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Ray stepped out of his funk. It wasnt fair to take his moods out on Gabe. It was just hard to keep hoping. The very idea that Heaven cared enough about a worthless creature like himself was just too much to believe. That the same people also cared enough to give him a permanent walking caretaker was almost beyond hope as beyond belief. The man hed called Gabe had been a permanent anchor in his randomly wandering world, a safe place.
Ray lived Favor for Favor, helping people for the price of a Favor in return. Gabe had asked for help, something that Ray had never been able to deliver on. Then hed been killed. The police had ruled it an accident, but Ray knew differently. He hadnt been able to save this man, this friend. When he was suddenly confronted with his dead old friend returned as his guardian hed thought that he was going nuts, a long delayed reaction to the drugs or poisons hed endured during his endless quest for justice. It had taken a while for it to sink in that he was cared for enough that this man had been sent back to him.
It was an overwhelming feeling.
He crossed into the garage and looked at the Black 66 Stingray corvette sitting up on blocks and covered with a protective dust cloth. Perhaps in the next day or two he and Gabe would get the car up and running again. Maybe involve the kid in it. Something to get his mind off of his problems. The bike was a wreck, nothing short of a miracle would Ray stopped himself in time. Never use the M word, he reminded himself and grimaced as he heard Gabes chuckle in his mind.
He checked that the van was put away. Theyd have to drag that bike out tomorrow and see if it could be fixed. Damn shame. It had been a nice ride, not as nice as his car, but few things were. Shaking himself out of his shallow minded reverie, Ray began to pace.
In JDs room, the Major could hear the continuous battle that Ray was having with himself. To believe in something greater than the Physical eye could see, even after all the man had seen and suffered must be difficult indeed. JD turned over but did not hear either the pacing or the commentary. Gabe appeared in the doorway, checking on JD and his guardian, but said nothing. His tight weary smile said it all. The redheaded angel was as worn out as his charge. The guilt of facing an enemy as large as the one they fought and being unable to do anything had worn them both down.
JDs a good kid, Gabe said, interrupting the Majors thoughts. Im just worried about the effect this will have on Ray. You know what I mean. This is unexpected, not unwelcome, but unexpected.
I know. Remember, nothing goes as expected in life, ever. The Major smiled, a real smile. I think that Id like to have a conversation with your Charge.
Ray has a hard time with the Guardians, sir. He thinks Im some form of punishment. Im not sure what hell make of you.
He already knows that Im here, the Major said firmly. Its time we had a talk.
Rays pacing had brought him into the living room. The pile of books that he had knocked down earlier was still there. Frowning at his failure to notice the mess, Ray began gathering up the old dime novels. Unusual taste in reading the kid had, definitely. A baby book slipped out of the stack and spilled its contents all over the floor. He sighed, this was really a mess. Maybe he ought to call Riskin Maybe he ought to talk to Gabe.
Gathering up the pictures, Ray was startled by a familiar face. He then began to look closely at every picture. The same face, then other faces oh so very well known. When Gabe came into the room he was shaking as he looked at the pictures.
Ray? Gabe asked in concern. The Major had followed him, but remained silent as the intensity of the mans grief hit him.
Its her, Gabe. Its them, Ray finally said.
Who? Ray, youre not making any sense, Gabe said, his concern growing.
Before he could get an answer, Rays head shot up and he looked directly at the Major for the first time. His eyes widened.
Youre here arent you. Youre him. Youve come for the boy, Ray said, his fear rising. You are going to take him, because of the curse. Please dont. Take me instead. I deserve this, hes only a boy. Just a kid. Please Major. Take me instead. Let me pay the price. The Major blinked in astonishment. Gabe was flabbergasted.
Ray what are you talking about? Whats going on? Gabe demanded. He walked over to where Ray stood clutching the pictures from JDs baby book.
Thats her, Gabe. Rachel, Ray said softly. My baby sister Rachel. These are my parents. He pointed to another picture. These are my family, my brothers and sisters, the ones who didnt want me to come home. He pulled out another photo. This was me. Before the War, before it all Ray straightened up and looked at the Major fiercely. This kid, JD, is my nephew. My little sisters son, My baby sisters little boy, he growled out You arent taking him. Theres a price to be paid for the Dunnes, for what the Sheriff did, but he aint the one to pay it. I will.
