TITLE: Ten Days
AUTHOR: Carol Pahl
MAJOR CHARACTERS: JD and the rest of the Seven
DISCLAIMERS: The characters of The Magnificent Seven belong to Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp, CBS, MGM, and TNN, Hallmark...
NOTES: Thank you to Phyllis, an excellent beta, who made my story so much better. Thank you to Mog for creating this great sandbox.
"Ten days. You be back in this office in ten days. Buck can move your bike, make it look like you're still around. I'll punch you in and out so the office staff won't know. The boys will make it look like you're working, that anyone looking for you'll be told they just missed you. But I mean it, JD. Ten days from now you'd better be sitting at your desk, giving a report of what you found."
The blond senior agent looked up from the plan spread out on his desk at the young agent's feeble attempt to keep a straight face while reining in his excitement.
"Ten days, son. Ten days. Anything, I repeat, anything threatening and you hightail it back here. Break cover if you have to."
"I'll be fine, Chris." JD Dunne wanted to yell, let the whole world know that Larabee was finally letting him handle an undercover reconnaissance, but he also knew that no one must suspect what he was about to do. Someone in the Denver Federal Office was leaking information to an elite group of gun-runners, foiling more than one sting operation.
Larabee's friendly grin morphed into his famous glare and JD gulped. "Your little plan ain't worth your life, Agent Dunne. No heroics, no grandstanding. Just get in, get the information and get out, exactly like you put in your plan. If you don't agree then sit down at your desk and get back to work on the Goescht case," he hissed.
The younger agent reached out his hand, "I'll be fine. Won't try nothing dangerous. Just get the layout, roads, doors."
"JD?" Chris stared at his young agent before taking his hand and shaking it firmly. The leader smiled at JD's emerging maturity.
The young man's smirk returned. "Me and Buck will be driving you boys crazy before you miss me. Oh, by the way, you want to break the news to Buck after you take me to the bus depot?"
"Last one and it's mine!" declared the teen sitting in the back seat of the ruby red 1995 Chevy Lumina. He flicked the cap into the back of the driver's head and started guzzling the amber liquid.
"Who said ya git da lasss one? Ya drunk more 'n yore share. Now give." The driver turned toward the backseat, his arm outstretched to snag the upturned bottle.
The two boys struggled for possession of the beer bottle, spilling most of the liquid.
"Look out!" yelled the shotgun passenger.
The car slammed head-on into the Greyhound motorcoach, its nose sliding under the bus's chassis, and shoved the diesel motor up and back into the bus's passenger compartment. The four teenagers and the driver died instantly. The vehicles, welded together on impact, drifted off the highway, flipped and rolled onto the bus's top, sliding off the gravel shoulder onto the needle blanketed ground. The bus continued skating on its roof until several large pine trees absorbed the inertia and stopped the wreckage.
Panic erupted in the bus; the passengers' screams reverberated in the enclosed compartment. Others moaned and struggled to sort themselves from the tangle of human legs and arms. Once standing, the people didn't move, unsure what to do to escape the choking smoke drifting through the ruptured engine compartment.
JD crawled out from under the three people who had been sharing the same seat row with him. He waited for his queasy stomach to stop lurching before scanning the disaster. The afternoon ride back to Denver had lulled the exhausted agent into a much needed nap after his nine days undercover and he was sound asleep at the time of the accident. He wiped blood from the side of his mouth aware his ribs hurt and his left wrist throbbed. Putting aside his pain, he stumbled around the stunned passengers toward the main door. The bus frame, bent from the force of the car, blocked the main exit. He felt the driver's neck and knew there was no hope for the woman.
"Out the windows. Push out the windows," he yelled. Smoke continued to pour into the interior of the bus. He grabbed a man and shoved him toward a window casing. "Hit the release. We've gotta get these folks out of here."
Given direction, the uninjured passengers began their escape, assisting those unable to walk or too injured to move on their own. JD remained in the smoke filled compartment, handing children out to waiting hands. Elderly ladies were guided through the escape route, crawling if able, or hauled all the way through the space if too infirm to manage the escape on their own.
