All I Want For Christmas...
Wednesday Morning 9:05 a.m. Cupid's Arrow:
Chris and Vin entered the office minutes after the sign flipped from CLOSED to OPEN and the door was unlocked. The receptionist was surprised to see them so quickly. She was sure yesterday the only reason they were there was because one of them had lost a bet and the other was making sure he was taking his punishment, recovering quickly she smiled.
"Good morning, gentlemen. Welcome back. Would your friend care to fill out an application?"
"No, ma'am, is the manager here as well?" Chris was holding his badge underneath the folder he had flipped open as he reviewed Roberta Breish's personal information. Last evening he had JD pull up a quick background check on the owner/manager of Cupid's Arrow and the receptionist. Having already met them in person the day before he had already verified they were who they were supposed to be, but he also carried in the folder a certified letter from Judge Travis, the Denver City Chief of Police and the Mayor for what was about to come next. Timing was everything and he needed both women in the office by 9:15 for the call from the Mayor's office.
"Yes, she's in her office." Roberta pushed the intercom button and told her boss there were two men here who wished to see her. Leslie Hamilton opened the door and stepped into the front office looking at the two handsome men in front of here. Yep, she thought, this is a great business.
"Good morning, ma'am." Chris began knowing that Vin had the street covered to ensure they would not be disturbed. "My name is Chris Larabee, from the ATF." He showed them his badge with his back to the front of the office that was made only of glass. "I need both of you to step into the back office. The phone is going to ring in approximately six minutes with a call from the Mayor's office. In this folder I have certified letters from three government agencies that will explain what's about to happen and what we need both of you to do. Please, would you step to the back office."
Both women nervously exchanged glances with each other and Ms. Hamilton held out her hand to take the folder from Chris. He gave it to her and watched as she rapidly scanned the documents. Her face turned noticeably paler as she flipped through the papers but then she nodded and motioned for Roberta to join her and both women, followed by Chris, went into the back office. Closing the door behind him, Chris rapidly started to explain what was going to happen. At 9:15 precisely the phone rang and the Mayor, with Judge Travis took over the explanations.
While the three of them were in the office Vin sat in one of the waiting room chairs giving all the appearance of a slightly nervous young man about to join a dating service. He sat so he had a clear view of the street. He needn't have worried as the rest of the team was covertly in place monitoring the street and anyone that looked to approach the building.
Buck and Ezra were undercover as market surveyors and were posted a few doors down from Cupid's Arrow with clipboards and survey forms to inquire on whether or not people wanted to try for two tickets to a ski resort. All they needed to do was answer a few simple questions and they would be eligible for the drawing for the passes. This way they could steer any potential victims away from the building.
Josiah, JD and Nathan were all in a van just up the street. Josiah was ready to talk Vin through the disarming of the bomb. So, needing to wait until Chris was back out from talking to the ladies Vin just sat without showing any of the nervousness someone about to disarm a bomb would be expected to show. He had worked with Josiah well into the early hours of the morning, first drawing exactly what the device had looked like in finite detail and then going through the step by step process of disarming time and time again.
Josiah was not surprised at Vin's detailed recollection of the device, however, he was dismayed to discover that the elusive bomber had refined his devices and made this one a bit trickier. Still, he had drilled Vin over and over again until both men could complete the process with their eyes closed. The fact that Vin could disarm it perfectly back at the office didn't make any of the team feel any safer about what was about to occur.
As Vin sat and waited for Chris to return he desperately wanted to suck down a gallon of his personally made coffee. Just like prior to any take down Vin had skipped any coffee, any sugar, any such item that could possibly give him the jitters, he knew he would be jittery enough without the added caffeine or sugar. He checked his watch quickly, 9:30, as if on cue the front door to the office opened at the same time that Chris emerged from the back office.
Vin glanced at the person entering the front door with passing interest. The man, dressed in the brown UPS uniform glanced around the interior looking for the receptionist. Chris stood back from the back office door and allowed Roberta to walk up to the man, sign the delivery receipt and indicate that the large box on the hand truck be placed on the floor just to the side of her desk. His job completed the delivery man turned to leave. He caught both Chris and Vin's eyes long enough to pass a message as if to say, "You both be careful. If I have to sew back on limbs, or stitch up cuts, or put salve on burns, I'm not going to be happy."
With that, the deliveryman, A/K/A Agent Nathan Jackson, exited the office and headed back to his delivery truck which pulled around the corner and headed up the street. Two blocks later, Nathan reemerged dressed in his jeans, sweater and winter coat, shook hands with the relieved, although somewhat excited driver who had been only too happy to join in on the little government `sting' operation as he had been told drove off to return to his normal routine.
As the UPS truck drove off, Nathan jogged across the street and rejoined Josiah and JD in the surveillance van.
Back at Cupid's Arrow Chris and Vin had joined the receptionist at the desk. Leslie joined them at the desk and to anyone passing by they looked like two clients talking with the staff of the service. Inside it was a different story.
"Okay, Ms. Roberta and Ms. Hamilton, here's what you do, inside this carton is a blast blanket. Since you can't very well leave this building with us inside without making it look suspicious, you're going to have to go into the office and get behind the desk. You both huddle underneath this blast blanket. We've already moved the file cabinets in front as a first shield, with the desk and the blanket you're as safe as we can make it. All of this is just a precaution. We'll disarm the device before any of this is really necessary but we're taking no chances.
Both women nervously nodded and followed Chris' instructions. They agreed to the Mayor and Judge Travis' plan to let these two experts disarm the device that is after they recovered from collapsing in their chair upon being told the device even existed. They were more excited to learn they were going to be sent on an all expenses paid getaway. The trip included transportation, chauffeured to and from, resort accommodations and full passes to a health and beauty spa. The Judge convinced them it was for their protection.
Both women were looking forward to getting away for deep massages, body wraps, shopping, and gourmet dining. They would be back by Saturday and able to rejoin their family and friends in time for Christmas but both would enjoy the unexpected escape. Their `cover story' to their friends and family were that they had been chosen to participate in a new reality show set to air shortly after the new year and they wouldn't be able to reveal anything more to their family and friends until they returned on Saturday, but that they shouldn't worry about anything they may hear on the news.
Once the ladies were safely secured in the back office, Vin and Chris sprang into action. Buck was across the street now, surveying people passing by while he watched the building. He wasn't able to see fully inside since the blinds were partially down, obscuring full visibility into the office. He was able to make out Vin and Chris disappear into the men's bathroom. He sent quick words of prayer and went back to his job of ensuring no one got too near the building.
It was up to Vin, Chris and Josiah now. Once inside the bathroom Vin got right to work. Chris brought over a chair from the waiting area and positioned it for Vin. Standing on the chair Vin removed the ceiling panel as he had yesterday. Inside he saw the exact device that he had seen yesterday, drawn for Josiah and then had practiced on and practiced on with mock ups made for him by Buck and Josiah.
Chris keyed open his mike and within moments Josiah's rich baritone filled the small room.
"Tell me, does it look like the one Buck and I made last night?" asked Josiah.
"Looks exactly like that."
"Did you hear that, Josiah?" asked Chris.
"Loud and clear. Definitely seems to me the man is learning very fast. He's added a few little extra bells and whistles, so to speak to this bomb. He's added more wires. Vin, describe them to me exactly."
While Vin went through each of the five wires on the real bomb, Josiah was a block and a half away in a surveillance van holding a mock up version and tracing each wire as Vin identified it. They had developed a simple but clear code for each wire and part of the device so all Vin had to do was name the part and Josiah knew exactly which piece he was talking about. Vin finished reciting all the pieces to Josiah.
"That's great, Vin. Now, tell me, how much time does the clock on the bomb have left on it?"
"The clock is set for 10:30 a.m., the timer indicates it's got 29 more minutes before it's set to go.
"All right then, Vin. Let's get it out of there, and get it disarmed. Now, just like we practiced shine the light underneath it to make sure there's nothing there, then slowly ease it down."
Chris marveled at Vin's steady hands. He knew Vin's control came from years and years of training and experience as an Army Ranger sniper and now ATF sharpshooter. In what seemed like slow motion, he watched Vin carefully ease the device out from the ceiling cavity and bring it down to eye level. Suddenly Vin froze.
"S'iah." Vin's normally quiet voice was nothing but a breathy whisper.
"Yes, Vin. I'm right here."
"Seems like our bomber fella has a little additional trick. There's some doughy stuff like the kids play with stuck to the back of the bomb. There's another wire here. You can let Buck know this one is actually red."
In the truck Josiah closed his eyes for a moment as he gathered his thoughts. JD and Nathan rapidly pulled out all the schematics they had on explosive devices and rapidly pulled out likely diagrams that Josiah would need.
After what seemed like an hour, but in reality was less than a minute Josiah's voice returned to both Vin and Chris' ears.
"Vin, what's the wire in the dough attached to?"
"It runs from the dough to the main clock, the one that says 10:30 a.m."
"All right. Do any of the other wires run to the dough?"
"Don't see any."
"All right, let me check a couple of schematics and I'll be back with you in less than three minutes."
"No, problem, S'iah. Me and Chris will j'ist enjoy a little male bonding time in the bathroom. Take your time, got no where to go, no where at all."
