Author's Note: This is the sequel to Nemesis, and if you haven't read Nemesis first, then this one will be difficult to follow. This fic starts with the team still searching for Damon Spencer, and Michael Greenway trying to butt into the investigation. Thanks to Antoinette for being a superb beta-reader and researcher. The details on Interpol and ATF interaction on cases were provided by her research.
"He is absolutely unpredictable." Josiah leaned back in his chair and folded his hands across his abdomen. "I cannot tell how Damon Spencer would react in most situations, except to guess that he enjoys control and inflicting pain on others. As to which of those is the stronger compulsion...there's just no way to be certain. I'm sorry, but that is the most accurate psychological profile I can give on the man, thanks to our limited information."
Ezra muttered a word not in keeping with his usually dignified mannerisms. "How does Interpol expect us to apprehend the nefarious Mr. Spencer without accurate and complete information concerning his background?"
Chris snorted derisively as he stood in the doorway to his separate office area and listened to the impromptu meeting his team was holding about the murderer Damon Spencer's possible location and his next move. "Maybe they don't," Chris hypothesized out loud. "Like you said, Ezra, giving us this case gets them off the hook, and he's definitely a difficult man to find. This way, at least, Interpol doesn't suffer the bad PR when Spencer commits a crime in our jurisdiction."
"I am appalled that you would accuse my organization of such an unscrupulous tactic," A new, but uncomfortably familiar voice protested from the entrance to the ATF Team Seven office area.
Nate groaned in frustration. Chris pinched the bridge of his nose and prayed for patience. Josiah placed both hands on his desk and closed his eyes as though entering deep meditation to control his anger. Ezra glanced toward the intruder in a speculative manner, sizing up the psychological threat the man posed to JDafter all, his own experiences with other law enforcement agencies had been of a personally demeaning nature, and he wished to protect JD from that type of attack. Vin stole hurried looks toward the more volatile members of the team, trying to guess if he would need to physically restrain anyone from attacking the unwelcome visitor, and the youngest member of Team Seven tried to fade into the background.
Buck crossed his arms and glared at Michael Greenway. "Chris ain't accusing your organization of using tactics," he sneered. "In order to do that, he'd have to assume your entire agency had enough brains to fill a shot glass and the good sense to share all pertinent facts of the case before saddling us with it."
Michael Greenway leveled a look at Buck that placed Agent Wilmington somewhere below primordial ooze in the area of intellect. Then he pointed at JD. "This is all his fault! I don't know why you insist on blaming my agency for your own shortcomings."
Josiah stood and crossed the space between himself and Buck, placing a placating hand on Buck's shoulder to prevent JD's self-appointed protector from tackling Michael Greenway.
JD cringed and tried to sink deeper into his office chair, faced away from his accuser and hoped that the man would leave...preferably before anyone got hurt. It was not that Michael Greenway's belief was one JD supported, but rather that JD did not wish to see anyonenot even Michael Greenwayhurt because of JD's past actions. If the Interpol agent continued to annoy Chris Larabee by claiming that the youngest member of ATF Team Seven was responsible for the death of Roger Abbott, Greenway would quite quickly find himself being roughly escorted out of the buildingand that was the best possible outcome.
"You're just upset that Damon Spencer got away," Buck protested, pulling futilely against Josiah's restraining hand. If not for Josiah's interference a few moments ago, Greenway would already have felt Team Seven's collective displeasure in a quite painful, physical manner.
"You told us the case would be a hard one," Vin commented calmly, but JD could tell the soft-spoken sniper was also contemplating violence. Normally, Vin was absolutely in control of his body, but currently, his hands were clenching and releasing convulsively, as though deliberating over whether to pick up a rifle. "Ya shouldn't be so surprised by what happened."
Michael Greenway gave a bitter laugh. "Indeed. I was obviously misinformed when my customarily reliable connections in your government and law enforcement communities cited this team as the best in the region. Instead of apprehending a dangerous fugitive as ordered, you managed to sacrifice one of my best agents...and you are still no closer to catching Spencer than the day I conferred the case upon you."
Ezrafor the first time since Michael Greenway had stormed into the Team Seven office areaspoke to their attacker. "Conferred? Such a case can hardly be considered an honor. Aside from your atrocious grasp of the connotations within the English language, however, you also lack basic reasoning and logic skills. The fault lies not with my talented and earnest compatriot, but with your reticence in revealing all of the germane facts to us in a timely manner," Ezra reiterated Buck's argument just in case the pompous Interpol operative had dismissed the point as the ravings of a biased and emotionally unstable man.
Michael Greenway's light blue eyes narrowed in suspicion. "My friend and former coworker is dead, and you would dare blame me?"
"If the shoe fits," Nate muttered from his desk in the corner of the office area. Though his argumentative side usually only surfaced while trying to convince other members of Team Seven to permit a visit to the hospital - usually to treat a gushing wound that the injured man would invariably claim was 'only a scratch' - he was becoming angry with this self-righteous man. "If you knew Abbott so well, you should have had some idea what he was capable of...and given us fair warning."
"Interpol cannot be held responsible for the actions of a man no longer associated in any way, shape or form, with the agency in question," Michael Greenway recited, as though reading from a policy manual. "I am reasserting Interpol's control over this case, since this team and...certain members in particular..." Michael spared a hate-filled glance for the back of JD's head, "seems incapable of operating effectively in its own backyard."
"There is no legal precedent for you to do so," Ezra pointed out calmly. "The ATF's agreement with Interpol states only that we will share information related to alcohol, tobacco and firearms. I believe the intent of the agreement was to facilitate the seizure of weapons if the shipment crossed into the United States during an exchange. Since no borders have been crossed, even the spirit of that agreement does not require us to return control of this case to an agency which clearly had no more success with it than my colleagues have had in a far shorter time."
"Then you agree?" Michael Greenway tried to argue while ignoring the barbed comment about Interpol's previous ineffectiveness in catching the murderer. "Damon Spencer certainly does not fall within your charter's investigative areas. His weapon of choice is a knife, and this was originally an Interpol case." Michael paused for a second before muttering, "Scotland Yard didn't give us any grief when we assumed control of this case." Michael Greenway glared at JD, but his look was also speculative. What was is about these men that made them so committed and protective, not only toward each other, but also in regards to their cases?
"You can try to regain control over this case," Chris said, his voice barely above a whisper, "but I doubt you'll succeed." The angry look transferred immediately from JD to the ATF Team Seven leader, and Chris gave a predatory smile at the challenge.
"Are you refusing to remit jurisdiction of this case to Interpol?" Michael Greenway asked in shock. "I had heard that your audacity knew no bounds, but this is unbelievable!"
Chris shook his head slightly. "This isn't a matter of jurisdiction, Greenway," Chris explained, "though if we wanted to, we could claim that right easily; the murder was committed on U.S. soil, and it's pretty clear that the intended target was a United States' government employee."
Michael Greenway's anger faded by a few degrees as he realized that Christopher Larabee was not primarily trying to make the argument to retain the case based upon crimes committed within Colorado. "Then what, pray tell, is the most important factor?"
The room was silent for a few moments, and JD could feel gazes turning in his direction. Pocketing the miniature tape recorder he always carried, JD decided to stand up for himself because what Michael Greenway truly wanted was a fight with JD directly rather than one with the rest of the team. He rose from his chair and faced the Interpol agent.
Taking a deep breath, JD clarified the Damon Spencer case for Michael Greenway. "Me," he said simply. "Abbott kidnapped my friends to test my abilities. When we spoke before..." JD's voice became thick with emotion, and he needed to pause for a second before continuing, "before he was shot, Roger told me that." JD smiled wanly, recalling the bitter memory. "He congratulated me, and then told me that 'condolences might be in order'."
Something in Michael Greenway's stance changed. It was subtle enough that JD, Buck, Vin, Chris and Nate all missed it, but Ezra and Josiah both noticed the difference. Ezra could see the adjustment because of his undercover workhe had a natural ability to read people's intentions by the slightest shift in body language, and many times that skill had saved his life. Josiah was able to observe the shift in attitude because of his extensive knowledge of psychology. Michael Greenway's stance had just changed from broadcasting rage and a sense of being wronged to one of confusion and recognition.
"Those were his precise words?" Michael Greenway asked in a softer tone, his gaze locked on JD with a mixture of hope and sadness.
"Yes," JD answered truthfully. "Why, is that important?"
Michael Greenway's defenses snapped back into place, but the anger had diminished considerably. "It probably means nothing. I merely recognized the context; it sounds like something Roger used tosomething he would have said."
Chris took the opportunitywhile Michael Greenway was still reeling from the revelation that one of his oldest friends had personally placed the responsibility for the Damon Spencer case in the ATF's handsto approach Greenway and block the man's view of JD. "Call your office, choose to fight this...I really don't care, but if you find anything, you share it with us first. If you locate the phone he's using, don't even put a tap on it without clearing it with me. If you try to go around me on this, I'll arrest you for obstruction and throw you in a holding cell so fast that you'll cross several times zones before the door even closes. Do you understand me?"
Michael Greenway's momentary serenity was shattered by Chris' tone of voice. "You can't interfere in an ongoing investigation"
"Strictly speaking, Mistah Greenway," Ezra interjected helpfully, "you would be the one interfering, not us."
"and you cannot deport me!" Michael Greenway finished his protest while apparently ignoring Ezra's correction.
