MAIN CHARACTERS: Ezra, Seven, OFCs
DISCLAIMER: Any characters which appear in the TV series "The Magnificent Seven" belong to Trilogy, CBS and associated parties. The transposition of the scenario into modern times with the guys working for the ATF was Mogs brainchild. The character Lila belongs to the Immortal. The author of this story will make absolutely no monetary gain from the venture.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Sincere thanks go to Dina, Mitzi, Wnnepooh and the Immortal for all their encouragement, corrections, plot suggestions, technical advice, "tea and sympathy" and everything else they did to generally improve this story. And special thanks to the Immortal for the loan of Lila and to Kelly for the permission to refer to one of her stories.
NOTES & WARNINGS: This story is set approximately six or seven weeks after my ATF VS story "Innocent Blood". The inspiration for it sprung from various sources, including the story "Innocence Lost" by KellyA. Like that story it deals with the rather dark subject of child abuse (but any descriptions will not be overly graphic) and, with Kellys permission, there are references to events in Ezras past which were outlined in her story. There is also some swearing, including the F-word, hopefully within context.
Tom Lane went to open the front door for his mother and aunt as they brought their groceries in from the car.
"Thanks, Tom." Gloria Potter smiled at her 13-year-old nephew. "Where are the others? There are a couple more bags to bring in from the car."
"Theyre playing with the Playstation. Dont worry, Ill get the bags." He immediately headed off towards the car.
Gloria was still smiling tolerantly, reflecting that it was nice to have someone like Tom around to babysit, but her sister, Charlotte, frowned and called after her son. "Playstation? I hope everyones homework is done!"
He turned back momentarily. "Yeah, everyone except Angie. Shes not home yet." Then he continued on towards the car.
Now Gloria frowned worriedly. "Not home yet? I thought she said that Lexis mother would drop her off here before six."
"Better give them a call," Charlotte advised.
But before Gloria reached the phone to dial, it rang. And when she answered it, she was greeted by a familiar Southern-accent.
"Greetings, Mrs Potter."
"I hope you and your family are well. I was just calling to say that the case we have been investigatin has been brought to a conclusion somewhat earlier than expected, allowin for an immediate return to Denver. In point of fact, Im callin from Kansas City airport and the next flight to Denver appears to be in 45 minutes. Would it impose too much upon you, if I stopped by this evenin?"
"Of course not. Youd be most welcome."
"Thank you. I wonder if I could speak briefly with Angie?"
"Well, actually, Ezra, shes at a friends place at the moment."
"Oh. Well, would you mind lettin her know that I will see her this evenin then?"
"Of course. Ill see you then."
"Indeed. Au revoir, til then."
Gloria hung up the phone and looked up to see her sister still frowning.
"Whats the matter?"
"I dont know why you let that man just drop in at any time. Tonight wouldnt be the most convenient."
"Hes been on assignment out of town for over a month and he hasnt been able to speak to Angie during that time because they had him deep undercover. And now he wants to see his little girl. Give him a break."
"Hes not her father!"
"He might as well be."
Charlotte snorted but Gloria ignored her and picked up the phone again to dial Lexis number.
"Hello, Ruth. Its Gloria Potter. I was wondering if you were still planning to drop Angie off or would you prefer that I come around to pick her up?"
The woman on the other end of the phone sounded completely bewildered. "Angie? Here?"
Glorias blood ran cold. "You mean shes not there?"
"No, I waved to her when I picked up Lex from school but she never came back with me."
"Oh, my God! Ruth, she told me not to pick her up because you were going to take her back to your place for an hour or two. She said Lexi had invited her, and that you would drop her home."
"No, Gloria, I never said anything like that to either of them."
"Im coming over, Ruth!"
"Of course. Ill talk to Lex. See what she knows."
"Thanks. See you soon."
Gloria barely managed to hang up the phone. Her hands were visibly shaking.
It was more than two hours since school had ended for the day. Two hours! Where was Angie? What could have happened to her? Several horrible possibilities flashed through Gloria Potters mind and she turned to her sister, momentarily unable to speak.
