This renovation business was fun. It was hard work but watching cold, neglected spaces begin to take on warmth and life was fascinating. Ezra had been real supportive when I asked if some of the kids from Purgatorio could help out on the project. I'd been coaching them on acting as a team when playing basketball but now I wanted to show them how to build something good and strong. He even got them t-shirts in black with gold lettering that read 'Vin's Wrecking Crew'.
He tells me that he's afraid of kids but I think it's just his natural reserve 'cause he's real good with them one on one. He'd even supplied all of them with their own toolbelt and enough tools to give them a sense of responsibility. The construction crew was real patient with them too and some of the boys showed they were really taking the lessons to heart.
Sister Ernestine said that the fifteen year old Gomez twins were bringing their tools after school and helping the Sisters repair the house next to the mission. They wanted to get their mom and sisters into a nice place and their pride in each project finished was real good to see. But I was learning a lot, too. One of my projects was sanding those oak floors to bring them back to life. The sander was big and bulky with a real mind of its own. Ezra got really good at giving my sore muscles a massage of an evening.
The warehouse was a mess from top to bottom. Sometimes, I just had to get away from all the noise and vibrations. I'd escape up the spiral staircase and onto the roof. Except for the elevator housing, it was empty of everything but snow and birds. Sounds melted away up there and I breathed deep even though the air was cold. The wind would whip over the brick parapets and whisper of the coming spring.
Every once in a while, I would coax Ezra to go up with me and he'd come, muttering of my strange predilection for freezing spaces. But he always enjoyed it, hugging me close and breathing just as deep as I was. When the sun came out, I could definitely see the possibilities of the wide, open space. My little pot of lavender was growing in the office and I could hardly wait to bring it up here for some sunshine.
Miss Clover had given me advice and promised me one of her rose bushes when we got serious about the rooftop garden. She and Michael had married in a private ceremony at the old chapel that had seen most of the Munsons births and deaths and everything in between. Ezra and I were their witnesses. They'd moved back into the mansion and cleansed it from the basement to the attic. Michael had adopted three children over the course of the last twenty years so Miss Clover became a mother at the same time she became a wife.
Luckily, they were mostly grown already. When we saw her these days in the library, she always had a little wrinkle between her eyes and it was like she had to come back to us from where ever her thoughts had led her. I was worried a bit that it was all too much for her. Ezra though, he told me that he'd taken Michael aside to tell him to be sure that she got some alone time every day or answer to us for the consequences.
It got better after that. But that reminded me that Ezra was struggling with something, too. When I asked him about why those heavy thoughts came and went, he smiled and told me that he would share it when he got it into focus. I nodded and watched him extra close for a few weeks. What ever it was, it didn't effect our loving. That just kept getting better and better.
I'd never been so well-loved, not ever, except maybe by my Ma when I was a baby. Ezra took real good care of me and I was learning how to take care of him, too. I guess everything was going so well that it never occurred to me that it wouldn't just keep on. Then the Henderson case was given to us and all hell broke loose.
On the surface it was a very simple case. An insurance salesman named Arthur Henderson was found dead in Boulder with half a kilo of pure cocaine in his briefcase. The local police were pretty much scratching their heads when their Narcotics Bureau finally called us in. Chris brought us all in on it but it was a foregone conclusion that Ezra would go in and play a replacement insurance agent.
It was the first time we would be separated by a case since we'd loved each other. I was uneasy but he seemed resigned to his new role. For three days, I watched him sink deeper and deeper into what he called his Edmund Street persona. The night before he was to fly out to Seattle and the home office of Global Assurance, Inc., he made love to me slowly and tenderly.
I'd never felt so cherished. But when he woke me up Tuesday morning, he enticed me inside of him. He was wild and I caught fire, too. I was afraid I'd hurt him but his smile was relaxed and he hugged me close, telling me that it would have to last him for several weeks. I wasn't exactly worried but I did fret a bit until he got transferred back to Boulder after two long weeks.
