The Road Not Taken
"Wow! Do you ever look like Josiah," JD blurted out.
Sam Christianson smiled broadly. "Ill take that as a compliment," he replied.
"Oh, sorry, Im JD Dunne. Pleased to meet ya," said JD smiling as he stuck out his hand.
"Same here," replied Sam Christianson as he shook JDs hand.
JD had just tossed his and Bucks luggage into the back of Chriss truck when Sam Christianson had pulled in beside it.
The potential threat that originally had brought all six men to the rescue no longer existed. Josiah seemed past the worst so there was no reason to keep all seven men in Cuatro Esquinas. Chris, frankly, didnt feel inclined to spend all his time either refereeing his men or thinking up constructive activities to keep them out of trouble. Josiah had been non-committal as to what his immediate plans were. Chris decided he and Nathan would spend another day or two to be sure that Josiah would be alright on his own. The other four would head home now. Chris had to wonder though, with a grown son and a past love in Cuatro Esquinas, would Josiah be coming home to Denver to stay?
Nathan appeared from Chris and Vins room, having just moved his things in there. Just then Ezra came out of the room he had shared with Nathan. JD made the appropriate introductions.
"It is indeed a pleasure sir," said Ezra as he shook Sams hand. "Though it is the height of impropriety, I must say Mr. Christianson your resemblance to your father is truly remarkable. Would you not concur Mr. Jackson?"
"Ezra, this is one of those rare times, when I have to agree with you." Nathan smiled broadly as he shook the younger mans hand.
"Please call me Sam," said Sam with a chuckle.
Buck approached from the direction of the motel office, having just settled the bill for the two rooms the team was vacating just as Chris and Vin suddenly appeared out of their room. Chris was advising Vin of the numerous punishments Vin would suffer if he werent careful with Chris truck on the trip home to Denver. Vin wasnt doing himself any favours by cheekily acknowledging these threats with, "I promise Ill be careful Dad."
JD made three more quick introductions.
"What can we do for you?" asked a disgruntled Chris, still smarting from Vins remark.
Sams eyebrows shot up in surprise. "I came to pick up Josiah."
"Pick him up?" queried Nathan.
"Yeah." Sam looked slightly puzzled as he explained. "Moms having a barbecue with all the family today. My sister Emily and her family even made it up from El Paso. Its sort of a send off. I have to report back for duty on Tuesday. We decided last night that Id come pick him up today."
The six men exchanged alarmed and concerned glances.
"Damn," cursed Chris. Hes disappeared again!
"Hes not here, umm, just now," replied JD cautiously. "He left, in his suburban, nearly an hour ago."
"Its only twenty minutes to my Moms from here and I dont remember passing any suburbans on the way."
"The son of bitch did again!" exclaimed Buck.
"Did what?" echoed Sam.
"But why would he take off?" asked JD.
"I dont understand," said Sam his growing concern at the reactions of these friends of his father was obvious in the tone of his voice.
"Mr. Sanchez, we believe your father has taken a slight ah detour on the way to the your family festivities," explained Ezra.
"He suckered us!" muttered Chris as he pushed his hand through his blonde hair in frustration. "We better start searching for him. Buck, you and JD "
"Chris, this isnt our backyard. I think wed better ask the Sheriffs office for help if were going to find Josiah anytime soon."
The look Chris gave Buck would have cowered a lesser man. Just the mere thought of going back to that woman, hat-in-hand, and admitting hed lost the same agent again, was more than Chris could stomach.
"This isnt like before." Nathan mused thoughtfully out loud.
"Whatta mean Nathan?" asked JD.
"Remember what he said last night, about needing time to work a few things out. I dont think he ran away this time, I think maybe he just needs some time alone."
Unfazed by Chris angry tone Vin asked, "If we were home where would he go?"
"Yeesss, Mr. Tanner. I believe you have the right idea," said Ezra thoughtfully.
"Where would he go?" repeated Vin insistently.
"The mission," said JD
"Or a place of worship," suggested Ezra.
