What Will They Say About You?
by Carol Pahl
Three men and a woman sat in the surgery waiting room while a fourth paced, adrenaline prevented him from sitting properly.
"Take a load off, Standish. Yore givin' me a headache!" Vin's drawl from his slouched position in the uncomfortable chair belied his true thoughts. He was worried. Worried about a friend, returned from the dead but still sitting on the steps of heaven. Worried about a man so filled with guilt he'd vanished into the foothills on his ranch. But especially worried about a big brother AWOL who didn't know that the man he grieved wasn't dead but living and breathing in a surgery suite here in Denver.
Both men's home phone and cell phones had multiple voicemails telling them to get their backsides and thick skulls down to Mercy General pronto. Pages went unanswered. Vin wanted to hunt down his wayward leader and drag him back into the group but he knew that the man struggling for his life needed him too, needed him here, waiting and watching with his other true friends.
Ezra muttered to himself, over and over, as he paced around the room, out the door, down the hallway, before circling around for another circuit. The waiting room was empty this Sunday morning except for those gathered to wait for the news about JD.
Nathan pushed the speed limit to return Raine and himself to Denver. He'd never forget the look of astonishment on Ezra Standish's face when he explained whom he'd be escorting on the helicopter. He wished he'd made a bet on the resident gambler's expression, upon seeing the dead agent alive and breathing, if not kicking, on the transport gurney.
Agent Standish took his orders seriously and never left Dunne's side until the young man was wheeled into the operating room to have the automobile antennae removed from his leg. He'd be willing to wager the fledgling comic would turn the offensive object into a comedy routine somehow after recovering from this ordeal.
Nathan offered to drive Raine home or to her sister's house to rest but Dr. Jackson insisted in joining them in the waiting. Unofficially, JD Dunne was her patient yet even if she didn't realize who pushed her from harms way and protected her literally with his own body from the ravages of the storm. She would find some way to repay his heroic deed. The waiting room contained a few comfortable recliners and Nathan insisted that she rest while they waited. He promised to wake her as soon as they received any news.
Josiah slouched his tall frame in the small chair, refusing to use one of the other larger recliners. Being uncomfortable would begin his penance for declaring the boy's demise before knowing the truth. He should have known better. The clues were in front of them from the beginning and they all neglected to connect the dots and realize that the body couldn't be their team member, their little brother. JD's coat covered the body, a body so burned as to be unrecognizable. Fire did some amazing things but it didn't burn living flesh from a body, melting the clothing closest to the skin without consuming the outermost garment. Who'd failed to notice the report of the missing IT person? Somewhere a grieving family would know today that their son, brother or maybe husband died a frightful, horrifying death over a week ago. He should have known. John Dunne was too good for the devil and heaven wasn't ready for such a whirlwind yet.
Ezra exited the room again, disappearing beyond corner. He returned moments later, a grin even a novice poker player could recognize. "Our two absentee cohorts will be joining us momentarily. They have arrived on the premises and are being escorted royally to our location by hospital security."
All four men watched as two uniformed police officers accompanied by a security officer escorted a pair of belligerent, if not slightly inebriated men into the room.
"Sanchez? Here you go. Found them together, in The Saloon's parking lot. Seemed they were discussing who should drive. Fortunately neither made it behind the wheel when we showed up. Sorry this all couldn't have been under more favorable circumstances. You need us to stay, let some tempers cool off?"
"Sanchez? You ordered us arrested?" Larabee glared at the older man, his temper rising. "Get these handcuffs off of me now!" he demanded. "Somebody better start explaining and it better be the best story I've heard." His voice hissed; his entire body ready to lash at any adversary target. The police and security watched the exchange warily, not understanding why these angry men were needed at the hospital when the rest of the men wore such goofy grins in spite of the fury spewed at them.
Buck's eyes swept the room, seeing Josiah, Ezra, Vin and even Nathan. Hadn't someone told him Raine had been injured yet there she was sleeping nearby in a recliner? Then why was it so important that everyone needed to be here? He sure as hell didn't need to be here. "This ain't a place I want to be so let me go." Though spoken quietly, the normally jovial man's ire spoke loud and clear.
"Would you both shut up for once and let us tell you what happened? If'n ya answered your damn phones or pages, we'd a told ya to get your backsides down here. Go ahead Nathan. Tell them what ya told all of us."
Nathan refrained from joining in the shouting match, not wanting to awaken his wife and not waiting to loose his temper along with the other stubborn males in the room.