"Shes not there?" Charlotte asked, seeing her concern.
"No. Oh, my God! Where could she have gone?" Gloria tried to gather her wits together. "Tom!"
Tom popped his head around the door from the kitchen where he had been depositing the groceries. "Yes?"
"Angie hasnt called this afternoon, has she?"
"Oh, God!" Gloria ran out the door and Charlotte followed, calling to her son to look after his cousins for a little while longer.
* * * * * * *
"Shell be alright, Gloria. Well find her." Charlotte tried to reassure her sister as they drove.
"I should have known that something like this would happen. Angie hasnt been herself lately. Usually shes such a chatterbox and in the last two weeks, youd be lucky to get ten words out of her in a whole day."
"Shes been through a lot. You all have. You cant expect to be able to deal with Dennis passing in less than two months."
"I dont think its that. Angie wasnt like this after her mother died. Shes even started wetting the bed this week. Shes never done that before. Poor kid. She was so embarrassed. I dunno, maybe its because Ezra hasnt been able to spend much time with her this time. Oh, God! Ezra! What am I going to tell him?"
"Thats the least of your worries."
Gloria dragged her eyes from the road for a brief moment to look at her sister. "I know that you dont like him but he and Angie are very important to each other."
Charlotte snorted. "If you ask me, the amount of interest that man takes in that girl is unhealthy."
"I mean really! Its not normal."
"Alright, its not exactly normal but they have a special bond. Ill admit that it took me a while to recognise the strength of it but its a good thing for both of them."
"I dont see why you think so. I wouldnt trust that man as far as I could throw him."
"The fact that his accent probably reminds you of your ex-husband doesnt have anything to do with it, does it?"
"Its been more than ten years, Charlotte."
"Gloria, youve never been betrayed by a man. After a couple of times, you learn to spot the type."
Gloria snorted, in turn. "Not Ezra. You wait til you get to know him better, youll see."
Her sister had only spoken to Ezra a couple of times. Hed spent a few days convalescing with the Potter family after hed been shot in the arm by the same man whod murdered Glorias husband. And Charlotte and her son had arrived the day after, for what was originally intended to be a short visit from Chicago, to help Gloria and the kids through their initial grief.
But after a few days, Charlotte admitted that shed been planning for some time to apply for a transfer to Denver from the company she worked for. She felt that she and Gloria needed to be closer together, and Gloria had heartily welcomed the idea. It was agreed that Charlotte and Tom would stay with the Potters until they sold their apartment in Chicago and found a suitable place for themselves in Denver.
Charlotte had always had a strong sense of family, which was good. But unfortunately, she also had an almost subconscious tendency to partially exclude those who were not her blood relatives. Even Dennis had felt it.
Initially, Angie hadnt seemed to be affected by it because Ezra had more than compensated. Hed taken her out every day, to spend time with his friends or sometimes just with him. And for a week or so, Angie had felt like she was in paradise.
But then he and the rest of the team had been called to Kansas. Some target that Ezra had already made contact with had changed cities and the Powers That Be wanted him back in the field before some major transaction took place. Theyd been absolutely determined and had even managed to work his still healing bullet wound into his cover story. And so, somewhat reluctantly, Ezra had told Angie that he had to go.
Hed read to her until she fell asleep one more time and then slipped out during the night to disappear completely for a month. All theyd had in that time was one message via Buck to assure them that he was fine.
And Angie really did seem to feel his absence more keenly this time. Maybe Dennis death had rekindled fears that a similar fate might befall Ezra. Or maybe it was something to do with the fact that Charlotte really didnt know how to treat her like one of the family. And so, in addition to dealing with her own grief and her childrens, Gloria felt like she was juggling her allegiances so that neither her sister nor her foster child felt ostracised. But whatever the reason, Angie did seem to be slowly folding in on herself. And now Ezra would soon be back and they couldnt even tell her.
Gloria was drawn from her contemplations as they pulled up in Ruths driveway. The door to the house swung open and the woman came out to meet them.
"Any news?" Gloria asked as she stepped from the car.
