"Ezra! The Judge wants to see you ASAP!" Chris yelled toward his undercover
agent, who was just about to grab his coffee cup.
Ezra felt a sinking sensation all the way to his toes and quickly filled
his cup, figuring a condemned man deserved one last cup of coffee.
The only time he ever appeared before Judge Travis was to be reprimanded
for some believed indiscretion. He quickly started thinking back over
the past few weeks to what could have transpired to elicit condemnation from
the Judge. Nothing came immediately to mind, until he heard Vin's familiar
Texas drawl calling for Josiah somewhere in the outer offices. Ezra
bowed his head and forgot about the coffee as he hurried out of the break
room. He caught up with Larabee right outside his office.
"Could you enlighten me as to the reason behind this sudden interest in my
person?" Ezra drawled as he came up alongside the esteemed ATF leader.
Josiah and Vin appeared from around the corner and slowed their steps as
they noticed the seriousness of the conversation between Chris and Ezra.
Most of their conversations leaned toward Chris just glaring menacingly
at the smug agent, while some led to the highly volatile leader wanting to
throw the exasperating undercover agent out the window. This confrontation
appeared to be the former.
"No. Now get your southern ass up there," Chris curtly replied, continuing
into his office. Ezra exhaled and turned to face Josiah and Vin.
He flashed a grim smile and walked past, looking like a man heading toward
his own hanging. Josiah slapped Ezra on the back as he strode past.
"Don't worry Ez, everyone's always come back alive," Josiah joked.
Vin smiled after the southern agent, until a pang of guilt struck him.
His smile dropped. He wondered if his and Ezra's little excursion could
have anything to do with the Judge wanting to see him. A couple weeks
ago, Ezra had wanted to go up and check out a ghost town. He had stopped
by Vin's place to borrow his jeep but it was in the shop. Ezra didn't
want to involve any of the others and was about to just forget the whole
thing. It had been Vin's idea to borrow one of the agency's SUVs.
Ezra was surprised at the sharpshooter's interest in his secret passion.
Vin just felt it might be a way to get to know the undercover agent
better. He was surprised by the urbane agent's hobby of traipsing through
ghost towns and researching historical biographies. Of course, Ezra
swore him to secrecy upon fear of death. Vin had hot-wired the truck,
and both men spent the whole weekend up in the mountains. They both
thought they had got away with it.
Vin knocked lightly on the doorframe of the open office. He waited
until Chris raised his head before entering. "Ah, I probably should be joining
Ezra in the Judge's office," Vin stammered, noticing the amused glint in
his friend's blue eyes.
Chris raised an eyebrow as he leaned back in his leather chair. "Really?"
"Yeah, it was my idea to hot wire the agency SUV," Vin explained, suddenly
finding the carpeting in the office extremely interesting.
Buck, JD, Josiah and Nathan had materialized just outside the door, their
curiosity getting the better of them.
"Oh man, what did Ezra do this time?" Buck quipped. Next to Ezra, Buck
saw the inside of Travis' chambers enough to be on a first name basis with
the secretary and know her whole life story. In fact, the whole team
had the unenviable distinction of being the only team, where every agent
had been reprimanded at least once by the esteemed magistrate.
Chris glared at his gregarious friend then a hint of a smile crossed his
"Why do you all think that Ezra is in trouble?" Chris asked.
The five men glanced apprehensively at each other at Chris's sudden strange
disposition. They got the feeling that he was inwardly laughing at
them. Larabee had to fight not to laugh at their quizzical expressions.
"Well, the only time that Judge Travis talks to Ezra is when he's in trouble,"
Buck stated, matter of factly.
Chris shook his head but the smile remained on his face. "That is the
reason the Judge wanted to do this himself."
"Brother Larabee, this subterfuge is really becoming annoying," Josiah
"Someone upstairs finally took notice of Ezra's accomplishments. The
Judge is presenting him with a meritorious service award," Chris pleasantly
It took a second for them to realize that this was not a joke, then smiles
broke out on everyone's face. The six tightly knitted agents laughed
and clapped each other on the back. "It's about time!" Buck blurted
out. "Hey, I think that deserves a party."
"You think everything deserves a party," JD jumped in already prepared to
duck when Buck took a swing at him.
"I'll call Inez and set it up," Buck added still eyeing JD, who was staying
just out of reach. Everyone started leaving the office to prepare.
The sharpshooter cringed at the sound of his name, knowing what was
coming. He meekly turned around to look at Chris's now somber
expression. He realized that the ATF leader could be very expressive
when he wanted to.
"Close the door, I think we have a small matter of the unauthorized use of
a government vehicle to discuss," Chris calmly exclaimed.
Vin gave a weak smile and his shoulders' slumped. One day he'd learn
to keep his mouth shut.
Ezra rode the elevator up to the 9th floor, where the Judge's office
resided. He thought the unauthorized procurement of a government vehicle
had to be the reason for his abrupt summons to the Judge's lair, as he liked
to think of it. It felt like he was going into a lion's den, but unlike
Daniel, he didn't think he'd get out in one piece. He had already
decided to take full responsibility, and try and keep Vin out of it.