The smoke filled the air, and the young man's lungs, while he continued his search. Ready to exit, he heard a faint cry coming from the rear of the overturned vehicle. "Where are you? I don't see you," he hollered.
"I'm trapped. I can't open the door," came a faint reply. "Don't leave me."
JD dropped to his knees, ignored the broken glass, and crawled toward the voice. Fresh air stirred the choking pollution and he tried to inhale more clean air than foul. Protesting, his oxygen starved lungs erupted into a coughing spell, igniting pain throughout his chest. He steeled himself to continue the search, ignoring the voice screaming in his head, 'Get out. Get Out!'
His hand grabbed the restroom door handle and pulled down. He could hear the fists pounding on the other side of the door. Pulling up on the handle, the door swung open and a small girl landed on his injured wrist.
Fighting lightheadedness, JD grabbed the child with his right hand and pulled her toward the window opening. She clung to him as he tried to hand her to another man outside of the bus.
"Get out, mister," said the fellow rescuer.
"There's a fire. It's going to blow!" Another voice penetrated his sluggish brain.
Covered head to toe in black soot, Dunne scooted through the opening and rolled away from the metal prison. He stumbled to a nearby tree and grabbed a branch, riding out another coughing spell. Unable to stop the burning pain, he struggled to inhale while ignoring the black spots dancing before his eyes. His strength failed and his legs turned to rubber, sending him to the ground.
The blast rocked the mountain roadway, raining shrapnel and burning upholstery on the fleeing passengers. Flames shot from the burning fuel tanks, sending tall plumes of black smoke high above the treetops, beckoning fingers pointing the way for the approaching rescue vehicles.
Emergency vehicles, highway patrol officers and ambulances converged on the accident scene within an hour of the crash. The critically injured received care before being transported by Air Life to Denver. The patrolman sorted out the details while the EMS continued to treat the walking wounded.
"Where's the black haired boy that saved my daughter?" one woman asked an officer. She explained about the stranger helping everyone escape the wreckage and rescuing her trapped little girl.
"Sorry, ma'am. I'll keep my eyes out for him. Sounds like a real hero." The officer led her back to the waiting ambulance and began his search for the missing rescuer. No one remembered loading anyone matching the description into any ground or air ambulance.
More passengers asked about the take charge youth who stayed with the bus even as the smoke thickened, who continued to assist others fleeing the metal wreckage.
Buck grabbed the remote control, taking his frustration out on the small inert device. He flipped through the channels, surfing for anything that would distract him from the nagging voice in his head. Where was the boy? Chris promised he would return in ten days. The ten days were up tomorrow. Damn, where was he? What fool idea had JD convinced Larabee would work?
The ladies man, reclining in his well-worn chair, continued scanning the variety of channels but his eyes drifted toward the empty couch, missing the sarcastic wit of his roommate. He gave up trying to convince himself that the missing agent would return unscathed; he just tried to convince himself that the young man would return.
Stopping on the local news channel, he paused to listen to the weather. "Scattered thunderstorms northwest of Denver will work their way east, drenching the city in the early morning hours. Tomorrow promises to be another gorgeous day once the low pressure sinks into lower Kansas. We now return to the lead story we brought you earlier. A Greyhound motorcoach, exploded after a head-on collision with a passenger vehicle. There are six confirmed deaths. The authorities have yet to release the victims names. We'll bring you more details as they become available."
Buck stared at the grizzly picture of the burned, twisted metal barely recognizable as a vehicle and his gut lurched. JD Dunne, mysteriously missing for the past nine days, might be on that bus. Uncertain of how he knew, Buck's heart rate raced. His young roommate rode that bus, of that he was sure.
"We spoke earlier to Mary Ralston, one of the passengers. 'Black smoke filled the bus. A young man took charge, shouting orders. Folks listened. He's the hero, saving everyone.' We have not yet been able to identify the mysterious stranger. Several passengers confirmed Mrs. Ralston's story. Whoever you are, more than thirty passengers owe you their lives."
Buck grabbed the closest phone and speed-dialed number one. "Chris, where is JD? Could he have been on a bus headed home, that bus that crashed on Highway 9?"
Within the hour, Larabee's close-knit ATF team assembled at Wilmington and Dunne's apartment. Chris refused to look his long time friend in the eye.
