The men arrived at Ezra's apartment in three different vehicles, two of which
ignored the lack of parking, driving up on the small spot of lawn. Tanner
was removing his lock picking equipment when Lenny pushed his way through
and produced a key, much to everyone's astonishment. They began searching
the apartment for clues to their wayward agent's whereabouts.
Larabee came upon the folder with his name embossed on it and opened it.
It was like opening a door and releasing a ghost. Wilmington sensed
it first, and saw the familiar anguish come over his old friend's face.
Chris' heart stopped, and his anger was swallowed up by an immense
sadness. He slowly sat down in the chair his face seeming to age right
before everyone's eyes. Everyone noticed how deathly quiet their leader
had become and moved toward the dining room table.
Lenny noticed the disheartened appearance of the usually stoic leader and
found himself in sympathy for the man.
"Chris, what is it?" Vin quietly asked, finding it hard to break the quiet
that had descended. He felt like an intruder. Vin bowed out as
Buck moved to Chris' side. This had something to do with Chris' past,
only Buck had the right to infringe on this dark part of his life.
Chris looked up at the FBI agent with questioning blue eyes. Lenny
thought he could almost see into the somber agent's soul weep. "Ezra got
those out of Damhoff's office," Lenny explained.
Buck looked over Chris' shoulder and noticed the old news clippings of his
family's death. Then he saw the 3 x 5 cards and picked them up.
"El Diablo is that the name of the assassin?" Buck asked, placing a hand
on Chris' shoulder.
"Yes," the FBI agent confirmed.
Buck swallowed as the pieces started to fall in place. "This El Diablo,
he the one who's after Ezra?" Buck voiced, trying to make sense of
the whole thing.
Lenny nodded his head. "And apparently the same one who killed Larabee's
family 10 years ago," Hoskins finally admitted.
Wilmington felt Chris tense under his hand.
"Oh sweet Jesus," Josiah muttered.
"Ezra was afraid of what this might bring up, so he wanted to try and smoke
the assassin out himself. We don't have any concrete evidence tying
this El Diablo to Berend Damhoff," Hoskins added.
"What about the cards and folders that Ezra got?" JD asked.
"No good, son. Especially since they were taken without a proper search
warrant and they're still only circumstantial," Josiah explained. Chris remained
silent, running a finger over the yellowed newspaper picture of his family.
The FBI agent turned his head away to give the ATF leader a little measure
of privacy as he relived a personal hell, something everyone in the room
understood. Lenny actually felt a little of his animosity toward Larabee
melt away. He now knew the man was not a cold, unfeeling SOB.
The man had a soul that had been torn apart years ago and was probably just
now coming back together.
"Chris, do you know any reason Damhoff might have had for hiring an assassin
ten years ago? " Nathan asked.
Larabee's brow furrowed in concentration, trying to pick the name out of
the hundreds that he dealt with, but nothing came to mind.
He shook his head and came back to the present. They had to find
Ezra. His family was dead. He would not allow this El Diablo
to steal someone else from him.
"Look at this." JD produced the note paper with the word 'Crystal Rose'
written on it.
"There are several Crystal Roses around Denver," Buck added.
Chris looked at Josiah and they both thought of the tractor rig with the
"Yeah, but only one atop a mountain," Chris reminded them.
Everyone ran for their vehicles.
When they reached the bottom of LookOut Mountain the agents all piled out
of their respective vehicles. Chris had JD drive his king cab truck
and slowly follow as they walked up the road, searching the side for any
indication of a car going over.
After almost an hour of walking up hill and searching the terrain, Vin waved
everyone forward. He had spotted the busted guard rail and fresh tire
tracks in the soft shoulder. They looked down to see a path, which
had been torn through the underbrush; there was no sign of Ezra's car.
"JD, call for paramedics!" Chris yelled over his shoulder as he followed
Hoskins down the steep slope.
"Slow down Hoskins, before you break your neck," Chris yelled toward him.
Hoskins didn't answer, but he did slow his descent. He stopped suddenly
and swore, looking upon the mangled metal of Ezra's jag in front of him.
"Oh, God! No," Lenny voiced as he took a good look at the mangled
jag. The front end was wrapped around a tree. The windshield
was so spider-webbed one couldn't see inside, the passenger side roof was
partially caved in. Lenny reached the driver's door and tried to open
it without success. He could see Ezra's unconscious form held up by
the seat belt, which hopefully saved his life. He started pounding
on the driver's window.
