by Winnie


Part 10


Ezra leaned back against the pillows and silently cursed when he moved the wrong way and felt the tug of the tube in his side. Silverman was supposed to be there early to let him know how much longer the damn thing would be in place, but so far his only visitor had been the perky lab tech who'd come to take his blood before the sun came up. He glanced at his watch and shifted impatiently, quieting when he spotted the surgeon and Stacey Midland headed toward his room.


“Good morning, Ezra,” Midland greeted.


“It is morning, but whether it is a good one remains to be seen,” Standish blustered and motioned toward his side. “Please tell me you are removing this atrocious accessory.”


“I think that could be arranged and then we'll be moving you out of SICU,” Midland told him.


“What about Chris?”


“Chris is running a fever right now, but rest assured he will be moved in with you once things settle down,” the woman said and saw the change in Standish as she placed a hand on his shoulder. “Ezra, you know Chris as well as I do and he never does things the easy way. We'll get his fever down and then he'll be glaring at you for using those five dollar words and giving him a...”


“Deplorable headache,” Standish finished with a ghost of a smile.


“Exactly,” Midland said, glad to see she'd been able to distract her patient while Silverman checked his wound.


“All right, Ezra, are you ready to get rid of this tube?” Silverman asked.


“Lord, yes,” the gambler answered.


“Very well,” the surgeon said and turned to his associate. “Stacey, I have several patients to see before I'm due in the OR so I'll see you at lunch.”


“What about the tube?” Standish asked.


“I'll take care of that, Ezra,” Midland said as a nurse joined them with a tray of supplies. She knew this procedure was very uncomfortable for the patient, but there was no easy way of removing the tube. “All right, Ezra, let's get this done. Are you ready?”


“No, but let's do it anyway,” the injured man grumbled.


“Take a deep breath now!” Midland ordered.


Ezra did as she told him and grabbed the bed rail as she pulled the tube from his chest. He cried out at the sickening feeling and felt bile rise in his throat, as Midland and the nurse eased him onto his side. He lost what little he had in his stomach and laid back against the pillows as a warm cloth was washed over his face.


“I know that's uncomfortable, Ezra, but it should ease in a minute. Carol just gave you something for nausea and pain and as soon as your room is ready the orderly will bring you down.”


“Can I see Chris first?”


“Ezra, you need to rest.”


“Please, Dr. Midland, I won't stay long, but I need to see him,” Standish tried.


“All right, but only for a minute,” Midland said. “Carol, can you bring a wheelchair.”


“Thank you,” the gambler said and lay back as Midland finished taking care of the puncture wound left by the tube. He felt the medication he'd been given take control of the pain and opened his eyes when Midland spoke to him.


“All right, Ezra, let's get you in the chair,” Midland said as the nurse unhooked the last of the leads.


Ezra nodded that he was ready, but found himself holding his breath as he sat up for the first time since his injury. He breathed through his nose, calming the waves of nausea until he felt hands on his arms helping him move to the wheelchair. A warm blanket was placed over his legs and the IV was hooked to the pole behind him before the doctor wheeled him from the room. He thought he was ready for this, but as they stopped before the door leading to Larabee's unit he found it hard to control his breathing.


“Are you sure you want to do this, Ezra?” Midland asked.


“Yes,” Standish answered softly. He could see a tuft of blond hair, but Larabee's face was turned away from him as the chair was wheeled closer to the bed. “Chris?”


Midland stood back and watched the pale-faced man seated beside Larabee's bed. She glanced at the monitors and noted the change in the blond's heart rate and watched the two men closely as Chris slowly turned toward his visitor. She knew about the case and hoped the last blood tests were right and that the street drugs were indeed out of his system. She watched as the sea green eyes opened and Larabee licked at his lips.


“Chris, I just wanted...wanted to tell you I'm sorry,” Standish managed.


“Sorry?” Larabee frowned and tried to make sense of what the other man was saying. He felt like crap, and Ezra looked as bad as he felt, but his memories were still unclear as to what had happened to them. Bits and pieces came together in a jumble of crazy jigsaw pieces that didn't quite match up. He shifted and tried to moved his hands, but they were still tied down and he looked longingly at the woman behind Standish. “Doc, can you take these things off?”


“How do you feel, Chris?” Midland asked.


“Tired...I just need these off,” Larabee told her, relieved when she moved to the side of the bed and released his hands. “Thanks, Doc.”


“You're welcome,” Midland said and moved back to allow the two men some privacy, yet staying close enough in case either of them needed her.


“Ezra, look at me,” Larabee ordered, his voice raspy. He waited until the other man looked him in the eyes before speaking. “I don't remember much about the last case, but I do know it was my choice to go in there.”


“We should have found another way.”


“Maybe, but we can't change what happened,” Larabee said and tried to get comfortable. He saw the nurse inject something in his IV line and knew he would soon be too sleepy to talk. “Look, Ezra, stop beating yourself up over something we can't change...hell we do what we have to just to make sure the bad guys don't win.”


“I for one am glad you guys are on the job,” Midland said and moved closer. “Now, Ezra, it's time to get you settled in your new room and if Chris behaves himself you just might have a roommate later today.”




“Go, Ez, I'm just going to sleep anyway,” Larabee told him and closed his eyes. He heard Midland leave and tried to make sense of the puzzle, but sleep beckoned and he gave into its call.




JD stared at the open file on his computer and tried to figure out what it was about it that bothered him. Kent was a smart man, but the last part of the puzzle seemed to have been too easy to decipher. It had taken three days to find everything in Kent's hidden files and he'd been shocked at the man's plans for Chris Larabee. 


“JD, you ready to go?”


“Almost, Buck, just give me a minute to save the files,” Dunne answered and began closing down the laptop.


“Did you get anywhere with Kent's files?”


“Yeah...the man was crazy...not just a little either. You should see what he had planned for Chris,” the Bostonian told him and grabbed his jacket. “He was the one who gave Chris the street drugs.”


“Are you sure about that?” Wilmington asked.


“Yeah, and I think he got them through one of the orderlies who works at Shady Acres. I sent the information to Miller.”


“Let me guess...Craig Styles?”


“How did you know?”


