Travis stood before six men that comprised team Seven. His team, a private army if some whispers were to be believed. In truth....it seemed somewhat farfetched but not completely untrue. He controlled the Team, gave them their directions, their cases. Though they technically were apart of a bigger whole...Denver ATF which in turn was a section of Colorado ATF...and the assimilation's continued until it encompassed the whole US.
Locally though, they were Travis's Team. They answered to him, he answered to the bureaucrats. He shouldered their successes as well as their failures. He crested the tides that rocked the team as well as rode out the more tranquil times. It was said he held the reins to seven, ornery, mule headed SOB's that had respect for no one. In the end, Travis could not disagree. There was never a more unruly, undisciplined bunch in the state.
If one was to tell them to sit, a few would stand, a few would ignore you and a few would question the logic behind the request. Nothing easy existed when it came to Larabee's men. Nothing. Focused ,however, and they became a pack of hunters, working in tandem stalking, and dragging down their prey. When it came to the hunt no one did it as well as His Pack...Team Seven. Travis's men.
He stood before the men. Vin Tanner sucked on a Tootsie pop. A red one. The blue one had already been chewed and turned his tongue blue. The Judge knew this because the Sharpshooter turned and showed off his blue tongue to JD. Mr. Dunne, not to be out done, had already consumed a Hawaiian Punch drink and Doritos and retaliated Vin's actions by opening his mouth and displaying his half chewed food and brightly stained red tongue. Not to mention the red mustache that curved up at the corners of his mouth.
The closest thing to a mustache he'd probably get to, or so Buck remarked twirling the end of his dark bushy stash between forefinger and thumb. Josiah's rumbling laugh rolled across the table.
Travis closed his eyes and reminded himself that career day at Billy's third grade class tended to be a lot more subdued than a conference with this team.
Chris intervened, "Enough," The single word spoken in a soft whisper silenced the room like a police whistle.
Travis inclined his head in simple 'Thanks." The meeting continued.
Tuesday would be the day of the bust. "The buy". Would Standish be back on his feet? Nathan found the question directed at himself and nodded. The Southerner needed a few days to kick the effects of the anesthetic. Day surgery on their Undercover agent normally translated into a few days of lethargic malaise. He didn't tolerate drugs well. Sunday should see him back to his old satiric self.
Everyone groaned....even the Judge.
Blue prints materialized, files and folders spread out over the glossy table top and people climbed to their feet. It was time to hammer out the plan for Tuesday. They would fill in their Seventh on Monday.
The Judge nodded his approval. The clock hands pointed directly South and North. 6pm. It was time to go home to his wife. Though he would love to enjoy a quiet evening alone with Evie...they had a dinner engagement with the Governor. Though the two old war dogs were good friends...an afternoon with Chris and his men had left Orrin wishing he could back out of his evening plans. Evie would probably be thankful.
He nodded his farewells to the Team and headed for the elevators.
Whoops and Hollers marked his exit. It was Friday night and it seemed Team Seven won the nonexistent betting pools. There were many an ATF, DA, ahh heck just about the whole Federal building...owed them drinks at Inez's Saloon. Damn Standish couldn't just once do something to make Travis's life easier.
The Judge nearly took it as a personal insult but then figured it would only please the gambling agent even more. Exasperating.
JD and Buck folded Standish into Buck's old Chevy pickup. The ole girl didn't look like much, but she had it where it counted, or so Wilmington bragged. No one seemed inclined to disagree with him. That old Chevy could go places most mules would think twice of traversing. Under the paint mottled warped hood sat a pristine powerful engine that would have most one percenter's drooling over. Yeah, his truck didn't look like much and sounded worse...but if something needed doing that old Chevy would do the trick.
And women loved it.
The threesome pulled out of the Federal garage on the bumper of Chris's onyx extended cab '99 Dodge Ram. Vin's beat up jeep sliced its way between the two trucks forcing Buck to brake. Wilmington flipped the Sharpshooter off and Vin cupped a piece of his chest in return.
Buck roared with laughter.
Nathan and Josiah had already left planning on meeting them at the Saloon.
Buck took a quick peek at his passenger, " 'Ey Ez...how ya doin'?"
Standish sighed and leaned heavily against the window hoping his cheek would touch the glass.
"Could you just drop me at home?" The pinkish cotton crammed in the back of his mouth muted the garbled response.
"Yeah we will after Inez's...Heck Ez, cuz of you half the Feds in the state are buyin' us drinks," JD leaned forward and patted the coated shoulder of his drugged friend.
