... AND SOMETIMES THEY WIN

By Sarah (winks7985)

 

Part 2

 

“Ok boys,” Chris started, “Because of the late night last night and the side trip to the ER,” he tipped his head in Ezra’s direction, “We’re gonna debrief the Holland case now.  You’re welcome,” he finished with a grin.  All the guys knew that Chris could have called them all back in last night, while the case was still fresh in their minds.  Had it been a high profile situation, maybe he would have.  But as it was, it didn’t even make any newspapers.

 

“JD, you have the tapes?” Chris asked.

 

“Set and ready whenever you are,” he answered around a mouthful of donut.  He had set up a mic to record this entire debriefing digitally, which was something new.  A program he had on his computer would then transcribe the entire thing, and all members would get a copy of it, including Travis.  It alleviated any of them having to actually take notes, and allowed them to go over things more rapidly.  He started the recording at Chris’s nod.

 

Ezra couldn’t help but feel like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop.  He was ready for it to turn into a ‘how-did-you-fuck-this-up-this-time-Standish’ meeting.

 
“Vin?” Chris asked.

 

“Ok,” the Texan began.  “Bull Holland, originally from Oklahoma, came to the Denver area six months ago; hit our radar three months ago.  Suspected of selling miscellaneous bad shit to locals: homemade hooch, Cuban cigars, that kind of stuff.  You name it, he could get it for you.”

 

“We already know all this,” Buck said with a smile laced with powdered sugar.  “Skip ahead a bit.”

 

“Just being thorough,” Vin smirked.  He pointed to his own face while looking at Buck, indicating that the ladies’ man had a little something on his face.

 

“Wha--?” Buck asked as he brushed at his face with the back of his hand.  He looked to JD in askance. 

 

“You got it,” JD replied.  Buck turned his attention back to the meeting, powdered sugar and now chocolate frosting smeared around his mouth.  JD chuckled to himself.

 

Vin had continued on, not paying attention to the sidebar.  “No one had wanted to deal with Holland, so he ended up with us.  Josiah and I posed as father and son contractors working out of the apartment three doors down from Holland.”

 

“And wearing the most ridiculous shirts I have ever seen for a contracting company.  Seriously, whose idea was that?” Josiah asked.

 

“What was wrong with them?” asked JD.  He had gotten them printed up.

 

“GUT-IT CONTRACTING?” asked Josiah, “With the picture of a gutted fish on it?”

 

“What?  I thought it was clever,” JD insisted.  “I used that name for a fake company when I had a business class in college.”

 

“Did you pass?” Vin asked.

 

JD shot him a look.

 

“Probably should work on being a little more inconspicuous next time,” Chris supplied, and left it at that.  Aside from the fact that the title of the fictitious company was just plain awful, the company decal had been printed on orange shirts. 

 

Ezra sat quietly with his head looking down at the yellow legal pad of paper he had brought.

 

Nathan watched the southerner closely.  He still seemed preoccupied and… off. 

 

“So, Ezra got in contact with Holland,” Vin continued, “and set up a meeting.”

 

Josiah picked up the tale.  “Vin and I made sure we were in the apartment for the time of the meeting.  Ezra had a mic check with JD at the office twenty minutes before time.”

 

“Mic check was fine,” JD piped in, taking a sip of his coffee.  He reached forward and hit a button on the laptop, which played back the sound check. 

 

‘Say something Ezra.’

 

‘Something Ezra.’

 

“That sounds pretty good Kid.  New mic?” asked Buck.

 

“Yeah, worked well enough that I think I’m gonna write something up to recommend its usage for the rest of the teams.  Whether or not they go for it, we’ll see.  They can be kind of expensive.”

 

Ezra looked up from his notepad towards JD.  “Sorry about that,” he said quietly.

 

“No!” JD answered immediately.  “That’s not what I meant Ezra.  That’s fine.  I have twelve more.  I was just sayin’ I don’t know if they’ll be picked up by everybody else is all.  I didn’t mean nothin’ by it.”

