"What the hell were you thinking?" Buck Wilmington ranted, pacing in front
of his long-time friend and boss, Chris Larabee, who sat behind a polished
mahogany desk. Even the plush carpeting couldn't muffle the angry footfalls
of the haranguing agent. Buck stopped at the large picture window, overlooking
a busy city intersection. He laid a hand on the cool glass, feeling the early
morning sunshine that struggled to warm the chilly air. The latest spring
snow had melted, into a grimy slush that blanketed the earth, and had everyone's
wipers fighting to maintain some measure of visibility. Buck distantly watched
a woman in heels as she tried to traverse the icy morass. The bright blue
sky contrasted with the dreary, gray ground and Buck's equally hostile mood.
High winds had dissipated the ugly brown cloud that had hung over the city
all week, sending it to the open plains of Kansas.
Vin Tanner sat seemingly unconcerned in the corner of the office, following
Buck's moving tirade with calm blue eyes. Like the brown cloud, he decided
to wait until some of that overhanging rage dissipated. Getting between Buck
and Chris was as dangerous as getting between a matador and a bull. The two
had a long history. A bystander risked earning their combined rage if they
intervened. Vin looked at Buck's reflection in the window. A cloud passed
over the sun and Buck's irate visage darkened. Hard-edges had replaced the
normal affable appearance that Vin had become accustomed to over the past
five months of working together.
Wilmington turned his back to the window and walked across the carpet, passing
Chris's desk without so much as sidelong glance. He stopped at the far wall
and stared at several framed awards and commendations with Chris Larabee's
name prominently etched on all of them. The awards surrounded a photo of
six men on a fishing trip and another of just him and Chris when they worked
together down in San Antonio several years ago.
Chris Larabee, the leader of one of the most successful and esteemed ATF
teams in the west, followed the pacing of his friend with his stone blue
eyes. He had never seen Buck so incensed. Well, that wasn't exactly true.
He knew Buck harbored a temper; it was just so rarely revealed that one could
almost forget it existed. Buck usually brought other people to fits of
frustration with his carefree attitude but now anger consumed him and twisted
his handsome features into someone even Chris wouldn't want to meet in a
"He...ran...out...on...us!" Buck snarled, stressing each word with an angry
step as he paced. He was growing more annoyed at the lack of concern Chris
was showing. He stopped his rug wearing strides in front of Chris's desk.
"He almost got us all killed and you give him another chance!" Buck slammed
his palms down on the desk and focused his brown eyes upon his friend's stoic
"He came back," Chris stated, managing to keep his voice calm. He glanced
over at his weapons specialist, detecting the slightest smile on the younger
man's face. Well, at least someone is enjoying himself, he thought.
Buck stood and folded his arms across his chest. Even though the two men
had been friends for many years, Buck never took advantage of that friendship
for personal gain. Chris Larabee was his boss, and Buck had always showed
him the respect he deserved, until now.
"The man is a self-centered menace. He deserted his post, almost getting
us killed. Oh, but what's that in the grand scheme of things?" Buck mocked,
almost laughing. "Everything worked out in the end, right? No harm, no foul."
Buck's voice rose with his contempt. "It's not like he missed one of your
all IMPORTANT meetings or wrecked one of the agency vehicles, or told you
where to get off."
"You'd know all about that, wouldn't you Buck?" The smooth Texas drawl rose
from the corner of the room. Vin stretched out his legs and allowed a devilish
smirk to float across his face.
"Shut up, junior!" Buck shot a venomous scowl over his shoulder, vowing revenge
later. The lean sharpshooter was as infuriating as Chris with his controlled
attitude. Maybe if someone had been hurt or killed he'd get a bigger reaction.
Chris leaned forward in his chair, clasping his hands together on his desk.
He understood why Buck was so angry. He was angry too. When their new undercover
agent had disappeared from his position, it had enabled the gun dealers to
get the drop on them. Standish returned just in time to advert disaster,
actually saving their hides, but it still didn't excuse his desertion. Chris
knew what the man had done and was ready to tear his head off and kick his
butt all the way back to Atlanta. He didn't need a rogue on his team. He
had slammed Standish against a wall, prepared to take out his fear and anger
him. How could Chris explain to Buck what he saw when he looked into those
green eyes? Standish didn't fight back; he never even uttered a word in his
defense. The man was prepared to take what he knew he deserved. Chris saw
remorse in those emerald eyes and something else. The clean-shaven face remained
emotionless, but the eyes revealed a soul torn to pieces far too many times.