Buck laughed, hit his blinker and pulled into traffic. He was feeling lucky tonight.
It appeared to be standing room only at Inez's. Buck plowed a path through the crowd leading Standish by one arm. Chris brought up the rear. Vin and JD headed toward the bar to place their orders and have it put on Team 8's tab. They planned on working their way down the ATF numbers and then start on the DEA and DA's office. DEA agents...they knew how to have a good time.
Josiah and Nathan had commandeered their usual table. Sanchez slid in on his bench reaching up and guiding the Southerner down. Standish irritably shook the help off. He was not an invalid. He just wanted to go home.
"Yer mouth hurtin' ya Ezra?" Nathan practically had to holler over the voices in the bar. The pool area had people at every table and wannabe players leaning against walls nursing beers.
Standish rested his forehead in his left hand and gave Jackson an incredulous expression.
"Here take two of these...and no drinking," Nathan handed him twin moderately, small, white non-coated tablets.
Josiah raised an eyebrow when Standish swallowed them without complaint.
Buck moved off in search of the HR assistant director. She hailed from the Midwest like himself and she seemed sweet on him.
JD and Vin materialized through the crowd juggling trays of food and drinks. Inez followed on their heels. She circled around the back of the booth. Leaning over she whispered something into Standish's ear. He merely nodded. The bar manager then repeated her words to Larabee, "If he wants to lay down there is a cot in the back....he can stay there until you are ready to go."
Chris thanked her and then peered questionably at Standish. The man did look rough. Maybe he should have just driven him home and stayed with him until morning.
Ezra saw the inquiring gaze Larabee directed at him. Standish shook his head 'No' he did not want to lie down. Well yes he did...he wanted to go to bed and sleep this deplorable day away..not that he had not already done that but he felt sore, queasy and just all around uncomfortable. Sleeping in the back of Inez's saloon offered nothing more than to embarrass him.
Why couldn't the others just drop him off at his own place while they celebrated...whatever it was they felt needed celebrating, and leave him to his misery. Besides it was humiliating to be dragged around like baggage at an airport; couldn't be left unattended but somewhat burdensome. He kind of felt like a kid again, under his mother's tutelage when no relatives could relieve her of her motherly duties.
He sighed, leaned back in the both and tried to follow the conversations around him. Nothing quite made sense.
Buck stretched his arms and arched his back.
"Well boys I"m headin' home," the well built blonde standing by the bar flashed him a smile. They had a late dinner planned. Wilmington checked his watch....the all night cafe down the street made some good food. Besides Katie Jo was not much interested in food if Buck understood her correctly.
JD twisted his back around stretching. He sighed at a few audible pops. He had not heard from Casey all week so JD figured on sleeping off tonight's activities until late morning.
Vin's cell phone suddenly sounded. The Texan appeared slightly annoyed. His expression changed after he listened to the frantic voice that squeaked on the other end. He nodded without saying anything. The Sharpshooter pushed himself from the booth and stood up, "Yeah alright Carlos I'm on my way....just hang on...and stay out of sight I"m coming right now...no..no..I won't call the cops...just sit tight...ok I"m leavin' now," Vin caste a quick glance at Larabee.
Chris agreed, "I'm with ya Vin."
"Ok..Carlos I'm bringing a friend...No no he ain't a cop..well not technically..jist stay where ya are...I'm comin," Tanner hung up the phone and addressed the table, "some of the neighborhood kids got into it again tonight...some of'em are hurt." The Sharpshooter's apologetic gaze fell to Chris.
"Don't worry about it Vin," Larabee stood up and slid into his coat. "Can one of you guys take Ezra home and stay with'im?"
Josiah and Nathan both paused staring at one another. Sanchez planned on stopping by the mission. Nathan expected Rain in sometime tonight.
The exchange did not go unnoticed by Ezra. He sighed. Why wouldn't they just let him be on his own.
"I've got him Chris...I ain't doin' nuthin' with Casey tonight...and Buck's probably taking poor Katie Jo back to our place," Dunne shrugged.
"Thanks JD," Vin tossed the keys to his Jeep to JD.
"Come on Ez lets go," JD grabbed Standish by his upper arm and proceeded to haul him from the booth.
Ezra, irritated by the whole situation, shook his arm out of the grasp, "I am not an invalid, Mr. Dunne," except between the pain killers, the swelling, bruising and inordinate amount of cotton still jammed in his mouth, the only thing anyone understood was the caustic glare.