"We probably could, if ya caused too much trouble," a quiet voice suggested, and several heads turned in surprise at who had made the assertion.
"Mistah Tanner, I am unfamiliar with any legal procedures currently in place that set the precedent for such a policy, desirable though it may be," Ezra said, not wanting to contradict Vin, but also knowing that they should not attempt to bluff Mr. Greenway. The Interpol operative was angry enough to call any bluff they made.
"That's the funny thing about the USA Patriot Act," Vin explained, his tone even, but his eyes mischievous. "Title VII classifies assassination, kidnapping, and property destruction all as terrorist acts."
Chris smiled, even though he was secretly wondering just why Vin had found it necessary to learn the acts of Congress that more commonly applied to situations outside the ATF's area of expertise.
"You have no proof that Damon Spencer did any of those things," Michael Greenway claimed, but his voice was not nearly as convinced as before.
"We have his criminal record, thanks to JD," Buck retorted, "and it's full of crimes identical to the ones described in Title VII."
"Additionally, we have had reports in the area regarding unsolved murders, disappearances, and property damage since Damon Spencer arrived in the country," Josiah contributed with a beatific look.
Michael Greenway protested, "Even if you managed to prove his guilt in those crimes, our psychological profile of the criminal concludes that he is motivated by personal, not political reasons, which would violate the spirit of that legislation."
"Would your psychological profile have suggested that Damon Spencer was smart enough to allow his long-time adversary to uncover our weaknesses, rather than just trying to kill us himself?" Nate asked, and Michael Greenway floundered.
"Well, not exactly...but"
"Then, we have to assume that these recent, unsolved crimes were committed by him, and thatsince one of those was against an employee of the U.S. governmenthis motives are political after all," Chris concluded, trying desperately not to laugh at the look on Michael Greenway's face. Their visitor looked as though he was suffering from motion sickness at spinning to confront each argument as it was presented by a different member of the team.
The phone rang, and JD hurriedly answered it. He was not enjoying this repartee nearly as much as the rest of the team. The information was disturbing, and JD immediately told Chris the content of the phone conversation. "Chris," JD interrupted the team leader's verbal jousting to report, "the Denver PD found a body just south of the city. The corpse had been badly disfigured, but the initials DS were carved into her...well...anyway, remember how we put out a bulletin to inform us of any particularly strange or violent crimes? The officer on scene was just following up; he recognized the initials. He sounded pretty upset."
"That bastard," Buck said in a harsh, wounded whisper. Buck might have a reputation for sleeping with a different woman nearly every night, but he always respected them, and found something special in each and every one to admire. The ladies man spun and swung his arm in a tight arc. Michael Greenway ducked instinctively, but Buck had not been aiming for Greenway. Instead, Buck's hand left a sizeable dent in the wall a few feet from Michael's head.
Chris made a mental note to inform the building's engineer that repairs needed to be made, but at the same time was privately jealous of his oldest friend, because at least Buck had been able to express his anger in some outward manner. The rest of Team Seven fumed right along with Buck, but it was mournful, frustrated, and silent.
JD sighed. "We should've known he would do something like this," JD said, his voice wracked with guilt.
"As I already said, JD," Josiah reassured the younger agent, "Damon Spencer's mental state is impossible to predict."
"It isn't impossible to interpret, though," Chris stated, his tone even but his eyes promising murder. "This is definitely a message to us. I'll investigate the scene. Nate, call the area hospitals, see if there were any attacks against women that were similar to this one. If someone escaped and this woman was the second attempt, then we might have a witness who can give us a starting point for a search. Josiah, call around to the area banks again; let them know that we have confirmation that a suspected bank robber is in the area, and fax them his description. Ezra, check with any snitches you have; see if anyone has heard of or met Spencer since he came into town. JD, keep checking the computer angle. Hopefully, he's been caught on a surveillance camera somewhere in the city. Vin, run down any contacts you have in the military and gun shops. If this guy bought, borrowed or stole a rifle since coming into the States, I want to know about it so that we're prepared. Buck..." for the first time since he began issuing orders, Chris paused, because he knew the assignment would be difficult for the man, "check with the morgues. We need to know if he's tried to...communicate like this before. Maybe we missed it." Chris' voice twisted on the last part; he hated thinking of human beings as disposable, but had to recognize that such an outlook matched Damon Spencer's view. "What are you waiting for?" he asked the room in general, because no one had moved.
It was Vin who broke the silence. "Someone should go with you," Vin explained the team's discomfort. "We don't know if this is a trap...ya might need backup."
"I could come along," Michael Greenway offered unexpectedly. When he was pinned with seven disbelieving stares, Michael said, "It is the only way I will be kept even partially updated on the case, and I promise to follow your lead, Agent Larabee." No one spoke, so Michael Greenway tried a different approach. "Please, I know now that Roger trusted your team with the Damon Spencer case, but I cannot quite believe it myself. I need to see this team in action, both for my own personal reassurance and to mollify my superiors."
Chris stared at Michael Greenway for a moment, as though assessing the truth in the man's words. Then, he came to an abrupt decision. "Fine. You can ride along. What's the address, JD?"
"I must admit that I am surprised you permitted this," Michael Greenway confessed as Chris' black truck pulled up beside an undeveloped piece of land cordoned off with crime scene tape.
"Me too," Chris said distractedly as he exited the vehicle. "Remember, you promised to follow my lead on this, so let me ask questions first, and treat the officer on scene with respect."
Michael Greenway smirked. "Simply because I failed to behave diplomatically toward your team does not make me incompetent in dealing with all other law enforcement officers."
Chris decided not to begin another argument this close to a crime scene; he would need his mind clear to understand what message Damon Spencer was trying to convey.
"Mr. Larabee?" a nervous young police officer called out from about half-way back on the property. He was standing next to a tarp-covered figure.
Chris nodded to the officer and picked up his pace. Michael Greenway kept up without difficulty. Chris began to reach for his credentials, but the young officer - whose brass nametag said Evans - shook his head.
"That's okay...everybody at the station knows who you are. Who's he, though?" Officer Evans looked confused by the arrival of a second agent. Evidently, he had been expecting only Chris.
"This is Michael Greenway, with Interpol. He's overseeing the case to make sure it's handled properly," Chris stated wryly. "Just tell us what you found." As the officer reached for the tarp to illustrate rather than explain, Chris protested. "No, I'd like to hear it in your words first, and then I'll have a look at the body."
"Alright," Officer Evan replied, still nervous about speaking to the infamous Chris Larabee. "Um, I was on patrol this morning when I saw something that didn't match the landscape. I pulled over and investigated this lot, and that's when I found her. The body must have been left after 5 a.m., and it had multiple knife wounds. God, I hope she didn't suffer..." the officer added to himself.
"How do you know the body was left here after 5 a.m.?" Chris asked suspiciously. Young police officers who knew too much about a murder victim were far more likely to have been involved in the murder than were the ones who immediately ran for the crime scene's edge to empty their stomachs.
"Dew point, sir," Officer Evans answered formally because he recognized the tension in Chris' voice, and knew that superiors were looking for quick, concise replies when that tone was used.
"Dew point?" Michael Greenway asked, and received a mild glare from Chris for speaking out.
"Yes, sir," the young officer explained. "I had to take this weather course in college...well, actually I didn't have to, but the alternatives were less interesting, and I needed to take something"
Chris sighed as the young man reminded him of JD because thinking of Team Seven's newest member and this crime scene in the same sentence was sickening to Chris. He knew the team would be unable to protect JD's innocence forever, but he was determined to keep JD away from the worst that this job had to offer for as long as possible. "You're rambling, Officer."
"Yes. Sorry, sir," Officer Evans said. "The point is...the body did not have dew on it, which means that it was placed here some time after all of the humidity in the air had already condensed into dew. The dew had already set at 5 o'clock when I woke up this morning and went for a run. I don't know if that's helpful..."
"Every fact is helpful, Evans," Chris replied absent- mindedly. The truth was that not all information actually assisted in solving a case. In fact, some conclusions merely clouded what had happened, but that was a more complicated lesson than the young officer needed right now. Chris asked Officer Evans to secure the perimeter, and the man bolted as though released from detention.
Chris smiled. Evans might respect Chris, but that didn't make the severe-looking agent any less terrifying. Chris crouched, pulled back the tarp and had to struggle to keep his anger contained. The body was much as the officer had described it, and Chris felt a wave of hatred sweep through him. Closer examination revealed that the wounds had not bled much, which seemed to indicate that they had been inflicted post-mortem, and further cursory examination revealed that the young woman had not been violated. (Honestly, Chris had always considered murder to be the ultimate violation of another person, rather than what was conventionally meant when the term was used, but in this case, he at least took comfort that insult had not been added to injury.)
"We'll have to get some crime scene techs down here to look at it," Chris commented. "If he left any evidence, it's not at the visible level. I assume you've studied his criminal record, Greenway, does this seem like his MO?"
"It isn't my best work, but then, she was only the messenger," a voice that matched neither Officer Evans nor Michael Greenway said coldly. "The canvas had to be still, or the art might have become smudged."
"Spencer," Chris said, though it was less a question than an accusation. He started to turn, to face the monster, but that same voice stopped him.
"I would be careful, Agent Larabee. Move slowly, and keep your hands where I can see them. You wouldn't want any more innocents hurt."
