The situation between mother and son had never been quite the same again. It was as if Maude finally acknowledge the man that Ezra was becoming and accepted that he would no longer need her like he did once. She continued to offer him diversions from his education throughout his final years in school and Ezra continued to rebuff them.
Ezra flipped to the next page of the scrapbook, finding two photographs of him posing with Thomas Miller outside his office complex. Next to them was a cream colored envelope that he gently lifted open. He ran his fingers lightly across the funeral card from Thomas Miller's service, thinking how much his life had changed because of his mentor.
It was the beginning of his final term of his undergraduate studies when his life changed forever yet again. Ezra had planned on going back to South Carolina for the summer and stay with Aunt Grace while he worked for Thomas Miller before returning to grad school for his MBA. Ezra had just completed his fencing drill when he turned to see two men in dark suits approach him.
"Ezra Standish?" asked the taller of the two.
"Yes?" answered Ezra hesitantly. His mind began to whirl off the possibilities as to why these two strangers were here asking for him. What trouble had his mother gotten herself into now? To give himself time to try to calm his pounding heart, he deliberately turned to the side and carefully he put his sabre in its case.
"FBI. We'd like you to come with us." The man flashed a badge at the southerner.
"Is there a problem, gentlemen?" stalled Ezra. He really didn't want to go with these men but, if this did involve Maude, he didn't need his mother's dirty laundry aired all over campus. Ezra scowled when the shorter of the two agents started to look through his equipment bag uninvited.
"What do you think you are doing?" he asked angrily.
"We'll ask the questions here," snapped the nosy agent.
"Then ask," said Ezra putting his hand on top of the bag the man was rifling through. "I do believe that I have certain rights and one of them is the right to privacy."
"You have no idea who you are dealing with here, kid," sneered the shorter agent, rising from looking through the bag. He grabbed the leather handles and tossed the bag to his partner without taking his eyes off of the young man. "You need to come with us."
Ezra knew that he couldnt stall the inevitable any longer but couldnt help himself from getting in one more jab. "And why, pray tell, do I need to go anywhere with you two gentlemen?"
The other agent had been standing to the side watching the interplay between the two adversaries quietly. He moved forward and held out the bag to the rattled student. "Mr. Standish. We need to speak with you and I think that it would be more comfortable for you if we didnt continue this here."
Taking a moment to glance around and find that a couple of his fencing opponents were taking a particular interest in this unexpected spectacle. He straightened the bottom of his jacket and picked up his sabre casing before acknowledging the two federal agents. "Shall we?"
Ezra had no idea what was going on but had decided after a quick review of his situation that it was best to go quietly until he got a better handle on things. He soon found himself sitting alone in a borrowed interview room at the local police station. It had been more than an hour since he had been deposited in this room. He was tired, hungry, thirsty, and uncomfortable. He was certain that they had had the air conditioning turned off since it was so unbearably warm in the room, making the air stagnant. He was still in his fencing uniform since he refused to give an inch and remove his heavy jacket.
A breath of fresh air caressed his face as the door was thrown open and a new person he had not yet seen entered. The man was silver-haired, average height and had a good build considering his age. The second thing that Ezra mentally noted was the fact that he was impeccably groomed. There was an air of authority that radiated from the agent, causing Ezra to sit up even straighter in his chair.
"Why is it so hot in this room? Do something about it. Now!" He ordered. "I told you to bring him in for questioning, not to treat him like a prisoner of war." The short man, who had antagonized him relentlessly during the short trip to the station, moved quickly to the corner of the room and flipped the switch on the thermostat. "Get him some water, and damn it, open a window. It's hotter than hell in here."
Ezra watched the man warily as he sat down across the table from him. The older man slid his own jacket off before making eye contact. "Ezra Standish?"
"Yes. That has already been established with these other two men. Why am I being held here?" asked Ezra, his last shred of patience had long since disappeared.
"I'm Agent Fletcher North. The two agents you have already become acquainted with are Agents McClintock and Beebee." A slight curl came to North's lips as he saw Standish unable to keep the glint of humor from his eyes. "Ah, you're a better man than me, Standish. I laughed out loud the first time I heard his name." Beebee grimaced, but stayed back against the wall, out of the conversation.
"I apologize for the way you were treated. It wasn't my intention." He observed the odd white uniform the young man was wearing. The material looked heavy and hot. With the heat of the room, the young man had to be cooking inside that suit. "Do you fence?"
