Hannah’s Journey

by Angie

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Okay, I had a real problem writing about a place I’d never been so I decided to bring the guys to my part of town. I got to do some sightseeing in my own city. If you’ve never been to St. Louis, you’ll get a sense of the places to see and things to do when you visit.

Size: Approx. 240K

The insistent ringing of the phone jarred Josiah Sanchez from a sound sleep. The team had been at the bar long into the night celebrating a favorable verdict on the Fitzsimmons case. A large hand swept the nightstand, knocking the alarm clock to the floor before finding the annoying instrument.

“Sanchez.” He mumbled over the thick fuzzy tongue that seemed to be stuck to the roof of his mouth.

“Josiah, it’s Sister Maria. I’m afraid that your sister Hannah is missing!”

The ATF profiler threw off his blankets and slammed his feet on the floor as his heart leapt into his throat. He drew a trembling hand thru his hair as he struggled to find his voice over the pounding of his heart.

“What do you mean, missing? How long has she been gone?” He tried to keep from shouting at the gentle woman on the other end of the line. Sister Maria had been tending to his sister for over a year and loved her as much as Josiah did.

“When we went to wake her for breakfast at 5:30 she was gone. No one heard or saw anything. Oh, Josiah, I’m so sorry! I’m just beside myself with worry. Where could she have gone? She had been doing so well recently, really making progress.” What sounded like soft sobs carried thru the phone.

“I’m on my way, Sister. Please don’t let anyone touch anything in her room until I arrive!” He hung up the phone and took a minute to try to quell his racing heartbeat. Hannah wouldn’t have just left the convent, he was sure of that. Taking up the receiver again, he dialed Larabee’s number.

“Chris? Sorry if I woke you. I won’t be in to work today, Hannah’s missing.”

Larabee shot bolt upright in his bed. “Missing? Since when?”

“Sister Maria said when they went to wake her at 5:30 that she was gone. I’m on my way over there now to see if I can scare up any clues as to where she might have gone.”

“I’ll call the others and meet you there in an hour. Have you called for an evidence technician to meet you on the scene?”

“No, I thought I’d try to spare the sisters all that upset. Maybe she’s just gone for a walk or something. She does that sometimes. You all really don’t have to go over there, I’ll call if I need you.”

“You sure? It’s no trouble. You know we love Hannah too.” Chris heard the slight hitch in Josiah’s breathing. “We’ll just meet you there.”

“Thanks, Chris. I better get going.”

As soon as the line cleared, Larabee called the rest of the team. He gave each of them a brief rundown on what Josiah had said and told them to get over to the mission and begin driving around the neighborhood looking for Hannah.

Josiah parked the suburban in front of the fire hydrant and got out, searching the street for any sign of his wayward sister. It was early and the homeless people were still lounging on the bus benches and in the doorways of the local businesses, waiting for the shelter to begin serving breakfast. Clutching the cross around his neck, he opened the wrought iron gate and approached the door to the convent.

Sister Maria threw open the door and launched herself into Josiah’s arms. “I’m so sorry, Josiah. I don’t know where she could have gone! I have the others out looking for her.”

Sanchez involuntarily embraced the shaking nun. He could hear in her voice how distraught she was. Swallowing the knot that formed in his throat, he tried to comfort her.

“We’ll find her, sister. My friends are on their way. Can you show them to Hannah’s room when they get here? I’m going to go and see if I can find any clues.”

After receiving a teary-eyed smile from the woman, Josiah entered the building and ascended the stairs to the little room on the third floor that had been Hannah’s home for the past couple of years. As he climbed, he thought about how far his sister had come since finding this place of healing and solace.

Hannah had been nearly comatose for all the response she had shown when she first arrived at the convent. The hospital where she had been staying kept her zoned out on antidepressants and anti-psychotics until she wouldn’t have responded to God calling her. Nathan recommended a doctor who was well versed in a variety of mental illnesses. The doctor, Rishner, had taken Hannah off of all the medicines and recommended a good psychiatrist to work with her. Inside of three months, she had begun to interact with the people around her and more importantly, with her brother.

Josiah still got goose bumps when he remembered the first time she had looked up at him and called him by name. It was one of the happiest days he could recall. Hannah became attached to Sister Maria from the very first day that the young Dominican woman had been assigned to the convent. No one was more amazed than Maria to find that Hannah could parrot any phrase that the sister said to her.

Arriving at the third floor, he turned toward Hannah’s room. The door was closed and he found that his hand was shaking when he reached for the knob. He turned on the light and looked around. The small room looked undisturbed. The bed was neatly made and nothing was out of place that he could see. On the nightstand by the bed stood a copy of the picture of all of Team 7 that had been taken on one of their fishing trips. He had given it to her so she would recognize them when they came with him for visits.

Hannah was crazy about Vin and JD. For some reason, the quiet Tanner reached her in a way that was truly endearing. She would bring him her charcoal drawings and they would sit for hours just looking them over. Josiah’s hand brushed over the spiral bound pad that Vin had given her for her special drawings.

JD touched something very different in Hannah. With the youngest member of the team, she was almost normal. Questioning the young man about his activities and clucking over him in a motherly manner. The kid never seemed uneasy with her as most young people would, he responded to her questions honestly and with a real tenderness.

Josiah’s chest felt tight as he sank onto the foot of the bed and stared, unseeing, at the window. Hannah was all the family he had left! No, that wasn’t quite right, he had a family. He knew there were six men who were as close to him as if they had grown up together. He brushed a tear from his eye as the door opened.

“Josiah? Any word?” Nathan looked around the room as he spoke, taking in the lack of signs of a struggle.

