Coming Events Cast Their Shadow Before

by Hombre

Notes: This is a sequel to Paranoia (cited as an Ezra fic - although all the boys appear in it a lot too) and is set a year after the previous story. It's probably best to read that first, if you haven't already, to understand what this fic is about. You'll be real confused if not! I'm confused and I wrote it! I hope I haven't been too repetitive when trying to explain and work out the facts of the case. I was attempting to get things straight in my own mind as well as trying to get it to make sense for the reader. Didn't quite know whom to put as the main characters so I cheated and said all Seven. Ezra is more at the beginning and end of the fic and the other guys are in it, on and off, throughout the rest. Shall I tell you who gets hurt? No, on second thoughts I won't, but you know me by now, so take a guess.

The boys had all indulged in a day of horseback riding at Chris's ranch and had enjoyed themselves immensely. All, that is, except one man. Although Ezra had just ridden Chris's stallion, which should have been a great joy, he didn't seem to have taken much pleasure in it.

Five of the men left together after the barbecue that Chris had cooked, and after waving good-bye to them the blond went in search of the sixth. He found Ezra sitting on the back porch, staring into the distance and fiddling nervously with a handful of hair. The black-clad man knew that all was not well with the undercover agent so he sat down beside him and patted his back.

"Ain't ya got a home to go to, Ez? Do ya wanna stay over, maybe?"

The dark-haired man looked up at him distractedly and then nodded silently as he let go the hold on his hair when realizing how childish he must look.

The blond frowned and put his hand on Ezra's shoulder. "I always thought you liked riding Mercury and as you hadn't ridden him for ages it shoulda been even more enjoyable. You wanna talk about what's eating ya?" Chris asked quietly when he saw the stricken look on his friend's face.

Ezra shrugged forlornly. "Seem to have lost my zest for life at the moment."

"Well, if ya feel like getting anything off yer chest, I'll be happy to listen."

"Thanks, Chris, I appreciate it. Maybe when I've gotten things straight in my own mind I might take you up on your offer."

The two men stayed outside companionably for a while longer before going up to bed. Ezra couldn't sleep though, so at 3am he got up and walked along to Chris's bedroom. He stood outside with fist raised to knock the door but turned away and headed back toward his own room without completing the task. He stopped in the hallway and studied his bare feet on the carpet for a while and then sighed in despair. He turned round again and knocked loudly on Chris's door before opening it tentatively.

"Mr. Larabee? Are you awake?" Ezra asked. Why did I voice that ridiculous question? Of course Chris will be awake. I've just woken him up by pounding on his door, haven't I? the man thought to himself wryly.

"Yeah, I am," Chris mumbled as he rubbed his eyes and turned on the light. "Come in, Ez. What's wrong?" he asked as he sat up and squinted at his pale, anxious friend. "You okay? You feelin' sick or somethin'?"

Ezra stood in the center of the room looking as if he'd rather not be there. He shuffled awkwardly from foot to foot and wouldn't look at the blond. The undercover agent rather wished he'd gone back to bed after all and not knocked on Chris's door. Chris narrowed his eyes again and then patted the mattress and lifted the corner of the blanket when he saw his friend's unease.

Ezra looked up and stared at him. "I don't think so, Mr. Larabee."

"Come on, Ez. No strings attached. You can either get under here and be warm or stay where you are and shiver." The blond picked up a pillow and put it beside him on the mattress. "There ya are. A barrier between us."

Ezra grinned and moved to the bed. He sat down and pulled the blanket just up over his legs while looking at his companion. "If I feel so much as your breath on my cheek, I'll castrate you," Ezra warned.

"I hear ya but it ain't likely to happen, buddy. Now we've gotten that sorted out, you mind tellin' me why you've woken me at 3am? Ya sure look like you've gotten somethin' on yer mind."

The undercover agent smiled sourly and shivered. "I can't sleep. I'm just conscious of a dreadful feeling of doom but I don't comprehend why."

"How long have you felt like this?"

"For the past week and it's growing to such a degree that I feel stifled by it. I sleep even worse than usual, can't concentrate on my work and I don't think I can cope with it any longer."

Chris frowned anxiously. It was rare for Ezra not to cope with something and even rarer that he would admit to it. "Has anything happened recently that might have caused you to feel like this?"

"I really cannot recall anything that would have resulted in such thoughts. I dare say it will fade in time but while it's here it's highly uncomfortable," Ezra said, sounding doubtful about his prediction.

