Harper left the hotel with only one thought in mind - a good cup of Starbucks coffee from the corner shop. Wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and a thick flannel jacket, she did not resemble the woman most Agents feared when she taught their classes. She looked and felt a bit more relaxed. Her gun rested in the holster against the small of her back, while her identification was tucked inside the flannel jacket. Her belt pouch held her inhaler, cellular telephone, and her money. She never went anywhere without the gun, ID, and inhaler, unless it was absolutely unavoidable. Not having her gun while in the New York City class nearly drove her nuts because it had become such a familiar, comfortable weight. New York City did not allow law enforcement officers to carry in their jurisdiction without advance authorization in writing and forms filled out in triplicate, or more.
As she approached the access road, located between the shopping center holding Starbucks and the apartment complex behind it, she noticed a dark colored van parked at the corner. Shrugging, Harper moved past it, stepping off the curb. Strong hands reached out of the darkness, grabbing her, and yanking her against the back wall of the shopping center. They dragged her into a section no longer lit. The freshly broken glass lying at the bases of streetlights in that area gave an indication of how recently the lights ceased working.
The second Harper felt the hands touch her, she immediately twisted from their grip, another set latched on, and a third set on her legs, lifting her completely off the ground. When she opened her mouth to scream, a fist connected with the side of her jaw, disabling her. The heel of a hand smacked against her temple, further stunning her and a fist followed up on her right eye. The sickening sound of flesh hitting flesh filled her ears as she was carried further down the access road, deeper into the darkened section. There were four of them. All four wore black baggy clothing, black masks, and gloves. Nothing about them was distinctive in any way from her position.
Training, and barely forgotten memories, kicked in as she fought for her freedom. Feet flew into whatever and wherever they could land, hands went for the nearest target, her mouth tried biting, and her body wrenched in different directions trying to make them drop her and give her mobility.
She hit the ground hard with a grunt, after her foot connected into someone's privates with a lucky kick. Rolling quickly, her right leg shot out and landed hard against the knee of another one of her attackers. A crunch echoed in the darkness, the bone shifting at a ninety-degree angle, and its owner followed it with a howl. Shifting her center of balance, her other leg kicked high to give someone a Charley horse. Harper moved forward the second it came off the thigh and scrambled to her feet.
A weight landed on her back and tried forcing her onto the ground. Having halfway anticipated this, her head came back and cracked into the skull of the person covering her. A bright, brief flash filled her vision, but the weight disappeared. Harper gained her feet just as a hand grabbed her shoulder. She ducked back and twisted the moment she felt contact, grabbing the offending limb and snapping it at the wrist, before throwing the appendage against the wall. How the man did not scream in agony eluded her, so she figured he was not out of the fight yet. Faced with this threat, she planted a foot in his femur and heard a satisfying break. Two down, two to go.
Her mind counted four assailants earlier, but before she worked out a scream, or the location of the fourth, he found her and tossed her hard against the bricks. With her back against the rough material, one of his hands grabbed both of hers, pinning them over her head while she struggled. His heavier mass and position prevented her from breaking loose. His friend with the Charley horse gut punched her five times in rapid succession, each one with enough force to drive the breath from her.
With one set of hands holding her against the wall, Harper took a chance and forced her protesting abdominal muscles into action. She lifted her legs off the ground and kicked out, catching her primary attacker in his stomach and sending him back. It earned her a swift punch in the left ribcage from the goon holding her. Both ganged up on her and shoved her hard into the wall repeatedly. They banged the back of her head against the bricks, fists landed in her middle, and then something else went wrong.
Her breathing problem kicked in with a vengeance and she started gasping for air. No matter how much she pulled in, it was not enough, especially with the fists pushing air out as hard as she desperately tried to drag precious oxygen in.
They dropped her on the ground as the wheezing worsened, silently watching her for a minute. The two then helped point their injured comrades in the direction of the van, and that pair started limping away. After that, the larger attacker pressed his foot into her back shoving her down on her stomach. The right side of her face pointed up, the left lay in her hands. His boot then planted on her face and twisted, grinding the tender skin under his hard rubber sole. Once he finished, he walked away without looking back. The other stopped, seeing her weakly gain her hands and knees. She frantically tried to make her swollen, bruised hands work to open the zipper on the belt pouch.
He watched her free the inhaler and crawl back to the wall with it in hand.
She cared less about them and more about her breathing, unmindful if they watched her suffer or not.
