by Heidi

ATF Universe


They filed in after their break and she started teaching again. "Okay, folks, just a hint. If I tell you 'remember this', it will be on your test. I cannot make it any simpler than that." She waited until they nodded their acknowledgements before continuing.

The review started. "Okay, can someone name four risk factors that cannot be changed?"

Nathan jumped in first, "Heredity, gender, age, and diabetes."

"Correct. Remember that. What factors can be changed?"

"Smoking, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, and hypertension." JD eagerly offered.

"Excellent. Remember that. What's an M-I?"

"Michigan," Ezra quipped, already bored of the insipid drill. He craved sleep and the less the shrew spoke, the happier he would be.


"Myocardial Infarction." The EMT supplied.

"Hey! I was gonna say that," Wilmington joked.

"Then tell me the symptoms," Harper requested of the mustached man.

"Tightness or pressure in the chest. Tingling in the left arm or jaw. Doesn't go away even after nitro treatments."

"Good. What are some others?"

"Nausea, vomiting, sweating, shortness of breath, prolonged pain over fifteen minutes, feels like indigestion, and denial," Josiah's deep voice added the rest.

"Excellent. Remember that."

"Puking, wheezing, sweating, and denial," the rogue repeated. "And an upset stomach."

"Sounds like the complaints after your dates," a soft Texas drawl quipped. Everyone but Harper laughed.

Nathan sighed inwardly; for a whole minute, they actually treated the material seriously.

Harper picked up without pause, "Said date, Agent Wilmington, complains of chest pressure or pain and has a heart condition. What might she be suffering from?"

He replied immediately. "Too much lovin'. Plumb wore the lady out so the little darlin' needs rest."

"She's talking about angina," Nathan said disgustedly.

"I didn't know that related to the heart." Buck hoped playing dumb would see a smile appear on the stern woman's face.

JD reached around Ezra and smacked Buck. "Angina, not vagina." He looked up into the not amused gaze of Harper. "Uh, sorry ma'am, no offense."

"You're correct, Agent Dunne, and no offense taken. Can anyone tell me the steps to follow when someone suffers from angina?"

Marty answered, paraphrasing the handout. "Have the person stop whatever they're doing and sit or lay down. If they have them give nitro tablets, according to prescription directions. If no relief, call 911, or if occurring more frequently, or lasts longer than usual."

"Thank you. What is the most common cause of sudden death in adults?"

"Myocardial Infarction," Ezra drawled. "I fail to see the challenge in reading from the paperwork. Perhaps you could make the course a touch more interesting?" he challenged.

"If you insist. Without looking at your handouts, Agent Standish, please inform the class of the three main symptoms and risk factors for a Cerebrovascular Accident?"

"A CVA, or a stroke?" He quirked an eyebrow, recognizing the proper wording used in an attempt to confuse him. "A severe headache, not unlike the ones suffered by Agents with little or no sleep; facial, arm, or leg weakness, comparable to sleep deprivation after confined quarters on an extended surveillance; and trouble seeing or talking, also confused with overtired, cantankerous ATF agents completing an impressively successful operation." He paused, enjoying the look of chagrin on her face. His ability in reading poker faces helped; he doubted his compatriots saw the slight change.

 "As for risk factors, hypertension - or high blood pressure - is the most important and the rest mirror cardiovascular disease." The southerner blessed his quick memory for retaining all that information needed in the few minutes he perused it before issuing his challenge. He elegantly yawned into his hand, exaggerating the motion for her benefit.

"Well done, Agent Standish, however you forgot paralysis, a condition I'm sure your mouth rarely suffers from." Ignoring the amused snickers around the room the teacher turned to issued a challenge to their leader. "Agent Larabee, the greatest chance of survival occurs when CPR begins within what time frame of the arrest?"

Larabee's held her gaze, answering lazily, "Six minutes."

Harper turned before allowing the half smile of satisfaction to appear. "Six minutes. Remember that. Doesn't seem very long, does it?"

