Right Place - Wrong Time
This one's for the girls - you know who you are ...
Waking with a start, JD was disoriented. The smell of car exhaust was thick in the enclosed compartment, making him lightheaded and vaguely nauseous. Something hard dug into his side, causing him to squirm away from the discomfort. His hands were bound behind his back with heavy-duty packing tape, the kind with the strings embedded in the material to make it stronger. His ankles were similarly confined. The car bounced slightly along the rutted road, adding to the uncomfortable sensations bombarding him. He was gagged with a slightly sour dishtowel, further adding to his misery. Another towel had been tied around his eyes, not that there was anything to see in the trunk, he suspected.
All of a sudden, the car began to accelerate, swaying from side to side as the driver dodged whatever was in his path. A dip in the road bounced JD off of the trunk lid, opening a gash in his scalp and wrenching his shoulders painfully. He yelled, his voice muffled by the cloth, and lashed out with his bound feet. As the exhaust fumes grew thicker, JD felt sleepy. He struggled to stay awake, knowing that if he drifted off, he might never waken. The car continued on its way, faster and faster along the barren road until it reached the end. JD heard the engine roar and experienced a second of weightlessness just before his body was slammed forcefully against the back of the car seat. Even blindfolded, his eyes registered a flash of red and gold before he tipped into unconsciousness.
Two days earlier
JD snatched his car keys from the table as he raced for the door. His alarm clock had gotten unplugged somehow, he suspected it was when he and Casey were wrestling around on the bed, and he was going to be late for work. Buck, having spent the night with Sheila or Sharon or whatever her name was, wasn't there to wake him and he'd seriously overslept.
Traffic was light so he didn't bother to call; he figured he'd only be five or ten minutes late. The Kawasaki roared as he opened up the throttle. When he slowed to turn on 17th street, something caught his attention. Four men backed out of the bank before turning to run toward a plain panel van on the corner. Knowing the consequences, he slowed the bike and followed them. He had to keep both hands on the handlebars, so he was unable to pull out his cell phone to call for backup.
Lenny jerked the wheel as he steered the van into the street. Behind him, the other four were peeling off their masks and the big, bulky coats they had worn for the robbery. It had been ridiculously easy for them to make off with the big bags of money. Cheryl, Knobby's girlfriend, worked at the bank and was able to tell them when the Wells Fargo truck arrived with the currency delivery. She had also allowed herself to be taken as a 'hostage' to get the manager and guards to cooperate. The heavy canvas bags were filled with bundles of cash, all neatly sorted by whose picture was on the front.
"Whooey! That was like taking candy from a baby!" Shorty exclaimed as he dragged his fingers through his sweaty hair. "What'cha gonna do with your share?" he asked of Lenny.
"I'm gonna get me a big old Harley and cruise until I find Miss Right," he replied with a grin.
"Hell with Miss Right, I want me a bunch of Miss Wrong, Miss Bad and Miss Easy," Knobby inserted. He was busy shoving the bundles into the backpacks each of them had provided. They would split up at the commuter parking lot and meet back at the hideout that evening.
"What about your girl?" Tim asked.
"Cheryl? She's a drag. I'm gonna pin the whole thing on her anyway," he said, as he stuffed the disguises into one of the bags. "She's gonna take a fall and I'm just gonna disappear."
They had reached the highway when Lenny noticed the motorcycle that had been following them since they left the bank. "Hey guys ... I think we got a problem," he said as he watched the bike in the mirror. Knobby turned around on the seat to glare out of the back window.
"Is he following us?" the ringleader asked.
"I think so," Lenny answered nervously.
"Shee-it! I thought you were watching for that! Can't you do anything right?" Knobby asked.
"You told me not to attract attention, follow the speed limits and such, I didn't realize he was back there. What do you want me to do?"
Shorty pulled the gun from his pants and pointed it toward the back window. A second later, the window exploded. Kyle and Knobby flinched before looking to see what happened to the small motorcycle.
With no warning, the rear window shattered, showering JD with bits of safety glass. Startled, he shied away, nearly spilling the bike on the asphalt. Before he could slow the bike enough to turn it around, the van screamed to a stop in front of him. "Oh crap!" JD muttered as he applied the brakes. The van slid, turning sideways as the doors opened and three men leapt out. One of them took aim and shot out the front tire of the bike. JD lost control, laying the Kawasaki down as momentum carried it toward the guardrail.
"Try something stupid and it'll be the last thing you ever do," the man with the gun warned.
With his hands in the air, JD walked to the van and got in. He clenched his teeth as he watched the man with red hair hoisting his bike up over the guardrail. 'Damn, I only had three more payments on it,' JD silently lamented. His only hope was to keep them from discovering that he was an ATF agent and hope that someone at the office would start looking for him, sooner rather than later.
At the commuter parking lot, Lenny stopped to let the others out. They had marked the place so that the surveillance cameras wouldn't spot them. Knobby and Tim walked casually to their cars, waving as they had each of the previous mornings when they had been dropped off. Lenny let the van roll down the hill to where they would abandon it. As soon as both cars pulled up alongside, Kyle dragged JD out and shoved him toward the late-model Toyota.
"Get in the back and keep still!" he warned. Lenny slipped out of the van and into the driver's seat. Kyle, keeping his gun pointed at their prisoner, eased into the passenger side. The other three men got into the Impala and they went their separate ways.
Several miles down the road, Lenny glared at the man in the back seat, "Take off that damned helmet!" He glanced back at the man when the long, dark hair spilled around his face, 'Hell, he's just a kid!' Kyle's gaze was divided between the road in front of them and the stranger in the back.
Keeping his hands resting lightly on the helmet, JD considered his options. He had his gun, tucked into the back of his pants and covered by his leather jacket. Just then, his cell phone began to ring. His eyes went wide as he looked at the man with the gun clenched in his fist.
"Give it here! NOW!" the man with the gun growled.
The phone stopped ringing just as it sailed out of the window. JD looked over his shoulder in time to see the instrument strike the pavement and shatter before disappearing into the weeds at the shoulder. He knew his chance of being rescued had just dropped.
Buck lowered the phone, his brows knitted in concern, "No answer," he told the others. He had come directly from Stacy's house instead of returning to the loft he shared with the younger man.
"If he's on the bike, he won't be able to answer until he gets stopped some place," Vin offered.
Some twenty minutes later, Buck was pacing like a caged animal. "He should be here by now. I'm going to start looking," he announced.
Ezra hung up the phone and snapped the piece of paper off of the pad he had been using, "I checked on his cell phone and the signal is stationary." The others shared a knowing look as they grabbed jackets and keys.
Vin scoured the landscape around him, looking for a clue as to where JD might have gone. "Over here!" Josiah shouted as he squatted down in the weeds. The others immediately jogged over to see what he'd found. Nathan immediately pulled a pair of gloves from his pocket to pick up the broken cell phone.
"What would he be doing out here?" Josiah asked, looking up and down the road.
"I don't know but I think it's time to put out an APB," Chris said as he watched Nathan drop the phone into an evidence bag. As they were getting ready to turn around and go back to the Federal Building, his cell phone rang. "Larabee ... Where? ... We'll be right there," he said as he snapped the phone shut. Ezra had already turned the Jag around and pulled alongside of Chris' truck. "They found his bike," he explained.
Flashing lights on the side of the road had the entourage pulling onto the shoulder. The State Patrol had two cars on the scene and was directing traffic around the tow truck that was parked on the opposite side of the narrow road. Barely waiting for the vehicles behind them to pass, Chris and Buck vaulted out of the truck and crossed to see what they had found.
"Aw hell," Buck groaned as he spotted the familiar neon green motorcycle.
"You folks need to get back in your car," the officer said as he walked over.
