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Theyre delivering the shipment to the station at midnight. We will be set up in the area well before that to get ready. Judge Travis has assigned Team 2 to back us up on this bust. We also have extensive back up from the DPD. Now, I want everyone in a vest, lets not take any chances out there. Check your weapons and get a headset. Well meet back here at 9:00 to go over the plan.
Chris searched the faces of the members of his team. Bucks face was blooming in several shades of blue and black. Josiah held a can of soda against his jaw and then pressed it to his forehead. Vin had taken several Tylenol from the first aid cabinet when he got back in the office. He decided to find out what had happened last night.
Buck, Vin and Josiah, my office, now!
The three men exchanged worried glances and eased out of their chairs. Like men facing a firing squad, they approached Chriss office door. Filing into the office, the three men moved to the farthest corner of the room, as far away from Larabees chair as they could get. They watched as Chris circled the desk and sat down.
Would you like to tell me about it now?
Chris, it isnt their fault. I was drunk last night and took a swing at them.
Larabee looked from Josiah to the other two agents. I woulda thought you two would have better sense than to try to stop a train on foot. Letting a slight twinkle light his hazel eyes, Chris saw that no harm had been done. Josiah, I know youre worried and hurting but you cant take it out on the team. I need them! Whats the judge gonna say when he sees them?
Ill say that if Agent Sanchez cant get control of his drinking, that I will have his badge and gun. I can only excuse such behavior from a man under my command one time. Do I make myself clear, Josiah? Orin Travis drilled his hard stare into the older agent. Seeing Sanchez turn his eyes downward, the judge softened his tone. Its a bad road to start down. It will take you to places you dont want to be. Every man has a darkness inside, drinking and hitting only expands the darkness.
Josiah raised his eyes to meet the judges face. Yes, sir. No more for me. I promise.
At 9:00 that evening, Chris entered the conference room to find not four, but six, members of his team suited up waiting for him. He eyed the oldest and youngest agents. What are you two doing here?
JD grinned. Figured we could help you take down the bad guys. What with Vin and Buck not being on top of their game, you need us.
Wilmington crossed the conference room to catch the young agent in a headlock. Should we take him out to the parking lot and show him whos on top of their game?
Vin shrugged. Nah, lets just take him up on the roof and toss him off.
JD squealed as he continued to try to work his way out of the restraining arm. Come on, Buck. Let me go! Youre choking me!
Chris watched the team cutting up and allowed the small smile to play about his face. It was good to see them laughing and carrying on in light of the fact that Hannah was still missing. Vin moved around behind JD and was tickling the helpless young agent. Josiah crept silently up behind Vin and dropped a handful of ice cubes down the back of the sharpshooters pants.
Vin squealed and danced around the room, pulling on his belt and shaking his leg to rid himself of the ice cubes. Buck collapsed against the wall, taking JD with him as he laughed hysterically. Nathan pinched the bridge of his nose as tears of laughter rolled down his cheeks.
Judge Travis opened the door and stared for a few minutes at the antics of his best team. Tanner was shaking ice from his boot as he sat on the edge of the table while the others held on to the walls. Only Larabee stood at the head of the table shaking his head as he watched them. Orin cleared his throat and the laughter died instantly.
Gentlemen, I see youre in good spirits. Mr. Sanchez, Mr. Dunne, I did not expect to see either of you here this evening. How goes the investigation? Any leads at all?
All the mirth in the room was immediately replaced with worried looks in Josiahs direction. No, Judge, nothing yet. Were still covering all the bases. JD has been most helpful.
Chris cleared his throat to bring the meeting to order. The men quickly moved to their chairs and listened as Larabee laid out the plan. They mapped out the small shop and the parking lot. It looked like a pretty easy bust. Of course, they all knew there was no such thing as an easy bust.
The men assembled at the check points to await the arrival of the shipment. They were all dressed in Kevlar vests and standard issue ATF jackets. They watched as the large box van pulled onto the lot. Two men got out and went into the store.
Everyone get ready! Chris said softly into the radio. He listened to the exchange between the men and the manager. As soon as the money changed hands he called out. Move out! Watch your backs!
The cars rolled onto the parking lot with lights flashing. ATF agents and Denver Police spilled from the cars with guns drawn. Chris and Nathan approached the front of the truck. Josiah, JD and Buck approached the rear of the truck. Vin and Ezra moved into the store thru the back door. Interspersed amongst the ATF agents were the police officers, searching with flashlights.
Chris and Nathan stealthily approached the drivers side door of the van, Jackson opened the door and Larabee scanned the inside of the compartment. Too late he saw the whites of the eyes of the man lying on the floorboard of the truck with the gun in his hands. Chris yelled, Gun! A moment later, something slammed into his vest and he hit the pavement. His head struck concrete, as he tried to get up as he saw Nathan fire three times into the cab before his head settled back and he lost consciousness.
Josiah and Buck slipped into the shop between the police officers. The two men from the truck appeared from behind a counter each holding a hostage. The shop manager and the teenaged, female night clerk wore identical looks of terror on their faces as they saw the variety of guns pointed in their direction.
The young police sergeant in the front held out his free hand out in a supplicating gesture to the gunmen. Take it easy. No one has to get hurt here. Just let the hostages go and put down the weapons.
You put down your weapons! Well kill them! We will! Were just going to walk out of here and get back in our truck. When we get away from town, well let them out on the side of the road some place.
Josiah moved closer to the gunmen and tried his soothing voice. Now look, son, you dont want to do this. You have to know that you arent going to walk away from here. Just let them go and lets not get anybody hurt tonite.
The girl whimpered as she tried to pull away from the man holding the semi-automatic weapon to her side. Tears poured down her cheeks as she pleaded softly. I just want to go home. I wanna go home.
Buck saw the storeroom door open and two dark haired heads dropped below the rack of goods as they crept toward the gunmen. Vin dropped to his knees as he pressed his body up close to the shelf. From his position, he could see the back of the gunmen. Ezra crept around the end-cap and peeked around the bags of chips on the rack. He saw the guns pressed to the hostages sides. He looked up at the round mirror in the corner and gestured to Vin.
Nathan leaned back against the side of the truck for a moment. His heart was pounding as he lowered his gun and nodded to the policemen who were standing around the truck. They had lined up shoulder to shoulder in front of the downed ATF agent. One of them moved forward with his gun still leveled on the body in the floorboard of the truck.