He wanted to keep his secret passion just that, a secret. If the others
found out he enjoyed traipsing through old abandoned towns, he'd never hear
the end of it.
Ezra stepped off the elevator, surprised to see that the secretary had stepped
away from her desk. He approached the large ornate wooden door.
Next to Chris, Judge Travis was the only man who could intimidate him, which
was saying a lot, considering his job consisted of consorting with some of
the most dangerous men around.
He let out the breath he had been holding, for how long he wasn't sure, but
he felt a little light-headed. He steeled himself for the berating
he was about to receive. He straightened his jacket and knocked firmly
on the door. It was a moment, but then he heard Judge Travis' distinguished
voice, which was slightly muffled by the thick door. "Come in."
Ezra opened the door, his hand resting on the door knob as he stopped just
inside, trying to make sense of what was taking place. Judge Travis
was seated at his desk; flanked by two rather dubious gentlemen, but what
got the southern agent's full attention was the .38 pointed at the elder
magistrate's head. Ezra caught movement out of the corner of his eye
and noticed that someone was hiding behind the door. He flung the door
to the side, catching the man in the nose and bringing forth a litany of
pain and threats.
Ezra turned to the side only to have a sharp pain cross his stomach, bringing
him to his knees, gasping for breath. He looked up to see the Judge
struggling to stand against the hands that held him down. His brow
creased as he saw fear fill the Judge's face.
"No, don't!" Travis yelled.
Ezra turned his head to see a shadowed figure to his right raising a cane.
Pain lanced through the side of his head, forcing him to the carpet and taking
away the present reality.
The room grew quiet except for the cursing of the man whose nose Ezra
broke. "Pa, Damnit, he broke my nose!"
"Suck it up, George. We have more important things," Jacob Barker sneered
at his son. George glared at his father over the hand that held the
bridge of his nose, he then went over and kicked Ezra in the side.
This was an unexpected complication but one the elder Barker felt might prove
The man with the cane pulled out his gun and knelt down beside the unconscious
agent. Grabbing a handful of brown hair, he pointed the gun at Ezra's
"No! dear lord don't!" Judge Travis yelled, his heart jumping into his throat
at the absolute fear that strangled him for the southern agent.
Jacob looked over to his son, Earl. "Wait, he might prove useful."
He put a hand on Travis' shoulder, forcing the esteemed man back down into
his chair. Jacob then picked up the phone and held it out to the
Judge. "Okay, call whoever it takes to get the ball rolling."
Travis looked down at Ezra then up into Jacob Barker's maniacal blue eyes.
Jacob was not a large man, but he was built like someone who had worked hard
all of his life. He had thick silver hair and a hard square face that
only sharpened his gray eyes.
Travis gripped the phone tightly as he pressed a button, hearing the ring
on the other end.
Chris had just finished chewing out the now contrite agent, when the phone
rang. He picked it up as Vin stood to leave, stopping when he saw all
the blood leave Chris's face.
"Mr. Larabee, we have a situation," Judge Travis' gruff voice spoke
over the phone. The dread in his voice immediately got the ATF leader's
attention. Judge Travis was not a man easily alarmed.
Barker grabbed the phone from the Judge's grasp.
"This is real simple, me and my boys have the Judge and want to trade for
Corey Barker, who's being held at the Federal Correctional building," Jacob
"Who is this?" Chris asked, motioning to Vin to gather the rest of the team.
"This is his father, Jacob. I'm giving you two hours to bring Corey
here or you're going to be short one judge," Jacob snarled.
Chris couldn't believe this was happening. How did someone get to the
Judge? Security was really laxed, but then Judge Travis liked to be
available and didn't like having armed guards around. Chris's heart
pounded in his chest. He wondered what had happened to Ezra?
"Let me talk to Judge Travis again," Larabee calmly asked. He had to
get answers. Jacob handed the phone back to Travis and aimed his gun
at his head.
"Are you alright, Judge?" Chris asked, starting back at the worried faces
of the five men who surrounded his desk.
"Yes, Mr. Larabee," Travis calmly stated. He continued to look down
at Ezra's inert form, which caused his anger to grow, banishing his fear.
There was a momentary pause between both men, Chris afraid to ask the question,
Travis afraid to give him an answer. The Judge knew how protective
Larabee was of his men. The seven ATF agents were kindred spirits;
even Ezra had been pulled into their little family.
"Is Ezra?" Chris began.
"He's unconscious, I don't know," Travis sadly replied, knowing what was
now going through his elite agent and friend's mind.
Chris bowed his head and swore under his breath. "Don't worry sir,
we'll take care of it."
Jacob grabbed the phone out of Travis' hand. "You have one hour and
fifty-five minutes." He slammed the phone back into its cradle.
Chris held the phone tightly in his hand and closed his eyes, fighting back
the feelings of anger and despair that churned up his insides. He slowly
placed the receiver down and looked up. Except for Vin and Ezra, the
others were unconcerned with hiding their feelings, and their faces showed
the worry and confusion they had inside.
