The couch in the ninth floor break room was vintage 1970's avocado-colored vinyl. There were several tears on both the cushions and seatback, the result of a bet between Ezra and Vin that involved spurs, duct tape, and suction cups.
The couch in the second floor nurse's station was decorated in so many unidentifiable stains, it would rival a Jackson Pollack painting for space on a museum wall if it didn't also carry such an annoying antiseptic smell.
The couch in acting director Orin Travis's office wasn't even considered.
JD set his motorcycle helmet beside his desk. An overly stuffed sports bag was thrown onto his chair. Rummaging around inside, he pulled out a Dopp bag and opened it, feeling inside until he took out a small shaving kit. Unzipping that, he pulled out a small metal pick and walked over to the door to Chris's office.
Chris's couch was black brushed leather, adorned with several plump suede pillows and a soft, cotton crazy quilt made by Casey's Aunt Nettie.
He inserted the pick gently. He knew it didn't matter that the office was basically in the dark--he didn't need light to pick the lock but he felt like he did, and he let himself be frustrated. First try. Second. Third time's the charm. The door opened. He slipped off his boots. Dangerous enough to sleep on Chris's couch without his permission, much less leave heel marks.
His socks slipping on the slick floor, he returned to his desk, and placed the lock pick--a present from Ezra--back inside the shaving kit. Then he stood with his hands on his hips, surveying the room. Quiet. Cool. Calm.
His stomach heaved and he fought down a wave of nausea. If he didn't distract himself, all his thoughts went into how bad he felt, how easily he wanted to crack.
I think you'd better leave.
He had thought about going to the Holiday Inn. It had a twenty-four hour front desk and no reservations were required. He stayed there when he first arrived in Denver. He could have afforded better now, but when he considered going to a hotel, he immediately appreciated the irony. Instead, he decided he'd go work at the office. If he worked, he didn't have to sleep. He could work. He could work hard enough that he could solve the case quickly. And that would help him to leave quickly.
It was a good plan, he thought.
As good a plan as any.
Sweeping the sports bag off his chair, he logged onto his computer.
He wanted to scream.
He'd tried that three days after his mother died. He was stoic and dry-eyed in front of his mother's friends who visited and dropped off casseroles and asked what he was going to do with her few belongings. Their friends were just as poor as they were and he wasn't offended. He spoke softly at the hospital billing office, at the funeral home. Seventy-two hours later he stood in a steaming shower and wondered what would happen if he screamed. Really loud. Would someone alert the police? Would anybody even take action? He decided against it at the time.
That night, at two a.m., he took his mother's 1973 Corvair and drove to the Mass Turnpike. He rolled all the windows up and turned the radio as loud as it would go. He pumped the gas and got up to a respectable eighty-five miles per hour. Then he screamed.
After two years of a street beat on the Boston Police Force, after being continually harassed, hazed, and ignored by the members of his precinct, and in spite of honors for courageous behavior and his expertise on several computer tasks forces, JD received notice that he was being reassigned to the parking meter squad. After handing in his resignation, he jogged down the Esplanade, past the Charles River, stood inside the Concert Shell, and screamed.
After he accidentally wounded an innocent civilian in one of his first ATF cases, he got on his motorcycle and shot up Interstate 70 west, past Golden, past Central City, almost up to the Continental Divide, up into the mountains. And he screamed.
A sad smile came to his face. The day he was notified by Chris Larabee that he'd gotten a place on his ATF team, JD went to the I-Beam Club, slipped the DJ a twenty, got on the dance floor and danced to Springsteen's "Born to Run." And he screamed so much he couldn't talk the next day.
He glanced around the office, which was bathed in the computer's bluish light. He'd had some great times here, incredible times. He worked like a dog, but it hadn't felt like work. He loved his co-workers. Trusted them. He'd allowed himself to become completely at ease. Completely secure.
He vowed that it would never happen again.
Well, if he wasn't good at relationships, if he was so easy to discount, then he'd at least do the best job he could. And he knew that very few could do it better.
He pulled up his search on the cypherpunk remailer. Earlier that day--was it only that day? It felt like years ago, he thought wearily--he had added the e-mails that had been sent in the previous bomb incidents to the mix, upping the odds of finding an address. Something would probably show up by the morning. The DNA results might also come in.
Opening the Word software, he clicked on the standard memo form.