JD rolled his eyes. 'Oh great and he's gonna be a grump the rest of the night.'
Nathan seeing the reaction in Standish rolled the bottle of pain meds across the table to JD. Dunne snatched them up before Ezra's fumbling fingers could. Dunne smiled a thank you to Nathan.
"Brother if you have any problems, I"ll be at the Church."
Dunne simply nodded and shadowed Standish across the bar.
...I don't need no drugs to calm me...
JD screwed the lid back on the med bottle. Who the heck stops for Red lights at 12:33 am? Apparently the idiot in front of him. Heck back in Boston it was only red if someone was coming or if a Cop sat on the corner....or if a Dunkin Donut were near by...and then yes one of Boston's finest would be in the vicinity. As it were, JD was stuck at this fourth consecutive red light behind an irritatingly slow Toyota Camry. Worse yet, Ezra still mumbled incessantly about not needing a baby-sitter. Dunne out of self defense had given the Southerner a pain med. Maybe it would knock his complaining butt out and give JD some rest.
Dunne's phone rang.
"'Ey JD," Casey's voice rang clearly over the phone. JD furrowed his brow at the tone. Something was up.
"'Ey Case whatcha doin' up this time of night?"
"Thinkin' about ya...Aunt Nettie's gone and won't be back til Sunday...an' its kind of quiet up here alone."
JD felt his pulse quicken. "Ya want me to stop by tonight?"
There was a pregnant pause and finally a timid, "Yeah....If ya don't mind and got nuthin' else to do?" The young lady, fearing flat out refusal, offered him a back door should he want to back out of her invitation.
Was Casey inviting him to stay the night at her house?
"No I ain't doin' anything," JD's mind was racing. Heck he was only three blocks from Nathan's. Nathan wouldn't mind holding onto Ezra until the morning. "I'll be there in a half hour ok?"
Dunne could almost see her smile over the phone.
Nathan answered the door while he hastily arranged his clothes into some sort of passable appearance. He nearly slammed the door shut when he saw who stood on his door step.
"Dang JD what the heck are you doin' here?" Nathan stepped out onto the welcome mat and gently closed the door, "and with him....yer suppose to take 'im home."
"I know Nathan but somethin' came up and I gotta go. Here's his meds," JD slapped the pill bottle into Jackson's hand before the medic could refuse. Dunne was already running toward his small truck loudly whispering his thanks.
Nathan ground his teeth and shook his head in frustration and anger. They were not going to do this to him. Not tonight. He had not seen Rain in weeks and she would only be here until the morning.
Standish made to lean against the door frame.
"Oh no you don't, You ain't stayin' here," Jackson opened the front door to his little home. "Rain I've got to step out for a moment...I'll be right back." With that he shut the door and half dragged the Southerner toward his Jeep Cherokee. If Rain saw Ezra she would insist that they take him in and watch over him. Nathan had other plans for this evening.
With any luck, Buck would still be having dinner with his girl.
Buck Wilmington's head shot up in surprise when a pill bottle was slammed down onto the Formica table top. Plates of greasy eggs and soggy toast rested in front of the two occupants. Nathan tried to ignore the fried heart attacks waiting to happen and placed Standish at the head of the booth.
"I've got to get back to Rain," Jackson then pulled a JD and hit the door running before Buck could refuse. "Josiah's at the Church," he yelled back over his shoulder as he disappeared into the parking lot.
Wilmington smiled sweetly at his new girl and then up at the definitely unhappy but uncoordinated undercover agent.
"Not to worry Katie Jo, Josiah's Church is on the way to my place."
"Is he alright?" The young blonde stared up at the rumpled figure swaying at the head of their booth.
"Oh Ez? Yeah he's fine...jist tired is all...ain't that right Ez?"
"Home, Mr. Wilmington, please...." The cotton muffled the plea.
"Is he slow or something?" Her meaning coming across very clearly. The waitress behind the counter skewered her eyes. Her son had Down's and he was not Slow as other put it...
"Nah...that's just Ez," Buck stood up and dropped a few bills on the table to cover the tab. He scooped up the pain meds and grabbed Standish's arm.
Ezra wrenched it free.
Josiah looked over his shoulder to check for on coming traffic but at 1am there really wouldn't be any. He never saw the headlights that swerved from the on coming lane to careen right toward him. The headlights came to a stop just before hitting his beloved suburban.
He watched somewhat mystified if not a little weary as two people spilled from the vehicle.
