All I Want For Christmas...
Characters: All the boys
Summary: It's a week before Christmas and a bomber is on the loose.
Warnings: Don't think we got bad words in here. There is some carnage, some mention of carnage, and a little scary stuff. (we're not making light of bombs but we aren't going heavy into any detail either).
Feedback: We like it positive. We like it long. We like it short. We like it constructive. We just plain like it. Remember, this is fictional and meant to be fun as well as at times a bit unbelievable. Suspend reality and enjoy the ride.
Friday, December 15th 3:00 p.m.
She double clicked her mouse's right button and was able to read the message. It was as cryptic as the subject line had been.
You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen, but do you recall the most famous reindeer of all?
If you don't, you soon will.
Mary sighed as she hit delete. Why do the freaks always come out around the holidays and the full moon and when there's a leap year or a weather front moving in or on Monday, Tuesday...
She sighed deeply and turned around to greet her editor who was pushing her for her story as deadlines continued to loom.
Friday, December 15th 04:45 PM
The phone rang. It was almost five, and they'd planned to go to the shopping center to pick up some presents for next week. They wanted to be early so they would finish in time for dinner at the Saloon. Friday was Inez' busiest night at the Saloon, but she always had a table for the seven.
He answered it with his usual bark, "Larabee!"
"Larabee, there was a bomb at the parking garage, Union Station on 16th Street. I need all of you there. We've been ordered to try assist in the investigation." It was the Judge, and he was upset.
"How many dead and injured?"
"We were lucky. It was a small explosive. Still, twenty five injured five of them critical."
"I'll rally the boys. We're on our way." he assured
He stood up and strode out of his office into the bullpen. "We're heading out; there was a bomb that just exploded at the Union Station's parking garage. Grab your gear, we've been called in."
Everybody grabbed their gear and headed downstairs. The van was silent all the way down to the crime scene. JD, Buck and Nathan were seated in the back with JD going through the news pages in his computer to see what the news wires had on the incident. So far all was quiet. Josiah's eyes were closed and, if someone didn't know him, they'd think he was dozing. In fact, the team's profiler was sorting mental files and bringing up likely suspects in his mind. Vin was driving with Chris next to him navigating. Ezra was talking on his cell phone, no doubt calling an informant or two to extract information.
Vin parked as close as possible but with all the police, ambulance and emergency service vehicles, the team was still a block away. Not bothering to look further, Vin just left the van to the side and the team piled out. The bold initials "ATF" were certain to cause no one to give the van a second thought.
"Buck, you and Vin go work with the fire department. Everything they know about the explosive device, I want to know."
"Ezra, you and JD hang around the battalion chief; he'll be talking with the press and getting reports from his section chiefs. I want to know what every witness has to say and what the press is and is not being told."
"Nathan, you get to talk to the Rescue Squad personnel. I want to know what hospital the victims were taken to, what the CSIs have to say in their preliminary exam."
"Josiah, you and I are going to study the crowd, the responders, and the building. We're going to develop a profile both geographically and psychologically."
As the team split to head off on their assignments Ezra noted the look in Vin's eyes and paused briefly. "Mr. Tanner, something amiss - besides the obvious?"
"Don't rightly know. Death, destruction - never a right time for it, but this feels wrong. Friday afternoon at a crowded parking lot near the mass transit station and what appears to be a small explosive device detonates. I'm no profiler, Ez, but even I know that makes no sense."
Ezra studied Vin for a moment before tipping his imaginary hat, "Mr. Tanner, it seems we have either been the recipients of exceedingly good fortune or this is just the beginning."
Saturday December 16th 8:00 a.m.
Somehow the Christmas spirit still managed to make its presence known, if a bit diminished with last night's tragedy. The team was gathered at the conference table having a brain storming session trying to ascertain what lay behind the bomb that destroyed the tour bus at the Union Station parking garage.
"The bus was the Northern. It runs from downtown Denver to the north side of Denver every three hours." JD, for once was to the point in his report. No extra words were uttered.
"The bomb appears to have been crudely constructed. Preliminary reports suggest a couple sticks of dynamite with a simple timer. It was likely placed in one of the luggage compartments and set to go off at a specific time." Buck, like his roommate, wasn't much for extra words and for once, his quiet mood and red eyes from lack of sleep weren't from memories of last evening's conquest or how to conquer Ms. Inez whom he secretly pined for. Course, the only secret was that everyone knew he longed for Inez' affections but he didn't know that everyone knew.
"Victims sustained injuries consistent with a concussive blast: Ringing in their ears, cuts and abrasions from flying shrapnel and impact with larger pieces or the concrete barrier as they were slammed back from the explosion. Nobody died, just some injured, very lucky for a place with so many people around." Nathan shook his head as he completed his brief and sipped absently at his coffee. Despite his years of training and on-the-job experience as an EMT, he never got used to the sight of people suffering.
"The location and timing of the incident suggest intent to inflict significant damage and reap attention. However, the results are not consistent with this theory. A crudely manufactured explosive device, placed in a luggage compartment of a bus in a crowded transit station. If the intent was to create mass hysteria, it failed. While people are shocked and frightened, there was not enough damage, death, injury or even threat to cause people to change their plans.
It does not appear that the intent was to disrupt the transit system. If that was the intent, this would not be the way to cause it. This appears random and disorganized."
With that Josiah leaned back, folded his hand and leaned his chin on them as if in prayer.
Chris sighed and leaned back. He surveyed his team and thought on what little they had gleaned in the 15 or so hours since the explosion. He noticed Vin and Ezra share a meaningful look as Josiah completed his profile.
"Vin, Ezra, something either of you wish to share?"
"Not sure, Cowboy."
"Not at this time, Mr. Larabee. I will hasten to enlighten you the instant my ruminations are complete, and I have."
"Okay, Ez. Thanks. Let's keep digging for answers. Nathan will work with the hospital crew and CSI teams to ensure there is nothing unexpected in their reports. JD, the transit authority is sending us all their surveillance tapes for the last 24 hours. Start there. Of course, the dynamite could have been planted on that bus at any time and any place, but at least it's a starting place.
Josiah and Ezra, I want you to go through the list of all known criminals with a fondness for things that go, BOOM. See who's still in prison, who's on parole, who likes dynamite, who likes buses; you know the routine.
Buck, you and Vin go to the bus company. Interview their staff. I want to find out if anyone was just fired, is unhappy, heard of threats, has been threatened, anything. Most of those buses have cameras on them. I want any tapes available that pertain to that route. Perhaps their cameras feed directly back to the bus terminal. If they do, some tape may have survived the explosion."
I'm going to meet with the Judge and brief him and then meet with the Incident Commander and tour the site. We'll regroup this afternoon.
With that the team broke up, each to his assignment. What they didn't know was that they would soon have another incident. The clock was ticking, the days were passing. While most people in Denver were counting down the shopping days left until Christmas, one man was counting down to something much more sinister.
"Dasher and Dancer. Ha. Ha. Ha. Prancer and Vixen."
"They'll know soon. Soon, everyone will know. I'll show them. A misfit? Hah."
"Hm, hm. .the most famous reindeer of all..."
The man hummed and laughed to himself as he worked. A continuous loop of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer played on a small recorder that sat on a worktable just underneath a calendar tacked to the wall. A black "X" crossed through the box for Friday December 15th.
While Team 7 was hard at work tracking down leads and checking forensic reports and pressing informants for any information, Mary was equally hard at work. She had hoped for some time off around the holidays. Despite her tough as nails approach and fierce dedication to her career, she was a mother as well. Billy loved Christmas. He loved
the singing, the baking, the wrapping, the cards. He loved sitting on Santa's lap and telling him secrets and wishes, and he loved to stand quietly and watch the animated elves and reindeer at the mall at the annual Santa's workshop display.
Mary loved her job immensely but she loved her son more. Right now she was rapidly putting the finishing touches on a story that dealt with the explosion at the terminal the night before but then she was racing off to spend the rest of the weekend with Billy. They planned to bake cookies and put the finishing touches on his "home made" Christmas cards for his schoolmates. She regretted that the event of the night before was keeping her from taking him to the library for the special reading of the beloved Christmas stories at the library today.