"Out with it, boss. Was JD on that bus?" Buck demanded.
Chris nodded, "He could have been. I gave him ten days, ten days to scout out Rock Rapids. He took the bus. I expected him to return the same way."
"Have we been able to substantiate that our associate did indeed use the public conveyance?" Ezra voiced the question no one wanted answered.
"I checked with all of the area hospitals. None received anyone matching the boy's description." Jackson reported.
"The report said six fatalities, four in the car, and the bus driver. One elderly gentleman expired during transport. The boy's not one of the fatalities." Josiah added.
Silence descended over the six men, men closer than most families. JD was one of them. None would rest until they were sure that their youngest member was safe and blissfully unaware of their concern or if he was a passenger, found and once again ensconced with the rest of their team.
"Cut it out, Buck. Stop it. Leave me alone." JD swatted at the irritating tickle. Another drop of water splashed on his cheek. The annoyed young man peeled his right eye open and peered into the inky blackness. His left cheek lay in a cushioning pile of decaying aspen leaves exposing the other side of his face to the collected drops of rain water falling from an overhead tree. The moisture followed the natural path down his jaw before ending its journey under his collar.
The pungent smell of the wet, forest debris, mixed with the steady drizzle, added to the young man's discomfort. Heavy rain clouds blocked any moonlight that might penetrate the thick forest canopy. Along with awareness of his situation, came the awareness of his painful injuries. He was soaked to the bone, his left arm throbbed in time to the staccato beat in his head. His lungs refused to let him inhale deeply, a tremendous ache in his chest. Worst of all was the hot, sharp pain in his upper back.
'What happened?' he wondered. A sharp crack of lightening illuminated his surroundings. Why was he outside in such miserable weather?
His mind replayed the jigsaw memories until the images merged and he recalled the bus accident. Where were the rest of the passengers? Hadn't he rescued them? Or was that a dream? Why hadn't anyone stayed with him?
The slight drizzle increased to a steady rainfall, filling the narrow ditch with runoff. JD grabbed a low-hanging branch and worked his abused body into an upright position. More lightening flashes and the closer rumbles of thunder propelled him to move to higher ground. The steep slope and wet vegetation hindered his progress as his feet tried to dig into the soil and prevent him from sliding back into the rising water. The forest landscape seemed lit by a strobe light, going from darkness to bright illumination and plunging back to darkness, as the intensity of the lightening increased.
A few feet away someone danced and waved but didn't offer a hand to assist him up the slippery slope.
"Help! Can you help me?" he yelled, his voice drowned out by a loud clap of thunder. He scrambled up the hill toward the swaying figure, now violently moving back and forth, and reached out to touch the fabric of a stadium blanket snagged on a branch, snapping in the wind. JD grabbed it with his good hand and struggled in a tug-of-war with the mighty tree. The bottom section ripped loose from the rest leaving him with a large square of material. Too small to offer much protection, he used his teeth and right hand, creating a crude sling. He slipped it over his head and gently lifted his painful left wrist into the sling. Getting the injured limb above his heart slowed the throbbing shooting up his arm. He spotted more items from the bus littering the forest floor. A few steps away he found a suit coat next to a neck pillow. JD slipped his good arm into the sleeve and added the soggy pillow to the sling.
The wind stopped and the trees became deathly silent. The young man took advantage of the lull in the thunderstorm to crawl to higher ground. With no lightning to guide his way, he stumbled over a fallen log, face first into a hard, rectangular shaped object. Metal teeth tore his neck when the hard edge bruised his throat. Choking triggered another coughing spell, sending fire through his chest.
'Can this day get any worse?' he though to himself. In the darkness he felt the strange object, trying to identify the mystery item. His fingers followed the teeth until he discovered another piece of metal, a zipper pull. He'd tripped over a suitcase! His right hand continued its search where his fingers found several small cloth things, items with small parts sticking out of a larger part. When his fingers felt smooth plastic circles and hard pointed strings, the pieces came together. Several small stuffed animals were nestled in the corner of the suitcase. Could they belong to the little girl he pulled out of the bus's restroom?
