JD pressed his back against the wall outside the Forensics lab and stared down the hallway. Ming was running an errand and was expected back in ten minutes. He could wait. He was getting used to people not being there for him.
He flattened a small plastic bag against his thigh and re-checked the contents--a piece of paper towel and several small wads of toilet paper, both sprinkled with spots of blood, and a handful of hair pulled out from the roots. He hoped it would be enough.
He hoped he wasn't about to screw up everything irretrievably.
The night before had been a comedy of errors, but JD wasn't laughing. Jake had thrown the knife, sure. But it was pure coincidence that JD had been standing next to the sink when it happened. Jake hadn't been throwing it at him, and it missed him anyway. Then JD had accidentally nicked the fleshy part of Jake's palm when he handed him a sharper knife. He didn't realize that Jake was already coming towards him to get the implement when he turned towards the table, blade forward, to hand it to him.
On the other hand--an unharmed hand--JD had had enough years of stealth training and actual field experience in covert operations that he was supposed to be unconsciously attuned to the sounds or pressure changes of someone approaching him from a blind side. And he knew better than to hand someone a knife with the sharp edge facing towards them. Everyone knew it was a violation of the basic "running-with-scissors" rule.
Another childish act, he thought. I'm going to be making gun busts from my crib if I keep this up.
The look on Buck's face upon his entrance had been as far from inscrutable as had JD's blank stare. Buck was upset. Swearing and spitting, he wrenched the paper towel roll off its holder and held it to Jake's palm. The teenager was also swearing, but it seemed to stem more from the idea that the adults were allowing him to get away with it in this instance than from any great pain. The cut was only about a quarter inch deep in the soft, fleshy part below his thumb. It had leaked out a bit of blood, but stopped after a few minutes.
It was going to sting like a bitch, though, he thought happily.
Josiah dug out the kitchen's first aid box, as Vin ran to the bathroom to get the larger stash of medical supplies. Nathan stood close by, clearly the expert in the situation, but allowed Buck to supervise. The medic could see it wasn't anything life-threatening. Rain placed her arms in a comforting gesture upon Melinda's shoulders.
Ezra had stopped just inside the door, taking in the entire scene. He caught JD's eye and raised his chin. Then his gaze glanced over at Melinda.
A less generous person would have thought the look of disgust on her face was an aversion to the jagged cut and spilled blood. But Ezra wasn't generous at all. And he recognized the look. He'd seen it on his own, ungenerous mother too many times. The woman was displeased with her son's behavior.
Buck threw the stained paper towels into the garbage and allowed Nathan to clean and bind the wound. Jake quieted down when he could see that the crisis had been averted and the adults were starting to lose interest. JD attempted an apology that was waved off by both mother and son. They easily accepted it as an accident. But he knew he wasn't even going to get close to making this up enough in Buck's eyes. And at that moment, he wasn't sure he was even going to try.
But he had to do something.
Dinner was funereal. Jake made a big show of having his steak cut for him, even though he had no trouble using his injured hand to pick up the beer that had been allowed him "for medicinal purposes," Buck argued. There was no effort to continue after the last plate had been scraped clean and the team members made soft good-byes and half-hearted ventures of support for JD before they departed. Buck left without a word to escort the Gardners back to their hotel. Much later that night, while JD lay in bed unable to sleep, Buck had returned and headed straight up to his room, shutting the door firmly.
The next morning Buck once again left at an ungainly early hour, and JD sat alone at the kitchen table. He was being avoided and he knew he deserved it. He thought about not showing up for work, not ever having to face Buck again and relive his shame. He thought about his options--that he'd have to stay friendly with Chris if he wanted to get a recommendation for a transfer or switch to another organization, the DEA maybe. But he couldn't be sure what Chris's take was on the whole Buck and Jake thing. If Chris was against it, then JD was okay. If Chris was rooting for the newly discovered father and son to build a life together, then he was screwed.