Josiah stepped closer to the gunmen. Their eyes were wide with fear, as they looked at the number of police cars on the parking lot. The red and blue lights danced on the walls of the shop. They looked at each other for a moment.
Just calm down, now. No one wants to hurt you. Take it easy. The deep timbre of his voice was soothing and calming. He ejected the clip from his gun and lowered it to the counter so he could hold out both hands. The police sergeant looked at him and his eyes widened slightly.
Agent Sanchez, what do you think you are doing?
Josiah stepped closer to the gunmen. JD peered over the top of the shelf he was sheltering behind and his breath caught in his throat. He crept around the shelf and moved forward. Josiah? What are you doing?
Just let the girl go. Shes scared. You can see that. Let her go and Ill take her place. Look at me! A bigger body means a bigger shield. Come on, son, let the girl go.
The ambulance rolled onto the parking lot and the paramedics jumped out. The drivers jacket clipped the siren control as he got out causing the warbling sound to ring out unnaturally loud in the silent parking lot. All heads jerked toward the ambulance before the sound could be stopped.
Josiah saw the gunmens eyes shift for a moment. He reached out and grabbed the girl and pulled her toward him as he turned his back on the gunman. Vin saw the movement in the mirror and bolted to his feet, knocking the other gunman away from his hostage. The man who had been holding the girl raised his gun and pulled the trigger. The gun fired several times before Ezra, Buck and JD shot the man.
Two of the policemen fell to the floor with gunshot wounds to their arms. Josiah staggered as three of the bullets hit the back of his vest. He tucked his head down as he tightened his grip on the girl. She screamed hysterically until the room went quiet again.
Vin slammed the gun to the floor with one hand while the other delivered a hard blow to the mans chin. As the other man began to fire, Tanner dropped to the floor, covering the gunman. He heard the distinct sounds of his friends guns just before the body of the other gunman fell to the floor.
Ezra grabbed Vin by the shoulder. Are you hit?
Vin pushed up from the floor, careful to keep his gun trained on the man on the floor. Im okay, Ez, thanks. Cuff him for me?
While Ezra handcuffed the prisoner and drew him to his feet, Vin and JD tended to the injured police officer. Josiah had already steered the young woman out of the shop and into the arms of her friends who had arrived after seeing all the commotion on the parking lot.
Nathan knelt down next to Chris and ran his hands over him searching for injury. Finding none, he gently probed Larabees skull. Finding a knot on the back of his head, he let himself relax somewhat. The vest had absorbed the shots and he had struck his head on the ground. The paramedics dropped at his side and began to assess his injuries. Within moments, Chris began to come around.
As the Denver police took control of the scene, Team 7 gathered to make sure that everyone was all right. Except for Chris, the team was unscathed. They discussed whether or not they should stop at the bar and have a drink to celebrate. Josiah begged off, knowing that he had had too much to drink the night before. The group decided to forgo the celebration in favor of meeting at the office early in the morning to attack the clues related to Hannahs disappearance.
JD went home with Josiah again to make sure that he didnt destroy any more of his house that night. He curled up on the couch under the blanket and went to sleep. Sanchez awoke early and got up to make breakfast for them. JD awakened to the smell of bacon frying. He stretched and pulled the blanket closer to his chin and lay for a few more minutes.
Josiah stuck his head in the living room and called softly. JD? Are you awake, son? I got breakfast ready if youre hungry.
Thanks, Josiah. Ill be right there.
Nathan and Chris were the only ones in the office when Josiah and JD came in. They gathered in the break room over the donuts that Nathan had brought in. Josiah laughed, even though JD had eaten a healthy amount of eggs and bacon and biscuits before leaving the house, he was putting away donuts and milk in the break room like there was no tomorrow. By the time the others arrived, the kid had eaten three or four.
Chris asked them to complete their reports on the bust from last night first thing before they turned their attention back to Hannahs disappearance. Josiah had just finished his report and got up to get another cup on coffee when his phone rang.
Sanchez. Okay, bring it up. Thanks. At Nathans puzzled glance, he explained. Someone dropped off a book or something downstairs for me.
The guard carried the package to Josiahs desk and set it down. Suddenly, all the members of Team 7 were standing around the desk. The package was wrapped in plain, brown paper like the other package that came from Hannahs kidnapper. With trembling hands, Josiah opened the paper.
A videotape, still sealed in the original plastic wrap dropped onto the desk. All seven men stared at the tape. No one spoke for a long time. They read the title on the tape.
Meet me at the Fair. Isnt that about a fair in St. Louis? JD asked as he looked from face to face.
Umm, yeah, JD, it is. You know, I think you may be right, kid, I think my path is being guided toward St. Louis. I should have listened to you in the first place. Josiah said in a soft, quiet voice.
Chris stared at the men standing around Josiah. He knew that someone would have to go with the profiler. Knowing that all of them would want to go, he made a decision.
Buck, call the airlines and find out when the next flight to St. Louis leaves. The rest of you, make whatever plans you need for the trip and get packed. Ill go tell the judge were taking some personal time.
Surprised looks turned to face the leader. Jaws dropped open and no sound came out. Finally, Buck nodded and moved to his desk and began to check the airlines on his computer. The others snapped out of their reverie and began to move toward their desks to finish their reports.
Chris stood outside of Judge Traviss office for a moment, trying to figure out how to frame his request. The door opened suddenly and he found himself face to face with Orin.
Oh, Chris, I was just on my way to see you. Has your team finished the reports on the bust from last night yet?
No, sir, theyre working on them right now.
Good, thats good. Listen, as soon as the reports are finished, Im putting your team on temporary leave. I want all of you to devote your time to helping Agent Sanchez to find his sister. I cant have my best team bogged down with worry or distracted at the wrong time.
Chris caught the twinkle in the judges eye and couldnt help but smile. He had always had a great deal of respect for the man but, until now, had not really realized how involved he was with the men who worked under him. He suddenly saw Travis as the grandfather figure in the little family that had been formed in the offices below.
Thank you, sir. I was just coming to ask for leave time for the team. We got a videotape and Josiah thinks that whoever took Hannah has a connection to St. Louis. As soon as we can get everything together, were heading there to start the search.