To: Chris Larabee, Group Supervisor, REMTEF Team Seven
cc: Orin Travis, Acting Director, BATF
Fr: Special Agent JD Dunne, Team Seven
He'd handled the whole thing stupidly. He'd handled it wrong. He should have been more supportive. He should have been happy for Buck.
But he had been supportive. He had been happy.
It is with mixed feelings that I tender my resignation, effective at the conclusion of my current caseload.
He shouldn't have gotten drunk.
He should have been nicer to Buck.
He shouldn't have looked at the Gardners' tour schedule.
I have enjoyed my time spent with the ATF and have learned many skills that I will bring with me to future endeavors.
He'd been very nice, considering.
Considering how Buck had just excluded him from the start.
I wish the team the best of luck and am confident you will be able to find a suitable replacement without trouble.
It didn't make any sense unless Buck was being honest about hurting inside when he compared JD and Jake.
Well, that had nothing to do with JD.
Thank you for your guidance and support over the years.
Nothing to do with JD.
Buck wanted nothing to do with
Just like his own father.
Chris noticed there was something different about the office as soon as he arrived. Always the first to show, he was used to walking into the room's muted light, hearing only the hum of the many machines' wiring. This morning there was a bluish light casting an unfamiliar shadow into one corner as well as a whispering sound--like a radio left on, he thought. Carefully he drew his gun and did a sweep of the rest of the room.
After an initial reconnaissance, the cause of the incongruity became apparent. Like Hansel and Gretel leaving crumbs in the forest to find their way, Chris could easily follow a trail of clues to the source. The light came from JD's computer. The sound was from the computer's speakers, playing a Michelle Branch CD. He shocked himself by recognizing the singer.
On the desk was a large bottle of Pepto Bismol and the wrapping from a package of Ring Dings. On the floor was a sports bag, a cigar box, and a motorcycle helmet.
A pair of socks lay in the middle of the room.
Next to the open door to Chris's office were a pair of boots. The length was average but the heel was tall. JD's.
And on the couch, bundled up in the quilt Nettie had sewn, head resting on a soft suede pillow at one end, bare feet hanging over the other end, newsboy cap covering his face, was JD.
Chris set his attaché case down beside his desk as quietly as possible, then lowered himself carefully into his Aeron chair. He wanted to laugh at the rumbling snores filtering through the cap, but it was based on a painful sight. The cause of this could only be bad news to the team as a whole but, more importantly, to the friendship of two people he cared about deeply.
He looked closer and noticed a white business envelope clutched in JD's hands. It was addressed to him, so, reaching out, he pulled it free. Watching for any movement, he reached over in slow motion, got his letter opener, and slit the envelope. Unfolding the paper, he read it and nodded his head. It said exactly what he thought it was going to say. He placed it on his desk blotter and leaned back in his chair.
Chris couldn't help but think of his son Adam. The week's events had brought back all his horrible memories. He thought perhaps he had the same feelings about bombings as JD had about hospitals. After spending years watching his mother slip away surrounded by white-coated, helpless doctors who could do little about the pain, just the mere whiff of antiseptic was enough to revive the fear and horror he had experienced. For Chris, just seeing the alligatored wood of an extinguished fire caused a pain in his gut that still took forever to go away.
But this time a new layer had been added to the anguish. He'd seen from the start that the relationship his former partner had with JD was very similar to the one Buck had had with his "nephew." There was a fierce protectiveness and a goofy pride. There was an incredible patience that sprung from a place normally unseen in the energetic man. And there was something undeniable--an emotional closeness that went beyond words--that was palpable when the two were together. Like a father and a son.
Once they'd bonded, Chris had learned better than to separate them during a case. Other teams shook up their pairings to keep their relationships from going sour. Team Seven kept to the same roster as often as possible. If JD was needed in surveillance, Buck was assigned as back-up. If Buck was in the field, JD was his contact. If they were going in on a bust, Buck and JD went in together--and they all came out together because of it.
Up until now, he had always wondered what would happen to the team if there was a falling-out. As cohesive as they were, one change, one shift in the wrong direction, and the whole thing could detonate like the tightly charged atoms in nuclear bomb. He never considered that it could be between Buck and JD. Buck had proven time and time again that he could endure whatever was thrown at him and not waver. He felt JD had been showing this quality as well. Now he was no longer sure.
