Magnificent Seven Old West Universe
Stone's Throw by The Neon Gang

MAIN CHARACTERS: Vin, Chris, Seven

Editors' Note: The original version of this story first appeared in the Mag 7 zine, Let's Ride #18, published by Neon RainBow Press, Cinda Gillilan and Jody Norman, editors. When we all decided to post the stories that have appeared in the issues of Let's Ride that are more than 6 months, we opted to use a generic pen name because, while Mary FallonZane was the primary author of this story, she had so much help from the other folks writing for the press that it just made sense to consider the story to be written by the Neon RainBow Press Collective! Resistance was futile. So, thanks to the whole Neon Gang – Dori Adams, Dana Ely, Michelle Fortado, Patricia Grace, Dani Martin, Erica Michaels, Nina Talbot, Kasey Tucker, Rebecca Wright, and Lorin and Mary Fallon Zane. Story lasted edited 1-2-2015. Art by Shiloh Shiloh This story was plotted out for A Small Circle of Friends, a multi-media recycling zine, but that zine isn't being printed anymore, so it ended up here instead.  The plot is based on "The Stone," episode of Houston Knights

        "How much farther, Father?" Josiah Sanchez asked Father Bob as the priest led them up Colfax to an old hotel that was like all the others nearby – desperately in need of repair.  The Peak, which looked much worse than some of the others nearby, had been taken over by homeless teens and twenty-somethings despite the "condemned" signs that were plastered all over the crumbling building.

        "In here," the priest said, nodding at the building.  "I don't want to involve the police if I don't have to," he explained.  "They aren't exactly open-minded when it comes to these kids, and Robyn has a daughter DHS might take away from her if the police get involved."

        Josiah nodded.  "We'll do the best we can, Father, but if this guy has a weapon—"

        "I pray he doesn't," Father Bob interrupted.  "I'll try to get him talking.  If you can find the room—"

"Leave the rest to us," Josiah said, reaching up to check his ear-piece and lip-mike.  "Check, check," he said.

Six affirmatives was his reply.

Father Bob watched as Josiah and the other ATF agents who made up Team Seven headed into the building, except Josiah.  They were all good people, and he trusted them.  If anyone could resolve this, it was them.

Taking a deep breath, he looked up at the broken windows and called loudly, "Ray?  Ray, come to the window, please.  We have to talk, Ray.  Sooner or later the police are going to show up, and neither of us wants that.  Please, Ray, let Robyn and Sandy go.  I know you don't want to hurt them."

        "Ray" appeared at a window.  Around twenty years of age, the young man was skeletally thin, his sweat-coated pale face a sickly gray in color.  He held his girlfriend, Robyn, in front of him, a gun pressed to her head.  She looked almost as sick as Ray did.

        "Second floor," Josiah said into his lip-mike.  "Middle of the hall."

        "I told her, man!  I told her to turn down the heat!  She didn't listen!  She's cookin' my insides!"

        Father Bob watched the young man raise the revolver to strike the girl.  "Please, Ray, don't do that!"

        But Ray brought the weapon down, hitting the side of the girl's head.  Robyn shrieked, her arms coming up to try and protect herself from another blow.

        "Ray!  Stop!" Father Bob cried.

        Ray stared at the blood running down the side of the young woman's face for a moment, then he smiled and giggled.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

        Inside the condemned hotel, Chris and the others had fanned out, working their way up to the second floor.  An occasional door opened a crack, then immediately shut again when the occupants saw the agents moving along the hallways, their weapons in hand.

On the second floor they moved door to door along the east side of the hallway until they reached a door where they could hear Ray yelling.

Then a woman screamed.

        Chris nodded to Buck, who immediately kicked the door open.  Chris and Vin rushed into the room, one high and one low.  Buck and JD stayed in the hall long enough to make sure no one interfered while Nathan covered the closest stairwell, ensuring that they had an open egress.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Ray spun away from the window, his eyes widening when he saw the guns pointed at him.  He shoved Robyn at the two men, Chris catching her to keep her from falling flat on her face.

        Vin rushed the man, tackling him and sending his revolver flying across the room.  Tanner frowned when the young man didn't resist, slumping slightly in the sniper's arms.

        Buck and JD entered, JD scooping up the small child who sat, pressed into a corner of the sofa, her eyes wide, tears rolling down her cheeks.  He carried her out of the room, Chris right behind him, his arm wrapped around the mother's shoulders to keep her on her feet.

        Buck crossed the room and picked up Ray's Smith and Wesson revolver, tucking it into the waistband of his jeans before stopping at the window and waving down at the priest and Josiah.  "It's all over," he called.

        Buck joined Vin, who was checking Ray for any other weapons.  The ladies' man patted down Ray's legs down, but before he could finish, the young man collapsed.

        "What the hell?" Vin said as he rolled Ray over, then looked up at Buck, his expression puzzled.  "I didn't think I hurt 'im," he said.

        "Me, either," Buck assured him, his brow furrowing as he studied the young man's face.  Ray's eyes had rolled back in his head, and his face was a sickly wash of pale.  But it was his mouth that made the ladies' man's stomach knot.  It was set in a rictus of agony, his lips open and curled back off his teeth.  And the sweat, he noted, Ray was pouring sweat.

        "Get an ambulance – now," Buck said into his mike.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Summit Hospital and Trauma Center

1045 Hours


        Ray lay strapped to an examination table in the Emergency Room, but his convulsions still kept two orderlies busy, holding him down.

        The ER doctor on call turned to the nurse, who was trying to get another IV line established, saying, "His temperature is off the scale, wholesale organ failure – this guy's dead, and I can't find anything to explain it," she said.

        The nurse paused, looking at the physician to tell her what to do.

        "Are those the people who brought him in?" the physician asked.

        The nurse nodded.

        The doctor sighed heavily, staring at the people on the other side of the observation window.  They looked worried, and she knew they had every right to be.

        "Make sure they stick around," she told the nurse.  "I want to talk to Mike in the N.M. lab.  And put the woman and little girl in isolation."

        "Yes, Doctor," the nurse replied, heading out to speak to them.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

        Father Bob stepped forward when the nurse exited the treatment room.  "How is he?"

        The nurse dipped her head, then looked up and met the priest's eyes, saying, "Not good, Father.  The doctor would like all of you to stay here until she can talk to you.  I'll take you to a waiting room."

        Team Seven and Father Bob followed the nurse to a small but comfortable waiting room, each finding someplace to sit, except the sniper.  Vin crossed to the coffee machine, then fished some coins out of his pocket, dropping them into the slot, and making his selection.

        "Don't see why we have to stay," JD said.  "We don't know the man."

        "We'll wait," Chris said, an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach telling him that there was more going on here than met the eye.

