By Sarah (winks7985)


Part 3


Darryl came back into the clearing, breathing heavily.  “Sorry Tripp, I lost him.  He had too good a head start.”


Jerry stood looking at the agent he had just fired upon, marveling at how close to his head the bullet had struck the tree.  The agent still had his eyes screwed shut, no doubt expecting another shot.  A powder burn marred his cheek.


“It’s no bother,” Tripp remarked over his shoulder.  “This one,” he motioned to the agent, “will be useful.  They’ll trade her for him.  If they know what’s good for them.”


Ezra thought he was dead.  He was just waiting for the white light and the sad display of what passed for his life to flash before his eyes.  His face burned, his chest throbbed miserably, and his leg still felt like it was on fire. 


Well, if there’s pain, I’m alive.


He cracked open his eyes tentatively and met Jerry Tripp’s crazed eyes looking almost through him. 


For now, he amended.




Buck entered the clearing carrying a small child in his arms.  Chris saw him first and started walking towards him.  About ten feet away from him, the blond held out his hands in askance, “What’s goin’ on Buck?”


Closing the distance between the two of them, Buck said nothing, rubbing the back of the small child he still held tightly to.  He continued to walk past Chris towards the other personnel on scene.  He needed to give the child to someone who could care for her.


“Buck?” Chris asked as he followed the taller man. “Where’s Ezra?  What--?”


Wilmington turned and looked hard at Chris, warning him off of whatever he was going to say next.  He never broke stride as he approached a nearby uniformed officer.  “Nancy?” he asked tentatively.  When the pretty brunette turned and looked at him, he adjusted the little girl in his arms so she could see the officer.  Nancy smiled at the little girl.  “Could you watch my friend Shannon here for me?” Buck asked in his nicest voice.  When Nancy nodded and reached for the girl, Shannon clung harder to the mustached agent.


“Hey now darling,” Buck soothed.  “This is one of my nicest friends.  Her name is Nancy.”  He craned his neck so that he met Shannon’s eyes as he spoke.  “She’s gonna take care of you for a bit while I go back to work for a while.  I’ll be back later, I promise.  Ok?” His sweet voice seemed to win the child over.


A small nod came from his bundle. 


“Good girl,” he said to her, and kissed the top of her head as he handed her off to the awaiting officer.  “Thanks Nance,” he added.  Nancy smiled back at him with sympathetic eyes.  Even though she didn’t know the whole story about the child, she knew that the look Buck gave her was lined with hurt.  She hummed gently at the girl in her arms as she walked away from the silently distraught man.


“Buck!” Chris snapped, having grown irritated at being blown off by his friend.  He grabbed the taller man’s arm and spun him around to face him. 


Buck, turning with the spin, swung openly and hard, clipping Chris in the face and knocking him to the ground.


“You son of a bitch!” he yelled at his downed leader.  Josiah and Vin grabbed him by his arms and held him in place, preventing a further attack on Larabee.


“What the fuck was that for?” Chris snapped.  He was only slightly dazed, knowing that Buck could have hit him a lot harder if he wanted to.


“You knew that there were still people in the woods!  You knew we didn’t have enough people to do a proper search of the grounds!  And you still told us to keep going!”  Buck shrugged off the two men holding him as he watched Larabee get to his feet. 


“What happened Buck?” Nathan asked calmly from beside Chris.  “Where’s Ezra?”


Buck blew a shuddering breath out through his nose as he tried to calm himself.  “I don’t know.”


“What do you mean you don’t know?” asked Nathan.


“For all I know he could be dead,” he said as calm as possible.


“What?” chorused several voices at once.


Chris grabbed Buck’s arm and started leading him towards one of the outbuildings nearby, the rest of the team following.  Buck didn’t fight him.  He had nothing left to fight with.  I let him get killed…


“Clear out!” Chris snapped at the handful of people who were currently in the cabin.  He did not have to repeat himself.


He pushed Buck down onto one of the chairs and then seated himself directly opposite.  Looking his old friend straight in the eye, he calmly said, “Start at the beginning.”


Buck met his gaze, seeing the darkening start on the blond’s face from where he had hit him.  Knowing that any apology wouldn’t be accepted, or even needed, between the two men, he didn’t bother to try.  He choked back a sigh as he ran a hand up his face and through his hair.


"We were ambushed.  We had found the cabin.  I called you about it,” he nodded at Chris, “and we found the woman, the informant, in the cabin, dead.”


“Shit,” said Vin, standing near the open door. 


Buck looked over to the Texan and just nodded.  “We knew then that they were on to us.  All of us; the raid, everything.  I think that’s why it went so smooth.”  He looked back at Chris.  “We were about to leave the cabin when we found the little girl.”