The Major buried his face in his hands, not sure whether to laugh, cry, or explode. In the silences of his heart he screamed at Lauren Dunne for all the harm she had done to the family of the young Sheriff. No matter what had happened in Four Corners, the Dunne family had not deserved the venom that young woman had forced into every life with such malicious efficiency. Here was a man, worn with having fought a war for his country and then a war his country wouldnt acknowledge, burdened with having been imprisoned, tortured, and reviled, a man who now was asking, no demanding, that he take JDs place in some futile gesture of contrition. Some fatal gesture. Ray wanted him to kill him in JDs place. What a freaking tragedy of errors.
Ray? Gabe tried again.
Please, Ray said.
Im not going to kill you, Raymond Arthur Dunne. Kick you into next year, perhaps, for paying any heed to what that spiteful harpy ever said. But to kill you? No. To kill young JD? Never! How in the world did that woman override the rationality of an entire town? Delusions. Nothing but Delusions brought about by a jealous spiteful harridan!
But the Price for the Dunnes Ray stammered out.
The only price out there is the one for your own choices, Raymond Arthur Dunne. My Duty is not Judgement. That belongs to another. There is no curse, at least for what happened to me. People at the time paid penalties for it, yes. That Justice demanded, but it certainly doesnt demand it from you. You are innocent, the boy in there is innocent, every single member of the family currently living is innocent of my blood at least. The Major tried to resist the desire to storm around the house flinging things around. Ray seemed to have few friends in this world, this Nelson Riskin was one of them and he didnt want to make problems for the spent man in front of him, but Damn he was furious. No wonder things couldnt be resolved. Lauren Dunne had them all convinced that he was going to horrifically murder them in their beds. Stories told to children in the night, terrors that had bitten deep and burned themselves into generations. He calmed his fury as he felt the weight of his Gift begin to respond to his anger. Justice was not his province, that was anothers, thank Heaven.
Ray was staring at him in confusion. The Major dropped his head wearily into his hand. Hed been wondering what things would be like on this trip if JD could see him. Now he was glad that the boy wasnt able to recognize him. He couldnt take much more of this. Rachel Dunne had been difficult to deal with in her last illness, but this!
No price? Ray asked in confusion. His whole world had been built around the reality that he was accursed, his family had told him so when he came back from Nam. The bad blood, the cursed blood that had slain the Major was in his veins and he was just turning out as was expected. No redemption there. Rachel hadnt believed that he was a lost cause. Shed loved him and her letters had kept him going through the war. The Vietnamese had let him keep them during his captivity. Rachels words of hope and love had kept him free in mind at least.
She had believed in doing good, no matter what. It had also been Rachels childhood teasing that had created Stingray, the life hed led since his return. That was how he thought of himself, what he felt he was worth. Everything else was gone, for good. The last good thing in his life had been the car. His sister had kept it up for him, carefully put away in the old Conklin barn. Hed saved up forever to buy the thing, barely gotten it and his number came up in the draft. Shed cared for it during his tour and his captivity, hiding it away for him when she left for school. It had been Rachels teasing phrase, a Favor for a Favor that had led him on his journey after the war.
The photos belonged to that time, just before he left and after he came home. His parents treated him as if he was a monster, even calling him a baby killer. His siblings were just the same as the parents, the next eldest, Randal, taking particular pleasure in driving him from the house. They wouldnt tell him where Rachel was. Hed found her later on, but her new husband had made sure that there was no contact between them. Although hed left an address, Rachel was unlikely to have ever received it. Ray had kept that address open for twenty years, just hoping that shed one day write.
JD had said that his mother was dead Oh Mercy, Rachel was gone. Hed never see his baby sister, never hear her laugh or watch her come up with some outrageous Math trick to pull on someone. Hed never be able to fix the distance between them, one more thing that he could never heal.
The tears came quickly, he choked them back, but was soon overwhelmed by them. He felt Gabe rest a hand on his shoulder. Soon he was sobbing in earnest, suddenly that confused teenager once again, once again the bewildered Vet come home from the war to hatred. Ray was helpless against the onslaught. Every thing hed kept locked away since he returned from Hanoi poured out of him in a dark flood of pain and loss.
