When a Stranger Calls
This story takes place immediately after the events in our story Blast from the Past. It isn't necessary to have read that story to follow this one as long as you know that JD was seriously injured when we left him.
JD was enjoying his last day of sick leave as much as humanly possible. Casey was admiring the way the sunshine sparkled off of the tiny diamond chips in the promise ring he had given her. The young couple was spending a leisurely day at the apartment he shared with Buck. At the moment, his roommate was at an all day assignment watching picketers at the Federal Building. Because the team was on stand-by duty, Travis had given them the task of providing a presence to deter the protesters from trying to enter the building. The people were there because a high-profile prisoner had been transferred there for security reasons after an attempt on his life.
"What do you want to do for lunch, JD?" Casey asked.
"How about that new Hindu place over by the mall?"
"Sounds good to me, let's go," she said as she got up and ran her fingers through her hair.
The pair exited the apartment, talking animatedly about their plans for the weekend. They neither saw nor heard their assailant. JD crumpled under the force of the blow to his head. When he wakened, paramedics were lifting him to a stretcher.
"Whoa, what happened?" he asked as he tried to sit up.
"Just relax, we're taking you to the hospital as a precaution," the dark skinned man replied. "You were passed out in the hallway and your neighbor called us."
"Wait . . . passed out . . . No, it was . . . Casey? Where's Casey?" JD asked, becoming frantic in his effort to get loose.
"You were the only one here when we arrived, sir. Please lie back and let us transport you to the hospital," the medic insisted.
"No! I have to find Casey!" JD yelled as he tried to toss the man's hands off of him.
The screech of tires and sounds of doors slamming distracted them all for a moment just before the crowd of curious on-lookers parted like the Red Sea. Chris and the team arrived and JD sank back against the stretcher, feeling suddenly cold and sick.
"JD, what happened?" Buck asked as he went to one knee at his roommate's side.
"Casey, they took Casey! You have to find her!"
"Who took her, JD?" Vin asked.
"I don't know. They knocked me out. You have to find her," JD said again as he began to tremble. Nathan exchanged glances with the paramedics and they nodded as they prepared to take Dunne to the hospital.
"Go with him, Buck," Chris said, "We'll get started on things here."
On the way to the hospital, JD gave up his brave front and let go of a few of the tears he had been holding back. He felt sick to his stomach and his head was beginning to really pound. Buck didn't press him, he just sat with his hand resting on JD's shoulder. At the hospital, as soon as they began to examine him, JD was thoroughly and completely sick.
None of the neighbors had seen anyone who looked out of place that morning. Chris and Vin checked for anything that might identify the kidnappers, while Josiah, Nathan and Ezra questioned every one of the people who had been in the building at the time of the attack. The police weren't too thrilled to find that the men had already spoken to all the potential witnesses, it didn't leave them much to do. Vin and Chris went to Nettie, not wanting her to hear it on the news.
When JD had settled down, the doctor gave him something for pain and sent him to X-ray. They figured that it was, at worst, a mild concussion. Once the films revealed no damage, JD was discharged with a prescription for the pain and instructions that he should rest. Nathan met them in the waiting area.
"What are you doing here? Why aren't you out there looking for Casey?" JD railed at Jackson as soon as he laid eyes on him.
"The others are still looking. I came to take you both to my place so you can rest."
"Your place . . . I'm not going to your place. I'm going to look for Casey. I have to find her!" JD insisted as he tried to walk away. Buck caught him by the arm and held him back. "Let me go, Buck! I'm not going to lie around and rest while somebody's got Casey!"
"You will do as you're told!" Buck insisted as he glared into the angry brown eyes. "Has anyone checked on Nettie?"
"Chris and Vin are with her. The FBI has a trap on her phone in case there's a ransom demand."
"Ransom? For Casey? Who would try to ransom Casey? Her aunt doesn't have any money," JD protested. All of a sudden, it dawned on him, if they didn't want her for ransom, there must be another reason. He felt sick all over again. "Oh God, what if they-"
"Don't go there! Let's just go to Nathan's and get you into bed for a while," Buck urged. He moved to where he could pull JD and they headed for the doors. As soon as the cool air hit him, JD doubled over and retched for several moments. Nathan jogged over to bring his vehicle around, leaving Buck to manage his young friend.
+ + + + + + +
At Nettie's, Chris and Vin were watching helplessly as the older woman bustled about in the kitchen. They both knew it was her way of dealing with the stress of the situation but it still troubled them. Sporadically, Nettie would mention something about Casey's parents or things she had done as a child, her voice going tight with emotion. When the phone rang, all three of them flinched. Chris went to activate the recording device while Vin moved to put a supportive arm around the woman who was like a mother to him. With a trembling hand, Nettie lifted the receiver from the cradle and brought it to her ear.
Chris exhaled sharply when he heard the excited babbling from the caller, one of the women from the church where Nettie and Casey went every Sunday. He shut off the tape machine and went back to his seat. When Nettie nodded to him, Vin also slipped away to give her some privacy.
"What do you think?" Larabee asked.
"If they were gonna call, they'd have done it by now," Tanner whispered.
+ + + + + + +
Just as Buck was coaxing JD into stretching out on the couch, the phone rang. Nathan picked it up and frowned when the caller asked for Dunne. Looking at the caller ID, he saw that the call was coming from an unidentified number. Hesitantly, he handed off the phone.
"Hello?" JD said as he looked at Buck, wondering who else knew that he was there.
"Your girlfriend is a real cute number," a male voice taunted. "She looks like an angel when she's asleep."
"Who are you? What do you want?" JD asked as the hair on the back of his neck rose.
"I have what I want," the caller said. Before JD could say anything else, the call ended.