Chris thought he heard amusement in Damon Spencer's voice, and when he stood and pivoted slowly, with his hands away from his weapons, Chris finally saw the reason for the emotion in Damon's tone.
Michael Greenway was standing stock still because Damon Spencer had a knife held to the Interpol operative's throat.
"I doubt he qualifies as 'innocent,'" Damon Spencer commented, "but he is a fellow lawman, which should cause you some concern over his continued existence."
Chris felt his teeth grinding together in impotent anger, but still managed to ask, "What about the officer?"
Damon Spencer smiled, grateful now that he had controlled his initial impulse to kill the boy. Clearly, the Interpol agent might not have been enough incentive for Agent Larabee to obey. "He is alivethough if we do not conclude our business quickly, he may bleed to death before the emergency services are called."
With deliberate effort, Chris unclenched his jaw. "What do you want?"
Spencer's lower lip pouted and his eyes flashed with disappointment. "You do not intend to bargain, then? This is the point where people always offer their own lives, if I merely promise to let their friends live."
Chris met Damon's displeased look with one of his infamous glares. "Neither of these men are my friends, besides which, I don't think you are the sort of man who changes his mind just because someone begs. Now, what do you want?" Chris was calculating that Damon Spencer might leave Officer Evans and Michael Greenway alive if Chris appeared not to care about their fates, but would definitely execute them if the ATF team leader showed his anxiety.
The feigned sorrow instantly transformed into grudging admiration. "You are a true warrior..." Damon Spencer remarked, "not merely a man who wears a badge." He grinned in anticipation. "Warriors always have much more interesting deaths." When Chris refused to show fear at that morbid observation, Damon Spencer commenced giving instructions. "Lay your weapons on the ground, and then kneel with your hands on your head."
Chris hesitated for a moment, thinking about what Josiah had said about Damon Spencer's psychological profile. No matter what Chris did, Spencer might kill Greenway and Evans regardless. Chris wondered if he should try to draw his sidearm. His aim was not as good as Vin's, but he was exceptionally fast with a gun.
Damon Spencer noticed Chris considering the options, and drew the knife deeper into Michael Greenway's skin. Greenway did not groan or cry out, but Chris received the message.
Glaring furiously, Chris disarmed, even leaving his cellular phone on the ground so that Damon Spencer would have no reason to hurt anyone out of anger. Then, Chris stepped back from the small arsenalhe did not carry as many weapons as Vin or Nathan, but he did carry more than just a sidearm and one backup pieceand dropped to his knees. The entire time, he never broke eye contact with Damon Spencer, hoping that by drawing attention to himself, the murderer would leave the other two men alone.
Damon Spencer relieved Michael Greenway of his sidearm and then tossed a pair of standard-issue Denver PD handcuffs to Chris. "Behind your back, Agent Larabee," the murderer reminded the team leader, and then added, "and the glare is hardly necessary. I am a criminal, not an idiot. That you find me objectionable is quite apparent without that...horrific stare."
Chris smiled slowly, even as he surrendered his mobility, closing the cuffs around each of his wrists. 'Objectionable' was the tamest adjective Chris would have considered when describing the utter loathing he felt toward the murderer.
Damon snorted at the predatory grin and unnerving gaze that remained steadfastly on the defeated ATF agent's features despite the desperate situation. "And they call me insane," he commented. After a pause, his amusement became more manic, and he said, "I hope you are prepared, Agent Larabee."
Chris' eyes narrowed in suspicion, and he realized a few seconds too late that his efforts had been wasted on Damon Spencer.
JD was searching the digitally stored video feeds from the Denver Federal Building when the call came in. Without taking his eyes off the computer screen, JD answered the phone. When the information finally permeated JD's awareness, he began panicking. "Yes, that's Mr. Larabee's license plate. What's happened to him?"
The reply made JD's face go white and his hands started shaking. "I'll be there in fifteen minutes. Don't touch anything. Consider it a crime scene; I'll explain when I arrive."
With a guilt-laden look, JD glanced around the office, wondering who he should ask to come with him. Buck and Vin would want to know as soon as possible, but Josiah might be more level-headed. Then again, the few times he had seen Josiah lose his temper, the muscular man had been terrifying. Ezra's keen eye would be useful, and Nate could...confirm the allegation, but the three of them leaving together, with no explanation, would raise the other agents' suspicions.
Gathering his thoughts for a moment, JD stood and went first to Nathan's and then to Ezra's desk, telling each man that Chris had found something and he needed their opinion.
Ezra immediately noticed that something was wrong. For a man with no ability to dissemble, though, JD was doing a commendable job of fooling the other five agents. That was probably because none of the other men expected JD to be capable of misleading them. Ezra waited until he, Nathan and JD had entered the elevator before saying, "What information are you withholding from us, Mistah Dunne?"
JD could not meet Ezra's gaze, and Nathan was confused by Ezra's certainty. JD closed his eyes for a few seconds and then admitted, "That call...it wasn't from Chris - it was about him. His car exploded, and he was inside. Michael Greenway is dead and the officer who was on scene for the first dead body is in bad shape. No one knows what happened for sure. I ordered the officer who called me to secure the scene; what else could I tell him?"
'That a psychopathic killer had already compromised a crime scene at that exact location the very same day?' Ezra speculated with detached sarcasm. Agent Dunne's confession had not yet been acknowledged. Ezra would not allow himself to accept the news.
"Why haven't you told anyone else?" Nate asked. He also did not believe what JD was saying, but could not think of any reason for JD to lie. The youngest member of Team Seven was innately kind, and though he enjoyed pranks, he would never pull one as cruel as this.
JD shrugged. "I didn't know how Buck or Josiah would react. I knew this would destroy Vin, so I'm trying to delay telling him until..." JD's gaze flickered momentarily in Nate's direction, and abruptly, Ezra understood.
"You wished to have someone with a cool head and someone who could corroborate our renowned leader's medical state," Ezra hazarded a guess, though now that he knew the subject, JD's expression was like an open book.
The three proceeded to the crime scene in near silence. Ezra drove, since his nerves seemed the least affected by this tragedy, and Nathan asked a few more questions of JD, almost as though he was trying to convince himself that this had not happened.
However, when they arrived at the scene, all doubt vanished. As JD had requested, the still-smoking metal frame of Chris' truck had been left alone. A single, burnt corpse was slumped in the front seat, two gunswarped by the heat of the firenear the body where they would have been before the holsters burned away. The scorched remains of a cell phone and Chris' credentials both lay in the front passenger seat.
"Where is the other body?" Nate asked of one of the officers on scene, and JD had to abruptly excuse himself and walk briskly back toward Ezra's Jaguar. Recognizing the signs of a man in great emotional turmoil, Ezra followed and patiently waited for JD to calm down enough to discuss the matter.
It was not that Ezra was unfeeling. Chris' death had hit him with more force than he liked to admit, but where JD and Ezra differed was in the number and severity of loss. JD had lost his mother, but it had been to a long battle with cancer. Ezra, on the other hand, had never lost anyone to death, but had endured the emotional death of betrayal and abandonment more times than he cared to recall. So, while Ezra's impassive expression remained, underneath the calm appearance, his emotions and thoughts were tumbling chaotically.
Ezra remembered the first case he had worked on with Team Seven. During the bust, the undercover agent had apparently run away, leaving his coworkers one man short. That had nearly proven fatal to the remaining members of the team, but then Ezra returned with the gang's leader and forced the other criminals to surrender. In fact, he had not deserted...he had simply pursued a target who had left the immediate vicinity.
Internal Affairs had been eager to ostracize Ezra over that incident, but Chris had backed him up once he heard Ezra's side of the story. Later, in a tone that had not entirely been joking, Chris had told Ezra, 'Never run out on me again.' Ezra had felt true elation. A man who had no reason to trust himwho, due to Ezra's reputation, indeed had very good cause to doubt himhad given Ezra a second chance.
Now, Ezra had his second chance, but no leader to whom he could prove his worth.
"Mistah Dunne," Ezra returned to the present because he realized that JD's breathing had returned to normal and the young agent's face no longer held an unhealthy, green tinge, "do you require more time for cogitation, or are you prepared to engage in a conversation regarding the event?"
JD giggled hysterically. He could not believe that they were standing near Chris' final resting place and Ezra was calmly asking him if he wanted to talk. Actually, there was nothing strange about such a request, but the way Ezra said it...in reality, JD was trying not to 'cogitate'. It dragged all of his mistakes regarding the Damon Spencer case kicking and screaming into the light.
"JD?" Ezra asked in concern. "If you are feeling light-headed, I can bring Mistah Jackson over here..."
"No, Ez," JD finally gathered his thoughts enough to form a few sentences. "I'm fine. It's just, I was wondering what I should have done differently. Vin wanted someone to go with himmaybe if it had been one of us instead"
"Do not torture yourself, my friend," Ezra ordered gently. "Damon Spencer is a certifiable monstrosity who bears the label of human only because the people who are aware of his spiteful subterfuge are too frightened by him to deprive him of said title."
Upon seeing JD's gaping look, Ezra simplified his explanation. "That murderer is so dangerous that I doubt the identity of Mistah Larabee's backup would have made a significant difference. The most we can do now is apprehend this abhorrent miscreant and see that justice is served. Such a pursuit will be hindered if any of us permit completely false and misplaced self-flagellation to impede our efforts."
