The two men sitting in the small grouping of desks grinned at each other and exchanged knowing glances as the door to the office opened. Ezra had been due back from court any minute and they couldn't wait to tell him the news.
"I refuse to debase myself by partaking in such a primitive undertaking," Ezra announced haughtily, not even offering a greeting to the two men first. He passed by them without another word and walked to his desk.
"How'd you hear about it Ezra?" Buck asked with surprise. "We just heard about it this morning, and you've been in court all day."
"I refuse to divulge my sources, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra said with a sly smile. "I prefer to leave you in a constant state of bewilderment." He sat at his desk contentedly, chuckling at Buck's confused expression. As one of Buck's favorite victims for practical jokes, he enjoyed being the one to pull fast one on the tall, ladies man this time. He'd never tell Buck, but he had ridden up on the elevator with a member of the ATF's Team One, and he had filled him in on the proposed football games.
"Cool it with the five dollar words Ez," Buck shot back dryly. "And football's not primitive, it's as American as hot dogs and apple pie."
"I was raised in Europe," Ezra retorted blandly.
"Told me you went to boarding school in Mississippi," Vin said smugly, leaning back in his chair, arms crossed behind his head.
"Well, we followed a European curriculum," Ezra protested feebly.
"Sure thing, Ez, whatever you say," Vin said, rolling his eyes back at Buck.
"Look Ezra, all the other teams said they'd play, and we aren't backing down now," Buck said, walking over to Ezra's desk, and jamming his index finger at the Southerner for added emphasis as he spoke.
"I don't know how to play," Ezra stated flatly.
"What? Did he just say what I thought he said?" Nathan asked incredulously as he walked into the office.
"Ezra doesn't know how to play football?"
"Not the American kind, gentlemen, and I use that term loosely," Ezra replied with disdain.
"Ha! So that's it!" Buck exclaimed. "You don't know how, so that makes it a 'primitive activity'!"
Ezra shrugged his shoulders in reply.
"Well, like I said, we aren't backin' down Ezra, so you need to learn by Sunday," Buck said forcefully.
"I will not play Mr. Wilmington. You have no authority over me."
"But I do," Chris growled from his open office door. He'd read the e-mailed challenge from Team Three's leader early this morning, suggesting that all eight ATF teams participate in a mini football league. They planned to hold a random drawing to determine which teams would play each other, then each of the four winning teams would advance to the next round, and so on, up until the ATF Super Bowl, which would be held on the morning of the NFL Super Bowl. Chris liked the idea, thought it would be a good way for all the agents to let off some steam and have a bit of fun. He'd discussed the challenge with his five agents, except for Ezra, as the southern agent had been testifying at a court hearing. All the others had agreed, and he'd phoned Team Three's leader to say yes. Chris had wondered what the well-dressed man's reaction would be to playing football, when he found out about the proposed games. It had gone exactly as he'd expected.
"In matters pertaining to work, you most certainly do, Mr. Larabee," Ezra conceded. "But this is not one of those circumstances."
"Oh, but it is, Ezra," Chris grinned ferally. "Consider it an ATF team-building assignment. All the agents are participating."
"But...but...that's..." Ezra sputtered.
"I think what Ezra is trying to say is that it sounds like fun Chris," Buck said jovially. "Isn't that right, Ez?"
The Southerner glared at his office mates. "Very well, I shall attend, but under protest."
"Hot damn!" Buck shouted gleefully. "Ezra, we'll have you playing like a pro in no time. Vin, let's take him to the field down the street from me and JD's after work. We'll show him how it's done."
"Sounds good to me, Buck. You comin' Chris?" Vin asked, turning to his best friend.
"And miss Ezra debasing himself? Wouldn't miss it for anything," Chris laughed.
"Good, I'll tell JD and Josiah when they come back in from lunch," Buck offered. "And tonight, last one to the field buys dinner."
() () () () () () ()
Over the next several weeks, Team Seven won easy victories in each game, handily defeating their opponents using both a running and passing game. Chris and Vin both made excellent quarterbacks and receivers, and they shared each job. When Chris was quarterbacking, Vin was his favorite receiver, and vice-versa. Each seemed to know exactly where the other would be on the field. JD found his niche as the go to person on the running plays, with Nathan and Josiah providing the blocking. After his initial hesitation about playing, Ezra made a surprisingly good back-up receiver, along with Buck, for the times when Chris or Vin couldn't get open to receive a pass. Word spread after the first game, and each Sunday, the other teams gathered to watch the seven.
() () () () () () ()
The morning of Super Bowl Sunday finally arrived. The big game was scheduled for 10am, at the field a few blocks down from the ATF offices. Chris swung by Vin's apartment and picked up the sharpshooter at 8:30am. Buck and JD drove in together. Josiah and Nathan arrived separately, within minutes of each other. It was now an hour to game time and there was no sign of Ezra. "Told him we'd practice before the game, get warmed up," Buck muttered.
"Maybe we shoulda picked him up, Chris," Vin said.
"No, he'll be here," Chris insisted. "Let's start tossing it around fellas," he suggested.