They had gone the last two years in a row and he had clapped with joy as he remembered that Christmas brought around the annual Christmas story reading at the Denver Library. They opened a new wing in the library this past year. Christopher Sutton Dancier III, had donated all the money for the wing. He was a local businessman, very successful, who had long time roots in the Denver area, and he loved kids and loved promoting literacy and reading for all ages but especially children. When he donated the money he made one and only one requirement. The area must be used for the children, in décor, in activities, in every way possible.
Mary had seen a publicity preview of the new wing and had earmarked the day in her calendar months earlier knowing that Billy would love sitting in the room filled with kid size seats and cushions and little tables and chairs listening to the stories.
Sighing deeply she looked up at the clock. Nearly 1:00 p.m. Story time would just be finishing. The favorites of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas would all have been read aloud to the eager little ears as they sipped hot cocoa and nibbled cookies and snuggled with their parents.
Billy had said he understood the need for her to cancel, but Mary knew it was a front. She could see the disappointment in his eyes when Casey came to take him ice-skating instead. Casey had said she would be glad to take him but Billy had only wanted to share the story time with him Mom, something that warmed Mary's heart considerably. Still, she wished her son didn't have to be disappointed. In the large scheme of life it was small and she knew he wouldn't be "damaged" because of one missed story time but, still, they grew up so quickly.
Rousing herself out of her morose thoughts Mary finished proofing her copy and emailed it off to her editor. She planned to leave the building after one final quick check of her email. She'd given up enough of her Saturday and was planning to get out quickly.
"and if you ever saw him you would even say it glows.
All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names
But that wasn't nice
so he put them on ice..."
In a moment Mary had hit the speed dial on her phone all thoughts of a quick escape having fled her mind.
Saturday 2:00 p.m. Team Seven's Office.
The ringing of the phone wasn't what irritated Chris Larabee, it was that it happened every time he got ready to leave his office. He knew there was a trip wire in his office somewhere that triggered the phone to ring just as he reached the door. One day he would rip up the carpet, tear out the ceiling and find it. One day.
"There's been another bombing." It was Judge Travis on the other end of the phone. Chris looked up automatically to check who was out in the bullpen and he saw JD sprinting towards him, his face chalk white.
"I know." Larabee cut JD off in mid-sentence, not an easy task. He listened to the details from the Judge, jotting them down quickly and then grabbed his coat and headed out JD, Ezra and Josiah in tow. Vin, Buck and Nathan were still out on their morning assignments.
Sunday morning 6:30 a.m. Ezra's home...
The bell rang, rang again, rang another longer time followed by banging. Ezra tried to bury his head under his pillow to muffle the annoying sound piercing his ears. Finally, he gave up.
"Whatever miscreant is at my door at this astonishing hour selling wreaths or bells or dare I shudder to think FRUITCAKE will come to realize that Ebenezer Scrooge has nothing on Ezra P. Standish when it comes to miserly Christmas spirit..."
Then he heard the unmistaken drawl, Of course! The devil himself at 6:30 in the morning! Who else could it be but Vin Tanner. He let his body guide him to the door, not wanting to know the excuse the Texan would be giving him when he opened it.
He reached his front door and yanked it open with enough force to nearly topple his friend on the other side that was caught in the act of pounding on the door for the umpteenth time in an attempt to wake the agent.
Ezra at the moment felt like Scrooge himself and was quite willing to allow the intruder to fall but at the last moment remembered his upbringing, and his desire to keep his pristine carpet...well...pristine, and shot out a hand and rather roughly righted the individual. Then, peering through his sleepy, bleary eyes he recognized what his mind
neglected moments earlier, the hoodlum at his doorstep.
"Mr. Tanner, I take it you'd like to come in?"
"Thanks, Ez. How'd you guess?"
"Perhaps it has escaped your addled Texan brain that it is only...ohhh, espresso!"
Grabbing a tall insulated cup from the hand that offered the veritable olive branch he inhaled deeply pulling the rich aroma down into his body and then sipped deeply from the steaming cup.
"Ahhh, to what do I owe this...ohhhh, pastry...."
Again his hand shot out and grabbed the freshly unwrapped treat that was still warm and exuded a heavenly freshly baked aroma. Taking a bite he inclined his head and mumbled something that sounded like come in so Vin complied grinning to himself as he enjoyed the brief moment of uncivilized behavior from his oh so civilized friend; if Ezra would only allow himself to relax more often.
Vin stepped inside, closed the door and started to shrug out of his coat, having to place the paper he had picked up from Ezra's front step on the nearest table. As he did so his eyes fell on the front banner and all thoughts of amusement fled as he saw the headline and the front picture.
"Been thinking about the bomb at the bus station and the bomb at the library and couldn't sleep. Decided I needed to come talk to you."
Ezra flinched as the pictures flew unbidden into his mind. He too had been plagued in his sleep from the vision of the injured children and parents, worse too were the sounds, the crying and the screams.
Vin appeared to be wearing the same clothes as yesterday, his hair was more scruffy than usual and the tired blue eyes had a red tinge to them.
"Well, I've been thinking a lot about the bombs there..."
"You already said that, Mr. Tanner, and that you couldn't sleep because all that thinking going around in your head."
"Yeah, that too ,Ez, and I was thinking on what Josiah said, and I can tell ya, I don't agree with him this time. He thinks it's a bit disorganized; what if there is more to it? Could there be two people out blowing things up? What if it's the same person?" he took a deep
breath before going on, "I got talking with some of the guys around Purgatorio. Edgar Rosales, he's with a gang there, sells stuff like the kind of stuff used in the bomb. He knows me from my time on the streets, and he told me he'd look for anything or anybody buying those kinda things in the last month. He said it was easy to make something like that, that anybody could build it at home using the internet as an instruction manual. I dug into it a bit and found all the information about it in about thirty minutes, what was needed, where to buy it, everything." He locked eyes with Ezra, waiting for his answer.
Ezra shook his head to clear it as he realized that Vin was still speaking and had been asking him questions.
"I've been checking with some of my informants and one who sells certain merchandise of the explosive type nature indicated that he was not aware of any new players in town. He did indicate that he had heard some whispers of unrest but they were slight whispers, more like breaths on the wind, and he didn't have anything more than that. I am, however, quite worried, Vin."
Both men were silent for a moment as they read the deep yet growing fear between them.
"And why didn't ya tell Chris all that?"
"Because he agreed with Mr. Sanchez, and I am unable at this juncture to adequately form my arguments to such a degree as to be able...why didn't you tell him!"
"Hmmm." With that Ezra pulled out his cell phone, checked his watch and then dialed. After waiting while it rang several times he said, "It's me."
As Vin was unable to hear anything he wandered into the kitchen and began to make some coffee. Hearing Ezra sign off from the conversation he peered from the kitchen doorframe and asked, "So?"
"Well, yes, it was what he thought, he still doesn't know anything. He was quite frank actually, doesn't seem to think whoever is behind this is very professional. Doesn't like the idea of targeting kids and their parents at a Christmas story time. "
"Mmmm. Ya think we better call Chris now?"
"I think we have to keep digging in the mud before we say something else."
"What ya mean is wait for the next one. At this rate, there'll be a next one before we get anywhere."
"Yes, Mr. Tanner, two is not enough to make a pattern but I do believe there is one. We just don't know where it is." He looked at Vin straight in the eyes "I know it sounds cold, but you also know it's true."
"How do ya feeling about some undercover work in the streets today?" offered Vin.
A hot bath, a deep massage and a manicure sounded much more pleasurable, but Ezra agreed as the gnawing worry in his gut told him there was much more to come before this was over. Although he didn't know when the next one would be, he knew there would be a next one.
Team Seven's Office Sunday 2 p.m.
"Damn! Damn! Damn!"
"Damn!" Buck's voice boomed from the door startling Chris from his musings at his desk.
"Don't you ever knock?"
"Nope, so what's got you all twisted up in your underwear; as if I didn't already know."
Buck eased his lanky frame into the chair across from Chris's desk, stretched his legs languidly in front of him and crossed his hands behind his head.
"Nathan just called from the hospital. He and Josiah have been there all morning talking to parents, children, volunteers from the library and the hospital staff. The numbers are in. God, that sounds awful, the numbers."
Buck leaned forward his brow knit with concern as he studied his boss and friend.
"Fifteen children, five adults injured, some minor burns, some concussed. I think we've got lucky again."
"Damn." Buck whispered the word and closed his eyes tight.