The smirk on Ezra's face told him how stupid his question was, but he had to hand it to the young man, he hadn't pounced on the opportunity to mock him. North smiled. "I'm sure you don't want anymore small talk. Do you want to take that jacket off? Get more comfortable?"
Ezra was longing to take off the jacket of his uniform, but it was not proper for a gentleman to do so in public. Ezra rolled the agent's intentions through his mind. If they were playing 'Good Cop - Bad Cop' it was a little too obvious. Why was the man trying to make him comfortable? What did he want? "I'm fine," drawled the Southerner as a small bead of sweat made its way down the collar of his uniform. "Again, I must insist as to why am I here?"
The agent took a deep breath and dove into the heart of the matter. "Mr. Standish, do you know a Thomas Miller?"
Ezra looked up, startled. He had expected this to be about his mother. "Yes, I do," he answered honestly.
"What is the nature of your relationship with Mr. Miller?" asked the gray-haired man.
"He was my business mentor throughout high school. I've interned at his office every summer since high school and plan to work for him again this summer." Ezra left out the fact that Thomas was investing money for him since he felt that the FBI didn't need to know that bit of information.
"When is the last time you had contact with Mr. Miller?" agent North asked.
Ezra was starting to get a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. Something major was going on here. Something big enough to involve the FBI but he couldnt begin to guess what it was or how it involved him. It couldn't be Thomas's financial dealings. The man was above reproach. Even if he weren't, that would be the Department of Treasury or the Securities and Exchange Commission matter, not a FBI matter.
"I had a letter from him last week."
"No other contact?" prodded North.
"No," answered Ezra. "I was supposed to phone him this Friday and talk about our arrangements for the summer."
Agent Beebee snorted from the corner of the room, drawing both men's attention to him. Ezra's eyes flicked from Beebee to North, trying to gauge what the real story was behind all the niceties. "Excuse me gentlemen, but what is this all about?" asked the southerner.
The younger man laughed. "Here we go with the 'I'm innocent' crap. Look buddy, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. We know who your mother is."
"Jack! Shut up!" warned the gray-haired agent.
"What has my mother got to do with this?" Ezra turned his full attention to Agent North. Beebee was going to be of no help. "Why do you want to know about my relationship with Thomas? Has something happened?"
The older agent turned back to Ezra and stared at him for a moment before speaking. "Thomas Miller is dead." He watched closely to gauge the young man's response. The southerner went pale, then leaned back in the chair, his mouth open in shock.
"Dead?" he whispered. Thomas Miller couldn't be dead. The man was his mentor, the one man who had truly cared about him in a lifetime of shuffling from place to place. Agent North must have asked him another question, but Ezra could only hear the words "Thomas Miller is dead" ringing in his ears. For someone who had been trained from day one to never show his emotions, Ezra was failing miserably. Thomas was dead. The man who had got him started on the road toward independence. The man who had gone far beyond the call of duty in showing a kid the ropes of his business was dead. His teacher. His mentor. His friend. The first man he had ever learned to trust and respect.
"Mr. Standish?" said North.
"Dead?" Ezra repeated, shaking his head in disbelief.
Fletcher North was a good judge of character. He was not one to jump to conclusions about anyone. He refused to assume that because this young man's mother was a con woman, that Standish would be one by simply being her son. As he watched the young man before him trying to grasp that his friend was gone, trying to pull together his protective exterior, he knew without a doubt that Standish was not the man they were seeking. He watched the young man compose himself and voice what was on his mind.
"How? What happened?"
"He was kidnapped last week from the parking garage at his office building." Fletcher still watched Ezra closely. "Held for ransom."
Ezra swallowed hard and licked his lips.
"The family made the drop as instructed but the deal went bad," said North.
"And you think I had something to do with it?" asked Ezra, appalled at the thought.
"You have motive," snarled Beebee.
"Shut up, Jack," snapped North.
"What motive could I possibly have?" asked Ezra in amazement. "Thomas Miller was my friend. He was teaching me "
"He left a pretty nice size trust in your name," Beebee interrupted.
"Excuse me?" Ezra felt as if he were in the middle of a whirlwind and couldn't find anything to hold on to. "Thomas made investments for me with my guardian's approval. There was no trust fund."
"Yeah, right," said Beebee.
"Jack?" Agent North waited until the annoying little man turned to look at him. "Get the hell out." Beebee glared at the older agent, but complied, slamming the door on his way out.
"There was no trust fund," insisted Ezra. He clasped his hands in front of him tightly, trying to bring himself back by concentrating on the pressure he felt in his fingers.