"He said something the other day about an old church, an historical landmark of some kind, that he helped restore when he lived here," said Nathan.
"You mean the Church of Penitent Souls?" asked Sam.
"Where is that?" demanded Chris.
"Its about a half-mile west on county road 7."
All at once the six men started towards the vehicles.
"Hold it!" ordered Nathan. The rest of the men stopped in their tracks and looked at the healer. "I dont think all six of us should go, he just wants to think some things through remember?"
"So how do you think we should handle things?" asked Buck.
"I think maybe just one of us should go talk to him."
"Ill go," volunteered Sam.
"No, Ill go," said Chris. There was no argument from the others, as leader, Josiah was his responsibility. He knew it and so did the others, all of them except Sam. There was an instantaneous change in Sams bearing, as he became defiant. Chris was not an authority he recognized.
"Hes my father," said Sam.
"Thats why I should go talk to him," said Chris abruptly as he turned to leave.
Buck stepped in front of Chris blocking his way to his vehicle. Chris looked up, annoyed with Bucks interference. He was preparing to give Buck a blast when the serious look in his old friends eyes brought Chris up short.
"Chris, dont just blow him off," urged Buck, "he deserves better."
Buck was right. This wasnt the time to behave like the dictatorial bastard he could be. This young man was family to one of his men and deserved an explanation. He turned around to face the young man and was struck, yet again, by just how much he looked like his father.
"Sam, I know hes your father and it may not make much sense to you but you may be the reason why he wants to be alone right now," Chris explained patiently.
Uncertainty entered the younger mans eyes.
"Not you personally, son" said Chris quickly hoping to calm the concern he seen. Chris continued more slowly, "but what you represent to him and the choices hes made in his life up to now."
"I dont understand," replied Sam.
How do you explain to some one whos twenty-four about the regrets he will feel when hes fifty? Chris shook his head briefly. "There are some things that happen in a mans life he wishes he had the power to change and cant. Youre not one of those things. He is very proud of you. I wish I could explain it better but I promise you hes not going anywhere."
"Alright," said Sam still feeling a little unsure of what was happening. "Ill wait an hour."
"An hour," nodded Chris in agreement. He walked over to his truck and swung himself up into the seat.
"You sure you know what youre doing cowboy?" asked Vin quietly through the open window of Chris truck, so none of the others could hear.
"Yeah, this time, I do."
The six men watched as the truck sped out of the parking lot.
"So what do we do now?" asked JD. "We cant leave, all our stuff is in Chris truck."
"How about a beer?" suggested Buck.
"Buck, its ten thirty in the morning!" exclaimed Nathan.
"Im game," replied Vin as he turned to walk toward the motel room he and Chris had shared.
"Would you care to join us Mr. Christianson?" asked Ezra as he extended his arm in the direction of the motel doorway by way of invitation.
"Sounds good to me," replied Sam as he turned to followed Buck and Vin, "and its Sam."
"Of course Mr. Christianson," replied Ezra.
Nathan, resigned to his fate, just shrugged and followed while JD fell into step beside Sam.
"Dont mind Ezra, formal is his natural state," explained JD as they walked. "Hey Sam, what does Cuatro Esquinas mean anyway?" asked JD.
"Oh, its Spanish, for Four Corners."
+ + + + + + +
The interior of the little church seemed dark after the bright morning sunlight. Chris paused just inside the doorway to allow his eyes time to adjust to the difference.
The air inside the small building was cool and dry. While his eyes adjusted to the dimmer lighting, he noticed a small altar at the front of the sanctuary. It seemed to be illuminated by natural light that came from a skylight built into the roof. Three windows down each side of the building added more light to the tiny building.
The sanctuary held a held a dozen short pews lined up on either side of a centre aisle. The pews had obviously been made by hand. They were similar in their style but not the identical products indicative of those made by mass production. They were the original furnishings, made smooth by long hours of manual labour and the passage of time.
