Tell Me There's a Reason
by Heather M.
This fic is a sequel to Helen Chavez's "Tell Me There's Heaven" one of the exceptional fics within this fandom. I hope I have done it justice.
The story is set in Mog's magnificent ATF Universe (Thank you again Mog for your creation). It is based on the Rosie Chronicles. Josiah is married to hound-dogger Delancey Cowper Morgan and they have a young daughter, Rosamund Delancey Sanchez.
Essentially this is a Josiah fic but I have tried hard to give all the characters time in the spotlight in this story. There are a handful of OCs.
This is a Gen fic but there is swearing and one part describes violence of a sexual nature. I will provide a warning at the beginning of that part.
Thanks and heartfelt appreciation go first to Helen. When I wrote a short fic based on "Tell Me There's Heaven" she wanted more. When I expressed doubts as to my ability to make the character of Jonathan Becks Weller creepy and evil enough, she had every confidence that I could.
Secondly to Lex who patiently read and re-read this fic. Lex set the bar high for me. This fic is better written as it goes along and I am a much improved writer through her efforts.
"Ugh!" Crunch! 'Oh God!'" He felt the crunch rather than heard it. Waves of agonizing pain radiated through his torso. He gasped at the sharp burst that seared through his side as he tried to draw air back into his lungs. His ribs were broken.
He had to hang on. Chris would, Buck would, but he wasn't sure if he could... much longer. He sank to his knees as another wave of pain washed through his side robbing him of his sense of equilibrium. He began to lurch sideways, threatening to fall over. He was grabbed roughly by his collar and jerked suddenly upright. The action ignited another sharp burst in his side.
He was hauled roughly to his feet. The guy was a solid wall of muscle and he stank of body odour. It gave him a small degree of morbid satisfaction to know that the guy had to at least break a sweat to hold him up like a tackling dummy so his partner could take another shot at him.
"Talk," ordered the rough voice from in front of him. "Tell 'em you're okay."
He could feel the cell phone being pressed to the side of his face. He had to hang on if they were going to find him. The others needed time to triangulate the call but the beating was taking its toll. Even if he were to speak he wasn't sure he could form words properly, his lips felt numb from the swelling. He tried to hold his head up but the blood in his mouth ran down the back of his throat causing him to gag. He choked and spat a wad of bloody saliva, pursed his lips and shook his head.
"Agghhh!" This time he couldn't help but cry out, the broken ribs added a new dynamic to the torture. He panted, taking a series of short breaths through his mouth to keep from breathing deeply and aggravating the fire in his side. He couldn't take this much longer. He couldn't put his arms up to defend against the blows because his hands were handcuffed behind his back. He couldn't even mentally brace himself against the fists coming because of the duct-tape blindfold wrapped around his head. At the time he had thought about how much it was going to hurt when the duct tape was pulled out of his hair. Now that concern seemed laughable.
He was dropped again, landing hard on his knees. Buck's voice chanted "hang on, kid, just a little bit longer" over and over in his head. He and Josiah had talked once about methods victims used to endure torture. Focusing on something else had been one of those methods. Quite frankly he didn't think it helped much.
An ugly voice above him slurred, "What's the time?"
"Long enough," replied the rough voice.
"So long asshole," he could almost hear the sneer that came with the hard kick to his hip.
Groaning, he fell over onto his good side welcoming the cold concrete beneath his cheek. He lay there barely aware of the footsteps as they faded away. Had they stopped for good this time or was this just another chance for them to rest before they went at him again? The thought disappeared into the welcome darkness as he drifted into unconsciousness.
Across the room, yanking hard at the handcuffs that held him bound to the steel girder, stood Vin. Impotent tears of rage and frustration filled his eyes as his body strained to reach JD. Mindless of his bloody wrists, he yanked hard at the restraints. They had left Vin untouched to watch helplessly as they had pummelled the kid. He was unable to help, unable even to offer words of encouragement and comfort or at least swear at JD's tormentors because, like JD's eyes, many layers of duct tape covered Vin's mouth.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
"Why the hell didn't you do something!"
None of them, not even Chris, had ever seen Buck like this before. There was none of the jovial lover of both life and women about him now; nothing of the tough government agent. The professional persona honed by years of experience was gone. Only the fears and anguish of the mentor and friend were evident.
Buck had Vin backed up against the wall. Red faced and nose to nose with the smaller man Buck had the front of Vin's T-shirt tangled in his balled fists. Buck's eyes had gone from their vivid laughing blue to an ominous black. It was an indication of the dangerous man Buck Wilmington would be if JD Dunne died.
"Leave him alone," growled Chris clamping both hands on Buck's wrists.
Chris really didn't like being told where to go at the best of times, the fact that it was Buck doing it this time really pissed him off and he drew back a threatening fist. "Get the hell away from him!" Chris ordered.
Buck's eyes jumped to the fist. It was the split second of distraction the others were waiting for.
In the blink of an eye, and with a quickness that belied his size, Nathan snaked his arm around Buck's neck. Hauling him away from Vin. Nathan immediately began to heave Buck backward over his hip. Feeling himself falling, Buck instinctively let go of Vin's shirt.
Chris missed what happened next as Vin drove a hard, sharp elbow up into his gut. It was an attacked from a direction Chris hadn't expected causing Chris to release Buck's wrist. Josiah then slammed Chris back against the wall. Josiah then laid one brawny forearm snug up under Chris's chin while his other hand held Chris's fisted hand up against the wall. Vin turned and leaned into Chris's other shoulder holding his other arm against the wall.
Chris could hear Nathan grunt with a great effort. Then Buck let out a loud "oof".
Chris couldn't see anything with his head cocked toward the ceiling by Josiah's arm but could hear Nathan. "Quick Ezra, his arm!"
Chris could hear more scuffling on the floor somewhere in front of him.
'What was this, some kind of mutiny?' thought Chris angrily.
"Chris!" Chris ignored Josiah as he struggled to free himself. Josiah, using his own unique form of persuasion to get his attention, pushed up on Chris's chin a little harder.
"Chris! How would you feel if it was Vin in there?" Josiah voice, normally soft and melodious had become harsh. "Do your job and be the boss!" ordered the profiler.
Wondering where the hell Josiah thought he could get off telling him what to do, Chris searched around for Josiah with his eyes. Peering down at a steep angle he replied to Josiah with the best glare he could manage under the circumstances. It had no effect on the forearm leaning into his windpipe.
"He ain't gonna hurt me, Chris," said Vin, "no way he is, it's jus' not in 'im. He's worried about JD is all." He couldn't see Vin but he noticed how the Texan's drawl had became more pronounced. It was Vin's way of telling him without words that Chris was being an ass.
"Alright!" Chris hissed grudgingly through gritted teeth as the pressure on his neck increased.
Josiah and Vin exchanged a quick glance and with a brief shrug from Vin they began to ease their hold on their leader. At the first sign that they were letting go Chris shook them off angrily.
Chris ran a hand through his hair as turned his attention to Buck and the other two men on the floor. Nathan had Buck pinned wrestling style, while Ezra had his knee in the small of Buck's back and his free arm pulled back and forced up behind him.
Buck still struggled helplessly under Nathan and Ezra. Chris made no effort to hide his annoyance as he threw a scowl at Josiah and then Vin. From their expressions he realized they weren't going to let him off the hook here. He had to deal with this.
Chris moved across the room to squat down beside the trio on the floor. "Buck." There was no indication Buck had heard him as he continued to struggle against his captors. "Buck, listen to me . Get a hold yourself. This isn't helping JD."
"Fuck off, Larabee, you saw what they did to him. Busted ribs, blood from head to toe. You saw the bruises!" Buck's angry words the rose to a roar. "They used brass knuckles on him!" A surge of adrenaline fed rage seemed to accompany those words as Buck nearly succeeded in throwing both Nathan and Ezra off his back.