"Where did they take the driver?" Chris countered as he flashed his ID.
"We didn't find anyone, just the bike," the man replied.
+ + + + + + +
The sight of the broken plastic fenders and bent handlebars made Buck's heart ache. Vin noticed the damage to the tire, something the patrolmen handling the bike had yet to see.
"They haven't found anything to indicate there was anyone on the bike when it went over," Ezra relayed, having heard the patrolman telling Chris.
"No marks on the rail," Vin noted, his eagle eyes scanning the area, "He'd have to have been flying."
Nathan was relieved to see the man handling the bike was wearing gloves; there was a chance of getting fingerprints if someone else touched the bike before it went over. He heard Chris telling the patrolman that he would be in touch.
"Let's get back to the office," Chris said. Nathan and Josiah turned but the other remained frozen in place. "Guys, let's go," he urged again. Finally, Ezra moved, raising his hand to touch Buck's elbow. On the other side, Vin took a step closer to the rail before catching the team leader's eye.
"I'll get a ride back to the office, Cowboy," Vin said.
+ + + + + + +
Several miles farther along the road, the little car slowed and turned onto an old logging road. The rear wheels spun and the passengers were jostled by the deep ruts. Finally, the vehicle settled into the path, the tall weeds cracking under the front bumper and whipping back up when the car passed. Finally, they arrived at their destination, a rusted old shack. The engine spluttered and shook before dying, leaving the three men with only the sounds of the cicadas in the nearby trees.
"Get out! And don't try anything stupid or heroic," the man with the gun said as he got out on the other side. JD nodded as he slowly reached for the handle and opened the door. As soon as his feet touched the heavily weeded ground, he was shoved from behind. Wading through the thick foliage, JD stumbled when his foot slipped into one of the ruts. Suddenly, he was flat of his stomach on the ground with a knee in his back and a gun to his head. His service weapon was roughly jerked out of his belt.
"What in the hell is this? You thought you were gonna rob us? Is that it, punk?" the man yelled wildly. "I oughta blow your brains out right here!"
"Lenny, get hold of yourself! He's just a kid. Let's get in the shack," Kyle urged, glancing at the cloudless sky as if he were being watched.
JD was dragged to his feet and shoved toward the door. His mind was racing, desperate to come up with a plan. He prayed that the men didn't find his badge and ID. Surreptitiously, he glanced at each of his captors, memorizing their faces in the hope of getting to identify them later. He really, really hoped there would be a later.
+ + + + + + +
The tension in the cab was so thick it was almost like another person was with them. "It isn't your fault," Chris said without turning his head to look at Buck. "They'll find him and he'll be fine."
"Yeah. Sure," Buck replied blankly. "I should have gone home instead of staying all night with Stacy. It's all my fault."
There was no point in arguing with him so Chris turned his attention back to the winding road. He mentally configured the trail from where they had found the cell phone to where they found the bike and tried to figure out where JD would have been going at that hour of the morning.
+ + + + + + +
Lenny's cell phone rang and he dug it out of his pocket. When he finished the call, he grinned at JD. "They found the bike. The place is crawling with cops," he told Kyle.
"So? They'll never suspect that we split up. Besides, we're miles from there."
With his hands taped behind him, JD sat on the rickety chair and tried not to draw attention to himself. The two men sat at the table on the other side of the room, stacking the bundles of money according to denomination. When they finished, they divided the stacks into the four duffle bags they carried in from the car.
"What are we gonna do with him?" Lenny asked.
"Leave him here. By the time he gets loose and finds anyone, we'll be long gone," Kyle replied.
"I say we kill him and leave his body for the mountain lions."
"I'm not being a party to a killing!"
JD silently cheered the second man, he was all in favor of staying behind and letting them go about their business. The first man glared at him, making his skin crawl. The second man stood, causing the aged picnic table to groan ominously.
"I gotta see a man about a dog," Kyle said as he left the shack.
Alone with the man who wanted to kill him, JD found the floor very interesting. When he dared glance over, he saw the man fondling his gun. Noticing that he was being watched, he pointed the weapon and mimed pulling the trigger, "bang," he said softly.
+ + + + + + +
True to his word, Vin bummed a ride with the Evidence Collection tech. After the others had gone, he was allowed to go down to where they actually found the battered motorcycle. It took only a few moments for him to find the ugly hunk of metal that had fallen out of the tire when they picked up the bike. Although it was badly disfigured, Vin hoped that there was enough of it to identify the gun it came from. The technician said that they had found the expended casing, but that it had been run over by a car and he didn't think they'd be able to get any prints off of it. Vin hoped that criminals stupid enough to leave their casings lying around would leave other clues.
Once they reached the lab, Vin anxiously watched as the bike was unloaded. He hovered over the men who carefully fingerprinted the smooth surfaces of the gas tank and fenders. One badly smeared, three partials and two good prints were collected.
Upon returning to the office, Vin found the others huddled over a map of the area where the bike and phone were found. Buck and Chris had gone to the apartment and didn't see any signs of a struggle there, confirming that JD had left the building of his own volition.
"What about that commuter parking lot, doesn't it have cameras?" Nathan asked. Ezra immediately darted over to his computer and tried to access the site that stored the images.
"You have the bearing of a man with good news," Josiah noted as Vin joined them at the table.
"They pulled prints off of the bike fenders. They'll call me as soon as they run them through the database. We also recovered the slug that hit the tire," Vin replied.
"It will take several minutes to upload the images from the camera at the parking lot," Ezra said as he returned to the table.
"All right, Ezra, you and Buck scour the pictures. Nathan dropped the phone off so they can check it to see if he called anyone else-" Chris began. He stopped speaking when a group of men and a woman followed Orin Travis into the office.
"Gentlemen, we have a problem," Orin stated calmly. "This is Agent Sawyer from the FBI and this is his team."
The man identified as Sawyer flipped a black and white glossy photo onto the map the men had been studying. Even without color, the bike and its driver were unmistakable. Buck snapped the picture up and stared at it for a second, then realized where it had been taken.
"He was at the bank robbery this morning?" Wilmington asked of Sawyer.
"Yes, and now he's in the middle of our sting operation," the woman said as she stepped closer to the table, "Eight months of work is going down the drain and I want to know what your man thought he was doing!"
A restraining hand closed on Buck's forearm and Chris edged in front of his oldest friend, "Listen, Agent?" Sawyer immediately provided her name, "Lancaster." "Agent Lancaster, my man was doing his job, trying to catch the bad guys. If you've got a man on the inside, why didn't he do something? Do you know where he is?" Chris asked.
"No, he went with Lenny and Kyle to the hideout. My partner hasn't been taken there yet, so I don't know where your man is at the moment," Lancaster said icily.
"Then we have nothing to discuss," Chris returned in the same tone, his hazel eyes narrowing as he glared at the haughty brunette. "However, if anything happens to Agent Dunne, rest assured that there will be hell to pay."
"At ease, Agent Larabee," Travis growled, seeing the situation rapidly disintegrating into a pissing contest. "You will cooperate with Agent Sawyer and his team to retrieve Dunne."
"Judge Travis, may I ask why the FBI are infiltrating petty bank robbery gangs?" Ezra drawled quietly from the corner.
"We have reason to believe that these men are part of a larger organization that is supplying weapons to an anti-government group. That group has been tied to a separatist, white supremacy group in Idaho. Their leader has made threats against several government organizations, including the FBI and the ATF," Sawyer replied.
"My partner has been undercover for over a year trying to get the scoop on their hideout in Idaho and what they are planning," Lancaster interrupted.
"You sound like a person too close to the issue," Ezra coldly stated.
"Cheryl is Agent Cobb's fiancée," Travis explained.
