"Donuts, I got donuts here!" Buck barked out like a peanut vendor at a ballgame
as he and JD entered the conference room. He threw down the bright pink box
that slid across the table and watched as Vin was the first one to reach
out and grab at the doughy confections.
Buck and JD took a circuitous path to their seats on the other side of the
long wood table, slapping Josiah and Nathan on the back respectively on the
way. JD fell over the arm of his chair and allowed one leg to dangle over
Buck looked down to the end of the table to see Ezra glancing over some papers
and sipping at his imported coffee, obviously trying to ignore his and JD's
exuberant antics. "Hey Ez, I got Bavarian cream for you," Buck announced,
his smile growing at the southern agent's annoyed smirk.
Ezra glanced up over his papers at his gregarious friend. "Mr. Wilmington,
naming a whipped cream and egg confection after a former republic does not
make it any more desirable." Ezra glanced over to his right to see Vin biting
into a bear claw. The sharpshooter's eyes were closed, and he seemed to be
regaling in some sort of sexual experience with the aforementioned donut.
Nathan was searching through the mix of jelly and cream as Josiah craned
his neck and prayed that that one jelly donut would remain untouched.
"Okay, girls, let's get to work," Chris called as he strode into the room,
scooping up the box of donuts on his way to the end of the table.
Sanchez watched in dismay as his leader took the last jelly donut. Josiah
slumped a little in his chair and placed a hand on his stomach. 'Oh, well,
it's probably for the best,' the huge agent thought, trying to soften the
disappointment coming from his stomach.
A soft rap on the doorframe brought Chris's and the other's attention to
the doorway. Chris's blue eyes narrowed and the hair on the back of his neck
started to prickle as he stared pointedly at the three men. The gentleman
in the front was wearing a three piece two- tone gray suit and was accompanied
by two uniformed officers. Chris recognized the man in the suit as Tom Ferrell
with Internal Affairs.
"Mr. Larabee, I'm Tom Ferrell of IA. I'm here on official business." Ferrell
said distractedly as his gaze swept around the table at the six agents.
"I know who you are, and I didn't think you were here on a social call,"
Chris replied, his voice somewhat strained. IA agents weren't known for their
conviviality and it was never good news when they came for a visit.
Vin noticed how the IA's gaze lingered a little longer on Ezra. The two uniforms
stayed in the doorway as if blocking it. Vin's heart started to pound hard
in his chest and he glanced across the table to see Josiah's worry visage
staring back at him.
Ferrell stepped up beside Larabee and handed him a piece of paper. Chris
glanced down at the paper and then stared incredulously at the IA agent.
Ferrell ignored Larabee's stunned expression and turned to stare at Standish.
"Mr. Standish, where were you last night?" Ferrell asked.
Ezra's brow furrowed, and he leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers
in front of his face. "I went home, had dinner and fell asleep," Ezra simply
"And two nights ago?"
Ezra's expression didn't change as he replied, "The same, sorry I'm a creature
of habit and my social life hasn't been anything of note."
"You went directly home after work?"
"What the hell is this all about?" Buck snapped rising out of his chair until
he felt JD's hand on his arm. He looked down at the worried expression on
his young friend's face and slowly returned to his chair.
Ezra smiled slightly at his friend's show of concern.
Ferrell remained silent during Buck's outburst and then returned his attention
"No one who saw you at home?" Ferrell asked, looking around the room. He
half expected one of the others to maybe vouch for the undercover agent,
or maybe lie for him.
"No." Ezra answered. He didn't know what was going on, but he was getting
a very bad feeling about this.
"What's this all about, Chris?" Vin finally asked, seeing the strange look
on his friend's face and noticing how he had become very quiet.
"They have a warrant for Ezra's arrest," Chris quietly replied, looking up
from the paper that Ferrell had handed him.
It was a full second as eyebrows went up and mouths fell open, and then the
questions and indignations were flying across the table. Everyone, except
Ezra, jumped from their chairs.
"What the hell is going on?" seemed to be the predominated question being
thrown at the IA agent.
Chris's blue eyes locked on Ezra's face. He watched as the imperturbable
mask of indifference fell in place, but the undercover's green eyes were
filled with fear--It was happening again, just like Atlanta.
"QUIET!" Chris yelled out, immediately silencing his agents' fervor. Chris
turned to Ferrell.
"What's the charge?" Vin blurted out.
"Right now, the attempted murder of Judge Orrin Travis," Ferrell calmly replied.
This caused another explosion of disbelief and outrage among the agents and
even Ezra reacted, his hands clasping together on the table and his eyes
Ferrell glanced quickly over at the officer's who had remained by the door,
they had cautiously unstrapped their weapons and their stance now suggested
that they were prepared for any retaliation.
"I WANT QUIET NOW!" Chris yelled out. He looked toward his undercover agent,
seeing the flash of fear and bewilderment on his face. "Is the Judge okay?"
"Yes, he's in critical, but stable condition at Denver General. They say
he'll be okay," Ferrell assured hearing the collective sigh of the agents.
"Why Ezra?" Chris asked.
