Tell Me Theres A Heaven
Originally intended as a birthday fic for my dear fellow Josiah fan Jeanne, it kinda got took over by a favourite song Chris Reas achingly poignant Tell me theres a Heaven. I have always been curious as to how Josiah dealt with all of the dreadful crimes he investigates as a profiler. How does he deal with the sheer horror of what man does to his fellow man, and how does he face getting into the minds of people who torture and kill, and come to terms with the atrocities he witnesses.
Warning: contains imagery that some may find disturbing, so I rate this as a 15.
The story is set in Mogs magnificent ATF Universe, and is technically one of my Rosie Chronicles where Josiah is married to hound-dogger Delancey Cowper Morgan and has a small daughter, Rosamund Delancey Sanchez. Anyone is very welcome to play in this particular sandbox, just give me a yell first, okay?
My heartfelt thanks must go to Heather M. for giving me the idea in her marvellous story The Road Not Taken, and also to my dear friend and fellow Ronaholic Val for helping me create Jonathan Becks Weller.
In hindsight, he should have seen it coming.
But Chris Larabee wasnt a mindreader, and he had just assumed that Josiah Sanchez was dealing with it in his own inimitable way. But as he sat in his office on that cold November afternoon, watching the chill rain drizzle down the windows, he knew he should have recognised the signs and done something about it. But as it was Josiah, he didnt. Leave him be, he had thought. Josiahs just needing more time more space. Ill leave it a while longer, maybe until Monday. See if the weekend will let him chill out a little.
And so he let Josiah be. Later on he wished he hadnt, but by then it was too late.
+ + + + + + +
"Mr Tanner, if you flick one more of those paper-clips in my direction youll be eating your Twinky through your derriere."
Ezra P. Standish was trying valiantly to finish his report that should have been on Larabees desk three hours ago, if only his PC hadnt crashed and eaten the three pages he had already painstakingly written.
"I finished mine this mornin. Done an dusted, Ez done an dusted."
Ezra grimaced. If there was anything worse than a Vin Tanner with low blood sugar, it was a Vin Tanner who had already completed his report.
"Yes, well, I have to dot my own is and cross my own ts. I cant get away with and I quote - the perp exited the buildin lookin like he got a rattler up his ass."
Vin Tanner just grinned innocently. One of the girls in the typing pool would happily help him tidy up his report, charmed by his shy blue eyes and mumbled Yes Maams. Damn, but Tanner had strong, silent and dyslexic down to a fine art.
Ezra looked at his Rolex. Four thirty-five. Another twenty-five minutes then he could leave this hell-hole of an office and go home. He looked up as a shadow passed his chair, and saw Josiah, coffee cup in hand, stop to gaze out onto the already darkening day. Ezra frowned at Vin, and the young sharpshooter in turn glanced at Nathan, the big agent tidying up his desk in preparation for leaving.
Vin raised his eyebrows questioningly. Nathan shrugged and looked over at Chris Larabee, standing at the big glass partition window of his office and watching Josiah. Chris caught the EMTs worried gaze and scowled. Josiah, oblivious to the concern of his compadres, was lost deep in his own thoughts.
This had been festering and rumbling on for a week now, ever since Josiah had returned from St Louis after a month on secondment. Some madman had been kidnapping, torturing and finally butchering teenage girls, and both the police department and the FBI were at their wits end. So, they called in the best damn profiler in the country to get into the crazy sonofabitchs head, and that man was Josiah Sanchez.
It had taken Josiah twenty-nine days to find Jonathan Becks Weller but he did it. How, Chris wasnt quite sure, but he did know Josiah had eaten, lived and breathed the case for those twenty-nine days. In twenty-nine days Josiah Sanchez became submerged in whatever strange, warped soul inhabited the body of Jonathan Becks Weller, and the high-profile case attracted a lot of media attention. Josiah had been under tremendous pressure, and Weller had take the opportunity to taunt the profiler with small, obscure clues, subtle red herrings, all the while knowing Josiah would painstakingly investigate and study each tiny detail with the tenacity of a bloodhound.
It had become a cat-and-mouse game a game in which the life of his latest victim was at stake, a sixteen-year-old girl who was popular in school, got straight As in class and was the pride and joy of her mother who worked three jobs to keep herself and her daughter.
In the end Josiahs inspired intuition, experience and plain, unadulterated hard work had won but at terrible cost.
By the time the police had stormed the basement of the old wharfside house and cornered Jonathan Becks Weller, the girl was dead.
Josiah was devastated.
He had flown home that same night, desperate to be with his wife and daughter, and needing to be somewhere he felt safe with his team. Josiahs four-year-old daughter Rosie had been suffering from a heavy cold, so Chris had volunteered to pick Josiah up at the airport and one look at the big man made Chris heart contract. Josiah looked exhausted, terribly depressed and angry. But he had mustered a tired smile and Larabee knew Josiah was relieved to see him, the profiler glad to be home.
When Chris dropped him off at the tiny house by the river he called home, Del was waiting for him on the porch. Josiah had walked into her arms and she held him tight, as though her touch could make all the horror of those dreadful twenty-nine days disappear. Chris had smiled, climbed into his Ram and quietly driven away, leaving Del to soothe Josiahs battered soul as only she could.
But it had become obvious the following Monday morning that all was not well with Josiah Sanchez. He was quiet and withdrawn, and silently his team-mates, his brothers, had closed ranks around him, protecting him until he was ready to face the world again. Chris had told him to go home, take some time off with his family and rest up, but Josiah would have none of it. He needed to have normality around him, he said he just wanted to get back to work.
And work he did. Calmly, thoughtfully, with all of the care and heart that typified the big man. He would sometimes smile at JDs antics and listened tolerantly to the banter of his team-mates. But none of them failed to notice that there was something fragile about him, and sometimes Chris saw such a look of raw desperation on Josiahs face that it took all of the team leaders phenomenal self-control to stop himself from forcibly hauling Josiahs sorry butt into his office and putting the big agent on leave until further notice. But he knew he couldnt do that. Larabee knew he would just have to wait until something inside Josiah gave way and the big idiot would finally allow his compadres to help him. Chris sighed.Shit. What the hell was wrong with all these morons? Standish pushed them away all the time, keeping them at arms length unless he was so sick or hurt he couldnt fight back. He only let them help him under sufferance, as though they had to prove that they cared enough, or so it seemed. And as for Tanner why, he just disappeared into the wild blue goddamn yonder like a wounded animal and they had to go hunt his sorry ass down and fix whatever the hell was wrong with him. Buck was always dont worry about ol Buck just you take care of JD, the boy can hardly wipe his own ass . Damn you, Buck Wilmington! Hed be half dead before hed let on he was hurt. And Nate was just as bad, often trying to hold his own body and soul together because one or the other of the team was needing him to keep them alive. Hell he, Chris Larabee, was probably worse, chawin out the others because they cared enough to try and stop him falling to pieces because he hadnt managed to keep his team from takin hits. But Josiah? He was always there it seemed, cajoling, caring, big hands and big heart trying to keep his brothers safe and sound. But now he needed them more than ever before.