Vin caught Chris's long bomb, running into the parking lot just as the Jaguar pulled up.
"Hey Ez! 'Bout time you got here!" Vin called cheerily.
"I apologize for my lack of punctuality...." Ezra began, before being cut off as Vin shoved the pigskin at him.
"Throw it Ez!" Vin encouraged.
"Very well, Mr. Tanner," Ezra responded with a sigh, tossing a perfect spiral back to Chris.
"Good job Ezra, now get your ass out here!" Chris yelled.
Vin and Ezra jogged back to the field, and the seven began running through the plays they were going to use in the game.
() () () () () () ()
As the minutes ticked by, the sidelines filled up with ATF agents from all the other teams, except for Team Two, their opponent. Then, at 9:55am, Team Two arrived. Chris groaned inwardly as he caught sight of the two huge men leading the way toward the field. 'Goliath and Frankenstein,' he thought to himself, eyeing the two. They were both bigger than Josiah, and each had an axe to grind with Team Seven. The men, in reality named Steve and John, had interviewed with Chris to join Team Seven when it was first starting up, but there had been something about each of the two that Chris found unsettling. He couldn't put his finger on what it was exactly, but he'd opted against making them a part of his team.
Since then, Steve and John had tried to make life miserable for any member of Team Seven they encountered. To make matters worse, John had been recently named Team Leader for Team Two and the relationship between the two teams was even more strained, if that was possible. They refused to share information on a case, unless forced to by the higher ups. They hassled Vin and JD mercilessly, since the two youngest members of the seven, being the last of the group hired, had gotten the jobs that John and Steve had interviewed for. Knowing this, the two giants seemed to personally hold Vin and JD responsible for them not being a part of Team Seven, and they never missed the opportunity to give Vin or JD a hard time. Just last week, Chris broke up an argument between Vin and Steve in the parking garage and a near fist-fight between John and JD later that same day. By-standers to both scenes had come forward later and told Chris that John and Steve had been the ones that instigated each situation, and that Vin and JD both had tried to walk away or make light of each incident, until they were pushed. Chris decided not to take action against any of the men involved, unless JD and Vin approached him about the problem. Otherwise, he'd let them handle it on their own.
And now, as he looked at the grim, set faces of Team Two, led by the two huge men, he was beginning to question his logic. Agreeing to participate in the games may not have been the wisest decision, especially when he took into account how John and Steve were eyeing Vin and JD. Like the way a lion looks at a slow moving gazelle in one of those National Geographic nature specials. Damn, this was not good.
"Okay guys, here's what we're going to do," Chris explained in the huddle. He'd decided to start off as the quarterback, figuring Steve and John would try to rush him, and leave Vin and JD alone.
The game started. Chris faded back to pass, Nathan and Josiah blocking Team Two's pass rushers, giving him plenty of time to throw. He saw Vin was open and launched a long pass to him. Vin leaped into the air and caught the ball, but dropped it as he was plowed over by Goliath. One of the other ATF team leaders, Bob Jones, was acting as an official for the game, and blew his whistle.
"Hey, it's touch or tag, you asshole, not tackle!" Buck yelled at Steve as he helped Vin to his feet. "What the hell's wrong with you?"
"Sorry, I forgot," Steve said, shrugging his shoulders. "No hard feelings, right Tanner?"
Vin was bending over, catching his breath. Steve had hit him right in the stomach, knocking the air out of him. "Yeah, sure," he gasped out.
Bob came over to Vin. "You okay?" he asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Vin answered.
"Good," Bob replied and blew his whistle again. "Fifteen yard penalty, Team Two. Unsportmanlike conduct." He noticed Chris walk up next to him. "Hell, Chris, never thought I'd have to be calling penalties on a touch football game."
Chris shrugged. "Maybe it was an accident. We'll let it slide for now. And we decline the penalty."
"Yeah, we don't need the extra yardage," he replied with a wolfish grin. "We'll kick their asses without the penalty."
"Have it your way," Bob shrugged. "Penalty declined. Play on," he yelled to the two teams.
Chris handed the ball off to JD on the next play, wanting to give Vin a break. The youngest of the seven ran for ten yards before he was tagged. Chris signaled the next play, handing it to JD again. This time, Steve got around Buck and headed straight for JD, tackling him low, sending him down onto the hard ground.
Bob blew the whistle again, ready to call another penalty, but Chris waved him off.
JD got up quickly, rubbing his sore back. "What's the deal Steve? You're not still playing in the NFL, you know," he taunted.
"Why you little sh...!" Steve shouted, charging at JD.
"Break it up!" Chris yelled. "We here to play football or fight?"
Leaders from the other ATF teams, watching from the sidelines, stepped onto the field to back Chris up, if necessary. Steve noticed this and backed down. "Okay, let's play," he yelled, glaring at JD.
JD smiled back, ignoring the look. He hadn't been able to resist the smart comment. Everybody knew Steve had been drafted by the Denver Broncos, but washed out after his rookie season. It was still a sore subject to the big man, and JD normally wouldn't be so cruel as to tease someone about it, but Steve had asked for it. After the cheap shot he'd taken at Vin and the tackle he put on JD, Steven deserved a little taste of his own medicine.