And the whole thing was a gamble--no one was really sure that Jake was Buck's son. It was Melinda's word. Hadn't Jake just told him the night before that Melinda hadn't been any less promiscuous that Buck at college? Where was the proof? Physically JD was just as likely to be Buck's son as Jake. So was about the half the state of Colorado, if he remembered his biology.
Maybe about half the United States, if he believed Buck's stories.
Putting away the breakfast dishes, he nearly dropped his coffee cup in the sink when he realized how easy it was to get the proof. He gathered what he needed and first thing after checking in with Chris after arriving at the office, he slipped out.
Ming Yu Chan turned the corner and quickly licked her lips when she saw who was waiting at the entrance to the lab.
"Shang Li! I am honored to see you on such a bright morning."
JD made a short bow. "Mulan. I have brought you a traditional Chinese delicacy to break your fast." He handed her a package of Chuckles and bowed again.
"Oh, God. That sugar's going to go right to my hips." She smiled and sashayed into her lab area, hoping that her words were a hint as to where she wanted JD's eyes to look as he followed her.
She sat down on a stool and motioned for him to do the same. "What's up?"
"I have a favor a big favor to ask."
Ming peeled off the candy's plastic wrapping and took out a licorice-flavored square. "What kind of big favor?" She offered the pack but he shook his head.
"The kind where you can't tell anyone."
Shapely black eyebrows raised above dark black eyes.
The agent took a deep breath, seemingly for courage. "And I need it fast."
Ming looked around the room, then leaned forward, trying not to draw attention. "Anything, JD. I always said. " she shrugged her shoulders coyly, then arched her back, leaning even closer.
"I need you to run some tests." JD handed the large Zip-Loc bag to Ming, who did not open it. "I've got two types of paper products with different people's blood on them and some hair samples." He pointed at the bag. "I put them in their own plastic evidence sleeves so they wouldn't touch."
"Good thinking. How fresh are they?"
"One's from last night--that's the one on the paper towel--and the other two are from this morning." JD had felt only a slight amount of guilt as he furtively went through Buck's bathroom garbage pail that morning. He knew that, with such a heavy beard, Buck often applied a bit too much pressure with the hand razor he used, and the odds were good there'd be a few little bits of wadded-up toilet paper with blood on them in the small basket. He'd thought briefly that if he could find a used condom it might prove an even better sample to test. Fortunately, after a moment's consideration, he appreciated that whatever Buck had been doing with Melinda, he'd been doing it out of the house. So the shaving-cut blood would do.
Then he'd pulled some of his hair out, afraid that someone would question him if he had cut on his own hand.
"Good, the fresher the better." Ming nodded briskly. "Normally we'd spot the blood on some FTA paper for the best absorption, but I take it these weren't willing subjects."
He shook his head.
"What're you trying to find out?" The answer was slow in coming so she put on her best professional demeanor. "I need to know so I know what tests to run. We're pretty busy here. If I'm going to--"
"I need a paternity test."
Ming bit her lip to keep from blurting out her surprise.
Blushing at her reaction, JD glanced to see if anyone had noticed her action. "It's not what you think. Two of those samples may be related. I need to find out if there are or not."
Ming turned the bag over in her lap. "Why the third?"
"I thought you would need a control group, or something. Leftover idea from biology class, I guess," he said with a twisted smile. "Isn't that what Mr. Wizard always did?"
"All right." She put the bag on her desk, and gestured at a pile of papers. "You want it fast? I don't know what you expect but good luck. This is like baking bread, you can mix the ingredients as fast as you can, but you still gotta wait for it to rise." She looked again at the papers on her desk, she was obviously loaded with work. "The testing process we use is called a PCR. It stands for Polymerase Chain Reaction. I could do it in, like, half a day if I monitored the process from beginning to end, so I could get to everything the second it finished, but that could be noticed and they're going to ask me what I'm working on."
"I'll wait then." JD lowered a weary head. "How long?"
