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The Denver Trilogy ~ Part I

ATF/AU Universe
No Sexual Situations
No Violence


This story makes reference to events in my tale "You'll Never Work in Dis Bidness," and "How DID He Get That Car?" and "What Life is About" by Maria Mogavero, of whom I have asked and received permission to write in her wonderful ATF/AU construct.

With thanks and apologies to Walter Mirisch, John Watson, Trilogy Productions, CBS, Maria Mogavero, and Jimmy Buffett, and proceeding under the assumption that forgiveness is easier to ask than permission....

Made this stop for personal reasons
I didn't know I'd catch the changin' of the seasons
Where winter dictates everything from frost to naked trees
I'm about a mile high in Denver
Where the rock meets timberline
I've walked this ground from town to town
Just to finally call it mine



Only in his inner thoughts did Ezra ever refer to his mother as "The Whirlwind." But that's exactly what she was. Blowing into his life, stirring things up and blowing back out.

"How DID He Get That Car?" by Maria Mogavero


The red light was blinking on his phone as he stepped into his office. Ezra Standish sighed, set down his briefcase and cappuccino, settled into his chair, and stared at the phone with dismal anticipation. Whatever the message was, he didn't want to hear it.

Ezra already had enough to deal with, having struggled for two weeks to complete his report on the TDS operation. Ezra was never late with his paperwork, and Chris Larabee knew it. The young agent had felt Larabee's eyes on him, studying him carefully as the deadline passed and the report remained unsubmitted. The silent scrutiny troubled him; Ezra didn't like to think that his carefully constructed facade was suddenly so transparent to the taciturn team leader. But he was even more troubled by the bitter facts that he had to somehow organize into a clear narrative of the events leading up to the TDS bust.

TDS. Ezra had come up with several less than complementary acronyms for the initials of Titusville Diving and Salvage. The ATF team's undercover operation to bust the salvage company that specialized in smuggling and modern piracy had come dangerously close to disaster. Josiah's and Nathan's Boston Whaler had been sunk out from under them. Buck had taken the worst of a two-on-one fist fight that left him with three cracked ribs and a spectacular black eye, and JD had narrowly escaped injury in an underwater knife fight. Ezra himself had pulled Vin Tanner's near-lifeless body out of the water, then had to deal with the sight of Chris Larabee's anguished fury as the man watched his closest friend being taken off the dock in an ambulance, an oxygen mask over his face and a shallow but vicious knife wound slashed across his naked chest. After that, Ezra had decided that the closest he wanted to get to diving for at least a year was watching "The Abyss" on HBO, at home, alone, with a strong drink in his hand.

But there was still the damned report to write.

It didn't matter that the operation had been a success, shutting down one of the biggest sources of illegal guns in Florida. Nor did it matter that random chance, and not negligence or oversight on Ezra's part, had been proven at fault in the end. At least, it didn't matter to Ezra. The young agent remained focused on the fact that, by his own standards, he'd been a failure ... at fault because he'd been in charge, and things had gone wrong. The whole fiasco had come down to an exercise in self-doubt and a chilling reminder of how much he'd come to care about the men he worked with, leaving Ezra not only furious with himself, but scared out of his mind. It was a nasty mix that still burned Ezra's conscience, and his heart. And made him ask questions of himself that he'd been asking his entire life, and never yet found satisfactory answers to.

Ezra sighed, leaned over and hit the power button on his CPU, then popped the locks on his briefcase and pulled several thick file folders from it. The computer monitor came to life, accompanied by the melodious chime of the hard drive. Ezra logged on with his password, ohhell, and clicked the Eudora icon. The attachments containing the work he'd done at home the previous night and sent to himself at the work address were waiting in his e-mail box. He clicked the "TDS Final Report" and "TDS Notes" documents open, took a sip of his cappuccino, and only then reached for the phone and dialed into his voice mail.

"Welcome to the OfficeMate Voice Mail System, Extension 761. You have one new message."

