Author's Note: I noticed that JD never gets a decent enemy (except maybe himself, when the Annie incident happens), so I though it would be interesting to see how JD would cope with that responsibility. Let me know what you think. (Normally, I don't ask this much of JD, but I think he's up to the challenge!)
JD Dunne was more nervous than he had ever been in his entire life. Standing in the doorway to the renowned ATF Team 7 office area, JD wondered how he had been so lucky as to be appointed to this team. Of course, his record with the Boston police department had been impressive for a man so young, but it was only his technological expertise, coupled with the realization by ATF Team 7's leader--the greatly feared Christopher Larabee--that the team desperately needed someone with that ability, which had brought JD Dunne to this office more than two thirds of the way across the country.
JD stared in amazement at the quiet efficiency these men had, juxtaposing with the raucous laughter of the tall, dark-haired, mustachioed man, who had apparently just heard something amusing from the shorter, long-haired man who sat with his feet up on his desk.
Silently, JD reminded himself that the first man was Buck Wilmington, a former Navy Seal, who had belonged to the same Seal team as Chris Larabee. Their friendship was a thing of legend, mainly because the two men seemed so different. JD had heard that Christopher Larabee could be a difficult man to read, whereas Buck Wilmington seemed very open and gregarious.
The seated, long-haired man was Vin Tanner. Tanner was also a legend unto himself although most of what JD had been able to uncover about the man was still blacked out in the reports. All JD had discovered was that Vin Tanner was an exceptionally good sniper, cool under fire, and unassuming...unless he became offended.
That had been one of the few more accessible, less classified incidents. In that report, the normally quiet, reserved, and easygoing Vin Tanner had reputedly put a man in the hospital when the victim had attacked one of his friends. Rumor had it that in that instance, the sniper had used no weapons at all.
"Must we be subjected to such an alarming display of inappropriate office conduct?" A primly dressed man complained loudly, trying to be heard over Buck Wilmington's laughter. "Some of us are attemptin' to work, and your frivolous fraternization is interfering most adeptly."
Buck Wilmington and Vin Tanner exchanged a look, and then Buck retorted, "Somebody didn't get enough sleep last night." Ambling over to the well-dressed man's desk with a lecherous grin on his face, Buck Wilmington concluded, "So...who was she?"
The well-dressed man cast a disdainful glance in Buck Wilmington's direction before replying, "A gentleman does not reveal his explorations of intimacy with the fairer sex. Clearly, I have concluded from past conversations, you are no gentleman."
Buck laughed again, and JD found himself smiling involuntarily. He knew that the well-dressed southerner was none other than Ezra Standish, the best undercover man this side of the Mississippi. (Some people even claimed he was the most talented agent in the entire country when it came to infiltrating criminal organizations.)
In a far corner of the room, two men worked quietly. Both were tall, though one was more barrel-chested while the other was slim but muscular. JD did not doubt that either man would be a formidable force in unarmed combat.
The slimly built man did not even look up from his paperwork when he cautioned, "Don't say we didn't warn you. Chris won't be happy if he catches you three goofing off again."
"There is no reason to lend oil to those who would choose to be unprepared," The barrel-chested man commented in a deep voice, "For he comes without warning..."
JD grinned. The last two were clearly Nathan Jackson and Josiah Sanchez. The former was a medic with enough training and experience to be a doctor while the latter was the son of a missionary who--according to several foreign news articles--'had a little trouble turning the other cheek.' JD was happy to see that evidently Josiah Sanchez had finally found a place where he could be content.
In confusion, JD counted the men in the Team Seven office area, thinking that he had simply not noticed Christopher Larabee in his initial review of the large room. Under his breath, JD counted to five and only then noticed a presence beside him.
"Six," Chris Larabee stated flatly, standing so close to JD that the younger man jumped in surprise.
The man moved like a panther, slight breeze and shifting shadow his only companions. JD suddenly had first-hand knowledge of just how terrifying Chris Larabee must have been in his former job. Then again, the look Chris was giving JD now had JD reconsidering that appraisal. Chris Larabee was still a frightening man, not so much a force of nature as he was a primal energy, dangerous and unpredictable.
"When you're staking out a place, never leave yourself visible. Follow me."
JD nodded and obeyed without thinking. Had he already made a poor impression by not being inside the office area when the team leader had showed up? Full of doubt and fear, JD trailed after Chris. The attention of the remaining five members of ATF Team 7 almost simultaneously focused on Chris and the newcomer.
"Standish wasn't with anyone last night, Buck," Chris said calmly, "and if he had been, he certainly wouldn't tell you. Vin, get your feet off the desk; we're having company, which is why I asked all of you," Chris shot a look in Ezra's direction, "to be here on time. Nate, I want you to run an inventory of our medical supplies, and requisition anything we're running low on. Josiah, be prepared to offer a psychological analysis after we speak with our visitor. Oh, and this is JD Dunne, our newest team member."
With that short introduction, Chris Larabee turned on his heel and walked into his office, which was a corner room with blinds lowered over the windows that faced out onto the office. The door shut with a light snap behind him.
Buck Wilmington gave a low whistle of amazement. "He must really like you, kid," Buck commented.
JD glanced doubtfully at the firmly shut door. "That's his reaction to people he likes?" JD voiced his concerns, trying to keep the sarcasm and his hurt feelings buried.
"Jist wait 'til you hear someone call him a cowboy," Vin Tanner explained, which really cleared up nothing whatsoever for JD, but the remaining four men all made various sounds of amusement.
"And how did he know that you were alone last night, Ez?" Buck continued, his suspicions raised by their leader's confident statement that Ezra Standish had not had company the previous night.
Ezra Standish stared determinedly at his report, as though perhaps if he ignored Buck Wilmington with enough force the man might actually vanish.
Nathan Jackson was the first to understand Ezra's discomfort. Sharing a knowing look with Josiah, Nate could not voice his realization, because the conclusion was too hilarious.
Josiah smiled benignly, but then revealed, "Chris stopped by your house and ordered you to be here early."
Ezra gave a slight shrug, but only replied in a subdued voice, "Something like that."
Then, another man came into the office area, and everyone was distracted from Ezra's embarrassment.
"Is this ATF Team Seven's office?" The man asked uncertainly, and a few of the men went for their guns before recognizing the new arrival as no threat.
JD sized up the man, wondering what some of Team Seven had seen in this man to automatically assume that he was dangerous. He was in his mid to late fifties, carried between fifteen and twenty pounds more than was strictly necessary, and spoke with a slight British accent. Having never been out of the country personally, JD could not narrow down the accent any more than to distinguish it as English, rather than Scottish or Irish. JD nodded an affirmative to the man, but did not speak, because no one else had chosen to address the stranger.
Noting that JD seemed to be the least hostile man in the office, the stranger shook JD's right hand and pressed a business card into his left. Buck stood, as though nervous about this stranger being in such close proximity to the team's newest--and clearly most naïve--member.
The stranger smiled disarmingly and spread his hands in a pacifying gesture as he observed the tall, dark-haired man's protective stance. He would not have been surprised to hear the man with the mustache growl. "Please, gentlemen, if I was a threat, Security would not have let me past the front desk. Truly, I am here because I require your assistance."
"Chris," Buck called; his voice low, but urgent, and managing to not quite sound like he was panicking. "Your company's here."
The door to Chris' office opened and the ATF Team 7 leader stepped out, saying the visitor's name just as JD read it off the business card. "Michael Greenway," Chris acknowledged with a nod. "We have a conference room back this way, if that would be more convenient..."
JD noticed that Buck was giving Chris a look of bewilderment. As Michael Greenway, Chris and the others all walked into an adjoining conference room, JD hung back to ask Buck what the look had been about.
Buck shook his head as though trying to clear it of an unlikely conclusion. "Assistant Director Travis must've ordered Chris to cooperate with this guy. I've never seen him act like that when another agency is involved."