"It's all here," Ferrell continued, handing Chris a large bulky envelope.
"He was identified by a witness, and his car was seen leaving the scene last
night." Ferrell nodded toward the uniform officers who stepped toward Standish,
one of them removing a pair of handcuffs from his belt.
Almost as an afterthought Ferrell added, "Oh, we're looking at charges of
conspiracy too." The stern looking IA agent looked over at Ezra. "Your apartment
was searched after you left this morning and an envelope containing $10,000
was found between your mattresses." Ferrell nodded toward the uniform officers
who each place a hand on Ezra's shoulders.
"Now I know this is bogus," Buck blurted out. "Ezra has more imagination
than to hide money between his mattress."
Ferrell was not amused. "I'm sorry, but his car was easily identified at
the scene of the shooting, not many ATF agents ride around in a red Jaguar
with a broken rear window."
Ezra looked briefly at Chris, fear flashed in his green eyes, which was then
quickly replaced with his normal impassive façade as he stood up and
put his hands behind his back. The officer snapped the cuffs on, squeezing
them tight. Ezra gave go sign of his discomfort.
"Don't worry, Ez, we'll get this all straightened out," Vin voiced.
Ezra smiled. "Thank you. I would appreciate that." Ezra nodded as he was
led out the door.
+ + + + + + +
After the IA left with Ezra Chris ripped open the envelope and pulled out
a video tape. Josiah immediately grabbed the cart that the TV and VCR sat
on and wheeled it into place.
Chris popped the tape in and hit play then sat on the corner of the table.
The first scene was of Ezra's apartment door. The camera then panned over
to the right where his Jag sat, the broken rear window clearly visible under
the street lights. The camera returned to the door as a large man in a dark
overcoat and hat approached, and knocked.
When the door opened everyone in the conference room gasped as they looked
at their friend standing there. The picture was distant, but there was no
doubt that it was the southerner. Chris cocked his head toward the garbled
noise coming from the tape then the voices suddenly became clear.
"Here's the money," the mysterious gentleman murmured, handing a white envelope
over to the southerner who took a cursory glance inside.
"It needs to be done tomorrow night."
"Don't worry. I'll take care of it," the southern drawl came out loud and
clear over the TV. "He'll be dead tomorrow night." Ezra closed the door and
the tape ended.
The six agents sat in silence for several moments, no one even dared move,
and no one wanted to be the first to say it. Was Ezra a traitor? Had they
all been conned?
"They don't know who sent the tape?" Josiah asked, breaking the spell of
"Nope, according to what IA says." Chris held up the paper that Ferrell had
given him. "There was a note attached that read, 'from a concerned citizen.'"
"What happened to Ezra's Jag?" Nathan asked. It was a long time before Nathan
had trusted the suave undercover, but now those earlier doubts were starting
to creep back in. Nathan tried to push the thoughts away, determined to give
Ezra the benefit of the doubt, at least for now.
"Someone busted out his window two nights ago," Buck answered. "I was with
him. We were walking toward our cars down in the garage. Man, was Ez ever
livid. He ranted for about five minutes. I couldn't understand everything
he said since he sometimes spoke in French, but I did pick up on a few choice
"Didn't security hear anything?" Vin asked.
"Nope, said they didn't see or hear anything, but Ezra filed a report," Buck
"Sure was convenient having a witness and camera that night," Vin mused,
rubbing his thumb along his bottom lip.
"Shit, that really looked like Ezra," JD reluctantly said.
No one could disagree with that. A man who looked exactly liked Ezra and
stood in Ezra's doorway, and had even gone inside the apartment, had accepted
an envelope with a large amount of cash for some secret mission. The silence
of doubt again descended upon the room of agents as each one fought the quell
their nagging suspicions.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra sat coolly in the plastic chair in the precinct's interrogation room,
a room he was intimately familiar with, although not from this perspective.
It was a very interesting perspective. He glared unflinching at the large
mirror on the far wall, almost as if he could see the four individuals on
the other side. When the door to the interrogation room opened, a neatly
dressed IA agent entered. The man was probably Josiah's age with a lean almost
skeletal build. He had thinning gray hair that he combed over his head, something
that never worked.
"See, I told you we'd see each other again, Agent Standish." The gentleman
laid a briefcase down on the table. "I always knew you'd slip up sooner or
"What are you doing here Balsam?" Ezra asked, keeping his voice even and
not revealing any of the anger he was feeling, wanting nothing more than
to tear this man's head off. Lord, he was sounding like Larabee.
Balsam had been IA back in Atlanta and had made Ezra's life miserable. The
IA agent had kept close tabs on the undercover operative in the hopes of
getting something he could use to prove that he was no good. Ezra had thought
by now the man would of given up his 'witch hunt' and moved on. By the look
in Balsam's eyes this was not the case. Balsam still wanted his head on a
platter, and Ezra started worrying that he was in deep shit.
"Well, I'm here to ask you some questions," Galvin Balsam cheerfully intoned.
He had waited a long time to see Standish squirm, now the time had come.