Josiah had picked up on that as well and he turned to the priest, asking, "What do you know about this kid, Father?"

        "Not much, really," he admitted.  "Robyn has been coming by the church every other day to pick up food for Sandy, her daughter."

        "Is Ray the father?" Ezra asked.

        Father Bob shook his head.  "No, I don't think so.  Robyn said she met Ray after she got to Denver."

        "Excuse me, are you the people who brought Ray Sharp in?"

        They turned to the door where a handsome woman in her mid-thirties stood.  She was wearing a professional-looking pantsuit under a white lab coat, her honey-blonde hair cut short.  She walked into the room, saying, "I'm Dr. Kari Bancroft, and I need you to come with me."

        "What's going on?" Buck asked, noting her faint English accent.

        "Please, I'll explain, but I need you to come with me."

        The team exchanged glances, but they followed the doctor to a service elevator, which took them to a sub-basement.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

        In a hospital shower room, the doctor who had treated Ray Sharp, and the ER nurse who had taken them to the waiting room all stood, scrubbing themselves with gritty soap and a heavy-duty brush, scraping their flesh mechanically under the scalding spray.

In an identical room next door, Team Seven, Father Bob, and the two male orderlies did the same.

When they were finished washing and drying, and each was wrapped in a single towel, the team and Father Bob were escorted to another room filled with sunlamps.

"Please, sit down," Dr. Bancroft instructed.  "We'll be with you shortly."  She stepped back out of the room and closed the door behind her.

They all sat, except Vin, who walked to the door and tested the knob.  "We're locked in."

"Locked in?" JD almost yelped.  "What the hell's going on?"

"I don't know," Chris said, his voice low and annoyed, "but when that doctor gets back, I'm sure as hell going to find out."

Less than ten minutes later they heard the door being unlocked.  It opened and Dr. Bancroft stepped inside, accompanied by a forty-something black man in a well-tailored, three-piece suit.

Kari saw the fire in Larabee's eyes, as well as in the others', and said, "I'm very sorry."

"I had you locked in," the black man said.  "For your own good."

"What exactly does that mean?" Ezra asked, his suspicion obvious.

"May I introduce Peter Munsey," Kari said quickly.

"Which of you actually came into physical contact with Ray Sharp?" Munsey asked, ignoring Ezra's question.

"I did," Vin said.

"Me, too," Buck added.

"Why?" Chris asked.

"What'd he have?" JD demanded, "bubonic plague or something?"

They all watched as Munsey stepped forward, setting the briefcase he carried on a counter and pulling out a small electronic probe.  He advanced on Josiah, who was closest to him, and pointed the probe at him.  The device clicked slightly.

"Geiger counter?" Nathan asked, his eyebrows arching with surprise.

Munsey didn't reply, moving on to Father Bob, then Chris, JD, Ezra, Vin and finally Nathan.  "All right, they're clean."

"Somebody had better start talking," Chris said, reaching the end of his patience.

"I'd be more than happy to," Munsey said with a practiced smile.

Damn Feebs, Chris thought.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

        A half-hour later Team Seven and Father Bob still sat in the same room.  The sunlamps were gone, as was Dr. Bancroft, but Munsey remained, watching while the others dressed in hospital scrubs.

        "Radiation poisoning?" Father Bob asked the federal agent.  "Ray Sharp was a two-bit street thief, how could he be exposed to radiation?"

        "Probably stole a watch with a radium dial," JD muttered under his breath.

        "That's what we want to know," Munsey said.  "And my director has asked your director to help us," he asked, looking at Chris.

        "Who are you, exactly, Mr. Munsey?" Ezra asked.

        "Nuclear Materials Commission.  Sorry about your clothes, but you won't be getting them back."

        "That was m' favorite jacket!" Vin moaned.

        "They did you a favor, Mr. Tanner," Ezra needled him.

        "Better to have it burned than have it burn you," Munsey said.

        "Do you know what Sharp got hold of?" Larabee asked.

        "Cesium 139," Munsey told them matter-of-factly.

        "A low-grade medical isotope," Nathan added.

        Munsey nodded, a little surprised.  "Crystals of Cesium 139 are used for diagnosis, and sometimes in the treatment of a couple of things.  It makes people healthy."

        "It made Ray Sharp sick," Buck countered.

        "Actually, it made Ray Sharp dead – half-hour ago.  And it's going to kill his girlfriend, maybe her daughter, too," Munsey said.

        Father Bob shook his head sadly and sat down.

        "Excuse me," Ezra said, "didn't you just say—?"

        "Low-grade, virtually harmless," Munsey interrupted.  "Sharp must've been sleeping with it under his pillow for a month or something."

        "And us?" Buck asked.

        "You guys are all okay; Dr. Bancroft gave all of you a clean bill of health.  I'm not lying to you."

        Chris' gaze swept over the man.  "I'm always suspicious when someone says he's not lying, especially before I accuse him of something."

        Munsey smiled warmly.  "Well, I'm rather new at the game, Agent Larabee.  And I could use your help – quiet, discreet help."

        "How?" Josiah asked.

        "This is your town.  Sharp was a local thief.  Where did the cesium come from?"

        "Used in diagnostic machines?" JD asked.

        Munsey nodded.

        "Virtually harmless?" Ezra asked.

        "Safe as seatbelts," the federal agent assured them.  "It's a good nuke – if it wasn't, I'd have a NEST team in here to deal with this."

        "Maybe you should anyway," Nathan suggested.

        Munsey shook his head.  "It would look bad on my annual review.  Besides, from what I hear, you should be able to handle this."

        "And who told you that?" Ezra asked, her eyes narrowing suspiciously.

        Munsey smiled.  "Let's just say it's someone I trust."

        "Too bad we don't trust you," Vin said.

        The man shrugged.  "Hey, this thing's loose in your backyard, if you want to ignore it—?"

        "Not in our backyard," Chris interrupted.  "Not our style.  Tell us what you have."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

The Peak Hotel

1330 Hours


        From the hallway Chris and the others watched as two men in helmeted radiation suits stepped cautiously through Sharp's apartment door, the lead man holding a Geiger counter probe out in front of his body.  The soft clicking echoing from the device slowly increased as they approached a messy desk in one corner of the room.

        The second man stepped forward and opened the top drawer, sending the Geiger counter into a fevered bout of clicking.  The two men both took a step back, then inched forward, peering into the open drawer.  One drew out a foot-long, shallow, lead-lined, rectangular steel case with a radioactive warning trefoil stenciled on it.  They carefully opened the box, finding a sculpted space for a golf-ball-sized object, which wasn't there.

        The man with the probe moved it closer to the box, setting off the frantic clicking again.

