Sidney sighed heavily as she sat outside the airport waiting for Cory Phoenix
to pick her up. She had been working on a case with a New York ATF Team and
the case had just wrapped up hours before. Tonight was Christmas Eve, and
the only thought on her mind was getting home. Apparently her Christmas wish
wasn't going to come true. There was a storm brewing in the Rockies and the
flights to Denver had been canceled until further notice. She had tried for
hours to find another way to get close to Colorado, but everything else had
been completely booked/l.
The familiar black sports car pulled outside the pickup area. Corey Phoenix
was an actor currently performing in various productions on Broadway. Sidney
had met him in San Francisco during a drug bust at the theater he was working
at. At least she wouldn't have to spend Christmas alone. She opened the door
to his attractive smiling face.
"Hey stranger," he said when she jumped in car, pulling her small duffle
bag in after her.
"Hey Corey," she answered, sounding less enthusiastic than she intended.
She wiped an unexpected tear away from her eye. He gave her a concerned look.
"You alright?" He asked.
"Sorry. I don't want to seem ungrateful. This is really nice, you inviting
me to spend Christmas with your friends at the theater."
"Don't worry about it Sidney," the man said patting her on the shoulder.
"I understand. I wouldn't want to be away from my family either. Come on
cheer up, we'll make it fun despite the circumstances."
Sidney smiled, but it wasn't sincere. "Yeah, it will be fun," she answered.
She turned her head as Corey maneuvered through the crazy New York City traffic.
The Christmas decorations that has impressed Sidney when she first arrived
here, now only made her feel worse..
"I figured we'd go out for dinner tonight," Corey said interrupting her thoughts.
"Then head down to Rockefeller Center. I know you like to ice skate, so I
figured we'd do some skating down there. Christmas in New York is actually
great Sidney. All the great decorations and the massive amounts of people
walking through Central Park to see the lights are fun.. Christmas is special
in the city."
"I bet its great," Sidney answered. "Why are we heading to Broadway?" She
"Oh I forgot to tell you, I have a quick read through of this new Shakespeare
play I'm doing. It shouldn't take more than an hour and a half. I figured
that you might want to do some shopping or you can just relax in the theater.
I bet the case has probably tired you out. Sorry I forgot to mention that."
"It's alright," Sidney answered. "I do have a little Christmas shopping left
to do." A few minutes later, Sidney was venturing down the New York streets
by herself What Corey called exciting, she found nauseating. This was not
her idea of Christmas. She squeezed her way though the crowds of people looking
of her final gift.
Sidney was not a last minute shopper. Most of her gifts had been bought much
earlier, but she still had one yet to buy. The reason this special person's
gift was lacking from the tree was not due to the lack of her effort. She
was a firm believer that gifts had to mean something, and she wanted this
gift to be special. Nothing had met her criteria. She wondered down a back
street where there were a collection of privately owned stores selling everything
from books to marijuana pipes. A large GOING OUT OF BUISNESS sign was painted
on the window of one of the shops. It was a firearms store. She was about
to walk right past it when she felt a strange urge to go inside. She opened
up the door and was greeted by the strong smell of gunpowder. A little bell
on the door singled her entrance.
"I'll be there in a minute," a voice from the back of the store called. Sidney
began walking around the store looking at the guns that she knew nothing
about. There was a large display case on the left wall.
Right away Sidney could tell that these were valuable weapons. She was no
expert, but she knew fine craftsmanship when she saw it. All of them must
have been a thousand dollars plus.
Her eyes fell upon the only weapon that she recognized, and she gasped. The
only other place she had seen one was in a museum or an auction.
"Admiring the Colt?" A voice behind her asked. Sidney turned to see the bright
blue eyes of an old frail looking man "Don't see to many young gun collectors
"Oh, I'm not a gun collector," Sidney answered. "I have a friend who's obsessed
with old west firearms," she answered. "I was just looking for a present."
"Looking to buy the old .45 then?" he asked with a smile.
"I was thinking something a little more in my price range.
"You must know something about guns," the man stated..
"I'm a cop sir," she answered. "I know how to load, shoot and clean my agency
issued sidearm. That's about it."
The man laughed, and pulled a set of keys out of his pocket. He unlocked
the glass door and gently took the gun out.
"Would you like to hold it?" He asked. Sidney nodded her head. The man placed
it in the girl's hands. Even Sidney could feel the perfect balance in the
"You know that they used to call these guns Peacemakers?" He said. "This
gun is the sign of the Wild West. They were used by lawman and outlaws when
they were produced between 1872 and 1940. This one was really used by a lawman
living in the west after the Civil War. You can tell by the scratch marks
"How did you ever find this? I can't imagine any would dream of selling it."
Sidney said handing the gun back to him. He played with it gingerly in hands,
caressing it like he would a child.
"My father used to live near the New Mexico border. He wrote in his journal
how he was passing through a town called Four Corners. There was a peddler
in the town, selling antiques. The peddler told him that seven peacekeepers
used to live in the town, but they had either died or moved away. The gun
was supposed to have belonged to the leader of the bunch. My father was on
his way to France to fight in World War I. He thought the gun might be handy."
The man looked at Sidney. "This friend of yours, what kind of man is he?
Is he a cop too?"
"He's one of the best I've ever seen is my answer to both questions," she
answered wondering why the man asked.
"And what is gun collection like?" The man continued.
"Very small," Sidney answered. "Our occupation's salary doesn't allow much
money to spend on expensive hobbies. The few that he does have are treated
better than he treats his team sometimes." The man laughed because he could
see the joke in his customer's eyes.
"And he talks about the Peacemaker all the time?"
"And then some," Sidney answered. "He went to an auction where on was being
offered, but had to bow out when the weapon reached quadruple figures." The
man looked down at the gun and then around the store.
"I've been running this store for the last fifty years, It's time to throw
in the towel and call it quits. I planned to hand down this store and the
gun to one of my sons, but they never had the passion for this hobby like
I did. That's alright, they have their own lives." He paused. "This gun should
go to one them, but I couldn't bear to give this little girl to someone who
doesn't understand her."
Sidney watched the man, not sure where he was going with this.
"I have a proposal for you Miss""
"Sidney," she answered.
"Alright Sidney, If you promise to make sure this gun is properly cared for
by its new owner, I will let you have it for a sum that will fit in you r
Sidney blanched at the price he told her.
"I couldn't do that! You could sell this to a museum and not have to worry
about your retirement! What would your sons say if they found out you were
basically giving the gun away?"
I don't really care about what either one of my sons would say. They want
me to sell if for money and that's about it. A museum would ensure that is
would be cleaned appropriately, but a gun like this should be used every
once in a while, not sitting in velvet behind a glass case. It would do my
old heart good to know that it would be well taken care of someone who
appreciates more for than just as something that is worth a lot of money."
"I still don't think I can do it," Sidney hesitated.
"Just imagine your friend's eyes when he opens up the gun tomorrow." Sidney
opened her mouth to say that the gun wouldn't be opened up tomorrow, but
there was no need to worry this man with her problems. She thought of Chris's
eyes as he held the gun in his hands.
"If you really are willing to give it up," Sidney answered. "I would be
incredibly grateful, and I know Chris would be too."
"Hold on, I'll go and grab the case for it," the man said with a twinkle
in his eye. While he was gone, Sidney took out her checkbook and wrote out
the suggested amount. The man returned with a bag. Inside there was a black
case. Nobody would have ever guessed that there was a gun inside.
"I know you're a cop, but I thought it best not to carry the gun around where
everyone can see what it is. The case and bag shouldn't cause to much suspicion."
Sidney nodded her head.
"Who should I make the check out to?" She asked.
"Mike Rocky is fine. I don't have an account set up for the store anymore."
Sidney wrote out the name and handed him the check.
"Mr. Rocky, I don't know what to say," Sidney said. "I hope you know how
much this will mean to me and my friend."
"Please don't worry about it. I'm glad the gun is going to a good home. Now
please, don't let me keep you any longer. I'm sure you have other things
to do." Sidney glanced at the clock. She had about ten minutes to make it
back to the theater. She hadn't realized how much time had gone by. She smiled
at the man one last time and exited the small building. She made a mental
note of the address, so she could send a thank you letter. It was the least
she could do. As she picked her way through the mass of people, she pulled
out her cell phone. .
"Hello Sidney," a familiar southern drawl answered. "Were you able to contact
"Yeah, he's at the theater right now. I guess we're going to go out to eat
and ice skating in Central Park.
"You don't seem to enthused about the prospect," Ezra said. "A big city Christmas
is an interesting experience Sidney. Try to make the best of it."
"That's what Corey said, but somehow I don't think its right for me," she
answered. "Hey Ezra, can you make sure my Christmas presents get over to
Chris's tomorrow. They should all be under the tree. I can actually keep
them under the tree this year. Riley isn't around to chew the wrapping paper
up." She added sadly.