"But, how do you know he's from another agency?" JD inquired. JD had read what agency Michael Greenway was with, but Buck had not.
Buck laughed. "You know that speech Chris gave this morning? Chris is never that formal unless he's dealing with another agency. We'd better get in there before he realizes we're missing--"
"Buck!" Chris shouted from the conference room. "You and the kid get in here, now!"
JD grinned. "Before that happens?" he commented, and then followed Buck into the conference room, remembering to make his expression serious just in time.
When JD and Buck had taken seats at the elongated rectangular table and Chris' annoyed glare had softened, Michael Greenway began his briefing.
"I would like to thank all of you again, for taking time out of your undoubtedly busy schedule to address my concerns."
Michael Greenway paused for breath, and Vin stated quietly, "Didn't reckon we had a choice in the matter."
"Mistah Tanner, I am certain Mistah Greenway's comment was meant merely as a pleasantry, rather than an alternative possibility for our behavior," Ezra guessed.
Chris' glare silenced both men, and then Chris said, "My men are the best in their field, Mr. Greenway, but they are easily distracted. If you have something to tell us, I suggest you make it quick."
Michael Greenway glanced around the table and realized the wisdom of Agent Larabee's words. Though everyone was attempting to appear interested, most of the men of ATF Team Seven were fidgeting, checking timepieces, or shuffling paperwork that they had failed to leave behind at their desks. "Of course," Michael Greenway replied, and then continued, "I must first stress the necessity for absolute secrecy in handling this case. There will be no positive recognition of your involvement...only negative consequences should you fail."
Buck held a growl in check, barely. "Ya sure know how to encourage a man, Greenway. First, you call our trustworthiness into question, and then threaten us if we turn out to be incompetent."
Michael Greenway's gray eyebrows drew together in consternation as he recognized the misinterpretation that had occurred. There was a reason he usually did not liaise outside his own agency. If only Roger had not...but it was too late for such thoughts. "Pardon my choice of words. I did not mean to insinuate any of what you assumed. It is simply that the case I will be entrusting you with is one of considerable difficulty, and is not to be undertaken lightly." Taking a deep breath, Michael Greenway plunged onward. "Interpol needs your help in apprehending the fugitive Damon Spencer."
Buck smirked, and whispered, "See...I told ya he was with another agency."
Aside from that reaction, however, the room became completely silent.
After a few seconds, JD recalled a file he had stumbled across in one of his hacking ventures several months ago. "Wait, you mean Damon Spencer, the bank robber and murderer?"
Michael Greenway was surprised by the youngest team member's astuteness, but tried not to show it. "In truth, he is merely a murderer who chooses to rob banks...however your assessment is essentially correct. He is a sniper of some skill, but takes greater pleasure from close and...personal...murders. May I ask how you know of the man? His record, due to its violent and successful nature, has been confined to very few locations, none of which can be accessed from the States."
JD grimaced, and said quietly. "Boy, am I glad we're in the U.S. right now."
"I assume you are referring to our legal tradition of the accused being 'innocent until proven guilty,' am I right?" Josiah asked, but it was Ezra who answered.
"You found his records in a high-security area of Interpol's criminal database," Ezra extrapolated from what he knew of their newest member's area of expertise and his apparent discomfort at the current situation.
JD smiled weakly, shared a glance with Ezra and then said, "I plead the fifth?"
"Excuse me?" Michael Greenway asked in confusion. His knowledge of the American legal system was somewhat lacking.
Chris intervened. "Look, you need our help, so forget about how my man knows about this Damon Spencer, and just be grateful that he does."
The statement was clearly a threat, and JD's confidence lifted when he heard Chris Larabee refer to him as his man. It boded well for the near future of his career, and also confirmed that JD would be accepted onto this exceptional team.
Michael Greenway looked uncertain. Evidently, he was unaware of the fact that, when Chris Larabee suggested something, it was actually an order in disguise. "I am not pleased that a security breach has occurred so early in the investigation, but--"
"Give the kid a break," Nathan Jackson said firmly. "It isn't his fault that your computer security was lax."
Michael Greenway looked around the table again and saw that everyone present--himself excluded--was of one mind. "Very well," he conceded the point. "The last known location of the fugitive Damon Spencer was Kansas City, Missouri. However, the Interpol agent formerly assigned to his case has been spotted in this city, and I was assured by various authorities that this team was comprised of the best law enforcement officers in the region, so the location and apprehending of Damon Spencer is being conferred upon you."
Ezra smirked. "In other words, gentlemen, Interpol has no idea where to start, but passing the buck to us removes them from the proverbial hook."
"What is this about the agent formerly assigned to the Damon Spencer case?" Buck asked. From his time with the Seals, Buck knew that more information was better than less, especially if the people giving said information weren't entirely sure of it themselves. "And why should his being in Denver mean that Spencer isn't in Missouri?"
Michael Greenway sighed and paused in the midst of his explanation. This was a sensitive subject, but the men of ATF Team Seven deserved to know what they were up against--all of it. "An Interpol agent who used to answer to me--his name is Roger Abbott--took on the Damon Spencer case close to six years ago. Roger was a phenomenal investigator, and after a year, he had gathered enough evidence to arrest and charge Damon Spencer with several murders. All he needed to do was find the fugitive. Roger thought he had a solid lead on where Damon Spencer was hiding, but then tragedy struck. Just as Roger Abbott had been tracking and investigating Damon Spencer, the criminal had been tracking and investigating his pursuer. On the night Roger Abbott was to make the arrest, Damon Spencer was not at the expected location. There was a fire in the evidence locker that, while destroying in part the evidence from a few other cases, obliterated every shred of evidence Roger had compiled against Damon Spencer. When Roger Abbott heard about the fire, he--of course--hurried back to the scene. While he was attempting to salvage the evidence, Damon Spencer traveled to Roger Abbott's house and murdered Roger's wife and two young children."
A few gasps could be heard around the room, Buck growled in anger, JD gaped in disbelief, and Chris' eyes showed that he was sinking into an all-too-familiar hell. Vin caught Chris' vacant gaze and silently dragged the ATF Team Seven leader back out of his fury and misery.
"It ruined Roger...very nearly killed him," Michael Greenway continued determinedly. "If it hadn't been for the job--no, for his vendetta--I think Roger might have given up entirely. As it was, though, Roger became obsessed with Damon Spencer, tracking him from country to country without regard for procedure. He became unstable, taking refuge in holy places; churches, monasteries and the like...all with the belief that a monster such as Damon Spencer could neither find nor touch him in such places. Eventually, Interpol had to let him go, but Roger Abbott continued to hunt Damon Spencer. That was almost five years ago."
JD was the first to recover. It was probably because he had not seen the horrors that his older coworkers had, so he was not caught up in memories too close for comfort to Roger Abbott's history. "So, you think that, since Damon Spencer was tracking Roger Abbott before, he might be doing it again. How do you know that Roger Abbott isn't just off his game? Maybe he thinks this Damon Spencer is in Denver when he really is elsewhere. I mean, Spencer did trick Abbott once already."
"That wouldn't happen," someone said, with quiet vehemence.
Surprisingly, it was not Michael Greenway who made the assertion, but Chris Larabee. "One mistake of that magnitude would be enough for ten lifetimes," Chris continued.
"Wonderful," Michael Greenway said in a too-loud, too- cheerful voice. "Then you understand the importance of finding this fugitive before he commits any more murders. I trust that you will clear your schedules in order to facilitate--"
"Agent Larabee," Michael Greenway argued, "I think you have underestimated this fugitive's ruthlessness--"
"I said 'no,'" Chris repeated evenly. "Every week, we receive a new case, and we are told that the head of this cartel or the leader of that gang is the most ruthless, inhuman bastard to ever walk the planet." Chris smiled wryly. "Most of the time the description fits. So, my answer is no. We will handle this case my way. My team will investigate the Damon Spencer case, treating it as a high priority, but we will not abandon this city to the mercy of every other ruthless criminal merely to catch your personal demon."