"'Ey Josiah...sorry to bother ya but Ez needs to stay with you," Buck swung open the passenger door which groaned and complained. Twisted metal bent and gave as non-oiled hinges squeaked under protest.
Wilmington crammed the Southerner into the truck tossed the pill bottle to Sanchez and slammed the door shut.
Buck waved a thank you and disappeared behind the glare of his headlights. Josiah watched him drive away with a feeling of hopelessness.
At the low groan emanating beside him, Sanchez turned and faced his new charge, "Well Brother it looks like its you and me..." His phone rang.
Ezra dropped his head against the passenger side window. He just wanted to go home.
Josiah ran the suburban onto the sidewalk about a block away from the fire. Flames licked the night. The mission. The soup kitchen. Of all the lousy luck in this blasted world. Why this place? Why Lord? Why allow something as helpful as a homeless shelter and soup kitchen go up in flames? The red alternating flashing of lights lit the night.
"Sit tight Ezra I'll be back," Sanchez made to slide from the car. He recognized the muffled oath of disgust.
"Yer mouth botherin' ya...here take two of these," Josiah held out his hand, "now don't go fightin' me on this brother or I'll shove'em done yer throat...jist take the damn medicine," Sanchez could not believe the mission. The flames...it had to be a total loss. One could see the inferno two blocks away. Josiah watched as Ezra swallowed his pills.
"Open yer mouth."
Ezra complied the best he could....he just wanted to go home. The undercover agent watched the distant flames and thought them beautiful in a raw kind of way. Why there would be flames in the middle of a city he could not imagine but it made for a wonderful spectacle. He watched Josiah lumber toward the fire. Standish sighed.
If there was one thing his Mother had taught him, it was self reliance. Standish fumbled with the car handle.
It was time to go home. Ezra shoved open his door stumbled out and headed for home. He took the bottle of pills Josiah had left on the dash board. He'd be damned if someone shoved another one down him.
Judge Travis thought he were in Hell. It was 1:20am and he was still hobnobbing with political sharks. Orrin had better things to do than swim with cut throats.
Evie stood across the room and gave him a woeful smile.
Her evening gown stood out amongst the drab black wear of her younger counterparts. Mrs. Travis slid from person to person with a dignified grace. She met most with a sincere smile and those that she could fine no smile for she nodded pleasantly.
Evie Travis was a woman amongst women. She stood heads and shoulders above others even though her 5'5 frame kept her an average height. Everyone who met her liked her. Mrs. Travis a farm girl born and raised...had succeeded in raising a son and now a grandson. She stood by her husband's side. His sole supporter in his dark days of Law School.
With a wan smile Evie Travis tried to find strength to continue on with this boorish social party. Cigarette smoke hung in the air. The same drink she had been offered at their entrance long ago still graced her work worn hands. Long nails did not suit her garden and pleasure horse hobbies. It had taken nearly ten minutes of soaking her hands in soapy water to remove the dirt stains. Sometimes Orrin's profession landed them into some distasteful duties. Truth be told though she would do this again if he asked.
A commotion at the front of the small restaurant garnered her attention. Finally a distraction.
The Maitre'd was diligently trying to shove a poor soul out of the door. Whoever he pushed at gave no indication of being deterred. Instead a wallet materialized. The maitre'd recognized the pilfered item to be his own and momentarily released the man he so diligently tried to repel.
"Just need to use the phone," The words were garbled.
The accent unmistakable.
"Mr. Standish?" Mrs. Travis stepped forward. Sure enough the young man, with disgruntled hair, a shirt half untucked and his face swollen like chipmunk readying for winter was none other than Ezra Standish. One of her husband's men.
"He's with me," Evie Travis's disarming smile had the few gathering waiters backing off a couple of steps. She slid closer to the man obviously struggling to keep his feet. "Mr. Standish are you alright?"
"Attempting to get home...just need to call a cab," He mumbled softly. The last block had been agonizingly slow. It seemed the world rocked back and forth. His focus swam and his stomach rolled. If he could just hail a cab...but none had passed by. He would call for one at the next pay phone but found none. So a restaurant seemed like as good a place as any to call a cab.
Mrs. Travis gently guided the younger man into the room. The dim lights disguised some of the harsh bruising on his face.
Orrin turned his head instinctively toward his significant other. And found...Mr. Standish?
The Judge made polite excuses and crossed the floor to his beautiful wife of forty years.
"Mr. Standish what are you doing here?" The Judge couldn't keep the worry and anger out of his voice. What happened to the rest of the team?
