Beta by Melissa
"I regret to inform you …"
It had been one of those days. A thunder storm started it, when lightning hit the transmission tower and everything went downhill from there. Due to bad information, at the last minute, the meet that had been set up didn't happen. Three weeks of intense work was washed away, as if the storm had objected to what they were doing. Now Travis showed up in the bullpen in the middle of the afternoon, something he only did to give them a case, a thank you or ream them over something they'd done wrong. Buck's frustration was rolling off him in waves; he was pacing so quickly that he was almost trotting around the room.
Buck snarled as he threw himself into his chair and glared at the older man. "Hold it Orin, what are you talking about? You called this meeting. Chris and Vin are gone and you know it. Whatcha talking about?"
Orin looked at the five men, his eyes haunted. "I need to speak to you all…"
"What, to rub it in that we screwed up this bust royally? Tell us we need to get our asses in order or be fired?" Buck's angry voice snapped out as his eyes flashed fire.
Ezra tiredly cut into Buck's rant, "Mr. Wilmington, please give AD Travis time to finish what he is saying."
"Thank you Ezra, please sit back down men," Orin said, as he looked at the five weary men. He really had to tell them before they heard it from another source. He watched as the men with their mugs of coffee sat down. This small lunch room was often used as a meeting place. The hall side wall held a sink, counter, coffee maker and small refrigerator.
Ezra's shrewd eyes looked over the older man and noticed how drained he looked, he actually looked older than he was. Ezra straightened up, his fatigue dissipating as he studied Travis's face. Something was dreadfully wrong.
Buck slumped slightly in his chair, anger darkening his blue eyes, his hands fisted on the table. JD sat next to him, his chair leaning back on two legs. Josiah, his extra large coffee mug in one hand his lips moving as he muttered under his breath. Nathan, his arms folded across his chest gazed into his coffee a moment before raising his eyes to Travis. Ezra scooted forward on his chair, coffee forgotten, eyes locked on Travis.
Shaking his head, Orin swallowed, his gaze turned from the men in front of him and fell to his clinched fists. "Word came to my office about an accident outside of Omaha. It involved Chris's truck and a semi. The Ram was burned and the two passengers were …" Orin swallowed again, the thought of what he'd been told raced through his mind. His gaze took in the slow horror building on the men's faces. He cleared his throat and continued. "The two passengers in the truck were burnt beyond recognition. Everything was taken to Lincoln for identification. The only things identifiable were the badges that belonged to Chris and Vin, and the truck's license plate. They will let me know as soon as they can…"
JD yelled as he jumped up. "NO!! It's not them… Someone stole the truck or something like that… It's not them!"
Orin sadly gazed at his youngest agent and wished the news was better. He was still trying to wrap his head around the news. He couldn't believe it could be his two men, the men that held his best team together. "I have been in contact with the police. They have already begun to investigate every angle since they were Federal Agents. I gave them the hotel name Chris and Vin were staying, the Double Tree on Dodge street. They found that Chris checked out of the hotel at 6am this morning."
"What time was the accident?" Josiah asked.
"It was about 9am. The truck was westbound on the highway, a semi crossed the center lane … Hit it head on," Orin stumbled over the words before catching his breath and raised his eyes to the men around the table.
Josiah stared at Travis. "We want total proof Orin."
"I don't think it was them. I think I'd have felt it if it was Chris," Buck scowled at the older man.
"Of course, positive proof is needed. I pray it isn't them," Orin agreed. "I wanted you to know before you heard it elsewhere. Were any of you in contact with them this week? Did they have a side trip planned, or to visit anyone?"
The five looked at each other and shook their heads. "I talked to Chris last night. They planned to come straight home today," Buck told them.
JD banged his fist against the table. His eyes glistened with tears that he tried not to shed. Standing abruptly, his chair crashed into the wall behind him. "We have to find them. We'll hunt every inch of that highway," he blurted.
"Calm down JD, we will get to the bottom of this," Nathan assured, as his hand latched onto the younger man's arm and held him still for a moment.
"Let's get to work." JD pulled loose from Nathan and headed for the door.