"I found him, or least wise Raine did. She and JD were injured when a tornado blew away the clinic in Watsonville. I went looking for the man who'd saved her life and that's when I found out it was him." Nathan's rock solid demeanor suffered a few dents in the past few hours and it was taking him time to realize that Raine would recover. He wanted to protect her but he knew that she'd resent him demanding control over her life.
"Our young, technology guru is in surgery as we converse." Ezra approached the two men, handcuff key in hand. "We are awaiting the surgeon's message any time now." He motioned to the officers. "We can handle things now. Thank you for your service."
Though dismissed, the men surveyed the standoff, not sure if it would be wise to leave considering the emotions charging the waiting room. Almost as if choreographed the six federal agents turned toward each other, ignoring the policemen and security officer, effectively shutting them out.
Buck couldn't believe his ears. Surely these men were in on some kind of sick joke. Had he heard them correctly? Who was Nathan talking about finding? Who was in surgery?
"You're standing there telling me that Special Agent JD Dunne, killed last week in the line of duty is really alive? What kind of crap you trying to peddle, Jackson? Hell all of you?" Chris' alcohol muddled brain strained to sort out the truth.
Rising slowly from the recliner, Raine walked slowly to the group of men, her injured leg sending its own message to her brain. "We don't know the whole story but the man that was impaled by the same hunk of steel as me is your team member JD. He's in bad shape but with proper medical attention and the support of all of you he should recover."
Nathan moved to his wife's side. "You need to sit down. Get off that leg." His voice was soft and tender as he guided her toward a chair. "I called as soon as I knew. We all tried to find you, that's why you got so many voicemails and pages. When you didn't respond, we all agreed to ask the DPD to look for you. Didn't tell them to arrest you, just find you and get you here."
Buck stood rigid, his blue eyes locked on the young doctor as she struggled with her pain and exhaustion. She wouldn't lie, make up a fairy tale. Did she say that the same steel rod pierced her and JD? Just what had happened to his young friend?
"Excuse me. Family of John Dunne? Please come with me." A young aide, dressed in purple scrubs looked at the tension-filled group, fear evident on her face. Had she interrupted something? She had too. The surgeon was waiting to talk to the family.
Everyone stood and looked ready to follow her, all seven of them. "Aaagh. There is only room for three of you. Dr. Jackson?" the girl looked around the group, happy when Raine acknowledge her. "Dr. Vaughn asked for you specifically. Which of you is Mr. Dunne's family?"
Nathan spoke first. "Buck, you're his closest. You go."
Still not ready to accept the truth, Wilmington helped Nathan's wife to her feet while Josiah grabbed a nearby wheelchair. "Your chariot."
Chris studied his men and realized the truth; this was no joke, no lame attempt at a sick, sophomoric gag. JD was alive; somehow he'd survived the blast. It wasn't his body they'd recovered from the bombsite. He was alive. "Nathan, you go. You understand the medical jargon. We'll be waiting for you to tell us how he is."
The three followed the aide to the surgery consultation room and waited for the surgeon. Dr. Vaughn arrived soon after they'd each taken a seat, a plastic-wrapped car antenna in his hand.
"Hello, Dr. Jackson, Nathan, and you must be Buck." He shook their hands and took the last seat. "Let me explain what we did. This was removed from Mr. Dunne's leg." He touched the bag. "Mr. Dunne requested this as a souvenir, unless you would like it instead, Raine."
She shook her head. "No, that's fine. JD can have his remembrance. Buck can make sure he gets it." She shoved the horrible item toward the other man and rubbed her own bandage at the same time, remembering what it felt like to have the metal penetrating her flesh.
"Doc, tell me the truth. You just operated on JD; you're positive it's him?" Buck still questioned what he'd just learned, not that he didn't believe Nathan and Raine, but he needed proof of this miracle.
The doctor looked questioningly at his counterpart. "Raine, not having personally met the patient previously I'll have to trust your call, but Mr. Wilmington, you will be able to see JD within the hour. He's a very lucky person. Right now we are treating him with antibiotics, because of the penetration wound and the other assorted injuries caused by the debris from the tornado. He broke his left humerus and dislocated that shoulder before the storm. Whoever set the arm and realigned the shoulder did an excellent job even if the splints and wrappings were crude. Mr. Dunne is understandably dehydrated and we are treating that also. We removed the wire from his mouth."
"The patient had braces?" Buck still didn't quite believe
this was his young partner they were discussing.