We talked whenever he could get to a pay phone and call me collect. I told him about the work on the warehouse, Buck's gradual waking up to J.D.'s preferences and how much I missed him. He mostly listened not having much to say about the case but he always said 'I love you' before we hung up. I needed to touch him in the worst way but he'd already picked up the scent and been approached to take over where Henderson had left off.
He sounded real tired when he called late one night about five weeks into the investigation. He didn't want to talk about the case, only about the warehouse and the progress going on there. I could hear the strain in his voice and when I told him how much I missed him, I thought I heard a sob in his voice. And just like that, I suddenly knew what he was struggling with.
How could I've been so stupid? Ezra left a little part of himself in every role he played. How long could a man keep giving away pieces of his soul before he had nothing left to give? And how did I let him know that I understood? While I was still reeling from that realization, he had to hang up to go back to the party he'd ducked away from. He said goodbye with a last 'love you' before I could tell him I understood.
The next day, I went to Chris and told him that I had to see Ezra. Right now if not sooner. He took a good look at me and saw how serious I was. With a nod, he told me that he'd see what he could do. I went back to the classes I was teaching to some of the new agents, sending all the energy I could spare to my absent lover. But the link between us had never seemed so muted and fear began to get a toehold.
I'm afraid I was real absentminded and the students could tell it. Finally, I let them go early before I accidentally shot one of them. I felt so cold that I wondered if I was coming down with something. I even took the elevator up to seventh. The rest of the team was standing there like they were waiting for me and I knew something was wrong.
Chris told me that Ezra had gone missing.
Missing for almost sixteen hours.
Missing since about a half an hour of our phone call.
I knew he wasn't dead. I'd be able to feel that and so I told the rest of the team. Josiah nodded and told me to keep faith in Ezra. Ezra wasn't the problem, as he well knew. The problem was the rabid drug dealers who might have him in their hands. J.D. was already working on tracking him electronically while Josiah and I sat down and went over every phone call from Ezra.
Chris had insisted that all my phone calls be taped and now I was hoping that something in our conversations might give a clue to Josiah. It was hard to see through the tears in my eyes while I listened to his voice on the tape. I needed him so desperately right then that I'd have traded my family sampler for one sight of him. But Josiah lent me his strength and I tried to stay calm.
It was still a long afternoon and one I never want to repeat. I kept praying to that goddess of his, Kwan Yin, the goddess of mercy and compassion. The hours crept by and the other guys beat the bushes for any sign of our absent team member. Judge Travis even came down to give us his support. I didn't know if he knew about Ezra and me but he was real gentle when he clasped my shoulder and told me to take heart.
Miss Clover came up with some files and took me into the conference room, sitting me down and giving me a stern talking to. Her brisk no-nonsense talk even made me smile a little until I saw the tears in her eyes. And that's when I crumbled to my knees and buried my head in her lap while her strong arms held me safe. She rocked me just a little, like I remember my Ma doing.
I couldn't understand the words but her soft croon soothed my aching heart and I gradually got myself back under control. The guys left us alone for almost a half-hour before tapping on the door and bringing us some good news for a change. Ezra had been seen in the little town of Eldora, southwest of Boulder. The bad news was the company he was keeping. Gilmore Whittaker was an East Coast drug dealer with a reputation for leaving no loose ends.
Was Ezra still in character or had he been found out?
That was the thought that kept going through my mind while the whole team crowded aboard the OH-58 Kiowa helicopter to fly closer to Eldora. I had my sniper's rifle with me but I was hoping that I didn't have to use it. I didn't want bullets anywhere near Ezra. A friend had told me once that protection was all in the mind. And right then, I was surrounding Ezra with as much white light as I could muster.
Nothing mattered but him, not the case, not justice, not anything at all.
It was the quietest flight I'd ever flown. Even the pilot from our mobile force seemed to sense that conversation wasn't on the agenda. I think we were all too busy praying. An update came from our ground forces. They were on the move towards Boulder. It appeared that Ezra was moving freely, a part of Whittaker's party. I hoped they were right.