“Vin told me about him. Mean bastard, but he didn't do anything where anyone could see it. Vin made a report through Coburn and he was going to the board to see about getting him fired,” the rogue answered. 


“Hopefully he's already fired,” Dunne said. “Are Nathan and Josiah meeting us at the hospital?”


“Yeah, Vin's picking them up on his way in,” Wilmington said and locked up the office. “Ezra's been moved out of SICU and he got rid of that tube in his chest.”


“That's good...maybe we should stop off and get him one of those coffees he loves,” Dunne said.


“You buying?”


“Sure,” the younger man answered.




Chris opened his eyes and sighed heavily when he recognized the room he was in. His head ached and he felt hot as he pushed the blanket off his upper body. He reached for the button and raised the head of his bed as nausea churned through his gut. He swallowed convulsively as the nurse checked his IV and made a note of his vitals. He looked toward the door when he heard footsteps approaching and smiled weakly at the man who entered.


“Ya look like hell, Cowboy,” Tanner said.


“Feel like it too...someone should t...turn down the heat,” Larabee said.


“Think ya got a fever,” the Texan said.


“Probably,” the blond said and looked around. “Ez still here?”


“He's in his room,” Tanner told him.


“He was here...least I think he was,” Larabee observed.


“Yes, Ezra was here, but he's been moved to a regular room,” Donna Lawrence told them and readied Larabee's medications which included Tylenol to bring down his temperature. She helped him take the pills with a few sips of water and moved away to allow the two men some privacy.


“Ya never do things easy do ya?”


“Wish the hell I did,” Larabee told him.


“Any idea how long they'll keep ya in here?”


“I thought I heard something about being moved in with Ezra some time today,” Larabee answered.


“Even with the fever?” Tanner asked.


“They need these rooms for sick people,” the blond answered “Wish they'd send me home.”


“I don't think that'll happen fer a while,” Tanner said.


“Vin, what happened?” Larabee asked.


“Chris, we need to get you ready, so I need Vin to leave for now,” the nurse said.


“We'll talk about it when they get'cha settled,” the Texan told him and left the room.


“Chris, I'm going to take out one of your IV lines and the Foley,” Donna said.


“Thank God,” Larabee mumbled and remained still while she extracted the offending tubing. When she was finished she unhooked the monitoring equipment and soon felt the bed being moved. He kept his eyes closed and wished the nausea churning through his gut would ease. He knew he'd dozed off when he felt the bed hit up against the wall gently and managed to open his eyes as a new nurse moved into his line of vision.


“Hello, Mr. Larabee, my name is Jordan and I'm one of the nurses who'll be looking after you today. Now why don't we make you comfortable and then I'll let your friends visit for a while,” Jordan Hollowell said with a smile as she hooked up several leads and took a set of vitals before speaking to him again. “Now, your call button is right here on the rail so just press it if you need anything.”


“I will, thank you, Jordan,” Larabee said.


“You're welcome, Mr. Larabee.”


“Call me Chris,” the blond said and couldn't help, but notice the way her eyes lit up when she smiled.


“All right, Chris it is,” Jordan said and straightened the blanket before leaving the room.


Chris heard a commotion outside the door and wasn't surprised to see the rest of his team enter the room. He couldn't help the smile that formed, but it gave way to a frown as he spotted the man in the other bed. He struggled to make sense of everything now that he was awake enough to remember things, but it still wasn't clear. He raised the head of his bed and quickly put on his game face, the one he knew the others would recognize.


“All right, Boys, clue me in because my memory is fucked up,” Larabee told them.


“What do you remember, Chris,” Jackson asked and sat on the edge of Larabee's bed while the others moved to get comfortable while JD handed out the coffee.


“Not a hell of a lot,” Larabee answered and turned toward the other injured man. There was something he needed to do, something he needed to say. He remembered Ezra visiting him in the SICU and the gambler had made a point of apologizing. Why did he find it strange that the other man apologized when it should be the other way around? Then again, why did he suddenly feel the urge to apologize? What had happened after they'd gone in and why did guilt suddenly feel like it should weight more heavily on his own shoulders?


“Chris, are you okay?” Tanner asked.


“Sorry, I was just thinking,” Larabee told him and reached for the cup of ice water on the table that now rested over his lower body.  He sipped from the straw, but it did nothing to alleviate the arid feeling inside his mouth. He couldn't tear his gaze away from the Ezra's as images flashed across his mind. “Ezra...”


“Chris, you need to...”


“I did...what did I...” Larabee felt as if his head was going to explode and bitter bile rose in his throat as he looked at the pale-faced gambler. He could see the fear and surprise in the green eyes and tried to figure out where it had come from. What had he done to put that fear in Ezra Standish?


“Chris, it's okay, just breathe,” Jackson ordered and tried to get through to the injured blond who seemed locked in some kind of nightmare only he could see. 


“What the...hell,” Larabee managed and nodded that he was okay before closing his eyes and concentrating on getting enough air into his lungs. Once he was sure he wasn't going to pass out he opened them again and looked around the room.


“This can wait,” Wilmington said.


“No, it can't,” the blond said and stared at the conman. “Tell me what happened from the last time you came to visit, Ezra.”


“Chris, Ezra and I came to see you,” Sanchez answered.


“Ezra, talk to me,” Larabee ordered, pointedly ignoring the ex-preacher as Standish took a deep breath before speaking.


“What do you want me to say, Chris?” Standish asked softly.


“Tell me why you look like you lost your best friend,” the blond answered.


“This case,” Standish said and sighed tiredly. “I know we've done this numerous times, Chris, but this type of case always has an adverse affect on my psyche. I signed you in as a patient with anger and alcohol issues and the treatment for that was worse than the cause itself. Kent drugged you and tied you down and there wasn't a damn thing I could do to stop him. I wish...I wish we had never taken this case.”


“Ezra, there have been plenty of cases I wanted to turn down, but sometimes we really don't have a choice. Not when we know it's the right thing to do. You've been undercover more than the rest of us and you've seen the dregs of humanity on more than one occasion. Would you change what you did if it meant seeing an innocent person suffer?” Larabee asked.


“No, but that doesn't mean I don't have regrets, especially when it comes to giving up control of my life like you did, Chris,” the gambler answered.