Ezra audibly exhaled. He'd already told them everything, twice. He knew Balsam
was only hoping to trip him up by making him repeat his story again.
Balsam removed a folder from his brief case and sat down. "Now, I see here
you have been reprimanded by Judge Travis for numerous transgressions." The
IA agent lifted his eyes to look back at Ezra. Balsam hated seeing that smug
look and wanted badly to see it wiped off Standish's face.
"So has everyone on my team and a few from Team 4 if I'm not mistaken," Ezra
"Yes, but the Judge didn't want Larabee to hire you in the first place,
considered you a loose cannon, a maverick," Balsam continued.
Ezra allowed his shoulders to relax and rubbed the back of his neck. They
had refused to show him the tape that implicated him to this crime. He was
only told that it showed him accepting money from someone at his apartment.
"Shouldn't I have a lawyer at this point?"
Balsam glared and a small tic developed at the side of his mouth. "Well,
we were hoping to do this the easy way. Who hired you to shoot the Judge?"
Ezra closed his eyes and tilted his head back. "I did not shoot Judge Travis,"
he again repeated. It was becoming a mantra in his head.
"Mr. Standish, I am trying to help you." Balsam smiled. "If you cooperate
and tell me who you are working for we might be able to cut a deal, get you
a lighter sentence. Right now you're looking at twenty years."
The smile on Balsam's face was feral and Ezra knew the man wanted nothing
more than to bury him. The IA man's reputation was ruined when nothing came
of his fourteen months of investigation to prove Standish guilty. Ezra had
heard that Balsam had to be forced onto administrative leave in order to
get him to relinquish the case.
Tension built between the two agents, stretched-and broke as Chris Larabee
"Mr. Larabee, what are you doing here?" Balsam stuttered, some of his composure
melting away under the esteemed ATF leader's presence.
"I'm here to see that my man is taken care of," Larabee smoothly replied.
He already didn't like the IA agent that stood before him.
"Well, this is against regulations," Balsam stammered.
"I don't care."
Balsam straightened and grabbed his briefcase as he left the room.
Ezra couldn't hide his smile at seeing Balsam cowed liked a whipped puppy
under Larabee's deadly demeanor. Now, Ezra wondered if that deadly disposition
would be directed toward him.
"Have you seen the tape, Mr. Larabee?"
"Yeah." Chris straddled the nearby chair.
"And," Ezra prompted.
Chris took a deep breath and looked straight at Ezra, not wanting the undercover
to think he was hiding anything. "You're in deep shit...."
Ezra's earlier arrogance deflated. If Chris thought he was in trouble, what
chance did he have? "I did not shoot Judge Travis."
"You don't have to tell me that."
"Don't I?" Ezra could see the doubt in Larabee's face.
"Ezra, we'll get to the bottom of this I promise." Chris reached out and
squeezed his undercover's arm. "You were home both nights, right. Didn't
step out even for a few minutes?"
"No, when I got home after work I never left," Ezra answered. He threw his
head back and looked up at the tiled ceiling.
"IA checked with a couple of your neighbors. A Mrs. Reuben said she saw you
and another person on your porch two nights ago. She didn't get a look at
the stranger, said he stayed in the shadows and wore a hat pulled down over
his eyes. The tape shows the same thing," Chris explained.
Damn, for once Ezra wished Mrs. Reuben's prying could have helped. "Was that
what was on the tape?" Ezra asked.
"Yep, showed you accepting an envelope from some large guy in a dark, long
Ezra sat back in his chair and wiped a hand down his face. The taped showed
him? How could that be? Ezra looked over at Chris and wondered if Chris and
the others believed he was guilty.
"It wasn't me," Ezra quietly stressed.
"It sure looks like you Ez," Chris calmly replied. Ezra over at the man he
had come to respect more than any person he'd ever known. "It wasn't me,"
Ezra repeated, his voice edged with despair. If Chris and the others believed
him guilty his life was over.
"What are they saying is my motive?" Ezra wearily asked.
"You're working for Charles McGrath. His son, Evan, was to come up in front
of the Judge day after tomorrow on drug charges," Chris explained.
"And what does this Mr. McGrath say?" Oh, this was just getting better and
better. Ezra's last case had inadvertently crossed paths with Evan McGrath,
the young drug dealer was caught up in the raid that ensued.
"Doesn't deny or admit to anything, just laughs."
Ezra lowered his head. His face showed none of the emotions coursing through
him, but inside his gut churned. He felt like he was floundering, trying
to stay a float, as he headed toward a roaring waterfall with no way to escape.
+ + + + + + +
"So what do we do next?" Buck asked Chris as the somber leader entered the
office after his visit to the precinct. Larabee sat down at his desk. He
hadn't even noticed that his men were sitting in his office.
"What does Ez say about all this?" Nathan asked.
"Says he was home both nights, which really doesn't help his case any," Chris
curtly replied, pressing the palms of his hands into his eyes. "He doesn't
know anything about any stranger or money or how anyone could have used his
apartment without his knowledge. He says he fell asleep both nights on his
couch and woke up around three each morning."