"I am quite disappointed," Michael Greenway said, his face attempting to maintain an indifferent façade, but slipping into one of disdain. "Your superior assured me that I would have your complete cooperation in this matter--"
"Believe me," Chris assured the Interpol agent, "you're getting it. Me, right now, taking this case seriously and restraining myself from throwing you out of this office, is as much cooperation as you're going to get...and more than you deserve." Chris turned to the rest of Team Seven and began issuing instructions about the bust they would have to execute later on that day.
Michael Greenway looked flustered, but left after he was ignored for over thirty seconds. Josiah went to the doorway of the conference room and nodded to Chris when the Interpol agent had left the office area completely.
Buck laughed without humor. "That guy had brass ones! Coming in here and expecting us to drop our caseload just because he's from an international agency while we're with a lowly national one--what was he thinking?"
Chris shook his head. "That we're the best, and the best is what he needs right now. I understand his dilemma, but we have responsibilities too. One murderer, playing cat-and-mouse with the former lead detective on his case will not cause nearly as much trouble for this city as the Tausch gang will if they get automatic weapons. If Ezra isn't there to make the false sale, they will simply find a supplier who won't arrest them after the transaction. Let's get to work."
Several hours later, JD was hunched over a keyboard, surrounded by several monitors, straining his ears to hear what was going on inside the warehouse where Ezra was attempting to make a sale without crossing the fine line between 'admissible undercover work' and 'entrapment'.
"If you gentlemen wish to secure your armaments from some other source," Ezra was saying gently, "by all means, you are welcome to try. However," Ezra smiled cockily and JD thought he saw a flash of light reflect from one of Ezra's teeth, "no one in the state will be able to provide the quantity or quality that I can. What do you say?"
JD double checked the audio and video equipment for the umpteenth time, making certain that all of this was being recorded. It was functioning. On the screen, the leader of the gang in question agreed to the deal and handed over a suitcase of money.
Shouts of "Freeze, ATF!" resounded through the warehouse, and most of the criminals gave up without a fight. A few tried to fire on Team Seven, but were taken down quickly, and a few tried to run, but most were stopped before they had gone ten feet. The one exception to this was a burly man in his late twenties, who grabbed a handgun from the waistband of his pants, fired off some rounds to cover his escape, and then dashed out a side door. It took JD only moments to realize that the escapee was headed his way.
Thinking quickly, JD locked up the surveillance van, popped the hood, disconnected a few vital parts, slammed the hood again, and then took off running to intercept the gang member.
JD caught up with the sturdily-built gang member just as the blond- haired man was crossing the street and trying to disappear into a side alley. Raising his weapon and his voice, JD called out, "Freeze, ATF!"
The gang member whirled and ducked for cover in the same motion. JD restrained the urge to curse, instead finding cover for himself, rather than staying in the open.
"Put down your weapon and come out with your hands where I can see them!" JD shouted, his voice steady. Half of the authority came neither from the badge, nor the gun (though both certainly helped) but from the tone of voice. If he could convince a criminal that the alternative was at worst death and at best the pain of a bullet, then most would give up without a fight.
"You're not with the ATF," the gang member scoffed from his hiding place, loud enough for JD to hear and be insulted.
"I am," JD insisted, and then recited, "ATF, Team Seven, Denver field office. Put your weapon down, and come out with your hands up," he repeated stolidly.
"That bunch of cowboys?" The gang member replied. "I doubt it. Besides, there're only six of them, and I counted at least that many arresting my friends back there."
JD felt the same presence behind him as before, so this time he was not surprised to hear Chris' voice.
"Did he just call me a cowboy, JD?" Chris asked, his voice hard, but tinged with humor.
"I think he did, sir," JD responded, loud enough that the gang member could not miss the exchange.
"At least once," Josiah continued from the far side of the alley.
JD heard the gang member shift nervously as he realized that his position had been compromised.
"He hates that," Buck stated with finality, shocking the gang member further by appearing right next to him. "If you give up now," Buck said in a stage whisper, "I'll try to keep Agent Larabee from shooting ya."
The gang member gave up without a struggle. Chris did not speak again until Buck had secured the criminal's weapon, handcuffed the man, and read him his rights. "Next time," Chris ordered, "call for backup."
JD held his breath, convinced that this was only the beginning of a major dressing-down, but Chris simply turned and left.
"Somebody tampered with the surveillance van!" Nate called toward where Buck, JD, Josiah and the arrested gang member stood.
JD grinned and went to reconnect the parts that he had sabotaged earlier. When he explained his reasoning, the other men were impressed. His actions showed that, despite choosing to chase an armed suspect alone, JD had been thinking about safeguarding the evidence.
"This calls for a celebration!" Buck crowed after the team had finished its paperwork.
"Bucklin, you think everything is cause for a celebration," Vin said tiredly, rubbing his eyes as he pushed away the final report for this particular bust.
"This wouldn't have anything to do with obtaining another chance to beguile the lovely Miss Inez down at the Saloon, would it?" Ezra inquired.
"The woman loves me," Buck insisted. "She just doesn't know it yet!"
Chris crossed the office floor, collecting reports from each desk as he went. "Yeah, she loves to dump cold drinks on you," he retorted.
Feeling left out of the loop, JD asked, "What are you guys talking about? What is this saloon? Who is Inez?"
Nate and Josiah exchanged a knowing look, and thirty minutes later, ATF Team Seven had piled into various vehicles to drive to the team's favorite bar and grill.
A week later, ATF Team Seven had nearly given up on finding the criminal named Damon Spencer, and JD had become an indispensible part of the team. He and Buck became closer than brothers in every way. Vin loved to pull practical jokes on everyone, and he soon discovered that JD had an absolutely twisted sense of humor when it came to planning practical jokes. Josiah enjoyed teaching JD the finer points of religion and philosophy--where they coincided, when they conflicted, and the importance of each in regards to a myriad of situations. Nate appreciated JD's company, mostly because he intervened whenever Buck made Vin extraordinarily angry, and thereby cut down on the amount of first aid Nate was required to administer. Chris had to acknowledge that JD's computer skills had proven useful, helping them get warrants and solve cases much more easily and quickly.
His easy camaraderie with the other men of Team Seven though, was not enough to assuage the frustration JD felt at being unable to track down Damon Spencer. Finally, eight days after the Interpol agent Michael Greenway had given ATF Team Seven the case, JD snapped.
JD pushed himself away from his desk violently, his wheeled office chair rocketing backwards with great force. He accidentally bumped into Vin. "Sorry," JD muttered in embarrassment. He was only angry at himself; he did not mean to hurt his friends. Remarkably, in this short time, the other six members of Team Seven had become just that--friends, instead of merely coworkers or acquaintances.
"No luck, huh?" Vin said.
It was not really a question, but even the quiet statement prodded JD to talk. "It's like the guy doesn't exist!" JD replied. "Everyone leaves a trace...they can't help it, in this day and age. There are certain things that just can't be bought without a credit card, and those can be traced, which means he's probably either assumed a different identity, or he's using stolen cards. But in that case, he's steering clear of every security camera in the city...either that or he's so heavily disguised that I can't tell it's him. Maybe I should run a facial recognition program. What did Greenway leave us with?"
Vin shook his head in amazement. The kid had a quick temper, but his mind was even faster. With such a personality, JD could not stay despondent or angry with himself--or anyone else, for that matter--for a significant amount of time.
"We'll find him, JD," Vin responded reassuringly. "They always make a mistake." His voice seemed distant, as though he was remembering something painful, rather than delivering advice on the criminal mind.