I have friends in the FBI office there, Ill put in a call and have someone made available for you. If you need anything, anything at all, dont hesitate to call me. And tell Agent Sanchez that Evie and I are praying for his sister. I hope that you find her safe and well.
Chris shook the extended hand as he blinked back tears.
Thank you, again. Ill tell him.
By the time Chris returned to his office, the reports were all neatly stacked on his desk. The post-it on top of the reports said that Ezra, Vin, JD and Josiah had gone to pack for the trip. On his computer screen was the itinerary for the flight that was leaving Denver at 5:05 that evening. A memo lay next to the reports that there was a hotel in the city that the ATF office had billing arrangements with and a confirmed reservation for a suite. It looked as if Buck had covered all the bases quite well. Nathan popped in with another piece of paper.
Oh, I didnt know you were back. I just wanted to leave this. I arranged for two rental cars for us at the airport. That way we will be able to cover more ground once we get there. Im just gonna run home and throw a few things together and Ill be right back. Buck left a few minutes ago to pick up his things. Josiah is going to pick all of us up in the suburban so we dont have all of our cars parked at the airport. What did the judge say when you asked him?
Chris nodded. Then Id better get a move on, since my place is farthest out. Ill drive in to your place so that Josiah doesnt have to come all the way out to get me. I didnt have to ask him for the time off. He told me that he was putting us on leave until the situation with Hannah is resolved one way or the other. He chuckled as he shook his head. He said he couldnt have his best team distracted by worry.
Nathans face split in a wide smile. I guess thats why hes the best. He knows whats good for the men working under him. He dropped the paper on the desk and turned to leave. See you in a couple of hours then.
On the drive out to his place, Chris thought a lot about the men he worked with. Buck was like a brother to him. They had been thru so much together. Buck had seen him at his absolute worst and had stuck with him thru the darkest time in his life.
Vin was like a breath of fresh air for his aching soul. The young Texan had awakened feelings that Chris had tried to keep buried. For the first time since Sarah and Adams death, he found himself looking forward to getting to work in the mornings. There was something so innocent about the sharpshooter that had awakened the protective feelings he thought had died with his wife and son.
Josiah was the calm in the middle of the storm. Very little seemed to rile the big man and his gentle faith had been like a balm for the rage that Larabee had been holding against God. The profiler had the ability to keep the stones greased so that the rough personalities didnt eat away at each other as they sometimes did in the other ATF teams.
Nathans presence gave Chris a feeling of confidence. The ex-medic protected and nurtured the health of the group. His unique ways of looking at things often brought solutions where the others might not have noticed them. The concern he showed for the others reminded him of his fathers concern whenever hed had a problem growing up.
As the city was left behind, he turned his thoughts to Ezra P. Standish. The man could rile him like no one else. His habit of doing things on his own terms was causing Chriss hair to go gray. The man used his vocabulary as both sword and shield. Cutting down his enemies and deflecting anything that might harm him as he went about his business. The man was finally beginning to ease into the group.
Lastly he turned his mind to JD. John Dunne was such a special young man. He had the enthusiasm of a very young child and was as easily read. One look at the kid and you could see everything he was feeling. The boy had the younger generations understanding of electronics and computers that sometimes left the rest of the team in the dark. He had been worried at first about adding someone so young to his team but after meeting with JD one time, he knew he had to have him.
Turning onto the gravel road that led to the ranch, Chris was thankful for each one of them. Their abilities fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. They had become a family and right now one of their members was suffering. As he turned off the engine of the truck, Larabee resolved that they would find Hannah and God help the person who had taken her.
The got to the airport an hour and a half early to get thru the security measures. Fortunately, the judge had pulled some strings and the head of the Denver Airport security squad was waiting for them to arrive. They were waived thru the security checkpoints and escorted to the security holding area to await their flight.
Im sorry you have to wait here, gentlemen, but I cant have you walking around in the airport with your firearms. You will be escorted to the plane as soon as it arrives and before the other passengers board. We have also taken the liberty of notifying the St. Louis Airport authorities so that there wont be any problems on that end. The head of security was almost nervous as he made his apology.
Thank you for all youve done. Chris shook the mans hand as he left the office.
The plane arrived and a security guard came to escort them to the gate. The stewardess looked nervous as she took their tickets, until she got to Buck. The ladies man turned on the charm and soon had the woman blushing like a virgin. Within minutes, the entire flight crew was carrying on with them as if they were long lost friends.
The flight was short and smooth. Josiah had gotten quiet as the plane took off, retreating into his worry. How had Hannah gotten to St. Louis? Was she all right? Was she frightened? The guilt he had been feeling was growing and multiplying. The tightness in his chest had spread to his shoulder and he was unable to get comfortable. Nathan had questioned him about how he felt and he had told him he was fine.
It took several minutes to make their way from their gate to the baggage pick-up area. Nathan and Ezra went in search of the car rental counter to arrange for their cars while the others picked up their bags. After a short shuttle ride to their cars, they were headed for downtown St. Louis.
It was only 7:30 St. Louis time when they checked into the Adams Mark Hotel. Their suite had three bedrooms and the couch folded out into a bed, so there was plenty of room for them. After unpacking their clothes, the men went in search of a drink. The sports bar in the hotel was as good a place as any and they grabbed a couple of tables and ordered a couple of pitchers.
The hockey game was fast and furious. It didnt take long for the men to get into yelling at the plays right along with everyone else. No one noticed when Josiah slipped from the table to return to their room. By the end of the second period, Nathan missed him.
Chris, Im going back to the room to check on Josiah. He was acting funny on the plane; I dont think he feels too good. Ill see you all later. Nathan drained the last of the beer from his cup and left the bar.
Ezra complained bitterly about sleeping on the foldout couch.
Sleeping on one of those contraptions has got to be comparable to medieval torture. My sensitive constitution will be irreparably damaged if I am forced to spend any length of time lying there! And furthermore, as Nathan will tell you, a good nights sleep is the only true healing that a body gets in this world.
JD finally gave in and traded with Ezra. Ive slept on a lot of these things and it hasnt hurt me any, Ezra. He flopped onto the bed and bounced lightly.
You, my dear young man, are but a child. When you have reached a proper age, I am sure you will become accustomed to a much more proper place to slumber.