JD smiled weakly. He recognized that Ezra was pulling out all the stops for his vocabulary because he truly did not know what to feel. "Okay, Ez. I'll stop feeling guilty and pitying myself if you promise to do the same."
Ezra felt his eyebrows climb in surprise. He thought he had been hiding his misgivings adequately. Had JD read his expression, or simply assumed that whatever he was feeling, Ezra must likewise be experiencing? Whatever the method of JD's reasoning, Ezra nodded curtly. "Agreed. Shall we go assist Mistah Jackson in his examination of the other set of remains?"
Grimacing, JD followed Ezra into the nearly empty field where Nathan was studying two corpses. One had been covered with a tarp, and the other looked as though it had bled out. Another patch of grass had blood on it, and JD stooped to examine the darkened blades and weeds. "Nate?" JD asked, gesturing toward the small, soaked area.
Nathan glanced over to where JD was pointing and nodded. His features were drawn tight with the effort of maintaining an air of professionalism despite the identities of the deceased. "Vin would probably be able to say for sure because he could read the tracks in the grass, but I think that the perpetrator slit Greenway's throat, and then Chris tried to attack the perpetrator. The killer subdued Chris after a brief struggle, dragged him over to the truck, and then set it on fire."
"Good Lord," Ezra whispered, horrified. "Was Mistah Larabee aware of his...combustion?"
"I hope not," JD asserted fervently, and Nathan sighed.
"Maybe not at first," Nate explained. "But unless the perpetrator administered a sedative, Chris would have recovered quickly. There's not enough blood to indicate that he would have lost consciousness."
JD turned away from Nathan and Ezra to brush away the frustrated tears that began coursing down his cheeks. Though JD had only been with ATF Team Seven for a short while, he knew that every man on the team was a hero in his own right. However, Chris went beyond that classification. Chris Larabee, for all he had overcome and the man he was in spite of his past, was a legend. Legends did not deserve an end like this.
Ezra swallowed and attempted to conceal his distress. Burning wasor so he had hearda terrible, painful death. He would not have wished such a harrowing death on his worst enemy, and when he considered the possible deaths of his colleagues, it was always in some abstract philosophical sense...not to mention many years removed from their current ages.
Nate shook his head and ignored JD's tears. He wished he could be that open right now, but some small part of his brain was reminding him not to contaminate a crime scene with additional liquids. Nate was still in shock, and hoped that he remained in that state...because he did not want to think of his reaction when he finally accepted this crime scene's reality.
"Where the hell is he?"
JD, Ezra and Nate all cringed simultaneously at the sound of Buck's raised voice. Furtive glances in the general direction of the angry question revealed that Josiah and Vin had accompanied Buck as well. Ezra, Nathan and JD had been so wrapped up in the crime scene, and in their personal grief, that no one had thought to call and make some excuse to keep the rest of the team from driving down to this killing field.
Ezra straightened his shoulders and flicked an imperceptible bit of lint from the sleeve of his jacket. "I shall deliver the pertinent information to our colleagues," Ezra offered, and turned to do so before either Nathan or JD could protest.
ATF Team Seven was dealing poorly with Chris' death.
Buck had put in for some personal time, though no one had approved it. The proper form was filled outthe paper had torn in several places where the pressure from Buck's pen became too greatand placed on Chris' desk. No one had the heart to remind the team leader's long-time friend that technically Vin was the second-in-command, and that all approvals for vacation had to go through him now. Buck had not been into the office since turning in that form, but Inez had called to inform JD that Buck was frequenting the back booth of the Saloon for hours at a time.
Vin would have approved the request, if he had ever seen it. Instead of asking for personal time, though, Vin had retreated to Chris' ranch with the excuse that someone needed to look after the horses Chris stabled out there. Josiah occasionally visited the mourning sniper to make sure that Vin had not hurt himself. Usually, Vin was a strong man, but Josiah knew that Vin and Chris were like two parts of one soul. When one moved on, the other necessarily felt the pull toward the afterlife.
Without the accepted leadership present in the office, Josiah became the de facto leader of the diminished Team Seven. The other men could not help but notice that Josiah did not quote the Bible nearly as often, and that the few religious symbols he kept on his desk had either been knocked over or thrown unceremoniously into his desk's bottom drawer...that was the one that could be locked.
Nathan spent his days catching up on paperwork and obsessively sorting through his medical supplies, almost as though he felt guilty for being unable to save their leader. No one told him that Chris' death had been unpreventable, because each man was too busy blaming himself for their leader's demise.
Ezra had filled out a transfer request form, more out of habit than from any real desire to leave the team. Despite what he had told JD, Ezra believed that had he been the one to accompany Mr. Larabee, the outcome might have been different. Ezra specialized in understanding the criminal mind, and no one had ever been more reprehensibly criminal than Damon Spencer. The form sat on Mr. Larabee's desk beside Buck's more temporary departure, likewise waiting for approval that would never come.
JD followed Chris' final order to him, coming in early and staying long after the other men had left, tryingwith the dedication of the depressedto find video footage or some computer evidence of Damon Spencer's presence in Denver. Since he started the search in the area near where Chris was killed, he did not return to the footage of the Denver Federal building until three days after Chris' death. When he did finally resume his search of that footage, using the facial recognition software and a picture from Spencer's criminal record, JD did not expect to find anything.
What he found, though, made him question what had allegedly happened three days prior.
On the cameras overlooking the hallway that adjoined Team Seven's office area, the facial recognition software matched the jaw line of a janitor wearing a long-billed baseball cap to that of Damon Spencer. After hours and in disguise, Damon Spencer had snuck into ATF Team Seven's office area with a small bag under one arm. He disappeared into the office area for fifteen minutes and then exited. The bag was not bulging as much when he departed the office area. Clearly, Damon Spencer had left something in the office.
Knowing what any criminal in Damon Spencer's position would try to do to Team Seven's office area, JD began checking the best places for an electronic bug. This turn of events revealed only that Spencer was good at blending in, and not that he had any prowess with electronics. If the device was made by a company, JD might be able to trace the device back to the store, and check the camera footage there.
The more interesting fact, though, JD pondered as he dug through a potted plant in the corner of the room, was that the infiltration of Team Seven's office had occurred four days ago, which would have given him knowledge of the manner in which they were investigating him...especially of Chris' intention to visit the crime scene with only one man for backup, and that the man was one Chris had not trusted completely.
JD suppressed an excited shout of victory as he found the device stuck to one of the plant's branches. He immediately ran into Chris' separate office, only realizing his mistake after he had already skidded to a stop in front of the desk with two forms on its surface and an empty chair behind it. Some emotionally detached part of his brain noted that the forms were requests for vacation time and a transfer, and had been left on the unoccupied desk by Buck and Ezra, respectively. JD's elation deflated like a balloon popped underfoot as he stood, ready to deliver a report to an empty office, and he stared around the room in despair, trying to think of when Chris was still alive.
His gaze was drawn to the few pictures that Chris kept in an inconspicuous corner. There were pictures of the team before JD had arrived, and few from after. One of the pictures from before was of a fishing trip. Ezra was as far away from the river as possible, his arms crossed over his chest in protest, and JD gave a small smile. He could almost hear Ez complaining about being dragged out to the middle of nowhere, where simple amenities such as a warm bed were unavailable.
In the foreground, Vin and Nate were quietly casting their lines and talking to each other. Josiah must have taken the picture, because JD did not see him in it. Finally, JD's eyes settled on Chris and Buck. The pair was roughhousing in the river, and both men's shirts had been soaked through. Against the dark background of Chris' waterlogged shirt, JD saw the glint of metal that was roughly rectangular in shape, but with rounded-off corners.
Before he was aware of a conscious decision, JD had fled the office, the floor, and the building. He headed for the morgue where Chris' remains were being kept, refusing to hope until he had proof. JD burst through the swinging doors of the morgue and paused, taking in his surroundings before he made his demands. Spotting the coroner who had conducted Chris' autopsy, JD briskly strode over, planted his hands on the man's desk, and said in a quiet, intense voice, "I need to see Agent Larabee's personal effects, now."
The coroner recognized JD as one of the six men who had accompanied their superior's remains to the morgue. "Mister Dunne," the coroner objected, "I understand that you and your coworkers are going through a difficult time, but I cannot allow you to interrupt my work"
"That's Agent Dunne to you," JD said, his tone cold and uncompromising, "and you are obstructing a federal investigation. Show me his personal effects."
The coroner sighed, but stood and went to retrieve the box in question. He returned a few minutes later and handed JD a pair of gloves.
It took JD a few tries to get the latex gloves over his hands because they were shaking slightly. Once he was in no danger of contaminating the evidence, JD opened the container and sifted through Chris' belongings. Chris' credentials, two guns, and his cellular phone were the only things in the box. JD glared at the coroner impatiently. "Where are his dog tags?"
"His what?" The coroner asked in frightened amazement. He had heard that the ATF team was a scary group, but that their youngest member was constantly polite and a bit on the shy side. This agent's personality bore no resemblance to the timid, respectful man he had expected.
"Chris' dog tags, from his time in the military. He always wore them, even when he was on vacation, so he would have been wearing them three days ago," JD explained. "Did the fire sear them into his body? Is that why they aren't in this box?"
The coroner thought back to his examination of the body. "No, there were no traces of metal on the ribcage or sternum. Why does this matter? We know he was at the scene and that there was a dangerous murderer on the loose..."