 

“All right,” interrupted Chris.  “So, Ezra shows up for the meeting…?”

 

The Southerner took a deep breath and cleared his throat, then took over.  “I showed up at the agreed upon time of 6:00PM.  It was still early enough in the evening that GUT-IT could still be working without disturbing any neighbors, but also early enough to be in and out before too many neighbors would be home.”

 

“Vin and I had confirmed that Holland hadn’t left his apartment in the past couple of hours,” Josiah intoned. 

 

“Meant he more than likely kept his shit there,” added Vin, who threw a napkin across to Buck.  Buck picked it up and wiped at his face, seeing the chocolate smears on the napkin and elbowing JD.  JD just chuckled to himself.

 

Ezra took another deep breath before he continued.  “I buzzed Holland’s intercom and he buzzed the door.  I went to his apartment and knocked, and he opened the door…” 

 

JD began the playback, and Ezra’s mind flashed back to the previous day…

 

“Come in Mr. Sams,” Holland’s voice was pleasant, and he stepped aside to allow Ezra into the opulent apartment.  From the outside, the building was modest at best.  Six units with a brick façade.  But inside, this apartment had beautiful furniture, a galley kitchen done in black marble and stainless steel, and a hallway that led to two bedrooms and a large bath, complete with Jacuzzi tub. 

 

Ezra walked past Holland and into the main living space.  “Great place,” he said, and he meant it.  He could envision himself living in a place like this, even if it were in another life. 

 

“Thank you,” Holland said as he shut the door and locked it and joined his guest.  “I surround myself with the things I enjoy, and I don’t mind spending the money to get them.”

 

“I agree completely,” Ezra said with a smile he didn’t mean.  “Shall we get down to business?”

 

“Of course.”

 

JD stopped the playback when Chris pointed to him to do so.  “All of that sounds normal,” Chris said.  “Did anything strike you as being off?”

 

Ezra furrowed his brow slightly.  “Not that I can recall.”

 

Holland came out from one of the back rooms holding three boxes.  “Here we are,” he said as he placed them on his mahogany dining table.  “Three boxes of the highest quality Cuban cigars.”

 

“May I? Ezra asked, pointing to the boxes.

 

“By all means,” Holland answered with a smile.

 

Ezra opened the top box and took out one of the cigars.  He smelled it, as Josiah had said cigar smokers would do, inhaling slowly and holding his breath, eyes closed.  He exhaled slowly, opening his eyes and smiling.  “I’ll never be sick of a smell like that,” he said, not really understanding the draw of such things as Cuban cigars.

 

“I agree,” said Holland, taking another cigar out of the box as Ezra had done.  Holland held his own cigar, showing the band on it to Ezra.  “Havana makes the best cigars.  In all my time importing these, the ones that come from Havana have been the best.”

 

“How long have you been doing this?” Ezra asked casually.

 

“Off and on, ten years.  Solid for the last six, after my contracting business dried up.”

 

“So, did you do all this work,” he gestured to his surroundings, “yourself?”

 

“Mostly.  Gives a man a sense of pride, living in his own work.”  Holland took the cigar he was holding and brought it up to his own face, closing his eyes and smelling the tobacco deeply and loudly.  He tilted his head back in delight as he held the sweet smell in his lungs.  He brought his head back down as he exhaled, and had a huge smile on his face.  Like he was smelling a delicate flower… head tipped back in full rapture… the smile…

 

Ezra’s chest clenched, tightening with no reason.  He was sure the look on his face gave him away.  He was suddenly terrified.  Nervous. 

 

“Mr. Sams,” Holland asked, “are you all right?”

 

JD stopped the playback again. 

 

“What happened right there?” Chris asked.

 

“I don’t know,” Ezra said.

 

“Something happened,” said Vin.  “That’s when Josiah and I started moving in.”