"In here, an eternity," Ezra muttered under his breath. Buck ran a hand over his mouth to hide his grin. JD's cough did little to disguise his laughter. The undercover operative turned and waved five fingers at Vin. The Texan shook his head and pointed at the clock, indicating time left before the end of class.

"What was that?"

"It feels like an eternity when you're not glancing my way," the ladies' man covered.

"How long can you hold your breath, Agent Wilmington?"

"I've never timed it."

"Why not?"

"I'm too busy with the lady I'm involved with to check my watch." Again, the remark brought chuckles except from her.

"Really. Okay, Agent Wilmington, let's see you hold your breath. I've heard you're an excellent kisser so I expect at least one minute thirty seconds."

"Why would I want to hold my breath?" the rogue asked with a puzzled frown.

"I'd like to demonstrate to the class how quickly the body craves oxygen. Most people cannot make it one minute and the longer it takes a rescuer to arrive and start CPR, the sooner the brain will start dying. Will you be my volunteer?"

"I'm not killing my valuable brain cells for you, no matter how cute you are."

"I'm sure there's not much there to lose but I wouldn't allow it to go that far. Only until you felt you must take a breath and we'll see how long you last."

Ezra yawned.

"Perhaps, Agent Standish, you'll volunteer, since as I am seeing more of your throat than your closed mouth."

"I would be delighted, if only to relieve the boredom." Ezra glanced at the clock and as she started timing him. He lasted one minute fifteen seconds before inhaling again. She told the rest of the class to watch the clock until six minutes passed from the time he took a breath. "Okay. If Agent Standish stopped breathing at one minute fifteen seconds, and it's now six minutes later, Agent Standish will begin suffering brain damage and reviving him will be harder. Getting to the victim and immediately starting CPR can save a life and their intelligence, if they have any. Let's go over a few more things than we'll get into one person CPR."

Harper went through the handout pages one at a time until they felt they could answer any question she asked without looking at their notes. Of course, some of members of Team 7 continued their verbal barrage. Each time she retaliated, certain men became more determined than ever to crack her composure. The second video went smoother because of the fear of the air horn. Finally, she called another break.

Soon after they finished the classroom instruction and after the break she proposed a review one last time. With flashcards, making them all feel like they were kids in school.

"Flashcards?" scoffed JD. "Come on, how old do we look?"

"Do you honestly want me to answer that?" she retorted. "Or would you like to rephrase it, how old do you act?"

"What's the point? We only need an eighty to pass." Kristin felt her blood chill but met the look head-on.

"The point, Agent, is CPR can save someone's life. If I make sure you know this information, you will not freeze up when you need it."

"Back off, Harper," Chris ordered from the back of the room, sick of the attitude from the Instructor; they all knew the potential benefits; no need for carping.

"Agent Larabee." A hazel glare issued a new fight, "With your team's reputation, I'd think you'd want to pay attention because of the high injury rate. I understand the hospital staff knows all of you by first name?"

Buck winced. JD flinched. Vin sank further into his seat. Ezra grinned. Nathan sighed and stewed. Josiah prayed.

That did it. So much for civility. Thank God he already unloaded his gun. "Follow me. Now." He stood up and started walking out of the room.

"Wrong direction." The chilled voice stopped him. "My office is this way." She indicated a small hallway out of the training room and led the way inside, closing the door behind him. "Your problem?"

Chris glared in amazement. "You're the problem."


The blonde drew back for a millisecond, frowning at her composure. "Your attitude."

"My attitude? Your team beat each other to stay awake. I went over your head to get you here after numerous requests. We won't even discuss your charming e-mail."

Ouch. Point to her. "We worked a bust until early this morning. It wouldn't kill you to give us a little consideration for that."

"Should have considered that possibility a few months ago. I gave you plenty of opportunities before now and if this is inconvenient, you can blame yourself."