What had it taken for the young man to write a letter of resignation? He had sacrificed everything to join the ATF. He'd epitomized persistence to get the job, and his enthusiasm and commitment hadn't lessened since his first day with the team. Chris had never seen a fire burning so brightly in anyone he'd ever worked with.
So it must be something pretty bad for it come to this.
Fluidly he removed the newsboy cap and tossed it onto the desk. "Wake-ee, wake-ee." he said in a singsong voice. Black eyelashes fluttered open, followed by two very large, very surprised deep brown eyes.
"Chris! Omigod what time is it I was only going to rest for a few minutes." The words tumbled out of his mouth.
"What time was that?"
"About five." JD checked his mouth and the pillow for drool, at the same time slicking down his unkempt black hair. He sat up and placed his bare feet on the cold floor. "Shit."
He looked out the window with blurry eyes. "I gotta check the computer." He began to stand but Chris placed a hand on his shoulder and pushed him back down on the couch.
"You need to tell me what's going on."
"I've gotten three similar sequences on e-mails that were sent through the remailer so I'm working on them to check the traffic pattern. That should give us--"
"I'm not talking about the case, kid." Suddenly he turned his head towards the main office's entrance and seconds later Vin walked in. The Texan started towards them but Chris deftly closed his office door.
"Suppose it's futile to change the lock." Turning once again, he saw Josiah arrive. Chris stood up and closed the blinds on the room's glass wall. "You have about a minute to tell me what happened before the troops storm the fortress."
JD felt as if he'd been called to the principal's office. "Buck and I--"
A firm knock interrupted them.
Chris opened his door with a violent whoosh of air. "Not now!" he growled.
Without a word, Vin handed him two cups of coffee and touched his forehead in a teasing salute, before closing the door gently.
JD took the offered cup, happy to delay his response. But the look in his supervisor's eyes didn't allow for anything but a small happiness. "Buck and I had a fight. I didn't want to stay in the duplex so I decided to come back and work in the office."
The young agent looked up at him with innocent eyes. "I'm working on the e-mails."
Chris couldn't decide whether to smile at the ruse or empty his coffee cup over JD's head. "A fight about ," he prompted the youth.
"About Jake Gardner." He squirmed on the couch and started to get up but the cold floor of the highly air-conditioned office stopped him from a desired pacing.
"Yeah, I figured that was going to be touched on sooner or later."
"Well yeah." Shoulders slumped and his head hung low as he talked. "Buck and I have been having troubles since Jake's arrival. He's become distant, and I'm not used to that. Buck won't talk to me about Jake or his feelings or anything. We've had a couple of explosions--little ones--before this. My getting drunk certainly didn't help."
Chris nodded agreement and put down his coffee cup. He picked up the newsboy cap, which had covered the resignation letter. Fingering the soft material for a moment, he held it out to JD. He picked up the letter next and did the same.
"Now tell me what it's really about."
JD took the cap.
It all spilled out then--how he had been feeling about Buck before the Gardners' appearance and his feelings when he learned that Jake could be Buck's son. What had happened when he got drunk and saw Buck, and that he was having a DNA test run. That the Gardners' tour schedule was the same route as the bombings. That Buck's response to his questions about being left out was that it was a "family" thing and how he'd heard that before when his Big Brother left him. The strange comments Jake made to him at the barbecue about the bombings helping their cause. That Josiah said love was unconditional and Vin said that fathers don't leave because of their children. And Buck had never refused to talk to him about anything, anything, in the past. How Nathan said that Buck didn't leave people. He thought Ezra had said something about him being jealous of Jake finding his father. How he left Boston after his mother died and almost left the ATF the first year when he accidentally shot the innocent woman. Buck told him that he was angry with him for being what his son was not and that's why he slept in the office.
Chris tried to make sense of the garbled confession. He preferred things in black and white--not the multi-colored mess JD was painting. His first thought was shame that he hadn't noticed the heavy burden that had been pressing down on him all this time. He figured there'd be problems at Jake's arrival. He hadn't figured those problems would be bigger than just a simple adjustment in their relationship.
The bombs going off weren't just outside on the streets, he philosophized. JD's very heart was ticking down the seconds to an unprecedented explosion.
What the hell could he do to make things right?
He couldn't answer more than one argument at a time, so he decided to choose the one for which he was the surest.
