"Mr. Wilmington?!" The high-pitched and decidedly irritated voice finally succeeded in breaking through the ATF agent's weary and preoccupied thoughts. Despite the fact that he was currently sitting in a courtroom, in the hot-seat, so to speak, Buck's mind was very much elsewhere. About eight miles southwest of him actually. The warehouse district, to be more precise.
The agent glanced at his watch for about the thirtieth time since the cross-examination had begun, before finally returning his attention to the attractive woman addressing him - the accused's lead legal counsel. "Beggin' your pardon, ma'am. Could you repeat the question?"
Even the agent had to admit that anyone who knew Buck Wilmington would be hard pressed to believe that the highly attractive thirty-something brunette standing in front of him simply couldn't keep his attention. After all, the man did have a reputation to uphold.
But it was true.
Hell, just the fact that Wilmington was still on the receiving end of an exhausting two hour long attack by the defense attorneys in this case should've ensured that Buck be more attentive. Problem was, he really did have other things on his mind.
Well. . .other people, anyway.
Team 7 was acting as back-up for Team 3 in a weapons raid happening right in Denver. The veteran agent knew damn well that chances were it was either happening right then or the raid was already over. ATF had known the deal was going down today and they knew where it was happening. They just didn't know exactly when. And funny thing, after a long five hours. . .and still counting. . .Buck just didn't feel like sitting in court having his ass grilled anymore by some highfalutin princess. Especially when his closest friends, along with one disaster-magnet of a kid brother, were putting their lives on the line just so overpaid suits like the one in front of him could get their clients off the hook with legal technicalities.
The whole situation really stunk.
He'd just come to the not that surprising conclusion that he'd been sitting in the witness box too damn long as it was, repeating his story over and over again like a broken record until even he was getting sick of hearing his own voice. Problem was, if he actually did start paying attention to what the lady 'Perry Mason wannabe' was up to, he'd wind up doing or saying something he'd regret. And, since the whole point of this exercise was to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help him God and protect his credibility and reputation as an ATF agent while he was at it, he figured his best bet was to simply tune the bitch out.
What he kept tuning into however - stewing about the raid he wasn't a part of, thanks to the aforementioned bitch and her team of sociopathic robots - was no better an alternative to dwell on as far as he was concerned. He was sure the raid should've gone down already, been long done and over-with in fact. At this point, his anxiety and misplaced guilt over not being there to watch his partners' backs and make sure JD came out of it safe and sound had him focussing all his pent up frustration on the attorney standing before him. God help her, if he let himself blow.
The fact that no one from his team had yet to make an appearance in the packed courtroom wasn't helping his concentration any, either. Between glancing at his watch and stealing glimpses at the entrance each time he heard the old oak doors creak open and shut, he knew he was trying this woman's patience every bit as much as she was trying his.
But he also knew JD'd be here if he could be. And that was more important than anything the lawyer had to say.
Buck, along with the rest of the team, had been forewarned by Assistant D.A. David Brenneman, that the Defense was going to have to attack the ATF's performance in an effort to get the case thrown out of court. Their client was clearly guilty, so getting him off using a legal loophole was truly their only hope at acquittal. That Buck was the agent to have pulled the trigger and hospitalize their client, and therefore in line for the most, not to mention longest lasting, misery and abuse, was a given.
The fact that the rest of Team 7 had testified the previous day and the defense attorneys had asked the court to adjourn until today so they could have at least all day with Buck if they saw fit, didn't bode well for the agent to have an easy time of it, either.
Still, he didn't really give a rat's ass about what was said about his performance or whether or not his actions were questionable. He knew he was justified and so did Chris and JD and the rest of the team. That's all that mattered to Wilmington. All he wanted was to get the hell out of Dodge, so he could track down his friends and make sure they were all still in one piece.
He couldn't help but smile a little sadly as he remembered the miserable look on the kid's face early that morning when JD'd complained guiltily over coffee and toasted bagels that he and the rest of the team wouldn't be there in the courthouse for Buck, to lend their support while it was his turn to testify. After all, he'd been there for them.
Leave it to JD to worry about his best-friend facing an ambitious lawyer when the kid and the rest of his team were about to take on dangerous arms dealers. . .
"I really wish we could be there for ya, Buck." The boy's voice was soft, unable to hide the guilt and self-recrimination he felt in not being able to accompany Buck to court.