Ming tucked a finger under his chin and raised his eyes to hers, then pulled her hand back, surprised at her courageous gesture. "I can do a three-day pat stat. That way I won't arouse suspicion. You'd have it by " she glanced over to check her calendar, "Saturday. But remember one thing." She grabbed a second Chuckle out of the package and chewed carefully. "You never know if you're going to get any results until the testing is over."
"Hey, they got a DNA match from Thomas Jefferson. These guys are locals."
"No guarantees," she warned.
"Oh, ho," JD said with a laugh. "I'm well aware of that. Thanks." Getting up, he kissed her cheek lightly and walked out of the room.
Ming shot a forlorn look at the Chuckles, then tossed them into the garbage. Well, I can guarantee where I'm going to be tonight, she thought, trying to figure out how she could get at least three hours at the gym inbetween her work and this favor.
When JD returned upstairs, Chris was in his office tweaking budget reports, while Josiah and Ezra returned calls on the phoned-in leads about the bombing. Vin and Nathan were out in the field. Buck was also out of the office and JD was glad he wasn't there--he just didn't know how to act near him.
Dropping heavily into his chair, he settled in to look through the reports, when an incoming line flashed on his phone.
"Special Agent Dunne. " he stood up again when he recognized the voice of one of the dispatch department's operators.
"Yeah, he's here What's the address Okay, hold on." He grabbed a pad and hastily scribbled down the information, then pressed the buttons to transfer the call. Ripping the page off, he waved it at Chris.
Ezra noticed the young agent's abrupt action and got off his own call. "What?"
"Bomb threat was e-mailed in to the women's clinic on South Broadway ten minutes ago. They found a gym bag. Bomb Squad's there."
Chris was out of his office before JD even finished his briefing. "Ezra, call Pietowski and get his team en route." He straightened his tie. "Any messengers or service people evacuated?"
JD shook his head. "They're still processing everyone."
"Get your laptop, you're coming with me."
The computer expert quickly undocked his G5 and shoved it into its canvas case.
"Josiah, get Buck and Vin on their cells and follow me with Ez." Chris pointed at the Southerner. "You handle the media on this one. C'mon, son, time to rock and roll."
Their team leader's hopes for a secure site were dashed when he had to maneuver his Dodge Ram around the vans of several news crews. Spotting Vin's Harley, he pulled up beside it and motioned for JD to keep close as he strode onto the sidewalk and approached the cluster of reporters. Chris glared at them, the laser sharp beam of his eyes enough to slice through the unwanted assembly. The smaller agent clutched his computer case as microphones and video cameras swung past his face, keeping himself a hidden target behind Chris's back. Though he hadn't been on his high school's football team, he had a flash of what a quarterback must feel as his blockers plowed through their opponents.
Finally they passed through the police cordon and joined Vin as he stood with several members of the bomb squad.
Vin touched his fingers the bill of his ATF cap in greeting and got right down to business. "Dogs did another search of the building but didn't find anything beyond the gym bag. That's been scanned and sniffed and, well , it's got bombs but they're not bombs."
"What do you mean--" Chris paused as Josiah and Ezra joined them. "Are there bombs or not?"
"Come take a look." Vin led them across the lawn towards the bomb squad's truck.
Chris glanced around his small group, then at Josiah. "Where's Buck?"
"Couldn't raise him on the cell." The big man shrugged. "Out of the area."
The senior agent's eyes narrowed. "In his job, there is no area to be out of. He's turned his phone off." Chris turned towards JD, who shook his head in an innocent denial.
"Perhaps the battery's low," Ezra soothed.
"Could be," Josiah agreed. "I left a message on the voice mail."
Chris jerked his chin in disgust. "Like I say, you can always count on Buck."
JD flushed at the callous remark about his best friend. Although the man was by all accounts in the dog house with him, he wasn't about to condemn Buck before an explanation was offered. But his eyes fell to the ground and a wave of uneasiness surged up from his stomach. He knew Ezra's suggestion wasn't even a consideration. Buck was as conscientious about keeping the battery of his cell phone fresh as he was about the supply of condoms in his wallet.