() () () () () () ()
The game went on without any further incidents, until late in the fourth quarter. Team Seven was ahead by a touchdown, and Vin was playing quarterback. He launched a pass to Buck, which the mustached agent caught near the end zone. John barreled into him, driving him to the ground, trying to jar the ball loose. Buck hung onto the ball and scrambled to his feet, charging John.
"Let it slide Buck," Chris urged, rushing over to grab Buck's arm and keep him from fighting John. "Let's just finish the game and get out of here."
Buck looked at Chris, and for a split second, Team Seven's leader thought Buck was going to ignore him and go after John anyway. But then Buck pulled his arm out of Chris's grasp and nodded.
"Let's do it Chris. Let's whup up on these jerks and get the hell outta here," he agreed, loudly enough that John, Steve and the rest of Team Two could hear him.
By this time, Bob knew not even to bother blowing his whistle for a penalty. Team Seven wouldn't take it anyway. He just looked at Chris, who shook his head and headed back to the line of scrimmage again.
On the next play, Vin handed the ball off to JD, but Steve tore through Josiah and Nathan's blocks, hurling himself at Vin. He slammed the lean sharpshooter to the ground, crushing him underneath his massive body.
Meanwhile, JD was suffering nearly the same fate, as John grabbed him by the shirt, lifted him off his feet, spun him around and flung him onto the ground.
Buck, Chris and the rest of Team Seven were spitting mad as they saw the two youngest members laying on the ground.
"Still just want us to shake it off, Chris?" Buck asked sarcastically.
"No," Chris bit out and headed toward John and Steve, fire in his eyes.
"Chris, hold up," Josiah cautioned, moving to stand in front of his leader.
"I've got a better idea. Let's help Vin and JD up first, then we'll deal with them," he said, indicating the two mammoth men, trying to look innocent as they stood across the field. "I've got a plan."
Chris called a time out and they moved to help JD and Vin to the sidelines, sitting them down carefully.
"How you doin' pard?" Chris asked Vin solicitously.
"I'm okay Chris," Vin assured.
"Yeah, see about JD, will ya? I'm fine."
Chris hesitated, looking Vin over again quickly before he moved over to JD's side, where Buck already hovered.
Vin looked over at his younger friend worriedly. He wasn't really feeling all that great, but he figured JD had to be feeling worse. From his vantage point on the ground, he'd seen JD go down hard and land right on his wrist. That had to hurt and he wouldn't be surprised if it was broken. He only felt a little dizzy and knew he could handle that. He just needed to sit down for a few minutes, like he was doing, and he'd be feeling better. JD was the one that was hurt, not him. His head was starting to pound, so he closed his eyes and listened to the sounds around him. Buck's voice floated over him and he relaxed and listened as his friend's tended to JD.
"How's that feel JD? Does it hurt bad, son?"
"No Buck, it's fine. I'm fine," JD protested vehemently. "I just landed on it wrong. I'm okay."
"Nathan?" Buck asked anxiously. "Is it broken?"
The former medic gently manipulated JD's arm and wrist. "No, it doesn't look or feel broken," he pronounced. "Guess he just landed on it wrong," he smiled, agreeing with JD's self-diagnosis. "I imagine it's gonna be mighty sore later on, though, JD," he warned. "We'll ice it up after the game."
"Maybe we should do it now," Buck suggested worriedly. "You sure it isn't broken?"
"It's fine Buck!" JD yelled, tired of the older man's hovering. "It's my wrist, and I think I'd know if it was broken or not. What about Vin? He was knocked down pretty hard, too, you know."
Vin glared at JD, unhappy to have the attention turned back to him. "Thanks a lot kid," he muttered.
JD grinned and shrugged his shoulders at his friend, as the five older members of the seven descended on the sharpshooter.
"Anything hurt Vin?" Nathan asked with concern.
"No, nothin' hurts Nathan, let's play ball," Vin said irritably, getting to his feet.
"Vin....," Chris began.
"I'm fine. Quit nursemaidin' me!" Vin barked.
"Okay fine. I'll leave you alone," Chris shot back, hands up in the air as he took a few steps away from Vin.
Bob and one of the other ATF team leaders approached him.
"Chris, we're calling the game," Bob began. "All the other ATF team leaders discussed it, and we've decided that the game has gone on long enough. Team Two is getting out of hand. There's only five minutes left anyhow, and you're up by a touchdown. You'd be up by more if you'd have taken the penalties your team was entitled to. We're putting a stop to it."
"No, we'll play on," Chris insisted. He wanted to beat those bastards on Team Two fair and square. And get a few licks in, after the way they'd abused Vin and JD.
"No, Chris, sorry. The Captain's even on the sidelines, he got here just before the last play. He wants it called, too. It's getting out of control and he's afraid somebody's really going to get hurt."
"Shit," Chris cursed softly. "The team sure isn't going to like this, Bob. We want to beat 'em the right way, not like this. A lot can happen in five minutes."