“No, not a thing. I was just sitting here trying to figure out where she might have gone.”

Nathan stepped into the room as Chris stepped into the door behind him. The two of them took in the look of despair on the face of their friend. Jackson shook his head at the silent question in Larabee’s eyes.

“Vin, Buck and JD are driving around the neighborhood. Ezra will be here in a few minutes. Josiah, have you found anything out of place?” The blue eyes that looked up were filled with tears. Chris quickly stepped past Nathan to put his hand on Josiah’s shoulder. “We’ll find her.”

Chris coaxed Josiah out of the room so Nathan could look around. He took the distraught man to the main floor where the sisters were gathering so that he could question them. The stories were all the same, the last time anyone saw Hannah was after evening vespers in the dining room. No one could remember if she made it to the third floor room or not.

Ezra arrived and started a search of the garden where Hannah liked to draw and paint when the weather allowed. A short time later, the southerner ran into the convent carrying a plastic evidence bag.

“Gentlemen, I believe I may have found a clue as to the place where we should begin our search. I found this handkerchief on a bench in the garden along with several of Hannah’s oil crayons and a stick of her charcoal. There is no sign of a struggle, however, the lock on the back gate has been removed.”

Chris stopped at the stairs just long enough to call to Nathan before running after Josiah and Ezra into the garden. The men scoured the ground around the bench for any other clues before moving on to examine the gate, which led to the alley behind the convent. The sisters confirmed that the gate was kept locked to keep out the neighborhood gangs who would paint graffiti on the walls of the garden if they got inside. The lock lay where it had fallen and Ezra picked it up with his pen and dropped it into another evidence bag. They were sure that there wouldn’t be any prints on it, but they had to hope.

Nathan and Chris took Josiah to join the others who were still driving around the neighborhood looking for Hannah while Ezra took the bags to the lab to see if they could come up with any useful information.

Stopping only long enough to pick up coffee and sandwiches, the men continued to search for Hannah until dark. The police had taken the missing person’s report because of Hannah’s mental problem and had every available car out looking for the woman.

Ezra had dropped the bags off at the lab and informed the judge of the situation before joining in the search. He greased the palms of a few of his informants to get them to do some digging in the ugly underbelly of the city.

Chris called for the team to meet at the office at 10:00 that night. Spreading out maps of the area around the convent, each person marked the areas that they had searched. Not surprisingly, there was very little of the area that had not been searched by at least three of the team members.

“Ok, we’re going to call it a night. Everyone get some sleep and we start again at daylight. Call me and let me know when you hit the streets. Josiah, you’re going with Nathan. No argument, you need some rest! Okay, get going and I’ll see all of you in the morning.”

Chris caught Nathan’s eye and tossed his head toward Josiah. The ex-medic nodded, he could get Josiah to sleep, he had the means. Larabee escorted Sanchez to Nathan’s truck and put him inside.

“Now, I want you to get some sleep. The police are still looking for her and the judge has Team 5 beating the ground around the convent. Don’t you go giving Nathan a hard time, okay?”

Josiah’s eyes were swollen and red-rimmed from the tears that he couldn’t hold back. He nodded, knowing that he would get the ‘Larabee glare’ if he protested. Nathan nodded to Chris as he started the truck and put it in gear.

On the quiet drive to Nathan’s apartment, Josiah let his head fall against the seat and cried silently. Only the soft classical music from the radio covered the sounds of his sobs.

Josiah stared at the pill that Nathan handed him. “I really don’t think this is necessary, Nate, I’ll stay put, I promise.”

“Chris said for you not to argue. It will just help you to relax, now take it and let’s get some sleep.”

After the pill was taken and the spare bed turned down, the two men retired to sleep. Nathan was wakened a few hours later by the sounds of the big man thrashing in the bed. He padded to the doorway to see if he was awake. Although Josiah was sleeping, his face still bore the same deep, worried frown he’d had all day. Jackson tucked the blankets around the sleeping man and returned to his bed.

Josiah was up at daylight, having startled himself out of his sound sleep after a nightmare. He slipped quietly to the living room and looked out the window at the streetlights. His only sister was out there somewhere and he didn’t know if she was hurt or scared. The tightness in his chest started again and he pulled at his left arm to loosen the tension.

Nathan awoke when he heard the creak of the floorboards in the kitchen. Rolling out of bed, he went to see if Josiah was all right. He found that Sanchez had started a pot of coffee and was sitting at the table staring at the pattern on the placemat beneath his hands.

“You sleep at all?”

“Yeah, some. Thanks. Did I wake you?”

“Nah, I couldn’t sleep either. As soon as the coffee’s done, let’s swing by your place and pick up a few things and then we’ll get back to the search. Okay?”

The gray head bobbed in agreement before returning to the study of the placemat. Nathan rested his hand on Josiah’s shoulder for a moment before heading for a shower. Scarcely an hour later, they were cruising the area around the convent as they sipped their coffee and ate the croissant sandwiches they had picked up at the gas station.

Josiah’s cell phone rang around 9:30. They had already hit all the places where he had taken Hannah on their occasional outings and had come up empty.

“Josiah, can you and Nathan stop by the office? We got the results from the lab and we need to talk about what they found.”

Fifteen minutes later, the last two members of Team 7 filed into the conference room and took their seats. Chris had enlarged the maps of the area around the convent and had also enlarged the search area. He tossed each of them a set of stapled papers before he began the meeting.

“Okay, the lab came up with one significant bit of information. The handkerchief found in the garden was covered with a white powder. Now, at first, they thought it was ordinary chalk dust. But further analysis showed it to be drywall plaster dust. The kind found at construction sites. On page two of your packets, you will see all the construction currently happening in a five-mile radius of the convent. We’re going to split up and hit each of those sites. Any questions?”

