Retribution, Seven Style
Harper looked up at Nathan then at the bagged mess in her hands. "Your co-workers are creative. I cannot wait to see what's next," she told him. Leaving the garbage bag and grabbing a stack of papers off her desk, she asked him, "Walk with me?"
"Sure." He stayed at her side as they continued through the labyrinth of corridors to a set of double doors. They stepped into the atrium, Harper leading them to a concealed alcove.
The atrium was in an octagon shape boasting various paths, tables, benches, and alcoves decorated with an outdoor feel. Stretching high above their heads, tall trees nearly brushed the thick panes of white- framed glass providing natural lighting. Bushes and flowers lined the paths from ankle to waist height. Small spotlights and recessed track lighting added to the brightness especially during the overcast and snowy days. In the back of the atrium a break room kept coffee warm and offered various packaged pastries and sandwiches through a refrigerated vending machine.
She settled them well away from most foot traffic giving them a modicum of privacy. "I hope you don't mind, but I'd rather conduct this conversation privately out of an office atmosphere." Harper wanted him at ease and the tone less confrontational than her normal. Her office tended to intimidate and remind the visitor of her status and ability to remove him or her from active duty.
"I don't mind at all, Agent Harper." He agreed with her; the garden like feel of the atrium helped lift his spirits. Although it rained, the illumination from the glass ceiling felt easier on the eyes than the artificial brightness throughout the building.
"Just Harper. May I call you Nathan?" He nodded his agreement. "Well, Nathan, the reason I asked to meet with you is because I've been reviewing my predecessor's astounding lack of work. I have found several agents here not receiving the training they needed nor the supplies required by your positions. As both the forensic expert and the team's medic, what equipment do you feel will help you do your job better?"
The question brought him up short. He expected to talk about his EMT status or the in-service classes he needed but not this. No one outside his team ever asked what he thought would make his job easier. He considered it for a second and checked her sincerity before answering, "Better first aid kits." Lord knew he used those constantly and put in requests to get them changed to no avail. After each of his requests, the regulations governing proper procedure tightened making all their jobs harder. He stopped asking when this happened for the third time.
Harper understood his initial reluctance having gotten the full story before she arrived. This was another reason to hold the meeting where he would be relaxed and just might answer her questions easier. "I agree. That's on my list." She handed him a paper with a proposed list of standard first aid kits to be included in all ATF vehicles. "I know I'm missing some things so I'd appreciate your help. Would you review this and see what needs adding? Take your time; I'd like it done right, not something that two days from now you'll think of something you wished you'd put down."
"Who are you talking to about this?" He skimmed the paper finding the list comprehensive. It would take serious consideration and review to find what she missed. Nathan already spotted five things he requested and never received in his first read-through.
"The person with the most medical training for every team here, but I'd value your opinion more." She looked him in the eyes.
"Because of your extensive training as an EMT, you know first hand what you need the most. Team 7's always in the thick of things and you're the one stuck with the clean-up detail. Who better than the person on the front lines constantly needing the materials?"
She flattered him, Nathan admitted to himself, but he wasn't complaining. "I'll look this over for you. When do you want it back?" He waited for an impossible deadline.
"Next week too soon?"
Next week? He expected this afternoon. "No, that's plenty of time."
"Also, I want you to make a wish list."
"A wish list?"
"Pretend you've got an unlimited budget and can get whatever you want. Go for it; things you've always wanted but never considered asking for. Ask your teammates for theirs too; I'd like to make things easier for all concerned."
Nathan chuckled. "I know Chris doesn't have the money in the budget."
"He might not, but I've recently arranged a significant increase in the Training budget to buy the materials on a trial basis. Experimental field-tests, to be exact. I'd like the money to go where it can do the most good."
"Now, as for you, I have a request."
"I know you're increasing your skills to EMT-P." He nodded. "But you need a certain amount of practical experience to maintain your current certification. Do you have what you need?"
Nathan considered. "No, ma'am, I don't. I usually go to the hospital when I have free time and pick up my experience there."