“Sometimes what we think of as control is deceptive. I may have been the one on the inside, but you were put in a position where you had no control over your actions either,” Larabee told him.


“But I was on the outside, Chris, and that's the difference,” Standish whispered.


“Ezra, that's the way things go in our chosen field,” Sanchez told him. “We take our lives in our hands every time we take on a new case. You're damn good at what you do and I'm glad you're on our side or there'd be a hell of a lot more crime going unpunished.”


“Jesus, can you imagine going up against Ezra if he was running a con?” Tanner asked.


“We might as well turn and walk away,” Wilmington offered.


“I'm not that good,” Standish said.


“Trust are, Ezra,” Larabee vowed and felt the weariness creeping over him. “Well, Boys, I'm not much company right now and since Ezra needs his beauty sleep visiting hours are officially over.”


“Did he just kick us out?” Dunne asked.


“I believe he did,” Jackson said. “So come on...there's a beer with my name on it at The Saloon.”


“Ah, Nathan...”




“Come on, Nate, ya don't even know what Chris was gonna say,” Tanner said.


“Let me guess...can we go too? The answer is no,” Jackson said.


“Sorry, Cowboy, I tried,” the Texan observed and followed the others out of the room. 


Ezra sighed heavily and turned his head toward the window, aware of Larabee staring at him, but unable to voice the words he wanted to say. He tried to find enough moisture to speak, and swallowed several times before turning to find his roommate's eyes closed and knew he was asleep.


Ezra closed his eyes and thought about the case and knew in his heart that they did what they started out to do. If Kent was indeed the killer then the deaths at Shady Acres would stop. He didn't want to think about the fact that if by some long shot he was innocent,  that would mean what happened to Chris was for nothing. He didn't even think about his own injuries and the cause as sleep beckoned and he sank toward the waiting nightmares.




Craig Styles whistled softly as he pulled his car to a stop outside the apartment building he lived in. It wasn't much, and it was well known that several of his fellow residents dealt in drugs. He'd even bought some off the elderly couple on the fifth floor. They sold high quality goods and he'd never had a complaint, not even from Kent.


Craig exited his car and locked the doors before leaning against it and lighting a cigarette. He inhaled deeply before blowing the smoke up into the night sky. There was no doubt in his mind that he was in control and Samantha Parker would soon find out just where his tastes could lead them. He felt a tightening in his groin at the thought of having her beneath him, but first he would have to make sure she understood just how much she would lose if she denied him what he wanted.


A sound behind him made him turn toward the back of his car. The parking lot backed onto an old warehouse that had been shut down several years ago, but there was still life there, mostly those who bought drugs in the building, and partied through the night. He moved toward the area where the sound came from and looked around, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. He took another long draw on the cigarette and blew the smoke out through his nose before tossing the butt over his shoulder and turning his back on the empty lot.


Craig's thoughts returned to the woman whose body he wanted to possess and he missed the dark shape that stepped from behind the broken fencing. He whistled softly as he started toward the apartment building and dropped to his knees as something connected solidly with the back of his head. He struggled to get up, but was hit again, this time in the lower back and he hit the ground hard. He lifted his head just as a piece of two by four swung toward him and struck the left side of his face. He felt the bone crack and tried to crawl away, but several more blows landed on his unprotected body.


Blood flowed from several deep cuts on his head and dripped from his mouth as he tried to escape his attacker. Craig knew he was dying, but he had never been one to just lie down and die. His foe had moved in front of him and he reached for his leg to pull himself up, but his fingers were grabbed and bent back until he felt them snap. He cried out, the sound barely audible in the deserted parking lot as he lay on the ground, his breath coming in hitching gasps as his lifeblood flowed across the cracked pavement.




Vin leaned heavily against the corral fence as he watched Pony and Peso grazing on the grass. It was late in the evening and the sun had already sunk below the horizon. A soft breeze blew across the open field behind him as Buck joined him and passed him a bottle of beer.


“Did JD find out anything new on Bear?” Tanner asked. Dunne had been working on the files of several patients who were at Shady Acres and he knew if there was anything hidden there, JD would find it. So far they hadn't been able to prove that Bear's sister had him falsely committed.


“Nothing we can take to Miller, but you know JD...he's like a dog who lost a bone and he's not about to let go until he finds what he's looking for,” Wilmington answered. 


“The kid knows how to get the answers,” Tanner said.


“Like I said...a dog worrying over a bone,” the ladies man observed. “Ezra is carrying a shitload of guilt over what happened.”


“I know...Chris'll get 'im ta open up,” the Texan told him.


“I hope so, but right now Chris is confused about most of it. I don't think he remembers stabbing Ezra with those scissors,” Wilmington offered.


“He don't...least he never said anythin' 'bout it. When he does he'll be shoulderin' his own guilt,” Tanner said and downed half the beer.


“The problem is they were just doing their job...hell, we all were.”


“Tell that to Ezra,” the Texan said.


“We did, but it looks like this whole team likes to shoulder the burden where those hair shirts are concerned,” Wilmington said. “Look, I brought pizza so we might as well eat and maybe JD will find the answers tomorrow.”


“Sounds good,” Tanner said and followed the ladies' man toward the house.




Ezra heard the nurse checking his roommate, and swallowed several times before turning and watching as she finished taking his vitals. Chris had been asleep since dinner and had eaten very little of the meal they'd brought him. Larabee was never a big eater and hospital food left a lot to be desired, yet tonight's fair had been better than he thought possible.


“Ezra, are you having trouble sleeping,” Karen Malone asked softly, smiling at the pale-faced man in the second bed.


“I had thought I was concealing my lack of sleep,” Standish said.


“I'm afraid I learned long ago how to read people and I know you are worried about your friend...”


“Has his fever abated?”


“No, I'm sorry,” Karen answered. “I have put in a call for Dr. Simmons and he should be here shortly.”


“Is it that bad?” the conman asked and raised the head of his bed, grimacing as the movement reminded him of his own injury.


“From what I've read on Chris Larabee, he tends to complicate pun intended,” she said, with a hint of a smile.


“Yes, he certainly knows how to make Buck age a decade overnight,” Standish told her.