"There's got to be an explanation," JD broke in.
"Well I'd love to hear it, because right now Ez is looking at some hard time,"
Chris snarled with a little more vehemence than he had planned. "I'm sorry,
it's been a long day."
"So what can we do?" JD asked.
Chris paused a moment. Ezra was depending on him. There had to be some answer.
Chris was not going to just throw his best undercover agent, or friend to
the wolves. It had taken a long time to gain the southerner's trust he was
not going to throw that all away. "Vin, I want you and Josiah to go over
that tape, bit by bit. JD, I want you to analyze the sound and voices." Chris
shifted his gaze over to Buck and Nathan. "I want you two to go to Ezra's
apartment and go through it with a fine tooth comb and also the surrounding
Chris looked down at his watch. "We'll meet back here in three hours." The
agents all quickly moved out hoping that someone would come up with the answers
they needed to save one of their own.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra stumbled as he was shoved into a large cell. He turned to see the door
"I'm suppose to have a private cell." Ezra glanced uneasily at the two large
men sitting on the bunk against the far wall. The grinning officer looked
down at his clipboard and shook his head.
"Not according to what I have here."
"It's a mistake," Ezra pointed out, knowing it was a waste of breath. Officers
and agents were never put in with other inmates and Ezra knew that this officer
was well aware of this fact.
"I'll check it out. You just sit tight," the officer replied his smile growing
wider on his face.
One of the large prisoners stood up. He was a mountain of a man and sported
a scraggly brown beard. Tattoos covered his burly arms. The other prisoner
was only slightly smaller and had an intricate tattoo covering his bald pate.
This one sat back his arms folded across his chest.
Ezra involuntarily stepped back from the bearded, mountain of a man who seemed
to cause the cell space to shrink with his size. The prisoner reached behind
him and pulled out a knife. A toothy grin spreading across his ugly face.
"Ah, shit," Ezra murmured under his breath. He looked toward the outer door
of the jail, knowing his yells for help would probably go unanswered.
The two prisoners eyed the agent. They both were already facing drug and
gun charges. When they were offered the chance to get their hands on an ATF
agent, it was too good to pass up. They were told that they would be protected
from any prosecution and maybe even get a lighter sentence it they took care
of a dirty agent.
Standish turned his body so his side was facing his adversary. The prisoner
lunged toward Ezra, who managed to block the downward arc of the knife. Ezra
then delivered a quick and strong blow to the man's chest with his palm.
The large man stepped back, dazed. Ezra then delivered a roundhouse kick
to the man's immense stomach. The convict went down on his knees gasping
Ezra had hoped to steal enough of the man's air to knock him unconscious.
He didn't want to kill him. Martial arts did have its drawbacks as Ezra thought
of his training with the Shaolin monks.
Avoid rather than check,
Check rather than hurt,
Hurt rather than maim,
Maim rather than kill...
For life is precious,
Nor can it ever be replaced.
But Ezra also considered his own life precious. Looking at the second prisoner
who was now approaching, Ezra had to remind himself that these men were someone's
sons and a murder rap would not help his case any. The second convict attacked
and slammed Ezra into the bars. The bald headed man then slammed huge fists
into Ezra's stomach. The other prisoner had regained his air and was now
adding his fists to the fray.
Ezra managed to kick out his left leg and catch the bald headed man in the
side doubling him over. Then Ezra felt the knife bite into his side and the
warm stickiness of blood rushed out between his fingers. Ezra's legs gave
out, and he crumbled to the floor. The wounded agent curled up trying to
protect his stomach from the vicious kicks now being dispensed all over his
body. The kicks mercifully stopped, and Ezra swallowed back a groan. His
head throbbed incessantly and muffled the voices that now filled the room.
Someone roughly turned him over, but he was unable to open his eyes. He thought
he heard someone yell for a doctor then nothing.
+ + + + + + +
Chris stepped into the darkened conference room the only source of light
the flickering images from the TV. Vin and Josiah sat directly in front of
the TV: pausing, rewinding and playing through the tape. Chris stepped up
between his two men looking up as the video again showed Ezra's apartment
"Anything?" Chris asked.
"Well, first, it looks like the person operating the camera wants to make
sure that Ezra's Jag is in the picture, especially the broken window," Vin
observed, watching as the jerky camera motion passed over the red sporty
"That helps to set the time," Josiah stated.
"Yeah, but how would the camera man know when Ezra's window was broken out?"
Vin asked as he rewound the tape and played it again. "See, the camera first
shows Ezra's door, and then pans all the way over to his Jag and the broken
window like he knows this will set the time."
"But only Buck, and the security guard in the garage knew when the window
was actually broken," Josiah added.
"There is one other person who would know. The one who broke it,"
Chris threw in.
"We don't think the broken window was an accident," Vin admitted.
"Maybe the camera man and the person who broke Ezra's window are one and
the same," Josiah thoughtfully surmised. "The window could have been muffled,
maybe a blanket or something put over it before it was broken so that security
"It's sounding like a set up. Someone had to have a way to verify time. Ezra's
car window was smashed that night, and then he was filmed," Vin pointed out.