"The Judge has been taken hostage up in his chambers by someone named Jacob
Barker. He wants his son released from prison and brought here."
Chris ran a hand down his face and stood. "JD, Josiah, get me all you
can on a Corey Barker who's being held at the Federal Correctional
JD nodded and hurried out the door, followed by Josiah.
"Chris," Vin quietly said, rubbing his thumb nervously along his bottom
lip. "Didn't Ezra go up to see the Judge?"
Chris came around his desk and sat on the edge, folding his arms across his
chest. "He apparently walked in on them. The Judge said he's
unconscious. He doesn't know how bad he's hurt."
"Damn," Nathan whispered. He hated when any member of the team got
hurt, but especially when he couldn't help. He was the team's unofficial
medical person and took it personally when one of them was sick or injured.
Judge Travis stood and walked around his desk, until Jacob's oldest son,
Derek stepped in his way. "Where do you think you're going old man?"
Travis was use to punks. He had dealt with them for twenty years and
there was very little they could do to intimidate him. Besides, he
had an agent, a one Chris Larabee, who made these boys look like elementary
school bullies. Travis looked down at Ezra and realized he couldn't
risk pissing these men off. He lowered his eyes and as respectfully
as he could muster. "Can I check on my agent?"
Derek looked to his father, who was standing by the window and dismissed
the question with a wave of his hand.
"Sure, go ahead," Derek granted, stepping back to allow the Judge to pass.
"Thank you." Travis knelt down beside the prone man. He checked
for a pulse and was genuinely relieved to find one. Him and Ezra didn't
always get along. The Judge just thought him to devious to be trusted,
but he had showed his worth as an A-1 undercover and the others trusted him
with their lives. Travis looked over his shoulder at Jacob. "Could
you at least have your boys put him on the couch?"
Jacob appeared about to say something, but instead nodded toward his two
sons. Derek and Earl picked up the unconscious southerner and deposited
him on the leather sofa.
Travis pulled a chair up to Ezra's head and lifted an eyelid, noticing the
abnormal pupil. A pang of loss struck the Judge as he remembered the
lost of his own son a couple years ago. He would be about Ezra's age
now, if he were alive. Travis turned gray eyes to the oldest Barker,
who sat at his desk playing with a small calendar. "You do realize
that this is the wrong way to go about this," Travis exclaimed.
Jacob placed the calendar down and looked over at the Judge. "And what
should I do? My son is innocent; he was just in the wrong place at
the wrong time. I won't allow him to rot in jail."
Travis just shook his head, if the conduct of his other sons was any indication,
he didn't believe that Corey was entirely innocent.
JD rushed back into Chris' office with several pieces of paper. "Here's
all we could get." He handed the papers to Chris who then went back
around his desk to sit down.
"Corey Barker was arrested for arms trafficking. He was caught up in
the sting we did last month on Drury," JD recanted as Chris flipped through
the pages. "He has several prior convictions and pleaded guilty. He
was sentenced to fifteen years," JD continued, pushing the hair back out
of his eyes and trying to still the nervous shifting of his feet.
"Ah shit!" Chris blurted out.
"What is it, Chris?" Buck asked.
"Ezra was the arresting agent," Chris replied as he leaned back into his
chair. "There's also a psyche report here that doesn't depict Corey as the
angel of mercy."
"What are we going to do?" Buck asked. "We can't risk the Judge's life,
but if we release Corey Barker there's no telling what he'll do to Ezra."
He looked over at the photograph that hung on the wall. It was a picture
of the seven of them on a fishing trip last month. It was the first
time they got Ezra to join them.
Chris picked up the phone. He knew he would have to inform his
superiors about what was going on. They would already be unhappy about
being left out this long. They had to get the ball rolling and hopefully
find away to save the Judge and Ezra.
Travis heard the low moan and saw Ezra's eyelids flutter and his brow crease.
"Agent Standish, Ezra, can you hear me?" He gently shook the younger
Ezra reached up to squeeze his forehead and tried to open his eyes.
"What the hell happened?"
The Judge had to smile at the lack of Standish's five-dollar words.
He helped the agent sit up, which brought a surge of pain flooding through
"Take it easy," Travis soothed, his brow furrowed in concern at the grimace
of pain on the young agent's face.
Ezra slowly tried to open his eyes and focus. Everything was a blur
and the swirling colors did nothing to ease the nauseous feeling in his stomach.
"Are you okay?"
Ezra turned his head upon hearing the concern in the Judge's voice, something
he'd never heard before. "Yes, I am fine, how about you?"
"What do these miscreants want?" Ezra frowned and rubbed his eyes.
The colors had stopped swirling, but they seemed to be going dark.
"The older gentleman by the desk is Jacob Barker. He wants his son
Corey released from prison. They want to trade him, for me."
