Main Character(s): Seven, Damon Spencer, other villains
Author's Note: This is the third and final installment of the Damon Spencer series. The first two fics were called Nemesis and Bane. Reading the first two sets up the characters for this one, but I wouldn't recommend reading all three at once. This fic came about partially due to emails I received, asking if there would be another story with Damon Spencer. Thanks in advance for the feedback, and I hope this is a satisfactory conclusion to Team Seven's ongoing struggle with Damon Spencer.
"That's the third bank this month!" Buck exclaimed. "And the local police department keeps referring it to us because--"
"Because the perpetrators leave a bottle of bourbon, a pack of expensive cigarettes, and a single, loaded handgun in the emptied vaults," JD concluded, shaking his head in frustration. "I know, Buck. What are we supposed to do about it?"
Nate, Josiah and Ezra had gone to check out the scene of the latest robbery. Chris had ordered that those three be the ones to go when the local PD called for an assist on the case. He was hoping that Ezra's insight into the criminals' psyche, Josiah's experience with reading the psychological clues left at a crime scene, and Nathan's opinion on the amount of force used would help turn up some leads. Though this was not officially an ATF case, AD Travis was expecting Team Seven to solve it, before anyone else was hurt. Exiting his office and hearing JD's listless comment, Chris stated, "We're supposed to find something that the locals haven't. How is that video analysis coming along?" Chris asked, referring to the few frames of security footage that had not been destroyed by the team of bank robbers.
"Slowly," JD grumbled. "The robbers used some kind of modified radio frequency that overrode the recording capabilities of the security. At the same time, they ran a loop of normal footage through to the remote viewing station at the bank's central office, just outside of the city. That takes some serious hacking ability. . .but they messed up. They should have made the transmission appear to come from the bank, but instead it came from a nearby building--that's what alerted the authorities that something was wrong. I wouldn't have made that mistake," JD muttered under his breath, and then continued in a louder voice. "Still, it's a pretty slick move for your average bank robbers."
Buck's eyes had glazed over about halfway through JD's explanation. In contrast, Vin's gaze was full of mischief and interest from where he stood in the doorway to the Team Seven office area. He had just returned with lunch for the team. "Good thing you're on our side, JD," Vin observed dryly, a small smirk on his features. "Who wants Chinese?"
Buck, Chris, and JD followed Vin to the conference room and shoveled the rice, egg rolls and various sauces, vegetables, and meat onto their individual plates. After a few minutes of eating, Chris noted, "Average bank robbers don't massacre everyone inside a bank. That's why this case is so important. Given the current state of the economy, the politicians don't want people to be afraid to go to the bank."
"Do you think the robbers have a political motive?" Buck asked. That was not an angle they had considered before.
Chris shrugged. "I'll have Ez run that down when he gets back, but I don't think so. No politician wants the city to go through hard times during his term, and the ones that aren't in office wouldn't want to inherit this kind of situation."
"You know who these crimes remind me of?" JD suggested. The reaction of the men was immediate and violent. Buck growled, Chris glared and Vin scowled. JD suspected that Buck still hadn't forgiven JD for making himself a target the last time Team Seven had dealt with the infamous murderer Damon Spencer, that Chris' pride was still smarting at being captured by the British criminal, and that Vin disliked the fact that both he and Spencer were snipers.
"That bastard is in prison, which is better than he deserves," Buck declared flatly, and the expressions on both Chris and Vin's faces echoed the sentiment.
JD grimaced uncomfortably. He had become a lawman to safeguard the helpless and uphold the law. Hearing his teammates and friends talk about a criminal like this. . .like they could not wait to mete out what Josiah would call 'Old Testament justice,' made JD nervous. Suddenly, JD lost his appetite. "Yeah, well. . .I'll get back to work," JD said, trying to excuse himself from the conference room without letting the other's know his conflicted feelings on the difficult subject of justice as it pertained to Damon Spencer.
"You barely ate," Vin protested, but JD only smirked.
"You've hardly touched your food," JD countered, "which means you're saving room for that chocolate bar in the bottom drawer of your desk."
JD ducked out of the room while Vin stammered in amazement that JD had discovered the hiding place for his chocolate stash, Buck laughed at Vin's discomfort, and Chris silently approved of JD's deductive reasoning.
Sighing in relief, JD sat down at his desk. The truth was. . .it had been only two months since Team Seven had succeeded in apprehending Damon Spencer, and JD had not completely adjusted yet. It had been eight weeks since the members of Team Seven had believed their leader to be dead, and nearly the same amount of time since JD had used himself as bait to distract Damon Spencer while the rest of the team mounted a rescue. JD still could not believe that the murderer, bank robber and 'sniper of some skill'--as the late Interpol agent Michael Greenway had classified him--was finally in prison. In fact, JD had been keeping tabs on the criminal, using the electronic back ways through the British prison system to assure himself that Spencer had not escaped. Thus, when the phone on JD's desk rang, he was uneasy, but not overly anxious.. He did not expect to hear Damon Spencer's voice on the other end of the line.
"Agent Dunne speaking, how may I transfer your call?" JD answered the phone with his usual greeting. Though it was possible someone was calling for him, the short time he had been assigned to ATF Team Seven coupled with JD's relative lack of experience compared to the rest of the team members meant that, for the most part, people were accidently connected to the his extension. More than likely, the call would be from AD Travis or a prosecution lawyer, wanting to confirm the details of a case with Chris.
"Agent Dunne, what a singular pleasure it is to know that you are again hard at work. Is the criminal element of Denver living up to your expectations? I hear there have been some particularly bloody robberies this past month. I hope they are not causing you undue consternation."
JD felt his chest constrict in fear and anger as he recognized the voice. "Why are you wasting a phone call to contact me from prison?" JD asked, his tone startled and angry. "What do you want?"
Spencer chuckled, sounding almost fatherly. "You have no patience," Damon exclaimed mildly, "and no talent for inference, but there are a few skills you possess which would be useful to me."
JD started to turn on his computer, intending to trace the call, because his gut instincts were screaming that something was not right.. An imprisoned Damon Spencer would not be this calm and collected, and he would not be asking favors from one of his arresting officers. Therefore, JD feared, Damon Spencer was no longer in prison. "Where are you?" JD demanded, albeit quietly. Until he confirmed his suspicions, JD did not want to worry the other members of Team Seven.
"Ahh, perhaps you can claim a glimmer of intelligence despite your youth," Damon responded, almost conversationally. "Do not run a trace on this call or alert your teammates to my. . .liberation."
JD's stomach plummeted, and he was glad that he had not consumed much of the Chinese food that Vin had brought back to the office. "Why not?"
"If you do, my next robbery will be twice as bloody," Damon asserted, as though he were merely discussing the week's forecast.
JD was momentarily speechless, but his mind sped. He had been careful, had kept track of Damon Spencer, this should not be possible. . .
"Agent Dunne?" Damon Spencer's serene, amused voice dragged JD back from the whirlwind of denial that his thoughts were producing.
"Yes. . ." JD finally managed to reply in the barest whisper.
"Good, I thought I had lost you for a moment," Damon Spencer replied. "My time in prison allowed me sufficient opportunity to realize my mistakes," Spencer explained. "During our first encounter, I did not attempt to deal with your team at all. For my second appearance, I tried to drive Team Seven apart by faking your leader's demise. Something you said caused me to reconsider my approach." "Really," JD remarked, his voice dripping with sarcasm, "what could I possibly have taught you?" Maybe he'd been spending too much time around Ezra.
Damon Spencer snorted, sounding uncomfortably similar to Buck when JD had said something bluntly honest. "You explained that lawmen have an overbearing concern to protect the innocent, regardless of a criminal's actions. If you want the next robbery to be as peaceful as possible, you will travel to the intersection of Blake Street and Auraria Parkway . Make an excuse to your superior that will give you a twelve-hour head start, and leave your weapon at the office. You have fifteen minutes, or we will begin without you."
"Wait," JD objected, "I can't get there that quickly--" the line went dead before he could finish the sentence.
"Who was that?"
JD nearly jumped in surprise, but then remembered Damon Spencer's warning. Instead he turned to face Chris smoothly. "Inez is having some trouble with her internet connection down at the Saloon, and I feel like I'm coming down with a cold, so I didn't want to go over there, but she can't even run credit cards for the customers to pay for their meals, and she's losing business. . .so I thought I would swing by the Saloon and then take the rest of the day off. I'll try to get some sleep; hopefully this is just a 24-hour bug."
"Do you want me to call Buck out here?" Chris offered, failing to keep his voice devoid of concern for the team's youngest member. "He could drive you, if you're not feeling up to it."
"Nah, I'll be fine," JD said, and then grimaced. "But when you talk to Buck, tell him to keep the festivities down to a dull roar. I'll probably be staying in my room most of the night."
Chris nodded, and JD left the office, careful not to run until he was out of sight.
JD rode his blue and red motorbike to the intersection in question and then groaned. Both the time of year and time of day had conspired to make this place the best for a man to get lost in. It was near Denver 's amusement park, as well as being the place where several major streets came together. In the post-lunch hour traffic, JD wondered how he would spot Damon Spencer in time. He parked the motorbike outside a small storefront, and walked toward the intersection, keeping his eyes peeled for any sign of Damon Spencer. He was not kept waiting for long.
A non-descript, late-model sedan pulled up to the curb near where JD was standing, and the driver honked the horn. Reluctantly, JD strode over to the car, recognized the driver as Damon Spencer, and entered via the passengers' side door when Spencer gestured for him to do so.