"No. She says Angie didnt say anything. But I dont know, Gloria. I think shes keeping back something - something that shes frightened to tell."
Ruth led them inside to find Lexi, Angies classmate, sitting at the kitchen table and looking as though she was about to face the Spanish Inquisition.
Her mother sat down beside her. "Honey, youve got to tell us what Angie said. Were all very worried. Shes missing. She might get hurt."
The child looked dubious. "She made me promise not to tell anyone."
"I know, Lex, but this is very important. Angie didnt know how important it is. Weve got to get her back home."
"She didnt want to go home."
"What?" Gloria exclaimed.
Lexi shrank back against her mother and Gloria moderated her voice. "Lexi, youve got to tell me please. What did she say? Did she say where she was going?"
The girl shook her head. "She said that she would be alright but she couldnt go home."
"Shes scared of him."
Lexi shrugged but Charlotte had a candidate. "Ezra Standish."
Gloria rounded on her sister. "Dont be ridiculous, Charlotte! Angie is not afraid of Ezra! Why on earth would she be afraid of Ezra?"
Lexi didnt know who it was that Angie was afraid of, but she did know why she was afraid of him. "She said that he tries to...to touch her..." The childs voice trailed off. Angie had sworn her to secrecy, even after Lex had told her friend that her mom might be able to help.
Lexi glanced at her mother, who looked worried but still gave her daughter a small encouraging nod.
The child took a deep breath before continuing, keeping her gaze focussed on the top of the table in front of her. "He tries to touch her...in places she doesnt want him to. Bad places. He said that he loved her and thats what people do when they love each other but she didnt believe him."
Then she risked another glance upwards and found that all three women were now staring at her with open-mouthed shock.
"No," Gloria breathed. "Not Ezra."
Lexi shrugged again. "She didnt say his name."
But Charlotte believed her previous suspicions to be confirmed. "I told you there was something wrong about the way he hangs around that child."
"Shut up, Charlotte!" Gloria shouted, making Lexi flinch again, "You dont have any idea what youre talking about."
"You cant just ignore it, Gloria!"
Ruth wasnt going to get between them while they were arguing. She picked up her daughter and headed for her phone. "Im calling the police!"
Gloria was startled. "We dont know that hes done anything, Ruth!"
Ruth tried to keep her voice calm and even. She could understand her friends distress, but first things first.
"No, but we know that Angies missing. Well need the police to help find her."
"We need to tell them everything, Gloria." Charlotte argued.
"We dont know everything, Charlotte!" her sister shot back.
"Lets just get them to look for Angie first," said Ruth, placatingly. "Ill get them to go to your place, Gloria, and well come with you."
* * * * * * *
Several hours later, Ezra Standish was surprised to see a police car in the driveway of the Potter household, as he parked his car by the curb. He hoped that nothing was amiss but only a few of the possible reasons for a visit from the police were completely innocuous.
Before he even lifted his hand to ring the bell, the door was opened by Glorias sister, Charlotte Lane.
"Mr Standish." The words were spoke cuttingly. It wasnt the first time that Ezra had been accosted with barely contained hostility, but this time he really had not an inkling as to why.
He dipped his head in a combination of acknowledgment and cordial greeting. "Ms Lane."
Suddenly, Gloria Potter appeared. "Ezra! Youre here!" She drew him past Charlotte and into the house.
Ezra blinked in bewilderment. "Yes, Im sorry to arrive somewhat late in the evenin. What is goin on?"
"Ezra, Angies run away."
"What?!" Confusion gave way to sudden fear. "When? Have you called the police?" Hed momentarily forgotten the squad car he had seen upon his arrival.
He looked around to see the familiar face of Officer Polly Paget.
"Polly! Any news? Where have you started searching? Maybe I could assist?"
Suddenly a male uniformed police officer was in his face. "Were a bit more concerned about why she ran away. You wouldnt know anything about that would you?"
Ezra was astounded. "What? Surely we would be aiming to find her first. Then we can establish a cause. After all, she will probably be able to inform us herself."