"We know. That's why we want it called. It's not worth risking an injury Chris. We've all got jobs to do come Monday. I don't know what Team Two's deal is, anyway. The Captain's gonna want to talk to them tomorrow about this whole thing."
Chris looked over at the sidelines, catching Buck's eye. His oldest friend was fuming, pacing up and down the sidelines, looking back at Chris expectantly. Then he looked over at Vin and JD. His best friend looked a little dazed and he could tell JD's wrist was hurting him. He turned to the two team leaders in front of him. "You're right, this has gotten out of hand. This was supposed to be a fun thing to do, and people are getting hurt. Time to pull the plug."
Bob nodded and blew his whistle. "Game over!" he called. "Team Seven wins!"
Chris headed over to his team and explained the situation to the six men.
"No, I wanna play!" Vin argued. "We're winning and we've only got a few more minutes left anyways, Chris," he pleaded.
"Yeah, c'mon Chris," JD joined in. "We're fine," he added. "Don't call the game because of us."
"It's already done," Chris said calmly. "And I won't risk anything happening to any member of this team," he stated sternly. "Team Two's always had something against Team Seven, and we're not going to give them anymore chances to act on it today. Now c'mon, let's celebrate. We just won the Super Bowl!"
By now, all the other ATF teams were milling around the field, joking and talking. "Good game guys!" Team Three's leader shouted. The other team leaders followed, along with several other agents. Soon the seven were surrounded by well-wishers.
JD glanced up from where he was talking to an agent from Team Four, to see Vin sway slightly. He excused himself and hurried to Vin's side.
"You okay Vin?"
"Yeah, just kind of hard to breathe in here," Vin answered back. "Everybody's pressing in kind of tight."
"You want to go over by the cars and sit down for a minute?" the younger man suggested.
"Okay," Vin agreed.
The two made their way through the crowd to the parking lot. They leaned up against Chris's Ram.
"What's the deal with those goons on Team Two anyhow?" JD asked Vin, absently rubbing his aching wrist.
"Don't know exactly," Vin answered. "Chris told me they worked for the ATF for a while. And when Chris started our team, they interviewed with him Guess they're mad they didn't get the job or something," he said with a shrug. He hoped his answer had satisfied the younger man, and that JD would keep quiet for a while, because his head was really starting to throb. He'd kill for a couple of aspirins and a bed in a nice quiet, dark room.
JD seemed to sense Vin's discomfort, and he stayed silent for the next few minutes as they both closed their eyes and relaxed against the big car.
"Well, looky here! It's our two little friends, all alone without their big brothers to protect them!" John jeered as he and Steve came up quietly behind Vin and JD, surprising them.
"Get lost," Vin said testily.
"Get lost?" Steve echoed back to Vin with mock innocence. "Vin, I'm hurt you'd talk to us that way. Didn't anybody ever teach you any manners?"
"You're one to talk," Vin spat back sarcastically. "Didn't anybody ever teach you how to play touch football? Or can't you follow directions? Maybe that's why you got kicked off the Broncos?"
"Bastard!" Steve shouted, enraged, and grabbed Vin by the shirt, yanking the sharpshooter toward him. Vin tried to fight him, but Steve was so much larger and just too strong. "You'll pay for that crack!" he promised and shoved Vin backwards, into the Ram. John held JD back when he saw the younger man try to come to Vin's defense.
Steve raised his fist toward Vin's face, then gasped with surprise as it was pulled back. He whirled around and stood face to face with Chris.
"I think you two over-grown bullies had better be on your way out of here, if you know what's good for you," Chris suggested with a tight smile squeezing Steve's wrist tightly as he spoke.
"We weren't doing anything, we were just...." John began to stammer as Chris turned blazing green eyes toward him.
"Just what?" Chris demanded coldly. "Starting more trouble? Haven't you done enough today?" He threw down Steve's hand with disgust, silently daring the man to raise it again. He wanted an excuse to pulverize these two punks. And if either one of them made a move toward Vin or JD again, he'd do it in a heartbeat, regulations be damned.
"Is there a problem here?" Captain Smith asked, as he walked up to the five men, flanked by the other members of Team Seven.
"You heard the Captain," Chris said sharply, directing his venom toward John and Steve. "Is there a problem here?"
"No, no sir, no problem here," John said. "Think I see someone I need to talk to over there," he said, gesturing toward the crowd. The captain nodded to them and the two men walked away.
Captain Smith turned to Chris, Vin and JD. "I've already congratulated the rest of your team, now it's your turn. Congratulations on the Super Bowl victory. I think everyone in the ATF offices enjoyed the games. Thank you for participating," he said, shaking Vin, Chris and JD's hands.
"You're welcome," Chris and the others replied.
"Now why don't you all get out of here. Today's Super Bowl Sunday, you know. I'm sure you've got better things to do than stand around here talking to me," Captain Smith said with a smile.
"Yes sir, we do," Chris agreed. "Let's head out fellas. Lunch is on me, then we'll head to Buck and JD's to watch the game."
() () () () () () ()
"JD, you got anymore chips?" Vin asked as he rummaged through the kitchen cabinets at Buck and JD's condo.