"That still doesn't explain how someone who looks like Ezra can be using
his home when he says he's there," Chris stated, the frustration evident
in his voice and on his face.
Vin slumped down in his chair, yeah, that part was a little hard to get past.
Vin continued to watch the film, the orange glow of Ezra's porch light creating
a circle of light within the night. "According to Mrs. Reuben it had been
9:45 pm when that stranger had come to Ezra's door," Vin absently muttered,
staring at the video images on the TV. Something clicked in Vin's mind, and
his brow furrowed as he latched onto it.
"Ezra's a night owl. Why was he falling asleep on his sofa and waking up
at the same time two nights in a row?"
Josiah and Chris regarded each other for a moment, thinking about what the
sharpshooter had just said. Ezra never went to bed before midnight, and he
had been so jazzed from his past undercover work he was having a hard time
"Drugged?" Chris dared to ask.
"Yeah, the first night to make the tape and the second for the shooter to
take his car and go after Travis," Vin agreed, his eyes growing wide with
The three agents smiled, and then turned as one when JD came racing in. "Ezra's
in the hospital. He got in a fight at the jail." All four agents raced out.
+ + + + + + +
Standish lay propped up in the hospital bed as the doctor checked his vitals
and wrote something down on a chart.
"You're a very lucky man, Mr. Standish," the doctor noted.
"Depends on your definition of luck," Ezra quipped. The doctor raised an
eyebrow, shrugged and left. Ezra turned his head to watch him go, catching
a glimpse of the guard at his door. He slumped back down into the pillow.
"I DON'T GIVE A DAMN! WE'RE SEEING HIM NOW!"
Ezra smiled at his leader's tact then watched as Chris and the others were
The agents stopped in their tracks at the sight of their injured friend,
guilt filling their hearts that they could have for even for one minute believed
that Ezra had anything to do with the attempt on the Judge's life.
"How you feeling?" Nathan asked, easing up to the bed and glancing at the
monitors. Ezra looked pale and flushed, and Nathan had to wonder how much
care he would receive back at prison.
"I've been better," Ezra hoarsely replied, clearing his throat. JD stared
at his friend still not believing the resemblance to the man in the video,
it was uncanny.
Ezra sported a bandage on his head and one wrapped around his stomach. It
had taken fifteen stitches to sew up the long cut on his side. Chris had
talked to the doctor before coming in, finding out that his agent had a
concussion, cracked ribs and had lost a fair amount of blood from the wound
on his side.
Chris knew he didn't have much time before they were thrown out. "Ezra, is
there anything else you can remember about those two nights?"
"This is not exactly the best time to ask that question, Mr. Larabee."
"You said that you fell asleep on the sofa both nights and woke up at three,"
Vin reminded. "Did you eat or drink anything."
Ezra rubbed his forehead. "Yeah, I had dinner and some cognac."
Chris and Vin regarded each other. "Where did you get it?" Vin asked.
"Where did you get the cognac?" Chris repeated.
"It was a gift from my mother."
"She gave it to you?" Chris asked.
Ezra rolled his eyes at the absurdity of that question. "No, she sent it
from Italy. It came postage due three days ago."
"Have you talked to Maude recently and asked her if she sent it?" Chris asked.
He started having doubts that Maude had anything to do with the liquor.
"No. What is this all about?"
"Is the bottle still at your place?" Buck asked ignoring Ezra's question.
"It should be," Ezra tiredly answered. "I have it locked away in a special
place to keep certain visitors from sampling it." Ezra glared at Vin and
Buck who cracked innocent smiles.
"Oh, you mean the hidden safe in the back of your closet," Vin smartly stated,
causing Ezra's face to fall.
"Give us the combination," Chris demanded.
Ezra grabbed a pencil and pad of paper and wrote down the combination.
He held up the piece of paper and looked at Chris. "What is going on?"
"We think you might have been drugged," Chris answered taking the paper from
The undercover agent's face showed his shock. "I just thought it was exhaustion
that caused me to fall asleep on the sofa. I always felt so groggy when I
woke up that I just went to bed," Ezra thoughtfully stated. He looked at
the six men who crowded around him. They believed he was innocent. The relief
was so overwhelming he didn't care what happened to him now. His friends
believed him and that was all that mattered. Unfortunately, he knew their
belief would not win him his freedom or save his career.
"Is there anything we can do for you?" Josiah asked seeing a sadness form
on his friend's face. He knew Ezra had been through this before when he was
with the FBI. He was always having to prove himself.
"No, just thanks...for everything," Ezra somberly replied as he closed his
The agents stared uneasily down at their friend as they quietly left, not
liking the tone of his voice.
+ + + + + + +
Vin quickly opened the safe that was hidden in Ezra's closet and pulled out
the bottle of imported cognac.
"Man, who keeps liquor in a safe?" Nathan said.
"With Buck and Vin around what choice do you have," JD good- naturedly joked.
"Hey!" both Vin and Buck yelled at the slight from their young friend.