"Yeah. But then you might not want us to find her. Because when we do shell probably tell us what youve been doing to her."
"What?!" Ezra really couldnt believe this. He had to have entered the Twilight Zone.
Polly put her hand on the perplexed mans shoulder. Personally, she couldnt believe that he was capable of what was being alleged. When Glorias sister had blurted out her suspicions, the young policewoman had immediately told her point-blank, "Bullshit!" Of course, she had almost instantly amended that with, "Im sorry, maam, but I dont think youre right about that."
The woman had hit back with an accusation that Polly was blinded by an obvious attraction to the man in question and Polly hadnt helped her case at all by blushing furiously at the suggestion.
And her partner, Paul McDermott, had immediately signed up for the lynch mob. Admittedly, no crime was more likely to make any cop go off the deep end than the abuse of a child, but surely there should be some sort of evidence established before the first available suspect was strung up.
Yet Polly had found, much to her disbelief, that not only Paul and Glorias sister, but also virtually every other cop who had been informed about the case, had immediately started baying for the blood of Ezra Standish. No one, save Gloria and herself, seemed willing to even consider an alternative explanation.
Now, Ezra, having been virtually convicted in his absence, was arriving just in time to have sentence passed and carried out. No wonder the man looked as if the ground was being pulled from underneath him.
And Polly knew that what she had to tell him now was only going to further exacerbate his distress. There was no easy or comforting way in which to say it, but still she searched for a way to soften the blow somehow.
"Ezra...um, apparently...before she went missing,...Angie told one her classmates that she had been...touched...um, inappropriately and...against her will."
Ezra was utterly mortified. "God! And you think I could possibly do a thing like that?" He barely got the words out. His mouth had become as dry as a desert. He tried to swallow and almost choked on it.
Polly tightened her grip on his shoulder, almost subconsciously. And she almost hit her partner, when Paul closed in to snarl in Ezras face again.
"Yeah, dirtbag! Weve heard how youre always taking her off alone places. Couldnt wait to get your filthy little hands on such a pretty little girl."
Anger blazed through Ezra, as much at the fact that anyone could harm Angie in that way, let alone that they thought it was him. He gently but firmly disengaged himself from Pollys comforting grasp and took a determined step in McDermotts direction, forcing the cop to step backwards to maintain his balance.
"Listen, you mentally deficient testosterone-freak, maybe you cant spend five minutes alone with a member of the opposite sex, no matter how much your junior, without experiencin or indeed actin upon carnal desires. But thankfully, you and I are somewhat different in that regard!"
"You bastard!" McDermott drew back a fist and Polly had to grab his arm with both hands, to stop him landing the blow.
Suddenly, Ezras mobile phone rang. He stepped back from the fuming cop to answer it.
"Ez, its me. Are you alone?" It was Lilas voice.
"Five minutes," he told her curtly and cut off the call, before turning back to the group assembled. "Alright ladies and gentleman, and I use the latter term with the utmost laxity, am I under arrest?"
"No, Ezra," Polly replied, visibly worried about what he intended, "But we need to find Angie and work out whats happened."
He raised an eyebrow. "Agreed, but as certain parties seem more interested in castigatin me than in actually locatin her, I deem it necessary to conduct my own search."
McDermott almost physically lashed out at him again but somehow managed to rein himself in. "We may not have enough to take you in now, you son of a bitch, but you lay another finger on that child and I will rip you to shreds. You hear me, there wont be enough for the crows to find."
Ezra gave him one more arctic look. "And rest assured, sir, that if I find that the delay caused by your ridiculous posturin has allowed any harm to befall the child, I will not hesitate to inflict a similar punishment upon you." And with that he turned and walked out the front door.
He managed to get to his car before his phone rang again.
"Yeah. Listen, Ez, I found the squirt or rather she found me."
"Oh, thank God! Where are you both?"
"Shes scared shitless, Ez! Wont tell me what its about but the kids well and truly freaked out."
"Yes, well, I just may have some inkling as to why. You need to bring her and meet me."
"I thought you were in Kansas."