But he was distracted by Buck Wilmingtons deep, laughter-filled voice as Buck and JD returned from turning in their reports. Buck had an arm around JDs neck and was happily giving the young agent a noogie. JD squirmed and managed to wriggle out of Wilmingtons grasp.
"Jeez, Buck! One of these days youre gonna have to grow up, you know that, dontcha?" JD said, rubbing the noogied area on the top of his head.
Buck grinned, eyes crinkling warmly.
"Cmon, JD! Live a little, boy!" He sighed heavily. "Young uns these days got no sense of fun "
JD collapsed into his chair and rummaged around in his drawer, bringing out a multi-coloured Gameboy and beginning a game of Hunchback. As he played he cocked a eye at Josiah, the big man still gazing out of the window.
"Josiah, re you coming over to the CDC for the game on Sunday? We got beer and chips. You could bring some chili "
Josiah was silent for a moment as though he hadnt heard JD, but he turned back to the youngster and smiled ruefully.
"Not this weekend, John Dunne. I think Ill just spend some time with Del and Rosie. Maybe next time, huh?"
JD was surprised. Josiah enjoyed his time with the team watching a football game, and Del was happy to let the profiler chill out with his friends she understood how important it was to him, and welcomed the support the seven gave one another.
"But Josiah - " JD was stopped in his tracks by a frown from Buck, the big agent shaking his head imperceptibly.
Not now, JD. Give him some space, son
JD, embarrassed, nodded his understanding. The room fell into silence.
Chris decided enough was enough. He opened the door to his office and poked his head out.
"Josiah, youve finished your report I expect?" He saw Josiah nod. "So go home. Go home, get some rest and well see you Monday. And I dont want to see hide nor hair of you before then, okay?"
Josiah looked at Larabee with such naked pain that the team leader had to take a deep breath to calm himself down. Sanchez was hurting, and he could do nothing about it until Josiah let them close. Until then, he would just have to wait. But the wait was killing him, just as it was killing the rest of the team.
Monday. On Monday he would try and do something to help his friend, but now wasnt the time. He saw Josiahs hesitation.
"Oh, for Christs sake, Josiah, go home! Weve got twenty minutes before we head out the door we aint gonna fall to pieces without you in twenty minutes, so get lost!!" And without waiting for a reply he turned to Ezra, the undercover agent quietly listening to Larabees exasperation. "You finished that goddamn report yet Ez??"
"Huh? Oh not quite, Mister Larabee. If you would be so kind as to allow me to continue without further interruption, then Im sure Ill manage to finish it in time." His voice was slightly indignant.
Vin grinned at the irritation in the southerners tone, but the smile faded as Josiah tidied his desk and slipped on his jacket.
"You take care, Jsiah. Well see you Monday, and say Hi to Del and the pup for me will ya?"
Josiah allowed a grin to break out on his gaunt face.
"Thanks Vin, Ill do that. See you fellers Monday, and enjoy the game."
Without waiting for a reply, Josiah Sanchez turned, headed out of the door and was gone.
Vin Tanner felt Chris presence as the leader of team Seven came to stand beside his desk. He looked up into worried green-gold eyes, and Tanner sighed.
"Hes all tore up, Chris. All hurt inside. Whatever the hell Weller did is chewin him up real good."
"It was bad, Vin. I havent read the reports, but what I heard from Ray was pretty goddamn awful."
Ray Palumbo was the FBI agent in charge of the Weller case, and an old friend of Chris. It was he who had asked for Josiahs help in the first place, and neither Chris nor Josiah had hesitated in saying yes.
Vin rocked back in his chair thoughtfully.
"Hes close to breakin, cowboy you know that dont you?"
Larabee didnt answer, but his face spoke volumes. He knew all right.
"Well, well just have to be there for him when the shit hits the fan is all. Hes been there often enough for us but we gotta be careful. He might not take kindly to us interferin," Vin continued, his sky-blue gaze concerned for his friend.
Five pairs of worried eyes looked at Chris Larabee, and for once in his life he didnt have an answer for them. They would wait. And when the waiting was done, they just hoped Josiah Sanchez was still in one piece.
+ + + + + + +
Chris Larabee turned over in bed and pried open an eye, trying to get the telephone that jangled noisily beside his bed into some kind of blurred focus.
"Sheeee it!" He reached out with an unsteady hand and fumbled the receiver from its cradle, noting in passing it was six in the morning.
Goddamit! Its Saturday! Who the hell
"What??" he growled, none-too-happy about being woken so rudely on his first day off in nearly a month.
"Chris? Its Del."
Larabees eyes snapped open and he levered himself up, shivering in the early morning chill. Delancey Cowper Morgan Sanchez wasnt in the habit of telephoning Chris at the ranch, let alone at six in the morning on a dull November day.
"Whats wrong?" Chris felt his gut tighten.
"Josiah didnt come home last night. He called me on his cell phone after he left the office and told me he was goin for a drive to clear his head, an not to wait up. I got up twenty minutes ago and he aint come home." Dels voice was raw with worry as she continued. "I called the hospitals an he aint there, and hes not answering his cell phone, so God only knows where the stupid sonofaguns got to. I got Rosie wakin up in a coupla hours, an I dont know what to do, Chris. I caint go lookin for the big fool "
Chris rubbed the bridge of his nose with his free hand, cursing silently to himself.
"Okay Del sit tight. Ill get the fellas together and go find his sorry ass, I promise. You go take care of Rosie, and well let you know as soon as he turns up, all right?"
"Thanks, Chris oh, and tell him from me that hes dead meat, yhear?"
Chris grinned, despite himself.
"As long as I get to kick his ass afterwards, Del."
Del Sanchez snorted.
"He aint gonna have any ass left to kick when Ive finished with him." Dels voice softened. "Hes havin a tough time, Chris, an I aint been able to reach him, not this time. Bring him home safe, will ya?"
After saying their goodbyes, Larabee replaced the receiver and ran his fingers through unruly blond hair.
"Shit!" he said again, hauling himself out of bed and reaching once more for the phone. Punching in the familiar number, he waited until a soft, drowsy Texan voice answered.
"Vin, call Ez, Buck and JD. Ill get hold of Nathan and well meet up at the office."
"Whats goin on?" Vin said, now wide awake and alert.
Chris had but one thing to say.
"Hell!" Chris could hear the worry in the sharpshooters voice. "He okay?"
"Dont know. Del phoned, and Josiah didnt go home last night. Shes spittin nails and tore up with worry, so lets go see if we can find him."
"Well be there in an hour." Vin didnt wait to say goodbye and Chris heard the soft click as Tanner rang off.
Larabee replaced the telephone, stood up and began to dress.
+ + + + + + +
It was Chris who found the Suburban.
They had split up, the remaining members of the Seven, and searched all of Josiahs usual haunts the mission where he liked to help out, and the childrens home in Purgatorio. They even visited the unit where Josiahs sister Hannah lived out her days, oblivious in her delusion to the trauma and heartbreak her big brother was suffering because of another mans cruelty. They checked the bars, the pool halls and even the old church he occasionally visited, but he was nowhere to be found.
