Buck saw Ezra’s jag in the parking lot of the Gold Star Hotel. Good. He hadn’t left yet. Buck drove his truck around to the other side of the building. He jumped out and snuck up to the corner, peeking around it so he could watch Ezra’s car. Buck motioned for JD to hurry up.
The younger agent reluctantly followed, shaking his head in defeat. There was no stopping Buck when he got some crazy idea in his head. He hoped his friend wouldn’t do something really stupid to make Ezra mad at them. The undercover agent was just starting to trust the other guys on Team 7. JD would just have to try and make sure Buck didn’t mess things up too bad.
“C’mon, JD. Let’s hang out here a bit where we can’t be seen. He’ll have to leave sooner or later.”
“It shouldn’t be too long. He did say he was picking his friend up. That means they must have plans to go somewhere and Ezra will be driving.”
The two of them didn’t have to wait long. About ten minutes later, Ezra exited the building with someone. At first Buck thought he’d been right. The person had long hair—a woman. But when the parking lot lights illuminated the twosome, he could see that it was actually a young man probably not much older than JD. He had something else in common with JD. He was full of energy. The guy was practically bouncing alongside Ezra, waving his hands around like crazy. The undercover agent laughed and threw an arm around him and directed him to the car.
“Looks like you were wrong, Buck. It’s a guy.”
“I can see that, Kid. They looked awful friendly, though, don’t they?”
JD’s voice was full of sarcasm. “Yeah, Buck. Imagine that. Friends being friendly to each other. I don’t know what the world’s coming to.”
“Come on! They’re going to get away.”
“Oh, no! We’ve seen enough. Let’s just go home and forget we were ever here.”
“There’s something funny going on, and I aim to find out what.”
“It isn’t any of our business. If Ezra finds out we’re gonna be two dead agents.”
“If you keep bellyachin’ real loud like that, he is gonna find out.”
JD rolled his eyes as Buck dragged him back to the truck. They took off after the jag, making sure they followed at a discreet distance.
Twenty minutes later Ezra and his friend were seated at Santini’s Italian Restaurant, looking over their menus. Buck wondered how Ez found such a nice Italian restaurant that stayed open all night. He and JD sat in a high-backed booth that blocked them from Ezra’s view. But if Buck looked through the fancy scrollwork on the back of his seat, he could see Standish’s table.
JD slid down further into his seat. He wasn’t trying to avoid Ezra—he was just embarrassed to be seen with Buck. His roommate had turned around in his seat, peeking through the little holes. The waiter looked at Buck like he was crazy. A few of the other diners were staring, too. Low-profile surveillance, huh, Buck?
It had been a long time since Ezra had felt this alive. Blair always had that effect on him. His energy and zest for life were extremely contagious. Why had he allowed himself to lose touch with one of the few relatives with whom he had good relations? Perhaps it wasn’t so much that he had lost contact with his gregarious cousin through any fault of his own, but rather that certain obstacles had made it difficult for them to keep in touch. Ezra’s undercover work for the FBI, and now for the ATF, kept him extremely busy and often out of touch with anyone except the members of his team. Blair’s work as an anthropologist had had him traveling all over the world to exotic and hard-to-reach sites.
Their mothers had not made a close relationship between them any easier, either. Most people would say that Blair’s mother, Naomi, was the total opposite of her sister, Maude. Naomi was a dyed-in-the-wool hippie, constantly spouting a philosophy of free love and harmonious living. To her, money was a tool that evil big businesses used to oppress the working class. Maude, on the other hand, worshipped money. To her, money was power and security. One could never have enough. But to those who knew them as well as their sons, they were quite alike.
They rarely spoke of their own childhoods, but Ezra suspected their mothers had both been traumatized in some way. Their reactions were to run, to never stay anywhere long enough to form attachments to people or places. Maude traveled from one locale to another, always looking for enough material possessions to fill the void in her. But Ezra feared that no amount would be able to satisfy her. Naomi had constantly uprooted her son as well, always in search of the perfect cause or the perfect belief system. She never found either. People thought Naomi was so open and free with her feelings, but she glided from man to man and relationship to relationship, playing a role as much as Maude ever did. They both lived their lives forming only the most tenuous of connections, moving on when things became too involved. To Blair and Ezra, Naomi’s flighty philosophy of “detach with love” worked an awful lot like Maude’s “don’t form any attachments”.
“Ezra? Hey, Ezra! Anybody home?”
“Hm? Oh, sorry. I was lost in thought.”
“That’s okay. I’ve been having a few of those reflective moments myself since I called you.”
“How did you find my number, anyway? It’s unlisted. I’ve also made quite certain other sensitive personal information about me is difficult to find, as well. When one is an agent of the ATF, and an undercover agent no less, such precautions are a necessity. And don’t tell me you received my number from Mother. She would never help you get in touch with me. She thinks you and Aunt Naomi are a bad influence.”
“You’ve got to be kidding! Aunt Maude doesn’t like me? I though I was her favorite nephew.”
“You’re her only nephew. Really, Blair. I think it was the summer I spent with you and Aunt Naomi on that commune in Nebraska while Mother was fleecing that wealthy lumber tycoon. I made the mistake of innocently telling Mother how refreshing it was to meet people who shared everything and held little regard for material possessions. You will recall that was the last time Mother allowed me to stay with the two of you.”
“Oh, man. Sorry. Uh, since we’re being honest here… The reason I rarely spent any time with you and Aunt Maude was because Naomi thought she was filling my head with crazy, money-making schemes.”
“Aunt Naomi was quite correct. Maude thought you had potential—especially with that honest face and those soulful eyes. She said that with a little coaching, you’d have people tripping over themselves to give you their money.”