Ezra's brow furrowed as the name Corey Barker struck a familiar chord, one
that was definitely off-key. His head pounded making it difficult to
concentrate and his sight didn't seem to be improving. He closed his
eyes and laid his head back against the couch. He had to figure out
a way to get Travis out of here.
"Are you sure you're alright?" Judge Travis knew of the undercover
agent's propensity to hide the seriousness of situations or conditions.
Before Ezra could answer the phone on the Judge's desk rang, startling everyone
in the room. Even without being able to see, Ezra could feel the tension
that filled the room. It was like sitting in a room filled with kegs
of gunpowder all waiting for something to ignite them. Ezra tried to
concentrate on the voices and figure out how many he was up against.
"Get over here, Judge," Jacob snarled, waving his gun in his direction.
Travis reluctantly stood and walked over to the desk.
Jacob grabbed the phone on the third ring. "Yeah, who is this?"
"It's Larabee, I just wanted to tell you that the wheels are in motion to
have your son released."
"Good, those wheels better be greased. You have one-hour and ten minutes
"I'd like to speak to the Judge," Chris asked, keeping his anger and annoyance
in check and out of his voice. He was a lousy negotiator, but his superiors
didn't want to bring anyone else in.
Jacob put the phone against his chest and glared at Travis. "He wants
to talk to you, but no funny business or you'll be short an agent." Jacob
looked over at Ezra whose eyes were still closed. Travis nodded his
"Yes?" Travis said into the phone.
"Judge, everything okay?"
"Yes, Mr. Larabee everyone is okay." Travis could almost feel some
of Chris's tension and fear release at the news that his man was okay.
"We have a problem, Judge. We're getting Corey released, but Ezra was
the arresting agent it could get ugly up there," Chris explained.
"Do whatever you have to Mr...."
Jacob grabbed the phone and hung it up. "I said no funny stuff."
He shoved the Judge back toward the sofa.
The Judged watched the minute hand on his regulator clock, which hung on
the wall, slowly tick down the hour. He noticed that Ezra hadn't opened
his eyes in the last twenty minutes. He was starting to believe there
was something seriously wrong that the agent wasn't telling him.
"Agent Standish," Travis quietly said, touching the man lightly on the
shoulder. Ezra jumped, startled and disoriented for a moment.
The pain in his head screamed at him, and he had to swallow the bile that
rose in his throat.
Let's not throw up in the Judge's chambers, now, Ezra thought to himself.
Travis saw the pain etch across Ezra's handsome face, and watched as it was
just as quickly vanquished under his famous poker visage.
"How much time is left?" Ezra asked.
"We have fifty minutes."
"I'm sure Mr. Larabee will come up with something to extricate us from this
predicament," Ezra assured. He could feel the Judge's stare on him
and started to get uncomfortable. He had a great deal of respect for
the Judge, but the two men were as different as night and day or so they
both thought. Ezra would do whatever it took to catch the criminal,
even go so far as breaking the law. Judge Travis followed the law to
the letter. Ezra had been in his office more times than he cared to
count for countless, so called, unhealthy or risky conduct. He knew
Judge Travis was only doing his job, but so was he. When you worked
on the streets sometimes you had to bend the rules a bit to succeed and survive,
this was something Travis did not always understand. Ezra understood
his wariness, but both wanted the same result. What difference did
it make if he sometimes took personal chances to reach that common end?
There was ten minutes left when Corey Barker was brought into the ATF area
in chains. The blond haired young man had a smug smile on his face
as he looked at the ATF agents. "Hey fellas, good to see you again,"
Corey exclaimed. The boy wasn't much older than JD, but carried a sinister
demeanor and a hate for everything. Chris always wondered what could
make someone so young, hate so much.
Chris's superiors had allowed him to take charge since one of his men was
involved. The only thing they stressed was that Judge Travis' safety
was top priority and he would be held responsible. Chris knew there
was no love loss for the obstinate undercover agent and if his superiors
had their way they would hang Ezra out to dry.
Chris got on the phone, after two rings Jacob answered.
"Okay, Barker, we have your son. How do you want to play this?"
"You bring him up. Don't leave the elevator we'll bring the Judge out
and swap there."
"What about my agent?"
"Oh, we're keeping him. He's going to be our insurance out of here."
"No," Chris replied a little too quickly. He had to think fast, he
didn't want Ezra in Corey's hands. A shiver of dread went through him
as he looked over at the little convict, who was practically jumping for
Jacob stared at the receiver, then placed it back to his ear. He was
getting suspicious. "Listen Larabee, you haven't any choice!"
"Then take me for agent Standish," Chris offered, he threw up his hand and
scowled as Vin and Buck rushed toward the desk.
"Chris, no!" Both men loudly whispered.
There was silence on the other end then the rough voice returned. "No
deal, all we want is Corey. If you do everything you're told nothing
will happen to your man." Jacob hung up.
"Damn!" Chris slammed the phone down.
Travis had listened to the conversation and had an idea about what Chris
had tried to do. He knew they were worried about Ezra, so was he.
He looked at the agent whose head was laid back with his eyes closed.