"Mr. Larabee, if you are not going to assist us in restraining him the least you could do is refrain from antagonizing him any further." Ezra's tone was uncharacteristically angry, as he struggled to maintain his hold, his green eyes flashing with annoyance.
"Jesus, Chris," hissed Nathan, his jaw clenched with the effort to subdue Buck. Nathan threw a 'How could you be so stupid?' glance at his boss.
"Sonuvabitch," cursed Chris quietly as he finally realized what the others were trying to tell him. "Let him up."
Nathan and Ezra looked at one another. Then there was an almost imperceptible nod before they both rolled off of Buck and quickly and smoothly scrambled to their feet.
Buck lunged to his feet and backed away from the others holding his balled fists up in front of himself, his eyes defiantly daring them to come after him. Chris had figured it out. Buck wanted to hit someone or something just to vent his rage over what had happened to JD.
"Buck, he's gonna be alright."
"Go to hell, Chris! You of all people to be saying' that to me!"
"To hell with you too, Josiah. Don't start with any your have faith crap!"
"Buck." Even though he'd seen it a dozen times before, Chris watched in awe, as Josiah's quiet baritone seemed to reach through Buck's angry front providing the stricken man with a life line. "Buck, we're all scared for him."
That brief acknowledgement of the fear they were all feeling seemed to take the fight out of Buck. Chris watched, as the anger seemed to drain out of Buck, leaving only the torment of his fears for JD in his eyes. Buck seemed to physically wilt before them. Opening his hands wide, Buck holding them up as if to push something away from himself before taking two shaky steps backwards. He bumped up against the wall behind him. Elbows wide Buck grasped his head in despair and then he shook it helplessly. Finally, with no one to fight and no place to go, Buck let the misery and guilt he felt at his perceived negligence show as his face crumpled.
"I should have been there... he's always askin' if I want to come," the words came out is a raspy whisper. "I should have been there," he repeated. Dropping his hands in a gesture of defeat Buck slid slowly down the wall until he sat on the floor. He put his elbows on bent knees and rested his forehead in his hands effectively concealing his face. Then after one loud, ragged intake of breath Buck became still and silent.
Chris stood watching Buck, wanting to help but not knowing how.
Hearing tentative steps approach Chris instinctively put his hand out to stop whoever it was. He turned to find Vin levelling a warning look back at him. Reluctantly Chris dropped his hand from the sharpshooter's chest.
Vin slowly squatted down beside Buck. "Buck, ya gotta believe me, I tried but I couldn't do nuthin," ground out Vin painfully. "I tried, I couldn't get free, I couldn't even let him know he wasn't alone or damn them for what they were doin' to him." Vin swallowed convulsively, the feelings of just how powerless he had been to help JD spread across his face, "I couldn't do fuckin' nuthin."
Buck lifted his head, cobalt blue catching and holding sky blue eyes. Vin's face was etched with the pain of his inability to do any thing to defend JD against the vicious attacks. Buck expression softened as he reached out to grasp Vin's shoulder squeezing briefly, "I know, Junior." Despite the pain and guilt he was feeling Buck still found somewhere within himself, words of understanding and comfort for Vin.
"He's got grit, Buck. JD knew he had to take it if you were going to find us. He made that choice to hang on. That same grit'll carry him through this." And with those few words of encouragement, Vin's own composure began to crumble. Buck let go of Vin's shoulder as Vin spun slowly on the balls of his feet and sat down heavily beside Buck against the wall. Vin bowed his head so that long lanky lengths of hair fell forward providing a curtain of privacy for the man.
Chris sighed with relief. The emotional storm had passed for the moment. They would give the two men on the floor time to come to grips with their feelings. In the meantime all they could do was wait. Chris dropped wearily into a chair. Josiah and Nathan did the same beside him. Ezra picked up one of the hard plastic seats and kicked up the doorstop to allow the door to close behind him as he left the room. It was tacitly understood that Ezra would direct anyone else wanting use this waiting room down the hall to the larger waiting area, leaving the team to their privacy. Chris knew that in part it was a ploy on Ezra's part to do his waiting alone. It was the way Ezra handled such things best.
Chris dropped his head back against the wall to stare at the ceiling. He wasn't feeling particularly magnificent at the moment and he doubted any of the others were either.
The Saturday evening before...
"Talk to me." Chris cradled the phone between his shoulder and his ear as he forked over the steak on the grill with one hand and spiced the meat with the shaker in the other.
"Yeah , Buck?" He turned down the heat and stepped away from the grill to distance himself from the sizzling sirloin as he took the phone in his hand to listen more intently. Buck's voice sounded strangely subdued.
"I think something's happened to JD."
Chris resisted the urge to sigh impatiently because Mother hen was worried again.
"He was supposed to be home by now."
"It's only 7:30. Maybe he's at Casey's."
"He's not. Casey's got an assignment due next week and needed to work on it tonight. I called. Nettie said he phoned Casey this morning to say he couldn't make it but he never phoned here."
"Maybe he went out for supper?"
"But he told Nettie he'd be here..."
Chris frowned as he turned the grill off to end the noise of cooking meat. He was missing something here. "Buck, from the top."
"I stayed at Tricia's last night. When I got home this morning, JD was gone." Buck had to be worried. It had taken him a month to get a date with Tricia and now he wasn't even taking a second to comment on his conquest. "I figured he'd gone to Mass..."
"Gone to Mass?"
"Yeah, you know, church. He goes about once a month, something to do with a promise to his ma. Anyway I figured he'd gone to Mass before going over to Casey's for lunch. He'd talked about maybe them going for a ride on his bike this afternoon but he was going to be back here for supper. When he didn't show I called Casey's; she was working on her assignment so I talked to Nettie. Nettie said JD had phoned about noon and told Casey he wasn't feeling well and that he was going to stay home. But he's not here, his bike is gone and there's no note and no message on my cell or the machine."
Chris suddenly had a bad feeling. Mia was away for the week. She went back to the reservation with Kody to visit family, so he'd invited Vin out to help repair the gate to the exercise corral. It was Peso, after all, who'd taken offence to it and kicked it off its hinges. Vin had said he had some work to do on his bike but that he'd likely be out Sunday to help. Chris had laid out a couple of steaks expecting him but he never showed. He hadn't called, which in and of itself wasn't all that unusual, but it wasn't like Vin to pass up a free meal.
"Buck, I'll call Vin. You get a hold of the others. We'll meet at the office in half an hour."
"Before you go to the office, stop by JD's church and see if anyone remembers if he was at the Mass this morning."
"I was planning on doing that anyway."
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
When Chris wasn't able to get a hold of Vin via his cell phone, Chris went straight to Vin and Mia's place. Elderly Mrs. Cassidy next door told him Vin had left on his bike about noon the day before. She hadn't seen him since.
It was nearly ten o'clock by the time Chris strode through the office doors. He pushed his hand through his hair, in the all too familiar gesture of worry, as he advised the others that they were now looking for two missing agents. Expressions around the room became even grimmer with the news. Few words were spoken as the team settled into the task of searching for their missing friends.
It was midnight when the telephone in the conference room rang.
Josiah got to it first. "It's JD's cell number!" reported Josiah after reading the telephone's display. He looked up at Chris standing in the conference room doorway. Chris nodded to Josiah who picked up the receiver.
"You're gonna want to put this call on speaker," the voice was raspy, the tone arrogant.
"Okay, just a minute." Josiah shot an urgent look at Chris that told Chris that it wasn't JD on the telephone.
"Ezra," ordered Chris, "we need a call trace!"
Ezra dove to phone on his desk and called in the request for a call trace.
Josiah waited five precious seconds while the rest of them crowded around the conference table before he hit the speaker button. Then Josiah carefully placed the receiver back into its cradle.