        "A good nuke, right?" JD asked softly.

        Buck shook his head, not so sure any more.  "So they say."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

        An hour later Team Seven was back in their office.  They waited while JD sat, working at his computer.

Several minutes later he called, "I've got it."

        The rest of the team gathered at his back, peering over his shoulder at the map on the monitor screen.

        "Okay, this is every medical facility within a hundred miles of Denver with equipment that uses our isotope, how much they have on hand, and who's authorized to use it."

        "It'll take us a week t' check all these out," Vin said.  "If we can even get 'em t' talk t' us."

        "Maybe not," Ezra said.  "Look here."  He pointed to the screen.  "Alpine Clinic, near the Lowery redevelopment.  They have a nice big chunk."

        "What about it?" Nathan asked.  "Maybe they just do more diagnostic work than the others."

        "According to the NMC database, Alpine Clinic has been closed for nearly a year," JD said.

        "On the assumption that if a chuck of cesium went missing, they'd report it?" Chris asked.

        JD nodded.  "I don't know about you, but I'd call somebody if I lost the nuke that made my machines work."

        "But if the clinic's closed…" Nathan added.

        "Wouldn't they have to turn that stuff over to someone?" Buck asked.

        JD shrugged.  "Yeah, but things happen."

        "It's a place to start," Chris said.  "Let's go take a look."  He looked at Josiah, adding, "Call Munsey, have him meet us there."

        "Will do, boss," the profiler replied.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Alpine Clinic

1540 Hours


        The team followed a custodian down a filthy hallway.  The older Hispanic man glanced over his shoulder every few steps to talk to them.

"I check head office.  They say they call NRC, told them come down, pick up machine the day we closed."

        "They never came?" Chris asked.

        "No.  No one come."

        They arrived at a door marked "Diagnostics," the title surrounded by the ubiquitous trefoil radiation warning.  A second sign read:  "Keep door locked."

        Buck tested the knob.  "It's locked, all right."  He reached out and moved the obstacle aside, the wooden door also entirely off its hinges.

        In the room, dusty shafts of sunlight bled through twisted blinds.  An abandoned bedroll sat just inside the door and the custodian kicked it aside.

        The signs of cooking were obvious on the cement floor.

        "No keep drunks away," the old man said, shaking his head sadly.

        "The machine?" JD asked, glancing around.  It was clear the clinic had become a haven for the homeless.

        The old man pointed to an alcove.  "There."

        They moved forward to check, but the space was empty.  A relative clean spot on the linoleum in the space told them the machine hadn't been taken too long ago.  The amputated power cable, broken floor bolts and scrap-gouges told them that it had been removed hastily.

        "Damn," Chris said, shaking his head.

        "Did you—?"  Munsey fell silent when he walked up to join them, seeing the empty space.  "Shit."

        "Yep, that about sums it up, all right," Vin needled, something about the federal agent rubbing him the wrong way.

        "Any idea who took it?" Munsey asked.

        "A better question would be:  Why didn't you people pick up the machine that was here last year when this place closed?" Nathan countered.

        Munsey shrugged.  "Things fall though the cracks.  It's the price we pay for a bureaucracy."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Holy Trinity Catholic Church

Father Bob's office

1650 Hours


        "Ray was a scavenger," the priest said.  "He picked up the little things left behind by other thieves."

        "This machine wasn't a 'little' thing," Chris said.

        "According to what I could find, it probably weighed about a ton," JD added.

        "A ton?" Father Bob echoed.

        "Did Sharp have a partner?" Josiah asked the priest.

        Father Bob thought for a moment, then said, "I wouldn't call them partners, but there were a couple of guys he hung out with quite a bit.  Ernie's another thief – I don't know his last name.  He was living with Ray before Robyn entered the picture.  I think Ernie staked out another room in The Peak."

"And the other guy?" Chris asked.

"Rico Manero.  He runs a junkyard in Commerce City, I think it is.  He comes down here from time to time to buy trinkets off the local packrats.  Personally, I think he commissions them to steal cars for him, but I can't prove it."

"Junkyard might be just the place to hide a one-ton machine," Buck said thoughtfully.  The others nodded.

"Can't hurt to check it out, boss," Josiah suggested.

Chris stood.  "Let's go."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Manero's Junkyard

Commerce City, CO

1745 Hours


        "JD, you're with me.  The rest of you, take a look around," Larabee instructed, he and JD starting for a ramshackle shack with a sign reading "office" nailed to the door.  The others fanned out, checking between the stacked rows of cars, some flattened, some piled up reasonably intact.

        Inside the shack the two agents found a tall, muscular man in his late forties sitting at a desk, reading the sports page.  He didn't look up until Chris cleared his throat.  "Mr. Manero?"

        Manero's gaze swept over the pair, resting a little longer on JD than on Chris.  "Let me guess," he said, "you want a pair of '59 Chevy cat's eyes to nail on the wall of your condo, right?  Sorry.  Sold out."

        "You have a lot of nice old cars?" Chris asked, trying not to let his irritation show.

        The man's eyes narrowed.

        "I'll bet a couple of them aren't even stolen," JD added, smiling at the man.

        Manero considered the pair for a moment longer, then pulled his heavy desk over and bolted out a side door, disappearing into the serried ranks of junk.

        "Manero's on the loose!" Chris bellowed from the door.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

        Vin heard Chris' call and immediately pulled the Glock from the holster positioned at his lower back.  He stalked down the narrow corridor of cars that were stacked fifteen feet high.  Occasionally he heard a metallic creak or groan, but he couldn't be sure if it was Manero or not.

        Nearby, Buck prowled down a row of dead kitchen appliances.  As he turned the corner of the of the maze, he found himself trapped in a cul-de-sac, but there in front of him was a large, white, medical machine with trefoils; he hesitated for a moment, then inched forward, momentarily heedless of his surroundings.

        Manero, trapped between Buck and Vin – and a couple of old refrigerators in the cul-de-sac – watched the mustached man advance on the machine.  He was the only obvious impediment to his escape, so Manero picked up a broken length of iron bar and stepped out behind the ladies' man.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

        Vin stepped out from among the cars and headed into a tangle of old appliances.  He turned into the cul-de-sac, taking in the scene in an instant.  Buck was checking out a white machine, a man was advancing on him from the side.

        "Buck!" the sniper called.

        The ladies' man dove to the side just as Manero swung the iron bar, missing Wilmington's head by mere inches.

        Vin fired one shot, hitting the man in the shoulder, spinning him around, and slamming him into the ground.  The bar sailed into the piles of junk.

Rushing forward, Vin checked first to make sure that Buck was uninjured, then turned on Manero.  "Don't move," he growled.