Instead of following his first impulse to beat the shit out of the undercover
agent, Chris warned Standish that if he ever ran out on him again, he'd kill
him. Chris would never forget the absolute surprise that flashed on the agent's
face. This was something Standish had never expected or received before:
a second chance.
Chris glared pointedly at the mustached agent. "I felt he needed another
"What? Another chance to get one of us killed?" Buck threw up his hands in
disgust. "Why do we need a seventh man? We were fine just the way we were."
They had been a team of six for the past five months, with JD Dunne being
the last and youngest agent hired. They worked flawlessly together, making
them one of the most formidable teams in the ATF, and a natural bond of
friendship had developed.
"We needed an undercover." Chris's limited patience was starting to fray
around the edges. "Standish is one of the best. That's why he's on the team."
Buck guffawed. "If he's so good why'd he run?"
"I didn't ask." Chris didn't feel the need to explain his decision, and he
still wasn't sure it was the right one. But he didn't like it being questioned.
Standish didn't deserve a second chance: he needed one.
Vin leaned forward in his chair, feeling the tension mount. Each man took
his turn removing a chunk from a teetering wall of self-composure and friendship.
Vin was waiting to see which side toppled first.
"I think we should take a vote," Buck blurted out. "I vote to kick his cowardly
butt off the team." He turned to Vin who bowed his head, not committing.
He still hadn't made up his mind about Standish. Everyone was entitled to
at least one mistake, weren't they?
Chris's infamous temper flared, breaking through that crumbling wall of
self-discipline that Buck seemed determined to undermine. "This is not a
democracy!" Chris yelled. "Standish is my problem, and I'll take full
responsibility for his actions."
"That's what I'm afraid of," Buck muttered, returning his friend's menacing
glare. He was not about to back down on this one there was too much to lose,
not just someone's life but also Chris's sanity.
A knock on the door broke the line-of-sight feud, directing their attention
to the grizzled face that poked in.
"Ah, brother Buck, maybe you could yell a little louder. I don't think they
heard you on the fourth floor." Josiah glared at the inconsiderate agent
who stood in the center of the room.
Chris grimaced and pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and fore-finger,
trying to squeeze back his impending headache. "Did Standish..." he began.
"Left after the statement about killing one of us," the profiler replied,
stepping into the office. "Said he had research to do down in records."
Josiah thought Buck was totally out of line. He had watched as Standish became
increasingly uncomfortable with the loud accusations. The others tried to
ignore the public condemnation, avoiding eye contact with the undercover
Buck ignored Sanchez's disapproving glare. He knew the pious agent was developing
a soft spot for the southerner, almost a fatherly concern for the man.
"Josiah, how do you feel about agent Standish?" Chris offhandedly asked.
He respected the older agent's insight and thought a calmer and more level-headed
opinion was needed.
Josiah walked up to the desk, stepping in front of Buck. "Well, he is a little
standoffish, which makes it hard to get to know him."
"That's an understatement," Buck murmured under his breath, then raised his
voice. "That's no excuse. Vin's a loner and he fits in just fine. He wouldn't
run out on us."
Josiah caught the faint smile on Tanner's face. "That's because he and Chris
are twins separated at birth," he joked.
Everyone had noticed the brotherly bond that connected the two men. It was
a connection that felt familiar, like meeting an old friend you haven't seen
since you were a child, or maybe in a past life, if you believed in that
sort of thing. Chris bowed his head hiding a slightly embarrassed grin. He
often wondered if his inexplicable relationship with Vin wasn't a source
of contention with Buck. Chris picked up a pencil and started rolling it
between his fingers. Buck was with him through the worst and best times:
he owed the man his life.
"We don't know Standish's history. I think you were right giving him another
chance," Josiah continued. He glared over his shoulder at Buck. "But as our
rather loud-mouth friend here has made his position known to half the
" Josiah paused and turned back to Chris. "The others might
not feel the same as I do. I know Nathan agrees with Buck." Josiah ignored
Buck's smug snort. "I don't think JD has made a decision, and I have no idea
where our Mr. Tanner stands."
The three agents turned expectant faces toward the sharpshooter sitting across
the room. It was like waiting for some grand revelation from the Dali Lama.
Vin leaned forward laying his arms on his knees. "Sorry Bucklin, but I'm
with Chris on this one. The man deserves another chance." Vin was usually
a good judge of character. He knew the suave undercover was very sorry for
what he had done and was surprised when Larabee gave him another chance.