The respite from the rain ended when the skies opened to deluge the area and drenched the injured ATF agent. He could hear water rushing nearby and wasn't sure how high he'd climbed. The next lightening flash revealed a tree that grew perpendicular from the steep mountain side turning skyward eight feet from the ground. He stuffed the toys into his sling, grabbed the suitcase handle and struggled upward. JD's mud encrusted shoes slipped but with a goal in sight, he made it to the unusual tree. He slipped his right leg over the trunk, like mounting a horse. Pulling the open suitcase over his head, he used the lid to protect his lower back from the pounding rain. The soggy pillow offered a little comfort from the rough tree bark, so he pulled his injured, left arm in close to his body and relaxed in his unconventional shelter.
The local weatherman's report hit the mark and the thunderstorms moved to the east and out of Colorado by sunrise. The rain washed the mountain air and the forest seemed refreshed. Though the bright sunshine brought smiles to many citizens of the state, those impacted by the bus accident continued to deal with the tragedy. The survivors knew they'd received a second chance at life, though six families suddenly found themselves dealing with funeral plans. The six members of ATF Team Seven continued their search for the missing member of the team. Nathan and Josiah visited the hospitals and spoke with the victims and their families. Over and over they heard the same story of an unidentified young man who took charge and was directly responsible for many escaping from the wrecked motorcoach, a young man fitting JD's description.
Ezra and Buck descended on the CHP, interviewing the officers who'd responded to the 911 call from one of the passengers. Before the rain started, the patrol officers collected the passengers' personal items scattered around the accident scene. Other officials were cataloging and attempting to identify the assorted luggage, carry-ons and purses. Buck scanned the personal property, hoping to find JD's bag, hoping to confirm the young man had, indeed, been on the bus yet not wanting to believe his roommate really was involved with the accident. Near the end of the tables, Buck stopped and shut his eyes. Somehow the young Easterner had gone from being a cocky, too-sure of himself nuisance to someone who filled a void in the fun-loving bachelor's life. JD Dunne had become Buck Wilmington's little brother, more special than any of the many women with whom he'd hoped to develop a unique relationship. When he opened his eyes a familiar backpack stood out from the rest, JD's bag! He grabbed the nearest technician cataloging the items, his police training stopping him from tampering with the evidence.
"That one. That's JD's." Buck pointed at the brown canvas bag with a leather bottom. Tears ran down his face as he looked at the physical evidence before him. One of the passengers on the wrecked bus was his little brother, JD. 'Oh, Kid. Where are you?'
Chris and Vin drove straight to the scene of the accident. A uniformed CHP officer approached their vehicle when they stopped next to his patrol car.
"Nothing to see here fellows. Get back in your car. This is none of your concern." The officer, sent to secure the site, wasn't about to allow spectators access until more officers combed the area thoroughly, something they were unable to do during the previous stormy evening.
Chris and Vin carefully revealed their ATF badges, knowing not to make any threatening moves. "We believe one of our agents was a passenger on the bus. We haven't been able to locate him at any of the medical facilities receiving the victims," Chris explained.
The officer shook his head. "No one was missed. We still have to collect personal items scattered during the blast, but all the folks from the bus were recovered last night before the rain."
"Ya got any objection to us taking a look for ourselves? Won't touch none of the other's things." Vin's casual stance camouflaged the fact he'd already worked out the details of the accident.
The officer knew that he should send the federal officers on their way but he realized that in the previous evening's rush to get the survivors off the mountain before the approaching thunderstorm, they may have missed someone. "I can't officially give you that permission, sirs. I'll need your names and the name of your immediate supervisor."
Chris looked directly at the man doing his job properly. He wasn't much older than JD, levelheaded and having the confidence needed to be a law official. "Get on your radio and call Captain David Haskins. Ask him to vouch for AFT Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner. While you're getting your answer, we'll be gathering some equipment from our truck."
"You're Chris Larabee? The Chris Larabee of Denver's Team Seven? Can I I mean, may I see your badge again, sir?" the patrolman stammered.
Chris showed his official ATF identification, confirming his identity. "Better make that call. We've wasted enough time."
