Nathan fretted about Rain who wanted a couple of
copies to send to her nieces, he stormed up the place with worried frowns and
moans. The team medic wanted to make sure that no one knew that he was
desperate for a copy of his own. He monitored all of the websites and was a
member of many of the chat groups. Three years was just too long to wait...
Vin Tanner shook his head over the chaos one little children's book could cause. He couldn't see the point in all of the Midnight parties or the long lines. It must be a real good read, he told himself. At that moment he really wished, more than ever, that he didn't have so much trouble reading. It would be great to read it at the same time everyone else did...He gave a half grin over to Ezra, who gave him a brilliant chamaeleon smile and quietly reminded him that not only was there a copy on reserve for him, a copy of the audio book on CD was already paid for.
The undercover agent took some ribbing for his ability to get anything anytime from the others. Ezra was excited enough to let it pass for the moment, even Nathan's bitter complaint that he probably had purchased one of the stolen English editions right off the truck! He gave him a sardonic salute, but even that couldn't dampen his spirits. He had an edition, the deluxe edition from Amazon.com, arriving in the morning. In the afternoon he would take it and begin reading to the children in the chemo ward at
Denver Children's hospital. They loved their Harry, but strangely, they loved him too. He wished that Michael was still here to enjoy the series, his young cousin had been a bookworm like himself.
All day long, Chris pushed his team. He wanted all the reports done, every i dotted and every t crossed. There was not going to be a wait around today. At 4p.m. he stood in the doorway and growled. In spite of bickering, arguments, and long philosophical lectures his team got things done in record time.
The Crowds at the Barnes & Noble were fierce, even this early. He'd gone in convoy with JD and Evie. Chris's big SUV held most of the kids, while JD and Evie brought the gear. They had sleeping bags, games, and food. One kid even brought a portable T.V. Joining the line, Larabee's party bumped into Nettie Wells and her niece Casey. JD let his attention wander from the kids, now finding ways to make their part of the sidewalk comfy, to his girlfriend. He had gotten pretty far involved in the conversation when a tug at his pant leg drew his attention. One of the kids had to go potty...
After 20 minutes the "potty Emergency" was taken care of, and JD was just glad that none of the others had any idea of what he'd had to do to get the kid a bathroom. He spotted Josiah and the big profiler waved. JD brought him back to the group of kids. "The last shall be first and the first shall be last" didn't count in line for this book! Took some talking but Josiah joined them.
Nathan turned up later, a little red faced at being involved with this kind of commotion. However as he sat on the edge of the blanket and discussed the series, it was obvious that he was more well informed than the average Joe. Chris, Josiah, and JD shared a grin that promised mayhem in the straightlaced medic's future.
Vin, looking lost and a little wild about the eyes, joined them later. Too many people got on the quiet sharpshooter's nerves, but he was here to help. He took the kids on bathroom breaks and fetched and carried. No one would let him go for food, though. No one wanted the kids on a sugar high, and Tanner had a junk food fixation. Nettie Wells smiled and included him in the fun and games. Some of the kids were reading aloud from book four and he listened along with the rest.
About an hour later, Ezra joined them unexpectedly when one of the adults waiting in line shoved him hard, he fell onto the blanket and apologized for the interruption. Standish's official excuse for being there was that he was there to help Josiah load all of the books and get them safely away. A rumor on the Internet was going round that there wouldn't be enough books in the first printing to go around. He wanted to make sure that the kids from Josiah's shelter program got their copies and more importantly,
that Josiah got them Safely away!
The other members of Team Seven quickly shared and hid smiles. Ezra might pretend to be selfish, but when it came to kids, he was a generous fool. It just wasn't good for him to admit it, and the team protected his need to keep his "defenses" up, it wouldn't do for him to appear soft. Not as an Agent.
Josiah smiled enigmatically, and considered for the first time that the large amount of copies, paid for by donation, might just be the work of the slippery Southerner. Across the blanket Vin winked at him.
Yep, Ezra was involved somehow, and he was here to "protect his investment".
The long line moved restlessly around. There were more adults than children. Some adults had brought folding chairs, like for a parade, and were listening with amusement to the children reading aloud from book 4. Most people were in a moderately good mood, but Chris and the others could see that there was a rising level of tension.. Larabee frowned. He didn't want to be remembered as the Agent incharge of the "Harry Potter riots".
Billy Travis sat down in Chris's lap, drawing his attention back to the children. His team had caught his concern, almost as if he'd spoken it. They were scanning the crowd looking for problems and preparing to move if needed. Nettie Wells was also alert. 20 some years as a Social Worker had given her great skills in reading people.
It started with Standish, as ususal. One of the children had wandered away from the blanket, but not out of sight. The irritating but protective undercover agent kept a close eye on the little boy. The child had started talking to some of the other children in line, sharing his excitement with some friends that weren't in Billy's group. One of the adults, very obviously drunk and sharing the latest rumor about the books with his neighbor, said something extremely vulgar.
The boy, as children will, took offense at the comment and the slur upon his hero. The adult, in response, added even more foul comments, drawing looks of anger and disapproval from the crowd. Finally, adding injury to insult, he pushed the child away.