JD settled into the passenger seat and tried to suppress the urge to glare at Damon Spencer.
He must have failed, because Spencer smiled. "I suspect you have a question, Agent Dunne?"
JD rolled his eyes, but responded respectfully, recalling Spencer's threat about a future bloodbath if JD did not cooperate. "I've been keeping track of you since you were taken into custody. None of the records showed a release or escape. . .how did you manage that?"
Damon Spencer's eyes twinkled. "Politics is a wonderful weapon, Agent." When JD did not seem to deduce the answer from that mysterious reply, Spencer continued. "As you probably found out during your earlier investigation of me, my criminal record is a closely guarded secret. The very day I began my incarceration, I commenced planning my escape, using a few of my fellow inmates to expedite the process. When we succeeded and made our way into your country, the British authorities kept the escape out of the press. They even doctored the prison documentation to avoid a panic. Aside from my own reputation, some of the people I escaped with are. . .formidable."
JD cringed internally. This was completely his fault. The British law enforcement agencies must have updated their network security. JD suspected that Michael Greenway had probably filed a report on the shortcomings of computer security after he learned that JD knew of Damon Spencer even before the case was assigned to Team Seven. JD knew now that he should have pushed deeper into the systems, rather than accepting the hard-won information at face value, since his current company proved that information false.
Changing the subject, Damon Spencer asked, "What excuse did you give at the office?"
Staring out the window, determined not to be either intimidated or angered by Damon Spencer, JD reported, "I told Chris that I needed to help a friend with some internet problems, and that afterward I would go over to the apartment Buck and I share, because I thought I was coming down with something. If they think to call the friend I'm supposed to be helping, it will be too late. . .I'm betting you have a safe house somewhere in the city that they won't be able to trace. At least, you had a base of operations in a building across the street from the most recent bank heist. I was able to track the faked security footage to the fifth floor of a building in the vicinity."
"Has anyone ever told you that you would have made a fine criminal?" Damon Spencer suggested, his tone not entirely jesting.
JD scowled in Spencer's direction. "I'm helping you, but I don't have to enjoy it."
Damon Spencer did not bother to take his eyes off the road as he smirked and replied, "I would be disappointed if you did, Agent Dunne."
"Then why involve me at all?" JD asked, frustrated.
"Because," Damon Spencer said, suppressing a chuckle, "you handicapped me, kept me from doing what I am best at."
JD realized from Spencer's statement that the criminal had missed the violence and mayhem for the short duration of his incarceration. "Only temporarily," JD groused.
"Be that as it may," Spencer allowed, "you need to confer compensation."
"Fine," JD snapped, "my bank is up ahead. Pull over, and I'll use the ATM."
"Money is not the issue in this instance, Agent Dunne," Damon Spencer chastised lightly as he pulled into a parking garage under an office building and put the car in park. Before JD could reply with a sarcastic question as to why--if money truly was no object--all of Spencer's targets thus far had been banks, Damon Spencer concluded, "Morality is of utmost importance, and yours must be corrected. Our offices are on the fourteenth floor."
Ezra, Josiah and Nate returned from the crime scene in poor spirits. Chris met them at the entrance to the office and tilted his head, indicating that they should meet in the conference room to share their findings.
Vin and Buck were still eating lunch, but both men stopped when they saw their teammates' expressions. "That bad, huh?" Buck guessed as Josiah lowered himself laboriously into a nearby chair.
Nathan and Ezra were also moving slowly, as though they had gone on one of Vin's 'fun' hikes--which comprised traversing a fifteen-mile footpath to the middle of nowhere and then setting up camp when they arrived, using only what they had carried in on their backs--rather than just driving a short distance to a crime scene and back.
"The murders were brutal," Nate reported, his voice carefully bereft of emotion. If he thought too much about the evidence, he would lose his cool, and the rest of the team was counting on his analysis of the crime, "gratuitously cruel. Whoever was responsible for most of the deaths was a master with bladed weapons. I concluded that it must have been a specific perpetrator with sadistic tendencies, because the team of robbers took out the bank guards with only one or two shots per guard--always shots in to the heart. Everything else was overkill. It was almost as if the bank wasn't the target--"
"The tellers and customers were," Chris finished the thought. He could see that the crime scene had taken a toll on all of the men who had visited it, and since that had been an affront ordered by him, Chris did not want them to suffer any more in the retelling of it than was necessary. "JD mentioned that these three bank jobs sounded like Damon Spencer's MO," Chris broached the possibility brusquely, mainly so that he could get an honest read of his team's reactions.
Josiah frowned but nodded, wordlessly acknowledging that the crime was identical to ones Damon Spencer had been presumed guilty of in the past. Nathan looked away from the group and sighed; if the team never had to deal with Spencer again, it would still be too soon for the medic. Ezra's features were completely unreadable, which told Chris that the undercover agent was worried.
"And where, may I ask, has our youngest coworker disappeared to?" Ezra inquired, his tone light, but expression guarded.
"Inez was having computer problems at the Saloon," Chris answered. "The kid wasn't feeling well, but he agreed to stop by there on his way back to the apartment." Chris shifted his gaze from Ezra to Buck as the tall, dark-haired man started to stand, anger crossing his face rapidly. "I didn't tell you because you would worry. He's sure it's just a cold; let him get through this on his own."
Uneasy but somewhat reassured, Buck reluctantly sat back down, and the meeting continued.
Damon Spencer preceded JD out of the elevator when it arrived at the fourteenth floor. Warily, JD followed, but was still surprised when a tall, broad-shouldered man moved with amazing speed and silence to intercept JD and pin him to the nearest wall. JD flinched but did not cry out at the pain the newcomer was causing by pushing on a pressure point in JD's shoulder.
"This him?" The tall man said to Damon Spencer, though his manic, light grey eyes never left JD's face. The gaze was unsettling; JD felt as though he was being sized up for something unpleasant.
"Yes, Fitz, that's him," Damon Spencer responded, his tone annoyed. "Now let him go. He will need all his fingers because he is our new security circumventor. Agent Dunne, this is Fitzwilliam Barrington, a safecracker with. . .unusual tastes."
A light-footed, shuffling step sounded from deeper inside the plastic-draped level the elevator had stopped on. As JD turned to see who had moved, he noted that this whole floor of the building was under construction. From out of the shadows, a short, wiry man with wispy, graying hair stepped forward, a scowl on his face. "We don't have the luxury of dealing with your pet projects, Spencer," he hissed in a low voice.
Damon Spencer glared at the shorter man before replying. "If you are concerned about being apprehended, Parsons, I can cut you loose."
"And miss your latest heist?" the man called Parsons scoffed. "Not likely!" In a more subdued tone, Parsons indicated JD with a tilt of his head and asked, "Is he going to cause problems?"
Damon Spencer shrugged. "We will have to leave a few people alive, but other than that, no, Aubrey."
Aubrey Parsons grimaced, as though the mere thought of leaving survivors at the next heist was an insult to him.
"Where is Teague?" Damon Spencer asked.
"In the study," Fitzwilliam Barrington droned. Then his voice became colored with hope and interest. "I bet the agent doesn't need all of his fingers--"
JD worked through the pain, bringing his unencumbered arm up under the one that was immobilizing him. With Fitzwilliam's arm lifted, JD continued the sweeping movement, bringing the offending arm behind Fitzwilliam Barrington's back and kicking one leg out from under the cannibal's hefty and unwieldy form.
The arm strained and would have popped out of the socket if both Spencer and Parsons had not intervened. Too fast to observe it clearly, Parsons drew a revolver and lined the barrel up with JD's temple.. At the same time, Spencer caught and steadied Fitzwilliam as JD released the hold and spread his hands in surrender.
Aubrey Parsons frowned at JD. "Not a bad show," he commented, "but you will have to do better in the future." Abruptly, he holstered the gun and slipped back into the shadows.
JD managed not to shudder, barely. Damon Spencer was sadistic, Fitzwilliam Barrington was psychotic, Aubrey Parsons was a sociopath, and who knew what Teague's problem would be when JD finally had the honor of making that person's acquaintance. It occurred to JD that, if he had to fight all of them at once, he did not know who to take on first. Damon Spencer probably would not kill him--at least not right away--but that left an unenviable choice between the powerfully-built Fitzwilliam 'Fitz' Barrington and Aubrey Parsons' uncannily fast draw.
"Agent Dunne, come meet the man you will be replacing," Damon Spencer muttered angrily, and then marched deeper into the level. JD hurried to keep up, and as they neared a small room with multiple computers in it, Damon drew his knife and approached a thin, gangly man a few years younger than JD.
When JD realized that it was Damon Spencer's intent to use the knife on the young man, he spoke up. So soon after besting the considerably larger and stronger Fitz Barrington, Damon Spencer would be ready for any physical assault, but he might hesitate in the face of a verbal one. "What are you doing?" JD asked, though Spencer's planned act was apparent. The true purpose of JD's self-evident question was to alert the young man to Damon's presence. At least the target would have a fighting chance.
The young man turned in his chair, took in the sight of a panicking JD and the armed Damon Spencer, but instead of showing fear, his expression was one of resignation. "So, you're the one that traced my security footage bypass." He extended a hand, ignoring Damon Spencer completely, and smirked. "I'm Kieran Teague. . .for the next few minutes, anyway."