"He has Casey," was all JD could get past the knot forming in his throat. He wanted to scream and yell, he wanted to run, to run away from the whole mess, but most of all, he wanted Casey back safe and sound. The phone slipped from his hand and thumped on the carpeted floor before he launched himself off of the couch. Buck caught him before he reached the door, wrapping his arms around JD and holding him as his friend struggled. "Let go! I have to find her! Let me go Buck!"
After Buck got JD under control, Nathan called Chris to let him know what had happened. The whole team gathered at Jackson's house, Vin insisting that they bring Nettie along so that they could keep an eye on her. The pain medicine kicked in and JD was sleeping in the recliner, a frown still on his face.
+ + + + + + +
The search was moving into its thirtieth hour and the men were exhausted. They had contacted everyone they could, trying to find out who had Casey. No more phone calls came in from her kidnappers. After a very long day and an even longer night, the team was exhausted. They went to the office, to take advantage of the computers, looking over recent cases to see if anyone had an especially strong reason to take revenge on JD. Their youngest teammate was cranky and irritable, still suffering the affect of being knocked unconscious. Nettie had gone home, after Vin made sure that she wouldn't be alone. The FBI sent a female agent to keep her company.
As the day wore on, tempers began to flare. Buck wanted JD to go in Chris's office and lie down on the couch for a few hours and, as usual, the young agent resented the mother hen treatment. JD glared, figuring that his friend would get the message. Unfortunately, he didn't.
"JD, you really need to go take a nap," Buck urged.
"I'm fine," Dunne replied.
"You're exhausted, I can tell. We'll wake you if anything comes up," Wilmington suggested. He never expected the reaction he got. JD's chair bounced off of the wall as the young man rounded the desk and got right up in the mustached man's face.
"You're not my father! Get that through your thick, stupid skull! If I want to go to sleep, I'll sleep, if not, I won't. If you don't stop pushing me, I'm gonna knock you on your ass!" JD yelled as he jabbed his finger into Buck's shoulder. Wilmington responded by pushing the smaller agent away, causing him to stumble slightly. JD's temper exploded then, and he came around with both hands closed into fists. He took a swing at his roommate.
"That's just about enough!" Chris shouted as he stepped into the doorway of his office. JD took advantage of the moment of distraction and swung again, hitting Buck squarely in the jaw.
The bigger man staggered under the blow, clapping his hand to his face. Chris and Vin moved to stand between the combatants. Nathan rushed to check on Buck while Josiah and Ezra intercepted JD and steered him toward the conference room. They had scarcely closed the door when Larabee opened it again, glaring fiercely at the young agent.
"Get ahold of yourself, kid, or you're of no use to us here."
JD glared right back, shrugging off the restraining hands to get in the team leader's face. "Casey is my responsibility! It's my fault she's been taken!"
"Go home, kid, get some rest. Ezra, go with him," Chris said, turning to leave the room.
"Just like that, huh? You just make a decision and expect the rest of us to go along with it? Well not this time, Chris Larabee. I'm staying with this case until we find her!" JD yelled, his hands opening and closing convulsively at his sides.
"Go home, JD. You need some sleep."
"Go to hell!" JD shouted.
Ezra was not quick enough to get between them before Chris took hold of the angry young man and glared down into his furious brown eyes, "You're on suspension, Agent Dunne, until further notice." He released JD's shirt with one hand and relieved him of his weapon. "Ezra, please see that he gets out of the building."
Knowing that JD wouldn't stay put if he took him home, Standish headed for the saloon. Several hours and many bottles of beer later, he hefted the young man's arm over his shoulder and dragged him out to the Jag. Figuring that Chris wouldn't care where he took JD as long as he kept an eye on him, Ezra headed for his place.
JD awoke with a hangover the size of Texas. He frowned at the unfamiliar walls before clenching his eyes closed and moaning softly. Within moments, a light touch fell on his shoulder. Cracking his eyes open again, he spied the painkillers and water being offered. Pushing up from the mattress, he held out a hand.
"I trust that this will be sufficient to relieve your pain," Ezra said softly. "Buck dropped off some of your things if you feel up to a shower before you attempt to consume the take-out food he also brought for you."
+ + + + + + +
Seven days after Casey was taken, the team was no closer to finding her than they had been the first day. Judge Travis had taken them off of all of their cases until further notice. There had been no ransom demand and no more calls from the kidnapper. JD had returned to the office, suffering from a killer hangover and contrite over his behavior. Chris had fixed him with a hard glare and warned him that if he couldn't control himself, that he would not be as forgiving a second time. They ran down any and all leads they received, no matter how trite or impossible they seemed, coming up empty.
It was quiet in the office, Nathan and Ezra were out running down yet another lead, while Josiah was combing over JD's cases again. Vin and Chris were pouring over the other, fruitless, leads in the hope of making some kind of connection. Buck was at his desk, supposedly reviewing information but JD strongly suspected that it was simply his turn to 'baby-sit.' When his phone rang, JD picked it up without thought.
"I have what you're looking for," a voice taunted.
"What do you want? Is Casey all right? Please don't hurt her," JD said, his hand clenching on the receiver so tightly that his knuckles went white. Buck leapt from his chair, snatching up his phone and requesting a trace on the incoming call.
"I sent you something," the caller explained.
"Let me talk to her, please!" JD begged, sighing in frustration at the hum of the dead line. Looking up at Buck, he let the receiver slip from his hand to clatter on the desk. Even as Wilmington was hanging up his phone, the security guard entered the office with an envelope under his arm.
"Delivery for Agent Dunne," the man said, smiling innocently. JD grabbed the envelope, ripping it open and dumping the contents on his desk. A single, instamatic photo and a small, delicate ring slid onto the blotter. Before he could pick it up, Buck stopped him.
"We need to check it for prints, JD," he warned. "When did this arrive?" Wilmington asked the guard.
