Too Late to Say I'm Sorry
by Carol Pahl
Chris Larabee sat behind his desk, his eyes unable to focus on the reports spread out before him. His mind replayed the week's events. One minute the young agent was AWOL; the next he was the victim of a kidnapping. Had he died when the car exploded or was he wandering around the forest, injured and vulnerable? The ruined gun smuggling case, Buck's flooded apartment, the coroner's announcement and then, Vin and Ezra's discovery, all added to the emotional roller coaster crashing around in his mind.
Earlier in the morning, the two men, joined by Buck, Nathan and Josiah and several other agents returned to the mountain location in hopes of discovering any clue that might lead to the truth. The weather turned nasty and heavy; wet snow proving winter wasn't about to release her hold on the northern half of Colorado.
A shrill ring shattered the room's silence. Chris grabbed the phone before it rang a second time. "Larabee," he barked.
"You've just called the Federal office of the ATF. Start talking or you'll be sorry you every learned to count to ten!"
A timid voice, barely audible squeaked, "Mr. Larabee?"
Chris restrained yelling into the receiver. He didn't have time for solicitations, even from someone's child. "This is Agent Chris Larabee. I'm not interested in buying anything. Don't call back!"
"Please don't hang up. Someone ought to know. He's alive."
Ready to hang up the receiver, Chris listened to the plea and asked, "Who? Who are you talking about?"
"JD. I found your name and phone number on a card in his pocket."
"What is your name?"
"Listen, I won't hang up but I need you tell me what you are talking about." Chris grabbed a pen and scribbled down the phone number visible on his caller-ID.
"A Native American girl brought him here, Dr. Little's clinic in Whistleville; the bullet wound was infected and he was barely conscious. The doctor turned him over to the sheriff who took him to the hospital. I really shouldn't be disclosing any of this but he needs his family. You can't tell anyone where you got this information. I've got to go."
Chris never heard the click of the other phone disconnecting as he punched up a detailed state map. Entering more data, he silently thanked his young, missing friend for teaching him modern technology to augment brute force and the evil 'Larabee' glare.
Within minutes he pushed the phone's buttons, entering the number of the Georgetown Community Hospital. Using every legal persuasion available, along with a few tricks he learned from the resident undercover man, Chris smiled for the first time in a week. JD was alive, injured and under arrest but alive!
He speed-dialed each of the team's cell phones and left the same cryptic voicemail message. His fingers hovered over the button to Buck's phone and stopped as an argument took place in his mind. Buck needed to know JD was alive but if the boy was as critical as the nurse portrayed .Chris blocked the morbid thought from his mind. JD would survive this and return to be the stubborn, 'little brother'.
-- M - 7 --
"Nothing. We got nothing." Buck's discouraged voice shook each man. Six inches of heavy, wet snow covered the ground, hiding the terrain, obscuring obstacles and, at the same time, covering any clues to what happened on the mountainside a week before.
"Maybe Vin will find something, following that animal trail." Nathan rested his gloved hand on his friend's shoulder and felt the shudder flowing through him.
Six hours of searching left the men cold, wet and discouraged. They found a few miscellaneous items that fell out of the trunk, but nothing that would indicate what happened to the missing agent.
"Brother, we tried. We need to head back to Denver. There is nothing we can do here."
Buck's sorrow filled eyes looked at his partner. "That's it then. The other body they found." Wilmington fought for composure. "Somehow he ended with them others."
"He was a good man." Sanchez put his arm around his distraught friend.
"No, I will not acknowledge your announcement. He is out there, somewhere, injured, but he will circumvent the evidence and restore his genius skills to complete our brotherhood," the resident undercover agent argued.
Nathan and Ezra had finally found a cause to agree upon. Without irrefutable physical evidence, neither man would give up hope of finding John Dunne alive. Buck, overwhelmed by guilt, couldn't see past the scorched ID badge and scrap of leather jacket discovered in the wreck. Josiah, always the pragmatic member of the team, took the evidence of a fourth body at face value, shouldering the load of despair drowning his fellow agents. Vin wanted to believe his young friend would be located, but a life filled with one disappointment after another, curbed his hopes. When all was said and done, they might be still chasing a corpse.
The men quietly loaded the wet equipment and sodden, winter clothing into the back of their trucks. Members of the other teams offered physical support but remained outside the intimate circle of Team Seven. The vehicles slowly returned to Denver, expertly maneuvering the slush-covered road. Buck and Nathan rode with Josiah while Ezra and Vin followed in a Government Issue four-wheel drive pickup.
Buck, exhausted, rested his head against the doorframe. He tuned out Nathan and Josiah's conversation and numbed his mind to any external distraction. 'JD, I'm so sorry, so sorry. I wish it'd been me. How could I pull such a nasty joke? I promise you that you'll never be forgotten for as long as I live.'
Nathan pulled his cell phone out of his duffle bag, wanting to call his girlfriend. Before he pushed her number he checked the messages waiting in his voice mail. Within minutes his dour expression transformed to sheer joy.
"Brother, I pray that face means good news." Josiah said, watching his friend
in the rearview mirror.
The mountains blocked the late afternoon sun, giving the sense of evening. Mirroring his partner's action in the other vehicle, Vin grabbed his cell phone from the dashboard to check for messages. Only one message dared him to check his voice mail. The familiar voice of his best friend, strangely excited, yelled at him.