"Have ya spoken to Nate or Josiah?"

Ezra shook his head and smiled. "No, I don't want to create a fuss over a feeling. They'll incarcerate me as being insane."

"You should get it sorted, Ez. It ain't right if yer feeling so bad. If ya like, you can stay here until ya feel better. Do ya wanna do that?"

"If you don't mind. I just don't desire being alone at the moment. I know it's utterly preposterous but it's the most bizarre sensation I've ever encountered," the dark-haired man admitted as he shrugged.

"Yer welcome to stay as long as ya like Ez but only if you talk to Josiah about what yer feeling, okay?"

"Whatever you say, boss," Ezra replied wryly.

The two men sat in silence for a while and when Chris looked over at his companion again he saw he was asleep sitting up. Chris moved the pillow out of the way and put his hand under Ezra's head, hoping he didn't wake the man in the process. He eased Ezra down onto the mattress so that the sleeping man ended up lying across the top of the bed. The blond couldn't move him any more without waking him so he covered him gently with the blanket and then headed off toward Ezra's room. The sleeping agent must have detected that he was leaving though because he stirred uneasily and mumbled. Chris turned round after finding another blanket and took up residence in the chair next to the bed and Ezra calmed immediately and slept deeply until morning.

Chris fidgeted in the chair but did manage a few hours of uncomfortable sleep of his own. The blond woke at six but decided to let his stable staff take care of the horses on their own for once. He didn't feel that he could leave Ezra alone and he wondered fleetingly how long it had been since Ezra had slept properly. Not for quite some time judging by the dark shadows under his eyes and his general lethargic appearance. The man's occupation messed his sleep patterns up enough without this added problem to exacerbate things.

The dark-haired man woke at 8am and stretched luxuriously with an elongated groan of pleasure. Chris had been watching him sleep and Ezra's eyes finally focused on him in confusion.

The undercover agent frowned as he sat up and ruffled his hair wearily. "Mr. Larabee? Did I deprive you of your bed?"

"No, don't sweat it. Don't sleep much anyhow. Look, I need to go and help out with the horses. Get up when you like and I'll make ya some breakfast."

"Thank you," Ezra said as he settled back down on the mattress and pulled the blanket up round his ears.

Chris came back after mucking out and put his head round the door. Ezra was asleep again so the black-clad man left him alone, knowing he needed the rest. The undercover agent finally surfaced at noon and appeared in the kitchen looking slightly disheveled. He sat down with a sigh and ran his fingers roughly through his hair.

"There ya go, Ez. Eggs and bacon."

Ezra looked down at the plate placed before him and sighed in despair. The juices in his mouth were running at the sight of the food but it made him feel sick instead of hungry.

"Don't tell me you ain't eating either," Chris observed worriedly. He'd noticed that Ezra had lost weight and looked gaunt.

Ezra put his elbows on the table and rested his chin on the heels of his hands as he continued staring at the food while shifting uncomfortably on the chair. "Haven't had much appetite lately. It's so annoying to be under the influence of this feeling and letting it affect me so much. Getting all worried over something about which I don't know. Maude has told me that she's felt like this on occasion. Usually just before she's informed that a relative has died, I believe, but I really hope that is not the explanation for all this because she's the only relative I have left."

"Try and eat something 'cause you need fattening up a bit, Ez. Nathan'll be after you if you don't watch out and he'll have you on some disgusting eating plan before you can look round."

The phone rang at that point and Chris made sure Ezra put some of the food in his mouth before he walked out and answered it.

"Hey, Chris. Still alright for us to come over again this afternoon?"

"Yeah, sure it is, Vin. Ezra's already here 'cause he stayed over. I meant to call you earlier 'cause you were gonna pick him up to bring him out here, weren't ya? Anyway, there ain't no need now is what I'm trying to say."

"That's okay. The two of ya had a slumber party, did ya?" Vin asked with a smile in his tone.

"Somethin' like that. He's feeling a bit down and wanted some company. He seemed reluctant to go home yesterday so I said he could stay. He woke me up during the night to have a heart-to-heart but I'll tell you more about it when I see ya. Just trying to get him to eat somethin' but he's really outta sorts, cowboy. Quite worried about him if truth be told."

"Are you sure it's alright to come?" Vin asked anxiously.