“Is he the one always complaining about gray hairs even while he flirts with the nurses?”


“That's Buck,” the gambler said fondly as a familiar figure walked into the room and shook his head.


“I was going to ask if there was a problem, Karen, but after seeing the occupants of this room I already have my answer,” Roy Simmons said.


“I believe Chris was correct when he expressed the fact that you require more fiber in your diet,” Standish said.


“Watch it Standish or I'll have the kitchen make prunes part of your dietary every meal,” Simmons said and reached for Larabee's chart. “When was the Tylenol last given?”


“At eight,” Karen answered and knew it was too soon for more to be given.


“Has Dr. Silverman been in today?”


“He saw him this morning,” the nurse told him.


“Let's get a cooling blanket on him and run a blood series,” Simmons said and noted the specific tests he wanted done.


“Is he going to be all right?” Standish asked once the nurse left to carry out his orders.


“Larabee's as stubborn as they come and he loves to get into a pissing contest with me and I believe I'm one up on him in that department...”


“Don't fuckin' on it, Sim...Simmons,” Larabee said and licked at dry lips.


“See what I mean, Standish? I knew damn well he was sandbaggin' it,” Simmons said and checked the injured blond's eyes. “How do you feel?”


“Blinded...w...why do you always f...find it necessary to use that fuckin' thing? I wasn't shot in the eyes,” the blond groused.


“No, but you weren't shot in the butt either, yet you're still a pain in the ass,” the older man said. He enjoyed the verbal sparring with Larabee's team, but there was something about the sharp-witted blond that made him go toe to toe with him. “Now, back to my do you feel?”


“Hot,” Larabee answered.


“I'm sure the nurses think so too, but I meant...”


“No, Simmons, I mean why is it so fucking hot in here,” Larabee asked and brushed the man's hands away.


“You're running a fever, Larabee,” the physician answered. “Karen went to get a cooling blanket and hopefully between it, the Tylenol, and the antibiotics we'll be able to bring it down.”


“Hell,” the blond whispered as his eyes drifted closed.


Ezra watched as the nurse and an orderly returned and they soon had the cooling blanket set up. He ran his fingers through his disheveled hair as he clicked on the button that would deliver pain medication to his body. He heard footsteps near his bed and looked at Simmons.


“Karen says you're having trouble sleeping,” the physician said.


“I'm fine.”


“Contrary to Larabee and Tanner's opinion those two words are not magic and just because you say them doesn't make them true,” Simmons said. “I'm writing up an order for a mild sleeping pill, Standish, mainly for my own peace of mind. Take it and make things easier on all of us.”


“Take it, Ezra,” Larabee whispered before surrendering completely to the medications in his system.


“What do you say, Standish? Will you take a sleeping pill?”


“I guess so,” the conman answered and wasn't surprised when the nurse produced the prescribed medication and explained that he should put it under his tongue and let it dissolve. Ezra did as she said and soon heard Simmons and the nurse leave. He turned his head and watched the slow rise and fall of Chris Larabee's chest as guilt gnawed at his gut.




Josiah reached for the cup of strong black coffee and turned on the television before settling on the sofa to watch the early morning news. He'd called the hospital to check on Chris and Ezra and would stop in to see them on his way in to the office. He leaned back and put his feet up on the heavy wooden coffee table just as his cell phone rang.




*“Josiah, it's Nathan, have you seen the news?”*


“I just turned it on. What's wrong?”


*“Craig Styles...the orderly from Shady Acres was found dead this morning.”*


“From what Vin told us about him I won't shed a tear over his death. What happened to him?”


*“It looks like he was attacked by an unknown assailant outside his apartment building sometime last night. From what the reporter said the attack was pretty gruesome. They also reported that the building he lived in backed onto an abandoned warehouse that was well known for drugs and those Rave parties.”*


“Maybe he stiffed someone over a drug deal,” Sanchez offered.


*“Probably...wouldn't be the first time a drug deal ended badly. Are you going in to the office?”*


“Right after I stop by to see Chris and Ezra. Do you need a ride?”


*“Rain's going in to the hospital so I'll hitch a ride with her and wait for you there.”*


“Sounds good, Nate. I should be there around ten,” Sanchez said and hung up. He leaned back on the couch and closed his eyes as he thought about the events of the last few weeks. If Kent was indeed behind the deaths and Styles was working with him, then the trouble at Shady Acres should be over. God, he hoped it was that simple, because otherwise they still had a case to finish.




There was something cold and deadly in his hand, but he couldn't make sense of why he was holding them with such ferocity. Anger and frustration warred for dominance as he glanced around in the darkness, searching for the object of his hatred. He needed to find the sonofabitch who'd signed him in. He needed to thrust the scissors into the man's chest and watch as the life drained from his body. There was a coldness about him that was tied around his heart as if the warmth had leeched from his body in much the same way his brother had leeched the money from his company.


He knew who he sought, knew what he had to do, and no one would stop him from completing the ultimate revenge.


“Kill dear...”




The words were so soft he wasn't sure they were real until the words were repeated so close that he knew it was not his imagination. Ezra opened his eyes and tried to make sense of where he was and why his body felt weighted down. He blinked several times, unable to make sense of what he was seeing.


“Chris,” he whispered, not understanding the look on the other man's face, yet understanding that the raised right hand meant something.


“You won't get a...way with it, dear...”


“Chris, listen to me,” Standish tried, but there was no sign of recognition from the blond. He reached out to press the button, but something struck him in the chest and he cried out as pain erupted through his upper body.




Josiah walked slowly toward the room Chris and Ezra shared and pushed open the door. It surprised him to see the empty bed and he quickly took in the scene at the second bed. He moved forward, calling for help as he reached Larabee and grabbed him around the waist.


“Let me go! to die!”


“Chris, calm down...that's Ezra...”


“What's going on?” a nurse asked upon hurrying into the room and seeing a man holding one of her patients.


“Let me go!” Larabee said and continued to struggle while Sanchez held him.


“Check on Ezra,” Sanchez ordered, relieved when the nurse moved to the other patient. He returned his full attention to the man who'd suddenly gone limp in his arms and lifted him onto his bed. He looked at Larabee's face and realized the man had passed out as the nurse hit the call button and asked for help. “How is he?”