Harper believed Nathan was unhappy with that arrangement; if in his place, she would be. "I thought so. Would you consider riding along with the Denver Fire Department as an exchange officer for a week's time? Providing Agent Larabee does not object?" When this program came up, she reviewed the lists of candidates and his name ranked first. As a pilot program, it would serve as a groundbreaker to bring the departments closer together and she considered Nathan levelheaded enough to represent the ATF well.
"Can you explain this program to me?" His interest was piqued.
"Sure. It's where an ATF Agent and a Denver Fire Department officer of similar training exchange places for seven days in the spirit of interagency cooperation. The Denver officer would be assigned to the Training Complex and be on standby for raids as needed. The ATF Agent would ride along on an ambulance. All of it goes toward continuing education for both the agent and the officer."
A paid week on an ambulance getting continuing education and a break from his teammates? "What shift?" He needed to make sure that he still had time for Rain. When he got his experience at the hospital, he could see her off and on but not more than a hello in the hallway if they had a chance. This might take even that away from them and he did not want to do that.
"Starts on a Monday for dayshift orientation, two days, two evenings, two nights, and two off before coming back."
The schedule sounded good. Now, what about his team? "What about my position?"
"All of this is pending Agent Larabee's approval on whether he needs you or not. If you can be spared, your position either will remain empty or be filled by another team. It's a good program; we're hoping it will give both sides a better understanding." She looked across the atrium. "And, between the two of us, I'd like to see you do this. It will look impressive on your service record and help you out."
"Because, Nathan, I respect your abilities. It takes a special kind of person to be able to function within a team structure and pursue medicine. I only wish each team had at least an EMT on it; many lives could be saved that way." She looked lost in the past.
His curiosity surfaced. "What happened to you, if you don't mind me asking?"
"You wouldn't push this hard unless something happened that affected you."
"You're very astute."
He gave her a half-grin. "Look who I work with. Have to watch everything, every little move, and all they ever tell me is 'they're fine'. " His fingers made quotation marks. "'Course, they aren't and I got to know that."
She chuckled, "They are a stubborn lot." Just browsing their profiles told her that, not counting the experience in the CPR recert.
He smiled at her observation but held her gaze allowing her to see he was still interested in an answer.
Sighing deeply she lightly shook her head, "All I can say is I required emergency medical treatment at one point in my career. I nearly died because the agents on scene coasted through their CPR class and couldn't remember the proper procedure."
"I'm sorry. You're all right now?"
Her diligence now had an understandable cause. Not that he complained about ensuring the students learned, but she pushed the point home hard. "So you make sure everyone else doesn't do the same thing."
"Essentially. Doesn't win me any popularity contests." She shrugged slightly, appearing unconcerned.
Nathan saw through her façade and the fact she was universally hated. He wondered how many people actually just talked to her to say, hi, how are you? The medic gave her a measure of support by saying, "Emergency Medical Treatment isn't about popularity."
"Fortunately, no. The ATF has been good about giving me the authority to enforce the regulations although they have been lax in the past. I think I sent them a wake-up call." More than but no one was allowed to discuss it and even fewer knew about it.
"About time somebody did. No one takes it seriously." He felt comfortable voicing a complaint that usually fell on deaf ears.
"Exactly. I think your teammates do now."
"Never thought I'd have this much in common with you, Harper." It surprised him and reinforced how little he actually knew about her.
She grinned and gave him a wink, saying, "I'm full of surprises, Nathan."
Nathan grinned a little shyly thinking about what he would like to ask her. He finally looked up at her expectant expression, "Also never thought I'd see that side of you."
He nodded in agreement.
"Because I'm such a bad ass," she chuckled at his embarrassment as she saw the thoughts in his eyes. "Actually," she admitted, "I used to have a very mischievous reputation."
In turn, he watched as the cheerful outlook turned to one of sadness. "Something changed that?"
She cocked her head to the right and lifted that shoulder, "Yeah, something killed the fun." Shaking herself out of her memories she turned a grim smile to the concerned agent, "But those tendencies still fight to break free sometimes."