"Just a moment JD," Orin called after him. When the young agent turned around, Orin continued. "None of us want to believe it was Chris and Vin in that truck, the investigation is based in Lincoln Nebraska. I can't allow any of you go there. The Jamison case is first priority for us right now. If he contacts Ezra, we will go from there." Orin looked at Ezra, "See if you can set up another meeting with Jamison. The faster he's taken down the quicker we can turn our attention to Chris and Vin."
Ezra looked at Travis. "I will be sure to do that Mr. Travis. Obviously, you will be the first to know."
"Thanks Ezra. I need to get back to my office. If you need anything, besides taking off for Omaha, just ask." Orin exited leaving silence behind.
The five men looked at one another before JD headed for the door. "I'm going to check the highway cameras, as soon as I check out the news reports."
Buck rose slowly, as if lead weights hung from his shoulders. "They are not dead. We have to find them immediately."
"You believe something happened to them?" Nathan asked gathering the coffee mugs and placing them on the counter.
"It wasn't them in the truck. Yes, I think maybe the truck was stolen," Buck replied with a stubborn glint in his eyes. "Some teens might have thought it was cool to take the truck for a joy ride, but since we haven't heard from them …" Buck's head dipped as he blinked his eyes, he didn't need to finish the thought.
"Then brothers, let's get to work. We have a case to put to rest so we can go look for our lost brothers." Josiah stood and walked around the table heading for the door. The other men followed him out, and went to their desks. Orin's words, and their own ideas rolled through their minds. They knew they had a job to do, but that wasn't going to stop them from searching for their brothers.
"Looks like a good day to head home. I'm sure happy this trial is over with." Vin laughed happily as he tossed his duffel bag into the back seat of Chris's Dodge Ram, uncaring that his only suit was stuffed into it. He stretched in the predawn light; it was going to be a beautiful sunny day. He could see no clouds anywhere. A long drive cooped up in the Ram tasted like freedom compared to days in the courtroom.
The last week had found them both stuck in a stuffy court room listening to the Prosecutor going over and over testimony, and a fast talking Defense attorney trying to get Hutchins and his two accomplices cleared. Team Seven had arrested the men for selling illegal guns and tainted drugs to minors. Several children had allegedly died from the use of the drugs and guns. Because of the popularity of the arrest and the extensive news coverage, the trial had to be moved to another city and ended up in Omaha. Chris and Vin had been called to testify at the three trials running concurrently. The Defense tried hard to get them to change their testimony. It didn't work and after five days of putting up with the lawyers and the smug looks on the felons' faces as Chris and Vin gave their testimony; the two agents were dismissed. The three men had been convicted and were awaiting sentencing.
"If we drive straight through we should be home by bedtime." Chris laughed seeing the look on his soul brother's face. Being in a pickup for approximately 9 hours wasn't going to be fun, but they would take turns driving. The hotel was comfortable, but home was looking mighty good.
Chris's thought's touched a moment on their teammates as he stored his duffel bag and carefully laid his garment bag on the back seat before walking around the truck. It would be good to get home and able to relax. Tomorrow, the guys would be sitting around his living room watching the game on his 52 inch flat screen TV. With a small smile, he realized there'd be a lot of yelling at the TV along with eating everything in sight.
Chris got behind the wheel, and moments later they were heading out of the city. Breakfast was planned for later in the morning, after they got out of the early morning rush hour traffic.
A few miles outside of Omaha, Chris pulled into a large strip mall, to a twenty four hour restaurant located at one end. Both men were hungry and service was efficient. The young waitress dropped off menus and cups of coffee as they sat down in a booth. Chris ordered the breakfast special while Vin ordered two full breakfasts. A while later, the food had been eaten, Vin's purchased cinnamon buns were safely tucked on the seat between them, and the thermos filled. They were on the road once more.
An hour later, blinking tail lights on the side of the highway alerted them to a possible problem. Chris looked at Vin who nodded his head, agreeing to the silent question, 'should they stop?' Chris sent to him.