"Go ahead." Josiah told the caller just as Ezra joined them.
There was silence and then a muffled noise that Chris recognized as a fist impacting with flesh.
"Talk," the raspy voice ordered. "Tell 'em you're okay."
The static that echoed from the conference phone speaker seemed to fill the room as something rubbed up against the mouthpiece of the caller's phone, a moment later the soft "poo-tah" as someone spat, more static warbled from the speaker phone. Again Chris listened in agonizing helplessness at the sound of another heavy blow.
Chris jumped as Buck unexpectedly dropped with a thump onto his hands onto the conference table. There was no mistaking the owner of the anguished cry. It was JD.
Buck stared at the speakerphone, his eyes wide with the horror of what he was imagining was happening at the other end of the phone.
Again the speaker echoed as they heard a new voice distant and slurred, "What's the time?"
"Long enough," replied the raspy voice.
"So long ass..." The line went dead.
No one moved. They waited hoping the call would resume again. Instead, everyone was startled by a sudden loud dial tone.
Josiah reached over and hit the disconnect button. Chris raised his head to find Josiah, Nathan and Ezra staring intently at him. Chris could see the same questions he had in their eyes. This didn't make sense! There was no indication as to what the caller wanted, no demands. Nothing! Only the confirmation that they had someone. They now knew that whoever it was had JD. Did they have Vin too?
Buck continued to stare at the phone, as if willing it to tell him where JD was. Chris spat out a curse and ran his hand through his hair again. 'What the hell was going on here?'
The heavy silence that had descended was abruptly shattered by the shrill ringing of Ezra's telephone.
Ezra darted out the door of the conference room and scooped up the receiver before it rang a second time. "Yes, yes, thank you, officer," he replied to the caller. Hanging up the phone, he returned to the room. "Trace managed to triangulate the call to the suburb of Aurora. Specifically to within a six square block radius of the intersection of Wilson and Highway Seven."
"That's the new subdivision going in just North of the highway out to my place." The others crowded around as Josiah pointed to the intersection on the outskirts of the city on the area map pinned to the conference room wall. He frowned. "It's a neighbourhood designated residential, mostly houses with a few mini-malls, schools and churches."
"Any vacant buildings out there?" asked Nathan as he studied the streets in the area Josiah indicated.
"No, just homes built close together. Families are moving into them almost as soon as the houses are ready."
"How about light industrial or warehousing," asked Chris.
"No, nothing like that. Like I said, just suburbs."
"Anything unusual going on in the neighbourhood?" Buck's voice sounded strained. From the look of him, Buck was struggling to focus on the job.
"No," Josiah shook his head thoughtfully, "and it's likely we would have heard; the residents have already started a neighbourhood watch program."
"Are there any structures removed from the immediate vicinity where illicit activity might be conducted unobserved by the neighbourhood inhabitants?" queried Ezra.
"No... wait a minute! The New Millennium Fellowship Church is here." He pointed to a corner three blocks away from the edge of the development. "They decided to build now because the surrounding area is slated to begin family dwellings next year. The Church is under construction. In fact they just finished roofing the building last week and it's far enough away that no one might notice if anything was going on."
Chris felt all eyes train on him as he squinted up at the map and the corner where Josiah indicated the Church was. It wasn't much; their next move was his call.
"It's all we've got right now," said Chris, his voice grim. "We mount up! Nathan, Josiah, you're with me. Buck, Ezra, you're staying here."
"Buck, you're too close to-"
"Like hell! JD's out there!"
"Buck, I gave you an order-"
"Mr. Wilmington?" Ezra cut in smoothly casting an uncertain glance first at Chris, then at Buck. "Buck, if the perpetrators do call back, I think it would most beneficial to JD's state of mind if you were here to talk to him."
Chris watched as the quandary Ezra had presented played across Buck's face: to wait for another possible call, or to gamble on what Buck knew to be a long shot at best and go check out this church. Ezra had neatly averted a dangerous test of wills between himself and Buck.
"Ezra, contact Travis and advise him of the situation," ordered Chris.
"Will do, and, Chris...?" Ezra's request was obvious.
"I'll call, Ezra . Whatever we find, I'll call."
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
What they found was JD, cuffed, bloody and unconscious on the dirty, cement floor just inside the worship of the church. He lay in a dusky pool of moonlight that bathed the interior of the church as it shone through the huge silhouetted cross that hung in the centre of the peaked three storey window.
Twenty feet away, in the shadows of the narthex, down on one knee, was Vin. He was as close to JD as he could get, straining to the limit of his handcuffed arms, watching over their youngest in mute desperation.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
"He's very lucky."
"Lucky?" Buck's snort was loud and sarcastic.
"Steady stud," cautioned Chris, only to end up on the receiving end of an accusing look.
Buck turned his ire back on the doctor. "How the hell do you call what's happened to that kid lucky?"
"Because he's alive." The doctor levelled a hard look at Buck. Then the man sighed heavily before rubbing his hand over the greying stubble on his chin. The gesture spoke of the doctor's fatigue. "Look, I know the beating looks bad but there is relatively little damage considering. Some broken ribs, a minor concussion, the obvious bruises and contusions, and that's all."
"...And that's lucky," said Buck contemptuously. Chris wanted to deck Buck for his insolence.
"Whoever did this used brass knuckles; they could have easily killed him if they had wanted to." The doctor's angry tone of voice and a glare that rivalled one of Chris's in its intensity put Buck back in his place. Chris felt Buck shudder beside him at the Doctor's candour. "I'd say you're dealing with pros," the doctor concluded.
"Pros, Doc?" Asked Josiah, his deep steady voice provided a measure of calm to the situation.
Now that they knew JD was going to be okay it was time to work the case. They had a mystery to solve. They had yet to figure out what was really going on here. How qualified was this doctor in assessing JD's injuries? If what he said was true, why did the perps hold back from seriously injuring the kid? What was it they wanted?
"Professional muscle," replied the doctor.
"What experience have you had with professional muscle, Doctor?" Chris was somewhat sceptical of the doctor's conclusion. They had used JD's own phone. They had stayed on the line long enough for the call to be traced and they had left a witness. This did not feel professional to Chris.
"Eight years working Emergency in East LA, you learn a thing or two about beatings." There was an angry edge to the doctor's words.
"Sorry Doc," said Chris, "we have to understand just what it is we're dealing with here."
The doctor nodded his acceptance of the apology. "It been a long night for all of us." The doctor's fatigue was showing. "All I'm saying is based on my experience it could have been a helluva lot worse."
"Can we see him?" Asked Buck respectfully.
"The nurses tell me you guys are regulars here, and that one of you is a certified EMT." The doctor seemed to ignore Buck's request.
"I am," replied Nathan.
"If you're willing to look after him, you can take him home in a couple of hours."
"No problem, that's S O P for us."
"So the nursing staff tells me," commented the doctor dryly. "Come with me, I'll brief you on what you need to watch out for." He looked at Buck before asking, "You're Buck?"
"He's been worried about you. Come on then."
Chris clapped Buck on the shoulder.
Buck looked over his shoulder at Chris. His eyes narrowed slightly before he roughly shrugged off the comforting gesture, turned away and followed after the doctor.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
"Oh hell! What's he doing home at this time of day?" Del cursed when she heard the familiar rattle of the battered old suburban as it made its way up the quarter-mile driveway.
Del hurriedly tried to disentangle herself from dusty job of powdering the dogs against the ticks prevalent in the bush this time of year. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever was an unnecessary and cruel way for an animal to die.
Josiah's early arrival home wasn't why she'd cursed, though. It was one of Josiah's favourite tricks to undo her bra hooks through the back of her shirt and leave her struggling whenever she was elbow deep in some mucky mess or other.
"Hey, Del." Josiah barely even glanced in her direction on his way by the kennel.