Standish was probably always an outsider and that was something Vin could
Buck continued to push the issue. He felt strongly about this. It scared
him, not just because one of them could get killed but also because Chris
would blame himself. Since the death of Chris's wife and son, the man took
personal responsibility to new heights. Buck believed that if one of them
met their demise on the other side of the world in some freak accident Chris
would find some way to blame himself. Buck was about to start pacing again
"You all read the FBI report on him, right? He's a loose cannon at best and
maybe a traitor. Have you seen that expensive foreign job he drives?"
"That was all rumor and hearsay, Buck." Josiah had read the report on Standish.
He couldn't explain it, but he got the feeling that the reserved agent was
familiar with the role of scapegoat. "And how he got that car is nobody's
business but his own."
Buck was prepared to continue his verbal assault but Chris came to a decision
as his wall of patience collapsed. The blond leader slammed his hands down
on the desk, breaking the pencil in two, and shot out of his chair. "That's
enough, Agent Wilmington! Standish is part of this team until I say otherwise,
and you and the others will strive to work together, understand?"
Buck clenched his jaw and glared at the blond leader. "Fine, but don't say
I didn't warn you, boss!" Buck slammed the door on his way out. The picture
of himself and Chris fell from the wall and the glass shattered in the frame.
Larabee exhaled and slowly sat back down, running his hand down his weary
face. Had he been wrong to hire Standish? Even DA Travis was leery of Chris'
decision to add the maverick agent to the team. Nevertheless, there was something
about the southerner--Vin felt it too. The man hid behind a practiced poker
face--but what was he hiding from?
Standish remained in the record's room the remainder of the day. It was not
that he was afraid to face anyone, he just wanted to avoid any sordid scenes
and chose not to make anyone uncomfortable. His mother's teachings definitely
came in handy for times like this. Never show your true feelings. She pounded
it into him like a nightly prayer. His mother taught him to keep his emotions
walled up behind an impassive facade and smug attitude. Never let anyone
see the real you. So, what happened? Ezra was surprised at how much Wilmington's
words affected him, not that he didn't deserve the verbal reprimand. The
condemnation and disgust that echoed throughout the office had brought a
flush to his face and a sick feeling to his stomach. It had been a long time
since he had cared what others thought of him.
Ezra stepped off the elevator into the damp coolness of the underground parking
garage. He reached into his coat pocket to fish out his keys. He looked down
the row of vehicles and saw Buck leaning against his sports car, arms crossed
and head down. Ezra stopped, taking a deep breath before continuing.
"Mr. Wilmington, may I inquire as to why your anatomy is interfering with
my car's personal space?"
Buck raised his head. Lord, couldn't this man talk in simple sentences? He
regarded the undercover through narrow eyes and an intolerant expression.
He pushed himself away from the black jag and feigned admiration of the sleek
automobile. "You know, this is a mighty fine looking car. Even if I saved
my paycheck for a year I don't think I could afford something like this."
Buck's accusing eyes locked onto Ezra, whose face remained indifferent to
the agent's insinuation.
Ezra stepped past the taller man preparing to put his key in the lock. "How
I acquire my property is of no concern of your's. If your money was put to
better use than pork rinds and beer maybe you'd be able to afford such
Ezra's smug tone was all the motivation the larger agent needed. Without
warning, Buck grabbed the smart-mouthed agent and slammed him against the
cinder block wall throwing his forearm across his throat. Ezra gasped as
air was forced from his lungs. He could feel the rough concrete through his
jacket. He didn't struggle under Buck's arm.
"If any one of us is killed because of you; you better pray it's me. Because
I'll find you, and kill you!" Buck snarled.
Ezra's easygoing expression fled, replaced by a flat, hard look. "If you
don't release me Mr. Wilmington, I'll take care of that right now." Ezra
seriously thought of going for his gun but common sense quickly came to his
rescue. Deep down he understood Buck's anger but the man had crossed the
The two men glared at each other, both knew the other was deadly serious.
Buck didn't hear the voice yelling his name from the other side of the garage
or the running sneakers slapping the concrete floor.
"Buck! What the hell are you doing?" JD grabbed his friend by the arm and
pulled him off the pinned agent.
Ezra glared at Buck as he rubbed at his throat.
JD forcefully led his friend away, but Buck's dark eyes remained locked on
Ezra continuing the threat.
Dunne gave the undercover agent an apologetic smile. Ezra's glare made the
young agent a little nervous and he hurried away. He was beginning to agree
with Buck. The man just didn't seem to fit in.