While the 180 seconds that Josiah said he needed were ticking away, Vin was wondering how it was that he ended up standing on top of a chair, shoved against a toilet, in a tiny 9 foot by 9 foot bathroom holding a bunch of dynamite lashed together with cord waiting for instructions on how to disarm said device.
For a brief moment the thought flashed through his mind that if he was still in the Army he'd be a lot safer than working with the ATF in Denver, on the other hand, when he was in the Army, everyone in his unit had liked his coffee so that he usually ended up getting only half a cup. Leastwise with his team in Denver, no one liked his coffee, and he could drink the whole pot.
"Wish J'siah'd hurry up. I could really use that pot of coffee right about now."
"What's that, Cowboy?" Chris was curious that here Vin stood on a chair, in a toilet stall, in a small bathroom inside a dating service office holding a bomb that was set to go off in under 25 minutes and the only words he'd uttered since Josiah left them, holding said bomb, was he wanted coffee. Vin definitely needed some time off, maybe a counselor, maybe both.
"Huh? Oh, I's just thinking...."
"All right, Vin, here's what you do." Josiah's voice cut through Vin's response and once again all were focused on the task of safely disarming the bomb. "All the schematics I have available suggest that the wire from the dough (Josiah, like Vin didn't want to use the word plastic, even though both knew that's what it was, dough made it seem less scary somehow) is a trip wire. In other words, it's set to actually detonate the bomb prematurely if you try to detach it. Leave it alone, it won't do anything. Now, the wire we've identified as Gamma, that's the one you need to clip, but, just like we practiced, at the same time you clip it, you must pull the wire we identified as Charlie from the knot of wires. Then, set off your smoke bombs and flash bangs at 10:30 and we've got the rest all covered."
Vin and Chris stared into each other's eyes for one brief moment, each managing somehow to convey the deep sense of friendship and trust they had in the other. Despite the fact Chris didn't need to remain in the room, no one questioned his determination to stay with Vin.
Chris reached up and clasped his brother by choice firmly on the forearm. Using Chris' arm as support, Vin stepped down from the chair to stand on the floor. Then he crossed over and placed the bomb on the small counter near the sink. He turned to Chris and both reached out clasping the other's arm in their signature hand shake. Then Vin turned back to the bomb, put one hand on the Charlie wire, a small pair of wire cutters on the Gamma wire and nodded to Chris who reached forward to hold both ends of the bomb to keep it steady.
Taking a deep breath, Vin mentally counted to three and simultaneously clipped one wire while pulling the other wire free. Both men watched the clock that had been counting down to 10:30 a.m. tick down from from 21 minutes and 42 seconds remaining to 21 minutes 41 seconds remaining to 21 minutes to 40 seconds remaining and then it blinked off.
"Whew, that was harder than I thought." exclaimed Vin as he slid down the wall and sat on the floor. He was utterly drained. Chris sat at his side and both men started to chuckle.
"Come on Vin, we have to get out of here and finish setting the trap. Now that the worst is over, the ladies can come out again until we're ready to set off the flash bangs."
Vin was more tired than he'd thought he would be and just looked at him with puzzled eyes "I don't think I could stand right now." Then he bolted to his feet. His sharp ears had picked up a tiny click and he once again faced the stopped timer on the bomb, only it wasn't stopped anymore. It was rapidly ticking down minutes and seconds, so fast he was barely able to register the seconds going by.
"Chris, it had a back up timer with a three minute delay. We've got less than two minutes, hell, less than one."
Vin registered in his mind that Chris was right beside him, both men's eyes met and they shared the same thought, the RED wire!! Without thought Chris reached forward and ripped the wire from the dough at the same time Vin ripped it free from the clock. With the seconds ticking down to nothing, the bomb's timer blinked off a final time.
Outside in the surveillance van Nathan, JD and Josiah were puzzled to hear nothing from either of their friends. Josiah figured as soon as they deactivated it, they would have contacted him. Nathan knew that if anything had happened they would have heard the explosion, or seen the men pelting down the street with the women in tow. JD, in his usual exuberance decided to find out what was going on so he keyed his mike and spoke:
"Uh, Chris, Vin, you guys all right in there?"
Nothing but silence met the five members of Team 7's ears out on the street. Ezra and Buck hadn't been able to hear the exchange between Chris, Vin and Josiah while the bomb was being disarmed, but now, JD had keyed open everyone's communication gear and all the five members outside Cupid's Arrow heard was silence. As JD was about to speak again the silence was shattered by the sound of almost hysterical laughter from Vin and Chris.
Those team members who were in sight of each other exchanged glances that alternated between confusion, concern and outright amazement at the sound of such out of control laughter came from their trusted leader who was far better known for the sound of his deadly silences and their skilled sharpshooter whose quiet ways were as legendary as his accuracy with his rifle.
"Buck...Buck...can you hear...me?"
"Uh, yeah, pard, you're coming through loud and clear. Something on your mind ole friend?"
"Yeah, you were right, red, it is the red one!"
Early Wednesday evening, Team Seven's office:
Once again the team was gathered around the conference table. The table was littered with half empty containers of food, photographs of the morning's "crime scene", and paper was spread everywhere. After the events at Cupid's Arrow, the scene was filled with fire trucks, rescue squads, two wagons to take the `bodies' to the coroner, and of course, the media. Mary arrived with a film crew that shot video footage of the bombing as well as print photographers. All the footage and photos were available to Team Seven and the news channels were already running the story billed as "Mysterious Fire Breaks Out at Dating Service, Under Investigation"
The Judge had little difficulty in arranging for the local news channels to air the story in such a manner. The fire did break out under mysterious circumstances and there were no details on the condition of the bodies that were taken from the scene. The heads of the news agencies were willing to broadcast the events in these broad, sweeping manners thus committing to no details and not misleading the public.
All members of the Police and ATF had vehemently pressed for the news services of all type not to attribute today's events to the "Reindeer Bomber" as some wanted to call him. Since the owner of one and the vice president of another of the local news organizations had had either children and grandchildren, or grandchildren of family friends who either attended or planned to attend both the library and the zoo on each of the days the bomber had struck those sites, it was easy to get all the news agencies to agree to place a gag on glamorizing the bomber's activities. It was rare truce among all the organizations and one that Judge Travis unnecessarily reminded Chris and his team wouldn't last long.
Chris and Josiah had decided that it was time to try to lure the bomber out and cause him to be more careless. Surveillance photos at the various locations had yet to reveal a common individual. Josiah was convinced the man was there, but he just was so good at blending in with the people around him that he remained hidden from the cameras' shutters. The idea was that by removing some of the spotlight from the bomber, he would, in fact, be drawn to the light and would actively seek out the camera, and they would finally catch a glimpse of him.
The two women were whisked to safety and were currently en route to their three-day relaxing holiday at the health spa with firm commitments from the Mayor that their office would be repainted and cleaned, to rid the walls and carpet of the smoke smell and stains that were unavoidable with the use of the smoke bombs. Now the team was going through what had sadly become a routine effort. Ascertain the next location, plan how to infiltrate the spot, locate and defuse the bomb, set up surveillance in another attempt to trap the perpetrator and keep the lives of the people of Denver safe.
"All right, everyone. We've had a successful morning, a busy afternoon, and some food. Now, we have less than five hours before the clock strikes midnight, and the city is ripe for another bomb. I need everyone's report. JD, start us off, you were working on Mary's computer this afternoon what did you find?"
JD took a deep breath and launched into his report. "I traced the email files that were sent to Mary. Each file showed the same computer sent each message. Problem is the address or location was different each time. He's got a notebook, or laptop computer, and he's using wireless internet links to send his messages. I marked each site on a map, and while all are within the city limits, none of them are on the same route as the bus company or have been near any of the bomb sites thus far.
I was, however, able to create a program that should trap and trace his location instantaneously the next time he sends Mary a message. I got a subpoena, met with the head of the local branch of NetZero, the Internet provider he's using, and he's agreed to give me administrator rights to oversee the domain we need.
We've linked her computer here with our tech room and someone is monitoring it at all times. I also have the link on my notebook and can monitor the activity 24 hours a day. We'll know the instant he sends a message the next time."
"Great work, JD. Nathan, Josiah, Buck, how about the three, well two remaining employees of the bus company named Rudolph?"
"Denver PD managed to track down Rudolph Guthrie. He's vacationing in Las Vegas. Seems every year he and his wife spend two weeks in Las Vegas. They hit the slot machines and the Blackjack tables for two straight weeks. Vegas PD confirmed the couple arrived there this past Sunday and have spent every waking moment through this afternoon, at last report, gambling, and enjoying the casino shows. He's off our list. He's been with the bus company for over 25 years, has a full pension, almost unheard of these days, that's ready to be cashed in and enjoyed whenever he wants to retire."
"As for our recently relocated Rudolph down to the Lone Star State, the Texas Sheriff's indicate that he has been accounted for every day since Thanksgiving of this year. Before you get thinking any less than charitable thoughts, appears he's started his own charity and works with the local churches as well as the surrounding police departments. His only daughter and her family live in Plano, Texas, and he works with them. Oh, yeah, forgot to mention, his son-in-law is a priest and his church sponsors a very active shelter that helps find jobs, provide educational opportunities and..."
"Got it, Josiah. Thanks, Nathan. Who's keeping track of our suspects? Mark it down; we've just crossed off number four. Out of a city of 544,000 people, at least 70% of which are women and children who don't fit what we know, or don't know about this guy, we've only got about 163,200 suspects left."