"If we do, they'd be in that cabinet," JD answered as he walked into the room.
"Well, guess you're out then," Vin said, slightly disappointed. "And I'm starvin',"
"Geez Vin, we only ate two hours ago! I'm still stuffed," JD laughed.
"I've got a quick metabolism, JD," Vin grinned back. "Least that what Ezra says about me, anyhow."
"True enough, Mr. Tanner," Ezra agreed from the other room. "Would one of you kind gentlemen please bring me another Heineken? he asked.
"We're out of Heine's, Ez," Vin announced. "Have to be Bud in a can."
"Are you referring to a domestic beer?" Ezra said with mock horror. "Perish the thought, Mr. Tanner."
"Let's go and get some more beer and chips, JD," Vin suggested. "The games still a couple hours from now, and we're gonna need more to eat and drink."
"Okay," JD agreed and went to find his keys. Vin walked over to Ezra, who had been playing video poker on the Sony Playstation while he and JD had watched.
"Tell Chris we'll be back in a few."
"I'd be glad to, Mr. Tanner. And please don't forget the Heineken's. It will be a long game without them, otherwise."
Vin gave him a lopsided grin and went to meet JD at the front door.
() () () () () () ()
Vin and JD loaded up a cart full of junk food and beer in no time at the grocery store and headed for the checkout.
JD reached into his pocket for his wallet as they approached the register.
"Vin! My wallet! I don't have it!" he exclaimed.
"It's okay JD, I'll pay," Vin replied, undaunted.
"No, no! I mean I must have lost it!"
"You think it's back at the condo?"
JD shook his head. "No, I think it might have dropped out at the field after the game. I was getting another pair of sweats out of my bag and it must have fallen out."
"Okay, we'll just drive over and take a look," Vin replied easily. "We're not that far from there."
"Thanks Vin," JD said with a relieved smile as the older man finished paying for the groceries and they walked out.
"No problem JD. Don't worry, we'll find it."
() () () () () () ()
Ten minutes later, they drove up to the deserted field. Only two other cars were in the lot, and Vin and JD climbed out and started looking around for the missing wallet. They were searching the grass near where Buck had parked, when they heard footsteps come up behind them.
Steve stood next to him, wearing an equally nasty grin. "Looking for this?" John said, holding up JD's wallet, flashing an evil smile. Steve stood next to him, wearing an equally nasty grin.
"Yeah, thanks," JD replied and moved to take the wallet from the much larger man.
"Not so fast, squirt," John taunted. "You've gotta ask me for it real nice, before I'll let you have it."
"Can I please have my wallet," JD said flatly.
John shook his head. "Not good enough." He turned to Steve. "Wasn't near polite enough, was it Steve?"
"Sure wasn't," Steve agreed.
"Just give him the damned wallet," Vin spat out.
"Oh, another cub with a snotty attitude! Larabee needs to teach his young 'uns better manners," John jeered. He stepped forward, getting in Vin's face. "You got a smart mouth, kid, and I don't like it," he threatened.
Vin shrugged nonchalantly. "Whatever," he said sarcastically.
John drew his fist back and smashed it into Vin's face, connecting with his left eye. The sharpshooter went down like a sack of potatoes, but got to his knees quickly and shook off the blow. He righted himself and went after the big man, swinging wildly. The meaty fist crashed into his face again, dropping him to the ground once more. This time, Vin stayed down, and JD ran to help him.
"Vin! Vin! Are you all right?" he cried, kneeling down next to his fallen friend. Vin blinked slowly and looked up at JD dazedly. "It'll be okay Vin, don't worry. I'll get you out of this," he promised.
He stood up and in a mad rage, launched himself at the two giants. Using the element of surprise to his advantage, he pummeled John in the gut with two quick punches, bringing him to his knees, then went after Steve. Unfortunately, Steve was ready for him, and he grabbed JD's hand, twisting his already sore wrist, viciously. By this time, Vin had staggered to his feet and tried to help JD. The two smaller men were no match for John and Steve, and before they knew it, both JD and Vin were flat on the ground. JD's battered wrist had screamed in protest when he'd put out his hand to break his fall. The left side of Vin's face dripped blood from temple to cheek, scraped by the rocky ground when he went down.
"You two better keep your mouths shut about this," Steve threatened, looking down at them, as John dropped JD's wallet on the younger man's chest disdainfully. "Better think up a good story for what happened, 'cause if Larabee and Wilmington come lookin' for us, there'll be hell to pay for you two boys later on. Consider this a lesson in respecting your elders," Steve finished with a cruel laugh. He nudged John and the two men walked to their cars, leaving Vin and JD laying on the ground.
JD tried to sit up, but he fell back to the ground limply. He must have blacked out, because when he woke up, the other cars were gone, and he and Vin were alone. 'Vin, oh God,' he thought to himself with dread. If he felt this bad, Vin really had to be hurting, after the way John had attacked him. "Vin?" JD's voice was barely above a whisper, as he called to his friend. He twisted on the ground, pushing himself up to a sitting position with one hand. His wrist hurt so badly it was making him nauseous. He knew it was broken this time.