The office started to empty, leaving only Chris, Buck and JD. When Chris had finished his paperwork, he looked up from his desk, and saw Buck trying to convince the kid to give up for today and go to Inez's for a drink. JD was protesting, but Chris could see that the kid was exhausted, mentally if not physically. This case was taking its toll on everyone, but JD seemed to almost be taking it personally. Chris wondered if that was because Michael Greenway had given JD a hard time about knowing Damon Spencer's criminal history.
Chris exited his office and leveled the infamous Glare at JD. "Get out of here, JD," he ordered. "Have a drink, get some rest, and relax. You've worked harder on this case than the rest of us...you deserve a break."
JD smiled weakly. "If I refuse to leave, are you going to call security?" The strange thing about his new boss, JD had discovered, was that just when he thought he had the man figured out, Chris would surprise JD. Whether it was with a quiet word when JD was expecting a glare, or the tough love that Chris was currently using to guilt JD into leaving, JD was always shocked to find that there was more to Chris than met the eye.
"Hell, no," Chris said, almost laughing. "I'll let Buck knock you unconscious and carry you out."
Buck chuckled at that, but when JD glanced at his overprotective friend, the look in the older man's eyes confirmed that Buck would not hesitate to do exactly that...if that was what it took to get JD's mind off of the current case.
"Fine," JD surrendered and held up a finger to state his conditions. "One drink, and then I'm going home. This case is draining."
"I'll drive," Buck offered enthusiastically, and Chris scowled good-naturedly.
Sometimes, Chris thought that JD was a bad influence on his oldest friend. Buck was already energetic, but when he and the kid were together, they both acted like irresponsible kids. Chris suppressed the urge to sigh. After all, Buck deserved a little innocence in his life. Didn't they all?
After JD and Buck had left, Chris shut off the office lights and headed down to his black truck, only to find a traffic cop writing him a ticket. Now Chris did sigh, but he did not protest. He had to have a healthy respect for the law, considering that he was an officer of it, so he inquired what the ticket was for, promised to pay the fine for parking three inches into a red 'no parking' zone, and turned away from the traffic cop, ticket in one hand, his keys in the other. Since he was preoccupied with sifting through his keys for the correct one, he did not see the traffic cop raising his billy club until it was too late.
Josiah was breaking up a fight outside a community center for troubled teens when a police officer pulled up in a cruiser, with one perp already in the backseat. Josiah paused; somewhat relieved for the backup, but his relief changed to confusion when the officer exited his vehicle and ordered Josiah to stand against a nearby brick wall and spread his legs. Josiah complied, but attempted to explain that he was and ATF agent, and was merely trying to keep the peace in this turbulent neighborhood.
The police officer replied, his voice bearing an English accent, and Josiah panicked, realizing that this man must be the criminal Team Seven had unsuccessfully been trying to track down for the past week.
The fake police officer drew his gun, opened the door of the police cruiser and gestured for Josiah to join an unconscious and handcuffed Chris Larabee in the backseat. Without further resistance--because Josiah could not be certain that a murderer would refrain from shooting Chris to ensure compliance--Josiah slid into the car and waited for an opportunity to present itself. That opportunity never came.
JD was on his second drink when a man at the bar began giving Inez a hard time. Buck heard the lewd comments, saw the man make an inappropriate grab for Inez, and, since he was at the bar already--retrieving the third round, and hoping to help the kid unwind--Buck intervened.
A few well-placed punches later, the rude patron was subdued and handcuffed, and Buck told JD to go call the police. The drunk and presumptuous customer could spend the night in a cell, and hope that Inez wouldn't press charges for sexual assault.
JD realized that he had left his cell phone on his desk at the office, so he headed for the front of the dining and drinking establishment, where a payphone was located. Before he could pick up the receiver, though, JD spotted a black-and-white idling outside the Saloon.
"Hey, Buck!" JD called. "There's an officer doing his rounds now. I think he's got room for one more. I'll go ask!"
JD hurried out of the Saloon and approached the squad car with careful, measured movements. Being in law enforcement himself, JD knew that lawmen tended to get trigger-happy when someone came toward them too fast. He saw that the squad car's windows were heavily tinted, but didn't think too much about it. He was new to the city; perhaps the Denver Police Department preferred to keep the identity of the people they arrested a secret. Pulling out his credentials, JD tapped on the front, driver's side window, which rolled down promptly. "Evening, officer. I'm JD Dunne, ATF. We've had a slight disturbance in the Saloon; I was wondering if you had room for one more..."
"Sure," the police officer replied quietly, but said nothing further.
JD thought that was strange, but didn't push his luck. Buck wanted JD to relax, to forget about the case, even if it was only for a few hours, and unless this officer was willing to take the drunken patron downtown and book him, Buck and JD would be stuck doing paperwork on the arrest. "Ok then, I'll send Buck out to give you his statement." JD said, "He's the one that subdued the perp, anyway. Wait just a minute..."
When JD returned to the Saloon, Buck agreed to make the transfer of custody, but requested that the kid stay with Inez, since she was still slightly shaken by the incident. JD stayed, but when Buck did not return after ten minutes, JD went back outside to check on his friend. Buck was nowhere to be found, the officer and drunk were both gone, and Buck's car was still parked outside the Saloon.
With a sick feeling forming in the pit of his stomach, JD jogged back to the pay phone and began trying to contact the rest of ATF Team Seven.
Buck eyed the abandoned building skeptically. The handcuffs were cutting painfully into his wrists, but he couldn't help the sarcastic reply that escaped him, "I'm guessing the Ritz was booked?"
The fake cop glanced in the mirror, trying to glare at Buck but failing. Their abductor climbed out of the vehicle and opened one of the rear doors. "Everyone inside, now," he ordered.
His eyes were not cruel, but his tone was cold, and the gun was steady in his hands, so Buck and Josiah did as instructed, supporting Chris--who had woken up during the drive to this building--as best they could.
He secured the three men within the old building, administered chloroform to assure himself that they would not attempt to escape while he was gone, and then left to gather the remainder of the team.
So far, the reputedly invincible and brilliant team of ATF agents had not lived up to his expectations. Only the youngest had escaped him thus far, and even that seemed more an accident of timing or luck than genuine strategy on the young man's part. It was quite disappointing, and the implications made the tired, worn-out man sigh with long-suffering sadness. Gathering his resolve, the man set out again, roaming the streets in his borrowed vehicle, searching for the less dangerous members of ATF Team Seven.
"It just feels wrong, Vin," JD insisted. He had already tried to call Nathan and Ez, but Nate's phone line was busy, and Ezra's phone kept ringing and then going to voicemail. "Buck went outside for a minute to hand over the man he arrested, and then he was gone! His car is still here, which is weird. Chris and Buck wanted me to relax, so I know Buck wouldn't do this. He wouldn't strand me here with no way home."
"I'll make some calls, JD," Vin promised. "Knowing Buck, he probably met a woman outside the bar and went with her. That would explain why his car is still there."
JD shook his head, even though there was no way Vin could see the gesture. "No way...would Buck've left me his keys if that had happened."
Vin did not voice what he was thinking, that when Buck began thinking with his downstairs brain, his upstairs brain appeared to go completely on strike. "Do you need a ride home or back to the office?" Vin offered politely.
"Nah," JD replied, recalling how far Vin lived from the Saloon, JD's apartment, and the office where ATF Team Seven worked. The only time such a drive could be considered 'on the way' would be if Vin was planning a trip out of the city. "The office is only a few blocks away. I'll be fine. Listen, I'll pick up my cell. I'm sure the night watchman will let me into the building, so call me if you get any news about Buck, ok? Thanks again, Vin."
"No problem, JD." Vin hung up and began making the promised calls. In the short time he had known the former Boston police officer, Vin had never known JD to overreact. If he thought something was wrong, then chances were good that the kid was correct.
Ezra could barely hear the doorbell over the rhythmic strains of Benjamin Britten's "Simple Symphony". The musical composition was anything but simple, which was why Ezra enjoyed it so much. He appreciated the difficult rhythms, the intricate interlocking parts of the different orchestra's sections, and the different styles each movement showcased.
