Nathan Jackson reported for his first day of ambulance orientation with no small measure of trepidation. Staring down suspects, no problem; pointing his gun, sure; using his medical skills to save his friends' lives, okay. Now, however, he planned to use his EMT training full-time and get exposure to the paramedics for a week straight. It made him question if he was good enough to do this full-time for a week straight.
He arrived at the main headquarters for the Denver Fire Department fifteen minutes early and full of nerves. He straightened his tie, finished his coffee, and locked his car. He threw his empty cup into the trashcan outside and buttoned his suit jacket. Walking in, he stopped at the main desk.
A friendly smile greeted him. "You must be Nathan Jackson." The woman was a platinum blond, deeply tanned with long airbrushed red, white, and blue fingernails, and wore a DFD uniform. She carried a commanding air.
He nodded, wondering how she knew.
"Instructor Harper sent your picture ahead so we wouldn't give you a hard time. Can I just see your ID to confirm? We can't be too careful."
"Sure." Nathan removed it from his inside breast pocket and let her examine it.
"I'm Tammy, and you'll need to sign here." She pointed to the correct line on the visitor's log before handing him a laminated badge. "Okay, thanks. This is your badge for whenever you're in any of our buildings. As you can see, it says 'Exchange Officer' with your picture, so none of the hosebeaters back there, or wherever you end up, give you a hard time."
"Excuse me? Hosebeaters?"
Tammy flushed. "Uh, sorry. I hope I didn't offend you. It's a term we throw at the firefighters about how they beat their hoses all day. Oh hell, sorry. I'm making a muck of this."
Nathan smiled. "No, you're not, ma'am."
"Whew! Well, okay, let's get you started. Come on around in here and we'll start the paper brigade before you head upstairs to the pomp-chiefs." She led him around and gave him a seat along with a one-inch stack of papers for him to read and sign.
Between answering the telephone, yelling in the intercom, and dealing with walk-in traffic, Tammy talked him through each page, explaining everything she felt related. She also gave him a running commentary on all of it. He learned a lot in the hour he spent with her before saying goodbye and meeting with, as they were more often called, 'the pompous asses'.
He walked up the three flights of stairs and found himself outside a richly appointed conference room with the door open. Knocking, he received a 'come in' through the door, stepping inside to find a collection of four officers.
Each wore a different rank insignia on his or her uniform, but all gave him a welcoming smile. The man loaded down with brass came over, hand extended. "Agent Jackson?"
"Nathan Jackson." He shook hands.
"Chief Kurt Massey. Pleasure to meet you."
"This is Deputy Chief Roger Pryce, Captain Margaret Olin, and Captain Tate Kennard."
Nathan shook hands with them, and then Chief Massey indicated for him to take a seat. Everyone slipped into one of the richly padded chairs.
"Welcome to the Denver Fire Department. Hopefully, you'll have a good experience with us, and we'll both benefit from it."
"Thank you, Chief."
"We had a couple questions, if you don't mind." The Chief looked at him, almost asking permission to continue.
"You're almost a paramedic, correct?"
"Yes, sir. Five more classes, the exam, and the practical."
"You can run IV's."
"All of your EMT certifications are up to date?"
"Yes, sir. I'm working on keeping the experience current with this ride-a-long."
"Good. Last question. Do you play well with others?" Chief Massey smiled to take the sting out of the question.
"Depends on whether the others are trying to kill me." Nathan kept a straight face; at least until they started looking worried. He chuckled, relieving the tension. "Sorry, y'all. I've been shot at and shot often enough to develop a little gallows humor."
Captain Olin grinned. "He'll fit in just fine."
"Where are you placing him?"
"With Skipper's squad, Chief."
"Well, he'll get experience that way." Captain Kennard, silent until now, finally spoke up. He shook his head.
"Skipper's squad, Agent Jackson, usually catches the most calls. I'll warn you they get the weirdoes, but it's a great group." Captain Olin stood. "With your permission, I'll get him started."
"Pleasure to meet you, Agent. We'll talk again at the end." The three men stood, shook hands with Nathan again, and Captain Olin led him out.
"Whew! You got lucky."
"Why?" They entered the stairwell.
"Massey's so full of hot air he usually takes five minutes to say hello."
"I know someone like that." A small smile covered the man's handsome features.
"We usually give a long, drawn-out presentation, but we figured you'd enjoy a more roll-up-your-sleeves approach. Instructor Harper said your EMT skills get used often in the field, so we'll use today to show you the ropes." They exited the stairwell, passing Tammy on the way toward the ambulance bay. "Hey, Tammy, make a note - shortest meeting on record!"
"I'm impressed! Oh yeah - he's meeting the Mayor for lunch. Saving his wind for them." Tammy waved, and then answered the incessant ring of the telephone.
"You ready?" Captain Olin stood poised to open the door for the large ambulance bay.
Nathan nodded. "Yes."
"Okay. Here we go." She twisted the knob, pulled it open, and stepped through the door leading into the bay. Next, the Captain yelled into the cavernous interior. "Get out here. We've got company!"
From various nooks and crannies, people slowly poured out. A man twice Nathan's size, with limbs the width of a telephone pole, came over eyeing Nathan up and down. He grunted. "Ford." One slab of flesh with large fingers on the end stretched out and engulfed Nathan's hand.
"Nathan." He returned the hearty squeeze, and then felt Ford squeeze harder, probably testing his mettle. Nathan applied his own pressure, slipping one finger to a particular point and numbing Ford's hand.
The huge man let go, a deep rumbling laugh echoing in the bay. "He'll do. Welcome aboard."
"Ford, you didn't break his hand, did you?" A thin black woman, dressed in a blue coverall with short auburn tinted hair, bounded down a set of stairs.
"Good. Hi, I'm Gillian Skipper. Call me Skip, or Skipper, and I've heard all the Gilligan's Island jokes."
"Hang on, there's one more. WEASEL! Come out of your hole!"
"Don't wanna." The whining voice came from the other side of the ambulance parked near them.
"Coming, coming. Don't turn on the overhead lights."
"Weasel's afraid of the sun and hates the florescent lights. That's why it's a little dark in here." Skipper rolled her eyes.