What a...harpy. Harpy fit her. The glare intensified.

"If that's the infamous Larabee glare, I'm not impressed. You'll have to do better because you don't scare me."

He didn't scare her? Hell, half the people in the building avoided him if possible and the other half approached him like he would rip their heads off at the wrong word. Time for intimidation. He moved closer to her, standing over her, looking down in her face. "You will stop giving my team a hard time and just teach the class or I will report you."

"For what?" Harper met his gaze calmly, not in the least intimidated. "Caring about what I teach? Making sure the students learn it, not coast through like the previous Instructor allowed?"

He had no answer. Larabee realized then that he truly did not scare her. Further down in her gaze, his deep penetrating glare discovered something more; something he felt she didn't want him to see. There was deep emotional pain buried in those hazel eyes. The knowledge shook him, that absolute blackness, and he recognized a part of himself in her. The dark part that started to live around the time Sarah and Adam died. Whatever happened to her, she never healed and he doubted she had someone as persistent, loyal, steadfast, or as caring as Buck Wilmington to drag her back from that abyss.

She pressed her advantage. "I know Team 7's record and I know how often your men get hurt. One of these times someone will need CPR or some part of what I'm teaching. Would you rather they rack their brain for the information or know it so well that they do it without thinking about it?"

"Teaching and rudeness don't go together. And you are past the point of rude."

"Would any of you respect me if I let you sleep?"

He thought about her question and gave her an honest answer. "No."

"Or if your men couldn't save someone because they didn't pay attention? And, God forbid, if someone died because I let them coast here?"


"What about liability? As the person certifying all of you, I can be held accountable for your actions. As you are for your team's actions. I take that responsibility seriously. Do you take yours seriously?" He nodded, comprehension dawning.

"And do your men respect you?"


"You've earned it?"

Chris gave her a look saying 'of course'.

"I have four hours to make them respect me. If I don't grab control in the beginning, I'll be fighting for their attention the rest of the time. Especially with your team; they respect very few."

The stern leader realized she was right in part. His estimation of her insight upped a notch.

"You're starting to understand. Now, let me make this perfectly clear. I have the authority to yank any of you off active duty. Do you realize that?" His expression spoke for itself. "Successful completion of this course is required for active duty status. If, for any reason, any of my students fail either the practical or the written, I will bench them without pause, without blinking. Neither of us wants that. So let's try getting along. You only have to see me for in-service classes. I'll give you a couple minutes to talk to them before coming out and continuing."

Chris knew the balance of power shifted to her at some point during the conversation and grudgingly accepted he needed his men in the field and not riding a desk because of her. He would not allow them to give her the satisfaction. He strategically retreated, returning to the main room.

As soon as he left, Harper placed a call. "You owe me for this," she said without preamble.

Travis stared at the receiver and winced, wondering what the boys did this time. "They giving you a hard time?"

"Nothing I can't handle. The heads up helped. Thanks."

The older man grinned, knowing his boys well. No sleep, hours of surveillance, losing their day off, and going to a training class did not a happy team make. With this particular team, nothing went easy anyway, so he felt the obligation to warn Harper. "You're welcome. Anything I can do?"

"Be prepared. Larabee's a little miffed I'm not flinching."

A chuckle came over the line. "Be careful. He doesn't like when someone challenges his authority. "

"I believe he understands the situation now. Just thought I'd let you know we're working on the review."

"Let me guess, they don't like the flashcards?"

"Does anyone?"

"You do, it gets the job done, so keep doing what you're doing."

"Thank you. Oh, and thanks for the restaurant gift certificate."

"You deserve it for dealing with the boys this morning."

"Well, I do appreciate it."

"Enjoy. I look forward to hearing from Agent Larabee."

"Have a good morning, sir."

== 7 ==

The man with a short fuse entered the classroom; his deadly glare raking his team. Of course, knowing their leader was going to take care of their harsh taskmistress, they decided on flouting the rules. Coffee cups and snack wrappers covered the desks; feet were propped on the tables, and laughter echoed all around. Chris checked that; Nathan seethed.