Shocked by Kieran Teague's easygoing personality, especially under such extreme circumstances, JD accepted the handshake automatically. "It was a tough system to crack," JD excused the other hacker's mistake. "I'm sure you were busy trying to keep the off-site monitors occupied--there's no way you could have guessed someone would be triangulating the broadcast point from another location."
Kieran Teague shook his head, and his gaze slipped past JD to where Damon stood. "Try explaining that to a layman," he remarked with sarcasm.
Taking a deep breath, JD pivoted to face Damon. "What is your next target?" he asked directly.
Damon Spencer seemed not to know whether he should be amused by JD's frankness or insulted that the boy agent appeared to possess no fear of the situation. "That is hardly germane to the present activities."
JD stopped himself from giving a snappy comeback, instead reasoning, "The target matters, because if the security system is even half as complex as the last bank's, then at least two hackers will be needed to misdirect the system. Your problem isn't that Kieran is incompetent--he isn't--it's that no lone hacker could possibly cover all of the angles."
JD did not believe half of what he was saying and the remainder of his argument was based upon assumptions. For example, he could have handled the bank security completely by himself--given enough preparation time. Additionally, he was gambling that whatever bank Damon Spencer wanted to hit next would be even bigger and more complicated a job than the previous one, or else JD would not have been pressured into joining this merry band of the criminally deranged.
However, JD would not be responsible for any deaths that he could possibly prevent, and Kieran seemed like the first sane and half-way decent person JD had met since entering Damon Spencer's car.
Damon Spencer glanced from JD to Kieran and back, trying to determine if their brief exchange of technical compliments had somehow created a bond between the unlikely pair. What JD did not know was that Kieran was unscrupulous. The young criminal might not destroy flesh with a blade, execute with a gun, or relish unconventional meats, but Kieran Teague was easily as cruel as any of the other three former inmates. His weapon of choice was technology, and his preferred targets could not afford to lose the money he siphoned out of their accounts.
Thinking this, Damon Spencer smiled. "Fine, Agent Dunne, you can keep him. Consider yourself forewarned, though." Almost as an afterthought, Damon Spencer concluded, "The target is the Denver Art Museum , and we will commence the heist tomorrow." Without any outward sign of concern, Damon Spencer turned on his heel and left the room.
"Oh," Kieran Teague remarked in surprise, "you're that Agent Dunne. He talked about you all the time. We were cellmates, I think that was practically the only reason he let me in on the escape; well, that and he said that I reminded him of you; I can't imagine why. . ."
JD smiled but stifled a chuckle. He could easily picture Buck interjecting at this point in the conversation, saying something along the lines of, 'Geez kid, take a breath!' "It's probably the computer thing," JD answered, deflecting the other similarities. Then, he asked, "You seemed indifferent a few minutes ago, when. . ."
"When Mr. Spencer wanted to kill me?" Kieran Teague said, smirking. "I was the only one with an empty bunk in my cell when he got arrested; that's why they housed a murderer and a lowly hacker together. He's been in a mood the entire time I've known him. He is restless and angry--if not at me, then at you and Team Seven. I believed it was only a matter of time before he killed me out of pure frustration. Then, we escaped and I doubted we would make it out of the country without being recaptured. After we arrived here, I expected your authorities to find us. If we went back in a cage together, he would be even angrier. . .and I would be the only target." Kieran Teague shrugged and fell silent.
JD nodded. He understood something of courage born of necessity. "You've been living on borrowed time since you first saw him," JD reasoned. "I've felt like that ever since we got this case," JD admitted, and then shook his head to elude further thoughts about Damon Spencer. "Tell me about this security system. What are we up against?"
As Kieran Teague gave details about the intricacies of the security system that he and JD would be required to circumvent, JD paid close attention, trying to work out a way to send a warning to the rest of Team Seven without Teague, Barrington , Parsons or Spencer noticing.
During Kieran Teague's presentation of the security system, JD observed that one of the instant message boxes was open, and that Kieran's user name was 'Aos Sídhe'. Being part Irish and intrigued by his heritage, JD knew that the Aos Sídhe were a magical people in the mythological cycle of Ireland 's folk tales. These people had great powers but lived in a parallel, invisible realm from where humans dwelled. JD smiled slightly. . .it was a good name for a hacker with a large ego.
By the end of the explanation, JD had an idea of how to send a message without being stopped by any of the criminals, but knew it would not work unless he had a few minutes alone with one of the computers.
"Hey, is there anything to eat around here?" JD asked off-handedly. "Your boss interrupted my lunch."
Kieran Teague glared, and muttered, "He's not my boss. We usually get sandwiches from a place around the corner.. You probably shouldn't go out alone."
JD snorted. "I probably shouldn't go out at all. Once Buck realizes I'm not at the loft, he'll call in the cavalry. Then Ez will get the security feed from near the Federal Building and work out from there. . .he isn't as good as me, but he's still pretty fast."
Grimacing, Kieran said, "I'll go get you something. Do you have a preference?"
JD gave a detailed order, requesting several extra toppings and explaining which dressings or condiments he did not want. Hopefully, such a complicated order would take longer to fill. Fitz Barrington, Aubrey Parsons, and Damon Spencer seemed to have no interest in the computer area; so perhaps he would be able to finish sending out his messages before anyone noticed. The moment Kieran got on the elevator; JD started typing on the nearest computer.
"Why did JD have to get sick?" Buck complained out loud as a pop-up for tickets to the Denver Art Museum showed up on his monitor for the umpteenth time. "Ez!" Buck called across the office, "you've got some experience with computers, right?"
Ezra sighed as he heard the ladies man mangle the pronunciation of his first name. Truthfully, the disgruntlement was not entirely at Buck, but also due to the fact that his own computer was having the same problem. He was trying to type up an addendum to his documentation from the team's most recent bust--explaining why a dry-cleaning bill had been added to his expense report--but every time he managed to type a few words, the blaring, red and yellow pop-up advertisement would make an unwelcome encore appearance. The intrusive, recurring window advertisement was offering a one-day-only discounted price on tickets. The price was reduced for tomorrow.
Ezra had already attempted the few tricks he knew to remove the unsightly image from the screen, and finally, instead of replying to Buck's request, he clicked on the advertisement to accept the ticket offer. Perhaps if he visited the website, the program would stop trying to run on his computer.
Instead of a ticket-selling website, or a gallery display from the art museum, though, a repugnant photograph appeared. Damon Spencer's sneering, arrogant visage filled the screen, and some unidentifiable theme music blasted out of the speakers attached to Ezra's computer. Hastily, Ezra reached out and flicked the speaker's off.
Buck, smiling easily, rose from his chair and approached Ezra's desk. "You're having a Star Wars marathon and didn't tell me?"
Ezra's eyes narrowed as he regarded Buck. "Is that what those infernal tones represented?" he asked. "If I wished for my eardrums to be assaulted by such strident chords, I would be listening to the Ride of the Valkyries, rather than the overture of some science fiction cult classic." He had a dim awareness of what Star Wars was, the series' basic plot and setting, and the titles of the six movies. Out of curiosity, Ezra said, "Which installment of the series was that music from?"
Buck shrugged. "I think it was 'The Empire Strikes Back'. Personally, I preferred 'A New Hope,' but--what are you doing?"
Moving with unusual speed, Ezra had pushed his chair backward, commandeering Agent Tanner's computer terminal. Ezra opened his personal email account, retrieved a phone number from one of the earlier email messages, punched the number into his cell phone and then stood, pacing, while it rang.
"Daniel Warde? This is Standish," Ezra waited a moment, and then interrupted, "Yes, yes, I'm sure. . .but I need you to check something for me, quickly and through back channels. Have the prison records of Damon Spencer been altered? Yes, it is an unusual request. . .fine, this will clear us, then." Ezra smirked at something Daniel Warde said. "If it was legal, it would not nullify my marker. Wonderful. You can reach me at this number." Ezra rattled off the cell phone number, ended the conversation, and closed the phone. Only then did he allow his posture to slouch.
Vin looked on in concern from where he--and his chair--had been smoothly but swiftly pushed aside when Ezra hijacked his computer. "What was that about?"
"I must unfortunately report my suspicion that the talented Mistah Dunne is not where we believe him to be," Ezra revealed, and then added, for the other men's benefit. "Who else is capable of hacking into our system and would additionally choose to leave that message? Since the image seems to convey that Damon Spencer has returned, with reinforcements, and perhaps harbors the intention of robbing the Denver Art Museum --tomorrow, if the advertisement is to be trusted--we can safely assume that Mistah Dunne, for reasons as yet unclear, is working with the aforementioned criminal."
Chris walked back in during the middle of Ezra's speech, heard the names 'Damon Spencer' and 'Mistah Dunne' in the same sentence, and immediately headed toward the three agents. Josiah and Nathan were working on reading the new health and safety regulations--since the other members of Team Seven either lacked the time, inclination, or disposition to read the mandatory manual, Nathan and Josiah took the opportunity to escape the office antics, and then reported whatever minor changes had been made from the previous year's regulations--so neither of them had heard the discussion. "Ezra?" Chris asked, demanding to be informed quickly.
"One moment, Mistah Larabee," Ezra replied. He snatched up the office phone, called the information technology department, requested a technician at the department's earliest convenience, and then began reiterating his assumptions to Chris. "Both Mistah Wilmington's and my computers were disturbed during the past five minutes with a barrage of unsolicited advertisements--"
"Pop-up ads," Buck translated, and Ezra cast a brief, frustrated look in Buck's direction before continuing.