 

“I don’t know,” Ezra said again, this time a little more emphatically.

 

“What changed?” asked Josiah.

 

“I don’t know!  All right?” Ezra snapped.  “I don’t know!  I fucked up, I slipped.  Something happened but I don’t know what!”  Yeah, admitting he fucked up was easier than admitting what spooked him.

 

“Enough,” Chris said.  “Ezra, this isn’t to place blame.  We’re just trying to figure out what happened.  You did your job.  He admitted to selling this stuff for a long time, and we got the evidence.  You did your job,” he repeated for emphasis. 

 

Ezra blew his breath out through his nose loudly, calming himself.  “I’m sorry,” he said, rubbing the injury on his forehead.

 

“All right,” said Chris, having gotten the group back on track.  “What changed?” he repeated Josiah’s question.

 

Holland looked at Ezra, and Ezra could feel him looking at him.  At him, not at Mr. Sams.  The façade dropped and the persona disappeared.  Holland was immediately on the attack. 

 

“Mr. Sams?”

 

Ezra was still trying to regain himself after the slip.  “What?” he said trying to snap back into character.

 

“Sams, huh?” he asked, grabbing Ezra’s jacket and slamming his back into the wall.  Holland immediately ripped open Ezra’s shirt looking for a wire.  Thanks to JD’s skill, it wouldn’t be found.

 

Ezra came back to his senses as soon as he was grabbed.  As Holland slammed him into the wall, Ezra’s head connected with a stud behind the sheetrock, dazing him.  Holland dragged the semi-dazed man into the first room off the hall, the huge bathroom.  He threw him at the Jacuzzi forcefully.  Ezra lost his footing and slammed his head on the rim of the tub.  Holland was on him in an instant and grabbed a handful of hair and jacket and submerged the dazed man’s entire head beneath the surface of the water.  Ezra’s arms flailed and tried to reach the bottom of the Jacuzzi so that he could push himself up and break the surface of the water to get a much needed breath.  But the Jacuzzi was deep and his hands just barely touched the bottom.  In this position, he would not be able to get the leverage he needed to push himself and the weight of another grown man upwards. 

 

In full panic, Ezra tried everything he could to escape.  He reached his hands up to try to dislodge Holland’s grip, but the man had the upper hand and his grip didn’t falter. 

 

Just as Ezra started to feel himself growing weaker, the weight holding him down was gone and hands pulled his head above water, smacking him on the back twice to get him to cough up the water he may have consumed.  His arms hung loosely over the rim of the tub, his head resting on the edge as he gazed into the water. 

 

“Jesus Ezra, just keep breathin’.”

 

When the playback came to an end, so did the vivid replay in Ezra’s mind.  “That’s all I know,” he said.  And even some of that had been filled in by the audio and hindsight.

 

“Josiah whipped Holland off of you so hard he flung him into the wall outside of the bathroom and left a dent,” Vin said.

 

“Thank you,” Ezra said.

 

“Anytime,” Josiah said. 

 

“Josiah and I almost shit when we busted through the door and saw him tryin’ to drown ya.  We moved in as soon as we heard this start to go south and  we were on you in about three minutes.”

 

“Two minutes, forty five seconds, according to the time stamps on Vin and Josiah’s mics,” supplied JD.

 

“Cuttin’ it a little close,” supplied Nathan.

 

“Yeah,” Chris agreed.  “All right.  JD, get everyone a copy of that,” he pointed to JD’s laptop, “and ladies, get your reports to me in the next day or so.”

 

Grumbles and other noises of acquiescence answered him.  Chris gathered up his stuff and strode out of the conference room, ending the meeting.  The rest of the guys followed suit at their own pace.

 

Vin and Josiah left first, talking about something out of earshot, while Nathan hung back watching Ezra.  He had that pinched look to his eyes. 

 

Buck playfully shoved JD on his way by.  “How do you not tell me I have shit on my face?”