Once he realized what she planned on doing, he tapped his friend and they advanced once more. The obvious leader pulled the inhaler from her hands, his friend kicking her to keep her down. Wheezing harshly, she could only stare at the needed device.
He held the inhaler in front of her and waved it, easily dodging her feeble attempts at grabbing it, dizziness and lack of oxygen blackening her vision. He motioned for her to do something and she understood this final humiliation.
"Please," she wheezed, each word painfully rasping out as she slowly started losing consciousness. "Give... me... my... inhaler." Harper pleaded though with great difficulty. "I... will... die... if... you... don't."
His hand extended forward, and then flicked the device halfway down the alley. She helplessly watched it fly, and then heard it land as clinked on the pavement in the darkened passageway. Almost miraculously, she saw it glinting in the dark. It was shining because it was caught in the circular white light of a flashlight.
A new voice broke the silence. "Hey! What's going on?"
Giving her one final kick, both men in black took off for the end of the access road, climbing into the waiting van. The doors slid closed and Harper heard a welcome sound - the sound of a police radio. The van squealed off down the street.
"Suspects fled on foot into a black van at the corner, stop it."
"10-4," came the reply. Another patrol car blew by the mouth of the alley with lights flashing, calling out the stop through the radio. A second patrol car tailed the first.
The officer stopped briefly to shine his light on the item that had caught his attention, reaching down to pick it up. He carried it down to the form huddled in a ball on the pavement. "Are you okay?" he asked, carefully approaching.
"No..." she wheezed.
He requested an ambulance through his radio, and then squatted down beside her. "Okay, let's see what I can do for you. Do you think you can sit up?"
Strong arms wrapped around her again, but this time she forced herself not to fight, especially considering how close she was to passing out. She needed her inhaler. He leaned back against the wall with her in his arms and positioned her, as if he had experience with asthmatics and those with breathing problems.
The officer lined up the inhaler, waiting for her to nod that he held it right. She opened her mouth and greedily accepted the medication he dispensed. He sat with her on the pavement, keeping her in his arms, until the medication kicked in. Blood flowed from the cut right above her eye where the hard sole ripped the flesh, and the fists removed chunks of skin.
"That's it, slowly, I've got you." He kept talking to her until he felt her start to relax, the anxiety of not breathing starting to abate. "Ma'am, I'm an EMT, you mind if I check for broken bones?"
She motioned him to wait one minute with an extended index finger, and then pointed to the inside pocket of her now ripped and tattered jacket.
He reached inside and pulled out her identification, flipping it open with one hand while the other stayed wrapped around her, using the flashlight to read. "You're a Federal Agent?" he asked in disbelief.
Harper nodded slowly then pointed again to the small of her back, where her useless gun rested. She never had the opportunity to use it in the quick fight she lost.
Another officer joined them, this one a sergeant by the markings, and asked as he approached, "How is she?"
The officer tossed up the identification. "ATF Agent, sir."
"You're kidding." He looked down at the battered mess of a small, thin woman currently cradled by his officer, noticing an inhaler still tucked in his officer's hand beside the flashlight.
"No, he's not," Harper finally choked out. Her voice sounded very raspy and filled with pain.
"Four in custody." The radio squawked out this news.
"Good," muttered the female Agent.
"Start an ambulance this way, two patients, multiple injuries, result of an assault."
The sergeant's next comment stopped before exiting his mouth as his cellular rang. He answered it briskly, "What? Oh, that just makes my night. Hang on." He looked down at her. "Who's your boss?"
Harper answered with the name of the boss she trusted most. "Assistant Director Orin Travis."
"Can you call him?"
She nodded once, wincing when it pulled the tattered, broken skin on her face.
"Get him on the phone." Into his own cellular he barked, "Do nothing, Miranda them, and then detain them. Keep 'em separated. I'll call you right back." The sergeant handed her the cell. "I'm going to need to talk to him now."
"Okay," she replied, knowing he would not answer her questions at this point and frankly, she hurt too much to care. She dialed her friend and boss at home, hearing his greeting. "Sir? It's Harper."
Orin Travis flipped on the light and read the time - ten thirty. "Harper, what's wrong? You sound horrible."
"I feel worse, sir, listen, DPD needs to talk to you."
"I, uh, got assaulted, sir."
"Are you okay?" He heard an ambulance in the background screeching up to the scene.
"Not really, sir, this sergeant will explain." Harper handed off the phone.
"Assistant Director Travis?"
"Yes, of the ATF. Can you tell me what's going on?"