JD could not decide whether to be overjoyed or angry. Chris was alive, but he had been alone with Damon Spencer for three days. What was Spencer's plan? Was he simply waiting for Team Seven to tear itself apart from grief? That would be smart, and then any remaining members who still wanted to pursue Spencer would be discouraged from doing so by the hostage he held...JD's chest tightened in fear. "I have to get back to the office," JD muttered and then he left the morgue so fast that the coroner did not even have time to process what the young agent had said before the doors began swinging behind him.
JD marched back into Team Seven's office, tore Spencer's listening device from the potted plant, wrapped it in a cloth towel ripped out of the bathroom's hand-drying mechanism, and stashed the electronic bug in a drawer of his desk, under several layers of computer manuals. Then he settled back in his chair and waited.
"Was your lunch break enjoyable?" Ezra asked, his tone nearly amused. The men of Team Seven had found their capacity for humor and banter greatly diminished after Chris' demise, but JD's recent antics had piqued Ezra's innate curiosity.
JD glanced at his watch. He had not realized it was lunch time. In fact, he couldn't remember the last time he had eaten a full meal, rather than just coffee or an energy bar. "It was great," JD replied shortly. "I'm running down a lead."
Ezra raised an eyebrow in question, but did not pursue the matter further because the phone on JD's desk rang.
JD practically pounced on the blaring contraption, moving the receiver to his ear so quickly that the motion was a blur. "You tell me where he is, you bastard, and I'll think about not ripping your intestines out through yourVin?" JD's threat staggered to a halt as he realized that the person who had called was not the one he was expecting. "Yes, I was...there were two guns. Yeah, I suspected...because of the dog tags; the coroner didn't find any. No, don't try to drive. I'll swing by the ranch; maybe pick up Buck on the way...if I can drag him out of whatever bottle he's crawled into. Yeah, you too. 'K, see you soon."
The youngest member of Team Seven hung up the phone and for the first time in days his expression was at peace. It also held the terrifying sense of purpose and direction that promised utter destruction to anyone who tried to sway him from his course. JD turned to Ezra with perfect composure and said, "If anyone calls for me, please give them the number for my cell phone. I'll be out at the ranch with Buck and Vin."
Without any further explanation, JD left the office again. Ezra waited until JD was out of sight before opening the desk drawer that the younger agent had shoved something into earlier. When he saw the listening device, Ezra wrote down the serial number and returned the electronic bug to its secure, sound-dampened resting place. Then, he placed a call to the coroner's office to ask about the significance of Mistah Larabee's dog tags. The reply had him sprinting for the corner where Nathan and Josiah's desks were pushed together, and he explained in hurried, quiet tones what their youngest coworker had discovered.
Within minutes, Team Seven's office area was completely empty. The lights remained on and silence slowly permeated the atmosphere. Then, JD's office phone began to ring.
"Damn it," Damon Spencer said, scowling as the phone rang through to the office voicemail box yet again.
Chris Larabee smiled. It had been a long three days, cooped up in a tiny apartment just outside of Denver with only Damon Spencer for company, but every time his team did something unexpected, Chris gained a small victory over his captor. "What's wrong now?" He asked mockingly. Already, the team had not broken up over his apparent death, and JD was still searching for Spencer.
Damon Spencer glanced in Chris Larabee's direction, refusing to meet the gloating gaze. Larabee was not like Spencer's other victims. Other people broke, cried, begged, or at least admitted defeat. Larabee refused to do any of those things. Spencer already knew that Chris could bleed in a rather satisfying manner, (when Larabee had shouted in protest and tried to charge at Damon for slitting the Interpol man's throat, Damon had been forced to defend himself by plunging the knife into the ATF agent's left leg) but even the small pleasure of watching him bleed extensively had been denied to the killer, because he needed Larabee alive if the original plan fell apart...which it seemed to be doing with dreadful swiftness.
"Someone discovered the listening device I placed in your team's office," Damon Spencer admitted slowly, "and now no one is answering the phones on their desks."
Chris gave a low, delighted laugh. This apartment was surrounded by occupied ones, but the ATF team leader had been warned that if he tried to alert anyone to his presence, Damon Spencer had an entire building of people to slaughter for Chris' defiance.
"They'll be coming for you," Chris stated. This was not a guess. He was absolutely certain that his team, once they realized he was alive, would not stop looking until they had located and freed him.
"They can't," Damon Spencer said, his tone edging toward panic. "That's the whole point! If they somehow survived the devastation of losing their leader and managed to discover the truth, there is still no way for them to link this apartment to me, or to come after me without endangering you." Damon Spencer considered alternatives he had previously believed to be impossible, namely that Team Seven possessed far more intelligence than he had originally credited them with. "Of course, if your life is not a sufficient reason for them to cease their pursuit of me, then I should reduce my losses and move on."
Chris glared at Damon Spencer. (This had become his primary hobby in the past few days, and yet the criminal managed to discover new reasons to deserve the harsh look.) "If you kill me, the rest of the team will never stop hunting you. They would resign from the ATF and track you across the world..." Chris smirked, "and I wouldn't want to be you when Buck and Vin finally have you trapped. Buck never approved of torture, but I'm sure he would make an exception and Vinlet's just say that Vin has a talent for inflicting pain. Some of the tribes and clans he used to live with could prolong a man's life for days before finally killing him."
Damon Spencer paced the apartment, trying to think of what his best strategy was when faced with six madmen. How had the team uncovered the fact that the body was not Larabee's? He had been careful to leave Larabee's identification and any weapons that the team members were likely to know about. He had kept a wicked- looking six-inch blade that had formerly been strapped to Larabee's right ankle; it was far too beautiful a weapon to waste in the car fire. Now, it was strapped to Spencer's ankle instead.
Had that really been what alerted ATF Team Seven to the hoax? Regardless of what had tipped them off, Damon Spencer began preparing his escape.
"It is not wise to disturb him right now, JD," Inez begged, her eyes stealing momentary glimpses of the tall, dark-haired man slumped in the booth located on the back wall of her establishment. There was a bottle of whiskey in front of him, various shot glasses spread around the table, and a nearly empty pitcher of beer.
"Too bad," JD replied. "He has to hear this." JD strode over to the booth where Buck sat, coming to a stop well out of Buck's reach. The younger agent was certainly eager to tell Buck the good and bad news, but he wasn't so naïve as to stand within swinging range while he delivered the message. "Buck," JD said quietly, "we need to talk."
Buck took a swig of whiskey, straight from the bottle. His eyes were red-rimmed, though whether that was from drinking, crying or a little of both, JD could not tell. Buck's gaze was distant enough to tell JD that the alcohol had had some effect already, but still haunted, which explained that while numb, Buck was aware of the great loss he was convinced he had suffered.
"Buck, I know you probably blame me for all of this, but that's not important right now," JD tried to reach his friend and protector by apologizing, and Buck stared at JD as though the younger man must have gone crazy during Buck's three-day binge.
"Don't know what you're talkin' about," Buck muttered. His words, surprisingly, were not as slurred as JD had expected from the amount of alcohol Buck seemed to have consumed.
"Abbott gave me this case," JD explained, "and the rest of you only stayed on the case because it was my responsibility..."
"Wasn't your fault," Buck asserted, his voice stronger. "That stubborn bastard would've gone to check out the crime scene no matter what we said. Too damn noble for his own good...maybe if I hadn't made him come back after Adam and Sarah..."
JD knew about how Chris' wife and son had been killed in a car bomb that was supposed to kill Chris, and that it had driven Chris to a similar place as where Buck was now. He also had gleaned from various police reports and news articles that Buck had done his best to make sure that Chris did not drink himself to death and that the mourning blond also did not hurt anyone else. Sometimes, the two goals were at odds with each other.
That past was not important at the moment, though. At least JD had gotten Buck talking...now it was time to tell Buck about Damon Spencer. "Listen, you won't want to believe this, but Vin and I both have evidence"
"Spit it out, kid," Buck said without humor, "before ya choke on it."
JD met Buck's gaze and blurted out, "Chris is alive, and Spencer's been spying on us using an electronic listening device on the potted plant in the corner of our office. I noticed that Chris always wears his dog tags because of that picture in his private office, but the coroner couldn't find them, and Vin said that one of Chris' weapons was missing, so"
The younger agent's attempt at staying out of Buck's range failed. Without warning, Buck stood and shakily crossed the distance between JD and himself. Grabbing JD's shoulders, the taller man stared steadily into JD's eyes, trying to detect any sign of a lie. "You're sure?"
JD nodded, and then found himself suddenly being crushed in one of Buck's bear hugs. Almost as abruptly, the embrace ended and Buck's formerly inebriated features bore an expression of concern.
"If he's been alive all this time, why hasn't he come back?"
JD's gaze was downcast as he revealed, "Spencer. Vin's out at the ranch; I said we would meet him there to make a plan. You know explosives, and since Spencer blew up Chris' car..."
Buck snorted in disdain. "Any amateur could do that...but you're right. A small explosion might be just the distraction we need once we locate Spencer. Do you have any leads?"
During his last statement, Buck had begun walking toward the Saloon's front door. JD steadied Buck when the taller man stumbled and replied, "That's what Vin is working on right now."
Inez smiled as she picked up the phone behind the bar. Buck had seemed to have a goal now, and he had been happy about part of whatever JD had told him. "Senior Standish? You asked me to call when Senior Wilmington left the Saloon. JD just came by and they left together."