Manero lay back on the ground, groaning.  "You shot me, man!  I can't believe you fuckin' shot me!"

"Shut the hell up," Vin growled, "or I'll put y' outta your misery.  Less ya want t' tell me about that machine over there."

"I need a doctor, man.  You shot me!"

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Manero's Junkyard

1910 Hours

        Four technicians in radiation suits worked on the machine.  Two held lights while the other two popped open an access panel on the side of the machine.  One turned, looking back at Munsey, who stood with the team, and shook his head.

        "What kind of stupid idiot steals a radioactive—?"  Munsey censored the rest of his comment, shaking his head.

        "I take it we're still looking for the Cesium?" Chris asked.

        Munsey nodded.  "Afraid so.  Oh, and could you let the priest know that Robyn Cliffords died earlier this afternoon?"

        Larabee nodded.  "I'll do that."

        "What about the little girl?" Josiah asked.

        "She's sick, but she's still hanging in there," Munsey told him.  "It doesn't look good, though."

        "What exactly are we looking for anyway?" Buck asked.

        "A blue, irregular-faceted stone.  It's about the size of a golf ball."

        "That's it?" JD asked.  "A nuclear golf ball?"

        Munsey shrugged.  "It doesn't take much."

        "Yeah?" Nathan asked.  "Then you'd think you people could keep better track of it, wouldn't you."

        Munsey frowned and turned away.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

The Peak Hotel

Aurora, CO

2250 Hours

        In a first floor room, Ernie Bellows stood in front of his broken bathroom mirror, staring at his bloodshot eyes and sallow face.  He stifled a cough and reached up to touch his cheek.  A hangover had never left him looking this bad before.

        In his graffiti-decorated bedroom, a young prostitute from the building pulled her clothes on, shaking her head as she glanced at Ernie.  "Look, Er, you know, like since nothing happened, I'm only gonna charge you fifty for the date, okay?"

        Ernie leaned out of the bathroom.  "Yeah, yeah, that's cool.  Guess maybe I'm catchin' something."  He pointed at an old cigar box on a broken down dresser.  "In the box."

        The girl finished pulling on her boots, then walked over and opened the lid of the box, peering inside.  "Cool," she breathed, starting to reach for the crystalline ball sitting on top of a fifty dollar bill and a few pieces of jewelry.

        "Just the money, babe," Ernie warned her, stepping back into the bedroom.

        The girl hesitated a moment, then grabbed the fifty and stuffed it into her pocket.  "Man, I hope, like, I don't get your cold.  It's the busy season, you know?"

        Ernie coughed again, then walked over and escorted her to the door.  "It's been fun," he said, opening the door and shoving her out into the hall.  "We'll have to do it again – real soon."

        "Yeah, whatever," she replied, rolling her eyes as he slammed the door shut.

        He could hear the hammer-like pound of her boot heels as she headed down the hall to the room she and another teen-prostitute shared.  Heading back to his bedroom, he walked over to the cigar box, checking to make sure nothing but the fifty was missing.  Satisfied that everything was there, he slipped the box into his backpack, then shrugged into it before leaving.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Federal Building

2250 Hours


        "Uh, guys," JD said, glancing over the top of his computer monitor.  "You might want to take a look at this."

        They stood and walked over to join him.  "What's up, kid?" Buck asked.

        "I was doing some more research on Cesium-139."

        "Diagnostic tool, even out of the box it's safe," Ezra said, parroting Munsey.  "What else is there for us to know?"

        "Well, how about it's derived from nuclear waste," JD added.  "And despite what Munsey told us, it's not safe – not even close."

        "What?" Buck yelped.

        "Munsey lied.  This stuff is deadly," JD said.

        "Damn it!" Vin said, slapping his hand against the table.  "I knew that guy was jerkin' us around."

        "Guess we should jerk back a little," Chris replied.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

The Next Day

St. Philips Episcopal Church

0820 Hours

        Munsey reached the bottom of the steps in the basement, calling, "Hello?"

        As soon as his foot touched the floor, Vin grabbed the man, jerked him around, and shoved him up against the wall, growling, "Y' lyin' bastard."

        Munsey saw the rest of Team Seven standing by, all looking less than happy.  "What's wrong with you guys?" he snapped.

        Chris stepped up, eyes narrowed with anger.  "How about what's wrong with us?" he asked.

"What did we get, a fatal dose?" Nathan demanded.  "Or just enough to ensure that we get cancer in ten years, fifteen?"

        "I told you, you're all clean.  I didn't—"  He bit the words off.  "I didn't withhold the truth about that."

        "Cesium-139 isn't some cartoon Mr. Atom," Josiah said, stepping forward to pin the man with an angry glare.  "It's a killer."

The Black man sighed heavily, his expression telling them all that Josiah was right.  "Okay, look, maybe there's a little more of threat than I let on, but—"

"You ever plan t' tell us?" Vin asked, letting the man go like he was a piece of disgusting garbage.

"I was," Munsey defended himself, then added, "when the time was right."

"The time's right," Buck said, stepping up to the man and escorting him over to the large wooden table they used for community meals.

"Let's hear it, Munsey," Larabee said.  "All of it."

The federal agent glanced at each of the operators, then sighed.  "Okay, look, there's really no real danger, unless you handle it directly, or you're closely exposed to its dust.  I mean, we're not dealing in mysterious death rays here, folks.  All you have to do is find a piece of stolen property.  I wouldn't think it should be that hard."

"This should be given to a NEST team," Nathan said.

"It's too late for that," Munsey countered.  "Look, I was told you people could handle this.  Tell me if I'm wrong.  Regardless, word of this can't get out.  If it does, we're going to see a lot of misinformed, panicky civilians crawling over each other like rats trying to get off a sinking ship."

"No one here is going to leak the news," Larabee growled, his gut telling him not to trust the man, but his head saying they had to follow though – they had to find the cesium.

"We won't say anything, until we see our first giant cockroach," JD added under his breath, "then I'll damn well say something to somebody."

Munsey scowled at Dunne.  "That's not going to happen.  I told you—"

"It damn well better not happen," Vin interrupted.  He'd already seen what could come out of a government lab, and it had damn near killed him.[1]

"Yeah," Buck added, "and we did a little research of our own, Munsey.  Cesium-139 is nowhere near as safe as you said it was."

"I didn't want to panic you, that's all.  If you'd needed to know more, I would've told you more."

"From now on, you tell us everything," Larabee told the man, poking the man's chest with his finger for emphasis.  "Understand?"

Munsey raised his hands.  "Yeah.  Yeah, sure.  No problem.  But can we get back to work now?"

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

The Peak Hotel

1945 Hours


        Ernie lay on the old sofa in the rooms he had claimed for himself in the condemned building, propped up against pillows.  Another of the old hotel's homeless residents sat on a milk crate nearby, looking through the contents of the old cigar box.