Chris couldn't help letting out some of his frustration. He and his men were good, damn good and some loon with a thing about reindeer and dynamite was making a mockery of him and his team. Worse still, people had been hurt, lives altered, property damaged. Despite his deep frustration, he started to grin as he heard the smooth, almost honey coated southern drawl of a certain Ezra Standish.
"Well, now my dear, Mr. Larabee, I believe the odds are a bit better than that. You see, if I were to take just a few moments I believe I would be more than capable of developing a formula that would reduce that immense number to one more tractable. Simply by calculating the odds of whether this individual were married vs. single, highly educated vs. more of a primitive thinking... ahh, yes, I see that perhaps I should embark upon this endeavor at perhaps a more opportune time seeing as how your green orbs are appearing to rupture from their very sockets. Perhaps another time, never let it be said that Ezra P. Standish does not know when best to..."
"Shut up, Ezra!!!" bellowed all six of his teammates. Even JD was amazed at the amount of words spilling from Ezra's mouth.
"Fine, never let it be said that Ezra P. Standish can't take a hint, I mean, if I don't know when to stop talking then my name wouldn't be..." Ezra broke off in mid sentence as Vin nudged him in the ribs. He shook his head and started to pay attention again to what was going on around him.
"As I was saying, now that everyone is paying attention. Vin, Ezra and Buck. Donner is the next reindeer on deck. We've got a list on potential targets. It's narrowed down to only about a dozen possible locations. You've got less than five hours. Find the spot, now."
"JD, Nathan and Josiah, between monitoring for email activity I want you to pick apart the emails and see if there are any further clues and work every possible scenario on the map. There is a reason he's sending the emails from these sites. There's a clue in there; find it. While you're at it, go over the list of the bus company employees again. Rudolph is in there. We just missed him the first time around."
"I'm going to make sure we still have a lid on any and all information and get the Mayor geared up for soothing another business owner for tomorrow. If we don't find this guy soon, we're going to have hysteria on our hands. We've been lucky, we disarmed three of his bombs, but we're not done yet."
With that the team dug in to their assignments determined to stop this bomber before further injuries and damage occurred.
While Denver's finest attacked their assignments with new-found energy, Denver's lowest was equally intent in his focus.
"Nothing, no footage, no mass panic, no glib tag line saying City of Denver Gripped in Panic as Deadly Reindeer Bomber Holds City Hostage!?!?!?!?!?"
Used to its person's frequent ranting and ravings the scrawny cat remained curled on the forgotten sweatshirt carelessly tossed on the back of the worn couch. The cat remained watchful, its eyes like slits as it watched the human bent over its work at the old table. The cat cared little for the ravings of the lone human, cared only that occasionally the human forgot to finish its soup, or left a rare can of tuna open on the spotted and stained counter. Then, when the human lost itself in its ravings the cat would stealthily make off with the morsels. The human was too wrapped up in its delusional thoughts and by the time it thought to remember the tuna, the can was licked clean; unable to remember if it had eaten all the food or not, the human would usually just leave the trash in place and go back to its ravings and fiddling on the table.
Aware that the human was engrossed in its one-voiced, though apparently not one-sided conversation, the cat roused its head enough to scent the air but, while odors did assail its delicate feline nostrils, no tempting aromas were detected. Knowing that there were plenty of mice within a paw swipe, the cat settled down and watched while the human raved on.
"They think they can do this to ME! I'll show them. They think they're clever. Saved the little foxies, saved the little kiddies, but they didn't stop the bomb. I showed them. Yes, I did. Mine is the name that will go down in history. Mysterious fire, no news on the injured, no discussion about the panic that occurred at the night club, thought they were clever there didn't they; stupid drunks, kicking over the speaker.
Never drink, Rudy dear, Mother says alcohol is wicked. Wicked boys are not wanted by anyone. So clumsy, Rudy dear, always tripping over your feet, perhaps you could see your feet if your nose wasn't so big. Yes, Rudy dearest, you are the ugliest little boy ever. It's a wonder anyone wants to play with you. Santa doesn't like ugly little children, now does he?
No, mother he doesn't.
He doesn't, that's right, Rudy dear. Go to your room now and stay there. Mommy is having friends over for a Christmas party and doesn't need them scared by you showing your face and your nose, that awful, awful nose. Stay in your room. Here, watch this video. This is why I named you Rudolph, but don't be thinking you'll save the day, or even be remembered by anyone, no, don't think that. That's just fantasy.
Yes, mother. I know. If my life was like this cartoon, I'd be living on the Island of Misfit Toys.
That's right, Rudy dearest. Now go away and don't come back out.
Well, I'll show them, Mother. They will remember me. My name will go down in history."
Thursday morning: 11:30 a.m.
"Don't get it, Ez, he should be here. We found the bomb, replaced it with our little mock-up that's about to blow in that garage in less than five minutes. Why ain't we seeing anyone that looks interested or out of place?"
Vin was uncharacteristically nervous. The lack of sleep, stress, running on sheer adrenaline was getting to everyone. He was on his third jumbo coffee of the day and that just accounted for what he'd drunk since the sun had peeked its golden eye above the horizon. Once again he and Ezra were wearing rumpled and slightly scuffed clothes trying to fit in. They were fiddling with Vin's beloved Jeep about half a block down from Donovan and Associates Garage.
At about 2:00 a.m that morning the team had narrowed down the possible choices and searched all the potential sites that had anyone associated with it with the name Donner. Couple places were owned by either a Danielle, or a McDonald, but the clear choice for all was the car garage, Donovan and Associates.
The owner was less than thrilled to be awakened in the middle of the night to let the team in to search, but his grouchy attitude disappeared when the bomb dog alerted on a discarded engine block off in a corner waiting to be cannibalized for its parts. The bomb experts rapidly removed the dynamite, complete with timer and fuse and replaced it with the low explosive device.
Shielding the entire corner with a load of scrap metal that the owner had salvaged the day before, the plan was to allow the tiny device to blow which would only produce a burning smell and some smoke. Once again Mary would publish a story indicating that the preliminary analysis of the device indicated that the dynamite had been contaminated by water and rendered all but safe.
The team was in place, detonation time was rapidly approaching, 11:45 a.m., and Vin and Ezra were tinkering in the engine of his jeep across from the garage and half a block length down the street. So far between their unobstructed view, Chris and Josiah who were stationed at vantage points two stories up and across from the garage had seen no one even remotely interested in the garage. Buck was actually working in the garage and JD and Nathan were monitoring all the activity from the utility repair vehicle on the street, Denver PD had arranged the loan of the vehicle and a couple of their men were pretending to upgrade a utility box to keep the surveillance intact.
11:41 - Surveillance van - Stout Street and Broadway - Denver
"Hey JD, listen to the names in here, maybe you can come up with something, `cause I know he has to be in here, but can't find him, no matter how many times I read this list, so... listen, the names are:
Phillip J. Petersen 1995 Driver
Alma E. Rowling 1990 Receptionist
R. Charles Stanton 1999 Driver
James T. Trask 2006 Driver
E.. Peter Shaw...
Nathan read off the names while JD was dividing his attention between what Nathan was saying...and what Ezra was saying out on the street.
JD could see and hear Ezra and Vin. As he partially tuned an ear to Nathan's continued recitation of names he watched as Ezra stood up, stretched his back, and walked over to peer in the window of the Travel Agency they were parked in front of. As he listened Ezra plotted the vacation he intended to take to relieve the stress of these past several days. JD grinned as he listened to the conman read and reject several potential travel opportunities, no to Europe due to passports, customs and luggage restrictions, no to the Caribbean, too commercialized, no to a dude ranch, too uncivilized (JD however thought it sounded great. Maybe he could get Buck and Vin and Chris to sign up. The four of them as cowboys, riding herd, or perhaps acting as lawmen...) JD shook himself out of that thought as he heard Ezra proclaim that he had found just the right trip.
"Two weeks on a luxuriously appointed touring train; enjoy five-star dining, poker games open to all as well as exclusive for the serious gambler, hmm, this was looking good, climb through the American Rockies as well as the Canadian Rockies, and travel the same route the ill-fated pioneering group traveled through the now famous Donner's Pass".
JD smiled as he heard Ezra immediately launch into his plan to bill the entire trip back to the agency or his name wasn't, quote, "Ezra P. Standish."
"Hey, Nathan, do you ever wonder what the "P" stands for in Ezra's name. I wonder, Prescott, Preston? Yeah, Ezra Preston Standish. Nathan, what's wrong?"
Nathan was staring at JD with such intensity in his eyes that JD had only ever seen when someone was seriously injured. The only answer from Nathan was "Just look at this one JD, What if -- I mean, what if..."
Before Nathan had a chance to finish his sentence both heard Ezra's voice shouting through the speakers.
"Oh, my, God. Donner's Pass? What time is it? 11:45 exactly, Mr. Tanner, RUN!!!"
As a cloud of smoke and the acrid smell of burnt steel poured out from Donovan and Associates garage, the usual hum on the street was shattered by an explosion and the sound of glass shattering of the Travel Agency's windows. Chris and Josiah were on the same side of the street as Vin and Ezra and immediately looked down from their higher views, at the same time Buck raced from the garage and stared across the street. All any of them could see was thick black smoke, somewhere in the smoke and under the shards of glass were Vin and Ezra...