At that moment JD knocked on the door. Both men turned towards the door and watched as the young man tiredly eased himself in a chair next to Buck's. The usually energetic agent was uncharacteristically quiet. It was a combination of physical fatigue as well as
emotional. No one was untouched by the sorrows of the last two days.
"I've completed a preliminary background check on all the families present at the library as well as on the employees and volunteers."
"That's fast." Chris was impressed but worried as well. He suspected JD had never left the office last night. A surreptitious glance towards Buck who shrugged his shoulders slightly answered his suspicions.
"So far there's nothing that connects any of these people to each other other than the reading at the library. Also, there is nothing that jumps out connecting them to the incident at the station. Buck and I have looked at their financial statements and phone logs as well as the initial notes from the interviews conducted by the police, Nathan, Josiah and I from last night. Granted, it's just a preliminary report but so far there's nothing."
"Also, Ezra and Vin called in." Buck spoke up. "They said they've been on the streets since this morning. There's nothing to link the bus company and the library. Peter Dashnow, the owner of the bus company, has a membership at the library but so do several hundred thousand other people. The library trustees indicate they've used the mass transit system, including Dashnow's bus company but, again, so do several hundred thousand other people. Those links are thin at best." Buck took a breath before continuing his report to Chris. It was the reason he had come into the office having hung up with Ezra moments before.
"They're planning on spending a couple more hours walking the sidewalks. Vin also reported a couple of his contacts in Purgatorio had done some checking for him overnight."
At Chris' raised eyebrows Buck added, "Seems like most people aren't too fond of little kids and their parents getting killed and injured at what's thought to be a safe place."
"What's safe anymore?"
"Don't know, Pard. Seems that the word is out though and people are doing what they can to filter information to our team. Ezra's snitches, Vin's kids - they're all digging. Problem is both bombs have been crudely built with simple materials. Granted dynamite is somewhat hard to get but not impossible and the rest, well, anyone with a computer and internet connection can look up how to build a bomb. It's the information age. Anyone can access just about anything."
"Great. All we need to do is figure out who, what, where, when, why. We know the how, sticks of dynamite and a timer. We need the rest. We need a connection."
What Chris didn't know was that fate, or the bomber, was about to provide him one.
Sunday 6:00 p.m.
The scene was startlingly familiar but the horror was no less fresh.
Flashing lights, sirens blaring, sounds of screaming, crying and groaning, water pouring from fire hoses trained on the remaining stubborn licks of flame, soot, smoke covering everything and everyone, dozens of first responders hurrying calmly, yet purposefully, about their tasks, tending to victims, loading stretchers into ambulances, interviewing onlookers, injured alike. Amidst all the organized chaos one man stood staring ahead. His eyes were focused intently, his brow tight in a contemplative posture.
One by one his comrades noticed his stance and slowly made their way to his side.
"Josiah, what is it?" Buck was the first at this side and gently rested his hand on the profiler's shoulder.
"Do you see the sign?"
Confused Buck looked across at Nathan who was the next to appear at Josiah's side. Both men looked to the sign and then back at each other and then nodded.
"Yeah, we see it, Josiah." Nathan's deep, rich voice spoke low. He was concerned at Josiah's posture. His friend was fixated in his spot as if frozen to the ground.
"My dear, Mr. Sanchez, what about the name of this establishment has you so engrossed as to cause you to remain in such a stationary pose?"
"The Prancing Horse." Vin's quiet voice broke the momentary stillness after Ezra's question.
He stepped around the group and stood directly in Josiah's line of sight staring intently at the seemingly transfixed profiler. The two men regarded each other soberly as each realized what had just occurred. While the two men were mentally engaged in absorbing the enormity of the situation their colleagues exchanged alternately worried and confused shrugs and shakes of the head.
"I don't get it. It's called The Prancing Horse. What's so special about that?" JD couldn't contain his curiosity any longer.
"The bus company s'owned by a man named Peter Dashnow." Vin spoke low.
"The library wing that blew up yesterday was named after its benefactor, Christopher Sutton Dancier, III." Josiah uttered.
"And now, The Prancing Pony has been bombed." Buck was stunned as the words left his mouth. He had followed Vin's and Josiah's words as if he had known the script.
The link. The precious, awful, vitally needed link had been found, but what did it mean?
Just then Chris stepped up to his men. He had been watching their movements from the side but hadn't been able to end the cell phone call in order to get to them. Now he moved quickly to join them. His expression was as grim as all of theirs. He locked eyes with each of his teammates and then spoke.
"That was Mary. She's been trying to get through to me since yesterday but with all our comings and goings - anyway, she's been getting emails from some prankster. At first she didn't think much about it because this time of year is known to bring out the crazies,
but she just received one a few minutes ago, and it scared her. Each email starts out with words from the same Christmas jingle."
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer!" exclaimed JD.
"Yeah, how'd you guess?"
"Cowboy, we found the link."
Chris turned to follow the direction of the rest of his teams' eyes and felt his body go cold with fear as he read the sign.
"So. the next one is Vixen, isn't it?" asked Chris, with a concerned look at his teammates. He didn't understand the idea of the jingle's clues. Who would be such a nut to start blowing apart places in the city just to make a point on a Christmas song? But then again, whoever it was was a nut, so that alone was enough to make it real. Three days of scenes like this were fresh in his mind. It was real. He was going to have to figure out why.
"Yeah, Vixen" said Vin, with a shrug
They looked at each other as if waiting for one of the others to offer a clue first but none of them had any. After some seconds when they could hear their hearts pounding, JD spoke up, "I'll look around in the next events; see if there's anything related to a Vixen something."
"Good idea, JD, I'll stick with you on that." agreed Buck.
"Josiah, you and Nathan look around here, somebody had to see something out of the ordinary, anything." said Chris.
"Ez, come on. We're on this together. We'll keep on the streets for a while see if we find lead."
"Oh, Mr. Tanner I was wishing I could check on my informants in other more palatable ways."
"Nah! That wouldn't be so nearly as much fun for you."
And as they melted into the crowd, Chris wondered who the fun was for, Ezra or Vin. No need to take odds, the fun in this pairing was Tanner's all the way.
"Okay. I'll keep here a bit longer before heading to brief the Judge." said Chris. Damn!" Once again, he was talking to himself as the team had split up and left him talking to thin air.
10:00 p.m. Team Seven's Office:
JD and Buck were still at the office, prowling through the internet for the upcoming events. Josiah and Nathan were quietly discussing their findings.
"Maybe this is related to something in the past," mused Josiah.
"It's a possibility to be sure, but how can we know what is it. Could be something personal for this particular man or woman." answered Nathan rubbing his eyes in his weariness and wondering if Rain was still in love with him as he had had no time for her these past few days.
"It's a he, that's for sure; a woman wouldn't use bombs against children, no matter how nuts she is."
"Are you sure of that, Josiah?"
"Positive," he said and the room fell silent; briefly.
"Here it is!" exclaimed JD from his computer.
Everybody ran to his desk and looked at his computer screen to see what had excited the youthful agent.
"What is it?" asked Buck, his voice a mixture of pride in his roommate/fellow agent, and exhaustion.
"Tomorrow morning, at the Zoo, there's a special showing. They've created a new environment for the foxes and they've brought in some new pairings. Since this falls at Christmas they decided to name them and the female is namedVixen in honor of one of the reindeer,"
Despite the fact JD hadn't had more than a couple hours of sleep the last few days his voice remained full of its usual energy and excitement.
"I'll call Chris. He's up with the Judge right now." Buck turned away and hit the number one on his speed dial.
"It's scheduled to be tomorrow at 9:00 AM" he read from the article. "They've created a whole environment with lots of space, caves, vegetation all around, a little lake, trees and plenty of places to hide. Here's a picture of it." JD hit the print button and the printer hummed as it started to print the map of the new fox environment.
"I'm not sure, maybe the foxes are not a big enough target for this man. It's not the kind of place he's likely to blow." said Josiah thinking of the profile he already had in his mind.
"It's right, I'm sure of it. I'll keep looking though." With that, JD went back to his computer.
"What did Chris say, Buck?" Nathan had been taking in what JD and Josiah had been saying and, ever the EMT was trying to assess the situation as he often assessed his teammates' injuries.
"He's on his way down. The Judge is going to arrange for bomb sniffing dogs to be dispatched immediately. They both think it's probably a long shot but at this point it's all we have that fits with the scenario.