"A small blessing," Ezra observed acidly.

"Would you like to listen to this message now?"


"Please remember, one for yes and two for no."

"Two," said Ezra out loud, pressed one, then reached for his coffee. His hand jerked reflexively at the voice that issued from the speaker, and he had to make a quick grab to keep the paper go-cup from spilling onto the carpet.

"Ezra, darlin'! Ah meant to call you at home last night, but it was so late and ah had such a terrible day, ah just wanted to climb into bed. Ah missed a connection at the airport yesterday and couldn't get another flight with a seat in first class until late this afternoon. But then ah thought, what a golden opportunity to see mah sweet little baby boy! Ah'll be in your office this mornin' and you can take me to lunch! See you soon, sugah!"

An electronic click, and the robot hostess returned.

"Would you like to review this message?"

"Two," Ezra said vehemently, pressing the button.

"Would you like to archive this message?"

"TWO!" he snapped, savagely punching the appropriate number.

"You have no further messages."

"Thank god," he whispered, and shut down the voice mail option on the phone. He lowered his head into his hands and closed his eyes.

Maude. His mother. The Whirlwind -- F5 class. She hadn't left the name of her hotel so he had no hope of preventing or escaping this visit. Ezra did not doubt for a moment that it had not been mere oversight on her part. Neither did he believe that Maude, who could force the planet to spin from west to east if it suited her, was unable to get a first-class seat with no notice on any flight she wished, had she so desired.

No. Maude was here on a mission. Ezra wondered vaguely, and not a little hopelessly, if any of his life would be left intact by the end of the day.


"Hey, Ezra, you got a visitor!" JD Dunne's excited voice caused Standish to jump reflexively for the second time that morning. He took a deep breath and peered around his computer terminal.

"Hello, darlin'!"

The hour of his doom was at hand. He faced it gracefully, like a gentleman, rising to his feet and straightening his tie and smiling.

"Hello, Mother," he replied.

She was dressed in a black Chanel suit, a Hermes scarf in a hunt print knotted casually over one shoulder. Her hair was in a perfect French coil, and her Blahkin shoes were neatly posed, heel to toe. Her smile was beautifully feral, and Ezra was reminded of a big cat that had recently killed and was preparing to feed.

Ezra identified completely with the "kill" part of the mental image.

"You're early, Mother," he noted, rounding his desk and approaching her. "It's only eleven."

She put her manicured hands lightly on his shoulders and kissed his cheek, and her fragrance evoked intense and deeply bittersweet memories going back thirty years. "Well, dear boy," she said, "ah was hopin' you might show me around!"

"And introduce you to the gentlemen he works with, I hope."

Josiah Sanchez slipped past JD, who was staring at Maude in utter fascination. "Close your mouth, JD," Josiah whispered audibly. "'Scuse the boy, ma'am," he said to Maude. "Allow me to introduce myself, Mrs. Standish. I'm Josiah Sanchez." He lifted her hand and brushed it with his lips. "I must say that your son has become a valued part of our little family. We'd all be more than pleased to meet his mother."

Maude laughed musically. "How gallant, Mr. Sanchez! But ah haven't been Mrs. Standish for some years now. You may call me Mrs. Von Hauken." She smiled, but her mouth was tight at the edges as she scanned the office with a critical eye. "Your 'family'? This office doesn't look particularly homey." Leaning forward, she picked up a silver picture frame from Ezra's desk and frowned critically at the image of Erte's "Alphabet." "Erte, Ezra darlin'? And a postcard, no less. A bit declasse, don't you think?"

"It was a gift."

"Ah see."

"I take it you're Ezra's ma," Vin Tanner said in his soft drawl. Ezra winced, hoping his coworker hadn't overheard Maude's condescending appraisal of the token of thanks that Vin had given him. Tanner's blue eyes were fixed on Maude, and he assessed her with a polite but intense look that made her straighten her shoulders defensively.