He noticed the long bruise that was starting to appear on the side of his
Ezra felt the Judge stand and brought his head up. He couldn't see,
but he heard the Judge walk over to the desk. "Listen Mr. Barker, why don't
you trade Agent Standish for your son and keep me for your escape."
Travis was ready for Ezra's rebuttal.
Ezra stood up, but a wave of dizziness forced him back down. "What the hell
are you doing?" he calmly asked, looking toward the Judge and Barker but
not seeing them.
Travis could tell that Ezra was trying to convince him that he could see.
"Shut up Standish, that's an order."
"I rarely oblige Mr. Larabee with my obedience, what makes you think I would
grant it to you?" Ezra snapped back. He would not allow the Judge to
sacrifice himself, especially for him.
Jacob and his sons smiled at the noble display that was taking place.
"Now Judge, why would I want to do a thing like that?" Jacob asked.
Travis looked at Ezra and a glint came to his eye. "Well, Agent Standish
is not thought of fondly by his superiors. They're just as likely to
shoot him along with you."
A lopsided smile came to Ezra's face. Touché, Judge, he thought
to himself; however, two can play at this game.
Jacob rubbed his chin, contemplating this information. If it were true,
then Standish wouldn't be any help in getting them out.
"Now Judge, please forgive me, but I would assume that Mr. Barker and brood
would want to make a hasty retreat. Your advanced age and well rounded
physique could make that difficult, not to mention your heart condition."
Travis glared at Ezra. How had he found out about his heart?
He couldn't believe the man was trying to protect him. He hoped he
had the chance to repay him for the slight.
"Yeah, pa, we couldn't move very quickly dragging him along," Derek
whined. "He's liable to have a heart attack or something."
Jacob started pacing in front of the desk then stopped. "Well Judge,
it does appear that this man is important to you as well as Larabee, so I
suggest you two do whatever it takes to protect him as well as us."
He smiled as Travis' face fell, knowing he had lost the battle.
"Everything stays the way it was planned."
Travis returned to Ezra's side and leaned in close to the man. "Do you remember
Ezra had remembered the angry young man he arrested a month ago, and suddenly
knew why the Judge had wanted to take his place. The revelation stunned
him. The Judge was actually trying to protect him.
"Yes, I remember him," Ezra dryly replied.
"What the hell do you think you're doing? Why didn't you allow me to
take your place?"
"Because, your safety is first and foremost."
Travis grabbed Ezra by the chin and put three fingers in front of his unseeing
eyes. "How many fingers am I holding?"
Ezra pulled away. "This is not the time for games."
"You can't see, can you?"
Ezra knew he had been found out. "Everything is a little fuzzy is all,
"Damn, Chris was right you are an obstinate SOB." Travis sat back in
the chair and crossed his arms. He couldn't hold the scowl on his face
as he watched the young agent lean back and close his eyes. Sadness
came to his aged face, deepening the lines around his eyes. Ezra Standish
was a hard man to warm up to, but Travis was catching a glimpse of the true
man inside, one he thought he'd liked to know better.
"Brother Larabee, I do so hope you have a plan?" Josiah asked. He was
deathly worried about Ezra. That man could find trouble no matter where
he went. He wasn't even safe in his own building, and if anything happened
to the judge, God help them.
"What!" Nathan exclaimed. "Chris, we can't." Nathan looked over
his shoulder at the young man who remained under guard by the elevator.
"We haven't any choice," Chris reluctantly conceded. "We have to get
the Judge out, and then we can worry about Ezra."
"And Ezra is just expendable?!" JD ranted, biting his tongue as soon as the
Chris glared at the young agent clenching his fists. "Our first priority
is to the judge's safety even Ezra would agree with that."
JD bowed his head. "I'm sorry, Chris, I'm just worried."
The stern lines on Chris's face softened. "We all are."
Josiah laid a fatherly arm across JD's shoulders.
"Chris, there's a SWAT team surrounding this building and they're not going
to care about Ezra," Vin spat. "They have orders not to let those men
leave after the judge is safe."
Chris walked over to the guard and Corey. "Unchain him, Frank." The
guard reluctantly released the young man.
Corey rubbed his wrists and smiled up at the blond leader. "Where is
Agent Standish? Is he afraid to face me?" Corey sneered, looking around the
Buck started to approach the young felon to tear him apart, until Josiah
grabbed him by the arm. The big agent moved in front of him and slowly
pushed him back. "Not now, Buck," Josiah said out loud and then
whispered. "It'll only make it worse for Ezra."
Corey's smile grew wider. Josiah turned his head and sneered, "Later."
Corey fidgeted slightly under the large agent's deadly glare and turned
Chris didn't say a word as he grabbed the young man by the arm and forced
him into the elevator. He saw the helpless look on his men's faces
as the doors closed. Helpless was something these men were not use
When the doors opened on the 9th floor, Chris turned the key to keep the
elevator doors open. He kept a hold of Corey's upper arm as he looked
across the threshold at the Judge's door. His heart sped up in his
chest when the door opened and the Judge was shoved out, followed by Derek
and Earl, both holding guns to the Judge's head.