 

“You had shit on your face?  That’s gross.”

 

“You know what I mean.  How long did I look foolish for?”

 

“You always look foolish; you don’t need any help from me.”

 

Buck went to swipe at JD, but JD managed to evade him.  “Come back here you little shit!”

 

Ezra laughed as the two exited the conference room, and he started towards the door.

 

Nathan was standing behind the chair he had been sitting in during the meeting.  “Ezra?”

 

“Yeah, Nathan?”

 

“Your head all right?”

 

Ezra smiled knowingly.  “Hurts a little today.  I’ll take something for it.”

 

“Let me know if it gets any worse, ya hear?”

 

“Will do.” 

 

“Good.”  Nathan stood there until Ezra left.  He looked around the empty conference room.  He blew out his breath and ran his hand over his shaved head.  “Shit.”

 

oooOOOooo

 

After work, the whole team ventured to the bar for a few drinks, as they did from time to time.  The debrief today had taken some of their energy, but they seemed to rally for the second half of the day. 

 

Ezra, however, still seemed tired.  He rolled his shoulders, feeling the increasing stiffness of his muscles, no doubt from the struggle with Holland. 

 

“Y’aright?” asked Vin around his beer.

 

Ezra stilled.  “Fine.”

 

“Bull shit,” said JD.  When Ezra’s questioning gaze fell on the youngest member of the team, JD took a sip of his beer before elaborating.  “You been rollin’ your shoulders all day.”

 

“You hurtin’?” asked Nathan.

 

Ezra half chuckled, half sighed.  “It is entirely unnervin’ for me to know that you have identified my tells.”

 

“Ezra,” Chris spoke quietly, yet forcefully enough to get the message across that he also wanted an answer to Nathan’s question.

 

The southerner shook his head once, then replied, “I’m a little sore.  In the shoulders.”  He took a large sip of his beer, hoping that would convey that he was not in the mood to discuss his state of health.

 

“You should get a massage,” said Vin, picking up the need for the change in subject.

 

“With a happy ending, if at all possible,” Buck chimed in with a large grin. 

 

Incredulous chuckles answered him.  Even Ezra found himself laughing a bit at that one.

 

Still with a smile on his face, Buck asked, “Boys, we need another pitcher?”

 

Vin and JD held up their mugs in a silent salute, indicating that yes, another pitcher of beer would be welcomed.  Ezra nodded his head as well, meeting Nathan’s eyes briefly.

 

“I’m good,” said Josiah.  “The older I get, the more it knocks me on my ass.”  He smiled large.  “Or makes me have to get up three times a night to take a piss.”  With that, Josiah got to his feet and slapped Ezra gently on the back as he scooted behind his chair, headed for the men’s room.  Chuckles followed in his wake. 


The others watched him go, navigating through the bar, now bustling with happy hour patrons still lingering and the younger crowd getting an early start on a night out.


Nathan was the only one to see the small play of… something… flit across the southerner’s face.  It wasn’t fear… what was it? 

 

Buck also got up, finishing his beer as he stood and taking the empty pitcher with him to get a refill from the bar. 

 

“Hey Nathan?” asked Chris.

 

Jackson turned his attention towards the question.

 

“How’s Rain been?  We haven’t seen much of her as of late?”

 

Nathan smiled.  “She’s doing well.  She’s working nights right now, so her sleep schedule is a little messed up.  She’ll be transferring to days in a couple of weeks.  She wanted me to ask you all to come out for a cook out once she gets back into a normal schedule

 

“So, the job’s going well for her then?” asked Chris.

 

“She seems to like it.”  Rain had just started as a R. N. at Mercy General and right now, she was rotating through the departments.  Her current stint was in emergency, and the graveyard shift to boot.  Although she was more of a morning person, she did admit to Nathan that she was learning a lot, very quickly. 


“Can’t be easy for the two of you though,” Vin chimed in.