Vin and Josiah went to the passenger side window. Sanchez removed his
gun and smashed in the already shattered window then threw his heavy coat
over the ragged edges. He helped the lean sharpshooter to crawl inside.
Tanner licked his lips, looking at the blood that covered the left
side of the pale agent's face. He checked for a pulse relieved to find
one. He looked out the driver's window seeing the anxious faces peer
"Josiah, give me something to cover Ezra with," Vin shouted back out.
He immediately received Buck's coat, which he placed over Ezra's head.
The lean agent then sat back in the passenger seat raising his foot up, and
across Ezra's body. The others realized what the sharpshooter was about
to do and backed off. Vin struck the window, once then twice punching
out the glass.
Hoskins came quickly up to Ezra grabbing his shoulder and squeezing, his
panic causing the words to rush out. "Ezra! Ezra! Can you hear me?"
Nathan pushed the worried agent aside and began to assess the southerner's
injuries. He placed a dark hand on the undercover agent's warm face
bringing forth a slight moan.
"Easy Ezra, it's Nathan. You're going to be alright," he tried to
soothe. Vin rested a hand on Ezra's uninjured arm as Jackson
examined the deep laceration at his temple. Nate looked down,
seeing that the dashboard was pinning the smooth-talking agent's legs.
Vin was also examining the crumpled dash, seeing blood pooling on the floor.
"Someone check and see if they can get in the trunk and get Ezra's jack,"
Vin suggested. Wilmington immediately went to the back of the car,
eager to be of any help. He was able to force the trunk open and quickly
removed the jack and a tire iron, passing them to Vin.
"Nathan?" Ezra whispered. His eyes tried to open, but they were to heavy
and he soon gave up. He grimaced as he tried to move his left arm.
His head felt strange, and it hurt like the worst hangover he ever had.
He could hear voices but couldn't separate them. His brow furrowed
trying to discern and isolate the different voices.
"Easy Ez, don't try and move, your legs are trapped," Nathan explained as
Standish seemed to be growing agitated for some reason.
Ezra didn't seem to hear the warning. He tried to move his right leg
up causing a searing bolt of pain to shoot up the leg. He screamed in pain,
his green eyes flashing open, his face contorting in agony. Tanner
grabbed the struggling agent trying to keep him from hurting himself
anymore. Nathan reached in through the window grabbing his
shoulders. Chris stood silently, his eyes closed and his fists clenched
in helpless rage. Buck turned another shade white at the sound of his
fellow agent and friend's pain.
"Ezra, calm down, please!" Hoskins yelled from over Nathan's shoulder.
Ezra shuddered once then passed out, his chin falling to his chest.
Jackson released his hold on the unconscious man and placed a hand on Ezra's
chest feeling the labored breaths.
"We have to get him out of here, now," the ex-medic exclaimed.
Hoskins nervously shifted his feet behind Nathan, trying to get a look at
his friend. He held his questions, allowing the ex-medic to do his job, but
it was tearing him apart. He felt responsible and if Ezra died he would
never forgive himself. He didn't know that Larabee was feeling the
exact same thing. Lenny turned to look up the hill and caught the glint
of metal. He knew it was a rifle and knew it was pointed right at Larabee.
Before anyone else could react, Hoskins yelled, "Look out!" and dove sideways,
catching Chris around the waist, at the same instant that a shot was
fired. The two men slammed into the rocky ground. The others
immediately took cover pulling out their weapons. Nathan hesitated
leaving Ezra's side, but he couldn't help the man if he got shot. Vin
kept down inside the car and quickly cut Ezra's seat belt and leaned him
down as far as he could, getting his head out of the line of fire.
Chris felt Hoskins heavier weight on top of him and tried to push him off
hearing the hiss of pain from the FBI agent. Lenny managed to roll
off of the blond leader grabbing his arm.
"You alright?" Chris asked, concern flashed across his face.
"Yeah, it just nicked me," Lenny answered. "The shooter is up in those rocks
at about two o'clock." Chris pulled out his gun and searched the
hillside. Wilmington slid in next to him, gun drawn.
