What Will They Say About You?
by Carol Pahl
Main Characters: JD, Buck, Nathan, Raine
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. The Magnificent Seven belong to Mirish, MGM and Trilogy. The ATF universe was created by Mog and she gave permission for others to write in this universe.
Synopsis: While investigating a bomb threat, Team Seven suffers the loss of one of their own.
"'Five year old Little Tommy was lost, so he went up to a policeman and said, 'I've lost my dad!'
The policeman said, 'What's he like?'
Little Tommy replied, 'Beer and women!' "
JD finished his joke with a flourish while carrying three open bottles of beer in one hand and balancing a large, overflowing bowl of popcorn in the other. Team 7 gathered at Chris' ranch to watch the NBA finals and the two youngest team members drew the short straws declaring them official 'gophers'.
JD, get another round of beer.
Vin, go refill the snack bowls.
The two young men didn't mind. Josiah and Nathan waited on them last week during the semi-finals. As long as everyone took their turn, no one complained on missing parts of the important games.
JD didn't mind. He knew running off excessive energy would allow him to sit still during the final quarter of the game. He'd rather be outside playing basketball than watching tall professionals on the large screen television in Chris' house.
Mr. Dunne, your recitation must be one of the feeblest witticism in your repertoire you have seen fit to bless or slaughter in the regaling.
Still don't beat the 'he shot my paw' one. Can't even call it feeble; it was downright lame, Vin yelled from the kitchen.
JD twisted, ready to defend his comic material, and missed Chris stretching to snag a bottle from the young man's hand. The tug at the bottle from his hand along with tripping over his leader stocking covered ankle tripped the delicate balancing act. JD tried to recover his equilibrium and not loose the popcorn bowl but didn't succeed at either.
JD, watch it!
Save the screen!
Five voices yelled as they watched in horror, the live action playing out in front of them. JD's head slammed into the entertainment center before ricocheting into the television set. The expensive plasma screen rocked on the shelf as Dunne slumped to the floor, the beer bottles safely cradled in his arms. The greasy, extra buttered popcorn rained down, covering the room in white.
"JD, are you alright?" Nathan jumped from his spot on the couch and knelt beside his sagging friend. He tugged the bottles away and handed them to Josiah.
"Ezra, thanks." Chris offered, not moving from the other couch. The southerner also leaped from his seat and steadied the rocking screen.
"Um, fin," came a muffled reply. JD held one hand under his chin and reached out with the other in a feeble attempt to stand.
The team's licensed EMT assisted the younger man to his feet and guided him from the room. JD, still unsteady, wanted to escape the crowded room and the stares and soon to start teasing remarks from his self-appointed big brother. None of the men missed the blood leaking between JD's fingers.
"Dink I gaw a troblem, 'afen." JD continued to hold the side of his face. Nathan steered him to sit on the edge of the bathtub, the healer role kicking into high gear assessing the injuries. "Torry do issing dame." Black spots rimmed his field of vision and his laid his head against the bathtub wall in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the room from spinning and to block the stabbing pain in his jaw and head.
"Can't tell if you broke something or not. How about I take you to the convenient care clinic, get it x-rayed? Looks like you might need a couple of stitches, too."
The long bangs swayed slightly as JD shook his head, "Token, Tospital."
Nathan scowled, trying to interpret the garbled mumble. At least it didn't sound like he said he was 'fine'!
"Here," Buck said, standing outside the doorway, eavesdropping. He handed his roommate a tablet and pen. JD balanced it on his knee and scribbled. 'Broken, hospital.'
"I'll go get the truck up to the door."
Chris closed his phone and rested his head against the kitchen wall. Luck was not in JD Dunne's hand this day and this time it was his fault.
After Buck and Nathan left with JD, the rest of the men attempted to enjoy the remainder of the game, though the excitement and enthusiasm from earlier in the day evaporated.
"That was Buck; kid was correct. Broke his jaw. He's going to have it wired shut for eight weeks."
"Eight weeks?" Vin repeated. "How's he supposed to eat?"
Six weeks later
Restricted to desk duty, JD longed for the day he'd be able to return to the field. Even more his body dreamed of eating a huge rib-eye steak covered in sautéed mushrooms, peppers and onions after six weeks of power shakes and pureed soups.
Larabee slammed the phone down and swore. He yelled for his team and explained. "Bomb threat near La Junta. JD, I need every agent available so that means you too. We'll do the paperwork when we get back. Let's roll!"
Jackson grabbed the excited young man. "You got your pliers?"
