What’s Your Mama’s Name?

by Angie

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+ + + + + + +

The computer tie-in was running the new face-recognition technology. JD watched as the faces scrolled by very quickly. Suddenly, he sat straight up in the chair and looked at Vin. The computer had matched a face from the day before to an FBI wanted order. He clicked on the file and saw that the man was wanted for the bombing of several churches in the south.

“Vin! We got a match. The FBI wants this guy that was here yesterday. Now all we have to do is wait to see which truck he gets into and tail him!”

“Okay, you keep watching the convoy, I’ll call Chris and let him know what’s going on here and see if they can back us up.”

+ + + + + + +

On impulse, Ezra called the school to ask how Eve was doing. The counselor came on the line after several minutes.

“Mr. Standish? Eve is doing fine. She seems to have connected well with several of the other girls in her class. The teacher feels that she is on par academically. She’ll be fine.”

+ + + + + + +

Vin and JD leapt from the surveillance van and into the white ford sedan that they had arrived in and raced onto the highway. The man they were after was in one of the trucks in the middle of the long line of vehicles. They were certain that at some point along their route, the truck would drop out of the convoy. Chris had said that he would have the rest of the team pick up the convoy when it got closer to Denver.

The target vehicle began to drift in and out of its lane just before the Colorado Springs exit. The driver, a Lieutenant Singer, radioed to the leader that he was experiencing a mechanical problem and was going to pull off at the next exit and check it out. The truck slowed and the rest of the convoy passed it as it coasted up the exit ramp.

Vin called the others to let them know that the target vehicle had pulled off of the highway and that they were in pursuit. JD’s hands tightened on the wheel and he watched out of the corner of his eye as the high-powered sniper rifle was removed from its case. He tried to calm the nervous energy that was now coursing thru his body as he kept his eyes on the military transport truck.

Lieutenant Singer pulled onto the gas station lot and let the truck coast to a stop. He shut down the engine and climbed down to visually inspect the vehicle. When he reached the rear of the big truck, he spotted the problem. One of the tires on the dual axel was flat. Because of the weight of the crates loaded on the bed of the truck, he would have to change the tire before he could rejoin the convoy. He ordered the three Privates to begin unloading the crates and to stand guard over them while he started working on the tire.

JD brought the car alongside of the gas pump and got out. He tried to look casual as he put the nozzle in the car and added a few dollars worth of gas. Vin got out and went into the station to check out the area before returning to the car.

“There is only the one clerk in there. I can’t believe they’ll try to pull off a theft out here in broad daylight. Go ahead and pay for the gas, I’ve got an idea.”

While JD was paying for the gas, Vin popped the hood and took out his pocketknife. Wrapping his hand in his handkerchief, he carefully poked a hole in the radiator hose, allowing hot steam to spray into the air. He was just shoving his knife back into his pocket when JD came out of the building.

“Damn! Blew the damned radiator hose. We can’t go anywhere until we get it fixed! JD, help me push it out of the way. We’ll push it back there by the air pump for right now.”

The dark haired agent caught on quickly and moved to the driver’s side door to push and steer the car while they pushed it closer to the convoy truck. JD let the car drift slightly so that it wasn’t parallel to the truck. He closed the door and moved to stand by the open hood with his hands on his hips and an angry scowl on his face.

“Go call the auto club and see if they can get someone out here to fix this thing.”

JD walked back to the pay phone and pretended to be placing a call. He kept glancing back toward the car and watching the convoy truck out of the corner of his eye. They had unloaded several of the crates and were trying to position the jack under the axel when the truck rolled up alongside and stopped.

Hanging up the phone, JD started back across the lot. Suddenly, he saw Vin pull the rifle from the car and point it at the soldier standing at the back of the truck. Scanning the area quickly, he realized that the only cover he could get to was the ten-yard dumpster five or six yards from where he was standing.

Two other vehicles raced onto the lot and began shooting at the soldiers and at the longhaired man shooting the rifle from the side of the white ford. JD watched as two men jumped from the cars and grabbed one of the crates and tossed it into the bed of the pick-up. He pulled his gun and shot out the tires on two of the vehicles before the men spotted him.

The El Camino was primer red in spots and yellow, JD noticed as it started toward the dumpster. He was against the wall of the building and saw that if he ran from the cover of the dumpster that they would pick him off. The car was barely ten feet from the dumpster when he gripped the top and lifted himself up over the edge. He didn’t realize that the lid was closed and he found himself on his knees on top of the dumpster as the car slammed into it. His last shot took out the driver before he found himself air-born and then he slammed into the ground and darkness fell.