We kept out of sight and sound of the drug dealers. I just hoped that Ezra knew I was near by. Another call from the ground said that they appeared to be headed for a small airfield that was only sanctioned for single prop aircraft. However, we'd flown over it earlier and a small Learjet was sitting there. There was no way that Ezra was getting on that plane.
No way in hell.
We set down in a field and I jumped out with my rifle, Buck right on my heels. We were maybe twelve city blocks from the field and I was in a hurry. The Kiowa took off again and circled around to approach the airfield from the other side. This way we had a pincer movement with our quarry between us. I took the field at a dead run, vaulting the rickety fence and keeping going with Buck panting behind me. Fear gave me wings and I was soon within sight of the landing field.
I wasn't so lost that I didn't take a moment to find out from Buck where he would be in the coming confrontation. I didn't want to hurt anybody but bad guys. He gave me a boost into the most likely tree and waited a moment to be sure I could keep going higher before melting into the underbrush near the airfield. For such a big man, he can surely hide better than anyone I've ever met.
Picking a good sturdy branch, I got comfortable and made sure that I was loaded and primed. Ezra was going to come out of this alive if I had to shoot every other person there. I would think about the right and wrong of it later, now was the time to focus on my targets. And pray that Ezra was all right.
The limo purred onto the packed earth runway and men began to emerge from it. Ezra was next to the last out and he wasn't smiling. In fact, the man who was holding him had a semi-automatic jammed into his ribs. Something had changed from Eldora to here but the only thing that mattered was that he was still alive. And if I had anything to say about it, he'd stay that way.
"Hold on, Ezra. I'm here." I whispered into the wind and sent my love to him the same way.
The head guy was jawing away at Ezra and the smile on his face was one of those sneering ones. I eased off on the trigger, deciding which of the men I would shoot and in what order. That kept me from firing prematurely. A calm settled over me when Whittaker slapped Ezra and took the gun from his minion to hold at Ezra's temple. Time slowed and when the chopper came into view, I already had my target.
The bullhorn threw Chris' voice into the men who froze for a moment before erupting in a firestorm of bullets. But I'd already shot the gun away from Ezra, hit Whittaker in the chest and killed the man who'd been holding my lover. Ez' ducked and rolled behind one of the limo doors and I lost sight of him. It didn't really take long after that to mop them up.
I was down on the ground and running for the limo before the last shot was fired. When I got there, I saw Buck looking at me with anguish on his face. But then I saw Nathan on the ground; his hands bloody while he tried to stop the crimson flow from Ezra's chest. Time slowed on me again and it seemed to take forever to get to his side. Chris was trying to tell me something but I couldn't see him, only Ezra's white face.
Then we were in the chopper and Nathan had me applying pressure to the gaping chest wound. I've never prayed so hard in my life. Ezra's face was calm but so very white that he looked like marble. His skin was cool to the touch and I could feel him slipping away from us with every moment. When we landed on the hospital roof, I got crowded aside by the doctors and nurses. Nathan and I watched while they wheeled him right into surgery.
And that's when I passed out.
It was a quiet place where everything was white and clean. The only sound was a heartbeat that seemed to be slowing. Ezra lay on a table, quiet and still but faintly glowing with a golden halo around his entire body. Ma was by his side and her blue eyes so like mine were real grave when they rose.
"He's ready to leave, little angel. You're the only one who can sway his decision, Vin."
"I love him, Ma. I don't want him to go."
"He loves you too, little one. If he stays, he may be physically impaired."
"That doesn't matter. Nothing matters but him. There are so many things he could do. It's his spirit that glows so bright, not his body."
"Yes, it does. Tell him why he needs to stay. Remind him of love, my little angel."
I took his right hand in mine and held it to my heart while I caressed his white face with my left. Leaning in, I whispered in his ear. "I love you, Ezra. You're my heart and soul. You promised me forever and I'm holding you to that promise. Don't leave me alone and lonely. Listen to my heart and remember that it beats for you."
The sound of that heartbeat was louder now. I threw all of my strength and love into him. And everywhere was an explosion of white light coruscating into a rainbow of bright colors that sparkled golden and so bright that I had to close my eyes against the glitter.
