Don't own, don't make money.
Special thanks to Tiffany Pena for the beta-reading!
Friends and Father Figures
April, 3, 2000
Special Agent Chris Larabee entered the conference room, where his team was waiting, and surveyed his men. Nathan and Josiah were quietly discussing something, Ezra was sleeping soundly in his chair, Vin stood by the window staring out at the sky, and JD was showing Buck some new electronic toy. All in all, not a single sign of work enthusiasm on that bright Monday morning.
Chris smiled inwardly; after all, this was to be expected. The team had just finished a very long, sizeable, tiresome case last week, and though they'd had a four-day-weekend after, it clearly wasn't enough for them to come back at their best. Fortunately, Travis understood this, and even if he couldn't give them more vacation, he could at least promise no more 'world-saving' cases for at least a couple of months.
"Boys," Chris stated calmly, pulling out his chair. In a second, JD's thingy disappeared, Ezra was wide awake, and Vin was back at the table.
"So," Buck asked, opening the folder Chris had just placed on the table and passing a number of printouts out to the others, "what do we have next on our agenda?"
"A little calm routine for a change," Chris answered. "There are several new clubs in town; the brass wants us to check them out." Usually his men hated this type of assignment, but there were no comments now – it proved they really needed a break. So Chris nodded to JD, inviting him to read the list out loud.
"'The Black Guitar', a rock club not that far from Purgatorio, 'Shining Spurs', a western one in the Country Club neighborhood, and 'The Diamond' in Uptown."
"Woo-hoo!" Buck whooped. "'The Diamond' is mine! Betty and Claire were in the opening and have been going on about it to me ever since."
"Hold your horses, Bucklin," Vin drawled with a grin, "you still got that specialist class to teach tomorrow."
Chris tuned out the banter, noticing that his undercover agent was staring at one of the sheets with a strange expression. "Ezra?"
"Mike Randall, the owner of 'The Diamond'," Standish began absently. "What do we know about the man?"
"There's nothing unusual about him in the file, why?"
Ezra tapped the small photo on the sheet. "I have a feeling I've met that gentleman before, and certainly under another name."
"Are you sure?"
"No, I'm not. Do we have any other photos, or preferably video, of Mr. Randall?"
Chris shrugged, but Nathan ventured: "If there was such a fuss with the opening of that club, TV might have something."
"Got it, Chris, I'll call Shelly." Shelly was one of Buck's numerous lady friends; she worked for one of the local celebrity gossip stations and sometimes helped them to find information for cases.
"Okay, so we suspend 'The Diamond' until Ezra is sure about Randall. JD, work with Ezra to find out everything about that man that exists out there."
"Vin, Ezra, you two take the 'Spurs'; Nate, JD, you guys get the 'Guitar'; that okay with everyone?" Four nods followed. "Josiah, someone from supply is coming tomorrow, wanting something from us; I'd really appreciate it if you could take care of him. You're the only one of us who knows how to speak with them."
"It's easy, brother, once you start seeing them as a unique tribe that you can study, like the Maori or Nukuoro." Waiting out the chuckles, Josiah continued: "I'll hold down the fort. What about you?"
Chris grimaced. "Court."
"The Beckett case?" Vin frowned.
"Shit," came from five of the men seated, while Ezra elaborated, deadly serious, "You have our deepest sympathies, Mr. Larabee, and our eternal moral support."
Chris knew that, for once, there was no sarcasm meant; Ezra had dealt with Beckett's lawyer, a Ms. Angela 'Shark' Taylor, before and it was not something he would wish on anyone. "Yeah, I'll definitely need it. Buck, how long is your seminar?"
"Alright, so I will see you all here Thursday morning at 9 a.m."
Various 'yes, sirs' were uttered, and the men began to get up.
"Don't forget, Bucklin," Vin drawled as they were leaving the conference room, "you're supposed to teach them explosives, not flirting…"
April 7, 2000
Chris had been stuck in court for much longer than he'd hoped, and so the meeting was pushed back from Thursday morning to Friday afternoon, and it was after 4 p.m. when Chris finally made it into the office conference room.