Between them the Major and Gabe were able to manhandle the grief exhausted man into bed. JD had slept through it all, much to the Majors chagrin.
That boy could sleep through a hurricane! he hissed at Gabe. Part of him wanted the boy to wake and help his uncle, but JD was injured and the meds made him sleep soundly.
Ray wont open up again, Gabe said in a somber tone. He thinks its weakness, that theres no point in letting an Innocent have to deal with him. He was Very Special Forces and that means that he has to make up for everything. Even things that happened in the Century before he was born, Gabe sighed. Its going to take a while to put this situation into perspective. He wont tell JD who he is, thats for certain.
Gabes prediction proved to be accurate. JD and Ray spent a great deal of time together over the next several days, but Ray kept his nephew at arms length permitting only the roughest beginnings of a friendship to form. However, JD was open and caring, Somehow he was sensitive to what Ray was feeling and never seemed to push him, though Gabe could tell he wanted to.
After a day or two of tinkering, it was obvious that the faithful motorbike was not going to make it. JD took the blow well, but he kept his real feelings to himself. That night Gabe slipped into JDs room. He laid down a small blue packet on his desk. The kid looked at him in confusion.
I asked you to stay a couple of days and help get Ray back towards his balance. You kept your part of the deal, so Im keeping mine. The fact that Ray needs more time is not something that you can do anything about. Gabe smiled in a melancholy fashion. Tomorrow well take you to the bus stop in the morning. Ill see about getting the bike to you in Denver.
Thanks, I really appreciate that, JD said. Im really sorry about Ray, though. Hes hurting and there just doesnt seem to be a way for him to let it out. Maybe you should take him someplace else for a while, let him relax in a new setting. Some place where he doesnt have to worry about the Bitch Queen.
Youre a bright young man, JD Dunne. Gabe grinned as a sudden burst of inspiration hit. I have to call my boss shortly to see what she wants us to do. Theres a place Id really like to take Ray, near the Sea. It was a favorite of mine a long time ago. Its a great place for healing. I went there myself when I lost someone very close to me. It worked magic on me, perhaps it will do the same for Ray. Thank you Mr. Dunne.
Sure, I guess, I didnt do anything.
Sometimes being a listening ear is what someone else needs. The chance to work out their own problem with some one they know cares about it, even if its only abstract. Gabe smiled. Good night Mr. Dunne. Sleep well.
Night JD replied, still rather confused at the situation.
Here, JD, Ray said as they waited for the bus that would get JD back on the road to Denver. He handed the younger man a book. I noticed that this was missing from your set. JD took the volume mystified. The collected works of Jock Steele, Volume 2. was written on the spine in gold letters. Oh, the dime novels. Hed almost forgotten the stories that he had been reading in Chicago. Certainly Ray shouldnt have spent his money on this! Before he could say anything, the station PA announced his bus and he had to get on board. Ray and Gabe waved at him.
The second volume of the works of that literary Neanderthal Jock Steele? the Major said with some heat. Why in the world would you give him that?
Ray laughed, a real laugh for the first time in a long while. Oh, Steele might have been a nitwit, but theres something in there that hes going to need, being a Dunne.
What in the world is that? Gabe asked, he was as confused by the gift as the Major.
The fifth story in that volume, Ray said with a lopsided smirk.
The Magnificent Seven, Ray laughed again harder at the expression on the Majors face. Its only right that I share the family history with him. He grinned. Whether or not he chooses to use it is up to him, Ray laughed and led the way to the van. He had some parts to pick up at the local antique car store. That vette was going to be back on the road before he knew it. Just in time to meet Gabes boss to talk about some trip his partner wanted to take. It was tough keeping up with a Guardian Angel, but Ray suddenly felt up to it.
The Major grimaced and then laughed. He shook hands with both men and slipped on after his charge.
JD endured the bus ride with good humor, dealing with all sorts of people as he rode along. It gave him an education in humanity, alright! The Major watched his charge with amusement. It was interesting to watch the boy interact with the world in a less threatening situation. Still, the Major kept his eyes open for trouble though.