"For good cause. All those damaging rays we can't see." Weasel resembled his nickname, having pale skin, small squinty eyes, slicked back hair, and a bad top overbite. Sunglasses hung on a short cord around his neck.
"You mean UV rays?" Nathan took a stab at the rays Weasel talked about.
"I can tell you the best blockers."
"I like this guy already. Weasel's the name."
"Nathan." They shook.
"Now that you've met everyone, I'll leave you in Skipper's capable hands. Agent, I'll see you around." Captain Olin left.
Weasel imitated her walk right after the door shut. "Forgot where she came from."
"Knock it off. Remember that positive attitude pep talk?" Skipper glared at him.
"Yeah, yeah. I'm POSITIVE she forgot where she came from. Better?"
"No, but go back into your Hole. I'll show Nathan around."
"You might want to get him into Ninja wear first. Never know when we'll get hit with a call." Weasel sauntered off.
"You're right, Weasel. That's probably why I keep you around." Skipper walked down the side of the ambulance closest to the bay wall toward the back. "Come on, Nathan. Let's get you dressed."
"Ninja wear?" Nathan refused to move until he knew what this meant.
Ford looked at him. "Yeah, a jumpsuit in one color, maybe some glow strips on the hems for nights. Kinda like these." He indicated his own multi-pocketed jumpsuit. "The nozzlenuts call us Ambulance Ninjas in these."
"Meaning firefighters, and you call them nozzlenuts and hosebeaters?" Nathan waited for confirmation he got that part of the jargon right.
Ford whacked him on the back, knocking Jackson off-balance. "I like you."
"Nathan?" Skipper's voice sounded far away.
"Coming." He shared a smile with Ford before catching up with Skipper.
She handed him a solid colored jumpsuit, showing him the men's locker room so he could change. She also loaned him a lock, telling him to lose most of the nice clothes. She issued him a DFD t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants to go underneath before leaving him to change.
His weapon, cuffs, spare magazine clips, and Identification went into the jumpsuit's pockets, while his dress clothes hung in the locker. Unfortunately, he wore good loafers, and did not bring any other shoes. He continued wearing them, hoping they would not be ruined. Using the lock, he secured his clothes and pocketed the key.
Jackson found Skipper, and she gave him a tour of the bay, showing off the two fully stocked ambulances at this house, and where to find supplies. The front of the bay held two large doors along with a regular-sized door to enter. The back was more functional, having numerous useful rooms such as a lounge with a TV and an assortment of couches and chairs, a kitchen, a bunk room, an office, closets, locker rooms, a decontamination station, laundry room, and the final room marked 'Weasel's Hole'. Inside the Hole, a dartboard hung on the wall near a pool table, and three computers with game attachments sat ready. Two game systems, complete with games, waited dark and silent. Weasel himself sprawled out on one of the long couches, his laptop computer on his stomach. The lighting was purposely dim, adding to the moniker 'Hole'.
"If you ever need Weasel, not saying that you'll want to, this is where you'll find him."
"Damn right, Skip."
"What's your job?" Nathan asked.
"I drive the bus, man. Ford and Skip work the patients, I just get 'em there."
"He's also an EMT, though he likes to forget that fact."
"I'm there when you need me, babe."
"And grateful I am for it, DUDE." She threw a pillow off one of the chairs at him, and he caught it without looking up from his screen.
"You've been a squad for some time."
Skipper shrugged. "Yeah. No one else would take these two."
"Love you too." Weasel blew her a kiss.
Nathan laughed, reminded of the banter between his own teammates.
A series of tones sounded, coming from the overhead and wall-mounted speakers. The pagers on Skipper and Weasel's waists went off. Both groaned.
"Let's go. You'll sit up front with Weasel." Skipper led the way to the ambulance, hopping in the back. Ford opened the bay door, jumping in as Weasel pulled alongside. Once clear of the door, Nathan twisted to see Ford point a remote out the back window, and the bay door slowly closed.
Ford caught him looking. "Best if your seatbelt's on." Nathan showed him it was, and Ford nodded, dropping down into one of the seats in the back, and held on.
"What are we responding on?" Nathan did not hear the dispatch that time in the flurry of activity, along with not listening to the scanner for a while. Scanner listening usually helped him keep up with the jargon.
"Motor vehicle accident with injuries," replied Weasel. He laid on the horn. "Hey, you, Nimrod! What do you think the pretty lights mean? Put down the cell phone, jackass."
Nathan noticed all the traffic cleared for them, except for the man directly in front of them. The other lane was full and impassable, so driving around this obstruction was not an option. The man continued talking on his cell phone, oblivious to the ambulance right on his tailpipe. "You have Hi-Lo?" Jackson referred to the two-tone combination and not the straight siren.
"Yeah, fat lot of good it does me." Weasel blew the horn again, the siren's mournful wail clashing against the harsh sound.
"Watch." Nathan reached down and deactivated the siren, counted to three, then hit the Hi-Lo, adding the siren on top of it. The combination of sounds startled the driver, making him look in his rearview mirror, and then, finally, pull over with an apologetic wave.
Weasel saluted with a standard military salute, false smile, and a comment. "Thanks, dickweed. Hope it's not your family you just delayed medical treatment for, asshole." With a clear road ahead of them, Weasel trounced the accelerator. "Nice trick." One of his hands deactivated the Hi-Lo, and then he declared, "That's your handle. Hi-Lo. Hey, Ford, your hugeness, meet Hi-Lo."
Skipper grinned. "Welcome aboard, Hi-Lo."
For some reason, the nickname appealed to Nathan, along with the easy acceptance. "Pleased to be here."
Weasel made an announcement. "We've arrived. Pay homage." Before them, a single vehicle challenged a telephone pole, and the pole appeared to have won. It still stood, albeit at an odd angle. "Oh, vehicle versus pole. Pole wins again. Come on, Hi-Lo. Time to work."
The four approached the driver, currently holding his head between his hands, his backside on the curb. A Denver Police Department officer stood beside him, pointing at the ground in front of the victim. A large pile of red-colored vomit showed the beverage of choice, probably a strawberry margarita or daiquiri. The smell of alcohol permeated the air, hanging over the driver almost as a visible cloud.
"Margarita puker. Gross. Dude, how'd they taste coming back?" Weasel stared down at him from a safe distance, letting Nathan, Ford, and Skipper take the close up work.