        "So, Jack, whatcha give me for the jewelry?" Ernie asked.

        "What the hell is this?" the man asked, holding up the crystalline ball.

        "Beats the hell outta me.  Ray found it in some machine we copped a couple 'a weeks ago.  I was gonna fence it, but I kind 'a like it."

        "What kind of a machine?" Jack asked.

        "Hospital kind.  Figured maybe it was a laser.  They put rubies in lasers, you know.  I saw that on TV."

        "Rubies are red," Jack said, holding the Cesium up to the light.

        Ernie coughed, a painful, liquid bark that had him rubbing his chest.  He spat into a wad of well-used tissue, then inspected the results.  "Jeeze, man, I'm bleeding."

        "Guess you don't wanna go out tonight then, huh?" Jack asked, tossing the Cesium back into the cigar box and looking over the jewelry again.

        "Depends on what you'll give me for that jewelry.  Me and Ray—"

        "Where is Ray, anyway?"

        "Ah, man, he was slappin' Robyn 'round.  That priest from the church across the street got some off-duty cops or somethin' to take him down.  He's dead, man.  I heard they shot him 'bout a hundred times."

        "Guess that means more for you," Jack replied with a shrug.  "I'll give you three hundred for the jewelry – if you toss in the rock."

        "Not the rock," Ernie said, shaking his head.

        "Two hundred, then."


        Jack thought a moment, then nodded.  He fished into his pocket and pulled out the money, handing it to Ernie, then scooped up the jewelry and dropped it into a small, red-velvet drawstring bag.  "Better use that money to see a doctor, man.  You look like shit; sound worse."

        "Yeah, right," Ernie replied, already making plans to spend the money on a hooker, and something stronger than pot.  Maybe this time he could keep it up long enough to get some real satisfaction.

Struggling to his feet, Ernie shoved the money into his pocket, then slipped the cigar box back into his backpack, which he slung over his shoulder.

Jack stood and watched Ernie getting ready to leave.  "So, where you headed?"

"Don't know," Ernie replied.  "Gonna see what I can score, then maybe hit the Calico Club, see if Trudy's workin' tonight.  She knows all the new girls.  You know, the babes just off the bus."  He licked his lips, his eyes shining.  "Sweet little virgins."

Jack shook his head.  "Yeah, whatever.  See ya around, man.

"Yeah," Ernie said, letting Jack out, then he stepped into the hall and made sure his locks were all secured before slipping out of the building, deciding to forget about the drugs for now, and hoping Trudy could hook him up.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


Federal Building

2110 Hours

        "Sanchez," Josiah said, after he picked up the ringing phone.

        "Josiah, thank God."

        "Father Bob?  What's wrong?"

        "I just saw Ernie.  He looks just like Ray did."

        "Where is he?"

        "He just left The Peak.  Looks like he might be headed for the Calico Club."

        "Okay, we'll drop in and pay Ernie a visit," Josiah assured the priest, then hung up.  Standing, he called to the others, "Come on.  Father Bob just spotted Ray's partner in the neighborhood."

        "Ernie?" Buck asked.

        "Yep, and he's headed for the Calico Club."

        The others were immediately on their feet and moving.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Calico Club

2125 Hours


        Ernie lay on a cot in a backroom, waiting for the girl Trudy had promised him would be along before he knew it.  The cigar box sat open on his chest, the Cesium the only thing left inside.  He squeezed himself through his loose jeans, trying to get hard while he waited.  Picking up the pace made him cough weakly, the sound masking the soft jiggling at the door.

        Jack slipped inside the room, moving catlike to the cot.

        "Jack?  Man, you gotta go, I've got a date," Ernie managed in a hoarse croak.

        Jack scooped up the Cesium and held it up to his eyes, admiring the way the light interacted with the surface.

        "Hey, give that back," Ernie gasped, trying to sit up, but Jack shoved him back down, and Ernie knew he was too weak to stop the man from taking what he had obviously come for.

"You're messed up, dude," Jack said, shaking his head.  "I told you about the hookers, man – bad trash."  He took a closer look at Ernie's face.  "You're dying, man."

        "Bull," Ernie wheezed.

        "Guess that makes me your sole beneficiary," Jack said with a grin, then kissed the blue stone before dropping it into his red-velvet bag, and shoving that into his jacket pocket.

        Ernie coughed, blood bubbling up over his lips.  "Get me a doctor, Jack," he wheezed.

        "No fuckin' way."  Jack bent down and rummaged though the dying man's pockets, pulling out what was left of the money he had given him earlier and pocketed that as well.  "Better get to the free clinic, man."

        Ernie watched Jack slip back out, then forced himself to his feet, staggering to the door.  He had just stepped out into the narrow hallway when he was grabbed.

        "Hey!" he whined, then coughed again, spraying Vin and Ezra with blood.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Summit Hospital and Trauma Center

2140 Hours

Ezra allowed the hot water to wash away the last of the soap that coated his skin, musing how events had brought him to this – again.  And if facing exposure to radiation once wasn't bad enough, this was the third time they had been sent back to the showers to scrub, the Geiger counters clicking much too quickly for Dr. Bancroft to clear them from the contamination unit.

His heart pounded, fear coursing though his veins.  The rational side of his mind told him he would be fine, that his exposure was minimal, but another part was afraid.  It was radiation, and no matter what anyone said, especially Munsey, any exposure was too much.

He glanced sideways, at Vin, who was also scrubbing.  The pink cast to his skin told the undercover man that the sniper was as worried as he was.  And Tanner had more reason to worry.  He'd already tangled with medical science, and nearly lost.

"Y' ready for me t' do your back?" Tanner asked, interrupting Standish's train of thought, which, he decided, was probably for the best.

Ezra fought back the urge to tease Vin – it would be a nice way to escape from the fear that still nagged him, but unfair to Tanner.  "Yes, I am," he said, turning his back to him.

He listened to Vin lather up the scrub brush, then he began working it over his back.  It had been the doctor's idea that they try scrubbing each other, hoping that the slightly different angles and strokes might work out the last of the radioactive particles, and they had both readily agreed.

"You can go a little harder," Ezra said.  "I think we have already rubbed off the nerve endings."

Vin pressed a little harder and said, "Glad it ain't just me."

He scoured Ezra's back for the full two minutes the doctor had proscribed, then knelt down and went to work on the backs of his legs and his buttocks.

When another two minutes passed – and Standish was sure Vin had carefully counted out 120 one-one-thousands for each second – Ezra said, "You have done your duty.  I will turn around now."

"Okay," Vin replied.

