Polite questions had not gotten him anywhere. When Judge Orrin Travis had arrived at the hospital, no one was standing still. Nurses and doctors were running from place to place. Police officers were leading black-clad prisoners to paddywagons. When Travis had asked any of the agents from the FBI or ATF, he got conflicting stories. In fact, all he knew was that an ATF team had brought injured agents to the hospital, and terrorists had opened fire inside the hospital.
Travis walked determinedly to a little knot of ATF agents.
"Where is Chris Larabee?" he asked, but the agents just looked at each other. He'd had enough of this. Travis squared his shoulders. "I am a federal judge, *son*, and if you don't answer my question, I'll . . ."
"Doctors' lounge," one of the men said.
Travis didn't thank him. He walked down the hall and planted himself in front of the first person he saw in a lab coat. This time he got a quick answer as to the location of the lounge.
He opened the door.
"What the hell is going on?" he asked. Chris Larabee was damn near breathing fire at the area ATF director. What was the man's name? Willard? Mallard?
"Have this man arrested!" Mallard said.
The judge squinted at the director. "I beg your pardon?"
The little director tried to grow taller, or so it seemed, and he blustered back. "This man assaulted me. I want him arrested."
"Larabee?" Travis asked, but Chris remained silent.
Vin Tanner spoke up. "Sir, both Chris and Josiah nearly got blown up this afternoon. They need to be seen by a doctor."
"That's bullsh*t!" Willard said.
Judge Travis addressed Willard. "Do you have any evidence that these men were *not* in an explosion?"
"Of course I don't. But that's no excuse for him to . . ."
Travis spoke again. "I think Agent Larabee must have been out of his head, if he'd been dazed from the explosion."
Mallard was upset. "Surely you can't . . ."
"I can do anything I damn well please," Travis said. He was tired of this little parlez. He turned to Chris. "How are your men, son?"
Chris shook his head. He explained everything, and when he described Wallard's accusations about Sanchez and Dunne, the judge could feel his own heart rate spike. He could imagine how this must be for Chris. Travis had hand picked each of these men for this team, starting with Chris Larabee, and he wasn't gonna let this little piss ant Wallard jeopardize the team or any individual comprising it. Judge Travis turned on the little director.
"Walton, I don't know what you think you're . . ."
"Millard," Millard corrected him.
"I don't give a sh*t about your name," Travis barked. "But I've known these men for years and if you are going to try to slander them, you'd better have irrefutable evidence." Travis moved to within inches of the man's face. "And if I find out that you, or any of your people impeded Agent Larabee's search for Agent Dunne, you'll be one unhappy ATF director in federal prison with all the sorry sons of b****es you sent there!! Do you understand me . . . *Millard*?" But before the director could answer, Travis had a memo pad in his hand. "Does Millard have two 'l's'? I'm glad you clarified your name. I'll know who to turn in to Judge Casselman!"
Millard started to respond but thought better of it. Good move. The director left without another word.
"Thank you, sir," Tanner said, once the door was closed again.
Travis looked at the four men remaining. Chris Larabee had his game face on, but the judge had seen that look enough to know that it was the only thing keeping the agent from exploding.
Josiah Sanchez was angry. That was clear. But he was also shaky. The big man's hands trembled and he would sway ever so slightly. Sanchez really should see one of the doctors. Vin Tanner was the panacea. His voice was gentle, although not weak. He was the balm that was keeping the others relatively calm.
And Ezra Standish? Why the hell would Millard ask for a drug test? Judge Travis took a step over to Standish and lifted the gambler's chin with an easy hand. Travis frowned.
"You're high, son," the judge said finally.
Tanner took a step up behind his friend and spoke placatingly. "Sir, Ezra's never done drugs. . ."
Standish turned to his friends with that glazed, trapped look of a deer. "I didn't do . . ." the gambler started to say, but his voice trailed off.
Josiah Sanchez' eyes challenged the judge. "Ezra hasn't done anything," the preacher finished for him. "If you're gonna take that sanctimonious son of a bitch Millard's word over Ezra's, we don't have a shot here, and neither does JD."
Judge Travis studied the gambler's pupils. "Be that as it may, the man *is* high."