But as Chris drove out of Denver and headed north on eighty-five towards Greeley and the Rockies, he passed Burts Bar and Grill. The bar was midway between the ATF office and Josiah and Dels small ranch on the banks of a quiet tributary of the South Platte.
There, sitting outside the bar in the deserted parking lot, was Josiahs battered old Suburban.
Chris did a swift u-turn and screeched into the lot, bringing the Ram to a halt beside the vehicle. There was no sign of Josiah. Decanting from the Ram he studied the SUV, and was disturbed to see signs of a scuffle around the profilers beloved old pile of rust. He noticed a new dent in the wing panel and frowned as he saw a smear of something that looked suspiciously like blood. He scratched his head.
"Dammit, Josiah! Where the hell are you??" he muttered under his breath.
He was about to dig out his cell phone and call Vin Tanner when a voice hailed him.
"Hey! You lookin for the big bastard that owns that heap o junk? Cuz if yare then you tell him when you find him that if he leaves that rust-bucket here again Im gonna start chargin parkin fees!"
Chris turned to see a lean, lanky man with tousled hair and a missing front tooth glowering at him as he emptied a trash-can into a dumpster.
Larabee glared at him.
The man shook his head.
"Nope. Im Rudy. I bought the place from Burt. Hes gone to Chicago to live with his sister. You know him?"
Chris hauled out his ATF badge and Rudy straightened, alarmed.
"Hey! Whatever the hell that sonofabitchs done, it aint got anythin to do with me! All he did was sit in here for goddamn hours and nurse a beer. One lousy beer! Then he started takin some crap from the Biggles boys an he just upped an left. Aint seen hide nor hair of him since. He in trouble?"
Chris shook his head and tucked his badge back in his pocket.
"Nope. Just a friend is all." Chris wandered over and looked at Rudy. The man was scared, he could tell. He fixed him with a Patent Larabee Glare. Rudy began to wilt. "So, tell me Rudy what time did this big feller leave?"
Rudy thought for a moment.
"Oh bout midnight. One beer, thats all he had. Goddamit, he sat there all evenin an had just one beer "
"The Biggles boys. Who are they?" Chris asked.
Rudy shook his head, disturbing a few flakes of dandruff from his greasy hair.
"Stupid assholes is who they are. Local boys out loaded for bear. Took a dislike to your friend somethin bout dog-tags. Started in on him about Vietnam, bout how the Marines were nothin but goddamn jar-heads." Rudy dragged out the word, emphasising his point.
Chris mentally swore. Josiah must have had his car keys on the table in plain view, as he had his army dog-tags from his time in the Marine Corps attached to the key-ring.
"What did my friend do?"
Rudy shook his head in wonderment.
"Just left. Finished his beer and left. Didnt say a word. Mighty glad he didnt take agin em cuz those morons wouldve broke up my place for sure. They followed him out though. But when I closed up I seen that the Biggles boys Dodge was gone. I seen your friend walkin off down the road too. He looked okay to me."
Chris closed his eyes for a moment in relief. It sounded as though Josiah was all right but where the hell was he?
"Okay, Rudy which way did he go?"
Rudy thought for a moment, then his pimply face cleared.
"He was headin north. It was rainin though, an all he had on was a jacket. No hat, nothin. He hadnt had much to drink so why the hell he was walkin I have no idea "
Chris knew why. Josiah never drove when he had been drinking, no matter how small the amount of alcohol. He sighed. Looked like Josiah was heading home but he had never got there. It was an eleven-mile hike, and on a rainy, cold night walking wasnt the best of ideas, especially when Josiah was dressed in jeans and a shirt and jacket. Stupid sonofabitch!
Thanking Rudy, he turned back and eased himself into the Ram. Pulling out his cell phone he called Vin Tanner. Vin was concerned.
"Hes not thinkin straight, Chris. Im headin south towards you Ill keep an eye out. If hes still out in this weather Lord knows what condition hes in. Jeez, sometimes Jsiahs worsen all of us put together."
Larabee had to agree. He told Vin to keep searching and he would meet up with him as he drove north. Ringing off, he called Ezra and told him the plan. The southerner had been to Josiahs old town house that he was restoring, but had been met with nothing but echoes and dust. Standish told Chris he would inform the others of the plan, and they agreed to meet at Dels in two hours.
Chris rang off and placed the cell phone on the seat beside him, and sat and thought for a while. Shit, he really should have seen it comin But fifteen minutes later as he prepared to drive off his cell phone bleeped at him. Lifting it he pushed the receive button and answered.
"Chris?" Vins voice sounded relieved. "I got him."
Larabee exhaled noisily. He hadnt realised he had been holding his breath.
"Is he all right?"
"Yeah. Well, from what I can see. I aint been near yet. Thought Id ask you what you want me to do."
"Where is he? And what do you mean you havent been near yet?" Chris said, his patience near to breaking.
"Starsn Bars Diner, about seven miles north of where you are. Im outside sittin in the jeep, watchin him through the window."
"Whats he doing?" Chris was mystified. Josiah must have walked those seven miles in the dark and the rain, so why didnt he phone someone to come fetch him rather than go through all of the discomfort?
"Hes just sittin. I think hes got a cup of coffee in front of him, but I aint sure. He looks a bit wet but other than that he seems okay." By the tone of Tanners voice he was equally mystified.
Larabee ran his hand through his hair as he always did when he was near the end of his tether.
"Okay, okay sit tight, tell the others, and Ill be with you in ten minutes. Then well find out what the hells going on in his head. Oh, and Vin? Dont go near him. Wait until I get there. I shouldve dealt with this before now, and its up to me to fix it if I can." He heard a soft murmur of amusement on the other end of the line.
"Yeah, cowboy, I hear you. Ill see you in ten."
Tanner rang off and Chris once more put the cell phone on the seat beside him. Turning the key in the ignition he shifted into gear and drove out of the lot, heading north to the Stars n Bars All-Nite Diner.
Chris Larabee reached the diner in exactly eight and a half minutes to find Vin leaning against the hood of his rusty jeep in the grass and gravel parking lot, arms crossed and gazing thoughtfully into the distance. Chris brought the Ram to a halt beside him and got out. Vin gestured with his chin in the direction of the diner entrance.
"Hes there. I called in to find out if anyone had seen him and just seen him sittin there."
Chris turned. Sure enough, he could see Josiahs broad back and shoulders through the window, curly head bent as though he was reading something.
"Stay here. Ill go in and see what the hells going on with him. You get hold of the others and get em here as soon as you can. Tell Nathan to bring his kit with him, just in case."
Vin nodded, but touched Chris arm as the agent turned to go into the diner.
"Go easy, Chris. Hes not up to bein hoorawed."
Larabee scowled but had to agree. Sometimes well, more often than not, he had to say, his worry for his team, his friends, brought the worst out in him. But not this time. Now he had to tread carefully, had to be gentle and calm and understanding, because Josiahs state of mind was at stake.
Leaving Vin to phone the others he headed into the diner, the heavy hydraulic door swooshing shut behind him.
It was pleasantly warm in the diner, and a row of worn tables and bench seats stretched along the length of the big windows looking out onto the highway. For a Saturday morning it was pretty quiet, and there were only a couple of truck drivers sitting on stools tucking into coffee and the delights of a fried breakfast.