Nathan gave her a matching grin of assurance, "Have to admit, though, you're either brave or foolish starting a practical joke war with my team."
"Oh, probably both. I am aware your team's been running constantly for four months straight without more than a couple of days off here and there. Some of these agents," she indicated those walking around the atrium and the building in general with a wave of her hand, "wouldn't consider it about me but I do believe in a good laugh. They have studies that show humor is necessary for the human body's survival."
"Laughter is the best medicine?"
"Right," Harper nodded, "So I gave them something different to concentrate on besides work and the heavy caseload. Something that makes all of you smile."
"You always have an ulterior motive?" This was something he would want to keep in mind.
"Nope. Sometimes I just wing it and hope for the best."
"I will tell you that their mood's improved. Even Chris. You gave us a different focus and more energy."
"Good. Then I am doing something right. Before I divulge all my secrets, tell me if you are interested in the exchange program."
"Yes, I'm definitely interested."
"I'll talk to Agent Larabee later today. We'll get together and work out a schedule if that's not too soon for you?"
"No, ma'am, it's not."
"Okay. Do you have any questions for me about your training?"
Thinking for a minute, he shook his head, "Not right now."
Taking a deep breath, she stared directly in his eyes. "Nathan, I want you to feel free to call me, e-mail me, or page me whenever you have a question or concern. Seriously. If you have a question in the middle of the night, call me. I can help if you will let me. That goes for training or procedure; I am pretty well versed in all of them. The ATF did certify me to teach them." Her expression softened.
He nodded. "I'll keep it in mind."
"Good." She handed him her business card with her pager, cellular, and office telephone numbers along with her e-mail address. "I'll need to see your team later today about a couple other things. Let's go back and discover what your teammates have done to my office now." She smiled, making her look more human and less drawn. He fell in step beside her as they exited the courtyard.
Nathan warned, "You know they're just getting started." After all she planned on doing for him, he felt she needed at least a warning.
"I know. Nevertheless, they do not know what I am capable of. That should scare them, and you can tell them that if you want." Her eyebrows shot up once and her hazel eyes twinkled.
He shook his head slowly. "They don't scare easy. None of us do."
"Good," said Harper with a grin. "Now, no matter what your involvement in this little escapade, I am letting you know it does not effect what we talked about in the slightest. My professional career and my practical jokes are completely separate."
"Glad to know that." He extended his hand at the entrance to her office. "Thanks for caring, Harper. Most Instructors wouldn't look into things like this."
She shook his hand. "Most Instructors wouldn't know field work because they've been out of it too long. Trust me, I remember what's needed out there no matter your boss' opinion of me." Harper opened her door and was immediately assaulted.
Helium balloons on long colored ribbons spilled out around them in a rainbow pattern, more floating out from the filled office space. She knocked a few around just for the fun of it then caught the ribbons and pulled them into a bunch. Nathan batted a few that attacked his face and chuckled as she collected those as well. Relocating the balloons into the supply room, she found a layer of white crystals all over her floor.
Small toy snowmen sat in the back corner around a miniature evergreen tree. Tiny children surrounded the snowmen. A little sign read "Frosty's Garden" and her computer played the accompaniment.
"That's where all the sugar went," Nathan spoke softly. "I knew we had a huge bag of it."
Harper smirked. "Sugar to match my sweet disposition?" Nathan beamed, his low laughter echoing in the corridor. "Should have picked salt. Sugar and spice go for all things nice; I'm a little more salty than that." Grabbing the broom vacuum in the supply room, she plugged it in. "Agent Jackson, it's been a pleasure, but as you can see I've got an office to clean."
"I'll see you later, Harper." Shaking his head and smiling, Nathan went upstairs. He left her taking pictures of the snow garden.
As soon as Nathan returned, the questioning looks started. He sighed, knowing they may not ask aloud but their looks showed their curiosity. "She didn't want to talk in an office atmosphere, but if you must know, she wanted me to review the first aid kits and recommend changes."
"Oh," JD sighed, disappointed at the content.
"She'll be talking to you later, Chris, about my training, and to the rest of you too."