The victim vomited again.
Ford and Skipper stayed back, waiting for him to finish before starting their work-up.
Weasel said, "No puking on the bus, man."
After transferring the victim to a stretcher, then putting him in the back of the ambulance, or 'bus' as Weasel called it, the ambulance driver spoke to the officer. "Figure seventy from the damage?"
"Dude's messed up."
"Yeah, maybe he'll get to put his plaque on the pole with his name on it after he pays for it. I'm following you for the blood kit."
"Sweet. I'm saying a .15."
"He's going up. A .20, easy."
Nathan figured out that they guessed the driver was operating his vehicle at seventy miles per hour when he hit the pole, and the lack of black streaks, or skid marks from the tires, meant the driver never braked. The rest was a guess on the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), or how much alcohol ran through the victim's veins. The officer planned to follow them to the hospital to administer a blood test kit for the precise alcohol content, to determine whether the victim will be charged for a Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) offense. Most states carried a less than .10 as their legal limit, and the pair, along with Nathan, figured this man was much higher than the legal limit.
Skipper's voice carried over to them. "Hey, Wheezy, he's hurling again."
"Man, I told that dude not to puke, Skip. I'm coming." He looked at Nathan. "Let's go."
Weasel drove them to the hospital in record time, not wanting any more gifts in the back of his 'bus'. When they finished with the paperwork, the irate driver went to the City Car Wash, using the hose to clean out the back. The dirty sheets and other contaminated items stayed at the hospital in their biohazard disposal unit.
Their tones sounded again just as he finished, and off they went. This time, they assisted the fire department on a dwelling fire, checking out everyone for smoke inhalation and treating any burns they could without transporting. Another ambulance handled the transports. They remained there for a good portion of the late morning and into early afternoon.
Skipper walked over and asked Nathan a question. "How do you like it so far?"
"I'm enjoying myself. I'm learning a lot, but I could have done without the puker."
She motioned him to the back of their ambulance. "Let me teach you some slang, or jargon. See that big ladder truck over there, the one with the ladder extended onto the roof?"
"That's called a big stick."
He smiled. They now sat on the back bumper of the ambulance enjoying a small break.
"The men and women who ride it are called truckies. They're really good at destroying things."
"See the tanker?"
"What's it called?" The truck looked like a valve-maker's dream with all the buttons, switches, cranks, and nozzles, and Nathan knew the entire thing was one giant moving water carrier.
"Water wagon. Over there, on the pump truck?"
"The driver's called a wheelholder, because he doles out the water using the pressure knobs, or wheels."
"The volunteers over there - God Bless Them All - are squirrels."
"They gotta get into everything, and they don't stay where you put them."
"Don't get me wrong; we love them. Without volunteers, this and many fire companies would be sunk. No one would help anyone else if these people didn't give up their free time. Okay, and not all of them are squirrels. There's just enough squirrels to give volunteers a bad name."
"I understand. We have wannabes - guys and girls who want to be cops or Agents so bad, but for some reason cannot cut it. So they get jobs as close to the action as they can. Their stories make them sound like they actually participated."
Skipper laughed. "I like that. Mind if I use it?"
He shrugged. "Not mine, but go ahead."
"Speaking of wannabes, see those citizens over there and the press?"
"Unfortunately, I see the press." His tone showed his lack of amusement with the press.
"They're scanner hounds."
Nathan took a guess. "Chase incidents when they hear them on the police radio or fire radio scanners?"
"You got it."
Ford walked over. "We're cleared to go. Baker's squad is taking over."
They climbed back in the ambulance, riding back to their bay. All of them stripped out of the jumpsuits, throwing them in the washer because of the smoke and soot collected in the materials. None of that made them very sanitary when treating a patient, and could lead to infections, or complications if they did not follow procedure. Skipper doled out another set of sweatpants and t-shirt to Nathan, taking the other set and tossing them in the second washer. Each of them took showers, cleaning off the worst of the smoke and soot they accumulated at the fire. Nathan quickly found that the smell seemed to linger, never quite dissipating from the station.
Weasel took the ambulance outside, 'appropriating' a hose and soap from the empty fire bay, and he scrubbed the ambulance from the inside out. Ford helped him with waxing while Skipper had Nathan help with inventory. Lunch came from the nearby deli, all four sitting down and enjoying a quiet meal.
Later that afternoon...
Sitting in Weasel's Hole, catching up on his e-mail, Nathan started feeling comfortable. The sensation was not meant to last. The tones sounded again, causing all of them to shut down what they were doing and head for the ambulance.
"It's a shooting." Weasel told them, translating the rapid-fire jargon spouting from the speakers. "Hey, Ford, it's Lake Syringe!"
"Joy. Hi-Lo, you have a vest?"
Nathan sprinted for his locker, retrieving the black vest with ATF printed in bold yellow block letters on the back. He climbed in the waiting ambulance outside the bay doors, and stood in the cramped back with Skipper and Ford.
"Put it on under your jumpsuit." Skipper issued this order while unzipping the front of her own jumpsuit, shrugging out of the shoulders and grabbing her light blue bulletproof vest.
Ford was doing the same.
Shrugging, Nathan joined them. He remembered Rain telling him about a section that suffered from heavy drug trafficking. The edge of that particular section held a small park with a lake. Since most of the users shot their drugs into their veins around it, they threw their used syringes into the lake, giving it the charming sobriquet Lake Syringe.
"DPD's on scene, multiple victims, it's a mess. Scoop and run."
"Got it," Skipper answered Weasel, checking the locks on the cabinets holding the medications and powerful drugs used to treat the patients. "Hi-Lo, we're going into a situation where we may get shot at, or attacked. Something like this usually means a drug deal gone bad. Watch your back, and watch your squad. Ordinarily, I'd tell you to stay in the bus, but you're a Federal Agent. I think you know what to do."
"Keep your gun handy. Don't give me that look, Skip. You can't say you don't feel better knowing we've got someone packing on board." Ford seemed to dare her to challenge that statement.
"Yeah, well, guns are why we're going, too."
"Point taken." Ford conceded the point.
"Scoop and run, Hi-Lo, means check a patient, if you have a pulse, work quick to stabilize, and then we're out of here. No sticking around."