+ + + + + + +
While the team was finding out just how deep the shit was for JD, JD was trying to befriend his captors. He talked with Kyle every chance he got but remained silent and respectful of Lenny. JD also watched tensely as Lenny examined the gun he had taken from him when they first arrived at the hideout.
"Where'd you get this?" Lenny asked.
Thinking quick, JD replied with a shrug, "I know a guy in Purgatory who get 'em cheap."
"You should file off the serial number."
"Thanks, I hadn't thought of that," JD said, trying to look earnestly grateful. "You guys, uh ... don't need any more guys for your next bank job, do you?"
"Who said there was gonna be another bank job?" Lenny growled, getting up from the picnic table and coming to stand over the restrained captive.
"No - nobody, I just thought ... I mean, if you wanted the help ... I'm willing," JD replied.
"You don't look like the type," Lenny commented as he lovingly caressed the barrel of the gun. JD was taken back to a time when similar words were spoken to him, by Chris.
JD remembered when he had arrived for his interview. Agent Chris Larabee had taken one look at him and sighed. "Go home, kid, you're not the type," he had said. That was a long time ago. JD was drawn back to the present by the insistent ringing of Lenny's cell phone.
"They're on their way. They dumped the car and picked up the rest of the stuff," he told Kyle after completing the call. JD was ignored as the men gathered up their things and loaded them into the car. As evening approached, they got ready to leave.
The mood at the ATF office was decidedly tense. Ezra had pulled up the locator beacon the FBI had on Agent Cobb. It hadn't moved in the last three hours. He hadn't made any calls on his cell phone and they couldn't call him. Buck alternated between pacing and glaring at whatever unfortunate FBI agent was nearby at the time. Vin took Agent Tyler with him to pick up food toward the end of the day. Josiah and Nathan were engrossed in the information on the group that the FBI was trying to infiltrate. The profiler had given them his insight on the men, based on what was known about them while Nathan listened in fascination. His grandparents had told him about the separate-but-equal and segregation laws as they experienced them and it had amazed and awed him when he was younger.
Ezra shifted in his chair as the red dot on the screen began to move, "They're on the move!" he announced. The others immediately crowded around his desk to watch. For the better part of the day, the beacon had been at the repair shop where Cobb and one of the gang worked. Now, they were on the highway, headed west.
"Let's go! Vin, you and Josiah take your Jeep, the rest of us will-" Chris said as he snatched up his jacket and keys.
"You're not going anywhere, Agent Larabee," Sawyer said. "Until we get the signal from Cobb, we wait. Your agent isn't even with our man."
"But if they're meeting some place, we could rescue JD," Buck objected.
"Judge Travis told you that this is our operation, you cooperate with us or you're out. Am I making myself clear?" Sawyer said as he postured in front of Larabee. Mouths dropped open in disbelief among the men of Team 7 as Chris stepped back, his shoulders slumped.
Buck followed Chris into the office, barely controlling his rage. "What in the hell happened out there just now? You can't seriously be thinking of letting them run the operation! They'll get the kid killed!" Buck shouted.
"Go home, Buck," Chris said calmly.
"The hell I will! I don't care what you do, I'm gonna-"
"Go home, Buck," Chris repeated, staring his friend in the eye. It took only a half second for the marble to fall. Buck gave a nod before he finished his tirade.
"FINE! Have it your way! I hope you can live with it if something happens to the kid!" Buck yelled as he snatched the door open, nearly tearing it from its hinges. "I'll be at the Saloon!" he shouted to his coworkers as he grabbed his jacket and keys.
Ezra used the loud altercation to download the frequency for the locator beacon to his laptop. Then, before any of the others could react, he snapped his briefcase soundly on the desk, "I refuse to sit here while our compatriot suffers in solitude. Let me know when it's over." Tossing a glare at the FBI agents, he walked out.
"I'm going down to see what the lab boys came up with," Vin said, almost apologetically.
"Keep your cell on," Chris called at Tanner's back.
Sawyer waited until the silence became untenable before speaking, "You just let them walk out like that?"
"Either that or let them go after Cobb and his cohorts, losing their jobs along the way," Chris answered before turning to the last two members of the team. "Go, keep an eye on them. I'm not too worried about Ezra but Buck ..."
"Is a man of deep feelings," Josiah finished for him.
Arriving at the Saloon, Josiah and Nathan paused just long enough for Inez to toss her head toward her office. They walked past the bar and into the room where, as expected, Ezra, Vin and Buck were all staring intently at the laptop computer.
"They are on a direct course for the location where we found JD's cell phone," Ezra explained.
"Then they tossed the bike first," Nathan reasoned aloud.
"Ain't much out that way 'cept mountains," Vin supplied.
"Like a needle in a haystack," Josiah added.
"But our needle has a brightly colored string, gentlemen," Ezra reminded them. "Are we to wait for Chris here or is he going to stay and supervise the children?"
"I think he'll keep them distracted," Vin answered. "What's say we reconvene at my place to stock up before we head out?" Heads turned in amazement before the sharpshooter cracked a grin, "What?"
+ + + + + + +
JD was dozing lightly when Lenny's cell phone rang again. "What?" he snapped. "You're shitting me! No, just stay where you are, we'll meet you there. Yeah, see you in an hour." Turning to Kyle, he said, "Let's go, we got trouble."
Stumbling and struggling to walk with his hands bound behind his back, JD was shoved into the back seat of the car. Lenny drove, leaving Kyle to watch over their hostage. The car bounced and the tires spun as they made their way back to the blacktop. To make himself less threatening, JD leaned against the door and closed his eyes. After a while, the men in the front seat assumed he was asleep and began to talk about the situation.
"Shorty thinks Knobby is a narc," Lenny whispered.
"Shit! What are we gonna do?" Kyle whined.
"Get rid of him, up in the mountains."
"What about the kid?"
"What about him?" Lenny asked crossly.
"We could use him in Knobby's place," Kyle suggested.
"You don't even know him!"
"But think about it, why was he outside of the bank with a gun at the same time as us? I bet he was gonna try and hit the place himself."
"We'll see," Lenny offered.
In the back seat, JD's heart leapt. All day, he had been talking up Kyle about how he was looking for a new group of guys to hang with and how he was tired of getting the small takes. He had convinced Kyle that he was a small time hoodlum. All he needed was for Lenny to relax long enough for him to make his getaway.
+ + + + + + +
"They've stopped at a roadside park," Ezra said as he stared at the dot on the screen, "approximately 28 miles from our current location." He grabbed the laptop as he felt the vehicle surge forward. He was with Josiah in Nathan's Jimmy following Vin and the others in Vin's Jeep. They were communicating via the headsets Vin had so conveniently taken from the supply room on his way out of the building.
+ + + + + + +
JD was left in the car when the others arrived. He heard Lenny questioning someone, then a cry of pain. With the headlights of the other car shining into the back glass, he couldn't really see much, just the shadows of the men as they moved around. He flinched when the car bounced as something or someone hit the rear quarter panel. To his surprise, the door was jerked open and Lenny dragged him out of the seat, shoving him toward the others.
"Take him with you. I'll meet up with you in the morning," Lenny said as he heaved the battered and bloodied body into the back seat of his car. "Get going."
Stumbling on the uneven ground, JD was dragged toward a battered-looking Chevy. One of the guys rearranged some of the stuff on the back seat to make room for him and he was shoved into the car. Glancing out the window as they passed the other car, he saw Lenny shove someone into the trunk. He felt badly that there was nothing he could do for the guy he only knew as 'Knobby.'