Josiah sat, his head bowed, on the left side of the centre aisle, in the middle of the second pew from the front. He gave no indication that he knew he was no long alone.
Chris footsteps made little noise on the worn wooden floor as he walked slowly up the aisle and then quietly slid into the pew behind Josiah to sit just inside the aisle.
"Chris," greeted Josiah after a moment, without raising his head.
Chris waited another moment before asking. "How did you know it was me?"
"Youre the shepherd. One of your flock was missing, even if one of the others had found me, they would have reported back to you first."
"The shepherd or the-keeper-of-the-keys to the loony bin?"
Josiah raised his head to look, not back at Chris, but rather towards the front of the church. From where he sat Chris could see a smile on Josiahs lips. "I suspect more than a few in the Federal Service have wondered that."
Chris waited. He had wondered what Josiahs reaction would be. He hadnt run, he didnt seem angry so it was his guess Josiah wanted to talk. When he was ready.
Josiah half turned toward him. He rubbed his hand gently over the smooth cool surface of the pew he sat in. "See these pews?" he asked. "As I remember the history of this church, a holy man, sort of a seeker of spiritual truth, made them when he restored this building back in the 1880s. He made them one by one, over time. They and this little church became his legacy. Did he ever wonder how long they would last? A year? Ten years? Twenty? Yet, here they stand here today, as a testament to his faith more than a century later."
Josiah looked up towards the altar.
Chris sat without moving. His instincts told him Josiah didnt want him to answer but just to listen.
"How many people have sat here, tired, lonely, grieving in pain. He made this place, this sanctuary, in hopes of providing them some comfort from their earthly burdens and now here I sit."
"Could I have managed a Sam and Hannah too?" He shook his head as he answered his own question. "I dont think so. Rose provided him with everything he needed not just materially but emotionally and spiritually as well. Hes a grown man, what have I to offer him?"
"Only a fathers love," said Chris.
Josiah turned his attention from the altar to Chris. His eyes were full of regret. "He had a father and from what he says, a fine one at that."
"I guess one fathers enough then," said Chris with a shrug.
Josiah frowned at him, for some reason Chris was playing rough. "Whats that supposed to mean?"
"It means dont sell yourself short. You have a lot to offer your son."
"Friendship, a shared family history yourself love."
"Chris my track record with the people I love is pretty poor. I screwed up with my father, my sister, Mark, and Rosemary. Whos to say I wont screw up with Sam too?"
"You wont," said Chris confidently.
"I let everyone of them down when they needed me most."
"No, you didnt," said Chris firmly.
"Chris, I selfishly left my father alone to deal with Hannah, I couldnt see past my own "
"Josiah, you didnt let your father down," said Chris cutting him off. "You followed your own dream. Parents are supposed to support their children in their dreams. He didnt do that with you. Then, when you did come home, it was his own stiff-necked pride that prevented you from helping him with Hannah. How were you to know?"
"What about Hannah? Even after I became responsible for her care, I was never able to bring back the joyful spirit of the sister I grew up with."
"You didnt fail Hannah. There is no cure for her illness and that isnt your fault. Youre her foundation and as such youve provided her with a greater quality of life than she would have otherwise have had."
"Mark, I abandoned him to die "
Chris cut him off again. "The hard truth of it is, Mark didnt follow regulations. He shouldnt have been outside smoking and when the shooting started it was his job to get his ass back in the pilots seat. What if youd been shot too? What chance would those men have had then? Likely theyd all be dead now. Orders are to be followed for a reason. You didnt let Mark down. If anything, from what you said about him, he would have been proud of you."
Josiah looked as if he was going to object again.
"Josiah, you didnt let your father down, he let you down. Youve given your sister more support than most other people would have. You didnt abandon Mark, you did your job, and you got the rest of those men back safe. You didnt desert Rosemary or Sam and you wont now."
Josiah looked up at the ceiling as he blinked back threatening tears. "I missed so much of his life Chris," he whispered. "Theres no second chance."