"I believe you believe that, Mr. Standish, but the fact remains that there is a trust fund in your name."
"Why? Why would Thomas do that?" Ezra brokenly whispered, staring at the tabletop. " I was just a kid he picked up in community service."
North smiled at Ezra's confusion and knew with even more certainty that his initial take on Standish had been correct. "Maybe he saw the same thing I see. He saw a young man with a lot of potential who just needed a little push in the right direction."
Ezra stared into Fletchers kind eyes and glared. "You don't know me." His burgeoning anger was the only defense he could grab onto. He needed it to survive this hell he found himself thrust into.
As quickly as the anger sprung up, it flowed away. Ezra sadly shook his head before answering. "It's not worth telling." He rubbed his face with his hands. "When did this happen?"
"We found the body we found Mr. Miller two days ago."
"I've been in class all week and working every evening. My employer will vouch for me," said Ezra flatly.
"There won't be a need. I had a feeling we were barking up the wrong tree."
Ezra shook himself mentally and forced himself to deal with the reality that was thrust upon him. "Has there been a funeral?"
The agent shook his head. "I believe it is scheduled for tomorrow."
"Am I under arrest?"
"May I go?"
North nodded. Ezra started to get up, but sat back down and leaned forward toward agent North. "Do you have other suspects?"
North nodded again.
"Would you keep me apprised of your progress?" The question was calm and genteel. The words that followed were not. "I want the bastard who did this to pay."
"So do I, Mr. Standish." He handed Ezra his business card and stood. "I take it you're heading for South Carolina?" Ezra nodded. "How soon can you be ready?"
The young man stopped and stared at the agent in confusion. "An hour," Ezra replied automatically as he stood.
"It's a long drive, but I'm offering you a ride. I'm sure airfares will be astronomical at this short notice."
Ezra appraised North's motives. The man seemed genuine, and truth be told, he didn't have extra money to spend on airfare but he needed to be there for Thomas. Figuring that he had better accept the offer, he only hesitated when he asked, "Will Beebee be there?"
North laughed. "Hell, no. Beebee is a pain in the ass. He will be riding back with Agent McClintock, poor man." At Ezra's smile, he added, "Shall we?"
The two men exchanged small bits of their lives during the drive to South Carolina and parted ways after a handshake in front of Aunt Graces dark house in the early hours of the next day. The funeral had been an excruciating event but Ezra was pleased that he had made the effort to be there. Thomas wife took a few extra minutes that day to be sure and let the grieving young man know just how much he meant to her husband. Upon his return to Yale, Ezra stayed in contact with FBI Agent Fletcher North, calling him weekly during the investigation of Thomas Miller's murder. They met for coffee when Ezra visited South Carolina to deal with the paperwork for the trust fund and, later, for the trial. As was natural, after the conclusion of the case, they lost contact as both men moved on with their lives.
The loss of Thomas Miller had certainly been unexpected, but Ezra never dreamed how the chance meeting with Agent Fletcher North would change his future. As the southerner continued his trip through the scrapbook he perused the program from his graduation.
With his plans changed drastically for that summer because of Thomas's unexpected death, Ezra continued working for the restaurant and picked up an extra class. He struggled with his plans for the future. Thomas had done everything right. He had all the education, planning, and business moves but, because of his wealth, one mans greed had cost him his life. When he found himself considering leaving school and follow in his mothers footsteps, the memory of Thomas and FBI Agent Fletcher Norths kind words stopped him. North could not have known how his belief in him would encourage Ezra to continue his education, making him pour himself into his schoolwork even deeper.
As Spring rolled around so did the annual job fair that Yale sponsored. Ezra found himself browsing through the booths looking for good potential employment. With Thomas murder, he had lost his future with Thomas's company. As he started down the third aisle, he was focused on listings, not really looking at names of companies when he heard his name. Looking up at the man behind the table, he found himself face to face with Fletcher North. They grinned at one another and shook hands. After briefly asking how the others family was, he allowed Fletcher to give him the FBI recruitment spiel and slowly the interest began to build. The little boy who treasured the secret agent spy kit so many years ago surged within him. Secretly, he had always wanted to be James Bond and, after having seen Fletcher North in action, the seed was planted. Fletcher wasn't really a 'secret agent', but the FBI offered many possibilities. The death of his mentor had struck hard, causing the young man to look at other ways to make use of his skills. He had toyed with the idea many times before and after listening to Fletchers impassioned speech, he began to believe again that maybe his skills could be used for more than making money. Ezra took the application and slipped it into his notebook with care before promising Fletcher he would give it serious consideration.