Mr. Tanner, RUN!!!
Vin whirled around at Ezra's alarm. Instinctively following the man's instructions he turned to run. He hadn't gotten far when his ears were deafened by the explosion. He felt himself lifted through the air with no control over his body and then there was nothing.
11:55 - Stout Street and Broadway - Denver
Looking down from their second story vantage spots Chris and Josiah were unable to penetrate the cloud of smoke and dust that filled the air. They had heard Ezra's frantic yell to Vin and had seen both men running and then chaos erupted. Both men were sprinting from their locations heading to the street.
Buck similarly was sprinting from the garage shouting for his friends, not caring that the air was filled with smoke and dust that was filling his eyes and choking his lungs.
"Vin, Ezra, answer me! Chris, can't see them in here, there's so much smoke, and ashes all around, can't even breathe!" protested Buck. He was about to call for JD and Nathan when they appeared in the swirling gray air next to them.
"What the hell happened? Could you hear anything on their radios?"
"Yeah, Ezra was going on about vacation plans and this train trip through Donner's Pass."
"Son of ...it was a set up! This guy is playing with us!"
With those words Chris Larabee reached the scene of destruction. The glass exterior of the travel agency littered the sidewalk, pieces of desks, office dividers, personal items, whatever had been inside the building had been blown into the street and lay crumpled and piled.
He and Josiah attacked the pile covering Vin's beloved Jeep desperately looking for signs of their friends. JD, Buck and Nathan similarly searched.
In truth it was less than a minute but seemed like a lifetime to Chris as the icy hand of fear enclosed his heart and then he heard Buck's triumphant shout.
"They're here!! Over here!!"
Looking a few feet past Vin's jeep, at the edge of the narrow alley was a trash dumpster. Chris stood as if in shock as he saw the lid flipped back and Ezra shakily stand and Vin slowly appear next to him.
Both men were looking around them with wide eyes and lost expressions. Buck reached them first and stood for a moment taking in their appearance. There stood Vin, dusty, dirty but for all appearances unscathed. Ezra on the other hand sported what looked to be a large tomato stain on his shirt, and stringy pieces of what he hoped was spaghetti dangled from his hair and ear.
Stifling his laughter Buck reached up and assisted both his team mates out of their refuge. The rest of the team converged on them to reassure themselves that their brothers were indeed unharmed.
Nathan checked limbs, looked in their eyes, made them answer questions about their names, day etc. Both men endured his ministrations in stunned silence as they gazed upon the destruction before them.
Already the air was filled with the sounds of sirens as the rescue crews and first responders appeared on the scene. This time there was no doubt -- while traffic on the street had been light due to the approaching lunchtime hour and there were no eateries at this section, there had been two people working in the Travel Agency -- this time the bomber had claimed two victims.
As the EMTs settled Ezra and Vin at the back of the ambulance to give them a check on scene before taking them to the hospital for the official medical examination both men were silent. At last Vin looked at Ezra and held out his hand.
"Without you, I wouldn't be here. Thank you my friend." With that he grasped Ezra's forearm in the clasp that was normally only for Chris.
At first surprised but then heartily warmed, Ezra returned the grip. Then clearing his throat which seemed all the more filled with smoke and dust then a moment before he replied, "Well, Mr. Tanner, Vin, it was nothing you wouldn't have done for me, however, next time I'll run the other way. I can assure you that" a smile on his face
Chris hovered nearby reassuring himself of the condition of his two men, having given Buck the task of coordinating with the recently arrived Battalion Chief. He smiled quietly at Ezra's insistence at downplaying his heroics and implication that he would leave the next time. Everyone knew Ezra would never leave when needed. Gratefully Chris squeezed both men's shoulders and then ordered them to the hospital for a full medical review.
Ignoring their protests he turned his back on them determined that this would be the last time this bomber played with them.
Thursday 8:00 p.m. Team 7's office
Rubbing his hands over his face, feeling the two or was it three days' growth of stubble on his chin Chris felt tired. More than tired he was exhausted. After the disaster/tragedy of the mid-day the afternoon and early evening had been a whirlwind of activity. Several strong leads had presented themselves and been followed through, they now knew who, had a slight idea of why, but no idea of where to go next and time was running out.
After assisting with the initial clean up efforts, long enough to brief the on-site Incident Commander and give their statements the five members of Team 7 completed the familiar routine of invading a hospital ER in search of their two comrades. Not surprisingly they arrived to find that Vin and Ezra had been checked and released and both men were gone.
Nathan, as the team's medic, spoke at length to the attending and translated the medical jargon for his teammates, cuts, scrapes, bruises and nothing more. Likely some lingering ringing in their ears due to their proximity of the explosion but that should abate in the upcoming days.
Without anger, Chris returned to the office. He knew his men would be there and he was too relieved at their being safe to be angry that they had left the hospital. After all, he had ordered them to be checked out and that had occurred.
Once there they found the two men, freshly scrubbed and changed into clean clothes from the spares each man kept at the office for such a reason. They gathered at the conference table. There were no jokes at Ezra's expense regarding the trash dumpster. It wasn't funny despite his appearance; there were two dead at the scene. The bomber had finally killed.
Nathan started off first. Just before the bomb blast, he and JD had been reviewing the list of names and there in front of him was the answer; R. Charles Stanton. Of course, they'd been looking for the full name and had completely skipped past anyone without Rudolph spelled out for them.
Locating his last known address they had surveyed and then broke down the door. Inside they found piles of garbage, odors of rotting food, scraps of wire for connecting detonators and piles and piles of CD's, tapes, records, and videos of Rudolph. Every singer who had ever recorded the song either singularly or as a group Christmas album was present. The names of the reindeer were scrawled on the walls, there were pictures from the storybook torn out and taped to the walls.
There were no signs of any life save for a scruffy, slightly torn cat who peered suspiciously at them from behind the couch. A thorough search of the dingy space revealed no dynamite or blast caps. The only signs of anything relating to their case were the obsessive collection of all things Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the calendar tacked to the wall with the names of reindeer scrawled next to the corresponding date and black Xs crossing through each box.
Chris was angered to see that in today's date were the names Donner and Vixen. Josiah was right, the man was keeping track. Of course they already knew that from the Cometto bomb however, this time Chris was chilled as he realized the man was not only deranged, he was patient. He allowed days to pass before seeking his revenge.
Sighing Chris leaned back in his chair and studied the printout in front of him. Not only had their lead to the identity of the man turned up nothing but a vacated, filthy apartment, but the latest email he had sent had yet to reveal his location. There was consolation, however, in the fact that Chris realized they were starting to push the bomber's buttons and knew he could use that to his advantage. He read the paper again hardly needing to look at it having already memorized the short lines.
"Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say, "Rudolph, with your nose so bright won't you guide my sleigh tonight."
Santa came to Rudolph; Santa knew of Rudolph, Santa recognized the value of Rudolph. You will learn, you all will know, everyone will fear.
You cannot hide it. There are no mysterious causes. Rudolph is the most famous. I am the most famous.
Thoughtfully Chris lay the page back on the desk. Rudolph was losing it.
Friday 22nd, 6:35 AM
The insistent ringing of the phone jerked Chris from his much needed slumber. He wanted nothing more than to sleep but it was not to be. Before he could reach out and grab it the ringing stopped.
His cell started to ring now. Stumbling from what he thought was his bed he tripped over a chair that he didn't remember having in his bedroom he groped for his cell phone. The sound guided him better than his mind as he his brain was still fogged in by sleep.
"Larabee!!!" the growl was missing its usual intensity as his throat was dry and scratchy. Clearing his throat he was about to bark again when Ezra's voice filled his ear.
"Oh, Mr. Larabee, "I'm terribly sorry to inform you that Mr. Tanner and I won't be in the office this morning. As yesterday's searches revealed no possible Blitzen like locations and our deranged Mr. R. Charles Stanton decidedly continues to follow the bus route north, we have decided to pick up the trail from Stout Street and Broadway and follow the route.
Chris felt some measure of satisfaction that someone had a plan. Stumbling from his office he flicked on lights in the bullpen and headed for the map tacked on the board behind the conference table.
"All right, Ezra, where are you starting from and where is Vin starting from?"
"Mr. Tanner is starting from yesterday's unfortunate location and going all the way until Franklin St. while I will be starting at the bus route's end and work my way towards him. So I better get going before Mr. Tanner gets the wrong idea that I'm still sleeping." and he cut the call.
Realizing the rest of the team would begin arriving shortly Chris headed to the shower and a change of clothes. He wanted to ready when Josiah arrived. He needed the man's intuitive nature to plan the scheme that had been gathering in his mind while he had caught some much needed but all too little sleep.
Buck and JD came out of the elevator with their usual chatter, well, Buck's usual patience at JD's intense chatter "...and I tell you, Buck, I looked around in the system, trying to trace the damn mails he sent to Mary, and it's not a very difficult task, but he tricked me. The guy's not stupid, crazy, yes, stupid no; and listening to Josiah talk about the bombs and the times...and another thing, Buck, about the emails and how he avoided being tracked. I figured it out."
Both men tossed their coats on their desks and continued to the map they were using to track this case. JD grabbed pushpins to illustrate his findings.