"Just came in a few minutes ago by bike courier," he replied, handing off the clipboard to be signed. He glanced curiously at the items on the desk before taking the board back and turning to leave.
"It's Casey's mom's ring, she never takes it off," JD said as he dropped into his chair and stared at the narrow gold band. "Why is he doing this?"
Chris had pulled on a pair of gloves and carefully lifted the picture from the desk, holding it so they could all see. Although she looked like she'd been crying, Casey looked unharmed. She was sitting on a bed in a nondescript room. Larabee slipped the photo into an evidence bag and handed it to Vin to deliver to the lab for processing. He picked up the ring, knowing it was too narrow to hold any kind of usable print. "Do you want to hold on to this for her?" he asked of JD. With trembling fingers, he plucked the ring from Chris's hand.
Of course, there were no prints on the photo; the kidnapper was smart enough not to handle it with his bare hands. The picture was scanned and enlarged so they could look for clues as to where it was taken. Copies were made for JD and for Nettie, the original became the first piece of evidence that they would have if and when they caught the guy.
+ + + + + + +
For Casey, once she got over the terror that he would rape her, the days blended into each other. The room she was held in had no windows and only one door. She had control of the small, bedside lamp but the overhead light was controlled from outside, so she couldn't try to attack him in the dark. He brought her food twice a day and she had a small bathroom to herself. She was terrified to use the shower, thinking that he might walk in on her but he assured her that he had no interest in her as anything more than a pawn. Her captor brought her a paperback book, asking if there was anything in particular that she liked to read. The only other time she had been truly afraid was when he came in and demanded her mother's ring. She cried and begged him not to take it from her but he insisted. Casey wondered if she would ever see the memento of her mother again.
+ + + + + + +
"Casey where are you?"
As I look back over these past two weeks, all I see is the frustration and heartache that comes with you gone.
JD woke covered in sweat, feathers flying all around and a constant ringing in his ears, Confusion filled his mind as he looked around trying to understand where he was. A weakened seam in his pillow had burst from his nightmare-driven tussling. As he started to rise he heard Buck calling. . .
"JD, kid time to get up. . . rise and shine. Breakfast in five."
I remember his look when he saw me. I got a sense that he felt sorry for me. I can still hear the conversation. . .
"Kid you get any sleep?"
"Don't start Buck."
"It's just that you look like hell. Maybe you should stay home and get a little shut eye."
"No way, Buck. Not going to happen so forget it,"
Case, I feel like pulling my hair out. . . every turn we take comes up empty, it's been sheer torture.
The team investigated every aspect of JD's past and came up empty. Chris decided to investigate Casey's family. JD didn't agree but one look from Chris was all it took to end his resistance, he would do anything to get Casey back.
Vin and Buck got the assignment of going to see Nettie. Needless to say, she wasn't all that happy with them. They asked her questions about her past as well as that of her husband, John, and his military career. Chris thought someone from his past might have held a grudge. They also investigated her parents and their businesses and clients, any every aspect of their lives that might help to find Casey. The conversation yielded a whole list of friends and former associates of her parents, uncle and Nettie to investigate.
I sure was hoping that they'd lead us to you, Sweetheart, but we only found another dead end.
The investigation of Casey's recent background was turned over to Ezra and JD. They were sent to the University to question her roommate, friends and professors. Her roommate mentioned that Casey was having trouble with some guy named Sam. It took a trip to the Registrar to get the man's last name and address. It was the first solid lead they had gotten since Casey disappeared but it didn't pan out. The guy had been on a two-week cruise that covered the time when the attack took place.
Ah Case, why didn't you tell me. . .? I know what you're going to say, but honey I could've helped.
Another friend of Casey's suggested that they look into a girl named June and her boyfriend. Ezra allowed JD to ask the questions, since the college students seemed to treat him more like an equal, not a threat.
"Can you think of anyone who might want to hurt Casey?" JD asked the couple.
"Why would anyone want to hurt her? She wasn't all that," June said haughtily.
"That's not what you said when she beat you out of that teaching aide position a couple of months ago," Bob reminded her. "You threatened to run over her in the street if you got the chance."
"She only got the job because she was flirting with the Professor. I'll bet she's sleeping with him."
Ezra put a restraining hand on his young teammate to stop him from advancing on the woman. He tried to steer the conversation back around to the topic at hand, Casey and her disappearance.
"Miss Bader, youthful supposition aside, do you have any information that might be of help in finding Miss Wells? Is there anyone else who might have reason to want to harm her?"
Your professors however, were real concerned about you being out. They said it wasn't like you to miss so many classes. Professor Weinstein said he'd give you extra time to turn in your paper, Case.
The teachers were not particularly helpful. All of them spoke fondly of Casey but none of them knew of anyone or had any useful information. After a long day of interviewing, Ezra and JD returned to the office to see if the others had unearthed anything.
By the time the weekend arrived Chris saw how wiped the team was and invited them out to the ranch for some down time. JD didn't want to go but they threatened to tie him up and carry him to the truck if necessary. They played touch football, took the horses out for a run and cooked up some steaks on Sunday. It was good for JD, giving him a chance to run off some of his anger. It was obvious that he couldn't stop thinking about Casey.
Ah, Case, I wish I knew where you were. I want to hold you in my arms. I miss you so much.
Buck and JD returned to the apartment around midnight to a ringing phone. Buck picked it up and frowned as he hit the button to put it on the speaker. A mechanical voice, not like the previous calls, greeted him.
"It looked like you were having a good time today, JD. Have you forgotten all about your pretty little filly? She gets awfully lonely sometimes."
Guilt washed over him as he thought about how much he had enjoyed himself that afternoon. "What do you want me to do? You want me to beg? I'm begging you, let her go. Please?" JD pleaded as he stared, unseeing, at the phone.
