Chris Larabee, leader of ATF Team 7, crouched down further in the hospital waiting room chair, repeatedly crossing and uncrossing his legs as he unsuccessfully tried to find a semi-comfortable position in which to awkwardly balance the clipboard while still being able to fill out the multitude of forms. He pinched the bridge of his nose, attempting to ease the burning headache that had been building behind his eyes since the bust earlier that night that had resulted in two casualties for his team.
Team 7 had been building a case against suspected arms dealer, Logan Vibbert, for several months before they finally received the break they’d been looking for. Ezra had infiltrated Vibbert’s close-knit society by posing as Evan Samuelson, a man new to the area, but willing to line Vibbert’s pockets with an obscene amount of money if he could provide the weapons needed to make Samuelson’s name known and feared.
The operation had gone according to plan. Vibbert and his associates surrendered with very little struggle as soon as they’d realized the sheer number of lawmen and weapons that surrounded them. Unfortunately, a few of Vibbert’s men didn’t have the good sense God gave driftwood.
One man had pulled a knife from some hidden spot on his person just as Buck Wilmington approached to frisk him. The resulting skirmish was short-lived and resulted in the felon lying unconscious at Buck’s feet and a relatively minor knife wound to Buck’s right bicep.
Ezra Standish had also been injured when one of Vibbert’s oh-so-brave bodyguards tried to make a run for it. The man towered over Ezra by at least six inches and outweighed him by over a hundred pounds, but that didn’t stop the undercover agent from tackling the behemoth and engaging him in a fistfight. Ezra had not only held his own, but appeared to have the upper hand until his adversary managed to get hold of a lead pipe. Ezra fought well, but eventually, a glancing blow caught him on the side of his head, causing him to crash hard to the ground on his left side. The team’s resident sharpshooter, Vin Tanner, took down the behemoth with a shot to his leg just before he could deliver what probably would have been a fatal blow with the pipe.
Nathan Jackson, the team medic, had given his teammates a quick once-over and insisted that both Buck and Ezra be loaded into an ambulance and taken to the hospital to be checked out. Buck’s arm would definitely require stitches and Ezra more than likely had a concussion as well as once again dislocating his shoulder.
As soon as possible, the rest of Team 7 had made their way to the hospital to begin the all-too-familiar routine of waiting for news about their wounded while Chris filled out the detested Emergency Room admission forms.
Filling out the forms for Buck had been quite simple. The two of them had been friends for a number of years, during which time they’d made countless trips to the emergency room for reasons varying from gunshot wounds earned in the line of duty to broken bones and black eyes from bar fights. Buck’s personal information was imbedded into Chris’ memory just as he suspected his own was in Buck’s.
Chris had just completed the last of the forms for Buck when the man in question came strutting out of the double doors leading to the ER treatment room. Sporting a new white bandage to cover the eight stitches required to close the knife wound to his upper arm, he sauntered towards Chris, brandishing three new telephone numbers to add to his little black book. After verifying for himself that all was well with his long-time friend and receiving the latest news on Eza, Chris steered the grinning lothario to a chair beforereturning to the dreaded forms.
Chris awkwardly shifted in the chair and once again wiped at his eyes, begging cooperation from the letters and words that seemed to move around on the paper like ants. ‘Come on, Larabee,’ he chastised himself. ‘It’s not like you’ve never seen one of these forms before. You fill them out often enough. Hell, you just completed one for Buck! Just start from the beginning.’
Chris began reading out loud, hoping, not only that it would help stimulate his own brain, but that his friends would see fit to jump in.
“Last name: Standish. First name: Ezra. Middle name: P…” Chris looked up, casting a questioning glance to the other occupants of the waiting room.
Chris rolled his eyes. Five men, five different answers to a relatively simple question – six, actually. Chris thought Ezra’s middle name was Preston.
“Hell, Chris,” Buck chuckled. “I don’t recall him ever actually coming out and saying what the P stands for. The one time I asked him outright, he said it stood for ‘persuasive’.”
Chris nodded, but refrained from commenting; instead, he simply moved to the next line on the form. “Address.” He reached into his back pocket to pull out a small address book. Quickly turning to the ‘S’ section, he was disconcerted to discover that, even though Ezra had joined the team over six months ago, Chris had never made the necessary entry in the book. In fact, he couldn’t remember ever visiting his agent’s home. Did he have a house? An apartment? For all Chris knew, Ezra could be living out of his car.
Correctly interpreting his leader’s silence and stiff posture, JD Dunne whipped out his own electronic notebook and relayed the address he had stored there.