"He was a good dog Sidney. We all miss him." Ezra was referring to Sidney's
old golden retriever. Only three weeks before, Sidney had made the choice
to put her friend down. The poor old dog was just suffering too much. It
was one of the hardest decisions that she had made in her life. Her current
condition only made the situation worse. "Buck has proposed waiting to celebrate
Christmas until you come home."
"No, there are too many people coming over tomorrow to chance the date now.
Those kids that Nettie is bringing over would be devastated. Ezra, I better
go. Corey is waiting for me. Tell Chris that he'll get his Christmas present
from me when I get home."
"Last minute shopping?" Ezra asked with amusement.
"It is well worth the wait," she replied mysteriously.
"Perhaps you will enlighten me?"
"Not a chance Ezra."
"I expected as much. Have a good Christmas Eve Sidney. We'll talk to you
"Oh Ezra, can you watch Chris tonight. I worry about him tonight more than
anytime of the year"
"I think we will be watching him tonight," Ezra answered quietly. "Try and
have a little fun Sidney."
Sidney hung up the phone to see Cory rushing towards her. She smiled at his
exuberance. He was really trying to make an effort so she could be happy.
"How badly do you want to go home?" He asked.
"I'd walk through a freaking snowstorm that's in Colorado if I could," she
answered suspiciously. "Why?"
"Well you might get that chance. The director owns his own plane and he's
going to risk flying into Denver tonight. He says you're welcome to join
"Corey, are you serious?" She asked.
"Of course, I wouldn't lie to you like that. Think about it for a second
though Sidney. There's a reason all the flights to Denver were canceled.
Its got to be getting pretty bad out there. Do you really hate New York that
"Cory, I"" She started to say, feeling embarrassed. He had gone out of his
way to make this special for her, and now she was prepared to blow him off.
He smiled and put his arm around her shoulders.
"Don't worry about it Sidney. "You're simply not a city girl. You belong
at home in those mountains full of snow, and with your family." She looked
up at him gratefully.
'Thank you Corey," she said hugging him tightly. "You will never know how
much this means to me."
"Hey I wouldn't want to be the Grinch that stole your Christmas." Sidney
"That was terrible,"
"I'm an actor, not a comedian," he answered. "Come on, let's go meet your
pilot. Cory led her inside and Sidney felt her heart lifting.
"Should you call any of your teammates?" Corey asked.
"Hell no, they would say it wasn't safe enough to come and that's the last
thing I would want to hear. Besides, I can't wait to see Chris Larabee's
face when I walk through that door."
+ + + + + + +
:"Out of the way Lady, I saw that spot first," Buck hollered, as the white
Toyota pulled into the parking spot "Damn!" He swore as he punched the steering
wheel. "Why the hell did you wait to do your freaking shopping JD? The stores
close in a couple hours."
"Relax Scrooge; I don't have that much to get yet. Besides I seem to remember
a shortage of wrapped packages with From Buck tags on them under our tree,"
JD shot back.
"You never mind about me kid," Buck answered. "Vin, you still want to be
in charge of getting the kid's presents?" The sharpshooter lifted his head
off the window. He hadn't heard a word his two friends had said.
'What?" He asked
"What's up Vin? You've been awfully quiet today, I mean even for you." JD
stated looking into the backseat.
"Vin, he'll be fine," Buck stated, knowing exactly what was bugging Vin.
"You know he does this every Christmas. He'll be a cheery as Santa Clause
himself tomorrow, but tonight belongs to Sarah and Adam."
"I know, guess I'm just taking over for Sidney." Vin answered. "Poor kid,"
he added. "You think this is bad, imagine what the traffic is like in New
York. It's the last place I would want to be.'
"I have a feeling its the last place she wants to be too," Buck added. "But
Corey will make it special for her. Come on, We can't sit here lollygagging.
There are presents that still have to be bought." The three agents piled
out of the car.
"You've got until five o clock," Buck said. "After that this sleigh is leaving."
"Not that that it would go anywhere," JD snorted. "There's barely enough
snow to cover the ground. I can't believe there's no snow in Colorado on
"Its coming JD," Vin answered. "You heard those snow reports, that storm
should be hitting us at any moment."
"Which is why I want to hurry," Buck answered. "Santa may be able to travel
through this, but I just waxed the truck." JD rolled his eyes and followed
Buck into the mall.
Vin paused a moment. It was Chris's tradition to spend Christmas Eve alone,
while the rest of the team stayed at Buck and JD's place watching Christmas
movies. He had always been the one telling Sidney not to worry, but something
felt different this year. Chris's mood was worse than it had been in other
years. Sidney not being home didn't help anything. Vin sighed, hoping that
he was just being stupid. Still, he couldn't fight the feeling that Chris
would try to do something stupid.
"Keep an eye on him will you Sarah?" He looked up at the sky. :"You too Adam,
make sure your daddy doesn't do anything stupid."
+ + + + + + +
Chris sat down at the table with his second bottle of whisky. His head was
throbbing and his eyes were coming in an out of focus, but he didn't care.
An open picture album sat on the table.
Sarah and Adam were standing in front of the tree. His son was clawing at
the black bow tie that Sarah had insisted that he wear. She was looking gorgeous
in her black dress, her long brown hair flowing over her shoulders. Chris
had been behind the camera. It was the last picture of his family before
the car bomb had went off two months later, killing the two of them and his
He looked closely at the picture of his wife. In retrospect, it was easy
to see that she was pregnant. Chris hadn't noticed at the time, but she was
a few pounds heavier and there was a natural glow in her face that he had
attributed to blush. He stroked the picture with his finger then slammed
the book shut. He picked it up and chucked it at the wall, yelling in the
process. He walked over to the cupboard where he had put his gun belt..
"I'll just end it right now," he yelled. "It's better than living the way
I am right now. No more getting drunk to hide the pain." He clicked off the
safety on his gun and pointed it at his head. His finger was already on the
trigger when a loud BANG echoed throughout the house. The impact knocked
Chris off his feet. He slammed his head on the cupboard. The gun went sliding
across the floor.
"What the hell?" Chris groaned as he slowly pulled himself to his feet. He
looked down to discover that he wasn't the only one in the room.
"Oh man, I must have hit my head harder than I thought," he moaned, rubbing
the spot where he had hit his head.
"No Dad, I'm really here," the little blond haired boy said. He gazed up
at Chris with a familiar pair of green eyes. Chris just stared at him with
a vacant expression in his eyes. "Oh man, this is going to be harder than
I thought," Adam said. He looked up at the ceiling. "A little help please!"
There was another bang, except this one was less severe. Chris immediately
felt his eyes start to focus and the pain in his head disappear. He looked
down at Adam with complete confusion on his face.
"Adam, you're dead, you're not supposed to be here." Chris said, shaking
his head. He was feeling very uneasy.
"You're only half right Dad. Yes, I am dead, but my boss said this is exactly
where I need to me right now."
"Your boss?" Chris asked.
"I'm your guardian angel Dad. We all answer to the same guy."
"You're my guardian angel?" Chris asked in amusement. A little five year
old boy is supposed to protect me from harm?"
"Yup, and mom says I've done a pretty good job too. You know how many bullets
that were meant you went astray and the amount of near death experiences
"If you're an angel," Chris said deciding to play along. "than where are
your wings?" Adam's face turned into a pout.
"You have to earn them in heaven and I haven't done enough to deserve them
yet. Believe me I will have them soon."
"What exactly are you doing here?" Chris asked.
"I'm supposed to stop you from doing something stupid. Shooting yourself
isn't going to do any good Dad."
"Oh really?" Chris challenged. "My job got you and your mother killed. How
many times have my decisions risked the lives of my friends? Let's face it
Adam," he added in a much softer tone. "I've done nothing but hurt those
that become close to me. I'm a risk to all of them. The world would be a
much better place if I wasn't' around."
"Is that really what you think Dad?" Adam asked. Chris nodded his head. Adam
"Looks like we are going to have to do this the hard way." He looked up at
the ceiling again. "Did you hear that?" He asked. "My dad wishes that he
wasn't part of this world. Think you could fix that problem?"
Chris felt his body start to tingle and a dark mist surrounded him. "What
the"" He started to say, but the mist disappeared and the tingling stopped.
A putrid smell reached nose. He looked around and realized that he was standing
in a landfill. A look of disgust covered his face.
"Pretty disgusting isn't it?" Adam commented.
"Where are we Adam?" Chris asked. "What the heck happened to my ranch?" He
stepped in something squishy. A glance at the bottom of boot revealed the
unidentifiable green substance.
"We are at your ranch Dad, or at least what should have been you're ranch.
You see you weren't here to buy this property, so the city bought the land.
You can see what the used the lush forests and freshwater streams for." Chris
looked around the garbage dump. This couldn't be the spot of his beautiful
and treasured land. Yet, he recognized the small hills filled with garbage.
They used to be full of tall cedars and pines.
