The Road Not Taken

by Heather M

Lundy Rose set the two boxes he had been carrying down on the front service counter and turned to intercept the six men that had followed him through the door.

"Can I help you?" he asked directing his question at the blonde man in the lead. Lundy stood 6’6", he was black haired, dark eyed and powerfully built. It was obvious that he’d recently been in a fight. Bandages indicated that his nose had been broken, black and blue bruising had spread up and around both eyes. There was more bruising across the right cheekbone and uncovered stitches over his right eye. The man was an intimidating presence as he eyed the group suspiciously.

"Special Agent Chris Larabee, ATF, to see Sheriff Brenda Santiago," said Chris in a business like manner.

"I’ll take it from here Lundy," said a woman’s voice from behind the dominating form of the deputy.

Lundy turned aside revealing the owner of the voice.

The black and white printout of her LAPD mug shot style ID picture did nothing to prepare them for the woman that now stepped forward and offered her hand to Chris.

Brenda’s long black curly hair hung loose down to her shoulders. Her dark complexion reflected her Mexican heritage. She had a welcoming smile that was wide and genuine. Her dark eyes held a faintly amused expression and there was no mistaking the intelligence in them. Brenda stood 5’9". Her body was trim and athletic. The badge and breast pockets of her uniform shirt only succeeded in accentuating the shapeliness of her figure.

None of the six had really given any serious thought as to what Sheriff Santiago would be like. The last thing any of them had expected was the amazon that stood before them.

Sheriff Brenda Santiago smiled. "Agent Larabee I appreciate you… and your men, taking the time to come down here and meet with me personally."

"Mzz. Santiago." Chris purposely dropped the title of Sheriff when he spat out her name. He nodded briefly and ignored the hand held out to him.

It’s going to be like that is it? Brenda couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed as she dropped her hand back to her side. "If you’ll come this way Agent Larabee, I think it best we discuss our business in the privacy of my office." Brenda decided to ignore the slight to her authority for the moment.

"I’d like to see my agent first," stated Chris.

Brenda looked thoughtfully at Chris. Her contact in the LA had warned her that Larabee had a reputation for always wanting and getting his own way. The members of the team its self, had a reputation for being extremely loyal and protective of one another, their leader, even more so than the rest.

"Agent Larabee, I think we should talk first. There are aspects of this arrest that I think you should be aware of before you see your man."

"No. I want to see him… now." The words were spoken slowly and with them came a stony stare. There was no mistaking the implied threat.

Lundy Rose was suddenly to the left of and a half step behind Sheriff Santiago. As was Griffin Dunne to her right. Elena Palomas took a position behind the service counter. No doubt the "peace keeper" was kept under the counter top.

Good Lord man, did your mother never teach you any manners, groaned Ezra inwardly? "Mr. Larabee, confrontation will not benefit us in our quest to…."

"Shut up Ezra," Chris snapped.

"Chris, this isn’t our jurisdict…"

"Stow it, Nathan," growled Chris, cutting Nathan off abruptly.

"Take it easy pard, this isn’t gonna help Josiah any," said Vin softly.

"Agent Larabee, I’m sure you are as aware of jurisdictional procedure as I am. Mr. Sanchez is presently in my custody. My request is justified.

"Lady, as a representative of a Federal agency my authority supersedes yours." Chris’ voice was as cold as his stare.

"Mister Larabee if you want to make this a Federal matter, I’ll be happy to accommodate you. First step would be the six of you getting back into those trucks of yours and making the seven hour return trip to Albuquerque to get a Federal warrant." She kept her voice calm and business like and her eyes never wavered. Be damned if she was going to let an out-of-state Federal asshole dictate to her in her own office! "But right now, from where I stand, Mr. Larabee, this is a simple bar fight, and I really don’t think escalating it would be in Mr. Sanchez’s best interests."

"… and if I don’t want to play the rules, what are you gonna do about it?" retorted Chris menacingly.

There was a flicker, only for a split second, of doubt in her eyes. Then the cool, professional gaze returned.

"Chrisss…" the warning hiss came from Buck. Buck knew Chris was just being difficult because he wanted the upper hand but he wasn’t about to let Chris screw things up when they were barely inside the door if he could help it.