"Sorry, guys, but that bitch…Beckett must pay her a fortune for being such a pain in the ass."
"I'm afraid it's a natural gift, Mr. Larabee," Ezra said while the rest were grinning, sarcastically or with compassion. "Are you free at last?"
"Hell no, the next go round is on Monday, but let's talk about something else, like how our club investigations went." Chris sat down, took a deep breath, and looked at Ezra and Vin. "Shining Spurs?"
Vin shrugged. "They're clean."
"Even more so," Ezra added, "they are so law abiding it is almost disgusting. We might want to check them again in a year, though."
Chris nodded and shifted his gaze to Nathan and JD. "The Black Guitar?"
"They are selling to minors," Nathan said solemnly. "And they do it intentionally. I started the paperwork; not sure we'll manage to close them, but we will do everything possible."
"Okay. What do we have on Randall?"
Ezra and JD exchanged a look, and the latter began, pushing a couple of stapled sheets of paper to Chris.
"Ez was right, Randall is a fake name. He's supposed to have arrived here from Australia two years ago, but I'm absolutely sure 'Mike Randall' didn't exist before he came off that plane."
"So, Ezra, have you recognized how you know him?"
"Indeed, Mr. Larabee, I have." Ezra opened a folder that was in front of him, extracted several copies of what looked like a convict dossier, and passed them around. "His real name is Andrew Chapman, and he was convicted in 1988 as a minor partner in organizing an illegal gambling hall, a child prostitution ring, and several other illegal things under the roof of 'The Friday Club' in Baltimore. He was released two years ago, and Michael Randall appeared a couple of weeks after Andrew Chapman left the prison."
Ignoring the quiet swearing from Buck, Chris stared at the Chapman file. Born in 1963, the photo, well, add 10 years in prison and then a couple of professional stylists, and you obtain Mike Randall. The list of offenses was sure impressive, must be one hell of a case. The name of the Agent in charge was Phillip T. Donnelly, Chris had a feeling he'd seen that name somewhere before…
"You think he's gone back to his old ways?"
"That is a high probability, Mr. Wilmington. Of course, there is always a chance he went through the trouble of inventing a new identity only in order to lead the hard life of an honest businessman, but I doubt that highly. Case files concerning 'The Friday Club' might be useful, but it would require Mr. Larabee's status to retrieve them."
"Hey, Ez, how come you don't have access to your own case?" JD asked.
Vin shook his head, seeing the reflection of JD's bafflement on everyone's faces, including Chris. Damn, his teammates had problems either with their math or their memory, Ezra's birthday was only three months ago.
"Kid, Chapman was convicted in 1988, Ezra was 19 at best. No way was he officially working for the FBI then."
"Your observations are absolutely correct, Mr. Tanner."
Chris felt a headache building. Damn, this was getting better and better. "Ezra," he said tiredly. "The whole story, from the beginning. Now."
Ezra suppressed a sigh. He knew it would come to this the minute he'd recognized Andy; and, really, he didn't mind all that much. After all, he would not be offering any revelations today, merely confirming some of his teammate's suspicions. However, it sure was fortuitous that it was 5 p.m. on a Friday, and that there was a half-full bottle of his favorite brandy waiting for him at his apartment. He took a deep breath and began.
"Gentlemen, I believe I have mentioned before that I had paid half of my college fees with my poker winnings. 'The Friday Club' was one of the places I gambled at." Ezra paused, waiting for comments or looks of contempt, at least from Mr. Jackson; to his surprise, not one followed and so he continued. "I hadn't thought anything more serious than illegal gambling and underage alcohol selling was going on there, until I accidentally saw something I wasn't supposed to. Of course, I used a fake ID going there, and I wasn't sure I was even noticed, but nevertheless leaving the city seemed like the wisest thing to do at the time."
"Why didn't you?" Chris asked, keeping his voice neutral.
Ezra shrugged. "I liked my college. And…I wasn't sure I could outrun the images in my head."
"I got lucky. Agent Donnelly found me first."
"And?" It was like pulling teeth, and it took Chris some effort not to show his growing irritation.