"I don't want anything from you. I already have what I want," the mechanical voice said before the line went ominously dead. Furious, JD slammed his hand against the countertop before dragging his fingers through his hair and pacing around the living room. Buck disconnected the call and sighed in consolation for his roommate's misery. JD shrugged off any attempt to comfort him, stalking into his room and closing the door. Buck called Chris to let him know what had happened.
"Did he leave anything?" Larabee asked.
"I didn't even think about it. Hold on," Buck said as he put the phone down and went to open the apartment door. There on the floor lay a box addressed to JD. Taking his handkerchief from his pocket, Wilmington picked it up and carried it inside. "Yeah, it's a box. JD! Get out here, now!"
Reluctantly, JD came out of his room. He looked at the box and his steps quickened. Before Buck could prevent it, he had snatched the package and ripped the paper off, dropping it on the floor. He opened the box carefully to reveal an object that was as familiar to him as the last one the kidnapper had sent him.
I'd know that watch anywhere since I gave to you for your birthday and it's engraved, 'All My Love, JD.' I'm so sorry, Casey.
+ + + + + + +
No matter how much she begged, Casey's captor refused to let her go. He'd moved a television into her room and brought her another stack of paperback books to help her fill the time. The meals he brought her, while bland, were filling. He did ask her about her preferences, which surprised her. When he came in and demanded her watch, she pleaded with him not to take it but he insisted. The next day, he brought her another watch, similar to the one he had taken from her.
+ + + + + + +
Three more long weeks passed before Travis ordered Team 7 to scale back their search for Casey Wells. They weren't happy about it but they were left with no alternative. Every lead they had gotten came up empty and no new leads were coming in. There were no prints on the box or the watch.
+ + + + + + +
It was bound to happen; it was only a matter of time. JD held his temper for as long as he could, not wanting to get suspended again. He hadn't lost control since the day he punched Buck.
"JD, I need you to gather as much information as you can on this Steve Davis that Ezra is meeting with tomorrow night. I don't want to leave anything to chance," Chris said as he dropped the folder on JD's desk. "I also need you to check the equipment in the surveillance van so that we don't have to worry about that tomorrow."
"Who are you putting in the surveillance van?" JD asked.
"You?" Chris replied, puzzled slightly.
"But . . . I have to meet someone."
"Reschedule it. Who is it, anyway?" Chris asked.
"Just a friend," JD answered evasively.
"A friend?" Buck asked, coming up behind Chris.
"Yeah, a friend. No big deal, I'll reschedule."
"This friend wouldn't happen to have anything to do with the money you borrowed from Ezra, would it?" Buck asked, concern for his young friend causing him to frown.
"How'd you find out about that?"
"He mentioned it in passing. What's the money for?" Buck asked.
"Did someone offer to sell you information about Casey?" Chris asked. Seeing JD's shoulders slump, he sighed, "You know better than that. You never just give money unless you know the information's good."
Ezra chose that moment to come into the office, blithely unaware that he was walking into a fight. He smiled at his teammates as he started across the bullpen. Suddenly, JD was standing in front of him, glaring furiously.
"Am I to assume that you are displeased with me in some way?" Ezra asked.
"You had to tell him, didn't you? You had to tell him about the money! I never figured you for a fink, Ezra!" JD yelled before returning to his desk and snatching open the pencil drawer. He grabbed the bank envelope and flicked it at Standish, striking him in the chest. Whirling around, he bumped into Buck as he strode out of the bullpen, yelling over his shoulder, "I'm going to check the surveillance van!"
Vin came in a couple of minutes later, frowning. "What got up JD's butt?"
Josiah and Nathan arrived a half hour later, having been giving testimony in an old case. Behind them, Orin's secretary arrived, carrying a large envelope. She looked around the office before going to Chris. "I have this delivery addressed to Agent Dunne. Is he in today?"
"He's down in the garage. Who is it from?" Chris asked.
"It doesn't say. It was in the basket with my mail when I picked it up downstairs this morning. There's no postmark on it-" she answered as the envelope was snatched from her hands. "What? Why? Is there something wrong?" she asked as the others crowded into the smaller office.
"Get JD up here!" Chris ordered as he carefully placed the envelope on his desk and opened his pocketknife to cut under the end, not disturbing the flap. When he upended the envelope, a shirt and a few snapshots spilled out of it. Using the end of a pen, Chris moved the pictures apart so he could see them clearly. As the others crowded around to see, the phone on JD's desk began to ring. Before any of them could move to answer, JD came jogging into the office and grabbed the receiver.
"Team 7, Agent Dunne," he answered automatically.
"You shouldn't be so out of breath. You're supposed to be a healthy, young man," the caller taunted. "Did you get my package?"
"Package? What package?" JD asked.
"You should have gotten it by now," the man taunted. "Your girl is very pretty, you know."
"Just let her go. Please?" The pleading tone of voice had the others rushing to his side as the line went dead. He let the receiver slip from his hand. Through the open door of Chris's office, he could see the familiar material and the snapshots. Trembling from head to toe, he bolted for the restroom. His friend's eyes went to the photo on the corner of JD's desk; in it, Casey was wearing the shirt that now lay on Chris's desk.
The photos all showed Casey in the same room, on the same bed. In one, she was sleeping, in another, she was reading a book, one leg curled under her and a lock of hair tucked behind her ear. She looked surprisingly well and healthy for a hostage.
The envelope, like the other packages, yielded no fingerprints. The flap was the kind that had adhesive on it, so there was no DNA to collect. The lab did discover a single blond hair on the shirt. It had a root and they were able to determine that it probably belonged to the kidnapper. He wasn't in the system, so they'd have to wait for a break in the case. The pictures were added to the other evidence being held in connection to Casey's disappearance.