After along moment Chris nodded grudgingly.

"This way," said Brenda curtly. Giving them no option but to follow her, she turned and led them past the front counter, past her office and into the next doorway down the short hallway.

Though significantly larger that her office, the conference room held only a modest size table and six chairs. Sheriff Santiago sat down at the head of the table. Chris took his chair opposite the Sheriff at the other end of the table. The rest took places around the table while JD made himself comfortable on the window ledge.

Lundy Rose stood with his brawny arms crossed over his huge chest, just inside the doorway, "Lundy, I can manage, thank you."

"Sheriff?" questioned Lundy.

"Everything is fine," she assured him. Without another word he left closing the door behind him.

It was obvious from their objections that Larabee’s men hadn’t liked his behaviour any more that she had. Maybe they would be unwitting allies in keeping their boss in line.

"Mzz. Santiago…" began Chris his voice heavy with sarcasm.

Brenda then stood and leaned forward onto the table, resting her weight on her hands. "Agents, I am Sheriff of this town, I have earned that title and I expect the respect that is due me." Her tone of voice remained even and without emotion but her eyes were hard with anger.

"I don’t know what you expected to find here but as far as I’m concerned a nice middle-aged guy had a bad day, so I thought I’d call a friend of his to see if he could help him out. Instead I get a small army, invading my town and coming into my office trying to throw their Federal weight around. If you want to make the decisions here then you can decide how we’re going to proceed. You’ve got a five minutes to discuss it amongst yourselves. After which time you’re either leaving or you’re staying here and listening to what I have to say. It’s entirely up to you." Without giving any of them time to respond, she left the room, closing the door behind her. Her comments had been directed at the group but she had had her eyes trained on Chris the entire time.

"Ahhh, Mr. Larabee you have such panache with the fairer sex."

"I already told you to shut up Ezra," said Chris angrily.

"Have you been told today boss?" jeered Buck.

Chris threw him a piercing glare.

"So what exactly were you trying to prove there, Cowboy?" Vin’s tone was belligerent.

"I was just wondering what the Sheriff would do," growled Chris. Not bad, most people would have folded. She’s earned that badge.

"Guys I don’t think she’s gonna…" began JD.

"Stop it! All of you!" Nathan’s voice was tight with anger. "Didn’t any of you listen to her? She knows a helluva lot more about what’s been going on with Josiah the past few days than we do. So if any of you aren’t going to help then at least SHUT UP!"

Startled by the outburst, Nathan sudden had everyone’s attention. His anger and worry were evident in his expression. They had forgotten that Nathan was closer to Josiah than any of the rest of them. The two had worked together back in Kansas City before joining the team. Nathan’s sudden angry rebuke brought them back to the situation at hand. Shamefaced four of them mumbled their apologies. Chris just sat and let his foul mood simmer.

+ + + + + + +

Brenda leaned back against the closed door of her office for a moment taking the time to let her anger ebb. Mi Dios, that gringo is a bastard! Papa, you said there would be days like this. Her father had warned her that the job was one where she would have to keep her temper in check. She would have to let her FBI contact in LA know he had seriously under-informed her as to the fierceness with which Chris Larabee protected his men.

Damn it anyway! What was she doing losing her temper! He was a Federal Agent looking for another missing Agent. He could simply decide the situation was serious enough to override her authority and she would have no recourse. A review board, after the fact, would probably find in her favour but neither he nor any of his men seemed the type to let the threat of bureaucratic post-mortems affect their actions. She would have to be very careful in her dealings with Agent Chris Larabee from here on in.

Brenda retrieved the case file from her desk, thumbing through it quickly to confirm all the reports were in it. She tucked the file under her arm and took a deep breath before leaving her office to return to the conference room.

The six men were helping themselves to coffee that Elena had provided and one of the boxes of pastries Lundy had brought in with him.

Elena had seen Brenda leave the conference room. It wasn’t difficult to figure out from the Sheriff’s expression that the professional relationship between her and Agent Larabee hadn’t improved any during the short meeting.

Brenda nodded a silent thank-you to Elena. Elena, bless you! Informalizing it would help take the edge off this situation. Coffee and food would do the trick. Elena you’re always thinking!