"I know that, son." Buck did know. JD was about as loyal a friend as anyone could ever ask for and he knew the kid hated not being there to show his support. "Ain't nothin' I can't handle, JD." That was a fact. The older agent's confidence was completely genuine. He'd spent a lifetime facing the proverbial bureaucratic music and he'd always landed on his feet. And by the time his day in court was over, the same would be said again. He could count on it. And so could JD.
What concerned him more was the safety and welfare of the boy and the rest of the team. It frustrated Buck to no end to know he wasn't going to be there for them - watching their backs. That he and JD were going their separate ways this morning, the morning of a major bust, just didn't sit right with him at all. And the last thing he wanted was JD preoccupied, worrying about him in court when the kid had his own fat to keep out of the fire - the line of fire, that is. "No need to fret, kid. Want s'more coffee?"
JD rolled his eyes at his roommate's too obvious change of subject, but slid his 1999 ATF Softball Championship team mug towards the steaming coffeepot hovering in Buck's grip, anyway. "I'm serious, Buck."
"JD--" Wilmington knew the kid hated the tone he was using, but it earned the older man exactly what he'd intended - the kid promptly threw him a well-practiced glare. Buck hated to see the kid upset but given a choice, always preferred a pissed off JD to a worried one.
"I mean it, Buck. I'm worried about you." The big man couldn't help but smile warmly at the boy's misguided protectiveness. He burst into a grin though at the sheepish look suddenly flashing across the kid's face. "That lady lawyer really scared me - she's scarier than Chris!"
Whether JD'd meant to or not, he successfully had his best-friend laughing, and the older man had to quickly set down the coffee before either he or the floor wound up wearing the Brazilian 'nectar of the gods' he'd whipped up in his kitchen that morning.
"Jesus, JD! Warn a guy before you actually go 'n say something funny for once!"
Buck's comment and the bright grin he wore immediately had the kid laughing too and, within seconds, the two friends slipped into their comfortable, easy banter. . .
"Son, I promise ya. . .there ain't a lady out there that Buck Wilmington can't handle. I'll have her eatin' outta the palm of my hand so fast, she'll be askin' for my phone number before the jury gets all cosy in their seats."
He wants me to repeat the question?! Archibald, Crawford, Reilly and Associates' newest partner, Pamela S. Jamieson had just about had enough of this truly exasperating witness. Despite his obvious fatigue, she simply could not break ATF Agent Buck Wilmington's story. His confidence in his own actions in the field went beyond unwavering. It was like granite. He stuck to his story like Velcro, without faltering even once, no matter how many times she had him repeat it. And what was worse. . .the agent had the jury hook, line and sinker, eating right out of the palm of his hand.
Not only were they believing his every word, they were also enjoying the show.
With Wilmington's easy charm and rugged good looks, Pamela recognized almost immediately that every woman on the jury under the age of fifty was paying particularly close attention to his testimony - ridiculously close attention. In fact, the attorney was certain she'd even heard one feminine gasp coming from the jury box when the tall man had initially approached the witness stand and eased himself into his seat. His comportment was so casual she'd have thought he was sitting down with a beer to watch the game on TV - certainly not facing a career threatening interrogation.
Equally as displeasing were the two older women jurors gazing at the dark-haired charmer with twin looks of motherly adoration. Jamieson couldn't prevent the image from forming in her mind of two old ladies fighting it out over which one of them was going to take the polite young man home and feed him his next meal.
Not that he looked like he was under-fed. In fact, he looked just right. . .
Mortified at her own thoughts, Jamieson promptly shook her head, trying to rid them from her mind and admonishing herself in the process. Pull yourself together, Pamela. This was her first truly important case since earning her partnership with the firm and she was infuriated that she simply could not crack this witness' story.
She'd felt confident that at least she'd have the male jurors, who equaled the number of women, on her side. In her previous court appearances she'd observed how men naturally balked at authority figures in general, and a highly attractive man like Wilmington would surely bring out their competitive nature and animosity. They'd never take his side.
Or so she'd thought.
Instead, while the women jurors were leaning forward in their seats enraptured by Wilmington's charisma and silken voice, the men were all resting as casually in their seats as the witness, nodding their heads in understanding and - dare she think it - admiration and respect, as Wilmington spun his tale of honor and duty.