The leader's lips turned down at the thought of talking to the Harpy. The less he dealt with her the better, especially after what they planned for her. "Fine."
The door unexpectedly opened and admitted AD Travis. A few team members frantically attempted righting themselves into a semblance of professionalism.
Buck hid the remote in his back pocket and smiled hospitably at the AD who noted the screens with interest before they blacked out.
JD spun and faced his laptop computer screen in front of him, wincing as his screen saver bounced all over the monitor and then he smacked the space bar to reactivate the computer desktop. The AD saw the movement from the corner of his eye and enjoyed the flustered young man's face.
Vin's boots thudded as they smacked the floor from when he straightened in his chair. He created an opportunity to pretend discussing something of import with Ezra. The Texan ignored the AD for now knowing he would be accountable soon enough.
Ezra graciously played along, both reviewing the upcoming assignment and their undercover roles. He had no desire to draw undue attention to himself especially after yesterday's expense account meeting. Ezra planned on posing as the middleman gun seller, Vin acting as his bodyguard, to infiltrate a new group of baddies that decided Denver might be a good base of operations.
Josiah made no excuses for his behavior, meeting the amused Assistant Director's appraisal head on. He winked once as the others continued scrambling and a slight smile touched the AD's face in response.
Nathan settled in his chair with a chuckle and a resigned smile and started working on his list. He knew Chris would hear about the impromptu spying session and in turn, they would suffer for it. No help for it now.
The leader stood and ushered Travis into his office, shooting a final glare at his team as a warning to behave for the duration of the AD's stay.
"Sorry to drop in unannounced, Chris, but there's problems with your newest assignment." Travis settled in the comfortable chair on the other side of Larabee's desk. Chris sat, pad and pen in hand. "This might be bigger than originally thought. Research just discovered the target works for big league player - Harcourt Fenton - and he is in charge. You'll hold off on any approach until we have everything on Fenton's organization."
Chris grimaced. He hated delays like this but if it kept the team alive, he would do just about anything. "How long?"
"At least a month."
The answer angered the leader. "A month? We've worked hard for this."
"You call what I saw work?" Chris had the grace to flush; he was just as guilty as his team. Travis continued, "I'm not going to ask because I can probably guess and I don't want to know, but hear me now. You are not going after this group and are on standby until Research finishes. Do not interfere; there's other factors at work."
"Standby? We can't investigate our own case?"
"Not right now." He hated the thought of telling this man what might just have to happen and decided against sharing that information now. "Your team will provide backup for the other teams until we're ready for you."
"Sir," Larabee began, green eyes flashing. He hated waiting but hated losing control of a situation even more. Right now, this one aimed for the bathtub drain and circled quickly.
Travis raised a hand. "The answer's no, Chris." He stood. "You'll just have to wait it out. Maybe take some of those in-service classes Harper has told me you all need. I believe you received the packet last month?" A subtle hint that Travis wanted no part of chewing Larabee out again because of Harper.
"Yes, sir." Frustrated, Chris showed the older man out and returned to his office. "Ezra, get your ass in here." He stood at the doorway and waited until the southerner entered before slamming the door behind him.
"May I inquire what I have done, now?" asked the puzzled undercover operative.
"Nothing, and you'll do nothing." The angry blonde cocked his head toward the chair indicating to Standish to sit.
"Our current case. We're on standby."
Ezra sprang out of the chair before he'd even claimed the seat good, "For what reason?" His palms splayed on the smooth wood of the desk.
"What does that curmudgeon have to do with this case? The profile has already been prepared and awaits our first move."
"Research finally found the backer - a big fish. Admin wants the big fish and stopped us cold."
"Precisely how long before we can proceed?"
"At least a month. Until then, we're backup for the other teams." His expression clearly showed his own disgust.
"Mr. Larabee, I find this offensive."
"So do I, Ezra. It gets better."
"Oh, please enlighten me." Ezra dropped back heavily into the chair.
"We can't investigate anything until Research finishes."
"And?" The southerner knew Larabee held something more back.
"We get to take in-service classes with Harper."