"He's mine, Buck. Take care of Hoskins." With that Chris disappeared
up the hill. He was going to face the man that had murdered his family
ten years ago; it was a dream come true.
El Diablo had known that the other agents, and especially Chris Larabee would
eventually find Standish. He had returned hoping for another chance
at the now famous ATF leader. He would have had him too if that other
agent hadn't saved his life. Larabee definitely surrounded himself
with good men.
Chris cautiously made his way up the mountainside. He caught a glimpse
of someone between a couple rocks. He stood, forcing the man to fire
then quickly ducked down and rolled to the right, firing as he grabbed
cover. He stood up again, but this time no shots came. He carefully
made his way up the mountain coming upon Thomas Cruz blood bubbling from
a wound in his chest. The man was still alive, but just barely.
The assassin coughed, blood spitting up from his insides. "Well Mr.
Larabee, we meet face to face," the assassin gasped, knowing he was dying.
No one would ever know that for the past ten years Thomas Cruz had suffered,
suffered with the knowledge that he had killed an innocent woman and
child. This was probably why it had been so easy for Larabee to kill
him; something deep down forced the career assassin to make amends the only
way he knew how.
Chris squatted down beside the dying man, staring at him like some new type
of fungus he had just discovered.
"Why?" Chris whispered.
"Oh, nothing personal I assure you, all business. I was truly sorry
about your family that was not suppose to happen." Thomas Cruz tried
to take a deep breath, but found it impossible. "I was young and
inexperienced then. I didn't even get paid." He chuckled, wincing
at the pain it caused. Then El Diablo turned his dark eyes to meet
Larabee's cold blue ones. "It's ironic really, my first and only mistake
kills me." The light left the man's eyes and he stared sightlessly
up into the blue sky.
Chris thought he would feel something, a revelation; feel the darkness and
despair lift from his soul, the ache diminish from his heart. But he
felt nothing. He looked at the man who had murdered his family, and
he still felt the agonizing sorrow that they left behind. Nothing would
relieve the pain of losing his wife and son, but at least he had avenged
their death, hopefully they were at peace.
Vin had placed the jack under the dash and was vigorously pumping it to raise
the dashboard off of Ezra's legs.
"We're going to get you out of here, Ez, don't you worry," Vin calmly talked
to his unconscious compatriot.
Nathan called from his place of cover to Vin. "Vin, how is he?"
Tanner placed a couple fingers to the southerner's throat, feeling the weak
pulse. "Not good Nate, we have to get him out of here soon. I
almost have the dash off his legs."
"Damn!" No one knew what was happening with the assassin or if it was safe
to leave cover.
Buck raised his gun at the sound of someone approaching. He lowered
it at the sight of his old friend, relief lifting the sober mask from his
face. Chris walked past him and up to the car. He picked up the
crow bar and thrust it into the door frame, putting all his anger, despair
and anguish behind it. The door popped open just as Vin got the dash
up far enough so they could slide the injured man out. They all heard
the siren up on the road. Chris, Buck and Nathan gently laid Ezra out
on the ground. Nathan applied pressure the deep laceration on Ezra's
leg. Hoskins was at his friend's head gently pushing back the unruly
hair from his brow. Agent Dunne followed the medics as they hurried
down the hillside carrying a gurney.
The paramedics quickly stopped the bleeding from Ezra's leg, wrapped his
head wound, and splinted his arm. Ezra was then placed on a gurney
and with Buck, Chris, Vin and Josiah's help quickly carried back up the hillside
to the waiting ambulance. Nathan worried that through the whole thing
Ezra never made a sound.
"Oh, not Standish again," Dr. Lauren Murry groaned as she met the gurney
in the hospital lobby and looked down into the handsome features of the
southerner. She knew the other six agents would be tearing through
the doors any minute and she wasn't disappointed. She did a quick check
then started barking out orders to the other doctors and nurses. Larabee
watched as his old-family friend did what she did best, take charge.
Ezra was quickly spirited away leaving seven forlorn expressions in his wake.
Dr. Murry turned to the seven men who stood before her. They were all
dirty, scratched and bruised, and looked ready to collapse from
exhaustion. But what really scared her was the fear she saw in each
of these stalwart men's faces. Her brown eyes stopped on the handsome
older gentleman, who she didn't recognize, but who carried the same fear
stricken expression as the rest.