"Hey, Derek, Hey Earl!" Corey called out.
Chris yanked him back as Ezra was forced out, held by George. Chris's
eyes narrowed, he could tell something was wrong with his agent. Ezra
kept his eyes down and appeared unsteady and unsure. Chris saw Corey's
eyes light up at the sight of the agent responsible for his arrest.
Jacob stepped forward. "Okay Larabee, we'll send the Judge forward
then you send Corey, but remember we still have your agent."
"If anything happens to Ezra there will be no place you can hide," Chris
quietly snarled into Corey's ear. Corey's smile only grew as he stepped
out of the elevator when the Judge neared.
Jacob wrapped a fatherly arm around his son and everyone slowly moved back
inside the Judge's office. George's arm remained wrapped around Ezra's
neck; a gun held to his head.
Ezra couldn't see the painful uneasiness that tore at Chris's soul and revealed
itself on his face. He could only concentrate on staying on his feet
as the floor seemed to waver under him.
"What about my agent?" Chris snarled.
"We'll let you know!" George sneered, pulling Ezra back into the Judge's
office and slamming the door.
Chris released the elevator, allowing it to descend. His fist slammed
into the elevator wall, putting three dimples into the shiny surface, hoping
to expel some of his helpless rage.
Travis placed a hand on Chris's shoulder. "We'll get him out."
Chris stared down at the floor swearing revenge if anything happened to his
George threw Ezra back toward the sofa and watched as he stumbled and struggled
to stay on his feet. Corey smiled and walked over to the southern agent,
waving his hand in front of his green unseeing eyes.
"Well, well, if it isn't my old friend, Agent Standish." Corey looked
over his shoulder at his father. "Pa, I'd like you to meet the man
responsible for me being in jail."
Jacob's face fell and a sly smile began to form.
"This is almost like Christmas with getting out of prison and having the
man responsible right here in front of me," Corey exclaimed.
Ezra would never admit it, but he was never more scared then he was right
now. The fact that he couldn't see was suffocating him. His head
still hurt, making it hard to concentrate and keep his wits. He caught
himself wandering back over days long past, and have to inwardly slap himself
to come back to the present. How could he get hold of the situation
if he couldn't even stay a part of it? He could feel Corey's presence,
like some childhood monster, which hid under the bed ready to pounce.
He swallowed the lump in his throat and tried to calm his racing heart.
His only consolation was knowing that the Judge was safe.
The blows came out of nowhere and from everywhere, since he couldn't see.
Corey's fist drove into his stomach, sending him to the floor, and then a
kick to his side cracked a couple ribs. Ezra was pulled to his feet,
blood running down his face from a cut over his eye. His arm was wrenched
behind him until he yelped. George slammed him down face first onto
the desk and stretched out his right arm. Ezra screamed as Earl brought
his cane down on the arm breaking it. They allowed the pain-racked
agent to drop to the floor, holding his now useless arm.
"That's for my nose you son-of-a-bitch!" George snarled.
Ezra barely heard him; the words swept away as waves of pain assaulted his
whole body. He arched as someone kicked him in the back then he curled
up on his side trying to remain conscious, not wanting to give in to the
"That's enough!" Jacob yelled, pulling his sons off the fallen agent.
"He's no good to us dead."
Ezra remained on his side for a moment trying to catch his breath.
He heard the voices, but they sounded faraway and he wondered if maybe they
were leaving. He tried to struggle to his knees, but fell into blissful
"How's Ezra?" Vin asked as the Judge and Chris entered the floor.
Chris headed for his office without acknowledging his agent's anxious
question. His face a harden mask of anger.
Travis followed behind waiting for the explosion that was simmering just
below the surface. He dropped heavily down in a chair and put his face
into his hands for a moment. His hands pulled down at aged eyes as
he raised his head to meet the worried frowns of five lawmen.
"He can't see."
"What?" Nathan blurted out, pushing away from the doorframe where he
"He took a blow to the head." Travis ran a finger down the side of
his head to show Nathan where he was struck. "He said everything was
a blur, but I think he's totally blind," Travis continued.
Vin slumped against the door, wishing he had gone with the enigmatic
agent. He looked across the room to where Chris stood staring out the
window, not seeing the gray, cloud-covered day. When the phone rang,
Chris snatched it up.
"We're walking out of here in twenty minutes with a gun to your agent's
head. I don't want to see anyone do you understand?"
"Yeah, I understand," Chris repeated, gripping the handset tighter.
"Is he okay?" There was a moment of silence that did nothing to quell
his rising fear.
"Well, I'm sorry to say my boys got a little overly exuberant and it would
be good for all concerned, especially him, if we get this over with quickly,"
Jacob exclaimed. Chris could hear the delight in the man's voice and
wanted nothing more than to reach out and tear his throat out.
"How bad is he hurt?" Chris asked, causing everyone's eyes to come up.