Chris laughed and shook his head at them. Okay, lets get some sleep. The guy from the FBI will probably get in touch with us first thing in the morning.
During the night, Josiahs nightmare began. He thrashed in his bed as he searched for his sister in his dream. He was trapped in an endless maze with twists and turns and dead ends. Hannahs voice from the recording he had received kept calling for him.
I miss you, Josiah. I miss you, Josiah. Hannahs voice sounded even younger and more childlike in the dream. His heart was hammering in his chest as he began to make quiet protests. In the dream, he saw the box with her shoes and farther along in the maze he saw the newspaper clipping. Her voice grew louder and louder until he sat upright in the bed and cried out her name.
Nathan immediately threw off his blanket and turned on the light. Moving to the edge of the bed, he called softly to Josiah. From the look on the big mans face he could see that he was still caught in whatever his mind was showing him. No recognition showed in the azure blue eyes as he panted and gripped the blankets in his fists.
Josiah, can you hear me? Its Nathan. Try to relax. Josiah?
Because of the layout of the suite, only JD heard Josiahs shout. He bounced off of the couch bed and knocked softly on the door to the room the older men were occupying. Opening the door slowly, he stuck his head inside.
Nathan, is Josiah all right?
Hes just having a bad dream is all. Go on back to bed, JD, Ill take care of him.
After watching Josiah for a couple of minutes, the young man finally closed the door and returned to his bed but it was several minutes before he was able to sleep again. His mind was whirling with concern about what would happen if they didnt find Hannah. Or worse, if they found her too late. He had seen what Josiah was like when he had too much to drink and it scared him.
It actually took several minutes for Josiah to shake off the dream. Nathan sat quietly until he saw the tension begin to slide from Josiahs shoulders and his breathing evened out. He offered a glass of water and watched as Josiah drained it in seconds.
Nathan? Im sorry I woke you. It was a nightmare. I could hear her calling and calling, but I couldnt find her. All the paths were dead ends.
Its okay. You just lay back down and try to go back to sleep. After a few more minutes, Josiah finally allowed Nathan to push him back onto the pillows and straighten the blankets. Jackson watched as Josiahs breathing deepened and he settled back to sleep.
The entire team was up by 8AM. After showering and dressing, Chris called down to see if there were any messages for them. The FBI agent had called and left his number saying that he would be able to meet with them at 10AM in his office. JD whipped out his laptop and pulled up a map of the city. They were less than a mile from the FBI offices.
Over breakfast, the team decided how they were going to handle the search. Buck and JD were going to contact the unions and get a list of names to see if they matched anything on any of Josiahs cases. Nathan and Josiah were going to drive around and visit some of the churches and convents to see if anyone recognized Hannahs picture. Josiah was certain that his sister would still need the comfort of her faith no matter where she was and he hoped that whoever had her was not starving her spirit. Chris, Ezra and Vin were going to meet with the FBI agent and see what kind of help he could offer.
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The St. Louis FBI off ices were not at all like the ones in Denver. Built separately from the other Federal offices, they were spread out near a large intersection and all low-rise buildings. Agent Reid met with them and escorted them into a conference room. He had gotten a memo from someone higher up that he was to make himself available to them for as long as they were in St. Louis.
What do you know about the case?
Next to nothing, really. The memo says youre looking into a kidnapping. Agent Reid shifted in his chair. The sister of one of your men. Thats all I know.
Chris pushed a picture across the table. Hannah Sanchez is the only surviving member of our profilers family. She has a long history of mental illness. Ten days ago she went missing from the convent where she was being cared for. A handkerchief covered in drywall mud dust was left behind. A couple of days later, a box arrived with her shoes inside and a scrap of newsprint with the words Worlds Fair printed on it. A few days after that, a tape of Hannahs voice arrived. And just yesterday, someone had a videotape delivered to the offices which led us to believe that she might be in the St. Louis area.
This isnt a child. Agent Reid stared at the picture before sliding it back across the table.
No, shes an adult. But she has the mind of a child most of the time. Chris stared at the man as if to dare him to make some comment.
What have you done so far? Agent Reid asked. Chris took most of an hour filling him in on their investigation. The man turned on his computer and began calling up information and printing it out. After several minutes he handed Chris the pages. These are all the current construction projects in the area. As you can see, there is a lot of new construction going on. You also have a list of all the shelters, Salvation Army, Larry Rice and so on. There are a lot of places for a person who is mentally ill to stay. If I can borrow that picture again, Ill scan it and send it to all the police stations in the city and county as well as the hospitals.
Chris nodded and handed him the picture again.
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It was lunchtime when they arrived back at the hotel. Buck, JD and Vin had already scoped out the list of eating establishments in the area and were ranking them in the order they wanted to try them. Ezras only request was that they order from some place where he could get a salad. They settled on Imos.
After calling Josiah and Nathan to see if they were coming back for lunch, JD placed their lunch order. The young computer whiz had been cross-referencing the names he had acquired from the union hall with the names in Josiahs cases. So far, he hadnt come up with anything.
Lunch arrived and the team piled up around the table to eat. Ezra was pleased with the salad and the others wolfed down the pizza. They then reviewed the list of jobsites in the area.
Its like looking for a very little needle in a very big, strange haystack. Buck commented.
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After lunch, Chris and Buck went to the places on the list of shelters to circulate Hannahs picture. No one at any of the shelters could remember her but all said that they would keep an eye open. Vin couldnt take being shut up in the suite for any length of time so he went for a walk. It took him only a couple of minutes to reach the park under the arch. Standing in just the right place, Tanner could see only grass and river. It was enough to calm his spirit.
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JD, how far back into Mr. Sanchezs past do you have files on his cases? Ezra asked as he studied the list on the screen of the laptop.
All the cases since he started with the ATF, Ezra, why do you ask?
Mr. Sanchez came from the Kansas City PD, didnt he? Isnt it just possible that the cretin who has perpetrated this heinous act upon Miss Sanchez could be related to a case from before he came to the ATF? I mean, we have all assumed that it was an ATF case. Mother always says that to assume anything is to proceed from a false sense of security.
JD spent the next few hours contacting and requesting records from the Kansas City PD.