JD pulled the small tool from his windbreaker. "Don' leave ome wit out tit."
"Good. You're almost to the end of the eight weeks. Something happens down there, use it."
The oral surgeon insisted the agent carry pliers with him at all times in case of an emergency. He was only to cut the wires holding his mouth closed if he became ill, to prevent inhaling any stomach contents.
Just before noon came the call; a bomb threat was called into the Grange Company switchboard. An incendiary device had been planted somewhere in one of the five buildings and would explode at five minutes past three unless an obscure prisoner was freed from the federal maximum-security prison in Florence.
Security instigated an immediate evacuation and Federal ATF agents descended on the complex. As the lead team in the Denver office, Chris Larabee directed the operation, sending well-trained agents into the empty buildings. Each of his team members coordinated the searches. Wilmington oversaw men with bomb sniffing dogs in the main building while Sanchez and Jackson supervised searching the three smaller annexes.
JD Dunne, computer expert, personally investigated the Data Center. Tanner, positioned high on the company's radio tower, searched for possible suspects.
One by one each building was cleared. Agents continued to search for the device while scared employees huddled in groups far away from the targeted buildings. No one would be allowed to leave without their vehicles being searched but manpower stretched to the limit prevented the process from beginning.
"Ya heard from anyone?" Nathan asked his long time friend, after meeting Josiah near the temporary communications center.
The older man shook his head. "Just got out myself. Doesn't sound like anyone found any device." He looked at the crowd of employees corralled near the property fence. "Should get them innocent folks away, case this ain't a hoax."
"Someone said they fear it might be hidden in a car. Decided not to let anyone leave. Surprise them folks aren't more anxious. That crowd is much more civil than the last time. Vin still up top?"
"He's in his realm, on the company's communication tower, like an old fashioned sharpshooter. We're getting close to three. Wonder what's delaying JD."
Both men turned toward the small four-story building centrally located between the three towering monuments to Rudolph Xavier Grange's wealth. The short building, dwarfed by its taller neighbors silently mocked the investigators.
"Where's the kid?" Buck Wilmington joined his fellow team members and followed their gaze. "Ain't he out of there yet?"
JD checked each room and found every cubicle empty. Where was the server room? He checked his watch for the fifth time in the last five minutes. Almost show time. Where was the network administrator?
Before he reached the first landing of the stairs the doors above him blew open and a piercing scream echoed in the empty hallways. JD flew up the stairs and saw a walking inferno, the source of the penetrating howl. Instinct training from his earlier time with the Boston police force took over and he pulled off his ATF jacket and wrapped the burning body; extinguishing the flames. He glanced at his watch. Three minutes before three. Gently he lifted the injured worker and steered him toward the stairs.
"Wait. Get the box." The pain filled voice moaned.
"What? We totta get tout of here. Be another bomb." JD physically moved the injured man.
"No. Back-up tapes. Gotta save the tapes."
"I ain't got time to argue." Summoning all the strength he could muster, JD picked up the worker and grabbed the red plastic container. He stumbled toward the stairs, the hairs on the back of his neck bristled.
"Where the hell are we?" He gently set the victim down and rolled his shoulders. The slight man weighed more than JD thought he would. The young agent slipped his belt through the handle of the box and he reached down to get the man out of the building just as room exploded. Lifted from the floor JD flew across the room and slammed into a corner as the cement, wood and other office debris poured onto the parking lot. In quick succession a series of explosions rocked the complex.
A brilliant glow shimmered in the windows of the Data Center just before the
entire complex erupted. The percussion sent the gawking audience to the ground
before the air rained shards of glass.
"JD!" Buck screamed.
Strong arms grabbed for the rogue but missed. Buck's long legs carried him quickly across the parking lot. He dodged the falling debris; burning wood, melted plastic and paper ash returned to earth. Black smoke billowed from the loading dock of the smaller building. Buck grabbed the side of the ruined delivery truck and leaped into the smoky interior.
The local La Junta Fire Department, on standby near the perimeter of the parking complex, raced towards the burning building as the Federal agents and state lawmen converged toward the same site.
JD! Buck yelled, as he searched the choking smoke, hope dying with each breath of poisonous gas he inhaled. His lungs burned, his hands blistered but he continued to search for the younger man. The tightness in his chest squeezed as his body craved oxygen. He'd failed. He should have stopped Chris from including JD on this operation. He should have stopped the kid. He should have...
"That's it. Nice deep breaths. Don't fight the mask." The soothing litany worked its way through Buck's muddied brain. He was resting against the shady side of a paramedic van, unable to see the destroyed building. His eyes drifted down to the gauze-covered lumps sitting in his lap. His hands? What had he done to his hands?