"Thank you, Miss Recillos," Ezra replied before ending the phone call by snapping his cell phone shut. He noticed the questioning looks from Josiah, who was driving, and Nathan, who was riding shotgun. "I had requested that the lovely proprietress of our most-frequented dining establishment report upon any change in Mistah Wilmington's status. Mistah Dunne was successful in convincing him to leave the Saloon. The trio will now rendezvous at Mistah Larabee's ranch."
Josiah drove faster, determined to reach the ranch before JD and Buck did. The team was strongest when they acted as one, but Buck and Vin's current mental state was too unstable for them to be depended upon for making sensible decisions.
"Uh-oh," JD said as he pulled into the driveway of Chris' ranch house. JD threw himself from the car almost at the same moment that he shoved the gearshift into 'park'. Without explaining the reason for his apprehension to Buck, JD ran through the house until he located the other members of Team Seven sitting around the kitchen table. Josiah was pouring himself a cup of coffee while Ezra inquired as to the creator of that particular brew. When Vin confessed, Ezra politely declined and Nate did his best to hide his amusement.
Buck, only a few steps behind JD, was completely unprepared for the venomous anger the younger man unleashed against his teammates. "Are you trying to get him killed?" When only blank or confused looks met his accusation, JD sighed. "Ezra, I assume you were the one to figure out where I was going and what I'd discovered?" Not waiting for a reply, JD forged ahead. "When Damon Spencer gets upset about losing his listening device inside our office, he will call there. Buck and Vin have hardly been in the office lately, and I wasn't talking much, so my presence wouldn't be missed. We could safely plan a rescue without raising Spencer's suspicions, but if he calls the office and gets no one..."
"Heck, if that's all you're afraid of," Buck interrupted, "you can quit worrying. Chris will tell him exactly what to expect if Spencer tries to kill him."
"Chris does not fit the physical or emotional profile of Damon Spencer's preferred victims," Josiah added. "That should buy us some time as well because Damon's psyche will struggle to cope with Chris' personality."
JD rolled his eyes. "That delay is only helpful to us if we find out where Damon Spencer is holed up, and so far we haven't had any success in finding him!"
"We know, in fact," Ezra supplied, "that Damon Spencer isas you so quaintly put it'holed up' in a two-room apartment on the third floor of a building containing similar housing arrangements just south of Denver. We have the street address."
JD was surprised. "How did you come across this information?" he asked, not willing to trust Chris' fate to the newly acquired knowledge unless his friends were entirely sure of its accuracy.
Nathan nodded at the team's undercover man. "Ez ran down the serial number on that listening device you found. He located the store the device was purchased at and found the cabbie who drove Damon Spencer from the store to the apartment. A missing persons report was filed about the renter in apartment 3B, a Penelope Underwood."
"Penny is the age and physical type that Damon Spencer preys upon most frequently," Josiah clarified.
JD looked around the kitchen at all of his friends, who looked extremely relaxed considering who they were preparing to go up against. "Okay, so what's the plan?" JD inquired hesitantly.
Ezra gestured grandly toward the kitchen table, which JD had not realized held the architectural drawings for an apartment building. "Please, Mistah Dunne, join us."
Taking a seat next to Vin and gratefully accepting the cup of coffee Josiah gave him, JD slipped into a kind of trance while listening to what the team had been already prepared.
"Josiah and I will handle the evacuation of that floor," Nate continued from where the team had evidently been in the planning stage before JD burst in. "I would rather empty the whole building, but Damon Spencer would probably notice a large crowd streaming out the front door."
"The only problem, aside from that, will be placing the explosives here, here, and here," Buck pointed out where he wanted small charges set. "I'm the only one with the know- how to set it up, but I won't be able to move on that fire escape without drawing Spencer's attention."
"Perhaps I could be of assistance," Ezra offered. "My frame is less likely to cause undesirable noise by standing or moving about on the structure. If you could instruct me in the proper procedures..."
After a few defensive comments by Buck (asking whether Ezra was insinuating something about his weight) and earnest replies from Ezra (asserting that he would definitely prefer to distance himself from any and all explosives) the adjustment was approved by Buck.
"If ya'll can get Damon Spencer over ta this window," Vin said, tapping the only window in the apartment, "I should be able ta take him down from this building." He referenced a city guide and pointed to a specific building. "I know the neighborhood. That building is tall enough for me to get the correct angle, and the super owes me a favor. He'll clear out the room I need."
JD had just realized that no matter how stealthy Ezra might be, all it would take was a few too-loud squeaks from the fire escape, and Damon Spencer would panic. If that happened, Chris was as good as dead. JD knew they needed a distraction, and that he was the one best suited to provide that diversion.
He also knew that Buck would never support that plan, so JD pulled Vin aside on the pretext of asking the sniper just what he had done to earn a favor from the opposite building's superintendent.
Vin seemed confused, but followed JD out of the kitchen. "I already told ya that story, JD," Vin explained. "That was the time I"
"Yeah, I figured," JD said, cutting Vin off. Vin was such a Good Samaritan that somehow JD was not surprised that the very building they needed for the success of this rescue attempt was precisely one that owed Vin a favor. He knew they only had a few moments before one of his teammates noticed that both JD and Vin were missing. "Look, I need your help. I can be the distraction Ezra needs in order to set those charges, but Buck will go berserk if he finds out. Remember what Josiah said about Damon Spencer's ideal victims?" JD explained his plan, and Vin nodded when he had finished.
"Take my Jeep," Vin replied, tossing JD the keys. "The tank's almost full. I'll make sure we're just behind ya," Vin smirked, "but not so close that Bucklin kin go inta mother hen mode." He shook JD's hand, but it was the full forearm clasp that Vin usually reserved for Chris alone. "Good luck," he muttered and then turned back toward the kitchen as though nothing had happened.
JD hurried out of the house and started up Vin's car, hoping that he had made the right choice.
"I can't believe you let him do that!" Buck exclaimed the moment he heard what Vin had done. Fortunately, they were on the road by that point. Unfortunately, the only thing stopping Buck from lashing out physically at Vin was Ezra's threat of disembowelment if anyone ruined the upholstery with bloodstains. "The kid will get himself killed," Buck concluded morosely.
"Don't underestimate him, Bucklin," Vin advised. "JD is smarter than ya give him credit for."
Ezra silently concurred, but pushed the gas pedal slightly harder. He knew what it felt like to be left hanging without backup, and calculated that in this situation, every second delayed could mean the difference between life and death for two members of Team Seven.
JD felt completely defenseless as he secured his weapons in the glove compartment of Vin's Jeep. As he became aware of a familiar weight in his right pants pocket, JD dug around in the glove compartment until he found duct tape. Grimacing because he knew that the evidence would hurt coming off, JD turned the miniature tape recorder on and strapped it to his abdomen using the tape. Then he pulled the waist of his t-shirt out so that the bulge was less apparent. Bracing himself for the confrontation he was about to instigate, JD jogged up the flights of stairs to the third floor and knocked on the door to apartment 3B before he could change his mind.
After a few seconds, the door opened as far as the chain would allow, and JD saw a sliver of Damon Spencer's face. The criminal's expression was one of confusion, which quickly settled into a mixture of fear, determination, and anticipation. "He said you would come," Damon told JD simply. "Seemed fairly certain of that. Are you armed?"
JD smirked. "Would you believe me if I claimed I wasn't? Please, I just want to talk."
Damon Spencer considered JD for a moment, and then his more basic, predatory instincts won out. Just as Josiah had explained, JD presented a target closer to Spencer's ideal victim than Chris did. JD was small of stature and his ability to defend himself would be easily belittled by someone like Spencer. "Come inside," Damon ordered quietly, unlocking the door. Once the door was closed behind JD, Damon Spencer searched the young ATF agent. He missed the tape recorder because it was not located near an area in which weapons were conventionally hidden.
"Where is Chris?" JD asked, and he did not need to fake the concern or fear in his tone. "Is he alright?"
Damon Spencer's lips twitched in a poor imitation of a smile. "See for yourself," he offered, a knife appearing suddenly in his hands. JD swallowed nervously. He had seen Nathan handle a few throwing knives before, but if Nate was an artist with bladed weapons, then Damon Spencer was a master. The criminal noticed JD's anxious appreciation and his amusement became stronger. He gestured with the knife and JD hurried to obey, walking briskly into the apartment's other room.
JD took a moment to observe the second room, cataloging its inhabitants and furniture in order to plan the best way to protect Chris. A narrow table ran along the window. At one point, it had been filled with the personal effects of the apartment's former inhabitant, but now the phone, candle holder, incense sticks and lamp had been swept to the floor, seemingly in a fit of rage. JD somehow managed not to laugh. That outburst had probably been caused by Chris. A low bed on a cheap frame occupied about one-fourth of the available floor space, and a single, rickety chair completed the ensemble of furniture in the bedroom/study. Chris was handcuffed to the chair, but one hand was free and the flimsy chair would have presented no barrier to Chris if the leader of Team Seven had wished to escape. JD glanced toward Damon Spencer in confusion, and the murderer read the question in the young ATF agent's eyes.
"Agent Larabee has a strong, if misplaced, sense of loyalty to people he has never met," Damon Spencer explained.
