"Good morning Josiah!"
The large man looked up from stirring the stew pot and smiled, "Welcome home, Miss Nellie. I wish happier circumstances returned you to our midst."
"Me too. Seems like the only time family gets together anymore is at funerals. How's work treating you?"
A sad smile flitted across his face before he spoke, "The angels have been busy recently. Death is never easy to accept."
"Truer words were never spoken. Say, has that fellow I brought from the bus station eaten dinner yet? Wanted to say hi."
The large ATF agent and temporary mission shelter cook shook his head. "Can't rightly say. Saw several unfamiliar faces come through at breakfast. What does he look like?"
"About my height, dark hair in need of a wash and the most beautiful hazel eyes one ever had a chance to see, except I couldn't see them too well on account he'd been in a fight and his lids were swollen."
"Do you ever find one not in need of your nurturing?"
She laughed. "Nope. I'd better let you get back to your chili. It smells wickedly incredible. Talk to you later, Josiah."
Fifteen minutes later, a scream reverberated through the center's lunch/room. "Call 911! He needs medical attention now!"
Recognizing Nellie's voice, Josiah hurried over to the far corner. The girl squatted beside the prone form, still to the world. She turned a stricken face to her friend. "It's Jon, that fellow I asked about. He's real sick." Kneeling beside the panicked girl, the large man turned his attention to the boy, wrapped in a center blanket; a boy with dark unruly hair with a face awash in bruises. Immediately the agent pulled out his cell phone and punched the number of the one medical professional he trusted with his own life.
"Nathan, get down to the center. Need your help with a guest. You won't believe it."
Closing the phone, he turned to the gathered crowd. "Help is on the way, folks. No need to stare. Probably be best if you didn't get to close in case what he's got is catching."
The threat of a contagious disease inspired the crowd to disperse and he returned his attention to his young friend. "Nellie." His voice left no room for discussion. "Get me some towels and a basin of water. Don't discuss anything about him."
"What's going on, Josiah?"
"I'll tell you later. Right now I need that water and watch for Nathan." His hooded stare spurred her into action. She didn't understand how her friend knew the boy but Josiah was no longer the gentle giant volunteering at the homeless shelter. He switched to his federal agent role, one that mere citizens recognized as one not to challenge.
Nellie led Nathan to the men in the corner. The site administrator brought a three-panel privacy screen and cordoned off the activity.
"What'cha got Josiah?" Nathan stripped off his winter coat and set his bag on the bed before looking at the pale man shivering under the heavy blankets. "Oh my! JD." Looking up at the taller man for confirmation, the former medic reached his hand toward the sweaty forehead. He gently felt fevered skin as he swiped dark hair off the face. "Where did he come from?"
"Nellie found him sick coming up on the bus for her grandmother's funeral. He doesn't know who he is, Nate. Think it'd be better to take him someplace more private. If Buck's theory is correct, someone's out to nail this boy's hide to the wall."
The dark skinned team member looked over his shoulder before quietly asking, "Did you call Chris or Buck?"
"Only reached Ezra. Seems like the other two took off yesterday, heading down south on this boy's trail."
"Don't know how good an idea that was, friend. I keep getting this feelin' of bein' watched. It wouldn't surprise me if our office has some unauthorized listening devices. My vehicle is out front. Let's take him to the clinic for now and get him checked over."
Josiah picked up the unconscious man while Nathan preceded them to open the doors.
The young soldier followed them and grabbed the larger man's arm after he set the patient on the seat. "You said you'd tell me what's going on, Josiah."
Knowing that he wasn't going to get away without explaining the scene inside, he turned to his friend. "Nate, I'll be along shortly. Gotta get my car. Meet you there in a few." He tuned to the woman and took her arm. "Nellie, I can't let you get mixed up in this. You did a good thing bringing that boy here to the shelter but if I tell you who he is, you will also be in danger."
"Is he in danger or the danger?" Her eyes grew large anticipating the answer.
The large man released her arm and he pushed her towards the open door. "Tell Georg I'll try to come by next Sunday. I've got to go." Taking large strides he climbed into his vehicle and backed out of his spot. Catching the site of a black Jag in his rear view mirror he slammed on the brakes while the fancy car pulled out of his way.
Ezra held his hands up and a questioning look crossed his face.
The preacher rolled down the window and shouted, "Clinic," before speeding out of the parking lot. The two vehicles drove quickly through the empty Denver streets and pulled into open spots near the free clinic. Running toward the medical facility located in an old storefront, they found the door locked. Josiah looked around the surrounding neighborhood, searching for Nathan's vehicle. Ezra looked around the corner of the brick building and gasped, "Josiah!"
The two men raced toward their fallen friend. Josiah gently picked up Nathan's shoulders and rested the bloody head on his shoulder. Ezra pressed his white handkerchief into the gash on the man's forehead. "Josiah, what is going on?"
The larger man searched his friend's pockets and pulled the ring of keys out of one. "Let's get him inside. I fear our worst dreams just became a horrible nightmare."