Josiahs words hit Chris hard. How many times had he, himself, wondered what he and Adam might be doing if Adam were alive? It was the thoughts of the simple things that hurt the most, teaching him to ride a bicycle, to catch a pop fly, to do long division. Chris was caught up for a moment, wondering how much he had missed. Then, by sheer force of will, he shoved those lost dreams and the pain that accompanied them, down again, as he had so many times before.
Clearing his throat first he asked, "You dont suppose God made the choice for you?"
Josiah swallowed and shook his head at Chris comment.
"If you had stayed here, would you have gone on to become one of the foremost profilers in the country?"
"Not likely," replied Josiah briefly.
"Think of all the people youve helped over the years "
"The people," spat out Josiah disdainfully as he suddenly turned his attention on his boss. "To hell with them Chris! They werent worth the price of watching my child grow up! Do you know why I choose to remain anonymous? Their pain was too much! I wasnt a man doing his job to them. I became a symbol of the crime that had been committed against someone they had loved! Id get letters on the anniversaries of their deaths thanking me for finding the killer."
"Josiah, no one expects you to live that but what you do makes a difference!"
"Its a job, Chris not a, a, a, calling!" stuttered Josiah scornfully, gesturing towards the altar with his hand.
"It is for you!" said Chris fiercely. How was he going to make him understand!
"It is for you," he repeated with more restraint. "You have solved crimes that no one else could get a handle on! Thirty percent of your cases are referrals from other profilers. Your work, you, make a difference!"
Josiah turned away. "It makes no difference at all. The people who died are still dead," he said angrily, "and their families are left to mourn."
"Youre wrong," he said bluntly as he shook his head. "You provide closure for the families. You give them something to hang onto in long, lonely hours in the middle of the night when their loss hurts the most."
The angry look on Josiahs face never wavered as he sat in silence, ignoring Chriss words.
"What about the Szaranski case in Minneapolis? A devotely catholic family having to live with the thought that their father committed suicide until you proved it was a tragic accident. Or the Quinn family in Bayport? Their daughter goes out to a party one night and thats the last they see of her for eight months until shes found dead. Everyone else thought she was just another runaway who died of an overdose. But not you, you were sure shed been kidnapped and you wouldnt let the case rest until you proved it. It led to uncovering a drug ring that used kidnapped kids as mules." Dont you remember what Frank Quinn said in that TV interview? "The one good thing that came out of his daughters death was that no other parents would lose a child to those animals.""
Chris sighed in frustration, "Or the case in Denver. An ATF agent the poor bastard lost his family in a car bombing that had been meant for him." Chris voice became strained at the painful memories. "The trail had gone cold. The leads were drying up fast. Then the head of the investigating team got an e-mail from a profiler in Kansas City. That profiler had picked-up on one small similarity between that bombing and another one in a case in Florida. That clue broke a dying case wide open."
Chris watch the anger melt away as he spoke.
"Howd you find out about that?" he asked quietly.
"Travis let me read the case file after Gaines was convicted."
Chris leaned forward, resting his forearms on the pew in front of him. He clenched his hands into fists. He had to get through this. He had to make Josiah understand that it made a difference.
"Josiah, finding the killer didnt make me feel any better and it couldnt bring Sarah and Adam back but knowing Gaines didnt get away with it, knowing hed pay for his crimes, probably saved my life. Id have blown my brains out one night in my drunken grief, or taken one too many foolish chances on the job, no way Buck couldve kept an eye on me every minute forever. The pain was getting to be too much and I knew the case had gone cold when Ryan Kelly couldnt look me in the eye anymore."
Chris paused, he could feel the old familiar ache rising in his chest, these words, these memories, were taking more out of him than he had expected. He pushed on. "It was the beginning of the long road back, the beginning of the healing for me."
"Travis told me you wanted to remain anonymous, but I wanted to meet the man whod figured it out. I was interested in Nathan for the Team and when I saw he was from Kansas City it was my chance to meet the man who, in all humility, made that little difference that saved my life."