Time to restore order before the Harpy returned. "Feet down! " The other three students hid knowing smiles, having learned of the Harpy's power in previous classes before today. The new Instructor's methods remained a closely guarded secret since other agents enjoyed inflicting her on their unsuspecting co-workers.

"Come on, Chris. I know you calmed her down a mite," Buck said, confident in his oldest friend's ability. The team gathered around the dark clothed man in the back away from the other three students.

"It's handled, now behave. Get this room cleaned up and I expect you to be gentlemen the rest of class."

Unbelieving snorts and chuckles died a quick death in view of the green-eyed glare.

Nathan's patience finally reached his limit. "That's it! She's teaching y'all something important and you're making jokes. How often do your sorry asses get shot? I might not be there one time to patch your butts up so you should know this. Or can any of you live with the guilt of knowing because you blew this class off someone, one of us, died and you could have saved him?" He folded his arms over his chest, daring them to deny the truth.

Cocking his head toward the mess, the quiet sharpshooter took the lead, "Come on, fellers." Shamefaced the others quickly followed and removed the signs of their short rebellion.

Seeing that his friend's temper was still brewing below the surface, Vin tentatively approached, "What's up, cowboy?"

"We don't pass, we're benched. Won't give her the satisfaction."

"Nate's a bit riled."

"He has a right. I'll be riled if any of you jokers get benched."

"I'll pass the word." They nodded to each other and Vin worked his way over to Ezra first. "Ez, keep your mouth shut. We need to pass this class."

"I intend on passing, Mr. Tanner. Why must I limit my attempts of amusement and the distraction needed in the efforts to keep myself attentive?"

"She can yank us from active duty."

"Charming," the southerner drawled. With a sigh, he nodded his agreement. "I shall endeavor to be on my best behavior and I believe, Mr. Tanner, you owe me five dollars."

"Thanks, Ez, and there's still time." The young man moved over to the scoundrel of the group. "Bucklin, lay off the teacher."

"Come on, Junior, don't you know a woman is more beautiful when her eyes flash like that?"

"She parks ya butt behind a desk it'll be some other flashing eyes ya have to worry 'bout."

Buck caught the stern stance of his friend still standing at the back of the room and nodded sagely, "Yeah, right."

"Chris said she had the authority. Don't wanna see her try. Hell, I don't wanna see Chris if one of us fails."

The ladies man agreed, "Don't worry, Junior. I'll be a true gentleman, at least until after class."

Vin snorted at the incorrigible man, "Y'all just get shot down again."

"Boy, don't you know I love a challenge." The mustache turned up into a broad grin. "I'll go talk to JD."

The silent sharpshooter moved off to the two saner members of their group, nodding to them as he approached.

"What's up?" Nathan's curiosity rose as he noticed the young man's movements from one person to another.

"Warnin' everyone to knock off the jokes, not give Harper any more problems. Reckon you two won't, but I'm tellin' everyone."

Josiah quirked a curious eyebrow, "Any particular reason?"

"She can pull us off active duty."

"Good reason," said Nathan, agreeing with her authority.

"Better make sure Bucklin gets the point across to JD." Vin moved off, finding Buck menacing the kid. He heard the words clearly.

"Now, do you wanna explain to Chris why your sorry butt got kicked off active duty for tormenting your Instructor?"

"I haven't been half as bad as you."

"I'm not tormenting her, I'm wooing her."

JD snorted. "Vin, you hear this?"

Vin rolled his eyes and shot a warning glare that could rival Larabee's to both of them. The two jokesters took the hint and quietly returned to their seats. Vin exchanged a silent communiqué with Larabee who bobbed his head in acknowledgement.