Nathan noticed that JD seemed more irritable than he had been during the next several days. Buck said that he was staying out late in the evening, assumedly still trying to find Casey. Every time he tried to question his roommate, all he got was a stony glare or shrugged shoulders.
Four days later, Vin pulled into Nettie's driveway and stopped. He was surprised to see JD's bike parked next to the porch. Peeling off his denim jacket, he tossed it on the seat. He had planned to rip out some rotted boards in the barn roof and replace them. When he pulled his toolbox from the back of the jeep, he noticed the older woman coming toward him.
"Vin, I wasn't expecting you, too. JD's working on the roof. I'll have some lunch for both of you in a few hours," she said. Looking closely, Vin could see how the weeks of worry about Casey had aged Nettie. She seemed smaller somehow, more fragile.
"Don't go to a lot of trouble for us," Vin said.
"It's no trouble. It's good to have someone around. Been too quiet without her." Nettie's voice hitched and her eyes welled up with tears. Vin wrapped an arm around her, pulling her to his chest until she regained control. When she turned to go back to the house, Vin stood and watched until she reached the porch before going to the barn.
When he reached the roof, he found JD struggling to remove an old piece of ironwood. Vin waited until the younger man had the board loose before he spoke. "You really should have a safety line on, it's a long way to the ground, you know?"
Startled, JD whirled around, glaring at Vin as he set his toolbox on the roof. "You shouldn't surprise a person like that!"
"Easy kid, I was just sayin-" Vin began.
"What are you doing here, anyway?" JD asked angrily.
"I told Nettie I'd fix this roof."
"Well I've got it so you might as well go."
"You don't think you could use a little help?" Vin asked.
"I don't need your help! I can handle things around here!"
"I didn't say you couldn't handle it! I was only offering to help. You know I've been helping out around here, why the sudden interest in Nettie's roof?"
"Like you're the only one who can help around here? You know, Casey and I did a lot around here. We took care of lots of stuff that you were too busy to mess with. You remember when you offered to fix that gate on the chicken coop? You never got around to it so Casey and I fixed it for her," JD practically yelled as he gestured wildly with the hammer in his hand.
In a split second, Vin understood. He knew that JD blamed himself for Casey's disappearance and he was doing as much as he could to take up the slack. It explained the long nights and the irritability. Giving JD a nod, he took hold of his toolbox and descended the ladder. After stopping at the jeep to leave the box, he went up to the house.
"I hoped you could get him down from there before he gets hurt again," Nettie said, seeing Vin standing in the doorway of the kitchen.
"Again?" Vin asked.
"Yeah, he fell from the hayloft the other day. Said he just had the wind knocked out of him, but I was worried that it was more. He's been wearing himself out trying to keep things going around here. Two weeks ago, he run off those boys I hired to help put up the hay."
"He feels guilty."
"Do you think she's still alive after all this time?" Nettie asked.
"I gotta keep hopin' she is," he answered honestly.
JD finally agreed to allow Vin to help him put the new boards in place in the roof. When they finished, the younger man moved on to repairing a stretch of fencing that had begun to sag. Vin followed along quietly, helping as much as he could without making JD angry again. Finally, at dusk, JD scrubbed the sweat from his face with the tail of his tee shirt.
"That's all I had planned to do today, Vin. Thanks . . . for all your help," JD said nervously.
"It's alright, JD, I know you're just trying to help but you don't have to do it all by yourself, you know. Nettie has enough on her plate without worrying on you, too."
"Is that how you see it? I'm adding to her worry? Hell, everything seems to be my fault lately! I got Casey kidnapped. I'm putting the worry on Nettie. Fine!" JD ended his tirade with a shout as he threw one leg across his bike. Before Vin could even speak, the motor roared to life and JD was off, racing the engine, flinging dirt and gravel as he sped away.
Things were tense in the office for the next couple of weeks. Although JD apologized to Vin for shouting at him, he was still angry and hostile to everyone. Chris relegated him to the surveillance van indefinitely, because he couldn't count on him to keep his head in an emergency. No new leads came in on Casey, her trail was now cold.
+ + + + + + +
Nettie's birthday was in a couple of weeks and Vin wanted to have a small party for her, just the guys and a few of her close friends. He desperately wanted to ask JD for his help but he was afraid of pushing his friend. Finally, he approached Josiah to get his help. He left the invitations he had printed on everyone's desk.
"What's this?" JD asked when he found the envelope later in the day.
"If it is the same as the one I received, it is an invitation to spend a day in celebration of the anniversary of Mrs. Wells' birth," Ezra replied.
"Who put Vin in charge of everything?" JD asked. "That's all I want to know!"
Josiah got up from his desk, crossed the room and took hold of JD's shoulder. "You'd better get hold of yourself, son. Ever since Casey disappeared you've been treating the rest of us like freckle faced stepchildren."
Huffing annoyance at everyone telling him what to do, JD shrugged his shoulder. It wasn't even worth fighting over. He tucked the invitation into his wallet and began to think of things he could give Nettie for her birthday.
+ + + + + + +
The day of the party dawned with a beautiful, sunny and breezy day. Vin got there early, under the guise of fixing a broken ceiling fan. He took the old one down, telling Nettie that he had to run to town to pick up a new one.
"Don't you think I should have some input as to what you're putting up in my bedroom, Vin?" Nettie asked, irritated that no one had remembered her birthday.
"Well, I was going to ask if you wanted to ride along," he said, smiling at how easily she had fallen for his ploy. While she was getting her shawl, he sent a text message to the others telling them what time he expected to have her back.
Driving up gravel road returning to Nettie's place, she spotted Buck's truck parked in the shade. "I hope he's not looped that man into helping him with those heifers," Nettie lamented. JD had promised that he would move the heifers from the lower pasture to the upper one so they could get more grass before she sent them to market in a few weeks.