"Ah'm Ezra's mother, yes," Maude said coldly. She did not extend her hand. "And you would be ...?"

"Vin Tanner, ma'am." He suddenly smiled with a warmth that made Maude relax a bit. "Your boy and I work together. He's a good man."

"Damn straight," a jovial voice agreed. Buck pushed past JD, who seemed rooted in the doorway, and bowed low. "Buck Wilmington, ma'am," he said. He took Maude's hand and pressed his lips to it, then favored her with a wink and a broad grin. "Pleased to make your acquaintance."

"JD, step aside!" Nathan Jackson grasped JD's shoulders and forcibly moved the young man forward and to one side, then stepped into the office. "Good mornin', ma'am," he said, extending his hand. Maude took it gingerly; Nathan paused for a moment, then pretended not to notice and gently squeezed her fingers before releasing them. "Nathan Jackson. Another colleague of your son's." He cast a sidelong glance at Josiah, but the big man's blue eyes were fixed on Maude with a fascination that led Nathan to shake his head and sigh.

Oh, fine, thought Ezra. She's offended Vin and Nathan, seduced Josiah and Buck, and hypnotized JD. What's next?

Chris Larabee appeared in the doorway to his office, and Ezra immediately wished he could retract the question.

"Mother," he said, finally finding his voice, "I'd like you to meet Chris Larabee, our team leader."

Chris stepped into the office and the whole room fell silent, instinctively recognizing a meeting between two powerful forces who had an immediate and visceral wariness of one another. The air in the office fairly crackled, and Ezra swore he could smell ozone. Two sets of blue eyes tried to stare each other down and, after a moment, wordlessly declared an uneasy truce. Maude held out her hand, palm down, to the team leader.

"Mr. Larabee."

Chris took her fingers for a moment, then released them.

"My pleasure, Mrs. Standish."

"Von Hauken. Ah must assume that you are the gentleman," she enunciated the word with a dry sarcasm coated in courtesy, "who has seduced my son into these heathen northern climes and induced him to risk his life for a civil servant's paycheck?"

The tall man nodded, and smiled a humorless smile. "Glad he took me up on the invitation, too. He's been a real asset to this team. You should be proud of him."

"Ezra's rarely done anything to make me proud of him," said Maude lightly, and winked. But both Chris and Vin noticed the young man's almost imperceptible flinch at her words.

Ezra decided that his sole salvation lay in a quick getaway. "Well, Mother," he said hastily, "shall we be off? We're a bit early, but we can have a drink before." God knows I need one. "I've made reservations at The Brown Palace."

"Oh?" Maude looked at him skeptically. "Ah trust ah won't be overdressed."

Ezra sighed. "It's very nice. The building was once owned by the Unsinkable Molly Brown. She was an adventuress, too ... you'll feel right at home."

"Why, Ezra," Maude said reprovingly, "you thankless child."

"That I am," he nodded, reaching for her arm. "Come along, Mother."

Chris Larabee straightened so that his frame filled the doorway. "I think it might be nice if we all joined you," he said softly. "I hope you'll be kind enough to allow us to invite ourselves along, Mrs. Von Hauken. We'll make it my treat." His voice, casual but stern, turned the suggestion into a command. Before Maude could object, Ezra made a desperate bid at damage control.

"Why, Mr. Larabee, that's very generous of you, but I made reservations for only two. And you know The Brown Palace at lunchtime on a business day...."

"Yes I do, Ezra. But Judge Travis is a close friend of one of the owners. I'll have Annie make a quick phone call." He nodded affably, but his eyes told Ezra that the plans had been altered. Chris turned and walked back toward the secretaries' area. Ezra's shoulders slumped.

Maude assessed the remaining members of the prospective lunch party with a cool eye. "Perhaps these gentleman aren't prepared to accompany us," she said smoothly, reviewing Vin's worn jeans and scuffed suede cowboy boots, and JD's neon-colored Phish tour t-shirt.