"No," the doctor shook his head. "I spoke with the oral surgeon who'd wired his jaw after Mr. Dunne broke it eight weeks ago. The x-ray showed the mandible had healed and we needed to have access for the gastro tube during surgery. For a man who's survived an explosion and a tornado, Mr. Dunne should make a full recovery. He'll still need therapy for the arm and leg, once they heal. We plan to do a CT scan of his skull tomorrow to rule out a skull fracture or intracranial hematoma. He has suffered a severe concussion, which may cause some memory loss. Mr. Dunne is in recovery now and should be in his room within an hour. I know you are all anxious to see him. He is still sedated and won't be fully awake until tomorrow so don't be disappointed if he doesn't respond to you today. Do you have any questions?"
The Jacksons waited for Buck before they asked for further information. Seeing that the other man remained silent, Nathan asked, "How likely is it that he'll remember what happened?"
The doctor chose his words carefully. "Without a full neurological work-up, I can't answer that, Nathan. He suffered several head injuries in a short amount of time. By the time he arrived here, we were unable to observe the extent of his trauma to the skull and brain. We'll know better once the affects of the anesthesia wear off and we are able to evaluate his mental function. Anything else? Someone will come to the waiting area to get you when Mr. Dunne is settled in his room. The young man was healthy and has survived a lot. Don't be looking at the dark side of this situation. The medical staff and you have every reason to believe that he'll be fine and given time to heal, your friend will be his normal self."
"Heaven help us." Nathan laughed.
Buck looked at the couple beside him. They truly believed the man they brought to the hospital was JD, his JD. Maybe, just maybe, this nightmare was that, all a bad dream.
JD sat uncomfortably in the soft chair, his arm itched under the cast and his leg ached constantly. He dreaded this meeting because he knew that this was it, the end of his career and that Director Travis had no choice. He knew what happened to agents that lost their weapons and badges. When his medical leave was over, he'd be relieved of duty. He loved his position on Larabee's team and cared personally for all of the men he worked with. How could they remain close, almost a family, if he was fired from the agency?
The door opened and Director Travis entered the office followed by Chris Larabee. The young agent struggled to stand but Travis waved his hand. "Sit down, son. We've got some items to discuss with you, Agent Dunne. Chris and I reviewed the report from the agency's internal investigation. You have been placed on administrative leave while this is all sorted out."
"JD, do you have any idea where you lost your gun?" Chris asked, hating this part of his job almost as much as telling a family that an agent was injured on the job.
The distraught young man shook his head. He'd been trying to remember the events of the day of the explosion, what happened to him following that day. He didn't have any clue how he'd ended up in the hospital other than to remember that Raine had been in danger and that both of them had been injured at the same time. "I've tried, Chris, sir. I know I had it when we left the office, after you got the call about the bomb, but the rest is gone." He sighed, trying to stop the tears that threatened to fall. Tears of despair that he needed to release but tears, just the same, meant he wasn't man enough to do this job.
"Forensics continues to sift through the rubble of the building. Most had been hauled to a concrete recycling location twenty miles from Watsonville. We are continuing the assumption that you were trapped in the rubble and thereby transported to that location. They are looking for any evidence that might have been missed the first time so we can identify the perpetrator of the crime." Director Travis looked at the sorrow-filled man across the desk from him. He'd miss the young man if he was forced from the ATF but his hands were tied by government policy. Right now he was happy to know that JD Dunne survived.
Chris rested his hand on JD's shoulder. "Come on kid. I think we are finished here. Sir, you and your wife are welcome to join us on Monday, for a Labor Day barbeque at my ranch, potluck, and Buck's grilling."
"Thank you Chris. I'll tell Evie. Maybe we'll see you Monday. Have a good weekend till then. JD, things will work out. Don't give up hope yet."
JD said little as they walked to the elevator. Chris followed his team member rather than taking the quicker route up the stairs. "Milegro's missed you. Like Travis said, things will work out for the best. Weekend out of the ranch is what we all need."
"Yeah, sure." JD hobbled onto the elevator and refused to join in any conversation. When the car stopped on their floor, JD didn't get off with Chris. "Tell Buck, I'll be back at five. Just need to take a walk." Chris watched the doors close. He hated the agency's strict weapon policy. The kid was a great agent and it would hurt his team and the ATF if he were forced out because of loosing his gun. Too bad he couldn't remember what happened those few days they all believed he had died. Raine contacted Marge from Watsonville but the two women disappeared during the chaos after the storm and no one knew of an Alice or Helen.
Wasn't going to be much of a holiday atmosphere this weekend. Larabee slipped into the back hallway and cut through the break room. He didn't want to share the outcome of today's meeting.
The close he got to his office the louder the noise emanated from the bullpen. Was that Buck caterwauling? Josiah singing?
"What the...?" he tried to yell over the din. Ezra and Nathan raised their coffee mugs toward him and both wore silly grins.