 

Nathan smiled fondly into his beer glass.  “It poses certain… challenges.  It will get better.  Hell, she puts up with my shit enough, so I can deal with this.”


Ezra smiled at the by-play.  For all the girls that Buck dated, the few that Vin talked about, even JD with Casey (which was more off than on), Rain had been a constant in the tam members’ lives.  Ezra had wondered privately if Nathan was ever going to marry the girl. 

 

Buck returned with a full pitcher and a huge grin.  He leaned forward to place the pitcher in the middle of the table, his hand coming to rest on Ezra’s shoulder as he leaned.

 

Nathan caught that look again.  What was it?  It was bothering him.

 

“What are you so happy about?” asked JD, reaching for the new pitcher.

 

“I just know that Inez is going to break down soon.  I can feel it.”

 

“I think what you feel is the daggers she’s shooting into your back right now,” said Vin, laughing as he went to refill his glass.

 

“That’s just what you think, Junior.”

 

Vin paused in his drinking, looking around Buck towards Inez at the counter.  “If you say so Buck.”

 

Josiah returned to the table just then, squeezing behind Ezra again to return to his seat.

 

Ezra placed his glass on the table and brought his hands up to his face.  He smothered a yawn and ran his hands over his face and up through his hair. 

 

“Ez, you ok?” Vin asked with a half smile.

 

Ezra waved his hands dismissively.  “Fine.  Just tired.”  He waved his hand again, and knocked his mostly empty glass of beer over.  “Dammit,” he said, trying to wipe up the spilled brew before it seeped all over the table.

 

Buck tossed a pile of napkins from the dispenser onto the mess.

 

“Jesus, I can’t stop fucking up lately,” Ezra muttered angrily, but loud enough to be heard.

 

“Whadja say, Ezra?” Vin asked, concerned, putting his beer down and sitting forward.  Chris mirrored him.

 

“Nothing,” he stammered.  “I just… I…”  He blew his breath out, frustrated that he couldn’t put words to it.  What the fuck is the matter with me

 

“Ezra,” Chris said seriously.  He waited until the southerner looked directly at him.  “You did not fuck anything up.”  Chris’s eyes were winced in askance, as though to say what are you talking about?

 

Standish looked exhausted, but his smile was sarcastic.  “We both know that isn’t true.”  He brought his hands to his eyes, trying to rub the tired feeling from them.


While the southerner’s view was encumbered, Chris looked around at the rest of the guys to see if they knew what was going on.  They held equally confused stares on their faces.

 

Ezra let out a rueful chuckle, capturing the attention of his friends as he brought his hands to rest on the table in front of him.  Maybe it was the beer talking.

 

“It’s my fault, you know,” he said with a smile.

 

“What is?” asked Josiah.

 

“Everything.  The whole thing.”  He rubbed his brow with his right hand agitatedly.  He rested his chin on his right hand, holding his fingers in front of his mouth momentarily before dropping both hands to his lap as he sat back.  He looked down at his hands, and seemed to be looking under the table when he spoke.  “There is something fundamentally wrong in how I am doing my job.”  He didn’t seem to be actually speaking to any of them.  “Holland saw it…  Mendez saw it…” he trailed off, shook his head and turned his head away to the right, looking at the bar, looking at nothing.

 

“That’s crap Ezra,” JD objected.

 

He looked back at the youngest.  “Is it?” he asked skeptically.

 

“Ezra, none of this is in any way your fault,” Nathan said, just as forcefully as JD had protested.

 

Standish shot a disbelieving look at him.

 

“I’m serious,” said Nathan.

 

Ezra shook his head.  “I don’t know if I can do this anymore,” he muttered in the same dejected voice from before.

 

“Hell Ezra,” Buck chimed in.  “I say that at least once a week.”

 

Ezra looked at the ladies’ man with somber, serious eyes.  “I don’t.”  The seriousness of that simple statement rang true.  Ezra was never one to complain about work to the point of saying he needed to rethink his job choice.  Hell, look at the Atlanta debacle.  Even through all that shit, he hadn’t thought of leaving the job.  It just wasn’t his style to quit.  Or even to joke about quitting. 