"Yeah, might be good for him, although it didn't have much effect yesterday," the blond said as he disconnected. Chris turned and wandered back into the kitchen and saw Ezra's plate half-empty and the undercover agent looking decidedly sick. "Ez? You okay?"

Ezra sighed and looked embarrassed. "I'm sorry. I hate wasting food but I can't face any more."

"Okay, no problem. Least you had some and I dare say Arnie won't refuse the rest," Chris said as he put the plate on the floor, unaware that Ezra had actually already given the animal a large amount of the food he was supposed to have eaten. The blond watched his dog wolf the remainder of the food down hungrily and said in disgust, "Jeez, anyone would think I never fed ya."

Ezra's cell rang and the undercover agent answered it but rang off without saying a word and put the cell down on the table with a shaking hand. The call had taken less than a minute and Ezra walked out of the room silently with a strange look on his face. Chris watched him leave and then after a few minutes followed him into the living room but found the man wasn't there. Chris saw the door to his den was open and he frowned before walking inside. That room was empty too but he saw that the top drawer of his desk was open. Chris's heart leapt into his throat at the sight. He felt about the drawer frantically but couldn't find the keys he kept there that opened his gun locker. He hurried out of the room and looked out into the yard just in time to see Ezra heading to the barn with something in his hand. Chris quickly checked his gun cabinet and found the door ajar and one gun missing.

"Shit! What the hell ya doin', Ez? What was that call about?" Chris ran out of the house and headed to the barn fast.

+ + + + + + +

Four of the team arrived in the yard and headed to the kitchen in search of Chris.

"Vin and Ez ain't here yet by the look of it so we can go and nab the best horses," JD said gleefully as he rubbed his hands together in anticipation.

"Chris? Where are ya, pard?" Buck called when he found the kitchen empty. He frowned when he saw the dirty plate on the floor, a full mug of coffee by the sink, a bowl of cereal and Ezra's cell on the table. The blond wasn't one for housework but he never usually left the kitchen in quite such a mess. "Chris?"  He received no reply so he said, "Let's try the barn. He might be saddling the horses and missed hearing us come."

The four men walked toward the barn laughing and joking but came to a standstill at the sight confronting them. Chris was lying just inside the door with blood covering his torso. Buck knelt beside him immediately and reached out an anxious hand to check for a pulse.

"What the hell is goin' on?" he asked. "He's been shot in the chest."

Outside, Vin pulled into the yard and climbed out of his jeep after he'd parked it alongside Buck's truck. "Hey, guys! Where are ya?"

"In the barn. Chris is hurt, pard," the ladies' man yelled.

"Jesus Christ," Vin said as he stepped inside and saw the bloody blond. He then tapped Nathan's shoulder and pointed to the back of the building where he could see Ezra flat out on the ground too. The undercover agent's body was partially obscured by some hay bales and it had taken Vin's eagle eyes to spot him.

The two men headed toward him quickly. Nathan dropped to the ground and saw two large pools of blood under the undercover agent's body. He turned the man onto his back gently and inhaled a sharp breath and cursed quietly. "Holy Mother of God. Ez? Wake up, Ezra. Can you hear me?" he called, his voice rising in pitch with fear after each word.

Vin bent down and took a gun from Ezra's hand and checked the magazine. Four bullets had been fired and the majority of them were in Ezra's body by the look of it. The sharpshooter wandered around the barn looking at the ground and picked up four empty cartridge cases before ending up standing behind Buck.

The ladies' man looked up and saw the gun in his hand and scowled. "Where'd ya get that?" he barked.

"Ez had it."

Buck growled, jumping to conclusions immediately. "Why was Ezra here already?" he snapped. "I thought he was coming with you this morning."

"He stayed here overnight. He was unsettled about something apparently and Chris was gonna tell me about it today. Guess it all came to a head before we got here," Vin said as he shrugged.

Nathan called, "I need help over here with Ezra. He's been shot in the head."

"I'm seeing to Chris," Buck replied. Something in his tone could be interpreted as saying that even if he were free he still wouldn't have helped.

Vin frowned angrily at the man before hurrying to the medic. "I'm here, Nate. Tell me what you need me to do."

He knelt beside the medic as the man treated Ezra feverishly but efficiently. Vin winced as he saw the hole in his friend's head but then realized that he couldn't see an exit wound. The neat hole in Ezra's brow was bleeding badly, as were the two in the undercover agent's abdomen. The medic snapped out instructions to Vin, who silently carried them out, but the sharpshooter could tell that Nathan was worried by the tone of his voice.