Ezra turned down the music and went to answer his front door. He checked through the peep hole and was surprised to see a police officer standing on his front porch, his face hidden by a patrolman's cap.
With commendable speed and composure, Ezra opened the door and inquired what the officer's visit was concerning.
The officer seemed to be trying to suppress a smirk. "The neighbors filed a sound disturbance complaint. Personally, I have no problem with Benjamin Britten, but not everyone has the same tastes as we do. Please, keep the sound level down."
"Of course, officer," Ezra replied politely. He was amused that a police officer shared his affinity for Britten's music, but at the same time, confused because the officer's accent was British, rather than in keeping with this region of the United States.
His suspicions were just beginning to solidify when the officer drew a Taser and discharged it into Ezra's chest. Ezra slumped to the floor and was aware of nothing for a time.
Nate had parked his car in front of his small residence when he saw a police cruiser coast by slowly. The cruiser double-parked in front of his car and a bedraggled officer exited the car, favoring one leg over the other. His dark blue trousers were stained even darker with what Nathan assumed was blood.
Instantly, Nathan went into 'mother hen mode'. That was the behavior that everyone else on ATF Team Seven deemed unnecessarily overprotective, unless they were not the object of it. For some strange reason, the men on his team who were hurt would always insist that they were 'fine,' even if they were bleeding out from multiple knife and/or bullet wounds.
Nate grabbed the emergency first aid kit he kept in the front seat of his car and hurried over to assist the officer. "Sir," he instructed, "I need you to sit down and elevate that leg. Let me take a look at it." Nate reached for the scissors in the first aid kit, meaning to cut the pant leg away from the wound.
The officer sat in the driver's seat of the cruiser, with the apparently wounded leg propped up by his uninjured one. When Nate bent over to examine the wound, the officer incapacitated Nate with a couple of blows to the medic's head. After handcuffing the medic and maneuvering him into the cruiser's back seat, the officer picked up the first aid kit, placed it in the cruiser's trunk, and closed the door of the medic's car. The street appeared unremarkable when the fake officer drove away, as though nothing unusual has occurred.
Vin had discovered some extremely disturbing facts by the time he completed his calls. A police officer had driven by the Saloon earlier that evening, and had noticed another cruiser take off quickly. However, police cars driving quickly were not a rarity. What was strange was that when Vin called the police station that patrolled for the Saloon and the surrounding area, the department representative assured Vin that only one police car should be in that neighborhood at any given time, unless a call had gone out that required backup--which had not happened during the time or in the place that Vin mentioned.
This left Vin with a frightening conclusion. Someone was impersonating a police officer, and--it seemed likely--that someone had abducted Buck. As soon as Vin reached this insight, he immediately tried to call Chris. When Chris did not answer, Vin tried calling the other members of ATF Team Seven. No one answered their phones. When Vin reached the voicemail on JD's cell phone, he left a message, giving the details of what he had discovered and the assumptions of what he thought had happened. He explained that no one was answering their phones, whether cell or home, and then was interrupted by his call waiting. "Hang on, JD," Vin finished his message, "I think that might be one of the guys calling back."
Vin pressed the button to switch lines, but the voice did not belong to any member of Team Seven. The man on the other end of the line had a British accent, and his tone was cold and dispassionate.
"Vincent Alexander Tanner?" The voice asked, though the question seemed frivolous to Vin.
"Yes," Vin replied uncertainly. "Who is this? How did ya get this number?" Vin's cell phone was not listed.
"That is not important," the voice replied. "What matters is that I have two of your coworkers with me, and if you do not report immediately to my location, I will be forced to shoot one of them."
Vin's jaw clenched. He hated feeling powerless, and this psychopath had caused that emotion completely. With his voice strained by anger and fear, Vin asked, "How do I know ya aren't lying?"
Vin heard a brief chuckle before the reply came. "You cannot run the risk that I am telling the truth. My vehicle is across the street from your apartment building. Come unarmed and alone. There is a pair of handcuffs on the roof of the vehicle. Put them on before you get in."
"Wait," Vin said, trying to keep the panicky tone out of his voice. "How will I know which car is yours? What color is it?"
The laughter was louder this time. "Black and white, my friend. Hurry."
Vin turned his phone to 'silent' and stuck it in his pants pocket, hoping that JD would be able to trace it if Vin was unable to get the upper hand against the criminal outside.
The night watchman was not happy about letting JD into the building, but when JD explained the situation, and how desperately he needed his cell phone, the guard relented.
JD took the stairs two at a time, arriving only slightly short of breath. His phone was lit up and buzzing as he entered the office area. He ran over to his desk, but by the time he had snatched the phone, the call had already gone through to voicemail. JD waited for the phone to buzz again, signaling that a voicemail message had been left, and then he listened to Vin's explanation with mounting trepidation. When the message cut off abruptly with Vin saying that he thought one of the guys was calling him back, JD hit the button to replay the message and began taking down notes of Vin's findings.
After listening once more, JD tried to call the members of ATF Team Seven again. No one answered, not even Vin. JD feared that Vin's guess had been right, and that the police officer outside the Saloon had not only taken Buck, but also Vin. He might even have gotten to the rest of the team--that would explain why no one was answering their phones--but JD had a hard time believing that theory.
For one man to successfully kidnap not one, but six federal agents would require vast amounts of meticulous planning, some impressive training, continuous and copious surveillance of the team, and an unlikely helping of luck.
Still, it was the best theory JD had, so he began to investigate the possibilities. Of course, since--to his knowledge--none of the team members had been captured at the office, JD decided to do his investigation from within this building. That was no small task, since it was after hours and technically JD was not supposed to even be in the building.
JD read through previous cases the team had handled, thinking that maybe the reason he had not been taken was because this was a vendetta against Team Seven from before the time he had joined it. The problem was not that JD found too few suspects, but rather that ATF Team Seven was so good at its job that the agents had far too many enemies who would enjoy seeing the men of Team Seven helpless.
JD was determined to solve this case before any of his friends were hurt, but the lateness of the hour conspired with the long day he had already put in, and JD awoke the next morning with his head on his desk and papers strewn everywhere.
The ringing of his cell phone woke JD, which was what caused said papers to be strewn. In his confused, half-asleep state, the youngest member of Team Seven thrashed around for a few seconds before his hands found the phone. He answered without checking the number of the incoming call.
"Vin, is that you?" JD asked blearily, wiping sleep from his eyes with one hand and barely stifling a yawn. Sleeping hunched over at a desk had not done his chest, neck, or breathing any favors. JD stretched his neck, waiting for Vin's voice to reply, and tell him that the previous night's excitement had been a mistake, that Buck was fine, and the lady's name was Candy, and that all the others had perfectly good reasons for being incommunicado.
"Not exactly," said a voice with a British accent, and a chill ran up JD's spine, causing him to go momentarily rigid and silent. "Are you still there?"
"Yes," JD managed to squeak out.
"Ah, wonderful," the voice replied, overly pleased. "Cell phones can be such an unreliable means of communication...I am pleased to hear that yours is receiving loud and clear."
"What have you done to them?" JD asked, surprised to hear how strong his own voice seemed. He sounded angry and yet detached--a combination that his mind had not quite caught up to yet. His brain was still in denial, slowly moving into the stage of being paralyzed by fear, but his voice held strength, anger, and the promise of vengeance if anything happened to his friends.
"Nothing," the voice replied easily. "And before you inquire as to their health...Agents Larabee, Wilmington, and Jackson have suffered head trauma. Agent Standish received a rather nasty jolt from a Taser. Agents Sanchez and Tanner are physically intact, though I believe their emotional state leaves much to be desired."
As the voice listed his friends' condition, JD used his computer to set up a rudimentary phone tap, trying to triangulate the signal. He was confused by the outcome--the signal refused to settle in one place. It bounced from tower to tower within the state at random intervals and in no discernable pattern.