The final weeks were filled with extra shifts at the restaurant and studying notes for the last finals he would ever have to take before graduation. The application was forgotten, shuffled to the bottom of his desk drawer along with other business cards he had collected that day at the job fair.
Ezra reached over and took a sip of his cold coffee before looking at what the next page had in store for him. Aunt Grace's bus ticket. Ezra laughed. She really had saved everything. He remembered how lonely he felt as his graduation approached and how surprised he had been.
Graduation and decision time came far too quickly for the southerner. As time for the ceremony came, Ezra had not even entertained the notion that his mother would be able to spare the time to attend. She hadnt even wanted him here and based on the fact that she had never made it to any other important event in his life, unless it suited her needs, he was accepting of the fact she would miss this momentous occasion as well. Thomas, of course, could not be here, nor would Aunt Grace. She had been ill recently and Ezra couldn't ask her to make the trip. Ezra stood back from the crowds of people, watching his fellow classmates as they interacted with their visiting families and part of him wished he had family there with him.
"Hey, Standish," called one of his classmates. "Someone's looking for you."
Ezra stood on his tiptoes trying to see over the crowd of classmates as a little boy's hope rose within him. Maybe his announcement had found its way to his mother and she had come after all. Slowly people made way and through the crowd a petite gray-haired lady came into his view. "Auntie Grace!" Grace threw her arms around her Sweetie and he kissed her on the forehead. He let his slight disappointment slip away as he returned her loving embrace. "I didn't think you could come."
"Oh Ezra. I couldn't miss this for the world. It's far too important." She dabbed her eyes with a starched white linen handkerchief. "I am so proud of you, Sweetie."
As Ezra walked her over to an empty seat, he queried how she had come and found that she had taken the bus. For the first time ever, he truly realized that Aunt Grace didn't have a lot of money. Regardless of that fact, she had come to see him graduate.
After all the festivities were finally complete, he canceled her hotel reservation and cashed in her return trip bus ticket, insisting that she stay with him in his room. Not hearing any of her objections, he saw that she was comfortably tucked into the twin bed before he curled up to sleep in the nearby chair. After arranging for shipment of his books and some miscellaneous things the next morning, they took a cab to the airport and flew home to South Carolina.
Ezra turned another page in the scrapbook and smiled wryly at the memories it brought.
There were yellowed clippings from the school newspaper about the fencing team and the debate team and how he excelled at both. He studied the photos of his graduation. Pausing to look even closer at the one picture of the two of them together out in front of the auditorium at Yale. He flipped another page to find a postcard from the ill-fated cruise in the Greek Isles he took that summer. What a fiasco that had been.
Ezra stayed with Grace for a few weeks until the airline ticket and the demand for his presence at his mother's latest nuptials arrived at Grace's house. Ezra made the trip to Italy without much emotion. He hadnt seen his mother since her ill-fated visit to the restaurant and he was looking forward to visiting with her. Besides, Italy was nice this time of year. His mother, of course, had her own plans for his future. After a brief honeymoon, she arranged for Ezra to join the newlyweds on a cruise of the Greek Isles. She told Ezra it was a business trip with a contact that her new husband was courting. She said it would be a good opportunity for Ezra to make some contacts as well.
Late on the last afternoon aboard after his Mother attempted to involve him in her latest scheme, Ezra had found himself leaning over the railing, staring at the churning water but not really seeing the beauty around him. Lost in thought, he shook his head at his own naiveté. He had been duped again by the one person he should have known by now never to take at face value. The one lesson his mother pounded into him over and over was to never trust anyone. People always had an ulterior motive. For the most part, he had found that to be true and kept people at arms length, but applying this lesson when dealing with his mother was his failing point. Hard as he tried to distance himself, he always hoped that this time it would be different. She had once again twisted the facts and tried to use him in her newest scheme. As he watched the sun setting, casting its glow over the waters below, he decided what he wanted to do. What he had to do.
He had jumped ship at the first available port and he now stood in line at the airline ticket counter trying to decide where to go. He grimaced at the realization that he really had no home of his own to go to. College was over and he had given up his room there. His mother never stayed anywhere long enough to make it a place to return to. The only place that came to mind when he thought of the word home was Aunt Grace's. He just wasnt sure if that was where he should go, regardless to how much he wanted to go there.