Ezra straightened his jacket and watched as JD continued to pull Buck toward
his truck at the end of the aisle. He smiled, hearing JD berate the older
agent. He continued to watch as the two men climbed into the Chevy and drove
off. Ezra fell back against the wall. Things were not going well. He bent
down to pick up his keys. No, things were not going well at all.
The next day passed uneventfully, although everyone felt the tension in the
office, especially when Buck and Ezra were in the vicinity. The two men didn't
even have to see each other to get their hackles up. Chris was just grateful
no one was thrown out a window or shot.
Ezra stood at the large window on the seventh floor of the government building.
He watched the light drain from the day and a bright orange glow fill the
western sky, silhouetting the nearby hills. He sometimes missed Atlanta;
this wasn't one of them times. Gazing at the distant mountains endowed with
him a peace he had rarely known. He loved Colorado and its wild west history.
He enjoyed exploring two nearby ghost towns and had plans to visit another
soon, if he managed to remain employed.
A group of six dynamic individuals captured his attention as they crossed
the street below, obviously heading for some relaxation. Sadness crept into
his heart at the camaraderie they shared. He'd been with the team for a month
and had already earned their distrust.
He didn't know why he had run out on this team; maybe he just wanted to hurry
the inevitable. The FBI office where he worked in Atlanta had become
insufferable. He was always wondering who would be the next to shove the
proverbial knife in his back. He couldn't trust any of the other agents to
cover him during an operation. This didn't bother him much; he always had
a difficult time relying anyone else. When the rumors and pictures started
flying around the office, his career, and his life, took a death dive, one
he was unable to pull out of. A devilish grin came to his face as he thought
about how his mother's gift of a sleek, black 1999 Jaguar only furthered
their suspicion of him being a traitor. His superiors couldn't risk the backlash
of explaining a dead agent, so they assigned him to permanent desk duty.
He wasn't surprised when he was transferred out of the FBI, but grew apprehensive
that someone like Chris Larabee actually recruited him.
Standish's thoughts returned to the six men he watched on the street below.
The young Mr. Dunne was still trying to sort out his feelings about the
undercover agent. Wilmington was JD's best friend, roommate, and hero. He
believed what Buck told him.
Ezra's smile grew at the thought of Mr. Sanchez who continued plaguing him
with those understanding smiles. The profiler always looked like he was hiding
a secret. Nathan and Buck's feelings were all too clear, hiding neither their
animosity nor suspicion. Mr. Tanner was an enigma. Vin studied him like a
humanities experiment. Then there was Mr. Larabee, who seemed to disregard
him but Ezra didn't really believe that. He knew Larabee was keeping a close
eye on him. Everyone was watching, scrutinizing his every move, waiting for
the next fallout--the next fuck-up--where they expected to find Ezra Standish.
Larabee had warned him to never run out again. Ezra still couldn't believe
he had been given a second chance. Right then, Ezra promised he would never
give the perceptive ATF leader any reason to kick him off the team. For the
first time in his life, Ezra wanted to belong, to be a part of something
important. Maybe he could learn to trust these men, and one day they would
call him friend. He felt an accord might be possible with these six unique
individuals, at least he had until Buck's vociferous censure of his character.
The next couple of weeks went smoothly enough. Standish was involved in an
undercover case that kept him out of the office most of the time. Buck seemed
to have simmered down and was at least being civil to the southerner, which
meant not talking to him. Ezra made it easy, maintaining his distance from
all the agents.
Sanchez furtively kept his eye on the southerner. The man did his job and
nothing more. He stayed late into the night to complete reports. Josiah didn't
think the agent had any life outside the office.
Silence fell in the break room as Standish stepped in to retrieve a cup of
coffee. Josiah caught the desolation in Ezra's eyes at the animosity. Shoulders
stiffened and eyes shifted as he made his way over to the coffee pot. It
was like walking through a mine field; but these mines were out in the open
and only needed a reason to detonate.
After one of these nerve-racking coffee ventures, Ezra found himself looking
into the dark, unfriendly face of Nathan Jackson. The two men barely spoke
to each other, keeping conversations purely professional and down to one
or two word sentences.
"How may I be of assistance, Mr. Jackson?" Ezra leaned back in his chair.
Nathan stood just inside the opening to Ezra's cubicle, holding a coffee
can. "I'm collecting for the homeless shelter down the street, care to give
Ezra reached into his coat pocket, which hung on the back of his chair and
removed his wallet. He pulled out a couple dollars and dropped them in the
Nathan looked down at the crisp dollar bills that lay atop tens and twenties.