"Sir, this is Sergeant Marula of the Denver Police Department. I'm out with an Instructor Harper who says she's your employee?"
"That's correct. What happened?"
The sergeant walked away for privacy.
"We received a call of a fight at the rear of a shopping center. On arrival, one officer observed two suspects strike your Agent, and then climb into a black van. The van took off at a high rate of speed. My officer requested his back up stop the van in regards to this incident. The officers that stopped it currently have detained four subjects; all four are carrying badges that identify them as ATF Agents also. I think you need to come down here."
Various swear words ran through Orin's mind, as he pushed himself to a sitting position, and then to his feet to find clothes. "Give me the location again."
The sergeant told him, and then added, "Your other Agent's in bad shape; they're probably transporting her to the hospital. Do I have your permission to secure her weapon and identification?"
"Yes. I'll take it from you when I arrive. Just take care of her, please."
"We will, Sir, we will." Marula disconnected and stared at the battered body while he approached. "Your boss is on the way down. He'll probably meet everyone at the hospital."
= = 7 = =
The ambulance pulled up to the scene, directed down the alley by an officer, and told to stop several feet from the patient.
"Your patient's alive for now, no guarantees. Heard she got pretty scrambled." The officer waved them through.
Ford and Skipper approached, both carrying equipment, while Weasel and Nathan rolled the stretcher across the pavement toward them.
"Riley. Should have known I'd find you here." Weasel shook his head at the identity of the officer. "You're a real trouble magnet."
"Stuff it, Weasel. Not in the mood." Riley gave the ambulance driver a glare.
Weasel stared for a second, and then nodded. "Got it."
Skipper and Ford squatted on either side of her, slowly moving her from Riley's gentle embrace to the backboard.
Nathan looked down and had to look again. "Harper?"
He received a sudden flicker in the one undamaged eye. The rest of her face was quickly becoming obscured as the attendants secured a cervical collar around her neck. Gauze bandaging rapidly covered the cut over her eye and gentle pressure was applied to control the bleeding while it was taped into place.
"We'll get you fixed up, Harper. Just hang in there, okay?" He leaned over her, making sure she recognized his face.
"Harpy, if you wanted to see me on a Friday night, you only had to call." Weasel slipped a pulse meter on her finger, holding the woman's hand and giving it a squeeze.
Skipper and Ford continued adding equipment and devices, the first being an oxygen line.
"Keep the mask on and don't take it off." Skipper ordered.
"IV started." Ford finished adding a line.
"Harper, where's your gun and ID?" Nathan asked gently. "Since I'm here, I can secure them."
She flicked one eye toward her waist.
Riley said, "My sergeant's got her ID. I'll get it." He stepped over to his sergeant. Riley's voice carried as he explained that Nathan was an ATF Agent, and the sergeant handed him the ID. The officer passed it to Nathan.
Skipper gently reached under Harper and handed her ride-a-long the holstered weapon, along with the belt pouch.
"Time to go." Weasel finished securing the foam 'sandbags' to either side of her head on the backboard, as his partners finished strapping her extremities down. On the count of three, they lifted her onto the stretcher.
"They requested more ambulances for two more patients," Riley informed them.
"She hurt 'em?" Weasel made sure Harper's straps to the stretcher were tight.
"Good for you, Harpy. Let someone else take 'em; she's got respiratory distress so we gotta move." The ambulance driver held onto the back end of the stretcher.
"Hang in there, kiddo, you've made it this far." The officer encouraged, walking beside the gurney, escorting her to the waiting ambulance down at the other end of the access road. The police kept both people and emergency equipment away from the site of the assault, now a crime scene, to preserve it as much as possible for processing.
Harper managed a weak smile before focusing on the caregivers and their questions.
Riley helped lift the stretcher. "I'll be behind you."
"Meet you there." Weasel slammed the back of the ambulance shut hard.
He pulled it out into traffic. Immediately, someone failed to yield. "Move it, jackass. I ain't playing tonight." Weasel laid on the horn, adding to the cacophony of full lights and sirens.
"Easy, Wheezy," said Skipper. "She's stable."
"Screw easy, Skip. We pick up enough human wreckage every damn day that we don't need to see the front line soldiers buying it."
"I know, Weasel." Skipper sighed. "Harper, you have a clue who did this to you?" She looked down at her patient.
Harper focused her one remaining eye on Nathan.
Without a word spoken, he understood. His fist flew into the metal door, before facing her. "You're sure?"
Her look never wavered.