"I want to talk with them," JD demanded, trying to buy some time in which he could run a more sophisticated program to isolate the location of the incoming call.
"That will not be possible," the voice stated calmly. "Though they cannot tell you anything useful, I fear they may inadvertently give you some clue as to their whereabouts, and I cannot allow that. It spoils the game."
"Game?" JD said incredulously. "That's what you call this?"
"Certainly," the voice responded, "and to the victor goes the spoils. Find me in the next twelve hours, if you wish to see your friends again."
"Wait!" JD half-shouted, but the line went dead. JD sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, a gesture he had seen Chris do a number of times already this past week (usually when one of the members of Team Seven was very close to pushing Chris past his limit of patience). The pressure helped JD to concentrate.
He had a deadline of twelve hours. What did he know about the kidnapper? JD had the man's number in the memory of his cell phone. Even though it could not be traced, JD wrote it down on a blank sheet of paper. Maybe he could find it listed somewhere. Even if the phone had been stolen, at least it would be a place to start investigating.
What else? The call had been impossible to trace, which indicated that the kidnapper either was familiar with telecommunications systems or that he possessed technology which made his calls bounce through various carriers and cell towers.
Also, the voice had had a British accent.
Of course, JD had realized this from the very first syllable the man uttered, but it had sat at the back of his mind, festering and ugly, unfurling in his subconscious and causing fear where it spread. That accent probably meant that the kidnapper was Damon Spencer.
Frantically, JD dug through the top drawer of his desk, where he had thrown Interpol agent Michael Greenway's business card. Punching in the numbers so quickly he was not sure he had gotten the combination right, JD waited anxiously as the phone started to ring.
"Michael Greenway speaking," came over the line, and JD sighed in relief.
"Sir, I need to speak with you right away," JD said. "It's urgent, this is about Damon Spencer--I think he's kidnapped the rest of my team, and I need your help; he said I've only got twelve hours, and he wouldn't let me speak to them, so I don't even know if--"
"Calm down, Agent Dunne," Michael Greenway commanded in a firm tone. "Start from the beginning. Tell me every detail."
As quickly as he could, JD related the events of the past week. He told of how the team had encountered no success in tracking down Damon Spencer, the crisis that had occurred the previous night, and finally the phone call this morning. JD explained that he had attempted and failed to trace the call. The silence became more intense as JD revealed that fact, which JD notice and leapt upon.
"What aren't you telling me, Mr. Greenway?" JD demanded. "What does it mean--that he's able to redirect the signal?"
Michael gave a small sigh. "I suppose you would have found out sooner or later, given your...talents. It was a program the British government developed several years ago, meant to protect undercover agents from discovery when they called in using untraceable cell phones. It was abandoned because the voiceprints could still be matched against police records, and if there was a leak in the department, then the criminals would have access to those records. The undercover operatives could be unmasked with a simple voiceprint match, regardless of how carefully the signal's origin was masked."
"Ok," JD said, trying to figure out how this new information helped his investigation. "So, who would have access to that technology?"
JD could almost hear Michael Greenway shrug on the other end of the phone line. "Scientists who worked on the project, politicians who oversaw it, officers of the law who utilized it...I would presume even the criminals who made it ineffective."
JD nodded to himself and then asked, "Mr. Greenway, how am I supposed to find them in time? I don't know Damon Spencer well enough. I don't know what he'll do if I fail."
The silence that replied from the other end of the line was profound. Eventually, Michael answered, "Do not fail."
That response gave JD pause, but then he rallied. "Sir, I know you probably won't want to help me with this, but I figure it's as much your responsibility as mine. I mean, they're my friends, but you're the one who led Damon Spencer to us, the one who gave us this case."
"What do you need?" Michael Greenway asked, his normally confident voice considerably less self-assured, because he acknowledged the truth of JD's accusation.
"I need the names of everyone who had access to that program, to that technology," JD said. "I need to know if any of those people travel under aliases, and if any of them have been to the states in the past two weeks."
"And you have only twelve hours," Michael Greenway commented, "that is a tall order." After a moment, Michael Greenway continued, "I will call in a few favors. Give me forty- five minutes."
The call was terminated at the other end before JD could thank Michael Greenway for his assistance, but then JD reflected that none of Team Seven would be in this mess if Michael Greenway hadn't asked for their help in the first place.
JD spent the next forty-five minutes pouring over architectural plans of the entire city, trying to find a place where a criminal like Damon Spencer could hold six men captive without drawing attention to himself. Unfortunately, there were far too many places for JD to search within the next eleven hours. Something was bothering JD, some fact that fled to obscure corners of his mind whenever he looked too hard for it.
It was not until Michael Greenway called back with the list of names that JD realized what he had subconsciously considered. The thought was the kind that most cops would choose to not take seriously because the breach of trust was too great.
"Franklin Aarons," Michael Greenway recited the list, "entry point into the country is LAX. Kyle Abbey, through Reagan International airport. Roger Abbott, through--"
"Wait a minute," JD ordered, "Roger Abbott? Is this the same Roger Abbott who used to work for Interpol, chasing Damon Spencer?"
"Allow me a moment to check," Michael Greenway said. "Yes, the passport photo matches. Why? You could not possibly think he is behind this! Roger Abbott has an unwavering sense of morality, uncompromised despite the horrors that Damon Spencer visited upon him."
JD rolled his eyes. He had not been a cop for long, but he had been one long enough to know that no one was incorruptible and nothing was holy. "Just send me his picture, please. At least I can eliminate him from the suspect list." JD added that last part only to pacify his reluctant ally, because an alternative version of what had occurred the previous night was now forming in his head. "And please send me a current photograph of Damon Spencer while you're at it," JD finished. "Here's my email address...you can put it in the attachments or scan it into the computer if it's not a file already..."
Three minutes later, JD had the confirmation he was looking for. He cross-referenced the names and pictures with the U.S. databases to be certain that Michael Greenway had sent him the correct pictures. JD would not go so far as to claim that he did not trust the Interpol agent, but he could not ignore the fact that all of this had started because of Michael Greenway's unusual request for assistance.
JD checked his watch. Ten and a half hours to the deadline. "Thank you, you've been very helpful, sir. I'll take it from here."
"Agent Dunne," Michael Greenway insisted. "If there is any chance that Damon Spencer is involved in this, I demand to be present!"
JD's eyes narrowed and he felt the anger rising in him as he repeated Chris' assertion of several days ago. "No," he replied simply.
"What do you mean, Mr. Dunne?" Michael Greenway asked in alarm. "You cannot deny me--"
"I said 'no,'" JD continued his reiteration of Chris' sentiment. "If Damon Spencer is there, I will take care of it. If the culprit is...someone else..." JD refused to voice his thoughts for the biased Interpol agent, "then your presence would constitute a conflict of interest. I have to consider the team's safety, and your experience, no matter who the perpetrator is, is not going to guarantee their safe release. With all due respect, sir, Roger Abbott was the only true expert regarding Damon Spencer. You're just going to have to make due with what I was able to glean from his file. Goodbye, Mr. Greenway."
JD hung up before Michael Greenway could do more than begin to stutter a protest. Then, JD called Assistant Director Travis. The tone which Buck had mentioned the AD in several days ago left JD with the impression that Travis was a close ally of the team. "Sir? Yes, I'm sorry to interrupt your schedule, but I need some equipment and backup. It's about Team Seven..."
Five hours later, the preparations were made, and JD had left an analytical team with orders to continue searching for likely places where Team Seven might be detained, in case his guess about the perpetrator was wrong. That was improbable, since JD had finally had the opportunity to run the facial recognition software against security cameras throughout the city, and had a positive identification of the suspect forcing Josiah into a police cruiser, but JD still wanted to be prepared for any possibility.