He couldn't believe it; someone who could afford an expensive sports car
could only see clear to donate a couple dollars. "Hope it doesn't break you,
Ezra glared at the black agent. "My money is needed elsewhere."
"I'm sure, like detailing that jag. You know there's more to life than material
Ezra stared at the man as if he was about to part the red sea. "So they tell
me, I've yet to discover what that is."
"How about caring for your fellow man."
"The problem with that Mr. Jackson, is that I don't care, and my tolerance
of human behavior has its limits, so if you'll excuse me I have work to do."
Ezra returned to his computer and the partial report that lit the screen.
Nathan shook his head and walked away.
Ezra leaned back in his chair rubbing a pencil along his bottom lip. He reached
down and pulled out a lower desk drawer. Inside was a photo of a small child.
He took it out and read the handwriting on the back. Ezra smiled at the
dark-haired girl in the picture and placed it back into his drawer.
Standish proved his worth as an undercover agent. It took only two weeks
to endear himself to John Haddon, a notorious gun runner and drug trafficker.
Ezra had the felon practically adopting him into the family business. Even
Buck had to finally admit Ezra was good, not that he'd tell him that.
Chris took to monitoring the conversations between Ezra and John Haddon.
It was rare that he would do this, usually leaving the surveillance to JD
and Buck. He was trying to find out more about his perplexing agent. Chris
wondered how Ezra could be so personable and relaxed with drug dealers and
gun runners, yet have such a hard time socializing with his own men. It was
just another piece to the scattered puzzle of Ezra Standish.
After four weeks, Chris declared that there was enough evidence to convict
Haddon. Team Seven and Team Four positioned themselves outside the warehouse
on Denver's east side, awaiting the signal. This was going to be a big feather
in everyone's cap. They even got a bonus; there were two prominent criminal
bosses from the west coast meeting with Haddon inside the warehouse.
Larabee bowed his head to hide his grin when the front door opened and Standish
strutted out. The brazen agent grinned at the mass of ATF agents then bowed
and swept his arm across his body in invitation, giving the go ahead. The
two teams raced into the building, guns drawn.
Ezra listened to the shouts of the agents inside the warehouse. 'ATF FREEZE!
reverberated throughout the building.' Not a single shot was fired and Ezra
released a breath.
Ezra leaned against one of the un-marked squad cars, sipping a bottle of
water and allowing a smile to crease his face. This was his favorite part,
when the bad guys discovered they had been conned. Lord, he would have made
a great gambler in the old west. He looked up when Wilmington came out of
the warehouse, directing a handcuffed Haddon toward a car.
Haddon dug in his heels and stopped in front of the smug undercover. His
dark, hate-filled eyes tried to sear the agent where he stood. "You're a
walking dead man, and I'm going to bury you!" Haddon snarled.
"C'mon on." Buck grabbed the man by the upper arm and pulled him away.
"You hear me, you son-of-a-bitch. You are a dead man!" Haddon continued to
yell as Buck shoved him into a car.
Ezra was use to threats; it was part of the job. Hell, he had even heard
them from men he worked with. He watched as Buck forced the enraged gun dealer
into an unmarked car and shut the door. Buck glanced over the car's hood
at Ezra. Seeing the look of unconcern, he shrugged and turned away.
A hand fell on Ezra's shoulder causing him to visibly tense. Larabee quickly
removed his hand. He knew after an operation like this one Ezra was still
riding on an adrenaline wave. Chris wondered how he handled the crash at
the end. Ezra forced himself to relax as he turned around to face his boss.
"You did good, agent Standish," Chris praised.
Larabee was happy with Standish's job performance, but friction still remained
between him and the others. Chris didn't know how to get through Ezra's emotional
barrier. The undercover agent did his work and only interacted with the others
when he had to. This was not any way for a team to operate, and Chris knew
it was only a matter of time until something had to give.
"Thank you, Mr. Larabee," Ezra answered. "I will have my report to you first
thing in the morning, Sir."
"No rush, take some time to wind down." Chris looked at Ezra worriedly. The
man looked tired. The normally vibrant green eyes were strained and dull.
As far as Chris knew Ezra's whole life revolved around his job. He knew
undercover work was very demanding and most agents burned out after a few
"I assure you, Mr. Larabee I'm fine. I have no need to 'wind down'." He turned
and walked away.
The men returned to the office still hyped over the success of the bust.
Team Seven now had the best record in the whole western region and the respect
and admiration of the other teams.