Hiding his knowing grin, Vin pulled up next to the truck and got out. "You better see if they're inside or I'll have to go find them," he said, following Nettie up the walk.
"Aren't you going to bring the ceiling fan inside?"
"Nah, it can wait till we see what those two have gotten up to."
"Surprise!" Everyone shouted when the door opened. Nettie took a step back, right onto the toes of Vin's boots.
The party went well, all things considered. Buck had used his truck to ferry everyone from their cars, parked down the road and around the bend, so Nettie wouldn't realize they were there. Vin had ordered a cake, chocolate, of course. Nathan and Josiah brought deli sandwiches while Chris and Ezra brought drinks. Buck and JD had been in charge of decorating. At first, Vin was afraid that JD would refuse to help but Buck insisted that he could get him out there and once there, he couldn't not help. Everyone got Nettie a little something, things she wouldn't buy for herself. The gifts were handed out, one at a time while the birthday girl sat at the head of the dining table.
Since he hadn't been there when everyone arrived, Vin didn't know which gifts were from which of the guests. He simply handed them to Nettie as she finished with the one before. Each gift was passed around the table so everyone could see the items before Mrs. Potter put them on the sideboard. Much laughter ensued over the opening of the 'Udder Butter' until Nettie commented that she had looked everywhere and couldn't find any to buy. Ezra gave a little wink when he assured her that he would let her in on his secret for a price.
"Likely you'll be bringing me the ingredients for pecan pie again," Nettie groused affectionately. She had found out that Ezra loved that particular desert and that he hadn't had a truly homemade one since he lived with some aunt when he was a teenager.
The next gift was placed in front of her and Nettie began removing the paper without looking to see who it was from. When she lifted the lid on the box, she gasped, drawing back her hands as if burned. "My stars and garters!" she softly exclaimed. Inside the box lay one of Casey's earrings and a collection of pictures.
JD broke into a cold sweat as soon as he saw the tiny, gold, post earring. The little angels were Casey's favorites, right after the diamonds Nettie had given her for her high school graduation gift. From the earlier pictures, they knew she had been wearing them when she was taken. Chris ran down to Buck's truck, hoping that there was a pair of gloves in the evidence kit they each carried. Grabbing the kit, he ran back to the house. They crowded around, peering over each other's shoulders to see as Chris turned each picture in the stack.
Casey did not look happy. It was as if she had been arguing with her captor. Her face was red, like she'd been crying. In other pictures, she was reading or sleeping, but the first few showed her looking decidedly miserable. The phone rang, setting all of them on edge. Nathan was closest, so he picked up the phone, "Wells residence," he said politely. After a moment's pause, he looked to JD.
Taking the receiver, JD dreaded putting it to his ear. "Hello?" he said.
"Have you given up on finding her? She is a real spitfire when she's mad," the voice taunted.
"Please, let me talk to her," JD begged.
"Did you like the wrapping paper, she picked it out herself. And so you don't think I'm a complete monster, I did let her send the gift she made for her aunt," the man said. "It's on Casey's bed, in her room."
The line disconnected as JD's eyes went wide as saucers. He dropped the receiver, pushing through the crowd to get to the stairs. Buck and Vin exchanged worried looks before hurrying after him. They found him standing in the door of Casey's room.
"What is it, kid?" Vin asked, putting a hand on JD's arm.
"Look," JD whispered, pointing to the bed.
The box was wrapped just like the other one, sitting proudly on Casey's bed. Buck moved closer, suspecting a trap. He thoroughly checked the box for any kind of trip wire or anything to indicate it was dangerous. Finally, he picked it up, surprised to see that it had no bottom. The wrapped box was simply meant to cover the delicate crocheted object sitting under it. Picking up the folded article, Buck saw the sheet of paper lying on the spread.
"It's for you," Buck said, holding the paper out to JD. It was in Casey's pretty handwriting.
"It says that she's scared of the man who has her but he hasn't done anything to her so far. She wants me to find her so she can come home and she's concerned for Nettie," JD said after scanning the page. He scrubbed at the tears blurring his vision, "Oh God, Buck, what am I going to do?"
+ + + + + + +
Days passed, as they are wont to do whether JD wished it or not. He simply went through the motions at work, doing his job and returning to his room at night to stare at the computer files on Casey's disappearance. Buck worried over him as only Buck could, suffering silently along with his young friend. May had given way to June and June to July.
Festivities filled the streets and the parks were filled with picnickers where ball games were played and children ran and kites were flown. Music filled the air as people gathered celebrating the day. Kids played while adults visited and caught up on the past years events. Jokes and laughter could be heard about near and far ... a good time was being had by all.
Night slowly fell on the city and the excitement grew as everyone packed away their things and got ready for the big show ... it was the Fourth of July and soon the sky would be lit up with an array of beautiful colors the likes some have never seen.
The blues would be the brightest, greens would sparkle, yellows would shine like the sun, there would be all different shades of reds and oranges as well as magnificent purples decorating the sky. Loud booms would erupt over the quiet, gentle park, some children would cry while others laughed and yet others gasped oh and ah.
And yet one lone figure roamed the streets of Denver, lost to those around him. Lost to his own thoughts, seeing nothing, hearing nothing but the beat of a heart that was present now only in his mind, belonging to Casey Wells, the girl who held his heart and now was lost to him. His state of mind was rapidly failing him, lack of sleep was taking a toll on his health and his friends were growing more and more concerned with each passing day.
Eventually, JD's mindless walking took him to the place he first saw Casey. He stood looking, imagining seeing her, he suddenly called out her name but she did not respond. Tears gently fell from his eyes as he she slowly disappeared from view and in her place sat a box. He wiped the tears from his eyes as he adjusted to the fading light and slowly approached the box. As he got closer, the cover of the box came into view and his name appeared. Fear griped him as he carefully picked up the package and hurried back to the offices of Team Seven.