"Oh, don't you worry about that, Miss Maude," said Buck happily. Maude bristled at the familiarity, but Wilmington didn't notice. "We all got extra shirts and ties in our desks, just in case Ezra loses a poker game and has to take us out to lunch. Be right back." Taking the still-mesmerized JD by the scruff of his neck and grabbing Vin by his rear belt loop, Buck dragged the two sartorially challenged agents out of the office. Nathan self-consciously straightened the tie he already wore, and Josiah tugged his slacks into place and stepped forward.

"Perhaps you'll allow me to show you where you can freshen up before we leave," the big man offered, extending a hand.

"Why, thank you, Mr. Sanchez." She smiled tightly, and for a brief moment Ezra enjoyed the unusual sight of Maude Vanderbilt Standish Windsor Simpson Talesian Rosenbaum Von Hauken caught in a situation over which she did not have complete control. He sank into his chair as Josiah led his mother from the office and looked up at Nathan, who shook his head in pity before he turned to tag after the couple.

Ezra rubbed his temples with his fingertips. It would be a long lunch.


And so it was. Judge Travis' name had carried enough weight to get the party a table for eight, but they'd still had to spend some time in the bar before they were seated. Maude had ordered champagne for everyone, and threatened to make a scene if they refused. It was an empty threat, thought Ezra, as Maude tended to make scenes wherever she went, regardless of the circumstances. But he said nothing, simply accepting his glass of fine French vintage and sipping it quietly. He knew somehow that the TDS report would not be completed this afternoon.

He was right. Lunch stretched into three hours, and the more Maude chattered, the quieter Ezra became. His mother had changed her tactics with Chris and turned on the charm. She flattered him, asked about his family and, when she saw the controlled grief in his face as he offered his polite but spare explanation, she covered his hand with hers and offered what sounded like heartfelt sympathy. Josiah was rapt with adoration, Buck and JD joked and showed off like two kids on a field trip with their teacher, and Nathan won Maude's affection by demonstrating the most genteel behavior of anyone at the table.

Vin was silent, his eyes flicking from Maude to Ezra to Chris to Maude again. Ezra's discomfiture built by the moment. As Maude related his life story, starring her, Ezra could see the silent exchanges between Vin and Chris. It made him furious, but he held his temper and continued sipping his champagne as he watched his most recent world fall apart over the salad, entrees, and dessert.

"Ezra! You really went to school in Europe?" JD's eyes were wide with wonder and curiosity.

"Schools," laughed Maude. "He went to all the best boarding schools in England ... the same ones that the royal family send their children to."

"Really?" JD was entranced.

"Oh, of course," Maude said airily. "And prep schools and academies from New York to Virginia to South Carolina. Of course, he kept getting himself in trouble and ah'd have to pull him out every other year and find him a new school. It got to the point where ah just went through the brochures and picked the ones that had the cutest uniforms. He always looked charmin', of course." Maude smiled indulgently at her son, who lowered his eyes. "And he actually did quite well ... made marvelous grades. He just never learned to play nicely with the other children."

"Well, that ain't changed," remarked Nathan, and Buck and JD laughed heartily.

"Boarding school must have been really neat, Ezra," pursued JD, fascinated. "Uniforms ... and royalty ... and all that traveling."

"And all those pretty, wealthy schoolgirls," added Buck dreamily. "I'll bet their uniforms were even cuter than yours, Ezra. Or at least, they were cuter in 'em."

"Graduatin' from any one of those schools prob'ly would've written your ticket to any college you wanted, Ezra," said Nathan, a bit wistfully.

Josiah looked at Maude sympathetically. "It must have been difficult, only seeing your boy on holidays and summer vacations," he said.

"Well, yes," said Maude, a bit sadly. "But ah was usually busy mahself. You know how those social circles are ... the holidays are one long party. Why, it was hardly worth it to fly Ezra home to the States just for a week over Christmas and New Years. And those places had lovely summer programs ... soccer, tennis, equestrian camps, historical tours ... all sorts of wonderful opportunities. So he stayed at school most of the time."