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Nathan looked up at the intricate designs on the walls of the cathedral. Josiah was physically exhausted but would not be persuaded to return to the hotel. They had visited sixteen different churches across the city. They had visited the Spanish-speaking congregation at St. Francis De Sales. The New Cathedral and several smaller churches were all a blur in Jacksons mind after a couple of hours.
Josiah looked at the altar and at the ornate stained glass windows. The ache in his chest was building up again and he scrubbed at his sternum as if to rub the pain away. He had visited churches like this all over the world growing up. In his mind, he could hear Hannahs voice as it had been when she was young. She had a voice like an angel. The songs of the liturgy rolled from her mouth like music plucked from harp strings.
Hearing the door to the confessional open and close, he looked up and realized that it had gotten dark. He searched around the sanctuary until he spotted Nathan sitting on the end of a pew near the door. Pulling against the pew in front of him, Josiah levered himself to his feet and walked toward the door.
Come on, Nathan, lets go see what the others found for supper.
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By the time the team had all gathered together in the suite, JD had a new list of possible suspects. Eight of Josiahs cases in the year before he joined the ATF involved people who had family in or near the St. Louis area. It would be several hours before they would be able to find out what those people did for a living.
They ended up driving past Union Station to Maggie OBriens and having supper. Conversation around the table centered squarely on the new possible leads. Josiah sat quietly wracking his brain as he tried to figure out which of the cases was most likely to have caused someone to snatch his sister.
They returned to the suite and tried to watch television. The Stanley Cup playoffs were being televised but they couldnt even work up the interest to keep watching. Ezra sat at the table near the window playing solitaire as he watched the river. Finally making up his mind, he tucked his cards into his pocket and pulled off his shoulder holster.
Im going out for a while. Ezra told Chris as he shoved his gun into the briefcase he had brought with him for just such an occasion.
Be careful, Ezra. Dont be out all night. We will all be up bright and early in the morning. Chris warned, tossing a half-hearted Larabee glare at the undercover agent.
Ezra tossed back a two-fingered salute and swept the keys to one of the rental cars off of the credenza as he left the room.
Vin raised his eyebrows as he looked toward Chris. Do you think its wise to let him go off like that? You know where hes going dont you?
To the gambling boat down on the river front. Yeah, I know. But he will be back at work in the morning or Ill have his undercover ass in my sling!
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Ezra smiled broadly as he made his way along the rows of slot machines. He had no interest in the one-armed-bandits. His goal was the poker tables. He felt a warm glow of satisfaction as he slid onto a stool and ran his hands lightly over the felt top.
A couple of hours later, Standish left the boat feeling very pleased with himself. He had won over a thousand dollars before he yielded to the fatigue that was nagging at the edges of his consciousness. Letting himself into the suite quietly, he found JD still staring at the screen of the laptop.
Mr. Dunne, surely it is well past your bedtime. You will be in as much trouble as myself if you are not your usual bright-eyed self in the morning.
Hey, Ezra. I cant help it, though. I feel like the answer is just staring me in the face if I can just put my finger on it. So, anyway, did you win?
Ezra pulled the money from his pocket and tossed it on the table. Was there any doubt in your mind?
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The alarm went off at 7AM and everyone shifted into work mode. After breakfast, JD returned to the computer screen. Nathan, Josiah and Vin left together to hit some more of the shelters on the list. Chris, Buck and Ezra met with Agent Reid to see if he had made any progress. JD phoned to say that none of the possible suspects he had found worked in construction. He was pulling up the next year of files.
+ + + + + + +
JD looked up, puzzled when the room phone rang. The team had been using their cell phones to contact each other.
This is the front desk, we received a package for an Agent Sanchez. Could you let him know that it is here and he can pick it up at any time?
In his haste, JD slammed the receiver down and raced across the room to his cell phone. His hands shook so hard that he nearly dropped the phone twice as he dialed Josiahs phone.
Josiah? JD. I just got a call from the hotel desk clerk. They got a package for you.
JD heard Josiah say they got a package for me at the hotel just before he heard the screech of tires and a few car horns. Well be right there, JD. The line went dead. JD quickly dialed Chris and told him the news.
+ + + + + + +
Fifteen minutes later, the team was gathered around the table as Josiah opened a plain yellow envelope. Inside were three pictures of Hannah. The first showed her in the garden at the convent, smiling innocently. The second showed her looking out the window of an airplane with an excited look on her face. The last one showed her in front of a building at dusk with a crowd of people behind her. She was holding a yellow cup of ice cream.
I dont recognize this place. We should ask someone here at the hotel if they recognize the place.
As a group, they followed Josiah down to the front desk. The pretty red head looked up from her computer screen and smiled. Can I help you?
Do you know this place? Were from Denver and need to know where this picture was taken.
The woman looked at the picture and chuckled. Thats easy. Thats Ted Drewes Frozen Custard on Chippewa. Its the best ice cream in the city.
Josiah stared at the picture as his throat tightened. He couldnt say anything for a moment. Ezra rested a hand firmly on the older mans shoulder.
Could you give us directions?
The woman smiled at the southerner and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear as she blushed warmly. She took a piece of paper from the desk and began to lay out streets for Ezra. Vin shook his head as he watched the woman all but gushing as she ran her tongue along her upper lip before she handed the note to Ezra.
He does that almost as well as Buck, dont you think? Vin asked, just loudly enough for the ladies man to hear. Chris rolled his eyes as JD and Nathan tried to cover their laughter.
Not that it will do any good, mind you, this picture was probably taken a week or two ago. You do understand that dont you, Josiah? Ezra drawled softly.
I know, Ezra, but I have to go there and ask.
They questioned all the young people at the ice cream stand. The answer was uniformly filled with disbelief. You gotta be kidding! The young people responded politely. Upon hearing that the crowd was so thick on warm nights that they had to have a police officer on the lot, Josiah sighed sadly.
So close and yet so very far away. Sanchez intoned as he dropped into the back seat of the rental car.
Their next stop was the FBI offices to drop off the pictures to be checked. Chris doubted that there would be any useful evidence on the pictures but he had to try. After dropping off the envelope, the team split up and went back to their methodical check of the places on the lists.