Vin returned from the truck carrying two coils of rope and pocketing his cell phone. "Buck called. Confirmed the kid was on the bus. Found his backpack with the rest of the passengers' stuff. Nathan and Josiah talked to eye witnesses who remember JD bein' on the bus."
"Let's find him." Chris approached the patrol car as the officer ended his call. "We just confirmed Agent JD Dunne was a passenger. We're not waiting. Four other agents will be arriving to assist with our search."
"No problem Agent Larabee, Agent Tanner. I'd like to help you but I can't leave my post."
"We appreciate your cooperation." Larabee hated throwing his name around but there were times when the extra weight moved mountains.
Each man used a different approach to study the accident scene. Vin studied the landscape and burnt trees. Chris looked for the skid marks and the gouges cut in the road's shoulder by the sliding metal. Within minutes the lanky Texan uncoiled one of the ropes and tied it securely to a lodgepole pine. He fashioned a harness for himself from the other end.
"Be careful, Vin. Keep me posted. Did you see something they missed?"
"See some stuff down a ways. Doubt it's trash. I'll take a look. Give ya'll a call if'n I find anything."
Chris fed the rope while Vin rappelled over the edge of the steep drop-off. Ten feet below the rim, the mountain side leveled out. The sharpshooter scanned the bushes for broken branches, for overturned stones or any other evidence of someone disturbing the landscape. Thirty feet farther he approached another cliff edge. What had he seen from above?
Standing stationary he listened to nature's message. Insects buzzed and flittered around trees. Birds, undisturbed, added to the environment's symphony. Normal sounds for a normal morning following a thunderstorm. His eyes scrutinized the plants and trees. Something other than leaves or branches danced from one of the trees. He carefully descended the rest of the way until he stood beside a rapid flowing mountain stream. Vegetation along side the stream marked the high water line, three feet higher than the present level.
'JD, what happened to you?' Tanner enjoyed working with the team's youngest member. The kid knew his way around a computer and tutored the other men without belittling whoever needed help. JD was often Vin's partner in crime for the many pranks pulled on the rest of the team. Would Team Seven survive losing one of its members?
A pool of purple across the stream, out of place amid the green and yellow leaves, caught his eye. He easily stepped over the water and retrieved a tattered Colorado Rockies baseball cap snagged on a tree branch. Tanner tried to swallow the lump that formed in his throat. JD wore the ripped and well-worn cap when adapting the persona of a street-wise, smart-mouth teenager. Vin watched the narrow stream tumbled down the mountain side as he pulled out his two-way radio.
"Vin, you find him?" Chris demanded.
"Found," Vin's voice cracked. "Found his cap. Found it next to a stream. Must have been a flash flood. I'm coming up to get more equipment before I hike down the mountain. I'll find him." He tucked the cap carefully in to his shirt.
"Buck and Ezra'll be here soon. Hoped we have better news ta tell them."
"Tell the patrolman there's a couple of bags down here. He want to send someone down to collect them or should I bring it up with me?" Vin put aside his pain and pragmatically offered his assistance.
"Captain Fuller's here. Bring the belongings up if you can carry them, otherwise he'll send someone down to help you. Be careful, Vin."
Collecting the scattered clothing, Vin carried the small suitcase and clothes toward the large Pullman case draped over the leaning tree. It looked large enough to carry everything he recovered. He took one more look at the tumbling water as it disappeared behind a small rise. Overhead the sun shone brightly, filtered gently through the dancing and skipping aspen leaves. A beautiful day, full of life and promise, ceased to exist and was replaced by the crushing knowledge that there would be little chance of finding JD alive.
He grabbed the suitcase, ready to flip it over and dump his load when the sight froze him in his tracks. A familiar black-haired head rested on a small pillow. Vin dropped the clothes and reached out his hand to check for a pulse. Though the skin was cold to his touch, he felt a steady heartbeat below his fingertips.
JD slowly opened his eyes and smiled when he saw his fellow team member. "Vin, I... What happened?" He squeezed his eyes shut, unable to mask the pain. "I ain't so fine, Vin," he gasped as he laid his head back down on the pillow.