“I'm fine...Chris?” Standish managed as the nurse checked him over.


“He's out,” Sanchez answered as a second nurse hurried into the room followed quickly by Brandon Silverman who'd just started his morning rounds.


“What the hell happened here?” Silverman asked and moved to Larabee's bed.


“Chris must have been experiencing a nightmare and thought he was still at Shady Acres,” Standish answered.


“He's pulled out his IV,” Silverman said and turned to the second nurse. “Get a new set up and I want to take a look at his wound. Ezra...”


“I'm fine...”


“Don't give me that crap...just tell me what he did,” Silverman ordered.


“He struck me in the chest,” Standish answered.


“Jordan, is he bleeding?” the surgeon asked as he removed the bandaging from Larabee's wound.


“No,” the nurse told him.


“Good,” Silverman said, relieved that both patients seemed to be okay in spite of what had happened. “We're going to need restraints...”


“No, you can't do that to him!” Ezra said and pushed the nurse's hands aside.


“Ezra, stay put!” Sanchez ordered and moved to help the nurse with the injured conman.


“Josiah, you can't let them put Chris in restraints!” Standish said and grabbed Sanchez's arm. “It'll send him back to hell...I can't let that happen to him again.”


“We won't Ezra,” the ex-preacher vowed and turned to Silverman. “Doc, I'll stay with them and make sure Chris doesn't do anything he's not supposed to.”


“You're Sanchez right?” the surgeon asked.


“Yes, I am.”


“Are you sure you want to take on that responsibility?”


“Yes...we've done it before,” Sanchez answered.


“All right,” Silverman reluctantly agreed. He knew these men, maybe not as well as Midland or Simmons, but he understood that when they made up their minds about something, they usually got their way.  “Jordan, we won't need the restraints for now, but if this happens again we won't have a choice.”


“Yes, Dr. Silverman,” the nurse said and expertly restarted Larabee's IV while the doctor finished checking the wound.


Silverman moved to the second patient and checked to make sure Larabee hadn't done any damage to Standish and was relieved to find only a hint of redness around the wound. “This looks good, Ezra, but I want you to let the nurse know if you develop any pain or signs of bleeding.”


“I will,” Standish assured him, turning his head slightly until he could see past the surgeon to Larabee. He heard the medical staff leave and felt a hand on his shoulder.


“He's okay, Son,” Sanchez said and watched as Standish's eyes closed. He knew when the younger man gave in to the sleep he needed and sat back to wait for Nathan to join him.




Samantha Parker looked at the patients in her group therapy and thought about their backgrounds and family. What would they do if these five people were to suddenly die of unknown causes? She'd killed for money, but now she wanted the thrill that the power of killing gave her. It didn't matter that her hands weren't the ones that actually caused the deaths, what mattered was that she controlled how and when they died.


“Dr. Parker, Carl Sheppard is waiting for you in your office,” Katrina Morgan said from the open doorway. 


“Tell him I'll be right there,” Parker told her and turned to the patients. “You have all done very well today...”


“Does that mean I can go home?” Dugan snapped.


“No, Joseph, you still have a long way to go before I sign your release papers,” Parker vowed.


“You let Jacobson go and he was nuttier than a fruitcake...”


“Chris Jacobson is no longer a patient at Shady Acres, but that doesn't mean he was cured,” Parker said, anger simmering just below the surface.


“Then why'd ya let him go?”


“I don't need to explain my actions to you, Joseph,” the therapist snapped and grabbed the files from the table before leaving the room. She made her way to her office and closed the door as she moved to her desk. “Tell me Styles is taken care of.”


“Marcus assured me he's dead and he made it look like a drug deal gone bad,” Sheppard told her.


“Good, now maybe things will settle down and we can get on with our lives,” Parker said.


“Are we just going to let those bastards get away with fucking up what we had here?”


“I don't think we have a choice in the matter, Carl. If we go after them then it could very well put Shady Acres back under the microscope. I've done some digging into Larabee and the agency he works for. It's owned by a former judge named Orin Travis and has ties with the police department and the government. I couldn't access most of the files, but Larabee is a former member of the Special Forces including the Navy SEALs.”


“We should have checked into them more carefully,” Sheppard said.


“We did what we could with the information we had. The story they gave was believable and the background checks didn't turn up anything that should have sent off warning signals. They are good at what they do, Carl, and we should be glad Kent seems to have been the focus of their investigation. I just wish I could have had more time with Chris.”


“I wish we'd had more time to use the drugs Marcus gave me. It would have been fun watching him take a trip on the wild side,” Sheppard told her.


“We did manage to give him a look at his dark side,” Parker said with a smile as she leaned back in her chair. “Anyway, the money is ours and I have decided to hand in my resignation as of today.”


“You can't just up and leave. That will just cast suspicions on you if they focus on the recent deaths including Kent and Styles,” Sheppard told her.


“I know that, Carl, so I have given them a month's notice with the option to stay longer if they need more time to find a replacement.”


“What did you give as a reason for your resignation?”


“I want to start my own practice,” Parker answered and picked up a pencil. “I have more than enough money to do that, but I believe I'll just travel for several months and maybe settle down in another country until I decide whether I want to return to work. What about you, Carl, what are your plans?”


“I'll keep working until my contract ends next year and then I'll retire to a nice warm climate where there's nothing but fun in the sun,” Sheppard answered.


“Sounds like a good plan,” Parker told him and realized they'd both made some changes to the plans they had originally spoken of shortly after Kent's death. She reached into her desk and pulled out the bottle of brandy she kept there and poured them both a drink. “To retirement.”


“To the people who have lined our pockets,” Sheppard said with a grin and clinked glasses before swallowing the fiery liquid. “Well, I have to meet with a new client today so I'll talk to you later, Sam.”


“New money, Carl?”


“Of course, but not nearly enough to make us take a chance now that we have what we need and are in the clear,” Sheppard answered.


Parker waited for him to leave and reached for the file in her desk. She wanted to make Chris Larabee and Ezra Standish pay for what they cost her, but right now she could not take that chance. Cursing softly she threw it back in the drawer and slammed it shut before taking the papers off her desk and hurrying to meet with the board.