"Maybe we're just connoisseurs of fine liquor too," Buck pointed out.
"Yeah, right," JD sputtered and ducked as Buck took a swing at him.
Everyone gathered around the bar as Buck uncorked the bottle and sniffed.
"Well, do you smell anything?" JD asked.
Buck looked at the young man like he had grown two heads. "Hey, I can tell
the difference between Budweiser and Coors, but I couldn't tell you what
this is suppose to smell like."
"Thought you said you were a connoisseur," Nathan reminded.
Buck snarled and was about to reply then snapped his mouth shut. He couldn't
win this one.
"Does anyone know what cognac should smell or taste like?" Vin asked.
"It probably doesn't matter, whatever they used had to be odorless and not
effect the taste or Ezra would 'ave noticed it," Nathan pointed out.
"So what do we do? This could prove Ezra innocent," JD commented.
"Well, we'll have to send it down to the lab, but that could take weeks,"
"And we don't know who we can trust. This bottle could end up disappearing
into that agency black hole," Buck added. The surveillance agent stared at
the dark long necked bottled. It reminded him of a Genie's bottle, one that
could hold the single wish that would save Ezra. Buck had to admit that when
he first saw the video and Ezra, or the person who looked liked Ezra, for
a moment he thought that they had all been betrayed.
Before anyone could stop him Buck took a gulp right from the bottle.
"Damnit Buck! What the hell do you think you're doing?" Chris yelled out
as he reached over the bar, trying to stop his friend.
"Sorry, pard, we don't have time. This is Ezra's life we're talking about."
He wanted to drown out the gremlins of doubt that had been nibbling away
at all of their trust. After three years of working together none of them
felt they knew the multifaceted southerner. A man who earned a living procuring
a different face almost as often as someone changed their clothes. Ezra deserved
Josiah grabbed hold of Buck and led him toward the sofa. Nathan knelt down
in front of the agent and looked into his eyes.
"Hey, just make sure I don't miss anything," Buck quipped.
"So, how did it taste?" JD eagerly asked.
Buck licked his lips getting the last bit of flavor. "You know that's not
"Do you feel lightheaded, sick, blurry vision, anything?" Nathan asked as
he checked Buck's eyes.
"Maybe we're wrong about this," Vin said. If Ezra wasn't drugged then it
really had to be him on that video, Vin thought, but refrained from voicing
The five agents sat and watched Buck for almost ten minutes until Chris stood
up. "Come on, let's go back to the office and see if we can't find another
When Chris reached the door he turned to see Buck still sitting on the sofa.
"Come on, Buck."
The tall agent didn't move from his spot on the sofa. Chris cocked his head
over at Nathan, who quickly moved to Buck's side.
"Buck?" Nathan said as he came around the sofa.
Nathan looked into Buck's slack face. "HEY, BUCK!" Nathan shouted in Buck's
ear. He gave the sleeping agent a gentle shove and Buck fell over on the
sofa without a sound. Nathan leaned over and opened one of Buck's eyes and
checked his breathing.
"Is he okay?" Chris asked, not masking the worry he felt.
"Yeah, but nothing short of an atomic bomb could wake him up," Nathan finally
"What do you think it is?" Chris asked a relieved smile on his face, not
just for his reckless friend, who now slept peacefully on the sofa, but this
proved beyond a doubt that Ezra was framed. Chris hated to admit that doubt
had even existed, and he swore he would make it up to Ezra. Right now, they
just had to find out who really sent the drugged liquor, and why was someone
going to such extremes to prove Ezra a bad seed.
Nathan straightened and rubbed his chin. "Well, he's more than just asleep;
I can't wake him. He's completely out. It could be Chloral Hydrate or Rohepnol."
"So, Ezra, wouldn't even of been aware that someone was in his house," Vin
Nathan shook his head. "He wouldn't have a clue."
Larabee's cell phone went off, and he grabbed the communications devise.
"LARABEE." Chris paused, and his face scrunched in anger. "What do you mean
Chris flipped off the phone. "Ezra escaped from the hospital. They have an
APB out for his arrest." Chris paused. "They said he's considered armed and
Everyone's face fell, they all knew what that meant. Ezra could be shot on
"We have to find that damn fool southerner before he gets himself killed,"
Nathan worriedly stated.
+ + + + + + +
Balsam stormed into Larabee's office to find the six agents sitting or standing
around the officer. Well, five, as Buck was stretched out on the sofa, snoring
softly. "Alright, where is he?"
"Believe me, I wish we knew," Chris answered the distraught IA agent, reining
in his desire to throw the man out the window. They had checked all the places
they believed the undercover agent might go without any luck.
"We're going to have each of your homes under surveillance," Balsam warned.
"If any of you make contact, it'll be in his and your best interest to call
Balsam tried to ignore the deadly glares directed toward him. This was one
of the best ATF teams in the country and it had eaten away at him that Standish
was a part of it. Standish was dirty and soon everyone would know that, and
he would be vindicated.
"Do you usually allow your men to sleep during duty hours?" Balsam sneered,
looking down at Buck who rolled over putting his back to the room.