The tired men looked at each other before JD spoke. “Josiah?” When the blue eyes came around to face him, the young agent continued. “You all right?”

Josiah shuddered before lowering his head onto his hands and dissolving into gut wrenching sobs. Buck tossed a hard glare at JD, but made no move to comfort the older man. Vin, who was sitting next to Josiah, reached out and laid his arm across Josiah’s shoulder. Leaning in closer, he whispered into the sobbing man’s ear for several minutes.

JD pinched the bridge of his own nose to try to stop the tears that threatened to break free. He couldn’t begin to imagine the pain that his friend was feeling. Closing his eyes, Dunne drew deep breaths to calm himself. Hearing the creak of the chairs, he looked up to see Josiah approaching him. Suddenly, he found himself being pulled from the chair and crushed into the older man’s chest, he let go of the tears he had been trying so hard to keep.

“We will find her, John Dunne. I have faith in that. I know you care about her too.”

“I’m sorry, Josiah. I just don’t know what else to do!”

After allowing a couple of minutes for everyone to pull themselves together, Chris cleared his throat and picked up his packet of papers.

“Let’s get moving gentlemen. Josiah, you’re with me today.”

Starting at the first construction site on the list, Chris and Josiah climbed out of the truck and prepared to do battle. The project foreman objected to them being on the site and threatened to call the police to have them removed. After a few seconds of the Larabee glare and a show of badges, the man was suddenly more inclined to allow a search of the building. Issuing them hardhats, he took them around the entire site.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra shuddered at the giant, metal skeleton that stood before him. The riding boss chuckled as the well dressed agent blanched at the open-air elevator. Taking the proffered hardhat, Standish stepped onto the platform. The building was 30 stories high and they started at the top. Never was a man so happy to get his feet back on terra firma as Ezra P. Standish!

+ + + + + + +

Nathan actually carried on a conversation with the man who led him thru the site of the new multi-plex theater. The site was huge! He stared in amazement at the men on the scissor lifts as they put in ceiling tiles some 30 feet from the ground.

+ + + + + + +

Vin stood at the highest point on the skeletal structure and stared at the mountains in the distance. The ironworkers shook their heads in amazement at the young man who climbed like a Billy goat on the lattice near the safety ropes. They seldom saw anyone who looked so calm at that height.

+ + + + + + +

JD had no compunctions about telling the project foreman that he was afraid of heights. He only wanted to see the areas where they might find drywall dust. He gratefully donned the hardhat and followed the man to the few places in the building where they were hanging drywall. He watched in amazement as the men quickly and seemingly carelessly slapped the sheets of drywall onto the metal studs.

+ + + + + + +

Buck tipped his hardhat at the shapely woman who was applying the mud to the drywall seams. He had been amazed that there were women working on the construction site. The woman was talkative as she worked, explaining the process of smoothing the seams between the sheets of drywall. By the time she broke for lunch, he was sure that they were looking for someone in that particular branch of construction as opposed to the entire construction industry. It might also provide a basis for a search for possible suspects in Hannah’s disappearance.

+ + + + + + +

The team met back at the office at 6:00 that evening, all the construction sites were closing down and they still had no idea if they were even on the right track. Josiah had settled into a dark mood and withdrew from all but the most direct questions.

“I spoke to a woman on one of the construction sites and I’m pretty sure that we’re looking for someone who does that kind of work. She said that the only people who would have that much drywall mud dust on their clothes would be a person who sands the mud between coats, a finisher, she called it.”

“Josiah, is it possible that this has something to do with one of your cases? I mean, if you’re pretty sure that Hannah wouldn’t just wander off, then maybe someone took her.” Chris studied the older man to see if there was any reaction to his words. “Josiah? Are you listening?”

JD shifted uneasily in his chair. “I could begin compiling a list of the cases he’s worked in the last year or two and see if any had to do with the construction industry. It wouldn’t take much time, and then we could go over them in the morning, Josiah.”

The only response they got was a tired shrug of his shoulders and a deep, shuddering sigh.

“Okay, let’s head over to Inez’s place and eat before we head for home.” Chris stood as he spoke and prepared to do battle with Sanchez. “Consider it an order if that makes it any easier, Josiah. You gotta eat or you’ll fall out on us and I can’t have that when we’re hundreds of feet in the air.”

Vin smiled broadly. “But it’s exciting!”

“Exciting was not the word that came to my mind as I stood on that open elevator.” Ezra said with a slightly nauseous expression. JD’s chuckle drew a cross look from the undercover man.

It was a subdued evening at the bar as the men sat trying to find anything to take Josiah’s mind off of Hannah for a few minutes. The team profiler picked at his food until Chris leaned over and growled in his ear for him to eat it. The double shots of whiskey that he was throwing back like water caused more that a few raised eyebrows. Nathan shook his head, if he passed out, at least he would rest.

Nathan and Chris manhandled Josiah into Jackson’s apartment a couple of hours later. The big man was nearly out on his feet when they’d pulled him from the booth and poured him into Nathan’s truck. There was little more that a soft groan when Chris pulled off Josiah’s boots before he tucked the blankets around the older man.

“Will you two be all right?” Chris asked as he pulled the door to the guest room closed.

“Yeah, he’ll probably sleep thru till morning. But I’d appreciate if you’d take him with you tomorrow. He’s likely to be feeling about as good as a hungry lion with a toothache.”

Larabee chuckled at the picture in his mind. “No problem.

They started at the office at 8:00 in the morning. JD had spent a couple of hours the night before, pulling up and collating all the cases that Josiah had been the primary agent on or had been prominently involved in the court or bust.