"You think this is bad?" Adam asked. "Just wait and see what else I've got
in store for you."
"Adam I"" Chris tried to say, but the black mist had surrounded him once
again. This time when the mist cleared, he was standing in a warm building.
A large sign above the door read Detroit Police Department, Prescient 45.
He looked down when he heard crunching. Adam was standing next to him., a
large chocolate chip cookie in his hand. He looked up at Chris. His mouth
and surrounding facial area was caked in melted chocolate.
"Sorry, had to stop for a snack," the kid stated. Chris took his sleeve and
wiped off his son's moth. Angel or not, Chris's paternal extinct was still
"Are those your mom's cookies?" Chris asked.
"Yup," Chris answered.
"You're mom may not have been the greatest of cooks, but she could certainty
make the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever tasted."
"You're lucky she's busy taking more out of the oven right now. Otherwise,
she might come down and teach you a lesson about making fun of her cooking."
"Adam, what are we doing in Detroit?" Chris asked.
"Well, you were never around to start Team Seven, so the rest of the team
found different ways to live. I thought you might wan to take a look at what
happened to them." He stopped talking when the sound of footsteps was heard.
Two men entered the room. The first man was stocky. His silver mustache was
a testament to his age. Chris gasped when he recognized the second. Nathan
Jackson followed the older one into the office, but it wasn't the Nathan
Jackson he knew.
The man had to be at least fifty pounds heavier that his lean EMT. Nathan's
eyes that had once had the capability to force both criminals and his own
stubborn teammates to do what he wanted were now full of sorrow,. He had
a three week beard and his clothes were dirty and wrinkled.
"Please Chief, you've got to give me another chance," Nathan pleaded, as
if he had no idea Chris was in the room.
"I've given you plenty of chances Officer Jackson and you have not taken
advantage of my generosity. Look at yourself Man! Look of what you have done
you yourself! You are not the Nathan Jackson we used to know. I understand
that life has been tough for you. There is nothing worse than loosing a partner
and friend, but Josiah Sanchez died almost two years ago now. Chris ran over
to where the two men were arguing, and stood behind his agent. Nathan showed
no signs that he knew his friend was there.
"What do mean, Josiah's dead?" Chris asked, but the Chief didn't respond.
He just kept talking to Nathan.
"I hate to do this to a man on the holidays, but you need to have your desk
cleaned out by New Tears. Creating a stink is only gong to make this harder
on the both of us."
"What the hell is going on you bastard?" Chris swore. He reached out to grab
onto the Chief's jacket, but grabbed nothing but air.
"What the hell?" Chris asked, and looked towards Adam in desperation. "Why
do they act like I'm not here?"
"Because you're not here remember? You were never born. Nathan's never heard
of you You're just an invisible observer in a Chris Larabee free world."
Chris watched as the police chief walked away, leaving a dejected looking
Nathan standing all alone.
"He has no idea that you or I are standing right next to him?"
"Not a clue," Adam answered. Chris sighed heavily, then remembered something.
'What did that chief mean Josiah's dead?"
"He was killed in a drive by shooting working at a soup kitchen. A stray
bullet hit him square in the chest. Since Josiah had no remaining relatives,
it was Nathan's decision to pull the plug. As you can see, he didn't take
it very well." Chris's face paled. He sat down in a chair and put his head
in his hands.
"Bet you didn't realize that you were saving both their lives when you offered
them a job when Team Seven five years ago, did you?" Adam asked quietly.
Chris didn't answer. He just watched Nathan move listless around the room
as he picked up things and threw them into a large cardboard box.
'Come on Dad, we have to go. There's lots of other stuff to see," Adam tugged
on his father's shirt.
"I'm not leaving him like this," Chris objected. "He can't be hare alone
right now. Not like this."
"He is alone," Adam said. "He doesn't have Josiah anymore. The opportunity
to meet the men he would call family will never happen. Neither will meeting
the love of his life." Adam said, glancing up at his father, seeing if he
"Rain?" Chris asked. Adam nodded his head. Adam snapped his fingers and the
familiar black fog began to surround Chris. He clawed against it, trying
to prevent it from smothering him, but his efforts were unsuccessful.
When Chris opened his eyes, he discovered that he was standing in a jail
cell. He looked around wondering why he was in the middle of a jail. A loud
cough turned his attention to the side.
A man was sitting in on the bench in a corner. His orange jumpsuit hung loose
on his emaciated body. His skin was a ghastly pale color. Listless green
eyes stared at a blank spot on the wall, right through Chris. The ATF agent
gasped when he saw Ezra's Standish's lifeless expression.
"Pretty sad isn't it?" Adam said. "There's nothing worse being accused of
murdering a police officer and her two children."
"What are you talking about?" Chris accused. "Ezra may have done some
questionable things, but I know for a fact that he would never do something
"Of course he didn't, but that didn't stop him from being accused. You know
how many enemies Ezra made when he was working in Atlanta.. Three men hated
him enough to frame him for this crime. I know you've heard about the Bradson
Chris nodded his head, "It happened about the same time I went down to Atlanta
to hire Ezra. It was all over the news. I even think Ezra mentioned something
about being friends with the mom. They caught the man that did it. He was
an escaped inmate from the mental institution. There's no way Ezra could
have been accused of the crime."
"The men saw no point in doing it after they found out Ezra was leaving the
department. Without you, he never left and the men continued with their plan.
They planted evidence and made up some phony story about Ezra having a
relationship with Emily Bradson, and had stabbed her in a fit of rage."
"Why he like this if he's innocent?" Chris asked. "I know Ezra, and he would
be fighting tooth and nail to prove his innocence. He would be using all
his friends on the outside to search for information.
"He doesn't have anyone to call," Adam informed him. "You know how very few
acquaintances he had in Atlanta. The few that he did have abandoned him when
the heard the story. The evidence was very convincing. In fact,.."
Adam didn't get the chance to finish his sentence, because the jail door
slid open and a burly guard walked in. He smiled evilly.
"You still not eating Standish? You got a problem with the food we're serving
here?" When Ezra didn't respond, the guard's face grew cold. He walked over
the bench and lifted the undercover agent off the ground. Ezra was slammed
into the wall hard. The man put his hand around Standish's neck and squeezed.
"This will teach you a lesson about killing cops and innocent children."
"You bastard," Chris growled. "Nobody messes with one of my men!" He sauntered
over to the man, punching the man square in the jaw. The guard didn't even
flinch. Chris looked over at Adam, with terror in his eyes.
"I told you Dad,' You don't exist remember? Nobody knows you're here." Chris
sighed heavily, rubbing his knuckles out of habit. There really was no pain.
Chris watched helplessly as the man continued to squeeze Ezra's neck. Finally,
the man let go and Ezra slid to the ground, gasping for air.
'That should show you who's boss, you southern son of a bitch," the guard
laughed. For a fleeting moment, Chris thought he saw the familiar cocky attitude
in his friend's eyes, but it had disappeared as quickly as it came.
"Come on Dad, there's nothing we can do. We've still got a lot to see," Adam's
voice drew Chris's attention away from his friend.
""There's got to be something I can do to help him," Chris pleaded.
"You had your chance Dad. You could have taken him away from all this, shown
him what it means to be appreciated and loved. But you gave that chance up,
and now Ezra will never truly know what it means to be part of a family."
Once again, the back mist began covering Chris. He fought it without much
effort, his son's words still fresh on his mind.
Chris didn't want to open his eyes. He didn't want to know what new horror
awaited him. He was so surprised by the warmth in this new location, that
he did it anyway. Chris was standing in the middle of an office, a well decorated
room with expensive furniture.
Something was typing furiously at a computer. Chris couldn't see his face,
but he could recognize the mob of back hair anywhere. He smiled and looked
at Adam who had just arrived.
"Hey JD's life didn't turn out so bad. Look at this place; he has to making
more money here than he could have ever dreamed of working as an agent. Is
he the big time CEO of a computer company? Did he start his own?" Chris asked,
proud that the kid had done so well for himself. Adam didn't answer. He turned
his head when the door to the office opened.
Chris immediately put his hand on his hip when he saw who the newcomer was.
The tall, dark, handsome man was none other than Sammy Gorbonani. Gorbonani
was suspected of dealing in illegal drug sales and the killing several prominent
men in Denver. Team Seven had been trying to nail the crime lord for almost
five years. Every time they got close, he always managed to sip through their
fingers. He watched in horror as the man walked over to where JD was sitting,
ruffled the kid's hair then walked out of the room. JD turned to look at
door. JD winced as if he was in pain.
'What is going on?" Chris asked turning to Adam. "JD would never hook up
with a devil like Gorbonani."
"He had no idea what he was getting himself into. Gorbobani was the first
person to go to him, when JD arrived in Denver. There was no hiring at Team
Seven to draw his attention."
"I didn't want to hire him," Chris replied. "In fact, I kicked him out of
my office a couple of times." He smiled at the memory.