"Not anymore. I caught a flight back this evenin. Chez Potter is in an uproar and, needless to say, Gloria is absolutely frantic."
"You cant tell them where we are, Ez! Youve got to come alone."
"I intended to anyway but this is no time to get paranoid on me, Lila."
"Not my conditions, Ez. Angie wont trust anyone but you. Well make it that spot where you introduced Angie and me. Ill wait for you there."
"Alright, Ill be as quick as I can."
He ended the call, then started the engine and drove off in the direction of the appointed rendezvous.
* * * * * * *
The parking lot was very patchily lit by the lights from the adjacent bowling alley. As he got out of the car, Ezra scanned the area for any sign of either of the girls.
Hed made it there in less than forty minutes, thanks to favourable traffic. And it was fortunate that he hadnt had to concentrate too hard on navigating. Due to the shock of it all, hed been driving almost on autopilot, seemingly encased in a fog of unreality.
What theyd told him had happened to Angie. That they thought he could do such a thing to her. His mind rebelled against such concepts at both conscious and subconscious levels. It simply couldnt be true! None of it could be!
He forced himself to take a deep breath. Angie would be fine. She had to be!
And yet she had run away. What other reason could she have had for doing that? If not what they had suggested, then something equally appalling.
At least she had gone to Lila. That was some consolation, although slightly ironic in a way.
When they had first met, Angie and Lila had appeared to loathe the very sight of each other, but they had grown closer over time. And now when he saw them together, they acted almost like sisters.
Sisters? And whom would they both, in all probability, nominate as their mutual father figure?
If so, hed done an absolutely shameful job in attempting to protect them. Lila was still a habitual runaway. And Angie? He still couldnt believe what might have happened to Angie.
"Hey, Ez!" He whirled around. It was Lila and she had approached him from behind. Typical!
"Ill take you to her. Shes too scared even to come out here."
"Oh, Christ!" It was half murmur, half moan.
"Whats going on, Ez? What do you know?"
"Ill tell you when we see her. Come on."
Lila nodded and quickly led him down a couple of streets and alleys. This wasnt one of the haunts that he knew, so he just followed her silently until she came to a halt at a staircase which was the back entrance to some building. Then she gestured to the space below it.
He peered into the darkened area to see a small form huddled in a blanket and tentatively put his hand out to touch it. There was a startled cry and Angie almost fell over, tangled in the blanket, in her terrified haste to turn and face the intruder.
An invisible hand clenched around Ezras heart. Oh, God, he knew that reaction and what it meant. Hed clung to a small forlorn hope that somehow theyd all been mistaken and she hadnt been exposed to that horror. But now, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she had, and it had left its scars upon her soul.
"Angie, its me, Ezra."
For an instant she just sat there, paralysed by disbelief, but then she launched herself into his arms and he caught her in a fierce embrace.
"Im sorry," she sobbed. "Im so sorry, Ezra."
"Its okay, Angel girl. Everythin will be alright."
But even at that instant, he heard Lila swear and multiple sets of running footsteps. Before he could react, he was grabbed from behind by at least two sets of hands and Angie was torn from his grasp with a startled scream.
The fear in her voice galvanised him into action. He managed to deliver a couple of effective blows to his captors and, for an instant, he was free. He launched himself in the direction in which Angie was being roughly dragged away. She was struggling for all she was worth and her captors efforts to subdue her were not overly gentle.
But Ezra only got two steps towards her before he was tackled again and the weight of at least three people crushed him to the ground. He heard both Lila and Angie scream his name and there seemed to be pain as well as fear in their voices. He tried to fight his way up again but then a sharp pain seemed to explode within his skull and his strength faded with the ensuing darkness.
* * * * * * *
Lila had seen a lot of police stations in her time. This one was no different. The cops treated her like dirt, nothing new there. But at least they hadnt cuffed her as they bundled her into the car. Theyd had a separate car for Angie. And a separate one again for Ez.
Christ, it should have been an ambulance! His eyes had been open by the time they got him into that car but hed still been well and truly out of it. And she was sure that hed lost consciousness when they beat him to the ground.