With the interior of the car lit only by the dashboard, JD studied the profile of the man in the driver's seat. The men hadn't said anything since leaving the roadside park. When he could see the man clearly in his mind's eye, he turned his attention to the bulky bags on the seat and in the floor. He could see a thick coil of rope and a roll of what looked like electrical wiring sticking out of one of the bags. Most of the stuff seemed to be camping gear and clothing. Exhausted, he rested his head against the seat and drifted off to sleep.
The familiar sound of the gear shift being put in park wakened JD and he blinked in surprise at the brightly lit area. A neon sign proclaimed the place to be Stuckeys. The driver got out to put gas in the car. The other car pulled up behind them at the other pump and Lenny got out to put gas in the tank.
"Hey, umm, do you think I could take a leak? It's been a long ride," JD asked of the man in the front seat. The man turned and gave him a glance. "I won't try anything, I'm not stupid."
"Shorty, I'm gonna take the kid to the restroom," Tim called as he got out.
"Watch him," Shorty warned. As Tim opened the door and waited for JD to get out, the red-haired man walked up and asked Shorty if he had a cigarette.
JD entered the restroom and went directly for the urinal. Another time, he might have been concerned with leaving a clue for his friends but this time he desperately needed to go. He tensed slightly when his captor moved closer but relaxed slightly when he took the other urinal. JD quickly zipped up and went to the sink to wash his hands. He tossed the bundle of paper towels into the waste can and waited for the other man to finish. He could tell that the man was deliberately taking his time, almost daring JD to try something stupid. When the other man finished drying his hands, JD reached for the handle on the door. Suddenly, he was slammed against the door, his arm twisted painfully behind his back.
"You're a little cutie, aren't you?" the man growled as he leaned to press his body against JD. "Struggle, you know you want to."
It took every last bit of courage JD possessed to force his body to relax, "Another time, maybe," he said. The larger man gave his arm another twist, wrenching a groan of pain from JD before he let go.
"Just remember that I'm watching you."
They returned to the car and JD got in the back seat again. He eagerly made note of the highway signs and the direction they were taking. He was a little worried because they were already nearly 200 miles from Denver and heading north. The smell of jerky reached his nose and his stomach growled.
"Do you think I could have some of that? I haven't eaten today," JD said. The men had changed sides and the driver shrugged so Shorty pulled a piece out of the bag and handed it over his shoulder. "Thanks," JD said sincerely. He took his time with the jerky, trying to come up with a way to start up a conversation with the men. "Hey, either of you catch that Rockies game night before last?" he asked.
"Shut up!" the driver said crossly. JD sighed and tried to get comfortable against the duffle bags.
+ + + + + + +
Scouring the ground in the headlights, Vin pointed to the droplets of blood and saliva on the rocks. It could have been there for a while except that it was still tacky. The area was a popular place for drivers to switch places so identifying any kind of tire track was impossible.
"You think it's JD?" Buck asked softly, his voice thick with worry.
"No way to know," Vin replied, "We're gonna find him, though." They had closed the distance to Cobb's tracking signal, presumably because of whatever had happened here, "Let's go."
At the office, Chris flicked aimlessly through the images Ezra had downloaded from the cameras at the commuter parking lot. He didn't figure they had a chance in hell of finding anything but it gave him an excuse to stay in the office where he could keep an eye on the FBI agents. The images were set up on a slide show option, changing automatically every few seconds unless he clicked the arrow on the screen. Something in the image caught his eye and he leaned forward to have a closer look. The next picture appeared and his hand tightened on the mouse. Freezing the shot, he grabbed the magnifying glass and enlarged a section. Although slightly grainy, the incongruous image had to be the one they had been looking for. How many people ride around in the back seat of a car wearing motorcycle helmets?
Buck fumbled with his cell phone as it rang, startling him from a bad case of highway hypnosis. When he pressed the instrument to his head, Chris' impatient voice leapt out at him, "I have a description of the car." Glancing at Vin, he swallowed hard before asking, "The one that took JD?"
Chris relayed the information to Buck and then to Ezra. Agent Sawyer was frantically trying to reach Judge Travis, to let him know that the ATF teams were still following his agent's signal. It didn't matter to Chris as long as they got JD back safely.
They had been following the two cars on the winding blacktop for over an hour. Ezra wasn't able to tell which one had the FBI agent because they were so close together and they couldn't pull them over because there was no place to do it safely. Now that they knew JD was in the Toyota, they began to try to plan their takedown. When they reached an interchange, the Chevy continued North while the Toyota turned west. Sparing a glance at the GPS tracking screen, Ezra flipped his phone open and speed dialed Buck.
"Should we stay with the other car and attempt to emancipate the FBI agent?"
"Yeah, you stay with them, but don't make a move until we get the kid," Buck replied.
Josiah gently applied the brakes, increasing the distance between the Jimmy and the Chevy. Ezra watched as the Jeep disappeared around the exit ramp before returning his attention to the red blip on the screen.
"We gotta wait until they pull off for gas or whatever," Vin planned aloud. "I'm gonna pass them on this next hill, see if you can see the kid." As they topped the hill, Vin pulled out and let the Jeep slowly creep alongside of the Toyota.
"I couldn't see anything," Buck said, "Nate, how about you?"
"There are bags on the seat but he could be on the passenger side," the medic answered. On the next hill, Vin slowed on the up side, letting the Toyota pass him. He scanned the car, huffing softly when he couldn't tell if JD was in the back seat. "We'll just have to follow him."
+ + + + + + +
JD startled awake when he was roughly jerked from the car. The cold air woke him quickly and he looked around, dismayed to see only thick trees on either side of the narrow blacktop. "Wh - where are we?" he asked.
"Shut up," Shorty growled as he shoved the key in the trunk lock.
"We don't have time for this!" Tim protested. JD's head snapped around as his internal warning lights came on. He looked back as the redhead grabbed something from the open trunk. Deciding to take his chances, JD took a small hop back and lashed out with his foot, catching the behemoth squarely in the groin. Not even waiting to see if it worked, he took off running.
+ + + + + + +
In the Jimmy, Josiah slowed slightly as he noticed the brake lights on the vehicle in front of him. When it pulled onto the shoulder, he passed it. Only after they were around the curve and out of sight did he slowly pull off of the blacktop.
"What are we going to do?" Ezra asked nervously. He got his answer as Josiah shut off the engine and quietly opened the door. The two men jogged along the edge of the road, eyes alert for any oncoming car so they could dart into the trees.
+ + + + + + +
"What are they doing?" Buck asked as Vin peered over the rock toward where the car they were following had stopped. The sharpshooter waved his hand in agitation as he tried to make out the figures beyond the headlights. When the car had pulled onto the gravel road, they had been forced to pass it so as not to give a hint that they were tailing it. The only saving grace they had was that the road was at the base of a hill. Vin had killed the motor at the top and let it roll back, steering by the pale moonlight. All three of them dove out of the vehicle and crept along the road ditch until they reached a place where they could see.
+ + + + + + +
A shot rang out, startling the men from team seven, who could only watch helplessly as a body was dumped in the trunk. The bank robbers got back in the car after taking a leak.
+ + + + + + +
JD cried out as he fell to the ground. Strong hands grabbed him, dragging him back to the car. He moaned dazedly as his hands were jerked behind his back and his wrists wrapped in tape. He was slightly more coherent when his ankles received a similar binding. When a hand tightened in his hair, he struggled until something was shoved into his mouth. Something else was tied around his head, covering his eyes.
+ + + + + + +
"Get back to the car!" Vin hissed.
"But, Vin-" Buck protested.
"They're coming this way!" Vin growled as he shoved the anxious man after Nathan, who was already sprinting toward the Jeep.