At the same time. on the streets of snowy, cold Denver:
"As I have repeatedly attempted to educate you, Mr. Tanner, it's no use. All we are achieving in this monotonous trek through the rabble of the city is hypothermia. I can achieve similar elucidation through my informants while sipping a snifter of brandy by the fireside." Ezra's voice had taken on a pleading tone that Vin Tanner who, while enjoying the discomfort of his teammate and friend in jest, was finally beginning to be a bit cold and exhausted himself.
"Tell you what, Ez, let's give it another hour. After that, we'll head in for some warmth."
"All right, Mr. Tanner, one hour, no longer."
"Now, let's take a look at this map I've made." With that Vin unfolded a map he pulled from his jacket pocket and placed it on the hood of a conveniently placed parked car.
"I'm sure this guy is a loner. Sooner or later, he'll make a mistake. I'm sure he wants us to catch him which is why he's been sending the emails to Mrs. Travis. All right. Here we are and here are the locations of the three bombs."
Vin's gloved fingers stabbed at the map. Part of his vehemence at stabbing at the map was due to frustration, the other part was to increase the circulation. The combination of the cold and the snow that had recently started to fall were beginning to chill him to the bone and his fingers were rapidly going numb with the cold.
"Let see." earlier they had marked the three places already hit and their order, and it looked like a straight line pointing to the north, starting in the bus station, then going to the library and ending at the Prancing Horse, "See? Told ya, there's something here, Ez. If we go that direction, we'll find something." he was certain now.
To Ezra's dismay, he knew Vin was right. There was an unmistakable direction in the sequence of each of the bombs, and he was surprised no one had thought of that before.
"I will call Mr. Dunne post haste to let him know what we think, and maybe he has some new intelligence to impart to us." he said while trying hard to punch the buttons of his cell phone with his frozen fingers. They had been walking the streets for three hours now and his thoughts were now on a warm cup of coffee. He was in so much need of it that he didn't mind if it was procured from the coffee machine at the office. Even that vile, oily, mucky substance would be welcome.
"Mr. Dunne, we've deduced the direction of the bomber. We believe he is heading to the north end of Denver. It's a pattern that is quite logical once one endeavors to map the prior events."
Vin chuckled as he could imagine JD with his usual energy trying to slip a word in edgewise on Ezra. As Ezra stopped speaking and began listening Vin started paying closer attention to his surroundings and what was going on around them. He noticed a group of men, homeless from the look of their clothing, not to mention that they appeared to be in no hurry to go anywhere on a night that was rapidly becoming colder by the minute.
Keeping an eye partially on his partner, Vin casually ambled a bit closer in order to catch what they were saying.
"Yeah, Cal, I can tell ya, this one was very suspicious yesterday. I saw him rummaging around the dumpsters, and he wasn't getting anything out of it, he was hiding something in it."
"Oh, and how many beers had you got before you seen him, Herb?" retorted his companion.
"Ya can ask Pete here, and he'll tell ya what he saw." Cal insisted.
"Yeah, I saw him, he went ta one of the dumpsters and put a box inside covered it up carefully. Then he went to another one and did the same thing. At first I thought to see what it was he was doing but he was acting so suspicious and all, looking over his shoulder, jumping near out of his skin when an alley cat scooted out from behind some crates. I didn't get a chance to see what he put in there 'cause some cops came by on patrol so I moseyed on my way so as not to get picked up. Thirty minutes later it all blew up! Ya tell me what he did then if he wasn't putting them bombs in there."
Vin looked back at Ezra not wanting to stray far from his partner but desperately wanting to talk to these men and get a description. He figured his years on the streets, coupled with the undercover attire he had on, and his very real stubble and red rimmed eyes from lack of sleep would more than convince these guys he was one of them rather than a member of Denver's famed Magnificent Seven ATF team. He decided to play it cool and wait for Ezra. These men weren't going anywhere and he wanted to know what Ezra had been briefed on.
With nonchalance he didn't feel, he slowly wandered back to Ezra who was partially hidden by the shadows while using his cell phone. Being seen with one would quickly tip these guys off that they weren't the usual residents in this area. As he got closer he realized that the speaker on the other end of the phone had changed and that Ezra was now talking to Chris.
"Yes, Mr. Larabee, I wish I could, but our dear Mr. Tanner is fond of trying to gather intelligence from the local citizens in this frozen hinterland. I'm sure we will rejoin you at headquarters as soon as possible." With that, he turned off his cell phone as it became obvious that Chris had hung up on him.
"So, what did our fearless and fearsome leader have to impart, Mr. Standish?"
Ezra gaped momentarily at Vin who immediately grinned with an impish character that Ezra secretly wished his friend would allow himself to display more often.
"It appears our faithful comrades have been similarly hard at work, albeit in more civilized and sanguine surroundings. Apparently they're sending a team of bomb sniffing dogs to the Denver Zoo to check out a new habitat for the vulpes."
Vin's face twisted in confusion at this word and Ezra paused momentarily to let his teammate suffer a bit, a momentary payback for his cold fingers and weary body.
"Foxes, Mr. Tanner. Vulpes are the genus for foxes. And a female fox is a vixen. More succinctly, a new pair of foxes has joined the current residents and the female's name is Vixen. So, our inimitable Mr. Dunne as deduced that our reindeer afflicted bomber will attack at the zoo tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. Thus, Mr. Larabee has informed me that he has dispatched bomb sniffing dogs. However, I have informed him that we have thus arrived at the conclusion that their choice of location is perhaps erroneous as it is our belief the aforementioned reindeer fetish afflicted bomber is headed north and the zoo is decidedly to the east."
"In other words, they don't agree."
"I believe that is what I said, Mr. Tanner."
"Fine, let's see if we can acquaint ourselves, that would be a word you would use, hmm, Ez, with these fellas over here. I overheard them speaking of someone messing around in the dumpsters outside the library just before it blew up.
Ezra started to flick some dust from his coat and straighten his appearance when he noticed Vin's pointed glance. He looked down at his attire and immediately shuddered. Although the "dirt and grime" had been applied by himself, he was nevertheless appalled at his attire, but undercover meant undercover and he couldn't very well engender trust and gain secrets of the folk who wandered the streets at night if he dressed in his finer wardrobe.
So, with a brief shudder and then a affecting a slightly stooped posture he followed Vin to the group of men huddled around the burn barrel keeping their hands warm and passing a bottle around. Ezra was certain it wasn't Cognac.
The men grew silent suspicious as the two approached. Vin realized they needed an opening so he began to recite what he had heard the one man say earlier.
"I tell you I saw the man who blew up that library wing."
Ezra immediately donned his undercover persona and fell into the story with his partner.
"Don't think so, Cowboy. You's always thinking you seeing stuff and thinking you can solve mysteries and such. You's usually just dreamings s'all."
Interested the others perked up listening. As the two strangers sidled up to the warmth of the fire in the barrel Cal was no longer able to contain himself.
"See, I's told you I saw him. He was hiding stuff in the dumpster and thirty minutes later, BOOM!" He clapped his hands together loudly as he exclaimed.
"S'right, those cops probably think he's just a homeless guy. They'll be blaming us." Vin blew on his fingers to warm them and it wasn't all an act, geez, the temperature was dropping quickly.
"Don't know about "us" never seen you before." Herb tended to be a bit suspicious of strangers and he had never seen these two before. The others, taking their cue from Herb, their unofficial leader, began to regard Ezra and Vin with suspicion if not outright hostility.
"Out of Texas. No work there so decided to come to Denver, My friend, Edward here come all the way from New Orleans. He heard there was some work for us here in Denver, and we're looking around." said Vin, trying to get some confidence out of the men there.
"Yeah, well, ya don't want to be taking just any job, me and the boys here, we're real particular about who we work for and where and all. You best check with us 'for you go taking any jobs away from the locals" said Pete who obviously was trying to intimidate them even though Ezra and Vin were fairly certain he wasn't interested in working so much as keeping others in line around him.
"So, you said you saw the guy that planted the bombs?" Ezra wanted to get them back on track and get away from the obviously unpleasant subject of work.
"Do you think the cops will be pinning it on us?"
"Probably. They're clueless!" said Cal again, "I'll tell you all something though, I saw the man that did it yesterday at the library, and he wasn't a homeless, I can be sure of that."
"What ya mean?" asked Vin wanting to get any kind of a lead.