Some of the fight had gone out of her when she saw he was down. She didnt want them taking their anger for anything she did out on him. So she remained silent for the entire journey to the station, ignoring their questions about who she was and what she doing there.
Shed demanded a phone call as soon as they arrived at the precinct. Theyd told her that she wasnt under arrest but allowed her to make one anyway. So shed dialled Larabee.
He and Josiah had only just touched down in Denver. The rest of the team were still on their way. But of course, once she had told them what had gone down, theyd said they be there ASAP.
That task accomplished, shed started hassling the cops about getting medical attention for Ez. Theyd said that theyd already called a doctor but at her insistence they called again. If they didnt get Ez looked after soon, shed give them a new definition of hell to pay.
And where had they taken Angie? God, if they also hurt the kid, shed kill the lot of them. Yep, there were going to be a lot of dead cops around, if her friends werent returned to her intact and fairly damn pronto!
She looked around and relief washed through her. "Hey, Larabee! About damn time!"
* * * * * * *
Theyd decided to let him sweat in an interrogation room for a while Just throw in some Wrath of God staring from a suitably menacing officer, standing guard. Keep him in the dark about exactly what was going on. Keep him guessing.
But the problem was that he didnt appear to be sweating at all.
Theyd known that he was a federal agent and so he must have had a pretty good idea of the drill. But he hadnt taken advantage of some of the obvious loopholes. For a start, he hadnt played up his head injury for the doctor, instead insisting that he was perfectly lucid and prepared to be interviewed.
At first theyd thought that this was a sign that he was actually anxious to start the process and that they might be able to use this to their advantage. After all, he was a real mouthy customer and those types often were unnerved by the silent treatment. But it wasnt working.
Paul McDermott had watched him through the one-way glass, along with Detective Enrica Fidler. She had more experience in dealing with child abuse than any other detective in the precinct, but shed never encountered a suspect like Standish.
Hed just sat there carefully inspecting his fingernails, occasionally frowning over the discovery of yet another broken one, and picking bits of dirt and lint off his jacket.
When he finally looked up and directly at his viewing audience, flashing them a serene smile, McDermott lost his patience and stormed in.
"Okay, you bastard, lets have some answers outa you. You havent seen a lawyer yet, so any bruises I wanna make on your ugly mug, we can always put down to you falling on the way to the station."
Fidler followed him in and pushed her colleague back. "You will do nothing of the sort. While Im here, all the suspects rights will be observed to the letter. Do I make myself clear?"
Standish appeared thoroughly unimpressed by the whole performance. "Dear Lord!" he said with a mixture of amusement and disdain. "Youre not actually goin to run the good cop-bad cop routine, are you?"
Fidler turned back towards him. "Im not running any routine. Ill tell you now, Mr Standish, Ive worked cases like this on and off for a long, long time and they still make me sick to my back teeth. Youve got no sympathy with me at all, but you do have your rights."
"Includin innocent until proven guilty?"
"Yep, that too. So how about we all sit down and have a little chat?"
"How civilised." He smiled again, this time completely without mirth, and gestured to the two seats positioned opposite him at the table. "Please, wont you both be my guests?"
"So, Mr Standish, how would you describe your relationship with Angie Velasquez?" Fidler commenced the questioning, as she sat down.
Ezra arched an eyebrow. "Relationship? A word of many contexts. Im sure that you are aware that we share no ties of blood. If I was goin to assign a label to my relationship with Angie, I would describe her as a friend."
"A friend? A close friend?"
"A very close friend. One of my closest, in fact."
"So would you say that you loved her?"
"Yes, I would. With the utmost devotion that I am capable of."
McDermott didnt seem to like the sound of that, for some reason. "And what the hell do you mean by that?"
Ezra remained unruffled. "By that I mean that there is no one on this Earth whose well being I place at a higher priority. Some equal, perhaps, but none higher."
McDermott sneered. "Well being?"
"Yes, well being."
Fidler held up her hand to silence her colleague. "Her well being in what way?" she queried.