Chris pulled over ahead of the shiny red classic 1957 Chevy with its hood up, and backed up to get closer. The agents looked at the two women, dressed in red tops and black slacks, standing in front of the vehicle. Worried looks marred their pretty faces as they looked from the engine to the men. When Chris put the truck in park Vin jumped out and ambled towards the two women, asking, "Do you need some help?"
The redhead smiled at the men as Chris stepped out of the truck. She pointed at the engine and said, "It made these funny sounds then stopped working. I barely managed to pull over to the side before it sputtered and quit. So here we are and we need to get to Grand Island for a car show we're entered in. Do you have a phone? Carrie forgot hers, and mine is run down. Thank you for stopping, you're the first car we've seen in the last five minutes." She talked quickly as she pushed her long hair away from her face in frustration.
Chris joined them and pulled out his cell phone. Vin was bent over the motor, jiggling wires. As he held the phone out to the woman, she took it from him, and with a smile she pulled a .45 and pointed it at his head.
Vin straightened, hearing a 'god-damn-it' from Chris, he looked towards the two women, and noticed a gun pointing accurately at his chest. With a disgusted glance at Chris, he shook his head. Vin's thoughts raced over what they were going to do to get away from the women. His eyes met Chris's and he could see the loathing mirrored in the green orbs, they'd been taken with the oldest trick in the book.
"Move." The redhead gave Vin a shove towards the edge of the road. He noticed the other woman, with a smile on her lips, had a gun pointed unerringly at Chris. Vin moved, tensing as he shot a look at Chris. At the nod from Chris, they prepared to turn and disarm the women. When they got to the edge of the road, they were ready to act, but looking down they were surprised to see two men standing below them, out of sight of any one passing on the highway. They were armed and their guns were pointing at the two agents.
"Damn," Vin muttered as he was shoved over the edge. Chris followed him down the 10 foot slope to where the men were waiting.
"Try something, we'll shoot you. Just need an excuse," the one man wearing jeans and a black tee shirt said cocking his gun. With the women above still pointing their guns at them, there was nothing they could do at the moment. The man who'd spoken moved behind Vin and pressed his gun into the side of his neck. "Go ahead and move. Make my day." He dared Vin as he reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet, and flipped it open. The second man did the same to Chris, though his gun was tightly pushed under his chin. Both agents' fists clenched, as they forced themselves to wait for an opening. Finding the badges, the gunmen exchanged glances and called up to the women.
"They're ATF agents."
"Don't leave them there, they can ID us," the redhead called. With her back to the few cars that sped by, they couldn't see her gun nor the men below her. The other woman waved at the cars, her gun hidden as she dropped the hood of their car.
Before Vin could move he was struck over the head by his assailant. He went to his knees aware that Chris had fallen too. He was hit again and darkness descended.
The men ran up the slope and hugged the women. The man who'd hit Vin handed the redhead the money they found in the agents wallets.
"It's our day Bella, cash and a nice diesel truck. We'll meet you at Yorko in 45 minutes," he told her before giving her a kiss and jumping into the Ram with his buddy. The stolen wallets were tossed on the seat between them before putting the truck into gear and taking off, laughing as tires threw up gravel and left black marks on the pavement.
The women, left behind looked down at the fallen agents. The redhead sighed and carrying the cell phone she ran down the slope towards the two men. There, she crushed the phone under her foot and for good measure, struck both men in the head again with her gun, she didn't want to be hunted for killing some kind of agents, just keep them out of her way for a few hours. She hurried back up to the waiting car. With a last look around they drove away, smiling as they thought of the money they were going to make selling the truck.
Hours later Chris woke up and moaned in pain, his head felt like it was coming off and he wondered what happened. He could smell antiseptic and hear odd noises. Forcing his eyes open he lay looking up at a fuzzy light green ceiling covered in shadows. He squinted his eyes and wished the pain would leave his head, it felt as if a couple thousand men were there with hammers hammering into his skull.
A face in front of his eyes materialized suddenly and he jumped in surprise.
"Sorry. Didn't mean to startle you, but I saw you were awake. I'm Jenny, your night nurse. How do you feel?" a soft voice asked.
Chris tried to see the face clearer, but it seemed the more he tried the worse his head hurt. "Head hurts," he gasped.