"How wonderful. Any more joyous news abounds?"
"Isn't that enough?" Hmm, Ezra took this better than he thought. Something must be going through the man's brain - some plot or scheme - and that concerned him.
"Since we will soon face our executioner, I believe I will return to view the fruits of our labor and watch her demise." With that statement, Ezra left Chris to brood by himself as he claimed a spot front and center of the viewing screen.
Blue eyes looked questioning at the leader who motioned him into his office next. "Close the door." Chris wanted to tell Vin and Ezra privately because they had put in the most work for their undercover roles in their now postponed case.
Vin complied, settling in his normal chair. "What's up?" He kept his feet off the furniture, sensing this was an 'official' meeting.
"We're on standby, relegated as backup for at least a month." Each word left a bitter taste in his mouth.
"Research found someone big behind our buyer. They want more information before we can proceed. We're taking in-service classes until we're needed for our own case."
"Reckon they've got their reasons, but we can dig around, right?"
"Nope." Vin gave him a surprised glance. "They don't want to tip off the buyers so we wait."
"Gonna be a long month. Reckon ya might want ta work on yer people skills and not shootin' nobody." His infuriating smirk put him near the top of the list to be shot first.
Chris only said, "Tell me about it." They shared a smile before leaving the office. The leader made the announcement to his men, "Effective immediately, our case has been postponed for a month. We are on standby and backup until then. No one will investigate anything further into the case. They've got a line on a bigger player and don't want to tip him off." Groans filled the room, knowing the forced office time would stretch the nerves of every member of the team. "On the bright side, we'll be attending in- service classes with Harper." Incredulous looks struck the leader dead center. "That's right, the Harpy will have us captive over the next thirty days. We're all suffering."
JD swallowed hard, knowing the payback would be brutal in her classes. Earlier he checked the status of the other computer programs he left for her and found them still in place. What worried him was the small, golden harp in the top left corner of his screen. No matter what he did, he could not get rid of it. He clicked on it, shut down his computer, ran his 'search and destroy' programs, and still it mocked him. Every few minutes it strummed by itself. He kept his speaker volume down as not to hear it.
"One final thing," Chris said, pulling out a chair beside Vin, "I hope you made this worth it."
Buck, Vin, Ezra, and JD snickered. "Oh yeah," their youngest told him. "We're just getting started."
The rest of the team settled in their chairs to watch the spectacle.
Harper finished cleaning the sugar off her floor (except the snow garden; she had plans for making that permanent without using sugar) and loaded the balloons into garbage bags. She would take everything to the pediatric ward of the hospital along with the streamers after her shift and play with some of the kids there. They would enjoy the stories about today's experiences.
After settling at her computers, she started her word processing program and the monitor blacked out on her. The gold number "7" in Old West Las Vegas style lettering blinked into existence in the center filling the entire screen. Her speakers intoned, "You have seven minutes to apologize to Agent Dunne or your hard drive will crash, starting now. You are aware of your offense and only you can rectify it."
"I don't think so," she muttered, attempting to bypass the blacked- out screen. All her attempts failed. One surprise in action, four to go, she thought.
"You have six minutes to apologize." The seven remained in the upper left corner sparkling gold and flashing with a red number six slowly falling from the top of her screen toward the bottom.
She stared at the ceiling for a second before grabbing her zip drive and attached it to the system. A risk, yes, but she could not lose her hard drive because she had not backed it up since yesterday afternoon. The report she wrote last night had not been transferred to disk or CD yet because it had not been proofread. The Instructor possessed zero desire to retype the twenty-page analysis. If she could pull this transfer off, she would be okay.
"Sorry, no inputs allowed to this system. Failure to remove inputs will result in their destruction. You now have five minutes." The five started its slow descent at the top of her screen. She removed the zip drive. Another idea struck.
Yanking out her laptop, she turned it on with a muttered, "Come on, come on, a little faster now." Once she modem'd into her mail, she used the 'back door' access to try to recover the report. "ACCESS DENIED" flashed across her screen.
"Four minutes," the other computer pleasantly told her.
