Persona Non Grata - Part Seventeen

Judge Orrin Travis squinted awake and frowned at the sight of Chris Larabee and crew with guns drawn.

"What's going on?" he asked, his voice gruff with sleep.

"We have company," Larabee said.

The judge made his way to the window and peered out from behind the drapes. "That's impossible," he said. "No one knows where this place is."

"They do now," Wilmington said, hotly.

"Aw hell," Travis muttered as he slipped his feet into his loafers. "Let me talk to them."

How the hell could anyone find this place? No one even knew it existed. It hadn't been used in years. In fact, the last of the crew that had utilized the safe house had died a couple of years ago. The judge was the only one left.

He was stove up from having slept in the chair, so he made his way slowly to the door.

Two men in uniforms were waiting at the door. The judge looked out of the peekhole and his face broke into a broad grin. He opened the door.

And kissed one of the men on the cheek.


Maude Standish was not easily shaken. She had seen a lot in her life and had learned to stay steady in the face of bad news. But she had been shaken to her core when, in the middle of Circuit City, she had seen her son's face on forty TV screens. She could only stand and watch, transfixed, as the caption appeared, "ATF Agent Turned Drug Trafficker."

She hadn't felt the kind hands on her arm supporting her as she heard the voiceover "bloodbath in the ER" and "agents implicated" and "twelve dead."

She hadn't remembered fainting--only waking up on a naugahyde couch in the break room at Circuit City. Her first thought upon waking was "how could anyone have ever thought green linoleum was chic?" and her second thought . . .

Oh God, my baby . . .


"What the hell . . ." Vin Tanner muttered, seeing the affection between the judge and the officer . . .

But when the visitor removed the hat and long blonde hair billowed down, Vin holstered his weapon and smiled.

"Hiya, Mary," he said.

The judge's daughter-in-law dispensed with the pleasantries and introduced her colleague. "This is Jack. He's got a plane we can use."

"Thank God," Chris said. "Where?"

"I won't tell you that," Jack responded. "In fact, nobody goes without blindfolds."

"Mary," Chris snapped. "What is this shit?"

"A way out of the country," Mary snapped back. She squared off with Chris. "You think you're gonna just charter a plane out of here? With a federal prisoner?"

"Federal prisoner?" Vin interrupted.

"JD is wanted for drug trafficking. Every agent in the country is looking for you guys. How were you planning to get to Canada?"

"You've got a point," Josiah said.

Judge Travis crossed his arms. "What do we do?"

Jack looked around the room as if assessing the people there--maybe deciding who to trust or whether to trust. Mary touched his arm and he glanced back at her. She nodded for him to go on.

"You get your wounded men ready to travel," he said. "We'll have to transport them to the hangar in a horse trailer."

"Horse trailer?" Buck looked incredulous.

"It's the only thing that won't attract attention."

"There aren't any agents looking around here. Why not take the van?" Vin asked.

Jack turned to Mary. "Are they gonna let me do this or are they gonna keep asking questions?"

Mary pursed her lips and answered. "The men on the air field won't let a van or an ambulance near the place." She looked around. "They have to be careful about . . . being discovered as well."

"An illegal air field," the judge commented.

Chris frowned. "You're talking about a drug trafficker taking ATF officers to an illegal field to get on a drug transport plane and leave the country illegally with a fugitive."

"That's right," Jack said, defiance in his tone.

Chris paused a moment, then nodded. "Sounds like a plan to me."


Nathan was so sick. Mary sat with him, her eyes full, her heart full. Gently she lay a cold wet rag on his forehead.


Oh, she wasn't expecting that. She took his hand in both of hers. "Nathan, it's Mary . . . Mary Travis."

"Mary . . . " he repeated.

A tear spilled onto Mary's cheek. "That's right. How do you feel?"


"Yeah, what can I do, Nathan?"

"I'm . . . cold."

"Let me get you another blanket." Mary stood up and went to the closet. She opened it, only to have years of dust cascade out. Coughing, she closed the door.

"Mama?" Nathan's voice was weaker. "You're sick. I'll help you." He waved a hand vaguely through the air. "Let me help you, Mama."

Mary was crying in earnest now--crying and coughing. "No, baby," she said. "Mama's fine. Rest easy now, and I'll get you a blanket. Just close your eyes."


Ezra was practiced at wearing new aliases. He knew how to develop one, sit with one and ultimately embody one. He'd used many names--most often Carter J. Clifford. He'd never tell what the "J" stood for . . . only that it was an old family name. Ezra often used an initial to remind himself of something characteristic about his new persona or something about his mission.

One time he was F. Samuel Nicholson -- the "F" standing for "fastidious". Another time he was Mitchell S. Davis, the "S" for "suave." But this time, in the tradition of Samuel F. B. Morse, Ezra used two initials.

Thomas S. M. Williams.

"Screw Millard."


Maude sat on her friend Barbara's sofa, her feet up and drinking a hot cup of cocoa. Normally, this would be the epitome of comfort, but she didn't know where her son was or even if he were alive.