"Got it. Weasel, you have your vest on?" Nathan called to the front of the ambulance.
"Yeah, dude, put it on when you ran for yours."
"Thanks for checking, man. Boys and girls, I give you Lake Syringe. Damn, it's frickin' Christmas out here with all these lights. I need my shades."
Outside the ambulance, police cars swarmed the area on all sides, lighting up as much as possible in the now overcast day. Bodies lay everywhere, some moving, some not, and blood showed on all of them. Following the hand signals of the police officer, Weasel stopped the ambulance where they directed. He locked the doors and took the keys, all four exiting the back with the equipment.
Ford and Skipper took the body on the left, while Weasel and Nathan examined the one on the right. All four watched where they stepped, careful not to contaminate the crime scene any more than necessary. A police officer snapped pictures of the victims where they lay before the quartet reached the patients.
"Got a pulse!" Ford yelled. He and Skipper immediately set to work.
Nathan squatted over his, reaching for the teenager's neck and hoping to find something. He felt no heartbeat beneath his fingers. Leaning forward, he listened for breathing sounds, not rewarded in his quest. The hole in the center of the forehead told the story of what happened to this person.
Weasel slapped a pulse monitor on the victim's finger, shaking his head when the reading stayed flat. His voice lacked emotion as he said, "Hi-Lo, take over for Skip so she can call this one."
Nathan nodded. The frustration at the situation read easily on his face, if anyone looked up from his or her tasks to check. Walking over to Skipper, he listened to her instructions and then completed them, lifting the living patient onto a stretcher. After he and Ford loaded this victim, he stepped out so Skipper could stabilize the patient for transport.
A voice behind him broke Nathan's reverie. "You're new."
Jackson turned to face the DPD officer. "Ride-a-long."
"Hell of a mess."
"He going to make it?"
Skipper yelled out, "Maybe. Hi-Lo, need a little help here. Tell Weasel to get our stuff; we've got to roll."
"I'll see you later." The officer backed away.
"Weasel, time to go!" Nathan received thumbs up from the driver, climbed in the back, and did what Ford and Skipper asked. He heard the back doors close, and then they took off. Nothing existed outside the ambulance; all the focus stayed on the patient.
Nathan put pressure bandages on the two stab wounds in the left leg, and then started another IV line for Skipper. He saw pieces of the kid's intestines poking out of the large gash in his abdomen right before Ford covered it with a multi-trauma dressing. Obviously, guns were not the only things involved in this fight; knives played a part, too.
The backing siren told the Agent they'd arrived at the hospital, and they quickly rolled the victim into a trauma room. Ford spit out the patient's vitals and what actions they took to preserve this young man's life.
On the way out, Ford ripped the bloody sheets from the stretcher, dropping them in the biohazard bin, and they climbed back in the bus to return to the scene. En route, Ford had Nathan help clean up and reset for the next patient, while Skipper started the paperwork.
All too soon, they arrived back at Lake Syringe and picked up another patient. This one bled from a shoulder wound, caused by a bullet that missed his heart by inches. Too high to feel the pain, he kept trying to get up to find the people responsible.
The same DPD officer Nathan just met kept him company, telling the victim to calm down and reminding him of his Miranda rights.
Since the officer took Nathan's spot in the back of the ambulance, Jackson waited just outside the back doors. Weasel stood beside him. Momentarily distracted by some yelling on the other side, Nathan glanced over and shook his head.
"Senseless, isn't it?"
"What a waste. Heard there's three definitely dead, and two probably won't make it. Yet those jackasses over there want to keep fighting. Same with the jackass in the back of our bus." Weasel pointed to the people being shoved in patrol cars well away from them.
They heard a thump behind them followed by, "GIMME THE DRUGS!"
Nathan pulled his gun without conscious thought and shoved Weasel to cover on one side of the ambulance.
"Put down the gun. You don't want to do this." The clear tones of the officer inside tried reasoning with the new arrival.
"I got a hole in my shoulder, ass wipe, so I get the drugs first."
"Screw you, man. I need a hit."
Peeking in, Nathan saw a small white male, probably sixteen or seventeen, holding a shaking gun on the ambulance occupants. Confined as they were, no one could make a move without upsetting the kid with the gun. Jackson knew what he had to do.
Jumping up in one smooth motion, Nathan straightened right behind the kid, placing his own gun against the boy's neck. His other hand reached forward, around the kid, and pulled the kid's gun arm toward the ceiling. "Federal Agent. Give me the gun."
The kid started shaking more, releasing the weapon into the blue-sleeved outstretched hand. He tilted his neck back and glanced up. The black man staring down at him stood a good foot taller, and those eyes invited no argument. Those eyes looked like they went through hell more than once, and the kid hallucinated seven devils glaring at him. "I give up."
"Good." The patient shifted. "Can I have my drugs now?"
Skipper told him to wait a minute.
Jackson led the kid out with one hand, holding onto him while they waited for a different DPD officer to take custody.
The DPD officer approached cautiously, being told via radio only that an Ambulance Ninja said he was a Federal Agent and diffused a robbery/hostage situation.
Nathan spoke first. "Agent Nathan Jackson, ATF Denver. My ID's in my pocket. I'll lower the guns slowly and get it."
"Dude, he's kosher. Officer Exchange Program." Weasel vouched for Nathan.
"All right. Let me secure him, and then I'll want to see ID." The officer handcuffed the suspect, searching and finding a pocketknife. He bagged that, and then reached for the suspect's gun. After it was unloaded, he also put it and the ammunition in an evidence bag. Finally, he checked Nathan's identification, nodding to himself, and still asked his Communications section to call the ATF and confirm.
Weasel looked down at the handcuffed, now crying kid. "Man, you picked the wrong bus to jack."
"Officer!" Skipper called. "Can we meet you at your precinct? We've got a live one here."
"I'll catch up to you after I drop him in Juvie Holding."
"Thanks. Let's roll."
Nathan climbed in the passenger seat beside a highly energized Weasel.
As the man drove, he offered Nathan a compliment. "Hi-Lo, you rock, man. All the numbnuts who wanna rob buses will think twice. Plus you looked out for your squad. Dude, you are my hero."
Jackson shook his head. "I did my job."
