Jumping to Conclusions
Disclaimer: The characters of the Magnificent Seven do not belong to me...I just borrow them for fun!
This story follows "Sky Marshals Flight 1412" It helps to have read that one before reading this.
"Are you sure this is the address Ezra gave you?" Nathan asked uncertainly as he looked from the building in front of him to Chris for confirmation.
Larabee frowned and gripped the steering wheel tightly, not looking over his shoulder at Jackson. "It's the one from his file."
"Better check it out then." Vin opened the passenger door of the Aztec and hopped out before any of the others could start discussion options. Seeing Buck and JD leaning against Buck's pickup, he joined them. "Some place," he commented, his eyes roaming over the five story building before focusing on the sign proclaiming it "The Wild Frontier Hotel and Casino."
Buck laughed and nodded, watching as Josiah, Nathan and Chris climbed out of the silver vehicle and joined them. "Should have figured huh?"
"This is just too much." Nathan shook his head again as he stopped beside Vin, not quite ready to proceed through the ornate gold trimmed doors. "There has to be some mistake. There's no way someone can live here." The medic looked at Josiah, again seeking reassurance from a friend, Sanchez, however just shrugged as Chris moved forward and yanked open the casino's doors and motioned for the others to enter.
"I think its kind of cool," JD said quietly, his eyes widening as he stepped into the lobby. Off to his right, red-carpeted steps led down into a noisy casino where tourists and locals alike were focused on one-armed bandits, video poker and the gaming tables. Scantily clad women milled among the throng with trays of drinks and food. Glancing to his left he saw a western themed bar and restaurant complete with batwing doors and hardwood floor. The sign above it read "Saloon." Straight ahead was the hotel's front desk.
The smartly dressed clerk looked up, startled by their sudden presence, and immediately began to fidget nervously.
Vin knew they were an intimidating group and he couldn't help but smile at the other man's reaction.
"Ca-can I help you?" The clerk stuttered, cleared his throat and managed a shaky smile.
"Would you like to book some rooms for the evening?"
"No," Chris answered directly. "We're looking for Ezra Standish, room 508. Where can we find it?"
The clerk paled and cleared his throat again before answering. "Top floor, turn right when you get off the elevator. Would you like me to call Mr. Standish for you?"
"No thanks." Chris shook his head and moved towards the elevators while the others followed.
"He seemed mighty nervous," Buck pointed out as the reflective doors slid closed.
Nathan pushed the button for the fifth floor and leaned back against the wall.
"Seemed to know Ezra too," Vin pointed out.
Chris frowned, wondering what in the world was going on. It'd only been three days since the team had flown home from Ireland. Standish was still recovering from a gunshot wound, compliments of one maniacal terrorist and, after a day of filling out reports, had been sent home to recuperate for the rest of the week. Nathan had been calling the Southerner regularly to check up on his progress and keep him updated, and Chris knew that several of the others had called Standish, himself included. Each time they called, Ezra assured them that he was doing fine and that he wasn't in need of anything. But Nathan was worrying that Ezra wasn't taking good care of himself and, whether he would admit it or not, Chris wanted to check on the man in person as well, so he'd pulled his personnel file and copied down the listed address.
Since it was Friday and it'd already been a hectic week, the team had knocked off work early and come as a group. Chris wasn't sure how Ezra would take the invasion but he also knew the others were just as concerned about Standish as he was.
The elevator paused at the third floor, the light ding as the doors slid open for a few moments, pulling Larabee from his internal thoughts. He watched as JD quickly searched the empty hallway for any new passengers then hopped back into the car with a shrug as the doors began to close again. "That was weird." Dunne mumbled and then went back to exchanging comments with Buck about the waitresses downstairs. Vin was quietly taking everything in, while Nathan continually mumbled softly to Josiah about living in a hotel. The elevator finally stopped on the fifth floor and the doors whooshed open. Stepping off the elevator, the group looked around once before turning right as per the desk clerk's instructions and started down the lavishly decorated hallway.
The scene that greeted them was not at all what they expected. Five feet in front of them, and blocking their path, was a short, balding man with intense blue eyes. He stood with his arms crossed in front of him, looking solid and defiant in spite of the light gasping which betrayed his obvious dash up the stairs. Behind him, copying his stance stood two very large muscular men. All three were scowling.
"This is different," Buck said quietly as the two groups sized each other up.
Finally the smaller man spoke. "You got no business here, so I suggest you move on."
Chris raised an eyebrow and glanced at Tanner who just shrugged, deceptively casual.