Josiah looked like he felt as badly as Nathan had predicted. The entire team walked on eggshells around the conference room as they waited for him to finish reviewing the cases. They had all looked thru the files individually and found nothing but they hoped that something might click in Josiah’s mind.

Around 11:00 Chris got a call that was forwarded from Josiah’s desk. “Larabee.”

“Mr. Larabee, this is Sister Maria. Is Josiah with you?”

“Yes, he’s here. What’s happened?”

“We just had a box dropped off here for him.”

“Don’t handle it any more than you have to and we’re on our way!” Chris slammed the receiver back onto the phone and sprang from his chair. “Josiah! Let’s roll!”

The entire team piled into Chris’s truck and Vin’s jeep as they rushed to the convent. Chris explained the phone call on the way and couldn’t miss the despairing expression on Josiah’s face. He expected the worst. Larabee just hoped that whatever was in that box wasn’t something awful.

Chris threw the truck into park and had to run to catch up with Josiah as he jumped from the vehicle and dashed into the convent. The others were only a second behind their leader as they reached Sister Maria who was looking at the box on the table as if it held the plagues of Egypt.

“Josiah, wait! Don’t touch it without gloves in case we can get a print off of it!” Chris caught the arm of the older man just before he snatched the box from the tabletop.

Shaking as he pulled on the latex gloves, Josiah gently lifted the box to look for the tape that held it shut. He knew, as they all did, that they were most likely to lift a print from either end of the tape than the paper wrapping the box. Carefully pulling the tape free intact, Sanchez eased the box from the paper and set it on the table again. It was an ordinary looking shoebox. Ezra offered his pen to lift the lid from the box.

Chris saw that Josiah was hesitant to open the box for fear of what might be inside. He reached out and took the pen and pulled Sanchez back from the table. Moving to block the view of the box, Larabee carefully lifted the lid and slid it off of the box.

“Hannah’s shoes.” Sister Maria said softly. In the tense atmosphere of the room, even her stage whisper sounded like a shout.

Josiah grabbed Chris and moved him out of the way to stare into the box. With trembling hands, Sanchez placed his hand inside the shoes and lifted them from the box. A scrap of what looked like newsprint paper fell from one of the shoes and settled on the table. Turning the shoes so he could see them from every angle, Josiah breathed a small sigh of relief. There was no blood on the shoes.

“Okay, let’s get this to the lab right away. Josiah, are you all right?” Chris grabbed the arm of the gray haired agent as he swayed slightly. Guiding his hands back to the box, Larabee made him let go of the shoes and nudged him toward Buck. JD had slipped on gloves and was carefully folding the paper that had come off of the box. Chris picked up the box itself and the team raced back out to their vehicles.

Team 7 remained camped out at the lab awaiting any news from the technicians examining the paper and the box. When the senior forensics technician sadly shook his head, Josiah collapsed into a nearby chair like a marionette with its strings cut. The other men in the lab were equally disheartened to find nothing on the shoes, box or paper.

“Maybe this will help you.” He held out a bag with the newsprint scrap inside. The lettering on the paper read ‘World’s Fair’ and there were parts of letters around the torn edges. Chris took the bag and held it up to the light.

“Is there any way to tell where this came from?” Chris asked hopefully.

The technician shook his head. “I’m sorry. The paper is standard newsprint. You might have some luck with the words printed on it, but we weren’t able to tell anything about it.”

The dejected group reassembled in the conference room. JD plugged in his laptop and ran a search on World’s Fair and got hundreds of hits. He began to methodically open and review each one, printing anything that looked likely to mean anything to Josiah.

Chris and Vin went out to get lunch for everyone while Ezra made coffee for them. Buck paced in the hallway as he kept drawing dirty looks from Josiah for pacing inside the conference room. Nathan sat quietly beside Josiah as he went back to looking thru his cases for a clue.

When lunch arrived, it was eaten mostly in silence. JD continued to open and print files between bites and Vin left the room twice to get more soda but the others sat mostly in a morose stillness. Chris finally caught Vin’s eye and looked toward Josiah.

Buck saw the silent exchange and smiled. It somehow never ceased to amaze him that those two could communicate so much with just a look. Vin looked at Buck for a moment and nodded slowly.

“Hey, Josiah, I remember the first time I met Hannah. Remember? We thought you were sneaking around with some fine figure of a woman and didn’t want us to know about it, so I followed you. You took her to the ice cream shop, you know the one that makes that triple chocolate thing I love so much? I’ll bet you never guessed she and I would hit it off over ice cream, huh?”

A momentary flash of happiness lit the blue eyes as Josiah remembered. Vin never could resist anything chocolate. When the waitress brought Hannah’s order, the ex-bounty hunter had come in like a cat to a can of tuna. He had tried to stay out of sight but, in his curiosity to see the mystery lady, he had fallen out of his chair, spilling his new favorite confection on his jacket.

Hannah had been worried about the man who spilled his ice cream and immediately offered to share hers with him. Seeing that it would upset her more to turn her down, Vin had allowed her to feed him a portion of her ice cream. Now, any time Vin visited the convent he brought chocolate for them to share.

Chris turned to Ezra and nodded. The undercover agent caught on quickly and set his cup aside.

“Remember when I first encountered your lovely sister, Mr. Sanchez? She must have recognized me from the picture that you gave her because she followed me all over the mall before I realized I had a tail. She had slipped away from Sister Maria and followed me all the way to the dressing room before I noticed her.”

