crumpled unmoving man, in the dark navy blue wool coat, balled, unmoving in the snow covered road.

The utility pole made itself known when it teetered, wavered and finally cracked just inches above where the Volkswagen had hit it. The wooden monstrosity, toppled at the wheels of lesser giant. It screeched the entire way toward the pavement. Power lines pulled tight, momentarily halting the progress toward the road. The lines snapped with a loud twang. One by one they gave way, curling and whipping back toward the sky, dancing left and right, sparking and twitching. The giant pole teetered and wood snapped until it finally gave way completely. Top heavy, it careened to the street like a fallen giant bested by a tiny green flowered David.

The power lines whistled and snapped in and around the undercover agent who was slowing being covered by snow.

People on screen tried to advance on the down man only to be threatened back by the wildly snapping power lines.

The wind howled and whistled, twirling and blowing snow with angry, fierce intensity.


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