"He's not feeling well," Vin answered.
"Yeah, we think it was something he drank," Nathan ominously stated.
Balsam stiffened and turned quickly away from the sleeping agent. Vin stared
hard at the suddenly nervous IA agent. Balsam quickly composed himself and
looked back at Larabee.
"I knew I would be proven right," Balsam boasted.
"What are you talking about?" Chris tiredly sneered. He wasn't in the mood
"Standish is dirty, always has been," Balsam pompously stated. "I've been
waiting for this day for a very long time. I've known since Atlanta that
Standish was no good and couldn't be trusted." Balsam threw a scathing smile
over his shoulder to the other agents. "We'll be in touch." Balsam turned
"What the hell was that all about?" Vin asked, watching Balsam enter the
elevator a maniacal smile still on his face.
"JD, I want you to check on our Mr. Gavin Balsam," Chris stated. "See what
you can find out."
"How we going to find Ez?" Nathan asked.
Chris's gaze passed over a picture on the wall of the seven of them on a
fishing trip a couple months ago. His gaze froze on the small cabin in the
background. Chris smiled. "I think I might know where he went."
+ + + + + + +
As Balsam exited the elevator he opened his cell phone and punched in a number.
"What the hell happened? I don't want any excuses. Follow Larabee and when
you find the SOB, kill him." Balsam snapped off his phone and continued down
the street. Things were getting complicated. Balsam was surprised that Larabee
and his men were working so hard to prove Standish innocent. He wanted everyone
to see Standish's true colors. Why couldn't Larabee and his men see that
he was doing them a favor?
+ + + + + + +
Chris, Vin, Josiah, Nathan and a still groggy Buck met down in the garage
of the ATF building. "Okay, we'll take two vehicles and hope we can lose
any tail. We'll meet up at the cabin. If he's not there we'll have to think
of something else," Chris explained.
"Chris, I got something," JD announced as he joined them. The young read
from a piece of paper that he held in his hand. "Agent Gavin Balsam transferred
here from Atlanta three years ago."
"The same time I hired Ezra," Chris off-handedly remarked.
"He's been mostly on desk duty. I called his previous office in Atlanta and
someone was actually willing to talk to be, wouldn't give his name though.
Said that Balsam had been obsessed with his failure on the Standish case,"
JD explained. "Drove everyone nuts trying to dig up anything that would prove
Ezra guilty and a traitor."
"Shit," Buck muttered. Nathan maintained a hold on the wobbly man.
JD looked down at the paper he held and continued, "A report from his superiors
stated that Balsam voiced his disapproval at being pulled off the case. Balsam
said that Ezra was fooling everyone, but him, and Balsam told everyone that
one day he would prove that he was right and that Ezra was crooked."
Everyone was silent for a moment. "How far do you think this fellow would
go to prove he was right?" Vin asked.
Chris bit his lower lip. "Real far. Okay, Buck, Nathan you're with me." Chris
paused and looked at his long time friend who stood unsteadily with Nathan's
help. "Buck, you sure you're up for this?"
Buck pulled his arm away from Nathan. "I'm not going to let Ezra down. I'm
Chris understood Buck's determination. He suspected they all felt a little
guilty. "Okay, but Nathan, you stay close to him."
"Like a Siamese twin," Nathan replied.
"You three go in the opposite direction and we'll all meet at the cabin."
+ + + + + + +
Chris, Nathan and Buck finally made it to the cabin up in Evergreen that
sat not to far from a scenic lake. Chris had taken back roads and even a
fire road, hoping to lose any tail. Buck was becoming a little more coherent
having hung his head out the window and breathing in the fresh air.
When they neared the solitary cabin there was no immediate sign that anyone
had been around, and Chris's heart started to grow heavy. What if he was
wrong? What if they never found Ezra?
"Over there!" Buck pointed out the window at the suburban parked alongside
the cabin. "Isn't that Josiah's truck?"
The three agents exited the SUV and cautiously approached the truck. Nathan
peered into the driver's window and swore as he yanked the car door open.
"Awww hell, Ezra can you hear me," Nathan urgently yelled and slapped the
unconscious form on the cheek. Ezra was slumped down in the seat his face
pale and covered with sweat. Nathan checked his pulse finding it too weak.
"Let's get him inside."
Buck and Chris gently picked up the unconscious agent and carried him into
the cabin, they laid him on the small bed that sat against the wall. Nathan
carefully pulled away Ezra's blood soaked shirt and applied pressure to the
bleeding wound. He laid a hand on Ezra's forehead feeling the heat of a building
"Shit, he's burning up," Nathan voiced. "I need some water and the first
Buck stepped over to the sink and filled a metal pail with some water from
the tap. He set the water down next to Nathan then raced out to the truck
to get the first aid kit.
"Is he going to be alright?" Chris asked.
"He's running a high fever and it looks like he's broke open his wound and
lost some more blood. Damn fool never should of left the hospital."
"He got scared, probably thought there was no other way," Chris murmured.
Chris kicked himself. He should have seen it, should of assured Ezra that
everything would be alright that they believed him.