Chris quietly thanked the young man and continued his perusal of the form. “Date of birth.” The silence that settled over the six men was deafening, interrupted only by the sharp creaking of aged plastic as the agents shifted uncomfortably in their chairs. The team leader looked up and found his contrite agents not only unable to meet his gaze, but also unable to meet each other’s.
A growing feeling of dread caused his once annoying headache to blossom into unbearable agony. Chris pushed his own discomfort aside and pulled out the clear plastic hospital bag that contained his downed agent’s personal possessions. He quickly rummaged through the contents until he found Ezra’s wallet. Pen poised on paper, Chris opened the wallet only to have his heart sink upon reading the name on the driver’s license. Evan Samuelson. Ezra had been undercover. Any personal information he might have been carrying would have been for his alias. The wallet’s contents were useless to him.
Hazel eyes blazing with self-directed anger, Chris thrust the wallet and its falsified documents back into the bag, kicking it under his chair and out of sight before skipping ahead in the form.
The next section of simple questions eased Chris’ troubled mind somewhat, and he efficiently filled in the blanks concerning Ezra’s physical description: gender, race, hair color, eye color, height, and weight. The insurance information was easy enough. They all had the same group policy through their work. The group number was identical for each man, but the company used their Social Security numbers for their individual policy numbers. While Chris didn’t have a clue what Ezra’s Social Security number was, it didn’t bother him since he hadn’t memorized those of any other team member.
Chris put his own name, address, and phone number down for Ezra’s emergency contact – he was the contact for each of his men – and then began to fill out the next section.
“Next of kin: Maude Stan…” Chris paused for a brief second before scribbling out the beginnings of the last name he’d just written.
“Didn’t Maude just marry some guy named Deveraux?” Vin’s hesitant voice drew Chris’ attention.
“Nahh,” JD broke in. “That was a couple of husbands ago. I thought she just divorced St. Claire.”
“I thought she was trying to get her claws into that guy, Pendegrast, in New York,” Nathan offered.
“New York?” Buck questioned. “I thought she was in London.”
All eyes turned to Josiah Sanchez, but the large man simply shrugged. Though he’d been enamored with Maude since their first meeting several months ago, even he was unable to keep track of her ever-changing life.
Chris moved on. “Religion.” Once again, his eyes turned towards the profiler.
Josiah never raised his eyes from their intense study of his fingers. “We’ve had a few very interesting debates about the existence of a higher power, but I’m afraid I never got around to asking him about any formal religion that may guide his life.”
Chris simply nodded before handing the clipboard over to Nathan to fill out the last section of the form. “Medical history.” His voice broke over the whispered words and he swallowed convulsively in order to dislodge the lump that had formed in his throat.
Five pairs of anxious eyes focused on the medic as he meticulously reviewed the two pages of health-related questions. No one moved. No one breathed. Expressions of self-hatred, pity, fear, sorrow, and confusion danced across rugged features as each man silently begged Nathan to mark something – anything – on the form. They needed something to prove to the hospital staff, as well as to themselves, that they were more than just passing acquaintances with Ezra Standish. The man was a part of their rag-tag team – a part of their family. Wasn’t he?
A collective breath – almost a sob – was released when Nathan shook his head sadly and returned the clipboard to their leader without marking a single yes/no box.
Josiah leaned forward, elbows on knees, and buried his face in large hands. JD sat in stunned silence, his face several shades paler than usual. Buck’s easy-going grin had long since disappeared. He slouched down and let his head rest against the back of his chair, unblinking eyes staring at the ceiling tile. Nathan fingered a loose thread on the hem of his flannel shirt; his mind locked in a vicious cycle of self-loathing and ridicule. Vin shot to his feet and strode determinately to the exit. Walls were closing in on him, squeezing the very breath from his lungs.
Chris forced down the bile that threatened to choke him and somehow managed to still shaking limbs enough to allow him to stand and walk to the ER reception desk. Wordlessly, he handed the clipboard to the receptionist before taking a few tentative steps towards the treatment room doors. He fixed the doors with his best Larabee glare, as if by his sheer force of will, they would become transparent, enabling him to catch a glimpse of his injured man. He remained motionless, rooted to the spot. His mind berated him for what he knew was a severe injustice against his undercover agent.
He was still standing there like the statue of Atlas with the weight of the world pressing down on his all-too-human shoulders when the receptionist cautiously approached and cleared her throat to gain his attention. She held out the clipboard that contained Ezra’s nearly blank admission form. “I’m sorry, but this form is hopelessly incomplete.”
His steely glare never left the treatment room doors.
“Agent Larabee? You’re missing a lot of information, here.” Cold hazel eyes shifted in her direction and the absolute emptiness she saw in them made her take a small step back. Those eyes drifted down to the form in her hands then back to the double doors. She barely heard Chris’ pained reply.