The fractional number of Team Seven members approached the truck and greeted several familiar officers. Vin tried unsuccessfully to suppress an inexplicable grin on his face as Chris asked about the bombs that were found. A similar grin appeared on the bomb squad leader's face and he reached inside the truck to pick up a large clear plastic bag that contained one sample of the evidence. He waggled it in front of their eyes and laughed. Around him, the agents stepped backed instinctively. All except Josiah.
JD cocked his head in confusion. It wasn't a pipe bomb or a chemical bomb or any type of bomb he recognized but it looked awfully familiar. Then it dawned on him--it resembled the kind of bombs he'd seen in cartoons. Round, with a long fuse coming out of a cap on its top, it was shiny and black. And it was ticking.
"My Lord." Josiah chuckled. "I haven't seen one of these in thirty years."
The squad leader tossed it to him and the large man continued to smile, turning the bagged evidence around in his hands. Then he shouted, "Think fast." and tossed the "bomb" to Vin, who just as quickly passed it to Chris. Their leader held onto it in defiance, examining the object studiously, before throwing it to Ezra.
The Southerner's face blanched as the ticking suddenly stopped and a loud buzzing noise shattered their circle.
"You're outta the game," Josiah said with a laugh, and gently secured the plastic bag from his teammate's shaking hands.
"Wha what just happened there?" Ezra deftly pulled a silk handkerchief out of his coat pocket and blotted the sheen of sweat that ringed the nape of his neck.
"Time Bomb." Their profiler held up the object solemnly. "A Milton Bradley game."
Chris scowled. "Another children's toy."
"There were six of 'em in the bag. Scared the shit outta the staff when they went off."
Josiah cleared his throat. "Which means someone had to wind them up and leave very quickly."
"That means we're back to surveillance tapes and eyewitnesses." Chris tilted his head towards Ezra and Josiah. "There's your afternoon."
"At least this'll be an easy clue to trace," the older agent added. "These things haven't been for sale in twenty-five years."
JD finally let go of the breath he'd been holding. "I can compile a list of antique stores if you want."
Josiah looked heavenward. "It's from the Sixties and it's an antique."
Chris shook his head. "Once the 'all clear' is given, I want you to check into the e-mail they received here. See if you can trace it." Then he took the "bomb" and quickly faked a toss to Ezra before returning the evidence to the bomb squad. The normally poker-faced agent gasped and took a step backwards, bringing an uncommon smile to his team leader's face.
The Southerner frowned. "You will pay for that jest, Mr. Larabee."
Chris responded with an untroubled shrug. "Maybe in Monopoly money, Ez. C'mon, JD." The two men headed towards the clinic, the younger agent twisting around for a moment to fake a teasing throw of his computer case at Ezra.
Placing a sympathetic hand on his teammate's shoulder, Josiah gave it a squeeze. "It seems you're accruing an awful lot of debts, Brother Standish."
Ezra smiled enigmatically. "Why, Brother Sanchez. You, of all people, should recall that payback is hell."
Once again, JD followed in Chris's unyielding wake as they surged through the gauntlet of news crews towards the clinic. The young man tried not to flinch as they were jostled from side to side, being similarly accosted by the reporters as well as a growing number of protesters from both sides of the argument who were pressing into the crowd with an angry energy. News helicopters buzzed overhead, adding to the chaos.
Suddenly JD felt the pressure let up and found himself outside the perimeter, where only a few select news crews had been allowed by the police to set up in front of the clinic. He waited as Chris frowned at the last obstacle to hurdle before they could get inside, then frowned even deeper when he spotted the Gardners among those being interviewed.
"Maybe you can. " he started, then trailed off as he glanced over the shorter man's head.
JD looked around and saw Buck strolling over to join them. A flood of relief infused him at his roommate's appearance.
Chris addressed the approaching man abruptly. "What's she doing here?"
"We heard the report on the radio when I was driving them back to their hotel." Buck shrugged apologetically. "I couldn't refuse to bring her."