"How's Chris doin'?" Nathan shouted to Buck while keeping his eyes glued to the motionless man beneath his hands. "How many wounds has he got?"

"Only one to the chest but that looks bad enough," Josiah replied when Buck didn't.

"Okay. Can you deal with it? Ezra's real bad and I can't leave him right now."

"Yeah, we're okay, brother Nate."

"Right, yell if his condition changes." Nathan continued treating Ezra with Vin's help for quite some time and then went to check on Chris for himself.

Two ambulances finally arrived in answer to Nathan's earlier distress call. The casualties were loaded into the back and whisked off to the hospital with sirens blaring and all the men, except Vin, followed behind in their own vehicles.

The sharpshooter patted Josiah's arm and said, "I'll meet ya there. Got somethin' I wanna check first."

+ + + + + + +

Chris and Ezra were both taken for surgery as soon as their injuries had been assessed at the hospital. Chris emerged first and all his friends transferred to his room to await news of Ezra. As they sat anxiously with the blond, he woke briefly.

Buck noticed and leapt to his feet. "Chris? Did Ezra try to kill you, pard?"

"No, didn't," the blond answered before passing out.

"What the hell happened then?"

Vin walked in after hearing Buck's question and said, "I think I know."

The ladies' man looked at him and frowned. "Where've ya been, pard?"

"Investigatin'," Vin sat down with a sigh and ran his fingers through his long hair dejectedly. "Where's Ezra?"

"Still in surgery."

"Dammit to Hell."

"Vin? What did ya find out, son?" Josiah asked as he studied the somber-looking sharpshooter.

"Well, after you lot left I went back to the house and had a look around. Chris's gun locker was open so I assume that's where Ez obtained the weapon. Anyway, on a hunch I also checked the phones while I was there, including Chris and Ezra's cell, to see who had called last."

"Why?" Buck interrupted.

"Well, if you'd just be patient I was gonna tell ya, Bucklin," the sharpshooter snapped angrily, which was unusual and told his friends that all was definitely not well. "The last call Chris had on the ranch phone was from me today and on his cell it was Travis yesterday, so those two calls can be discounted. The last call Ezra received was from an untraceable number and it was logged at about half past two."

"So?" Buck asked impatiently.

"You remember PCP?" Vin asked simply.

Josiah frowned and began to see why Vin was so upset. "Yer saying that had somethin' to do with what happened today?"

"Yeah. I'm guessing the call Ezra answered was from the same number that was involved then. I'm figuring Ezra was given the trigger-word that he always suspected had been hidden in his mind."

"So he was meant to kill Chris?" Buck queried with a deeply furrowed brow.

"Maybe." Vin shrugged.

"But Chris just said Ez didn't try to kill him. What the hell is going on?" JD asked in confusion.

"God knows. Just have to wait until Chris can tell us, won't we? Ezra's head wound is what really puzzles me 'cause it's a funny place to aim if it was self-inflicted. Never known it to be over the right eye before. It's usually in the temple where the person who's shooting themselves can't see what they're doin'. Anyway, it was the last shot to be fired." Vin shrugged again. "How the other wounds came about I don't know. Maybe they struggled or somethin', 'cause there definitely weren't no one else involved as far as I can tell. Why was Chris shot once, but Ezra three times? Did Chris shoot Ezra? I just can't work out what went on in there, but whatever happened it was because of that phone call," Vin said decisively. "I know I can't prove it yet but I'm willing to bet money on it."

"Jesus Christ," Buck said mournfully. "Now I feel bad. I'd forgotten all about what happened to Ez last year. How could I, after what we all went through?"

"I ain't never forgot. I've been waiting for this day, as has Chris," Vin admitted with a shrug.

"I'm gonna see if I can get Ez put in this room too," Buck said in determination as he stood up and strode out of the room with purpose.

"That's if he survives," JD said quietly.

"Shut up, JD," Vin snapped as tears appeared in his eyes.

Nathan put out a hand and laid it on the sharpshooter's knee. "Vin? It ain't cut and dried that Ez will be okay. It's a bad injury and it could go either way."

Vin sighed as he turned to the youngster and said, "Sorry, kid. Guess you were voicing what the rest of us are too scared to say."

Two hours later, Ezra was indeed settled in next to Chris. Whatever Buck had said to the nursing staff had obviously worked.