"Hey, yourself. How's our boy doing today?" she called after him. He never even broke stride, just kept on walking toward the house.
"Seems to be healing," he called over his shoulder briefly before climbing the steps and disappearing into the house.
"Lord Almighty, what's happened now," she wondered dropping her gloves as she hurried after him. No hug, no kiss, no teasing, no tickle... something was wrong.
The usual greeting was a giant hug that knocked the ever-present Broncos ball cap off her head, and a kiss on the mouth that would travel across her cheek so he could nibble for a moment on her ear before traveling down the back of her neck. It would be about then that Rosie would lend her opinion with a "Yeeuch!" With a parting tickle to her mother's ribs, Daddy would then turn his attentions on his daughter and chase her until he caught her and swung her up in the air before blowing "raspberries" on her tummy, all the while Rosie screaming and laughing in delighted protest. After growing up in a family that was staunchly religious in its coldness to one another, Josiah was not about to let a single day go by that he didn't let his women folk know just how much he loved them.
Today there had hardly even been a hello.
The back door opened directly into the tiny kitchen. The fridge door stood slightly ajar. When she tried to close it she found she couldn't. The door bumped up against the crisper drawer filled with beer. It was sitting open just enough to keep the fridge door from closing. It was easier to grab a beer quickly if the bottles were neatly stacked in a drawer rather than stuck here and there amongst everything else in the fridge.
"Something is definitely wrong here," thought Del grimly as she grabbed a beer for herself and pushed the drawer shut with her foot before closing the fridge door. "The big guy just isn't that absent minded."
Del followed the trail of his discards through the snug living room. The worn Nikes, the jean jacket, then the ring with his dog tags and keys stacked predictably on top of the small black folder that held his badge and I.D. were left in their usual spot, on top of the barn board wall unit that held the TV, a few books and Rosie's toys. Finally, gun and shoulder holster were left hanging on the doorknob of the door leading to their room.
Del was shocked. Something was really wrong; even if Rosie wasn't home from school yet, the gun was always locked away, first thing.
She found him in the sun porch. Trying to act nonchalant, she slid into the sturdy old rocker that had been Del's maternal great-grandmother's. Until recently it had been in Rosie's room. It had been moved out to make room for the Barbie dollhouse, a gift from her Uncle Ezra.
Ezra had been somewhat concerned with Rosie's lack of interest in the more traditionally feminine pursuits of young girls and had given Rosie a Barbie dollhouse on her last birthday. In true Standish fashion, however, the house was one of the most exclusive items the Barbie Corporation sold. It stood six inches taller than Rosie and three feet square. There were three full floors within, a circular staircase, curtained windows and even a secret passageway. One wall swung open to allow easy access inside to arrange furniture, dolls, doll clothing, doll dishes and so on. In Rosie's case, however, the house accommodated her figurines of horses and dogs, while Barbie lay ignored on the floor of her clothes closet... until Uncle Ezra came to visit.
The rocker sat beside a huge, aged, overstuffed chair that Josiah had brought with him. A flea market treasure that he'd picked up twenty years before. There was just no room in the house for it, so it had been relegated to the sun porch. Though the maroon leather covering was cracked and worn, Josiah had been loath to give it up - it was one of the few pieces of furniture that his big frame fit into comfortably.
"Not sure," he said before tipping back the bottle and taking a long swig of the amber ale. He cradled the bottle with both hands and watched her as she took a drink of her own beer.
He rarely brought the job home with him; the men, often, the job, not if he could help it. This time the job was the men, at least Vin and JD anyway. She knew this kidnapping was having a profoundly negative effect on the whole team, and that this case in particular was nagging at her husband because people he cared for had been hurt.
He held the half-full bottle tapping it absently with his index finger as his gaze wandered across the back yard down the dip of the hill to the river. "JD made it in today. He stayed long enough for the de-briefing and then Buck took him home. The bruises sure are colourful but he says he looks worse than he feels."
Del snorted gently and shook her head. "Why am I not surprised?" she said dryly before taking another sip. "You know that boy would say the same thing if someone had just separated his head from his neck and handed it to him."
Josiah gave a gentle chuckle and nodded in agreement before taking another long swallow from the brown bottle.
"What did JD say happened?"
"He remembers walking down the street toward his bike after Mass. He parks one block over, next to the Edison building. It's easier to turn onto West Avenue from there to catch the freeway out to Casey's than use the parking lot at St. Andrew's, but the street is completely deserted on the weekends. Then next thing he remembers he's handcuffed and blindfolded. The perp holds a cell phone to his ear and tells him to talk to Casey. At first JD refused but then the perp gave him her address and threatened to have her join him."
Josiah paused for a moment before continuing in a low whisper, "It was after he talked to Casey that they laid the first beating on him."
"Oh lord." Del dropped her eyes hoping to hide the distress she knew he would see there for the young man her daughter looked upon as her favourite playmate. "How many?"
"JD's not sure." Josiah sighed deeply. "Vin says three."
Josiah took another drink from his bottle. Del sat and let the thought of JD bound, blind, with no way to defend himself, beaten again and again. Del was no lightweight, she'd seen her share of injustices and cruelty, but even so she shivered in spite of herself.
"What about Vin?"
"Saturday, Vin was heading home from Gabriel's Bike Heaven when his motorcycle died on him. He remembers a car stopping behind him and a male voice asking if he needed help and that's it until he woke up in the church with a helluva headache. He figures the sun was just rising based on the light inside the church. He guesses it was about four hours before they brought JD in."
"Any leads as to the bastards who did this are?"
"We got a report this morning, Denver PD found two bodies last night. They'd been shot. Vin I.D.'ed them based on their height, weight and clothing. They wore balaclavas the whole time, he never saw their faces." Josiah drained the bottled before continuing. "Peter and Anthony Nichols, a real sweet pair who made a living as hire thugs... but they're dead now so it's not likely we're going to find out who hired them."
Josiah reached down to set his empty beer bottle on the floor and then leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees and rest his chin on the intertwined fingers of his hands. "Del, JD and Vin's kidnapping doesn't make any sense from beginning to end or anywhere in between."
He frowned as he descended deeper into his thoughts. "Why kidnap them and then not make any demands? The Nicholls brothers were muscle for hire, not kidnappers, and why beat up JD and leave Vin to watch? Who murdered them and why? None of this makes any damn sense .
Just to add to this mess, the team's not working well. Buck and Chris are mad as hell at each other. Chris because Buck threatened Vin. Buck because Chris took after him in defence of Vin, he figures Chris is happier that it was JD and not Vin that got hurt. Vin's feeling guilty for not finding a way to help JD, and is pissed at Chris for the way he treated Buck.
And JD," Josiah shook his head ruefully. "JD's putting up a front. He's saying if he took the beatings to spare Vin then it was worth it. That's only adding to Vin's guilt." Josiah sighed heavily. "After the briefing I talked to him alone, just to see how he was really doing. He's wondering why he was beaten and Vin wasn't. The trauma from the beatings has got JD thinking crazy things, like did Vin do something to get out of being beaten. Then in the next breath JD's ashamed for even thinking something like that of Vin.
Nathan's worse than ever, down on Buck for letting JD coming in so soon and looking at me to find a way to help Vin with his guilt. I thought Ezra was okay until he drank a whole cup of Vin's coffee this morning and never even noticed that he'd done it!" Josiah kept his elbows on his knees as he dropped his hands and rubbed the palms together slowly. "Lord love us, let's face it, the way to upset everybody the most is to pick on the youngest of us. That boy is such a damn mix of naivete and hard knocks."
Josiah straightened up in his chair and turned to look at his wife. "I would have bet it'd be damn near impossible to get in between us but this case is doing it. The trust between four key agents is just blown all to hell and the rest of us aren't thinking straight."