"He's smart. Here's what he did...damn bastard took a mobile computer and wandered around the whole city with it with an internet mobile account. It's impossible to trace him unless he stays always in the same place, and he knew that, too, which is why he went from one place to another and another. I only got a zone the size of four blocks, not enough to get an address, but still, gave me the idea of what he was doing. And he's smart, oh, yeah, I already told you he was."
"He went first to a bus terminal, not the same he blew up, but another one, then, he went to a museum and sent the mail from one of the computers inside, that time he didn't use his, then, he was in a park, close to the Comet nightclub, so he was laughing at us all the time, in a way, telling us where the bomb will be, but he wasn't exactly telling us, that's why it was so difficult and, well...
"Let me explain it again 'cause I know earlier I had said there was no rhyme or reason to the emails and the locations of the bombs but when I looked at the server routes and paths I found the link and once I found the root path I was able...."
Buck had been able to stay with JD's train of thought and explanation up until that point, but as JD started talking about domains and servers and IP addresses Buck started to tune him out and instead stared alternately at the map and JD and the list of sites remaining on the route trying to figure where the madman's next bomb would explode. Each time he looked up at the map he saw JD's mouth moving frantically until one time he looked up and realized that JD had stopped and was looking at him as if for an answer.
Trapped he tried for a safe approach, and he shrugged his shoulders, tilted his head slightly and said, "Well... I don't know JD..." and waited for the verdict.
"Yes, I supposed you'd say that, so, I'm going to try my ideas and see if I can figure this out." With that JD headed to his desk, booted up his computer and began to work.
Phew, Buck thought. That was close.
Glancing into Chris' office he saw the tell tale signs that Chris had stayed there overnight. He grinned inwardly as he remembered the stern order Chris had given the team that, despite the lack of progress on the next location, they all needed proper rest or mistakes would be made due to fatigue. He and JD had dragged themselves home but neither had rested much instead they worked from home digging for answers.
Vin and Ezra had headed to Ezra's place for the night. For once Vin didn't retreat at Ezra's insistence he stay with him. Buck figured Vin was not only grateful for Ezra's quick thinking that had saved them from serious injury but also knew that it was the best way to keep Nathan from hovering and Chris from worrying.
Buck returned to his desk and placed his coat on the back of his chair, it was then he noticed a sheet of folded paper with his name printed on the front in Chris' handwriting. He picked it up and was about to read it when the elevator doors dinged and he looked over to see Nathan entering. "Hey, Buck, JD, where's everybody else?" he asked while going to his desk
JD was so engrossed in his work at the computer he merely grunted but Buck smiled and said, "Well, here's a note from our leader himself. Let's see what it says." Unfolding the paper he read aloud.
"Vin and Ezra walking the street route searching for clues. Josiah and I will be in later. Cell phone on, fully charged, call if necessary."
"Well, that explains everything," said Buck as he crumpled the note and swished it into his trash can.
"Again? They are walking the streets again? Since what time? Don't tell me they've been there since last night? I will kill them! I'm sure it was Vin's idea! That boy's gonna kill himself getting a pneumonia this time... and he's gonna kill Ezra in the process, but I swear, when I get them both, they will regret going there without my authorization" Nathan stopped as he realized both JD and Buck were grinning at him.
"Yes, I know I'm a mother hen, and yes, I know we're running out of time and clues. Sometimes I get frustrated, too, between trying to keep you all healthy and..." Nathan stopped as he realized they were teasing him and all three allowed themselves a much need laugh if for no other reason then to ease the tension.
"Now, to work; where are you guys at this morning?"
JD looked up from his computer. "Well, I'm going back to trying to figure out the location of the next bomb based on the email he sent last night. I'm hoping I can narrow down the location before it goes off as opposed to recognizing the location based upon after it goes off."
"Okay," Nathan replied slowly as he looked at Buck and recognized that this was the second go around on this topic. "So, what else have you got going on, since your printer is spewing paper like crazy?"
"Here's a print out on Rudolph Charles Stanton. I had a separate program do a full background check on him and here are the results."
He started reading the file "Rudolph worked for the bus company several years, until he had a heated discussion with his boss, something about the change in the route, now that's strange. Well, after that he quit and went to work for an air conditioning company here in Denver, then as a security guard for a mall in Salt Lake City, came back after his mother's death. I can't find anything after that. It's like he'd been avoiding any contact with everybody. Spoke to a friend of his from the bus company last night, and he said he quit calling him, something was strange with him after his mother died, that he was kinda... creepy, were his exact words."
"Creepy hardly covers it. There has to be something..." reasoned Buck taking the complete stack of paper from JD and starting to read.
"All right, JD. Buck and I'll work on Stanton's file while you work on finding the location through the computer trace."
With that each man fell silent each trying to source a clue, anything to stop the next bomb from going off. Nathan brushed his concern aside over Vin and Ezra being out on the cold Denver streets yet again. Neither man was at 100% after yesterday's incident but, he reasoned to himself, he knew if the roles were reversed, he would be doing the same thing.
11:50 a.m. 25th and Franklin, Denver:
And to think this time I agreed to do this without any arm twisting. Ezra was beginning to think this was the worst nightmare ever but then stopped. Every time he had that thought the next nightmare was worse and not wanting to jinx the future, he dropped that line of thinking and instead pulled out his cell phone.
It was almost noon, and he still had no clue at all. He heard Vin's voice on the other end.
"Hey, Ez, I'm at Franklin and 20th, close to the hospital, what about you?"
"Well I'm at 25th and Franklin. I'll meet you at 22nd and we'll grab a bit of refreshment to sustain ourselves, my treat."
"Meet ya there" and he cut the call. Yes, Vin was a man of few words. Pocketing his phone he headed in Vin's direction all the while looking for any clues to the bomber's next location.
"It's risky I know, but we have to draw him out." Chris and Josiah were heading back to his truck having completed their morning plan. Both men agreed on the course of action despite knowing the desperate risks that were inherent. At this point they had no choice.
Both men climbed into the truck and Chris started the engine. Letting it idle for a few moments he decided to check in with Vin.
"Hey, Cowboy, 'bout time you checked in."
Despite himself Chris couldn't help but grin as he heard Vin's tired but still cocky voice crackle in his ear.
"Yeah, well, I knew you'd be worrying and all if I didn't check in every couple of hours or so seeing that I've been nearly blown up, half froze, running on about zero sleep, cut up, bruised..."
"All right, all right. You done being all melodramatic like, you smart aleck Texan, find anything?" Chris switched from joking to serious in a blink of an eye.
"No Chris, nothing at all. I'm sorry. I thought it was the best way, after the blast in that tour shop..."
Suddenly Vin's voice disappeared as a deafening roar filled the phone's receiver. Chris winced as the sound assaulted his ear and held the phone away. Startled, Josiah turned to look at him concern deepening his face as he saw fear flood into Chris' eyes.
"Vin!! Vin, answer me!!!" Chris was frantic. He could hear the sounds of moaning and knew in his heart it was Vin. Then he heard the sound of Vin's breathing loud and ragged. In the background he heard screams and shouting and all through the melee of noise he heard the wrenching sounds of Vin gasping for air and moaning in pain.
"Where are you? Vin, talk to me pal. Tell me where you are. We'll come to you. Vin, VIN!!"
Keeping the phone to his ear Chris turned to Josiah, "Call Ezra."
Josiah hit his speed dial and was just connecting with Ezra's phone when he saw Chris hold up his hand.
Chris held the phone away slightly and Josiah inclined his head and they both heard Ezra's voice on the other end.
"Vin, Vin, it's Ezra. My God, I've got you." The utter fear and lack of Ezra's normal stoicism tightened the fear in Chris and Josiah's guts. It had to be bad.
"Hurts... Ez... what...?" Vin's voice, full of pain, sounded faint through the receiver.
"Don't move. We're right by Exempla Saint Joseph. I've got you. I'll get you there." With those words the phone went silent. Chris didn't know if it was because they moved away, the battery died or what. All he knew was that his connection to his two friends had been lost.
"Exempla Saint Joseph's Hospital...that's on Franklin near 22nd right, Josiah?"
"That it is brother. I'll call the others."
Chris threw the truck into gear flipped on his lights and sirens and sped through the streets of Denver.
While Chris and Josiah sped via truck through the streets of Denver, Ezra found speed and strength he didn't know existed in his body.
Barely two minutes earlier he had been wearily trudging up the street to Vin. He had seen the slim Texan, bundled in layer after layer of clothing that still did nothing to add bulk to his frame, talking on his phone. He figured it was mother Larabee checking in.
Then, in horror he watched as Vin was lifted in the air and thrown until he crashed to the ground in a heap that lay limp and still. His mind kept replaying the scene over and over as if in slow motion and each time the focus became clearer and clearer until every detail was etched indelibly into his brain. He knew he would never lose that memory of a man so different from him but yet dearer in friendship than he would ever have imagined was flung without care through the air and dropped as if lifeless to the unforgiving ground.
It wouldn't be until later that Ezra was able to recognize that Vin was not caught directly in the blast but rather was shielded from all but the blast wave. Had it not been for what he landed on, he would likely have picked himself up, dusted himself off and counted a new set of scrapes and bruises in his constantly growing collection.
However, at this moment in time, Ezra had no such thoughts. Without fear for his own safety he raced towards the scene and reached his still and bloody friend. Shakily he reached for Vin's throat and breathed a sigh as he felt the pulse. Looking down he saw the blood pouring from the gash in Vin's thigh where he had come to rest on a shard of glass, likely from a thrown beer bottle judging from the dark green color.