"I see." They were the first words Chris Larabee had spoken in over an hour.

Ezra felt Vin's eyes on him again. Sympathy and understanding. Two things he definitely did not want, especially from these men. He poured another glass of champagne and drank it down.

"But now that he's all grown up, ah can at least snatch a luncheon with him now and then," Maude went on gaily. She looked at her diamond watch and made a face. "Mah goodness! Ah need to get mahself back to the airport ... mah flight will be takin' off in two hours, and y'all know how boorish those security people are!" She laughed at herself. "Oh, of course you do ... y'all are those security people, aren't you? Now Ezra," she said, rummaging in her purse, "ah meant to do this earlier, but ah just never had the opportunity." She produced a thick envelope and dropped it on the table. Ezra's name was neatly printed on the front in a precise hand. He regarded it as if it were a bomb.

"What is that, Mother?" he asked warily.

"Why, darlin', a surprise! Plane tickets to Greece! And a brand new American Express Gold Card, in your name. Leopold and ah have been invited on a three month cruise of the Mediterranean on the Hapsberg's yacht ... and they extended a special invitation to you to join us! It'll be delightful ... island hoppin', swimmin', tourin' the ruins." She smiled, and again Ezra saw a touch of ferality in it. "It seems that the Hapbsbergs' lovely young daughter Arianna just separated from her fiancee, of whom her parents don't approve, by the way. She's feelin' a little lonely, so when ah told them that ah had the most charmin' son, they said that you absolutely must come along!" Triumph and indulgence shone through Maude's perfect and expensive cosmetics.

The table fell silent. Ezra stared at the envelope. He did not look at Maude when he spoke.

"Mother, I can't go to Greece with you. I have a job."

"Why, darlin', you don't need a job ... at least not this summer." She spoke as if explaining things to a small child. "This is an invitation of hospitality from one of the wealthiest families in Europe. And their lovely, lonely, single young daughter."

"I'm not goin'."

"But darlin'," Maude persisted, with a slight edge to her voice, "ah told them you'd come. Surely Mr. Larabee can spare you for a few months. How important is it really that you be here?" She turned a dazzling smile on Chris, who narrowed his eyes and did not smile back. Maude considered his reaction, and then assumed a somewhat haughty air. "Or, you could just resign. You can always come back at the end of the summer, or get another one of these public service positions ... if you still want to. Ah know a few people." She smiled again, and the smile was perfect and chilly. "But ah understand that Arianna is very pretty, and quite charmin'. And ah do believe you've been livin' alone for far too long."

Ezra gulped down the last of his champagne and rose to his feet, fury and despair combining to blow his usual cool straight to hell.

"I'm sorry, Mother," he said coldly. "It's a very generous offer, I'm sure, and I'll give it all due consideration." He stepped away from the table, pushing his chair back into place with a forcefullness that caused Maude to flinch and drew curious stares from the surrounding tables.

"But now, you must excuse me," he continued, his southern accent suddenly thick with anger and with drink. "I have to go back to my office and finish writin' a report explainin' how it is that the men at this table managed last week to not lose their lives, in spite of bein' subject to my leadership and plannin'. Not to mention havin' to explain to Mr. Larabee here why he shouldn't just send me back to Atlanta to be fired. At least then the FBI, and not the ATF, would have to pay my unemployment. A small savings to the local taxpayers." He stared at the envelope, and then at Maude, his green eyes blazing. "Take your god damn tickets, Mother. No doubt I'll be callin' you to claim 'em before long, but I'd appreciate the opportunity to fail completely, all on my own, before I'm forced to take up the profession of gigolo."

Ezra pulled his wallet from his slacks, removed a thin square of plastic, and flung it onto the table. "Mr. Larabee, perhaps you'll be kind enough to put this lunch on my company card before you confiscate it. I'm sure my severence pay will cover the charge. I'll need my badge to get back into the building, but it'll be on your desk with my report when you return to the office. Good afternoon, gentlemen ... Mother."