As she thought about Circuit City, she wondered. How had the FBI gotten to her so fast? And with the press in tow, no less? She had almost been out the door when she had seen Ezra on tv, and by the time she had awakened in the back room, agents were swarming around her.

How had they found her so quickly?

Good lord! Maude almost spilled her cocoa when the realization hit her. They had to have been tracking her credit card activity because she had already made a purchase when she'd seen the TV bulletin.

If they were tracking her, they must be looking for Ezra. If they were looking for him, they must know he's alive.

Tears filled her eyes as sudden relief came over her. No one had told her anything. She hadn't been able to get in touch with Larabee or Judge Travis or anyone--and the only thing she'd been hearing for the last 36 hours was that her son had been using his ATF position to bring drugs into the country.

Well, she knew her son and this was all bullsh*t.

She sighed--relief again--and took a long sip of her cocoa. Her boy was alive, and that was enough for her

For the moment.

According to Jack, the trailer would arrive in the early morning, just before dawn. The doctor had done what he could do to get the patients ready to travel. He was utterly opposed to the whole prospect, and Chris was getting a little bit tired of it. The doctor talked like they had some choice in the matter--like they could have stayed in the hospital and had just opted to leave on a whim.

Chris didn't like the doctor, but he knew that the doctor was the only thing between his men and certain death. So he would put up with him. It wouldn't be much longer now.

Chris stepped quietly into JD's room. Buck was asleep on an old settee that was half as long as he was. The tall agent's long legs dangled over the arm. He couldn't possibly be comfortable. But Chris was glad Buck could finally sleep, even though Buck was bound to be sore in the morning.

Chris took the chair at JD's bedside and turned it around backwards. He straddled it. Reaching over, he rested his hand on JD's arm like Buck had shown him.

Oh kid . . .

It was hard enough knowing that the ATF had renounced him for all intents and purposes, but the media blitz dragging the poor kid's name through the mud--that was too much. Not only would Chris clear him, he would make sure heads rolled. This was unbelievable.

Chris rested his head on the back of the chair. Its hard, cold surface felt good against his pounding head. How could this have happened? God, the President was issuing statements about them. The Attorney General was taking heat for problems with the ATF. His team was being made to look incompetent. There were whispers of Waco and the administration was distancing itself from the entire situation. The press was making comparisons between the "Bloodbath in the ER" and Oklahoma City. It was not, however, reporting that it was the team of ATF agents that ended the tragedy.

And in the midst of it all, this poor, hurt boy who had been a pawn in an horrific conspiracy.

Chris hated the word--conspiracy. It was tossed around when anyone wanted to avoid taking responsibility for his or her actions. But what else could this be? There was no telling how high up this corruption went, but it went to Millard, at least. There was no way a greenhorn kid like JD Dunne could be the catalyst for a national incident like this.

Maybe if Chris had become suspicious sooner. Maybe if he'd realized that his own colleagues were turning on the kid before he was given an official "persona non grata" status. Maybe he could have gotten JD out of there. Hell, he shouldn't have let him get involved in the first place.

"Don't, cowboy."

Chris spun around to see Vin Tanner in the doorway.

"Don't what?"

Vin walked over and rested an easy hand on his friend's shoulder. "Sit here trying to figure out if you could have done something differently."

"You some kind of mind-reader or what?"

"I know you. I know that look." Vin pulled up another chair. "And I been thinking the same thing." He looked at JD. "How is he?"

Chris shook his head. "I don't know. He seems to be in pain. He hasn't been awake."

As if he were listening, JD groaned and shifted. He started trembling and Chris increased the pressure on his arm. "Easy, son."

"What?" Buck squinted at the others and pulled himself up. "Is he ok?"

"Yeah," Chris answered. "Go back to sleep."

He said it, knowing it wasn't going to happen. Buck stood up, stretching his tall frame. He walked over to the bed and, very gently, stroked JD's hair--again, one of the only places he could touch him without hurting him.

Chris could feel the kid start to relax. No doubt Buck could feel it, too, because he knelt beside the bed and began to whisper a litany of comforts. JD eventually settled back down.

Chris' eyes stung as he watched his oldest friend tend to the boy. He remembered seeing this tenderness when Buck helped with Adam. How strange that the old grief would come flooding back to him now. It would hit him unexpectedly in odd circumstances . . .

Only this was not so odd. Chris realized in that moment how close he felt to JD--how much like a son JD was. As he grieved over JD, he grieved for Adam all over again and he felt a sob clutch his throat. He didn't give in to it, though, clearing his throat gruffly instead.

He needed sleep--well, they all did. Yet here they were. God, Vin hadn't slept for two days. He had to be fading. But the hand on Chris' shoulder was steady and sure.

Chris knew then that they were gonna make it--this circle of friends. They'd just have to hang on to each other. It was clear that Buck was not gonna let JD quit. He'd stay with the kid as long as it took.

And Chris would hang on to Buck. He'd keep Buck from going over the edge--from flying off in a rage when the fury they all felt about the kid threatened to overcome him. Chris would stay strong for Buck.