+ + + + + + +
JD, Buck, Vin and Nathan decided to break for lunch around 1:00. They stumbled upon their lunch choice by accident. An accident in the intersection at Grand and Gravois caused them to take a detour thru the parking lot of White Castle. The smell caused noses to twitch and Vin rolled his window down to take in a deeper breath. They filed into the restaurant and ordered lunch.
By that evening, the team assembled in the suite to compare notes. They still had nothing to go on. The FBI lab left a message that there were no prints on the pictures. Josiah retreated to the bedroom he shared with Nathan. Buck and JD went back down to the sports bar to split a couple of pitchers. Vin went for a walk on the park grounds under the arch. Ezra returned to the gambling boat. Chris sat, glaring at the television.
Josiah tossed fretfully in his bed. Images of Hannah raced thru his mind, causing the anguish he felt to deepen. He gasped for air as his chest constricted. His left hand clenched in his nightshirt and dug at the pain under his sternum. A short time later, he bolted up in the bed, drenched in sweat.
+ + + + + + +
A cool breeze blew across the river, bringing the smell of the water to Vins nose. The water did not have a clean smell and he wrinkled his nose at it. A pair of young men approached him, talking loudly to each other. They split up when they came to Vin. Suddenly, the click of a switchblade drew Tanners attention to his left while someone grabbed his right arm.
Gimme your wallet and you dont get hurt! The young man with the knife hissed quietly. He groped Vins jacket with one hand while he waived the knife menacingly.
Vin shifted his weight onto the balls of his feet as he held his hands out in supplication. Okay, no problem. Its in my pocket.
From behind Vin, the other young man dug his fingers into the pockets of Tanners jeans.
Keep that up and youll have to marry me. Vin drawled. When the man behind him snorted derisively, Tanner moved. Whirling around, he grabbed the man behind him and spun him into the man with the knife. Both men went down hard on the ground. By the time they realized what had happened, they were looking up into the barrel of Vins gun. Their eyes widened in horror and they raised their hands. Vin pulled his cell phone and called the police.
By the time the police arrived, Vin had garnered an audience. He never took his eyes off of the two young men on the ground. When the police took the men into custody, they drove him to the district station to give his statement. They dropped him back at the hotel when it was done. Chris was waiting up for him when he entered the suite.
Where have you been? Chris hissed quietly so as not to wake JD who was sleeping on the couch bed.
I had a little run in with some locals at the park and the police took me in to give a statement. Im sorry, Chris, I should have called but it was too quick. Id really like to get some sleep.
+ + + + + + +
The next day, the team split up and headed out again. JD stayed at the suite again, still cross referencing the names from Josiahs old records. He suddenly sat up in his chair and stared at the name that was flagged on his screen. A man named Sean Commings had a brother that was in prison in Kansas City because of a bust that Josiah had been involved in. The brother had been killed in a prison riot a year ago.
Buck and Vin stopped at White Castle again for lunch. They had been visiting the shelters again to see if anyone had seen Hannah. They had visited several hospitals with her picture, hoping to find someone who might remember her. Bucks cell phone rang, and they hurried back to the hotel.
As Josiah entered the hotel lobby, the woman at the counter called his name. She handed him an envelope. Chris met the striking blue eyes and saw the look of fear that lay there. They both knew what was in the envelope. Larabee took the envelope and took hold of Josiahs arm to guide him to the elevator.
Buck and Vin were already in the room when the other four agents arrived. Ezra wrinkled his nose at the smell in the room. His eyes scanned the room for the cause of the unpleasant, pungent odor.
What have you brought in with you? Standish drawled as he glared at the two likely suspects. Bucks eyes widened and he laughed.
Just brought the kid something to eat, want one? He offered one of the little white boxes to the undercover agent.
No, thank you. Please dispose of that refuse outside of the room when you finish. The smell is repulsive and offensive! The displeasure on the southerners face caused the others to laugh.
Okay, settle down! We got another envelope at the front desk. Chris called, quashing the laughter. He cleared the table and began to lay out the photos. The first one showed Hannah standing in a garden of some kind. The next showed the woman in another place surrounded by butterflies, the look of wonder on her face at the huge monarch butterfly sitting on her hand caused a gasp of astonishment from Josiah. The last one showed her in front of a small train. The plaque on the side of the engine read St. Louis Zoo Line RR.
JD, call Agent Reid and tell him to get here as quickly as he can. Weve got to be missing something here. This guy just walks in here and leaves an envelope for us and no one sees anything? How does he know where were staying, anyway?
Chris, I found a name that might be a suspect. This guys brother was killed in a prison riot. He lives out in a place called Fenton and hes a drywall taper. The union wont tell me what contractor hes working for right now without a warrant or court order.
Okay, get Reid over here and you can show him that too. Im going to tell him that I want someone on the desk downstairs from now on until we can catch this guy.
Agent Reid arrived at the suite a half hour later. He took the pictures to run by the lab. After reviewing the information JD had pulled up on his computer, he called and told someone to get in a call to a judge to get the order for the name of the contractor. He also got a current address on Commings and invited the ATF team to accompany him to the police station in Jefferson County where the man would be taken after they picked him up. They piled into the cars and hit the road.
The small municipal police station had only 8 parking spaces. Four were filled with cars and one was a handicapped space. Reid and the others took the remaining spaces and tumbled from the cars, eager to get into the building. Chris and Josiah were right behind Agent Reid as he introduced himself to the paunchy looking man at the desk.
From behind the desk a tall, gray haired man approached. Agent Reid, Captain Hartell, were holding your man in an interview room. If youll come this way. He held open the door and gestured the men thru. They walked down a dimly lit hallway lined with offices. At the end of the hall was the interview room and, at the table in the center of the room, the man they thought had kidnapped Josiahs sister.
Chris and Vin took hold of Josiahs arms to keep him from entering the room. The police captain looked on with a concerned expression as he took in the rage on the big mans face. He cleared his throat to get their attention.
He says he doesnt know anything about the missing woman. We searched his apartment and didnt find anything incriminating. We took several packs of negatives and Ive got men looking thru them to see if any of the pictures you received are there. Ill allow one of you to be present when I question him again. The rest of you can watch and listen from out here.
As the Captain moved toward the door to the interview room, Josiah shifted as if to follow. Chris stood in his way. You know better, Josiah. Agent Reid and I will go in, you stay here and listen. Got it?