He turned on his heel and stalked out of the dining room.

Maude found herself uncharacteristically speechless for the second time in one day. She cleared her throat and glanced around the table.

"He's always been an excitable boy," she said as she reached for her purse and fumbled inside. She drew out a slim leather billfold and gestured for the waiter. "Ah must apologize ... we don't always see eye to eye, you understand. Ah regret any embarrassment he may have caused you." The waiter arrived, and she handed him her credit card. "Please allow me ... to make it up to y'all."

The men at the table were silent. After a moment, Chris reached forward and picked up Ezra's credit card, slipped it into his shirt pocket, and stood. "I have to get back to the office myself," he said in tightly clipped tones. "If you'll excuse me, Mrs. Von Hauken. It's been an ... enlightening experience, meeting you."

Maude recognized the undertone in Larabee's voice, and refused to be intimidated by it. She picked up the envelope that still lay in the center of the table and offered it to him. "Mah son seems to left this behind. May ah impose upon you to be a gentleman and deliver it to him for me?" she asked.

Chris looked down on her, his grin tight-lipped and cold. "No, ma'am, you may not." He turned abruptly and walked away from the table. Maude was left with her arm upraised, the envelope still in her manicured hand.

"Well, mah goodness," said Maude. "Ah'm sure ah don't know what ah might have done to so offend Mr. Larabee." She looked at Josiah. "Mr. Sanchez, might ah ask you to deliver this to Ezra?"

"No, ma'am," said Josiah softly. "I'm sorry, but Ezra's a good man. And a good friend. We don't want to lose him."

"That's right," said Buck. "He's saved our asses ... er, excuse me, ma'am ... covered our backs more'n once. We'd truly hate to see him go."

"I've learned a lot from Ezra," chimed in JD. "I don't want him to leave."

"To tell you the truth," agreed Nathan, "we don't rightly know what we'd do without him."

Maude looked at the five men left at the table, and thought quickly. "Well, ah'm pleased to see that Ezra has such loyal associates," she finally said. "But if you're really his friends, ah can't imagine that you'd want to stand between him and an opportunity to better himself."

"No, ma'am," Vin said softly. "And we're sure that you wouldn't, either."

The waiter appeared at Maude's elbow and handed her a small leather portfolio. After a moment, she slipped the envelope into her bag, took the pen from the waiter's hand and signed the bill, reclaimed her credit card and returned it to her wallet, and closed the bag with a snap.

"Of course not," she said. Her voice trembled a bit when she spoke again, and it held a note of sincerity that none of them had heard before. "But if y'all insist on holdin' him here, in a position far beneath him and his talents, then ah must extract a pledge from you. A gentlemen's agreement, so to speak. Y'all must promise me that you won't allow him to get hurt. He's all ah have, and ah love him. Ah don't know what ah'd do if ah lost ... if ah found mahself without my boy." She reached for her napkin and dabbed at her eyes. "Mah goodness," she complained, her voice suddenly light again. "You'd think they could dust a place like this now and then. Must be those ceilin' fans."

"Yes, ma'am," said Josiah, taking her hand in his and squeezing it. "Now, may I see you to the airport?"

"Why, thank you, Mr. ... thank you, Josiah," Maude said, smiling brightly. "But if you'll just help me secure a cab, ah'm sure ah can get there just fine on mah own. Ah think perhaps ah've kept you gentlemen from your work long enough."

They stood together and left the dining room, Maude with her arm through Josiah's and the rest of the men trailing behind, all lost in their own thoughts.


"You running out on me, Standish?"

Ezra looked up from the computer to see his office doorway darkened by the lanky frame of Chris Larabee. He lifted his hands from the keyboard and rested them lightly on his desk, trying to steady their sudden, subtle palsy.

"No, Mr. Larabee. Not running out," he said slowly. "But I think I might be doing you, and the team, a favor if I walked away."