"How is he, doc?" Josiah asked as he looked at Ezra critically.

"In a deep coma. The bullet hit the right frontal lobe, which is the best place to catch a bullet in the head really. It contains quite a few redundant systems and hopefully shouldn't leave him with any lasting effects, but he needs to wake up first for us to be sure. Any head injury is worrying so we'll have to wait and see, but it was a good job he was moving when he fired 'cause he probably woulda blown his head off if not. The abdominal wounds are not life threatening but they're bad enough. Both your friends lost quite a bit of blood between them but I'm glad to say that Mr. Larabee's injury wasn't quite as serious as we had initially thought. He was very lucky not to be killed but thankfully the bullet missed everything vital. An inch either way and it would've been a very different story. He'll be in considerable pain for a while and he'll be staying with us for a couple of weeks, I should think." The medic smiled encouragingly before leaving the room.

"Look, there's no point in us all staying. We might as well try and do a bit of investigating into this. Why don't two of us stay here and the rest either go to the office or go home?" Vin suggested.

"We didn't have no success last year when we tried to sort this mess out," Buck pointed out negatively. "Shouldn't we wait until either Chris or Ez can tell us what happened?"

"That could be days away, Buck. Do ya just wanna sit on yer butt in the meantime doin' nothing?" Vin snapped again, his skin flushing red with anger.

Buck held his hands out in a placating gesture. "Okay, okay, keep yer hair on, Vin. You ain't the only one to be upset by this," the ladies' man replied sharply. "We could still be wasting our time if it turns out you've called it wrong, but how about you and Josiah staying here and the rest of us will sort out amongst ourselves what to do. Does that suit yer Lordship?"

Vin winced at his friend's reaction and reached out a hand to Buck's back.  "Sorry, Buck. I don't mean to snap but I just got a real bad feeling. Just trust me on this 'cause I'm sure I'm right."

+ + + + + + +

The following morning, Chris woke and groaned loudly as he shifted awkwardly on the bed.

"Hey, cowboy."

Chris squinted up at Vin and finally came to the conclusion that he was in the hospital. "What happened?" he asked resignedly.

"You were shot."

Chris sighed and turned his head to one side and saw Ezra lying motionless in the next bed. His breath caught in his throat and his heart skipped a beat at the sight of his agent's heavily bandaged head. "What happened to Ez?" he asked quietly as he turned his anxious gaze back to Vin.

"He was shot too. We found you both in the barn and I really need to know what happened. Are you up to telling me?"

Chris closed his eyes as he tried to recall events and eventually opened them again after quarter of an hour of quiet contemplation. He sighed and looked at his companion as he called the man's name, "Vin?"

"Still here, cowboy," Vin replied, shaken out of his own thoughts. He thought Chris had gone back to sleep again but he was glad he had been wrong.

"He tried to kill himself."

"Ezra did?" Vin asked in astonishment.

"Yeah, he had a call on his cell just after you phoned me. He didn't speak to the caller and just walked outta the room when he disconnected. I left him alone for a minute and then followed him 'cause I thought he might've been given bad news. He told me he'd been feeling strange for the past week and that Maude always had the same sensation when someone close was gonna die, so I thought it was somethin' to do with that." Chris paused for breath as he ran a hand over his face. "Anyway, he weren't in the living room and I went into my den and saw the drawer open where I keep the gun locker keys. They weren't there, but I spotted Ez heading to the barn with something in his hand, so I checked the locker and saw a gun had gone and then went after him. He was standing inside the barn with the gun up under his jaw."

Vin was relieved that his presumption that the phone call had been the catalyst that had set Ezra off had been proved. "So he didn't try to kill you?" he asked insistently.

"No, he shot me accidentally. I threw myself at him and knocked the gun away from his head although I didn't knock it from his hand...... We sorta fought over it and it went off twice, hitting Ez, but he didn't even flinch. It went off again and the bullet hit me in the chest. I fell and Ez just walked away to the other side of the barn like a robot... He raised the gun back to his head and aimed at his right temple.... I shouted at him and he turned his head toward me but didn't move the gun at all... It ended up pointing at his face instead and he just pulled the trigger..... The bullet hit him above the right eye and he fell.... I thought he was dead and I don't remember anything after that. Guess I passed out," the blond said haltingly as he tried to fend off the nausea that was engulfing him. Vin could see that the blond was tiring rapidly so he tried to bring the conversation to a close. "Well, he's still with us. Good job he moved his head or else he woulda been dead, Chris. He was very lucky that you put him off his stroke by shouting at him."