Another victim leaned against the same van and was covered in soot, his hair blacker than coal, someone too tall to be JD. A deep cough erupted from deep in Buck's chest and shards of pain knifed his lungs and heart. He sucked greedily at the clean air in the mask, willing it to get past the agony gripping his body, the fear refusing to let him take another breath.
Relax, came the soothing voice again. You can't keep fighting to breathe. Relax and let your lungs work. A petite EMT adjusted the mask again, her sun tanned face streaked with soot.
Tell me, he whispered, Tell me the truth.
The technician leaned closer to hear the man's request.
My partner. He OK? Did I find him? His blue eyes pleaded with her. He had to know; no, he needed to know JD was found, that the kid survived the blast.
I'm sorry sir. I know they are still searching but no one other than you and this man that found you has been rescued. I wish I had better new for you.
Buck raised his knees and rested his forehead on them. He should get up; get off the ground. Help look for JD. He should but he lacked the strength or energy to rise.
They'll find him, Buck. They'll find him The man next to him spoke softly, his voice garbled by his own mask. I'm so sorry. It's my fault, all my fault.
Someone shouted and suddenly the beehive of activity silenced. Get a gurney. We've got a body, a voice carried from the other side of the vehicle.
The two men rose on shaky legs, each helping the other to stand. Each needed to see the body for himself. Without the aid of the masks, both struggled for their breath and the pair's progress ended a few feet past the van as they collapsed on the hood of the nearest sedan. Physically they were unable to proceed but their spirits demanded they continue.
Whoa, there. Ain't nothing you want to see. Josiah and Nathan each grabbed one of their fellow team members and dragged them back to the oxygen lines.
JD? Is it JD? Buck had to know.
Nathan sadly nodded his head. They found a body, under a pile of rubble. It was JD. I could still read the name on his jacket.
He's gone? Chris asked, not wanting to believe the young agent had died.
I got to see him, see for myself. Buck struggled to stand again but was unable to overcome Nathan and Josiah's restraint.
The profiler's deep voice shared the words that would haunt Buck Wilmington for the rest of his life. You don't want to see him, Buck. He was burned bad, before the wall fell on him. He, Josiah hesitated, not wanting to share the gruesome details but knew he must. They found the body, but not his head. The body was decapitated. I'm so sorry Buck, so sorry.
Like a wilted balloon, Wilmington collapsed onto the pavement, his body and soul overcome with grief. The commotion around him faded as the shock set in.
Chris Larabee said nothing. He'd resisted hiring the young man, telling him he was too young, too green for the job. Told him to get a safe job someplace else. He could make more money working for private industry than he'd make slaving for a federal agency like the AFT. The boy's passion was to work with him and he'd wormed his way into the team leader's heart. Hearing the shocking details of his last moments on earth shook the stoic leader to the core. In his heart he knew no one could survive the horrific blast but his soul held a sliver of hope, a hope that died with Josiah's statement. The hard wall of indifference returned, sealing his compassion and kinship for the rest of his team into a tiny area of his soul, never to be shared again.
Alice loved the early morning. She loved the rainbow of colors splashed across the sky as the sun rose from behind the eastern range. Breathing deeply, she continued along the narrow animal path. Every day she followed the trail and every day she discovered something new. Flowers bloomed, tiny animals darted across the path, larger animals left evidence of their passing and every so often a shiny rock reflected the morning light.
Most people assumed the woman handicapped but her sister Helen believed Alice to be gifted. Almost miraculously, animals healed before her eyes when her sister tended the injured critters found along the nearby highway. Few could understand the woman's strange ways and many felt Helen would be better if she placed her sister into an institution for mentally challenged adults. But the two women lived away from most of the gawkers and Alice was capable of caring for herself when Helen needed to return to Pueblo for her job. Most of the time the older sister worked from their small house located on the original homestead of their grandparents.
Normally the ribbon of blacktop was empty at this time of day but yesterday several dump trucks full of broken concrete and other building debris passed the women's home, returning after a short time, their boxes empty. Maybe there were treasures in the rocks, so Alice scrambled over the pasture and rock fences curious and ready to explore.
Ezra listened to the tapes for the umpteenth time, trying to discern the garbled conversation. Who had JD been talking to before the explosion? Had there been another person in the building? No other remains were located in the rubble, not even the poor victim's head. DNA tests were only a formality for identification so they languished in some overworked forensic technician's in-basket.