"JD," Vin answered slowly and shakily. "You all right?"
"M-my wrist's broken now Vin, I think," JD answered back sadly. "It really hurts. How about you?"
"Soon as I can see straight, I'll be okay," Vin tried to joke weakly.
JD didn't laugh. Not when he saw how horrible Vin looked. His face was deathly pale, with beads of sweat popping up on his forehead, in spite of the cold temperature of the day. A stream of caked blood garnished one side of his face, and his eye was blackening rapidly. "Vin, I think you might have a concussion," JD assessed. He remembered when Buck had one a few months ago. The symptoms seemed to be the same. He knew they needed to get to a hospital soon. "Vin, think you can get to the car?"
"Sure JD," Vin said with more confidence than he was feeling. His head was beyond aching. Each breath he took drove little spikes of pain into him, from the top of his head down to his neck. He felt like a rag doll with the stuffing ripped out of it. He squinted his eyes against the light. It was too bright for him, even though there was no sun out today and pulled himself to his knees. He swayed and pitched forward, catching himself just before his face met the ground.
JD stumbled over to him and knelt down. "You wanna try again?" he asked. "I'll help you this time."
Vin nodded, and regretted it as his head erupted with more of the fiery red needles of agony. He pushed the bile that rose to the top of his throat back down, closing his eyes, nearly giving in to the darkness. JD held his breath as he watched him anxiously, waiting until he recovered himself. After another minute, Vin cracked his eyes open. "Okay, let's go," he mumbled.
JD nodded and, with his good arm, helped Vin stand up. The older man leaned on the younger heavily, and they reeled and stumbled to the car. JD eased Vin into the passenger seat and made his way over to his side and climbed in. He found the keys and started the engine. Nothing happened. He tried again. The engine was dead. He looked over at Vin with disbelief. This couldn't be happening. Out in the middle of nowhere, hurt, and his car wouldn't start. "Vin, do you have your cell phone with you?"
"Me neither," JD sighed. "Ran out of the house so fast, didn't even think about needing it. We were just going to the store and back."
Vin gingerly leaned his head back against the headrest and closed his eyes. It hurt to think, but right now, they needed to come up with a way to get out of here.
"JD, did you lock the car when we were lookin' for your wallet?"
JD looked at him oddly, but answered. "Probably not, we were looking right around here. And I don't lock it all the time, anyway."
'Shit,' Vin cursed to himself. He was afraid of this. He spoke again. "JD, can you get out of the car and open up the hood?"
"Good. Then tell me what you see under there."
Again, JD looked at him like he was crazy, but he obeyed. He rushed back to the car. "There's a lot of wires, and they look like they've been cut."
"Dammit!" This time, Vin cursed aloud. "Sons of bitches cut the distributor cap or ignition wires." He opened his eyes and looked at JD. "They did it after they knocked us out. Climbed in the car and hit the hood release. We're stuck here JD, your car ain't goin' nowhere." He shivered violently and sunk down into the seat, closing his eyes tightly. A soft moan escaped his lips as he tried to ride out the pain and nausea
"Vin, there's gotta be something we can do!" JD was starting to panic. Vin looked worse by the second.
"You can go for help, JD," Vin said quietly. "I don't want to leave you," JD replied stubbornly.
"I'd slow you down, kid. I can't really walk too well right about now," Vin confessed. He opened his eyes a little and stared at his friend. "JD, I know your wrist hurts and you don't want to leave me alone, but you're gonna have to do it. It's the only way." He clenched his teeth, unable to say more, as a sweeping wave of nausea threatened to overcome him. He didn't want to throw up in front of JD, knowing it would really unnerve the younger man, and make it that much harder for him to leave him. "Go on, JD. And remember to take your wallet," he said when he was finally able to speak again.
"Okay Vin, I'll go," JD said reluctantly. "There's some fast-food restaurants around here somewhere, I think."
"Best get walking then," Vin prodded.
"You sure you're gonna be okay?"
Vin would have laughed if he didn't feel so miserable. 'Sure kid, I'm gonna puke my guts out, my head's on fire and my face is throbbing. Never been better,' he wanted to say. But he'd never hurt JD's feelings like that, and he knew the kid was just concerned for him. He tried to smile at the younger man. "I'll be fine. Just hurry back, okay?"
"I'll be back soon Vin," JD promised, and left the car.
() () () () () () ()
"They left over an hour ago. You sure they just were going to the grocery?" Buck asked Ezra with concern.
"Yes, Mr. Wilmington. While you and the others were downstairs, partaking in the pre-game activities, I was up here with the two youngest members of our elite group. They bemoaned the lack of food and beverages, and struck out for additional supplies," Ezra answered.
"Neither one of them took their phones, either," Chris observed.
"JD's is right here, and Vin mentioned he'd forgotten his when I picked him up today."
"So, if they're in trouble, they can't even call us," Buck said, continuing Chris's line of thought.
"Trouble? What can happen to the two of them on a trip to the grocery store?" Nathan asked. Four pair of eyes glared at him. "Oh, yeah, I forgot. It's JD and Vin we're talking about. Might be a good idea to call the National Guard."