Blair just looked at him a moment. A sly smile curled up the corner of Ezra’s mouth.
“Man, you are so full of it!” The two of them laughed at the thought of honest Blair becoming Maude’s partner in crime. Naomi would have hit the roof! Blair wiped a tear of laughter out of his eye. “To answer your question about how I got your number, contrary to popular belief, Naomi and Maude do still speak to each other on occasion. She mentioned you were in Denver, ‘wasting your God-given talents in some menial law enforcement position’, as she put it. She didn’t give any more info than that. I have a few, um, connections in the world of law enforcement who were willing to help me out.”
“You have friends in law enforcement? Is this the same man whose mother habitually refers to policeman as ‘pigs’?”
“She doesn’t do that anymore—at least not very often. Naomi was shocked at first, but now she’s sort of okay with it. When she found out my roommate was a detective and I was riding with him on calls she…”
Ezra sputtered in his drink. “Your roommate’s a cop?” Ezra couldn’t contain the laughter that burst from him. “I would’ve…paid…good money…to see the expression on her face.”
“It wasn’t that bad. Well…she did freak out just a little bit. But she’s dealing. She even stayed with us at the loft. I think she’s really warming up to Jim. Sometimes they look a little too comfortable with each other, though.” Blair shuddered, thinking of the time he came home to find the two of them sitting on Jim’s bed, laughing and joking. Sure they were looking at old photo albums, but they were sitting very close and acting very friendly.
Ezra smiled, thinking of the way Josiah had turned into a love-struck suitor when Maude visited Denver for the first time a few weeks ago. “I can certainly understand your situation. I have a co-worker who finds Maude just a little too attractive.”
“Is he rich?”
“Good Heavens, no!”
“Then you should be safe.”
Ezra laughed, raising his glass. “To Maude and Naomi. May they never become romantically involved with our co-workers or friends.”
“I’ll drink to that!”
JD tried to just get something to eat and ignore whatever Ezra was doing. Buck was intent on every move the undercover agent made.
Buck shook his head. “Huh. Now that’s right strange.”
JD didn’t even look up. “What’s the matter? Ezra and his friend being friendly again? Maybe there’s a law against that that you can bust them on.”
“That’s not what I mean. He’s been all laughing and joking, hugging and slapping on the back ever since he got with this yahoo. Ezra’s just not a friendly guy. He’s whatcha call ‘pleasant’. He’s not the touchy-feely type.”
“We’ve only known him a few months. Maybe he’s really a touchy-feely kind of guy once he warms up to you.”
“You really believe that, Kid?” The expression on JD’s face told Buck he didn’t.
Blair started patting down his pockets. “Speaking of Naomi. When I told her I was going to look you up, she gave me something for you. Hold out your hand and close your eyes.”
“It’s not something odiferous that
is intended to cleanse my spirit, is it?”
“Nope. No sage for cleansing. Something better.” Blair pulled a small object out of his shirt pocket and put it in Ezra’s open palm.
Ezra opened his eyes to see a man’s ring with a large ruby in the center. “But, this is… I can’t.” Ezra tried to give the ring back, but Blair closed Ezra’s fingers over it, keeping them in a fist with both hands.
“I spent a lot of time with our great-Uncle Ed growing up. I know Maude hardly ever let you see him or even call him. Naomi knew how much you loved that grumpy old man.”
“But I’m quite sure it’s a valuable piece. Really, you should…”
“I have a few things from him already. And I have something even more precious, something Maude didn’t give you a chance to get—memories. I don’t need the ring. I don’t want the ring. It’s yours.”
“Blair. I don’t know what to say.”
“That’s a first.” Blair’s serious expression was replaced by his usual boyish grin.
“JD. Pssst, JD.”
“What, Buck. I’m trying to eat here.”
“Scoot on over here and take a look at this. That other guy gave Ez something and now they’re holding hands! I knew something was going on with those two.”
JD’s curiosity finally got the better of him. He slid around the semi-circular shaped booth until he was next to Buck. He turned around without raising his head too high over the back of the booth. Sure enough, when he looked through the decorative openings in the wood, he could see Ezra holding hands with his friend. “Come on, Buck. It doesn’t mean anything. We don’t even know what they’re talking about.”
“Can’t you see the way they’re looking at each other? It’s like they’re the only two people in the world. A guy don’t look at another guy like that for nothing. Yup. I think Ol’ Ez is gay.”
“Buck! That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!”
“Just callin’ it like I see it. Think about it, JD. He’s always wearing them fancy suits and worrying about his hair and nails. Ez never talks about dates. That just ain’t natural.”
“He doesn’t kiss and tell like you do. He’s a gentleman.”
“Come on, JD. He owns more shoes than the rest of us put together!”
“That means he’s gay? Don’t go jumping to conclusions. You start spreading that kind of talk, you could ruin his life…and his career.”
“Well, I think the guys ought to know about it.”
“No! No way!”
“You think the guys will turn on him?”
“No. But I think too many people talking about it is gonna get it spread around. Ezra’s my friend, Buck. If he’s your friend, too, you won’t screw things up for him. I’m leaving. I don’t care if I have to walk all the way home. I don’t want to do this anymore.”
Buck asked the waiter for the check. He paid without a word. Maybe JD was right. He wouldn’t tell the others right now. That didn’t mean he couldn’t find out more about this guy of Ezra’s. He just didn’t look like Ez’s type. No harm in checkin’ up on things.
JD and Buck slipped out of the restaurant. An hour and a half later, Ezra and Blair left as well. Ezra thought it was a shame that Buck and JD had departed so early. He would’ve introduced them to his cousin. Perhaps another time.