With a snarl, she disconnected the laptop from the mail server before it got fried. She could almost hear JD Dunne laughing at her as she endeavored in salvaging her computer without giving them an apology.
The telephone rang on JD's desk. He ran for it with a knowing smile. "Agent Dunne, may I help you?"
"You win this round, Agent Dunne, and I apologize for the age comment. Please stop this before I lose my hard drive."
JD checked his watch - two minutes, thirty seconds. The stop key command took five seconds. "I want this harp gone."
Silence. "I want my hard drive."
"Two minutes," pleasantly intoned through the receiver.
"You're running out of time." Idly, he smacked Buck away from the speaker button, enjoying this moment of power. Buck shrugged and turned up the volume in the Conference Room from the bug he planted in her receiver.
"Do you want to know what that harp can really do?" she threatened.
"One minute, thirty seconds."
He sat in silence, waiting.
"I apologized, Agent Dunne. What more do you want?"
"The magic word."
It hurt her to say it. "Please."
"Will be gone once I regain control of the system."
"Okay. I'll hold you to that." JD punched the command and heard the response through the receiver.
"Hard drive crash terminated. Thank you for your kindness. Have a nice day."
"Payback's a witch and so am I. Say goodbye to the harp."
"'bye, Harpy." JD hung up and watched the golden harp disappear from his screen.
"I am the man," JD crowed.
"Why are you 'the man'?"
"Because, Buck, she apologized and I made her say please. Game over, Harpy!" He performed a victory dance and started an acceptance speech. "I'd like to thank...ME..." He stopped at Josiah's silent stare. "What?"
Josiah shook his head and returned to his paperwork.
She worked on her hard drive, moving the report to a disk and loading it into the laptop just in case as well as locking the disk in her briefcase. After a moment's thought, she checked her system. Three left. Oh well; I do want to know how creative they are. Let's see - Frosty's song and this little annoyance so far.
While she worked, she kept her door open in case someone wanted to see her. She knew that not many agents graced her door because they wanted to and it was close to lunchtime, but she still had an open door policy.
Agent Robert Mentral stormed into her office without knocking and stood over her desk with an angry glare. She calmly set down her pen aside and looked up at the glowering agent, "Agent Mentral?"
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"In reference to what?" Her cool tone obviously angered him.
"Getting me put on light duty, you bitch!"
Harper reached for her phone, "I suggest you leave before I complete this call. This is not the time nor the place for this discussion."
"Who are you calling?" he snorted.
Harper ignored him. "Agent Jefferson, Agent Mentral has entered my office without an appointment. Certainly." She activated the speakerphone.
"Agent Mentral, you are ordered to leave that room immediately."
"Boss, I want this bitch to say why I'm on light duty pending review."
Agent Jefferson's tinny voice said, "It was already explained to you in the remedial evaluation."
"Mentral?" Vin came out of his slouch.
"Heard he was on light duty," Nathan frowned.
"This could get ugly. And I hate ugly." Buck's booted feet thumped on the floor as he put his feet down and stood.
Chris watched pensively, knowing firsthand the destructive power of Mentral's formidable temper. He did not share his supervisory knowledge of the internal investigations already underway regarding multiple brutality complaints against the hothead, including a mixed collection of serious other charges.
Josiah, who enjoyed making a study of human nature, divided his attention between the scene being played out via the video feed and the reaction of his teammates. Larabee's temper was legendary, and seeing Buck and Vin's temper rise too reminded Josiah of a pack of bristling wolves. He reflected they could torment Harper but they would not let anyone else. At what point did she become 'theirs', he wondered? Movement beside him recaptured his attention. Nathan resembled a sleek jungle cat twitching his tail as he studied his prey. The intensity of his interest told the profiler Nathan had formed a bond with her during their talk and it would come into play if Mentral made an aggressive move.
"Who is this guy? I've never seen him," quizzed JD.
"He finds gainful employment on a specialty unit, Mr. Dunne. One requiring a certain amount of ruthlessness and impressive musculature," Ezra's easy southern drawl may have relayed disinterest but the hard glint in his eyes spoke otherwise.