Vin had taken down the men from the truck and one of the men from the car. The Lieutenant managed to get off a couple of shots before a bullet shattered his shoulder and another entered his heart. The sharpshooter wasn’t quick enough to get the driver of the El Camino and watched in horror as it raced toward JD’s hiding place. He started across the lot as the car slammed into the yellow dumpster and the young agent flew thru the air and landed on the pavement with a sickening thud.

+ + + + + + +

To avoid sitting in the condo worrying about Eve, Ezra headed for the office. He wasn’t supposed to be back to work for at least another four weeks but he didn’t want to be alone. The offices were quiet when he arrived and he sat at his desk and powered up his computer. He spent the next few hours reviewing the notes on the case the team was working on at the moment. The phone on his desk rang and he looked around the room suspiciously before answering.


“Ezra, dear, how are you?”

“Mother? I’m fine. How are you?”

“Is everything all right, you sound odd?”

“No, no, I’m fine, Mother. I just wasn’t expecting anyone to call me here, I’m not supposed to be at work and you caught me off guard.”

“Not supposed to be at work? What happened this time? Which one of your civil servant friends nearly got you killed this time?”

“It wasn’t like that, Mother. I fell and dislocated my shoulder again and had to have surgery to repair the damage. I’ll be out of work at least another four weeks and then light duty until I re-qualify with my firearm. Are you in town?”

“No, Ezra dear, I was calling to invite you to a wedding. Your cousin Jennifer, you remember her dear, she’s getting married in two weeks and she wants you here.”

“I’ll think about it, Mother. By the way, there’s something I need to tell you. I recently found out that I fathered a child.”

Before he could continue, Maude exploded.

“You what? Can they prove it? Don’t admit anything, make the woman prove it!”

“Mother, I have already taken custody of the child. She’s seven and her name is Eve. I wish you could see her, she’s beautiful.”

“You took custody of a seven year old girl? Are you out of your mind? Where is her mother? How could you do something like that without telling me?”

“It didn’t have anything to do with you, Mother. She’s my daughter and I want to raise her. Her mother died two months ago, I’m all she has in the world.”

“I can’t believe you! Your civil servant friends have warped your mind!”

“My friends helped me find my conscience, something you were never very good at. They are all behind me on this. I’d like you to meet her, Mother, she’s really very sweet.”

“I’ll take your word for it. What should I tell your cousin?”

“Send her my blessing and regrets, I will not subject my daughter to a family gathering until she’s a lot more comfortable with things.”

Ezra hung up the phone and began to close out the computer files. He wanted to be sure he had plenty of time to make it to the school. As he was pulling onto the parking lot, his cell phone rang. He pulled it from his pocket and frowned when he saw Chris’s number on the screen.


“Ezra, it’s Chris. I just wanted to tell you that JD is in the hospital. He fell from the top of a dumpster after it was hit by a car. He has a serious concussion. I know you’ve got Eve but you might want to try to stop by… it’s bad.”

The anguish in the team leader’s voice sent chills down Ezra’s spine and his stomach tightened. JD was the youngest on the team and the one, after himself, most prone to accidents and injuries. He spotted Eve coming out of the building.

“I’ll be there, I just have to talk to Eve about it. I don’t want to upset her.”

“Mary might keep her for a few hours.”

“Thanks, I’ll see you.”

Eve opened the car door and dragged another girl into the opening.

“Dad, this is Arabella, she lives in our building. Can I walk home with her, please?”

“I wish I could let you go but I got a call from Chris, one of the guys is in the hospital and I need to be there. I was going to drop you off at Billy’s house for a couple of hours.”

“Please, dad. I can stay at her house for a couple of hours. I have homework and we can work on it together. Please?”

“Arabella, can you call your mother and make sure it’s okay for Eve to come home with you? I can drop you both at home if it’s all right with your mom.” He handed the girl his cell phone when she nodded. After the child confirmed with her mother, she handed him the phone.

“She wants to talk to you.”


“Mr. Standish, Rosa Hernandez, we have the unit downstairs and across the hall from yours. Arabella said that you needed someone to watch your daughter for a couple of hours?”