 

“Are you serious here, Ezra?” asked a concerned Vin.

 

Ezra huffed out a frustrated breath, waving his hand dismissively again.  “I don’t know.  Maybe I’ve just had too much to drink.  I’m sorry my friends.  I seem to have become quite maudlin.”

 

“It’s more than that,” said Nathan.

 

Ezra shot a look at Jackson.  It was almost a pleading look, asking him not to bring up last night. 

 

“No.  It’s not.”  Ezra’s voice was slow and stern.

 

“Enough,” said Chris, putting to end the line of questioning.  “Ezra.”  He waited again for the southerner to look at him.  Somewhat reluctant green eyes met hazel.  “You did not fuck up.”

 

“Mendez…” he started.

 

“Had someone more connected; it was nothing you did.”  The blonde’s voice brokered no argument.

 

“Clearly, I am incapable of keeping a cover intact,” Ezra argued, his voice full of his frustration.

 

“That’s not true,” Chris countered, pointing a finger at his agent.  “These two incidents—“

 

That happened before the incident, that happened after the incident… Ezra winced at Chris’s word choice.

 

“—are one-offs.  Two out of how many cases?  Hundreds?”

 

“And in those two cases,” Ezra continued to argue his point, “I managed to almost get one of my teammates killed,” he gestured towards Buck, “and I almost got myself killed twice.”  He held up two fingers in aggravation, illustrating his point.  Why couldn’t they see?  “In fact, if you gentlemen hadn’t been there both times, I would have been dead.  Twice over, as it were.”  He stood and swayed slightly.  Josiah’s hand shot out to steady him, and he flinched from him as though he had been burned.

 

“Where are you going?” asked Chris.

 

Ezra turned and faced his boss.  “The men’s room,” he said angrily.  “I’m pretty sure I won’t be killed in there, so maybe you gentlemen can afford me some modicum of privacy.”  And with that, he walked away.  He knew that eyes watched his departure, his unsteady stride towards the restroom.  He didn’t care.  He needed to get away from those eyes.  Couldn’t they see?  This was his own damn fault.  All of it.  He had almost gotten Buck killed.  Himself killed.  He would only get someone hurt.  Next time, what if it was someone else on the team that got hurt?  Or, God forbid, some innocent bystander?  Maybe then they would see that he had been right – he was a danger to everyone.

 

He entered the men’s room as another patron left.  He found himself lurching for the stall as his stomach heaved.  He could try to blame it on the alcohol, but he knew that wasn’t the reason.  He was coming apart, and spectacularly at that. 

 

He went to the sink and splashed cold water over his face.  Thankfully, he was the only one in the restroom.  He dried off as much of the water as he could and tossed the paper towel away. 

 

He had to get out of here.

 

oooOOOooo

 

“Nathan, what was that about?” Josiah asked when Ezra had left the table. 

 

“I don’t know,” Jackson answered.  “I don’t think he’s doing so well.”

 

“No shit,” said JD. 

 

“Does he really think he almost got me killed?” asked Buck. 

 

“I wouldn’t doubt it,” said Chris.

 

Vin had watched the southerner until the restroom door closed behind him.  “There’s something wrong with him.  Something new.”

 

“Like what?” asked Buck.

 

“Some sort of guilt or misplaced blame for these incidents,” Josiah intoned. 

 

“But the Mendez thing was months ago,” JD said.  “Wouldn’t that have come up before now

 

“It takes longer for some people,” Josiah replied knowingly.

 

“Something spooked him.  Something recent,” said Vin.

 

“Since the moonshine raid.  Where he had to chase that guy into the woods,” Nathan said, his eyes down as he ran his finger over one of the rough gouges in the tabletop.

 

“Sounds about right,” said Vin.