"More brawn than brains, huh?"
"I want to hear why again," angry steel gray eyes bored into her unflinching ones as the agent continued to try to intimidate her by standing over her desk.
"Agent Harper, please explain it again," Agent Jefferson harassed voice requested over the speakerphone.
"I'd rather not without you physically present. Agent Mentral has demonstrated instability when dealing with my assessments."
"Harper, tell him why, again, please. Maybe he will finally understand. "
"I want it noted I object to this meeting. I did not request this meeting nor is the Supervisor present. I have attempted to mediate this problem with negative results."
"Noted," Agent Jefferson hissed. "Get on with it."
"Agent Mentral," Harper shifted her gaze to the agent glowering at her but refused to back down herself. "My division received a request for an objective evaluation of your job performance. In accordance with regulations, your group received notice that an Instructor would be assigned for a two week observation period." She faced him seated across the desk, her voice flat in the recitation of facts.
"At the end of the observation period, Agent Mentral, it was determined you violated, disobeyed, or ignored a multitude of procedures and safety protocols. A full scale Internal Investigation was already underway and you were assigned to this Instructor for Remedial Training. The results of the Internal are still pending."
Harper never moved and her voice never changed pitch as she delivered the rest of her evaluation. "Agent Mentral, you did not satisfactorily complete Remedial Training nor did you demonstrate the desire to learn or correct your deficiencies. Therefore, I placed you on light duty pending a formal review. You appealed and received an additional opportunity for Remedial. The second Instructor concurred with my assessment and denied the second part of your appeal to be returned to active duty status. The next step is suspension after review by Assistant Director Travis later this week."
"He failed Remedial Training? That's asking to get fired," JD said with amazement. "It's like, your last chance. What a moron!"
Buck said nothing, concentrating on Mentral's expression. For each damaging phrase she uttered, it darkened. Mentral twitched when she used violated, did not satisfactorily complete, and deficiencies. "Vin, feel like taking a walk?" he asked quietly.
Vin knew Buck only used his name when he was serious. "Yup." They started for the door when hell paid respects on Agent Harper.
"Regardless of your opinion, you are on light duty until further notice. Now leave my office," she delivered her final order in her infamous commanding tone as she rose from her seat. Although her statement brooked no argument the man in front of her paid no heed.
Agent Mentral lost the fragile hold on his temper staring at the impassive face across the desk from him. A face he hated, a face his co-workers hated, in fact, to him it was the face of someone deserving a beat-down. A beat-down he would enjoy dishing out. His right fist swung across the desk to smack that expression off her face. Her countenance mocked him, showing her low opinion of him, giving him the same regard she would gum on the bottom of her shoe.
His hand connected with hers in an impressive block. Her arm barely moved. "Agent Mentral, you are now on report for assaulting a federal agent and superior. Agent Jefferson, if you would kindly come claim your Agent, his weapon and ID?"
"Bobby, do nothing else," Jefferson warned. The connection ended with the sound of running feet.
Rage quashed rational thought and he swung with his other hand, his other fist finding itself buried in her grip. Now she held both of his hands immobilized and never wavered in her grasp. Adrenaline gave him more strength and he used his legs to push over the desk into her, sending both of them crashing back into her chair. The chair tipped over, dumping them on the floor, her body pinned beneath him.
Vin and Buck reached her office simultaneously. They knew Mentral's reckless reputation and saw the threat to Harper. Both reached over and yanked Mentral off her just as her feet connected with his midsection, sending all three flying back into and over her desk in the tight quarters. Fortunately, they missed the computers on the other side of the "L". She sprung up, ready for a fight. Agent Jefferson, Chris, and Nathan reached the office just as Tanner, Wilmington, and Mentral sprawled on the floor. Agent Jefferson came around, yanked Mentral upright, and clocked his own agent into unconsciousness. Jefferson knew Mentral as well; once Mentral lost his temper, a mindless rage took over and the only way to stop it was to put him down. Hard.