"We're talking about Buck here," he tried to persuade the troubled man. "I know more than anyone how impossible it is to redirect his loyalties. I'm sure he's not I'm sure he still cares about you."
JD conceded the fact resolutely. It was the response he expected from Chris. He stood up and stuck his hands in his jeans' pockets, surprised to find the tie still in his right front pocket where he'd stuffed it into the night before. "Well, I'm not sure about that." He fingered the silky material, then clenched it in his hand. "I'm only sure of one thing. I can't work with him anymore."
"Don't you think that's a bit rash?" Chris rejected the idea. "You need to cool out, he needs to cool out. " He shrugged. "You guys have never had an argument this big. Jesus, the first knock-down, drag-out fight Buck and I had damned if I can remember now what it was about. Something I did, I'm sure. It took a while--" He offered a rare smile "It took a lot of effort on my part to make things right again but I think that was more to prove it to myself than him."
Chris once again offered the letter. "You want to shred this or should I?
JD made no effort to take the piece of paper. "I'm going to go check on the computer."
Opening the door, both men found four of their teammates grouped together around Josiah's and Nathan's desks. Buck was at his own desk, writing on a notepad.
JD's socks and boots were set beside his chair.
Nathan looked up from their conference. "Just got another call. There's been another explosion."
"We were about to pass the news to you," Ezra added.
"They were just choosing straws to see who the victim would be," Buck called out coolly from across the room.
"Not now, Buck." The edge in Chris's voice cut off any response as he shook his head. "Okay, pass me the intel on the way there. Vin, you go with me. Nathan, Ezra, Buck--bring up the van." He placed a firm hand on JD's shoulder. "You and Josiah stay here." He looked at the youngest team member. "If there's anything on their computers, we'll bring it back. Better you keep working."
"Yes, sir." He slowly walked across the room and managed to pick up his boots without making eye contact with his former roommate. But he did notice how Buck picked up all his necessary gear mirroring the same action.
"Okay, boys," Buck shouted out with a forced bravado. "We're cocked, locked, and ready to rock."
He didn't seem to notice the scathing looks that were returned by his teammates as they headed out the door.
"So," Josiah cracked his knuckles as the room emptied. "How are those trains running, John Dunne?"
Vin was the first call in, about an hour after they left. JD let Josiah pick up the phone as he concentrated on cracking the encryptions of the e-mailed bomb threats. He half-listened to the conversation, trying to learn what information Vin was telling him about the bombing, but all he heard on their side was a confirmation from Josiah that they had had breakfast. After hanging up, the profiler turned on the office's small television set and settled into a chair to watch the news.
"No casualties, thank God. Someone drove by a doctor's office and threw a cement block through the front window. That was followed by about twenty baby-food jars filled with gasoline and a Molotov cocktail. Blew the ceiling out."
JD got up and joined his teammate in front of the TV. News helicopters circled about the burning building like sharks around their prey. "Not very sophisticated."
Josiah glanced up at the younger man, questioning his remark.
"I mean, the first event had specially rigged pipe bombs. And in the second, they had to set up those toys to go off at the same time."
"Good point. You think this is someone different, then?"
He shrugged and returned to his computer. "I'm just saying, that's all. You're the one who's been analyzing all the previous events."
Josiah switched off the TV and walked over to his desk to pick up his current reports. Leafing through them, he came over to sit in Buck's chair. "Well, every bombing has been different. The only consistency is that there's always some child-related item involved."
"The baby food jars. Then I guess I'm wrong."
"Mmmm." The older agent scanned through the information again.
Nathan contacted them next. Once again, Josiah took the call and reported on their breakfast as well as JD's general demeanor and activities. He added his own endeavors to the list of goings-on but JD already suspected that his teammates were less worried about the older man than their troubled youngest member.
Ezra called a half hour later. He had to smile when Josiah reported not only on their breakfast but also that they had just ordered lunch in. After hanging up, he was informed that most of the team members would be returning to the office shortly and had asked that they order more pizzas.
Fifteen minutes later, when the phone rang, JD picked it up. "Don't worry Chris, I'm eating. We ordered pepperoni and sausage, just like you like. And a ham and pineapple just for me."
The silence on the other side of the line surprised him. Finally a soft voice said, "Don't we normally split that?"