"Why did he do it? Do you know?"

"PCP," Vin said quietly.

"Shit! Are you sure?"

"Well, I checked the last call he had on his cell and it was from an untraceable number. It just seems to be too much of a coincidence for it not to be connected to last year's events and that's the angle I've gotten the guys working on. You know we assumed last year that Ezra'd been programmed to kill someone but it looks as though he coulda been set up to kill himself. I did a lot of thinking on the way here and I couldn't help but remember when Ez used that razor blade to harm himself in the hospital. I bet the doctor tried to get him to kill himself then as well but failed."

"Shit. How is Ez?" Chris asked as he looked over at Ezra worriedly.

"Pretty sick. Been in a coma since he came in. They got the bullet out of his head so we just gotta wait and see if he wakes up. The other two bullets hit him in the guts so he ain't all that perky. Least your wound turned out to be not as bad as first thought."

"Seems bad enough to me from this angle, Vin," Chris said quietly as he grimaced in pain.

"Sorry, Chris. Didn't mean to make your injury sound trivial. How do you feel, cowboy? Sorry, I shoulda asked that before."

"That's okay. I'm just sore, sick and tired. Glad Ez is here with me though 'cause I can keep an eye on him. Won't be fretting about how he is if I can see him myself."

"Yeah, we thought you'd appreciate it. Now get some shuteye 'cause you look worn out, cowboy."

+ + + + + + +

Two days later, Buck and JD were looking through the details of the case surrounding Ezra's drug problem the previous year. Buck shook his head in frustration and sighed.

"This is like flogging a dead horse, kid. How the hell are we gonna get to the bottom of this?"

The youngster looked up and grimaced as he shrugged his shoulders. "Don't know, Buck. Better stick with it though 'cause Vin's got a real bee in his bonnet about it all. Never known him let things get to him so much."

"Well, I can understand him being real uptight, kid. He don't want a repeat performance of the hospital drama he had to deal with last year. He was real affected by it and it musta been an awful experience seeing Ez try to kill himself. Vin'll want to get his hands on that damned doctor, Benson, if it's the last thing he does. 'Spect Chris is feeling the same after what went on in the barn."

"Yeah, I know." JD was silent for a minute and then looked down at the file in front of him with unseeing eyes. "What shall I do next then? Come to a dead-end with this angle."

"Well, how about you go round some more of yer informants and see if they've seen either Adam Benson or the blond recently. I know you ain't had no luck so far but if we could trace them we might get a result. We could really do with learning the blond's name too."

The youngster pushed his chair back and stood up. "Okay, I'll go and visit a few and see what I can come up with. Where are Nate and Josiah?"

"Nate's spending time at the hospital in turn with Vin and Josiah's giving evidence in court for the next two days so we can count him out for the moment."

"What are you gonna do while I'm gone?"

Buck shrugged and looked skeptical. "Try to trace that damned phone number again, I s'pose, though Lord knows how."

"See ya later then." JD waved and walked out to track down some of his more reliable informants.

He started off in a bar where he knew a couple of them hung out regularly. He looked through the door and spotted one of his quarry so he pushed on in and sidled up beside the man.

"Hey, Casey."

The man turned round on his seat and smiled in greeting. "Mr. Dunne. What can I do for ya?"

"Seen this man recently?" JD asked as he pulled a photo out of his jacket pocket.

The man took the photo of Adam Benson and studied it before shaking his head. "Nah. Looks familiar though."

"I showed it to you last year, remember?" JD said resignedly, knowing that's why the man thought he knew the doctor.

"Oh, yeah. He was teamed up with a blond, weren't he?"

JD nodded and grimaced. "Yeah, that's right. Can you ask around and see if you can trace either of them?"

"Sure. Ain't ya got a picture of the blond?"

"No photo and no name for him either, but he looks very similar to this man." JD held out a picture of Chris. Ezra had told them the year before that the second criminal looked remarkably like Chris. JD just hoped that showing the photo of his boss didn't confuse matters. They may get hundreds of sightings of Chris instead of the man they really wanted.

"Well, I'll see what I can do but don't hold yer breath," the informant said as he tucked the photos in his pocket and went back to his drink.