"Tanner, Wilmington, Jackson," Jefferson acknowledged each of the other men, then turned to their leader, "Larabee."
"Jefferson." Green eyes met brown in brief understanding. Losing one of your men to discipline problems hurt every leader, raising self-doubts for a short time. Good leaders got past it; others dwelled on it. This, however, was sheer stupidity. Team 7 detested men who beat women. With Mentral's size, he easily could have sent her to the hospital with permanent damage.
The rest of Team 7 reached the doorway three seconds behind Jefferson, not close enough to the door or as fast as Vin and Buck through the hallways. They found themselves picking up the obstructions (people) the pair plowed through on their way down, slowing them considerably. Of course, Steamroller Chris and his enraged sidekick flattened or shoved everything still upright in the wake of his two agents, leaving more of a mess for the remainder.
"Harper, you okay?" asked Nathan, visually checking her for injuries.
"Yes, thanks. Could have used the padding from the self- defense refresher, though." She shook her reddened, aching palms. She had forgotten about the pain involved in stopping a punch.
An uneasy chuckle echoed through the room.
"What brings your team down here, Chris?" Suspicion clouded the brown-eyed leader's face. Mentral humiliated him and he disliked witnesses, especially this team with their maverick reputation.
"I needed to meet with them, Agent Jefferson," Harper said. "I'm teaching them a few in-service classes and required their input on scheduling. I'm guessing Agents Tanner and Wilmington heard our conversation because Mentral never shut the door."
"Oh." Jefferson looked for confirmation and saw what he wanted to see in the two agent's faces. He reached down and removed the gun from Mentral's belt and his ID from his pocket. "Sorry, Harper. I never thought he'd come down here and take it out on you." The apology sounded anything but sincere.
Hazel eyes blackened for the second time that day. "Yes, you did, Agent Jefferson, but this is not the time nor the place. We will discuss it tomorrow in AD Travis' office. Do you want to call him or shall I?"
"You call. I have to take him home and get someone to stay with him. This will destroy him." His veiled accusation struck the target and bounced off the tough hide.
"He should have thought of that before taking a swing. The incident report will be done this afternoon. Can I expect your statement?"
"Yes." They faced each other as adversaries.
"Agents Tanner and Wilmington, I will require a statement from each of you, as well as supplements from Agents Jackson and Larabee." They nodded reluctantly, not wanting to destroy a man's career but not left with much choice. "I'll leave a message on your voice mail, Agent Jefferson, regarding the time."
"Fine." Jefferson hefted the unconscious agent and carried him away with him.
Reaching into her desk, she pulled out a device that neutralized surveillance and activated it. "We can talk now; I've neutralized your equipment. I'm assuming you've been watching from your quick response?" Seven only marginally embarrassed men nodded. "Thank you for coming down here. I appreciate it. I wasn't quite ready to go a couple rounds with Mentral in full battle rage."
Buck thought she would have done just fine once she kicked Mentral off her; she proved it in the ground fighting demonstration last night. "I'd give you a KO in the first, Harper," the ladies man winked at her.
"Thanks." She ran a hand through her hair, redoing it with the lacquered sticks. "Agent Larabee, if it is all right with you, I'd rather not have anyone know about the surveillance. It would raise questions I'm sure neither of us want to answer."
Only a little surprised at her reaction, Larabee gave her a brief nod, "You all right?"
"I'll live." With a painful shrug of her shoulders, she started straightening her desk, turning off the neutralizer. "Thanks again for your assistance." She looked at each of them. "I'm sorry you had to see that and get involved. For what it is worth, I will take all the blame. Hopefully the other teams will understand you were," her fingers made quotation marks, "in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"You don't have to do that," Nathan told her, each man willing to take responsibility for his actions.
"I know, but you work with them more than I do. Besides, I am used to the abuse. You do not need interoffice politics affecting the amount of backup you receive. If you'll excuse me, I need to meet with AD Travis and discuss this situation."
On that somber note, Team 7 vacated her office for lunch at the saloon. Most of them wanted something strong to wash the nasty aftertaste of an agent's demise from their mouths.
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