"Still JD was hooked. You know that he wouldn't give up until you gave him
a job. The crime lord promised JD a job where he would be working with computers
to help him transport medicines to war torn countries. You know JD; he jumps
at any chance to do something well intentioned and dangerous. After three
months in the job, he realized what he was really doing, arranging the export
and import of illegal drugs. He tried to back out, but he was too far into
the circle. When Gorbobani found out what JD was doing, he threatened to
hurt his girlfriend."
"Casey?" Chris asked. "He still managed to meet Casey?"
'Yup, those two were meant to be together. Rain and Nathan were too, but
one of them needed to take the initiative. You could say that Casey and JD
were a mach made in heaven. To bad they won't ever get the chance to get
married." Chris gave Adam a worried glance.
"Cause Gorbobani hired someone to shoot JD on his way out of the office tonight,"
Adam responded, making Chris jump. A clock on the wall began to chime.
"Eight o clock already?" Adam asked. "Wow, we're really late. We've got to
"Adam, I don't care if he knows I'm here or not, I am not going to let whoever
the bastard that was hired touch JD. I'll figure out something to do. I'll""
'Dad, I'm going to show you his killer."
"kill". What did you say?"
'You get to see who will murder JD." Adam repeated. "We just have to go outside
to see." Chris followed Adam down the steps into a dark and abandoned alleyway.
There was a tall black man standing in the corner. He looked like he was
waiting for something.
"Is that the man who's going to kill JD?" Chris asked.
"Shhh, hold your horses, she's coming." Adam scolded, and the adult obeyed
"She?" Chris asked. He didn't get the chance to ask anymore questions. JD's
potential murderer was coming down the street. He had to do a double take
when he realized who it was. Sidney walked over to the man and shook her
hand. Sidney didn't usually enjoy wearing fancy clothes, but not even she
would stop to his level she was right now. Her jeans were faded and full
of holes. She had a dirty grey sweatshirt that didn't provide much defense
against the cold wind.
"You are going to go through with this Marks?" The man asked.
"Are you sure the he's the one who murdered my father? I may do some questionable
things, but killing an innocent man isn't one of them."
"Have we ever let you down before Sid? My boss did some thorough investigation,
and discovered that JD Dunne killed her father. He was part of a crime ring
your father was investigating."
'Maybe I should talk to him first," Sidney said hesitantly.
"He brags about it all the time," the man replied. "Awfully proud of the
fact that he's a cop killer." The man said quickly. Chris could smell the
lie right away. Unfortunately, that was not the case for his young agent.
Her face grew hard and cold. It was the same face that scared the shit of
many of Team Seven's prisoners. It just wasn't expected on a pretty face
"I'll shoot him in the head when he walks out of work today," she answered,
before turning around.
"Merry Christmas Marks," the man laughed sarcastically.
"Christmas for those who don't realize what a hell hole the world is," Sidney
answered, before walking out of sight. Chris watched her go in complete shock.
"What? Why?" were the only words he could spit out?
"When her dad was murdered, she lost it. The search to find his filler became
her obsession. In the meantime, she began working the streets as a dealer,
to make money. She quickly rose through the ranks, and became a valuable
tool of the major suppliers."
Chris snorted at Adam's comment. "Why would she do that? She graduated from
the Academy with flying colors. Surely somebody else would have hired her."
"Don't you remember the day when you offered her a job?" Adam asked. "No
agency would even consider her because of her sex and her take no crap attitude.
You were the only one to approach her. Without you, she managed to slip through
the cracks. Nobody bothered to find out what happened to her. You know what
a good cop she is, think how much a man like Gorbobani would give to have
someone like Sidney on his team."
"What's going to happen to her?" Chris asked.
"She'll find out in a few days that JD didn't really kill her father then
she'll murder Gorbobani. Eventually, some leader of a street gang will shoot
her when she refuses to sell drugs to a twelve year old."
'Jesus," Chris said closing his eyes. He collapsed on a pile of empty crates.
"JD and Sidney were just kids, kids who had lost their parents and were seeking
companionship and guidance. You gave them both and they blossomed into great
"They're the best," Chris croaked fighting back tears.
"Without you, criminals became their guiding light. Both of them became victims
of "the Street, nothing more than statistics on some government report."
Chris stood up and looked at Adam, with bloodshot eyes.
"Can we leave Adam? I can't handle seeing these things anymore."
"You asked for this Dad, remember?. Besides we've still got two more places
"Can we do without the fog?" Chris asked quietly. It's starting to get on
"Sure Dad," Adam answered and snapped his fingers. Chris looked around him
and was once again caught off guard. He was standing on Prentice Street.
Nobody who valued their life ever went to Prentice Street. It looked like
a scene from a movie. The houses all looked the same, broken windows and
all. Adam led Chris to a particularly nasty looking house. The shutters were
hanging by a single hinge, and half the shingles had blown off the roof.
Plastic bags covered the cracked windows in an attempt to keep the cold out.
"Why do I have a feeling I'm not going to like what I see?" Chris asked to
no one in particular and followed his son into the house. For the hundredth
tome that night, Chris regretted what he saw.
A large cracked TV sat in the middle of the living room. Some crazy infomercial
was playing. In an overstuffed, broken armchair sat the man who he owed so
much. Buck, who had always been so concerned about his appearance, had put
on at least fifty pounds. His large belly protruded from his half buttoned
flannel shirt. He looked like he hadn't shaved or bathed in days. His greasy
hair and beard left stain marks on the chair.
'Buck just got fired from his tenth job," Adam explained. "He can't hold
a job because he's never shows up; when he does he's usually drunk. He can't
afford a decent house or anything, because he owes child support to three
different women. He can count the times he's seen each of his kids on one
hand. Two of them are seniors in high school."
Chris looked at Buck, and shook his head. "This one I don't believe Adam.
Buck was in the SEALS. He graduated at the Academy with better grades than
I did. Buck was on the fast course to being successful, no matter if I was
in the picture of not. He's probably doing better. He gave up a lot of time
at work, to take care of me when I was out of my mind with grief."
"Yeah, good old Uncle Buck did give up a lot to help our family, but you're
forgetting how much you helped him. Remember boot camp? The drill sergeants
were hideous to him, because they thought he was too soft, too girly. You
were the one to coach him through those hard months and help him become what
he should have been. Without you, he washed out of basic training and landed
where is he is today."
Chris watched his friend as he drank out of an empty beer can, attempting
not to believe a word of Adam said. But the scenes of the late nights he
had spent in the barracks coaxing his sobbing friend to try a little harder.
Somewhere in the distance, a church bell rang.
"Way to go, Jerry!" Adam exclaimed. Chris turned to look at his son.
"Every time a bell rings, that means an angel had just earned his wings,"
Adam exclaimed. "My friend Jerry was due to get them at anytime. You seen
enough here?" Chris nodded his head.
"Let's go see what happened to Vin," he sighed. Adam gave him a confused
"I'm an ATF agent Adam; I think I can figure this pattern out. Remember no
fog!" Adam snapped his fingers, and Chris discovered they were standing in
the dark. Something wet was dripping onto Chris's head.
"Adam"" Chris started to say, but his inquiry was answered. A dull glow
illuminated the location. The agent realized that he was standing in a cave;
the entrance was about three hundred feet behind him. A loud gasp of pain
made him turn his head in front of him.
Vin was sitting on the ground clutching his leg. The light of the flashlight
was quickly dying, but Chris was able to see everything. He friend was dressed
in the standard gear of an army officer serving in a dessert setting. Vin
was clutching the area right below his knee. Blood was squirting out of it
in all directions. Even in the dim light, Chris could see his friend slowly
growing paler. He had been around enough injuries to know that Vin was loosing
blood too fast. His heart broke in two, knowing that there was nothing he
"Won't somebody come looking for him?" Chris asked through gritted teeth.
He did nothing to prevent the tears this time. "Isn't the army supposed to
leave no man behind?"
"Nobody knows he's out here," Adam answered. "His commanding officer needed
a resourceful and reliable sniper to chase down one of Bin Laden's top spies,
so of course he sent Vin. Vin got the spy with one bullet straight through
the heart, but he didn't count on the spy having a friend with him. He's
the one that shot Vin in the leg." He paused, then continued.
"They will find his body in a few days. He'll be buried with full military
honors, but they'll only be three people who come to his funeral, his commanding
officer and two guys that were in his unit."
Chris watched as Vin's grasp on his leg grew weaker and weaker. Finally,
Vin's hand let go and the young man's body slummed against the rock. Chris
tried to wipe his soaking wet face, but the tears were now coming too fast.
"Why?" Chris asked. It was the only word he could manage.
"Vin Tanner came home after his first tour of duty, prepared to find some
other form of work. He was a good soldier, but wasn't sure if he was cut
out for that type of work. He searched and searched, but no law enforcement
agency was willing to hire him on account of his dyslexia. By the time of
last rejection, the US was looking for recruits for the attack on Afghanistan.