Vin removed the wet suit coat and wrapped his own shirt around his young friend's shoulders. "Hang on, JD. We'll get you out of here. Just hang on."
"I'm getting too old for this." Buck Wilmington ran his fingers through his unwashed hair before setting his elbows back on his knees and rested his heavy head between his thumbs and forefingers.
His back ached, his legs were numb and his eyes burned, all the result from sitting in one chair for too long and for the lack of sleep. Less than two feet away, JD slept off the effects of the general anesthesia necessary to repair a shattered shoulder blade. Individually, the young ATF agent's other injuries were not life-threatening but when combined and smoke inhalation and spending a night outside in a thunderstorm, compounded the severity of his case.
"Feeling a mite low, Buck?" Josiah settled his larger frame on the hard seat of the empty chair. "How fares our young colleague?"
Buck sighed, "He woke up a few times, not really sure where he was."
Josiah opened his mouth but Buck held up his hand.
"I know, been through this enough times to know the drill." Buck looked at his wristwatch. "By this time tomorrow, he'll be talking non-stop, bugging the hell out of his nurse and us. It's just "
This time it was Josiah's turn to interrupt. "Shouldn't happen to one so young?"
JD's partner nodded "Weren't his fault, helpin' to rescue them folks. Then he got left behind, in the rain."
"Buck, he was "
"No, Chris shouldn't have ever listened to such a harebrained scheme, let alone give the boy permission to "
"STOP! Right there! JD's proven himself to us more than once. He took a good look at what was needed, made a plan, a good, well-thought out plan, that he followed to the letter. You want to prevent him from ever feeling confident that he'd done it right? Ezra's deciphering his notes, off the electronic gizmo you found in his backpack. He did his job and he did it well."
Wilmington hung his head. "I know, it's just...just seen them bring him up the mountain, all trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey, looking more dead than alive." He looked at his fellow team member, his soul visible in his eyes. "The kid's like my little brother; I gotta look out for him."
"The mother-hen routine?"
"I guess. I'm real proud of him, of what he's done. Don't know anyone else who's stood up to a formidable force like Chris Larabee the way he did."
"Thanks, Buck," came a whisper from the bed.
The concern and worry vanished when a huge smile blossomed. "Hey, kid. How are you feeling? Want me to get your nurse?" Buck hovered beside the bed.
"I'm fine, Buck." The tight lines of pain across his forehead told a different story. "She pretty?"
The two healthy men laughed. "Don't worry, son. I doubt, even with Buck's animal magnetism, he'll get this nurse's number." Josiah dodged the playful swat from the other agent.
A middle-age woman, the nursing supervisor, entered the room, ending the men's conversation. "Sorry to interrupt but I need to check on " She smiled when she saw the hazel eyes looking at her from the bed. "Good, you're awake. How are you feeling?" She checked the various monitors and pumps before listening to JD's heart and lungs. "Joe will be back from supper soon and will get you up. Visiting hours end in a half hour, gentlemen." Looking back at the patient she added, "Press this button if you need anything, John."
"Excuse me?" she asked, looking at Buck.
"Not John. He'd rather be called JD," Buck crooned.
"I'll make a note of that, JD. Remember, call if you need anything." She left the room, leaving the door half-way open.
"She's seems nice. What's the problem, Buck?"
Both men laughed, "You'll see, son. You'll see," Josiah said as he stood and pushed the chair against the wall. "Buck we need to leave. Chris sent me to get you. Got word about the sale in Rock Rapids. The boss wants us both in place before sunrise."
Buck frowned, "But JD's just woke up. Tell Chris I'm staying here."
Sanchez shook his head, "Nope. Said to bring you. We're short-handed as it is."
JD slumped and lowered the head of the bed. "Don't need a babysitter, Buck. I'll be fine."
"No way I'm leaving you, kid. Chris'll just have to find." Buck's protest fell on deaf ears.
"Bad enough, I won't be there. You've gotta go, watch the others' backs. Don't need someone else getting hurt on my account." JD mumbled from the bed, trying to find a comfortable spot to rest.
JD sat in the wheelchair, his broken left wrist nestled on a pillow. An IV delivered antibiotics and painkillers into his right hand. He stared out the window, his mood as gloomy as the gray clouds outside.