JD stared at the laptop screen in frustration, but he'd never been a quitter and was not gonna start now. He had all the information from Kent's files, but couldn't help feeling like there was something he was missing. He'd been through the hidden folder, found more than enough information to convict Kent if the man had lived to go to trial, but it all seemed too easy.


From what he'd uncovered so far, Raymond Kent was a genius. The man had falsified so many of his records and made it appear as if the credentials on his walls were hard earned. The hospital he supposedly worked at for more than 12 years had no record of Raymond Kent, at least not as a psychiatrist. What they did have was a record of him as a patient whose mind seemed to work too fast and left him with severe headaches, at least that was how JD interpreted what he'd read.


“JD, why don't you take a break?” Wilmington suggested.


“I'm okay, Buck.”


“No, Kid, you're not. You've been at that for three days straight and it's time to give it up and come back at it with fresh eyes. It's late and Nate called to say he wanted to meet us all at the hospital...”


“Are Chris and Ezra all right?” Dunn asked as Vin joined them.


“They're okay, but Chris had...I guess you could call it a flashback, but he thought he was still at Shady Acres and attacked Ezra. Silverman ordered restraints...”


“No fuckin' way!” Tanner snarled.


“Easy, Vin, Josiah talked them out of it, but it means one of us needs to be there in case it happens again,” Wilmington observed.


“What did he do?” Dunne asked and closed down the files he'd been working on.


“Chris attacked Ezra...hit him in the chest and called him a bastard. Josiah thinks Chris thought he was still at Shady Acres,” the ladies man answered.


“Damn, that could happen again,” Tanner said.


“Exactly, so let's close up shop and head over there,” the rogue told them and waited until Dunne shut down the laptop and headed for the door.




Chris knew the smells surrounding him and silently cursed that the pain in his head and the nausea in his gut weren't caused by too much drinking. He heard familiar voices and opened his eyes to find five men standing around his bed, but one man was conspicuously absent.


“Welcome back, Son,” Sanchez greeted softly.


“Where's Ezra?” Larabee asked and shot up in the bed as panic swept through him. He closed his eyes as vivid images of his hand clutching something sharp and driving it into a chest...but whose chest?


“Chris, hold on, Pard, you're okay,” Wilmington tried.


“God, Buck, I...I killed him!” the blond said as blood covered his hands and a look of surprised horror was quickly replaced by pain in Ezra's eyes.


“No, you didn't, Chris, Ezra's right over there,” Tanner said and waited for the injured man to turn his head. “He's just sleeping.”


“He's okay?” Larabee whispered.


“He's okay, Chris,” Jackson assured the blond.


“I remember...”


“What do you remember, Son?” Sanchez asked.


“I remember being at Shady Acres...remember being so pissed at Ezra that I stabbed him,” Larabee said and frowned as several more images flashed through his mind. He felt anger and rage and the need to make someone pay for his loss of control and someone urging him on.


“What else, Chris?” Jackson asked.


“The orderly...Styles...he gave me the scissors. Kept telling me my brother was behind everything and I couldn't think straight. I just felt rage and wanted to wipe the smug look off Ezra's face. God, I could have killed him,” Larabee said, his voice edged with pain.


“But you didn't, Chris, although I will need to put in for a new suit in the next expense report,” Standish said and turned to look at his roommate.


“If Travis won't pay for it...I will,” Larabee told him, guilt evident in his voice as he studied the conman. “Ezra...”


“Don't go there, Chris, someone slipped you some heavy duty drugs and that person is to blame for this,” Standish said.


“Didn't I tell you the same thing when we started this case? We all have to learn to live with our decisions and it was mine to take on this case. I nearly killed you, Ezra,” Larabee said and again closed his eyes as more images formed and this time he knew what he'd done could not be blamed on drugs. His stomach churned as he opened his eyes and looked at his hands and reached for the basin as bitter tasting bile rose in his throat. He heard Wilmington's worried voice, but saw nothing except his hands striking against Ezra's chest.


“Chris, it's okay,” Jackson tried as dry heaves attacked the blond.


“No...God...I wasn' drugs...thought...thought it was real,” Larabee managed and looked at his hands as if they were covered in blood.


“What was real, Chris?” Sanchez asked.


“I tried to kill wasn't drugs making me do it,” the blond spat and pulled away from Wilmington's touch. 


“It wasn't you, Chris,” Tanner said.


“Don't patronize me, Vin...I know exactly what I did and I couldn't stop it!”


“Chris, you are not to blame!” Standish tried. “You were...”


“I was what, Ezra? Having a flashback? Hell, I know that, but it doesn't matter because it could happen again and then what? What if no one's around to stop me?”


“Chris, we've all done things in our lives and you're not the first one to have flashbacks, but as long as we don't let them rule our lives, we can deal with them. We have to or we stop being who we are. This team came together for a reason and we've all learned to lean on each other, so don't try to be strong on your own. Our strength is in our number and the team is only as strong as the man who leads it and by leading he has to trust his gut and lean on us,” Sanchez told him.  


“Josiah's right, Chris, lean on us and we'll help you through this...we all will,” Wilmington vowed as Larabee lay back against the pillows and he covered his eyes with his arm. “Come on, Pard, you know you're not alone in this.”


“I know, Buck, but Jesus...”


“Jesus has nothing to do with this, Chris, but I'm betting he'll gladly add his shoulder if you want to lean a little harder,” Sanchez offered.


Chris knew the others were right, but guilt gnawed at his gut each time he looked at Ezra Standish. The conman's eyes were locked on his and he saw something in them that spoke of the same emotions he was feeling and Chris knew then that he was not alone. He took a deep breath, looked at each member of his team, and saw none of the blame he expected to see there.


“Gentlemen, I thought hospital policy was two visitors at a time,” Simmons said from his vantage point in the open doorway.


“Hell, Doc, ya know we ain't that good at keepin' ta the numbers,” Tanner said.


“You bunch aren't good at keepin' to hospital policies at all...the noise level was disturbing the other patients,” the gruff physician warned.


“Sorry, Doc, my fault,” Larabee said.