"Now Orrin the poor boy is sick...he just wants to go home," Evie guided the agent toward a small bar table. She had known about the teeth and the concurrent wagering.
"Lets sit him over here," The Judge led them into a quiet corner and sat the befuddled agent down. "Ok Mr. Standish, where are the others?"
In his slow, methodical, heavy, Southern tones Ezra began to recount what he could of his evening.
Mrs. Travis did not know whether to laugh or cry. She caste a quick glance at her husband and found him fuming. His "Judge Roy Bean" face had slid into place. The Hanging Judge started dialing phone numbers on his digital phone.
Voicemail. Six different numbers...six different voice mails.
Mrs. Travis watched the building explosion and feared for the innocent bystander sitting with them. "We'll just take him home with us and straighten this out in the morning."
The Judge drew in a deep breath about to argue but stopped. His wife had that look....the same look she took whenever she found a stray cat or dog....if it weren't for Humane Societies the Judge feared his home would be over run by pets that needed families. The homlier....the harder she fell.
Standish appeared at his worst.
Shaking his head but silently agreeing with her, Judge Travis helped his wife haul the ATF agent to wobbly feet.
"Passage to my accommodations would suffice," The thick southern tones sounded pitiful around all that cotton.
"We're gonna get you there honey," Evie Travis mollified as she and her husband eased Standish out the door.
Judge Travis stared at his wife through the rear view mirror. She smiled sadly but reassuringly back at her husband. She lifted the coat Orrin had draped over the younger man, raising it slightly higher, covering Standish's shoulder. Evie watched as their passenger fought to keep his eyes open, but the hellacious day and late hour played havoc with his resolve.
Orrin shook his head as he guided his wife's silver SUV onto the highway and toward their modest home.
JD fell asleep laying beside Casey believing all was right in the world.
Nettie Wells guided her old, but trusty Ford pick-up down back roads figuring she would surprise her niece by being home for breakfast.
Chris Larabee cursed Vin Tanner for the umpteenth time that star lit morning, as he tried to stem the blood flowing from the gash in his own forearm. The sharpshooter held an icepack to his forehead and dried blood crusted his upper lip. Kids my ass.
Bottles and rocks....that's what these misguided kids used to settle disputes. Thankfully not guns and knives.
Chris sighed when an EMT, accompanied by a DPD officer, replaced the soaked compress with another.
Chris refused to go to the Emergency Room. Nathan could suture it.
Nathan Jackson pleaded with Rain, as he had been doing all night, trying to convince her that he did not abandon his teammate. He had left Ezra with Buck. Try as he might, Nathan could not appeal to Rain's more forgiving side in matters that dealt with helping her fellow human being. 'Buck and Ezra had to be just fine'... of course every time Nathan tried to contact either of them he only received VoiceMail requests. A wonderful romantic evening fizzled down the drain.
Jackson had every intention of strangling Standish and then JD.
Josiah coughed and gagged black goo from his lungs. His eyes watered terribly. He could still taste and smell the smoke. It invaded his clothing and pores, drenching him with its thick presence. An EMT held an Oxygen mask to his face but the large man brushed it away irritably. He was fine.
A firefighter patted him gratefully on the shoulder. A few nodded thanks and even a couple shook his hand. Sanchez had stormed into the collapsing burning building saving the life of a fireman.
Josiah only nodded, it was his duty to watch over his fellow man and help them when he could.
Orrin Travis sighed wearily as he slid between the crisp sheets of his bed. His wife had finally joined him. The sun would crest the horizon in just a few short hours. Two actually.
"Finally sleeping," Evie snuggled comfortably next to her husband resting her head on his shoulder. "Just dry heaves....probably a combination of the anesthetic, exhaustion and the pain medication....he should sleep ok for awhile."
The Judge nodded and cinched his wife tighter to his side. Their son Steven did not do well with anesthetic either. When he had had his four wisdom teeth removed the poor boy had been terribly ill, popped all his stitches as well. Just as Mr. Standish did this evening or morning.
Watching his wife sit on the bathroom floor beside the ATF agent, had brought some hauntingly familiar images to the Judge's tired mind. Though he wanted to impart to his wife that the man kneeling before their toilet did not need coddling....the Judge had stopped himself.
Evie missed their Steven...missed him terribly. If for one flash of time she could comfort another living soul in their house as she had her son, then who was the Judge to prevent it.
His wife held him close and closed her eyes. Gawd how she missed her baby.
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