Vin's ear-piercing whistle settled the celebration and the five men turned toward the back hallway.
"How'd you get back there? Where's the kid?" Buck fired off rapidly. "We got news to tell him."
"We know who set off the bomb and federal marshals should be arresting the miscreant as we speak." Ezra added.
"Somebody better start explaining and it'd better be good."
The leader was in no mood for any foolishness.
Nathan handed Chris the stack of papers. "You know that forensics decided to search through the rubble again, since we think that's where JD was taken afterwards. They found the remains of three cells phones. One belonged to JD. But they also found two others. The bomber was stupid. He used registered phones to detonate the explosions, not the disposable kind."
"One was totally destroyed. But then they found the second one, and it still worked. Traced the number to a person in Colorado Springs. Remember that guy, the note demanded be released from prison? The phone belonged to his sister-in-law. Her ex-husband worked at Grange's company, in the IT department." Josiah continued the story.
"Seems he was fired for relocating company equipment."
"Yeah, Vin. Shouldn't take those paper clips or laptops home and sell them online anymore!" Buck laughed. "We should know before quitting time if they got him behind bars."
"Where's JD? He still in Travis's office? We got to tell him. Tell Travis too." Vin reached for his phone.
Chris nodded and smiled. Maybe this day wasn't so bad after all. "One of you call him, let him know what you learned. Buck, my office now."
JD hobbled toward the corral, anxious to see his horse. He still couldn't ride for a couple more weeks but he loved to rub her nose and get her affection in return.
Buck watched the dejected man's journey and waited until he had a few minutes alone with the animal before he too ambled toward the wooden fence to join JD and Milegro. "You two look like a love sick couple, pinning away for each other like you are."
"Buck, you're so full of..." He didn't finish the sentence. "Buck, can I ask you something?"
"Sure. You know you can ask me anything." JD seemed serious so Wilmington canned the satirical comeback.
"Did you ever figure out something to say, ya know at my funeral? Something nice I hope?"
"Sure I'll say something nice about you; course you being younger than me, more than likely you'll be the one talking over my bones."
"No I mean before, back when you all thought..." He paused, choking on the words. "When you thought I was dead. Did you have something ready to say?"
"Well, JD, I, well of course, I would have. But we don't have to worry about that now, do we?" Buck stammered, not expecting this conversation at all.
"Just wondered. What do you say to a bunch of ashes, not even a real person? Feel so sorry for that family of that guy I found before the bigger explosion. Them not getting to say good-bye. Being handed an urn of ashes. 'Here you go. We thought he was someone else so we went ahead and cremated the body. Hope you don't mind.'"
"Never thought about that, kid. How about you and me, we take a road trip down there? Go visit his parents. You can tell them about those last moments together."
JD shook his head. "But I don't remember. I can see this burning fire walking toward me and that's all. I hate this; feeling like an old lady. Probably lost my spot on the team all because I can't remember. I'm still dead in the system, can't get paid but until my gun is recovered, I can't even talk to anyone about it. I don't want to loose you and the others."
"Looks like the rest of the party is here. Ready to join them? Or do you need a few minutes?" Buck looked at his friend, his own heart breaking at the other man's despair.
"Go on, I'll be up in a few minutes." JD leaned against the fence. He knew coming to Chris' ranch, to the annual Labor Day barbeque was a mistake. He'd messed up big time and didn't deserve to be here today. A sharp jolt of pain shot through his head. Though more infrequent, he still experienced stabbing aches in his skull. The doctors believed they would fade just as the bruises on his face and body gradually disappeared. The more upset he became, the more frequently the attacks struck him. He waited until the worst of the throbbing abated before limping slowly to the ranch house and the picnic.
Dunne tried to stay on the fringe of the activities, settling into a canvas chair under a large tree. Buck wouldn't be able to say he was avoiding the party, but he wouldn't have to talk to anyone either. He pulled his cap low over his eyes. Maybe everyone would leave him alone.
"Let him sleep."
"Can't do that. This is too good to wait."
"Lord, forgive us."
"We shouldn't disrupt his repose."
"Might as well get this over with. Don't see you ladies giving it a rest. JD, stop playing possum and look at us."
JD cracked one eye open and peeked around the bill of his cap. What were these guys up to now?
Seven sets of eyes watched him intently, included the stare of Director Travis. He gulped. So this was it. It might be Labor Day but he'd always remember it as the day he was forced from Team Seven.
He could do this; he mentally steeled himself, ready to take the bad news like a man, JD shoved his cap back on his head and tried to sit straighter in the chair. "Director Travis, fellas," he said, willing his heart and breathing to quit racing.