As he wrestled with the problem of what his final destination would be, his mind floated back over the last few weeks. He should have known better than to take his mother at her word. She had told the truth about there being a business deal at stake but she had left out one tiny detail. It had turned out that he was to be part of the business deal. How could he have known that when he had foolishly consented to the blind date that was so artfully suggested to him? Ezra had thought that he could actually relax and enjoy the cruise. He truly believed that his mother would respect his wishes and leave him out of her schemes. He was having such a good time with Maude and her new husband. When Maude had asked him to escort a young lady to dinner while the others stayed behind to put the finishing touches on the deal, he saw no reason to decline. Besides, how could one little date hurt? A good meal, some wine and a pretty lady on his arm was a great way to finish off his tour of the islands.
'How could I be so stupid?'
The young lady turned out to be the daughter of the businessman his new stepfather was pursuing for a business deal. The girl was barely eighteen, and while she was pretty, all she could do was talk about herself and their future together. He sat at the table in shock, unable to speak, even if she had allowed him the chance. He learned quite a number of things about her family. The most important fact being that her father was old-school European and arranged marriages were a common occurrence in their family. Somehow, Maude had thrown Ezra in to bind the business deal - a marriage to seal the merger. The girl had hung all over Ezra the entire date, which he hastened to an early end, retreating to his cabin with a pounding headache. It had taken him only moments to make his decision. While the marriage could have been lucrative, he found he would never be able to follow in his mother's footsteps. He would not be a kept man. Ezra managed to dodge his mother and his future bride that next day by pleading ill health stemming from the headache the night before. When they reached port, he left the ship leaving word with a steward to tell his mother he was returning to the States.
He shook himself out of his memories when he heard the call from the counter ahead of him. "Next, please!" He could tell the ticket agent was getting impatient with him, as were the travelers in line behind him. Thinking of the only place that he ever felt safe, he made his decision. "Charleston, South Carolina, please." Ezra smiled as he handed over the credit card and his passport. He was not looking forward to the long flight ahead of him but he was happily anticipating seeing Aunt Grace.
Ezra shook his head in wonder. This lovingly prepared book contained almost his entire life. He looked at the acceptance notification from the FBI, and a photocopy of a wrinkled application form, remembering how that horrible summer ended.
During the long flight to South Carolina after leaving the cruise and his bride-to-be, Ezra contemplated his future. He was now certain his mother's life was not for him. He had felt that way for a long time, but he was now at the point where he had to decide what he would do if he didn't follow her path. His dreams of working with Thomas Miller had disappeared with his mentor's tragic death. He knew he could get a job with another investment firm, but the loss of Thomas had soured him towards that pursuit. What was the point of making a killing financially if all your reward was losing your life at the hands of some greedy maniac who wanted it all for himself?
He shook his head and looked out the window of the plane as the war continued within. Money wasn't really the major issue since he knew that no matter what he did he had a safe nest egg to fall back on thanks to Thomas Millers smart investments and generous trust fund. All things considered, he liked living well and money was vital to sustain the lifestyle he enjoyed. All he had to do was figure out what career would allow him to enjoy the lifestyles he liked to indulge in while challenging himself.
When he had cleaned out his desk at Yale he had stuffed all of the loose employment brochures and cards into his notebook without really going through them. In order to make good use of his forced confinement in the air, he found himself sorting through the various documents and making piles. One for consideration and the other for recycling. He stopped for a moment when he came to the folded sheet of paper, remembering where it was from. He opened it and looked at the battered application before him. What was it that intrigued him about the FBI? He laughed quietly to himself. 'It certainly isn't the money.' Fletcher North's recruitment spiel rolled through his mind again. He could utilize his business skills, his languages, and his ability to blend in to any situation to serve his country and to put criminals behind bars. He wasn't big on the patriotism aspect, but tracking down criminals and outsmarting them intrigued him. The little boy who loved the spy kit made him smile. He pulled out his pen and began to fill out the application. It would be the only document he filled out the entire flight.
After the long flight and short taxi ride to the suburbs and he found himself once again being welcomed into the warm house by his Aunt Grace. He dropped his bags in the hallway and sank into the petite womans arms with a tired smile. He was home once again.
Grace was thrilled to have Ezra back home, and they spent several evenings discussing his future. She wasn't happy with his choice to ignore his mother's calls and letters, but recognized that Ezra was a man now. He had to make his own choices and live with the results from now on. All she could do was offer her own advice and be there to offer her support when and if he needed it.