The bus broke down at the gas station in Cheyenne. It was late at night and there was nowhere for the passengers to rest while they waited except the large gas station, which was as large as most grocery stores. JDs current seatmate was an older man who smelled of whiskey and cracked strange comments at him. Hed been as polite as he could be, but he found that he needed some space so he went outside of the huge store/station.
The stars were bright and he amused himself by wishing on a couple of them. JD sat and considered his future and his plans. Ray had slipped him some money and Gabe had as well, so he wasnt as bad off as he probably would have been. Both men had also slipped him contact cards, in case hed needed help. He also had the numbers for the Consulate and Philly Homicide. If he couldnt find a place in Denver, he had places he could go, but JD had no intention of giving up easily.
A sudden thought stuck him and he picked up the pay phone. A quick set of numbers and he was listening to the ring of the phone while he waited.
Hello? came a voice rich with a Polish accent.
Mrs. Leviwitcz? JD asked hesitantly. He should have remembered the time difference.
John David, is that you? Child are you well?
Yes maam, JD said. He wasnt sure what to say. I just called .
You are feeling a little lost? That is expected. A little uncertain? That too. Are you still doing what you dream of?
Yes maam, JD said. Im ready for this. I just needed to I dont know.
Its alright, child. It was right of you to call. Mrs. Leviwitczs voice came through the phone, a mixture of warm cookies and soothing creaking. It felt like home. She told him funny stories, ironic ones, really about the Tofflers and their various crises, worrisome ones about Ben, whod incomprehensibly changed. His partner was showing a vicious, nasty side that JD didnt like hearing about. She told him what was going on with the others. Mr. Dalley the gardener was sure that hed been arrested or was embroiled in some conspiracy. After all, in the mans mind, why else was JD calling from Canada? He must be in trouble. The older man had been afraid of conspiracies ever since hed run afoul of McCarthys Red list. It was to his credit that he was almost willing to forgo his sanctuary at the Toffler Mansion and come to rescue JD. Miz Cass, depending on the day, was of the belief that hed been kidnapped by aliens for a higher purpose and on other days that he was walking in the company of Angels. Mr. Weiss was worried about his motorcycle and why didnt he get a good horse, the old man had been a Jockey a long time ago. The most surprising news was that the prim and proper Miss Emily the Toffler maid, and Mr. Long the butler and Rachels former second in command, had slipped off to Atlantic City and gotten married. Having watched them for several years, JD wasnt really all that surprised, he just hoped theyd be able to keep up with the Tofflers, it would take everything both of them had to do so.
What a mess! The Tofflers themselves were all over the board, causing all manner of chaos, but the Historical society was pleased with Rachels renovations of the Mansion, which meant that the Tofflers wouldnt lose their listing on the State roll of Historical buildings. Theyd even gotten a brass plaque for the front porch. JD felt a little bit of cynical satisfaction that the Historical Society had put his mothers name on the plaque and refused to change it. Shed done the work, it was only fair that it be acknowledged. That acknowledgement was annoying the heck out of Marcia Toffler, but JD was sure that he could live with that.
Mrs. Leviwitcz made him end the call a little later, not wanting him to waste the phone cards shed given him. The bus wasnt ready yet, though it looked like it would be soon, so JD sat on the curb and watched the bright stars in the very dark sky. Theyd never been this bright in New York, even at the planetarium.
The Bus had made it to Denver finally, but it was on its last legs. The remaining passengers were transferred to a city sightseeing bus as the rest of the buses were all stationed at the arena to help with the Interstate Basketball Championships. JD didnt mind, he was reading his Denver City guide and wondering what he should do now. There were a lot of museums and things to see. The Zoo sounded interesting, and maybe this Molly Brown house, but JD just wished theyd get to the stop.
It took him a little while to realize that theyd made a mistake and the driver was going to loop back around to the station. JD guessed that the man wanted a tip for showing them the sights. As he was about to confront the driver a series of gunshots rang out. The driver cursed.
Hey, mister, where are we? JD asked.