"These windows contained a ticket offer for the Denver Art Museum , valid for tomorrow only. When I clicked on it, Damon Spencer's picture appeared, and the theme music for the Star Wars film entitled 'The Empire Strikes Back' played. Mistah Wilmington recognized the tune, and I surmised that, since Mistah Dunne is informed of our awareness regarding Damon Spencer's nationality, the music is not a reference to his citizenship in the erstwhile British Empire , but rather to an accumulation of forces. Clearly, Damon Spencer has returned to the back colonies with reinforcements, and harbors some nefarious intentions regarding the Denver Art Museum , or Mistah Dunne would not have used that pretext for the advertisement."
"'Back colonies'?" Vin asked, not having heard that expression before.
"It is a term applied to the United States in its earlier years by some British economists," Ezra revealed. "Completely unrelated to our present situation, but. . ."
Chris nodded sympathetically. If Ezra was having trouble forming complete sentence, then the circumstances were serious. Ezra's speech troubles aside, though, his reasoning was sound, which meant that Team Seven needed to act quickly to help JD.
"Is somebody having computer trouble?"
Three of the four men whirled to face the newcomer. Ezra only smirked at the obvious answer to the question and restrained the urge to say something sarcastic in response. "Yes, I need you to trace the origin of a spam attack," Ezra informed the technician.
The computer technician was confused. "Not that I can't do my job but. . .don't you guys have Agent Dunne for that kind of thing?"
"JD sent this spam," Vin stated. "It got through the firewall and everything."
"But not on your machine," Ezra realized. "Mistah Tanner, why would that be the case?"
The computer technician interjected, "If he knew the system's setup, Agent Dunne could have programmed that pop-up to occur when the user opened a certain application. Someone who hasn't used the same programs might not have triggered the pop- up."
Vin, Buck and Ezra compared notes, came to the conclusion that the affected program must have been the internet browser, because Vin had spent the morning reading up on the histories of the next arms- dealing ring that Team Seven would be investigating. As a result--though he had checked his email immediately upon arriving at the office--he had not opened the browser after JD left, and therefore his computer had not yet been affected.
"Can you trace it?" Ezra demanded. The suave, undercover agent was struggling for control, trying not to lose his legendary poise, but the thought of JD being coerced by Damon Spencer and other various unknown persons of criminal intent filled Ezra with a paralyzing fear.
"Yes, but it will take a while," the technician replied, and then set about trying to follow Agent Dunne's steps back through cyberspace to the transmission's source.
While the technician was retracing JD's path, Ezra resumed pacing. Though the situation was grim, Chris could not suppress a smile. A few months ago, Ezra would have never allowed his emotions to show so blatantly. . .unless it was part of a cover story. In such a short time, this group had become close, and even one of the more aloof agents seemed to be benefitting from working with the rest of the team.
A few notes from Handel's 'Messiah' rang out from Josiah's computer. Normally, Josiah would have been out to lunch at this time of day, and his computer would have been logged out and turned off, but the safety manual had arrived earlier that morning, so the same precautions had not been taken.
Chris would have sworn that Ezra flew across the office area to reach Josiah's desk. After a brief glance, Ezra hurried back to the others. "He's at 1308 Larimer Street ," Ezra revealed, explaining that JD had sent a message to Josiah's instant messaging account.
Buck had already gone to collect Josiah and Nathan, while Chris was calling AD Travis to apprise him of the situation, and Ezra started to retrieve an additional sidearm from his desk drawer when Vin interrupted.
"Why would he send the message to J'siah?" Vin asked amid the bustle and panic of the office space. Only Chris paused in the middle of his call to listen to Vin's reasoning. "If he was in trouble, wouldn't he contact Bucklin first? And he knows that J'siah goes ta lunch later than the rest of us. . .so why would JD send the address ta him if he knew it wouldn't be received for another half-hour?"
Chris finished his call and hung up the phone. As eager as he was to rush to JD's rescue, all of Vin's points made sense. "It's as if he doesn't want us there. Not immediately, at any rate," Chris said, thinking out loud.
"Damon Spencer has JD, and you want to wait?" Buck appeared in the doorway, having just returned from talking to Josiah and Nathan in time to hear what he perceived as a cold, heartless assessment of the circumstances. Scowling, Buck continued, "I'd expect that kind of talk from Ezra, but not from you, Vin."
Seen only by Chris, Ezra's back tightened, and the undercover agent quickly sat in his desk chair, sinking low enough to be out of Buck's line of sight.
Vin's gaze hardened. "The alternative is that JD is stupid," Vin countered. "That he sent a message to Josiah instead of you by mistake. Do you really think that's possible?"
The office was silent for a few uncomfortable moments. Then, Chris regained control. "I'll request that a few black-and- whites do a sweep of the area. Either Spencer is already gone, or this will cause him to panic and dig in. This way, the scene will be secured by the time we arrive, and if we're lucky, Spencer will still be on-site.." Nathan and Josiah came to the doorway, and stood by Buck as Chris said, "Let's ride."
"Here's you sandwi--what are you doing?" Kieran Teague dropped the fast food restaurant's takeout bag on a nearby table, his face agape in a combination of horror and awe as he watched JD finish typing a string of numbers into one of the computers.
"Telling my team where we are," JD replied, smirking. His goal had been only to alert Team Seven to Damon Spencer's intended target, but at the last moment, after a few revisions to the computer system Kieran Teague was using, JD had sent an instant message to Josiah's account. JD knew that Spencer would expect him to attempt something along these lines.
Hopefully, it would be enough to alarm the criminals, so that they would panic and leave this location, ideally also forgetting some small detail and allowing Team Seven to find them before the heist. At the same time, though, JD did not want Team Seven to receive his current address until Damon Spencer and company had fled.
This way, the team would not discover the message until Josiah returned from lunch, if then. Josiah preferred email to instant messaging (and therefore might not have the instant messaging enabled until long after he returned from lunch), so JD thought this ploy ought to give Damon Spencer and his minions enough time to evacuate the building before Team Seven arrived.
Kieran Teague attacked the nearest computer terminal, trying to log out so that he could inform Damon Spencer of Agent Dunne's betrayal without leaving a perfectly good computer for the agent to use in his absence. One mistake Spencer might forgive. . .at two, he would condemn the hapless man. That was when he discovered that the computer was not accepting any commands. It had frozen completely. Restarting the system led to the same screen, with no improvements.
Kieran Teague's breathing sped up as he realized he had been outwitted. This was some new kind of virus, like nothing he had seen before. "Spencer!" Kieran called out loudly, rather than leaving the obviously defunct computers with the disturbingly talented ATF agent.
Damon Spencer and Aubrey Parsons ran into the room when Kieran shouted. Aubrey Parsons started laughing, and Damon Spencer went for his knife. "Whatever you've done. . .reverse it now," Spencer ordered, holding the knife in a reverse grip, like Nathan sometimes used when fighting.
JD knew that a knife fight with Damon Spencer would be little more than an execution, which was why he had uploaded a virus of his own creation. There were similar products on the market, but his exploited several weaknesses that other hackers had overlooked. "You have larger worries than that, Damon," JD said, giving his best imitation of Chris Larabee's predatory smile. "You should be asking what I did before I uploaded the virus."
The whooping blare of police sirens answered the question Spencer refused to ask. Damon Spencer suppressed a growl. "Can you reverse this?" He demanded, not of JD but of Kieran Teague instead.
Kieran scowled. "With time. . .probably, but not before the heist is set to occur."
Aubrey Parsons placed a thin, spidery hand on Damon Spencer's shoulder to gently restrain him, and nearly took a knife in the gut for his consideration. Dancing lightly out of the way, Aubrey suggested, "We still need the agent."
"Clear everything out," Damon Spencer commanded with his teeth clenched in anger. "We'll leave by the workman's entrance; it won't be patrolled in the initial confusion. Kieran," Spencer indicated JD with a single, hate- filled glance, "he is your responsibility. Do not lose control of him again."
Kieran nodded in relief, Fitz Barrington appeared in the doorway--summoned by the raised voices and approaching sirens--and then the group made their swift exodus from the office building.
"Nothing," Vin reported to Team Seven, and hung up the phone. "The local police department cleared the place, and all they got was that there might have been some people squatting on the fourteenth floor. It's under construction, but there've been problems with the union. . ."
"We should be doing something," Buck complained, "and not just sitting here while Damon Spencer is at large."
"If you have any further information, Mistah Wilmington," Ezra drawled, "we would be pleased to entertain suggestions."
Reacting to Ezra's apathetic tone, Buck started to stand, sorely tempted to let a few punches fly. Chris stopped Buck's forward momentum with a look, and then Ezra's cell phone rang.
"If you gentlemen will excuse me," Ezra commented, failing to hide his elation at the fact that Buck had not been permitted to berate and/or assault him. Listening to the report that was being delivered via his phone, Ezra's already naturally pale features became downright ashen. "Please fax this information to me. . .and Daniel? I believe this favor has caused our respective ledgers to be exchanged. Thank you."
"What is wrong?" Josiah inquired, but Ezra ignored the entire team. Instead, he strode briskly over to the fax machine, accepted the message, and then returned to the increasingly cramped office area where his teammates waited.
"What's going on?" Chris pressed the undercover agent for information. His tone was softer than usual; signaling that he suspected Ezra's news would be less than encouraging.