+ + + + + + +
"Shit!" Ezra cursed, causing Josiah to look at him in surprise, "Go, go, back to the car!" The profiler didn't hesitate when he heard the other vehicle's engine. Ezra started the engine and pulled the dark colored Jimmy off of the road, hoping to avoid being seen. Both men strained to hear the car pass over the rapid pounding of their hearts. Only when the other vehicle was almost out of earshot did Ezra reach down to start the motor again.
The trio of men in the Jeep held their collective breath as the car passed them.
+ + + + + + +
"What are you waiting for?" Buck demanded, his worry almost tangible to Vin.
A heavy feeling settled in Vin's gut as he looked at the man sitting in the passenger seat. What was he waiting for? They had all heard the shot, seen the body tossed into the trunk.
"He could still be alive," Nathan offered. "It didn't look like a head shot, did it?"
Vin shook his head, the shot had doubled the man over, he was still struggling weakly as he was thrown into the trunk. Snapping out of his crushing grief, Vin started the engine and tore out after the other car.
+ + + + + + +
"We're being followed!" Shorty growled as he glared at the rearview mirror.
"You sure? You can't see anything but its headlights," Tim countered. He was thrown against the seat as the vehicle surged forward.
+ + + + + + +
"We got ourselves a tail," Lenny said as his eyes danced over the mirrors again.
"Shit! You think they saw anything?" Kyle asked. "You shouldn't have fired your gun, you idiot! They probably called the State Police and are telling them where we are!"
"Shut up! I'm gonna lose 'em," Lenny responded as he gunned the engine.
+ + + + + + +
"We've been made!" Vin and Ezra exclaimed at almost the same instant as the cars they were following suddenly accelerated.
"Don't lose them!" Buck and Josiah replied.
"Be careful," Nathan warned.
+ + + + + + +
The Chevy picked up speed, crossing into the oncoming lane around the sharp curves. Ezra's fists tightened on the steering wheel and he wished for the familiar feel of his low-slung Jaguar instead of the higher profile of the Jimmy. He could feel the tension in Josiah's frame as the big man braced himself. In the wan light of the rising sun, he could see the steep drop-off on one side of the road.
+ + + + + + +
As the distance to the Toyota increased, Vin chewed on his lower lip. His attention was solidly focused on the taillights of the smaller car. The silence in the Jeep was oppressive. Buck was actually leaning toward the dash, as if he could help close the distance with his mind. The gray light of dawn was changing the inky blackness around them into a myriad of hulking, unidentified shapes as they flew past.
+ + + + + + +
"Look out!" Tim screamed as the tractor-trailer came around the curve. The Chevy lurched across the road surface, kissing the guardrail. Shorty jerked the wheel, overcorrecting and sending the vehicle back across the road, barely missing the rear wheels of the trailer.
+ + + + + + +
"They're gaining on us!" Kyle yelled. His attention was divided between the vehicle coming up behind them and the erratic weaving of the car he was riding in. Suddenly, Lenny slammed on the brakes and jerked the wheel, sending them up an exit ramp. They were almost at the top when they spotted the hulking machine creeping up the middle of the lane, a Highway Department vehicle painting new stripes on the road. The Toyota swerved, barely missing the larger vehicle. When they could see past it, Lenny cursed.
The Toyota was airborne for a few seconds before it landed with a crash, its front end resting on top of the concrete K rail. The doors on both sides were flung open and the driver and passenger leapt out, guns in hand.
"Hang on!" Vin warned as he wove around the Highway Department vehicle and skidded to a stop. Even as he tumbled out of the Jeep, he pulled his gun and squeezed off a shot at the driver, who spun around and fell against the arm of the bulldozer he had been trying to get behind for shelter.
Buck was slightly dazed for a second when the Jeep finally came to a stop. He jerked the seatbelt, frantic to get over to the Toyota. Nathan flung his tall frame over the driver's seat and out, crowbar in hand as Vin covered the other man, who had thrown down his gun and surrendered.
"Oh God!" Buck murmured as he saw the blood trickling out of the trunk of the car.
+ + + + + + +
The Jimmy skidded along the shoulder as Ezra locked up the brakes, both men watching in horror as the Chevy sailed through the guardrail and landed with an enormous splash in the lake. He got out, heedless of the roadway, and ran to the opposite shoulder. The car was sinking quickly. Josiah joined him a moment later, the jack handle clenched in his fist.
"Call for help," Josiah said as he toed off his shoes and pulled off his jacket. His gun thumped dully as he dropped it, holster and all, on top of the pile. The water was frigid, making him draw a deep breath as the shock of it hit his legs.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan attacked the trunk lid with the crowbar, wrenching the lock from its moorings. Because of the angle of the car, the body lay heavily against the lip of the compartment. Quickly spotting the gagged and blindfolded head, the medic reached out to check for a pulse.
"Is he?" Buck asked, hesitant to even put words to his fear.
"He's dead," Nathan answered soberly. He turned just in time to witness Buck striding over to where Vin had handcuffed the other kidnapper. With a wild cry of rage, Buck swung on the man, snapping his head to the side with one solid blow.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah's hands ached by the time he reached the car. He debated popping the trunk first but decided to swim around and check the others first. The very last thing he wanted was for one of them to come after him while his back was turned. When he saw that the entire front of the compartment was under water, he turned his attention to the trunk. He hoped they weren't too late.
Pacing nervously on the shoulder, Ezra relayed the information he had to the State Patrol. He had praised God that he was even able to get a signal out considering that they were climbing into the mountains. The tractor-trailer had managed to stop farther around the curve and two men came jogging back with a couple of crowbars and a bright orange duffle bag with a red cross emblazoned on it.
"There wasn't anything we could do-" the driver stated breathlessly as he reached Ezra.
+ + + + + + +
"Buck!" Vin yelled, when it appeared that he wouldn't stop until he killed the man. "Buck! You gotta stop!" Tanner shook his head as he took his life into his hands and waded into the fray. He managed to pull Buck off but not before he had rendered the kidnapper unconscious. Buck gave one final thrash of resistance before he crumbled, sagging into Vin's arms and nearly taking both of them to the ground. Vin eased his grip, pulling Buck around as the first of the soul-deep sobs burst forth.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah strained as he tried to pop the trunk. The car was sinking quickly and hypothermia was taking its toll on his strength. A splash had him looking toward the road, relieved that someone was coming to help.
"I can't - It's sinking too fast," Josiah managed between gasping breaths. The other man swam over and jammed his crowbar into the underside of the trunk lid and they both gave it another try.
Something icy cold touched him and JD flinched. Even that small amount of movement was enough to send bolts of agony through his aching head. It took him several seconds to work out that it was water. Terror gripped him as the water rose suddenly, lapping at his body and soaking his clothes. Panic stricken, he began to kick at the trunk lid.
The muffled thumps from inside of the trunk rejuvenated the cold, weary, frustrated rescuers. They each drew a deep breath and took hold of the crowbars with frigid, aching fingers and pulled. The trunk popped open, allowing the water lapping over the quarter panels to pour inside. The bound figure struggled more fiercely, louder cries escaping the gag in his mouth.
+ + + + + + +
"It's not JD," Nathan said. "Buck, Vin, did you hear me? It's not him." The medic had rolled the body and nearly went to the ground, so great was his relief. Buck's arms tightened around Vin as he tried to burrow deeper into the comforting embrace. "Buck!" Nathan shouted, "It's not JD!"
Red, swollen, tear filled eyes appeared, widening in surprise, "It's not JD?" Buck whispered hoarsely. Slowly releasing Vin, he staggered like a drunk over to stare down at the dead man.
"You're sure?" Vin asked, not daring to believe just yet.
"I'm positive," Nathan asserted, "Look for yourself." Turning from the sharpshooter, he went to kneel by the man Buck had beaten so savagely.