A waitress, all bottle-blonde hair and too-red lips looked up from pouring coffee for one of the truckers. She saw Chris gaze settle on the big man sitting at the far end of the diner.
"You a cop?"
Larabee was surprised, and the waitress pursed her lips. She was well into her forties but obviously hoped she could pass for twenty-five. But her mud-brown eyes were kind.
"How did - "
The waitress interrupted him, nodding at Josiah.
"He tol me youd be comin lookin for him. Hes been sittin there for hours. I asked him, I said Id take him home, or to a doctor, but he said he was waitin for someone. Then I said Id call the cops an he said he was a cop so I just let him be." She smiled. "Hes been no trouble though. But hes hurtin, mister. I gotta go soon, end of my shift. Id like to know hes okay before I go, you understand?"
Chris nodded. He understood that the waitress was concerned for the big man.
"Yeah. Hell be okay, I promise." He smiled, trying to reassure her.
The waitress chewed the inside of her cheek for a moment, then smiled back.
"All right. You go see to him an Ill be there in a minute for your order. Oh, and he aint eaten anythin he just turned up about two in the mornin lookin like a drowned rat. Took me an hour to get some coffee in him. But hes lookin better now, anyway."
"Thanks." Chris watched as she turned back to her coffee pot, and he headed down the aisle to where Josiah Sanchez sat, turning a coffee cup in long fingers. The team leader eased his whip-lean frame into the seat opposite and leaned his elbows on the formica table.
"Chris." Josiah Sanchez looked up from his cold coffee.
Larabee winced in sympathy.
Josiahs tired face carried a wicked bruise on one cheekbone and he had a badly-split lip. Chris noticed his left hand was wrapped in a bloody handkerchief, and the knuckles on his other hand were swollen and cut. He looked cold, exhausted and bedraggled.
"Well, youre still upright, so I guess you won, huh?" Chris said, looking up as the waitress brought him a cup and poured him a freshly-brewed coffee. She hovered for a moment waiting to see if Josiah wanted a refill, but the profiler shook his head. When she left, Chris continued. "I take it you had a run-in with the Biggles boys?"
Josiah snorted in amusement.
"So thats what they were called. Yeah, we had a little discussion. One of em tried to bust my head with a baseball bat and put a dent in the Suburban, but I talked him out of it. After a little while they went away."
Chris took a sip of the hot coffee and relaxed back into the bench seat. He was desperate to find out what was going on in Sanchezs head, but he knew better that to rush the man. And so they both sat quietly, comfortable in each others company, and Larabee let Josiah gather himself a little while the waitress returned and took Chris order for eggs easy over ham and fried potatoes. He also ordered a plateful for Josiah, despite the big agents frown of denial that he wasnt hungry. The waitress raised an eyebrow at Larabee as though to say that hed better get on with sorting out the battered ATF agent, as she was expecting him to be patched up and taken care of before she went back to her tiny little apartment in Greely.
After she left Josiah shoved his coffee cup aside and rested big hands on the table, staring at the long, big-knuckled fingers.
"My father " Josiah swallowed and took a deep breath. "My father would have said it was Gods will."
Chris was confused for a moment.
"Your father? Im sorry Josiah, I dont - "
"Hed have said that all the pain and horror and abuse those young girls went through didnt matter in the end. Theyre safe in Gods hands now, he would have said. All of that pain, all that " Josiah ran out of words, unable, or unwilling, to continue. His hands trembled.
Larabee placed his coffee cup on the table and leaned forward, his voice low.
"But you dont believe that, Josiah. You did everything you could to stop Weller and you did. You stopped him doing those godawful things to any more innocent kids, and thats what matters."
Josiah wiped a big hand over his face, smoothing down his moustache, and he took a shaky breath.
"But I couldnt save young Estelle Kolocek, could I? I was there when they took Weller, Chris, did you know that?" Seeing Chris shake his head he continued. "When they went into that hellhole when they found her dear God Almighty, I never thought " Josiah Sanchez was a man normally well-armed with words, but now he was struggling as he went on, the soft baritone rich with pain as he tried to make Larabee understand what he had witnessed. "Ive seen some shit in my time Chris. Ive seen five-year-old kids blown up by bouncing Bettys in Nam, Ive been in firefights where my buddies were cut in two by machine-gun fire. Ive seen racial violence, hatred and spite in all of its forms, but Ive never never seen anything like this." He looked up from his study of his left hand. "Do you know how long Estelle Kolocek had been dead when we got Weller? Three hours. Three goddamn hours. If Id been just a little quicker, if Id figured it out just a little faster, she would still be alive. And do you know what made it worse?"
Chris, numb, shook his head. Josiah licked his lips as he fought to hold back the tears.
"I saw her mother at police headquarters after Id given my report. A nice lady, Chris. Hard-workin, salt-of-the-earth type. And do you know what she did? She thanked me. She thanked me. Held my hand and jabbered on about how Id stopped Weller killin any more kids like her baby her beautiful Estelle." Josiahs voice hitched.
They were interrupted for a moment as the waitress brought plates heaving with food, and her world-worn features creased in concern as she saw the look on Josiah Sanchez face. She touched his shoulder.
"You eat that, yhear? Itll warm you."
And then she was gone before Josiah could say a word, back down the aisle to her world of coffee and french fries and hungry truckers.
Chris lifted his fork and took a mouthful of fried potatoes. They were good, hot and crispy, just they way he liked em. Just the way Sarah used to make them he shook off the thought.
"You heard the lady," Chris said, "Eat. Del will have my hide if you catch pneumonia, you know that dont you?"
Josiah smiled ruefully, flinching as the action hurt his cut lip. The small mouthful of egg and ham obviously stung his bruised mouth, but he chewed and swallowed, the heat of the food warming his chest.
"Did Del tell you about Rosie?" he asked finally.
Chris shook his head as he chewed another forkful of tasty potatoes.
"Nope. What about her?"
"I thought I was doin okay until Del got a call from Rosies kindergarten teacher on Thursday. Seems Rosie belted Ernie Stivens in the nose."
Ernie Stivens was a boy in Rosies class big, brawny for his age, and a bully. Chris grinned despite himself.
"What the hell for?"
Josiah swallowed another mouthful of ham.
"Hed seen a lot of the TV reports about how we got Weller, and how we hadnt managed to save Estelle Kolocek. He faced up with Rosie and told her that her ol man was a no-good goddamn cop and couldnt save his own ass if he tried. His words, not mine." He twitched a grin at Chris. "Rosie didnt say a word she just bopped the little sonofabitch right in the nose. Apparently he bled like a stuck hog for a while."
"Good for Rosie. I bet Del was ready to have the little shits hide for a duster."
"Yep. She sure was. Thing is, Rosie wont apologise to him. She told us she was sorry, but she couldnt apologise to a boy who said those things about her daddy, bless her." Josiah straightened painfully and Chris realised the big agent probably had a couple of cracked ribs. Del was going to kick Josiahs ass for sure after she had got him fed, rested and cleaned up. Josiah winced and shifted. "Shell come around I guess. I just have to make her understand that bopping Ernie Stivens in the nose doesnt make it right." He paused for a moment then continued. "Chris what do I tell her? I mean, about the case? Shes been asking and and I just dont know what the hell to say."