Nathan's fist went for the door again, only stopped because of Ford grabbing his arm. "Whoever they are, they aren't worth you breaking your hand."
"Thanks for the idea, Ford." Weasel grabbed his cell phone, activating the radio function. "'ey, Cannon, ya Leadhead."
A male voice came back across the small device. "What, Wheeze?"
"You on scene?"
"Give 'em the treatment."
"Just some fractures, Wheeze."
"They fubar'ed a cop and a good friend of mine."
"Well, you don't have too many friends, so you got it. We never had this conversation, right?"
"Right. I won't call you Leadhead for a month."
"Consider it done."
Weasel disconnected, hitting another combination of numbers on the phone. "Hey, Marlin Fishbreath!"
"Need a favor. You on scene?"
"Behind Leadhead's bus. Another twenty seconds."
"Give yours the treatment."
"I'm carrying a good friend and cop beat all to hell because of your patients."
"Consider it a freebie, man."
"Thanks, Fishbreath." Weasel slipped his phone back into his pocket.
"I didn't hear that, did I?" Skipper asked.
"Uh-huh. Keep it that way."
Nathan leaned over to Ford. "What's the treatment?"
"Tell you in a minute." Ford opened the back doors as they came to a stop in the ambulance bay of the hospital. They quickly unloaded and transferred Harper into a trauma room, yelling vitals and exchanging information the entire way.
Officer Riley entered through the ambulance entrance, grabbing the crew before they could leave. "Come on, we're stuck here."
Again, they found themselves in the room where they shared hot chocolate on Monday. Riley rubbed his face. "I've got guard duty, but you can't leave until our detectives speak with all of you."
"Hi-Lo?" Weasel gave Nathan a questioning look.
"Standard procedure," he replied. "You got confirmation?" Nathan looked at Riley.
"Called me on my cell during the ride here, gave me my orders. Now I've got a victim to guard. Excuse me." Riley left.
"So what's the treatment?" asked Nathan.
Ford explained. "It's when we do everything that we can legitimately do to a person and still call it part of the job, but sometimes certain things aren't really necessary. We won't get in any trouble, but it's uncomfortable for the patient."
"Like a wider bore needle for the IV, strapping down everything for transport, all the monitors instead of the basics, things like that." Skipper shook her head. "So, now what?"
"We wait, and we don't talk. No collusion."
"Hi-Lo, this sucks. Now I'll shut up." Weasel closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair.
= = 7 = =
Travis arrived in the middle of mayhem. DPD Crime Scene Investigators started setting up and taking pictures of the area while carefully cataloguing everything. Down the street and a couple blocks over, the Denver police detained four ATF Agents, suspected of assaulting another ATF Agent. Two were being completely immobilized. Using his identification, Travis could not help but notice the relief on the various faces. He walked through the gathered ensemble and quickly found Sergeant Marula.
The sergeant looked just as relieved to see him. "Assistant Director Travis?" he asked. One hand reached out for Travis's ID.
"Yes." The AD handed it over, watching the man write down his serial numbers and complete information. The Sergeant gave him the courtesy of his photo identification as well, knowing that both would need the other's information for the report.
"Thank you, sir, and if you'll walk with me?" Marula wanted this talk away from the crowd.
"How's Harper?" asked Travis, while they walked away to a secluded corner within the crime scene tape.
"Pretty bad off. My officer tells me she had an asthma attack, in addition to her injuries."
"She doesn't have asthma per se; it's a form of panic attacks and lung damage," Travis explained. "Can I assume since you wanted me here and not at the hospital, she'll live?"
"Yeah. Banged up all to hell, but she'll live. Unless they did internal damage."
"Lay it out for me, Sergeant," Travis requested.
Marula blew out a breath. He'd heard of the fearsome Harper from some of his officers when they returned from training, but she sure did not deserve this. No one deserved this. "Grabbed her at the mouth of the access road, dragged her to a section where we suspect, from the evidence, they broke the lights. Fight started and gotta admit, she hung in there." He wondered if there'd be anything left if those four had gotten their hands on him -- he doubted it. "Four on one kicked her butt though. She managed to shatter one's knee and break a wrist and leg on another, before getting taken down. Fought on the ground too; it's amazing she lasted as long as she did."
A touch of pride entered Travis' voice. "She's one of our best Instructors and self-defense is a religion to her."