"We are the champions, my friends...," JD sang out, jumping on top of a desk
and raising his arms in victory. Adrenaline pumped the young agent with
Buck turned to come face to face with Vin's feet as the sharpshooter walked
in on his hands. "Hey, junior, ever think of joining the circus," Buck joked.
Josiah and Nathan raised cups of coffee to each other and shook their heads
at the antics of their younger compatriots, both men were grateful that there
was no side trip to the hospital this time.
Chris entered the office area and smiled with amusement. These men were supposed
to be mature, skilled professionals, or so he thought. Out of the corner
of his eye, Chris caught Ezra slipping in unnoticed and making his way to
Chris intercepted the skulking agent as he reached his cubicle. "Standish,
why aren't you partaking in the festivities? We couldn't have done it without
Ezra managed a smile. "Mr. Larabee, I don't feel the need to celebrate or
contribute to the rather boisterous antics of our colleagues. I was only
doing my job."
Larabee tapped the edge of the partition in thought. "We need to talk. Come
to my office," he abruptly bade and left, not waiting for a response.
Ezra bowed his head, wondering what the esteemed leader could possibly want
to talk about. Everything had gone well with the operation. He had never
worked with such a cohesive and well connected team. Nevertheless, Ezra knew
if anything had gone wrong he would be on the receiving end of Larabee's
wrath and out of a job, in that order. He didn't want to get close to these
men, knowing he probably would be moving on again. But he was finding it
hard to maintain his indifference.
Standish knew the six men sometimes spent weekends together up at Larabee's
ranch. He had never been invited. He entered the ATF leader's office and
closed the door. Chris motioned Ezra to take a seat without removing his
eyes from a folder that lay open on his desk. Ezra sat on the long couch,
feeling the coolness of the leather beneath his shirt.
The others watched as Ezra entered Larabee's office and closed the door.
"God, Buck, what do you think Chris wants with Ezra?" JD asked. He hoped
Chris wasn't going to fire him. JD wouldn't tell Buck, but he was actually
getting to like the suave southerner. They didn't talk much but when they
did Ezra treated him like an equal and not some wet-behind-the-ears kid.
"I don't know," Buck absently replied, staring intently at the closed door.
He still didn't trust the man, but he had come to respect his skill as an
undercover. He'd never seen anyone who could manipulate a situation to his
advantage so smoothly. Bad guys seemed to immediately trust him. Why couldn't
the people he worked with give him that same measure of trust? Maybe Ezra
didn't know when or how to turn off the con. Everything was an act--Buck
furrowed his brow at his enlightening thoughts.
"Are you okay, Buck?" JD asked, noticing a strange look come over the older
"Yeah...yeah...I'm fine kid, something just occurred to me." Buck left it
at that, not sure if he could explain his sudden insight.
Larabee raised concerned blue eyes to the solemn features of his undercover.
He leaned back in his chair. Lacing his fingers behind the back of his neck,
he stared intently at the southerner.
"Tell me about the incident at the FBI?" He expected to see some reaction,
but Ezra didn't even blink.
"I noticed you have my personal file. I believe the controversy to which
you are referring is well documented." Standish's mind was racing. What was
Larabee seeking? Was he trying to dig up some reason to fire him? Or conjure
up evidence so the agency could prosecute him?
"I want to hear your side."
"My side has not been deemed factual," Ezra answered.
"Why don't you let me decide."
Ezra brought his right ankle up to rest on his knee. He had explained what
had happened to Internal Affairs back in Atlanta and knew they hadn't believed
him. Now, he was going to tell a man he respected. What would happen if he
didn't believe him either?
This was the first time Chris saw his agent's impenetrable mask of
self-confidence fall. Ezra ran a hand through his brown hair, for some reason
thinking he needed to make an appointment with his barber. He tried to swallow
past a lump in his throat and cold sweat broke out between his shoulder blades.
Larabee waited patiently. Ezra's southern drawl cracked, and he was forced
to clear his throat. "I was working on the McMurren case. He was a major
drug lord on the east coast." He started out slow, watching Larabee's face.
"After two months of investigation and undercover work the case was suddenly
closed, without explanation. I was told to drop it."
Ezra leaned forward and placed a hand on his pant leg. He unconsciously started
to play with the hem of his pants, but quickly stopped himself before continuing,
"Two days after the case was closed I was visited by two of McMurren's goons.
They came to my apartment and stood outside my door. They offered me a bribe
to join them and be an inside man
,even waved $5000 in my face."