Thats the Damn !#$%$&^*&^ Federal building. Those Idiots are at it again, the Driver cursed a blue streak. Theyre supposed to be training some new hotshot Federal team, going to solve all our problems. Damn Idiots cant even train without causing a problem! #%^$^&Y(* He cursed again. JD slipped back towards his seat but stuck his head out of one of the open windows. The Driver swore another blue streak. You'll get your damn head back in there if you know what's good for you. JD had seen windbreakers reading RMETF and knew that they were the people he wanted to see. At last! He thought that the tall man in the black jeans must be Chris Larabee. Phillip was right, the man didnt dress up for work! Grabbing his denim saddlebags, JD moved over the white line on the bus floor. Cursing again, the Driver snarled in surprise. Hey, this ain't your stop!
Oh, it is now. This is why I came west. JD smiled at the furious man. The Driver was glad to dump him off at Colfax Avenue, near the Motel 6. Unfortunately the other passengers werent so lucky and were stuck on the bus. A couple of them had expressions that seemed to wish theyd gotten off with JD. He, in turn, waived merrily at them and went to check into the Motel.
JD stared up at the white speckled ceiling. There was a loud bedspread on the bed and the curtains matched. He was feeling a little hungry, but didnt want to wander around Denver looking for a place in his price range. Right now McDonalds was barely in his price range. The Motel had been paid for for a week. He had a week to convince Larabee to see him, and to hire him. One week. He could do this. He could.
Finally he looked in his saddlebag to see what sort of food was left, JD debated between Beef stew and Chili. Opening the stew into a microwaveable dish, He went down to the vending area. The Microwave was out of order, but the nice manager warmed it up in her apartment.
He had to eat, but he couldnt eat cold food, well he could, hed done it when the Tofflers had forgotten to pay for utilities at the apartment, but that had been a while ago. He didnt think that he could choke down cold chili for breakfast. JD knew that hed probably have to. There was only so much money left, even with what Ray and Gabe had given him. He promised himself that hed pay them back as soon as he could.
There was a loaf of bread in his bags that he didnt remember, maybe hed have a sandwich in the morning, a plain tuna sandwich, no mayonnaise. That would at least be better than cold chili. Frowning, the Major watched the boy consider his options. This would never do. The boy might starve before Larabee ever met him.
JD finally drifted off to sleep, watched over by his guardian and feeling confident of his abilities. He could do this. He could. But as his charge dropped into a deep sleep, the Major could remember that the other Chris Larabee had needed some persuasion and began considering His options.
JD went to the Rout Federal Building every single day. The secretary, Deborah Rinaldi, was very kind, but Larabee was not in evidence. RMETF Seven had some more training activities going and the two new members, Jackson and Sanchez were getting all of their belongings moved to Denver. Theyd be staying with Agent Wilmington. He envied them. Hed have to check out of the motel today. Although hed been frugal, there wasnt much left as far as money went.
Packing up his saddlebags, JD noticed an envelope that he was sure hadnt been there before. The two letters of his name were written in a bold hand. It took him a minute to place the script. It was Gabes writing.
The envelope contained some cards and a note. The note read If what Ive heard is correct it may take a while for Larabee to be pinned down enough for you to talk to him. Hes not the most patient of men, apparently. Heres a little extra to tide you over. If its not enough, call us. The Last hope is the one when youve exhausted all others. You are nowhere near out of options. Hold on. And if you do need us, Call. Gabe.
The amount on the cards was enough to make sure that he had a roof over his head for a little while longer. JD almost fainted with relief and hunger. He went down and added another weeks stay to his bill.
A strangely familiar man in a grey jumpsuit was in the vending room and was working on the Microwave. JD felt better, he could have some hot food tonight. That would be wonderful. Hed taken to watching his change, only eating one thing out of the machines a day. He hadnt remembered to do so today and he was feeling faint.
Here, the Major said, frowning at the unsteady JD. He kept his personae of the repairman but shoved a piping hot meal on a plate at the boy. I needed to test the thing and Ive already eaten. You look like a growing boy. Eat that.
JD was startled, but did as he was ordered. He was so weary and hungry that he hadnt thought about the donor of his meal or the fact that there was no way such a meal could have been made in a Microwave.