Lundy was there as well. Just making sure our guests mind their manners.

She took her place at the head of the table. "Gentlemen, how about we start again?" she offered in a pleasant tone of voice. Taking their silence as agreement. "To save time, let’s skip unnecessary introductions, I know who all of you are. As I said before I’m Sheriff Brenda Santiago," she indicated Lundy and Elena who had remained at the doorway. "My deputies, Lundy Rose and Elena Palomas." Lundy made no acknowledgment of the introduction. Elena smiled pleasantly.

All eyes turned toward Chris, expecting reciprocating greeting. This, normally, would have been the gap that Josiah would have filled. No Josiah, now what?

After an awkward moment, Ezra dove in. "Sheriff Santiago, Deputy Palomas, Deputy Rose, please forgive our regrettable lapse in courtesy earlier. We have all been under somewhat of a strain with our concern for the welfare our missing compatriot."

Brenda nodded to her deputies indicating that everything really was fine now. They left, closing the door behind them.

"You have a pleasant little station house here Sheriff." Ezra kept his tone light and pleasant. If they were going to get anywhere here, they had to start building trust between their two factions.

"I’m sure our humble little lock-up here doesn’t begin to compare with your state-of-the-art ATF facility." She said giving Ezra a friendly smile. "A municipal budget forces us to be resourceful…"

"How do you know who each of us is… Sheriff?" asked Chris rudely cutting off Sheriff Santiago’s reply.

The other five men cringed inwardly at their leader’s lack of finesse.

God help us will that man never learn? thought Nathan as he brought his hands up to rub his temples tiredly.

Vin shook his head in resignation. Chris there are times I think you deserve at least some of the grief that comes your way.

Smooth Chris, real smooth, thought Buck sarcastically as he smiled apologetically at the Sheriff.

How many second chances was the Sheriff going to give them, wondered JD as he stared at his boss in wide-eyed disbelief.

Ezra finally lost patience with his Chris’s insolent attitude and for a split second allowed his composure to slip as he threw an "eat shit" look at Chris.

The pleasant smile never left Brenda’s lips but her eyes flashed with annoyance. "No doubt you did your research on this office… and on me, before you arrived Agent Larabee, I did my homework as well."

"If you don’t mind my asking Sheriff, what happen to Deputy Rose out there?" asked Buck, abruptly taking the lead from Chris. He wasn’t about to let Chris open his mouth again if he could help it. The man seemed determined to do only harm.

"Your Mr. Sanchez, is what happened to my deputy Mr. Wilmington," replied Sheriff Santiago.

"Josiah did that?" JD blurted out in disbelief.

"That and much more I’m afraid, Mr. Dunne."

Though there was no movement, no words spoken, there was an instantaneous shift in the attitude of the six men. The friction between her and Chris was set aside for the moment. She now had everyone’s full attention.

"You gentlemen don’t look as if you believe me," commented the Sheriff picking up on their reactions. She had seen it in their eyes, doubt.

"It’s not that Sheriff," said Nathan. "It’s just that the Josiah Sanchez we know, is a peaceful, gentle man. He’s very spiritual in his ways and he doesn’t get rough unless he has to and even then no more than he has to."

"Well, "peaceful and gentle" are consistent with his behaviour since he has been our guest, but based on what I witnessed Saturday night though, I would wonder that it might take all six of you to escort him home."

Chris was all business now. "Then Deputy Rose is one of the two Deputies you mentioned in our telephone conversation yesterday morning?"

"That right."

"Sheriff there is no doubt that the assault of your deputies is a grievous matter indeed," said Ezra sympathetically, "we, of course, will take responsibility for any costs incurred be they financial or…"

"That’s not what concerns me Mr. Standish."

"What does concern you Sheriff?"

"His behavior Mr. Wilmington." When she received six confused expressions in response to her reply to Buck’s question, she leaned forward in her chair and opened the file containing the arrest report. "If there are no objections, I’d like to review the arrest report with all of you before we go any further." Looking quickly from man to man she interpreted their silence as consent. Referring occasionally to the report from the file in front of her, she recited the account from Saturday night’s incident.