+ + + + + + +
Pulling himself up on the rear end of the car caused more water to pour in but Josiah grabbed the struggling agent and pulled him up, tugging frantically at the gag. The wet material refused to come untied but it loosened enough that he could push it over JD's chin and pull the other cloth from his mouth.
"Who? Help me!" JD said over chattering teeth, still not knowing the identity of his savior. When the blindfold was pushed up his forehead, he blinked rapidly in the light, until he could focus on the man's face. "Josiah?" JD exclaimed just before his eyes rolled back in his head and he slumped limply across the profiler's leg.
"We gotta get him to the bank, I can't break this tape," the other man said, abandoning his attempt to free JD's feet. Josiah nodded and eased JD out of the trunk and into the water, taking care to keep his head up.
The two men made it to the shallower water where Ezra and the other trucker were waiting with blankets. Josiah lifted JD from the water, cradling him in his arms as Ezra tossed the blanket over him and led the older man to the grass. As soon as Josiah's feet touched dry ground, he sank to his knees and managed a controlled roll to his hip so as not to fall on JD. Another blanket was dropped over him before Ezra pulled out his pocket knife and attacked the tape on JD's wrists and ankles.
Chris snatched the phone out of its cradle before the end of the first ring, "Larabee," he snapped. His heart clenched at the emotion he heard in his friend's voice.
"We got one of the cars. One suspect is dead, the other is on his way to the hospital," Buck said.
"And JD?" Chris asked.
"He wasn't in the car. I think we found Agent Cobb though, he's dead."
Chris' shoulders slumped slightly as he glanced up at the woman standing in the doorway of his office. She could tell by his eyes that it was bad news, as two tears crept slowly down her cheeks and her shoulders began to visibly shake.
"Have you heard from the others yet?" Buck asked, causing Chris to break eye contact with Agent Lancaster.
"No, not yet."
"Alright, we're going to follow the ambulance and make sure they don't lose the surviving kidnapper. Call me when you hear something."
Sighing at the soft sobs from the bullpen, Chris replied, "Will do. They'll find him, Buck."
"From your lips to God's ear."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra pulled the sodden shoes and socks from JD's feet, drying them with rough strokes to circulate the blood. The other trucker had moved to help Josiah, pulling his wet socks off and rubbing his cold feet. Neither man stopped his ministering even as the paramedics and State Patrol arrived. Only when JD was lifted from the ground and placed on the stretcher did Ezra sink back on his heels and reach for his cell phone.
"Mr. Larabee, I have good news," he said as soon as he heard the familiar voice.
"Hold on, Ezra, let me get Buck on the other line," Chris said as he punched the hold button. He hit the speed dial for Buck's cell phone, "Hold on for a second, let me conference Ezra in," he told Buck when he answered, "Go ahead Ezra."
Sighing deeply, Ezra spoke, his voice tight with emotion, "We found him, he's alive."
"Thank God," Buck breathed, his voice hitching as he fought back a sob.
"They're taking him to a local hospital to be checked out but he doesn't appear to be too badly injured. Josiah is being taken in as a precaution," Ezra continued.
"Wait! What happened to Josiah?" Chris interrupted.
"Possible hypothermia, the car went into a lake and Josiah swam out to free JD from the trunk. Were you able to apprehend the others?" Ezra asked.
"Yeah, we got them but we lost Agent Cobb," Buck explained.
"Ezra, call me when you get to the hospital. Same to you, Buck," Chris said as Sawyer and Travis entered his office. "I'll talk to you later."
Donning his socks and shoes, Ezra gathered Josiah's belongings and returned to the Jimmy. His hand shook as he tried to put the key in the ignition and he stared at it in awe. He had never come so close to losing a teammate while standing helplessly on the sidelines. Heat poured from the vents when he managed to start the engine and he pressed his hand over one of them until he felt the blessed warmth penetrate. The loud thump of the ambulance doors closing drew his attention and he pulled on his seatbelt before pulling onto the roadway to follow.
At the hospital, Buck paced, glancing at the doors where the doctors were working on the injured prisoner. Finally, the doctor came out and told Nathan that they were taking the man to a room. He had a concussion and a fractured jaw from the beating Buck had given him. Being a small, rural hospital, they didn't have anything in the way of a secure ward so the doctor invited one of them to stay and guard the man until he could be moved to another facility. Nathan thanked the doctor for the information and returned to where the others waited.
"Why don't the two of you go? I'll stay here with him for now. He won't be going anywhere for a while."
"You sure, Nathan?" Vin asked.
"Yeah, go. Give the kid my best," Nathan answered. The two men exchanged a glance before making a dignified, but rapid, exit.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah and JD were placed in the same room for convenience. Ezra sat in the surprisingly comfortable glider/rocker that the nurses brought in for him. He smiled at the peaceful repose on both of their faces. JD was on oxygen to combat low saturation numbers from being in the trunk and inhaling the exhaust fumes. Both of them were covered in layers of thermal blankets as their body temperatures returned to normal. Ezra pushed his loafers off of his feet and rested his heels on the glider/ottoman, letting his body begin to relax.
+ + + + + + +
Chris parked the truck next to Agent Sawyer's car. He had insisted on being with them when they identified Agent Cobb's remains. Agent Lancaster still had red, puffy eyes from crying and her hands shook when she got out of the car. Sawyer moved to her side, warning Chris off with a glare. The trio entered the hospital and asked for the morgue.
A doctor, an orderly and a nurse accompanied them in the elevator down to the lowest level of the building. While the nurse remained in the hall, the other two went into the marked door. After a couple of minutes, the blinds were raised on the observation window. A covered body lay on the stainless steel table. Agent Lancaster gave an anguished moan, tightening her arms around her ribs as Sawyer slipped an arm around her and murmured softly. She sniffed and nodded. The doctor lifted the sheet and pulled it back, exposing the dead man's face.
After a long, pregnant pause, the woman gasped, "It's not Tim. What does this mean? It's not Tim!" Agent Sawyer looked just as stunned. The doctor's voice, sounding tinny through the antiquated speaker, offered a suggestion, "Perhaps the other man? The one brought in with him?" Sawyer nodded as the doctor quickly covered the body and rolled it out of the way. Another table was immediately rolled into position and the nervous tension in the hall rose precipitously. The doctor folded back the sheet, his eyebrows raised in silent question. Lancaster's breathing grew faster, her voice bordering on hysteria as she turned on the men, "That's not him either! Where is he?"
+ + + + + + +
Vin shook his head in amazement as Buck practically ran from the nurse's station. Normally, he would have stayed and flirted with the pretty strawberry blonde woman, whose expression turned disappointed when Buck walked away. Breaking into jog to catch up, he got to the room just a step behind his anxious coworker.
Buck stopped in the doorway and Vin bumped into him. Buck turned, quickly covering Vin's mouth to prevent him from saying anything. When Vin understood that he was to be quiet, Buck removed his hand. There were two beds in the room. Josiah lay in the one closest to the door, his head tipped back, mouth open as he snored. JD was across the room, curled on his side with a wad of blankets bunched up in his arms. The soft pastel color of the blankets made the young man look even younger. In the corner, Ezra sat in the glider/rocker, a blanket draped over him as his head was pressed into a pillow on his shoulder. Buck pulled out his cell phone and used the camera function to take a picture of their undercover agent, then one of JD, then one of Josiah.
"If that picture finds its way onto your computer, I will have to break your fingers," Ezra warned in a low, menacing tone of voice.
"Moi?" Buck asked, looking the very picture of innocence. "How are they? How are you?" he asked, moving across the room to stand near JD without touching him.
"I'm trying to sleep, Buck," JD mumbled, burrowing his face into the soft wad of blankets.