They all came closer to the desk, except for Nathan, who slipped out unnoticed,
with everyone's attention on Chris. He grabbed his medical kit and
headed for the elevator.
"He's still alive. Twenty minutes, I want the area cleared and a large
car brought to the elevator." The connection was cut.
Chris laid the phone down and looked up at his men. "Get downstairs
and make sure the area is cleared. I don't care if you have to shoot
everyone to do it." Chris's brow furrowed. "Where's Nathan?"
Nathan exited the elevator and put up his hands as he neared the Judge's
door, which slowly opened.
"Who the hell are you?" Derek asked, his eyes darting back and forth in
anticipation of a trap.
"I'm a medic. I want to see Agent Standish."
Derek leaned back and yelled into the Judge's chambers to his father.
"Hey, pa, I have a medic here who wants to see Standish."
"Let him in."
Derek motioned with his gun for Nathan to come forward. He quickly
searched the agent before allowing him in.
Nathan gasped at the sight before him. Ezra was on his side with his
eyes closed. His face was covered with bruises and dried blood.
"Get him ready to leave," Jacob snarled at the ex-medic.
Nathan gently turned Ezra over onto his back and ran his hands down his
side. He felt the two cracked ribs and opened his shirt to see the
dark, purplish bruises that covered his side. Nathan worried about
internal injuries. He noticed that Ezra's right arm was broken.
Nathan looked over to see Corey and Earl grinning like Cheshire cats and
anger heated his blood. The phone rang and Nathan knew who it would
"Yeah, he's here, and no you can't talk to him. You work with a lot
of noble people Larabee, or a lot of fools." Jacob slammed the phone
"Ezra, can you hear me," Nathan gently called. Ezra's eyes fluttered
and his head rolled to the side.
He didn't want to come back, but he felt himself slowly breaking through.
As the darkness abated the pain intensified. He heard a familiar voice
calling to him, trying to pull him up from the black, pain free depths.
Had it only been a couple hours since he came to the Judge's chambers to
be reprimanded? He couldn't stop the smile that came to his face, he
still didn't know what he was in trouble for, and it didn't seem to matter
Nathan saw the faint smile come to the southerner's face and frowned.
"Ezra, C'mon buddy speak to me."
"Nathan?" Ezra's green eyes opened, his vision was still dark and splotchy
and his head hurt worse than before. He looked up, not seeing his fellow
agent, but knowing he was there. "Good Lord, I hate it when I see your
face from this perspective. It's never a good sign," Ezra drawled.
Nathan could see the pain and loss in those green orbs. He waved his
hand in front of Ezra's face and knew Ezra was lying about seeing him. "I
have to set your arm."
Ezra nodded and gritted his teeth as Nathan took hold of his arm and expertly
put the bones in place. He held back the scream, not wanting to give
the Barkers any more pleasure.
Nathan always kept two splints in his bag and quickly wrapped Ezra's arm.
He let the agent rest as he cleaned the head wound and checked for any other
injuries. He then propped Ezra up against the sofa. Sweat streamed
down his face at the strain and his eyes were shut tight. "Take it
easy, Ez," Nathan soothed placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
Nathan looked up when he felt Jacob's presence hovering over him. "Okay,
doc, you're done get out!"
"I'm not leaving him," Nathan stated, his dark eyes glaring up at the older
"Mr. Jackson, please leave," Ezra gasped, grabbing Nathan's arm.
"Look, he's in bad shape. You now have two hostages whether you like
it or not," Nathan exclaimed, ignoring Ezra's plea and placing his hand over
Jacob couldn't believe this; it seemed like everyone wanted to sacrifice
themselves for everyone else. He shrugged; maybe having the ex-medic
would make their escape easier. It was just as easy to shoot two as
it was one.
Chris and the Judge met Vin and the others down in the parking garage.
"We have fifteen minutes before they come down." Chris glared at the
four large SWAT agents who stood behind Vin.
"I have an idea," Vin said, hoping to cut off Larabee's ire before it rose.
"We'll have to work fast." Vin looked over at Judge Travis. "Sir,
we'll need the use of your car."
Travis dug into his pocket and threw the keys to his Cadillac to Vin, who
caught them, and then turned to his right. "JD, I need your bike battery
and some wires." JD didn't even question, but left to get what Vin
asked for. The lean sharpshooter walked off flanked by the four SWAT
"Okay, it's time to leave," Jacob snarled down at Nathan, who was still tending
to Ezra. It had taken longer than expected to make Ezra coherent enough to
Nathan got under Ezra's uninjured shoulder and helped him up, hearing Ezra's
sudden intake of breath. Ezra's legs shook from the strain and his
face contorted in agony. It took a minute before the injured man could
take back some of his weight. Nathan shifted his hold, trying to take
as much weight as he could to ease Ezra's pain as much as he could.
He didn't think the obstinate southerner was going to last very long and
he wanted to be prepared.
"If you get a chance, Mr. Jackson, please leave me," Ezra whispered.