Soft chuckles were muffled behind hands as Ezra blushed at the memory. Hannah had followed him into the dressing room and threw her arms around him. Unfortunately, the southerner was not fully dressed at the moment and when he tried to pry Miss Sanchez from his neck, the door to the dressing room came open. He tumbled out onto the floor just as Sister Maria was guided to the last place anyone remembered seeing Hannah. The shocked look on the nuns face had stayed with Ezra for days.

Josiah remembered the embarrassed look on the young nuns face as she tried to explain how Hannah had accosted a man in a dressing room at the mall. He found himself chuckling in spite of his anguish as he also remembered the look on Ezra’s face when confronted with what had happened. Hannah had been only too pleased to point out the man she had hugged.

“Ezra P. Standish! Exactly what are your intentions toward my sister?”

Ezra had gone thru several shades of red and was rendered incapable of speech for several minutes as he struggled to explain himself. Josiah had managed to keep a strait face for the entire time, although he nearly busted a rib laughing when he finally let Standish off the hook.

Vin nodded as he saw some of the tension leaving Josiah’s shoulders. He nudged JD under the table and tossed his head toward the other end of the table. The kid also caught on quickly as he choked down the last bite of his lunch.

“Hey, Josiah. How long did it take you to convince Hannah that I wasn’t your son? She had me calling her Aunt Hannah for a couple of months, remember?”

It was during one of her less lucid moments that his sister had gotten it into her mind that Josiah had fathered a child. JD’s proximity to her brother in the picture had convinced her that the boy was her long, lost nephew. She had nearly driven him to distraction calling and asking questions about the kid. The best part of it all was the day that she had cornered JD in her room and insisted on reading to him. To his credit, JD took it all in stride, but the look on his face, as she read one Dr. Seuss book after another, was priceless.

“Not long after she spent the afternoon reading to you. Sister Maria finally made her understand.”

Buck leaned forward expectantly. “Reading to JD? Did I miss something?”

The blush that crept up JD’s face only served to peak Buck’s interest.

“Come on, now! Don’t leave me in the dark here. What did she read to him?”

Josiah looked down the table at the dark haired young man as he raised his eyebrows.

“You may as well tell him, Josiah. I’ll never hear the end of it either way.”

“The only thing Hannah can read besides the Bible are her Dr. Seuss books. She read him Green Eggs and Ham a half a dozen times that day.”

The laughter that filled the room eased away the last of the tension they had been feeling. Each man fell silent again, remembering the special woman they were trying to find.

JD looked up from his screen. “Josiah, the only thing that I found that makes any sense is the 2004 World’s Fair Expo in St. Louis. They’ve been running ads in the paper about it for the past few days and the typeset is right.”

“Does that mean anything to you, Josiah?” Chris asked.

“No, I haven’t had any cases in St. Louis. Are you sure it’s St. Louis? Do any of the people I sent away have family there?”

JD’s fingers danced over the keyboard and he waited as the information was referenced and cross-referenced. His eyes scanned the results as he scrolled up and down the screen.

“Not in St. Louis, but in Kansas City, and Cape Girardeau there are relatives of one of the Fletcher gang. Remember, you testified at their trial. But they’re older female relatives, great aunt and second cousin or something.”

Josiah shook his head. “I don’t think it’s the Fletcher gang then.”

Chris handed them a print out from the union hall of all the drywall finishers who were working in the area when Hannah disappeared. There were over a hundred names on the list.

“This is just the union list. The lady I spoke to said there are at least as many non-union finishers working in and around Denver, not counting all the people on lay off right now. We’re going to cross reference them with the lists we got from the job sites around the convent. We’re also checking to see if any of them have any criminal background.”

They spent the rest of the day going over the names while Josiah continued to review his old case files. Finally, around 6:00 in the evening, he suggested that maybe it was an older case. JD offered to pull up the information and print it out for him in the morning.

As much as Judge Travis wanted to let Team 7 continue to search for Hannah Sanchez, he needed them on a case and he broke it to them the next morning.

“Agent Sanchez, I can grant you family leave to continue the search and you are welcome to use the resources of this office but I must have the rest of you back to work on Monday. We got word that several shipments of cigarettes, which were stolen in Georgia, might be headed this way. They’ve been turning up all over the Midwest. The word on this is that the money from the sale of these cigarettes is going right back into illegal weapons. If we can stop them from selling the shipment maybe we can save a few lives.”

Chris looked around the room expectantly. He was surprised that there was no argument or discussion of the assignment. He waited for the other shoe to fall.

JD turned slowly in his chair. “Judge, I’ve been working with Josiah on his case histories, trying to find a connection to the person who has Hannah. I know he can do the work himself but I can do it faster. May I be excused from this case? I’ll take vacation days or personal time, I just really want to keep with him on this.”

He knew at least one of them would ask. Orin also knew that if he forbad it, that he would have a first-class mutiny on his hands so he nodded.

“As long as your services are not needed by your team leader on this mission. Is that clear, young man?”

JD nodded. “Crystal, sir.”

“Okay, you still have the weekend to search for Miss Sanchez. On Monday, I expect five of you in here at 8:00 in the morning for briefing and planning sessions. Dismissed.”

They spent the weekend running down leads. Unfortunately, none of them panned out. Josiah reviewed every case he’d had since starting with the ATF. The others had spoken to most of the drywall finishers in the area and could not find one person who even hinted at guilt.

As the leads fizzled out, and the time that Hannah was missing increased, Josiah began to despair of ever finding her. Knowing that Nathan needed to rest on Sunday night, Josiah went back to his house for the night. JD called and offered to pick him up in the morning so they could get back to work on the search.