"Sir, why are you bleeding all over my floor?" Murry simply asked,
pushing her sandy-blond hair behind her ear and staring at the pale FBI agent.
Lenny looked down seeing the blood dripping from his arm and landing on the
clean white linoleum floor. "Aww hell." His eyes rolled up into
his head and his legs buckled. Chris and Josiah grabbed the agent before
he hit the floor. Dr. Murry shook her head and pointed toward an empty
"Take him in there. I'll send a nurse in to take care of him." She
wasn't overly concerned; the man had managed to walk into the hospital under
his own power. He was probably just weak from blood loss. She
was more concerned about Agent Standish.
"Just a nick, huh?" Larabee grunted at the unconscious FBI agent. They
carried the limp man into the room and laid him on the table. Sanchez
removed the agent's leather jacket and Nathan came in and quickly looked
at the wound.
"It went straight through. He should be alright, probably just nicked
an artery, just lost too much blood," he assured the others.
A couple hours later Lenny was wheeled into the waiting room where six worried
lawmen waited for word on their seventh. They had all managed to clean
themselves up a little. The orderly left Hoskins there and he remained
in the chair, not yet ready to trust his legs to hold him. He had a
glass of orange juice in his hand, which he tried to force down.
"Any news?" He finally asked, looking at the six agents who sat in
various positions in the stiff back chairs. He noticed that Vin sported
a bandage around his hand where he had cut it going through the broken
window. JD had a bruise on the side of his cheek where he had fallen
running down the hillside after the medics. Larabee reminded him of
the walking wounded in Nam. His wounds were too deep to just patch
up. The respected leader had lost some of his fervor and for some reason
Lenny was sadden by this. He actually enjoyed his life-threatening
confrontations with the intimidating ATF agent.
"He's still in surgery, there were internal injuries," Nathan quietly explained.
JD was about to stand and start pacing again until Buck grabbed his shoulder
forcing him back down in the chair. Dunne's nervous energy was driving
Chris glared at the wheel-chair bound agent.
"Is there a problem, Mr. Larabee?" Hoskins sneered not really in the mood
for a showdown right now, but then again it would help to get his mind off
Chris licked his lips and stood. "Yeah, why did you let Ezra risk his
"He is a grown man, Mr. Larabee."
"Not good enough. You're supposed to be his friend you know how he
is. You should have told us."
Lenny glared back up at the blond agent then noticed that the others were
also not looking upon him to fondly. The problem was they were right;
he should never have let Ezra talk him into keeping this under wraps.
Lenny released a breath, sinking back into the chair. "Yeah I do know
how he is, and so do you. Ezra didn't want anyone getting hurt because
of him. He still has a hard time with this team thing."
"Well, when he comes out of this you're going to help us explain it to him,"
Chris replied the hint of a smile tempering his words. Lenny nodded,
for the first time in agreement with the exacting leader.
Larabee would one day have to tell Ezra how grateful he really was.
If he hadn't taken it upon himself to check out Damhoff, they may never have
found the killer of his family. But Chris also realized he had been
scared, scared of losing someone close to him again and the only way he could
deal with this fear was to be angry.
Dr. Lauren Murry interrupted his heated thoughts. "Gentlemen, Mr. Standish
is out of surgery and in ICU."
"Is he going to be alright?" Buck hurriedly asked.
"Well, there was considerable blood loss and some internal hemorrhaging and
he has a severe concussion also three broken ribs, and a broken arm.
His leg isn't going to be in such good shape for awhile either, but he should
make a full recovery."
"Can we see him?" Larabee asked.
Lauren looked at the concerned faces of the seven men. "Yes, but don't
stay to long."
The Seven government agents crowded into the small room. Lenny's heart
almost broke at the sight of his friend. Various IV lines stuck out
of Ezra's arms. His face was pale and slack with a large, deep purplish
bruise covering half his face. They could hardly tell he was even breathing
and they all glanced at the heart monitor for assurance. Hoskins went
to the other side and placed a hand on Ezra's shoulder. Ezra was the
closest thing he had to family, and he couldn't imagine losing him.
He looked over at Larabee, who stared down at his undercover agent.
Lenny squeezed Ezra's shoulder hoping he could somehow feel his presence.