Denver was an amazing place for the New Yorker, a city, but still very much unlike the city he knew. He found himself getting lost frequently, often in a bad part of town, but somehow he never fell a foul of trouble, something he thanked Heaven for daily. There was a large church, he wasnt really sure what denomination it was, near the Federal Building. It was made of huge brown stones, probably in the late nineteenth century. It felt very peaceful there. After five oclock, when it was sure that Larabee was gone for the day, JD would go to the church and sit. It was restful and he found himself holding conversations with his mother. He knew she was dead, but hed always believed that the dead were very close to the living, that Heaven was just a step away.
The Priest or Vicar, or whatever he was, would watch JD, but said nothing once he was sure that JD wasnt going to vandalize the church. He never came over or asked the boy what he wanted, he just watched him. JD didnt mind. He could remember the old Priest at his home parish doing that, just before Father Kelly was assigned. And then there were the Nuns at school. There wasnt anyone who could match Sister Mary Catherine for a stare. The Major nodded to the ghost who tended the church, amused that the boy was beginning to be able to see the unseen but not him. He followed JD everywhere and ensured the boys safety, sometimes by extreme measures.
Federal Agents Philip Monson and Charles Tusswell had shown up one day while JD was waiting. They took him out to lunch, but Charles restrained Phillip from busting in to Larabees office.
Theres some trouble with RMETF Seven, Charles said. One of the Agent has been accused of a crime. JD looked at him. Larabees friend, Wilmington. Its serious. Sexual Harassment. So the Higher-ups are taking it seriously. Larabees in no mood to see anyone until this gets cleared up.
Kid, you doing okay? Phillip asked. He was concerned because the JD he knew was boiling over with energy. This kid was listless and worn out. The older agent looked at his partner. Charles mouthed Food and Phillip frowned. The kid was not going to starve to death waiting on Larabee.
JD sat quietly on the bench in the hallway down the way from the offices assigned to RMETF Seven. He now had several shopping bags filled with food that Phillip and Charles wouldnt be talked out of. He blessed the ornery older agents for their kindness. He didnt know how much longer he could hold out.
A man with an ID that read SSAC Williams kept coming back and forth in front of JD, making him dizzy. Williams was shuffling a stack of papers. He dropped several, which JD retrieved for him.
Thanks, The SSAC said with a tired smile. Jonathan, He muttered to himself, and looking around he moved over to a Native American man, about JDs age, who was sitting with a redheaded girl and an older man who looked shaggy and unkempt. Williams conversed quietly with them, smiling with increasing happiness. After their conversation the SSAC wandered towards an office down at the other end of the hallway. He gave JD a smile as he passed with his papers.
JD noticed the others watching him, but seemingly looking at the corner behind him. He smiled in a friendly way. They smiled back, especially the redhead. She gave him a little wave, but her two companions seemed to stare at the corner intently. An older Hindu lady joined them a few minutes later and began to type away at a laptop computer. It was the latest model, JD watched it for a moment feeling envious. There was no way he could afford something like that. It was just barely on the market.
The Major gave the young people a challenging little bow. The untidy boy looked startled, but the Native American returned the salute gravely. His charge didnt notice. JD was watching the Native American man with interest as well as the expensive laptop, hed never seen an Indian before, but didnt want to be rude and the computer was interesting. Maybe he should go ask about it, but that would be incredibly rude and he had to wait to see if Larabee was going to see him today.
He was so involved in trying to be polite and hiding his interest so that he wouldnt be rude that he didnt notice the door open and a lovely older woman in a bright yellow suit enter the hallway. Dorrie Sandburg-Greenwalt raised an eyebrow at the man in the Grey overcoat. He grinned back over JDs head. She shook her head and smiled. Out of her purse she drew a pair of silver earrings in the shape of Easter lilies and put them on. Hopefully they wouldnt break anytime soon.
Hello She said, smiling at both JD and his guardian.
Hi, JD said brightly, his innocent nature very obvious. Dorrie hid her concern behind another smile.
Waiting a long time? she asked conversationally.
Yes, Maam, JD said. Im trying to get an appointment with Agent Larabee. Theres an opening on Team Seven, and Id like to fill it. Behind him, the Major hid his face in his hand both amused and embarrassed; Dorrie gave him a grin.