'I blew it. Chris gave me ten days and I blew it. I had the information they needed and I failed them,' spun through his head over and over again. Forgetting about the thick bandage protecting the surgical site on his back, he looked up to find an answer in the ceiling tiles. Pain shot through his shoulder; his eyes tearing. His body hurt but not as much as his heart.
Just over ten days ago Chris Larabee trusted him to go undercover, to collect information that would give the team an advantage when stopping an illegal gun deal. He was so close. He had the drawings and maps they needed. He'd even discovered clues about the office mole. Ten days. He came back in nine, with one day to spare. Then that stupid heroic stunt. He couldn't ignore the victims. Part of his nature demanded he rescue every last one of them. He messed up big time. His cover was blown when the press reveled his part in the escape of the bus passengers. He got the particulars the team needed before going into the bust but his injuries prevented him from sharing the details. Now the rest of the team would be taking down the gun runners without knowing the information that could give them the upper hand. And it was all his fault.
The throbbing pain in his shoulder made his head hurt, his teeth hurt, all of him hurt. The doctors removed a three inch piece of steel shrapnel from his back. A piece of the bus sliced its way through his shoulder before lodging in his scapula requiring the surgeon to use a stainless steel plate to stabilize the shattered bone.
Buck remained at his side until JD regained consciousness following surgery. Already one man short Larabee demanded Wilmington's presence during the mission. The six men joined other law officials in southwest Wyoming to take down the criminals. Were any of them in danger because he'd compromised their plans?
Slamming his fist on the armrest, JD swallowed the scream threatening to erupt. If any of the others were hurt because of his stupidity, he'd, he'd... he didn't know what he would do.
"Mr. Dunne, are you alright?" asked Joseph, JD's nurse, as he walked into the secluded alcove.
The nurse grabbed gloves and towels before dropping down to the floor beside the wheelchair. JD looked down at his right hand and watched the blood bubble from the IV site. A puddle formed on the floor, drop by drop. Mesmerized and deaf to any outside noise, he ignored the pressure applied after the needle was removed. Blood was shed today. Blackness laughed at him, taunting him with imagined horrors.
"Breathe, JD. Breathe slowly. That's it. Nice deep breaths."
JD blinked, trying to clear the fog from his brain. "What happened? What, what did I do?" He looked down at the new IV and at the additional bandage decorating his hand. Back in his room, he looked at his nurse, his eyes full of questions, as his body shivered.
"Do you want to lay down for awhile?" Joseph tucked a blanket around the injured man's shoulders and laid another one across his lap.
"No, I, I gotta wait for my friends." Color returned to his face and he snuggled into the warm covers.
A knock at the door made both men look.
"Mr. Dunne. May we come in?" A young woman, dressed in blue jeans and a white peasant shirt, stuck her head around the door.
"You feel like company or should I tell them to come back later?" Joseph's care for his patients garnered many compliments but he knew this was a time his patient needed a distraction from his worries.
He didn't recognize the woman but she didn't look threatening. "I guess. Come in." JD's voice lacked its normal exuberance.
She came around the door holding the hand of an adolescent girl. "I don't know if you remember us but we had to come thank you in person."
Clutched in the little girl's arms was a set of Beanie Babies. She walked up to the wheelchair, a small band-aide under her lip. Pulling one animal from the menagerie she set the little, gold-spotted horse on his lap. "You saved me and then you saved my babies. Thank you." Her little girl voice seemed so smooth, so like music.
"You're the little girl, locked in the restroom. I heard you calling for help." JD remembered struggling with the door handle, forgetting everything was upside-down. "You were brave, to keep hollering until someone could get that door open."
She smiled, pleased that he remembered her. "You're the hero. You stayed and got everyone out of the bus. When it blew up I didn't see you any more."
The woman pulled a chair over next to JD's wheelchair. "We tried to find you. None of the officials remembered helping you. We were afraid you didn't get out of the wreck. When your friend showed up in Janine's room with her Beanie Babies, well, you made one little girl very happy. She insisted we come visit you before we leave Denver. She selected Filly just for you."