"Physical, emotional, spiritual, cultural, financial, pastoral, comical, historical. How do you wish to define it?"
Enrica Fidler feigned a tolerant smile, aware that this line of interrogation was going nowhere, and decided to try a different tactic.
"Have you ever been alone with Angie Velasquez?"
"Hmmn that might take a moment or two to calculate. Would you like the answer expressed in terms of incidences over a given time period or percentage of time spent since our initial meeting?"
McDermott snarled, "These word games arent gonna get you off, you son of a bitch. And your federal badge aint gonna help you either."
Fidler put a hand on his shoulder, almost as frustrated with her colleague as she was with the suspect. It was blatantly obvious that the man wasnt going to be intimidated. McDermotts macho coercion tactics were going to be utterly useless.
"Okay, never mind that. Perhaps, instead, you could tell me what the two of you do when youre alone together?"
Again, Standish appeared almost cheerfully accommodating. "Well, the activities do vary somewhat. Would you like me to list them alphabetically or chronologically? I believe that the first time that we were alone together for any significant length of time was when her mother locked us in a storage room together to hide us from an arms dealer seeking vengeance upon us."
"What?" Fidler was startled by this unexpected information.
"Oh, yes," Ezra reported, as if he were chatting pleasantly over dinner. "You can check the case report in the ATF records. Im sure my superiors will authorise it, if you explain the situation to them. Im afraid that my own personal account is slightly unreliable. I had been shot and was losing significant amounts of blood, so I spent large periods of the time in a state of unconsciousness. I do remember the sounds of gunfire and a verbal confrontation between the criminals and Angies mother which proved to be her last. Angie appears to remember essentially all of it."
"God " Enrica Fidler breathed, shocked out of any further questions.
"Yes, not an entirely pleasant memory. So, if your next question was to be along the lines of was she ever frightened or uncomfortable at any time when you were alone together, youll understand if I say that the answer is yes."
Paul McDermott got to his feet and leaned over Standish across the table. "God, youre a cold-blooded bastard!"
Ezra merely leaned back and eyed him dismissively. "So I have been told on more than one occasion."
McDermott couldnt believe it. "Dont you even care whats happened to that little girl?"
Suddenly, and for the first time since his arrest, a semblance of emotion flickered across Standishs features.
"As a matter of fact, I do. I am very deeply concerned about what has happened to her and about what is happening to her now."
Then just as quickly, the bland mask of indifference was back in place.
"However, as I am currently being detained here and you have taken her elsewhere, my only option is to hope that you also have her best interests at heart and that she is being treated in a manner designed to minimise the emotional trauma that she is undergoing. Although I must confess that the somewhat brutal way she was initially handled at the time of my arrest has considerably fuelled my doubts over the matter."
"Bastard!" McDermott lifted his hands and looked as if he was going to go for the suspects throat, when the door opened behind him and a voice he didnt recognise spoke.
"Making friends with your usual style, Ezra?"
Standish gave the newcomer a shrug and a faint smile. "You know me, Mr Larabee. Always the epitome of congeniality."
Chris Larabee turned to the two police officers. "I suggest you tell me right now what youve got on him and if it doesnt stand up, were outa here!"
McDermott aimed a hostile glare at him and found it returned in full measure, and then some.
"Are you his lawyer?" the cop demanded.
"Nope. Im his boss. And I happen to know that the very idea that he could be some kind of child molester is utter crap. Therefore, any evidence youve got is also crap. So you just tell me what it is and then he can start organising to sue your asses off for false arrest."
"Uh, actually, Chris..." Ezra put his hand up tentatively, like he was a student asking a question. "The charges for which they have arrested me are assaultin an officer and resistin arrest. The discussion about potential acts of paedophilia appears to be merely an interestin sideline conversation."
"That true?" Chris aimed a gaze that could bore through titanium at Enrica Fidler, but she met his eyes without flinching.
"Yes, those are the charges, but Mr Standish is kindly answering some questions we have about another matter."