Ezra delivered the message as succinctly as possible. "I have just received confirmation that Damon Spencer escaped from prison approximately two weeks ago. He, along with his cell mate and two other prisoners, planned and executed their escape, causing maximum casualties among the guards. This information was not released to the press because the men who had escaped--in addition to Spencer--were a hacker renowned for his embezzling capabilities, a murderer who prefers guns and was responsible for over twenty deaths, and a man with cannibalistic tendencies."
"Why weren't we told about this?" Buck exclaimed. "I understand that the British authorities wouldn't want their citizens to panic, but we brought Damon Spencer in, for Pete's sake! Shouldn't we have been warned?"
"It gets better," Vin remarked wryly as he observed Ezra anxiously pulling at one of his jacket's sleeves. It was a nervous tick that no one else seemed to notice; Vin always thought it made Ez look like a river-boat gambler, reaching either for a hidden card, or one of those peashooters in spring-loaded holsters.
"Very astute, Mistah Tanner," Ezra replied bleakly. "Some remnants of a burned diary were discovered in Damon Spencer's cell. From what the crime scene technicians were able to piece together, Spencer has an obsession with JD. He recognized that it was the weakest, allegedly least proficient member of our team that provided the opportunity for Spencer to be put in prison for the first time in his career. He seems determined--in the scraps found at the scene--to persuade JD of the benefits of a criminal life."
"What happens when JD doesn't go along with this obsession of Spencer's?" Nathan asked. Ezra did not respond verbally, his dismayed, forlorn look provided answer enough.
"Damn it," Chris breathed. After a single second's indecision, Chris stood straighter and began issuing orders.. "Ezra, talk to the other undercover agents you know, see if any of them are available for surveillance on the Denver Art Museum . We can't do that part ourselves, because Damon might recognize us and disappear with JD. Josiah, requisition extra weapons. . .on second thought, take Buck along in case they don't want to listen to you. Nate, call the area hospitals and inform them that their ERs will be busy some time tomorrow, so they might want to schedule extra staff, and have an ambulance on standby for any wounded. Vin, you're with me."
Buck watched Chris and Vin head out of the office, and wondered out loud, "Why didn't he tell us what they're up to?"
Ezra gave a hard smile. "Because, Mistah Wilmington, they are about to interrupt whatever meeting AD Travis finds himself in, and demand carte blanche in the methods and expenditures of implementing this bust. I suspect that Chris did not want us to attempt to stop him. Mistah Larabee trusts our insightful sniper to stop him if his demands become too. . .demonstrative."
"This is an unusual request," AD Orin Travis stated, trying to keep his inflection neutral. The joy of overseeing ATF Team Seven was that they were unconventional agents. The burden of being the superior of such a team was that they tended to expect no limits on their jurisdiction or actions.
"The whole case is 'unusual' Judge," Chris argued, using AD Travis' nickname. AD Travis was a hard but fair man; however, his decisions were final. "JD is being coerced into helping escaped convicts plan and conduct a heist, and we just found out that Damon Spencer is among the criminals who escaped."
"I understand the urgency of this situation," AD Travis replied. "You say that the heist will happen sometime tomorrow at the Denver Art Museum, but you cannot tell me which building, a specific time, the sort of weapons the criminals will have. . ." Orin Travis let his voice trail off, indicating that he could go on listing holes in Chris Larabee's plan, but knew that Team Seven's leader had probably already realized the plan's shortcomings.
"JD couldn't exactly send us a detailed sitrep," Vin answered, with sarcasm in his tone.
Chris snorted at the thought of JD--someone who accepted leadership only when he respected the particular leader--filling out and filing something that was customarily a military procedure. Then, he sobered. "What do you expect us to do? He's one of us."
AD Travis was startled. Chris Larabee was a man who never begged, but right now he was pleading for permission to save JD Dunne. It should not have been surprising that one of his men being in danger would bring Chris to this, but Orin Travis was not accustomed to seeing the strong-willed, quick-tempered leader of Team Seven so vulnerable.
That made what AD Travis had to do all the more unbearable. "Chris. . ." AD Travis looked for the right words to disappoint Team Seven's leader, "the manpower, logistics, and procedures involved in a bust like this. . .it would take weeks to get approval. You know that Team Seven is one of my most valued groups within the ATF, but I simply can't make this work."
Chris' face went blank, his eyes narrowed, and his muscled tensed. Vin, recognizing the signs of volatility in his friend and boss, intervened, placing a hand on Chris' shoulder and--with his back to AD Travis--whispering something in Chris' ear.
Chris relaxed by degrees, a muscle here, a slight change in posture there; a solid thirty seconds passed before Chris trusted himself to speak. "Thank you for your consideration, Judge. We'll get back to work on our next case."
As Chris and Vin left the AD's office, Orin Travis couldn't help feeling that he had missed something important. Hopefully, what Vin had planned would be good enough to save JD.
"Ezra!" Chris called out when they had returned to Team Seven's offices.
The man in question raised his head but kept one ear glued to the phone, where he was trying to obtain the promise of a few hours' surveillance duty from an acquaintance on another team. Upon noticing the look in Chris' eyes, Ezra spoke into the phone. "If I survive the tongue lashing I am about to receive, Sidney , I will call you back." Putting the phone down, Ezra directed his full attention to the order Chris was about to issue.
Ezra blinked, considered the statement, entertained the possibility that he had been around too much gunfire recently--perhaps there had been some negative impact on the state of his hearing--and then replied, "Sir?"
"You heard me," Chris continued, something almost like a smile crossing his features. "Go home, drink some wine, listen to classical music, or whatever it is you do when we aren't hounding you." Lowering his voice, Chris explained. "I need a phone tree set up, contacting everyone that we know in law enforcement who can be at the Denver Art Museum tomorrow. This can't be done at the office or using the ATF's resources, because the Judge can't get approval for us in time. Anyone who wants to call in sick tomorrow, we could use the help getting civilians out of sight without Damon and his friends catching on."
Ezra's eyebrows rose in surprise. "Mistah Larabee, when did you begin attributing the least bit of importance to AD Travis being your superior or to dodging regulations rather than simply breaking them?"
Chris gave a short, impatient sigh. "It won't do JD any good if we get him back and he doesn't have the team to come back to. Now, get out of here."
Ezra smiled. "Of course, Mistah Larabee." Faking a convincing cough, Ezra concluded, "I believe that the temporary communicable disease which afflicted Mistah Dunne has progressed, causing me to be incapable of continuing to toil under these conditions."
Chris hid a smile as Ezra left, and then called the rest of the team together so that Vin could explain the plan.
"Fifteen minutes left," Damon Spencer informed JD. "Choose, or I will leave none for you."
JD glared at Damon Spencer, but then quickly transferred his gaze to the several dozen screens of security camera footage. Each computer had twelve camera's views, and with several computers, it was dizzying to select just one camera's view. As part of Damon Spencer's promise for JD's cooperation--that promise was being kept despite JD's attempt to communicate with Team Seven, mostly because Damon Spencer wanted JD to shoulder some responsibility for the death of innocents--JD was being permitted the choice of one room of people.
That single room would be spared in the coming heist and bloodbath. JD said nothing, but his eyes flickered briefly over to the far right screen, where--in the left-hand corner--a group of school children were being given a tour. His hands twisted in emotional as well as physical discomfort against the duct tape bonds that had been applied after his most recent hacking venture into the ATF mainframe. Reconfiguring the computer system had taken longer, because JD had to talk Kieran through the process rather than entering the commands himself, but Damon Spencer had been insistent. JD's hands were bound in front of him, but were taped in such a way that at best he could grab an object like a door handle; typing was out of the question.
Damon laughed. "A fine choice, Agent Dunne. Now, let's--what was that?" Damon Spencer became nervous when the screens stuttered with static for a few moments before returning.
"The system does that every 45 minutes," Kieran Teague replied. "I noticed it when we began surveillance almost an hour ago. I do not know what causes it, but it seems to happen on a fixed schedule, so maybe there is a routine power surge--"
JD ignored the rest of Kieran Teague's explanation. Instead, he tried to study the camera footage without appearing too intrigued. If Damon knew that JD had noticed something, it might ruin what JD suspected was about to happen. As JD's gaze jumped from screen to screen, he noticed that the shadows in the few frames with windows in the picture had reverted suddenly to an earlier point in their progress. JD fought the urge to shout in victory. He didn't know how Team Seven had managed it, but Spencer and the other three criminals were in for a surprise.
"Teague, you stay here," Damon Spencer ordered. "I'll take the agent. Is Fitz at the back of the building with the truck yet?"
Kieran Teague checked the monitors. "No, I can't see him, but you did tell him to stay out of sight until the last minute so that the authorities wouldn't become suspicious."
"I know why I told him to do that," Damon Spencer growled, "I'm simply surprised that he followed my orders. Usually, he is either too stupid or too stubborn to obey. Agent Dunne?"
JD rose and followed Damon Spencer out of the unoccupied basement of the building across the street from the Denver Art Museum 's North Building . Though Damon Spencer preferred knives, he had brought along a gun as well, because a fearful crowd was more likely to comply with the commands of a man with a gun than one armed only with a knife. No one in the crowd would know that he was even more proficient with a knife than with a gun. As Damon Spencer and JD walked through the front door, Spencer drew his gun and Aubrey Parsons met them, a broad smile on his thin face.
"The guards?" Damon Spencer demanded, testily.
Aubrey Parsons assumed a wounded expression. "You offend me, Damon. Of course they have been taken care of."