JD nodded and went back outside. He set off to his next destination but as the day wore on he knew he wouldn't have any luck. Pounding the streets and wearing out my shoe leather, for what? Diddly squat, that's what! Jeez, I hate this job sometimes. He decided to call it a day and headed back to the office to see if Buck had been more successful. Somehow he doubted it.

+ + + + + + +

After JD had left him to see his informants, Buck had tried his best to track down the untraceable phone number. After failing to do so, he sat at his desk staring into space while contemplating what to do next. His phone rang and he picked it up distractedly. "Wilmington."

"Could I speak to Ezra Standish, please? He does work with you, doesn't he?"

"Yeah, but he ain't available at the moment. Can I help?" Buck asked, expecting a negative answer.

"I just want to give him a warning," the voice said.

"I beg your pardon?" Buck snarled as he sat up straighter in his seat.

"Sorry, I didn't mean that how it sounded. Let me explain. My name is Eric Porter and Ezra worked for me with five other men on an FBI case about five years ago. One of the agents was murdered last year and now the other four have all apparently committed suicide over the past nine months although we are now treating the deaths as suspicious. Ezra is the only one left and I wanted to tell him about what's going on."

Buck frowned at the news. "Well, Ezra's actually in the hospital himself. He shot himself in the head as well as shooting his boss. How did the others die?" the ladies' man asked interestedly.

"One took an overdose, one drowned, one was in a fatal MVA and the other fell under a train."

Buck listened in increasing alarm. "Shit. Did they behave oddly in the days before they died?"

The man's voice had a puzzled tone in it when he answered slowly, "Yeah. Their families all said they were acting slightly out of character. Not too bizarrely but noticeably enough all the same. Does that mean something to you?"

Buck was beginning to get excited and he tapped his pen against the desk as he talked. "Yeah, it sure does. Ezra also had a bit of trouble behavior-wise last year and it's probably all connected to what you've just told me. I may be able to sort something out as to why your agents killed themselves if you can tell me the details of the case they were working on together."

"Sure, I'll send the file over but we've already checked our end unsuccessfully," the man said apologetically.

"Hopefully we may have more luck. Looks like you may have half the jigsaw puzzle and we've got the other. Maybe I can get the full picture by piecing them both together." Buck smiled at his joke. "Thanks for telling me this. It may have some bearing on what happened to Ezra. Can I ask you one other thing? Have you ever heard of Adam Benson? Did he have any links to your case?"

"No, sorry, never heard of him."

"Okay, never mind. It's just that Benson was involved in Ezra's troubles last year. Anyway, thanks again and I look forward to getting those files of yours." 

Buck put down the phone and turned to find JD standing behind him.

"What was that about, Buck? Sounded pretty serious."

Buck told him and watched as the kid's eyes open wide as his jaw dropped in amazement.

"Wow. This is getting bigger by the minute, ain't it?"

"Sure is but least we're learning something and not just hitting a brick wall like I did with that damned phone number. How did you get on?"


"Dammit. Well, I'd better tell Vin what the FBI agent just told me. That should earn us a few Brownie points, anyway." Buck paged Vin and when the sharpshooter rang back Buck told him what he'd just learned.

"Well done, Buck. Hope this is the breakthrough we've been looking for. Keep me up to date with how you're getting on."

+ + + + + + +

The sound of soft jazz music echoed round the room. It wasn't Chris's taste in music but he was willing to endure it in the hope that Ezra would wake after hearing his favorite tunes. The man was a jazz fanatic and endlessly listened to his chosen artistes when at home. Vin had come up with the suggestion of playing some CD's to Ezra in the hospital and the doctor had agreed that it might help shake the undercover agent out of his coma. The boys had all tried talking to Ezra for the same purpose but had been markedly unsuccessful so far so they had decided to try another angle. Vin had brought in his CD player the previous day and there had been music in the room ever since. Chris had now been forced to admit that some of the tunes were quite catchy and he'd found himself humming along on several occasions. Having something to listen to also seemed to make the time pass a bit quicker, for which the blond was eternally grateful.

Chris lay slightly propped up on pillows as he watched his undercover agent and he thought he saw the man's eyelids flutter. The blond blinked his own eyes, not sure if what he'd seen had been wishful thinking or real. He'd been staring at the man for so long he was liable to imagine all sorts of things.

Vin walked in and ambled over to Chris and noticed the puzzled look on his friend's face. "Chris? You okay?"

"Thought Ez was waking up. I'm sure his eyes moved."