“Well, Mrs. Hernandez, the girls are begging to spend the time together. I have an emergency to attend to and I can drop Eve at a friend’s house if it’s inconvenient for you. I don’t want to impose, especially since we’ve never met.”

“We have met, Mr. Standish. You drive the black Jaguar and my husband drives the silver Mercedes. We’ve seen each other a lot; we’ve just never spoken. I’d be happy to keep Eve for a couple of hours.”

“I appreciate that very much. Can I bring Arabella home?”

“Sure, I’ll see you in a few minutes.”

After dropping Eve and her new friend and thanking Mrs. Hernandez again, he headed for the hospital. His heart was pounding as he worried about JD.

+ + + + + + +

The Colorado Springs Police and an ambulance arrived almost as Vin was dropping to his knees beside his fallen partner. He laid the rifle on the ground and carefully felt for a pulse. There was a small, spreading puddle of blood coming from under JD’s head and the sharpshooter knew not to move him.

The police officer took a moment to survey the scene before spotting the man kneeling over the prone body of a teenager on the parking lot. As he was running to offer assistance, he spotted the butt of the rifle. Drawing his gun, he aimed at the man and began to shout.

“Put your hands on your head and back away! Sir, put your hands on your head and back away from the boy!”

It took a moment for Vin to realize that the man was shouting at him. He turned an incredulous gaze on the officer before slowly raising his hands and lacing them together on top of his head. He shifted away from JD and came slowly to his feet. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw three other cops pointing guns at him and the paramedics standing behind the line of officers eying the downed man.

“My name is Vin Tanner, I’m an ATF agent. My badge and ID are in my jacket pocket. His name is John Dunne, he’s ATF too.”

Rough hands grabbed him from behind and he was shoved to the ground as handcuffs slammed into his wrist. He tried not to tense up as they twisted his hands to the small of his back and closed the other cuff. While one pair of hands held him, another frisked him and ripped his gun from its holster. The hands then returned and drew his badge case from his pocket.

The big, black Dodge roared onto the parking lot and the four members of Team 7 spilled from it, running. Chris pulled his badge and waived it like a banner in the faces of the stunned police officers. Nathan and Josiah rushed to check on JD while Chris and Buck moved up on the officers holding Vin.

“Chris Larabee, Denver ATF! This is one of my men! Get those damned cuffs off of him immediately!”

The officers flinched under the Larabee glare and quickly complied with his orders. One reached out to remove the offending handcuffs while the other returned the gun and badge case. The officers were still mouthing apologies when the three men turned and moved to check on the injured man.

The paramedics had already applied a pad to the bleeding wound on the back of JD’s head and were putting a cervical collar on him by the time Chris got to his side. Vin stopped to retrieve his rifle before moving to peer over Buck’s shoulder. The mustached agent was shaking with fear and rage as he watched the strangers tending to his young roommate. Josiah had one of the kid’s hands wrapped in his and was praying softly as the paramedics started an IV and brought a backboard.

The five men yielded their place as the paramedic moved to roll JD so the other man could put the board in place. Velcro straps secured the unconscious man to the rigid surface before he was placed on the gurney. The cardiac monitor recorded the steady heartbeat and an oxygen mask was pressed onto the pale face before they prepared to load him into the ambulance.

“Nathan, go with them. We’ll finish up here and meet you at Denver General.”

The paramedic turned, an incredulous look on his face. “We aren’t going to Denver General. That’s too far out of our area.”

Buck caught Chris just before he launched himself at the innocent man.

“What my very irate, uptight friend here meant was, you will take him to Denver General, right? He’s an ATF agent and they know us there, okay?” As Wilmington nodded his head, the paramedic looked to his partner.

“Sure, no problem. Just let me radio the dispatcher and let her know where we’ll be.”

It took only 15 minutes for Vin to give his account of what happened before the men piled back into the truck and raced after the ambulance. Josiah kept a hand on the Texan’s shoulder as he shuddered repeatedly. He couldn’t close his eyes without seeing JD flying thru the air and landing on the unyielding pavement. He unconsciously scrubbed at the blood that dotted the fingers of his right hand.

The paramedics radioed the hospital to let them know what was coming. When they arrived, the emergency area was being cleared by hospital security so that the gurney could be quickly wheeled into the examining room. The patient was immediately assessed and transferred to a hospital gurney before the paramedics were literally shoved out of the room. They stood in the hall, puzzled by the way they had been treated as they waited for the return of the rest of their equipment. A nurse brought their things and shooed them down the hall away from the door.