"Yeah, well, it helped to a point. They decided to play smash her head against the bricks and did a number on her torso. I'm guessing that's what triggered the breathing problem. Somehow she ended up with a boot mark on her face, where they tried to grind it into the pavement; luckily her hand was under the other side of her face. We're planning to take boots for evidence. Figure there's still some skin and blood on the soles." Marula paused then dropped the bomb. "My officer arrived to witness them kick her in the ribs a few more times after taking the inhaler from her. They planned on leaving her there, but something stopped them. One of 'em snatched the inhaler and waved it in front of her face. Officer clearly heard her beg for it, saying she'd die if she didn't have it. That's when he threw it down the alley. Landed at my officer's feet."
Marula watched the anger fill the man beside him and felt it himself against those so-called Agents in the van. In his humble opinion, if anyone cared, men did not beat up women and leave them to die. He hated the fact they made her beg and still did their best to insure she died.
"What happened next?" asked Travis, working hard at controlling his temper and not letting it go on the messenger.
"Officer called out the van's info and picked up the inhaler. His younger sister has asthma, so he stayed with your Agent instead of chasing them. Fortunately for your Agent, he knew what to do and practically did it all for her. She wasn't in any shape to do jack for herself. Way she looked and sounded, it was too damn close."
"I owe your officer and all of you for this." Travis waved at the mess around them. "Now tell me about the van."
"Non descript black panel van, comes back registered to a moving company. We're chasing that down now. We found four sets of ATF identification and weapons in the van. Two are being treated for injuries on site, and then will be transported to a different hospital than where your Agent went."
"Can I see them?"
"Sure. Right this way." Marula walked Travis over to the stopped van.
The older man saw something he hoped he'd never see - two Agents he recognized in handcuffs. The other two were receiving internal medical treatment, the caregivers with hard looks and obviously no sympathy. He looked the four Agents in the face, one at a time, and his expression darkened. Without a word, he turned away from them and called IA.
Over his shoulder, Travis said, "Keep them separated."
"We plan on it."
"Now, none of your officers leaves the scene before our Internal Affairs arrives, with the exception of following those ambulances. Which also means I'm giving you an order requiring this incident not be discussed by any of your people, your dispatch, or given to the media in any form. Radio silence will be observed. I am classifying this incident effective immediately."
"Understood. We've got an officer on her and the ambo crew being detained." The sergeant made a face, before stepping away to give the AD some privacy to make his own calls.
Not liking what he was required to do, AD Travis finally made the notification to Internal Affairs. Once he confirmed the men were actually ATF Agents, and not imposters, the call had to be made. More specifically, he called Ken Barnett's pager number and left a message on the voice mail system. It only took the man thirty seconds to call the AD back.
"We have a problem."
"What type of problem?"
"Mentral, Jefferson, Pulaski, and Buell. I'm standing at a crime scene where they are the suspects in a serious assault."
"At the hospital; I'm told they worked her over. Nearly killed her."
"Where are you?"
Travis gave his location and then said, "I want to get to the hospital, so that Harper's not alone. DPD's got an officer on her room, and the ambulance crew is being detained."
"Where were her guard dogs?"
The AD sighed. "She figured out they were following her and told them to quit, or she'd file harassment charges."
"I see. We'll be down shortly. DPD's there?"
"Keep everyone there. Don't let them leave until they talk to one of our people."
"Thanks. I'll see you soon." Barnett disconnected.
Travis sighed, turning back Sergeant Marula. "IA's on their way down."
"Pardon my lack of joy."
"You may not like it, but it's the way we do things."
"It's our case."
"I'm not arguing with you. You do what you have to, but IA may ask you to clamp down on it."
The sarcasm was not lost on the older man. "Look, we both have a bad situation here. I'm grateful to your officers for catching those four."
Sgt. Marula blew out a breath. "Let me make the rest of the notifications; figure our brass will want to come out and play."
The sergeant walked off to use his cell phone again. He informed Dispatch not to discuss the incident, arrange for covering the shift because of all the now-required interviews with IA, and detained those on scene. Then, he spoke to all of his officers privately about the ordered silence regarding this incident.
Travis continued staring in turn at the two Agents locked in the backs of patrol cars. Neither would meet his gaze and stared down at their legs and feet. The other two left under police escort for a different hospital.
Within the next couple of minutes, Ken Barnett arrived carrying two overloaded trays of coffee, hot chocolate, and tea. He passed these out to the police officers, saving three coffees - one for himself, one for the sergeant and the last for the AD.
"Ken." Travis nodded his thanks for the beverage.
"Who's in charge here?"