Vin walked to the other bed and looked down at its occupant. He saw his friend's eyes partially open before they closed tight again. "Ez? You listening, buddy?" Vin reached out a hand and placed the palm against Ezra's cheek. "Time to wake up, Ezra. You hear me?"

Two green eyes were eventually revealed and Vin smiled in welcome. "Hey, Ez. Good to see ya. Chris is here too."

Ezra blinked and turned his head slightly and squinted at the blond curiously as if he wasn't sure who he was.

"Hey, Ez," Chris greeted with a small wave of his hand.

"Just stay awake and I'll get a doctor," Vin said as he hurried out of the room and returned shortly afterward with an older man.

"Hey, look who's back in the real world. Hello, son, I'm Doctor Richmond. Can you tell me your name?" the doctor asked as he smiled at Ezra.


The sharpshooter put out a gentle hand and placed it on the doctor's arm. "I called him by his name earlier so he might just be repeating what he heard," the long-haired man said with a wince.

The doctor looked up and smiled. "You only said his first name, did you?"


"Okay, what's your surname, Ezra?"

"Standish. My name is Ezra P. Standish," he mumbled softly, still sounding not fully awake. He wondered why he was being asked such a basic question.

"Great. That's really great, Ezra."

The undercover agent smiled for a split second and then closed his eyes as he went back to sleep quickly.

The doctor turned to Vin and patted his shoulder. "Well, that's a good start. He remembers who he is. Ask him some more questions when he wakes again, but tell me if he doesn't remember something important. He might not always know what's going on but I'm certainly encouraged by what I've seen so far."

"Thanks, doc." Vin followed the man outside and pulled out his cell to call Nathan. "Nate? Ez woke up for a bit."

"At last. How did he seem?"

"He knew who he was and the doctor seemed pleased with his reactions. He was very groggy and seemed a bit confused but he was certainly better than I expected him to be after being shot in the head," the sharpshooter admitted in relief.

"Great news. I'll come down now."

Nathan duly arrived but although Ezra woke on several occasions during his stay, he wasn't conscious enough to hold a conversation. Each time he woke though, he seemed slightly more attentive which boded well for his recovery.

+ + + + + + +

Buck sat staring into space yet again. It seemed to have become a bit of a habit lately. Given what had happened to Ezra during the past year, combined with the information that he'd just received, the ladies' man's mind was beginning to work overtime. As he waited for the FBI case file to arrive, Buck started searching the Internet on the subject of mind control drugs, suicides and trigger-words. He trawled through lots of pages until he suddenly came to a halt and stared at the screen. He sat up a bit straighter and then leant forward when he found a government report about research into the use of mind control drugs in the secret services. He read it with interest and began drumming his fingers against the desktop speculatively. He did another search and frowned worriedly. The scientist who had been conducting the experiments seemed to have been caught misusing his knowledge and was on the verge of being arrested when he had absconded. Buck checked the man's personal details and gasped at what he discovered. It seemed the doctor, Adam Benson, who had caused Ezra such grief the previous year and the missing government scientist, Percival Stokes, were related.

"Jeez, you're involved in all of this somehow, ain't ya, you bastard?" the ladies' man mumbled although he knew he was just going on gut instinct in his belief.

Buck turned as he heard footsteps and saw a courier arrive with the all-important case files. The mustached agent signed for them eagerly and then flicked through the pages quickly. The case had involved drug cartels by the look of it so Buck began checking the current whereabouts of all the gang members involved. The gang leader had died in prison two years previously, one man had been killed while on the run in the past year and the others were still in jail. He couldn't see a direct link between the gang, Stokes or Benson though, and he wondered if he was barking up the wrong tree in his thoughts.

So what do I know for sure? Nothing really when I think about it. Well, there is the fact that all the agents that had worked on the FBI case, except Ezra, have died. I also know that Benson and the blond were involved in Ezra's problems last year, but they don't have connections with the gang as far as I can tell. There's also no real evidence to connect either of them to Ezra's recent suicide attempt. It's also supposition about the origins, and content, of the phone call that we assume set Ezra off. What else is there? Well, Benson is related to Stokes who was experimenting with mind-control drugs, which is what was used on Ezra last year. Then there's the fact that Stokes was misusing his knowledge and has disappeared. Still can't link all the threads together though, even if they're meant to be linked.

"Hell, I don't give a shit if it is all supposition. I know Stokes fits in this puzzle somewhere," he said out loud.