Orrin Travis sat in the lawn chair next to the young agent. He held a cardboard box in his lap. "JD. Glad to see you getting around better. Saw you down by your horse when we arrived. I'm sure you miss riding it."
JD thought to himself, 'Yep, this is it. I'll have plenty of time to go riding once I've been fired.'
The director continued. "I've got something for you, may make you decision easier." He held the small box out toward JD. "Take it. Let me know if you recognize anything."
Balancing the box on his good leg, JD lifted the lid with his right hand. Inside were bubble wrap sheets. He warily tried to open the first article, scared at what was inside, yet unsure of the guys' silly grins. What was the dark object? Once unwrapped he stared at it, not believing what he saw. "It's my gun, my gun. How? Where? I don't understand." He read the serial number. It was his service piece, the one lost during the explosion.
"Open the other bundle," Buck prodded.
Inside of a small amount of bubble wrap was his badge. Everything was clean, just like he'd left with it the day of the bombing. Nothing looked scorched or scratched. Looking at Chris and then Director Travis he asked again, "Where did you get this?"
"You know what this means don't you, JD?" Chris asked.
"I don't know how you did it but it means I'm no longer on suspension, I hope," he added.
Travis explained to the group the same story he shared with Larabee upon arriving for the picnic. "When forensics was at the recycling site, searching the rubble for any other clues, two ladies, named Alice and Helen showed up, one of them carrying a box. Helen told the workers about her sister finding a man and a woman lost in the area. JD, she thought you were killed during the tornado. When she found the gun and badge in Alice's room, she knew who it belonged to but not sure how to return it to the agency. She gave both items to Larry Donivan, team lead. The women also returned the Grange Company's box containing server tapes."
"That's right. The guy that was burned. He insisted I save the red box. He was more concerned about it than himself."
Travis handed JD a small plastic zip top bag. "Here are the bullets. She hid them separate from the gun as soon as she found it. Something about her sister not understanding what she'd found?"
"Alice, Alice liked to find treasures. I remember now, she'd go out every morning looking for treasures, shiny rocks, bits of glass, anything bright. She took care of me even if she was strange. When Maria was having the baby, she gave me something to stop my terrible headache. You ought to find out what that stuff was, Nathan. It tasted good and really took care of the pain, not like some of that horse p...."
Josiah interrupted, "Don't be giving Brother Nathan any ideas for new cures, John."
"You all should be thankful for any relief I give you. Maybe next time I'll just let you suffer."
The circle of men laughed and shook their heads. Nathan couldn't change his healing ways any more than Buck could give up women or JD and Vin stop their pranks.
After the evening meal, the Travis' left for home, leaving the seven men gathered around the television set in Larabee's house. The NFL game was over and they muted the sound during the post-game show.
"Got a new joke for you guys," JD offered, ready to test out new material.
The six looked at each other. Thinking they'd heard the worst of the worst and not wanting to discourage the young man's recovery they silently agreed to laugh.
"Go for it, JD," Buck encouraged. He knew JD's spent hours searching the Internet since returning home from the hospital. There had to be better lines out there somewhere.
"Three friends die in a car accident and they go to an orientation in heaven. They are all asked, 'When you are in your casket and friends and family are mourning you, what would you like to hear them say about you? The first guy says, 'I would like to hear them say that I was a great doctor and a great family man.' The second guy says, 'I would like to hear that I was a wonderful husband and school teacher which made a huge difference in our children of tomorrow.' The last guy replies, 'I would like to hear them say ... Look, He's Moving !'"
Silence filled the room, as each man sent a quick glance to his neighbor and then to the man across the room from him. Had they just heard right? Did JD think this little montage was funny in light of the past few weeks?
JD looked puzzled. No one laughed. No one booed. No one said anything. "OK, forget that one. It wasn't that funny. This one is better
'What did the man say when he walked into the bar?'"
"I'll have a beer?" Josiah offered.
JD shook head and smiled, waiting for another response.
"Give me the bottle?" Chris offered.
"Nope." The smile grew. He had them this time.
"Where's the women!?" Buck laughed.
Still shaking his head, the youngest offered, "Give up?"
Knowing the punch line would be as dumb as the opening sentence Ezra insisted. "Please, the suspense. What did the man say who walked into the bar?"
JD grinned, "He said 'Ouch'."
"Ouch?" several said in unison.
"Yes, don't you guys get it? He walked into a bar." JD stood and stumbled into the counter separating the dining room from the den.
"Be careful, son! Nathan exclaimed.
"Ouch," was the muffled reply.
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3