Ezra flicked a piece of imaginary lint from his dark pants, and then returned
his gaze to Chris. The blond leader's face was unreadable and Ezra's heart
started to pound in his chest. "I refused, of course. They forced the bills
into my hand, which I held for a moment then dropped on my porch, but the
damage was done. Evidently, they had someone taking pictures from some hidden
vantage point. The men left, leaving the money on my porch. The next morning
the money was still there. I picked it up, put it in an envelope and dropped
it anonymously at the McDonald house in Atlanta."
Chris could see that what the agent was about to say greatly disturbed him.
"The rumors started the next day. Everyone believed that I had something
to do with closing the case. I didn't take them seriously but the other members
of my team did. I wasn't well liked to begin with." Ezra chuckled slightly.
"The pictures came two days later and were sent to my boss. I explained to
him what happened, but he didn't believe me. Of course, the evidence was
all circumstantial, so they couldn't fire me. However, as you're well aware
there are other ways of getting rid of unwanted agents. I didn't trust any
of my people to watch my back. I was shot twice." Ezra paused a moment, a
sadness seemed to take away some of the intensity in his emerald eyes. "Once,
I believe by one of my own."
Standish remained quiet for a moment, reliving that time in his mind. He
stared down at the hem of his pants afraid to raise his eyes; afraid to see
the familiar disbelief in Larabee's face. This was the moment of truth. Ezra
slowly raised his head and stared into Chris's pensive visage, but what the
perceptive agent didn't see was disbelief. For some unexplained reason Chris
Larabee believed every single word.
Chris was shocked and dismayed by Ezra's allegation that a fellow agent would
shoot another. Obviously the younger man had gone through quite a bit during
his years as an undercover agent. "Why didn't you just quit?"
"Where would I go? I love being an undercover agent." A wistful smile emerged
across Ezra's somber face erasing some of the earlier despair.
"This is the only use for my rather dubious talents."
Larabee stared at the southern agent. He looked down at the file, which laid
bare a man's entire life. Standish's arrest ratio was exceptional, even though
his tactics were questionable. He was labeled a rogue and untrustworthy,
words that usually ended a man's career. Chris had to admit the agent was
obstinate and not one to play by the rules but he had five other men who
bent the rules on occasion, including himself. Ezra had been forced to face
opposition from people he was suppose to trust; fellow agents. It didn't
appear that anyone had stood by him at his previous position with the FBI.
Chris had to grin at this thought, if it hadn't been for Ezra's troubles
he probably wouldn't have been able to recruit him as easily as he did. He
hoped that one day he could make the FBI regret their decision.
"Why didn't you explain the Jag?" Chris knew that Ezra's mother was wealthy
and surmised that she had bought him the expensive car as a gift.
The question caught Ezra slightly off guard but he recovered nicely. "It
was none of their business, and if they really wanted to know the truth it
wouldn't have been hard for them to find out." A faint smile came to the
suave agent's face. Ezra realized that Chris had figured out where he had
acquired the sports car. "And would you tell anyone that your mother had
bought it for you?"
Chris chuckled. The man had a point.
Ezra strolled down the aisle of the parking garage. He caught himself humming
and grinned. The conversation with Larabee had helped to ease much of his
growing dejection, and he was feeling better than he had in weeks. Ezra stopped
when he heard the screech of tires echo through the garage as someone took
a turn a little too fast. He looked up to see Cuervo, the unofficial Team
7 mascot, standing in the middle of the aisle. Ezra ran and grabbed the animal
just as a speeding Saturn whizzed by.
Ezra held the cat close to his chest and gently stroked its soft orange fur,
eliciting a contented purr.
Josiah witnessed Ezra's rescue. He watched the interaction between man and
animal. The older man grinned as he heard the cultured southerner reprimand
"Okay, my felonious feline! Let's not test out the nine lives theory. Hell,
if anything happened to you, they'd all think I had something to do with
it." Ezra held the tabby up to his face, looking into its matching green
"You know what they say about animals and children." Josiah's baritone voice
caused Ezra to stiffen. He turned to face the older man.
"I assure you, sir, this feline is just grateful I saved it from becoming
a hood ornament." Ezra continued to scratch the accepting cat atop the head,
until he noticed Josiah's smile. He quickly released the animal and brushed
the hair from his jacket. Cuervo was not so easily dismissed and took to
brushing herself around the southerner's legs.
"Ah...huh." Josiah grinned at the younger agent, who, for the first time
returned the gesture.
"That man is always late," Buck complained to Josiah. The profiler was pouring
his life's blood, better known as coffee, into a badly stained mug.
Although it had decreased, Josiah was tired of Buck's continual criticism
of the undercover agent. He was about to make his displeasure known when
the well-dressed southerner made an appearance.