“Okay, where the hell are ya hiding the real Chris Larabee!” Simmons said and moved to check Larabee's vitals.


“Hell, Simmons, what did you do stick your hands in the fucking freezer?” Larabee cursed when the man's cold hand touched his arm.


“That I did, Larabee, just for you,” Simmons said with a grin as he listened to the blond's heartbeat.


“Sonofabitch...go check on Ezra” the blond ordered.


“Not until my hands warm up...after all Standish has a delicate countenance and we shouldn't exacerbate it...”


“I may not agree with what you said, Dr. Simmons, but I am impressed that you have studied something besides the comic strip in the morning paper,” Standish observed.


“I don't have time for the morning comics, Standish, I'm too busy adding new chapters to War and Peace and The least Vin and Buck aren't adding to my grief,” Simmons said and grew serious as he looked at the blond. “Chris, your temperature has come down...”


“So you'll sign me out...”


“Not by a long shot, Larabee, and don't you start, Standish!”


“What did I do?”


“You managed to get yourself a roommate named Larabee and I'm not gonna be signing any discharge papers for at least three days,” Simmons vowed. “Now, you bunch need to get out of here and let these two get some rest.”


“Simmons, why don't you...”


“Better think about what you're gonna say, Larabee, because that three days could be longer,” the physician said with a wicked grin.


“Do that and I'll make the nurses life a living hell and make sure they know it's because of you,” the blond warned.


“Touche, but do that and remember that proctological exam I told you about...well see that department might just have an pun intended,” Simmons said.


“Always knew you were an ass, Simmons,” Wilmington said and heard soft groans from the others.


“Buck's full of crap,” Dunne added and smiled in spite of the glares turned in his direction.  


“The shit's really flying here today so I'm gonna leave you boys to clean it up,” Simmons said. “Larabee, and heal 'cause I need these beds for patients who appreciate my talents?”


“Comedic though they might be,” Tanner said and Simmons raised his eyebrows before leaving the room.


“I don't know about Ezra, but I think I'm going to do as Simmons says for a change and get some sleep,” Larabee said and yawned tiredly before pressing the button that would deliver the prescribed dose of pain medication before lowering the head of his bed.


“That sound like a plan, Chris,” Ezra said and did the same as his roommate.


“Rain's here until midnight,” Jackson said and knew the others understood he was volunteering to stay with Larabee and Standish until then. He heard them leave and nodded at Tanner when the Texan said he'd be back at midnight to relieve him.




The next three days passed in a blur for Chris Larabee, his fever continued to cause problems until it finally abated in a burst that left Chris worn out and sleeping deeply.


Ezra knew the other man was weak and while his own IV had been removed, Larabee's was still running steadily into his arm because of the danger of dehydration. He slid his legs over the edge of the bed and sat for a few minutes, unconsciously rubbing at the itch that signaled the wound was healing.


Ezra knew Simmons would be in shortly and hoped the gruff physician would sign his release papers. He was eating and drinking and the pain was manageable now with Tylenol #3s. He put on his slippers, made his way to the window, and stared down at the street below.


“Anything interesting down there, Standish or would you be interested in letting me take a look at you and maybe giving you your walking papers...or should that be shuffling papers,” Simmons said and drew the curtains to allow them some privacy.


“I do not shuffle.”


“Today, you do,” Simmons told him. “Now take off your shirt and lets see about getting you out of here.”


Ezra took off the pajama top he was wearing and sat on the edge of his bed as Simmons gently pulled the bandage away from the wound. The older man was thorough in his examination of the area surrounding the wound, but finally picked up the chart and made several notations before dropping it back on the table and sitting on the edge of the bed.


“How do you feel, Standish, and none of Larabee's 'I'm fine' crap,” Simmons ordered.




“Now there's a novel thought,” the physician said with a grin.


“I'm tired and sore and when I get home I'm going to climb into bed and stay there for a week...”


“Deal, I'll have the papers drawn up for you to sign. A week in bed sounds just about right,” Simmons said.


“What about Chris? When will you release him?”


“Well, Chris is living up to his reputation when it comes to complications,” Simmons answered and stood up. “Although his temperature is down and he seems to be sleeping soundly right now and that's a good thing. I'll talk with Dr. Silverman later today and if everything stays as it is I'll probably sign his release papers tomorrow morning.”


“I'll hold you to that, Simmons.” Larabee's voice sounded weak, but there was no mistaking his intent as Simmons pulled back the curtain and moved to his bed.


“You look like death warmed over, Larabee,” the gruff physician observed.


“After what you people have put me through, I'll take that as a compliment,” the blond grumbled and pressed the button to raise the head of his bed. “So, Ez, you're getting out of here.”


“That's what the man said,” Standish agreed.


“Well, I have other patients to see so I'll leave you two to it. Standish, make sure you rest, take your meds, and keep your appointments with Dr. Silverman and Stacey,” Simmons said and turned his attention to the second man. “As for you, Larabee, don't go trying to slip out with Standish!”


“And miss your sunny personality,” Larabee said with a grin.


“Real funny. I'll see you tomorrow morning,” Simmons told him and left the two men alone.


“Who are you going to call to drive you home?” Larabee asked.


“I believe Vin said he would be in around noon so if you don't mind the company I'll wait for him,” Standish said and walked slowly to the closet where the clothing Josiah brought him were hanging. He brought them to his bed and sat down before looking at the blond. “Chris, I was thinking.”


“Bad thing to do in here, Ezra,” Larabee said, waiting for the other man to continue.


“When you get out of here why don't you stay at my penthouse for a while. I mean it would make things easier for the guys considering they will be overly protective...”


“You mean they'll be in mother hen mode?”


“Precisely...and it would simply benefit everyone if we were staying in one place.”


“Thanks, Ezra, that sounds like a plan,” Larabee told him. “I'll have Vin grab some things from the ranch and drop them at your place. You did lay in a good supply of your special blend?”


“Of course,” Standish answered and closed the curtains while he dressed.


Chris laid his head back against the pillow and closed his eyes as he listened to his roommate get dressed. He envied Standish being allowed to leave, but at least if things continued then he'd be leaving this place himself the next morning. He glanced at the doorway as footsteps neared and wasn't surprised to find Orin Travis standing there.