Ezra was on his feet in an instant, Vin following. The southerner gathered up the little boy, soothed him a little and then handed him off to the sharpshooter. He drew himself up to his full height, a short 5'7, and gave the man a glare that would have done Larabee proud.
"You sir, have the manners of an ox and the breath of a bear." The agent snapped, his southern accent lending weight to the insult. Standish then proceeded to dissect the man's heritage and intelligence, with a cautious eye on his wording. Nothing foul or objectionable, but the man was feeling the intensity of the undercover agent's disapproval and the crowd's.
Bracing for a fight, Chris handed Billy over to Casey and stood up. But before the situation could worsen, Ezra's rhetoric had driven the man out of the line. The troublemaker looked sheepish when the agent made an obvious pause for breath and seeing the crowd's disapproval, slunk back towards the end of the line.
Ezra returned to the blanket and began amusing the unsettled children with card tricks. He'd almost gone through his entire repertory when he noticed that the crowd was watching as well. He added a few more flourishes, especially to the slightly overwrought young man who'd been pushed. For his efforts, he got his vision blasted when a young photographer from one of the newspapers took his picture with a flash.
The poor reporter got more than he bargained for, Team Seven rose up and made sure he didn't do it again. He apologized after Chris Larabee scared him out of a year's growth. The camera ended up in Nathan's hands, and the medic along with the frowning Profiler, followed the complaining reporter back to the news trucks to make sure that the picture of Ezra didn't end up by "accident" in the paper. Nathan didn't want to erase the digital image, but he wanted to make sure that the southerner's face
was not on every news stand.
Other reporters watched as the Medic, along with the very large Profiler, insisted that the digital pictures be downloaded on the reporter's laptop. The reporter was young and new to Denver. He protested, but noticing the dirty looks his fellow news people were giving him, subsided. There was more to this situation than he first thought. Nathan smiled when the picture downloaded, they so rarely caught the skittish undercover agent in an unguarded moment.... he e-mailed the picture from the laptop
to his home email. It wouldn't do to send it to the Federal mainframe, that could wait 'til later.
With a final warning, Nathan and Josiah left the reporter to the limited mercy of his fellows and returned to the by now merry little group on the blanket. Vin gave them his lopsided "Tanner Grin" and JD was laughing, but Ezra wouldn't look at them. Nathan teased about photo opportunities, and the southerner looked pained. Josiah decided to add to the teasing.
"Well, We can't have your picture on every news stand. You wouldn't be of much use then!" Josiah gave a rumbling laugh. Ezra startled. Too late he remembered himself and Nathan having given Ezra a very long winded Lecture about the freedom of the Press and how the Team shouldn't be misleading them all the time. At the time he'd been ticked with Chris and Mary, but apparently he'd drummed the argument into Ezra's mind, the one person for whom the Press was a terrible danger. Taking a deep
breath, he started to explain but a look from JD of all people silenced him. It seemed he'd hit another of the skittish southerner's insecurities. In his mind he cursed himself, and as he sat down to rest, caught his Leader's eye.
Chris had Billy on his lap again, and although he ruffled the boy's hair as he teased him, he gave Josiah a commiserating grimace. Dealing with Ezra was tricky at best. One never knew if he'd be cocky and sarcastic or melancholy and depressed. The undercover agent's moods shifted more quickly than could be kept up with.
Raising an eyebrow at Chris, Josiah leaned back against the lamppost and asked.
"How would you suggest that we carry off the books for the shelter, brother?"
Ezra made no sign that he'd heard.
"Ezra, Son?" He continued, a little worried now, Standish was as known for lighting fast comebacks as well as for his avoidance of work.
"I'm not your son, Josiah." he said finally, keeping his eyes on the child sitting in his lap. The little boy turned to look at the big man with wide bright green eyes. Gently, the younger man gathered the boy a little more closely to him. "You shouldn't have to do things like that. I know it offends your sense of agreeable behavior to go about threatening members of the Press."
Looking again at the younger man, he found himself staring at the little green-eyed boy in Ezra's arms.
There was something familiar about the child, but Sanchez couldn't place it.
"I wouldn't wish you to have to do things that are so distasteful to you," the southerner continued "You are forced to do enough as it is." He gathered the little boy up and stood "We'll be back , This young gentleman needs to make a little journey to the facilities."
"What the Hell?"Vin growled after Ezra left.
"He overheard Judge Travis this morning,"JD said "He was talking about the Handleman case. Plentz tried to blame everything on Ezra. Of course everyone could hear the Judge which didn't make it easier for him." JD frowned realizing that Billy and Evie might mistake this for a slam against the Judge, but Evie was in conversation with Nettie Wells and hadn't heard, and Billy was busy talking excitedly about Sirius Black. Chris acknowledged the frown, a tacit agreement that the excitable JD would attempt to reign in his tongue when others were present. He gave the Profiler a frown of his own, just when were people going to lay off Ezra? He was part of the team, and woe betide anyone who attempted to take him away. The southerner was an outcast, the reviled orphan of the team, having a bad reputation from his time in Atlanta. It had been hard to get him integrated into the team, Ezra was a loner by nature and by experience.