"Good morning, brother Standish, and how are we this glorious morning?" Sanchez
cheerfully greeted. He knew that Ezra was not a morning person and took great
pleasure in reminding him of this fact. Ezra was lucky that JD was not present;
the young man's exuberance knew no such time constraints.
"Sir, no morning is glorious, and I don't believe we have any genealogical
connection." Ezra made his way to the coffee pot and poured himself a cup.
The strain between him and the others had eased. One no longer needed a chain
saw to cut through the tension, a butter knife would do.
Ezra took a sip and grimaced. "God, who made this noxious concoction?"
"What, you don't like our coffee?" Buck calmly chided.
"Whatever is in this cup has nothing to do with a coffee bean." Ezra poured
the black liquid down the drain.
"Vin made the coffee. He likes it strong," Josiah answered, giving Nathan
a nod as he entered the break area.
"If you'd get here on time, then you could make it the way you like it,"
Ezra cocked his head at the ex-medic then glanced over at Buck. The three
men had managed to reach a civil truce, but every now and then, that verbal
cease-fire would be broken. Ezra was not in the mood to exchange poison barbs
this early in the day and was grateful when Larabee's voice boomed across
"Okay ladies, suit up. Team 5 wants added cover for a raid, now!" Chris yelled
out as he strode through the floor. Soon the office was buzzing with activity
as seven men donned bullet-proof vests, checked weapons and communications
equipment. The adrenaline started to build in each of them and hearts started
pumping harder to keep up. Everyone felt it, but no one would admit it; they
all lived for it. It's what made them feel alive.
Thirty minutes later Team 7 pulled up in front of a large, three story office
"Okay, Charlie what's the deal?" Chris asked the leader of Team 5. This was
their operation and he and his men were only here to assist.
Charlie Coombs was an ex-marine and still carried the crew-cut and rigid
discipline that had made him a superior officer in the corp.
Charlie spread out a roughly drawn sketch of the building. "I need your men
to cover these exits." He pointed to three doors located on the east and
south sides. "We think about ten people are in there and we don't want to
risk anyone getting away."
Larabee nodded and returned to his men. He noticed how Ezra stood just outside
the group. "Okay, Buck, Vin you're with me. Ezra, JD, you take the south
side door. Nathan, Josiah, cover the east side." Chris sent Buck a glare,
effectively cutting off his friend's objection to the joining of Ezra and
JD. The pairing even made Vin a little nervous, but he refrained from voicing
Buck and Chris had been friends a long time, but lately that friendship was
strained. It was just another thing everyone blamed on Standish. Chris understood
Buck's fear but he would not allow anyone to question his orders out of
prejudice. Ezra had to earn their trust; he couldn't do it if he was always
sent off alone or with someone who didn't trust him. JD was open-minded enough
to give Ezra a chance to prove himself.
The seven men spread out to cover their designated areas. It wasn't long
before all hell broke loose. Several suspects charged out of the building
guns blazing, shooting at anything that moved.
Ezra and JD jumped behind a large metal box, probably a cover for water meters.
They quickly added to the barrage of gunfire, forcing two of the suspects
to retreat to the doorway. Out of the corner of his eye, Ezra saw another
man slip around the corner of the building. "JD, I'll be back," he yelled
as he took off. JD didn't have time to question him as two more men came
out the door and started firing on his position, forcing him to drop to the
Standish cautiously made his way to the side of the building. He paused when
he heard the increased gunfire behind him. Then peered around the corner.
What he saw made his heart stop. A lone gunman was sneaking up on Nathan
who was totally unaware of the impending danger. The gun fire and chaos besieging
the building covered the gunman's approach and kept Nathan's attention elsewhere.
Ezra stepped out from the corner of the building.
The gunman felt the sudden presence behind him and spun around to face Ezra
standing just a few feet away, pointing a gun. The gunman's revolver was
pointed down toward the ground and Ezra hoped he was going to give himself
The gunman smiled, knowing a showdown was coming. Ezra matched the look in
the gunman's eyes and lowered his own gun. He'd always loved the ways of
the old west and knew when he was being called out.
The gunman slowly raised his gun. "I wouldn't advise that," Ezra uttered
in a curiously flat southern drawl. As the gunman's weapon came level. Ezra's
gun came up and seemingly, without aiming he fired. The bullet entered the
man's skull. Nerves triggered causing muscles to spasm and the dead-man's
finger constricted around the trigger sending a bullet into Ezra's side.