"Here's Josiah." He handed the phone to his teammate and fled out of the room. Had he really thought that he would never speak with Buck again? Not for much longer, anyway.
He walked down the hallway. Two lefts, a right, and he was at the floor's computer mainframe room. As one of the few ATF employees with access, he realized it was a safe place to hide and keyed in with his card, The hum of the computers around him matched the buzzing in his head. Crossing his arms tightly around his chest, he backed into a corner, trying to make himself as small as possible.
He'd better get his act together. This wasn't high school. It was his job, goddamnit, and he didn't want them to realize he really was the kid they teased about being. None of this should be affecting him the way it was. There were much more important things to be considered, not in the least was the destruction and danger of the bombs exploding around his adopted city.
He was an asshole. A total asshole. Buck hadn't done anything wrong--he hadn't deserted him, he was just spending what little time he had with his newly discovered family. Until last night, he'd been very patient with him. Seemed almost concerned when he stupidly let his emotions be seen. "JD's so sensitive," he whispered. A sensitive wimp. At least Buck got a tough son. A jerk but tough.
His own father wouldn't be so lucky. But no chance of that. No chance of them ever meeting accidentally, casually, unwittingly. That door had been shut and sealed. That door had slammed in his face.
It didn't matter.
He didn't care.
He didn't care Mike didn't care Buck didn't care.
He wiped away a tear.
Buck did care and right now he hated him for it. Not hated him, he corrected himself. Angry with him. And angry with himself.
Angry for being an asshole.
Angry for letting this get to him, for letting Buck in, in the first place.
Angry that it had come to this.
Angry that he couldn't be tougher, colder, harder.
Angry that he wasn't worth a father's love.
Buck was right--he was jealous. He'd better get his act together. He had a job to do. Nobody cared about what he was feeling when there were more important things to do. There were people he had to save, that's what he did. Did everything he could to make the world a safer place for everyone else. They really weren't concerned about his petty jealousies.
Chris got it right. Don't get invested--be able to walk away. Don't get too attached. Bet Chris didn't have a cigar box to drag him down.
Chris didn't have anything, he reminded himself, because it had all burned to a crisp.
He had a cause. A mission.
He angrily wiped away another tear.
So JD wouldn't have a family. So he wouldn't have love. He would have a purpose--he would do what he was best at day after day, one foot in front of the other, until he died.
Still confused but calmer, he unclenched his body and walked out of the room.
He was an asshole, he acknowledged.
And a fucking drama queen.
His legs felt like jelly as he entered the office. Josiah and Nathan were standing together near the file cabinets, scanning through reports. Vin was on the phone, writing notes in his chicken scratch on a yellow tablet. Ezra was in Chris's office, and the conversation did not appear to be a pleasant one.
Buck was seated at their desk, also on the phone. JD unconsciously stopped several feet away, like a deer caught in the headlights. He watched the back of Buck's head, tilting, nodding, disagreeing in the conversation. He was still wearing his ATF jacket. He needed a haircut. He had asked JD to leave their home.
Uncannily Buck turned around and caught sight of his teammate.
"Let me call you back," he spoke into the receiver. He set the phone in its cradle and gathered some file folders. "I'm going to go work in the war room." Standing up, he dipped into his pocket and brought out two bottles of pills and an inhaler. "You forgot your allergy medicine."
"No, I didn't. I took enough with me."
Buck placed them on the desk. "Maybe you should take it. You don't want to run out."
He stared at the small bottles. What was he supposed to say? Everyone was watching them, although they were trying their hardest not to show it. "Sure. Whatever."
"I'm going to have more for you to work with in a short while," Buck continued. "But not much. This doesn't seem to be as planned out as the other attacks but the pattern behind this whole thing seems to be that there isn't a pattern, so. "
Good. They were going to talk about work. If that was all they talked about, everything would be fine. He nodded. "I felt that way, too. It wouldn't take long to put something like this together."
"A trip to the supermarket, a stop at the gas station, and you're in business."
Even better. Everyone could see they both could act like adults. They could work together to finish this case. "Any prints?"
Buck shook his head. "Not initially. But Forensics is still working on it."
"I can stop down there later. I need to check in with Ming Yu, anyway--" He stopped abruptly and waved the offer away with a casual gesture. He would be going down to check on the DNA tests. By the flare in Buck's eyes, he obviously remembered the reason.