For an instant, Chris was afraid that Josiah would lose control and force his way into the room. Indecision was plain in every line of the older mans face. His shoulders were squared as if to do battle. The ragged breathing came thru clenched teeth and his fists were trembling with pent up energy. A little of the Larabee glare caused Josiah to settle back and sigh. Chris directed a meaningful glance at the others before turning to enter the room.
Mr. Commings, Im Captain Hartell, this is FBI Agent Reid and ATF Agent Larabee. We want to talk to you about a missing woman. Her name is Hannah Sanchez. He pulled a picture from a manila folder and slid it across the table. Have you ever seen this woman before, Mr. Commings?
Commings took the picture and studied it carefully. Ive never seen that woman before! What is this all about? Why have you brought me here? I know my rights. I want to talk to a lawyer!
Chris leaned across the table and glared at the man who shrank back in his chair. Your brother was sent to prison because of her brother. If you had anything to do with her disappearance, you better tell it now. You really dont want us on your back.
Hartell glared at Chris. Larabee! I dont know how you do things in Denver, but here, in my station you will not threaten anyone. Now, you will sit down and calmly ask your questions or I will toss you out on your ass!
From outside of the interview room, Vin glanced over at Buck. Good thing he didnt touch Chris. Id hate to see what he would do.
Fifty dollars says that Hartell does put his hand on Mr. Larabee in the next five minutes and Mr. Reid has to pull him off. Ezra challenged as he watched the scene playing out before him.
Youve gotta be kidding, Ezra. Surely that man isnt stupid enough to touch Chris when hes that pissed off. Youre on. Buck chuckled low in his throat.
Commings pushed his chair back from the table. His eyes were wide and focused solidly on the man he perceived to be the greatest threat to his physical safety. Sean was not a small man, by any means, but he did not doubt for a minute that the smaller wiry man could do him serious harm.
Im telling you the truth! I dont know what youre talking about. I didnt have anything to do with my brother after he went to prison! I have a wife and children to look after!
Chris reached across the table and grabbed Sean by the front of his shirt. Are you telling me that you havent been to Denver in the last month? If I find out that youre lying
Agent Larabee, in the hallway, now! Hartell shouted. When the hardened hazel eyes raked over him as if he were not there, the Captain took hold of Chris by the right arm and tried to pull him away from the man. Before the older man knew what had hit him, he was slammed against the wall with the muzzle of a 9mm jammed against his neck.
Outside of the interview room, the entire group stepped away from the glass as if Chris was going to hurl the Captain thru it on his next move. They all heard the distinct click of Agent Reids gun as he cocked it and pointed it at the back of Larabees head. The only sounds they heard afterwards were the harsh rasp of angry breathing.
Let him go, Larabee. Now! Reid shouted as he reached for the gun in Chriss hand. The leader of Team 7 withdrew the gun and holstered it in one swift, fluid motion. The angry hazel eyes bored into the Captains eyes for a moment longer before he turned and pointed an angry finger at Commings.
Dont let me find out you lied to me! He stormed out of the room and slammed the door. The rest of his team followed as if attached by steel cables.
Once on the parking lot, Chris stood, panting as he tried to shake off the rage. Im sorry, Josiah, I dont think he has Hannah. He then tossed the keys to the car to Nathan and climbed into the passenger side seat. He didnt even look up as Agent Reid stood in front of the car and glared at him.
As the rest of the team piled into the other car, Ezra wiggled his fingers at Buck. The ladies man laughed and patted his jacket pockets.
I must have left my wallet at the hotel. Catch you later Ezra, all right?
The huff that the southerner emitted showed how little faith he had in Bucks last statement.
The dejected team returned to the hotel. Josiah called the convent to see if, by some miracle, there had been any word of Hannah. Sister Maria wept as she told him that they were still praying everyday for his sister, for him and his team.
Chris called the judge to let him know the status of the search. He retreated into the empty bedroom as Travis began to scream at him.
Damn it Larabee, how stupid can you be? I got a complaint from some little municipality that you assaulted a police Captain! Even the FBI agent assigned to you has been complaining about your behavior. He says youre so busy hot-dogging out there that he cant conduct a proper investigation. So, either you pull yourself together and try to cooperate with the authorities there, or you get your asses back to Denver and wait! Is that clear, Larabee?
Chris sighed softly. Yes sir, very clear.
How is Josiah?
Holding up. Weve been searching every mission, shelter and church in the city. Hes hanging onto his faith, its about all he has left now.
Tell him that Evie and I are still praying for him. Youll find her. I know you will.
Chris hung up the phone and walked out of the bedroom. He looked around at the faces of the men closest to him. They were a miserable looking group, long faces and sad eyes all around.
Need to change your pants, cowboy? Buck asked as he noticed the chastised look on Larabees face.
Chris chuckled and turned around. No holes just wet teeth marks. He said if I blow my top again, hed recall us to Denver. Josiah, he said to tell you that he and Evie are praying for you and Hannah.
A slight, relieved smile crossed Josiahs face for a moment; only to be replaced by the sad, anguished look he had been wearing for the past several days.
They went out to supper at a place on Lacledes Landing called Morgan Street Brewery. Nathan and Ezra refrained from drinking, as it appeared that the rest of the team was determined to get completely plastered. Chris was drinking doubles of whiskey in between bottles of Budweiser. Josiah ordered some micro brew and was drinking himself into oblivion. Vin, who normally didnt drink much, was putting away beer by the pitcher. Buck and JD were playing some kind of drinking game that they had picked up in the sports bar of the hotel.
Ezra and Nathan sat quietly in the corner, drinking sodas and watching the others. Jackson was pensive as he watched Josiah. The big man was only just barely holding himself together. Standish was more concerned for Chris. He knew that the team leader would carry a huge burden of guilt if they could not recover Hannah for Josiah.
When did I come to care for these men so much? Mother would be so ashamed to find that he had not only discovered his conscience, but that it now guided him in much the same way that she had when he was younger. He had let these men under his skin and into his heart. He narrowed his green eyes as he noticed that Chris was becoming angry about something. Nudging Nathan, he nodded his head toward their leader. Both of them slid from the booth and prepared to do battle with Larabee.
It was nearly three in the morning by the time they returned to the hotel. They dumped Chris and Vin on the first trip up to the room. Buck and JD went up next. It took both of them to manhandle Josiah into the elevator and they were hard pressed to keep him upright until they could settle him into bed.