"He wasn't homeless. He had on a uniform kind of like the kind that postal workers wear, or maybe train conductors or bus drivers, I ain't sure of that" said Cal, "But homeless, no way, he barely wanted to touch the stuff in the dumpster, kept finding snow to "clean his hands on" one of them frilly, fancy men."
Vin suppressed a grin as he wondered what Cal would think if he knew that he was talking to just such a "fancy man" Ezra to his credit managed to look properly horrified, inside his mind the wheels were clicking with what he had heard, bus driver, bus driver.
"Well, I think we'll find ourselves a place for the evening. Thanks for letting us share your fire."
With that Ezra hurried Vin away from the men.
"What's with the quick exit? We might have found out more information."
My dear, Mr. Tanner, I believe we have the information required. Where's your map?" With that the two headed to the office for a quick debrief with Chris and then home for some much needed showers a couple hours of sleep. Both would be on hand at the zoo in the morning when the bomb dogs were doing their search.
Monday 7:00 a.m. Denver Zoo:
"Yes, sir. The dogs have been searching since 4:00 a.m., they've come up with nothing."
Buck, JD, Vin and a decidedly rumpled and grumpy Ezra were standing a little ways away watching their boss trying to stay calm.
"Yes, sir..I understand, sir...No, sir..sir, sir..Sir, I'm afraid my battery. sir..."
With that Chris flipped the phone shut and pocketed it before his more primal behavior took over and caused him to throw it into the nearby duck pond.
"Damn politicians. Always think they know what I mean, hell, if he thinks he's so smart.as if we aren't freezing our collective ass off, no sleep, hardly anything to eat, smelling worse than the bottom of a fox's cage that hasn't been cleaned in at least a week."
"Now there, JD, you taking notes, son. This would be the way to lose your career mighty fast. Chris just needs to learn how to sweet talk these political types. Instead, he lets them get him all hot and bothered."
"Chris, the reason the dogs ain't finding nothing is the scent of the fox's is covering the scent of the explosives. It's especially hard since they brought in a new breeding pair and they're all marking their territory until they get it all settled out."
"So, Mr. Tanner, since the dogs aren't having any luck, what is the alternative?"
Ezra stifled a sigh as he saw the gleam in Vin's blue eyes and knew without a doubt he should have kept on the loathsome clothes of the night before. His Italian shoes and fine wool pants were not the right attire for traipsing through a fox environment. Even last night's attire, loathsome to him as it was, was not the attire for traipsing through the fox environment, but it was his idea to join the search wholeheartedly at the zoo. There was some instinct tickling his brain telling him that this is where the next bomb would be and that although Vin's map showed the bomber heading due North out of the city, this spot, decidedly to the east was where he would next strike.
So, here he was nursing his second scalding latte with a double espresso mixed in, ready to join in the search of Vixen the fox and her snarling suitors' environment for the latest of the Christmas Bomber's homemade bombs.
"I've been studying the layout of this habeetat for the vulpeess," Ezra donned his best poker face in an effort not to laugh as he listened to Vin purposefully mispronounce the words knowing it was all in an effort to keep Buck on his toes, and, it was working. Buck wore a confused look as Vin proceeded in his thought process.
"Right here looks to be the best place to plant the device." Vin's finger stabbed at the map and remained fixed on the location. Chris, who had managed to calm his frustration, peered over Vin's shoulder at the spot indicated.
"I think Vin's right. This spot is closest to the street, is mostly hidden by the security cameras and," Chris paused knowing there was no way Vin could know this next piece of information as he had not been present when the chief caretaker of the fox environment had puzzled over this --"the chief fox caretaker mentioned to me, in the presence of the zoo director that the animals had been avoiding this area since he checked on them one last time at about 8:30 last night. He didn't know why as this was usually a spot they enjoyed because of the deep dens, and lots of foliage."
"Critters know their space, and they sense when things are out of place. I say we check there first." Vin quietly folded the map and stuffed it back into his jacket and with Chris close behind him walked quickly through the open gate the fox environment. All the animals had been removed hours earlier to allow the dogs to search so Buck, JD, and Ezra followed at a slower but no less interested pace.
The bomb team just stood there smirking a bit figuring that Larabee and his team were going to get good and dirty but walk out of the zoo with egg on their faces and worse on their shoes. Their grins were rapidly replaced when they saw the team returning at a fast clip within five minutes of entering the enclosure and Larabee urgently beckoned them forward.
"It's right where Tanner said it would be. He'll stay in there long enough to guide you and then it's all yours. It looks to have a timer that's set for 9:00 a.m."
With that the scene was turned over to the bomb squad and as soon as Vin led the team leader to the correct spot, he rejoined his teammates outside the perimeter. All five breathed a collective sigh of relief as it looked like this disaster would be averted but they knew the respite would be short lived.
"They think they're so clever. Well, I'll show them. Perhaps this time they got the upper hand so, now for a little warning." With that he pushed the send button and another email zipped across the fiber optic wires and directly to the mailbox he had chosen.
Humming to himself he went back to his work.
TEAM 7 Office - Mid-afternoon
"Here they are, Chris. Mary agreed to rushethe photos from the zoo for us. She had them all blown up for viewing." JD opened the first of three large envelopes and started spreading around the large color and black and white photos.
Chris had asked Mary to round up some of her photographer colleagues and have them taking pictures at the zoo during the sweep and throughout the morning. Mary had been more than willing to help as she was still staggered by the thought that she and Billy would have been victims of this bomber if not for...well, for the bomber himself.
She still struggled to figure out the logic, or the physics, or the time travel theories/rules or whatever around the fact that if the bomber hadn't struck at the station on Friday night, she wouldn't have been working Saturday morning and would have been at the library with Billy possible only to be injured or worse in the library blast. Of course, as Chris had tried to calm her by reminding her that if the bomber hadn't struck, then he wouldn't likely to be bombing anything, and she and Billy would have been perfectly safe at the library.
Either way, it gave Mary a headache and she wanted to help in anyway possible. So, three print photographers were on site busily snapping photos from all angles and in all lighting conditions. Their angles weren't for artistic posturing, they were for identification purposes. Josiah had reasoned that in all likelihood this bomber would want to see what befell his victims and was likely to be onsite at the zoo. Furthermore, once it became clear that the bomb was found, he would probably edge closer to see the faces of the law enforcement personnel before slinking away. So, the photographers had been given clear instructions on how to shoot and each was given a zone in which to work.
What lay on the desk now were rushed proofs of that morning's effort and there were well over 100 photos for the team to review. The team split up into smaller groups, each taking one of the envelopes and started sorting looking for common faces.
After about an hour of reviewing and sorting and debating within the small groups Josiah rolled over a large white board and began taping up photos that had common faces. Each group presented him with a small selection of photos that had faces that continued to appear. After taping up each group's selection all seven stood before the board and carefully studied the photos.
"There, right there." Nathan quickly zeroed in on an individual that appeared in all three groups' photos.
"I'd say you're right, Brother Nathan. So far this is the only individual that appears in all three zones. A few of the curious appear in two zones but they aren't there from beginning to end."
"Yeah, this guy appears very early in the timetable and he's there even after I leave, and I left with the Chief of Police, the head of the bomb unit, and the director of the zoo. By then most of the crowd knew the show was over and were dispersing. So I guess the question is: why did this guy stay there and why is he continuously looking in the direction of where the bomb was found. He isn't looking anywhere else."
"There's something else that has become very apparent to me in viewing these photos, Mr. Larabee, and perhaps this is what has been nagging at me from inside of my cranium. Look here," Ezra stepped forward and pointed at one of the photographs that showed the sidewalk and a portion of the street outside the zoo.
"It's a bus stop."
"Correct my astute Mr. Wilmington. Please do me a favor and take a look at this bus that is pulling up to said bus stop. Can you tell me what company it is from?"
"Why sure, it says so on the side it's from...hey, this is the same bus company as the one that blew up a couple of nights ago."
"Exactly. The same bus company, owned by a Mr. Dashnow, this same bus company that also happens to have a bus stop just outside the Prancing Horse, and has a stop outside the zoo where Ms. Vixen and her suitors have their new home."
"Yeah, but I don't remember a bus stop outside the library." JD spoke up. He was gaining more and more confidence with each case and was willing to speak up when he had ideas or disagreed.