"Vin, Vin, come on, buddy. You're scaring me here." Nathan sounded real anxious and I opened my eyes to find him kneeling by my side on the cold tiles of the hospital corridor.
"Nathan?" I was cold, so very cold.
"Come on, Vin. Sit up for me. Let's get us cleaned up while they operate on Ezra." He helped me up and steadied me against the wall. "He's going to be okay, Vin. I have faith in Dr. Schoonover. He'll bring Ezra through."
"You sure, Nathan?" I wanted to believe him, I really did. But all I could see was the blood that covered both of us. His blood.
"It's in the good Lord's hands, Vin. Come on and let's get cleaned up. We're scaring the staff, my friend. Let's get washed up." He guided me down the hall and into one of the bathrooms.
The blood was everywhere and not even the hottest water seemed to warm me up any. I was shivering pretty much continuously and I know that Nathan was worried. He found a blanket from somewhere and wrapped me in it before steering me into the waiting room nearest the operating theaters.
We waited for hours. The others showed up eventually and I acknowledged them absentmindedly, my eyes never leaving the swinging doors where I'd last seen Ezra. I wasn't sure if my vision had been a dream or just wishful thinking but all my hopes were pinned on that last bright rainbow that had felt so joyful.
They came and went but I stayed put, drinking coffee that someone brought me and eating some stale crackers from a vending machine down the hall. I felt real calm and clear headed, sitting there. Ezra couldn't leave me. He just couldn't. He was a man of his word and he'd promised to always love me.
J.D. was by my side when they wheeled him out and down the hall. He looked like a waxen image; still and whiter than the sheets he lay on. But they had machines hooked to him and one of them showed a reassuring beep that had to be his heart. J.D. held me up when my legs went all wobbly. Nathan was already talking to the tired looking doctor but I followed Ezra as if I was on an invisible leash. An intern barred us from the ICU and J.D. kept me from hurting him.
Nathan explained that Ezra would need a sterile environment for awhile until he was a little further along the road to recovery. And that got through to me.
"He's going to be okay, Nathan?" I willed it to be true.
"He made it through surgery and he's got a good chance to make it all the way, Vin. I won't say that he's going to be a hundred percent. Dr. Schoonover wasn't able to get the last bullet out." Nathan scrubbed at his face, his eyes tired and bloodshot. "It was too close to the spine. We'll know more when he comes to and starts his physical therapy."
"Wait a minute, Nate. Are you saying that he might be paralyzed?"
"It's a possibility only. We'll have to wait and see. The important thing is that he's getting better with every breath he takes." Nathan almost shook me in his fervor and I nodded silently, agreeing with him.
"Vin, you need to get cleaned up. He's going to need you when he wakes up and right now, you look pretty bad." Chris' voice came from over my shoulder, his hand warm on my back.
"I can't leave him, Chris." I was swaying with weariness but determined to stay close to Ezra.
"He's not going to wake up for about twelve hours so you have plenty of time to clean up and change clothes. The nurses said that you could use their shower and Buck went to get you some clean clothes." Chris glared at me but I could see the concern that he hid under his gruff tones. "Josiah is bringing in a cot so you can catch a nap until Ezra comes to. Don't give me any trouble now."
I shook my head and let him lead me to the shower. My clothes were stiff with dried blood, Ezra's blood that had soaked deep. The hot water felt good but it reminded me of the last shower that we'd shared. I could still feel his hands sliding over my skin and his mouth pleasuring me right into climax. I was crying when I finally turned off the water. I leaned against the cold tiles and shook with silent sobs.
Strong arms gathered me up and wrapped a towel around me. Buck rocked me gently and murmured little nonsense words to calm me. I tried to stop but the pain was too deep. He dried me off and I felt other hands dress me in soft warmth while I hiccuped and tried again to stop crying. A sharp prick startled me and I saw Nathan's face grim and set.
"You're going to sleep now, Vin. When you wake up, you can see Ezra, until then we'll keep you both safe."
I managed a nod before falling fathoms deep. A heartbeat haunted my dreams until I went beyond dreams to a healing sleep.
End part eighteen