Larabee thought for a moment. It felt strange to have Josiah Sanchez, the man who had the soft, comforting words that helped heal his often battered and bruised team after a bust went to shit, asking him for advice. Him, Chris Larabee, the moody, mean, bad-assed sonofabitch that shot first and asked questions later.
"You tell her the truth, Josiah. Just sit down and tell her. You cant hide it no matter how hard you try so just tell her. Tell her about how bad people exist, and we do our best to catch em, and how sometimes we dont catch them in time. Shit happens, Josiah, you know that better than anybody I know. Tell her that and shell understand. Shes her daddys girl, and I know shell figure it out."
Josiah fiddled with his eggs for a moment, then laid down his fork. He knew Chris was right hed known that all along. He just didnt want to face the truth of it he didnt want to face his own failure. But there was one more thing bothering him.
"Weller do you know much about him?"
Chris wiped his plate clean with a hunk of bread and shook his head.
"Nope. Not much. Why?"
"What makes it so tough Chris, is that Weller and I are so much alike."
Larabee almost choked on his bread at that one.
"Christ, Josiah! Are you nuts?? You and Weller are nothing -"
Josiah raised his battered hand to silence the angry tirade threatening to spill from his friend.
"More alike than you would think, Chris. Wellers father was a Lutheran minister, did you know that? No? A heavy-handed disciplinarian who beat the hell out of Weller and his kid sister, especially after their Momma died of cancer. Sound familiar? Then the sister began stayin out late, goin around in bad company. The father beat the shit out of her every time, but she kept doin it, kept defying him every chance she had. When she fell pregnant at fifteen he nearly killed her. When the baby came it was brain-damaged a little girl, and she died three hours later. Wellers sister killed herself ten days after her baby died. Wellers father refused to go to the funeral, sayin she was a whore, a harlot of Babylon. It twisted somethin in Weller, turned him into somethin strange. Something terrible something evil. When he took his first victim he well, he just kept repeating what had happened to his sister. Except he killed them after " Josiah blinked back tears. "I was stronger than Weller. And thank God I had Hannah when my life went to shit. But every moment I was on that case Chris, I knew what he was thinking, what he wanted to do. I could hear him in my head, whispering, cajoling I knew where he was coming from and it frightened the crap out of me."
Astounded, Chris Larabee struggled to comprehend what Josiah was saying to him, that he felt almost a kinship with the monster that was Jonathan Becks Weller. He looked Josiah straight in the eye, calmly and forcefully.
"Youre not him, Josiah. Never will be, never could be. Ever. Dyou hear me? Never in a thousand years. You triumphed, my friend. You overcame. Weller failed. He failed because he didnt have the character, or heart, or or soul that you have. He was warped and broken before it even began, theres something in him that is fatally flawed and hes just one bad piece of shit and has been since the moment he was born. Thats all."
Josiah Sanchez tilted his head in that quizzical look the Seven knew so well, and smiled through unshed tears.
"Never figured you for a philosopher, Chris. Remind me never to argue politics, religion or sex with you."
Larabee let loose a soft chuckle, his lean face creasing into a relieved grin. He pushed his empty plate to one side and pulled out some crumpled dollars from his jeans pocket, leaving them beside his plate. He included a decent tip for the waitress.
"Cmon, lets get you to the ER at Mercy and get those ribs looked at before Nate throws a coniption." He gestured through the window, and Josiah turned painfully to see the other five members of the Seven gathered in an uneasy clump beside Ezras Jaguar. Buck noticed Josiah and Chris and waved, a big grin spread over his moustachioed face. The rest of them turned and Chris saw the relief on their concerned features. Nathan had his medical kit in one big hand, and was almost hopping from foot to foot with impatience.
Josiah levered himself out of his seat with Chris help, and they slowly made their way to the door, passing the waitress on the way. Chris nodded his thanks and she smiled back, happy now that Josiah was being cared for by his friends. As they emerged into the dull sunshine, Chris turned to the big profiler.
"I just got to ask the Biggles boys. Felt good, huh? That, er discussion?"
Josiahs battered face broke into a wolfish grin, the first Chris had seen on his face in a long time.
"Better than youll ever know, Chris better than youll ever know "
But as they walked towards the others on that cold, misty November day, Josiah thought about what Jonathan Becks Weller had shouted to him as he was led away from the nightmare of his basement apartment, where the tortured body of Estelle Kolocek was being photographed and prepped ready for removal by C.S.I.I know about your Rosie, Josiah! Know all about that slut you married too! Whore of Babylon! Tell me Josiah, has Larabee ever found the feller that knocked off that bitch wife of his, and his whelp? Not yet, I betcha! Has Standish let you down yet? Let you down like he did his pals in Atlanta? Maybe not but he will, dont you worry! Tanner still livin in where is it Purgatorio? Surrounded by sin nothing but Sodom! And that whoremongerin bastard Wilmington still lyin with every jezebelle he meets? Leadin that boy into hell, Im tellin you!! Nathan Jackson still whorin around with that black bitch of his, Josiah? Oh, dont worry I know everything, my friend everything
Josiah shuddered. Weller had done his homework, and the fear ran through the big agent like water. He would tell his compadres when he was ready. But not yet. It was all still too raw, too painful. Maybe when he had squared things away with Del and Rosie, and apologised to his friends for all the worry he had caused them maybe then he would tell them.
And straightening his shoulders painfully, he walked back into the warmth and gentle protection of his brothers.
+ + + + + + +
After Josiah had spent a couple of hours getting his ribs x-rayed and his cuts and bruises treated, the team took Josiah home where he was met by a tense but calm Del Sanchez. The tall hound-dogger handed her curious daughter to her six god-fathers and told them to take her for a walk down by the river.
As they wandered down towards the flat rock by the river where they went swimming during the summer they could hear Del tearing Josiah off a strip. She told him he was irresponsible, stupid and thoughtless. Then she told him she loved him, and she needed him, and if he ever, ever did such a dumb thing again she would feed him to her hounds feet first. Slowly.
By the time the rest of Team Seven returned to the tiny ranch house with a puzzled Rosie in tow, Del had thoroughly kissed her errant husband, undressed him and put him to bed where he now slept like a dead man. She took her daughters hand in hers, thanked each of her menfolk with a soft, loving kiss to their cheek and went back inside and shut the door.
Vin looked at his brothers in arms. They gazed back silently.
"Breakfast. Im hungry." Tanner heard his stomach rumble.
"I already ate," Chris said.
"Food looked good at that diner. Mighty good if you ask me." Vin looked thoughtful.
Buck rubbed his hands together.
"So, whats stoppin us? Lets go, fellers, my stomachs beginnin to think my throats been cut."
"Oh, please, spare us the gruesome analogies! Its bad enough dining in a place called the Stars n Bars All-Nite Diner!"
"Oh, for Gods sake Ez - " JD rolled his eyes dramatically.
"Do they do salad?" Nathan was a little miffed at not being given the chance to check Josiah over as he wasnt too sure that the young doctor at the hospital was entirely capable.