"I don't believe that. Thanks, man." Weasel stretched his right hand out, pleased when Nathan took it. "You can ride my bus any time, and you don't have to be doing it for some program. You're welcome with us."
After reaching the hospital, they dropped off their second patient, heading into the room set aside for ambulance personnel to complete their reports. The attempted robbery released them from returning again to Lake Syringe. Skipper walked him through it, and then they waited. One of the nurses told them the officer that arrested the kid was on his way.
Ford stuck out his hand. "Thanks, Nathan." The use of the first name showed the amount of emotion the normally quiet Ford felt toward the ATF Agent.
"You're welcome, but I really didn't do anything." He accepted the hand; it pleased him Ford did not play any games.
"Appreciate what you did, Hi-Lo, and Weasel's offer stands. Not just because of what you did, but because you're a great guy."
The original officer, who was in the ambulance when the incident occurred, entered the room. "Don't ask how, but here's fresh hot chocolate." After passing them out, he took a seat at the table. "Sorry, I didn't introduce myself earlier. Jim Riley."
"Nathan Jackson." They shook hands.
"Didn't hear which Federal Agency."
"I thought your name was familiar." Riley smiled. "You're one of the Seven."
"Guilty." It felt good to chuckle.
"Okay, Riley, what in the heck am I charging this kid with?" The other officer walked in, snagging the remaining cup. "Hot chocolate. Cool." He plopped down in a chair. "I swear, Riley, you can find the only hole in a golf fairway, not the one meant for the ball, and then trip over it. When you're done tripping, you'll find some drug dealers. You're just a shit magnet." The officer stopped his tirade and stared at the newcomer. "Aaron Kimball, by the way." He reached over and shook the Agent's hand.
"So why's this one in Holding? Or should I just pass out statement forms and be surprised?"
Riley said, "Statement forms, be surprised, no collusion."
"Yeah, yeah." Kimball gave them all forms, blank paper, and pens. "You know the drill."
Everyone spent the next twenty minutes writing out statements, Weasel's the shortest because he was outside. Kimball read them as they finished, nodded, and finally spoke. "Agent Jackson, you write a damn fine statement. Never thought the Feds were this meticulous."
"He's one of the Seven." Riley smiled at Kimball's stunned face.
"What's this bit about the Seven?" Skipper asked.
Weasel smacked his forehead. "Man, I should have guessed. The Magnificent Seven."
"The western TV show?"
"No, Skip. The Magnificent Seven ATF Team. They kick ass."
"I wouldn't say all that."
"Too modest, Hi-Lo."
"We do the best we can." Nathan shrugged.
"So where's the rest of the Seven? Suffering without you?"
"Training with Instructor Harper."
"Harper the Horrible?" Kimball snorted. "She should just be called hell-bitch and be done with it."
"She's not that bad." Riley shook his head.
"You met her when I did. Oh, wait - it wasn't YOU she humiliated in front of the class."
"Because YOU forgot to Miranda a suspect." Riley reminded his fellow officer.
"I eventually read the perp his rights. Small mistake."
"That could have cost you the case."
"Why are you defending her?"
"Because she makes you think, Kimball. You haven't forgotten the Miranda since."
"True. What's so funny, Jackson?"
"You sound like half the Federal Building. Harper's infuriating, but she makes you think and remember." Nathan continued chuckling. "Then she does something unexpected, just when people think they have her figured out. I'm here because she thought I'd benefit the most from a ride-a-long."
Riley grinned. "You're riding with some bad company. I don't know how many benefits you'll get out of it."
"If I didn't think you'd arrest me, I'd hit you for that."
"You're right. I would, Weasel." Riley winked.
"Hi-Lo, regardless of what this knot head flatfoot says, you'll have fun and learn a lot." Weasel made a face at Riley.
"Looking forward to it." Nathan grinned, realizing all the jitters from the start of the day were gone, and he really was looking forward to what the rest of the week held.
Harper led the Denver Fire Department exchange officer, Hugh Louis, to the offices that would hold the briefing. As they entered Team Six's territory, Harper stopped at the entryway and flagged down Buster.
His face split into a smile. "Instructor Harper. Up here for the briefing?"
"Yes. May I please speak with Agent Bishop first?"
"Ellen? Yeah, hang on." Buster turned around and yelled, "Ellen, you've got guests."
"Who is it?" The voice came from somewhere out of their line of sight.
"Instructor Harper and her shadow."
Ellen came to the door and said, "Hey, Harper. Hello. Ellen Bishop." She extended her hand.
"Hugh Louis; call me Huey." They shook.
"Well, Huey, welcome to Team Six. Come on in; we're getting ready for the briefing."
Harper said, "I appreciate this."
She led them to the conference room, talking over her shoulder at them. "No problem," Ellen said with a shrug. "We'll probably need him. Those yahoos from Seven are going to be some of the first through the door."
"Shall I double the number of ambulances?" Harper's tone clearly expressed her teasing to Ellen, who was slowly learning how to read the prickly Instructor.
"Hang on, let's ask." Agent Bishop opened the door to the conference room and yelled, "Straighten up - we've got company." Various feet hit the floor and the noise level dropped significantly.
As the trio entered the room, Team Seven looked up from their notes at the Instructor and the exchange officer.
Chris smirked at Harper.
She bristled as Buck mournfully handed over ten dollars to Ezra and another ten to Chris.
"Chris, Harper seems to think we'll need another ambo crew. You think you can keep your boys from stubbing their toes, or should I green light that?"
Green eyes nailed Harper in place and it was her turn to smirk at him. "Think that much of our abilities, Harper?" He asked this in a conversational tone of voice.
"Statistics don't lie."
Ezra interrupted. "Statistics are whatever the person creating them wants them to be, Instructor. As someone with an accounting background, I am sure you can appreciate the truth in that."
"Very true, Agent Standish." She addressed him by title in this more formal setting, as she would anyone else attempting to maintain her professional image.
"We'll do just fine, Harper. No need for you worry," Buck said. He gave her a grin of reassurance.
"I'm not worried." The Instructor changed the subject. "For those of you who have not met him, let me introduce Hugh Louis, our exchange officer for the week. Going around the room: Ellen Bishop, head of Team Six, Chris Larabee, leader Team Seven, Buster Burton, Cecil Nottingham, and Tony Greene of Team Six, Josiah Sanchez, Buck Wilmington, and JD Dunne of Team Seven, Kerry Lowe, Joey White, and Brian Gilbert of Team Six, and finally, in the corner over there, Ezra Standish and Vin Tanner, Team Seven."