Vin returned to the only place he had felt like he was successful and maybe
even cared about, as much as the army could afford. You know the result."
Chris looked at Vin one more time, then turned to Adam with a look of resolve
on his face.
"At least I know of one person who benefited from my non-existence," Chris
"I was never here so there never would have been a car bomb. Your mother
is probably happily married to a well deserving man who gives her everything
she needs, not the insecurity and worry that I caused her." He paused and
looked at Vin, then sighed heavily, a feeling of guilt ran through his body.
"I would sacrifice all of this just to make her happy."
"I don't think Mom's story ends the way you think it should," Adam replied
quietly. "Yes, I think we do have time to go and see Mom." He said the second
part louder for his father's benefit.
Adam forgot about Chris's protest against the dust, and Chris didn't protest.
His mind was too full of anxiety to worry about anything else. The dense
fog encompassed father and son one final time.
Chris looked around his new setting. It was a place he had traveled to many
times. He knew every single nook and cranny by heart, a result of the countless
hours he had spent here. He shook his head in disbelief.
"Adam, there must be some mistake," he protested. "This can't be what happened."
The gravestones sent an uncomfortable chill down his back as he involuntarily
"I told you this wouldn't be what you expected," Adam answered. "Why don't
you go look at those gravestones near the tree?"
Chris walked up to the gravestones, and almost fainted as his heart dropped
to his stomach. The same gravestones that he had traveled to so many times
before were in the same location.
"No!" Chris said, without looking at the engraving. "I was never here. Nobody
ever wanted to kill me. There was no freaking car bomb!" He yelled.
"Take a closer look at the grave Dad," Adam said calmly. Chris knelt down
next to the gravestones. He traced the well-known dates of birth and death.
His fingers touched his wife's name. His heart still raced every time he
heard her name. He was to read his the name that they both shared when he
"What the hell?" He said. In place of the word Larabee, Martin had been engraved.
"Sarah was never fortunate enough to meet the love of her life," Adam said,
as Chris sat kneeling in disbelief. "She thought she did when an accountant
named Shawn Martin asked her out on a date. The wedding and honeymoon may
have been like a dream, but the married like quickly turned into a nightmare.
It started off with Shawn controlling what she did, where she could go, and
things like that. It quickly escalated from that. She was willing to endure
the bruises. You know how stubborn Mom could be. She thought she could change
him. Unfortunately, that was not the case. On the day that the car bomb would
have went off, she finally got the courage to leave. With a suitcase in one
hand and her little boy in the other, she was halfway to the door. In a fit
of rage, Shawn pushed her and her son out of the open two story window. Neither
one of them got up." Adam finished.
Chris turned white as a ghost and started shaking uncontrollably.
:"You not being here didn't make Sarah's life any easier, it made it worse.
You gave her the things that she wanted most in the world, a loving family
and a partner who cherished her more than anything. She died too early, but
she died happy."
Chris rose to unsteady feet; he began backing away from the grave. He didn't
see the grave behind him and tripped. Her face slammed against the cold frozen
ground. His nose started to bleed, but he didn't care.
"Oh God!' He cried. His tears mixed with the blood, forming a sticky warm
substance that dripped down his face.
"Don't you see Chris?" Adam asked. "You never ruined anyone's lives. You
were put on this earth for a reason. Team Seven was supposed to be together,
but the absence of its leader never allowed the special bond to form. You
really did have a magnificent life Chris Larabee, but that's all gone now."
Chris looked up at his son with bloodshot eyes.
"Can I do anything to change this? I don't want it to end like this. I want
to live Adam!"
"This is out of my control Dad. I'm just the messenger. You'll have to take
this up with the big guy."
"I can't talk to him," Chris said. "He wouldn't listen to somebody like me."
"He listens to you all the time Dad. Every time you swear at him when something
goes wrong, and each time you ask him to keep your friends safe. You've made
mistakes Dad, but so does everyone else. Just try it, see what happens."
Chris felt himself dropping to his knees and looking up at the starry bright
"God are you there? You have to"well, should put things back to the way they
used to be. I don't deserve it, but there's plenty of people that do. For
some odd reason, you decided that I was the deciding factor in their happiness.
Please don't take that way from them. They did nothing to earn that pain
and suffering. Please, do this for them." Chris bowed his head, closed his
eyes and continued talking.
As Chris prayed, Adam looked up at the sky. The stars twinkled and Adam beamed,
"That's my Dad," he whispered quietly, and snapped his fingers. The five
year old angel disappeared, and do did the graveyard.
Chris felt heat warm his body and a bright light was making it difficult
for him to keep his eyes closed. He opened his eyes, and immediately rose
to his feet. The familiar sight of his own kitchen greeted him. He walked
around his house, everything seemed normal. A glance out the window told
him that there were no stinky piles of trash anywhere in sight. He grabbed
the phone of the wall and hastily dialed.
"Hey Chris, what's up?" A concerned Vin answered.
"How did you know it was me?" Chris asked, surprised.
"The Ghost of Christmas Past told me, Nathan just set up the caller ID on
"Is everyone there, I mean are they all okay?" Chris asked hurriedly.
"Yeah we're all here. JD's getting a little loopy on the eggnog""
"You didn't tell you me you put rum in it," JD called in the background.
:"JD, I swear I didn't put anything in it," Nathan answered.
"Other than that, everyone's fine. Ah Chris are you okay?"
. "If you were a girl who would you find cuter, Bing Crosby or Fred Astaire?"
Buck asked, over one of the song and dance numbers in Holiday Inn. Chris
laughed silently, he didn't answer right away.
"Yeah, I guess I am okay. You haven't talked to Sidney have you?"
"Ezra talked to her earlier, but that's about it."
"Hey, Vin do you think you guys could head on over here?" Chris asked.
"Why? Are you sure you're okay Pard?"
:"I just decided that I don't want to be alone tonight," Chris answered.
There was a long pause.
"We'll be over as soon as we can get the presents in the car. I don't think
I've ever seen so many boxes. JD watch out for that"Oww, that had to hurt
kid." Chris laughed as he listened to the banter of his teammates.
"I'll see you in a little while," Chris answered and pushed the end button.
He was about to dial another number, when the back door began to open. Chris
was immediately one his guard. He didn't hear a car pull in. He grabbed his
gun that was lying on the ground. Bastards were trying to break into his
house on Christmas. The perpetrator walked into his house. The last thing
he expected to see was the familiar auburn ponytail.
"Oh shit Chris," she swore. "Put that thing down, will you?" She gasped,
dropping her duffle bag. Chris sat the gun down on the table. He walked over
to his agent, before she knew what hit her, Sidney was engulfed in an almost
unbearably tight hug.
"God, I'm glad to see you Sidney." Chris answered, hugging her tighter.
"Glad to see you too boss," Sidney gasped, "But I can't breathe!" Chris let
the girl go.
"Holy Shit," Sidney said. "What happened to your face?" Chris rubbed his
face, and he felt dried blood near his nose.
"Oh, well I, I umm tripped on my way to the stable. " Sidney eyed him
"How many fingers am I holding up?" She asked, holding up her right hand.
"Three," he answered.
"How about now?"
"Four," he sighed again.
"Now walk in a straight line," she ordered.
"I'm not drunk Sidney," he answered. Sidney eyed the half empty whisky bottle.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," he told her. He thought a second.
"Hey wait a second, how did you get home? Don't tell me you flew through
a snowstorm." His voice rose as he saw the look on her face.
"What about it I told you that you wouldn't believe it if I told you?" She
asked hesitantly. Chris opened his mouth to yell, but closed it. Sidney yawned,
revealing how tired she was.
" I am not going to say anything Sidney, if you go upstairs and head to bed
"But Chris, I want to wait up for Santa," Sidney protested with a smile.
"And I didn't put out any cookies yet."
"Don't push your luck kid, or you'll be getting more than coal tomorrow."
He answered, glaring at her. Sidney yawned and picked up her duffle bag.
She headed towards the steps.
"Good night Chris," she said on her way up the steps. "Looks like I got my
Christmas gift." Chris waited until she was gone and began dumping the whisky
bottle down the drain. When he was done, he went and picked up the photo
album. Underneath was a pile of chocolate chip cookies. Chris took on and
bit into it. He closed his eyes as the familiar taste reached his mouth.
"So did I," he answered, taking another bite. "So did I."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra sat in Josiah's old Blazer. The backseat was piled with garbage bags
full of presents. His hands were rubbing a brand-new blue collar. Chris had
called him, informing him of his late night visitor. He pulled the bills
in his pocket, making sure he would have enough money to pay the farmer.
He counted the bills that added up to two hundred dollars and placed them
back in his coat pocket.
"Josiah, I have a favor to ask of you tomorrow morning," he said looking
at the driver. "May I borrow your vehicle? It appears like I will have to
get Sidney's gift after all."