"Their fried potatoes were pretty damn good. Just like Sarahs "
"Thatll do for me! Lets go "
And piling into their eclectic collection of vehicles they head off down the dirt road, out onto the highway and turned south into the promise of a better day.
Josiah woke up to the uneasy feeling that he was being watched.
Cracking open his eyelids he winced. God, he was sore! His body was stiff and ached somethin awful, as though hed been in a fight with a bear. Wait now he remembered he had been in a fight. But not with a bear the Biggles boys. All four of em. And hed sent them packing. He grinned then grimaced as the cut in his lip protested. He noticed the bedroom was in shadow apart from the bedside lamp sending a warm amber glow against walls hung with native American artefacts dreamcatchers, a bow, a buffalo-hide war-shield and some other bits and pieces, the proud heritage of Dels great grandmother who had been kweharehnuh Comanche. It must be night-time, he thought. How long have I been asleep
He swivelled his eyes to the space beside him in the bed, and met with a pair of azure eyes gazing back at him.
Rosamund Delancey Sanchez, all four years, four months and three days of her, was lying on her stomach on the bed in her PJs, curly head propped on her hands and her feet bearing New York Yankees slippers which her father had bought her back from the Big Apple after a seminar waving idly in the air.
Rosie shared her passion for baseball with her daddy, who was convinced it was genetic, and they often spent hours pitching a softball in the yard, much to Dels disgust. She couldnt see past football and the Broncos.
Josiah had often soothed a cranky Rosie when she was teething with stories about the great Mickey Mantle, and how as a boy he had watched the great man hit a homer almost right out of Yankee Stadium on a Sunday afternoon in the May of 63. Sanchez Senior had spent a year in New York working in a mission for the homeless, and Josiah had gone many times with a friend and his family to a game, sneaking away when he could. His Papa had usually whaled the tar out of him for desecrating the Lords Day, but Josiah had taken his punishment stoically. It had been worth it, he thought, and remembered again the roar of the crowd and the thwack of Mantles bat against Bill Fischers ferocious fastball. He smiled at the memory of the ball ricocheting with a crack like a gunshot off the façade and rebounding back into the stadium, and the disbelief on the faces of the As team as they rose to their feet on the bench. That had surely been one helluva day, and Rosie could recite the events of that great moment word for word.
He took a deep breath and instantly regretted it as his cracked ribs protested, and he let slip a soft grunt of pain.
"Momma says youve been fightin an youve been asleep all day!"
Rosie glared at him. Now where the hell did she get that? He decided silently to have a word no, two or three words with Larabee and tell the man to keep his Glares to himself when he was around Rosie. It was downright disconcerting, to say the least, to be Glared at by a four-year-old. He eased himself upright, propping his bruised and battered frame against the pillows, and looked at his daughter.
"Yeah well, shes right," he said, somewhat shame-faced.
"You told me it wasnt nice to fight. Is this because Ernie Stivens called you a dumb-assed cop?" Rosie frowned, looking very much like her Momma when her Daddy had got himself into trouble at work or her menfolk were hurt.
Josiah winced again, this time at the epithets.
"Rosie gal, now those are not the kind of words I expect to hear from you, okay?"
Rosies frown deepened as she pondered his comment.
"Sorry, Daddy. Its just I mean, you told me it aint isnt nice to fight." She corrected herself just in time. Her kindergarten teacher Miss Rowbotham came from a long way away from a place called England where they didnt say aint, and Miss Rowbotham tried very, very hard to eradicate such disreputable grammar. Del found the whole thing hilarious, but kept her opinions to herself she liked Miss Rowbotham immensely.
"I know, I know. It must seem a bit stupid, huh? Your ol man getting into a fight after telling you its not acceptable behaviour. And youd be right, baby girl, cause your Daddy did a dumb thing, and Im real sorry I confused you. No excuses, either, so Im feeling pretty silly right now, I can tell you."
Rosie scooted around until she sat cross-legged on the bed and studied her father. He looked sore, and all beat up, and she struggled to think of the best way to describe him he looked sorta sad. But then her Daddy had been lookin sorta sad since he came back from St Louis.
She knew something terrible had happened there. Her Momma had told her that her Daddy had gone to St Louis to catch a real bad man, one who had hurt people, even killed them. Her Daddy was clever, he knew lots of ways to figure out how to catch this bad man, and that was exactly what he had done. She had seen her Daddy on TV, but instead of looking all smiley like folks usually seemed to be on TV, he had looked real angry and upset. Momma had explained very quietly that sometimes her Daddys work meant he got really sad, and that meant Rosie felt sad too. And when that stupid, dumb Ernie Stivens had said that her Daddy was a no-good cop she had snapped and bopped him one. But it hadnt felt good, although Stivens had stayed away from her ever since and he hadnt mentioned her father or his work again.
Josiah knew what was coming.
This is it. Its time
"Youre real sad because of that bad man, huh?"
Josiah took a deep breath which hurt his ribs and let the breath go in an explosive sigh. God, how could he explain to her? He heard again Chris Larabees words echoing in his head You tell her the truth, Josiah. Just sit down and tell her
He nodded at his daughters words.
"Yep, I suppose I am."
Rosie was puzzled.
"But you catched him didnt you? You catched him and put him in jail and he wont hurt anyone now, not ever, will he?"
Not if I have anything to do with it, Josiah thought.
"We got him. It took a little time, but we got him, and no, he wont hurt any more people." Josiah gave his curious daughter a lop-sided smile, trying to reassure her.
"So why are you sad?" Now Rosie was a little confused. If her Daddy had caught the bad man then he should be happy, surely?
Josiah realised she wasnt about to let him off the hook, and he thought for a moment. God, how do you explain to a four-year-old about evil sonsabitches like Weller?
"Well " He pondered the problem for a second, then continued. "It makes me sad because he hurt all those people, and and I had to stop him Rosie, before he hurt anyone else."
Rosies blue eyes widened.
"He he killed them, didnt he?" Her voice was a shocked whisper.
Josiah closed his eyes, his mind suddenly back in that horror of a basement in St Louis the blood, the surgical knives and most of all Wellers trophy wall, the sides of milk-cartons with the pictures of the girls he had killed. Their bodies had never been found apart from the one back molar he took from each of his victims and kept in jars in his refrigerator. The distraught families had posted their children as missing and Weller had taken great delight at the milk-carton ads. Josiah suddenly realised he was shaking.
"Yes, Rosie, he killed them." The rumbling baritone was hoarse with stress.
Rosie sat silently on the bed and thought about it. Then she turned those impossibly blue eyes back to her father.
Josiah flinched. There it was the question he had been dreading.
"I " he struggled to calm himself. "I dont know, gal. I really dont know."
I wish I did, then perhaps all the killing would stop
But Rosie wasnt satisfied.
"Didnt his daddy tell him killing folks was real bad?"
God help me, Rosie, if only it was that goddamn simple
And Josiah thought of his own father, the righteous, God-fearing man who knew in his heart that all men were sinners and the sin had to be exorcised from their souls whatever the cost. Sometimes through the best of intentions, Josiah decided, evil found a way to take root.