Huey waved hello and shook hands with everyone, working his way around the room. "Nice to meet all of you," he said.
The Agents replied in kind before Ellen cleared her throat, calling their attention to the reason for this briefing.
Harper and Huey took seats in the back of the room, a short distance away from the table and the others. The rest of the medical crew representatives arrived, taking seats near Harper and Huey. After quick greetings, they whipped out their notepads and waited.
"Okay, folks, everyone's here so we'll get started. We're going to hit this one fast and hard; they won't be expecting it, but they will be armed. Vests for everyone, watch your backs, and get cover fast. Vin and Cecil will already be up in the rafters. I've marked their positions on with an 'x'." Ellen indicated the spots, shown on the wall projection screen, with her fingers.
The female leader continued, giving out assignments and showing where each person would be stationed, who comprised the entry teams, who forced the doors, and as much information on the suspects as possible. Both teams took copious notes, crosschecking and verifying information.
JD and Kerry, deep in a whispered conversation, motioned at some information on their screens.
"Ellen, we might have a problem." Kerry announced this during a pause in the conversations flowing around them.
"Talk to me."
"The door on the west side; we got the updated floor plans from the Emergency Operations Center because of their Hazardous Materials reporting requirements. It's been reinforced; one person won't be able to take it down and it's the closest one to the action."
"Solutions?" The leader opened the floor for options from both teams.
"Two people can take it, we just need to reassign everyone." JD looked around the room. "Josiah and Buster could do it without a problem."
"That shorts Buster's side and we expect more people there."
"How about moving someone from Josiah's side over, kind of an even swap?" Brian suggested this, studying the drawing.
"Won't work. We're a body short," replied Ellen.
Chris stared at the floor plans, and then looked up. He met Harper's gaze and cocked an eyebrow in question.
She shook her head no.
He winked at Harper, turning to the other team leader. "Ellen, what about Harper? She's fully certified to bust a door; hell, she teaches it in the simulations."
"Agent Larabee." Harper silently glared at him. "I may be certified to bust the door, but I am responsible for an exchange officer."
"We'll take care of Huey," replied the lead medic. "Keep him close enough to watch the action, but make sure not a hair on his head gets hurt."
"There you go. Ellen, any objections?" Chris turned to the leader of the raid.
"When's the last time you rated on that?" Ellen looked hard at Harper.
"Two weeks ago."
"Well, Harper, you've got the East door. Anybody have a problem with that?"
"Long as she hits the door and gets out of the way," said Buck. "We're going in hard and fast. Wouldn't want you hurt, darlin'."
"Not your darlin', Agent Wilmington, and I can cover a door."
"That remains to be seen." Ezra gave her an assessing green gaze. "Ten dollars says it takes her two hits to break through."
"Three hits, and I'm in for ten," Cecil called out. "Tanner, keep your eyes peeled on that side."
"Aw, hell, Cecil, she'll get it in one. Here's my ten."
Chris raised an amused eyebrow in her direction.
Harper smiled back, mouthing, "I'll get even with you for this."
He smirked at her, and then threw in his bet.
Money rapidly flowed around the room, as they took bets on how many hits she would require to break the door, and whether or not Wilmington, as the person behind her, would need to take over.
"Okay, now that you all have added to my humiliation in front of our exchange officer, can we get moving again?" The Instructor requested, with a completely flat tone.
Everyone chuckled and the planning session lasted another half-hour.
At the end of the briefing, they adjourned to change into their gear. Ellen followed Harper into the women's locker room, waiting until Kerry finished dressing before addressing the Instructor.
"You're okay with this?"
"Ellen, thanks for asking, but yes, I am okay with this. I teach it; time to show I can do it."
"No offense, but I'm responsible."
Harper smiled. "I understand completely. Ellen, I will do everything in my power to make sure that things go well."
They finished getting dressed. Their outfits consisted of black cargo pants, black t-shirts, black bulletproof vests over black long-sleeved shirts, headsets attached to the utility belt, the wires stretched under the vest to the ear, guns on thigh holsters, and backup ankle holsters. Finally, the windbreakers, with ATF emblazoned on the back, went over the vests. Heavy steel-toe boots protected their feet. Thick pads covered their thighs, elbows, and knees to make any sudden drops easier and create more of a barrier. Sleeves either tapered, or were taped by the Agent to cover the wrists, not letting any material hang loose. Black ski masks covered their heads, with the face part of it rolled up on the forehead for now. The back of the masks read ATF in large letters, so that the Agents could identify each other in any melee.
The undercover operative and his 'bodyguard' Agent left first, heading for the meet in their street clothes. Miniature wires hid on their persons and they wore vests under bulky jackets.
Vin and Cecil left next, making their way into the receiving area of the department store. In this area, they found their way to their spots without detection, setting up their scopes and waiting for the fun to begin.
Before the rest of the Agents left the Federal building, Harper managed to pull Chris off to one side.
"Thanks for volunteering me."
"No, really, thanks. I need this like I need a hole in the head."
"Always thought things were drafty up there."
"Ha ha. Your sparkling wit amazes me at times."
"What's your point?"
"I think you know; just making sure you remembered."
"No injuries, right?"
"We've got it covered."
"Are you sure?"
"Don't question me about my people, Harper."
"Sorry." She backed off first. "Just looking out for your team and Travis."
Running a hand down his face, he said, "It's okay. You've got a right to be worried; we all do. It's under control."
"All right, Chris. See you there."
"Don't mess up."
"I don't plan on it; don't get hurt."
"Will you kiss it and make it better if I do?"
"What?" Harper's eyes widened and her mouth fell open.
"Just checking to see if you're paying attention."
"Always, Chris. Question is, are you?" With those words, she walked away from him, making him stare after her and hopefully, making him wonder.
The vans followed almost thirty minutes later, setting up in the area, but enough distance away that no one would get suspicious about the sudden influx of vehicles. Everyone listened in.