JD's eyes narrowed in disgust. "You mean, you threatened the lives of the other people who live in this building to ensure Chris' cooperation?"
Damon Spencer smiled serenely. "Yes, though why he trusts me after what I did to Mr. Greenway is something of an enigma."
JD sighed. "We're lawmen, Mr. Spencer," he clarified in plain terminology. "The preservation of life is one of our primary objectives, so even if you don't uphold your end of the bargain...we are required to stick to ours."
Spencer chuckled and JD shuddered at the pure, malicious enjoyment conveyed by the sound. JD seriously considered the possibility that Damon Spencer lacked a soul. "It is one of the great ironies of this world," Damon said, crossing the room to stand near Chris, "that someone with the potential for greatness would waste it on protecting the weak."
"At least the men I fight are capable of defending themselves," Chris stated acerbically. "How can you consider yourself great when you prey on the defenseless?"
Now it was Damon Spencer's turn to sigh dramatically. Looking at JD, Damon said conversationally, "Do you see what I have had to tolerate for the past three days? Honestly, I am indebted to you for breaking the monotony." Damon rested the knife he held against Chris' collarbone, far too close to the team leader's neck for JD's comfort. Then, Spencer withdrew a nearly full syringe from his pocket and inserted it into a vein on Chris' arm. "This is filled with a tranquilizer," Damon Spencer said, a new edge to his voice. "It is called Lorazepam, but my supplier is not recognized by your FDA, so there is really no telling what might have been added. I, of course, have no medical training, but I was informed that the correct dosage to put a grown man under is less than half of what is currently in the syringe." Damon Spencer looked up from the syringe and met JD's petrified gaze. "You will tell me precisely what you hoped to gain by coming here, and if I do not believe you..." he depressed the syringe slightly, and JD felt his chest constrict.
"Okay!" JD exclaimed. "I'll tell you, just please don't hurt him." JD spared a glance for Chris, who seemed just as confused by JD's presence as Damon was. 'He thinks I came without backup,' JD realized. Tearing his gaze from Chris because he knew he would not be able to lie convincingly while watching the team leader, JD continued. "Look, the rest of the team wanted to come in here, guns blazing, but I knew that you would kill Chris before we even got the door open." JD watched Damon Spencer's expression change to approval at what he perceived to be praise. "I got one of the guys to stall the others until I could make this offer...take me instead." Damon Spencer stared at JD in disbelief, so JD continued his argument. "The team managed fine before I joined it, and there's just been one disaster after another since I began working with them. Most of those disasters are connected to you. So, I figure that you can use me to help you escape, and then Team Seven will leave you alone...as long as you stay away from Denver." In a lower tone, JD muttered earnestly, "The team has suffered enough already."
Damon Spencer studied JD intently, but saw only truth and desperation in the boy's features. Slowly, Damon Spencer nodded, and then he depressed the plunger exactly halfway. Chris began to droop, but maintained a glare as best he could...and the glare was directed at JD.
Seeing this, Damon Spencer laughed. "It would appear that the leader you hold in such high regard does not appreciate what you are willing to do for him."
JD shrugged. "That's too bad. The team needs him more than it needs me. Your plan was a good one. One of the guys just haunts Chris' house all the time, another tried to drink the grief away, and none of the others has been able to concentrate on the job at hand."
A single, soft squeak from outside the window informed JD that Ezra had completed his preparations. Moments later, the apartment's door to the hallway burst open, and Buck, Josiah and Nate all rushed inside.
Even though JD had been expecting the team's entry, Damon Spencer was faster. Before Buck had cleared the doorway into the room where JD, Chris, and Damon waited, Spencer had grabbed JD, twisted the young man's left hand up behind his back in a painful lock, and brought the knife to JD's throat.
JD did not move, but he did manage to smirk when he saw Buck's horrified look. "Some distraction, huh?" JD asked Buck.
Josiah took over the negotiations because Buck was clearly incapable of doing more than trying to find a lethal shot he could take against Damon Spencer without hitting JD in the process.
"If you surrender peacefully," Josiah suggested, "special consideration will be given to you at the trial."
Damon backed away from the three ATF agents, unaware that in doing so, he was drawing closer to the apartment's only window. JD moved with Damon because the alternative involved the unpleasant possibility of steel piercing flesh. "You will let me leave, now," Damon bargained, "or the boy dies."
JD rolled his eyes in exasperation, though his annoyance was a fairly even split between being referred to as a boy and Damon Spencer's incorrect belief that this tactic would work.
"If he dies, you die," Nathan promised, blocking the only door out of the room and repositioning his weapon, trying ineffectively to find a shot.
"You two might not be willing to negotiate," Damon Spencer said, glancing first at Josiah and then at Nathan, "but I doubt that one is willing to risk his young friend's life. Don't forget, I observed your team's dynamics after Abbott appointed you as my personal hunting party. I heard the way Agent Wilmington leapt to Dunne's defense when Greenway accused him. What do you say, Bucklin? Are you willing to let your friend sacrifice himself for someone like me?"
Half a second before Buck would have given in, the window shattered inward as the explosives detonated. Damon Spencer spun instinctively at the pain of small shards of glass cutting into his back, and at the widest point of that turn, the hand holding the knife came away from JD's throat. A single shot rang out, and Damon Spencer fell to his knees, clutching his bleeding hand and howling at the constellations of glass embedded in the skin of his back.
Buck quickly pulled JD away from Damon Spencer. Nathan secured the knife and then went over to release Chris from the handcuffs. Josiah arrested Damon and patted the man down for weapons, revealing a disturbing number of knives, scalpels and other sharp instruments. Ezra climbed down the fire escape and entered the apartment through the demolished window. He assisted in collecting Spencer's personal armory.
"There's something wrong with Chris," Nate said after trying to awaken Team Seven's leader and failing.
That single sentence caused all movement in the room to stop instantly as the men of Team Seven tensed and looked toward Chris in trepidation and Damon Spencer began chuckling.
"Hang on," JD said, reaching under his shirt and quickly ripping the tape recorder away from his body. He ignored the pain, saying, "Spencer gave him an injection, and the type of drug is mentioned by name on this recording."
Damon Spencer's chuckling died abruptly as he heard his own voice repeating back a litany of threats and actions that proved his guilt in several crimes.
"Might I suggest that we proceed to the hospital post haste?" Ezra stated, rather more calmly than he felt.
Josiah and Vin stayed behind to cordon off the crime scene and call in the local authorities, but the rest of the team, plus Damon Spencer, piled into Ezra's Jaguar and Josiah's van to make the trip to the nearest hospital.
"We are here to take custody of the prisoner."
JD glanced up from his computer screen to see two men in similarly tailored suits enter the Team Seven office area. Nathan was at the hospital, checking on Chris' condition. Josiah had returned to the apartment where Spencer had been taken down; he was waiting for the crime scene technicians to finish so that he could board up the window. Ezra was conducting a heated conversation with the local police department, trying to justify the rescue the team had carried out without informing the precinct charged with protecting that neighborhood. Buck and Vin were guarding Damon Spencer who, after a brief visit to the emergency room to remove the glass shards from his back and wrap up his hand, had been handcuffed and brought to the team's office.
Buck glared at the criminal with open satisfaction that the man was finally caught. Vin was more subdued about his observation of Damon Spencer; in fact, the only reason JD knew that Vin was actively watching the murderer was that Vin, rather than resting his feet on a box of files or on his own desk, had his legs crossed at the ankles, heels placed on the floor, and could see Spencer out of the corner of his eye.
At the entrance of two unfamiliar men, Buck and Vin tensed. Buck didn't know whether to watch Spencer or the two new arrivals. Vin merely shifted his chair and sat up a little straighter so that all three possible threats were in his range of vision.
Buck's right hand dropped to the holster of his weapon. "Let's see some ID," he ordered, standing and closing the distance between himself and the two men who stood in the doorway with identical looks of tedium on their faces. When the men complied, Vin and Buck relaxed, but only marginally. "JD," Buck warned, tossing the credentials in an underhand throw toward the computer expert.
JD caught both and began checking the men's authenticity. According to their credentials, they were Interpol agents. A detailed matching search of their pictures to the Interpol employee database confirmed this. Some deeper investigation into areas that he was not officially supposed to access revealed that a pair of Interpol agents named Franklin Matthews and Neil Johansen had been dispatched to Denver when news of Damon Spencer's capture had been broadcast on the police scanners. The names and pictures matched the credentials and the men who had just entered Team Seven's office. JD reflected that he ought to be upset that an institution which was allegedly one of the U.S.'s allies had apparently stationed people nearby and was monitoring the police broadcasts.
"I still don't understand why you didn't just shoot to kill," Buck grumbled to Vin, his usually carefree attitude rent with the fear he had felt about JD putting himself at Damon Spencer's obviously non-existent mercy, even for such a short period of time.
"I had wondered about that as well," Damon Spencer commented, his mocking gaze meeting Vin's nearly expressionless one. "Your reputation was obviously overstated," Damon concluded, insulting Vin's abilities as a sniper.
Vin regarded Damon levelly, refusing to rise to the criminal's bait. "Fire escape got in the way," he explained succinctly. Then, glancing toward Buck with a look of apology, Vin shrugged. "His hand was the only shot I could've taken without hurting JD or causing a ricochet."
Buck's gaze flickered unintentionally to JD's hunched form, trying not to consider the other possible outcomes. All things considered, Team Seven had been fortunate. No one had been permanently injured, at least not physically.