Ezra turned and Vin started to work on the front of his legs, then moved from one arm then the other.

"You, uh, want to do the rest?" Tanner asked hopefully when he was done with Standish's arms.

"Of course," he replied.

Taking the brush from him, Ezra worked the hard bristles over his chest and stomach.  A smaller, softer brush was waiting for him to use on his genitals and face.

When he was done, he rinsed, then squeezed shampoo into his hands and lathered his hair.  Vin stood behind him, helping with that as well.

Finally done, Ezra turned to begin work scrubbing Vin, per the doctor's orders.  "Vin," he said, "I just want you to know…"


        "I appreciate what you've done."

        "Not a problem," Vin replied.  "But ya know we're never gonna hear the end of it, don't ya?"

"Yes, I reached the same conclusion."

Both men chuckled, but it was a bit strained.

"C'mon, let's see if we pass muster this time," Vin said.

"Yes, let's hope so, I don't think I can stand another scrubbing like this."

"Tell me about it," Vin sighed, turning off his shower.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Calico Club

2245 Hours


        Four men in radiation suits worked at a frantic pace, emptying drawers, sweeping shelves clean, gathering up pieces of clothes, stripping bed sheets and blankets, and shoving it all into clear plastic bags that were themselves placed in protective containers.  When the room had been cleaned to the bone, the men left.

        Outside the Calico Club, Chris and JD stood with Munsey behind a yellow police tape, watching as all of the club's patrons were carefully checked by more men in NBC suits.  They watched the containers removed and placed onto an unmarked truck that immediately drove away.

        "Where do you put it all?" JD asked.

        "Drop it down a mine shaft," the man replied with a tired sigh.

        "A mine shaft?" Chris asked, still annoyed that Vin and Ezra had been taken away before he and the others could go with them.

"You'd better stock up," JD said, "you're going to need more than that over the next two thousand years – that's how long this stuff burns, but you already knew that, didn't you?"

        Munsey looked like he was about to reply, but held his tongue when Josiah and Father Bob walked up to join them.

        "We canvassed the neighborhood," Josiah said.  "Looks like the people around here are already starting to mutate – they're all deaf, dumb, or blind.  Whoever took the Cesium from Ernie walked off clean."

        Father Bob glanced over at the unmarked ambulance as more men in suits loaded the black plastic bag with Ernie's body inside.  "No one should have to die like that," the priest said.

        "Any idea who might have the stone?" Munsey asked the man.

        Father Bob shook his head.  "It could have been anyone who saw it and thought they could sell it for a few dollars."

        Chris shook his head, worried about Vin and Ezra.  "Father, could Ernie have dumped the stone at a local pawnshop, or a fence?"

        The priest thought for a moment, then shrugged.  "Lenny runs the neighborhood pawnshop, but he's an honest man – for the most part.  He won't handle stolen items, if he knows they're from a local haul.  There is a guy, though… Jake— no, Jack.  Jack Kelly.  He's a smalltime hood – thief, dealer, whatever he can get his fingers into.  If Ernie wanted to unload the stone, he might've called Jack.  I'll ask around, see if anyone saw Jack here tonight."

        Chris nodded, then turned to pin Munsey with a glare.  "We're going to go see how our people are doing."

        The fed sighed and shook his head.  "Look, don't bother, my people will call when they're cleared."

        Larabee took a step closer to the man, his eyes narrowing dangerously, "I'm just making sure they don't end up down a mine shaft with the rest of your trash."

        Munsey shrugged.  "Suit yourself."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Summit Hospital and Trauma Center

2350 Hours

        Chris led the way down the hall.  He was going to find Vin and Ezra, or he was going to tear the place apart until he got some answers.

        "Excuse me!" someone called from behind them.

        Larabee stopped and turned, finding Dr. Bancroft hurrying toward them.  "I tried calling you, but I only got your voicemail," she said as she reached them.  "Your friends are fine; they're just finishing up under the sunlamps.  If you'll come with me?"

        Chris hesitated for a moment, but he knew the physician had no idea what was going on with Munsey.  He nodded, then almost smiled when he saw her relieved expression.  Munsey must have called her, he decided.

        "Right this way," she said, leading the way down the hallway and turning right.  Down another hallway and they turned left just as Vin and Ezra were escorted from a room.  Both clutched at their towels, which weren't quiet large enough to wrap around them comfortably.

        "I'm having flashbacks to my college dorm," Chris heard JD say under his breath.

        "Amen, brother," Josiah replied in a whisper.

        "We would have been done sooner," the doctor said.  "But we had to send them back to the showers twice before the Geiger counters quieted down.  And then they had to sit under the lamps."

        Chris hurried forward to catch up to the pair before they entered another room across the hall.  "You two all right?" he asked them.

        Ezra nodded.  "So they say."

Vin added, "They made us scrub a few layers 'a skin off, though."

        Chris shook his head, deciding he was going to have a few words with Travis about them being given this assignment.  "Can you leave?" he asked them.

        Ezra blinked once, then replied, "Well, if it's all the same to you, Mr. Larabee I'd rather get dressed first."

        JD and Josiah burst out laughing.

"Me, too, Cowboy," Vin added.

"Pair of smartasses," Larabee grumbled.

        Vin flashed him an indulgent smile, then headed for the door where a nurse stood waiting for them.  As he passed Josiah and JD, he said softly, "And for your information, Ezra was a perfect gentleman."  And with that he slipped into the room, the door closing behind him.

        Chris' attention returned to Ezra.  "You sure you're both all right?  What did they tell you?"

        "A repeat of the last time," he replied.  "To be honest, I don't know who to believe.  I would, however, like to find this damned thing and get it the hell out of our backyard."

        "Amen to that," Josiah said, reaching out to give the undercover man's shoulder a light squeeze.

Larabee nodded.  "Nathan and Buck should be here soon.  What do you say we grab a bite, then get a good night's sleep and see what we can turn up in the morning; we'll all be thinking a little more clearly then."

        "Sounds good to me, Mr. Larabee," Standish agreed.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

The next day

Lenny's Pawn Shop

0810 Hours


        Jack pushed past the door, ringing an old-fashioned bell that had been mounted above the jam.  He glanced around, noting that the shop was empty.  He smiled.

        Lenny Padowsky stepped out from his small office, leaning against a counter and smiling.  "Good morning," he greeted him, "can I help you?"

        "Yeah, I think so," Jack said, walking over to the counter and pulling a small red-velvet bag from his jacket pocket.  He sniffled and wiped his nose on the sleeve of his shirt.

        Lenny scowled at the man.  "You a junkie?  I don't do business with junkies."