== 7 ==

They completed the flash card review; actually getting into the spirit of it and making Harper create a 'lightening round' because of the friendly competition. Nathan won easily given his extensive medical training. Moving quickly along, she then passed out the written tests and waited for them to finish. As each person finished, they turned in their exams and walked out of the main room for some air and refreshments. Nathan finished first with a hundred.

Surprisingly, all of the students managed to finish in short order and turn their papers in for grading. For the first time during her tenure in Denver, the entire class finished with perfect scores. Immediately shifting to the practical, she brought out the practice mannequins, and set them up in the center section of the room.

"Okay folks, time for the practical. Gather around and we'll go through it together so I can evaluate each of you, starting with the adult. First, I need a volunteer." Buck raised his arm. "All right, Agent Wilmington, come over here and kneel down."

Chris watched his friend bite his lip in restraint and winked at him in encouragement. He knew Buck too well. The scoundrel could not hold back any longer though.

"Harper, I'd rather pump than blow." The chuckles instantaneously echoed around the room.

Her dry voice dripped with sarcasm. "We've already demonstrated the effects from lack of oxygen to the brain. Because you're lacking skills with certain parts of your anatomy you want someone to suffer brain damage like you have?"

Dark eyes blinked up at the clear insult, "No need for temper, ma'am. Just saying it's more natural for the man to pump."

She knew the jokes; heard all of them before, and still hated them. "Since we're doing one person CPR, Agent Wilmington, you'll perform both functions." She walked him through the one person CPR, never bending over to kneel on the floor like he did. Once he finished, she picked a partner for him. "Agent Standish, please join Agent Wilmington on the floor." Chuckles, snorts and muffled laughter again sounded around the room.

"I'd prefer not," Ezra retorted. "My pants do not require dust on the knees."

"Too bad. On your knees; you'll be performing rescue breathing." Cough. Cough. Nudge. Elbow. Glare. Shuffle, Shuffle.

"I do this under protest."

"Duly noted," she answered.

"Standish," the warning clear in Larabee's hiss. The southerner flashed an inscrutable look in the leader's direction before returning his attention to impatient Instructor.

"Okay, assess the patient's condition."

"Hey, you!" Buck started the routine by gently shaking the dummy, Annie, for a response. "You, call 911." He pointed to Kristin. They started CPR, Ezra breathing and Buck doing compressions, and then Harper reversed their positions, forcing Buck into rescue breathing. Once they finished, she picked Nathan and Vin for her next pair. They completed their two rotations with no problem.

Chris paired with his youngest agent. JD's enthusiasm in compressions snapped the ribcage.

"Okay, let me make a point. Cracking the ribs will happen. Internal injuries may occur. But look at the end result. If the person lives, they can recover. They can't recover if they're dead. So be careful but don't worry about it too much. Also, forcing too much air down the airway will inflate the stomach. Guess what the stomach does with too much air?" She paused. "It returns the way it came, bringing lots of nice things with it. People in breathing or heart distress can and will puke on you so be prepared. That's why I hand out these masks with one-way valves. No bodily fluid transfer."

Finally Chris and JD ended and Kristin and Marty came up next. They continued through their rotation and Tammy and Josiah finished out. Harper then tested the rest on the one person CPR, moving on to the child and infant.

When she reached foreign body obstruction, she knew she would suffer with this crew. Harper started with her mouthiest critic. "Agent Standish, you'll start. You find your victim on the ground. Assess."

With exaggerated motions, he lowered himself on the floor again, checking responsiveness. None. He pointed at JD. "Call 911." Ezra adjusted the head and used his filter to blow a rescue breath in.

"It won't go in," Harper told him.

"Never had that problem," Buck whispered to Vin.

"That y'all admit to," the sharpshooter whispered back receiving an elbow for the shot.

Harper glared at the two. "Ahem. What do you do, Agent Standish?"

"Reposition the head, try again, then check for foreign body obstructions in the mouth." He peered inside.

"Don't see anything."

"Why am I not surprised?" He straddled the mannequin.