Inside the vans, weapons were rechecked, equipment gone over for the umpteenth time, but the joking atmosphere, which helped keep the tension level down, remained while they waited for the meet. Once the meet actually started, silence fell over all the Agents. No one wanted to miss the signal to go in.
The building, a large stand-alone department store, was located in a business district. Once every two months, they held a sale that opened to the public in the receiving area, a cavernous area divided by large blocks of pallets piled high with boxes. This was where the ATF found most of their interior information, having sent Agents in the last few times to learn the lay of the land. Often, the ATF found, the businesses changed their floor plans and reorganized without telling anyone, making raids all the more hazardous. They never knew if the door they planned to hit was blocked with pallets and boxes, usually in violation of the fire codes. With this business, the hazardous materials were kept in another, more secured section of the building, well away from the area the Agents planned on entering.
The signal finally came and the teams bailed out of the vans in fast movements, running full tilt to their assigned doors. The 'busters', people with the tools to bash the door in, lined up while the teams waited behind them to charge.
Josiah and Buster gave their door one solid hit, sending it crashing back, their team making quick entry around them. Shouts of 'ATF' filled the air.
On the other side of the building, Harper lined up and gave the door one good whack, popping the lock to the office area and quickly moving out of the way.
Buck barreled through the door behind the shield yelling, "ATF! Everyone on the ground!" On his heels, Ezra and JD kept moving forward, making the secretaries lie on the ground. Ezra gave them a quick search, and then handcuffed them to the radiator across the room.
From her post outside the door she just broke, Harper covered Ezra while he kept watch on both the prisoners and the entrance into the room. He was rewarded for his diligence when three men tore through the portal, nearly pushing each other down on their way out.
He detained two of them by tripping the first, then punching the second. The first caused the second to bobble for balance, and the strong right hook forced him down on top of his compatriot. When the first went to pull a weapon, Ezra slipped a concealed derringer down his sleeve and pointed it in the man's face.
Resigned, the man dropped his head and tossed the gun off. Angry, he used his other arm to plant an elbow in the stomach of the weight on top of him. The resounding 'oof' caused the second man to drop his gun.
As they went down, the third man leapt over them and reached what he thought was an open door. Two steps outside, he went face first into the pavement and felt a weight on his back. The weight pulled his arms behind him and cuffed him in one quick motion, well before he recovered from falling on his nose.
Ezra, having used flex cuffs to add his two prisoners to his collection, looked up to see Harper straddling the man. She rose, pulling him roughly to his feet, and quickly shoving him in the direction of the others. He collected their weapons, unloading them and putting them in evidence bags.
Her pat down produced a gun and she unloaded it, before placing the pieces in an evidence bag. She checked on Ezra while she did this, receiving a nod of acknowledgement, as he called out the total number of prisoners they detained.
= = 7 = =
Inside the warehouse, the recent training paid off. Buck hit the receiving area first, drawing fire into the bulletproof shield and taking cover behind boxes. JD held off from entering the room until the initial barrage finished, keeping Buck from checking on him. After one of their assailants stopped firing because of the hole in his hand forcing him to drop his gun, JD scampered past Buck to the second entry point and covered his 'big brother', as they kept making progress into the room. Bullets continued to fly, and the pair kept up their leapfrog approach, until they reached the men firing. They took them into custody after a brief fistfight the Agents won.
Buster and Josiah took out their door with a combined heave, making it easy for the entry team behind them to charge forward, either stunning or arresting those in their path.
The two snipers covered the entire floor beneath them. Cecil took his half, the side under Vin, and Tanner reciprocated, making sure neither man suffered through a blind spot. Whenever anyone not an Agent fired, the snipers neutralized the threat.
Chris and Ellen charged the center from opposing directions, drawing fire so Six's undercover Agent could find cover in the lead-filled atmosphere. Chris kept pressure on his targets, forcing them back into the waiting arms of the Agents.
It was over in minutes. A radio check showed all Agents alive and uninjured, bringing relief to everyone present. The prisoners found themselves frisked, searched, and placed in vehicles for transport. Those wanted for questioning received free transportation to the Federal Building singly, with all of them separated to prevent collusion and to break them down.
Harper met up with Chris near the vehicles. "Nice job." She put her weapon away, having already turned over her prisoners for transport.
"Thanks. No injuries, just so you know."
"I noticed. Thank you for making things easier."
"Do I detect a moment of civility between two combatants?" Ezra came up behind them, his smile firmly in place.
"You do, Ezra. What are the odds on that?" Harper lifted an eyebrow.
"Astronomical, my dear. The true long shot."
"Which translate into what?"
Chris answered for the Southerner. "He's buying a round tonight. With his winnings."
"Mr. Larabee, whatever gave you the impression I would wager on your collective behavior?"
"I know you, Ezra."
"I should be offended." Southern green eyes looked wounded.
"That I have you pegged?" Chris smirked.
"No. I should be offended you are so generous with my funds."
"Chris spendin' yer money again?" Vin joined them, his rifle cradled in his arms.
"Then he's buyin' the second round." Tanner grinned.
Chris answered, "No."
The sharpshooter opened his radio channel. "Larabee's buyin' a round tonight."
"Someone say free drinks?" Huey rubbed his hands together, stopping beside Harper. "Instructor, I would have signed up sooner if I knew there was free booze involved."
"I see our fair city hires only the best." Ezra gave Huey an assessing look. "Do you play cards, Sir?"
"Name your game." Huey's eyes twinkled.
"Are you familiar with Follow The Queen?"
"I love following pretty ladies, and I like Baseball."
"Mr. Louis, I believe we will get along famously."
"Call me Huey."
"Ezra." They shook hands again, this time more relaxed.
"Count me in." Vin looked from one to the other.
Harper interrupted. "Before you boys get too cozy, we do have reports to write and a few other major details here."
"She's right. Sooner we finish, sooner we can enjoy Ezra's generosity." With that, the Agents and civilian ride-a-long went to work.
The celebration kicked into high gear. A lightness of mood, that only a good clean bust could bring, pervading them all. Laughter carried through the room, and no one allowed a dark mood to linger long.
Around eight o'clock, the Saloon doors opened to admit Nathan, Weasel, Skipper, and Ford. He brought them here to end the night on a better note than the aftermath of the shooting.
Josiah spotted him first, calling out, "Nathan!" His voice carried across the bar and caught the attention of the group in the doorway.