+ + + + + + +
When they returned to the emergency room waiting area, Chris asked if any of his teammates were still here. The nurse reported that one stayed to watch the surviving prisoner; the other two had gotten directions to another hospital where their friends had gone. Sawyer and Lancaster followed him into the elevator, eager to find out what happened to the other man who had been in the car. They were directed to a room at the end of the hall. Chris opened the door and Nathan's head snapped up as he wakened from the light doze he had slipped into.
"Chris, what are you doing here? I thought you'd go check on JD first," Nathan said softly as he stood and stretched.
"Oh my God! Tim!" Agent Lancaster exclaimed as she rushed across the room. She took up his hand, staring in disbelief at the handcuff that secured him to the bed. "What in the hell is this?"
"Just a precautionary measure, to make sure he don't try to get away," Nathan explained.
"Get away? Why would he try to get away?" the woman screeched.
"Agent ... Jackson, is it? That is Agent Timothy Cobb, FBI," Agent Sawyer said quickly.
"Oh! I'm sorry, I didn't know," Nathan said, fumbling in his pocket for the key to the cuffs. "He didn't have any ID on him."
"What happened?" Lancaster asked.
"Umm, Chris, can I have a word with you ... in the hall?" Nathan asked as he left the room. A very puzzled Larabee followed the medic out of the room and down the hall.
"What's wrong?" Chris asked when they were well out of earshot of the FBI agents.
"Buck didn't know he was an agent. He thought JD was dead and he went a little ..." Nathan struggled for a word to convey the fury he had witnessed.
"Buck did that to him?" Chris asked incredulously.
"If Vin hadn't pulled him off, Buck woulda killed him."
"Damn," Chris murmured as he dragged his fingers through his hair. "We did not need this shit. How bad is he?"
"Concussion, fractured jaw, nasty bruises, nothing permanent," Nathan answered.
"I have to tell them."
"I know. Buck didn't know," Nathan defended of his friend and teammate.
"Still doesn't make it right!" Chris replied angrily.
Chris pulled Agent Sawyer aside and explained the situation to him. The man reacted with more grace than Larabee expected. He said that he would leave it up to Cobb whether or not to bring charges. Sawyer suggested that they go on over to the other hospital to see their teammates. Chris offered the sincerest apology he could and extended well wishes for Agent Cobb before glaring Nathan toward the elevators.
+ + + + + + +
Buck's knees folded and he stared up at Chris. "You're kidding! He was the Agent?"
"Agent Sawyer said he would leave it up to Cobb whether or not to press charges against you but when Travis finds out ... Buck, there isn't anything I can do to protect you," Chris explained.
"This is all my fault," JD's dejected voice announced, "If I hadn't tried to follow them, none of this would have happened."
"You were doing your job," Buck asserted.
"And it'll end up costing you yours!" JD shouted back.
Buck crossed the room to where his roommate sat on the side of his bed. He reached out and cupped his hand around the back of JD's neck, giving the taut muscles a squeeze, "I thought I'd lost you, Kid. I just ... lost it for a while." An oppressive silence swept over the room.
Both JD and Josiah were discharged that evening into the care of their teammates. Buck and JD rode back with Chris, Nathan took charge of Josiah and, to everyone's surprise, Ezra volunteered to ride back with Vin. The trio of vehicles made their way back toward Denver as the sun went down. Chris pulled into a truck stop to fill the tank and noticed that Vin's Jeep wasn't behind Nathan's Jimmy.
They were approaching the interchange that would take them back to Denver or toward the hospital where Agent Cobb was being kept. Vin and Ezra exchanged a glance and Ezra nodded. Vin veered out of the exit lane and took the next one, away from Denver. "It can't hurt to talk to him," Tanner commented softly.
"Indeed, it might just spare our lovable lothario his job," Ezra agreed.
At the ranch, Chris stood in the bedroom doorway and stared across the hall. Buck was leaning against the doorframe, watching JD sleep. "Never figured you for a voyeur," he murmured softly.
"Just making sure he's okay," Buck replied sleepily, "I keep waking up, imagining ..."
"I'll go make us some coffee. Meet you on the deck," Chris said as he passed his friend.
The sun turned the mountains from solid black to intricate patches of light and dark as it rose. Buck sipped his coffee, waiting for Chris to light into him.
"I'm not going to say anything," Chris announced.
"I thought you only did that with Vin," Buck returned tartly.
"Known you too long, Buck. Nothing I can say to you that you haven't already told yourself."
"I just saw red, Chris. JD's just a kid."
"And even the lowliest murdering criminal has rights," Chris said.
Buck sighed, "I'm so screwed."
When Vin and Ezra arrived around midday, Chris didn't ask any questions, though he desperately wanted to. Ezra said that Cobb had wakened in the wee hours of the morning, alert and oriented and that he was expected to be discharged that evening. The rest of the day was spent watching TV and resting, for those who needed it.
The entire team arrived at the office within minutes of each other that next morning. Nathan had verified that Agent Cobb had been discharged the evening before but couldn't get any more information from the staff. Everyone was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. JD's eyes kept wandering over to stare at Buck, both feeling overwhelmed by guilt. The tension reached its peak when Orin Travis strode into the office, with Agents Sawyer, Lancaster and Cobb in tow. JD winced at the bruised, swollen face of the man he had only known as Tim.
"Wilminton!" Travis called, crooking his finger in summons. Buck rose like a man facing the gallows. He glanced at Nathan, who tried to look supportive. Josiah fingered the cross he wore around his neck as he nodded to Buck. Both Vin and Ezra were blank slates, unsure if their pleas had fallen on fertile ground or not. But it was JD's eyes filling with tears that nearly did him in. Drawing a deep, bracing breath, he stepped into the smaller office and closed the door behind him.
Shame washed over him, threatening to drown the words he had rehearsed late into the night. "Agent Cobb, I'm so sorry. I-" he stopped at the hand that waved him off.
"If it'd been my little brother, I'da probably killed you," Agent Cobb said calmly.
It took a minute for the words to penetrate the veil of guilt surrounding Buck. Suddenly, his eyes came up and locked on the bruised face of the man he had so savagely beaten. Through a blur of tears, he saw an outstretched hand.
Chris smiled at Agent Sawyer, then at Judge Travis.
"Even though Agent Cobb isn't pressing charges, it doesn't mean you're off the hook," Orin said. "I took the time to sign you up for a week of sensitivity training, and a week of anger management, and a refresher course on the rights of suspects and prisoners. You will attend the classes and you will be in the top ten or you will take them again. Do I make myself clear, Agent Wilmington?"
"Crystal, Sir," Buck said, squaring his shoulders and standing up straight.
While Buck was in the office, Vin glanced over at Ezra, remembering the visit with Agent Cobb and Agent Lancaster.Visiting hours were almost over when the duo made their way back into the hospital corridor. They managed to avoid the nurse's station by taking the stairs. Neither man knew what they were going to say to the injured FBI agent but they knew they had to say something to convince him not to hang Buck out to dry.
Agent Lancaster glared angrily the moment they appeared in the doorway. "Get out! You have no right to be here," she said, her voice low because Agent Cobb was asleep. "Cher, it's okay," Tim mumbled, turning his head slightly to see who was there.
"We just wanted to talk to you," Vin began, "about what happened."
"Come on in," Tim said, groping along his side for the button that would raise the head of the bed. Vin and Ezra edged closer, all the while feeling the burning anger in Cheryl's eyes. "Your friends were discharged?" Tim asked.
"Yes, they are on their way back to Denver as we speak," Ezra replied.
"Speak your piece and go!" Cheryl said, glaring at the ATF agents.