"At 11:20 p.m. this Saturday past, Night Duty Officer Whitteker Smith received a call from the Roadrunner Bar. One of the patrons at the bar had started a fight. Deputy Ben Warner was just finishing his shift and had to drive by the Roadrunner on his way home. He told Deputy Smith he’d look into it."

"Deputy Warner arrived to find Mr. Sanchez had been involved a brawl with the three Kisco brothers. The Kisco brothers are locals, who shoot pool and have a few beers every Saturday night."

"According to Dooley, the bartender of the Roadrunner, Mr. Sanchez had been at the bar for more than two hours already. He had been drinking heavily but had kept pretty much to himself up until he approached the Kisco brothers and asked to join the game. The brothers agreed. They weren’t five minutes into the game when, according to the Kisco’s, Mr. Sanchez started accusing them of cheating him. A fight ensued."

"By the time Deputy Warner arrived, the fight had ended. The Kisco boys are a rough looking but they don’t have much of a stomach for brawling. Ben Warner spoke with Mr. Sanchez, who, at that time, was seated on a barstool just inside the door. According to Ben, even though Mr. Sanchez had had quite a bit to drink, he appeared to be calm and relatively rational. After a brief discussion Mr. Sanchez agreed to be brought in with the Kisco brothers for the night. Witnesses reported that before he could be cuffed, it appeared as if Mr. Sanchez intentionally grabbed his beer glass and slammed it into the bar, breaking the glass and cutting his hand. He then turned on Deputy Warner, threatening him with the broken glass. Deputy Warner instructed Mr. Sanchez to drop the glass and come peacefully as agreed. Mr. Sanchez threw glass at Deputy Warner and then attacked him. Witnesses describe Mr. Sanchez as suddenly becoming "crazed" or "enraged". Deputy Warner attempted to defend himself until he was rendered senseless. Once he realized Deputy Warner could no longer fight back Mr. Sanchez simply stopped his assault and returned to his barstool."

"It was at this point Dooley called Deputy Smith, who in turn contacted me. I responded with Deputy Rose. Again after a short conversation, Mr. Sanchez agreed to come quietly. When Deputy Rose attempted to handcuff Mr. Sanchez, Mr. Sanchez attacked him. It took both Deputy Rose and I to subdue him. Once cuffed he came quietly."

She paused for a moment expecting questions but when the group in front of her said nothing she continued.

"Mr. Sanchez sustained several deep lacerations to his right hand from the beer glass and a number of bruises. The bruises have been assessed and the hand has been stitched and bandaged by a doctor."

"The Kisco brothers were not seriously injured and have agreed not to press charges in exchange for the charges against them being dropped."

"Deputy Lundy Rose sustained a broken nose, three cracked ribs and the obvious stitches over his right eye. Deputy Ben Warner’s right arm was broken in two places, he sustained several broken ribs, numerous bruises and a concussion."

Brenda sat back slowly in her chair, "Any questions?"

She watched them closely for their reactions. The room was still as they each considered her report.

In Dunne’s eyes she read only disbelief.

Tanner’s eyes were filled with doubt.

Jackson’s eyes, held worry and concern, he believed her, at least partially.

Standish’s eyes betrayed none of his thoughts. She thought that odd. He was obviously part of the team and had even taken the lead in apologizing earlier. His manner then had been pleasant and he had conveyed the impression of remorse over their lack of manners. Now she could read nothing from him.

She could see it in both Larabee’s and Wilmington’s eyes though. They believed her. Those two had been around, they knew that if pushed, if the conditions were right, a man could do just about anything no, matter how out of character it might seem.

"No way!" said Dunne his tone almost angry. "No way Josiah did what you said!"

"JD," Wilmington said quietly, censoring his partner gently with his eyes.

"Sheriff, your report makes it sound like he wanted to be physically hurt." Chris stared thoughtfully back at her.

Brenda Santiago returned Chris’ gaze. Larabee was very concerned, she could see it now, this was the leader that had been described to her. "That would be my assessment of his actions… but I don’t know the man."

"Deputy Warner was first on the scene I’d like to speak to him myself and get his impressions."

"You can’t just now."

"Why not?"