"I am sure; you have a bad concussion. Your IV has pain medication in it. You should feel better in a few minutes. It will take a few days for you to get back to normal."
Chris felt the pounding ease somewhat and glanced at the grey haired woman, "Jenny, where am I? What happened?"
"A State Trooper brought you in three days ago. You and your friend were standing by the side of the road. Both of you have severe concussions. You are here in the Bryan Medical Hospital in Lincoln Nebraska, it was the nearest hospital. Do you remember your name? We don't have any ID for either of you."
Looking confused Chris gazed at the woman, his aching head trying to puzzle out what she said. "I don't remember anything."
She patted his arm, "You will. It will come; with the head trauma you had it might take a little while."
"Yes, it's almost Tuesday morning."
"Damn." Chris muttered, his eyes sliding closed.
Jenny straightened and shook her head. She wondered what had happened to the two men. Both men had suffered head trauma and though they had awoken several times, neither one could remember exactly what happened. She sighed and moved to the second bed, where the young long-haired man lay. He was stirring and as she adjusted his blankets, his eyes blinked and bright blue eyes slowly opened.
She smiled at her young patient as his puzzled gaze went around the room.
"Hello. I'm Jenny, how do you feel?"
"Like a herd of buffalo trampled m' head. Where am I?" Vin asked in a raspy voice.
She repeated what she had told Chris then asked if he could remember anything.
For a moment Vin stared at her, then told her, "Name's Vin Tanner, ATF out of Denver." He turned his head looking at the other bed in the room with someone in it. "Where's Chris?"
"Chris? Who is he?" Jenny asked.
"Blond, black clothes, rotten disposition if crossed, green-eyed glare."
Jenny smiled, "I think he might be the one in the next bed. He's been with you all along. Do you remember what happened? The police have been here several times to talk to you."
Vin looked at the next bed and saw that it was indeed Chris, before turning his aching head to the friendly nurse.
"We stopped ta help a coupla' women broke down along the highway. They's hiding a coupla' men off the side of the road. Took our wallets and knocked us out. All I remember of them … Somehow when we woke up, we made it ta the road. Don't know nothing after that," Vin answered his Texan accent thick.
"What is Chris's full name? Who can we contact to let them know where you are?"
"Ah hell. The boy's 'll be worried 'bout us. He's Chris Larabee, ATF too. Um, you can call Orin Travis, ATF head in Denver, he's our boss. Call Buck Wilmington there too, no maybe Nathan he'd be home, Ms Rain is workin' I think."
"Do you remember phone numbers? Sorry to push you," Jenny questioned as she gave him ice to relieve his dry mouth and throat. As he thought, she checked the IV port, then gave him more ice.
"Thanks. Yeah, ummm is it night?"
Jenny smiled as she adjusted his blankets, "It's almost 4AM. I'm here for another three hours."
"Oh. I don't know Orin's home number, but Nathan's is ------" Vin rattled off the number as Jenny wrote it down.
"I'll give him a call right now. You just rest and I'll be back in a few minutes."
Vin smiled and turned his head towards Chris's bed. "I'll be here," he said as his eyes slid shut.
Jenny hurried to the nurses' station and told Maggie, "I finally found out who our John Does are; in bed A is Mr. Chris Larabee and in B is Mr. Vin Tanner. I'm going to call their friends right now."
She made the call to Nathan. "Nathan Jackson? This is Jenny; I'm a nurse at Bryan Medical Hospital in Lincoln Nebraska. I have two patients here that claim to be friends of yours." She paused then laughed. "Yes sir, they call themselves Chris and Vin. I am sorry for the late hour, but…" She laughed. "Yes, you may call me back. I'm on duty until 7. My direct line is 402-555-1255. I'm looking forward to hearing from you."
It was almost 5AM when the desk phone rang, and Jenny, with a glance at the clock answered. She smiled when the man identified himself as Nathan Jackson and asked to talk to Jenny. When she responded her smile widened. After a few minutes and an interesting conversation she hung up and looked at Maggie. "Well Maggie that was Mr. Jackson an ATF agent and friend to our patients. He will be coming from Denver to take them home, he sounded glad."