JD was speechless. This little bundle of joy might have, no, would have died if he hadn't stayed and helped get everyone off the bus. His friends had each other to watch their backs and someday, when he healed, he would be with them again but now he knew he did the right thing. He didn't do it to be a hero; he did it because that was the kind of man he wanted to be.
"What is your name?" Janine asked, petting the cloth creature on his lap.
"John, but my friends call me JD. You can call me JD." The young agent smiled at the healthy child.
Janine looked up at the bruised face and started laughing. "My name is Janine but my friends call me Janie, just like you. Jaydee, Janie." She looked at her mom. "They rhyme; our names rhyme. Jaydee, Janie sitting in a tree." She grabbed a bear off her mom's lap and the horse she'd just given JD. She made her own music and moved to her own rhythm, constantly chattering and dancing around the room.
Janine's mom laughed and then apologized. "I'm sorry, Mr. Dunne, JD. She is so full of life, ready to absorb every experience. She just keeps going and going that I used to wish for a switch so I could turn her off for a while. After, well after the other day and I almost lost her, I ."
"Enjoy her every minute, ma'am. You have a wonderful daughter." He watched the child prancing the horse across the bed, the tiny bear perched on its back.
"Thank you, thank you for giving me my daughter back." Janine's mother choked on the words, wiping tears from her face.
JD looked at the door when Janine stopped and introduced Filly to someone standing on the other side. "Get in here, Buck. Do you remember Janie's mom?"
The ladies man smiled at both the mother and daughter. "Yes, ma'am. We met yesterday over at St. Luke's. How you feeling, kid?"
Janine looked at the large man, a frown on her face. "I thought your name was JD, like mine, Jaydee, Janie. Kid doesn't rhyme with my name. Kid and Janie sitting in the tree don't sound right."
The grownups laughed at the little girl's confusion.
"Sorry, little darlin'. Just like your momma calls you special names, I get to call my friend, kid," Buck explained.
"He's not a kid. He's all grown up. He's my hero." She returned the small horse on JD's lap and wiggled her pointer finger at the injured man. When he leaned over she planted a noisy kiss on his cheek. "Thank you, JD, for saving my Beanie Babies."
After the mom and daughter left the hospital room, Buck relaxed in the vacant chair. "Quite a sprite. Remind you of anyone?"
"Huh?" JD looked confused.
"You, kid. You keep going and going just like that little gal. Glad to have you back, little brother." Buck patted his friend's knee. "Ya sure impressed Chris. Them gun runners never had a chance."
"What? I never had a chance to tell you what I'd found in Rock Rapids."
"Then I must apologize for invading your personal digital assistant." Ezra walked into the hospital room, followed by the rest of Team Seven.
"But how?" The youngest member was confused.
"Ya forget, kid. Our resident con man speaks JD." Vin leaned against the wall. "He knows all them languages. Happens to know how to read your chicken scratchin', too."
"But, but " JD stammered.
The ever sharply-dressed agent hung his head. "Your colleague identified your backpack containing your PDA. Since we both share the same love of the latest technology, I extracted the data and distributed the same to our associates."
"Not only that son, he read what you'd saved." Josiah laughed, interpreting Ezra's twenty dollar words. "Got the mole, too. Got her before she could spill the beans. Got them all today. Good work, JD."
Nathan knelt beside his friend. "You feeling alright? Any new pain? Bleeding?" Nathan questioned, ever the medic. He looked at the new bandage decorating JD's right hand.
"I'm fine, Nathan. Quit your fussing. IV went bad. Got it fixed right away." JD clarified. He looked around the room. Six men, six friends gathered around felt very good. "I wish I'd been there to help you today."
Chris spoke up. "You were with us. Without your scouting mission, we wouldn't have come out unscathed. Take care of yourself. You're one of us. We need you back on the job." The team leader walked to the door and turned to face his youngest agent. "You didn't even need the ten days. Glad you're on our side!"
Where minutes ago the young man doubted his value to Team Seven, he now knew
he was an integral member. Each one of the men added special talents and
values that together formed a formidable force but it was the friendship
of these men that meant the most to him. He looked down at the small toy
and touched the short mane. Would the doctors release him to go back to work
in ten days?