She could just see it now. While the little old ladies were duking it out over who got to feed him, the men were going to be fighting over who would be first in line to buy the man a beer.
Jamieson's only hope was to wear him down. Get him so fed up that he'd eventually slip up and discredit himself somehow.
She could see that she was making some headway.
After a two hour delay in the proceedings while she and Brenneman argued evidence protocol in the judge's chambers, the prosecutor kept Wilmington on the stand for less than an hour. However, after the first hour of cross-examination, Pamela had noticed the agent becoming increasingly restless, frequently checking his watch and glancing at the courtroom exit. There was obviously someplace else he'd rather be. Well, she'd keep him on the stand for as long as it took, until he broke or at least until the judge figured out what she was up to and ultimately excused the witness.
Until then, she'd keep pushing. The jurors would see another side of ATF Agent Buck Wilmington. She'd make sure of it.
"Do I have to repeat my question, Mr. Wilmington?"
Condescending bitch. The agent smiled ruefully, returning his intense gaze to the attorney and answering her softly. "Yes ma'am. And I do apologize for that, but since I suspect you weren't askin' for my phone number, you might just as well repeat the question so I can give you an answer."
Damn him! Although the members of the jury tried to stifle their collective mirth, Pamela couldn't help but notice with great disdain and animosity that the gallery had broken out into full-fledged laughter. Only the repeated banging of Judge Davis Witherspoon's gavel against his podium finally quelled the merriment in the courtroom.
"Thank you, Your Honor." Jamieson flashed a smile at the presiding judge. Hell, she knew that at the very least right now she was losing the case and felt that resorting to some good old fashioned ass-kissing really couldn't hurt it any further.
Despite the remnants of a pasted-on smile still lingering on the attorney's face, Buck could feel the searing wrath she flashed him as she returned her attention to him. Jamieson's voice and smile may have rivaled Buck's in their sweetness, but she certainly couldn't pull off the sincerity. That's because Pamela S. Jamieson, Esquire wouldn't know sincerity if it bit her on the ass, as far as Buck could tell. Still, if he wasn't so worried about JD and the rest of the team, he'd actually be having a good time trying to wear her down. He might not have won her over yet, but he knew he already had the jury on his side. If only she'd come to the same inevitable conclusion, give up on this futile cross-examination and finally let sleeping dogs lie.
"Sorry, ma'am. Just got a little carried away there 's all. You go right on ahead, now." Wilmington dipped his head, looking to all the world abashed, and as a slight blush of color tinted his cheeks, Jamieson realized she was doomed.
To hell with it. At least she'd make him suffer and be late for whatever it was that was obviously so much more important than his testimony. Just one more time for good measure.
"Mr. Wilmington, could you please recount the events of Wednesday, March 29th, 2000, leading up to and including the discharge of your weapon and subsequent wounding and permanent disabling of my client?"
Even the jury groaned.
Despite the futility of the attorney's attempt to rile him, Buck had every intention of repeating his story verbatim, just one more time, and staying in control as he did so.
He was going to look into each of the jurors' faces - again - as he re-told them in chilling detail about chasing after the 240 pound Neanderthal who'd gunned down an ATF agent during a contraband cigarettes raid in front of Teams 5 and 7, God and everyone. And he'd shake his head in disgust one more time. . .cigarettes, for Christ's sake.
And then he was going to tell them - again - about the 17-year-old migrant tobacco worker who'd innocently happened upon the raid and who 'simian man' in all his cowardice had decided to use as his hostage, running off with her kicking and screaming while he tried to make his escape.
And then Buck would tell the gallery and the jury - again - about the shots fired by Ms. Jamieson's client that snuffed out the life of the migrant girl's frantic mother who'd chased after them to protect her little girl, armed with only a kitchen knife and some stick she'd picked up in the abandoned lot beside them.
And then Buck would swallow the bile that rose in his throat each and every time he remembered the last dying cry of the girl's mother as it was overpowered only by the heart-wrenching scream of her daughter still echoing in his heart to this day.
And then Buck would explain how he'd shot the perp's knee out from under him instead of blowing the guy's brains out, when he had actually had a clean shot at both.