Del shook her head. "Men! Why can't they see what's right in front of them," she thought to herself as she finished off the last of her beer before commenting. "Maybe that's why it was done."
"What?" He caught her gaze with his own.
"Sounds to me, big guy, like someone's playing with you boys."
She watched his eyes as the clouds of confusion swirled within the blue depths. "Look at the bunch of you right now, mad at one another, not talking, fighting between yourselves. You're no damn good as a team in this condition."
The blue depths cleared as the clouds of confusion suddenly disappeared. "Someone's screwing with us on purpose?"
"It sure seems that way to me."
He back pedalled through his thoughts. The kidnapping may not make any sense except that the result was that the team dynamics had been shot to hell. It was so simple why hadn't he seen it? He paused a moment then shook his head before leaning over and planting a quick kiss on his wife's lips. Sitting back again he gave her a long admiring look. The woman never ceased to amaze him and not just because, for some reason beyond his understanding, she had given him a second look six years ago, but because she had a way of seeing things so clearly.
"You might just be right, Delancey Cowper. Someone has very neatly driven a wedge in middle of this team just where it would do the most damage."
She smiled. "I knew you'd figure it out, big guy. How about another beer?" She rose from the rocker as she asked.
"Sounds good." He caught her wrist before she turned to leave. He tugged gently on her arm pulling her down toward him. He gave her another kiss. Then he stood and took her in his arms. Their kisses deepened. Their tongues duelled for a moment before Del drew away from him. Looking up at him she gave him a lazy smile. He looked down into the smoky hazel gaze that held his.
"When's Rosie's school bus due?" he asked thickly.
A horn blast from the bottom of the driveway answered his question.
Del chuckled. "We'll pick this up again later. In the meantime, you better put your gun away before she gets here."
"My gun?" a slow smile curled his lips at the innuendo.
"The one you left hanging in the hallway," replied Del firmly.
"Yes, boss." He pulled her to himself again. "Just remember where we left off."
"There's no fear of that," she replied in that silky tone he had come to know so well. They shared another long kiss before Del eased herself out of his arms. Del sighed deeply before slipping back into the house to greet Rosie home from school.
He followed her back into the house and scooped up the gun and holster. His thoughts wandered back to the case as he locked them away. The implications of this were sobering. A team that wasn't functioning well was vulnerable. "Sonuvabitch!" he swore to himself. He'd never let Del know, she'd figure it out soon enough on her own anyway, but the thought that someone knew them well enough to do this much damage to the team scared the shit out of him.
Whoever was responsible for this had a pretty intimate understanding of the relationships within the team and the habits of its members. Things like the fact that JD usually only went to Mass the third Sunday of the month. Where Vin would go to get spare parts for his bike after his motorcycle's sudden problems on Friday.
What Del didn't know was the other coincidences that had been preying on his mind. This happened on a Sunday. JD was abducted after Mass. Vin was on the way back from Gabriel's Bike Heaven. They had been found in a church. The number of religious aspects of this incident nagged at him. He hadn't told her what the Crime Scene Unit had found in JD's jeans pocket when they had gone over his clothing. JD had been adamant that it wasn't his; a medallion depicting Raphael the Archangel. Raphael, whose name meant "Healer of God," the patron saint of the blind and guardian angels.
Most of all it bothered him that the New Millennium Church was a location that only he of the seven would be aware of. He couldn't shake the feeling that this case was pointing right at him.
"Long day, Chris?" Chris looked up from his computer screen to find Josiah standing in the open doorway of his office. Josiah's jean jacket was flung over one shoulder, hooked by two fingers. He held a cardboard airport coffee cup in the other hand.
It was after 6:00 and only Chris remained in the office.
Chris looked up. "Yeaahh," he replied ruefully as he glanced back at the computer screen and scowled. "I thought computerization was supposed to cut back on paperwork." He shook his head; he had forty-two online requests yet to authorize. "But I have my doubts. How was your flight?"
Josiah made no move to leave the doorway, an indication to Chris that Josiah wanted to talk. Chris clicked the mouse to minimize the screen, sat back in his chair and nodded to the chair across from him. "Sit down."
"Any luck in St. Louis?" asked Chris as Josiah settled into the chair.
"No." Josiah drained the last swallow of what was likely cold coffee from the cup. He then crushed the cup in his hand, with a little more gusto than Chris thought necessary, before tossing it into Chris's wastebasket. "I though maybe if I took another look at the evidence and reviewed the case files first hand, that I might get an idea as to where to look for him." The gentle blue of Josiah's eyes seemed to darken as an uneasiness seemed to settle around the man. "I went back to the crime scene," he said quietly. "I thought maybe I'd missed..." Looking Chris in the eye he spoke, his words came in an urgent rush. "Chris, Weller can't be far away. He vowed to get -"
"I know." Chris's softly spoken words cut Josiah's short. The expression in Josiah's gentle blue eyes was almost desperate.
They both knew.
It had been ninety-two days now. Ninety-two days of freedom for Jonathan Becks Weller, a psychopathic mad man who had kidnapped, tortured and then murdered a number of teenage girls. Josiah had been called in to consult when other profilers had been stymied by the clues. After twenty-nine days, immersed in everything that was Jonathan Becks Weller, Josiah had been successful. Successful but three hours too late to save the last victim.
Jonathan Becks Weller had committed his crimes in the name of God. In his psychosis he was God's instrument, called upon by God to "Purge the Earth of the Abomination called Woman". This case haunted Josiah, as no other had before. Josiah and Jonathan Becks Weller's upbringing had been similar, too similar; strict disciplinarian minister fathers, mothers who died young and wild, spirited sisters brought harshly to heel by their fathers. The similarities in their upbringings, the savage treatment of the victims and the failure to find the last victim in time had caused Josiah to doubt himself as never before. Weller's crimes had shaken him to his very soul.
"St. Louis PD have called both John and Bronwen back in to work the case."
"Bronwen!" Chris couldn't help but blurt out the name.
"Yeah." Josiah's expression was grim.
Bronwen Lind was a gifted profiler, who at twenty-eight years of age, profiled a white-collar rapist so accurately that within four days her taking the case he had been caught. His arrest ended a reign of terror that had lasted more than six months. That case had thrust her into a rather exclusive club of elite profilers.
Unfortunately, Bronwen never learned how to separate herself from the job. Most serial crimes were committed against women. Bronwen identified too closely with the victims. Her feelings of irrational guilt became overwhelming until they began to threaten her emotional wellbeing. Jonathan Becks Weller had been her last case; at thirty-one her career was over and her sanity hung by a thread. The brass in St. Louis had to be feeling the political heat to call Bronwen Lind out of retirement.
"What about you?"
"Jurisdiction rules for now."
"So this visit...?"
"A professional courtesy." The big boney hand that clenched briefly in Josiah's lap belied his frustration. "They're just as desperate to find Weller."
"And the investigation as far as they're concerned?"
"Dead-ended. There's nothing new to go on. They can only wait until he makes his first move."
"What do you think?"
Josiah paused and looked steadily at Chris. "I think he already has... I think Weller was responsible for JD and Vin's kidnappings."
Chris was careful not to make any obvious reaction to his profiler's theory. Chris had been expecting something like this. Since Vin and JD's kidnapping ten days ago Josiah's determination to find Weller had become an obsession.
You're not sure though? Chris spoke slowly and deliberately. The Weller case had taken a huge emotional toll on the Josiah and Chris had to wonder if that wasn't affecting Josiah's judgement. If left Chris feeling cold. Jonathan Becks Weller had to be one hellish monster to shake Josiah like he had.
Josiah shook his head. "No. No, to be quite honest I'm not sure. Maybe it wasn't Weller who engineered the kidnappings but there's a nagging feeling in my gut that I can't ignore. The last time he threw out a number of false leads, I was never sure. I had to sift through the clues one by one and decide, usually by instinct alone, if they were legitimate or not. Even then so many of the clues were so vague, I couldn't be sure if they were valid or something else to throw me off track."