JD's stomach felt like lead. He wondered if Team Seven had been able to replace the guards, or have them wear bullet-proof vests, but then he decided that that he could not do anything for the guards at the moment, and ought to be concentrating on what he could change.
"Fine, let's get started," Damon Spender ordered, striding confidently deeper into the museum. Twenty feet into the lobby, Damon Spencer realized that something was wrong. The gallery was strangely devoid of visitors, and where there should have been paintings, Spencer saw only empty frames and bare walls.
Spencer immediately grabbed JD by his shirt, dragging him along as he darted for the stairwell. Aubrey saw Spencer's sudden movement, and tried to follow, but fell, a bullet in his leg, fired from somewhere at the far end of the lobby.
Damon hit the stairwell door forcefully, slamming it open and darting through with JD still in tow. He dashed up several flights, opened the door to the fourth level, and then cursed and slammed the door shut when he saw at least five armed men waiting. Some of the men, he recognized as members of the tenacious and exasperating Team Seven, but others he could not place.
Damon Spencer wondered how Team Seven had organized something like this so quickly. Part of the reason that Spencer had waited until the last moment to enlist JD's help was that he knew police procedure;--that was how he had stayed out of prison for most of his life--the only response to an attack on a public place such as the gallery would be to close the museum. Team Seven would not dare risk that, because Damon would have either killed JD or taken him away when he went on the run.. But to organize a full- fledged evacuation and fake the security footage. . .Larabee's team must have obtained help from outside the ATF.
Looking around for an escape, Damon Spencer noticed that a second door led out onto some kind of breezeway. Opening this as well, and then throwing JD through the doorway, he followed and jammed the door shut with a piece of pyramid-shaped tile that had fallen off the exterior of the building and onto the elevated walkway. The tile would not hold the door indefinitely, but it should prevent interruptions until Damon finished one last task.
Laughing, Damon sneered at the supine form of Agent Dunne. "Your team has no need of you, Agent Dunne. Clearly, they found someone else who can manipulate security systems."
JD bit back the desire to reply that his replacement had been careless, and that the cameras should have been on at least a two- hour loop, rather than a forty-five minute one. Instead, JD retorted, "I'm not the only one out of a job. How long do you think it will take them to break down that door?"
Damon Spencer shrugged. Moving slowly, he placed his gun in the shoulder holster he had obtained for use in the bank robberies, and drew his knife from its sheath. The wind whipped between the buildings and through the breezeway, causing the loose shoulder harness to flap slightly. Damon advanced on JD, expecting the young man to cower, to run for the other end of the breezeway, to do anything except what the ATF agent chose to do; JD charged.
Knocking Damon Spencer over with a flying tackle before the criminal could bring his knife around to strike; JD grabbed the gun out of Damon's shoulder holster and only then retreated with the gun aimed at the criminal who, until recently, had possessed it. "Drop your weapon," JD ordered, his voice steady with the practiced tone that came from routine, but his hand shaking.
Damon Spencer stood, smiling with macabre anticipation, and then brought his right hand back, readying the knife for a throw. JD squeezed the trigger, catching Spencer in the side with a bullet. Damon checked the wound with his other hand, and seemed surprised when he saw his left hand covered in blood.
His resolve strengthened, Damon Spencer continued the throwing motion, determined to at least kill the man who had humiliated him so thoroughly, first by outwitting him, then by causing him to go to prison, a third time by sneaking a message out to Team Seven and now, by leading him into this trap.
JD's expression was conflicted as he fired once more, and Damon Spencer fell. The knife released from Damon's hand and flew in a rapid arc, burying itself in JD's shoulder; JD sank to his knees from the force.
Staggering back to his feet, JD stumbled over to check on Damon Spencer. He discovered that confirming the presence of a pulse would not be necessary; half of Spencer's head was gone, and JD's shot had hit true, striking Spencer in the heart. Confused by the second kill shot, JD looked out across the landscape, trying to discern the location from which the sniper had taken the shot.
Loud yelling sounded from the other side of the door, and with a few concentrated shoulder hits, the door that lead back into the building flew open. Chris, Nate and Buck, along with several members of other ATF teams and a few of Team Seven's friends and acquaintances from the local police department all piled onto the breezeway, guns drawn. They quickly realized that weapons were not necessary.
Chris observed the wounds that Damon Spencer had received, nodded in silent approval, and then directed the other ATF teams and local police to contact the museum so that the museum officials could begin putting the art back into the displays. "Nate," Chris ordered, glancing toward a pale and shivering JD.
Nate had already crossed the remaining distance between the door and his clearly traumatized patient. JD was staring out into space, as though he was searching for something. When Nathan tried to turn JD to face him by grasping the uninjured shoulder, JD spun and brought the stolen gun up rapidly.
With even more speed, JD blushed, flicked the safety on and lowered the weapon. "Sorry, Nate," JD said automatically.
"Don't worry about it," Nate dismissed JD's concern. "Just sit down and let me take a look at that knife wound."
JD slid down with the railing at his back. His eyes were still distant, even though from this vantage point, he could see nothing more than a few feet away. "I didn't have a choice."
"I know," Nate replied. "Now, I need you to relax, so that I can see the damage this caused--"
"I told him to lower his weapon," JD continued woodenly. "I tried to take a non-lethal shot, even though he wouldn't have thought twice about killing me. What Buck said. . .it's not about what they deserve. . .we're supposed to be better than that, better than them. . ."
"Buck," Nathan called for the team's ladies man, who until that point had hung back, waiting for Nate to say that it was alright to go to JD.
Normally, he would not have hesitated, but the bear hug he would usually give the kid in situations like this would only drive the knife deeper. Additionally, JD's eyes were vacant, but his face reflected horror. Without giving physical comfort--which the knife's presence prevented--Buck didn't know what to do. All the expected questions, about whether JD was alright, if Spencer had hurt him, and where the damn ambulance was either had apparent answers or none at all. It was clear that JD was not alright, Spencer had hurt him, and Buck knew from team meetings that the ambulance should currently be waiting at the front door, four floors below.
"Buck," Nathan repeated when the tall, dark-haired man did not reply immediately. "JD's talking about something you said. I need to know if you actually said it, or if he's going into shock. He says that 'it is not about what they deserve'. Do you know what he's talking about?"
Buck grimaced as he recalled the conversation from a single day and yet so long ago. "He's lucid, Nate. Yesterday we were talking about Damon being in prison, and I said that it was better than he deserved. JD got upset and left the room."
"Alright," Nate said, relieved that at least Buck had recovered enough to answer medically relevant questions. "We need to get him to the elevator. Keep that arm immobilized. I can't remove the knife here; it should wait until we're in the ambulance, or better yet, at the hospital. . .in case it nicks an artery on the way out."
Buck and Nathan carried JD while Chris held doors and pushed the buttons for the elevator. JD lost consciousness on the way to the hospital and woke up several hours later, after a brief surgery to close the knife wound.
JD jolted awake and glanced wildly around the room. The last thing he remembered was murdering Damon Spencer and then feeling pain in his shoulder. The first thing he noticed was that he was in a hospital room; there was one bed, a window with a small counter-top- like ledge at waist height, a bedside table, a few ergonomically torturous chairs. . .and he was alone.
Initially, JD was afraid that his friends had been hurt in the bust. Aubrey Parsons was quick on the draw, maybe even faster than Chris, and Chris had been focused on Damon Spencer and JD, so he hadn't been there to take Parsons down.
He shouted for a nurse, a doctor--anyone, really--and insisted upon information about his friends.
When the doctor threatened to sedate him because being in an agitated state might disrupt the stitches, JD rolled his eyes and calmed down enough to explain his reasoning. After words like 'cannibal' and 'cold-blooded murderers' the doctor wanted to give JD a psychiatric evaluation, but held off on that diagnosis, instead replying that JD's coworkers had stayed until they knew he made it through surgery alright, but then were called away on various duties. "The well-dressed one mentioned trying to wade through a digital quagmire, and the others told him not to exaggerate," the doctor explained. "They all seemed fine."
JD relaxed for a few minutes after hearing that his friends were safe, but then he wondered why they had not visited him while he was awake. He knew that Nathan and Josiah followed regulations almost religiously, so if AD Travis had demanded their presence, they would have left the hospital, but that left Chris, Buck, Vin, and Ezra, all of whom had an unhealthy disrespect for rules and yet had not stayed.
JD started to wonder if his friends' absence was due to something he had done. Ezra knew the risks and necessities of an undercover operation, but if he was only worried because JD had taken those risks, Ezra would not be avoiding the hospital. It must be something else. . .maybe he was jealous that JD--arguably the most earnest and least cunning agent on the team--had manipulated the situation to lead Damon Spencer and the others into Team Seven's trap? Half the time, JD didn't understand what Ezra was thinking or how he felt about different situations, so it was hard to tell why Ezra might have abandoned him..
Chris, on the other hand, would undoubtedly be mad. Back when Roger Abbott gave the Damon Spencer case to JD, Chris had been livid at the idea of JD taking on Spencer alone, no matter how noble the reasons. How much worse was it, then, that JD had not only tried to deal with Spencer on his own, but also put himself at the mercy of Aubrey Parsons and Fitzwilliam Barrington? Granted, he hadn't known when Damon Spencer demanded JD's presence that Damon had assembled a 'dream team' of criminals, but then, Chris wouldn't know that. He would assume that JD had intentionally endangered himself with no regards to the consequences or to how the situation would affect Buck.