“Come in, Orin,” Larabee said when the older man seemed unsure whether he should enter or not. 


“How are you feeling, Chris?” the former judge asked.


“Better, Orin, according to Simmons I can go home tomorrow,” the blond answered as Standish drew back the curtain.


“Good morning, Orin,” Standish greeted.


“Good morning, Ezra, I'm guessing by your attire that you're getting out of here today,” Travis observed.


“Simmons seems to think I am sufficiently recovered and can recuperate just as well at home,” the gambler told him.


“Nice to know your injuries haven't affected your vocabulary,” Travis offered and pulled a chair closer to Larabee's bed.


“What's going on, Orin?” the blond asked.


“I spoke with Daniel today about Kent and Styles,” Travis said.




“The board has turned all his files over to the police and the board is cooperating with the authorities. For all intents and purposes it looks like Kent really was behind the murders and Styles helped him by supplying the drugs he used on you, Chris.”


“At least they won't be costing the taxpayers anything,” Larabee observed.


“JD's still working on the files he sent to the office from Shady Acres. He says he's found some discrepancies in Kent's hidden agenda, but he hasn't been able to figure out why it's bothering him,” Travis said.


“If JD thinks something's not right then he's probably correct and I would allow him the necessary time to find what he's searching for,” Standish said.


“Believe me, I agree. I've learned over the years to trust each of you and if your instincts tell you something then I'd put money on the outcome,” the former judge observed.


“Thanks, Orin,” Larabee said.


“You're welcome, now stop worrying about Shady Acres and any other cases and concentrate on healing,” Travis said.


“How are Mary and Billy?” Larabee asked of Travis' daughter-in-law and her son.


“They're fine. Billy is doing very well in school and has joined the baseball team. They're coming back for a visit next month since Gerard is supposed to be going to England on business,” Travis answered. At one point he'd been half expecting Chris and Mary to get together, but that had not happened and Mary had fallen in love with Gerard and they'd been married six months ago. Gerard was good for Mary and treated Billy like his own and for that, Orin was grateful, but it was still somewhat of a disappointment. 


“That's good to hear. Let me know when they get here and maybe we'll have a BBQ at the ranch,” the blond said and sighed tiredly.


“I will, Chris, and on that note I'll let you rest. Now, Ezra, don't let me catch you anywhere near the office until I hear from Stacey,” Travis ordered before leaving the two men alone.


Chris watched as Ezra finished packing, but soon found his mind drifting as sleep beckoned to him and he gave in to its call. He didn't see the worry or guilt that crossed Standish's face, yet his mind was filled with his own version of guilt as it followed him into his dreams.





JD looked at the files on his desk and cursed that he needed to update them before concentrating on Raymond Kent's hidden agenda. There was no doubt that the man was crazy and had tried to kill Chris, but there was more to it than what was seen with the naked eye. He'd been able to uncover several other inconsistencies where Kent was concerned, but again they didn't help prove conclusively that he was behind the deaths at Shady Acres. 


JD took the top file and sighed heavily as he opened it and began reading what he'd put in there. The Johansson case was a done deal with Robert Johansson finally complying with everything that had been set forth by the lawyer or Mildred Dawson. The elderly woman had been taken for a ride by the enigmatic conman, but he hadn't been able to fool Josiah when they'd confronted him with Mrs. Dawson's approval. JD signed off on the case and put the file in the pile that would need Wilmington's approval before being sent to Travis.


JD read through several more files before realizing he really wasn't concentrating on the task at hand and that wasn't fair to the agency's clients. He pushed the files away, pulled the laptop closer, and tapped several keys to bring up Kent's file.


“JD, are you back at it?” Wilmington asked and knew by the look on Dunne's face he'd been enthralled with whatever he'd been working on.


“Oh, hi, Buck, what time is it?”


“Nearly four...did you get the Johansson and Dawson files finished?”


“Yeah, they're on that stack. I'll get to the rest tomorrow,” Dunne told him.


“JD, son, I know you think you're missing something with Kent, but there's not much more we can do for now. It's time to take care of the other clients,” Wilmington observed.


“I know...I just have the feeling there's something important we're missing.”


“You're not the only one who feels that way, Kid, but right now all we have are questions and the answers will have to wait. I'm going to go see Mrs. Dawson and update her on everything. Why don't you shut that down and come with me. You know how she loves it when young blood pays attention to her,” the ladies man said, relieved when the Bostonian did as he suggested and headed for the door.





“Fuck...fucking kill you.” “Easy, Jacobson, I'm going to help you. You're in trouble, Jacobson, but I can help you. You want to hide until they get your brother out of here don't you?” “Killed him...killed the bastard.” “No, you didn't kill him, Jacobson, but I can make sure no one finds you.” “Why me?”  “I don't like men like your brother. They're self-righteous bastards who think only of themselves. It wasn't your fault that he got what he deserved.” “Deserved more...fuckin' cheat...never did him...”


The words all ran together until they became a long jangled sentence spoken in two voices that could not be separated. There was no one in the room to see the misery that shone in the sea green eyes that were open and staring at the ceiling as if they bore witness to the pain he'd caused. Chris turned on his side and drifted back into the nightmarish images as two new voices invaded his dreams.


“What the hell? Where's Jacobson?” “He's right here, but between the drugs you gave him and the ones Kent gave him he's a mess.” “Look, I need to get out of here before we're discovered. Take the gun and shoot Larabee...” “Why the hell don't you do it?” “I can't be seen here. Look, shoot Jacobson and make it look like he killed Kent. You'll be a hero for catching the crazy patient, and Ray will be a martyr.” “I...” “Time's wasting, Craig, and I'm the one holding all the cards now that you took care of Kent. Kill Jacobson and I'll make damn sure you're on easy street for the rest of your life.”


“No,” Larabee's voice was soft in the darkened room with no one to hear his cries as he sank deeper into the nightmare. The voices were strangely familiar and distinctly female at some point, but who was she and why did she want him dead.


PART 1 / PART 2 / PART 3 / PART 4 / PART 5 / PART 6 / PART 7 / PART 8 / PART 9PART 11




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