"Josiah, it's a big stretch from kidnapping and murdering teenage girls to kidnapping federal officers."
"I know it is... but the taking JD after Mass, Vin on the way back from Gabriel's Bike Heaven, finding them in a Church, the medallion in JD's pocket, all of them together are one helluva coincidence." Chris could hear the urgency that had crept into Josiah's voice. "And what Weller said after he was arrested..."
Chris watched as Weller's threats ran through Josiah's mind, the memory of them playing across his face. Shortly after Weller's escape Josiah had told the team what Weller had shouted out to him upon his arrest. They all had the right to know of any threats against them, but Chris worried that Josiah was seeing things that weren't there.
"Josiah, we've all been threatened with payback by a perp. It goes with the job."
"Weller isn't your average perp!" The sudden angry impatience in Josiah's voice surprised Chris.
"It's not the same M.O. The Nichols boys aren't even in the same league as Weller."
Josiah gave his head a quick shake "You might be right, Chris. I hope to God you are." "But Weller is capable of anything, including the kidnapping of federal agents and murdering their kidnappers. But he wouldn't do it without a purpose, he's trying to tell us something... and that's not just my opinion, John and Bronwen concur."
Chris frowned, got up from his chair and strode over to the window. He stared out of it absently as he considered Josiah's opinion. He really wasn't convinced that Weller was responsible for the kidnappings. What this situation came down to was trusting Josiah's experience and instincts. And he did.
Chris turned away from the window. "Alright," he said as he sat down again. "It won't hurt to present the possibility at the Current Case Status meeting in the morning."
"Thanks." Chris didn't miss the audible sigh of relief from the big man.
"How were things while I was gone?" Josiah asked.
"The same." Chris's reply was clipped, as the annoyed expression that Chris had been sporting off and on for the last week and half returned. "Buck took JD home at noon every day and didn't come back. I'm supposed to have one agent on half days, not two."
"You could do something about that, you know."
"You're out-of-bounds, Agent." The menacing undertone to his voice, warning Josiah to stay out of his business with Buck.
"No, I'm not. I'm speaking as your second in command. This little feud between you and Buck is having a negative effecting on the team. It needs to be dealt with and as the Team Leader it's your job to deal with it."
Josiah was rewarded with a withering look from the boss.
Josiah replied with his own cool steady gaze. "Chris you know as well as I do, if you and Buck patched things up it would go a long way to fixing the rest of the problems we've got around here right now."
"I'll give it some thought," replied Chris tersely as he pushed the mouse impatiently to bring the screen back up again.
It was as close to an admission of responsibility as Josiah could optimistically expect to get from Chris Larabee. Josiah was satisfied though. Given a couple of days Chris would deal with Buck... hopefully in a positive manner. Those two still had baggage stretching back to Sarah to deal with. One of these days it was all going to come to a head.
Chris had turned his attention back to authorizing online requests, Josiah realized he had just been dismissed, Larabee style.
"I'm gonna check my messages before I go home," said Josiah as he levered himself out of his chair.
Del and Rosie had gone to "Finding Nemo" as part of a birthday celebration for Ernie Stivens. Ernie's mother seemed to think an invitation to Ernie's birthday party might help smooth things over between Ernie and Rosie. Since the "bopping" incident, and despite an eventual grudging apology from Rosie, Ernie had given Rosie a wide berth.
Privately, Josiah thought Ernie was a wise young man who was obviously bright enough to learn from his mistakes. Ernie's mother was another matter. So Del had gone along with a couple of other mothers to chaperone the group. They wouldn't be home for a couple of hours yet and since the only company at home would be the hounds, Josiah thought he might as well retrieve his e-mail and phone messages before going home.
Josiah dropped his jacket over the back of his chair. Still standing, he picked up the telephone receiver and punched a series of numbers into this desk phone. Pressing the button on his computer, it began booting up while he listened to his phone messages. He bent over his desk to jot down a few quick notes and phone numbers as he went through the messages. The computer was still flashing from screen to screen after he hung up so he began sifting through his in-basket.
The neat, white, legal-sized envelope caught his attention. It had no other markings on it than the neatly typed words JOSIAH SANCHEZ, "CONFIDENTIAL".
Josiah frowned. He picked it up and was suddenly struck by an uneasy feeling. He turned the envelope over in his hand. It wasn't sealed. The back flap was simply tucked inside. He pushed gently at the edges of the envelope with both hands, tenting it so that he could peer inside. He saw only the smooth white backing of the documents within.
He carefully pulled out the flap and slid the contents slowly out onto his desk. Given the chance to examine the contents more closely he now recognized the smooth backing of the documents to be photographs, 8 by 10 inches in size. He turned the first one over and was stunned by what he saw. He quickly turned over a second and a third. Dear god!
Only then did he think about evidence. In his haste he yanked at his top drawer so hard the rollers gave way and the entire drawer came out of the desk landing on the floor with a crash, rudely shattering the silence in the office. He quickly pulled on the blue evidence gloves and carefully turned over the remaining four pictures.
Chris appeared in the doorway of his office, "What the hell was that noi..." Josiah's head snapped up to look at him. Chris stopped in mid-sentence his eyes widening in reaction to Josiah's expression. Chris was across the room and standing beside Josiah in an instant. Josiah he dropped his eyes to his desk. Chris followed his gaze.
The photographs were of them.
The photographer had captured Ezra and his mother in a rare intimate moment. Wherever they were it was raining, and Ezra had his arm around Maude to hold her close as they both shared the umbrella he was holding. The photograph centred on Maude while catching Ezra in profile. They were smiling at one another and for once there was the unmistakable look of unconditional love in Maude's eyes as she looked up at her son.
JD was riding his motorcycle with Casey riding double behind him. Dressed in full leathers, communication helmets and visors, they wore broad smiles. One could only imagine what the "kids" were saying to each other over the microphones that curled around their cheeks to sit just in front of their mouths. The picture was a face on "head and shoulders" shot with only trees and sky in the background.
Buck was leaning over the bar at the Saloon grinning down at Inez. There was a mischievous glint in his eyes. A large green plastic button in a shape of a shamrock, with the words "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" printed on it could be seen pinned to his shirt. Her face was half turned away from him toward the photographer as she looked up at him out of the corner of her eye. Her lips were curled in that teasing smile she had when she was parrying Buck's playful propositions.
It was obvious they were lovers as they sat semi-reclined on the porch swing at the ranch watching a sunset. Chris sat cradling Mary in his arms. She was lying against him, her eyes closed, her face turned toward the camera. Chris's head was bowed just enough to caress Mary's hair with his cheek. There was a hint of smile on Mary's lips.
Nathan and Rain were standing on a beach, the surf curling around their bare feet. It was some place warm; Nathan was clad only in shorts while Rain wore a sundress. She was standing with her back to Nathan. He had pulled her in close to himself, errant strands of her hair drifted on the wind as he bent his head to nuzzle her ear. Nathan's big gentle hands were spread protectively across her tummy. Even if they didn't already know, someone could have guess from the nature of the gesture that Rain was pregnant; they had discovered the pregnancy just days before the wedding.
Vin and Mia sat on horseback. The photo had captured a tender moment: Vin was reaching over to brush the backs of his fingers against Mia's cheek. Mia's eyes were teary as she looked back at Vin. Vin, in a rare moment, had let his anguish at the loss of their daughter show in his face. Those two had had more than their share of pain. Like the picture of JD and Casey, the photo was of both of them face on.
Six pictures in all, of intimate moments with women who were important to each of them.
The dark red lettering slashed its way rudely across the pictures. The stark words jumped out at them: "jezebelle," "whore," "slut," "strumpet," "black bitch" and "harlot."