"Of course Ezra," Josiah answered. Both men turned their heads, as they drove
by an illuminated manger scene. "Would you mind if we stopped for a few minutes?"
"Be my guest," Ezra answered. Josiah parked his truck alongside the other
vehicles that were inside the church for midnight mass. Ezra followed the
older man who eventually stopped in front of the lifelike statues. The two
men stood in silence for a long time. Finally Josiah broke the silence.
"I often wonder if I'm doing my fair share of the work to please him. He
did so much for us all." Ezra patted Josiah on the shoulder.
"Believe me, you are doing more than any civil person would expect. Myself
on the other hand"" He didn't get the chance to finish his sentence. A sudden
movement near the donkey caught both their eye. A young, Latina woman, not
much older than Sidney, dodged away from the light.
"Hold on a moment please," Ezra called. The girl stopped and turned hesitantly
towards Ezra. Her clothes were torn and ratty looking, and hung loosely on
her emancipated frame. They weren't nearly warm enough for the dropping
"Please senior, I didn't mean no harm. It was just so warm underneath the
lights. The manger scene reminded me of my home in Mexico. I didn't mean
to fall asleep""
"There is no need for explanations Miss; we were simply admiring the picturesque
scene as well. Wouldn't you say that the falling snow makes the scene quite
beautiful?" Ezra asked, hoping his comforting voice would calm her."
"Si, but I do not like the snow. Son trop froid à l'extérieur."
She shivered wrapping her arms closer around her.
"There is a nun inside that church who speaks Spanish and would be more than
willing to help you out," Josiah offered. The girl shook her head furiously.
"No senior, nobody can know I'm here.." She stopped, realizing that she had
said too much. The girl was an illegal immigrant. How she had made it all
the way to Denver, they had no idea.
"Sister Maria Santiago has never been one to turn away anyone and she's not
a fan of many local law enforcement officers," Ezra said, remembering his
own confrontation with the usually gentle and sweet Puerto Rican woman.
"Vous êtes sûrs?" She asked. Ezra nodded his head.
"She would be more than willing to give you any help you need, and keep her
mouth shut if need be."
"Gracias senior," the woman smiled, and started to walk to the door.
"Un momento," Ezra called, and walked up the retreating girl. He took off
his coat and placed it one the girl. He took a step backwards and whistled.
"It looks much better on you than it does on me. Take a look in the pocket
when you get inside. I regret that it is not much, but it should hopefully
do you some good." The girl beamed at the southern agent and walked towards
the church steps. She glanced over her shoulder.
"Feliz Navidad," she called before disappearing behind the doors. Ezra watched
her go, then returned to where Josiah was still standing.
"May I inquire to as to why there is grin on your face?" He asked.
"I think more than one person standing here has paid their debt to that baby
in the manger this year," Josiah answered, laughing quietly.
+ + + + + + +
"Geez, its really coming down out there isn't it?" Buck said as he drove
down the highway.
"Just go slow Buck, the last thing we need is go into the ditch on Christmas
Eve," Nathan said next to him, in the passenger seat. He glanced behind him.
JD had passed out in the backseat, and was using Vin's leg as a pillow.
"What did you put in that eggnog Nathan?" Vin asked, shaking his head at
his sleeping friend.
"For the second time, I didn't put anything in the eggnog," Nathan growled,
irritated. "If you ask me about it one more time Vin"" Nathan never got the
chance to finish his sentence. He was flung forward. The seatbelt saved him
from slamming his head on the dashboard.
"What was that?" a groggy JD asked. "Why did we stop moving? Oh man, I must
be drunk. I'm seeing a freaking reindeer in front of the truck!" He groaned.
"God, I drank to much eggnog too," Buck groaned for the last time. "I definitely
see a reindeer out there too kid. That's why I slammed on the brakes."
"I DIDN"T PUT ANY FORM OF ALCHOLIC BEVERAGE IN THE EGGNOG!" Nathan yelled,
feeling his face flush red with fury.
"You didn't, but I did." Buck answered. "Not that much to affect my driving
Nathan." He added.
"Obviously you did, because you are seeing reindeer in"" He stopped when
he realized that he saw the horned animal too. He shook his head.
"Vin, do you see it too?" Nathan asked.
"Yup, looks like Rudolph got away from Santa," he chuckled.
"That's not Rudolph you idiot. Rudolph's got a red nose." JD scolded in an
airy voice, before falling asleep again. Nathan shook his head, and pulled
out his cell phone. "Any body know the number to the zoo? I bet this guy
escaped before the storm hit."
"Ah Nathan, I don't think our friend's from the zoo," Buck answered, his
eyes glued to the front of the car. Nathan turned his head to look. He had
to do a double take. There was a little person dressed all in green. He couldn't
have been any taller than four feet tall..
"Shit, he's even got the pointy shoes!" Vin said shaking his head.
'Probably from one of these Santa Clause operations," Nathan answered. "He's
probably one of the workers."
"Buck role down your window, I think he wants to talk to us," Vin stated.
Buck rolled down the window, and the little man walked up. The reindeer followed
obediently behind him. The man looked at Buck with a pair of bright blue
eyes and rosy cheeks.
"Thanks Mister, I don't know what we would have done if you had hit old Blitzen
here. He's always been the wild one. Jumped right out of the harness as we
were flying over Colorado Springs. He's slowed us down by almost two hours."
'Ummm, you're welcome," Buck answered.
"Merry Christmas to you all," the little man answered and started to walk
"Hold on, you can't just walk on the highway in a snowstorm," Nathan said
"Who said anything about walking?" The man said with a smile. With amazing
agility, he jumped onto the reindeer's back. Before anything of them could
say anything, the reindeer leapt into the sky. The snow made tracking the
animal and its rider impossible. The three conscious agents just sat there
speechless for several minutes. None of them believing what they had just
"What you say we chalk this up as we all had a little to much eggnog?" Buck
:"Sounds like a good idea to me," Nathan answered. "Vin?"
"Yup," came the reply from the backseat. "And I doubt JD will remember any
of this." Buck restarted the truck and they slowly restarted their journey
to Chris's house.
+ + + + + + +
Sidney groaned as she felt something jumping on her bed.
"Go away JD," she complained. "It's not even light outside yet!" She whined
pulling the covers up over her head.
"Come on Sidney, there's about two feet of snow outside, and its just waiting
to be marked up boots," JD answered, pulling the covers back from her head.
"It can wait until I'm ready to get up," she answered. JD smirked and looked
towards the door. Vin walked in with something enclosed in between his gloved
"We had a feeling you'd say that Sid," he laughed evilly. Before Sidney knew
what hit her, something cold and wet had smacked her in her face.
"You jerks," she said immediately sitting up in her beds. "You guys are dead
meat!" JD and Vin both shot out of the room and down the steps, Sidney was
close on their heels. Both of them ran out the front door before Sidney could
even touch them. Ezra was standing along side the doorway, wrestling with
"I see you that they have woken you up at this ungodly hour too," he said
with a smile.
"I swear JD and Vin are worse than little kids sometimes," she said grabbing
her jacket and gloves.
'I would quite agree with you, but unfortunately I fell prey to the childish
behavior of out illustrious leader and dumb witted sidekick." Sidney glanced
out the window and saw Chris and Buck chucking snowballs at each other. JD
had joined Nathan and Josiah as they were packing more ammunition. She shook
her head and laughed. God, she loved Christmas! There were few times when
men like Chris Larabee and his team could act like idiots, and this was one
"You know the second we got out there, we're going to get bombarded," Sidney
stated, as she finished tying her boot.
"I had figured out the same, but I have a proposal for you Ms. Marks," the
undercover agent smiled mischievously.
"Where the hell are they?" Buck asked, as he eyed the front door. "My grandma
could get dressed faster than them."
"You don't think they went back to bed do you?" Nathan asked.
"Naw, if I know anything about Sidney and Ezra they are hatching up a plan
to get all of us back," Josiah chuckled.
"Hey guys, we're over here!" Sidney's voice called from the backside of the
"Alright men, we stay together," Chris ordered. "No matter what their plan,
remember that they are the enemy."
"Who made you General?" Vin snorted.
"We all ended up in the pond that last time you tried to play leader against
those two," Nathan chuckled. The six men slowly crept around the house to
the back. They all took a minute to admire the scene. The roof of the barn
was covered with a few feet of snow, and the evergreens were leaning over
under their new weight. The horses were frolicking through the fresh snow,
expressing the same sense of joy as their masters.
The peacefulness of the scene was soon interrupted, but a Sidney's mocking
voice. She was standing on top of hastily contrasted snow hill inside the
pasture. The hill had been contrasted underneath the largest pine in the
field. The shovels were lying on the ground. Ezra was nowhere in sight.
"Come and get me boys," she called.
"Let's think about this rationally,' Chris said. "Their up to something,"
he stated squinting at the girl, who was taunting them from her hill.