"Sergeant Marula." Travis motioned the sergeant to join them and performed introductions. He watched as the two men shook hands.
"Assistant Director, if you want, head on over to the hospital. Sergeant, one of your men went with her?"
"The one that found her. They kind of bonded, so I kept him with her to keep her stable."
Barnett said, "Sir, we've got our Assistant Director coming down to handle the scene. I'm assuming you classified everything?"
"Thanks for getting things started for us. The others will be here in a few minutes."
"Make no mistake, Ken, I'm disgusted with this entire mess. However, I'm relinquishing control to you and the DPD because I don't want to be accused of favoritism."
"Understood, sir. I have incident control."
"If you'll excuse me?" Travis walked away as they discussed the best solution to handle the scene and as he started his car, he saw a Denver Police Department Lieutenant show up and join the conference in progress. He drove for the hospital, dreading what he would find there.
When he arrived, he immediately went to the Emergency Room and identified himself.
With the door open, the Assistant Director's voice carried, causing Nathan to rise and leave the silent room.
Travis noticed Nathan, moving to one empty spot in the busy Emergency Room to wait. "Nathan."
"From your jumpsuit, I take it you were with the ambulance that transported her?"
"What's your impression of her condition?"
"I'm not a doctor." Nathan moved his head side-to-side.
"I'm not asking for a diagnosis."
Nathan took a deep breath. "Bad."
"Her attitude, her injuries, or both."
"Both. Sir, I think she knows who did this."
Travis showed a neutral expression. "She say anything?"
"No. Just a look."
"Then I have some arrangements to make."
"I have her ID and gun, Sir."
"Good. Thanks for securing them." Travis accepted the unloaded handgun butt first, the magazine, and the ID. "Kind of makes it official, doesn't it?"
Nathan sighed. "Yes, Sir."
Travis looked away for a second. "I've classified the entire incident, Agent, seconded by Internal Affairs."
"Yes, sir, Assistant Director."
"You will not discuss this incident with anyone outside of Internal Affairs or their designee."
"On a personal note, I'm glad you're here. Seeing a friendly face probably helped."
"I hope so."
Travis reached over and squeezed Nathan's shoulder. "I know so. Harper rarely - if ever - has a friend around when things go bad."
Nathan smiled. "Thanks."
"Speaking of friends, when will you see the rest of your team again?"
"Sunday. I'll assume you don't want me to say anything?"
"I can do that. But they'll be mad when they find out."
"Then send them to me. But until IA finishes, I have one more thing to ask."
"Don't contact Harper."
"Exactly. We want to prevent any type of collusion that could jeopardize our case."
"It will be hard."
"I know. I'll call you with updates."
"I appreciate that."
"Then I'll talk to you later. Let me find out about Harper."
"Yes, Sir." Nathan returned to the quiet room, explaining nothing.
Travis accepted directions from the staff to a curtained area, where he joined a DPD officer standing guard outside a room.
"Assistant Director Travis, ATF. I'm her supervisor." He extended his hand.
"Jim Riley, DPD." They shook.
"Understand you found her."
"More like saw them trying to kill her."
Travis studied the man before him, finding him a good six foot two, slim shoulders, smaller waist, having a wiry build. His crew cut and rigid bearing showed his military training, but his outward demeanor seemed approachable at the onset. Right now, the face twisted into a frown and the disgust was evident. Travis asked, "What happened?"
"Four on one. Caught the tail end of it; she was trying to use her inhaler and they took it away from her. Made her beg for it and then threw it at me. Didn't know I was there, watched them do it as I approached. Took off running when I called out. Cowards." Riley's face showed his disgust.
"Understand you knew what to do."
"Yeah. My sister has asthma. Figured I could help. Glad I did."
"No problem. Sir, may I ask a question?"
"I may not be able to answer it."
"I understand. What's going to happen to the suspects?"
"Depends on what they say to our IA. They're going to talk to them, and IA probably wants to talk to you. There's going to be a lot of investigation and interviews, and you'll be part of the process."
"Do you know how bad her injuries are?"
Before the officer could answer, a doctor exited Harper's room. He looked up at the two men while still jotting notes on the clipboard.
"Doctor? I'm AD Travis, her supervisor and emergency contact. How is she?"