Buck returned with the first aid kit just as the sound of tires got everyone's
attention. Chris's first thought was that it was just the others until Buck
glanced over his shoulder out the door and shook his head. A black Tahoe
pulled up several feet away from the cabin and three men wearing ski masks
exited the cab of the truck. All three men were armed with semi-automatics.
"You, in the cabin! Here's the deal. You all leave, except Standish," a loud
booming voice declared.
"We ain't leaving him," Buck called out, removing his revolver and checking
how many rounds he had.
"Hey, we're saving the state from a lengthy and expensive trial. Just walk
away and you can say you found him dead. Just say his cohorts probably did
him in. It's what a traitor deserves."
Chris couldn't believe this. Did these men actually believe they would just
walk away and let them kill Ezra? Yeah they probably did. It was no secret
that Ezra was the black sheep of the team, but he was still a part of their
family, and Chris knew he and the others would protect him with their lives.
"Now here's my deal," Chris yelled out, pulling out his own gun. "Drop your
weapons and lay face down on the ground."
The three men came together for a moment then spread out, taking cover behind
the truck and a couple trees.
"Shit, Nathan, get Ezra on the floor," Chris commanded.
The ex-medic gently gathered up the limp undercover agent and eased him onto
the floor at the same time that the cabin was riddled with gunfire. Nathan
covered Ezra's body with his own, knowing another injury would not do the
southerner any good, not that it would be wonderful for him either.
Chris and Buck returned fire then flattened themselves on the floor as another
barrage of bullets entered the cabin. They could feel bits of wood rain down
on them as bullets chipped away at the small cabin. The small shelter was
definitely not meant for this kind of abuse.
Suddenly the sound of a siren and shooting caused the gun fire to stop and
then be redirected. Chris and Buck slowly stood up to see Vin and the others
chasing after one of the gunmen with their SUV. Buck rushed outside when
he saw one of the gunmen trying to make a break for the woods. Chris dove
out the door and tackled a third, landing his fist into the man's jaw.
The battle was over quickly, the three shooters knowing they were outnumbered
Wilmington broke from the woods directing his captive forward with his gun.
He shoved the handcuffed man toward the cabin where Vin was handcuffing the
other would be assassins, who were sitting on the ground. Buck tried to tear
off the mask of his captive only to have the man jerk away. Buck was in no
mood and quickly planted a fist into the shooter's stomach, making him more
"Ohmygosh, look at him," Buck exclaimed as he tore off the ski mask. "He
could be Ezra's twin brother." All six of the agents stared in disbelief
at the man who looked exactly like Ezra.
"Dear Lord, there can't be two of them in this world," Josiah quipped with
a smile on his face.
Nathan stepped up and grabbed hold of the man's chin, pushing his face to
the side. Nathan ran a finger down a small scar that ran along the man's
jaw. "Plastic surgery."
"Man, someone wanted Ezra bad," Vin stated.
"Yeah, and I wonder who that someone is," Chris sneered as he raised his
gun and put it under the gunman's chin. "Who hired you?"
Ezra's twin remained silent. He had been paid a lot of money to do this and
he even got a new face in the bargain.
Chris cocked his gun. "You know, we can just say we found all of you dead,
some disagreement between friends."
The gunman's eyes went wide as he realized that the darkly dressed agent
had no qualms about shooting him.
"Gavin Balsam! He hired us, set the whole thing up," the gunman admitted.
Buck leaned over toward the shooter who looked like Ezra. "You know, pard,
with that pretty new face of yours, you're going to be real popular in prison."
The agents all laughed as the man's face paled at the realization.
+ + + + + + +
"Hey Ez, up for visitors?" Buck asked from around the door.
"Of course, Mr. Wilmington." Ezra grimaced as he pushed himself up in the
Everyone piled into the room with presents in hand, causing Ezra's eyes to
widen and water slightly.
"So, how you feeling, pard?" Vin asked.
"Much better, especially since my name has now been cleared."
"I still can't believe it. That Balsam sure had it bad for you," Buck quipped.
"In a manner of speaking," Ezra hesitantly replied. "The man hated to admit
that he might have been wrong about me."
"Well, he'll have a long time to rethink it in jail," Chris said.
"Oh, and who was the gentleman that was lucky enough to look like me?" Ezra
"His name was Kip Richmond, who Balsam had arrested back in Atlanta for a
misdemeanor gun charge. He paid the man twenty thousand dollars and convinced
him to have surgery to look like you," Nathan explained.
"Well, it probably didn't take much convincing," Ezra haughtily quipped.
"Yeah, but Balsam had to pay him to look completely like you," Buck pointed
out. "I mean, no one would want to look like you for free. Now me on the
other hand." Buck held up his chin, ignoring the moans from his friends.
"You're right Mr. Wilmington, it would take going under the knife to look
like you," Ezra remarked.
Buck's posturing fell at Ezra's snide remark. Chris slapped a hand on his
friend's back. "Don't worry Buck, we like you just the way you are." Everyone
"What the hell is that suppose to mean?" Buck angrily asked.