"Come on you pansies!" Sidney called. "My grandma's got more guts than you!"
"You'll have to do better than a grandma joke to get us over there Sid. We
aren't that stupid!" Buck called.
"Fine, I got a joke of you!" She yelled back? "Why does John Elway turn himself
into the DPD?" She didn't receive a response.
"Because he heard a report that they were looking for a slow white Bronco!"
She laughed hysterically.
:"That's hitting below the belt," Josiah stated.
"I'm not going to sit here and take this," Buck said. "That little demon
is going down!"
"Charge!" Vin yelled. The six men began sprinting to the hill. Sidney jumped
down to the other side. As soon as the men scaled the hill, a voice called
"Payback is quite sweet is it not?" Ezra laughed from his location in the
tree. Before they knew what hit them, the remaining members of Team Seven
were covered in the snow from the tree. The wet substance hit every exposed
piece of skin and slid between coat collars boots and the holes in gloves.
Ezra jumped out his spot in the tree.
I suggest we run NOW!" He said to his friend. Both agents took off sprinting,
but they were no match for their cold and wet victims. Soon all hell broke
loose. As snowballs flew and dog piles were formed on everything that moved.
"Can you believe that they are some of the most feared men in Denver?" Orrin
Travis said as he stood alongside the house, watching his team make complete
fools of themselves. His wife Evie was at his side, beaming. Team Seven was
so caught up in their games that they had failed to notice the black sedan
"Mom, can I go join them?" Billy asked, watching his idols roll around in
the snow. Mary nodded her head and watched her son run into the mix. Buck
noticed him first. He scooped up the boy and gently dropped him in a pile
"I bet they have forgotten all about the ham in the oven," Evie laughed.
"I better go check on it."
"I'll come with you," Orrin said following his wife. "Are you coming Mary?"
"No I think I better keep an eye on things out here," she said, although
she had no reason to worry. Her thirteen year old was holding his own out
there. He and Sidney had pinned Buck to the ground and were dropping piles
of snow on his face. Mary didn't expect the cold blow to the side of her
head. She turned around to see Chris standing there with a mischievous smirk
on his face.
"You really didn't expect to just stand there did you?" He asked. Before
long, Mary was throwing snowballs with the rest of them. Almost an hour and
a half later, the snowball fight had just about ended. All the participants
were lying in the snow. panting.
"Merry Christmas guys," Sidney said, trying to catch her breath. She received
various replies. They slowly pulled themselves to their feet, when Orrin
came back out.
"Now that my best team is done making fools out of themselves, Nettie was
just on the phone. She says her old van won't start in the cold. She and
Casey are stranded at the shelter with those kids."
"Please tell her that I would be more than happy to pick her crew up. I need
to obtain a gift anyways," Ezra answered.
"On Christmas?" JD asked. "And I thought we were bad." Ezra chose to ignore
"I will see you all in a little while," Ezra said before following his boss
into the house.
"My keys are on the counter Ez," Josiah called.
"Now what?" Billy asked, brushing snow off his coat.
"I better go inside and check on the food situation," Chris stated.
"Not a good idea Chris," Mary said shaking her head. "Once my mother in law
enters a kitchen, she won't let anyone else in until the meal is done." She
said with a smile.
"Well then," Chris said stretching out his aching shoulders. "I think its
about time to feed the horses. You got that special bran made for them Vin?"
'Yup, you want to help Billy?"
"Hell yes!" He answered, then lowered his eyes when his mother gave him a
"You've been hanging out with Buck to much," his mother scolded.
"What do you say we take the horses out for a quick ride before Ezra gets
back?" Josiah suggested. "I know Quincy would love to romp through the snow."
Billy looked up at Chris.
"Can we?" He asked, hopefully. Chris nodded his head.
"Sure, why don't you go settle Chaucer up?" For some odd reason, Ezra's stuck
up thoroughbred had taken a liking to the boy. "I know that Ezra won't mind."
Billy rushed to the stable. Without even looking, Chris yelled at Sidney.
"Don't even think about it Missy," he growled. Sidney dropped the snowball
to the ground, her innocent look fooling nobody.
+ + + + + + +
"Mmm, Mmm ," something sure smells good in here," Josiah said walking into
the house after their ride. It was quite a scene as eight people tried to
get their winter gear off in one small area. Miraculously, it was achieved
in a short time.
"Think I'll head in there and see what I can scrounge up," Buck said deviously.
"Buck, you heard what my mom said. My grandma can turn into a real bear when
people get in her way."
"You just haven't seen the Wilmington charm in action," he added then disappeared
behind the kitchen door. Chris sat down in his armchair.
"I'm getting to old for this," he sighed. "Hey Billy, I think Santa stopped
by last night. Why don't you take a look under the tree?"
"Come on Chris, I'm a teenager now. You know I don't believe in Santa anymore."
"Doesn't mean you gotta stop believing," Vin said with a smile, glancing
The loud yells of children could be heard from outside. JD looked out the
"Holy cow, looks like the elves have arrived! Nathan, Rain just got here
too." Nathan opened the door and Ezra walked inside. He was followed by the
three women, each one carrying a garbage bag full of wrapped boxes. The three
orphans stood hesitantly by Nettie's legs. The two boys appeared to be brothers;
both of them had brown hair and bright green eyes. Neither one of them could
have been more than ten years old. A little Asian girl looked around the
room with her pretty eyes.
"Well come on in kids," Nathan greeted warmly. "No use for you to getting
cold outside." Comforted by Nathan's words, the kids bounded into the house.
The adults were ready to help take off their jackets and coats. Sidney helped
the little girl unzip her pink jacket.
"That's an awfully pretty coat Asuka," Sidney complimented.
"The nice people at the church brought it for me," the girl laughed. The
boys had new coats as well.
"The people at the Salvation Army were especially generous this year," Nettie
said. "Each child got several new articles of clothing."
"Mr. Larabee, did you turn up the thermometer in the stable?" Ezra asked.
Chris nodded his head. "Then I will keep the you- know -what in there until
we are ready." Ezra was about to walk outside again, when he felt added weight
on his leg. He looked down into a pair of bright green eyes.
"Do not worry Mr. Gordon, I will be right back," he said to the little boy.
Ezra was touched by the little boy's affection. The boy giggled.
"Did you hear that Ms. Nettie. He just called me Mr. Gordon." Ezra smiled
and disappeared out the door. The children were escorted into the room. They
watched at Casey took the presents out of the bags and placed them on the
floor. She was having difficulty finding places to put them all. All three
pairs of eyes were round; as they took in their surroundings. First the admired
the tree. Chris had taken extra care to find an unusually large one, and
spent almost a full day decorating it. None of them had ever seen so many
presents in their lives.
"The people that lived here must have been especially good this year!" The
elder of the two boys, Bryan said. Vin looked at the children.
"Well, do you kids think that you've been good this year?" Vin asked. Three
heads nodded up and down.
"Miss Nettie says we've been the best," Asuka answered.
"Then I think you might find a couple of boxes under there with your names
on them," Vin told them, amazed by how much their faces lit up. "I don't
think anyone would mind if you opened one up right now. Why don't you go
look for them?" The kids ran father into the living room, and began gently
picking up boxes.
"I can't thank you enough," Nettie said, with tears in her eyes. "These kids
have never known such a Christmas. You are giving them something that I never
"I don't know Nettie, I seem to remember some pretty special Christmas times
when I was kid," Vin told her.
"Buck, if I have to tell you one more time to get out of that pie"" Evie's
shrill voice echoed from the kitchen. The door to the kitchen flung open,
and Buck came dashing out clutching his behind.
"She got me with the wooden spoon, that""
"Buck, there's kids here," Rain scolded. Buck looked down to see three amused
pairs of eyes staring at him.
"Oh! Umm"Hi kids! Hey look Uncle Buck's got a special treat for you." He
reached into his pocket and pulled out a heap of Christmas candy. The kids
ran up to them and hesitantly took a piece of candy.
"Only one," Casey said. "Otherwise you'll spoil your dinner."
"Aww come on Scrooge," Buck said to the girl. "It's Christmas, it's not fun
unless you eat so many sweets that you get sick."
"Fine, you can clean up their mess when they throw up!" Casey answered, but
she didn't scold the children, as their mouths got fuller and fuller. After
they were done eating their treats, the children returned to their search.
Billy watched enviously.
"You can open one too," Chris said to Billy with a smile.
"I'm not a little kid, I can wait," Billy answered, but he quickly grabbed
the package he had been eying for the last couple of minutes.
"I found three!' Conner said.
"Only open one for now," Josiah answered. "But there should be four under
there for each of you." Nettie looked at Team Seven sharply.
"That wasn't necessary," she said. "I said one present."
"Hell Nettie, these kids have had a tough life. They deserve to be spoiled,"
JD answered. "Besides it was sure fun to shop for them."