Chris slammed the truck into park and leapt from it all in one smooth, fluid motion. He raced around to the emergency room doors closely followed by the others. A quick look to the nurse’s station yielded the room number and they surged down the hall. Nathan caught them at the door and strong-armed them back toward the waiting area.

“They’re taking him for a head CT. His skull is fractured. There doesn’t seem to be any inter-cranial bleeding. His heart rate and blood pressure have been steady.”

The calm, even tone of voice said more than the words could convey. Nathan reached out a hand to Vin and guided him into a chair. He could tell by the look in the young man’s eyes that he was deeply troubled by what had happened. Tanner shuddered and covered his face with his hands.

“I keep seeing him flying thru the air. There wasn’t anything I could do, they had me pinned down. I saw the car aiming for him but I couldn’t stop it.”

Chris rubbed Vin’s shoulder with one hand while he looked at the rest of his team. Ezra ran in a few moments later. He glanced around at the circle of concerned faces before throwing a questioning gaze at Nathan. When he had gotten the update, he took a seat beside Vin and reached out to squeeze the back of his neck. As the southerner’s fingers found the taut muscles, they relaxed and the blue eyes looked up gratefully. Vin looked around the room before turning back to Ezra.

“Where’s Eve?”

“She made a friend at school today and went home with her for a couple of hours. Lucky for me, they live in the building.”

“A gift of providence.” Josiah intoned softly.

By the time Ezra had to leave, JD had been moved to a room. He had a severe concussion and would be monitored closely for at least 24 hours. He opened his eyes only long enough to ask if Vin was all right before succumbing to the urgent call of darkness.

“Call me right away if there’s any change. I must go and get Eve and prepare supper for her. I will call and check in after she goes to bed.” Ezra leaned over the dark haired agent and brushed a lock of hair off of his forehead before slowly leaving the room. The others took up positions around the bed and settled in for the long haul.

+ + + + + + +

Parking the Jag in the lot of his building, Ezra looked more closely at the Mercedes parked a few spaces down the row. He remembered the car but he couldn’t place the face of the owner. It was lucky that his life didn’t depend on recalling that face, he thought to himself. He couldn’t afford to become complacent in his vigilance. Just because this was his own turf didn’t make it safe. He knocked on the door of the Hernandez condo and waited. An older teenaged boy opened the door and invited him inside.

“Hey, mom, Eve’s dad is here to pick her up! Have a seat, they’ll be down in a minute.”

Mrs. Hernandez came out of the kitchen and Ezra immediately came to his feet again.

“No, no, please sit down. The girls are putting away their toys and gathering your daughter’s books. I hope your friend is all right?”

“He has a concussion. They are keeping him in the hospital overnight. I want to thank you again for allowing Eve to stay here, I really appreciate it.”

“She was no trouble. If you run into a bind any time, you can have her come home with Bella and I’ll watch her for you. I’m a stay at home mom, so I’m always here.”

“You’re too kind, really. I wouldn’t want to take advantage of your kindness.”

A dark haired blur flew at him and he caught her by reflex.

“Dad! Is JD okay? Can we go and see him? I’ll be real quiet. I know how to behave in the hospital. Do you like my hair? Bella braided it for me! Can she please come up and see my room? Please?”

An indulgent smile lit his face as he looked into her green eyes.

“You will have to ask Mrs. Hernandez if Bella can come up and see your room. Your hair is beautiful. I don’t think I should take you to the hospital tonight; JD is sleeping and will not be up to visitors until tomorrow at the earliest. If you have all of your things, thank Mrs. Hernandez and let’s get upstairs so I can start supper.”

“Thank you for letting me come and play with Bella. Can she come up and see my room? Please?”

“Yes, she may go. And you are very welcome, Eve. Come and play here any time.”

“I’ll walk Bella back down in a little while then. Thank you again for all your help,” Ezra said as he gathered Eve’s book bag and started out the door.

The girls disappeared up the stairs as soon as they entered the condo. Ezra moved into the kitchen and began pulling the things he needed from the refrigerator. When he had gathered everything on the counter, he began to make supper. He could hear the girls talking and laughing upstairs and it filled him with a feeling of calm.

It took a half hour to get supper ready before he called the girls down. They escorted Bella home with assurances that the girls would play together at recess the next day. When they returned to the condo, they ate supper and he listened to Eve talk about her day.