"You do what you need to do." The clipped words ended the conversation. Buck picked up the files and left the room.
JD forced himself to move, somehow finding his way over to his chair. He knew there were other people in the room, he was aware of their staring, but he could only focus on the few inches in front of him that he could see. The rest of the world was out of focus and tilting dangerously. He sat in front of his computer, trying to ignore any peripheral vision. He had a purpose. He would do what he did best. He barely felt the plastic sheath of the mouse as he touched it to bring the screen back up.
Finally Vin broke the silence. "We saved you a couple of slices," he pointed out.
"Thanks." He wasn't the least bit hungry, but if he didn't eat something, he'd bring too much attention to himself. He shoved a slice into his mouth and tried not to gag on the gluey wad of dough. Raising a napkin to his lips, he tried to surreptitiously spit it out, and threw it in the garbage.
His other teammates played a game of "Mother, May I?" glancing over at each other to see who was going to walk over to him first, but Chris quickly ended the contest and strode to JD's desk.
The young agent circumvented any personal discourse by initiating the conversation. "No threats e-mailed in on this one?"
"Nope." Chris took his lead and kept it to business. "How's the rest going?"
"Not so good." The other agents gathered around as JD updated them on his progress. "I'm trying to trace back to the sender or senders of the e-mail threats. With this type of remailer system, I can usually correlate the key exchange protocols and by breaking the encryption, I can trace it forward to the sender."
"Remailer system?" Vin asked.
"Key exchange protocols?" Ezra asked.
Josiah beamed. "Makes sense to me."
"But it's more complicated than I thought," he continued blithely. "I'm trying to do what's called a 'man-in-the-middle' attack. Sorta get inbetween the messages."
"So what's the problem?"
"The sender has set up a reply block, meaning that he can send out an encrypted-scrambled-message and get back an encrypted reply without the receiver being able trace it back to the source. And that reply block has a digital signature."
"Chris," Vin whined, "he's talking Martian again."
"What's a digital signature?"
JD could almost raise a smile at the confused faces of his teammates. He spun around in his chair and opened up a new document. Thinking for a minute, he typed in a long line of characters, then moved to the side for easy viewing.
The line read:
"Definitely Martian." Chris confirmed.
"Now imagine this line going through an encryption process at least three times. With an infinite choice of combinations, there's pretty much nothing there to give you a key to crack the cipher." He stared at the bank of blank expressions. "It's not like Wheel of Fortune. Pat Sajak can give you the bonus round letters, but Vanna's not going to be turning any blocks around. There's not enough commonality here, that's the point. But worse, without the key that unlocks it, it's virtually impossible for me to recreate a signature that would be verified as valid."
His teammates' disappointment was evident in their duplication of slumped shoulders and grim countenances.
"Well, gee. I said there was a problem. I didn't say it was unsolvable."
"You said 'virtually impossible,'" Nathan reminded him.
"Yeah, the key word being 'virtually?' That means essentially. Basically. Not totally."
"Thanks for the vocabulary lesson."
"But what does that mean?" Vin asked, pointing at the computer screen. "Where does that come from?"
"A digital signature? It's a combination of passwords and instructions, like, you can stamp the time on the message. The passwords you make up yourself, usually based on personal stuff. The uppercase and foreign letters and dingbats add to the confusion."
"Keep on it, kid." Quickly losing interest, Nathan and Josiah headed for their desks, followed by Chris and Ezra.
No," Vin persisted. "What does that mean?"
"This?" He pointed at each section as he explained it. "Xos is for the Boston Red Sox, backwards, then a time stamp for message in. Thirty-six, seven, forty-three was my high school locker combination, then another time stamp for message out. The alien is because you guys are so clueless when it comes to computers. Then my mother's middle name, Jacinta. And then a kiss off. End of signature."
"Oh, okay." He ambled back to his desk. "Never would've got that in a hundred years." Pivoting around, he called back to his teammate. " We don't have that kind of time, kid. Do all you can."
"I will." JD discarded the document and clicked back onto his snooping protocols. Vin hadn't asked about the last two items in the signature, which was good, because he wouldn't have wanted to explain it. Maybe it was pretty obvious. Two being divided by one.