Strangely the excited conversation that Billy was having with his friend about Sirius Black made a great deal of sense when applied to Ezra. Chris's gut told him that what had happened in Atlanta was not the southerner's fault, though he couldn't get specifics about what Ezra had been accused of. It also appeared that he'd been named guilty without trial. It made Chris's blood boil and he'd taken to talking to Buck and Vin about it on weekends at the Ranch. Normally he wouldn't have discussed the situation with "non Management personnel"as Travis so often reminded him, but Ezra's continued existence as part of Team Seven kept coming up and for no good reason.
He'd taken a lot of heat for hiring Standish, more so than for Vin and they really disliked the fact that someone with such a high degree of learning disability was on so important a team. It had proved difficult to find a reason to fire Tanner after his range scores were in, but that hadn't meant that they hadn't tried. Chris found the odd thought crossing his mind that if the southerner was just like Black, Vin was just like Lupin, the werewolf. He kept getting pushed to fire Vin, or at least to put him on suspension and send him to some remedial education classes.
It had come close, but Ezra for reasons best known to himself had given Vin a Dictaphone type thing. Chris's computerese wasn't enough to remember the name of the thing, only that it worked. He'd gone into the senior staff meeting expecting to be yelled at again about Vin's dyslexia, only to be surprised by the fact that no one would bring it up. Not only had Vin's reports improved to the point that they couldn't argue about him being the Team's "idiot" again, someone had read them the riot act about the Americans with Disabilities Act. Whoever had done it had run them over, flatting every objection that what Chris called the "Gaggle"could raise, they'd put the whole lot of them in a corner. Vin's job was safe. He just wished Ezra's was as well protected.
Damn, Chris thought, couldn't he just leave the office stuff at the office? He leaned down and heard Billy tell his friend that Hagrid was his favorite Character. Noting that bit of information for Christmas, he found himself wondering what his lost son Adam would have thought. Would Hagrid be his favorite or would he have liked the books at all?
It was a little melancholy for him to think on his dead wife and child, but it was at times like this that he thought most often about them. He felt the overwhelming sadness, but it was mitigated by the presence of his team, this new family of his. Sarah would have approved of them, all of them, and Adam would have been overjoyed to have five more uncles along with "Uncle Buck".
For the first time in a long while, Chris found himself smiling about his family. Sarah would have been so good for his team. She'd have deflated Nathan's overweening sense of what was "Proper", gotten Josiah to think more about how others received his rather rambling pronouncements, and adopted JD as the brother she'd never had. Buck was already adopted, and frequently the two of them had driven Chris up the wall with their practical jokes. Vin and Sarah, oh man, Chris grinned, that would have
been a combination! Add Ezra to the mix and he'd never have been safe.
Chris found Josiah looking at him curiously. It wasn't often that the "Man in Black" smiled so. He gave Josiah a raised eyebrow, which seemed to confuse the Profiler more. His smile became a laugh, more so when he found Tanner's blue eyes and cockeyed grin looking back at him. Shaking his head, Chris resumed listening to the kids reading about Harry Potter, and finding himself glad that his bunch of "Orphans" had found a home to go to as well. Forget the Judge, Standish was staying, even if Chris had to staple his thousand dollar shoes to the floor. He wasn't about to lose his family...
Ezra came back in a rush with the sleepy little boy resting on his hip.
"They're about to open the doors, Gentlemen. I would suggest that we should prepare to strike the comfortable nest we have here and be ready for perambulations."
Nettie Wells looked at Chris with a swiftly hidden smile as the southerner made his pronouncement. Was it even possible for Ezra to speak like normal people did? He always sounded like a grammar text book or a dictionary. Everyone,even Ezra took part in gathering their "Stuff" together. The kids had costumes to pull over their street clothes and the undercover agent helped them get ready. Flicking a bit of dust off of one set of robes, Standish looked carefully around. He noticed his "friend", the reporter
back again, but this time the man didn't seem willing to brave the wrath of Team Seven.
Scooping up his young charge, he led the way into the Barnes & Noble. The group was directed to line up in a somewhat haphazardly fashion, since there wasn't enough room with all of the bookcases near the registers. A big hulking man, dressed up as Hagrid kept the lines moving. He seemed to want to avoid Chris's gaze.
Larabee's instincts were telling him that there must be a reason the man wouldn't meet his eyes. Usually that meant trouble. Before he could re-act, however, there came a loud squawking noise from the register area.
Chris Larabee grinning like a fool, Vin Tanner
with an 800 page book, Nathan Jackson talking serious literary criticism with
seven year olds, Josiah Sanchez terrorizing the Press, JD and Casey giving up
a Friday night date to ride herd on some kids, Buck Wilmington, that Ladies
man, dressing up for once that had nothing to do with wooing a woman, and last
but not least that arrogant selfish southerner, Ezra Standish buying copies
left and right so that no one would feel left out, and loading them! The man
avoided manual labor like the plague loading boxes and boxes of books!
No, no one would believe it, never. She didn't believe it and she was there!