JD rode shotgun in a specially equipped truck to the place he thought Team Seven was being detained. If the kidnapper was Damon Spencer, then this guess would be wrong. If it was someone else...a specific someone else...then JD would need all the backup, distraction, and guile he could muster. JD checked his bulletproof vest one more time as they approached an old, abandoned church. The building was half-demolished by time and the elements, but JD had studied the engineering plans, and knew that there was an intact room near the back, a boiler room of sorts, with many pipes and thick walls. It was the sort of place where no one would hear anything, and no one looked very hard, because everyone expected to hear and see an abandoned holy place that was no longer visited every Sunday by the faithful. In short, it was the type of place that a disillusioned, self-righteous man might make his last stand against a world that did not adhere to his 'unwavering sense of morality.'
"Mr. Abbott?" JD's voice echoed off the crumbling walls of the church, coming from the front of the property. "Agent Abbott? Please, don't hurt my friends," JD's voice begged. "I don't know what you want, but whatever it is, I'm sure we can work it out without you hurting anyone. Please, let them go, and I promise I will help you work through this. I've been studying your reports on Damon Spencer. I understand why you kept tracking him, even after Interpol gave up. Please, come out here and talk to me..."
"That kid never stops to breathe, does he?" Buck marveled at the sound of his young friend's voice.
The other members of Team Seven grinned or grimaced from where each man was handcuffed to strong, rust-free pipes.
"I hope he didn't come alone," Chris muttered darkly, remembering the bust that seemed so long ago now.
"I'm surprised he found us," Nate remarked, and received a few glares, but the coldest was from Buck. "I'm just saying...none of us saw this coming, and he had to be confused..."
"He probably got my voicemail message," Vin explained. "Before I got taken, I'd figured out that the cop was a fake. I tried to call JD's cell, but got his voicemail instead."
"Much still depends on the outcome of the coming confrontation," Josiah commented resignedly. He did not fear for himself, but he regretted the possibility of death when this dynamic and intriguing team of friends had been together for so short a time. He felt that it had only become a complete, single entity when JD Dunne had joined them.
"He cannot seriously expect me to walk out the front door and discuss this matter, can he?" their captor asked, disbe
ief plain in his tone.
Ezra shrugged. "JD is a man of simple beliefs," Ezra claimed loudly, drawing their captor's attention to the side of the room, toward himself, rather than allowing the man's gaze to wander to the back, where a small window was opening silently and slowly. "He likes to see the best in people," Ezra continued with a positively evil smirk, "even when that good is so degraded by the negative effects of this world that the person in question is completely irredeemable."
The man advanced on Ezra in anger, but paused as two things happened at once. JD's voice, still emanating from the front of the church's lot, began to repeat itself, and JD dropped lithely to the floor behind the kidnapper.
JD drew his sidearm, pulled back the hammer and aimed it at the kidnapper. "Don't move," he warned, his voice quiet, but pure steel. Then he handed Chris a standard handcuff key, and waited until he was certain it worked in the cuffs that the kidnapper had used. "Alright, Mr. Abbott, you and I are going to head out into the church."
Roger Abbott walked where he was ordered to; turning to face JD once they had exited the room where the rest of Team Seven was quickly being freed. "Congratulations," Abbott told JD, and then frowned. "Although, perhaps condolences are more appropriate."
"What are you talking about?" JD asked irritably. It had been a long night, and though he was relieved at finding his friends safe and unharmed, he now felt annoyed at the man who had caused all of the fear. "What was the point of all this?"
"I am dying, Agent Dunne," Roger Abbott admitted, and then laughed. "Cancer, which means that even if my family had lived, I would not have had long with them." He paused, thoughtfully. "Someone must carry on my mission...it is my legacy to the worthy investigator. I had hoped, when I heard that my old friend planned to transfer this case to your team of agents, that all of you together might have a chance against him. Now, though, I see that it will be your burden alone. As I said before...condolence might be in order."
JD holstered his gun as he realized that Roger Abbott was no longer a threat. He had achieved his goal--he had found a successor. "This was some sort of bizarre test?" JD asked in disbelief. "You hurt my friends, held them against their will, just to see if I was smart enough to take over your final unsolved case?"
"Exactly," Roger Abbott replied proudly.
JD rolled his eyes in exasperation, and it was only because of that change in focus that he noticed the light glinting off of a sniper's scope. JD's eyes widened as he simultaneously remembered that he had not requested any snipers as backup and what Michael Greenway had said about Damon Spencer. He is a sniper of some skill... The words resounded in JD's head, and JD was frozen in place, terrified for himself, but mostly for all of the innocents who he had put in the line of fire. All of the backup personnel he had requested, the rest of Team Seven, if they left the relative safety of the boiler room...he even feared for Roger Abbott's life, even though the man had caused Team Seven great pain and fear.
Roger Abbott's proud look disappeared abruptly as he recognized the look of abject fear and careful calculation on Agent Dunne's face. It was a look he had seen in the mirror every morning when he had contemplated a close encounter with his nemesis. "He is here?" Roger Abbott asked, though Agent Dunne's expression was answer enough.
JD nodded, and then quickly snatched a walkie-talkie from the back of his belt. "AD Travis," he ordered after pressing the button to broadcast, "Pull everyone back, and get them to cover. We have a sniper to the east, top floor of the nearest apartment building. Repeat, all personnel get to cover, now!" JD was so busy worrying about the other ATF agents' safety that he forgot to be concerned for his own.
Fortunately, Roger Abbott did not forget. JD had no sooner finished his emergency broadcast than former Agent Abbott threw his body in front of JD's knocking the substantially smaller man to the ground just as two bullets punched through the air.
The lethal projectiles came to a stop in Roger Abbott's chest, at the same height as where JD's head had been barely a second before.
Over the radio, AD Travis began issuing orders to search the apartment building, starting at the bottom and working upward. The fire escapes were to be watched carefully if he tried to escape, and someone needed to go determine whether those two shots had hit anyone.
The rest of Team Seven ran out into the line of fire, dragging JD and Roger Abbott back into the safety of the boiler room. Buck checked JD over for injuries, and found a head wound, bleeding profusely. Nate--for the second time in twenty-four hours--examined Roger Abbott for wounds. This time, there was less blood, but the location of the injuries was fatal. Abbott gasped a few times, and then, surrounded by faces that could not maintain hard feelings toward him, he died.
JD stirred and clutched at his head. When he drew his hand away, it was spotted with blood. "What happened?"
Chris glanced from Roger Abbott's remains to JD and then to Nate, his mouth a thin, compressed line. "Nate, get that head wound taken care of as best you can until the coast is clear. Vin, see if anyone is close enough to lend you a rifle. Ezra, take JD's radio and make a report. AD Travis sounds worried." Chris looked around the room, wondering if there was anything else they should be doing, and determined that, until it was safe to leave the room, they could do nothing but wait. Well...wait, and avoid uncomfortable questions.
JD sat up, despite the dizziness he felt and Nate's protests, and repeated, "What happened?"
Chris looked away, unable to answer; but fortunately, Josiah was up to the task. In the background, Ezra made his report on the borrowed walkie-talkie. "Roger saved your life, JD. He knocked you to the ground, and you hit your head on some loose rubble, but Roger lost his own life in exchange. I assume that the shooter was Damon Spencer?"
JD nodded numbly. "It was just like before. Abbott thought he was tracking Spencer, but it was really the other way around. Maybe Spencer knew...maybe he wanted to see who would be chosen...that's why he tried to kill me..." JD murmured.
Nate checked JD's pulse and breathing and reported, "He's going into shock. I don't understand it; he hasn't lost that much blood. We need to get him to a hospital, get a transfusion, and try to stabilize him."
At that moment the report came in over the walkie-talkie and Ezra repeated it for the benefit of the team.
"I am pleased to announce that our emancipation from this dreadful place can be affected immediately by means of the vehicle which provided the audible distraction in Agent Dunne's earlier stratagem. The remaining personnel will continue to investigate the scene until the fugitive is located, but our team may be evacuated in approximately thirty seconds."