The adult Travises entered the living room to watch the gift opening. Billy
clutched the basketball signed by various members of the Colorado Nuggets.
"How did you get all these autographs Sidney?" Billy asked.
"Santa and I have our connections," she answered. Billy rolled his eyes.
Each of the younger boys was staring at their new hot wheels sets with glee.
Asuka was still opening her gift.
"This is my favorite gift," Buck whispered in Sidney's ear. Sidney groaned.
"You didn't buy Police Chief Barbie did you?" She asked. She never got an
answer. Asuka cried out clutching her new doll. It had her matching skin
color and was dressed in a traditional Chinese New Year outfit.
After the kids were done admiring their presents, Team Seven and their guests
sat down to eat.
"There's a finger print in the Jell-O," JD pointed out.
"Give you one guess who's it is," Evie answered glaring at Buck. The man
lowered head and busied himself with his mashed potatoes. When dinner was
over, Nettie's kids opened their remaining presents. The rest of the afternoon
was spent racing hot wheels cars across the living room floor, playing twenty
games of memory and dancing to the new child level Karaoke system. Around
five o clock, Chris put in Adam's old copy of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.
During that time, Ezra slipped out of the house again, with something hidden
under his coat. As his guests, both adults and children, were absorbed in
the movie, Chris called Nathan into the kitchen.
'I think right now's the right time Nate," Chris said. "It's been sitting
in your pocket for the last couple of months now."
"I don't know Chris, I still think that maybe its too soon., Nathan hesitated.
"Its been almost three years Nathan! One of you has to take the initiative,
and my guess is its going to be you." Chris recalled the scene in Detroit
"I'll think about it Chris," Nathan answered. He grabbed one of Casey's Christmas
cookies and reentered the living room. Chris sighed and followed his friend.
He smiled when he returned. The kids were all lying on the sofa, each one
of them sound asleep.
"They've had a busy day," Nettie whispered. "They aren't used to all this
"We can carry them upstairs," Vin suggested. "They all could fit into one
of the beds." Nettie nodded her head. Chris, Josiah and Buck stood up each
grabbing a child. Chris lifted Conner up into his arms. His heart ached for
a few moments as he followed Vin up the stairs. It hadn't seemed that many
Christmases ago when he had carried his own little boy to bed.
Nettie pulled back the covers and the men laid their little charges down.
Vin pulled off the cowboy hats each one was wearing. The little girl was
still clutching her doll. Chris pulled the covers over the tree tiny bodies,
then walked out of the room. Nettie waited until the other men had left before
closing the door.
The movie had been turned off when they walked down the steps. A Christmas
CD was playing in the background. They all chuckled as Sidney and Orrin
entertained the group with a duet of Winter Wonderland.
"How many times do you see a federal agent goofing around the Assistant
Director?" Mary asked Evie.
"How many times do you meet people like Team Seven?" Evie answered.
"Can we open presents now?" Billy asked. Billy began his tradition of playing
Santa, distributing the presents around. Soon, wrapping paper was flying
everywhere. The gift opening lasted for hours on account of the large amount
of boxes, and the expectation that each present would be opened separately.
Each gift was given equal opportunity to be admired or groaned at. Small
piles were gathering all around each person. No matter how small the gift,
each was having its own sentimental meaning. Finally, there was one box remaining
under the tree. Sidney could feel her insides turning, as she watched Billy
retrieve the box.
"To Chris, From Sidney," Billy read the tag aloud and handed him the box.
Chris was about to open the box, when a sharp yipping noise was heard from
the barn. Everyone turned to look at Sidney. She was the only one without
a knowing smile on her face.
"What's that?" She asked.
"Mr. Larabee, would you minding waiting for a few minutes. I think my gift
has just demanded priority," Ezra said. Chris nodded his head.
"I'll be right back. Honestly Sidney, did you think that I had not gotten
a gift for my partner in crime?" He asked. Sidney shrugged her shoulders.
There were so many things in front of her, that she had lost track. Ezra
returned shortly, carrying a squirming ball of fur in his arms.
"I thought perhaps a purebred would be best for you, but then I saw an
advertisement by a local farmer and thought of a better idea." Sidney gasped
as Ezra placed the wiggling Golden Retriever pup on her lap. She reached
out and stroked the puppy's head not saying anything for a while; the room
fell into an uncomfortable silence.
"Of course, he has a long way to go to replace Riley," Ezra said awkwardly,
fearing that he had made a terrible misjudgment. "But I thought"" his voice
trailed off. Sidney looked up at her friend. Her smile lit up her entire
"He'll never replace Riley, but I think he's already starting to make his
own place," she answered. She stood up and hugged Ezra. The pup yipped when
he was caught in the middle.
"What are you going to name him?" Billy asked. Sidney though a moment, and
looked at the box Chris was still holding.
'Rocky," she answered firmly.
"Any significance behind the name?" Orrin asked
"Let's just say he made this Christmas extra special," Sidney answered, cuddling
the puppy. "Do I still have a dog sitter?" She asked Billy.
'Of course!" He answered, and then glanced at Mary. "If you'll drive me over
there Mom" He added. Mary nodded her head. Sidney cuddled the puppy who was
now chewing on her sleeve.
"Chris, promise me you won't freak out when you open that box," she said
looking at her friend. "There's a long story behind it."
"I would be scared Chris," Vin laughed.
'No! It's nothing like that. Its just, well..ummm, its bit unexpected is
all." Chris gave her a questioning look ripped the paper of the case. He
inhaled deeply when he saw the case. He knew exactly what was inside, but
didn't believe it.
"Sidney, is this"" He asked the girl.
"Yeah, it's the real thing," she answered, not meeting his eyes.
"What is it Chris?" Casey asked. Slowly and deliberately, Chris opened the
case. Carefully he pulled back the top, to reveal the antique weapon. He
just sat there staring at it for a while, his fingers caressing the barrel,
then the trigger. .
'God Damn Chris," Buck swore "What's in the box?" Chris lifted up the gun.
He couldn't believe how natural it felt in his hand. A collective gasp went
around the room by those who knew what the weapon was.
"Is that A Colt .45?" Josiah asked. Chris nodded his head. He studied the
"Made before the 1870's I reckon," he answered.
"Aren't the supposed to be really rare?" Rain asked.
"Rare and expensive," he answered looking at Sidney.
"Oh God Sidney, you didn't break into a museum did you?" Nathan groaned.
Sidney glared at him, then answered.
"Yesterday in New York, I found this old gun shop. The owner was going out
of business; I saw the gun and explained to him how passionate Chris was
about it. The old man gave me a very reasonable price for it, said he was
looking for someone who could appreciate it for its real use." Once again
the room fell into silence.
"I think somebody meant for you to have that gun Chris," Josiah smiled.
"What did you say the name of the dealer was?" Chris asked.
"Mike Rocky," Sidney answered. Chris masqueraded his surprise perfectly.
Sidney never guessed a thing. He looked at the girl and wrapped his arm around
her shoulder. He pulled her in close. No words could express what he felt,
and Sidney knew it.
"I can have a look at the gun Chris?" Buck asked. Soon after all the guests
were looking at each others gifts. The Colt was passed around, but never
left Chris Lara bee's watchful gaze for a second. Rocky fell asleep on Sidney's
lap. Nobody had noticed that two of their company was missing, until"
"Would you look at that?" JD said looking out the window. Everyone gathered
around to see Nathan and Rain kissing in near the light of the open stable
door. The light from the rafters caused a new gem on Rain's finger to sparkle.
"Good for you Nathan," Chris whispered.
+ + + + + + +
It was almost two in the morning and Chris Larabee was the only one up. Christmas
was over, but it would be one that he would remember for a long time. This
was what Christmas was supposed to be. Nettie and Casey had left earlier,
deciding it was best for the kids to wake up in their normal beds. Orin,
Evie, and Mary had left soon after. Billy had decided to stay the night.
Nathan and Rain had disappeared and Chris knew better than to ask questions.
The rest of his team was all sleeping peacefully in their beds. Chris grabbed
a card of his desk, and read the familiar words
"The American Gun Collectors
Association cordially invites you a memorial service in honor of the famed
collector and seller:
March 22, 1934-December 21, 2005
He shook his head and looked up at the sky. He recalled a time when he had
taken his son to the seller's store in New York..
"My daddy sure wants a gun like that," Adam told Rocky.
"Sorry son, but I'm not giving this gun way until the day that I die."
"Well when that happens, then you can give it to my dad," Adam answered.
Chris looked up at the ceiling.
"Hey God, my boy's done more than his fair share of the work, I think its
about time to give him his wings now." In the far distance, Chris could hear
the chiming of a church bell. He smiled and tossed the card in the garbage
can. He thought about telling Sidney what really happened, why her check
never got cashed and her thank you notes were always marked "return to sender."
He chuckled then smiled.
"Naw squirt, You wouldn't believe me if I told you." He went over and turned
off the Christmas tree lights, and headed to bed.