Well, Agent Larabee can be a bit stubborn about such things, but Im sure if you hold on long enough and be persistent, hell give you a hearing. Hes a fair man, but hard headed. Dorrie smiled conspiratorially. JD grinned back at her, hed read Larabees profile, at least as much of it as he could get at. This woman knew what she was talking about. JD soon found himself opening up to her. He told her everything, Dorrie was a good listener.
The other folks were definitely waiting for Dorrie, but they made no attempts to interrupt. Eventually Dorrie had to leave, but she gave him her card. JD felt better about his situation. The Major did too, but increased his vigilance, there was a lot going on here.
Mr. Dunne? Deborah Rinaldi, Chris Larabees personal assistant came out of the office.
Yes Maam, JD said, standing up and hoping that none of the shopping bags fell over. Deborah smiled at the polite young man.
Mr Larabee has an opening tomorrow at 1:30 in the afternoon. She handed him a white card with the appointment and the office numbers on it. Deborah started back to the office, but felt impelled to turn. Good Luck, Mr. Dunne.
Thanks! JD cried.
JD turned up at 11:00A.M. in the best suit that he owned. Hed attempted to press it with the iron but it still looked wrinkled to him. Hed eaten a good breakfast, knowing that it was important not to faint. He felt scared. Butterflies filled his stomach tap-dancing across the lining with steel taps.
Not daring to look much around he followed as Deborah Rinaldi led him through the office, past her desk and through the bull pen. Three of the desks were occupied, JD could tell, stuff piled high on them, being sorted. The other three desks were empty, two in the corner and one over by a desk occupied by a tall man with bright curious blue eyes and dark hair. JD completely missed the mans cheesy grin.
Deborah led him to the closed office door. All JD could see was the black lettering on the glass, SAC C. M. Larabee, RMETF Seven. His heart began to pound so much that he was sure that both the man and Deborah Rinaldi could hear it.
Chris Larabee was a thirty-something blond with short hair and a worn weary look. He motioned JD into the office with a gesture. JD obeyed immediately. His own research coupled with what his gut was telling him said that Larabee wasnt a man to be trifled with.
John Dunne? Larabee asked. Chris spent a moment observing the boy, and a boy was all that he was. Far too young for this. Hed read the file, impressive, but the man was just a boy, not old enough for this. Hed buried enough young men when he commanded SEALs. This boy needed some place safer to grow up.
You are applying to RMETF Seven in the capacity of a Tech/Op. Basically, a glorified Computer geek, with Investigative duties, Chris said trying to keep a distance between him and the eager young man in front of him. The boy was pale, his dark hair and hazel eyes adding to the impression of both youth and fragility. Neither of which recommended him to Larabee. Capt. Meredith, JDs CO in New York had told him a lot about the kid in front of him, especially that he had just recently lost his mother. Larabee knew very well that being in grief led to bad choices. He didn't want this boy to make a serious mistake and get in for more than he was ready for.
Okay, Ive read your file and spoken to your old CO, who by the way thinks that I should ship you off to the best computer company around to make millions and he also thinks that Id be crazy not to take you in a New York minute. Larabee raised a sardonic eyebrow at the last and JD flushed a little under his scrutiny.
Sir, this is where I belong, doing this job for you. Im the best out there for it I know it. I know that I look young but I do have experience, and Im willing to learn. I work well with other people, am capable and as my file should show, dependable. Please, Agent Larabee. Give me a chance to prove it to you.
Sorry, Mr Dunne. These are deep and dangerous assignments we take on. This unit works every other Agencies cold cases. That means that one day were working a DEA case, the next day it could be FBI or ATF. This no place for a beginner. Im sorry, Chris told him gently. Larabee gravely shook the profered hand. He was startled to see the boys face shift into a mask of total determination, determination that he hadnt seen since his days in the Navy.
Im sorry that you feel that way, Sir, JD said. I am much more than it shows on any piece of paper, and more than any other person knows. This is where I belong and I mean to prove it to you.
Larabee acknowledged the boys bravado with a carefully controlled face. He kept his smile hidden. Hed heard it all before, a dozen different ways, and no one had done it yet.
JD thanked him seriously, and walked into the bullpen, tripping into a box of Bucks magazines and careening into the water cooler. No one laughed aloud, but every member of the current team was grinning widely. Dunne quickly recovered himself and walked out, looking neither left or right.