“The teacher is really nice. There is this one boy, his name is Titus or Timothy, he’s gross! He was doing yucky stuff with his lunch. And this one girl, Lia or something, she tried to get me to pass a note during a test and I wouldn’t and she got mad at me, but we played together at recess. Bella said there aren’t any other little girls in the complex, just boys. I’m so glad I met her and her mom is so nice.”

There were other words, spilling from her mouth like a dam burst inside of her. Ezra tried to keep up with her as he nodded or made what he hoped were appropriate expressions. When supper was over he asked her if she wanted to call Mrs. Crawford and tell her about her new friend and her first day of school. He dialed the phone and parked her on the couch while he cleaned up in the kitchen.

+ + + + + + +

He was flying! He could see the ground below him passing at an abnormally rapid pace. The only thing he could not figure out was how to land. He saw the pavement rushing up at him and tried to stop. There was an explosion of pain in his head and back.

“No!” JD called weakly as he tried to turn his head. The pain that slammed into him made him regret his action. He suddenly felt like he couldn’t breathe and began to struggle for air. Someone was throwing something on him and pushing him down.

“It’s okay, JD, just calm down. Don’t try to sit up. Relax. It’s all right.” Nathan’s voice was a soothing litany that eventually penetrated the pain and terror in the young man’s mind.

One by one the restraining hands were lifted and he drew a deep, shuddering breath. Opening his eyes, he looked into the faces of the team. A small smile lifted the corners of his mouth before he slipped away again.

“He puts up a hell of a fight for a little guy!” Buck exclaimed softly as he rubbed his chin where JD had conked him with his knee.

Vin sank back into the chair by the head of the bed and let his head fall back against the wall with a soft thud. Chris sighed and returned to his place on the window ledge. Nathan and Josiah dropped into chairs across the room. Buck remained standing over the bed, watching for any sign of awakening.

+ + + + + + +

The soft sounds of footsteps on the carpet woke Ezra in the middle of the night. He rolled over and watched the bathroom light come on and go off in a couple of minutes. Her soft footfalls came to his door and stopped.

“Can’t sleep?”

“Bad dreams. Can I stay here?”

He really didn’t want to get in the habit of having her in his bed but he couldn’t resist. Waiving his hand toward the empty expanse at his side, he allowed her into to his bed. Eve curled up around the pillow and went right back to sleep. After a little while, he carried her back to her bed.

+ + + + + + +

The swirling darkness slowed and a light intruded. ‘Oh, wait, I blinked. God that hurts!’

Vin gripped the pale hand as soon as he heard the soft moan. JD had been fighting to wake for nearly an hour. The nurse had sandbagged his head to prevent him from moving it when he awoke. The kid’s breathing sped up and his hands and legs twitched. Tanner smoothed his hand over the top of JD’s head.

The dark eyes opened for a moment and another moan sounded. Buck came to his feet and picked up the other hand. The kid kept trying to turn his head as if to escape the pain.

“It’s okay kid, open your eyes again. Buck, turn out this light, please? Come on, JD, wake up and say something.” Vin’s soft drawl was insistent.

JD’s eyes fluttered open and his forehead furrowed into a pained expression. He tensed up for a moment as his eyes scanned the room. Panic surged thru his chest as he struggled to remember where he was and what happened. His heart pounded loudly in his ears. He was dizzy and nauseous.

“Easy kid. Just try to breathe. Calm down.” Buck whispered softly. He leaned over so that his friend could see him. JD’s eyes were wide with fear as they locked onto the deep blue eyes that searched his own. A moment later, the eyes closed and the kid fell unconscious.

+ + + + + + +

The alarm went off and Ezra shut it off. He rolled out of bed and went to wake up Eve. When he got downstairs, he picked up the phone and called the hospital. After talking to Josiah about JD, he started breakfast. He dropped Eve off at school and went straight to the hospital.

By the time he arrived at Denver General, JD was awake and feeling marginally better. He told Ezra to make sure Eve knew he was all right; he didn’t want the little girl worrying about him unnecessarily. Because of his often adverse reactions to anesthetics and pain medicines, he was being trained in biofeedback and attached to a TENS unit for pain control.

As soon as Eve buckled her seatbelt that afternoon, she began to beg to go see JD. Ezra decided that it might be good for both of them as the kid was not having a lot of success with the biofeedback and the TENS unit. A boisterous distraction might be just what the doctor had in mind. He reminded his daughter that the young agent was in considerable pain and that she should be quiet and not move around a lot in the room.