"And you can consider the case of 'The Friday Club' as my first, highly unofficial, undercover operation for the FBI."
"He used a civilian minor in his operation?" Nathan asked incredulously.
"I will have you know, Mr. Jackson, I was 19 at the time and thus fully responsible for my own actions!"
Chris sighed again. There was a fine line between using informants and putting civilians at risk; he wasn't sure he was in a position to judge someone who might have crossed it. However, the way Ezra jumped to the defense of Agent Donnelly was interesting; Chris never heard such vehemence in his voice when Standish had to defend himself. There was definitely more to the story, and now he had an idea where he might have seen that name before.
"So, he just asked a youth he didn't know at all to work undercover for him?"
Ezra squirmed a little.
"Let's just say, that it was not my first meeting with Agent Donnelly under such circumstances. The previous one happened when I was twelve and the details are absolutely irrelevant now."
Vin barely refrained from whistling. It looked like he and that smart-mouthed dandy had more in common than he thought was possible. Vin's own serious run-in with the law had happened when he was 14, in a similar situation – when he'd stumbled upon something serious trying to survive on the streets - he'd gotten lucky too, the cop who'd held his fate had turned out to be a former ward of Nettie Wells, and what could have been the end, had become the beginning. Oh. Vin realized he possibly had an answer to one of the team's favorite topics of speculation…
"I guess we know now why you joined the FBI, pard," he mused aloud. He fully expected Ezra to ignore that comment, but, surprisingly, the man smiled and answered.
"I have to admit I enjoyed the challenge of gathering information…and the way I felt when I finally saw Groves, the club's owner, and his partners behind bars, and those girls free…Agent Donnelly observed then, that, with my ability to find trouble, I should make a profession of it."
Josiah chuckled at that, and Nathan shook his head.
"He kept an eye on me, showed up at my graduation and literally dragged me to Quantico," Ezra trailed off.
"Where is he now?" JD asked, earning himself a nudge from Buck. Before he could utter a 'what-the-hell-was-that-for', Ezra's face closed again.
"He was killed in the line of duty during my first year with the Bureau."
"You got the bastards?" Vin asked quietly.
A heavy silence followed, while Ezra cursed himself for revealing much more than he'd intended. He was prepared to talk about 'The Friday Club', and about some less-than-stellar aspects of his youth, but he wasn't prepared to talk about Phil. Fortunately, Chris changed the subject back to the case.
"Do you think that Randall/Chapman would remember you?"
"I suppose he would."
"Any chance he knew you were the snitch back then?" Buck asked, and regretted his wording immediately, seeing a hurt expression flash across Ezra's face.
"That's hardly possible. I was arrested during the actual bust with a couple of dozen other gamblers; most of them were released soon afterwards. A number of clients were also apprehended, that night and later, and any one of them could have supplied information, there was no reason to single somebody out for talking."
"How was your part of the arrest handled?"
Ezra shrugged. "More or less according to protocol, as I can now judge. I wasn't fingerprinted, and Agent Donnelly assured me he would take care of the rest. It might be useful, though, to actually look into the record of one Eric Sutton."
"You want to resurrect this Sutton character?"
"I think it'll be the easiest way to learn what's going on in 'The Diamond Club'."
"Aren't we overstepping our jurisdiction here?"
Chris had to admit Nathan had a point. With the knowledge that Randall was Chapman, and with the man's list of offences, he could easily ship this case to the FBI. But, first of all, Chris Larabee had never liked shipping out his cases, especially to the FBI, and especially if it had the possibility of backfiring on one of his men. And second, it was obvious that Ezra wanted this case; Chris just hoped the man wouldn't let his personal issues get in the way.
"Well, until we have legally obtained fingerprints of this guy," Chris pointed at Chapman's photo, "we are investigating possible violations of alcohol laws in 'The Diamond Club'."
Everyone nodded, and Buck asked, "So, boss, what are our orders?"
Chris surveyed his team. "Nate, can you wrap 'The Black Guitar' case by yourself?"