 

Nathan shot a look at the tracker.  “You’ve noticed too?”

 

A nod.

 

“Noticed what?” asked Chris.

 

“He’s spooked,” Vin supplied.  “He’s cold.  And he’s withdrawing.  From all of us,” he said as he glanced back toward the men’s room.  Ezra still had not emerged.


“I went to his house last night,” said Nathan.  “After I dropped him off, I went back.”  His tone conveyed that there was more.

 

“What happened?” asked Chris.

 

“I scared him out of his skin.”  He took a deep breath and sat forward, resting his arms on the table.  “I knocked on the door.  Rang the bell.  He didn’t answer, but I knew he was in there; I had just dropped him off.”  He paused.  “I let myself in, and he was sitting on his couch, almost in a daze.  He had a beer next to him, and there were folders strewn about the table.”

 

“Folders?” asked Buck.

 

Nathan nodded.  “It looked like info on Rafael Galvez.”

 

“That’s the guy,” Buck said.  He looked at the faces of his friends.  “The guy who blew our cover.  Mendez’s inside guy working for Carlyle.”

 

“Shit,” said JD.

 

Questioning eyes looked to Dunne.

 

“I got him some of those files.  I remember the name.  It didn’t stick out to me so I didn’t think anything of it when I got them,” he said apologetically. 

 

“Damn,” Buck said quietly.

 

“I didn’t know,” JD said.  “I get files for you guys all the time.  Hell, I don’t even remember half the stuff I track down for you guys.  You ask for it, I get it.  Simple as that.”

 

“You didn’t do anything wrong JD,” Chris said.  “What was in the files?”

 

“Standard stuff.  Known associations, rap sheets, whatever history any of the agencies had on him.”

 

Nathan debated telling them the rest.  He heaved a long slow breath, deciding that they all needed to know.  “That wasn’t all guys,” he said.  He waited to make sure he had everyone’s attention.  “I called his name, and he didn’t hear me.  So I went up to him and touched his shoulder.  He about hit the roof.  He was out of his seat faster than I thought he would have been able to move.”  He took another breath.  “He pulled his gun on me.  God, he looked terrified.”

 

Silence reigned while that info sunk in.  Ezra had pulled his gun on Nathan. 

 

“He reacted weird when he was touched tonight,” Vin supplied.

 

Nathan looked sharply at Vin.  “You noticed too?”

 

Vin nodded.

 

“Noticed what?” asked Buck. 

 

Vin gestured his chin at the empty chair.  “Whenever someone touched him tonight, he reacted.  He ain’t one who normally likes to be touched, but he looked more bothered than usual.”

 

Disgusted.  “He looked disgusted,” Nathan said, finally realizing what the look was.

 

“He’s fixating,” Josiah said.  “The touching, the files…”

 

“The anger,” said Nathan.  “The fear.”

 

“Shit,” said Vin.  “I knew he wasn’t as put together as he was tryin’ to make us believe, but I didn’t think he was fallin’ apart.”  He looked back towards the men’s room door, surprised that Ezra hadn’t returned yet.

 

Following Vin’s stare, Josiah spoke.  “He needs some time to put himself together.  Give him a couple of minutes Vin.”

 

Vin looked at his watch.  “He’s already been in there almost ten.”

 

“What if we’re blowing this out of proportion?” asked Buck. 

 

It was silent for a moment. 

 

“What if we’re not?” asked Chris.

 

oooOOOooo

 

When Ezra left the men’s room, he turned a sharp left towards the kitchen in the back of the bar.  He needed some air.  Who was he kidding?  There wasn’t enough ‘air’ in the world to make him feel better. 

 

He slipped out the back door of the bar, the one used for deliveries and emergencies.  He paced back and forth for a minute or two, then turned and walked off into the night.  He had left his jacket, wallet and keys at the table with his friends.

 

He had no idea where he was going.  He just knew he wasn’t staying here.

 

 

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