"Let's go down here." The doctor led the AD into an alcove while Riley stood guard outside Harper's room. "I'm Doctor Mellon." They shook hands, and then the doctor closed the curtain. "I won't lie to you; they worked her over pretty good. Laymen's terms: she's got a serious concussion, double vision, headaches, nausea, bruised ribs, ten stitches in her face, her right eye has swollen shut, but there's no damage to the eye itself. Multiple contusions to her chest, back, and abdomen. As for her lungs, they are weak and bruised, but relatively intact. The officer administered her medication in time, but it was close. A little later and we wouldn't be having a present tense conversation. We're keeping her overnight because of the concussion and to monitor her breathing. She's hooked to an IV and oxygen for now. We haven't administered any painkillers per her request; she said she wanted to be clearheaded when she talked to you and the investigators."
"What's the recommended treatment?"
"We'll keep her here tonight and probably tomorrow night as well, just to be safe. We'll monitor her mental status; test her memory, blood oxygen and her lungs. If things go right, we'll send her home on Sunday. Figure two more days off work before she attempts light duty, followed by a few checkups."
"Don't thank me yet; thank the officer. He did the one thing that she needed the most."
"Doctor, I believe one of our Internal Affairs Agents will be coming to interview you."
"I'm not surprised. I'll leave word at the desk to tell me when they arrive. You can see her for a couple minutes before we take her upstairs."
The doctor nodded before he left, letting the AD walk back to Harper's room.
"How is she?" asked Officer Riley.
"She'll be okay eventually. Sore for a few days, and they're keeping her because of the concussion and lungs, but she'll be okay. Mostly due to you, young man."
"She wanted to help herself."
"You saved her life. That's not something any of us will forget."
Riley shifted from foot to foot, clearly uncomfortable with the praise and gratitude. He cleared his throat twice. "Thank you, sir."
Travis entered the room and his first sight of Harper caused him to wince.
"That bad, huh?" Her voice sounded slurred because of the swollen lip.
"Hello, sir. Sorry about this."
"Don't apologize; you didn't deserve this." He stepped closer, noticing the right side of her face was a mass of bruised flesh. White bandages covering, what he assumed were fresh stitches. The nasal canula stood out against the swollen skin and the blanket covered her hospital gown. Monitors beeped in the background as the white wires disappeared under the covers. An IV dripped from its perch behind her.
"We both knew something like this could happen." One pain filled red eye tried and failed to focus on him, finally closing.
"And it's now being dealt with. Small comfort, I know, but we'll get through this."
"Did I ever mention I hate hospitals?"
He chuckled. "Understandable. Do you want me to call your family?"
"You've met my family."
Travis sighed. "Yes. They'll fly right out."
"And chew you out along with me, which I don't need because I don't want anyone to know. I'm going to be the laughingstock of Denver."
"It won't be common knowledge."
"Is there anyone you want me to call?"
"Not Team Seven. Just let Nathan know how I'm doing."
"I can do that."
"Good. I thought you might say 'I told you so'."
Travis blew out a breath. "Maybe later; not now."
"Something to look forward to, I guess."
"Listen, the first officer on the scene? I want to thank him now that I don't have people poking and prodding me."
"He's outside. I'll get him. I'll also bring you some things from your room, if you can give me your room key."
"Sure. It's over there." She paused for a second. "Sir?"
"Thanks for being there for me tonight."
"Anytime. They say if things go well, you're getting out of here Sunday."
"Good. Just in time to call Danny on Monday."
"He'll probably talk to you now if you want." Travis knew Danny was her therapist on retainer by the ATF, because of her past.
"Nah. They said something about painkillers; I'm looking forward to that. Not too much, but a little."
"Well, I'll bring that officer in." Travis reached over and took the belt pouch, finding the room keycard inside. "Same room?"
"Good. You need anything, call me."
"Call me Orin, Harper. Right now, I'm not your boss; I'm your friend."
"Lord knows I don't have many of those."
"That's the pain talking, Harper. I'll ignore you said that." Travis opened the door and motioned the officer to join them. "Officer Riley, Instructor Harper would like a word."
Riley stepped into the room.
"Hi," she said. "Long time, no see. X-ray, wasn't it?"
"Hello again. It was here, not there, and you're looking better.
"Yeah, five miles instead of ten miles of bad road."
"You still have your sense of humor; that's important." Riley smiled as he said this.
"You also know your way around an inhaler. For that, I'm very thankful."
"Think nothing of it."
"Actually, most people wouldn't know what to do. I really appreciate your help."
"Anytime. I'm here to serve."
"Harper," Travis admonished. He studied the by-play between the two; something told him there was some type of undercurrent.
"It's okay, sir," said Riley. "We joked a bit, while they were cleaning her up."