"You know what it looks like when the ATF agent escorts a pro-life advocate to a abortion clinic bomb site?"
"I didn't put my jacket on until after we separated. No one knows we came together." He began to place a hand on Chris's shoulders but it was pushed away.
"Your cell's off," Chris snapped.
"What?" He reached into his pocket and flipped open the phone to find it was, indeed, dark. "That's weird." Pressing the "power" button, he stuck it back inside his jacket. "Jake borrowed it earlier. He may have accidentally--"
"Then you should have checked it."
Buck held Chris's angry gaze. "Are ya looking for problems with me, 'cause you ain't gonna find 'em."
JD watched as his two heroes argued, wanting nothing more than to disappear. He could rationalize that this wasn't anything worse than Chris's usual critical disposition flaring up against Buck's casual nature, but it felt different. Since the Gardners' appearance, their team leader's patience had been wearing dangerously thin where his oldest friend was concerned and JD couldn't figure out where that was coming from.
Both men had explosive tempers, which JD uneasily remembered from personal experience, though each had completely different combustion points. Chris seemed to always be walking through life with a jagged-edged pebble in his shoe. Buck's blow-ups were more like the slow start of a fireworks show, popping and crackling until he finally hit the big burst at the end. And, thankfully like the fourth of July, these explosions had a similar once-a-year frequency. It had to be something of incredible importance to him for the older man to allow his emotions to run without restriction.
"JD, ya want to check out the evidence with me?" Buck's low voice interrupted his thoughts.
"He's already seen it," Chris snarled.
Buck crossed his arms. "You think if I'd been called I would've gotten here any faster? It was rush hour on Champa, for Christ's sakes! There weren't any other routes I could've taken."
"At least I would've known you were responding and en route. Not missing somewhere up the Wilmington family tree."
"Is that was this is about?"
Chris refused to back down. "Why didn't you call me?"
"I was heading right to ya."
"Why didn't you do a Kojak?"
"Considering what you just said about me showing up with Melinda, the last thing you'd want me to do is put on the lights and siren."
"That's enough!" JD barked, much to his own surprise. Both men regarded him with equal astonishment in their eyes. The young agent raised his chin defiantly and brandished his computer case. "I've got to look at the threat that was e-mailed to the clinic. Buck, you need to check in with Pietowski. Chris, you. " his voice faltered when he looked into the hot shimmer of his boss's eyes. "You know what you need to do."
Buck laughed softly and tweaked his roommate's ATF cap, turning it around from its unusual frontward position. "I'll get right on it, sir."
"C'mon, JD," Chris started towards the clinic entrance without a backwards glance.
"In a minute," the young man answered, waiting a moment for his team leader to clear some distance from them, then faced his friend. "You know I'm really sorry about--"
Buck cut him off with a wave of his hand. "JD, I know you. I know it was an accident. And honestly, I think Jake overreacted. Let's forget it and move on to another subject."
"Okay." JD knew exactly what his next topic would be. "You're pissing Chris off."
"Wouldn't be the first time." Absentmindedly, Buck dug into his jacket pocket and re-checked his cell phone.
It wasn't the answer his roommate was looking for, but since he couldn't ask the question he wanted to, he went with the next best thing. "What's going on?"
The older man peered across the lawn at their rapidly disappearing team leader, then pointed in the opposite direction towards the Gardners, still ensconced in their interview. "See that tall good-looking chip off the old shoulder over there?"
JD regarded Jake as he stood impassively by Melinda's side. Chip on the shoulder was more like it. Jake noticed him and gave him a weak wave with his bandaged hand. Obviously other people weren't content with moving on. "Yeah?"
"Chris's jealous," Buck murmured, and caught JD's eyes one more time with a sympathetic regard before heading off towards the bomb squad's van.
Looking back at the teenager, JD felt another flutter of apprehension in his stomach. If that was true, though he wasn't sure that was the reason, he had to admit that Chris wasn't the only one.