Josiah's stomach lurched in reaction to the brutal threats.
Then came the last picture.
The subject of the seventh picture haunted him still. In the dark early morning hours, when other middle-aged men lay awake regretting the big deal they had long ago missed out on or the estrangement from family through divorce or neglect, Josiah Sanchez lay awake thinking about being three hours too late. Those other things didn't matter. Those other regrets could be fixed. For Josiah being three hours too late because of his lack of ability, his lack of understanding, his lack of quickness in putting the pieces together did matter and couldn't be fixed.
This seventh picture was the signature.
The red lettering across the last picture read "too late." Estelle Kolocek's face stared up at him from the last photograph, her eyes vacant in death. He would never forget her face. The pretty sixteen-year-old honours student had come from humble beginnings and had worked hard for her bright future. Estelle Kolochek had been Jonathan Becks Weller's last victim. They had found Estelle in that dark, filthy basement. Her body was in the process of being carved up by that madman. It was Estelle Kolochek's face that kept Josiah Sanchez awake in the dark early morning hours.
I know about your Rosie, Josiah! Know all about that slut you married too! Whore of Babylon! Tell me Josiah, has Larabee ever found the feller that knocked off that bitch wife of his, and his whelp? Not yet, I betcha! Has Standish let you down yet? Let you down like he did his pals in Atlanta? Maybe not... but he will, don't you worry! Tanner still livin' in... where is it Purgatorio? Surrounded by sin... nothing but Sodom! And that whoremongerin' bastard Wilmington still lyin' with every jezebelle he meets? Leadin' that boy into hell, I'm tellin' you!! Nathan Jackson still whorin' around with that black bitch of his, Josiah? Oh, don't worry... I know everything, my friend... everything...
Josiah tried to bury the memory of Weller's threats in the back of his mind but they kept pushing themselves to the surface over and over again. God he was so tired already and this horror had only begun.
He'd been up all night with the FBI and arguing with Del.
Chris had notified Travis immediately and Travis had brought in the FBI. The photos had gone straight to the lab at Quantico. Then he was subjected to a myriad of standard questions, most of them sounding inane and stupid. The FBI hired and trained fine men and women but they were procedure bound in their thinking. Any imagination any of them might once have had had been trained out of them and they were, to say the least, frustrating to work with. He was one of the top profilers in the country for god's sake!
And Del... there had been no chance to warn her and she had come close to parting the hair of the FBI agent assigned to watch over her and Rosie. No one had warned the young man that Del was an experienced wilderness guide and was more than capable of taking care of her self. The young man probably expected to have to deal with a dithering middle-aged woman but instead he had found himself nose to barrel with a .35 Remington rifle. "Tess," Del's favourite hunting rifle was a fearsome weapon. God, he should have known, he thought regretfully, because he was the one that had managed to track the bastard down the first time, they would post a guard on his family once Weller surfaced again.
Note to self: don't ever make Del that angry again.
He couldn't think about Del now even though every fibre of his being was urging him to run home and wrap Del and Rosie up safe in his arms. He couldn't do that though, he had to find Weller and he would need his brothers in arms to do that. But once they saw the pictures how the hell was he going to keep them here to help him find this madman?
Every damn one of them had strong male protective instincts. Once they saw the pictures there would be no holding them here, no way to force them to stay and help him. Chris had told him that was his job, and that Josiah's priority was to find Weller.
Josiah scrubbed miserably at the day's worth of beard on his face before knocking back a draught of strong hot coffee. The team was already wounded. Fragmented by the kidnapping they were not working well together, Josiah didn't see how Chris was going to convince them to help him. Weller had done a masterful job of screwing up the team dynamics and now with this latest threat he could very likely be all on his own.
Josiah roused himself from his musings to look up at the men around the conference table. The rest of them were looking back at him in dismay. Josiah had to wonder that he must look like he'd come to work after an all-night bender. His eyes felt heavy, he was unshaven and he was still wearing yesterday's clothes.
The gazes of the other five left him suddenly as if they didn't want Josiah to know they had been watching him. They focused now on the eighth man in the room, Special Agent Frank Pollard of the FBI. Frank was in the twilight of his career with the FBI. He would retire in ten months time on full pension. Frank had never endeared himself to the ATF. He never made any bones about the fact he felt the ATF investigators were amateurs compared to their FBI counterparts.
Frank Pollard had a particular dislike for this team and the feeling was mutual. Frank had been instrumental in Ezra's sudden exodus from the FBI and had interviewed Nathan for a position shortly before Nathan joined the team. Though Ezra's departure had been a feather in Frank's cap, Frank was still smarting from the fact that Chris, the man who had hired Ezra, had hired Nathan away the FBI. Frank had taken Chris's hiring of both Ezra and Nathan as personal affronts. He never failed to take a cheap shot at this ATF team at every opportunity.
Frank Pollard sat, his chest puffed out, looking very smug. Probably because he was now supervising this team on this case, or so he thought.
Josiah had to wonder what Chris was going do about this. This case was tough enough. They didn't a turf war between the team and the FBI just now.
"What's he doin' here?" asked Buck wasting no effort on civilities as he jabbed his thumb sideways at Pollard.
"You're all acquainted with Special Agent Frank Pollard, FBI. Like it or not we have to co-operate with the FBI on this one," replied Chris, sounding the model of professional courtesy.
Chris turned to face his FBI opposite and shrugged helplessly. "I'm sorry Frank, I can't force my men to work with you." Chris was being uncharacteristically meek and apologetic as he spoke to his FBI opposite.
Annoyance clouded Pollard's face. "What kind of bullshit is this, Larabee? You're the boss. Your men are supposed to follow your orders."
"That's not the way I work, Frank. This is a democracy."
Chris remained passive his attention never leaving Frank Pollard's face as surprised expressions appeared and disappeared in an instant around the table.
"Look! We're lettin' you in only because of Sanchez... otherwise you people wouldn't even get a sniff of this one other than as material witnesses."
"I know, I know, you're doing us a big favour here. I appreciate that." Chris's tone was smooth and ingratiating. "Can we work something out here?"
Pollard scowled and puffed as he surveyed the unfriendly faces around the table. He seemed to decide that this wasn't a fight he was going to win. Pollard drew a mini-recording device out of his shirt pocket. Placing it on the table he pounded the table with his index finger beside the unit making it jump as he spoke. "Don't touch it. I want every word. You withhold any evidence, Larabee, and you, personally, will pay.
"Sound reasonable to me, Frank."
Frank Pollard rose slowly and headed toward the door. "Since when do the nuts run the asylum," he muttered. "Jackson, why do you taint yourself with this bunch of rejects and assholes? You'd have a great future with the bureau."
"Frank, I take great offence at you calling my team-mates rejects and assholes."
Frank Pollard must have been expecting Nathan to agree with him because his face turned red at Nathan's frosty retort.
It was then he spied the mild smirk. He pointed accusingly at Ezra. "I'm still watching you, Standish."
"Oh, then that explains your last case, Francis. Dante Priolo got away because you were too busy watching me when you should have been watching him."
Pollard's face went from red to purple and with a parting curse he slammed the door behind him.
JD snickered while Buck let go a self-satisfied chuckle as satisfied smiles were exchanged around the table.
Chris reached over and caught the recording device with the end of his pen. Not physically touching the unit as he was instructed, he pulled it toward himself. He peered at it critically and then frowning he pushed the device across the table toward JD.
"JD, this thing doesn't seem to be working right, can you fix it?"
JD picked up the recorder and examined it seriously before glancing up at his boss. It was then that JD caught the ghost of a wink. A lop-sided smile slowly spread across his bruised face. "I dunno, Chris, it's one tight little unit. I can't figure out what's wrong with it."
"Do what you have to, JD."