"I'm not leaving without you," Nathan stated matter of factly, looking over
his shoulder at the five Barkers, who were checking their weapons.
"As I'm sure you're aware my sight seems too have deserted me."
"All the more reason for me to stay," Nathan replied. "You're not winning
this one, so just face it, you're stuck with me."
A faintly amused smile tugged at the undercover agent's face, the loss of
his sight taking away his usual impassive mask. He was not accustomed
to someone caring about his welfare.
"Okay, let's go," Derek ordered, giving Nathan a shove on the shoulder.
"Here they come!" Chris yelled out over the garage when he saw the floor
numbers light up over the elevator. They were grateful for the additional
time they received but they all wondered about the delay? The Judge's
car was parked right in front of the elevator and no one was in
sight. Chris backed off but stopped a few yards away.
The elevator came to a stop and the doors slid open. Ezra and Nathan
were forced out first. Chris clenched his jaw, causing the veins in
his neck to stick out as he gazed at Ezra's appearance. Nathan was
practically holding him up. Chris's icy blue eyes met Nathan's dark
orbs and a silent communication passed between them.
Nathan knew something was about to happen. He made sure he had a good
grip on Ezra. The Barker clan cautiously stepped out from the
elevator. Jacob saw Chris standing silently alone in the middle of
the garage. He kept his gun pointed at Nathan as his eyes darted around
the concrete shelter.
"Earl, open the car door and get in," Jacob instructed his son. No
one noticed the two wires snaking out from inside the car and up to the door
Earl switched his gun to his left hand and went to grab the door lever.
When he touched the handle a surge of electricity grabbed and held him.
Earl cried out for several seconds then slumped to the floor, his body continuing
to twitch. He wasn't dead, but Jacob Barker didn't know that.
The trunk and hood of the car popped open with Vin and Buck appearing like
jack-in-the-boxes, guns pointed at the remaining Barkers. Josiah grabbed
Nathan and Ezra, pulling them down and shielding them with his vest-protected
"Drop your guns!" Chris yelled, his gun suddenly materializing in his hands
and pointed directly at Jacob.
The elder Barker looked down at his son Earl, then at the three agents who
had them surrounded. He saw the look in Vin's blue eyes. He knew
that look; it was one he also held, one that showed he would protect his
own no matter what. Jacob Barker was not a stupid man. He wouldn't
win this one; he wouldn't even come in second. Jacob dropped his gun
and raised his hands. "Drop your guns, boys," he instructed.
Corey hesitated and Buck fired, ripping the young Barker's gun from his
hand. Corey went down to his knees, gripping his bleeding hand.
The remaining Barkers quickly obeyed their father and dropped their guns.
The garage was suddenly filled with agents. Vin and Buck kept their
guns trained on the suspects until they were taken into custody.
Nathan had Ezra propped up against a wall telling him to take shallow
breaths. The pain in his arm and side almost causing him to black
out. Ezra felt someone's hand on his leg then heard Chris's concerned
"How you doing?" Chris frowned as Ezra lifted his head, his breath coming
out in pain-ridden pants.
Ezra grimaced slightly but forced a smile to his face. He didn't need
anyone's pity. He had enough for himself already.
"Let's get you to the hospital," Nathan said helping Ezra to stand.
Ezra felt someone else gently steady him and was surprised when the voice
revealed Judge Travis to him. "You're going to be fine, son."
Travis watched as six men surrounded their wounded man and slowly made their
way to Chris's nearby truck. The Judge approached his car and casually
glanced under the hood. "Tanner, where's my engine!" he yelled.
Ezra woke to the quiet chatter of his friends surrounding him. He brought
his hand up to his face feeling the bandages that covered his eyes.
"Leave it alone," Nathan admonished him, swatting his hand away.
Chris and Judge Travis entered the hospital room.
"How's he doing, Nate?" Chris asked even before he was fully in the
"I am fine, Mr. Larabee," Ezra announced, bringing a grin to the stoic leader's
"His eyesight should return in an a few days," Nathan told the two men.
"His ribs were only cracked and there was no internal damage."
"Is Judge Travis here?" Ezra asked.
"Yes, I am."
"Please sir, tell me why my presence was requested at such an inopportune
Ezra couldn't see the grins on everyone's face.
"Well, that is why I am here," exclaimed the Judge.
Ezra cringed; he didn't want to be reprimanded in front of everyone.
Travis placed the plaque he carried in Ezra's hands, bringing a perplexed
frown to the agent's face as he felt the glass incased award.
"This certificate is bestowed on Agent Ezra Standish for meritorious service
above and beyond the call of duty," Travis announced.
Ezra's mouth dropped and the snickers of the others turned into full out
"This is why I was summoned to your office?" Ezra asked in disbelief.
Ezra groaned and laid his head back. "Next time just mail it to me,"
"Hey anyone up for a poker game?" Buck asked.
"Buck, Ezra is still blind," JD replied.
"I know, this may be our one and only chance to actually win."
Ezra grinned. "Don't count on it, Mr. Wilmington."