“Who is she?” asked Josiah.


“You’re not gonna believe this.  She’s Jerry Tripp’s niece.”


“Oh man,” said JD dejectedly.  He had a sinking feeling where this tale was headed.


Buck went on to explain that Ezra had taken a couple of rounds in the vest, but managed to keep himself covered while providing cover for Buck and the girl.  “Then Ezra took one in the leg.  He managed to get himself behind a tree nearby, and he worked his belt around his leg.”


“How bad was he hit?” asked Nathan.


“I have no idea.  He was ten feet from me and I couldn’t help him…” Buck stood up angrily, knocking over his chair as he did so.  Turning agitatedly in a circle, his gaze fell on the discarded chair.  He kicked it disgustedly.


“If you had tried Buck,” said Chris calmly, “you would have been hit.  And you both would have been killed.”


“Ten fucking feet…” he muttered.


“None of us could have helped him in that situation,” Vin said from his perch near the open door.  He hadn’t moved at all during the telling of the tale.


“What happened next?” prodded Chris, who still remained seated and looking intently at his oldest friend.


“He made me leave,” Buck said sadly, looking up at the ceiling.  Bringing his gaze back to the group, he added, “He asked for my extra clip and I tossed it to him.  Once I knew he had it, I grabbed the girl and he covered our escape.  I ran.  Dammit, I can’t believe I let him convince me to leave.”


“Buck…” Chris started.


“I know!” he snapped.  “I would have been killed or captured or whatever if I hadn’t left.  I know that!  It’s just hard to swallow right now.”  He paused and took a steadying breath, looking around at the walls of the cabin as he spoke.  “I know he couldn’t have moved quick enough on that leg…”  But I left him…  After another calming breath, he turned and looked at Chris directly.  “When…” he stuttered as he began.  “When I was running, I heard a single gunshot.  After all the others.  Then I found you all.”  Buck hung his head after he finished.


Silence reigned as the implications sunk in.


“No,” JD said decidedly.  “No, he’s fine,” he said, shaking his head vehemently.


“JD…” Josiah started.


“NO!” he shouted. 


Silence again filled the air.


“Larabee?” someone outside shouted.


Chris stood slowly from his seat and walked to the doorway where Vin was already peering out, a somber look in his blue eyes.


Detective Paul Murphy was waiting outside as Chris exited the cabin.  “Murph?” Chris asked.


Murphy was coordinating the DPD side of this operation, and the guys of Team Seven got along with him very well.  He had a sick sense of humor and was damn good at his job.  “Chris, is Standish missing?” he asked worriedly as he stopped several feet in front of Larabee.


Chris looked at him skeptically.  “Why?”  There was a possibility that Murph had heard Buck’s relaying of the events, but he doubted it.


“Some guy just surrendered himself to one of the search teams.  Says his name is Darryl Wickwire.”




“He had Standish’s badge, gun and name patch from his vest on him.  Says he wants to talk to whoever is in charge.”


“Where is he?”


“Search team’s bringing him in.  Should be here in five minutes.”


“You find me as soon as he’s here,” Chris said as he started to turn away.




Larabee turned and faced the detective again.


“Why do you think this guy has Standish’s ID?”


Larabee sighed.  “Cuz I think Jerry Tripp has Ezra.” 




Ezra’s head felt fuzzy and his chest burned with every breath he took.  Dammit I think my ribs are broken, he thought.  He lay on his side on the floor of what seemed to be a cave.  Funny, he thought, I don’t remember seeing a cave on the maps anywhere. 


Tripp was seated on the ground across the way from Standish, his arms resting on his knees as he lounged against the wall.  He still held the revolver in his hand; the one that Ezra could still hear click in his mind when he closed his eyes.  Leaning against the cave wall next to Tripp was a hunting rifle.  That had to be what had delivered the slugs that now resided in his vest. 


Surprisingly, Tripp had dressed his leg wound pretty well prior to their trek to this cave.  Darryl had left and gone off into the woods to get the ATV where they had left it.  While they awaited Darryl’s return, Tripp, divested Standish of his handcuffs and put them to good use, binding the agent’s hands behind his back.  The pulling motion of his arms had Ezra grunting in agony, but once his hands were secure the pain became more bearable.  Then Tripp had dragged him to his feet by his bound hands, causing Ezra to yelp at the pain in his chest and back, as well as the fire that erupted in his leg.  Darryl returned with the ATV, and Standish was secured to the back where cargo would go, with bungee cords, of all things.  Indignity aside, Ezra was thankful to not have to walk or have to attempt to move much.  But when the ATV started its trek he was jostled harshly, causing him to have second thoughts about walking.


He succumbed to unconsciousness at some point during the journey, but now he was awake in the cave. 