"You mean inflicting torture in the form of alcohol wipes."
"That too." Riley chuckled. "So when are you getting out of here?"
"He tells me maybe Sunday."
"I'm not road kill; I just look like it."
"Hey, if you were road kill, I'd still scrape you off the pavement."
"Listen, can I call you to see how you're doing? Your boss told me that I saved your life and I'd like to follow-up."
"Sure." She rattled off the number for the hotel, earning a raised eyebrow. "What? Haven't found an apartment yet. Maybe you can recommend some good neighborhoods?"
"I could, when you're on your feet."
Riley caught the rather significant look the AD gave him and glanced down at his boots, hiding his smile. "Listen, I'll go back to door detail and leave you two alone. And I will call you."
"Sounds good. Thanks again, if I haven't said it enough."
"You're welcome. Anytime." Riley left, pulling the door shut behind him.
"Something going on?"
"We joked, and he saved my life. Doesn't hurt to be nice."
"Never mind; now's not the time." Travis leaned over and kissed her uninjured cheek. "Take care of yourself, Harper, and I'll stop by tomorrow to check on you."
"Yes, sir. Thanks, Orin."
"I'll see you tomorrow." Travis left the hospital room just as a nurse and a pair of orderlies showed up to transfer her to a room upstairs. He stood outside the room on the right with Riley while they worked.
"Officer Riley, I want to thank you again."
"It's no problem."
Travis looked up and recognized both of the men entering the area. "I see our IA has arrived. They'll want to talk to you."
One man walked over and identified himself, a formality since the AD already knew him. The IA representative took the officer outside the hospital's entrance to speak with him privately. The other Agent waited beside the AD while the orderlies wheeled Harper toward the elevator.
"She in any condition to talk?"
"Probably. They haven't dosed her with painkillers at her request. You bring a camera?"
"Digital. We'll get plenty of pictures of all the marks. It's pretty much open and shut, sir."
"We've continued the classified status on the entire incident, which I'm sure you know, and hopefully, because it's Friday night, we can keep a lid on the rumors until Tuesday. Figure it will take that long before someone talks."
"It's only a matter of time. I'll delay posting her sick leave until Sunday night, that way the rumor mill won't go into overdrive."
"She's working with Seven, right?"
"Are you expecting problems from that end?"
"I'll handle them."
"Better you than me."
"I'll forget you said that about the most productive team in Denver."
"With the biggest bunch of screwballs, but I'll shut up now."
"That's a good idea."
"Do you know where they're taking her?"
"Then I'll talk to her doctor while they get her settled. Did you want to be present?"
"Yes, I would."
"We'll talk to you first, take your statement, then we'll talk to her."
They spent the next couple of hours with the IA investigators putting together the case, working with the Denver Police Department, and smoothly burying the potential for leaks. All the while, Harper finally slept, medicated with painkillers.
Saturday came with Travis visiting twice, and Mary stopping by for a time. IA dropped in to talk to her three times, clarifying points on her statement and taking supplements while they prepared the paper trail for the trial board - a disciplinary board that would determine what actions the ATF would take against the four Agents involved.
On Saturday night, Harper felt lonely. She hated hospitals and felt caged. She wanted to talk to someone. After checking with Travis, she received permission to call Buck. He could visit, provided he promised not to discuss the situation with anyone. Harper did not think that would be a problem, and neither did Travis. So, she reached for the telephone and dialed.
= = 7 = =
The telephone rang in the CDC. JD reached over and grabbed it, pausing the video he rented for the evening. "Hello?"
Silence, and then he heard his name. "JD?"
Dunne did not recognize the owner of the raspy female voice and asked, "Who are you trying to reach?"
"JD, it's Harper. Is Buck there?"
"Harper? Are you okay? You sound horrible...I didn't even recognize your voice."
"Sudden sore throat...listen, is Buck there?"
"Um, no." He did not want to tell her that Buck went out on a date, especially after that morning of finding her here.
"He's on a date, right?"
"Well, he's not here." JD covered, not exactly lying, but not giving all of the truth. "I'm not sure when he'll get home."
"JD, I'm a big girl. Buck's not there because he's on a date, right? I'm not going to get mad; we're only friends."
JD thought 'yeah, right' but decided against saying it aloud. Harper sounded bad. "I can leave him a message."
"No, don't worry about it. Sorry to bother you." She disconnected before he could say anything else. Shrugging, he returned to his movie and became engrossed, forgetting about the telephone call completely.
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