Nathan waved back. "I've got some friends for you to meet, if you want."
Skipper shrugged. "Sure."
"Isn't that Huey over there?" Weasel pointed.
"Yup. Playing cards." Ford nodded.
"With Ezra. He'll lose his shirt." Nathan shook his head, leading them over to the large, spaced out groups spanning several tables and booths.
Weasel laughed. "Hi-Lo, HueyDeweyLouie plays cards like a fiend. He's practically a professional gambler."
Nathan grinned. "This could be fun." They reached Josiah's table, holding Chris, Vin, and Harper in addition to the profiler. "Let me introduce y'all. The big man's Josiah, and then Chris, Vin, and Harper. This is Weasel, Skipper, and Ford."
"Harpy, you psycho bitch! Why the hell haven't you ridden in my bus lately?" Weasel winked at her.
"Too busy teaching meatheads procedure." Her eyes twinkled.
"Meatheads?" Vin glared at her.
"His term, not mine." Harper's wicked grin caused Weasel to shift from foot to foot.
"That was before I met Hi-Lo. Have to rethink that."
"Hi-Lo?" Josiah tilted his head to the side.
Nathan waved it off. "Later."
"In any case, can I borrow Weasel? I know someone that would like to meet him."
"Harpy, I'm all yours. Command me."
"Take lessons, the rest of you." Laughing, Harper ignored their mock glares and lead Weasel away, one hand on his arm. She took him over to JD, sitting with Buck and Kerry. They looked up at her arrival. "Folks, this is Weasel. Weasel, meet Buck, Kerry, and JD. Weasel here knows more about computers than any of you."
JD snorted. "Yeah, right."
Kerry held up a hand. "Puh-lease."
Sensing a challenge in his favorite hobby, Weasel leaned down and asked them an expert level question. They answered it easily, and the conversation flowed from there. Weasel ended up taking a seat, Harper easing down beside him.
"How about a dance, darlin'?" Buck stood. "While the kids talk computers?"
"We're off duty, so I wont say I am not your darlin', but sure, I would like a dance." Harper let Buck lead her out onto the dance floor.
Back at Josiah's table, Buster walked over. "I couldn't help but notice the prettiest girl in the entire place just got here." He looked right at Skipper. "Let me save you from some boring conversation and dance with me." He held a hand out.
"Why not?" Skipper stood, taking his hand and joining the other couples on the floor, notably Ellen and her husband, out for their customary 'date' after an injury-free raid.
One table seemed oblivious to the boisterous behavior of the other patrons. A serious poker game was underway, involving good sums of money. Four players sat at the table, each man intent on the game.
Joey and Brian from Team Six sat across from each other, leaving Ezra and Huey facing and trying to read the other.
Having played Joey and Brian before Ezra knew their tells, the little movements or expressions that gave away the contents of their hands. He instead concentrated on Huey, finding the man a blank slate. He had no idea Huey felt the same way about him.
The poker hands continued, the outcomes different, the players folding, taking cards, betting, losing, and winning. The four played well, no one gaining an obvious advantage.
An hour later, Weasel came over. He grabbed Huey by the shoulders and shook him hard. "HueyDeweyLouie! How's my man doing?"
Ezra raised an eyebrow. "HueyDeweyLouie?"
"My name. Hugh Dewey Louis. Weasel came up with HueyDeweyLouie, homage to Donald Duck's nephews. Sorry, this is Weasel. Meet Tony, Ezra, and Brian."
Weasel made the 'hang loose' sign. "Dudes."
"Hey. Don't let me interrupt; just getting a refill and figured I'd say hi to my squad mate."
"Weasel, Skipper, Ford, and I all make up a squad," Huey explained for their benefit. "Agent Jackson took my place."
"Hi-Lo?" Ezra looked inquiringly at Weasel.
"I'll let him explain. Catch you later, Dudes." Weasel left.
"Hi-Lo's probably the nickname Weasel gave him. For some reason, Weasel thinks everyone should have a handle." Huey shrugged, and they returned to play.
Things grew intense, both Ezra and Huey making their moves. Tony and Brian, sensing the battle royal coming, pulled out of the game while they still had money.
That left Ezra and Huey to fight it out, and by the end of the second hour, they drew a significant crowd. The pot went one way and then the other, not staying consistently with one person. The third hour passed, neither player gaining the advantage.
"Gentlemen, might I make a suggestion?" Harper leaned over the table.
"Let's hear it."
"Since you both have roughly equal stakes, I suggest one hand to determine the winner. Put up half your stakes, no bets, winner takes the pot."
"Sounds intriguing. Both of us leave with considerable funds, but one will be the winner." Ezra started splitting his stake.
"Count me in. Who deals?"
"Let's allow the lady."
Harper took a seat. "Someone get me a new deck." Inez brought one over. "Who wants to cut?"
"Inez, as the only neutral party here. If that is acceptable?"
Harper shuffled the deck several times, showing her own skill with the cards. She placed them in front of Inez, who cut them with precision.
The cards landed before the players, both men checking their hands. The game was five-card draw, with nothing wild. They turned in their unwanted cards, received new ones, and rearranged their hands.
"Gentlemen, show me what you have." Harper gave them the command.
"Three aces, with a pair of kings. Full house." Huey laid his cards out to the murmuring approval of the crowd. Some wondered aloud if Ezra could beat that.
"An excellent hand. However, I believe a Royal Flush tops that." Ezra set down his cards.
"Damn!" Buck stared in amazement.
"Well played, Ezra. We'll have to do this again sometime." Huey extended his hand.
"Most assuredly, Huey. A true pleasure." They shook.
Everyone started for his or her tables, getting ready to go.
Harper stopped Huey. "Before I forget, Jeff has you tomorrow. You are going out on surveillance with Team Two, and we will have the rest of your schedule worked out by the end of tomorrow. We are trying to let you see as much of what we do in a week, and have you participate when possible."
"If today was any indication, I'm going to have a fun week." Huey smiled.
"Just make sure you learn something, okay?"
"Don't worry, I will." He gave her a reassuring smile before heading off to harass Weasel.
"The question should be whether or not Team Seven will learn anything over the next month." Harper went to get her own coat and say goodnight to everyone.
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