"I think he likes it," Vin teased the southerner quietly.

"I heard that, Mr. Tanner." The sharpshooter blushed, hating being singled out and disciplined like a school kid. "You're victim's dying, Agent Standish, and you're laughing?"

Ezra performed five abdominal thrusts until a red ball on a string shot out of the mouth.

"He popped the cherry." The ladies man couldn't resist.

Laughter from those that heard changed to coughing when Harper's narrowed eyes swept over them.

"Am I finished?" Ezra asked from the floor.

Harper smiled. "No. Replace the ball in her mouth."

Ezra complied. "Now, she's standing and holding her throat, turning blue and not coughing."

With a sigh, Ezra stood, lifted the mannequin, and turned it until the back rested against his chest. He placed his hands in the appropriate position around front and pulled inward with a quick thrust the requisite five times, the fifth sending the ball shooting out. "Well done, Agent Standish. Lay Annie on the floor, replace the ball, and Agent Sanchez, you're next."

The larger man patted Ezra on the shoulder as he took his place. The southerner made a production of dusting off his knees. He resumed his place beside JD.

"They'll wash, Agent Standish. Agent Sanchez, you've come across an unconscious female."

Josiah started his assessment, tagged Nathan for calling 911, and checked the airway, giving a rescue breath after confirming a pulse.

"Doesn't go."

After trying again, checking the mouth for visible obstructions (none), he straddled the mannequin and performed the abdominal thrusts. On the first, the ball nearly struck his face from the force of the thrust. Team 7 chuckled at Josiah's expression.

"One point - watch the amount of force and strength used. Consider the size of the victim and your own muscle tone. Okay, Agent Sanchez, replace the ball. Your victim is now standing and choking."

Josiah stood, pulling the mannequin into his embrace. This time he performed the maneuver carefully. Once he finished, she picked her next victim.

"Agent Tanner, once Agent Sanchez resets Annie, you're up."

"Enjoy," the undercover operative got back at his partner, reaching over and giving him a slight shove forward. Vin shot a narrowed eye glance at Ezra who smirked back.

"Okay, do your assessment." Vin looked to Harper for answers. "Not breathing, has a pulse." Vin provided a rescue breath. "Didn't go in."

"Surprise, surprise," shot a southern bored tone.

"The peanut gallery needs to remain quiet." A green gaze reinforced the Instructor's words.

Vin straddled the mannequin and completed the thrusts. He underestimated his strength and broke the string, sending the ball flying into Buck's leg. "Sorry."

With her warning of sexual harassment, Buck held back on saying, "Here's your cherry" and tossed her the ball.

"Agent Tanner, if you'll hand me Annie?" Vin passed her the mannequin and she reattached the string to Annie's jacket. "Okay, give it a go now." The ball disappeared down Annie's throat as she passed Annie off.

Vin turned Annie into the right position and pulled back with his clasped hands, not realizing his hands rested higher above the navel than they should. The ribcage shot inward and popped out. He winced, recognizing the sound of the broken ribs. The grins on his friends' faces promised future teasing.

"Set Annie down for a second." Vin complied. Harper shifted until she stood in front of him. "Sometimes the dummies are misleading with hand position. Without thrusting, show me where you'd put your hands." She turned around and presented her back to him.

Chris noticed the shy hesitation, but couldn't resist the opportunity at a little gentle teasing, "Go ahead, cowboy."

"Show us your moves, Junior," Buck's grin nearly split his face.

"Y'all shut up." The sharpshooter glared at his smirking, snickering soon to be ex-friends with the exception of Nathan, who looked homicidal toward all of them. Keeping as much distance between them as possible, the shy man reached around and placed his fist in the appropriate position above her navel.

"Excellent," Harper said. "It's nice to see someone familiar with the human anatomy that can find the correct spot immediately. Thank you, Agent Tanner." Vin immediately released her and gave each of his smirking teammates a look promising retribution if they uttered one word. He felt the heat in his cheeks.