"Vin, Vin, it's Ezra. My God, I've got you."
"Hurts... Ez... what...?" Ezra felt momentary relief to hear Vin's voice despite it's weakness.
"Don't move. We're right by Exempla Saint Joseph. I've got you. I'll get you there."
Tying a handkerchief above the injury tightly he lifted Vin in a fireman's carry and raced with a strength he didn't know he had and wouldn't remember down the street the two blocks to the hospital
"Nathan, JD we gotta move." Buck pocketed his phone and grabbed his jacket not waiting to see if the others were coming, he knew they would follow first, question on the way.
"What is it, Buck?"
"That was Josiah - bomb blew somewhere on Franklin - Vin's hurt, Ezra's there, Josiah and Chris are headed to the Exempla hospital that's nearby."
With that the three men ran down the stairs not bothering to wait for the elevator.
Ezra paced the waiting room area not taking his eyes off the door that Vin had disappeared through moments before.
He had shocked the doctor and nurse who had been sneaking a cigarette outside the ambulance bay when he raced up with the blood from Vin's leg staining his clothes. Without a question the nurse raced inside, yelled for a stretcher and the doctor pulled on gloves from his coat pocket and immediately assisted in lowering Vin to the stretcher that met them just inside the door. The stretcher, Vin, the doctor and others disappeared through the door into the ER leaving the gasping Ezra standing there with a stunned nurse who moved toward him cautiously gauging the blood on his clothes.
"Not mine. His. I'm not hurt." Ezra was too exhausted and yes, frightened to attempt words bigger than one syllable. Nodding the nurse beckoned for him to follow her to the registration area, there he removed his outer jacked, folded the bloody part inside so he wouldn't look at it and began the process of filling out the forms his mind mechanically calling up the necessary information that each member was required to memorize for the others.
Now, with the forms completed he had nothing to do but pace and worry and...damn, he'd better call the others. Just as he reached for his cell phone he heard the sliding entrance door open and the distinctive footsteps of Chris. Looking up Ezra saw as Chris and Josiah rapidly entered the room and run up to him.
He was amazed as Chris walked straight up to him and steadied him by placing both hands on his shoulders.
"Ezra, sit before you fall."
Ezra allowed himself to be guided to a chair amazed that Chris and Josiah were here. How could they know?
"We heard everything, brother. Vin was on the phone with us, when he fell, the line stayed open. We know what you did." Before Ezra could gather his thoughts to respond the door from the ER to the waiting room opened and a doctor appeared.
"Who's here with Vin Tanner?"
"We are, doctor. Right here, How is he?" If the doctor was surprised by the three men answering at the same time he didn't show it.
"I'm Doctor Jerry Hamills. I tended to Mr. Tanner. He's lost a fair amount of blood. We're giving him more to replace that. The wound is deep. We removed the chunk of glass; unfortunately it was from the bottom of a beer bottle where it's the thickest so it's a bad injury but not life threatening in any way." He paused to allow the three men to absorb that news and take the deep reassuring breaths needed. Then he continued.
"We've cleaned the wound thoroughly, sutured it and bandaged it. He's resting pretty well right now. We've got him on some IV fluids to reduce the shock and help with the blood loss, sir, if you hadn't tied that tourniquet to his leg and carried him here so quickly it would have been a lot worse."
Ezra started to tilt with the news but Chris and Josiah were there to steady him. Unbelievably relieved he felt the intense exhaustion take its toll and was aware that Josiah was guiding him to a chair while Chris disappeared into the ER to see Vin.
Opening the door to Vin's room Chris breathed a sigh of relief. Vin lay in the bed, pale, IV line running into one arm, blood running into the other, leg swathed in bandages and elevated by several pillows, but he was alive. Quietly Chris closed the door behind him hoping he wouldn't disturb his friend. He should have known better as Vin's eyes fluttered open and a small smile spread across his ashen face.
"I swear one of these days you will be the end of me."
"Sorry `bout that. It's getting so a guy can't take a walk on the street anymore."
"I hear ya, pal. I hear, ya." Chris settled heavily in the chair next to Vin. "You were lucky. Doc says you're going to be fine."
"Nearly blown up two times in as many days; not sure that's the kind of luck I want to keep having."
"That's not what I meant. I meant you were lucky `cause Ezra was there."
A sound at the door caused Chris to turn. Ezra had quietly entered and overheard Chris' remark. He stood, framed in the door opening with his mouth agape at hearing such praise. Chris rose from the chair and indicated Ezra should sit down. Recovering his composure quickly he stood aside to allow Chris to exit. Chris stopped as he drew abreast of Ezra and leaned close to the undercover agent.
"I meant what I said, Ezra. We're all real lucky you were there. Thank you."
Ezra's green eyes reflected the gratitude that shone from Chris' and the two men nodded in understanding. Chris left Vin and Ezra together so both could reassure the other that they were really alright.
"Heard you set a new record for carrying fools who get blown up to the emergency room."
"You my friend are anything but a fool, and yes, I do believe I made quite a show stopping entrance to this faire medical facility."
Ezra sat in the chair recently vacated by Chris and studied Vin's pale face and closed eyes. He knew Vin only had a few more moments until sleep would overtake him again, but he didn't want him to be alone and Chris had ordered him to stay with Vin for the time being. It was an order he was more than willing to obey.
"I don't get, Ez. Why there, why a car, what did we miss?"
"I don't know, Vin, but we'll find out. Get some rest."
Ezra sat back as moments later Vin's breathing evened out and he knew his friend was getting the rest he desperately needed.
Friday Afternoon - somewhere in Denver
The day was glorious, the sun was shining in the sky and although, it was too cold to be seated in the park, he liked to be there, and he needed it. He googled in the newscast and found what he'd been looking for.
Yes! Now they were covering it the right way "Car bomb blows up in the streets - casualties and damage report". This sounded better now; they weren't denying the fact that a bomb had done that. Still not so many injured, maybe he'd have to do this again in summer time, when there were more people in the streets...
He went through the article and was satisfied by the amount of information concerning the investigation. The Mayor was on it, the FBI, bomb squad, fire department and ATF, yes the ones that he'd seen in the Zoo. He remembered the uniform with those yellow letters on the back. So they were trying to figure out why the bomb had been there, but there wasn't anything about the links between this one and the last. So they were hiding information...Mmmm that was bad... they will have to learn the hard way...
Then his eyes caught another report, and he scanned it quickly growing angrier as he read. Special Vigil at City Hall in Downtown Denver tomorrow night for all the victims of this past week's destruction. The Mayor, Cardinal Mathews will be there and leaders from many other organizations, churches and agencies will be onsite to hold a candlelight vigil and prayers for all those injured and for the destruction that has occurred in our city.
We will also be offering prayers for the lost and misguided soul who has been causing so many of these incidents. It is only due to the intelligence and diligence of our city's law enforcement agencies, the combined efforts of the public and governmental forces pulling together that this mad man hasn't achieved his aim which is to cause complete destruction. The Mayor will be offering congratulations to the men and women in law enforcement who have thwarted this pathetic excuse for a human's attempt to throw our city into full blown panic.
At the writing of this story the net is closing tight on the deranged man who is being condemned by all for his actions. As a mother, I can tell you I would be ashamed to call this pathetic excuse for a human being my son. Whoever you are, rest assured, you will not be long remembered. I will be there tomorrow to pray for the injured, and I will pray for your lost soul. I will pray that you somehow receive forgiveness and guidance for your ways. I will pray all that much harder that my beloved son will never know of you or ever become like you.
Story by: Mary Travis, Reporter, Rocky Mountain News, Denver, Colorado
Condemning him? Him, Rudolph? They were daring to call him lost, poor, misguided. He would show them. Glancing around him to assure himself no one was near he read the article again and again. The battery was beginning to lose its charge so he shut down his computer. He'd have to find another site with wireless internet access but he needed electricity as well. There was a coffeehouse just across the street from the park. He half ran to the shop, selected a seat and plugged his computer in to charge while he continued to read.
5:30 p.m.: Team 7's office:
Chris was in his office, phone to his ear, as Buck leaned against the doorframe watching. "Yes Mary, thanks, it was perfect, no, no, no, it sounded great... yes, dinner next Saturday, I'll be there at 7, sharp." He cut the phone call and looked to Buck's face that showed a big grin.
"So you've got a date all by yourself stud! Amazing!" joked Buck, they wouldn't let this joke Vin had played him go away anytime soon; that was starting to annoy him, but thinking back to the latest events... he was glad to have them all around, the jokes showed they were getting more and more relaxed even knowing what was about to happen tomorrow.
Walking past Buck smacking him in the back of the head on his way out he called out to JD, "JD, did you figure out the reason for today's location. Did anyone? Ezra, Josiah?"
Ezra was seated at his desk and like the rest looked worn out. His usual immaculate appearance had given way to what for anyone else would appear to be normal business attire but for Ezra, with no jacket on, shirt sleeves rolled up was equivalent to casual Friday.
Ezra had stayed at the hospital until Vin's transfusion was complete. The doctors indicated that as long as he didn't develop a fever and had two more IV bags of fluids run into him he could be released. They agreed he would be picked up approximately 6 o'clock that evening and stay at Ezra's place again.