Alone, with Jerry Tripp. 


Tripp fingered the revolver, but had his gaze locked on his prisoner.  He grinned as his guest started to come around.


“So you are alive.”  It wasn’t a question.


Ezra grunted as he winced against the light of the afternoon.  Even though they were in this… grotto… the sun shone brightly outside.


“I was starting to wonder,” Tripp said, his gaze unwavering.  He looked… well, almost intrigued with the downed man.  “Wouldn’t do no good if you were dead, you know.”


“Wonderful,” Ezra croaked.


“It speaks!” Tripp crowed, raising his arms in mock celebration.  He smiled at himself.  “You have been less than entertaining since I had to drag your ass in here.”


Ezra tried to take short breaths.  His chest ached miserably, preventing him from taking the deeper breaths he so craved.  “Huh.”


“I thought you revenuers would be more chatty,” Tripp continued. 


“Where are we?” Standish managed to rasp out.


“We’re still in the thick of things, don’t you worry.”


“And your… friend?”


“On a very important errand,” Tripp said with mock humor.


Ezra shifted as he lay on the floor of the cavern, trying to find a more comfortable position.  He was able to shift a bit, the movement sent a spasm of pain through his chest and started a bout of coughing that left him with his eyes screwed shut and watering, jaw clenched. Once it passed, he decided that he was better off not moving at all.


Tripp didn’t move during the fit, waiting until it was over to speak.  “I bet that hurt.”


Ezra grunted what could be construed as a positive.


“You took three in the vest.”  He held up Ezra’s vest to show the bullet holes.  “I would be shocked if your ribs aren’t broke.  Couple of those bullets made it down to the last layers.”  He studied the vest in his hands with intense interest, holding it at his own eye level.  “Government Kevlar is good, but you still get the punch of it, don’t you?”  Tripp dropped the vest to the cavern floor and got to his feet.  He approached the downed agent.  “Let’s sit you up a little more proper, shall we?”


Ezra clenched his jaw against the pain he felt when Trip ‘assisted’ him to a sitting position.  He immediately started coughing again and battled through the fit that left him breathless again.  He tasted an acrid, familiar taste in his mouth, and spit on the cavern floor.  Blood.


“Maybe Government Kevlar isn’t as good as you had hoped,” Tripp said in an amused voice, squatting next to the agent.


“I have high… standards…” Ezra rasped back.


“Yet you chose to work for ‘the man’, as it were.  I wonder why.”


You and my mother both, he thought.


“You revenuers… you just can’t leave well enough alone can you?  All I wanted to do was work my stills.  My family is here.  We were happy.”


“You were stockpiling weapons,” Ezra calmly stated.  He shifted around on his backside, trying to relieve the pressure on his wounded leg.


“Is that what that bitch told you?  Probably made us out to be some sort of,” he flailed his hands theatrically, “radical separatist group, didn’t she?”


Ezra watched silently as the man continued his rant.


“Yes, we have guns.  We are protecting our livelihood.  This,” he stood to his full height in the cavern, motioning out towards the opening, “is the legacy that has been passed down from generation to generation.  Like you, you probably followed in someone’s footsteps going into law enforcement.”


Hardly, Ezra thought.


“Or you hope that someone will someday follow in your footsteps.  That is your tradition.  Mine is no better or worse, only different.”


Ezra took a steadying breath.  “Your ‘livelihood’, as you so grandiosely put it, has killed three people.  The impurities in your ‘product’,” he sneered, “poisoned people.  Innocent people.  What about their livelihoods?”


“I never killed anyone,” he stated plainly, innocently.


Standish snorted.  “Tell that to your niece when she asks what happened to her mother.”  The disgust was evident in his voice.  “That is, if you ever get the chance to see her again.  Which I highly doubt at this point.”


“We’ll see about that.”  Tripp looked at his watch.  “Darryl should be meeting with someone about now.”  He looked at the agent’s face, the green gaze unreadable. 

“What?” Standish asked, confused.


“Darryl’s ‘errand’.  I sent him off to find your little cronies and to barter an exchange.”


Ezra closed his eyes and hung his head.  It should have dawned on him earlier when Tripp didn’t put a bullet in his skull: I’m bait.  Then he started to chuckle as much as his battered lungs would allow.  Looking up at the perplexed face of the moonshiner, he elaborated.  “You have shit luck picking hostages.  They won’t trade for the likes of me.”  He continued to smile broadly; laughing would have hurt too much.


“We’ll see about that.  I’ve sent them proof of life, and a detailed description of what your death will be like if I am not appeased.”


Ezra looked into the hard eyes and saw the truth of the threat that lay within.





PART 1 / PART 2 / PART 4 / PART 5 / PART 6




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