"What in the world were these two doing here? We're a long ways from Denver?" Maggie asked, as she signed off on a file and looked up at her friend.
"I don't know. It was thought that they had died. Remember that bad accident with the semi truck and the pickup truck? Mr. Jackson said the pickup belonged to our patients. They think the truck was stolen. The bodies of the men were identified as Larabee and Tanner from some metal that hadn't burnt." Jenny chuckled. "Mr. Jackson asked if one patient was a long haired, skinny Texan with blue eyes, I told him yes."
The two nurses were happy to have the identification of their patients. Jenny returned to their room to give them the news. She was surprised to find both men awake.
"Well it is nice to see you both awake. How are you feeling?" She asked looking at Chris first.
"Skinny assed, long-haired Texan woke me up, head's still fuzzy but I remember." Chris growled and the green-eyed glare disappeared into a smile as he looked at Vin.
"Hey, thought you'd want ta know what was goin' on, ungrateful tight assed... Oh sorry ma'am," Vin, his face turning red, winked at Jenny.
Jenny laughed, "No problem, I've heard a lot worse. I do have news for you though. Your friend Nathan Jackson said they were coming to get you." She paused, when the two men groaned and Chris muttered something about mother hens. With a smile she continued, "Since they're coming from Denver, you have plenty of time to rest and get rid of those headaches. I can give you something to help you sleep if you wish."
"No!" came instantly from both men at the thought of more drugs.
"All right. I'll check in on you before I leave. Rest," Jenny dimmed the lights and left the room.
Chris and Vin gazed at each other, before Vin's slow smile crossed his lips, "Wonder who's coming."
Chris grinned, "Wouldn't be surprised if all of the boys are on the way. Wonder how they talked Travis into letting them go."
"Guess we'll see who it is later. It'll take 'em eight hours or more to get here," Vin snuggled down into his blankets, and a short time later both men were asleep.
The doctor had stopped on his rounds mid-morning, and after checking them over told them that they were doing well, and if their headaches continued to lessen they could leave in the morning. He also told them they could have something other than soft food for lunch, though he didn't recommend steaks, he grinned seeing the look on Tanner's face.
A little while before lunch, they were visited by two State Troopers. One carried a recorder, and after preliminary greetings and instructions, the interview began. Officer Miller took their statements asking pertinent questions as to what happened. Vin remembered the license number of the car and gave it to the troopers as he and Chris gave details of the car to the officers. Chris, with Vin's help, described the women and their two accomplices. Once they finished, having answered every question, their names were entered on the electronic signature device, which they signed it where indicated. With their addresses on file, the troopers left with a promise to let them know if, and when they received information on the men who had stolen Chris's truck and died in the accident. They thought the women, with the description of the car, would be easy to locate. An APB would be put out on the vehicle and ladies as soon as they returned to their station.
Shortly after the troopers left, they were served lunch. Vin was thrilled to see broiled skinless chicken, spinach, rice, applesauce, coffee and a small brownie for dessert. Before Chris could finish his meal, his brownie disappeared and he glared at Vin who had quickly eaten it. With a shake of his head he finished his meal. When the nurse came to take their trays, Vin asked if he could get some more food. She gave him a shocked look. She stuttered that she'd see what she could do, and carrying the trays hurried out of the room.
Vin grinned at Chris, "Heck I'm hungry, haven't had food for three days."
Chris rolled his eyes and leaned back in his bed, wondering if Vin's hollow leg would ever be filled. He smiled when the nurse returned with another piece of chicken and some jello. Vin made short work of eating them before settling back to rest until their teammates arrived.
The door opened. Chris and Vin, with heads cocked, watched to see who was entering. Buck entered first and seeing they were awake, yelled in a booming voice, "You are alive! Thank God!"
JD, Ezra, Nathan and Josiah, with relieved smiles, crowded into the room. They greeted their lost teammates, touching arms, hands and covered feet, their voices overlapping one another. Chris and Vin smiled at their friends.