After getting Nathan into the small clinic, Josiah began cleaning the nasty wound while Ezra returned to the healer's vehicle. A shelter blanket draped out of the passenger door but none of Nathan's medical equipment seemed disturbed. His cell phone and laptop sat in their respective spots. Who struck his friend? After securing the doors he returned to the clinic, determined to get some answers from Josiah Sanchez.
The dark-skinned healer sat on a soft chair, a white bandage hiding the ugly gash. His expressive eyes questioned his team member. "Would someone care to enlighten me as to who attacked Nathan and why we came speeding here from the shelter?"
"You heard from the boy?"
"We saw him." Nathan looked down at his bloody hands.
Josiah sat in a chair beside the injured man and rubbed his shoulder. "Weren't your fault, Nate. If'n anything it was mine. Should have come with you."
"Would you two stop and tell me where you saw JD and where is the absent boy now?"
"I don't know, I just don't know. One minute I'm helping him get out of the door; the next thing I remember is you two helping me."
"JD was with you? Where did you find him?" Ezra questioned again, slighted at being ignored.
The two men shared with their partner the tale of the last hour. "We need to figure out who wants that boy. He's sick and injured." Nathan shook his head.
"How did they locate him?"
"We think our office is bugged. When I called you they must have come to the shelter then raced here, mugged Nate and took the boy."
"That would explain how the IA officers followed Chris and Buck on their little excursion. While our partners were following a cold trail to the local hospital, Katten's crew questioned the local constabulary."
"Where are they now?" Josiah asked.
"Heading home. They discovered Mr. Dunne's mode of transportation north and should return by midnight."
"Well, I'm not going to be any good this afternoon. Josiah, don't mean to belittle your medical touch but I'd better get this stitched up. How about you take me to Mercy General?" Nathan gently reached up and touched his wound.
"No problem, Brother. Then I'm heading back to the shelter. Maybe Nellie knows something she doesn't realize the boy told her."
Ezra sat in the chair, his face a mask to his inner turmoil. First JD died in the plane crash, leaving luggage containing illegal drugs; next thing it seemed the boy padded his bank account with ill-gotten cash. Now the boy is alive and running around Denver, slipping through their fingers. None of the evidence seemed to make any sense. JD was the most honest, considerate young person Ezra had the opportunity to associate with.
He did not believe that the resident computer genius possessed the capacity to expedite the extraordinary master con of staging his own death while surviving the horrendous airplane crash.
"I'm heading back to the office to search for our insecure link."
The three men exited the clinic checking the empty street for a missed clue. Seeing no one Ezra headed toward his vehicle while Josiah and Nathan climbed into the Suburban. Pulling up along side the black Jag, the large man rolled down his window and said, "Let's meet at Inez's in a couple of hours to compare notes. See you later."
Ezra pantomimed a two-fingered salute before driving away.
Josiah walked into the mission, his eyes hooded and a scowl advertised his ire. He scanned the building, looking for a familiar fatigued-hued coat. Regular and weekend visitors glanced at the large man and quickly tore their gaze away before he made eye contact. A dark stain marred the cook's apron he still wore. Seeing the site manager, Josiah walked toward his friend.
"Georg, is Nellie still around? I need to apologize."
The man, matching Josiah's height, stared into the dark eyes, fire snapping in their depths. "Didn't expect to see you back so soon, Sanchez. You here officially or as a volunteer?"
"Don't got time for sparring." His voice dropped low. "Someone took the boy. Clubbed Nathan at the clinic. Nellie was the last one to talk to him. I don't mean to scare no one but that boy's come back from the dead. Too many pieces missing in this puzzle."
Giving a slight smile he asked again, "Is she still here, Georg?"
"What the heck, Josiah. I just don't want your troubles moving in here. These folks got enough problems without having to stumble through yours."
"I realize that. No one was more surprised than I, seeing young JD lying in that bed, hurting the way he was. We figured he died a few days back. Now we gotta figure who wants him and why," the agent explained.
"Nellie's in there finishing dishes. Her brother is stopping by to collect her around four." The site manager nodded his head towards the kitchen.
Josiah poked his head in the door before entering. He didn't want the girl's missile to be a knife aimed at his torso. "Nellie, can we talk?"
The young woman looked up from the sink and scowled. "Depends on what you want to say, Josiah Sanchez. I've got work to finish."
"Let me help you." He picked up a towel and grabbed the top kettle. "I'm sorry about earlier. That boy you found, he's a friend of mine. Thing is we thought he was killed in a plane crash a couple of weeks ago. To see him laying in that bed about made my heart stop."
The anger dissolved from her face as she listened to the large man's explanation. "I wished I'd known, Josiah."
He walked over to the rack and took his time hanging up his towel before continuing. "I'm afraid there's more. Someone slugged Nathan at the clinic and took JD. I need to you tell me everything you can remember about what he said, where he's been the last couple of weeks."
"Just a minute." She left the room and returned a few moments later carrying an unfamiliar brown coat. "He was wearing this. I met him on the bus when he started screaming something about a Chris and trouble."