"I don't either. JD,..." but Chris didn't need to finish his sentence. JD had already gotten to his desk and was working hard on his computer pulling up the bus routes. The others watched for a moment as their minds began turning over the new pieces of the puzzle.
"Got it. I've pulled up the entire bus route for...yep, it's the Northern Express, that's the route that three of the bombs have been on. There's nothing here about a stop at the library though. Maybe it's just a coincidence." JD slumped a bit having hoped that a map had been found to point out each of the next places but it appeared not to be.
"JD, why don't you call the company and see if that route's been changed in the last few weeks, months, heck could be years. I think Ez is onto something here. Also makes sense why the track that appeared to be steadily heading north all of a sudden turned east."
Up `til then Vin had been willing to watch and figure quietly but now he felt for certain that Ezra was right and that this was connected to not only the reindeer song but also the bus route.
"I'm on it, Vin."
"All right. While JD's getting that information the rest of us get to pour over the map, call businesses, look up addresses, hell if I know, the names of first born children for anything to do with any of the businesses along this route. Comet is next. We got lucky with Vixen. We don't need our luck to run out. JD, take that picture of the guy Nathan and Josiah pointed to and have the team that are working with the face recognition software that the department is testing can come up with something, see if something comes out from that image, a name, something" With that Chris and the team began to search for the next likely spot. If the bomber held true to his timetable they were free and clear for the remainder of the day but after 12:00 midnight. All bets were off.
11:00 p.m. Denver at the Silver Comet Nightclub:
Loud music crashed in the air, colorful lighting splashed across every surface in the club, couples danced to the thumping beat while other groups sat or stood against every surface watching, talking, drinking or munching on food. The nightclub was in full swing on a Monday night.
If anyone wondered why the club was having such a crowded night they obviously weren't from the area. Every week the club held a ladies night in an effort to draw a crowd during the week. It always worked. The drinks were half price for the ladies, no cover charge either. Guys and gals on a budget, or just looking for a night out, would flock to the club for the great music, and cheap drinks and entrance fee.
During the Christmas season the club upped the ante a bit, if a lady wore an elf hat, or a guy wore reindeer antlers they got their first two drinks free. As a result, the club was packed full. Buck and JD were seated at a table just off the bar watching the dancing and twirling their drinks. Buck sighed thinking that this was a waste of a perfectly good opportunity to meet some lovely elfin maidens and grimaced as he swallowed a mouthful of his tonic water. "Never know why people like this stuff plain. Why they call it a tonic either, only thing it'd cure would be good taste."
"Ah, Buck, quit your complaining. Least we aren't stuck back at the office digging through reams of paperwork."
"Hey, I thought you liked doing all that research?"
"I do, it's just sometimes it's nice to be out in the action a bit, you know, undercover, getting to do the cool things an agent should do."
"Yeah, well, all I know is the only reason you and me got this gig is `cause Chris didn't want Ezra and Vin out for another night tramping the streets. He's certain the both of them will be getting sick `cause nearly freezing last night, so he's relegated them to searching all that paperwork. Josiah and Nathan are staking out that car dealership that's owned by the Cometto family, while he's coordinating with the Chief of Police, the Judge, the Mayor and all the other uppity ups. I tell you, JD, we're right. He's coming here."
"I know, Buck. I know. He's building to something. The thing at the zoo would have been big because it would have had a lot of media attention as it was the opening of the new exhibit, but this, this place is an icon for Denver's nightlife and look at all these people..."
"That's what concerns me, kid." Buck continued on not noticing that JD was no longer speaking, wasn't even by his side anymore. "...if we have to get these people out. But, Chris and the locals have it pretty well guarded outside. The idea is to catch the guy planting the bomb, and so far he's shown nothing that would lead us to...JD, JD. Now where did that young'n get to?"
Buck stood up and searched the crowded scene before him and chuckled as he saw JD squaring off against 5 feet and a few inches of a spitfire known to all as Casey Wells. She had come out for a girl's night with about four other friends. He decided he'd mosey over and watch the show.
"And I thought you were working, JD, which is why I called my friends and told them I'd meet them." Hands on her hips, intelligent, yet fiery eyes nearly shot daggers towards JD and Buck decided he'd better step in.
"Now, Ms. Casey..."
"Don't you Ms. Casey me, Buck Wilmington. You're just as bad as he is, I'm sure you're teaching him..."
To the surprise of both Buck and Casey, and the amused stares of her friends and some other rubber-necking onlookers, JD quickly covered Casey's mouth with his hand, grabbed her hand with his other and rapidly walked her to a more private place.
"Lovers' spat, y'all. Nothing to see here, well, except you my lovelies, and what's all is your name?" Buck sauntered off with one of Casey's friends on either arm and soon all were dancing on the floor while JD quickly brought Casey up to speed on what he and Buck were really doing there.
When Casey and JD rejoined the group a few minutes later she was noticeably pale and shaken and agreed that they would all dance for just a short amount of time and then would leave.
Shortly past midnight Chris stretched as best as possible from the cab of his truck. Taking a sip from the steaming cup of coffee he thanked Ezra's foresight again for lending him his stainless steel thermos. The coffee inside was still scalding hot and he had been parked here for a couple of hours listening alternately in amusement to Josiah and Nathan's dialogue to consternation at Buck and JD's inane ramblings. At least, he thought with great relief, he was away from the bureaucratic knuckleheads, Judge Orrin Travis' company excluded, and doing something potentially productive.
He had hung up from talking to Vin just minutes before. He knew his friend looked as weary as he had sounded. Hell, they all did. What came through the weariness however was a bit of triumph. After spending a large degree of their time wrangling with the city's computer system, fine time for the city to decide to upgrade some of their sites which caused inordinate delays at gathering the information required he and Ezra had discovered that indeed the Northern Express route had been altered approximately two years ago.
Now the pieces of the puzzle were starting to sort themselves out and all of the previous sites, the library included, had been on the prior route, with that piece of information securely in hand Vin and Ezra were now turning their attention to employees both current and former who had driven that route. They were also tasked with trying to pinpoint potential future sites.
Sighing Chris mulled over the latest email that Mary had received. Each one was cryptic and seemingly devoid of clues. The first one had mentioned the reindeer. They would have discovered the link sooner yet Mary had disregarded it as a just another prank. Chris didn't blame her; he'd have done the same thing. Hindsight was 20/20, unless you were the perpetrator of the grand scheme.
The second hadn't seemed that scary either except Mary had taken the bit about ice to be literal and that the threat was towards Billy and somehow the sender knew that Casey had taken Billy to the skating rink. The irony was that her terror for Billy's safety was what led her to reach out to him so frantically. Unfortunately it wasn't until more that 24 hours later that they caught up but by then Chris and the team had figured out the link and now they had a better one; he was writing to Mary.
He didn't appear to be targeting her for danger but he was communicating. That could work to their advantage. Problem was, he didn't yet know how, and the email Mary sent today didn't make the situation any clearer.
//"They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games. So he played his own, with his own rules, and the rules were his and his alone. No one would forget him ever again."//
Chris sighed again and started scanning the street, a slight flicker of movement across the street drew Chris' attention from his musings. Over the last hour the number of people in the club had been slowly dwindling. Casey and her friends had only stayed for about 15 minutes after JD had spoken to her. Chris didn't blame JD for breaking the order of silence about their suspicions. Chris didn't worry about Casey. She was strong-willed and strong-headed, but she was also intelligent. She would easily find a way to persuade her girlfriends to leave with her without releasing the confidential information and sure enough, all five girls left amiably shortly after and headed to safety.
Buck had slowly but surely been working with the manager of the nightclub during the evening, and they had been carefully observing every person that entered. The manager allowed JD and Buck access to all areas of the club including storerooms, offices, and the areas where musicians relaxed, changed, practiced and all the technical equipment. Despite all their searching nothing had turned up. Through it all, Buck worked on the manager who in turn worked on some of his employees and carefully and slowly after 11:00 p.m. more and more revelers exited the club and headed away from the danger.
Chris was now certain that the club was the location of the next bomb. He'd been watching from his secluded spot and at least twice had seen the same pedestrian walk down the sidewalk and gaze at the club for a suspicious period of time. Now his gaze was attracted across the street to a shadowy figure that hovered just out of clear visibility. Chris was sure it was the same person and just as he was about to summon one of the patrolmen to keep an eye on the `perp' as he now thought of him his ears were assaulted by screams and a crashing sound from inside the club.