Harper reset Annie and placed her on the floor. "Agent Wilmington, since you find my cherry, as you call it, so interesting, you get to play with it next."

"I'd be happy to," Buck smirked. "Tell me how to please you." His eyes twinkled. JD doubled over in laughter; Ezra laughed outright; Vin grinned, pleased the attention shifted from him; Josiah chuckled; Chris rolled his eyes; the other three grinned, knowing Harper planned something; and Nathan covered his smile behind his hand.

"May I call you Buck?" Harper moved behind the funny man.

"Sure, darlin'. Call me anything you want, just as long as you call me."

"Well, Buck," emphasizing Buck, so it sounded insulting, "I want you on your knees." The female voice lowered into a throaty purr near his ear.

"Uh-huh." Mesmerized by the tone, the man dropped to his knees.

"Bent over."


"Assessing your patient." The three words whip-cracked, leaving no room for interference or play.

"You have a way of killing a mood, darlin'," the man sighed getting back to the task.

"Unconscious and unresponsive."

"Harper or Annie?" quipped a disgusted southern drawl.

"Right now, Annie cannot talk, Agent Wilmington," she said, giving him more patient information. "And Agent Standish, if you continue interrupting, I'll assume you volunteer for the self defense refresher next week. I always enjoy having lots of punching dummies. That goes for all of you."

Ezra opened his mouth but caught the patented Larabee glare out of the corner of his eye. Thinking about driving a desk and menial labor in her class, he astutely withheld his response.

"Something to add, Agent Standish?"

The southerner swallowed, "Absolutely not; I have not the desire to interrupt this fascinating demonstration, please continue."

Agent Harper shook her head, nothing was simple with these guys.

Chris nodded, meeting his undercover operative's gaze and conveying appreciation without a word.

"Now that I have your official permission, Agent Standish, I believe I will." She returned her attention to Wilmington, "Your rescue breath?"

Buck noticed the hard time his friend had keeping from tearing into Harper. Only her threat of removing them from active duty, no - more specifically, the threat of a pissed-off Larabee, kept them in line. Well, and Nathan. Things went smoother when Nathan was not mad at them. Immediately, he performed the requested action.

"Doesn't go."

Buck repositioned, tried again, and received the same response. He checked the airway - nothing - and performed the thrusts. The ball shot out.

"Excellent. Reset for a conscious victim."

Buck completed the rest of his practical and the rest of the students went after him, keeping the comments at a minimum. All of them sensed they used the last of the patience from both Harper and Larabee.

By lunchtime, she released them, telling them she would forward their two-year certifications later. Marty, Kristin, and Tammy returned to their respective work areas while Team 7 went to the saloon for lunch. Harper cleaned the training room, returning to her office to enjoy the sandwich she brought from home and the peace and quiet.

Settling behind her desk, she reached for the phone and placed a call to Travis. "We're done."

"They behave?"

"As much as possible."


"Meaning I dealt with more comments than appropriate but they're all certified. Now I'm ready to be certified."

"Break any rules?"

"Nope. Got a little short with them."

He chuckled. "Expect I'll hear from Larabee."

"You will. He found me rude and humorless. I believe I need to rectify that."

"I don't want to know." Harper's reputation as a practical joker followed her from Baltimore at the management level.

"Have a good day, sir."

"Thanks, Harper. I appreciate you making a special class for them."

"No problem."

"Enjoy your dinner." He disconnected, knowing she planned something for Team 7 and wanted to claim innocence when the fireworks started. At this point, the less he knew the better.

Harper never let anyone challenge her in her classroom, nor did she allow any test of her mettle. This team did both. She'd heard that Team 7 possessed a warped sense of humor; it was time to test it. Harper planned this joke long before they set foot in her class after Larabee's e-mail.