Buck must be disappointed in him, JD thought. Why else would his friend, who was sometimes mistaken for a mother hen, not be here? If Buck was angry, he would have been knocking down doors and bowling doctors and orderlies out of the way to reach JD and set him straight. The only remaining explanation was that Buck was ashamed of something JD had done. JD became angry. Should he have called Damon Spencer's bluff? They all knew what Spencer was capable; JD hadn't had a choice. Vin should have understood.
Vin had made one of the shots that contributed to Damon Spencer's demise,--no one else could have succeeded at that shot, in a narrow space, with high winds interfering--which meant he had also seen JD fail to follow procedure. Was Vin not at the hospital because he was even now agonizing over whether to report JD's hesitation? Or was he angry at JD for not shooting Damon Spencer sooner?
JD checked the state of his wound, peeling back the bandages until he could see the stitches. Whoever had put the stitches in had done a good job. JD rolled his shoulder experimentally, and only cringed slightly in pain. Glancing toward the doorway to his hospital room to see if anyone was in the hallway, JD grunted in effort, pushing himself into an upright, sitting position. When he was not immediately assaulted by dizziness, JD concluded that either his blood loss had not been significant, or that he had received a transfusion.
Determined to see for himself that his friends really were fine--and that they didn't hate him for murdering Spencer--JD dug his clothes out of a drawer in the table by the bed. He scowled at the torn and bloodstained shirt, knowing that he would not be able to sneak out of the hospital wearing that. JD pulled his jeans on and ducked into a supply closet down the hall. He found a spare, white jacket that the lab technicians wore, and after swinging it gently across hi shoulders rather than trying to put his arm through another sleeve (putting the bloodstained shirt on had been painful enough), JD strode out of the hospital confidently. No one gave him a second glance.
Hailing a cab, JD rode to the Denver Federal Building and flashed his ID at the security checkpoint. The guard stared at him in amazement. "Your team thought you would still be recovering," the security guard said, half a question, and half in admiration at JD's tenacity.
JD smiled bitterly. Knowing that a team member was recovering had never stopped the rest of the team from haunting the waiting room and hounding hospital staff before. "I'm fine," JD assured the guard, accepting his ID card as it was handed back to him. "Where are they analyzing the evidence from the Spencer case?" he asked.
"Standish is overseeing it," the guard replied quickly. Team Seven had a reputation for being productive, but not necessarily playing well with other teams, and clearly the newest member was adapting quickly to meet that reputation. "I think they're on the third floor."
JD nodded and walked past the security checkpoint. Instead of going to the third floor, though, he first took the elevator to the twelfth, where Team Seven's offices were located.
The doors opened to a deserted floor. Of course, JD now knew that Ezra had been drafted into examining Kieran Teague's computers, but someone should have been in the Team Seven bull pen. Computers had been left on, not logged out like they should have been, which indicated that some of the team expected to return quickly. JD opened the bottom drawer of his desk, pulling out a clean shirt. He kept a spare change of clothes at the office for after busts. (Sometimes the office was closer than the place he shared with Buck.) Changing slowly and gingerly to avoid aggravating the stitches, JD was surprised that no one had returned by the time he finished swapping the torn, bloodstained shirt for his clean one.
Sighing, JD dropped the ruined shirt in the trash can near his desk, left the white lab technician's coat draped over his chair, and took the elevator down to the third floor. At least there, other agents were present. However, as he made a circuit of the computers, he could not find Ezra. When he asked one of the computer techs where Ezra was, the tech informed him that Agent Larabee had been down to collect Agent Standish just a few minutes before. Larabee seemed to be in a hurry.
JD thanked the tech for the information, though hearing it only deepened his sense of dread. The team appeared to be functioning perfectly, completely proficient without him. Feeling like he needed to do something productive, JD sat down at the nearest terminal and began a search for Kieran Teague. The downside of having a bust that concentrated on a single building was that anyone outside the perimeter set by law enforcement had a chance to escape. JD did not know which he preferred--the thought that the least psychotic member of Damon Spencer's criminal quartet had slipped through Team Seven's net, or the possibility that he had been arrested like the others.
When JD found an instant message to Josiah's account from Kieran's user name--'Aos Sídhe'--the content of that communication made JD's jaw clench and his eyes water with unshed tears. Hitting the controls to print a screen capture, JD ran to the nearest printer, grabbed the offending message, and then tore down the stairs, gaining concerned looks from the computer technicians.
Team Seven was panicking.
Though they had all wanted to stay at the hospital until JD awoke, other events had drawn them away. Ezra, who was the next most computer-literate agent on Team Seven offered to oversee the dissecting of the computers Kieran Teague had used, hoping that some clue to the elusive hacker's whereabouts had been left on the mainframes.
Josiah offered to help the museum put its paintings back and to take care of the media. Someone needed to make it clear to the press that the bust had been an entirely off-duty effort, and that no one should hold the ATF responsible for the actions of agents not acting on it's behalf, et cetera.
At the time, Chris had nodded and dismissed both Ezra and Josiah; nothing short of a tornado could have torn Buck, Vin, or Nathan away from the hospital. . .or so Chris had thought.
Not ten minutes after Ezra and Josiah left, Chris was contacted by an irate AD Travis. Of course, 'Judge' Travis had expected Team Seven to engage in some kind of vigilante justice, but the sheer magnitude of what they had managed was shocking and distressing to the very politicians who had wanted this case solved quickly. Travis had nearly laughed when he heard the governor complain about Larabee's proficiency, but when the politician mentioned that only the governor was supposed to have the authority to call in the National Guard; Travis sobered, called Chris, and demanded that Team Seven's leader come immediately to his office to explain himself.
Angry at narrow-minded politicians, Chris stormed out of the hospital, certain that Nathan would stay to be sure JD was receiving the best care, Vin would remain at the hospital out of misplaced guilt about his shot coming a second too late to prevent JD from being wounded, and Buck would sit in the kid's recovery room until he fell over from exhaustion simply because of who he was.
Nate's suggestion that the hospital should have its on-call personnel ready in case the bust went wrong had largely been ignored. The administrator in charge of the hospital's employees did not know Nathan's reputation. Fortunately, the bust had caused very few casualties and only one fatality, so the additional personnel were not needed for that purpose.
However, a city bus collided with a tanker truck a few block away from the hospital, and those casualties began pouring into the emergency room. A passing doctor recognized Nate and asked if the medic would help with triage. When Vin heard that not all of the passengers had been evacuated yet--and that the contents of the tanker truck were flammable--Vin offered to help with the rescue effort.
Nate went down to the lobby to assist the nurses and EMTs, and Vin left the hospital for the scene of the crash.
Buck was pacing the waiting room nervously, wondering why he had not yet been allowed into JD's room when he felt his cell phone vibrate in the pocket of his jeans. Pulling the phone out and answering it with a curt, rude, "What?" Buck was surprised to hear that Interpol had been attempting to contact AD Travis and the members of Team Seven; the Interpol agent on the other end of the line informed Buck that he was the only one they had been able to reach.
Buck looked around the waiting room, and saw that his agitated state was worrying the family that waited in the far corner of the same space. Holding back an impatient sigh, Buck ducked around the corner and lowered his voice. "They're all busy," the team's ladies man stated, almost grinding his teeth in frustration at the other agency's insensitivity. "In case you didn't know, a member of our team is in the hospital right now, recovering from a wound inflicted by a man who was supposed to be in prison. If I find out that your agency was involved in the cover-up, so help me God, I'll--what?"
Buck was shocked into momentary silence by the Interpol agent's request for an exchange of paperwork relevant to the apprehension of Aubrey Parsons and Fitzwilliam Barrington, the oversight also known as Kieran Teague's escape, and the demand to be full partners in the investigation into the circumstances of Damon Spencer's death.
Buck growled and nearly put his hand through the nearest wall. "You'll get the paperwork when we're ready to share it, and not one minute before. As far as the hacker is concerned, we already have our second-best man working on locating him." Buck listened to the impolite request that the ATF dedicate its top assets to every aspect of this case, and laughed bitterly. "Sure, the ATF's only mission is to solve Interpol's cases for you. Look, our best man for the job is the one currently lying in a hospital bed with stitches in his shoulder from a knife wound. . .and Damon Spencer was killed by JD in self-defense. The ATF investigation will confirm that. Don't bother us again; you've already put the kid through too much."
Buck closed the phone and strode back into the waiting room.. The mother of the family informed Buck that a doctor had been in the room a few moments before, looking for him, so Buck went to the nurses' station and requested to speak with JD's doctor. A few minutes later, the doctor told Buck that JD had been asking where the other members of his team were. The doctor agreed that Buck could see JD for a few minutes, but when they reached JD's recovery room, the bed was empty.
Knowing from the conversation with the Interpol agent that the rest of Team Seven could not be contacted via their cell phones, Buck located Nate near the Emergency Room entrance. Buck told Nate that JD was missing, and together they left the hospital to find Vin. On the way, Buck called the Denver Federal Building , and convinced AD Travis' secretary to interrupt Chris' meeting with the governor and Judge Travis. Chris said that he would get Ezra and head for the hospital, reasoning that they could retrace JD's steps from there.
When Buck and Nate found Vin and filled him in on the situation, Vin reached for his cell phone to call the museum and tell Josiah, but then realized that it had fallen into the burning tanker truck while Vin had been concentrating on pulling the driver out of the truck's cab.. Nate turned his cell phone on and contacted the museum. Josiah agreed to meet Buck, Nate and Vin outside the hospital. The team had already lost JD once in forty-eight hours; they were all determined not to lose him again.