By late in the day, JD had uploaded several more programs but was no closer to tracing the e-mails. This guy was good, he thought. Very good. If it was Jake, he had to give him credit. If it was Jake, what he really needed to do was get into his computer. Oh, yeah, I'll just march right up to Buck and tell him that I want to subpoena Jake's computer to look on it and find the evidence to put your son away in jail for many, many years. I'm sure Buck would agree to that.
Finally, after capturing only two protocols on the reply block, he resorted to spamming the remailer. In a simple system, he knew he could monitor the message traffic--putting together his evidence by examining the times that messages were sent and received, or by watching the decreasing size of the messages, as each message in a chain decreased by a predictable amount at each hop.
But none of this was available to him. He'd already discovered that the bomber had protected himself by using a system that waited until it collected a large cache of messages from many sources, sending them all out at the same time, which defeated a traffic analysis. And he'd added to that by having the messages padded--making them all the same size as they went through the chain.
So JD turned to one of the simplest and most annoying of techniques--spamming. He sent a large group of messages to the receiver, and hoped that they would scatter back to the source, as well as bounce to any other receivers on the system. It would be unrecognizable among all the other offers for Viagra, penis enlargement, and debt consolidation, although in this case he decided to go with a more timely idea. His message was an offer for a Tie-of-the-Month Club, tagged to the upcoming Father's Day. He could follow it through the traffic and trace its recipients. Of course, this was also like trying to locate a black four-door Honda with a teddy bear in the backseat during rush hour traffic in Southern California by shooting a thousand paper airplanes through the air and hoping one landed on his target. But he was hopeful. At this point, he couldn't think of anything else.
Forensics called with the evidence in the latest bombing but JD rescinded his offer so Josiah went to pick up the reports.
Ezra brought him a Frappuccino at three-thirty.
Nathan yelled at Ezra as he had counted this as JD's fourth coffee of the day, and he didn't need to be loading up on caffeine.
Vin yelled at Nathan for discrediting Ezra's gesture and reminded him that JD could choose to drink it or not.
Chris yelled at them all to shut up.
Buck came in twice to check his e-mail. The second time, he paused beside their partners' desks for more than a few seconds and asked if there was any progress but the answer was no. Then he asked Josiah to go over the Forensics reports with him, and they left for the conference room.
JD didn't drink the Frappuccino. His head was already spinning, and not from the three earlier coffees. He couldn't think anymore. He pulled up a website of Denver hotels and tried to decide which was the closest. Then he tried to decide which one was the closest and still affordable.
He shut down his computer. The spamming would take some time; he didn't expect any results until the end of the next day--if he was lucky. Hopefully Forensics would have something that would happily beat him to the punch. Whatever it took to solve the case.
Undocking the machine, he stuffed in its bag, cramming some case files in as well. He set it besides his sports bag, which had been shoved under his desk. Looking around the office, he saw it was down to Chris and him. Nathan had left earlier for a date at the symphony with Rain; Josiah had commitments at the youth shelter. Vin was working the evidence again on a lower floor and Ezra was working the evening news press conference. He didn't know where Buck was.
Chris peered out of his office and noted the emptiness, then looked over at JD. "Ya headin' out?"
"Thought so." He set his computer case and motorcycle helmet on his desk. "I've pretty much inputted everything I can think of. Now we gotta wait until it starts giving something back."
"You're doing a great job, kid. We're going to get a break soon, I know it." Chris leaned against the doorjamb and crossed his arms. He watched JD set the strap of his sports bag onto his shoulder, then pick up his other things. "You're not bunking here tonight?"
"I think I may have outstayed my welcome." He offered a smile. "Though it is a very comfortable couch."
Chris smiled back. Office services had hit the roof when he and Ezra had pulled a truck up to the back of the building and unloaded the extremely expensive piece of furniture. Since it wasn't obtainable in any ATF office supply catalog it was, therefore, against policy. Chris refused to offer an explanation of where he'd gotten it and stated that when the cost didn't come out of the office budget, he should be allowed to bring in anything he wanted.
This was appreciated by Ezra more than anyone else--as he was the one who spotted the couch in a room full of the seized evidence of an arms dealer with a good eye towards interior decoration.
"It is a very nice couch." Chris winked at him. "I have an even nicer guest room at the ranch."
"You can and you will. Get your gear." He picked up his attaché case and locked his office door before they headed out. "Little good that'll do," he sneered. "How sad to be such a creature of habit."