"Well, I suppose he did. But sometimes folks dont understand whats right and whats wrong and sometimes they dont care. Maybe he didnt listen, or maybe he didnt understand, who knows. Rosie, we all do bad things, its part of human nature. Whether its bopping Ernie Stivens on the nose, or cussin when you hit your thumb with a hammer - " he saw Rosies face break into a grin her daddy had a habit of bashing his fingers with hammers, "its all part and parcel of life. Its one of the things that makes us what we are. But sometimes " he hesitated, then forged on. "Sometimes someone can get out of control and do bad things, terrible things, things that no ordinary person would do. Some folks would say its because they had a hard childhood, that their parents were bad to them or they had no money or some such thing. Or maybe its because they hurt their head in an accident or something like that or maybe maybe they were just born like that, no one knows."
"Nathan would," Rosie said confidently.
Josiah grinned, the tension in his body easing. As far as Rosie was concerned her six godfathers and her beloved daddy knew the whole sum of human learning in some form or another, and she was convinced that Nathans skills as an EMT could just about cure a rainy day. He would know if these bad people had something wrong with their heads, she was sure.
"Some doctors certainly think that it has something to do with they way these bad people are born, but well, they cant really prove it. Anyway, it means that bad people can do terrible things, and its my job to stop them. Its just this time this time I wasnt quick enough, and somebody died because of it." And he thought again of Estelle Koloceks battered body and the devastation on her mothers face. He swallowed noisily.
"Daddy " Rosie shuffled around to lean on Josiahs shoulder. She looked up at him. "You did your best, didnt you?"
Josiahs voice hitched with pain and heartache as he answered.
"Yeah I did my best "
For all the good it did Estelle Kolocek.
Closing his eyes he felt a hot tear trickle down his cheek. He couldnt hold it in any longer the hurt was too much and a small sob worked its way from his deep chest.
But he felt something else a small body snuggled against him and a pair of little arms wrapped their way around his neck, holding him tight. A face tucked itself into the hollow of his neck, as Rosamund Delancey Sanchez gave her grieving father a hug.
"Well, thats all right then," she said, matter-of-factly. Josiah and Del had told Rosie that folks should always try to do their best.
And in that one moment Josiah Sanchez knew the truth of it. He had done his best, he had found Jonathan Becks Weller and taken him off the streets and stopped him from killing ever again. He had not saved Estelle Koloceks life. It hurt. It hurt badly, but he would learn to live with it, and he could do that more easily with his wife and daughter beside him and his team, his six brothers, to back him up. So he lay quietly, letting Rosies love wash over him and heal his damaged soul.
After a few minutes Rosie looked up into her fathers face and shook her head.
"Daddy, you look like Ez after hes been watchin his silly movie."
Josiah snorted in amusement and wiped away the tears on his cheeks with a big hand.
A couple of months previously Ezra had ended up with a chunk taken out of his butt by a stray bullet in the line of duty. The young intern at Mercy ER had not dealt with Team Seven before, and given Ezra pain-killers that usually knocked him for six in the grey-cell department. As his apartment was undergoing a vast re-decorating program he had been cajoled by Rosie to stay at her house, and Josiah had come home the following day to discover Ezra sitting in Dels only comfortable armchair, a blow-up ring cushioning his rather damaged derriere. Unfortunately he was watching Gone with the Wind on TV, and Rosie had sat on the floor, mesmerised, as a painkiller-befuddled Ezra blubbered and wailed at the sight of his beloved Atlanta going up in flames. Del had been leaning against the door jamb in silent hysteria while Rosie solemnly handed Ezra tissues on which to noisily blow his nose. Rosie had decided the film was very silly. Plus, of course, Ezra still hadnt lived it down due to the photographs taken by a sly Del Sanchez and circulated by a gleeful Vin Tanner.
"Are you gonna be okay?" Rosie asked as she reached over for a tissue from the bedside table and clumsily dabbed away the tears. Josiah took it from her and finished the job, concerned about losing an eye. Rosie could be very enthusiastic when it came to looking after her Daddy and her menfolk.
He winked at her.
"Yeah, I reckon. Itll take a while I guess, but Ill get there."
"Good." The broad Missouri accent made him look up to see Del wander through from the tiny living room in her Broncos nightshirt. "We were kinda worried about ya there, big guy. Youve been sleepin all day and Ive had the fellers on the phone every five minutes wonderin how youre doin."
Josiah looked for the first time at the clock on the bedside table. It was just gone eleven at night. He had slept for nearly twelve hours! Then he realised Rosie should have been asleep in her bed long ago, but Del interrupted before he could open his mouth.
"She wanted to check that you were okay when you woke up. It aint a school-day tomorrow an I thought it was more important that she knew her damn-fool daddy wasnt hurt too bad. Are you feelin better?"
Josiah ran his fingers through his short curls and nodded.
"I guess. Im tired though, and Im sore." He looked somewhat sheepishly at his wife as she came to sit on the bed beside him. "Del, Im sorry. I shouldve let you know shouldve talked to you."
Del grinned at him, her lean face almost beautiful.
"Yeah, well, just dont do it again, okay?" Her face sobered. "I gotta do some apologisin too. I wish I couldve helped you, Josiah. I knew you were hurtin but I didnt know how to make it all go away, an Im sorry. I wasnt much use to you, darlin." She reached forward and kissed him, careful of his cut lip.
Josiah settled back on the pillows, feeling drained and drowsy, Rosie snuggled against his chest.
"Wasnt anything you could do, Del. When someone like Weller comes along, you cant help but be caught up in it, and it affects not just you but everyone around you. I got some apologisin of my own to do "
"Well, that can wait until Monday. Right now Im tired an Rosie should be in her own bed." Del smiled and lifted her now sleepy daughter from her daddys arms, Rosie murmuring a slight protest but too drowsy to do much about it.
When she had been put to bed Del returned to Josiah and slipped beneath the sheets and turned out the light. She turned and snuggled against her husbands broad frame. Josiah lay for a while, gazing at the faint outline of a Yankees pennant on the wall.
"Del honey "
"Did I ever tell you about the day I saw Mickey Mantle nearly hit a home run right out of Yankee Stadium? They say now it was near as dammit 734 feet! Can you believe it? You shouldve seen the look on Bill Fischers face, gal, it was a picture I can tell you! And as for The Mick, well, - "
Delancey Cowper Morgan Sanchez buried her head under a pillow and groaned.
Late that night an exhausted Josiah Sanchez lay sleeping quietly in the safety of his wifes arms, and their daughter lay peacefully in her bed, untroubled by her fathers explanation as to why Jonathan Becks Weller was the tortured, dangerous person he had become.
Alone at his ranch, Chris Larabee sat in the dark of the night, gazing thoughtfully into the embers of a dying fire, thinking about the days events. He thought about how he might have reacted to the horror of Wellers actions, and how he would have dealt with it. He decided he would probably have drunk himself into a stupor at the sheer thought of it. Sighing, he turned off the lamp and went to bed.
As Larabee slipped into a troubled slumber, a few hundred miles away a racoon sauntered out into the middle of a darkened road deep in the Missouri hills.