"Good. JD, anything you can find on Andy Chapman – from his elementary school records to the written reports from his last warden. Forward it all to Ezra and Josiah once you're done, I'll add the case files to that once we obtain them."
A 'yes, Chris' from JD and nods from the other two were his answer. It was a common practice among them, for Josiah to participate in creating undercover identities for Ezra, and for others as well; at first Standish had, of course, insisted he didn't need any help, but after the first assignment working with Josiah, he had admitted, however reluctantly, that the profiler's insight had greatly added to the cover. It was also implied that, once Ezra and Josiah were through, JD would fake records in whatever databases were relevant.
"Buck, you'll be Ezra's partner in this, check out your possible contacts."
He received another nod.
"Vin, there's still that mandatory training…"
"I know you don't need it, but the brass won't get off my back, so better to take that course now, than being ordered to in the middle of a big case."
"Well, if you promise not to shoot Ms. Taylor…"
The banter continued, and Josiah tuned it out, looking at Chapman's file and thinking that now, some things had just become much clearer.
The ex-anthropologist was often, and reasonably, accused of trying to save and/or adopt every lost soul that happened to cross his path. Ezra Standish, when he'd just joined their team, had definitely qualified as a 'lost soul' – from his questionable morals, smart-assed mouth, and cocky attitude to the bunch of insecurities hidden beneath them. Therefore, Josiah had decided that the man could use a little parental guidance. To his surprise, Ezra had quickly understood what was going on, and had firmly rebuffed all of Josiah's attempts. He had been very polite about it, sure, but absolutely firm. Josiah had respected him enough to heed his wishes, so he'd backed off, settling for building a friendship of equals instead. More than a year later, this quest was far from finished, but Josiah felt he was on the right path. Now he had an idea of why Ezra had been able to recognize his attempts for what they were and why he'd rejected them so - Agent Phillip Donnelly. Maybe he should ask a few of his old FBI friends if they knew the man. Because he felt that, if he knew what kind of a man Phillip Donnelly was, he might understand one Ezra Standish a whole lot better…
April 13, 2000
Ezra stood in the corner of a small den, which they often used as a make-up room, and looked into the mirror hanging on the wall. Eric Sutton stared back at him. Eric Sutton, whose life lay on a coffee table nearby in the form of various IDs and documentation. Eric Sutton – a professional gambler, a cheat, a conman, and, occasionally, a gigolo. A man who'd had some minor troubles with the law, but had, so far, been both cautious and lucky enough to avoid anything serious. A man Ezra Standish could easily have grown up to become – if it were not for his great-grandfather Jeremiah Standish, may the old scoundrel rest in peace, Ms. Alice Ramsey, an English teacher in Tennessee, and FBI Agent Phillip Donnelly, a man who had shown an angry and bitter teen what having a father figure felt like. He was a man who had offered a lost youth a purpose in life. A man who had been his Teacher – in the sense that sages from the East put into the word.
Ezra shook his head, chasing the memories away, and glanced through Sutton's papers again. They had found the name in those old Baltimore files – it was recorded that 'Eric Sutton' had faked his age, so him technically still being a minor, his case was transferred to the juvenile court. They added a wealthy stepfather into the picture, one who had kept Eric out of trouble back then, and it was a firm foundation for an undercover identity.
His teammates were quite surprised that he had not looked into Sutton's record before, and he could understand that, he was sort of surprised himself, but he had never really thought about checking it out. Phil had promised he'd take care of it – and Ezra had trusted Phil absolutely and unconditionally. Later, it was a painful disillusionment when he had realized that trustworthiness was not a common trait among FBI Agents. It was Chris Larabee and his team, and later AD Travis and some of the other Denver ATF teams, which had saved him from total disappointment in law enforcement in general.
"Ezra, you ready?" Buck's head appeared in the doorway.
"In a minute, Mr. Wilmington." Buck nodded and disappeared.
Ezra looked into the mirror once more, and whispered, doing a fair imitation of an Irish accent, "Well, son. Let's see what you've learned in twelve years."