After collecting the old, retired CPR mannequins (the ones slated for destruction at the end of the month), she carried them and a bag of assorted items to the offices of Team 7. Long used to her carrying large bags and items through the hallways, no one paid attention. Using her 'field skills', she unlocked the door and let herself in, guessing she had approximately twenty-five minutes for the entire setup.

Five chairs received their own Annies, each one dressed in the preferred style of the desk owner. Wigs changed Annie's hair into different personas and her hands placed rubber masks on the faces, transforming the Annies into their perspective targets. Two chairs remained conspicuously empty. The plan had included them just in case, and she could resort to the full plan if she wanted to, but decided against it. Harper scribbled on Team 7's dry erase board and left the room with a satisfied smile.

Team 7 returned from lunch to find shapes in their chairs through the tinted glass of their office door. Slowly, carefully, they entered their office, their sanctum, and found it violated. After sweeping the office for unwelcome intruders, they checked out the handiwork left behind.

The rogue's chair found 'Buck' wearing a bright red heart taped outside of the Jimmy Buffett T-shirt he favored. All over the heart were notches with a key indicating one notch equaled five women. A punch dummy helmet rested on the head, an envelope taped on top. A jar of maraschino cherries sat on his desk.

In the youngest agent's chair, 'JD' wore a T-shirt, which moved up and down, left to right, aided by the fishing line rigged from the ceiling to make it twitch. The wig closely matched his own hair, an envelope taped to the chest.

The quiet sharpshooter's chair held a slouching 'Vin' wearing a white T-shirt, long hair covering the eyes, the sound of soft snoring coming from the figure. The envelope lay on the desk.

As expected the leader's chair held a somber 'Chris' wearing a black shirt and an all black cowboy hat with the word "cowboy" written in silver glitter. In the hatband was the envelope.

The undercover agent found his duplicate 'Ezra' wearing an excellent quality shirt and a piece of duct tape over the mouth, the envelope taped to it.

Josiah and Nathan, seeing only envelopes on their desk, shared amused smiles.

On the dry erase board, the message read:

Even dummies can learn CPR. Hopefully these dummies keep their mouths Shut Better than their real-life counterparts.

Regards, Harper

P.S. Please return the dummies to me.

A giant smiley face with a bullet hole in the center stared at them from under her signature.

Blue eyes, known for their own penchant for pranks, twinkled in merriment as they focused on the black cowboy hat. The woman had style, he thought as he started laughing. Buck fell next, admiring her panache for breaking into their office and arranging this. His roommate's amused giggles soon joined in with Josiah's rumbling mirth. Nathan held the door frame, shaking. Ezra's gold tooth gleamed in recognition of a plan well played.

The blond leader saw red, glaring at the cowboy hat and he knew he'd been had. He'd underestimated the woman. It rankled. This required payback. He'd sic Tanner on her and see how'd she do.

"Boys, when you're done laughing, we've got things to discuss."

"You wanna pay her back?" Blue eyes twinkled in anticipation.

"Oh yeah," JD added his enthusiastic agreement.

"Something involving duct tape," Ezra remarked, ripping the offending silver from the mouth of his dummy.

"Something romantic," Buck encouraged, opening the envelope, which held his recertification card.

Vin shook his head. "Only you, Bucklin."

"Girl's got spunk," said Nathan in appreciation. The woman didn't know what she opened herself up for. Maybe he'd stop by and tell her...

"Nathan," the ladies man shot the medic a warning glance, "She's got this coming."

"Brothers? What are you planning in those devious minds of yours?" Josiah saw the wheels turning and planning an appropriate payback.

"Ya want in?" Vin turned questioning eyes to the big man.

Josiah bobbed his head in agreement. "My head's still ringing from the air horn."


"Oh yeah."




"Most assuredly."


The EMT sighed. "Count me in."


"As your supervisor, I have to say practical jokes are against regulations. Am I understood?" Six heads slowly nodded. "Good. Now that that's out of the way, what's the plan?"

"Look out, Harper, here comes retribution, seven style." JD intoned softly.


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