"He’s in Denver."

She received six puzzled expressions from that bit of news. "When Mr. Sanchez learned of the seriousness of Deputy Warner’s injuries, he used his one telephone call to contact an orthopedic surgeon in Denver. He seems to have a fair amount of influence with her. She examined Ben Sunday evening and did the surgery Monday morning. Ben’s due back home tomorrow but I won’t have him back on the job for six months."

She found it odd that her explanation came as no surprise as the six puzzled expressions transformed themselves into knowing ones.

Indicating the file in front her. "In the meantime, there are additional reports here by witnesses that all say pretty much the same thing. Each time he was confronted Mr. Sanchez suddenly became brutal and when no resistance was offered he just stopped."

"Why did it take you four days to contact us Sheriff?"

"He wouldn’t talk Mr. Jackson, at least not very much. He wouldn’t tell us who he was, and he had no ID on him, no car keys, just some cash. I decided to give him a day to think about things. Monday, we ran the plates and determined the suburban was his. When we broke in, we found his ID, his keys, a key for the motel out on the highway, his cell phone, and his weapon locked in the glove compartment."

"Once you had learned Mr. Sanchez was an ATF agent, you could have simply contacted the regional ATF office in Dallas," reasoned Ezra.

"True," she said, "but he’d checked into the motel on the highway Thursday and he’d been incommunicado since Sunday. It wasn’t likely his absence was going unnoticed. You were looking for him weren’t you? Mr. Sanchez was a "missing" agent. If I’d contacted the local ATF, who would I have asked for?" She shook her head. "No I didn’t want to run the risk. I sense that Mr. Sanchez is a private man and that whatever caused him to act this way is of a personal nature. As I said before, this was just a bar fight. I didn’t want this situation to inadvertently become more that it was and potentially end up on Mr. Sanchez’s record."

"How did ya get a hold of Chris directly then?" asked Vin.

"I turned the cell phone on and waited for it to ring and then we used the number off the call display. We were lucky and it turned out to your boss’s direct line."

Do you give all your prisoners this much time and effort? Chris wondered.

"Well, we’re here now, let’s get the paper work done and take him home," said Buck impatiently.

"Easier said than done Mr. Wilmington."

"You can’t keep him here against his will."

"You don’t seem to understand, I’m not keeping him here, he doesn’t want to leave, and in his state I wasn’t about to release him without knowing he’d be alright."

"What do you mean "his state"?" asked Nathan quickly, failing to keep the concern her last comment ignited in him out of his voice.

"His behaviour, since he’s been here, indicates that there is something very serious troubling your friend." For the first time the Sheriff discarded her professional manner, her expression became one of grave concern. "I get the feeling that your friend is… well, he’s suffering..."

"But you said a doctor’d seen him," interrupted JD.

She glanced quickly at JD before explaining, "…Not suffering physically but emotionally… spiritually." Shaking her head again, "I don’t know. Like I said before you know the man, I don’t. Since he’s been here he’s been quiet and withdrawn. He hasn’t slept or eaten much. He’s spent all his time lying on his bunk and he’s shown no interest in getting out of here. My second in command describes the behaviour as like that of an animal that’s been badly wounded. It hides away until it can either heal…"

"… Or die." Chris ominously finished the Sheriff’s sentence for her.

No one spoke as the other five friends exchanged anxious glances with one another.

There was a sharp quick knock at the door and a tall Native American man immediately entered the room. Brenda looked up at him questioningly. He shook his head in reply.

"Gentlemen, Hugh Soaring Eagle, my second in command."

A brief nod was the only acknowledgment Hugh made to the somber group of men.

"It would seem Mr. Sanchez still doesn’t want to leave." Brenda’s disappointment was evident in her voice. "I was hoping once you were here, that he’d change his mind."

"How do you want to proceed Sheriff?" asked Chris.

"If you’re willing to take responsibility for him then I’d like to release him to your custody. Keeping him here any longer won’t help him."

"Is there is something else Sheriff?" Ezra could sense the Sheriff’s reticence.

She paused a moment as if debating what her next move should be.

"Tell them Brenda," prodded Hugh Soaring Eagle. "The wall of anger has gone up again."