The next day Doctor Murry entered Standish's room to find six men sprawled
out all over the room. She shook her head in disbelief and went over
to check on her patient's condition. Chris woke up as she was writing
something down in a chart.
"Is he okay?"
"Yes, Chris, he's doing fine. I thought I told you all not to stay
to long," she chided.
"Sorry doc." Chris gave her a contrite smirk. They had known
each other for a long time and he knew he could probably get away with murder
with her, but he didn't want to take advantage.
Chris looked down at the ashen features of his, at times, difficult agent.
He looked around the room and smiled at the others trying to wake up from
a very restless and uncomfortable sleep. He noticed that Sanchez was
Ezra groaned causing the doctor to lean over and open one of his eyes.
She smiled. "I think he's coming out of it." These words brought
instant life to the others.
Dr. Murry glared at Chris. "Now, you have fifteen minutes then I want
you all out of here, or I'll admit the lot of you and let the new nurses
practice procedures on you."
Lauren saw the lascivious smile on Buck's face at the mention of nurses.
"There are male nurses who need practice too, Mr. Wilmington." She
had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing when Buck's smile fell dramatically
from his handsome face.
"We'll leave," Larabee promised.
Ezra's green eyes fluttered a moment then were still. A moment later,
he tried again. This time they opened and stayed open looking at the worried
faces surrounding his bed.
"Hey kid, how you feeling?" Lenny asked, taking his friend's hand and squeezing
"Like I went off a cliff," Ezra rasped. JD handed Lenny a glass
of water and with Chris' help they managed to get a couple sips down his
Standish noticed that Lenny's arm was in a sling. "What happened to
you, did Larabee finally shoot you?" Everyone in the room had to laugh.
"No, but I hate to tell you, I saved your boss' ass," Lenny admitted.
"Why in the hell would you do that?" Ezra good-naturedly asked, the faint
smile on his face remained as he drifted off.
Sanchez had silently slipped in, a smile coming to his face when he heard
the familiar southern drawl waft across the room. Larabee turned his
head catching sight of the big agent entering the room. He reluctantly
moved away from his injured man and went up to Josiah.
Larabee could tell the steadfast agent had something to say. "Last
night, Damhoff trucking burned down. Very suspiciously," Sanchez replied,
getting everyone's attention. "They didn't find any bodies so it can
be assumed that Damhoff escaped," he added.
The vein on Chris' forehead began to turn red, his icy blue eyes blazed in
anger and his jaw clenched. Josiah placed a calming hand on the slowly
simmering man. "Maybe you should share some of those feelings, brother
Chris didn't look up at the taller agent; instead, his eyes fell on Ezra's
broken form lying in the hospital bed. "I don't want to share my feelings
right now. I want to find the son-of-a-bitch responsible for this whole
thing, then look him in the eye and share my feelings." The other agents
did not miss the menacing tone in the somber agent's voice; a slight shiver
went down Hoskins' spine.
"Alright I want everyone working round the clock to scrape up every bit of
information on Berend Damhoff and El Diablo." Everyone started to file
out of the room.
Chris grabbed Tanner's upper arm. "Sorry pard, I need you and Hoskins
to guard Ezra in case Damhoff hires someone else to try again."
Vin scowled at the thought of spending time with the egotistical agent, but
he knew Chris was right.
"This won't be a party for me either, Mr. Tanner," Hoskins quipped.
Chris glared at the FBI agent. "Play nice, both of you." He turned
to his best friend. "That's an order."
After three days, Standish was to be released from the hospital. Chris and
Josiah heard Dr. Murry yelling from inside Ezra's room. The two men
entered to see Vin and Hoskins leaning against the wall as Lauren poked and
prodded the ungrateful southerner. Ezra sat on the edge of the bed
his arm in a sling and his leg wrapped.
"If you don't sit still, Mr. Standish I will have an orderly tie you down
until I finish my examination."
Ezra glared at the sandy hair doctor then turned his attention to the two
men who had just entered, giving them both deadly stares.
"I do believe our brother is feeling better," Josiah mused, a grin on his
"Well then this is going to make him feel great," Chris remarked. Ezra
gave his leader a bewildered look. "You're going to be staying at Buck
and JD's until you fully recover."