JD was struggling to focus on the calming image he had in his mind. It was supposed to take his mind off of the minor explosions in his head. He had put up with the ice packs and the TENS unit and the massage from the physical therapist and was almost ready to ask for a shot of pain medicine when Ezra and Eve arrived.

The dark haired moppet walked solemnly to the bedside and gently took JD’s hand. His dark eyes opened and he smiled softly into her green eyes. She could see that the young man was in a lot of pain and she looked up at her father, concern flashing brightly in her eyes. Ezra nodded toward the injured man and she turned her attention back to him.

“Hey, JD. I guess you aren’t feeling too good right now, huh?”

“No, kiddo, I’m not. The biofeedback isn’t working and they took the TENS away an hour ago. I feel like my head is about to explode.”

“Daddy, put me up on the bed, okay?” Her eyes pleaded as she spoke.

“Whatever for, Eve?” He was worried about the emotions racing across her face.

“I can help him find the calming place, I used to do it for my mom. Please?”

“Is it okay with you, JD?” His voice was carefully modulated to conceal his doubt at her ability to do anything more than distract the young man.

“Sure, she can’t do any worse than everyone else.”

The bedside rail was lowered and Eve carefully placed on the side of the bed. She gently gathered JD’s hands on his stomach and stroked his palms gently.

“Tell me about your calming place.”

“I was thinking about a place my mom took me to near Boston. There is this park up in the mountains. There were pine trees and a river. We stood on this wooden bridge looking into the water and she talked to me about my dad.”

“Close your eyes, JD. Focus on the bridge. Can you feel the rails in your hands?” She drew her nails across his palms as she asked. “Can you feel the breeze on your face?” She blew softly on his forehead.

The rest of the team watched in amazement as the tension began to leave the young man’s shoulders. Vin had an idea and slipped quietly out of the room. Josiah was too curious to wait and followed the Texan to the elevator.

Eve’s small hands brushed lightly over JD’s face and then gently fluttered across his chest as she continued to make soft shushing sounds. In a voice that was a mere whisper, she continued to lead the injured man through his calming place.

“What else do you see? Are there birds? Did you see any squirrels or bunnies?”

The corners of JD’s mouth drew up slightly as he whispered back. “There was this squirrel, he was sitting in the tree above our heads, chattering at us. We saw a wild fox just before it disappeared into the brush.”

“Tell me about your momma.”

“This was before she got really sick. It was one of the last outings we had together. Her hair was dark, like mine, and she always had this look in her eyes. I always knew she loved me because I could see it in her eyes. She never talked down to me. Always told me the truth.”

Vin and Josiah returned with a radio and a CD. Setting their new acquisitions on the counter, they plugged in the radio and started the recording. The room was suddenly filled with the soft sounds of a babbling brook. The flowing water seemed to fit right in with JD’s voice as he continued to whisper back and forth with the green-eyed urchin.

The pale, trembling hands drew Eve down against his chest and JD sighed. Behind his closed lids, he could see and hear the place in his mind. As the tears rolled from the corners of his eyes, he continued to relax. The child tucked her arms against his sides and carefully held her weight off of his chest as she pressed the top of her head under his chin. Some ten minutes passed before Buck whispered in amazement.

“I think he’s asleep.”

Ezra carefully extricated his daughter and Vin quietly raised the bedside rail. The entire group padded out into the hallway to comment on what they had just witnessed.

Vin knelt in front of Eve as she sat on her father’s lap. “That was amazing! How did you learn to do that?”

“When my momma was sick, near the end, she would tell me about her calming place. They couldn’t give her a lot of medicine because she had been addicted. I just figured if he could talk about his place, it would help him to see it in his mind and he wouldn’t hurt so bad.”

Four of the five men brushed tears from their own eyes as they studied the child. With all the innocence in her face, it was almost easy to forget that she had lived a whole, different life before coming to Denver to be with her dad. Ezra sighed and tousled her hair before dragging his fingers thru his own short locks.

“Gentlemen, I need to get her home and fed so she can get into bed on time. Please call me if there is any change in Mr. Dunne’s condition.”

They remained in the hall until Ezra and Eve disappeared into the elevator before returning to the hospital room. Vin slipped out and returned a short time later with a handful of clippings from an evergreen tree and a pinecone. He placed them in one of the plastic cups on the bedside table. After several minutes, the odor of the tree lightly scented the room.