        "No, I'm not a junkie," Jack snapped, looking up at the proprietor.  "Just caught a damned cold."  He dropped the bag on the counter and dumped the contents out – a couple of ladies' wrist watches, a woman's ruby ring, a pocket watch, a few old silver coins, and the stone.  "I'm trying to get enough for first and last months rent."

        Lenny looked the items over carefully.  "I can go four hundred for the normal things, but I don't know what to do with this," he said, pushing the stone around a little with the end of a pencil.

        "That's a gemstone, right?" Jack asked.

        Lenny shrugged.  "Maybe."

        "Of course it is, and it's worth something."

        "Wouldn't bother to steal it otherwise, right?" Lenny asked agreeably.

        "I'll take a thousand for it," Jack said.


        "Look, I don't want to haggle," Jack growled, then coughed and added, "Five hundred."

        Lenny pushed the cesium around again with his pencil, then reached out to touch it, but stopped short, his smile disappearing.  Shaking his head, he said, "Forty."

        "Forty?  What happened to—?  What's with you, man?"

        "I don't like it," Lenny said.  "Don't like the feel of it."

        "I'm not askin' you to marry the damned thing, just give me a reasonable price."

        "I hear things," Lenny said, taking a step back.  "About Ray and Ernie, and some people – dangerous-looking people – who are looking for stones.  Even Father Bob's out looking for it.  I don't like it.  You keep it.  In fact, why don't you keep it all; I don't need the cops coming down on me for selling stolen goods."

        Jack cursed softly under his breath, but he scooped up the items and dumped them back into the velvet bag.  "You call yourself a businessman?" he asked.  "A smart man would die to get his hands on something like this."

        Lenny shook his head.  "Try over in Federal Heights."

        "Yeah, right," Jack growled, hunching his shoulders and turning to leave.  "Asshole," he muttered under his breath.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Federal Building

0930 Hours

        Chris and the others sat around the large conference table.  The remains of breakfast, compliments of MacDonalds, were spread out in front of them, waiting to be cleared.

        "You two sure you're all right?" Nathan asked Vin and Ezra.

        They both nodded.

        "Doctor says it probably won't take more 'n a day off our lives," Vin said, his tone sarcastic.  "More or less."

        "Less better than more," Ezra added darkly.  "Or I will personally hunt Munsey down and terminate his sorry ass."

The others chuckled, prompting the sniper to add seriously, "Hell, I keep waitin' t' see if I'm gonna start t' glow in the dark."

        "You are aware, Mr. Tanner, of those things folks won't touch with a ten foot pole?" Ezra asked.

        "Yeah," Vin said, nodding.

        He glanced around, realizing that the others hadn't gotten it.  "We're the ten-foot pole," he explained.

        The others snorted or chuckled.

        "So," Buck said, "what's next?"

        A knock at door stopped Chris from replying.  "Come!" he called.

Father Bob entered, followed by Munsey.

        "Morning, Father," Larabee greeted them.  "Munsey."

        Munsey walked over to the table, his gaze taking in a single egg McMuffin still sitting on a plate.  "Mind?" he asked the group.

        "Please," Ezra replied, waving at the bagel.

        The man took a bite, then said, "The federal lab pulled a print from the room at the Calico Club – a very nice, very clear, and very radioactive print.  It belongs to Jack Forsten, aka Jack Kelly, aka Jack McGuffin.  The local cops have a file on the guy – petty thief, for the most part.  I have a last known address."

        "Wait a minute," Father Bob said, "I talked to Lenny this morning.  He said someone came by earlier, trying to sell him a strange-looking blue stone.  From the description he gave me, I think it was Jack Kelly."

        "So, it looks like this Forsten, or Kelly, or whatever is the man of the hour," Munsey said.  "Go get 'em."  He turned and left, taking the rest of the egg McMuffin with him.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

The Peak Hotel

0945 Hours


        Jack waited in the shadows until two teen-aged girls exited through the back door of the old hotel.  When he was sure he wouldn't be seen, he crossed to the door and slipped inside the condemned building.  He waited just inside the door, listening, and when he heard no one moving through the halls, he headed for the room he had staked out as his own.

Inside, he twisted the locks he had added to the door and walked over to his sofa and dropped down.  Leaning forward, he grabbed a tissue from a box on the battered coffee table and blew his nose.

        Noticing his face was damp with sweat, he wiped his sleeve over his face.  Still feeling sick, he leaned back, absently running his fingers through his hair.  Looking down at his hand, he found several loose strands of hair stuck to his palm.  He shook them off and repeated the procedure.  More hair came free.

        Jack scowled, staring at the hair, then jumped when a heavy knocking sounded at his door.


        The man stood, reaching under his jacket for the gun he carried.  "Who is it?"

        "It's Father Bob.  Jack, I need to speak to you.  It's urgent."

        "Go away!" the thief snarled.  The last thing he wanted to do was talk to a frigging priest.

        "Jack, I know you have the stone.  You're dealing with something that's more dangerous than you realize.  We need to talk."

        Growing more nervous, Jack headed for another door that was secured with three deadbolts.  He twisted them, then opened the door and slipped into another room.  A window opened onto a landing, part of an older fire escape system.  He climbed out and started down.

        Before he reached the ground he heard the priest above him yelling, "Jack!  Drop the stone!  The stone, Jack!"

        On the ground, the thief took off at a run.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Federal Building

1055 Hours

        The team and Father Bob gathered around JD's monitor, looking at a street map of Denver, the priest trying to come up with some places Jack might go to hole-up.

        Munsey, having joined them earlier, hung up the phone after speaking to the police and turned to the group, saying.  "The police have a bolo out for Forsten."

        A moment later the phone rang.

        Chris picked it up, saying, "Larabee."

        "I wanna talk to the priest."

        The blond's eyes narrowed.  "Forsten?"

        "I wanna talk to the priest – now."

        Chris pointed to Father Bob and gestured him over, then handed him the phone.  JD had already started using his computer to trace the call.

        "Jack?" Father Bob asked.

        "I think I've got something you want, Father.  Something you want bad."

        "It's not valuable," Father Bob said.  "It's—"

        "It sure as hell is," Forsten interrupted.  "That's why you got the feds looking for it – for me.  Well, you're not going to find it, or me, not if I don't want you too.  But I'm willing to sell it to you."

         "You don't understand," the priest said, "that stone—"

        "Is gonna cost you.  Ten thousand."

        "The stone is radioactive," Father Bob said, ignoring Munsey and his near-panicked reaction to the revelation.  "It's going to kill you.  You have to—"

        "Kill me?" Jack interrupted.  "Better make that a hundred thousand, then."

        Father Bob almost cursed when Forsten hung up on him.

        "Where is he?" Munsey demanded.

        "I don't know," Father Bob replied.  "He wants a hundred thousand for the stone."