Hoskins had never seen the look that now graced his friend's handsome visage
and had to hold back the laugh that threatened to erupt.
"I refuse to stay in that cesspool they call a home," Ezra sneered.
"They're cleaning it up as we speak," Josiah added.
"Nothing short of the sanitation department coming in could clean that place."
"Listen, it's simple, you go there so we can keep an eye on you or you stay
here," Chris calmly but most assuringly stated.
Hoskins came up to his friend placing his hands on his shoulders and looking
into the green eyes. "Well, as much as I'd like to see this new superfund
site I'm afraid I have to say good-bye. My boss thinks I've
deserted. I have to get back, but I need to know you're going to be
"I will be, don't worry Lenny and thanks for all your help."
"No problem, kid." He looked over at Chris and Josiah. "You're
in good hands, whether you know it or not."
Buck, JD and Nathan were waiting when Josiah, Vin and Chris pulled up in
Chris' truck. Dr. Murry had given Ezra a sedative to make the trip
more comfortable. By the time they reached Buck and JD's place Ezra's
face was bathed in sweat. They eased the semi-conscious man out of
the truck and into the apartment. Chris and Josiah eased him down into
Buck's bed. Vin quickly removed his boots as Nathan went to his side
to check him over.
"Maybe, it was to soon for him to leave the hospital?" Agent Dunne worriedly
"No, the ride was just a little harder on him than expected. He just
needs to rest," Nathan assured everyone. Chris pushed back the sandy-brown
hair from Ezra's brow, the agent already in a deep sleep. They all
quietly left the room.
It was another two days before Standish could move around the apartment with
the use of a cane. He was grateful the dynamic duo was keeping their
place relatively clean while he recuperated. He was getting tired of
being babysitted and wished to get back to his own place. He made his
way to one of the two mis-matched sofas, needing a change of scenery from
Buck's shrine to women bedroom. He heard, before the door even opened,
Wilmington and JD's boisterous argument. The two bounded into the living
room almost stumbling over the relaxing agent.
"Hey, you're up," JD voiced.
"How you feeling?" Buck asked, noticing that some of the smaller agent's
color had returned.
"Much better, Mr. Wilmington. In fact good enough to no longer further
impose on you or Mr. Dunne's hospitality."
"You better wait to see what Nathan has to say about that," Vin replied entering
the living area from the back room. Ezra cringed, forgetting that the
quiet sharpshooter had been watching over him for the last couple hours.
Buck and JD went into the kitchen to make lunch until they heard Josiah,
Chris and Nathan enter the apartment all three lawmen giving smiles to the
put upon undercover agent.
"We have some news," Josiah explained. Chris nodded for Sanchez to
"We discovered that Berend Damhoff was really Vernon Hiler."
"Holy shit!" Buck exclaimed.
"Does that mean something?" Vin asked.
Larabee sat down in one of the recliners his arms resting on his knees, his
hands clasped. "I killed his son George in a drug raid, a month before
my family was killed."
"Hiler hired an inexperienced assassin ten years ago, who messed up then
ran back to Mexico. Afraid of being busted he changed his name to Damhoff
and left the area deciding to bide his time," Josiah continued.
"But why did he go after Ezra?" JD asked.
"He planned on going after all of us," Ezra added. "There were folders for
each of us in his office."
"I think Damhoff was doing someone else a favor. We found the name
of one of your old acquaintance, a Mr. Harry Wells," Chris exclaimed, turning
Standish leaned his head back on the couch. "Good Lord, I got his brother
arrested a couple months ago. I was getting ready to supply evidence against
him to the DA."
"The fire burned all of Damhoff's records and probably any evidence to tie
the two men together, but we know that they at least knew each other and
it's a good bet that Damhoff hired this El Diablo for Wells, figuring he
would also want to clean up his first mistake," Nathan replied.
"Sort of a two for one sale," Wilmington blurted out, receiving withering
glares from the others. JD slapped the tactless agent's head.
"Does anyone know the whereabouts of our Mr. Hiler?" Ezra hazard to ask.
"Afraid not, the police have been looking, but so far no luck. He probably
already left the country," Nathan replied.
"Should we try and track him down?" Vin asked.
"Nah, he'll be back to try again someday," Chris answered. "I just
wonder if he realizes killing me won't take away the demons he's carrying."