Damon watched the interaction between Buck, JD and Vin carefully. Clearly, there were contrary relationships at work. He was fascinated that the team had managed to continue its loose coalition for as long as it had. Grudgingly, he wished he had had the opportunity to visually observe the rest of the team's complex relationship. The audio recordings had afforded him some insight, but subtle visual cues were proving far more educational.
"They are who they claim to be," JD called from his desk and threw the credentials back to Buck, who unenthusiastically returned them to their respective owners. "Interpol wasn't satisfied with Michael Greenway's report that we had everything under control, so they sent these two to monitor the situation and extradite Damon Spencer if we were successful. According to a communication I found, they arrived in the country shortly after Michael Greenway's death."
Buck frowned and then accosted the Interpol agents. "You were here the entire time, and didn't share your resources with us?"
One of the men, JD recognized him as Johansen from the employee file picture, shrugged indifferently. "The previous communiqué seemed to indicate that your agency was unwilling to cooperate with ours, so"
JD rolled his eyes and answered before Buck could get himself into trouble for claiming that the visitors were full of crap. "We just wanted to be given the lead on investigating. I don't think anyone on this team ever said that they wouldn't welcome assistance from your agency."
"We know what happened when assistance was offered," Matthews retorted, referring to Michael Greenway's murder. "We have the necessary paperwork to take custody of the prisoner," he prompted, and Vin reluctantly removed the handcuffs from Damon Spencer so that the other agency could apply its own restraints.
Whatever Buck, Vin and JD might have thought of Interpol's policies, they had to admire the expediency and care with which Damon Spencer was placed in shackles. Throughout the entire process, one man always spotted the other, watching for any sudden movements on Damon's part. In short order, the papers had been signed and Damon was escorted out of the office by the two Interpol agents.
JD waited only a few moments before bounding up from his desk, and snatching his wallet and keys from a drawer. "I'm going to follow them, just in case."
Vin nodded at the wisdom of the statement. Simply because the two men truly were from Interpol did not exclude the possibility that Damon could try to escape. Buck frowned, but did not comment as JD left.
As soon as JD had entered the stairwell, Buck grabbed his own keys and headed for the door. Vin smirked. "Ain't you bein' a mite overprotective?" he suggested.
Buck did not slow his pace. "If Spencer escapes, the kid might need backup."
When Buck had exited the office, Vin shook his head slowly. If Buck had wanted to provide backup, he would have volunteered to go along with JD, even argued for it. The fact that he was tailing JD instead meant that Buck was determined to defend JD, contrary to JD's wishes if necessary.
"The locals weren't happy about us having a shootout without involving them...at least until I told them exactly who Damon Spencer was," JD smiled mirthlessly. "Then, Josiah threw Ez at them. I think they're still composing a letter of apology for interfering with the proper operations of the ATF."
Chris smirked from his hospital bed. Ezra certainly had a...unique way of dealing with problems. He glanced at the bandage on his leg. The wound had become slightly infected, but his team had driven him to the hospital in time to counteract the infection before it spread. He was grateful that his knife wound was the only physical injury suffered by the Team Seven from this ordeal.
JD continued, "Some guys from Interpol came to get Spencer. Don't worry; I ran a check on them. They were legit and I followed them all the way to the private airstrip and watched Spencer get on the plane, still in shackles. The rest of the guys are at the office, but there's really not much to do. I think Assistant Director Travis can't decide if we're ready to return to our cases yet. Oh, and the doctor says that you'll be fine to leave in a day or so, but try to avoid illegal barbiturates in the future."
JD stopped to take a breath, and Chris held up a hand to indicate that he should stop. "In other words," Chris said with a small smile, "everything is fine."
"Well...yeah," JD admitted, "but every time that word comes up, the team can't believe it's the truth, so"
"So, you thought I needed to hear the details for myself," Chris finished the sentence and then frowned in concern. "This wouldn't have anything to do with what you told Damon Spencer, would it?"
JD's features creased in confusion for a moment before he realized what Chris was asking. "No, I just told Damon Spencer what he needed to hear. In order to distract him from Ezra setting the explosives and Vin's absence from the bust, someone had to go in first...someone that would remind Spencer of his usual victims."
Chris' jaw clenched in anger as he recalled everyone who had died for Damon Spencer's insanity. Officer Evans would recover, but there would be months of physical training before he was fit for duty again. Michael Greenway, Penelope Underwood, Chris' body double, the still-unidentified woman in the empty lot, and God knew how many othersall had been cruelly and callously removed from this world simply because Damon Spencer required it. As a former soldier, Chris understood the unpleasant necessity of death. Sometimes, a guard or the inhabitant of a strategically placed building could not be permitted to live, but Spencer went beyond that. He seemed to enjoy killing for its own sake. Chris shook his head, trying to clear it of thoughts about Spencer's immorality and saying, "I just wanted to make sure you knew, that what you did for me"
"You don't have to say it, Chris," JD interrupted. "You're welcome. I'm just glad that none of us were hurt."
Chris glared. "I was going to say that what you did made Buck nervous." Chris snorted. "I might have been unconscious for the bust, but I know Buck well enough to see that he's going to be even more overprotective of you until he calms down."
JD sighed, but acknowledged the truth of Chris' words. Then, JD remembered what he had seen in Chris' office when he first realized that Chris was still alive. "Oh, by the way, you might want to have a talk with Buck and Ez when you get back to the office. See, some of us were still in denial, and so you have some interesting requests on your desk..."
"You're staying at that dump?" Buck asked, dismayed by the reply JD had given when asked where he had been staying since joining Team Seven. "That pay-by-the-week, thin- sheeted, cockroach infested, highest-crime-rate-in-the-city, neighborhood?"
"Technically," Vin interjected helpfully, "the neighborhood I live in has the highest crime rate. JD's is almost law-abiding in comparison."
"That isn't the point," Buck retorted in frustration. "Look, kid, I need a roommate for my three bedroom condo. Rent would be the same as what you're paying now, and the only danger you'll run into, living with me," Buck smiled, "is tripping over beautiful ladies every time you come home. So, what do you say, kid?"
JD was glad Chris had warned him about Buck's reaction to the whole Spencer incident. The past few days had been almost suffocating. Buck wouldn't leave JD alone for any significant amount of time, and JD was starting to feel as though his selfless act had gotten him grounded by his over-protective coworker. If changing his address would make Buck feel better about JD's personal safety, then JD would agree to anything. "Sounds great," JD conceded, "but you're helping me move my stuff."
The roar came from Chris' office, and though the members of Team Seven cringed in response, most would have admitted that hearing Chris' voiceno matter what its tonewas worth whatever the leader had to tell them.
That went for five of the six men present. The sixth was the one whose name had been shouted. As though facing his executioner, Buck rose from his chair and slouched into Chris' office, trying unsuccessfully to minimize his tall frame.
Chris glanced up as Buck crept through the doorway. He held up a sheet of paper for Buck to see. "Would you care to explain this?"
Buck noticed that the paper was his request for vacation time. "Uh, well, you see...none of us knew who to report to, and"
Chris turned the paper print-side down and placed it in the recycling bin next to his desk. "I know that it hurt you to watch me drinking after Sarah and Adam died. Next time," Chris ordered gently, "remember that the team needs you. JD shouldn't have had to see you like that. Send Ez in when you leave."
Buck exited Chris' office in a state of shock. He had not considered how his grief might have appeared to JD. He knew how Chris' depression and drinking had affected Buck's opinion of his long-time friend, and he did not want to subject JD to the same experience. Buck resolved to be more careful about his choices in the future, now that he had JD to look after. "Ez, Chris wants to talk to you."
Ezra gave a much put-upon sigh and stood. "He most likely wishes to lecture me on the wanton destruction of private property."
When Ezra crossed the doorway into Chris' office, Chris immediately said, "Just where were you planning to transfer to?" the team leader asked, and was rewarded with a rare moment of speechlessness from Ezra.
The team's undercover man recovered quickly. "Obviously, sir, I never meant for you to see that...it was merely a formality"
Chris regarded Ezra silently for a moment. "What I told you about running away holds true whether I am here or not. Your responsibility isn't only to me anymore; it's to the other five men out in that office, and the people of this city." Seeing the emotion in Ezra's expression, Chris' tone softened. "We'll just pretend I never got this request, then?"
"No," Ezra asserted, and crossed the office to take the form from Chris' hand. "Thank you for reminding me of my commitments. I prefer to keep this as a more tangible memento of what was clearly a temporary bout of lunacy.
Chris chuckled and relinquished his grip on the transfer request form. Only Standish could manage to refer to insanity as though it was a slight cold. Ezra retreated hastily from Chris' office, probably trying to escape in case Chris changed his mind about wanting Standish on the team.
Chris walked over to the open door and stared out at his team. Now that Spencer was in prisonon the other side of the Atlantic, no lessATF Team Seven could get back to business as usual. That thought caused Chris to grimace.
'Normal' meant that the number of pranks would rise, their caseload would become nearly unmanageable again, and every bust would risk serious injury or worse for all of his friends. Suddenly, Chris' expression relaxed. He already knew how to cope with the first two problems, and he doubted Team Seven would permit the last one to happen to any of its members. The nightmare Damon Spencer had put the seven friends through was meant to break them, but it had succeeded only in strengthening their resolve.