Yeah, Buck was going to repeat the whole ordeal over again and stay cool, even though he wanted to shout to the jury, the world and especially Pamela S. Jamieson that the only reason he'd chosen to shoot her client in the knee instead of between the eyes was that he figured the poor little girl still in the psychopath's clutches had been traumatized enough, without having someone's brains splattered all over her to boot. And it truly was that little girl and only that little girl, Buck Wilmington had been thinking of, when he'd made his decision to fire.
But when the veteran law enforcement officer shifted forward in his seat to repeat his testimony for only the seventh time, and once again rested his elbows on the front of the witness box, he looked across the courtroom and suddenly everything changed. In that moment his breath hitched, his heart plummeted straight to hell and he no longer gave a damn about the jury, the trial, his career and especially Ms. Pamela S. Jamieson.
Buck didn't give a damn about anyone or anything any more.
Except. . .JD.
In the instant the ancient oak doors of the courtroom creaked open and his gaze shot across the room to meet the devastated blue eyes of both Josiah Sanchez and Vin Tanner, Buck Wilmington knew without a shadow of a doubt that JD was hurt bad. Dear God.
Time had ground to an agonizing halt in that heartbeat and, within that moment, Buck's mind had processed the information before him. . .
The ashen, grief-stricken expressions on his friends' faces clearly meant that one of the team was seriously wounded. But with two of his friends coming to collect him - no - coming to handle him, he knew that whoever was hurt was someone extremely close to his heart. And with Vin having come for him, Buck knew, it couldn't be Chris. . .
And came to the soul-shattering conclusion that it had to be the kid. Oh God, it had to be JD.
The only ray of hope Buck could desperately cling to - the only thing keeping him from being swallowed up right then and there by grief and losing his mind, heart and soul in anguish - was that Chris hadn't come for him.
Because if JD was lost, Chris would be the one here for him now.
The kid was still alive.
In the wave of emotions overwhelming him, instinct and fear took control of Buck's body and he was instantly rising from the witness stand before his mind could comprehend what the rest of him was doing.
Pamela Jamieson didn't hide the surprise in her face. She had no idea what was happening, but suddenly Wilmington looked like a man very much in pain. All color was drained from him and his expression was now tight, his jaw clenching repeatedly with obvious distress.
She finally had him. She was sure of it. "Mr. Wilmington, we are not finished here."
"I beg your pardon, ma'am. But yes. Yes, we are." Wilmington's lilt was velvety soft and yet it held within it an edge so sharp and so dangerous, Pamela found herself trembling.
As the shocked courtroom erupted into a noisy cacophony, Vin and Josiah exchanged defeated and uneasy glances and made their way forward to the Prosecution's table to speak with the Assistant District Attorney.
With the steady cadence of the hardwood gavel echoing throughout the room once more, the chaos began to dissipate to muffled murmurs and whispers, and Jamieson gathered her wits together and turned her attention, and a smugly satisfied smile, towards the judge. "Your Honor. It appears we have a hostile witness who is now in contempt of court. I request that Mr. Wilmington be treated accordingly."
Before Witherspoon could inform the overly ambitious Attorney Jamieson that it was he who determined whether or not a witness was hostile or in contempt in his courtroom, the urgent voice of Assistant D.A. Brenneman, having just spoken with Agents Sanchez and Tanner, interrupted him. "Your Honor, may Counsel approach the bench?"
The judge's response was once again interrupted - this time by Buck Wilmington. "Judge?"
The big man's voice was barely a whisper and yet Davis Witherspoon felt the thunder of its emotion reverberate deep within his own chest. The witness had his undivided attention, so he staved off the prosecutor's approach with one wave of his hand. "Yes, Mr. Wilmington?"
"May I address the court, Your Honor?" Wilmington's voice regained much of its familiar strength, yet it remained laced with such deep emotion it had silenced the entire courtroom.
Tanner and Sanchez looked at each other knowingly. Vin knew that Josiah wasn't the only silver-tongued devil on Team 7.
Both sides of the dispute were about to aggressively object to Wilmington's request; however, when the Assistant D.A. felt the sudden firm grasp of Vin Tanner's hand on his arm and caught a glimpse of Josiah Sanchez' affirming nod, he wisely decided to let Wilmington speak.
Jamieson's initial reaction was to deny Buck Wilmington his say but when she saw the depth of emotion intensely etched on his face, she realized that something had finally broken this man. He suddenly looked vulnerable, as though he could crumble any minute. Finally, this was her chance. She would make him crack.