"Aw hell, Ez," Vin complained--no one had been able to give him a rifle, and he was feeling useless--"why couldn't ya jist say that we're bustin' out of this joint?"
Ezra glanced at Vin in confusion. "I thought I had expressed that message adequately."
Chris glared at no one in particular. "Get ready to move. Buck, have you got JD?"
Buck replied to the glare with a look that nearly matched Chris' in determination. He and Nate each had one of JD's arms slung across their shoulders, and both were unwavering in their resolve to move JD across whatever distance was necessary.
The truck was able to pull up relatively close to the door, so the mad dash into the open did not take more than five seconds, and there was no sniper fire in response to their escape. Team Seven huddled in the back of the truck as the driver took turns too fast and ignored the rules of the road to deliver JD Dunne to the nearest hospital in record time.
""You look like hell," Chris commented, and JD gave a wry grin in response, though it looked like a death grimace. Chris could hardly blame the kid; he probably already knew instinctively what Chris had come here to tell him--that Damon Spencer had somehow slipped past all the ATF agents who had been swarming around the scene of former agent Abbott's death.
The doctors had no medical reason for JD's lapse into shock, except that his condition might have been exacerbated by psychological factors.
To that end, Chris had asked Josiah to try and get a straight answer from JD when Buck finally collapsed from sitting next to JD's hospital bed for too long. However, JD had said that he did not want to talk to Josiah, that--in fact--he did not want to talk to anybody. He muttered something like 'that will only make it harder.' When Josiah had pushed JD for an answer to what, precisely would be harder, the young man had refused to respond.
And so, now Chris had come to the hospital to speak to JD alone.
"Thanks," JD replied to Chris' appraisal. "From what the doctor told me, 'hell' is probably an improvement."
Chris leaned against the nearest wall with his arms crossed, and stared at JD, as though willing the answers to appear, purely through the force of his gaze. An inexperienced JD, Chris could deal with. Even a nervous, naïve, frightened, heroic, or determined JD, Chris could still cope with, but a morbidly distant JD...Chris was at a complete loss. "You brought backup," Chris noted of JD's rescue mission, "and you kept yourself from being seen until the moment was right. That showed good sense."
Chris paused, wondering what he was supposed to say, what words would get through to the young man. He had a fairly good idea of what was bothering JD (he had entertained similar thoughts himself back when he was a Seal and a mission had gone badly), but Chris had never been good with words. Even when he had proposed to Sarah, she had been the one to come up with the words. He had been unable to do more than stutter and hope that she could read his mind.
Suddenly, the words came to him, and he hoped they would be enough. "Tell me you're going to use that good sense now."
JD raised an eyebrow in a silent query for clarification, much like Standish might have done in a similar situation. The kid was learning from each of his new friends, whether he realized it or not.
"Tell me that you aren't planning on going after Spencer by yourself," Chris explained.
JD considered Chris' words slowly, turning over the possibilities in his mind. "It's my responsibility," JD stated calmly and without emotion.
Chris felt his eyes smoldering and tried to tone down the glare. "We're a team. Greenway gave all of us that responsibility."
JD returned the glare and Chris would have taken a step back if he hadn't already been backed into a wall. However, JD's voice was still devoid of feeling as he argued, "That wasn't his responsibility to give."
Chris snorted. "And you really think it was Abbott's? Clearly, Spencer is too much for any man to take on by himself. Shouldn't you learn from Abbott's mistake? What are you afraid of...that we wouldn't stand by you?"
JD's gaze was steady, but his voice wavered as he responded, "It wasn't a mistake to protect his friends by going it alone."
Suddenly, JD's impasse was completely clear to Chris. JD was being intentionally distant to make his selfless abandonment of the team less painful to the other six men. Maybe they would hate JD for leaving, but at least none of them would take a bullet meant for him. A bullet that would nave never been meant for JD if Abbott had never entered their lives.
Chris saw red as he wished he could have been the one to kill Abbott for his vendetta that was part justice, part revenge, and too great a burden for any one man to bear alone. Chris acknowledged the need for hard justice, for enforcing the law to such a degree that sometimes it was considered downright cruel and unusual, but he had never expected it to be forced through guilt upon one meant to uphold the law.
"I won't let you do it," Chris declared. "I won't let you sacrifice yourself trying to catch that bastard by yourself."
JD raised his chin slightly, defiant. "You can't stop me. Sooner or later, I'll be discharged from the hospital. I'll give my two weeks notice and disappear, go searching for Spencer. Abbott entrusted me with this responsibility."
Chris felt his glare ratcheting up another setting. "You really don't understand, do you?" he asked, his tone incredulous. "It isn't only your life you're risking." Chris sighed and the glare faded slightly. "You've only been with us for two weeks, but you're so much a part of this team--of this family--that it feels like we've known you for years. If you get yourself killed because you were too proud, scared, or selfless to accept help, don't you think it will kill Buck too? You're...you're like the little brother he never had. Vin would miss your pranks, Ez likes your sense of humor, Nate appreciates another level head around the office, Josiah is constantly surprised by your wisdom...and I...well, let's just say I can't let you sign your own death warrant. You remind me too much of...of other people I've lost."
JD's eyes showed his indecision. After a few minutes, he asked in a soft voice, "How could I possibly risk any of you to that...monster?"
Chris gave a hard smile. "We're not asking you to...and don't underestimate this team, either. With Josiah's knowledge of profiling, we could probably predict Spencer's behavior. I'd bet Vin is more than his equal with a rifle, and that monster won't even see the rest of us coming." Chris hesitated and then tried one more argument. "Did you ever consider the possibility that Spencer might have studied you as much as Abbott did? Spencer might be depending on you coming after him alone. Why give him what he wants? This team is stronger together, and I think we stand a far better chance against him together than we do apart."
JD nodded tentatively and then leaned back into his pillow. "I need to think about it. Can I have a few days?"
Chris knew that the doctor was expecting to release JD from the hospital the following morning, so he suspected that this might be a ploy, a trick by JD to sneak away while Chris' guard was down, but Chris nodded regardless. "A few days, sure. Just...think about what I said."
JD Dunne was more nervous than he had ever been in his entire life. Standing in the doorway to the renowned ATF Team Seven office area, JD wondered how he had been so lucky as to be appointed to this team. His complexion was still paler than normal, and he had not completely recovered from his head injury (he still suffered form occasional bouts of dizziness), but his step was confident and his mind at ease as he crossed the threshold into the office area of ATF Team Seven.
Vin was in the break room, making the coffee stronger as Josiah looked on with apparent approval. Nate was still fussing over Ezra, convinced that the man could not have fully recuperated so quickly from the effects of a Taser. Buck was trying to hit Ezra with a paper airplane, but the plane's design made it veer off course and nearly strike Chris in the forehead. Without missing a beat, Chris snatched the plane out of the air, and threw it in the nearest garbage can. Buck groaned in defeat while Vin looked up, noticed what had happened and smirked.
JD lost himself in the background noise of ATF Team Seven's office banter. This was where he belonged, and this was where he would stay...not that his friends would give him any other choice. JD felt reassured. In the light of day, in the presence of his friends, he believed wholeheartedly that this team--this family--would be more than capable of taking on Damon Spencer and winning.
In a town not too far from Denver, Damon Spencer sat in his recently acquired, small apartment, silently cursing Roger Abbott for choosing not one, but seven successors to see that he faced justice. After giving sufficient time and energy to his anger, Damon Spencer set about considering how he would deal with this new threat. He was good at dealing with problems...especially people problems. They tended to get a bit bloody, but he had never been a squeamish man. The only question was how to go about destroying this seven-man team, and once Damon Spencer set his mind to something, it was merely a matter of time before he solved that problem.
Damon Spencer smiled. Unlike his former adversary Abbott, Damon had all the time in the world.