And in those moments when Chris felt weak, he knew Vin would be there hanging on to him. Vin's spirit was as sure as his aim and at times like this, Vin was their anchor.

As Chris felt that familiar hand on his shoulder, he wondered fleetingly who Vin leaned on. Who was strong for him?

"Chris . . ." the soft voice pulled his attention from those thoughts.

Chris looked up at Vin, who nodded for him to follow. Chris leaned forward to Buck. "You boys be ok for a minute?"

"Huh?" Buck was startled. He turned and glanced back at Chris and Vin, then it seemed like the question made sense to him. "Yeah, we're good."

Chris slapped his friend on the back. "OK, we're right outside if you need us."

Buck nodded and turned back to JD.

It was a sad picture. Chris was glad for a reason to step outside.


Mary paced the living room, a combination of worry, rage and incredulity cluttering her mind. Her feet hurt. New shoes. They had been so interesting to her when she went shopping a couple of days ago.

And important. They were a $200. pair of shoes. She'd wanted to splurge. She deserved it. She'd worked hard and saved up for them. The same color as the pair in the magazine.

She'd worn them all day yesterday and regretted it all day today. Right now her feet hurt like hell.

The oversized military-issue shoes she wore tonight kept getting hung in the nap of the old rug and she'd trip a little.

And cuss a little.

And sometimes she'd cry a little.

She loved these men. She'd known Nathan for years and he was so feverish he didn't know her.

And the doctor wouldn't let her sit with him anymore. Nathan was getting agitated trying to talk. So Josiah stayed with him and Mary was relegated to a "post" in the living room.

She glanced out the window for the hundredth time, looking for signs of dawn or of returning headlights. The Judge had gone with Jack to get the trailer and Mary cringed at the thought of transporting Nathan and JD that way. Jack had indicated to her that the plane would actually be worse. They'd have to carry the wounded in sacks just to get them on board. Once there, they could set up IVs and such.

They hadn't told Chris that part. The Judge knew; the doctor knew; Josiah knew. They had decided that it was best to wait to tell the others once they were en route. Buck would go ballistic, and Josiah had said that if he did, they'd leave him in the States.

Mary hated this--everything about this. But the Judge had said it was the only way. These men needed proper medical treatment and, since no one knew who the enemy was, they had to go underground to get it. The Judge had also figured that they could only find out who the dirty agents were by gaining some distance. So this little trip was necessary all the way around.

No dawn--no headlights . . .

Mary walked to the couch, kicked off those damn shoes, and put her aching feet up. She looked at her watch. 3:30am. It wouldn't be much longer now.


Judge Travis liked this Jack fellow. He was a straight-shooter--for a felon. Well, Mary trusted him, and Mary had good instincts. Jack was the kind of guy who started running drugs to countries where basic medical needs couldn't be met. He wouldn't carry certain drugs certain places. He wouldn't feed the habits of kids. Even as a criminal, he had a code of honor. At first, Travis was afraid Mary had been duped, but once he met Jack, he realized that he was one of those rare birds who was committed to doing good--outside the confines of the law.

Well, he couldn't condone it, but right now it was going to save his men.

The Judge hoped that Thomas S. M. Williams was having success "outside the confines of the law" as well. Ezra was one of the most brilliant con artists Travis had ever met. In any other situation, Travis wouldn't have supported the gambler's venture into such a dangerous ruse--but again, he had no choice. And with his face plastered all over the media, he'd be most effective hiding right under their noses. If ever a man could ferret out a ferret, it was Standish.

Travis wondered if Larabee would ever speak to him after so much deception, but decisions had to be made quickly and the more talk there was, the more danger everyone would be in.

The old pick-up lumbered along the road, the long, cumbersome trailer in tow. Travis could finally see the tiny safe house up ahead. Perfect timing, Travis thought, as the sky began to pink with dawn.


Vin watched Chris in silence as Chris digested what Vin had said. It was radical. Vin knew that. Everyone was suspicious of Millard. That was no surprise. But taking into account that Millard was too much of a coward to spearhead something like this, Vin was implicating the most unthinkable man. Chris had listened as Vin explained that it would take someone with a lot more clout than Millard to have the ATF turn on JD and Ezra like they had. Kidnapping JD right under their noses could only be a first-rate professional job. And mobilizing all of those agents to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time--well, it had to be someone way up.

And why all of this attention on JD and Ezra if not to cover up a crime of mega-proportions. Vin figured a huge deal had gone down and the true culprit had to find scapegoats who would conceivably have access to the motherlode. Who better than two men from the most elite team of ATF agents?

Now they had to figure out what deal had gone down and, if Vin was right, how many agents and brass were involved.

Chris' eyes darted as he thought about it. Vin knew that look. Chris was putting the pieces together and as Chris began to nod slowly, Vin knew they were about to hit the trail and take down a chunk of their own agency.

It would have to wait though. Mary turned to them from the window.

"They're here," she said.

Chris slapped Vin's leg. "Let's go."