"I don't care which one of you yahoos hears this first, but let the others know as soon as you can. Be careful how you tell Wilmington. I'm on my way to identify an unnamed patient in Georgetown. Got a tip it might be our boy. He's in critical condition. Give you a call when I know more."
-- M - 7 --
Chris followed the head nurse to a private room, guarded by a uniformed security officer. The ATF agent displayed his badge and reached out his right hand. "I'm Chris Larabee, ATF, Denver office. I understand you have an unidentified male under arrest. I also know he matches the description of my missing agent, JD Dunne."
Indifferent to the man standing before him, the security officer said, "Boy matches the description of a bank robber in Rifle. Don't want to mess up the chance of a conviction, if he ain't got a lawyer present." Smugly, the officer thought to himself, 'No big city, federal suit was going to run roughshod over the local sheriff's jurisdiction.' "He's just a boy, ain't old enough to be a federal agent or any kind of lawman. Why weren't he carrying his badge, if'n he's really who you say he is?"
Larabee's eyes turned dark and the friendly demeanor faded as he softly growled, "Let me see and identify him. If he isn't my man, all you are out is the effort to open that door. Otherwise, you'll find yourself so deep in trouble, you'll wonder why you even bothered getting out of bed this morning."
Realizing the black-clad man would not back down, the officer pulled out his phone.
"Stop!" yelled a nearby male nurse. "You can't use cell phones in this unit. Use the one at the front desk." The man grabbed the officer's hand. "A cell phone affects the life support systems." Relenting, the officer opened the door and followed Larabee into the semi-dark room.
"Don't care for your strong arm tactics. I'll be watching you both carefully. Any funny business and you'll be the one sorry you ever crossed Cedric Decklever."
Ignoring the security officer, Chris slowly approached the man sleeping in the hospital bed.
"JD? Son?" He looked at the still face of his young agent. "It's Chris." His heart rejoiced at finding Dunne alive while his eyes took inventory of the man's injuries. One foot rested on a pillow, encased in a plastic splint. He could barely see the wrapping around JD's chest. Broken ribs. JD lay on his side exposing the wounded shoulder and arm. The other hand sported an IV needle. A smaller bandage, covered by long black bangs, hid yet another wound.
Hazel eyes opened and looked at the two men, eyes that expressed a deep sea of sorrow, a soul drowning in grief. "Go away. Ain't worth nothin'."
Chris almost missed the whispered declaration. He reached down to touch JD but his hand hovered over the broken and bruised body. Finding only one place available, he rested his hand on JD's narrow hip. "Got a lot of folks looking for you. Gave us quite a scare."
"Why bother?" The words slurred out of the young man's mouth. "Got nothin' anybody needs." JD shut his eyes, in a hopeless attempt to shut out the painful scene replaying itself over and over in his mind.
"Won't let you sink, son. Look at me, JD. Casey..."
The hazel eyes melted and tears began their journey down the bruised face. "She never had a chance. I tried," he sobbed, "I tried to save her but couldn't get to her soon enough."
"JD, Casey is fine."
The dark head shook slightly. "I saw her, I saw her face, her hair plastered to her face. She couldn't get out," he moaned. "The flames, they, they just " He moved his injured arm to hide the scene from his eyes, but the pain shot to his brain and he slumped with a dejected sigh.
Kneeling to get to the young man's eye level, Chris repeated, "She wasn't in the car. She didn't burn. They only took you."
No reply came from the bed. Chris let the silence give JD's mind a chance to absorb the details about the accident.
"Hey, mister. Since you're talking to him, must mean he's your man. Don't matter to Sheriff Stokes none. He's still under arrest on attempted robbery," the stocky guard boasted.
"What's the evidence?" Larabee was through holding his temper. The emotional roller coaster ride ended here. JD was alive and no trumped up charges would stop them from returning to Denver.
"He robbed the bank in Rifle. Witnesses described him, black shaggy hair, leather jacket. Had a black-haired woman hold the tellers at gun point. The robber got shot leaving with the money. Shot in the arm! Doctor up in Whistleville called the sheriff when an Indian girl brought him," he nodded at JD, "to the clinic."
"JD got shot in the back." Chris pointed at the bandage. "Last Sunday. He was stuffed in a trunk of a car that later crashed and burned. Somehow he escaped the car. Does the bullet dug out of his arm match what was fired by the guard? The girl that back shot him used a cheap street gun."
The security guard snarled, "You there when he got shot? You know all this for a fact? I got my facts straight from the bank teller. The boy's as good as jailbait."
"Gentlemen, take it outside of this unit. The patient needs his rest and
I will not let you upset him anymore. Go get this straightened out. Neither
one of you will be allowed to see him until I hear from the Sheriff. Now
get." The nurse pushed the guard out of the room and held the door for the
"Please, ma'am. He's been missing a week." Chris wished Buck was here, turning on his charm withthe woman. "He shouldn't be alone."
"Are you family?" The petite woman wasn't cowed by the Larabee glare.
He shook his head and opened his mouth to explain, but she stopped him. "If this is a legal matter and you are not his attorney or immediate family then you will have to leave."
The ATF leader turned to push his way back into the patient room, but the
woman grabbed his arm. "Mr. Larabee, if you really care about that boy, you'll
get to the bottom of the legal mess. Don't get yourself banned from the facility!
Since the patient is awake and spoke with you, we'll be upgrading his condition
soon. If you try to get by me, I will call security. I don't care who you
are. Now get out of here!"
I'd love to know what you think. Carol