"I've been pondering on our unhinged adversary's choice of milieu this day and have yet to have any epiphany of rationale. The only thought I had of any use was that Blitzen in German means lightning. However, that particular discovery has failed to, how shall I say - enlighten me as to why he chose the corner of Franklin and 22nd Street."
"Wait a minute. That's it!" JD jumped up from his chair unable to contain his excitement. As the others just stared at him blankly he shook his head unable to contain his excitement. "Don't you guys see? Franklin and 22nd? This guy is crazy but he is really, really clever!"
"All right, JD, since you figured it out, why don't you just tell us what is it!" Buck sat in his chair and rolled it close to JD's desk, popped his feet on the desk and leaned back to listen.
"Don't you see... oh, yeah, I already said that. Ezra, Blitzen in German means lightning. Who discovered the use of lightning? Benjamin FRANKLIN.... And today is December 22nd, so it's Franklin and 22nd Street, easy, huh?"
Everybody in the room looked at him in astonishment, the silence grew between them for seconds, and the first one to talk was Josiah "Well, if I were looking at it in front of my eyes, I still wouldn't have seen this coming brother and I'm supposed to be the profiler of the group."
"Great, we figured it out after it put Mr. Tanner in the hospital"
"Hey, Ezra, take it easy on yourself. None of us saw that coming."
"Yeah, but we've put a plan in motion that should make sure he's where we want him to be for tomorrow. He may have been playing with us and leading us by the nose, but not any longer."
Looking at the clock Chris saw it was already 5:40 p.m.
"All right everyone. Let's pack it up from here and take it to Ezra's place. Nathan is going to be bringing Vin there and we should all arrive about the same time. Ezra, any delivery places near where you live?"
"Why yes, there's a great little French restaurant that will deliver, and if you've a mind for some of the best sushi..." as multiple sets of eyes stared blankly at him Ezra decided to switch gears, "never mind. We'll pick up pizza along the way."
8:30 p.m. Friday Night Ezra's place
The seven men lounged about the great room in Ezra's home. Vin was bundled in blankets in a reclining chair, his leg elevated by the design of the chair and several pillows underneath. On the table, within easy reach, were his pain pills, antibiotics and a glass of water.
Nathan was willing to leave him be happy that, although, he was still very pale and wobbly he had eaten a slice of pizza, well that part didn't make Nathan happy but it sure made Vin happy and also eaten some of the delicious soup Ezra insisted they stop and pick up from the Chinese restaurant that made everything fresh each day.
When JD had explained to both Nathan and Vin the rationale behind the location of the bomb both men had been stunned at the blatant clue and realized that it was sheer luck (as lady luck was fickle and could be good or bad, Ezra had reminded them) that Vin was standing there when the bomb went off.
"Okay, everybody, let's go through this so we can all get some shut eye. You all had a chance to read Mary's byline this afternoon. Well, it's been picked up and broadcast on all the evening news regarding the "Vigil" tomorrow afternoon. Now this is extremely risky on multiple levels. First off, he better come, but Josiah assures me that this Rudolph Stanton will feed off all the disgust Mary is dishing out at him and will be drawn like a moth to the light and attack at the Vigil. The second and potentially more lethal problem and one I can't for the life of me believe got approved is that this is a real vigil. The Mayor, the Cardinal and the public will be there. So, JD, tell us about this amazing piece of technology that's going to ensure the safety of the public."
"The ATF has been testing this for over a year. It was developed by a group at MIT, and it's amazing what it can do. I thought I might need it in this case and asked the Judge for special permission, and he agreed. It's top secret, too, and still in the testing phase, oh, yeah I already said that. Okay. It's very interesting how it works, because it's based on the gas chromatograph but at the same time it isn't one.
JD didn't notice the lost looks exchanged between his colleagues, he was so engrossed in his explanation.
"I asked one of the developers if it could detect the TNT and other plastics Rudolph had been using in his bombs, and they said it would. It's a very little device, so I can show two of you how it works and you can mingle through the crowd checking for places that Rudolph may have explosives.
I've also been talking with the bomb squad and have the frequencies that are used for remote detonated bombs, you know, in case he changes his MO and decides to use a remote detonator instead of his usual timer. Now this is the good stuff.
Chris and Buck just exchanged shrugs that seemed to say "Of course, this is the good stuff." Unperturbed, JD continued on.
"I sort of made a filter to take these frequency bands out of the spectrum allowed inside of the building, so if he's using the same spectrum, it won't work." He waited for the information to sink in the brains of the men with him, but seeing they showed blank looks he elaborated a bit more so they would understand his explanation.
"I mean, when he presses the button to make the bomb blow, or when the clock sends the signal, it won't go anywhere" still blank faces "it won't work, no BOOM at all."
"You built a jammin device."
"Exactly, Vin." JD grinned, finally someone understood. Vin leaned back and grinned. People tended to underestimate JD because of his youth, lack of experience, youthful energy that was boundless, but the truth of the matter was that JD was brilliant. Vin wondered if he got that kind of confidence because he was so smart or because he just didn't know that some things might not be possible? Either way, Vin was glad JD was on their side.
"Josiah and I took a tour of City Hall this afternoon. We went over every inch of the blueprints as well. Denver PD will have the usual security protocols in place, metal detectors, bomb sniffing dogs, but this guy, crazy that he is, has been able to manipulate situations and get himself right where he wants to be."
Josiah hesitated for moment before picking up where Buck left off "Nathan, I know you won't like this, but I can tell you where Vin needs to be hidden. We need him there. We need to own the high ground. Vin, I'll go over the building design with you and show you the spot I believe you would pick yourself. Now, Chris, just hold on. I plan to be there with him. I'll get him situated, and I'll stay with him. You know if we leave him behind, he'd just find his own way to us anyway. Better we take him along and keep an eye on him."
"You know, I'm in the room and capable of understandin the spoken word."
The group chuckled to relieve the growing tension. JD's eyes flicked back and forth, he wasn't sure who was more upset about this development, Chris or Nathan. He knew he felt better knowing Vin was covering them from above but he was worried. Vin looked so pale that if he had been wrapped in a white blanket and settled in a white chair, he would hardly be able to see him.
"Okay, Josiah, I trust you" Chris at last agreed to the plan.
"Let's break this up. Everyone, especially you and you..." Nathan emphasized his words by pointing at Vin and Ezra, "need rest, rest, and rest. Let's all get a good night of sleep. Chris, are you driving all the way out to the ranch tonight?"
"No, haven't been there for several days. Charlie Peterson has been looking after the horses and keeping everything in order. I'm staying here with Ezra and Vin. Somebody needs to make sure these two stay out of trouble."
"Hmph, and who keeps you out of trouble?" Muttered Nathan as he helped Josiah and Buck clear the rest of the debris from dinner.
1:30 a.m. Ezra's place
Chris had been lying in the bed for the last hour trying to sleep. His mind wouldn't rest as he continued to run through every detail for tomorrow again and again. Suddenly he stiffened as he heard the soft footfalls treading down the hallway, Ezra. Slipping from under the covers he threw a sweatshirt on over his t-shirt and followed Ezra downstairs. Reaching the kitchen he saw Ezra sitting there in his silk pajamas and thick velvet robe.
"Damn, didn't I know I needed to dress up for middle of the night snack time."
"The dress code is come as you are after midnight so your sweat pants and matching sweat shirt ensemble is entirely appropriate."
"Good to hear."
For a moment there was an uncomfortable silence between the two men. Chris decided that as the leader it was up to him to take the lead. He knew Ezra was troubled, they all were, but Ezra and Vin had been through quite a lot these last days. Chris had been spared seeing Vin and Ezra being involved in either blast, although his heart still tightened each time he remembered the sound of Vin gasping for air and groaning in pain, but he hadn't actually seen Vin picked up and tossed through the air.
"Listen, Ezra, I'm not good at this but here goes. Thank you. Thank you for saving Vin. Thank you for saving both of you the other day. I..."
Another uncomfortable silence settled between them.
"If you need to talk..."
"If I need someone to talk to..."
Both men laughed as they had spoken simultaneously. To avoid the "you first, no you first, no I insist, you first" game Ezra just pointed at Chris who glared and said:
"What I was going to say was that if you need someone to talk to, I'm sure Josiah will make time for you." Chris leaned back glad that was over until he realized that Ezra's eyes had lost their mirth of a moment before.
"Ezra, what is it?"
"Nothing, I ...just thought...perhaps..."
"Did you want to talk...to me?"
"Well, ...never mind." With that Ezra rose and brushed by Chris in his haste to exit the kitchen.
"Ezra, stop." Chris was ashamed that he had hurt the man. Dammit, he wasn't good at this sensitive stuff that was Josiah's strong point. He was staring at the back of Ezra and watched stunned as his undercover agent's shoulders seemed to shake.
"Are you...you are...you're making fun of me in the middle of the night while you're wearing silk pajamas and a velour robe..."
"Velvet, Mr. Larabee, it's a velvet robe, and yes, I am making fun of you. Rest assured, if I feel the need to talk to someone it will be Josiah, unless of course I am looking for someone to sign my expense report for that vacation I intend to take after this is over."
"I'm not signing any vacation expense report."
"But, Mr. Larabee, I saved Vin's life...twice." Chris started back to his room leaving Ezra desolately calling after him. "It would help with the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder..."