"Why?" It was less a question than a challenge.

Ezra tensed, then thought, What the hell ... what have I got to lose?

"Just some little things that have been troubling me of late. Like knowing I damn near got more than half the team killed last week. Or knowing that my record being less than stellar probably reflects on the way the people you answer to are looking at you. Or wondering when you're going to come to your senses and admit to yourself that you made a bad decision bringing me on board in the first place."

"Ever wonder why I made that decision, Ezra?" The harshness was still in Chris' voice, but the challenge was gone. It was such a marked change that Ezra was taken by surprise, and answered sincerely and without thought.

"Each and every day, sir."

Chris stepped into the office, pulled up one of the guest chairs and sat down. He reached for the small silver picture frame on Ezra's desk. When he spoke, his words seemed a puzzling non-sequiter to the southerner.

"Where'd you get this?" he asked.

"It was ... a gift."

"From who?"

Ezra hesitated. "Why do you ask?"

Chris grinned again, that tight feral grin that sometimes was way too similar to Maude's for Ezra's comfort. "I'm guessin' Vin, since it showed up here not too long after you helped him with that report."

"Did he tell you that?"

"He didn't have to. I read the report."

Ezra dropped his head to hide the involuntary smile. "I meant to be more subtle. He warned me that you'd notice."

"Vin doesn't ask for, or take, help from many people. Including myself."

Ezra felt the moment of levity disappear. He remained silent.

"Buck doesn't take kindly to being told what to do by anyone apart from me ... but he listens to you. Josiah doesn't respect many men so much younger than he is, and Nathan doesn't suffer fools gladly. But they listen to you, too. JD is easily impressed, but it doesn't usually take and hold the way it has with you."

"Your meanin'?"

Chris grinned that tight, humorless grin again, and once more answered without answering.

"Your FBI record said a lot about you, Ezra."

"It doesn't seem to have made an impression."

"It said you were reckless. It said you were impulsive. It said you had little respect for authority, and less for discipline. To an average team, those are liabilities. But I don't run an average team ... I don't have average men ... and we don't face average situations. I chose you because those 'liabilities' meant you could think on your feet, outside the box ... that you were fast and smart and could take charge when the situation took precedence over the protocol."

"Take care, Mr. Larabee," said Ezra carefully, "or I'll be asking you for a raise instead of a pardon."

Chris laughed, and this time there was genuine humor in it. It didn't last long, but it surprised Ezra as much as the words that followed.

"Ezra, this team needs you. I hope that you'll eventually come to believe that." He paused as the raucous sounds of several boisterous men drifted through the office from the direction of the elevators, and shook his head. "For one thing, you're the only person I can count on getting work out of after sharing four bottles of champagne at lunch." Chris got to his feet, leaned forward and carefully returned the picture frame he'd been holding to its place on Ezra's desk, before he turned to leave.

"Oh, almost forgot." He dug in his shirt pocket, pulled out Ezra's credit card, and dropped it on the desk. "Your mother paid for lunch."

"Mr. Larabee, you are a formidable force indeed."

"I enjoyed meeting her," the team leader said. "Stretched my alpha leader muscles."

Ezra laughed out loud. "It was probably a profitable experience for both of you," he said, chuckling. Ezra reached for the credit card, and turned solemn green eyes on the older man.

"Thanks, Chris," he said quietly.

Larabee lifted two fingers to his forehead in the small salute that Ezra had first used and which had long since adopted by the rest of the team, then left the office.

Ezra smiled to himself, and went back to writing his report.


Need a little time to try some livin'
Try a little love and then start givin'
Things I feared so long ago when everything was wrong
I'm about a mile high in Denver
Where the rock meets timberline
Where God and trees create the breeze
Tonight I'll call it mine

~ 30 ~

~ Go on to Part II ~ "Island of Bones" ~

~ Return to "The Magnificent Seven" Page ~

~ Return to The Library ~



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