"Honey, would you mind getting me another soda?" Tim asked, giving her hand a squeeze. Once the woman was out of the room, Tim turned his attention back to the two men. "You've come to ask me not to press charges against your friend, haven't you?"
"Not exactly," Vin answered, his eyes evenly meeting Cobb's. "We wanted you to understand why Buck went off on you the way he did."
Ezra was also remembering their meeting with Agent Cobb. His fingers moved automatically over the keyboard as he let his mind wander.Vin and Ezra explained how JD was like a younger brother to Buck, giving both of them something they had never had growing up. They detailed their relationship, relating incidents that illustrated his point. Ezra also explained about how they had followed the cars and Vin told of the horror Buck had felt at thinking JD had been shot. Agent Cobb nodded at times, indicating that he was following the story. At some point, Vin asked how the gang came to believe the other man was a narc. Tim explained that he had set the other man up, telling Shorty that he had seen him making suspicious phone calls on his cell phone.
All of them looked up as the door to Chris' office opened, eager to see what punishment Travis had meted out to Buck. They were mildly surprised to see Buck shake hands with Agent Cobb but they were stunned to see Agent Lancaster extend her hand.
Once they realized that Buck wasn't in danger of losing his job, the tension level in the office plummeted. Everyone dove into their work, writing up the necessary reports. Buck stopped to thank Vin and Ezra for stepping up on his behalf. Vin grinned, giving one of his trademark t'weren't nothin' kind of smiles. Ezra gave Buck a nod, not wanting to draw any more attention. Chris escorted the FBI agents out of the office, giving them a chance to talk amongst themselves. Buck noticed that JD looked peeved.
"What's the matter, Kid? We dodged the bullet," Buck said as he moved to shadow box at JD's side. Instead of smiling as he usually did, JD scowled at his roommate. The kid had something in his craw and Buck knew it had to do with him. "Come on, JD, spill it," he goaded.
JD's jaw ached from the tension of holding his mouth closed. All morning, he had been thinking about what Buck did to Agent Cobb. The longer he thought about it, the more upset it made him and seeing the damage up close finally drove him over the edge. He knew he had to get it off of his chest. "You're getting off scot-free for beating Agent Cobb," he practically shouted. Suddenly, the office went deathly silent as all eyes turned to stare at JD. "It isn't right, Buck! You coulda killed him!"
Stunned, Buck's mouth opened and closed a few times before he found his voice, "That's the thanks I get? Maybe you'd prefer I lost my badge over it? I thought you were DEAD! I reacted, I'm human, all right? I suppose if it had been my body in that trunk, you'd have read him his rights and gently escorted him to the police car?" During his tirade, Buck had stepped closer to JD, towering over his young roommate as he gestured with his hands.
"Buck?" Josiah called, trying to diffuse the situation before something unforgivable happened.
"No! No, don't try to fight my battle for me, Josiah!" JD shouted. He fumbled for something in his pocket and came out with his badge case, which he threw on the desk blotter. "You see that? See that badge? I'm damned proud of that! I worked hard to get it! I wouldn't just throw it away for nothing!"
"For nothing?" Buck shouted back, his voice rising incredulously. "Is that how you see it? I would have thrown away my badge for nothing?"
"Buck," Vin said, moving toward the furious man.
"JD, perhaps if you took a moment," Ezra said as he approached from the other side.
"SHUT UP!" Buck and JD yelled, turning to glare at their friends. Buck grabbed his jacket and stormed out of the office, bumping JD with his shoulder as he passed. JD regained his balance and started to charge after Buck until Ezra took hold of his arm. He jerked away from the gentle restraint, glaring at Standish before striding into the break room to get something to drink.
"He feels guilty," Josiah offered softly.
"Yeah, but why'd he tear into Buck like that? He feels bad enough about what he did. If Cobb can forgive him, why can't JD?" Nathan asked.
"Hero worship," Ezra replied confidently. "It is especially painful to discover that the person we put on a pedestal has feet of clay."
The cold air coming off of the mountains made his eyes water as he leaned against the wall. Buck had spent the night agonizing over what he would do if he lost his job. He was grateful to the FBI agents, that they hadn't been vindictive and had him brought up on charges. JD's reaction confused him. He figured that the kid would understand. He wasn't getting off scot-free, he would have to attend the anger management classes and actually pass them. He had no doubt that Travis would make sure he got the meanest, hard-ass instructor available. The door behind him slammed and he waited to see which of his teammates had lost the draw.
"He's a little upset with you," Chris said as he rested his forearms on the wall. Buck just snorted his assent. "It scared him, you know." Buck turned his head slightly, his eyebrows climbing. "The thought of not being able to work with you," Chris answered of the unspoken question. "Figured he'd have to find another place to live so you wouldn't be constantly reminded of what happened."
It suddenly gelled for him. As clear as the sky overhead, he saw the situation from JD's point of view. "Damn," he said, exhaling deeply. "I gotta talk to him."
"Take the rest of the day off." Chris remained at the wall until he heard the door slam before a smile appeared on his face.
+ + + + + + +
In the oppressive silence of the office, JD suddenly felt very much alone. He didn't know why he'd lit into Buck that way. He couldn't get away from the fact that it would have been his fault. If he hadn't tried to follow that van, none of it would have happened. He wouldn't have been able to live with himself if Buck had lost his job over it. So why did he attack him for not getting into trouble?
+ + + + + + +
Hearing the deep sigh, Buck realized that Chris was right; the kid was scared and confused. Four pairs of eyes followed his progress into the office. Ezra and Nathan looked thoughtful but Vin and Josiah were grinning and nodding in approval. Buck felt the controlled flinch when he set his hands on JD's shoulders. "We have the day off. We gotta talk," he said. JD looked up, his eyes as big as saucers before pushing away from the desk. Without saying a word, he grabbed his jacket and followed Buck out of the office.
All the way to the parking garage, Buck let JD stew over what he was going to say. Steering his young friend toward the truck, he knew just the place to go.
JD stared in absolute disbelief at the grinning face of his friend as he carefully balanced on the large imitation log. Six feet below, the net was almost indistinguishable from the floor farther below. He had mentioned to Buck that he wanted to try the new activity at the mall. Modeled after the old style log rolls that used to be part of some county fairs, he would have to compete against Buck as they tried to make each other fall off. The green light came on, signaling that the brake was disengaged and they could begin. Buck began by pushing down with his feet, making the log turn. JD quickly adjusted, watching closely to see what else the older man would do. Suddenly, Buck bounced on the log, stopping the roll and sending JD, careening wildly, into the net. Buck laughed so hard at the expression on JD's face that he lost his balance and fell, causing JD to bounce into the air before falling back to the net.
They spent the bulk of the morning challenging each other to the rock wall and bungee cord games in the mall arcade. No mention of the previous days' activities marred their fun. Finally, after a lunch of foods that would have Nathan scowling at them for hours, they stopped at the video rental store and picked up some movies to watch.
Partway through the movie, during a lull in the action, JD finally worked up the nerve to ask the question that had been rolling around in his head all day, "Do you want me to move out?"
"Why would I want you to do that?" Buck asked.
"After the way I yelled at you this morning, I thought," JD mumbled.
"If I forgive you, will you forgive me?" Buck asked, pausing the movie as he turned to stare at JD. He had been struggling with how to broach the topic all day.
"Yeah, sounds good to me," JD said.
"Good! JD, sometimes you just have to realize that not everything is your fault, you know?"
"But I shouldn't have followed those guys."
"I didn't say anything about that, did I?" Buck asked with a teasing grin.
"So nice of you not to say 'I told you so,'" JD answered.
"I'm saving up for the next time you make a really big mistake."
"Great," JD said, exhaling in disgust and rolling his eyes.
Starting the movie again, a comfortable, companionable silence descended on the apartment.