He grabbed his radio to contact Buck and find out the situation but just then he heard Buck's booming voice take control and begin ordering everyone out of the club immediately. Despite the fact that people had been leaving there were still about 50 people in the club. Chris exited his truck and began sprinting across the street only to be stopped as the club doors flew open and the frightened and in some case drunken partiers ran from the building. Unable to make his way into the building and knowing his job was to see these people to safety he summoned the rest of the surveillance team on his radio and began directing the terrified people across the street and away from the building.
Within seconds the street was filled with lights, sirens, and police cars. The cars formed a perimeter away from the club on either end of the street and other police ran in and began shepherding the people to safety. Chris couldn't hear what was going on inside the building over the din of sirens and the hysterical screams of the people. Turning as if on a dime he remembered the shadowy figure and grabbed a spotlight from the nearest patrol car and shone it down the alleyway, nothing looked back at him save the gleaming green eyes of an alley cat.
One by one the sirens were silenced on the patrol cars and Chris could hear Buck and JD...laughing?!
"Buck, JD, are you all right?"
All that greeted his ears was the continued sound of their laughter.
Furious Chris Larabee stalked to the entrance of the clubhouse and ripped the door open with such fury he almost pulled it from its hinges. Once inside he strode to the front of the stage where his two agents sprawled against each other laughing hysterically. Chris looked all around him trying to ascertain if there was anyone left in the club and what it was that could make his two agents convulse with laughter.
Buck looked up and saw the thundercloud that was Chris' face at that moment and managed to right himself long enough to point behind him. Chris followed the direction Buck indicated and saw it. The bomb was housed inside one of the speakers that were placed on the right of the little stage. The speaker box was tipped off the stage and lying on its side that had probably been the crash Chris had heard when it fell from the stage and hit the ground. The band had just stopped playing so the crash had been easily heard over the surveillance gear. Inside was another of the crude bombs they had been encountering. The timer showed 12:15 a.m. that it had been rigged to go off. Whoever knocked the speaker off the stage had saved everyone's life including Buck and JD's.
"So, Buck, JD, what's so funny."
"The red one, Buck always says the red one is the timer fuse. Disconnect that one, and everyone's safe." JD gasped out the words and then started laughing again.
"Yep, that's what all the manuals say, Pard."
"Yeah, well, did either of you guys notice that there is no red wire in here; only green. There's three wires and they're all green."
"Yeah, we noticed. Right after Buck pulled the wire and stopped the timer, that's when we noticed."
Both JD and Buck convulsed with laughter once more and then suddenly they stopped. Chris looked in alarm afraid the timer had somehow been reactivated but instead he realized that all of the blood had drained from each of their faces. Yep, now they figure it out. Now the shock hits them.
Without a word he walked to the bar, grabbed two shot glasses, filled them full with whiskey and handed them to his men. Without a sound they flung back the shots and closed their eyes as the whiskey burned down their throats.
Chris escorted his men quickly from the club and hustled them into his truck and called Nathan and Josiah to retrieve them. Buck and JD could fill out their reports and give their statements back at the office no one would need be wiser for Chris' prescription of whiskey for "medicinal" purposes.
Tuesday morning 7:15 AM
The next day found them around the table sharing the information they had gathered from the different departments that were helping with the investigation.
JD held up the picture of the suspicious man at the zoo and said "He's a freelance reporter, and turns his investigations in to the newspaper or news service that pays best. The people at several of the services that have used him were nice enough to give me all the information they have on this guy without a warrant. They say that his way of getting information had earned him a record in the police department here in Denver. I have a search ongoing in other states now. Still waiting for that." and he gave Chris the file.
Chris turned the file over to Vin and Ezra. He liked how well they worked together. They somehow got out the best of each other every time they had done an investigation together, and he figured that was the reason why Ezra was so early at the office, with a cup of coffee in one hand and one of those pastries he liked so much in the other, and of course Vin walking by his side. "Ezra, Vin, go through this file, read everything and then go get this guy. I want to talk to him, maybe he's our man."
"Yes, Mr. Larabee, but I wouldn't be so sure about him being our man." Something didn't fit with the man. He might be willing to wrangle leads for stories in less than legal ways, but Ezra didn't think he was one to blow half the city, something was amiss.
The phone in Chris' office rang, and he left the team at the conference table to answer it. Startled by a bellow of anger from Chris the team looked up from their papers and watched his face turn from confidence to anger and disbelief. Of special concern was how pale he had turned. Exchanging nervous glances they waited for him to return.
"The Cometto's shop had just been blown up" he said, waiting for the others reaction then he added "employees are injured, massive damage with all the glass and debris. Josiah and Nathan go over there and talk to everybody. I want to know how we missed this one coming."
"On our way Chris, call you back when we have something" said Nathan who was already grabbing his coat. He stopped as he realized Josiah was still seated at the table.
"I think after he knew the other bomb failed, he hurried to the other site and set this one. He's keeping track of his bombs very closely. He must have been there and knew the very first moment that it didn't work and then had a back up plan while we were all busy at the club, and no one was at Cometto's" he analyzed "He's mad because there was a bomb that didn't explode. He doesn't like them to fail, and he doesn't want any of the names in the song to be skipped. So, if we keep disarming the bombs, there's a chance he'll set one in a place where we won't know or get to in time -- like this one.
We may need to do a little bait and switch. We find the real bomb, disarm it, get the people to safety and then switch in a controlled device, some smoke bombs, a little controlled charring and burning. I could work with the guys on the bomb squads and rig up some pretty realistic scenarios.
"Very good idea, Josiah. I think you're right in all your assumptions and the profile is perfect, especially in light of the email he sent to Mary after the zoo. We outfoxed him there - bad pun, sorry. He won't let us get away with it twice. All right. Josiah, you're with the bomb squad. Buck, you're with Nathan. JD, you'll continue with the possible places for tomorrow's bomb. I'll help you with that as soon as I get back from briefing the Judge. We're going to need more than a little interdepartmental cooperation and some public goodwill if we're going to intentionally damage property and mislead the public. Vin, Ezra..." he stopped as he realized his two agents were already walking to the elevator. They were saving some time, Ezra was reading the file aloud, as he and Vin headed for the car to pick up their suspect.
Sean Seaver was sweating as he wilted under the famous Larabee glare. However, despite Chris' best efforts, he knew that Ezra was right. This guy wasn't their guy. JD was bringing Vin and Ezra up to speed on his search for potential sites.
"...and I have these places coming up to me as the best guesses. The first one is a place called Cupid's Arrow, it's a..."
"Oh, please don't tell me it's some kind of dating place" asked Vin rolling his eyes.
"Exactly, Vin. How did you know?" JD was totally surprised.
"Oh, don't know JD, m'be the name -- ring any bells? What else?"
"Well, yes, there's also a place called Cupid Angel Greeting Cards, some kind of Hallmark local shop, where they have all kind of cards for anything, chocolates and flowers too; and the last one I found, I think this isn't a very good choice, but after today's events we have to be careful, that's what Chris said..."
"My dear, Mr. Dunne, please refresh yourself with a deep breath before you pass out due to lack of oxygen!"
JD took the opportunity offered by Ezra and continued with his debriefing "Yes, well, the last place's name is, well it isn't really a place after all, because it's an internet site and the name is 'Leave_it_to_Cupid.com, it's a dating service but it's a virtual place, so to blow it up he would have to find where the server is and disconnect it."
"Geez JD, sounds really hard for an ordinary person, what do ya think Ez?"
"No Mr. Tanner, definitely the last one is not a real target, I would chose to work on the two that are real" said Ezra
Suddenly a grin spread across Vin's face and his eyes lit up with a mischievous glow. He glanced around carefully noting that Chris was nowhere in sight.
"All right you two, I need a favor, and this stays here."
"You don't need us to take a blood oath or some other type of pagan ritual."
"Oh! Come on Ez, I wouldn't do anything that bad to ya"
"Mmmm I wouldn't be so sure..."
They say that time flies when you're having fun, well, as Team 7 had long since discovered, time also flew when you desperately needed it to slow down.
By mid afternoon they had made slow but steady progress. One suspect had been crossed off their list although no one felt much confidence in that. There was a whole city full of people. One down over half a million possibilities (well cross off team seven, Mary, the Judge...)