"JD, you going to open that or do you want one of us to do it?" Nathan asked.
"No, that's ok Nate, I got it, just give me a minute," JD stood there, staring, shaking his head, then began to carefully open the package. To everyone's surprise, hidden within a mass of bubble wrap was a vial filled with blood.
"Nathan, get it to the lab. I want a full report on it as soon as possible," Larabee ordered.
"Right Chris, I'll have them put a rush on it and I won't let it out of my sight," Nathan replied.
"JD, they'll need something of Casey's for the DNA. Did she leave her hair brush at your place or in your car?" Larabee questioned their youngest agent.
As JD thought about what Casey could've left behind, Nathan headed out for the lab.
"I don't know Chris," he stopped and thought, "It's been along time since she was in my car."
"Come on kid, think, there must be something," Buck said.
"Ok, JD, forget it. I hate to do it but I guess I'll just have to send Vin out to Nettie's for her toothbrush," Larabee responded.
"I'm on it Chris," Vin said as he rushed out the door.
An hour later, Vin entered the Federal Building and took the elevator to the tenth floor were he found Nathan waiting. As Vin walked down the hallway, Nathan picked up the phone and called the lab tech, informing him that the item needed for the comparison had arrived. The tech sent out his assistant to collect the item, as he was busy running tests.
"Nathan, I'm heading back, anything to report?" Vin asked.
"Nothing yet, I'll call as soon as I know anything."
Half an hour later, Vin walked into the office. JD and the others looked at him for a sign but he slowly shook his head as he said, "Nothing yet, Nathan said he'll call as soon as he hears."
"Well, no news is good news, as they say," Buck replied.
The men of Team Seven began a waiting game ... Josiah reviewed all the material in their possession and still came up empty. Ezra called all his contacts from the streets but nothing had changed, no one had heard anything relating to Casey Wells or any new talent in town. Every angle the team investigated led them down a blank road. The hours drifted by slowly, a call came in and JD held his breath, as Vin answered.
"Team Seven, Vin Tanner speaking."
"Vin, it's Nettie, have you heard anything yet? I know you said you'd call but the waiting is so hard."
Vin shook his head at the others as he spoke, "No Nettie, sorry we're still waiting to hear from Nathan. I promise to call as soon as I know anything." After a few more words of comfort he hung up.
Back at the lab, Nathan finished his seventh cup of bitter, instant coffee when he heard his name being called ... pulling him out of his day dream.
"Mr. Jackson, I have the results you have been waiting for. Perhaps we should talk in private," the tech said.
"Is there something wrong?"
"Please, follow me, we can talk in here," the older man said as he led him into a small room. "First, the DNA is that of Casey Wells. Second, she is in good health considering her condition. There is nothing to worry about at this time."
"What? What do you mean, 'considering her condition'?"
"Miss Wells is pregnant."
Nathan looked disbelievingly at the tech and asked him why a pregnancy test was done. The man explained that his assistance ran all the standard tests.
Upon hearing the news, Nathan hastily thanked the man and hurried to the elevator. He waited a few seconds then ran for the stairs taking them two at a time. As he reached the offices of Team Seven Nathan paused to collect himself before entering. He found the rest of the team in the large conference room going over the material once again. All eyes turned toward the door as Nathan walked in.
"Well, don't just stand there, out with it. Is it Ms. Wells' blood? Ezra questioned.
Before he could answer, JD answered for him, "It is, isn't it?"
"Yes JD, it is. They ran the standard tests. No question, it's her blood."
Larabee watched his as the team medic walked over to the bulletin board and stood studying the photographs of Casey.
"Nathan, what aren't you telling us?" Chris asked quietly.
"As I said, they ran the standard tests. But what I didn't say is that it included a pregnancy test. Chris, just look at these pictures, you notice we never see Casey showing her whole body unless it's covered up."
"Nathan, we'll have to tell him. If this guy holds true to form, he should be getting a call soon," Chris replied.
Nathan and Chris headed over to where JD sat looking through the items Casey's kidnapper had sent so far and watched him as he lovingly held each item then placed them back in the evidence box.
"JD?" Chris said.
"Yeah, Chris, you want something ... something wrong?" JD asked.
"We need to talk to you. You know they ran the standard tests on the blood. What Nathan didn't tell us was that one of those tests was a pregnancy test," Chris replied.
JD sat, stunned, starring off into space.
"JD, are you alright?" Chris asked
"Nathan, how far along is she?" JD asked
"We can't tell from a blood test," Nathan said.
Before JD could react, the phone on his desk in the outer office began to ring. He ran for the phone and picked it up on the third ring.
"Agent JD Dunne speaking."
"Well Agent Dunne, I see you found the package ... tell me . . . what do you think of my little gift?"
The kidnapper asked.
JD started to yell at the man, demanding to know why and who the baby belonged to. While JD yelled, the man laughed, not giving JD any of the information he so desperately sought. Before disconnecting, the kidnapper let on that another package was waiting for him outside the office door. Dropping the phone, JD ran for the hall to retrieve the package. Once again they followed procedure and found no prints or any other clues that could lead them to Casey. However, inside the package were pictures of the woman showing just how pregnant she was.
JD slumped into his chair, clutching the pictures of Casey. Tears trickled down his cheeks for a while. Then he swiped at his face, sniffled once or twice and looked around at the others. Each of his teammates stood, staring at him with expressions of concern. Drawing a deep breath and exhaling slowly, he tapped the pictures square and let them rest on the desk.
"You okay?" Buck asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine," JD replied. "He's baiting me. We have to find her."
For the next few days, JD was distracted with studying the blown up copies of the pictures of his girlfriend. He felt certain that there was a clue there, if only he could see it. The others left him to his work, offering support whenever possible.