April 26, 2000
The Beckett court case had dragged on for another week, during which several other small cases had fallen into Team Seven's lap, so Chris actually wasn't up-to-date on Ezra and Buck's progress with 'The Diamond'. Though, judging by the way Buck had been beaming while requesting a Team meeting this morning, they had some good news.
"So, boys, what have you found?" Chris asked when everyone made it to the conference room.
"Mr. Chapman, as I suspected, had acquired some connections while in prison," Ezra was obviously pleased with himself. "But, fortunately, he didn't acquire any brains. There is indeed an illegal casino functioning on the premises of 'The Diamond'; the gambling takes place every Tuesday and Thursday after midnight."
Oh, considering it was 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Ezra certainly looked good for a man who had spent the night gambling. Chris found himself wondering how much the man had won; suppressing his curiosity with effort, he continued listening.
"And the alcohol served during those hours isn't from the club's official supply."
"Moonshine or smuggling?"
"Smuggling," Buck answered with a wide smile.
Chris raised an eyebrow, "Do we know the supplier?"
Buck's smile became even wider as he pushed a tiny folder towards Chris. "Yes, we do. It's our old friends, 'Rubber Inc.'."
Chris flipped through the folder, and a predatory grin appeared on his face. "Team Eight will owe us big for this. Good job, guys."
Ezra and Buck nodded.
"What about the other stuff?"
"Mr. Chapman is in contact with some people in Chicago who are looking to open a branch of their 'entertainment business' in Denver." The disgust in Ezra's voice was clear. "However, these people are far more cautious than our friend Andy, so the process is going very slowly."
"What do you suggest?"
"I suggest we arrest Mr. Chapman with what we have, and then I think he will gladly give up his Chicago partners in an attempt to lighten his own sentence."
"Are you sure? Usually criminals are more afraid of their partners than of us."
Ezra gave an evil grin. "Andy did not like prison."
"I agree," the profiler said. "Chapman will talk."
"Good. Anyone have any other opinions or suggestions?"
Buck shrugged. "We could play nice and invite Agent Williams along for the ride. Illegal gambling is his piece of bacon after all."
Nathan shook his head. "Williams is on vacation, Buck. It'd be Reynolds."
Buck grimaced. "No need to play nice with Reynolds."
"So what's the plan?" JD asked eagerly.
"Well," Chris answered after a pause. "I need to discuss this with Kelly, so we don't spoil each other's operations, but I think we can plan the bust for next Thursday. Buck, Vin, Ezra – preliminary planning is all yours, and I want the first version ready to go over by tomorrow afternoon."
May 6, 2000
"Damn it, Buck," JD exclaimed, fastening his seatbelt. "We're going to be late now!"
"Relax, kid," Buck started the engine. "There's no traffic today; we'll be at Ezra's in less than an hour. At worst we'll miss the first part of the food preparation and cooking."
JD mumbled something unintelligible, and most likely rude, in reply.
Well, Buck sort of understood his anxiety – this party was far from their usual gathering…
'The Diamond' bust had gone down smoothly, without a single sign of trouble; and Ezra's predictions had proved to be correct – Chapman was happy to plead for a deal, and tell them about everything they were interested in. The Denver FBI, of course, had scowled at being told of the bust only after the fact, but that was more for show; they were overloaded currently, and had gladly shipped all the information to their Chicago counterparts.
All in all, by the middle of the week after the bust, the case was complete. Ezra had then invited them all to spend Saturday at his house to watch the game, 'celebrating the successful conclusion of several alcohol based cases with due amounts of alcohol and steaks.' Buck and Vin had been the only ones able to hide their shock at this request, but Ezra had politely ignored the others' reactions and just repeated his invitation; which had been readily accepted once they'd all found their voices.
It's not that they hadn't been to Ezra's place before, each member of the team had visited the undercover agent on one occasion or another, and he had even hosted poker night twice – though only 'out of pure self-reservation' because the CDC had been the only alternative at the time. But to actually throw a party…
"You see, we still beat Chris and Vin," Buck stated, parking his truck behind Josiah's Suburban, across the street from Ezra's door.