"I'm heading out to look for them," Chris announced.
"I'll go with you," Buck agreed.
"Fine. Rest of you, sit tight in case they call. Buck and I both have our cell phones, so call us if you hear from them."
JD walked as fast as he could out of the park where the field was. They were only about a 10-15 minute drive from the ATF offices, a relatively short distance by car. But, it was a long distance when you were walking out in the cold and with a broken wrist. He wished he could run, and get to help faster, but knew he couldn't. Even stepping as carefully as he could, with his injured wrist cradled against his body, jarred and jolted the injured area, sending shock waves of pain through his entire arm. Every time he wanted to sit down and rest, he thought of Vin, back in the car, waiting on him, depending on him to bring back help. And it made him keep going. He took step after step, stumbling down the deserted road, surrounded by nothing but trees and quiet.
He heard a car in the distance, headed his way. Waving his uninjured arm frantically, he yelled for the car to stop. The driver ignored him and sped past. JD hung his head, tears of defeat threatening to fall from the corners of his eyes. 'No, I can do this. Vin needs me!' he told himself firmly. 'Get moving JD!' A few minutes later, he saw a small building. He rubbed his eyes with his coat sleeve to clear them, and make sure it was not just his imagination. But there it still was, a small pony keg. He quickened his pace, ignoring the searing pain it caused his wrist.
"Mister, my friend's hurt at the park," he began. "Can I use your phone?"
"Sure kid," the man replied.
"Thanks," JD said and dialed the condo.
"Hello?" Josiah's voice rumbled out. "Josiah?" JD asked. "That you?"
"It's me, JD," Josiah answered with relief. "Where are you son? Are you all right?"
"I'm at a store near the field. Lost my wallet and we drove over there," JD said hurriedly.
"Okay son, just slow down," Josiah soothed. "Are you hurt?"
"My wrist hurts Josiah, I think it's broken. But Vin's hurt real bad."
JD was about to answer when he remembered the threat John and Steve had made. "You two better keep your mouths shut about this," Steve had said. "Better think up a good story for what happened." The words rang in his ears over and over again. "N-nothing happened Josiah," he lied. "We were just goofing around and we fell."
Silence greeted him on the other line as Josiah listened to the lie. The older man decided not to push it. Something was obviously wrong, but right now they needed to get Vin and JD taken care of. "Okay, JD," he said gently. "Just stay there. Chris and Buck are out and we'll call them to come and get you."
"No! No, Josiah!" JD protested. "I've got to get back to Vin! I left him all alone."
"No, JD. Just sit tight," Josiah ordered. "They'll get you and then get Vin. It'll be okay, I promise."
JD agreed unhappily, and gave Josiah directions on where he was. Then he hung up and settled down to wait.
"Why don't you sit down, you're looking a little shaky," the owner of the pony keg suggested kindly.
JD looked at him blankly. "Huh?" he asked. It was getting very warm in the little building and he suddenly felt dizzy.
The man saw how pale JD had become and moved to help him. "Here you go, son, just sit down," he said, leading JD to a chair. He accidently bumped JD's wrist and the younger man cried out from the pain.
"Sorry," the older man apologized. JD nodded his understanding and bit his lip to keep from crying out again. He knew the older man was only trying to help. "Let me get you something to drink and you just stay right here."
"I don't mean to be a bother," JD said.
"No trouble at all, I'm glad for the company," the man said as he handed JD some hot coffee.
JD took a gulp of the steaming brew, relishing the warmth that coursed through him as he swallowed more. He couldn't help thinking about Vin, all alone in the cold car. "Please Buck, Chris, get here soon," he prayed silently.
() () () () () () ()
Buck jumped and grabbed the cell phone before the first ring had even finished. "Wilmington!" he snapped.
"Buck, it's Josiah..."
"Josiah! Where are they!" Buck cut in, not even giving Josiah a chance to finish.
"JD's at a pony keg near the field. He said Vin's hurt pretty badly and he had to leave him back at the field where we played ball today."
"The field? What the hell were they doing there?" Buck asked.
Chris turned to Buck. "Where are they?"
"Hang on Josiah," Buck asked. "There's a little pony keg near that field we played at today. JD's there, and Vin's hurt," he told Chris.
Chris turned the Ram around and headed toward the field without another word. Buck continued to talk to Josiah, but Chris didn't ask anymore questions. He just drove. There would be time for answers later. Right now, he wanted to get to Vin and JD.
() () () () () () ()
Fifteen minutes later, they pulled up to the store. JD approached them shakily.
"JD, let me look at your wrist," Buck said.
"No," JD protested. "We've got to get to Vin."
"Buck, buckle him in front next to me," Chris ordered.
"We'll get Vin and then go straight to the hospital. We can't do much for him right here anyway," Chris agreed.
"Okay, JD, c'mon," Buck said, gently steering the youngest of the seven to Chris's Ram.