"We're not here to cause any trouble," Chris replied.
"I'm sure." The small man grinned knowingly. "But as the owner of this establishment I reserve the right to kick anyone out as I see fit…and I see fit."
"We just want to visit a friend." JD stepped forward, ignoring Buck's grip on his arm.
"Didn't know you were still in town, Detective. It's been a while."
JD shrugged. "Not a detective anymore, Ralph."
Ralph nodded but didn't waver. "Don't matter either way, still want you out."
JD took another step forward. "We're not here to hassle you, Crow."
"Well, I don't need the likes of you hassling anybody round here." The men behind Ralph straightened slightly as he continued. "I want you to just turn around go back where you came from before things get tense."
Josiah chuckled and shook his head. "I'd say things have already reached tense."
At that moment a door to the right of the casino owner opened. "Mr. Crow." The southern accent was unmistakably Ezra's.
"Get back in your room, boy, we'll take care of this," Ralph assured. "You ain't up to trouble tonight."
Ezra ignored the man and leaned against the doorframe, making himself visible and taking in the entire scene. "There is no need for such dramatics, sir. These men are my co-workers."
Ralph turned to look at Ezra a moment, reading him carefully before he looked back and met Chris' unwavering gaze. "You sure?"
"Ralph." The name was half growled, and Crow immediately backed down nodding and motioning for his men to move back.
"Sorry for the misunderstanding," he mumbled at the others.
"Come on in, gentlemen." Ezra motioned for the others to enter his room, stepping out of their way.
Ralph was still standing in the hallway as Ezra turned to go in. "You sure everything's okay, Ezra? I could have Mitch here stay if you want."
Ezra smiled and shook his head. "I'll be fine, they're friends."
"Right. Right." Ralph nodded. "You been eating those meals I sent up?"
"Ralph," Standish growled again and Crow took his cue, moving quickly down the hall towards the elevator.
"This should be interesting," Ezra muttered under his breath and moved to face the six men milling around his home.
The suite was crowded with the six visitors but not uncomfortably so. The room was large with a small kitchenette directly to the right of the door. Josiah and Nathan had taken a seat at the tiny table facing into the living room and Buck and Vin had ensconced themselves on the plush couch. Chris looked relaxed in one of the two large Lazy Boy recliners while JD paced back and forth in front of the sliding glass doors that led to a rather undersized balcony.
All of them looked at Ezra expectantly as he closed the door and flipped the lock in place. Before he could fully turn around JD was half shouting at him.
"Do you know who that was, Ezra?" he asked stepping towards the Southerner. "I mean, hell," he continued before Ezra could answer the first question. "Do you know who he's connected too? I can't believe you live here. You have to move," JD ranted as he spun and moved back to the window again.
"JD, calm down and let the man sit down at least." Nathan motioned for Ezra to sit in the other Lazy Boy. Standish looked tired but at least he seemed stronger and his color had returned.
Ezra shook his head wearily and sank into the leather chair without argument. He was recovering well, though it frustrated him that he tended to tire quite easily. "My apologies for your unorthodox reception. I assure you, that won't happen again."
"Do you know who he is?" JD spun around again, advancing on Ezra. He stopped a few feet in front of him, his hands on his hips as he waited for a response.
"Yes, Mr. Dunne, I am well aware of Mr. Crow and his associations."
"Then…" JD stopped, stunned and not comprehending. "You know?"
"JD, will you park it and tell us what the hell you're going on about? How'd that shrimp know you anyway?" Buck interrupted.
"I had a few run-ins with him when I was a cop," JD answered, not looking away from Ezra. "He's reportedly connected with the mob but we could never prove it."
"That's because Mr. Crow is not connected with the mob," Ezra said softly.
"Bull shit." JD pointed at Ezra. "I don't know how you know Crow but don't you try to cover for him." The younger man's eyes flashed angrily.
Ezra raised his arms in acquiescence. "Of course, Mr. Dunne." His face was expressionless as he went on, "Forgive my manners, can I offer anything to drink? What I don't have we can order."
"You got beer?" Vin asked with a smile.
Ezra nodded and started to push himself out of the chair but Josiah waved him back. "I'll get it. Fridge right?"
"Yes, Mr. Sanchez, please help yourself."
"I can't believe you live in a hotel, Ezra," Nathan commented looking around the room again. It surprised him that the only personal touch he could find in the room was a paperback and a bright green deck of playing cards laying on one of the end tables. His gaze drifted from the table to the large entertainment center in the corner before he saw the closed door to his right and curiously wondered what the bedroom looked like.