Saturday December 23rd - City Hall - 4:45 PM
Chris scanned the interior of the great hall again. He and his team were in place and the public was streaming in. The day had been spent reviewing the plans, checking their gear, rechecking their gear, calming nervous politicians, nearly impossible since despite Larabee's exterior calm his insides were churning. If this failed he would be better off being at the epicenter of the bomb `cause it wouldn't be pretty otherwise.
Josiah and Vin had secreted themselves in their perch a couple of hours ago. Vin looked much better this morning. He had rested well, thanks to that sleeping pill Nathan had crushed up and slipped into his chocolate ice cream under a mountain of whip cream.
Chris checked in with his men once again: "Josiah, Vin, you two doing well?"
"We're fine here; got a great vantage point, although it's a bit tight for two."
"Well, snuggle up boys, show time is fast approaching."
"JD, are you sure this device you have will trace the explosives? And that the thing that will prevent the bomb from blowing up, the jamming thing won't cut our communications?"
"Yes, Chris, positive on both questions." Chris waited for the remaining part of his address, but nothing came.
"JD, you okay?"
"Yes, Chris. I'm fine, just a little nervous."
"Hey, kid, nothing to it. Just sniff out some dynamite, arrest the bad guy and keep about 300 civilians safe. We'll be heroes, and ladies like heroes and boy oh boy there are some nice looking ladies here."
"Buck, keep your mind on the job."
"Hey, Chris, I am. I'm mingling, you know, walking amongst all them lovely ladies and watching for anything dangerous on this here little chromatography thing. JD, think you can get those guys at MIT to adapt this to pick up on my animal magnetism. I could use it to zero in on those little fillies..."
"Shut up, BUCK!" Up above Vin and Josiah chuckled as they looked down on the crowd and picked up Buck's wince of pain as six voices filled his ear.
It was 5:00 o'clock. Chris watched from the back of the room as the Mayor stepped to the microphone and began the introductions. Chris' eyes continued to sweep the room mapping the location of each of his men.
Nathan was behind the stage close to the dignitaries and coordinating with the security there. Buck and Ezra moved on either side of the hall checking their readouts. JD was in the control room located down front and to the side with tinted windows that allowed occupants to see out but not the other way around. Vin and Josiah, of course, were directly overhead hidden in the catwalk above the hall. Chris didn't allow himself to look up; he didn't want to give away their position.
As the Mayor finished his little speech and turned the speaker's podium over to the Cardinal, Josiah glanced away from the action down below and looked Vin over. The whole time they had been in position Vin had been watching through his rifle scope. For over two hours the two of them had been squeezed into the cramped space and Josiah had had to constantly remind himself not to move. He had fidgeted once but had bumped Vin's leg in the process and, while Vin hadn't uttered a sound, Josiah knew he had hurt the man.
Now, Josiah could see the beads of sweat covering Vin's features and noticed the faint trembles that shook the lean frame occasionally.
"Vin, did you take your meds today?"
There was no answer, Vin was concentrating. "Hey, Vin, the meds?"
"Huh?" was the only answer, now Josiah was sure that Vin wasn't up to this, he'd call one of the snipers in the SWAT team.
"That's it; I'm calling Cameron to get in here. We're going down" he said to Vin.
That startled Vin and while he didn't stop looking through the rifle scope he did answer Josiah "No, `siah, I can do it, don't worry, I won't disappoint you."
Josiah smiled. It was at moments like this he remembered how young Vin was. Josiah never doubted the man's abilities and experience but the answer he had just given summed up so much that he did and didn't know about Vin, for it was an answer a teenager would have given a parent "No, Vin, I know you won't disappoint me, but I asked you if you had taken your meds this morning."
Vin hesitated then shook his head slightly. "No, can't afford to blur my thoughts. I can do this, Josiah. Been hurt worse than this and done my..."
Josiah watched as Vin alerted on something down below. The slight tremble he had been aware of rippling through Vin's frame was stilled. Josiah realized he had never been right next to their sharpshooter when he was hunting, and he marveled again at the depth of control in one so young.
"Chris, I got him, by the third window from the door, overcoat, grey, he's moving steadily toward the platform. Everyone else is either seated or standing still, this guy is the only one outside of our people moving. I caught a glimpse of his profile, the identification sheet on the guy showed he has a deformed nose, well I'm looking at it through my scope."
Chris watched from the rear of the room as each of his men moved into position. Buck was closest to the perp. Why hadn't the signaling device alerted?
Buck got right up behind the man, Chris signaled him to hold, if the guy had a remote control...Chris didn't like to doubt JD and the technology that had worked so well in the past but the perp had passed within feet of Buck and there had been no reading, what if the jamming device didn't work?
Then everything seemed to move in slow motion, Chris slipped through the crowd like a cat, melting with the people. Ezra had moved to intercept the man to keep him from getting closer to the stage. Rudolph hadn't noted anything at all until he saw Mary seated on the stage flick her eyes from the Cardinal who was speaking to Chris who was coming up on the perp. That slight movement in her sight caused him to pause and glance around him. He saw Chris and remembered him from the Zoo as well as from the nightclub when Chris had momentarily been illuminated by a streetlamp.
"Chris, he saw you, he's putting his hand in his right pocket now" said Josiah.
Vin watched ignoring the discomfort in his body, prepared to shoot. He saw Rudolph cup his hands to his chest as if he were in pain. From his angle he saw the flicker of flame for a brief second and the realization hit him; not wanting to risk anybody down there he said
"Chris, he's lighting a fuse! I have a shot, I have a shot. Am I cleared for the shot?"
Larabee didn't hesitate. If the crowd was alerted to the danger there would be chaos and Vin would lose his shot.
Vin compressed his lips, held his breath and squeezed the trigger. The echo reverberated through the hall and Vin watched through his scope as Rudolph went down and remained still. Vin let out the breath he had been holding as he saw his team secure the man. As he allowed himself to relax, secure that it was over the pain and exhaustion that he had been holding at bay flooded through his body. Josiah rested his hand on his back as Vin closed his eyes glad Josiah was there; he wouldn't have been able to get down on his own.
The stillness on the catwalk was in stark contrast to the bedlam in the hall below. The crowd immediately panicked as the gunshot cracked through the air. Security flung open all the doors at the sides and the back of the Hall to allow the people to flood out of the hall. The Mayor and the Cardinal were whisked off the stage by their security staff and taken to safety.
In less than three minutes the hall was cleared. Chris stood over the body of the man who had terrorized the city for the last week. Ezra, Buck and Nathan were coordinating with the various security and law enforcement agencies in securing the site. JD had exited the control room and was standing over the body that had been covered with a blanket.
"I don't understand why didn't the dynamite register on the scale?"
Wordlessly Chris pulled back the blanket to reveal the sticks of dynamite that were strapped to Rudolph Stanton's chest. He had enclosed them in plastic wrap to further seal them to his body and that along with the large shirt, sweatshirt, and waterproof coat that he had over all of the explosives was enough to keep it from registering. What he had left was a small opening in the middle of his chest and from it protruded about an inch of length of a fuse.
"He was going to light the fuse, as if he was a candle..."
"Yeah, JD. He wanted everyone to know his name, and he would have gone down in history."
10:00 p.m. December 23rd...Chris' ranch:
Chris picked his way through the pile of legs, bags, paper plates and beverage cups to put another log on the fire. Then he turned back and looked at his friends and yes, family as they relaxed in his family room, that's what it was, a family in the room.
While there were still many details and reports to be completed and he and the team would have to complete those reports in the morning, tonight they could relax; truly and finally relax. As usual, without planning the group had decided to stay at Chris' for the night. After the last eight days of tension and nearly round the clock work, none of them wanted to leave the company of the other needing the reassuring presence of their teammates to remind themselves this was, in fact, over.
Chris chuckled trying to remind himself that he was the one that usually shunned company but he needed them to be here as much as they did. Rain had decided that if you can't beat them you might as well join them and had arrived with Nathan and their portable air mattress. She had set it up in the den complete with pillows and blanket and the two of them had their sleeping place staked out for the night. Chris, Vin and Ezra and Josiah had claimed the remaining beds leaving Buck and JD to wrestle or flip a coin for who got the couch and who got sleeping bags on the floor.
Looking around Chris realized that in a little over 24 hours it would be Christmas, he hadn't strung any lights or garland, he hadn't picked up a tree, so of course it wasn't decorated, there was no wreath on the door or turkey in the fridge. He hadn't even bought a present much last wrapped one, nor had he written a card.
Stopping at Vin's side where he was once again bundled in blankets, leg elevated in the reclining chair he shook out one of his pain pills and nudged his drowsing friend.
"Take your medicine. No more heroics." Vin swallowed the pill with a sip of water and then closed his eyes again.
"Think I might have time to do a little shopping now. Vin, what do you want for Christmas?" Chris figured he'd have to start his list and get going.
"mmsleep." Mumbled Vin.
"What? I didn't understand?"
Vin pulled one eye open a crack and steadied his gaze on Chris, "I said, All I Want For Christmas is sleep."
A chorus of me toos, that's what I want, at least a week's worth and halleluiah and amen to that brother greeted Chris' ears from the rest of the team.
"Well, good then. My shopping is all done. Lights, out, sleep tight."
He flicked off the lights in the room and settled by the fireplace to listen to the crackle of the logs in the fireplace.