Whiffling its way across the asphalt of route 55 it heard a noise, and turning, noticed lights heading towards it, the low growl of the engine startling the creature. Unsure of which way to turn and startled by the blinding lights, the racoon sat mesmerised for a moment before taking its life in its agile, almost human paws and high-tailed it across the wide expanse of road.
The occupants of the vehicle, an eighteen-year-old high-school dropout and his two drunken buddies saw the creature in the mist, but a combination of lack of skill and an over-abundance of alcohol slowed the drivers reflexes to a level where he couldnt control the 82 Chevy as the driver clumsily attempted to avoid the creature. The car slewed across the highway, tires screeching, almost drowning out the terrified screams of the occupants. The Chevy was headed towards a large fir tree by the side of the road, but as fate would have it another vehicle headed around the corner and straight into the Chevys path.
It was a truck, dark and menacing in the gloom of this foggy November night, and it belonged to the Missouri Department of Corrections. Inside the truck were two police officers and a prisoner, heading south for the maximum security detention centre at Potosi.
The truck hit the Chevy side-on, mashing the smaller vehicle and sending it tumbling into the sward of trees beside the road. The bigger vehicles own impetus and the impact with the car sent it into a heavy, ponderous roll, and for long moments the still, dank air was filled with the sounds of steel and rubber being smashed and mangled by the 50-mile-an-hour collision.
The racoon, hiding in the branches of a tree watched mesmerised as the pile of tangled metal slowed and stopped, the truck on its side crumpled against the Chevy which rested against the torn trunk of a fir.
Seconds passed by as the noise was cut off, the fog deadening the sound until all that was left was the hiss of steam escaping from the Chevys battered radiator. Oddly enough, the trucks electrical system was still working, and a single headlight sent eerie shadows against the trunks of the trees.
The racoon chittered to itself. It waited for a few moments to see what would happen next, and then decided it was safe enough to work its way down the tree trunk and escape into the forest. But the groaning screech of a buckled door opening sent the small animal skittering back to its hiding place.
A tall figure staggered from the inside of the truck wearing the distinctive orange prison garb, the letters MDC writ large across the shoulders. The figure collapsed on the wet loamy ground, blood dripping from a gash along a lean cheekbone. Catching his breath, the man heard a body shifting inside the truck, and grinning through blood-stained teeth, he hunted around for a large rock, finding one uprooted by the trucks sliding bulk as it came to rest. Hampered by handcuffed wrists, the man managed to scramble back into the truck and the meaty smack of rock on flesh and bone was heard in the dense fog.
Moments later the orange-clad figure re-emerged, this time shoving a police-issue revolver into his pocket. He then used a bloody key to unlock the handcuffs. Dropping the manacles to the ground he stretched and winced, pain shooting through his battered body. But he was interrupted by a groan.
The sound came from the mangled Chevy, and limping over to the vehicle he peered in through a smashed window. In the dark he could make out two bodies, broken and still, blood spattering the decimated interior. But something moved. In the back seat, partially caught under his friends dead body, young Jim-Bob McNair struggled into consciousness. He was drunk, and he was hurt. His legs were shattered, it hurt to breathe and he was sure his jaw and nose were broken. But he could see. The light from the truck illuminated the destruction and death around him and he let out a whimper of pure terror. But as he began to slide into panic something touched his shoulder, and he turned to see a pair of dark eyes study him benignly, face blood-smeared but smiling.
He mumbled something through broken teeth, something that was meant to ask this strange figure to help him. The man must have understood, because he wrenched open the passenger door and pulled Jim-Bob out of the Chevy, the young man screaming with pain as he was laid on the wet ground.
The figure leaned over him and gently slapped his face, trying to get Jim-Bob to pay attention, something that brought a moan of pure agony from the teenager.
"Listen up, boy dont pass out on me, yhear?" The voice was light, sweet and gentle.
"Okay. Good. You just lie still and listen to me. Now then, you just tell em when they find you that I let you live, you understand?"
Now Jim-Bob was paying attention. He noticed through his pain the prison garb, and his green eyes widened. He nodded again, terrified.
"All right. Good boy. You tell em they tried to kill ol Jonathan, but I said they couldnt. They cant kill me. They already tried once, an I cant die. Im gonna live forever, cause the Good Lords on my side. The hand of the living God hath stayed mans so-called justice boy, and no-one no-one is ever gonna kill Jonathan Becks Weller." The man sat back on his haunches and studied the badly-hurt boy. "So, you just explain to them that I have to fight the good fight, I have to finish my course I have to keep the faith. You tell them boy. You tell them " Wellers face grew slack for a moment, his mind consumed now with the thought of his destiny. "Silly women laden with sins led away with diverse lusts " His voice dropped to a soft murmur of wonder.
Jim-Bob McNair knew then that he was witnessing insanity, and his heart lurched with terror as Weller got to his feet. Wellers hand drifted to the revolver in his pocket, but that was all. He never drew the weapon, and he turned towards the forest. But a thought struck him and he looked down for the last time at Jim-Bob.
"Oh, before I forget. You tell him Im thinkin about him. You tell him I know about his little girl about that whore hes got for a woman." He grinned. "Yeah, his woman. You tell Josiah Ill find the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth that has held him in thrall. Ill show him the error of his ways and hell thank me. He will, I know it." He hunkered down and gently wiped the blood from Jim-Bobs face. "Youll tell him? You promise?"
Seeing Jim-Bobs panicked acknowledgement he straightened, satisfied. Studying the carnage around him, he smiled. And quietly, calmly, he slipped into the dark shadow of the murky trees and was gone.
Jim-Bob McNair lay sobbing silently. He was hurt, and he was frightened, and he was slowly sliding into shock. But somewhere in his mind he knew he would live he didnt understand how he knew he just did. And as he lay there, his shattered limbs sending agony through his quivering frame, he stopped crying for a moment. From the fog around him he heard something he heard a soft, pleasant tenor, raised in song, the dense mist making the words float ghost-like in the deepening night.Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing
Bringing in the sheaves
| The little girl she said to me,
What are these things that I can see?
Each night when I come home from school,
When Mama calls me in for tea.
Oh every night a baby dies,
And every night a Mama cries,
What makes those men do what they do,
To make that person black and blue?
Grandpa says theyre happy now.
They sit with God in Paradise
With angels wings and still somehow
It makes me feel,
Tell me theres a heaven,
Tell me that its true.
Tell me theres a reason
Why Im seeing what I do.
Tell me theres a heaven,
Where all those people go.
Tell me that theyre happy now,
Papa tell me that its so.
So do I tell her that its true,
That theres a place for me and you.
Where hungry children smile and say
We wouldnt have no other way.
That every painful crack of bones,
Is a step along the way,
Every wrong done is a game plan
To that great and joyful day
And Im looking at the father and the son.
And Im looking at the mother and the daughter.
And Im watching them in tears of pain
And Im watching them suffer
Dont tell that little girl,
Tell me theres a heaven,
Tell me that its true,
Tell me theres a reason
Why Im seeing what I do.
Tell me theres a heaven,
Where all those people go,
Tell me that theyre happy now,
Papa tell me that its so.
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