"Yeah, you know any of the girls downstairs?" Buck asked.
Ezra chuckled as Josiah handed out beers to everyone, motioning that he didn't want one. "I'm acquainted with a few, yes Mr. Wilmington." He watched as JD moved over and sank to the floor beside Larabee's chair, and leaned back against the glass doors.
JD was fuming. He ignored the conversation around him, the lightness in Ezra's voice only adding to his anger. Not more than two weeks ago he'd been trying to keep the man from bleeding to death and now he just couldn't believe how mad he was at Standish. But Ezra knew Crow. He knew the man's reputation, knew that man was possibly connected with organized crime, and still was the guy's friend? He'd heard Ralph ask Ezra if he'd gotten the meals…that meant Crow was taking care of Ezra. How the hell was Ezra connected to Crow and why didn't he care about the man's reputation possibly hurting his?
Dunne knew a little about Standish's past with the NSA, how he'd been accused of selling locations of in-field agents to third parties. It'd never been proven and Chris was obviously confident it hadn't happened. JD had been sure too…until now. If Ezra was so willing to associate with someone like Crow, maybe there was more to the whole NSA scandal then Chris or the others were willing to admit. Living in a hotel had to be expensive after all, and JD knew what kind of salary Ezra took home. Certainly not enough to stay someplace like this.
"Just how can you afford to live here anyway?" JD asked, interrupting whatever conversation had been going on around him.
Ezra looked startled by the question, caught off guard by JD's tone. "Pardon me?"
"JD," Chris warned, his voice low.
"How the hell can you afford this place?" JD asked again, challenging Ezra to answer. "It's got to cost a fortune and we all know how much we make working for the government. Where do you get the funds for a joint like this?"
"JD!" Chris' warning was sharp this time.
"I'm just curious, Chris," JD stated not looking away from Ezra. It surprised him to see the flash of hurt in Standish's eyes before his expression was schooled once again.
"I manage, Mr. Dunne." Ezra kept his voice even but his mind was racing wildly. He wanted them gone, out of what he considered his home. There was a reason he'd never asked anyone over before and now it was smacking him in the face. He knew it would only raise questions, doubt and speculation. He'd never wanted them here and he didn't want them here now.
He swept the room with his eyes, noting that they were all watching him carefully, monitoring his reaction to JD's question, waiting. Damn it, he'd known all along not to let them get close enough to get to know him. He'd been right after all…the minute they caught even a glimpse into his life they started asking questions and doubting him.
"How do you manage?" JD pushed the subject again, ignoring everyone else.
Ezra looked at the other man and smiled coldly. "I budget carefully," he answered and quickly pushed himself up out of the chair, stifling a groan as his side pulled sharply. "Now, if you will excuse me, I really wasn't expecting company this evening and am rather worn out."
"We're not leaving yet," JD said calmly.
Ezra raised an eyebrow as Dunne scrambled to his feet and took a step closer to him.
"What are you going to do, Ezra, call your friends to come kick us out?"
The room was silent as the two men stared at each other, both filled with obvious tension. JD radiated anger.
Finally Ezra shook his head and sighed almost resignedly. "I would never have you escorted off the premises, Mr. Dunne. By all means, make yourself comfortable." Then he turned and pausing only long enough to grab his key card off the counter, he left the room.
"Damn it, JD! What is your problem?" Buck was on his feet the instant the door latched closed.
"He's living in a casino, Buck!" JD yelled back. "He knows Ralph Crow…on a first name basis."
"So do you," Chris pointed out harshly.
JD jumped as if he'd been slapped. "That's different," he excused. "I was trying to arrest him."
"You didn't give Ezra much of a chance to explain," Vin said, standing up and moving over to the windows.
"He didn't want to explain," JD answered. "Probably don't want us finding out the truth."
"Which is?" Josiah asked calmly, though he was wondering himself how the Southerner knew such a shady character as Crow.
"I-I don't know," JD admitted, some of his anger dissipating. "You gotta admit it looks bad though," he added.
"It does look bad," Nathan agreed, his eyes scanning the room again, unable to push aside his uncertainty. He wanted to believe in Ezra, but he couldn't ignore the obvious either.
"You don't think Ezra has earned enough of your trust to give him the benefit of the doubt before you go questioning him like that?" Chris asked JD, still obviously angry.
"Come on, Chris. You can't say you don't wonder where he gets the money for a place like this?" JD turned to face Larabee.