Josiah walked to the liquor store down the street from his house and bought himself a bottle. After finishing most of the fifth of Jack Daniels, he found himself standing in the room he was refinishing on the second floor. He ran his hand over the drywall that he had hung over two weeks ago. Picking up the sanding block, he began to smooth out the grooves in the mud he had used on the joint between the sheets of drywall.

As the dust from the mud settled on his hands and clothes, the image of the handkerchief with Hannah’s charcoal and oil crayons came rushing back. He took his fist and beat on the wall. As the rage poured out of him, he picked up the hammer and began to knock holes in the walls. By the time he was too weary to raise the hammer again, he had demolished most of a month of work. Sinking to the floor, he passed out with the hammer still clenched in his fist.

JD was a little worried when Josiah didn’t answer the phone at the house that morning. He knocked on the door for several minutes before trying to find a way into the house. Circling around to the back of the house, he found an unlocked window and slid it open quietly. He lifted his weight carefully onto the windowsill and pulled himself into the room.

“Josiah? Are you here? Josiah?” He walked thru the first floor rooms, calling as he went. By the time he reached the stairs, the young agent drew his gun. He had a really creepy feeling about the situation. He climbed the stairs stealthily so as not to make a sound.

On the second floor, he crept out and looked around. Backing down the hall toward Josiah’s bedroom, JD passed the room that he knew the agent was in the process of refurbishing. The room was in shambles! Broken pieces of drywall and smashed woodwork were scattered everywhere. He knew Josiah never left a mess like this when he worked. Suddenly, he spotted a hand among the carnage.

“Josiah! Ohmygosh! What happened? Are you all right?” He landed on his knees next to the older man and began to lift the broken pieces of drywall and set them aside. Josiah’s face and clothes were covered in drywall dust and other trash.

Finally, Josiah began to open his eyes. A look of pain crossed his face before he reached up to shield his eyes from the sun. Just the motion of moving his hand was painful! His mouth felt like it had fur growing inside. His hands hurt and he was having trouble breathing. Who was that dark headed blur? And what was he saying?

“Josiah? Can you hear me? It’s JD!” Dunne shook Josiah carefully as he debated calling Nathan or 911. “Are you all right? Josiah, what happened?”

“JD? Oh, give me a minute. Head hurts. Too much to drink. It was stupid.”

JD got to his feet and watched as Josiah rolled over to his hands and knees and slowly levered himself upright. He swayed unsteadily for a moment before he looked around the room. He blanched slightly at the mess before shuffling out to the hallway.

“Give me a few minutes to shower. Help yourself to whatever you can find in the kitchen, make us some breakfast if you want. I’ll be right down.”

JD tucked his gun back into the holster and descended the stairs. He poked away in the kitchen until he found eggs and vegetables. He popped bread into the toaster and whipped up a couple of omelets for the two of them. Setting Josiah’s food aside, he rummaged in the refrigerator again and poured himself a glass of milk. He looked up as the older man came down the stairs with a towel across his shoulders.

Josiah took up the plate on the stove and poured himself a cup of the coffee that was just finishing up in the pot on the counter. Grabbing silver wear from the drawer, he sat down and began to put butter and jelly on the now cold toast. Looking across the table, he noticed that JD did not look up from his plate at all.

“Are you upset with me, JD?”

“No.” The word was delivered in a small voice.

“Then what is it?”

“I was worried about you. When you didn’t answer the phone this morning, I was afraid that something had happened to you. I had to climb thru a window to get in here! Then I find you up there under all that junk with the room all smashed to pieces, it scared me, Josiah!” JD’s voice had risen to almost a shout.

“I’m sorry, JD. I had too much to drink and I let my emotions carry me away. I got angry and I had to hit something so I grabbed the hammer and started smashing things. I know you’re probably disappointed with me right now, but I’m human, kid, I had a moment of weakness. My sister is out there with someone I don’t know. He can do whatever he wants with her. I haven’t felt this helpless since I found her all those years ago after my father had driven her mad. I don’t like feeling helpless, JD.”

The young agent dropped his fork and rushed around the table. “I’m sorry, Josiah. I’m not disappointed with you! I was just worried about you. And I miss her too. I want to find Hannah as much as you do. She’s family!”

Josiah shuddered once and wrapped his arms around JD’s waist as he buried his face in the young man’s stomach. JD’s shirt was wet with warm, bitter tears. He let his hands rest on Josiah’s shoulders as the man let out some of the hurt and fear he was holding back.

When Josiah finally regained control, they finished their breakfast. While his friend finished getting ready for work, JD swept up some of the worst of the mess in the room and piled it in the trashcan. By the time they were ready to leave the house, Dunne had removed the mess from the room.

As they were getting ready to go in to the office, Josiah’s cell phone rang.

“Sanchez. When? We’re on our way.”

JD looked across the top of the mustang. “What?”

“They got a cassette tape from Hannah!”

The oldest and youngest members of Team 7 raced out of the elevator and into Chris’s office. Larabee hung up the phone and pushed the tape across the desk.

“Go ahead. It’s a copy. I sent the original to the lab to be dusted and analyzed. It came in here about an hour ago by courier. Vin went over to the service to see if he can get anymore information.” He pushed the tape player across the desk.

Josiah inserted the tape into the machine and pressed the play button. After a moment, Hannah’s voice, innocent and childlike, issued forth.

“Jo? It’s Hannah. When are you coming to see me? We had ice cream last night. Not the good kind like Vin shared with me. I miss you, Josiah.”

The words stopped and Chris reached out and stopped the tape. He looked across the desk into the pain-filled blue eyes. The older man was just barely holding on to his emotions. JD reached out and squeezed Josiah’s shoulders gently.