Thank goodness that was over, Larabee told himself as he returned to his office to find them a Computer Tech who didnt look like a high schooler. As he sat down the silver Easter lily earrings on his desk caught his eye in an accusing manner. Chris didnt notice the grey clad man who stood in the corner of his office, arms folded, eyes narrowed in mixed anger and amusement.
Oh well, the Major mused. He hadnt expected this to go well this early on.
The answer was No. JD had been prepared for that. All it took was one look at his baby face and there it went. It had taken nine exhausting weeks to get accepted to the NYPD Academy. He hoped that it wouldnt take so long here but there it was. It would take as long as it took for him to convince Larabee that he was what they needed. This was his place, he knew it.
The second meeting was a little harder to arrange, days and weeks of calling and pestering Deborah Rinaldi had born fruit when she told him that Larabee was willing to speak with him again. JD pressed his suit, it still looked wrinkled, but hed done his best on it. It wasnt the appearance that was as important as the contents. He had to find a way to convince Agent Larabee of that.
The Major watched in fascination as the boy prepared to enter the lions den. Larabee was becoming slightly irritable at the pestering, but JD had been unwavering. Surely that would help him with the moody blond in the office. Somehow. Whispering a quick invocation for Michaels intercession, the Major followed his charge back to the office of RMETF Seven.
JD for his own part was a little worried. The money that Gabe had left him was running out. He couldnt stay much longer at the Motel 6. Hed been stretching his food to the limit, rationing every mouthful to make it last as long as he could. Hed lost some weight, he could tell. His suit didnt fit him as well as it once did. Tightening his belt, he tried to smooth the suit into a semblance of proper appearance. He had to convince Larabee. He had to!
Larabee had been irritated all morning. His three men were keeping a distance, even Buck his old friend. It had put a topper on the morning when he read that he was scheduled to talk to the boy again. Chris had been amazed at his tenacity. Most people gave up much more easily than this. He couldnt use the boy, he was too young for this, but maybe he could find him some place. Didnt Damien Kelso have a brother somewhere? Hadnt he mentioned that he needed some help?
Dunne had been prompt, even early for this meeting. It didnt go much better than the first. Chris had rejected dozens of candidates for the job. Most had more experience but had little more computer skills than a solid Tech would have. Chris wanted a Computer Wizard, but the only ones that seemed to have the skills were just too troublesome in command. Serious personality problems every one of them, or security breachers. He could perhaps have handled some of the personality problems, hed led SEALs with more troubling behavior, after all hed been assigned every problem child out there. It hadnt been so bad, hed gotten Buck out of that deal, but these problems werent easy to solve or to deal with.
Bad behavior was often a sign of either limited social skills or serious trouble with the command structure. But these files that had been sent to him had been a huge collection of the most irresponsible, backbiting, mentally unstable and socially incompetent agents out there. Every one that hed checked out had proven to be a head case. If he didnt know better hed think that someone was sabotaging him. Larabee hadnt seen any other signs of it, but it was certainly possible. Hed stepped on a lot of toes with his forthright and direct manners. Even when Sarah had been alive, hed still been as rough as old hickory bark in his dealings. There was no reason to waste time on foolishness.
But he kept coming back to the boy. Dunne was qualified, but he was too young. Chris had already had a fierce argument with Alex Welch over not taking Dunne. Alex was usually in his corner, but he was pushing for the boy with surprising venom. It was almost to the point of having Alex talk to Wiley about it. Welch would never go behind his back, but Larabee knew that he was determined to push JD into his lap.
Not going to happen. He wasnt going to bury another kid. Memories of a shattered body lying in his arms trying to breathe and failing No he wasnt going to let himself be talked into it.
But the rest of the candidates stank. If JD Dunne had been older, Chris would have snapped him up in a second. Sighing, he put the entire stack aside and wrote on a notepad for Deborah to get him another stack of the damn things. The only candidate that fit was just too damn young. His head reminded him that twenty-two wasnt that young, but the man looked sixteen. Larabee was sure that he couldnt handle burying that boy.
The Major grinned as he watched Larabee move the stack. Maybe he should dig a little deeper in the files marked disciplinary hearings and see whom else he could find.