"And I suppose it hasnt occurred to you geniuses that hes been in Kansas for the past month, for Christs sake! I dunno how you think he could have done anything to her when he wasnt even here. Hell, youve gotta suspect! Lets not let a little thing like logic get in the way."
Fidler flinched slightly for the first time but decided to stand her ground. "We have no way of knowing when it all started. It could have been months ago. And are you sure he was there the whole time?"
"Well, he was pretty deep undercover. We couldnt keep tabs on his whereabouts 24 hours a day," Chris admitted. "But I sure as hell know that he didnt come back here to visit the Potters!"
"How can you be sure? And quite a coincidence that she runs off on the day hes due back."
Chris snorted. "He wasnt due back today. We wrapped up the case early. Which kinda blows your little theory outa the water, doesnt it?"
"Maybe she found out."
Chris threw questioning look at Ezra who shrugged. "I called Gloria from the airport in Kansas but I didnt get to speak to Angie. Gloria said that she was at a friends place. So Angie couldve been told. I dont know."
Enrica Fidler allowed herself a small smirk and Chris Larabee exploded. "Screw all this pussyfooting around! Theres a simple and direct way to find out whats been going on."
Fidler arched an eyebrow. "Oh, yes? And what would that be?"
Chris made a show of rolling his eyes at having to state the obvious. "Youve also got Angie in custody. Right?"
"In protective custody, yes."
"So whats she said?"
"That is not the point."
"Oh, isnt it?" Chris Larabee snorted again. "Ive spoken with her and I happen to know that shes refused to say anything until shes seen Ezra."
Fidler glared at him as she saw Standish lift his eyebrows in response to this new information. Shed known all that, of course, but it was something she certainly didnt want the suspect to know. He probably now knew for sure that hed be able to manoeuvre his way out of this. Hed already shown what a slippery customer he was. Damn!
"She may well change her mind."
"Not likely. That kid is as stubborn as they come. She wont talk until she sees him. And if the lot of you had half a brain between you, youd just get it over and done with."
"What?! Leave him alone with her? Have you lost your mind?"
"Alone?" Ezra had picked up on that from her outburst and his querying expression became more pronounced.
"Yeah," Chris told him. "Angie says that she wont say anything to anyone except you, and only if the two of you are alone. Wont even talk to me or Josiah or Lila. These idiots seem to think that if they just sit staring at her for long enough, shell suddenly break down and tell them everything."
"Well, it seems to be their standard operating procedure. I received a moderate dose of the same to begin with."
"Jesus Christ!" Chris turned on Fidler again. "They told me you had experience with these cases. And thats how you treat the kids? Lock em in a room and separate them from everyone they trust?" He turned back to Ezra. "Yknow that they wouldnt let Lila see her either?"
"They probably have their reasons."
"Like what? Making her feel as frightened and insecure as possible? Oh, by the way, she seems to be under the impression that theyve taken you off somewhere to beat the crap outa you. Josiah tried to tell her otherwise but I dont think that bruise forming over your eye is gonna reassure her much."
"Chris, Im sure that you realise that Im more than willing, eager even, to see her. But these fine upholders of the law and protectors of the citizenry seem to think that if Im even allowed in the same room with her, I will somehow manage to intimidate her into withholding the evidence which they feel sure she will give them, if they are allowed to continue their subtle and humane tactics to their logical conclusion..."
Suddenly Fidler exploded. "Okay! Thats enough! Okay, Standish, youve got thirty minutes with her max! And its gonna be in a room with so many cameras and microphones that you wont be able to breathe without us knowing. You try anything and youll get more than the crap beaten out of you. Ill string you up by your balls to the top of the tallest tree I can find! So this is your one shot! Thirty minutes and after that Ill get a restraining order stopping you from being in the same state as that child!"
Ezra merely nodded at her. "Thirty minutes? That sounds reasonable. Would I be able to see her immediately?"
Fidler nodded and got up to escort him. Ezra also stood and gestured for Chris to precede him out of the door. Chris strode out of the room with his usual purposeful gait but Ezra lingered a moment to deliver one final smirk.
"Good cop-bad cop," he said pointedly, then turned and walked out without another backward glance.