By the time the six worried members of Team Seven had gathered outside the hospital, they had clamed down enough to think of reasons for JD's disappearance.
"There were no signs of a struggle," Buck pointed out, "and those stitches were brand new. If anyone had even jostled him slightly, there would have been blood."
"At least we are able to discern that our young compatriot left this medical institution of his own free will, then," Ezra concluded.
"He seemed to be in shock on the breezeway," Nate contradicted Ezra's argument. "Even with a transfusion, he might not have been thinking clearly. It's possible he wandered off. Where would he go?"
"When he woke up and none of us were there," Chris reasoned--and then had to ignore the flinches, hunching of shoulders, and averting of eyes that conveyed each man's guilt--"he would try to find us."
"I'll check the office," Buck volunteered. He had only been out of sight for a few minutes, but it had been long enough for the doctor to think that none of the uninjured members of Team Seven had remained in the hospital, and JD had acted upon that misunderstanding.
"It's less likely, but I'll drive out to the ranch," Chris offered.
One by one, the members of Team Seven divided up the likely places where a confused and abandoned JD would go. Josiah decided to visit the church near the Denver Federal Building where JD sometimes went when he was thinking about his mother. Nate vowed to stay at the hospital in case JD returned or was brought back by a concerned citizen. Ezra claimed that JD might seek out familiar surroundings such as the Saloon, intending to discuss the difficulties of this case with Inez. Vin said quietly that he would check out the Denver Art Museum . Like criminals, law enforcement officials sometimes had to return to the scene of a crime, not to relive the atrocity, but rather, to come to terms with it.
Vin crossed the city on foot, alternating between walking and jogging. When he reached the Denver Art Museum , Vin showed the front desk workers a picture of JD. It was from a few weeks before, when the team had gone out to Chris' ranch for a barbecue. Ezra had taken the picture, so he was not in it, but the rest of the team could be seen. Vin and Chris were tending the grill, arguing quietly about what constituted a medium-rare steak. Josiah was relaxing in a lawn chair with a beer and Saint Anselm's eleventh-century book of theology entitled Proslogium. Nate, Buck, and JD were playing basketball in the background.
One of the workers at the front desk thought she recognized JD. "He looked a lot paler than in that picture, though," she commented, sounding concerned. "I think he went to one of the exhibits on a higher floor. I noticed him because, even though he looked sick, he took the stairs." She directed Vin to the staircase that Damon had used in his failed escape attempt.
Vin's breath caught as he realized where JD was headed. "Thank you, ma'am," he said, and then took the same staircase to the fourth floor. Pausing for a moment, he slowly pushed open the door that led out onto the breezeway.
JD was leaning over the railing, a sheet of paper and a loose, pyramid-shaped tile clutched tightly in his right hand. Hearing Vin approach, JD smiled. "You don't need to worry, Vin. I didn't come here to jump."
"Never thought you did," Vin assured JD in an even, soothing voice, though he really had not known what JD's intentions were. Clearing is throat, Vin leaned against the same railing a few feet away from JD, mimicking the younger agent's stance..
"Buck was at the hospital the whole time," Vin revealed. "He made sure to tell us that when we all separated an' came lookin' for ya. He was in the waiting room, but then some jerk from Interpol called, askin' for our paperwork, and wanting to be in on the investigation of Damon Spencer's death." Vin smiled. "Ta hear Bucklin tell it, that Interpol agent got such a tongue-lashing, the guys grandkids will still be speechless. . .but he had ta step out of the waiting room ta give it. Didn't want ta scare the family that was sharin' the waiting room with us.."
JD smiled tentatively. He could definitely picture Buck taking on all of Interpol on his behalf, but Buck's innate kindness would not have permitted him to say the words that needed to be said in the presence of what Vin would call 'polite company'. Then, JD frowned. "That's not what I'm upset about," JD replied. "At first, I wondered why none of you were there. I thought I must have done something wrong. Maybe Chris and Buck were angry at me for putting myself in danger. I thought that probably Josiah and Nate had been called back to the Federal Building to explain the bust." JD chuckled. "I noticed that some of the people were not even from the ATF, which means that Chris went outside the chain of command to set this one up." Sighing, JD continued to explain. "I thought Ezra might be jealous that I was able to trick four criminals, and that you couldn't decided whether to report my hesitation up here."
Vin stared at JD in amazement. "None of us blamed you, JD," he said forcefully. It was of utmost importance that the newest addition to Team Seven understand that single truth. "Heck, we were all too busy blaming ourselves. Chris is embarrassed that you were able to fool him with that story about Inez. Buck blames himself for not running back to the apartment the moment Chris told him you were feeling sick. Ezra doesn't feel guilty; I think he's too angry at Interpol for keeping news of Damon's escape a secret. Josiah had ta make sure that the media didn't misinterpret our involvement as a sanctioned ATF operation. Nate and I would've stayed, but there was a crash. The hospital staff needed Nate's help with the casualties, and the first responders needed me ta help with the rescue efforts."
A few moments of silence permeated the breezeway, and a slight, but chilling wind was the only sound to break that stillness. Finally, Vin continued, "If wakin' up and findin' us all gone didn't bother you, why did ya come back here?"
"Kieran Teague left me a message on the computers that Ez recovered. It said, 'I know you didn't kill him for me, but thanks.'" JD closed his eyes as though fighting back tears, and whispered, "I had a choice. . .and I chose to kill.. How am I any better than Damon Spencer if the justice I cause is personal, instead of bound by the law?"
Vin swallowed the first several answers that popped into his head. 'He deserved it' only reinforced the concerns about vigilantism that JD was harboring; 'it was him or you' wasn't an argument--it was an excuse; and citing the standard regulation about twenty-one feet and the legitimate use of deadly force felt more like a rationalization than an explanation. None of those was the answer JD needed to hear, anyway.
Slowly and softly, Vin began to speak. "During my first assignment as a sniper, I was supposed to protect a small group of soldiers going deep inta enemy territory. The guerrillas we were fightin' used children ta flesh out their troop strength. Mostly, the kids were used as cannon fodder, diversions, an' ta clear fields of land mines," Vin cursed silently as he saw that this graphic depiction had not yet caused JD to flinch. He hoped his young friend was not as far gone as the child-soldier Vin was about to mention. "But some were brainwashed an' used as snipers. This kid. . .he cain't have been more than nine or ten years old. . .he took out half the squad before I could find his nest." Vin smiled mirthlessly. "I was lookin' for a hide that a full-grown man would use; I couldn't believe the enemy would use a kid, or that he'd be that good. When I finally located him, the only shot I could take was a kill shot." Vin could not finish the tale, but JD understood.
"The rest of the squad survived, but part of you didn't," JD guessed correctly. Then, he argued, "Damon Spencer was not an innocent."
"No," Vin readily agreed, "but you were. What matters here isn't that ya killed Damon Spencer," Vin reasoned, "it's that ya tried so hard not to. That's what you should hold on to. You're a damn good agent and an even better human being. Killing Damon Spencer didn't rob ya of either of those qualities. . .it just made ya question them for a while."
"It wasn't vengeance?" JD asked doubtfully. Damon Spencer had certainly given every member of Team Seven ample reason to seek revenge, and JD had more cause than any of the others because of the way he had inherited the case from the former Interpol agent named Roger Abbott.
Vin chuckled. "If it had been, ya wouldn't have hesitated. I've killed for vengeance before," Vin's blue eyes grew distant as he thought back to a darker time. After a moment they refocused, "and what you did was justice, even though ya had plenty of call ta seek revenge. Ez has a friend in the UK who confirmed that Damon had escaped," Vin explained. "He also found a few scraps from one a Damon's diaries. Damon Spencer wanted ta make you inta a criminal like himself."
JD shuddered, but not from the cold wind that had picked up and was now whipping around both their figures unrelentingly. "The system doesn't know how to deal with a monster like Damon Spencer."
"Then we're lucky Damon forced you ta deal with him instead," Vin stated confidently.
JD was eerily reminded of the moment in the office a few days before when Chris, Buck, and Vin all agreed that prison was too good for a man like Spencer, but this time he was not sickened by the prospect of harsh justice, merely disappointed by the necessity of it.
"Come on, kid," Vin suggested, putting a hand gently across JD's shoulders and steering him toward the door, "let's get out of the cold."
"Wait," JD said urgently, stopping in his tracks and wrapping Kieran's note around Damon's doorstop. Checking for pedestrians below, JD threw the two offending objects as hard as he could at a clear space on the ground, four floors below. The tile struck against the sidewalk and shattered, and the note wavered and fluttered in a few circles before being carried away by the wind. JD sighed as though a heavy burden had been lifted. "Ok, now we can go inside."
Vin smiled and opened the door so that JD would not have to strain his shoulder by prying it out of the frame. (Chris had inadvertently bent the door in his haste to reach JD earlier.) Vin knew that JD would be fine. Killing Damon Spencer had taught him a difficult reality about being a lawman, but working with Team Seven would ensure that JD saw the rewarding aspects of the job as well.
Vin borrowed JD's cell phone and called Chris, telling Team Seven's leader that the others should meet Ez at the Saloon. What Vin did not say over the phone--but Chris nonetheless understood from the tone of Vin's voice--was that after closing the Damon Spencer case with such finality, JD both deserved and needed some time relaxing with his friends.