Eve was subdued on the drive home. She hadn’t thought about her mom much since arriving in Denver. She felt her dad reach over and cup his hand on top of her head and she drew it down to nuzzle against. Going to the hospital had stirred up all the old feelings of sadness and abandonment. She tried really hard not to cry.

They rode home in silence. Ezra didn’t want to push the child while she was in so fragile a state. She had nuzzled against his hand before sighing aloud. He patted her leg before returning his hand to the wheel. She remained quiet in the elevator ride up to the condo and went directly to her room. He started supper before going up to check on her.

“You want to talk about it?” He asked from her doorway. Eve sat on the edge of her bed and stared at the floor before shaking her head. “Okay. I’ll have supper in a half hour.”

By the time he had supper on the table, she had come down. He tossed her a questioning gaze and she shook her head again. She set up the table as he put the food into serving dishes and they sat down to eat.

“So how was school today? Did you play with Bella again?”

“Yeah, we played jump rope at recess. She introduced me to some of the girls in her Girl Scout troop. Do you think I could join the scouts? They go camping and stuff and I was in the scouts in Memphis. Meg said it was good for me to learn the stuff they teach.”

“Certainly, if you get the name of the troupe leader, I will contact her and find out what needs to be done. Do you have any homework to finish?”

“No, we finished everything in class today and I already passed the spelling pretest so I don’t have to study for that either. I’m really not very hungry, can I take my shower now?”

“Of course, I’ll clear the table.” He watched as she left the table and trudged up the stairs. A heavy sigh left his chest as he wondered how to get her to talk about what was so troubling to her. He knew it had to do with the memories of Emily and the hospital but he didn’t want to press her into talking if she wasn’t ready.

+ + + + + + +

The rest of Team 7 split up to get supper so that JD would not be alone if he awoke. The nurse had cast an odd glance at the cup of tree clippings on the table but since the patient was resting easily, she decided that it wasn’t important. Noni Peterson was new to Denver General and had never treated any of the elite ATF team before. She had been told that some or all of them would stay with the injured man and that she was not to interfere with them.

She made note of the patient’s vitals on his chart and refilled the pitcher of ice water on the table. The thin, longhaired man watched her like a hawk as she tended to the injured man. She smiled encouragingly at him and was rewarded with a wan smile.

“How did you get him to sleep?” She asked in a breathless whisper as she checked the drip rate on the IV bag.

“Our teammate’s little girl sat on the bed and talked to him for a while and he just drifted off to sleep. The nature sounds and the evergreen scent seem to calm him, too.”

“Good, if he should need anything, I’m on until morning.” She replaced the chart and left the room.

+ + + + + + +

Eve had gone to bed without coming down after her shower and Ezra was worried. He crept up the steps and looked in on her before going back to watch the news. The ache in his shoulder drove him to take a pain pill and he dozed off while sitting on the couch. Some time later, he awoke to his daughter curling up on the couch against his chest. As he settled his arms around her, he felt the telltale shudders of tears. For several minutes, she sobbed softly into his chest before he spoke.

“Can you tell me about it?”

“Why did my momma have to die? Was she a bad person? I don’t want to die like that, in a hospital, in pain and suffering. I’m scared, daddy!”

Her final plaintive words made him want to cry. He couldn’t imagine the fear she was carrying around as a result of her mother’s untimely demise. As his hands massaged her back he tried to come up with an answer.

“No, sweetheart, you momma was not a bad person. She just made some bad decisions and paid the price for them. I’m sorry that our trip to the hospital upset you so badly, I should have realized that it would stir up bad memories for you.”

His mind raced. How many times had he lain in the hospital, near death? How many times had he stood over the hospital beds of his teammates as they hovered near death? Did he have the right to put her through that? How would she endure it if he were seriously injured? His arms tightened around her as his mind churned.

Some time after midnight, he carried her to her bed. He felt as if a leaden weight had been settled on his chest. For nearly an hour, he stood on the balcony outside of his bedroom, staring at the sky and agonizing over his future. He had barely four weeks of sick leave left to make a decision.

+ + + + + + +

By morning, JD was feeling much better. The good night’s rest had rejuvenated him and the swelling in his head had receded to the point where the doctor felt that he could go home as long as he was supervised. Since the judge was piling on the work, the only way JD could leave the hospital was if Ezra would agree to supervise him during the day until Buck got off work.