JD had tracked down three Rudolph's that either had worked or currently worked for the bus company. None of them had ever driven a bus on either the current of the previous Northern Express routes. Still, Chris wanted to interview them. The list got shorter and a little more difficult when further research found that one of the men named Rudolph was dead, (okay, make that two suspects crossed off the list), another Rudolph had moved to Texas about 18 months ago, the local Texas Sheriff's Department was tracking him down to interview, and the third Rudolph still worked at the bus company but was on pre-approved vacation and was out of town. Denver PD was tasked with finding him, immediately.
JD had narrowed the search for tomorrow's target and was now scanning ahead. Josiah had managed to rig two devices with the help of the bomb squad and he and Buck were practicing over and over with how to rig them. Ezra and Nathan had gone to the greeting card shop undercover as building inspectors in order to search the shop and have a reason to stay on site. After realizing the bomber was likely to change his plan if he figured the team was on to him, they didn't want to take any more chances by letting the bomber know they were there.
And for Chris and Vin...well Chris found himself wondering for the ninth time, or was it the tenth how he had managed to lose control and instead of giving out the orders, was being expertly herded by his soon to be ex-best friend. "No way, and that's a big, and let it be very clear to you Vin, a very very big NO!" Chris sent his darkest glare of all times Vin's way, but as usual the cocky Texan didn't even blink. Any other person would have had a seizure, curled up into a ball and lay quivering on the floor, Tanner, he just grinned immune as always to the infamous Larabee glare.
"Oh, come on, Cowboy! I just sent a photo of your best side, got ya an interview in the next hour, you can't say no now!" try as he would Vin was failing in hiding the grin he was sending the others.
"I can see you're having a very good time, Vin, Why you didn't send your picture?"
"Well, ya know me, Chris, I'm a bit... it isn't in my nature to go look for girls like that."
"Hey! And it is in mine?"
Josiah interjected the missiles Chris was sending Vin's way by saying "Chris, we don't have the time to go back on your appointment, and it's only a few hours before tomorrow. I think you'll do a very good work in this undercover assignment Vin got you in" he waited a moment for his words to sink in Chris' mind and added with that big toothy smile of his "Then you could take all the time you need for payback".
And that was the magic touch Chris needed to accept his fate. So he took his jacket and got up from the chair, looking back at Vin he said "Aren't you coming? I'm guessing you didn't go to all this trouble just to miss the spectacle."
Vin's face had turned a shade of pale as he began to envision some truly creative measures Chris would use to pay him back. Taking a deep breath he began reciting in his mind, Chris is my friend, Chris is my friend. It didn't help. Friend or not Chris would make him pay. Ah, well, what a way to go. So, hanging his head for the others benefit he hid his grin and began marching after his boss as if being lead to his execution.
Entering the shop the receptionist unabashedly examined both of them with a look that said "what is it that would bring two men like this here?' She secretly wondered if she could manipulate either of their files so that they ended up dating her. Out loud she said, "Yes sir, before your appointment, you will have to fill this form and get your pictures in the file" and she handed him the form and put the pictures Vin handed her in a folder.
Then she turned towards Vin and asked "And you sir, would you like a form for yourself? I'm sure there will be plenty of candidates waiting in a line for you, too."
As Vin's face turned dark red, and he felt into a coughing fit that needed Chris' help to stop, the secretary saw the affect of her words and said "Mmm I guess not. Well everyone needs a little time to gain the confidence required to so boldly set out and meet a new person. Let your friend's courage be a guiding beacon to you." Then she turned away as her phone began to ring.
Chris walked away from the counter to the waiting area to fill out the form. He was highly amused at Tanner's discomfort and started feeling a little better. He could enjoy Vin's discomfort here and then pay him back at some other time. Oh, yes, things were looking up. Then he stopped as he started to read the form. Oh, Tanner was going to pay and pay big.
"Vin, what have you got me into. What kind of questions are these? Question 1: What kind of woman do you like best? a) Fat but lazy, b) Married but lonely, c) Goth and spooky... Hey! What kind of choices are those! I don't see any 'single and normal' choice in here!" he protested
"M'be single and normal don't need to come this place, Cowboy" it sounded so true that Chris had the desire to punch Vin to get his anger under control.
"Question 2: What would you do on your first date? a) I will rush her to bed, b) I'll get her to a McDonald's and then walk her to the bus stop, c)I'll go to the movies and then say goodbye, no, no, no they are all wrong. Vin, I will hate you for years after this."
"Look Chris, we have to stay here for a long time, to see if the man's coming, so ya better start filling this form and keep calm, I want ta get outta here safe 'n sound 'n ya don't look like keeping me safe is one of your first choices" he kept teasing Chris, he was really having a good time today, the idea had been great and he was sure Chris was relaxing more and more, even if he looked in the edge of killing him.
They had with them one of the devices Josiah had built and were prepared to set it if this turned out to be 'the place'. Chris filled in the form with clenched teeth and a round of protests of highly colorful words. Vin was sure he hadn't heard his friend vary his vocabulary that much in a long time and wondered how many different ways he could insult the maker of the form itself. He turned the form to the receptionist and within minutes was called in for his interview.
Chris' interview lasted exactly five minutes. Yep, Vin thought to himself. Even Ezra wouldn't have taken odds that it would last longer than that.
Vin rose and cocked his eyes "That was fast. Charmed her with your usual disposition?"
"Don't even think I will tell you, Vin. I swear, and I repeat, just in case you didn't hear it the first time, I swear after all this is solved, I will plan what's the best way to kill you, and make you suffer in the process."
"I don't think I need ya ta tell me what happened... m'be she asked ya to take off yer clothes and show her yer best parts?" Oh Lord! He was enjoying this very much!
Vin started to laugh all the tension of the past several days made it impossible to hold in his pleasure. He felt a lot of the tension and fog in his brain ease away as he laughed a good belly laugh. Chris continued to glare while Tanner enjoyed himself for what in reality was less than a minute but to Chris seemed like hours.
Vin composed himself and then said, "I think I'll take a look at the bathroom. It's a likely spot to hide a bomb seeing as how anywhere else in here you're monitored."
Chris looked around as Vin nodded meaningfully at the receptionist who had a clear view of the entrance, the waiting area and the small but comfortable conference room where 'clients' could review other 'client's' portfolios. The only other doors in the office were to the men's and ladies rooms and the office that Chris had just come from, and all doors could be seen by the receptionist.
"Ok, I'll wait here, see if somebody else is coming" answered Chris with the glare that had taken up residence in his face since they were at the office. Vin saw that and said to him "J'st take that glare outta yer face, you're gonna get wrinkles 'n them ladies in that book won't like ya anymore" nodding to the book the secretary had handed to him, so he'd look at any possible 'candidate' for dating.
In the bathroom Vin quickly looked around, inside each of the stalls, down the sink, inside the hands' blower... he then took a step close to the door and had a look, 'from the outside', trying to think like the bomber himself. And he came with an idea, so he stood over one of the seats and pushed one of the ceiling tiles to take it out, nothing. He went to another compartment and did the same, nothing again. But his work had a reward because in the third one he found what he was looking for. He had a better look and saw the time, it was set for tomorrow at 10:30 AM, a time where everybody would be working and maybe some clients would be in the waiting room, close enough to get injured by the bomb.
He rejoined Chris and told him what he had found. They didn't like it but figured that the bomber knew what he was doing. His plan was to leave the bomb in place and it would blow on his timetable. Chris remembered the email Mary had sent him. The rules were his and his alone. Problem was, what if he changed them? No, it was Team 7 that had caused him to change the rules. If they left the bomb where it was, it wouldn't go off early. He and Vin would have to disarm it in the morning. He couldn't chance another undercover team. He knew with Vin's photographic memory, he'd have no trouble recreating what he'd seen and Chris intended that Josiah would walk him through the process tonight.
Chris checked his watch, almost 5 o'clock. This place closed at 5. He decided to stay inside and check the service's portfolios for the next 15 minutes until the place closed. Then, he and Vin could watch the office from across the street at the coffee house while he got hold of Judge Travis and arranged for all night surveillance on the shop. There was always the chance the bomber would come and check on his little gift and Chris wanted someone watching the store at all times. He and Vin would return the next morning, disarm the bomb, arrange their little dramatic subterfuge, all under the guise of looking for 'the perfect mate.' Chris shuddered. He didn't know what was going to be harder or cause him to age faster, disarming the bomb, or pretending to be a client...