"Don't talk too loud, we're trying to get rid of these headaches," Chris said, as his hand was engulfed in Bucks hand.
Once the greetings were over with, Chris told the others what they could remember. They were puzzled that neither one of them remembered standing on the side of the highway or the State Patrol picking them up. They had no idea what had happened to Chris's truck.
They were told how Orin had come into the office, and said that they'd been killed in a semi-truck versus pickup accident. The men were relieved that it wasn't true, as they could find no camera that showed that part of the highway to see what really happened. The two in the beds could see how the news had affected their friends. Buck was gripping Chris's arm, as if he wasn't going to let go. Ezra, on the other side of Vin, in an unusual show of emotion, had a hand on Vin's shoulder, rubbing it with soothing circles. Nathan was studying the men closely, checking for other injuries. Josiah was smiling as he said a prayer under his breath for the safe return of their brothers. JD usually a bouncing endless supply of energy, was seated on the edge of Chris's bed his dark eyes going from one of his heroes to the other, a smile on his face.
"We're fine; you know we're too tough to kill. And now I don't have a truck," Chris moaned.
"Your truck? Hey! How about my suit. It's gone an' I'm not springing fer another one. I am glad ta see it gone."
"Mr. Tanner, I will happily supply you with the name of my tailor and have him make you a new suit. I'll even pick up the tab or provide you with the funds. You have to be decently dressed for court." Ezra put in.
"Thanks but no thanks Ez, never goin' ta wear one again. That was the only one I had and not goin'ta replace it." Vin stated firmly as the others smiled.
Chris said, "Travis requires his agents to wear suits in court. You'll have to get a new suit, might as well take Ezra's offer."
"Nope, I regret to tell ya'll, that was the only suit I owned and I'm never buyin' another one. I can wear my good jeans an' a clean shirt."
"And you Mr. Larabee? You also need a new one."
"Ezra, I have an extra one at home, I'm sure it still fits," Chris grinned. "But, I need a new truck now. Since you all are here, we can go shopping for one as soon as we are released. I do not want to ride with any of you idiots, especially Buck." Out of the corner of his eye, Chris saw a grin cross Vin's face before he hid it with a nod of his head.
Moans and groans filled the room. Buck turned long suffering blue eyes on his long-time friend. "Chris, you know we love you to death, and would follow you to the ends of the earth in a heartbeat. But please, we DO NOT want to go truck shopping with you stud, ever."
Heads nodded in agreement, they all knew Chris was one of the most picky men ever, when shopping for a vehicle. It could take him days to find the rig he liked. With a smirk, Chris let the guys try to talk him out of truck hunting the next day. He really had no intention of shopping until he got home, but he knew his men, they needed some release, and this was the only way he could think of at the moment.
"Also, once out of here, we are going to stop for a big steak dinner. Buck, you will NOT pick up any ladies on the way home either."
"What? We have to go shopping and then a steak dinner and no women? What happened to you? You were never such an ogre before … Oh wait, some woman got the best of you and Vin and their buddies burned up your truck, so you're taking it out on us. We, who just arrived to take you home, and we got you a few days off too." Buck quipped, seeing the glint in Chris's eyes and knowing he was not serious.
"Vin's hungry," Chris retorted.
Amid laughter and more teasing, the horror of the accident was set aside. Later they would investigate, but for now they were all together and savoring the moment.
That evening the men were back in Chris and Vin's room, talking and jeering at the TV as they watched an episode of some show called Suits, and enjoyed each other's company. Chris leaned back and listened to his men. The next time there was a trial out of town, he was flying. None of them needed the stress they went through this week. He grinned at Vin who winked at him, easily reading his thoughts. He was thankful they were all here, together. They were a family. An unconventional one, to be sure, but with a nod at Vin he relaxed, and listened to his family.
Jenny smiled when she heard the noises coming from her patient's room. She paused a second, then continued on her way with a smile, back to the nurses' station, to the job she loved. Earlier she had accidently overheard some of the newcomers talking, telling her patients' someone had regretted to inform them that their friends were killed in an accident. She shook her head, she was happy her John Does had found their family, she knew they would be fine. There would be no regret for these men now.
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