"No objections, Your Honor."
Buck took a deep shuddering breath and willed himself to stay in control for just another minute or two. Losing it would only get him arrested and thrown in jail, and that wouldn't get him any closer to JD. And he knew that boy needed him.
JD needed him in control.
Another calming breath entered his still quaking body, and he had to tightly grip the solid wooden structure surrounding him, feel its stability, in order to continue to speak. "Your Honor, I genuinely don't mean you or this courtroom any disrespect, but frankly I'm just a little tired of this game Ms. Jamieson 'n I've been playin.' Tryin' to see just who can break who first. Well, you see. . .it just don't matter. . .anymore. . ."
Pamela bristled at Wilmington's mention of their game but before she could utter an objection, Judge Witherspoon silenced her with an admonishing glare. She'd made her bed and the judge was going to ensure that she lay in it. With one look, he'd made that perfectly clear.
Buck halted his impassioned speech, feeling himself begin to crumble. He had to pull himself together. Lowering his head, he desperately tried to fight the tight constriction in his throat threatening to steal his voice before he could even consider raising up again and facing the jury. "You see, we've been sittin' here playin' with all this legal mumbo jumbo, technicalities and the like while my partners - my friends - were out there today. Right in the thick of it. Riskin' their lives for this city and for their country. And I should've been out there with 'em - watchin' their backs. Not here, playin' games."
Buck shifted his gaze to Vin and Josiah, seeking strength from their presence and gaining even more from their kinship. Transfixed on his partners, the agent swept a shaky hand towards them and continued his speech. "Now if you look over yonder, towards that table, you'll see two of my partners who testified here yesterday. And if you knew 'em like I do, you'd know without even askin' just why they're here and why they're lookin' as rough as they do. And that's because they've come to fetch me. To take me to the hospital where my partner - where JD - is hurt real bad."
Witherspoon lifted his gavel again, in anticipation of the bedlam the witness' revelation would most assuredly initiate.
It wasn't necessary. His courtroom was completely hushed, so he returned his gavel to its place as Wilmington continued.
"You all remember JD from yesterday, don't you?" Buck was speaking to the jury once again - a mixture of pride, despair and deep devotion spilling from his soft voice. "Doesn't look much more 'n seventeen himself, does he? Now there's a kid for ya. Agent JD Dunne - don't matter what I tell 'im, you know. That boy still believes in justice and that good guys win over bad and that being a good person - the likes of which I have never ever seen in my life - could actually count for somethin.' Now don't that just beat all?"
Buck looked so very lost and bewildered, and both Josiah and Vin felt the uncontrollable urge to rescue their friend as though he were drowning in high seas. But they held fast. They knew Buck had more to say.
The distraught agent looked away from the jury towards Pamela Jamieson and his anguished gaze turned to black ice. "Now lady, if JD dies, the sun might as well never come up again, because that boy is everything I live for. So, if you really wanna go another round with me, well that's just fine, but we're just gonna have to do it some other time because my ride's awaitin' and I've got someplace else to be."
Pamela was speechless, as was everyone else in the courtroom. Buck Wilmington was looking at her expectantly, those midnight blue eyes willing her to finally give in. To let this little charade of hers go. She felt the eyes of the gallery and the jury drilling into her, forcing her to face reality, accept defeat and, in the words of the remarkable man before her, let the good guys win this time. . .before it was too late.
Swallowing her pride, Pamela quickly made her decision and felt a hint of self-respect rush through her in the process. A slight but genuine smile parted her lips as she faced the agent and then addressed Judge Witherspoon. "No more questions, Your Honor. You may excuse this witness."
Witherspoon had his gavel in hand once again, but its repetitive beat could not quell the cheer that broke out in his courtroom. Despite the pandemonium, and his so-called impartial status, the judge had felt a surge of paternal pride as he'd listened to the witness speak.
In a demonstration of his natural athleticism, or perhaps rather a demonstration of his immense desire to get to the hospital and to his youngest partner as quickly as humanly possible, Wilmington vaulted over top of the witness stand, nearly bowling over Pamela Jamieson as he did so. And upon swiftly planting a kiss on the bewildered defense attorney's lips, he bolted with his two partners from the courtroom, parting the gallery and the crowded hallways beyond in a scene which could only be described as reminiscent of DeMille's 'Ten Commandments.'