"Let's see here..." mused JD seriously for the benefit of those who would be listening to the remnants of the MP3 recording later. Taking the unit firmly in hand JD brought it down hard onto the edge of the table. Plastic casing, tiny metal pieces and splintered bits of the inner workings flew everywhere.
"It's fixed, Chris."
"Nathan, in lieu of the FBI's technological failure, you're in charge of notes to be transcribed by hand and forwarded to the FBI at your earliest convenience."
"Got it," replied Nathan as he dropped his pen on his note pad and brushed them both aside.
In spite of the seriousness of the situation Josiah smiled to himself. He had to admire Chris. Considering he wasn't one for diplomacy, Chris occasionally found creative ways of dealing with unwanted interference. When you got right down to it, no one had said outright that they wouldn't work with Frank Pollard and Frank ultimately had chosen to leave of his own accord... and the whole thing had been caught on the MP3.
His mind turning to the business at hand, Josiah took another long drink of the strong coffee. He could see their questioning expressions but he was too tired and time was too tight for anything but getting straight to the point. "We have a situation," he announced as he rose from his chair and walked around the table behind the seated men placing a set of copies of the seven photographs on the table in front of each of them.
Josiah watched as their questioning expressions turn to alarm as they sifted through the photographs. They shifted in their chairs, swore softly or in JD's case, began to jiggle.
Josiah slowly lowered himself back into his chair beside Chris, noticing for the first time that Chris looked like hell. Chris had been up all night as well.
Josiah and Chris left their copies untouched on the table in front of them as they watched the reactions of their co-workers. Each of them lingered a little longer on their own pictures. Their reaction to the last picture, the one of Estelle Kolochek, was universal. Their bodies reacted with the shock of recognition. They all knew who she was. It took a split second to put the pieces together in their own minds. Then a sudden flurry of motion as every one of them rose quickly from their chairs.
"Sit down," ordered Chris sternly.
"Like hell!" snarled Buck, levelling a malevolent glare back at Chris.
"I said sit down!" repeated Chris as before. He was standing now. Josiah stood with him.
"Chris don't expect us to sit here while that monster- " Nathan's usually calm voice was harsh and menacing.
"I don't, Nathan. The FBI has them all under surveillance."
"The FBI!" and with it came a most ungentlemanly derisive snort from Ezra.
Chris shot him a white hot glare. He didn't need Ezra undermining the others opinions in the FBI, he needed them all, here, now, one hundred percent focused on this case.
"I'd feel better if - "
"I know you would, Vin, so would I." The hard look in Chris's eye faltered for a second. "But Weller has finally surfaced and Josiah needs our help to find him."
The split second of consideration ended with an F-you curse from Buck as he yanked the door to the conference room open, with the rest of them turning to follow him through it.
"Look, I won't order you to stay." The uncharacteristically conciliatory words from the boss stopped them long enough to listen. "But think about it! Maybe you can protect them... but for how long... he's a threat until we find him." Chris was met with silence. He pushed on while he still had their attention. "And if he kills someone else how well will you sleep knowing we might have been able to stop him? Josiah needs our help... and if you aren't here to work the case, he won't be stopped and Rain, Casey, Mia, Inez, Maude, none of them will ever be safe."
Their indecision hung heavily in the silent room.
Buck moved to leave again but a single enquiry stopped him.
"I have to let Casey know."
Chris sighed heavily and shoved a hand through his hair, a gesture of defeat. JD wasn't getting it. "What are you going to tell her, JD? That a homicidal maniac is after her?"
The face that looked back at Chris were decorated with a sickening olive green, pale yellow and bright orange, the colours of healing deep bruises. The garish colours of the bruises would have distracted Chris if it weren't for the seriousness of the deep brown eyes that held his steadily.
"The truth... that a perp has threatened payback and we think maybe he'll try and hurt her to get back at me... and not to give the FBI surveillance agent a hard time 'cause I'll be able to help catch this perp faster if I'm not worried about her."
Chris looked over at Josiah. The unspoken question, whether or not it would be wise for them to advise their loved ones of what was happening, in his eyes. Chris didn't like it but maybe JD had a point. After all, Del had come close to shooting the FBI agent assigned to her and Rosie last night, it had taken Mary less than half an hour to spot her surveillance this morning. Granted, a wilderness guide and a reporter had better than average powers of observation but it would only be a matter of time before Rain, Mia, Inez and Casey noticed their protectors. Then there was the problem of finding Maude.
Josiah dipped his chin once in reply.
Chris turned back and scowled at them as one. "Are you all agreed that's the story?"
No one said a word but Chris could see it in their faces, even Buck's. They agreed.
"All right," the tone was grudging, "make your calls."
The men funnelled quickly out of the conference room door and spread out through the main room to their respective desks to make their calls.
"Ezra." The undercover agent's expression became concerned when he noticed the guilty expression that crossed their leader's face. "Ezra, the FBI have notified Interpol but so far they haven't been able to find Maude."
Ezra smiled suddenly. "Do not trouble yourself, Mr. Larabee. It may take some time but I will manage to contact Mother."
"Will she agree to protection?"
"I can only provide her with the option. Mother, as usual, will make her own decision." Ezra grinned mischievously. "It will, however, be a pleasure informing Mother that she has garnered the attentions of Interpol."
Chris stared in dismay at Ezra's back as he made his way over to his desk. Chris shot a questioning look back at Josiah, who, from his expression, made it clear he had heard the exchange. Josiah just shook his head in reply. Chris wondered just what was the relationship Ezra and his Mother shared?
Waiting in the conference room doorway Chris caught bits of the one-sided telephone conversations.
"Casey... Casey.... I'm not in any danger! No I'm not lying... That's not fair, I had a gun to my head the last time... What? I'm in the office right now. No, I'm telling you the truth. Do I have to put Chris on the phone? What? Okay... The surveillance is no big deal, just a precaution, honest..."
"Inez... darlin'... yeah I know you and I aren't seeing each other but... but... Inez darlin', lemme talk... Inez... Inez... not Spanish, Inez, I can't understand you..., no the perp just got the wrong idea about us somehow, that's all. NO I don't boast about you to everyone I meet! Please, Inez, darlin', for me, let the FBI agent stay, will ya?... NO, I didn't tell him we were sleeping together! Inez, I would never! Yeah, you can put the FBI guy to work if you want..."
"Rain, Rain, babe..., let me talk..., yeah I know about the man watching you..., he's FBI... Rain, don't get upset... sorry..., sorry... I heard you, Rain, you're not upset..., yeah... well with the pregnancy, you've been a little over emotional lately... Rain, Rain, babe, I apologise... no he won't disrupt you while you're working. I know what you talk to clients about is personal..."
"Yes, Sergei, have Mother contact me as soon as possible.... Yes I have a moment, what is it?" Ezra leaned back in his chair, winked at Chris and Josiah and smiled mischievously. "That is most interesting indeed... I can't imagine why Interpol wants to talk to Mother..."
Everyone seemed to be taking it better than Mary had. The damn reporter in her had smelled a story. That was the last thing they needed; if Weller was like most psychopaths, he'd relish the notoriety. In the end she agreed to the surveillance... for an exclusive.
Over at his desk Vin had the phone pressed tightly to the side of his face as he bent over in his chair so his head was almost below desk level. The others were engrossed in their own conversations and didn't seem to notice.
"Kaya, can I talk to Mia? I know I promised not to call but.... I know she needs more time. Kaya, she knows I wouldn't call unless it was really important. Please, Kaya, please ask her to come to the phone... tell her... tell her it's urgent..."
Chris had suspected all was not well at home with Vin and Mia. The marriage had taken a serious blow with the death their daughter eight weeks ago. Mia had taken Kody and they had gone home to the reservation for a visit but that was more than three weeks ago. The fact she never came home after the kidnapping had Chris wondering if Vin had even told Mia what happened.