Chris unclenched his fists. He was almost there.
"Maybe the pain of all those people is too much for you. I guess I can understand that, but for many of them your insights made all the difference when it came to their being able to cope with whatever horrible thing had happened to someone they loved. I wont pretend its worth the price of watching a son grow up. It isnt , but maybe it will provide you some comfort."
He bowed his head and kept his elbows on the pew as he, like so many times before, pushed both hands through his hair. "But what do I know? Im just one man and a selfish one at that. Im just glad you were there to help catch Gaines."
Josiah sat quietly. His demeanor had changed. The anger was gone.
"Is that why you make me second-in-command, as a sort of a reward?"
Chris was a little surprised at the question but answered him anyway. "No, nothing like that, youre good at dealing with peoples personal shit."
"A good drunk once in a while would take care of that," said Josiah dismissing Chris explanation. "Come on, whats the real reason? Given his experience, Buck would have been the logical choice."
"Buck had suffered the same hurt I had. I needed someone with maturity, someone I wouldnt have to worry about." Chris eyes flashed with anger, "Someone who I could count on to back me up."
Josiah nodded slightly in satisfaction. Chris had finally said it. It was finally out there. It was a beginning. "Are you ever going to forgive him?"
"Im still working on forgiving myself."
Chris sat back suddenly. Josiah had done it again. He had a way of helping Chris deal with the sore spots without him realizing it. A way of bringing them out into the open. Some how it always made him feel better.
Buck had been the real reason hed chosen Josiah as the second in command. Chris hadnt yet in his heart really forgiven Buck for being late that day. His head told him that he might have lost Buck as well but Buck should have been there
Not liking that Josiah had caught him off-guard, he changed the subject, "Besides if anything ever happened to me on the job, it would take every skill you have my friend to keep everyone working together until they were safe."
Josiah understood what he meant. It wasnt ego talking. Chris was no fool when it came to relationships. Sarah would tease him that men just didnt understand relationship stuff, but Chris understood the dynamics of his team, only to well. They all had their jobs within the team for it to work as well as it did. Chriss job was leader. The others depended on him to be the leader and the only way hed ever stop being the leader, were if he were dead. God knows what would happen to the Team if they were in danger and Chris was suddenly gone. Josiah was the only one whod be able to keep it together personally and still be able to encourage the best out of each man, to get all of them home safe.
"Howd we start out talking about you and end up talking about me?"
"Trade secret," replied Josiah with a wry smile.
"You know, if we werent so damn stubborn youd think after all these years wed learn shit happens and maybe thats just the way its supposed to be."
"Pretty young blonde reporters are a cure for that you know," said Josiah in his best psychologists voice. "You might want to consider doing something to make that permanent before "
"Youre out of bounds Agent," warned Chris a little too harshly.
Josiah gave Chris a knowing look before turning away.
Take it easy Larabee, youre only pissed because he managed to get inside your head again without you realizing it. "You gonna be okay?"
"Yeah, Ill be fine."
"Were all going to head home then. Are you still going to stay?"
"Yeah, Ill meet you here for the court appearance next week."
Chris looked sideways before asking, " and ah after that? Are you going to stay here or come home?"
"Stay here?" asked Josiah. He was confused as to what Chris was getting at.
"I just thought with Rosemary , I thought ahhh you might be staying I spose its too soon to..."
"No." There was a finality to Josiahs "no". "Denver is home."
Chris couldnt help but feel relieved. "What are you going to do here until next week?"
"Some self-imposed penance. Theres a Sheriff I should to apologize to, properly this time. A ranch that needs working and a son to get to know better before he leaves for his posting overseas."
"Overseas? Wheres he going?"
"He couldnt be specific, he only said the Middle East."
After a short pause Chris eyes lit up with sudden understanding, "Josiah no! You just met him!"
Josiah gave him a lop-sided smile. "Gotta have faith Chris," he said as he stood up, "but right now Im late for a barbecue."
Comments to: email@example.com