Chris thanked the store owner for his help, while Buck got JD settled, and they drove off to find Vin. Chris worried about the shape he'd find his best friend in, but tried not to let JD know how alarmed he was. JD felt bad enough about having to leave him. Five minutes later they pulled to the parking lot. JD's car was the only on there, and as they got closer, they noticed the passenger door was open.
"Vin!" Chris shouted and slammed the car to a stop next to the other vehicle.
The three men got out, Chris leading the way to the stricken man's side. Vin was half in and half out of the seat, his upper body sprawled on the concrete, laying in a pool of vomit.
"Vin, Vin," Chris said desperately as he picked his friend up and turned him over carefully. The younger man was unconscious and Chris was unable to rouse him. "We've got to get him to the hospital now," he said to the others. He picked Vin up and headed to the Ram, JD and Buck right behind.
"Chris, let me take him," Buck said. "I'll hold him in back, JD can ride in front with you again."
Chris reluctantly let go of Vin, handing him over to his oldest friend.
Buck gave him a reassuring glance. "Don't worry, I'll take care of Junior," he assured.
Chris nodded and grabbed the dash light from the glove compartment. He turned it on and they headed out, speeding toward Four Corners General Hospital
() () () () () () ()
Chris looked over at his best friend with relief, finally seeing the big blue eyes open slowly. "Where am I?" Vin asked cautiously as he took in his surroundings.
"Four Corners Hospital," Chris stated simply, not wanting to overwhelm Vin with information.
"You have a concussion," Chris answered. "Do you remember how it happened?" he prodded gently.
Vin looked at Chris for a minute, trying to recollect on the day's events. Suddenly he remembered. "JD!" he cried out fearfully.
"He's fine, Vin, settle down," Chris reassured. "He's getting a cast on his wrist right now, matter of fact. The doctor said he could come in and see you when he's finished." Chris saw that Vin had calmed a little bit, but still seemed upset. "What is it Vin? What's bothering you?"
"Nothin'," Vin said, shame-faced, unable to look Chris in the eye any longer.
"Vin, what happened? Who did this to you?" Chris questioned. "I know you got banged up in the game, but you sure as hell didn't have that black eye last time I saw you. And JD's wrist was hurt, but it wasn't broken."
"We were just....just playin' around at the field, and uh....uh....I fell and then JD...."
"Vin...." Chris growled. He hated to be so tough on the younger man right now, when he was feeling so badly, but he needed to know the truth. "That isn't really what happened, is it? Why are you lying?"
"'Cause," Vin said stubbornly, still refusing to look up at Chris. "I can't. It's for me and JD to take care of."
"What's for you two to take care of?" Chris prodded. "Who did this Vin?"
"Steve and John," Buck answered, coming into the room, JD in tow.
"What?" Chris shouted. "Vin, they did this to you?"
Vin looked quickly at JD. The younger man looked back at Vin sorrowfully. "Sorry Vin. I know we weren't gonna tell, but Buck made me." "Damn right I made him!"
Buck crowed. "Chris, these two geniuses were gonna handle this on their own," Buck said incredulously, shaking his head. "Don't know what the hell you boys were thinking."
"It's our problem, and we're gonna handle it," Vin replied emphatically.
"Like hell you are Vin," Chris shot back. He eyed his friend, laying in bed, IV attached to his hand, his face bruised and bloodied. Then he looked at JD, arm covered in plaster, resting in a sling.
"I'll discuss the situation with Captain Smith tomorrow. He'll want to hear your sides, then he'll talk to John and Steve, and take the appropriate action."
"But Chris, what Steve and John did, it's between JD and me. You and Buck don't need to fight our battles," Vin continued to protest.
"No Vin, you're wrong," Chris said sternly. "It's one thing to behave like that on a football field. People get a little crazy during sporting events, and even though how they played was uncalled for, I could overlook it. But the minute that game was over, when those two attacked you and JD, for no reason, it became something completely different.
Vin and JD still looked confused, so he pressed on. "They assaulted the two of you," Chris explained. "That's a criminal act. And John and Steve are officers of the law. They broke the law and they have to pay the penalty for it."
"You boys didn't do anything wrong by telling us about it," Buck reassured. "That kind of behavior doesn't belong in law enforcement."
"What do you think is going to happen to them?" JD asked, stifling a yawn. The pain medicine the doctor had given him was beginning to kick in and he was feeling very sleepy. He sat down in the chair next to Vin's bed and leaned against the mattress.
"Hard to say," Chris shrugged. "Suspension without pay, pending an inquiry. Some type of anger management classes, maybe."
"They need help, that's for sure," Buck chimed in. Chris looked over and noticed Vin's eyes beginning to droop. "Okay, that's enough about it for now," he said . "Let's turn the TV on. Josiah, Nathan and Ezra are on their way. We're going to have our own Super Bowl party here."
"Doesn't look like Junior and the kid are going to see much of the game," Buck said with a soft chuckle as he called Chris's attention to their two younger friends. JD and Vin were sound asleep, both snoring lightly.
"We'll tell them about it later," Chris said, giving his oldest friend a grin. He went to go round up more chairs for the rest of the seven that would be arriving soon. Buck tuned in the television to the football game.