The team slept in the next morning. Nathan went out early and picked up Tylenol for them. He knew there would be some fearsome hangovers when they awoke. Ezra brought up several carafes of coffee for them as well as donuts and danishes from a place hed found not far from the hotel. Chris ordered that they would take the day off from the search. They needed to rest. Josiah only nodded blankly when he heard the order and retreated to the bedroom and back to bed.
Later that afternoon, as they sat staring at some banal television program, JD slipped over to his laptop and pulled up the next set of files he had acquired from the Kansas City PD. Chris glared at him every time he heard the soft clicking of fingers on the keys. They ordered pizza for supper and piled up on the floor to watch a movie on the pay-per-view channel.
The next morning, before the others were even awake, the young computer whiz was hard at work on the files again. His fingers danced on the keyboard as he pulled up the information that had been processing overnight. He ignored the others as they came out of the bedrooms and poured coffee for themselves. JD jumped up from the table and shouted. I got him! Josiah, does the name Gwendolyn Sanderson mean anything to you?
The profiler turned his head sharply as he locked on the young agent. Yes, she was murdered. I helped the Kansas City PD with the profile that led to the capture of her killer. His eyes took on an unfocused gaze as he struggled to remember the name of the man he had helped to put on death row. Jimmy Vaughn Clayton! I got a notice that hes been scheduled for execution a couple of weeks ago, just before Hannah went missing. Merciful heaven! If one of his family has Hannah,
Chris looked at JD as he put a hand on Josiahs shoulder. Has he got family in the city? In the construction industry?
JD swallowed hard and nodded. His step-brother is a drywall taper here in the city, Winston Aaron McCoy. Im still trying to get someone at the union hall to tell me what contractor hes working for.
Get Agent Reid on the phone and tell him what you found. See if he can help you get the information. Get us his address, too. I doubt that hes holding her at his place because hes taken her out to all those places.
While JD was talking to Agent Reid, his computer beeped with an incoming E-mail. He opened it as he waited on hold for the FBI agent. The last address for McCoy scrolled up along with his police record. The man had been arrested for DWI and DUI in St. Louis and in Jefferson County. He had been dishonorably discharged from the army for assaulting a superior officer. He was divorced and shared custody of his two kids.
After JD briefed Agent Reid about what he had found, he hung up the phone.
He says well have to get a court order to find out what contractor hes working for and what jobsite hes on. He also said not to go to his house until we have more proof.
Of course, JDs last words fell on deaf ears as the rest of the team grabbed their jackets and headed for the door. Quickly shutting down the computer, the youngest member of the team had to run to catch up with the others. When they reached the parking garage, Ezra and Chris pulled maps from the glove boxes and spread them out on the hoods of the cars. The kid held out the scrap of paper with the address on it and they quickly located the route.
The two cars squalled out of the parking garage and into midday traffic. It took nearly twenty minutes to find the street and another ten to find the address.
Damn! Josiah yelled as he slammed his fist into the dash in front of him. The address was a boarded up building that was being torn down. Ezra tightened his grip on the steering wheel as the older man continued to savagely slam his fist into the dash as he vented his anger. Nathan reached up from the back seat to try to calm him.
Chris jumped from the second car and walked up to Josiahs door. He stood for a moment, flinching at the damage his agent was doing to the car. When he finally noticed the blood on the battered dash, he opened the door.
Josiah, get hold of yourself! Well find him! We know who he is now. Chris took his life in hand as he reached out and intercepted the fist that was headed for the dash once more. Ezra, take him back to the hotel and keep him there. Nathan, go with them. The rest of us are going to see if we can find anyone in the neighborhood who might know where McCoy moved to from here.
Nathan reached over the seat with his handkerchief in his hand after nodding to Chris. At a pointed look from Larabee, Ezra sighed and started the car again. Closing the door, the team leader began to wonder how much more Josiah could take. He watched until the car turned the corner before turning back to the others.
Okay, spread out and knock on doors. Someone has to know where they went. He had kids; see if anyone knows where they went to school. Lets get going!
Before they could move out, another car pulled up next to them. The passenger window was rolled down and an irritated voice called out to them.
Agent Larabee, what part of dont go to his house until we have more proof did you not understand? I know you want to find the woman, but you dont have the authority here. Get back in your car and go back to your hotel. I will call you there when I have more information for you.
Chris glared at the agent thru the open window. He could feel the other three agents closing ranks behind him and didnt need to look to know that they werent happy. He reached out and opened the passenger side door and sat down.
Look, Agent Reid, Hannah has been missing for over three weeks. We have to do something! You cant expect us to just sit in the hotel and do nothing! Josiah is going out of his mind with worry. I would have thought you would understand. This man is like family to us and that makes his sister family too.
Agent Larabee, I do understand. But this is St. Louis, not Denver. You cant just run all over the city asking questions. Let me do my job. Let me help you. Go back to the hotel. We are trying to get an order to get the information from the union hall. As soon as I have anything at all I will call you. Okay?
Chris sighed as he stared at his clenched fist. The old rage was dangerously close to the surface. The helplessness he had felt when his family had been killed. The tightly corded muscles in his arms trembled with the effort it took not to do as Josiah had done and slam his fists into the dash. Buck reached out a calming hand.
Come on, cowboy, lets let the man get back to work. Wilmington eased his hand around Chriss upper arm and coaxed him out of the car. At the same time, he reached into the pocket of the team leaders jacket and plucked the car keys out. Ill drive.
They arrived at the hotel just in time to see Nathan climb into the back of an ambulance. Before they could get out and ask questions, the ambulance and the second rental car pulled away. Chris ripped his cell phone from his pocket and dialed Nathans number.
Nathan, what the hell is going on?
Chris, were on our way to the hospital. Josiah is having a heart attack.
Dear God! Were right behind Ezra. Well follow you to the hospital. Even as Chris was talking to Nathan, Ezra recognized the other car and dialed Vins phone.
Mr. Tanner, please inform Mr. Larabee that the stress has finally become too much for our elder member. Mr. Sanchez collapsed in the parking garage and is en-route to a hospital.
We know, Ezra, Chris is talking to Nathan right now. Well follow you in.