The cryptic comment from her second-in-command seemed to settle the debate for her. "It’s not pertinent to the charges but Mr. Sanchez has had a visitor. Her name is Rosemary Morales. Mrs. Morales came to see him Monday afternoon and every afternoon since. So far he’s refused to see her."

"…and you think she is somehow connected to what’s troubling Josiah?" queried Nathan.

"Mr. Jackson, I walk a fine line in this town between being friend and neighbour, and being a law officer, I can’t say one way or the other. But local… "intelligence" has it, that a man matching Mr. Sanchez’s description visited her home Saturday afternoon."

"Local intelligence?" asked JD with a quizzical look on his face.

"Gossip," supplied Soaring Eagle

"…and a few hours later Josiah was bustin’ up the bar," said Vin, connecting the dots for everyone.

"If you speak with Mrs. Morales, I’d appreciate it if you made an effort to be very considerate. Mrs. Morales’ and her family have been through a rough time lately." The tone of Brenda’s voice told them this was not a request but an order.

"In the meantime," she rose from her chair as she spoke to Chris. "Mr. Sanchez will be released. A court appearance is scheduled for a week from tomorrow. You and Mr. Sanchez will both have to appear."

The rest stood as the Sheriff moved toward the door.

Chris stepped forward suddenly to block her way to the door. "Sheriff, I ahh …appreciate your efforts on behalf of my Agent." Brenda had the feeling Chris was trying hard not to choke on his words.

She looked up him steadily. "It’s all part of the job Agent," then with a hint of a smile, "and you’re welcome."

"I’ll get Griff started on the paper work." She stepped past Chris and left the room.

Though no one spoke, there was little sympathy in the room for the boss.

Buck smiled to himself. "That almost sounded like an apology. I don’t ever remember seeing that before. You must be getting old, old buddy…you’re mellowing."

I bet that musta hurt Cowboy smirked Vin with more than a small sense of satisfaction.

My apologies Mrs. Larabee, you did manage to teach your son some manners, concluded Ezra as he plucked unseen lint off the cuff of his jacket.

Chris there is hope for you yet, decided Nathan.

JD whistled silently, Man oh man Chris. You’re lucky the Sheriff isn’t just a cop but a lady too.

Soaring Eagle turned to follow the Sheriff from the room when Chris stopped him. "Deputy!"

This man had compared Josiah to wounded animal. Chris wanted to question him first hand. "From what the Sheriff told us it sounds like you’ve spent a fair amount of time with my Agent while he’s been here."

"Some." was the brief reply.

"What do you think is going on with him?"

"Don’t know." He didn’t like that much. Hugh watched as annoyance clouded the green eyes.

"What did you mean by "the wall of anger"?" asked Chris acidly.

Hugh was unperturbed. "Your friend is angry, very angry and he’s wrapped himself in that anger." Hugh looked steadily at Chris. "I don’t have to tell you what a man uses anger for."

+ + + + + + +

Josiah stood at the front counter picking up the personal items that had been dumped in front of him and putting them into his pockets. He was unshaven. His eyes were heavy. He looked very much like he hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in a week. His clothes had obviously been slept in.

The only physical evidence of his ordeal was the yellowed bruising on his right cheekbone and the knuckles of his left hand. The neat white bandages covering the stitches on his right hand stood out in stark contrast to the rest of his appearance.

When he had first appeared in the doorway leading to the jail cells, he had spied the six of them standing in the reception area, waiting for him. His eyes were cold and unfriendly, he was not happy to see them.

He signed the paper in front of him as instructed and then held his bandaged right hand out to the Sheriff.

"Sheriff," he said, "thank you for all your consideration."

"You’re welcome Mr. Sanchez, maybe we’ll meet again sometime under better circumstances," said the Sheriff with a smile as she took the wounded hand gently.

He replied with a polite smile that did not reach his eyes, "Maybe so."

He turned to face them. Without a word Chris turned and walked out the door, Josiah followed next and the rest fell into line behind them.

"You did the best you could for him Brenda," said Hugh in an attempt to reassure his boss, after the door closed behind the last man. "He’s with friends he considers as close as brothers, he’ll be okay."

"I hope so Hugh."


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