"It's not my business, JD."
"But you know his past record," JD said. "I mean I know that crap with the NSA was probably all bullshit but after seeing this don't you wonder?"
Chris glared at him a minute before answering. "No."
"Because I trust him," Chris explained plainly, wondering how many times he'd have to repeat himself when it came to Standish. "I trust him because he is trustworthy."
The room fell silent, the six men lost in their own thoughts.
Finally JD spoke again, "Well if he doesn't have anything to hide, why'd he just leave?"
"Think about it, Kid." Vin turned from the window. "Your friends show up unexpected like, catch you off guard and then start throwing personal questions at you in anger…in your own home, refusing to leave when asked? I'd get the hell out myself. Fact, I think I might." Before JD could respond, the door was closing behind Vin.
Silence filled the room again, and JD dropped into the chair Ezra had deserted, rolling the glass bottle of imported beer between his palms. He didn't know what to think anymore. He hadn't even questioned how Ezra could afford to live in a hotel until Ralph Crow had caught him off guard, then finding out that Ezra knew the man, and now everybody was mad at him. He wanted to trust Ezra, needed to actually…but he still had so many questions. Flopping back in the comfortable chair he sighed heavily wondering how he'd managed to screw up a perfectly good Friday night.
The loud pounding on the door startled them all. Josiah grinned sheepishly and moved to answer it. "Probably Vin," he said, not checking the peephole. He was surprised to see Ralph Crow standing there, a bottle of wine tucked under his arm.
"Sorry to interrupt you again, thought I'd bring a peace offering and apologize for earlier," he said as Josiah let him in.
"Ezra stepped out for a minute," Nathan explained.
"No problem." Crow moved in with familiarity and set the wine on the kitchenette's small counter before turning to face the others. "Sorry again about earlier. Just didn't want to see no trouble for Ezra. He doesn't normally get many visitors so the bunch of you showing up like you did scared the tar out of Andrew; he's my desk clerk. He kind of got me worked up too."
JD turned sideways in the Lazy Boy and tucked one foot under his other leg. "How do you know Ezra?" he asked with gruffness.
Crow looked surprised by the question but didn't hesitate to answer. "He's my step-son. Well, not anymore technically but close enough I guess. He humors me anyway." Crow didn't catch the looks of surprise at his revelation. "See I married his Mom, Maude…oh about ten years ago now I think it was. Beautiful woman but she about cleaned me out. Conned me good and would have taken everything if Ezra hadn't warned me. Still don't know why he did; he never said and I quit asking. Just told him if he ever needed anything to find me." Crow ran a wrinkled hand over his head and shrugged. "Surprised the hell out of me when he walked into the place, about a year and a half ago, looking like someone had beaten the shit out of him." Ralph shook his head at the memory and went on. "Damn near busted my balls trying to convince that boy I had a suite with his name on it. He didn't want nothing from me but he needed a place to live. Said he had a new job and he'd move out soon as he had enough saved up for a down payment somewhere, but I told him to forget about it. I honestly don't think the boy knows it's possible for something to come without strings attached."
JD closed his eyes and rested his head against the back of the chair. The leather felt cool against his hot face.
Crow smiled and stepped closer to the door. "I think he stays here just to keep me from nagging at him. Knows I'd keep tabs on him no matter where he ended up. This is my town and I tend to know what goes on here. He hates it when I pull stunts like today, but I still get protective of him." He opened the door but turned back for one last comment. "He's been sick here, hurt on the job he told me, but didn't give me any details. Sorry for the over reaction earlier. Andrew, he knows your faces now. He'll let you through again with no problems."
The door closed and the room was quiet as the stunned men processed the information they'd been given. Finally Josiah broke the silence. "Does that answer your questions, JD?"
JD sighed heavily. "Most of them, yeah."
"What are you thinking now?" Nathan asked, his voice betraying his own chagrin.
"That I'm a big moron."
Buck laughed and stood up to help JD get to his feet. "Naw, you're a little moron. I think we need to go find Ezra and Vin and have another chat."
"How are we going to find them? They could be anywhere," JD pointed out.
"They didn't go far," Chris answered. "Vin rode with me and Ezra doesn't have shoes on."
Vin entered the near empty restaurant and found Ezra seated at the bar. His head bowed over a drink that he idly stirred. Dressed in baggy sweats and a t-shirt, one sock covered foot swung casually back and forth while the other rested on the bottom rung of the stool. Quietly Vin slid onto the stool next to Standish.
"Whatcha drinking?" he asked.