“We’ll find her, Josiah! We will.” The young man declared defiantly.

Josiah reached up and grasped JD’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “Okay. So how did your briefing go this morning? What’s the plan for the team?”

Chris knew that he needed the distraction of wrapping his mind around something else so he opened the folder from Judge Travis and slid it across the desk.

“It’s pretty straight forward. The other shipments ended up at the little mom-and-pop type of stores and foreigner-owned businesses. Seems like these people are smooth talkers who can convince them to buy all or part of a shipment. We’ve got feelers out to several likely places, mostly in Purgatorio and the lower class areas around the city. Also, they don’t get too far off the highway with the shipment, so it narrows the possibilities. I’ve got Ezra sitting on the place the Judge thinks as most likely and Vin will sit on my top pick. Buck, Nathan and I will take two or three of the less likely places and hope for the best.”

Josiah and JD studied the map and the highlighted businesses as well as the information gathered from the owners of the other places where the illegal cigarettes had been found. It seemed like they only dropped the contents of one tractor-trailer in any one area before moving on. They stayed on the main highways and hit only the big cities. All three men looked up as Vin came into the room.

“Well, the courier office had nothing. The package came from another courier company over in Eagle Bend. I called and they said it was part of a misdirected shipment and they have no idea who sent it or where it originated.”

“Okay, Vin. Thanks. You better get out of here before the judge sees you and has a fit. Keep your eyes open and don’t take any chances out there, okay. Watch your back!”

Tanner turned pale blue eyes on hazel ones as he smiled. “I’m good, cowboy!”

Chris tossed out a halfhearted glare. “I could have sworn I told you not to call me that!”

Vin made as if to duck a thrown object before giving a salute and disappearing from the doorway.

“Okay, I have to hit the bricks, too. You two need anything before I go?” Seeing both men shake their heads, he nodded. “This isn’t a radio-silent kind of thing, so call if you need to talk. I mean it, Josiah. If you need to sound something out, you better call me.”

Josiah only nodded and closed the folder. Seeing that the older man wasn’t going to say anything, JD spoke up. “We will, Chris. Watch your back.”

Chris motioned for JD to follow him as he walked to the elevator.

“Did something happen that I should know about?”

JD thought about the destruction of the room and finding Josiah passed out on the floor. He didn’t want to get Sanchez into trouble. He also didn’t want Chris to think that he couldn’t handle it. Larabee noticed that the young agent was agonizing over something.

“I’m going to assume that it isn’t something that you can’t handle or you would tell me. Okay JD? Just don’t get in over your head. He’s carrying a full load of pain and anger, I expect you to know when to ask for help. Right? Call me when you hear from the lab. I told them to put a rush on the fingerprints.”

JD nodded. “I will, Chris. Thanks for letting me handle it.”

When JD returned to the office, he found Josiah listening to the tape again. Hannah’s voice sounded like a young child’s and it hurt to think that she might be injured or scared someplace. He shivered at the thought before going to Josiah’s desk.

“What do you want to look at first?”

They spent the rest of the morning going over the oldest of Josiah’s ATF cases and cross referencing them with the list of construction workers they had compiled. JD actually did most of the searching, Josiah spent the better part of the morning staring at the picture of Hannah that rested on the corner of his desk.

When they decided to break for lunch, Josiah called the convent to see how Sister Maria was doing. JD ran to the nearest deli and got lunch for both of them and hurried back. He found Sanchez asleep on the couch in Chris’s office when he got back to the office. Letting the older man sleep, JD returned to his computer.

Josiah awoke a short time later as his hangover was coming back. He stumbled to the break room and raided the first aid cabinet for Tylenol. Throwing out the coffee that had been on the burner since the others left, he made a fresh pot. After the coffee finished, he went in search of his young helper.

JD’s desktop looked like the printer had exploded on him. Several piles of paper had highlighted sections and the wastebasket had long since overflowed and the paper was heaped up alongside of the desk. Josiah rolled an empty chair over and set a cup of coffee before the young man.

“You shoulda woke me.”

“You needed the sleep. Besides, two people can’t do this at the same time.”

“What are you doing?”

JD shoved the stack of papers away from the center of his desk and began to explain. By the time he was finished, Josiah was too confused to ask questions. The kid was running some deep analysis of the list of names they had gotten from the union hall.

The rest of the team called in at various times throughout the afternoon to check on them as there wasn’t much happening at the surveillance sites. After a couple of hours, JD called the lab to see if they had gotten any prints off of the cassette tape. The technician, Sam Hu, told him that the only prints on the tape were Hannah’s and that they were still running the recording thru a series of tests to see if they could pick up any background noises that might give a clue as to where the tape was made.

The team met later that evening to compare notes on the day. Josiah still wore a deep scowl, but he tried to keep up his brave face for JD. The kid had spent all afternoon tracing names from one database to another. He was trying to find some connection to St. Louis, he just had a feeling that Hannah was there but he couldn’t convince the others.

Josiah, once again, drank heavily at Inez’s and had to be escorted home. Vin and Buck drove him to his house and invited themselves to stay the night. They sacked out on the couches in the living room after scrounging blankets from the spare bedroom. A couple of hours later, they were awakened by the sound of crashing wood overhead.

Vin grabbed his gun and rushed up the stairs with Buck hot on his heels. In the darkness of the hallway, a dark blur hurtled past them. The crashing sounds continued, accompanied by the gut wrenching sobs and cries of ‘Hannah’. They crept down the hall into one of the empty rooms that Josiah had not yet started to refurbish.