JD didn't answer as he got out of the car, but started talking once they were crossing the street.
"I still don't get it, Buck. Why the big party? It's not like any of the cases we just closed were big or dangerous – hell, no one even shot at us for more than a month!"
"Yeah, another week and we'll beat the record."
"Buck! I'm serious."
The older man sighed. "It's not about finishing the case, JD." Buck had worked closely with Ezra on 'The Diamond' case, and he couldn't help but notice that it meant much more to the man than merely putting another criminal behind bars where he belonged. It was a milestone, a moment to stop and reflect back on what you had done with your life since a turning point. And if Ezra was throwing a party, he must have been pleased with what he'd found. Good boy. "It's about making your teacher proud."
"But he's doing that every day on the job, isn't he?"
Buck patted his young friend on the shoulder, while ringing the doorbell with his other hand. "You're growing up, kid."
They managed to drink two bottles of champagne and a six-pack whilst grilling the steaks on the balcony, cooking three kinds of sides in the kitchen, and setting up a table in front of the big screen TV. In the main room, several bottles of an expensive red wine were waiting for those steaks to be done. Everyone drifted in and out, with lots of banter and teasing going around, a good indicator of the lack of tension and general good mood of the team.
"So, what do you think is really going on?" Vin asked Chris as the man joined him in leaning against the wall in the main room, from there they could observe everything and everyone, including Ezra's silhouette as he leaned over the barbecue on the balcony.
Chris shrugged. "My guess is we're celebrating something much more serious than just finishing 'several alcohol based cases'."
"Agreed. Any idea what exactly?"
"Nope. But maybe Josiah will get some answers," Chris motioned with his head toward the large profiler going through the balcony door.
Josiah felt that he was close to finding his answers, but the last piece of the puzzle was still missing. Therefore, he waited for the opportunity to talk with Ezra in, more or less, private to arrive; and now, with the meal almost ready, and the host claiming he needed to put out the barbecue properly, that opportunity has presented itself.
Stepping out on the balcony, he saw that Ezra was burning some papers on the coals.
"What are you doing?" he asked before he could think better of it.
"What does it look like?" Ezra added something that looked like a driver's license to the smoldering papers. "I'm burning the remnants of one Eric Sutton."
The disgust and venom in Ezra's voice were strong and obvious, and that surprised Josiah. Ezra had never been so passionate about his undercover personas before, and, of them all, Sutton was the most harmless character, the easiest to…the missing piece fell into place with a clunk.
"So it's his funeral feast we're celebrating today?"
Ezra chuckled. "I guess so." He stirred the coals, and finally looked up at Josiah. "I could have been him, Josiah. I would have been him, if it weren't for Phil and a couple of other people."
"But you are not," Josiah said sternly. Don't you ever doubt that, brother.
Ezra nodded and turned back to the fire.
"I think I owe you an apology, my friend."
"Whatever for, Mr. Sanchez?"
"For trying to take a place which wasn't mine, back in the beginning of the team. And for trying to foist upon you something you didn't need."
It took Ezra a few moments to realize what Josiah was referring to, but then he smiled and outstretched his hand. "Apology accepted, Mr. Sanchez."
They had just ended their handshake, when loud music resounded and cheers were heard from inside.
Josiah grinned, "Looks like the game is starting."
"You go along, Mr. Sanchez, I'll be there shortly."
"We'll be waiting." Smiling, Josiah left the balcony.
Well, the man was right, Ezra thought, taking a pitcher full of water and pouring it over the ashes and coals. He certainly did not need any more teachers or father figures in his life; friends, though, were another matter. 'Son, you need to hang out more. And with someone who is more fun than an old boring jerk like me.' Phil had been telling him that since the day they busted 'The Friday Club' together, and up until the day he had went under on that last case.
"Buck, give me that back!" JD's shout rang out from the TV room, followed by a loud 'smack', laughter, and Vin's "Ez, get your ass in here, we need to get some bets started!"
Ezra laughed. "You'd like them, Phil. They're definitely not boring."
And with one last glance to the wet ashes, Ezra P. Standish went inside to join his friends.