"He doesn't need this from you, too," Chris Larabee hissed.
Travis released Standish's jaw and raised his hand. "Son, you've had a hell of a day so I'm gonna let that go. I'm not saying that pansy-assed Willard is right. I'm saying Standish has been drugged." Travis looked at Larabee. "You boys are being set up."
The judge turned the page over in his memo book and scribbled a name and number on the next sheet. He tore the page out and handed it to Vin. "This doctor is a friend of mine. Call him and tell him I sent you. Take Standish there and let him take care of him. You can stay next door to the doctor's place--it's a safe house and I'll take care of all the arrangements."
Tanner nodded his thanks and put his hand on Standish's back and started to guide him out. Larabee caught the gambler's arm.
"Ezra." Larabee's voice was steady and sure. "We're behind you. We'll stand by you." The team leader paused a moment. "I'll stand by you. You can count on that."
The gambler's voice was paper thin. "I would never do anything to hurt that boy."
Larabee clasped his hand on the Southerner's shoulder. "You saved his life, Ezra. He'd have been dead this afternoon if it hadn't been for you."
Standish almost said something, but he didn't. He seemed overwhelmed. Of course, he was bound to be. He let Tanner move him forward.
"I'll stay in touch," Tanner told his boss.
"Watch your back," Larabee called after him.
Buck Wilmington wasn't thinking much about his broken hand. His mind was overwhelmed with visions of JD: the first moment he saw the kid beaten and dying in the warehouse, the choking boy in the car, and his partner's body arching off the gurney as the paddles shot voltage through him. No, compared to that, Buck's hand didn't hurt him a bit.
The awful thoughts segued back to good memories about life with his roommate. JD made Buck feel like he was back in college. The kid was into all the things a twenty-two year old would be. He liked football and cars and girls and computer games. He was just . . . fun.
The kid was thoughtful, too--maybe to a fault sometimes. JD always seemed very concerned about his friends. He was a worrier by nature. Buck figured maybe that was because everyone who had been associated with the kid--his father, his mother, his one friend in Boston--either left him or died.
Buck had made it a personal mission to *NOT* die. He didn't want the kid to have that to deal with, too. But this . . .
//God, kid, I never thought you'd go first.//
There was a light knock on the door, and the sweet girl who'd been talking to Buck moments ago appeared in the doorway. She had a splint and some bandages with her.
"I'm sorry it took so long. I had to go to another floor for supplies."
Buck liked her voice. It was soothing--like music--except when she was cussing after some doctor. Buck had to admit that he liked that about her, too. She was spunky.
"Thank you, darlin'," Buck said. "Have you heard anything about JD?"
"Nothing new, I'm afraid."
Buck tried to sit up, but she pushed him back down to the gurney. He grasped her slender arm. "Can you get me in to see him?"
"I have to stablize your hand." That was no answer. Buck decided that the young lady didn't want to answer his question. Why wouldn't she? Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. //Oh God . . . //
"He's dead, isn't he?" His question was an extension of his thought.
"Oh, no. He's not dead." Again the voice was like music. "I wouldn't lie to you. I just don't know anything else."
Buck was so relieved. He sighed heavily. "I need to talk to him. I need to tell him . . ."
"What?" the girl asked as she ran her fingers over his wounded hand.
"I need to tell him to hold on. He'll hear me. I know he will."
The nurse didn't say anything right away. She started to work on his arm, putting the splint in place. "He *is* holding on."
"But he doesn't know that we all made it through this. He's gonna worry."
The girl glanced around, as if she feared being overheard. "Tell you what. Let me take care of your hand, then I'll see what I can do. If he's still in the ER, I'll take you to him."
Buck felt the tears rush his eyes and he smiled at her. "Thank you."
Where was everybody? Nathan woke up alone in a sterile room. He was fuzzy. He couldn't quite think straight. They'd been going after JD, but he couldn't remember what had happened after that.
Why had there been shooting in the ER? Where was everyone?
//Think. There's something you're not remembering.//
Nathan closed his eyes again. Vin. Vin had been with him. They'd been watching JD. Nathan's throat became tight.
//JD. I'm so sorry, son. . .//
On to Part Twelve
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