The big man was swinging a 2X4 at the walls while screaming his rage. Both Buck and Vin plastered themselves against the wall as the drunken man turned on them, glaring angrily. There was no recognition in his eyes. Vin barely had time to shove his gun into his jeans before throwing up his hands to catch the 2X4 that Josiah swung at his head.

Twisting the board out of the older man’s hands, Vin hurled it away just before he was tackled and knocked to the floor. In the pale light of the room, Buck rushed forward to try to knock Josiah off of Tanner before he began to use the sledgehammer-like left fist on the young man. Instead of hitting Vin, the fist connected with Buck’s jaw. It was only a glancing blow, but it was enough to bring stars to the ladies man’s vision.

It was enough of a distraction for Vin to shove Josiah off of his hips and roll away. He didn’t want to hurt the older man, but in his rage, he was beyond reasoning with. Tanner lashed out with his fist, contacting solidly with the side of Josiah’s head. It was just enough to send Sanchez into oblivion.

When all the bodies came to rest, Josiah was unconscious and Buck and Vin were licking their wounds. They wrestled the bigger man to his bed before going in search of ice for their injuries. An hour later, the two of them were settling back onto the couches to go back to sleep.

Josiah rolled over and pulled the pillow up over his face. His head felt like there were several men with jackhammers attempting to escape from various locations along his skull. His jaw ached like he had been kicked by a mule.

Rolling out of his bed, he made his way into the bathroom. Struggling to focus his eyes on the reflection in the mirror, he examined the bruise along his jaw. ‘How did that get there?’ He couldn’t even remember coming home, he assumed that JD or Nathan had brought him back to the house. Turning on the shower, he peeled off his clothes and stood under the scalding stream of water letting it work the tension out of his shoulders.

As he stood drying himself off, the smell of freshly brewed coffee reached his nose. ‘JD must have let himself in again. I’ll have to get him a key so he doesn’t have to do that.’ He crossed the hall to his room and pulled clean clothes from the closet. As he grasped the hanger, he noticed the scrapes and splinters in his left palm. ‘Curiouser and curiouser’, he thought.

Reaching the first floor, he saw the pillows and blankets folded neatly on the end of one of the couches. Someone stayed all night? He must have been more drunk than he realized. Stepping into the kitchen, Josiah froze in his tracks. Buck had an enormous bruise on the right side of his face. Vin was holding an icepack to the back of his neck.

“Were we involved in a bar-room brawl?” Josiah asked hopefully.

Vin’s pale blue eyes looked up in surprise. “No, hurricane Josiah came thru last night.”

Sanchez sagged against the doorframe. “I did that? I don’t even remember coming home last night. I’m really sorry guys. I’m just going out of my mind worrying about Hannah.”

Both men stood and rested a hand on Josiah’s shoulders.

“We know, Josiah. That’s the only thing that kept us from kicking your ass all the way from here to Kansas City and back last night. So, let’s get into the office so we can get on our thrilling surveillance patrols again,” Buck said as he left the kitchen.

Chris Larabee raised his eyebrows at the three members of his team as they came off of the elevator. The bruises on the faces of Buck and Josiah and the way that Vin kept reaching back to massage his own neck told him that something interesting had happened after they parted ways last night.

“Something you want to discuss, gentlemen?”

All three men shook their heads and moved into the break room to pour coffee. He figured they would tell him what had happened when they were ready.

+ + + + + + +

Buck shifted in his seat and picked up the cold coffee. Taking a sip, he grimaced and rolled down the window to throw the remnants out onto the parking lot. He had been listening to the meaningless chatter in the little gas station all morning. The thermos bottle was empty when he picked it up from the floorboard, so he decided to take a walk and get it refilled after he used the restroom.

+ + + + + + +

Vin lay back in the seat of the jeep letting the sun soak into his body. He was parked near the highway on ramp with his hood standing open. It allowed him an excuse to be in the area and he could hear everything that went on in the little store. He was mildly surprised at how many people had stopped to offer help. He turned down each offer, saying that his brother was on the way and would be along any minute.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra fumbled with the cards in his hands. He had been sitting in the gray, department issued car for the past four hours listening to what could only be described as ‘gawd-awful racket’ to quote Mr. Tanner. It was almost enough to make the undercover agent miss the muzak that played in the elevators at the office. He had finished the last of the bottled water he brought with him and was beginning to consider lunch when he noticed the men entering the little quick shop. He pressed the button on the recorder and closed his eyes as he mentally translated the rapid fire Spanish. By the time the men exited the store, the police were waiting for them. The would-be robbers had no clue as to what had given them away. Standish couldn’t resist chuckling as they were placed in the back of the police cruiser.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan took a slightly different approach to his surveillance. He put on a baggy, beat up army coat and a pair of pants that he only wore for painting and parked himself on the stack of newspapers outside of the store he was watching. By affecting the look of a homeless person, he posed no threat to anyone. He paced the front of the building periodically to keep from falling asleep. By lunchtime, he was more than ready to walk the two blocks to his truck and head for the nearest drive thru.

+ + + + + + +

Chris hated surveillance. Especially when he was all alone doing it. Like Ezra, the racket in the background left his ears aching. He tried not to let his mind wander but he frequently found himself thinking about Hannah Sanchez. Although he would never say it to Josiah, he had begun to suspect that they would be lucky to recover a body after a week. With each passing day, the possibility of finding the mentally ill woman grew more and more dim.

As his mind wandered over the information they had reviewed about Josiah’s cases, he almost missed the exchange in the gas station office. Almost, but not quite. The man was asking the owner what he paid for each carton of cigarettes he sold there. Expressing shock at the cost, the man told the owner that he could get the same brands for half the price and keep the profit for himself. Chris smiled a feral smile as he recorded the deal being made.