JD took out the pictures of Casey and scanned them into the computer; he carefully reviewed them inch by inch. On the third day of examining the photos he saw something on the floor near the bed. As he went over each of the other pictures, he saw the same logo over and over. JD starting yelling in his excitement, "I got it, I got it. . . I know where she is." The others all gathered around the young computer expert as he began to explain.
"You see the spot on the floor," he pointed to it with the cursor. Now watch as I blow it up."
All eyes were glued to the computer as the item grew bigger. "Well if that don't beat all," Buck said as he watched the item on the screen in front of him.
"Say, isn't that that new place over on Route 59?" Vin asked.
"I do believe you're right, Mister Tanner," Ezra answered. "It's that quaint little place where they serve the most exquisite food, for a take out place."
"Enough. Let's move, Nathan you got everything you need? I want to get this guy." Larabee said as he headed for the elevator.
As they exited the elevator the men all headed for Nathan and Josiah's vehicles; Larabee, Wilmington and Dunne all climbed in with Jackson. The others followed in Sanchez's van. As they pulled out of the underground garage, Chris called Travis to inform him of their latest findings.
"Orin, Larabee here. We have a lead on the area where the Wells girl is being kept. We're on our way over there now."
"That's wonderful news! Tell me where and I'll send team four to help canvass the area." Travis replied.
"You know that new place called 'Café Francaise' over on Route 59? We believe it's a house in that area."
"Alright, team four is on their way, should be there by the time you're all set to proceed," Travis said as they terminated their call.
Larabee and his team pulled onto the parking lot. JD leapt out, armed with a picture of Casey. Twenty minutes later, he came out with a description of a man who came in regularly for takeout and bragged that his wife was expecting. He had even shown them pictures of Casey. The waitresses also described the vehicle the man was driving and gave them a partial plate number. She remembered it because it was her daughter's birth date. Chris called Orin to have Team Four help them with the canvas of the area where the waitress thought the man lived. The search began with both teams going from house to house.
The hours passed slowly and JD was getting more and more anxious. Buck and Nathan found a woman who had seen a car matching the description the waitress had given JD. She told them that the car usually parked in the driveway across the street. They approached the man in the next yard, who was outside doing yard work and asked if knew who lived in the building next door.
"No, can't say as I do. But I'll tell you, he moved in during the dead of night. I went to bed and when I woke the next morning I had me new neighbors. Every morning, I see him go out. Every night he comes in with take-out food. Only thing is, I haven't seen him around for the past day or two."
"Did you ever see anyone else? A woman, maybe?" Nathan asked.
"No, Sir, but my wife caught him in the yard one day and struck up a conversation with him. He told her that he was a newlywed and that his wife was expecting."
"Thank you, you have been very helpful," Nathan said as he hurried over to Buck while pulling out his cell phone. "Chris, found the house! Buck and I are standing in front right now." He gave the address of the house as he continued, "We're going to check out the outside. What's your ETA? Right, see you then."
Josiah and Ezra brought JD to the site. Chris ordered him to stay in the car until they checked the house. The remaining four members of the team approached the building from the front and rear. Chris rang the bell and waited to see if anyone would answer.
"I think I smell gas, don't you Vin?" Chris said.
The sharpshooter looked puzzled for a moment, then he caught on to the idea. "Yeah, I smell it too. I think we should go in and make sure there isn't anyone inside the house," he answered. Chris kicked in the door and charged into the room. Vin came in behind him, gun pointed toward the floor as he scanned the perimeter. Buck and Nathan came in from the back, also armed and wary of anything that might harm them. "Back here!" Vin called when he spotted the basement stairs.
Once in the basement, they searched every nook and cranny without success. Buck stepped back from the laundry room and looked around. "Something's not right here. This basement isn't big enough," he said.
"You're right," Vin replied, "The foundation should go farther in that direction." He walked over to the wall and began tapping on the paneling.
In the car, JD shifted nervously. Finally, he'd had enough waiting. He was out of the car and half way across the lawn before the other two men got out. He burst into the living room shouting for his girlfriend. "Casey! Casey, where are you?"
Vin found a hollow behind the paneling and he and Buck attacked it with their bare hands. In a moment, they had uncovered the door to the hidden room. They ripped the door from its hinges and charged into the space, skidding to a halt once inside.
JD flew down the stairs and darted past the rest of his teammates. A strangled cry of disbelief was torn from his throat at the sight that greeted him in the small room. Casey's body lay just as her kidnapper had left her. Blood and amniotic fluid had soaked into the mattress. A syringe lay on the table next to an empty bottle of morphine. "No-o-o-o!" JD screamed as he gathered her lifeless body to his chest.
Buck grabbed JD and shook him, "Come on kid! Snap out of it!"
"She's dead! Casey's dead, Buck!" JD yelled before he surged off of the bed and vomited into the waste can.
"What are you talking about, JD? What happened to Casey?"
"The baby! We have to find the baby!" JD said after wiping his mouth on his shirtsleeve.
"What baby? JD, sit down for a minute and talk to me," Buck said as he pulled his roommate to sit back on the bed. "Casey's fine. She had to go to class. She gave you your pain pill and left after you fell asleep," Buck explained. "She called me at the office to let me know so I took off early to sit with you."
With his heart beating wildly in his chest, JD looked around the room. It had all been a dream! A horrible, awful, terrifying dream brought on by his pain medication. Relief washed over him as he sagged against his friend. "Oh God! It was so real!"
Casey rolled over, snuggling up against JD. Because of his reaction to the pain medication, he was being given another few days of leave. He had told Casey all about the dream, about the taunting calls and the pictures. When he got to the part about the baby, Casey looked at him, her eyes wide with surprise.