As much as he hated the rambunctious rabble from his two team members, Buck's silence and absence of enthusiasm after the loss of their team member was gut wrenching. Ezra missed the boy's intelligence and quick wit, even if his repertoire of jokes were pitiable.
Team Seven was in mourning but they were also angry; angry at the mastermind behind the bombing; angry at a world so filled with hate that it lashed out with violence at the innocent. Having Team Seven angry was never a good thing. The team eagerly channeled their anger into apprehending the miscreants responsible for their grief. They would find, convict and incarcerate the people responsible for taking Special Agent JD Dunne from them!
"No. NO!" the young girl cried as she watched the pickup drive away. She cradled her large belly and tears ran down her face, ignorant of the hot summer sun sucking moisture from her small body. Didn't he love her? Hadn't he promised to take care of her and the baby? How could he force her out of his vehicle and abandon her in the middle of nowhere?
The dust settled before Maria accepted he wouldn't return. She looked around the barren Colorado landscape. Rocks jutted out of the sparse vegetation. There wasn't a power line or radio tower to indicate another human within walking distance. When Juan left the highway to drive across the barren land she wasn't afraid. He often enjoyed driving across the sand and rocks. Now she didn't even have a road to follow as the breeze swept away the tire tracks. Overhead a large bird, a hawk or eagle, circled and swooped towards the ground. Was it hunting its next meal? Would it attack her?
She followed the bird's flight as it dove down below the nearby rise. As she climbed to the crest of the small hill she saw the bird joined by two companions. The beautiful fowl ignored her approach as they intently watched their prey. Seven steps closer and Maria ran down the side of the hill, waving her arms and shouting, "Hey! Hey."
Random piles of broken concrete and other building materials littered the flat mesa but her eyes were drawn to the birds circling a man; his knees bent like he'd knelt to pray with his left arm raised over his head, trapped between two of the larger slabs of cement. The girl ran toward him, relief she wasn't alone any longer but steps away from him, she stopped, her papa's words of warning screaming in her head. "Think child. Think before you rush into trouble." She looked around. Was this man alone? Were there other men out here, somewhere, looking for him? Her young imagination switched into a higher gear. Had he been left out in the sun to die? Maria's body shook and she stepped backwards, wanting to flee, but not knowing where to run.
Frozen like a pillar of salt, Maria stared at the body. The birds continued to circle overhead. Was he dead? Was she guarding a dead man from the birds? Her active imagination conjured up all sorts of other beasts, ready to take advantage of a free meal. Yet something continued to pull her towards the black haired body; something stirred inside of her, giving her courage to approach him. Just as she put her hand out to touch his sunburned cheek, he moved, opening his swollen eyes into thin slits. Maria screamed as she looked at the bruised face, coated in dried blood.
He blinked his eyes at the mirage standing so close expecting each time he attempted to clear his vision that the raven-haired angel would vanish. He'd seen no one since finding himself trapped under a large slab on concrete. Pain radiated from his arm caught in a vise-like grasp, trapping him between two silent sentinels. Dust sifted into his mouth but the wires prevented him from spitting the debris from between his teeth. She was still there, watching him. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, the grit grinding between his teeth. Overhead the sun backlight the slight frame of the angel, creating an aura abound her. So this was it. He was at heaven's gate, finally silenced by a mouth full of sand and wire.
What was she doing, reaching out her hand? Was she here to guide him? He watched her lips move and a humming sound echoed in his head. Her soft fingers brushed the dirt away from his mouth; they felt like a feather gently tickling his lips. As she knelt beside him, her body no longer blocked the sun, its rays penetrated into his eyes, burning like a red-hot poker stabbing into each eyeball. He tried to pull himself into a ball, sick with pain in his skull, in his chest, everywhere! Maybe she wasn't the angel at the gates of heaven; this must be the door of hell!
The quiet humming continued and he chanced to open his eyes again. She sat in the sand, her hair waving in the gentle breeze, waiting, waiting for something. His eyes drifted down from her face to where her other hand lay gently on her swollen middle. The angel was pregnant. The thought shocked him and gave him something new to focus on. Angels aren't humans. They don't get pregnant. Fear registered in her eyes as she watched him stare at her obvious condition.
The woman jumped to her feet, unsure what to do. She needed to leave, to find a phone or someway to get help yet she couldn't just leave the injured man. He continued to stare at her belly, his cracked and blood crusted lips moving and breaking the scabs but no sound came from his mouth.
"What are you doing here?" The voice made Maria jump and turn in fear.