Taking the coat, Sanchez searched the pockets while listening to Nellie's tale. "I could tell he was hurting, like he didn't know who he was. I wish I'd talked to him but he couldn't stay awake. I figured he was some kid on the run from his parents or the police."
Josiah put his arm around the distraught woman. "Hindsight can make us miserable, child. Look at this." He held up the small identification card. "Did he tell you his name?"
"Said he was Jon, he thought. Seemed like a strange response at the time."
"Card says Jon Done. Dang, that's his name, just spelled differently. Thanks for your help, Nellie. I'm sorry I yelled at you earlier."
She smiled and kissed his cheek. "You're forgiven. Please let me know if, I mean when you find him."
Ezra walked into the Federal Building and waited by the bank of elevators, his mind racing. JD killed, JD alive and on the run; JD wanted for terrorist activities. How did the boy mysteriously appear in Denver and just as quickly disappear? Who followed him and took the boy? The southerner strode into the team's office and looked at the array of desks and cubicles. Was their office bugged?
"Ezra, what you doin' here on a fine Sunday afternoon?" Vin sat at his desk, slowly typing his report. Enjoying the solitude of the empty office he was surprised to see the usually well-dressed southerner enter the AFT office, a look of defeat marring the normal 'poker face'.
The resident con man slowly shook his head and glanced around the room. He motioned for the younger man to follow him to the elevators. Vin opened his mouth but Ezra lifted a finger to his mouth, silencing the question.
The two men walked towards Vin's jeep before Ezra finally spoke. "JD's alive. Josiah discovered him at the shelter, called Nathan for medical assistance and someone absconded with the boy before we could interview him."
"What's with all the silence, up in the office?" Vin asked.
Ezra looked around the deserted parking garage before answering, his voice low. "The kidnappers knew to intercept Nathan at the clinic. I believe our office to be compromised. Just don't know if it is visual or audio. We need to do a thorough inspection of the entire bureau."
The two men returned to the ATF floor and began searching for any item that might contain a listening device or small video camera. They tried to continue making small talk to cover their investigation while examining every object in the office. Finding their individual desks clean they moved to the other men's office space. Nathan's neat desk passed as did Josiah's orderly stacks of books and folders. Four desks down and three to go. Ezra sat down in Buck's chair and cringed at the disarray before him. Buck's disorder had an organization to it. He noted that the most recent paperwork dated to before the plane crash. The phone, lights and assorted memorabilia revealed nothing.
Vin sat in JD's chair and looked at the miscellaneous items decorating the missing man's workspace. Plastic action figures, model vehicles and comic books gave the desk the look of a teenager's room rather than a professional federal agent. Vin stared at the vacant spot where the computer normally sat. He could almost see JD's fingers flying across the keys, discovering information that to normal people seemed nonexistent. Would the computer genius return to them?
The two men moved into Chris's office, putting aside the guilt they felt 'snooping' in their team leader's personal space. Nothing seemed tampered with or out of place. Vin sat in the chair behind the desk and scanned the room. What had they missed? He looked at each item for a second time before noticing the black duster hanging on the hook behind the door. Ezra watched as the sharpshooter walked over to the garment and as Vin ran his hands under the coat. A smile crossed his face and he held up his left thumb before pointing to his ear.
Ezra held up one finger with a look of question express on his face. Vin shook his head. Both believed there to be more than one device. Ezra sat in the chair opposite of the desk and concentrated on the furniture and its accessories. A new pewter picture frame sat on the left side, the photo faced away from him. A small wire threaded through cutwork. An antenna? He caught the other man's attention and both walked out of the room, retreating to the lower floor again.
"Damn it Ezra. How long has the office been bugged?" Vin ran his hand through his long hair, not sure of the next step.
Ezra licked his lips and smiled at his friend. Finally a clue to the mysterious happenings. A challenge worthy of their combined skills. When JD examined the illegal bugs The grin slid into a frown. The boy was sick and missing. Buck and Chris were hurting physically and spiritually.
"Well, Vin. I believe it will be up to you and me to solve this mystery since our resident surveillance expert is indisposed. Let's join Josiah at Inez's to collate our knowledge."
Somewhere in Denver
"What were you thinking, taking the boy? Everything was going according to plan without tipping our hand." The woman's voice was livid.
"I thought," the deep male voice started.
"Your first mistake, thinking. They had nothing on us. Just the kid taking all the heat. Now they know someone else is involved. They'll be suspicious of everything. I can't believe you were so stupid!"
Taking control of the conversation, the man yelled into his end of the connection. "No one's going to find him till next spring. He's ice!"
"What? What did you do to him?" Her voice switched from anger to panic. The boy was innocent but a means to her revenge. He'd suffered from their little adventure but she didn't mean for him to die. He was only meant to be a distraction, a way to get the mighty Chris Larabee and his expert team to stumble, to lose focus of a case close to her heart. She never meant for the dark haired boy to die.