        "What?" the federal agent snapped, then yelled, "And you told him it's hot?"

        "He has a right to know; to save himself," the priest argued.

        "We are not making deals with this guy," Munsey countered.  "Another day and he'll be dead.  You tell him that the next time he calls – maybe he'll sing a different tune."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Aurora, CO

1320 Hours

Jack walked down the back alleys, his path slightly crooked, his steps slow.  His shoulders were hunched, and at one point he had to stop, retching behind an old cardboard box – someone's home.

He wiped his mouth and pushed himself on.  At the end of the alley, he found a pay phone that still worked.  He dropped in some coins and dialed.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Federal Building

1320 Hours

        The phone rang, Father Bob grabbing it.  "Jack?" he asked.

        "Yeah, it's me.  You got my money?"

        The priest hit the button, putting Forsten on the speaker phone.  "You don't sound so good, Jack.  Please, let us help you."

        JD rushed to his computer.  He and Chris were the only ones there, the others were out, looking for the thief.

        "You're right, I don't feel so good."

        "You're going to feel a lot worse, Forsten," Larabee added.  "Let us help you."

        "Help me?" Jack asked, then snorted derisively.  "I saw what this damned thing did to Ernie."

        "What do you want?" Munsey demanded.

        "Money," Forsten replied.

        "You won't live long enough to spend it," the fed snapped.  "Give it up now, while you still have a chance."

        "You'd be amazed how fast I can spend, my friend."

        Chris shot Munsey a dark glare, and he took a step away from the phone.

        "Jack," Father Bob said, "bring the stone to us.  We'll get you the help you need."

        "What I need is my money!  Listen, Father, if you don’t get me that money, I'm gonna pound this stone into dust and spread it around some.  I'm not going out broke, and I'm not going alone."

        The sound of the phone being slammed down told them Jack was gone.

        Chris looked over at JD, who nodded and said, "I've got him."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Aurora, CO

1410 Hours


        Two men in NBC suits dismantled the pay phone Jack had used earlier, while a third waved a Geiger counter over the various pieces.  When they finished, the men, all using the radiation counters, proceeded up the alley.

        Vin and the others at the scene, kept at a safe distance, stopping anyone they could and asking if they had seen Jack.

        In the alley there was a commotion, and moments later a homeless man was half-dragged to the end of the alley.

        Munsey whistled and waved, an unmarked white van pulling closer.  The sounds caught the attention of Team Seven and they hurried over as well.

        "Mun!" one of the men in suits yelled.  "This man says he saw our guy.  He went that way!"  He pointed toward the residential area a couple of blocks off Colfax.

        Munsey turned to Vin, saying, "Okay, last chance."

        "Or what?" he asked, "Y' call in the Marines?"

        "No," Munsey said, deadly serious, "the National Guard."

        Buck took a deep breath.  "All right, where's he going to go?" he asked, thinking aloud.

        "Hospital, if he's smart," Nathan replied immediately.

        "Covered," Munsey said, "I have people at all the local hospitals and free clinics.  No one gets treated without our say-so."

        "What, you can't waste resources on the living dead?" Josiah growled.

        "Exactly," Munsey replied.  "Look, worse case, based on the weight of the cesium, if Forsten powders that stone, he could kill upwards of three thousand, immediate and long-term."

        "Three thousand?" Ezra echoed.

        Nathan shook his head.  "And you didn't call in a NEST team why?"

        "He's coverin' his ass," Vin answered for the agent.

        Munsey shot the sniper a dirty look, then looked back at the men and said, "This is your backyard, remember?  You'd better get out there and find the man."

        Buck glowered at the man for a moment, then looked at his team, saying, "Come on."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Federal Building

1640 Hours


        The phone rang again.  Chris hit the speaker button.  "Yeah?"

        "Don't bother to trace this one," Jack said, his voice weak and scratchy.  "I stole a cell so I could call and say goodbye."

        "Listen to me, Jack," Father Bob said, "I know you're hurting, but no one else has to suffer."

        "Say goodbye, Father, or I swear I'll hang up."

        "Goodbye, Jack," the priest complied.

        "That's right.  Goodbye.  Helluva word.  God be with you, right?  With all of us…  Are you ready to die, Father?"

        "Jack, please, you need last rites."

        Forsten sank to his knees.  With great deliberation he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the small red-velvet bag.  He dumped out the contents, then reached for the stone and dropped it back inside the cloth bag.  Using the butt of his gun he began to pulverize it.

        "Jack, are you still there?" Father Bob asked.

        "Oh, yeah, Father, I'm still here," Forsten said, continuing his work.  "Be here a little longer, too… got something I've gotta do."

        "Tell me where you are, Jack."

        "Closer than you think," the man replied.  "Tell me, Father, do you really believe in Hell?"

        JD's eyes went wide and he pointed to the ceiling.  "He's here," he mouthed to Larabee.

Chris signaled the others and they were moving immediately.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

        On the roof of the building, Jack finished destroying the stone, then pushed slowly to his feet.  He shuffled slowly toward the air handling unit.  Twice he sank down on his knees, gulping air to catch his breath, then forced himself back to his feet and, deadly package in hand, moved toward the unit again.

Jack lifted the access panel on the unit just as the door leading out onto the roof burst open.

        "Forsten!" Larabee called.  "Stop!"

        Jack turned, surprise making him drop the velvet bag as he immediately fumbled for his gun.

Before he could get off a shot them, Vin and Buck fired, the impact from the pair of well-placed bullets knocking the weakened man off the roof.  He fell, landing in the plaza below.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Federal Building

1750 Hours


        A man in a NBC suit used a remote-control robot to gingerly lift the red-velvet bag with the powdered cesium, dropping it into a lead-lined box held by another man in a protective suit.  Standing well back on the roof, Chris and the others watched.

        "That was close, damned close," Munsey said.  He glanced at the others.  "Close enough, huh?"

        "For government work," Buck added.

        Munsey snorted.

        "You look disappointed," Ezra said to the federal agent.

        "Bet you were aching for some real-world body count numbers to crunch," Nathan challenged.

        "Oh, we've got plenty of those," Munsey replied.  "Do you honestly think this is the first time something like this has happened?"

        "I've never heard—" Ezra started.

        "And you never will.  Just like no one's ever going to hear about this case."

        Vin shot the man a disgusted glance and shook his head.

        "Well, guess it's time for me to pack up and head on home," the federal agent said.  "It's been a pleasure."

        "Sorry we can't say the same," Larabee replied.

        Munsey shrugged.  "Hey, all's well that ends well."

        "It's people like you who give feds a bad name," JD stated simply.

The team turned and headed back inside, leaving Munsey and his people on the roof to finish their work.


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