Ezra snorted, "ginger ale."
Vin couldn't help but laugh. "Still on meds?"
The bartender approached Vin, flashing a beautiful smile as she took his order. Her name tag read, Inez and she nodded when Ezra asked her to put it on his tab.
Vin watched her swish away admiring curves that her long peasant skirt didn't manage to hide. Her dark hair pulled back with a red ribbon. She caught him watching as she served him his drink and smiled at him again. Embarassed, Tanner turned away and glanced around the room while he waited for his beer, taking in the western theme. He admired the antique gun collection along the far wall for a moment before turning around again. The large gilded mirror behind the bar reflected his and Ezra's image back at him and for a moment he caught the unguarded expression on his friend's face. But then Ezra looked up and the disappointment and hurt was replaced with a look, almost unreadable.
"You know you don't have to do that, don't you?" Vin asked, still watching Standish in the mirror.
Ezra looked at him and then their reflections before asking. "Don't have to do what?"
Ezra's eyes widened and Vin smiled. "I'm not sure what you're talking about." Ezra finally found his voice.
Vin chuckled. "Sure you do, you just don't want to admit it. Not gonna pry, just letting you know, you don't have to."
"So noted." Ezra took a sip of his drink, wondering when all of his control had slipped from his grasp.
"JD'll come around." Vin broke the comfortable silence again, not quite sure how to proceed. "Once he settles down and thinks things through."
Ezra smiled, not actually believing Tanner.
"It gets tiring, don't it? Always having to explain everything you do. Everyone always thinking the worst first."
Ezra looked up and met Vin's blue eyes in the mirror before giving a hesitant nod.
"You know, Chris was the first one in a long long time to have any faith in me," Vin went on. "Feels kind of nice, I'd hate to lose that."
"You won't," Ezra said quietly.
"Yeah, well, neither will you, Ezra so start believing in it."
Ezra didn't say anything, and didn't look away from Vin's intense gaze. He heard the message but still wasn't quite ready to accept it. They sat in comfortable silence, country music playing somewhere in the background while the bartender wiped down the far end of the bar.
"Hey guys, here they are."
Vin turned as Buck entered the small restaurant, calling over his shoulder to the others.
"I think we should grab a table and get some dinner," Buck continued. "Food any good in here, Ez?"
"Quite enjoyable, Mr. Wilmington." Ezra managed to answer.
Chris slapped a hand on JD's back and gave him a not so subtle shove at Standish. Vin grinned and moved to join the others as they pulled two small tables together.
Ezra focused on his drink while JD fidgeted beside him. "Look Ezra, I'm real sorry for jumping to conclusions up there," he began.
Ezra interrupted him, "Don't worry about it, JD, no harm done." He started to move off his stool but JD caught his arm.
"Wait, Ezra, please?"
Ezra stopped and turned to face him then.
JD swallowed, glancing down once before going on. "I know you better than that," he explained. "I should have trusted you. Seeing Ralph again just caught me off guard. I didn't know he was your step father."
"Oh dear lord, did you talk to him again?" Ezra asked with a groan.
"Yeah," JD grinned. "He came up with an apology and a bottle of wine, was real talkative. Said he tends to be a little overprotective."
"Hell, the man is worse than a mother." Ezra shook his head, ignoring the bartender's laughter at the overheard comment.
"Look, I still don't think the man is on the up and up," JD started.
Ezra raised his hand to stop him. "I said he wasn't associated with the mob, JD. I didn't say he was a saint."
JD nodded. "I'm sorry for attacking you like that, for jumping to conclusions based on appearances and all."
"Well, as my mother would say, appearances are everything." He looked down at his clothing. "Though I'm sure right now she'd have some choice words about my attire."
JD laughed lightly. "Are we good now, Ezra?" he asked, unsure of what more he could do to make up for his earlier comments.
Ezra smiled. "Don't worry about it, Mr. Dunne. We're good." He repeated JD's phrase.
"Hey Ezra, get over here so you can tell us what's decent on this menu," Chris ordered.
"Yes, Sir." Ezra winked at JD and gave him a small salute before he eased off the stool, grabbing his drink as he went.
"What's in that glass anyway?" Nathan asked. "You better not be drinking alcohol."
Ezra rolled his eyes, ignoring the medic as he sat in the chair Josiah had pushed out for him.
"Have a seat, Brother Ezra," Josiah added. "We'd love to hear more about this step-father of yours."
Ezra groaned and the others laughed, ignoring his emphatic "He is NOT my step-father."