Less than a week after Ezra returned so suddenly Grace found herself looking at the papers spread on the kitchen table before her as she waited for Ezra to come home from the library. She was never a person who would pry into someone elses business but she had tripped across these documents quite by accident when she had gathered up their clothes to take to the dry cleaners. The papers had been folded in the jacket pocket he had been wearing when he came home that night. Curiosity had overcome any sense of privacy and she looked at them to see if they were something important. In all their discussions about his future choices, he had not mentioned the FBI as a potential career, but she could see that if he was serious enough about it to fill out the application, even if he had not mailed it, this was something he should pursue.
Ezra walked into the kitchen carrying several cartons of Chinese food and kissed Grace on the cheek. "I brought dinner." He smiled that dimpled smile which faded too soon as he saw the papers on the table.
"I cleaned out your pockets before I took the suit to the cleaners," Grace explained without being asked.
"It's a whim, Auntie Grace," said Ezra as he sat down and pulled the papers into a stack and folded them. Grace laid her hand gently over his.
"You were serious enough to fill out the papers." Grace watched her great-nephew. He was so good at hiding his feelings, but she could see the spark in his eyes. Ezra wanted to do this but couldn't find an excuse that would allow him to try. "Why don't you let me mail it with your other applications?"
Ezra looked into her steady gaze and smiled before pushing the folded papers toward her. "I probably won't get in anyway." He knew it was a lie. Fletcher North had told him the FBI was hungry for people with his education and skills. International Business had been a good choice for his studies.
Five days later Ezra had a phone call from the FBI. His application had been received and he was scheduled to participate in the training class that was scheduled to start in two weeks. Grace shared his excitement about the possibilities though she regretted Ezra leaving again. She had come to greatly enjoy his times with her and didn't relish being alone once more. All too soon, Ezra found himself standing on the front porch once again hugging Aunt Grace good-bye while a yellow-top waited at the curb.
Eager to see what was on the next page, he flipped it over to find what he had guessed would be there. Yes, there was the picture of his class graduation from the Bureau. Another of him and John Hammill, his first partner. It had been a long time since he had thought about John. That picture sure brought back memories.
Ezra had breezed through FBI training with high scores in nearly everything. The only area that he was really lacking in was the same thing he had never mastered on any of his report cards since he was a young child: "Doesn't play well with others." Ezra was not a team player. It was so deeply ingrained within him from his earliest memory to not trust anyone that he didnt understand the concept of teamwork. This translated to the instructors of his tendency to being a loner.
For his first year and a half with the FBI, he was partnered with a well-seasoned agent, John Hammill. John had a little over a year before retirement. Hammill was a good agent and had trained Ezra well. Ezra respected the man even though he wouldn't allow himself to fully trust the senior agent. When John finally retired, he had recommended that Ezra would make a good undercover agent. He recognized that despite his obvious intelligence and abilities, the young agent was more suited for individual work than teamwork. The higher ups took John's recommendation and snapped Ezra up for deep cover work overseas. His business knowledge and language skills made him a natural choice for international relations, but his finest talent lay in his ability to become whoever they needed him to be.
Those next few years were a whirlwind of activities for the young agent. Many times, he found himself flying without a net below him. He would spend weeks researching a potential suspect and then would enter that suspects world for weeks or even months at a time. During his periods undercover, he would have little to no contact with the outside world. He knew that this was a part of the job so he did what he had to do. He arranged with the one person he trusted to keep an eye on his obligations back home.
The next page puzzled Ezra. It looked like a form of some type with all the information blacked out with a marker. He turned to the backside of the page and found Grace's handwriting, which read, "The missing years when they hid you from me." He sighed and knew it was true. When he was in deep cover with the FBI he had had no contact at all with Grace except through Fletcher North when it was urgent.
The rest of the book was a smattering of pictures and letters, including photos of Ezra's condo in Denver Grace's "home" at the assisted living facility and of Team 7 after a victorious fishing trip.
The last page was a letter, lovingly written with a shaky hand. It was Grace's handwriting in her later years when the coordination was beginning to fail. He ran his fingers over the precious words. "The good and the bad. The happy and the sad. Always remember you are loved Sweetie."
Ezra closed the book, holding it tightly to his chest for a few moments before carefully placing it in the box. Glancing at the clock he realized with a start that he'd spent nearly and hour going through the scrapbook. If he were going to get things packed and get home, he'd have to limit these little forays down memory lane. He tucked the photo albums into the box unopened. He would look through them back home in Denver.
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