It shouldn't be this way. For one thing, there shouldn't be SWAT guys in an emergency room, but then again there shouldn't have been gunmen in the ER to start with.
And JD shouldn't be lying there hurt, cardiac paddles shooting volts through his young body.
JD's friends were all crowded in a huddle in the corner watching the doctor trying to revive the kid. A nest of support--of family. Chris felt their closeness. . . Josiah standing behind him, Vin next to him, holding Nathan up. //Aw, Nathan, you don't need to be in here right now.// On Chris' other side was Buck.
And Buck didn't need to be seeing this. But where else would he be? Chris recognized the look on his oldest friend's face. He'd seen it before. Buck was hanging on by a thread. Every time the doctor shocked JD, Buck's own body jerked in response. Chris found himself talking steadily to Buck, in low tones.
Finally . . .
And another. Another.
"Thank God," Chris said.
Dr. Lansing turned to look at him and nodded. "Indeed."
Chris felt Buck slump against him slightly, and instinctively, he reached over to support his friend. Buck recovered quickly, standing up straighter again. Chris slapped him on the back and cought his old friend's eye, noting the glistening tears there, that never spilled. They conveyed comfort to each other in the way they had learned over the last thirteen years. Suddenly, Chris felt profoundly grateful that Buck was there--alive and safe, and he felt grateful, too, that Buck Wilmington was a constant in Chris' life.
Vin's gentle voice was trying to coax Nathan back to his room.
"No," Nathan said. "I need . . . to help."
"You're sick, Nathan," Vin said. Chris was about to intervene when Dr. Lansing took care of it himself.
"All of you need to go on," the doctor said. "We need to work here so please, clear the room."
"C'mon," Chris echoed, and he started herding his men out. Reluctantly, they left the room.
All except Buck. Chris took the big man's elbow and guided him away. And Buck went with him, reluctantly.
Once outside, Buck stopped, stopping Chris as well. "I want to get those bastards," he said. He didn't sound enraged, as Chris would have expected. He sounded . . . overwhelmed. "They shouldn't get away with this."
"They won't," Chris answered. "We won't let 'em."
"We can't let 'em," Buck insisted--as though he were trying to convince Chris.
Chris nodded, then spoke his own mind. "*I* want the agency bastards. What the hell are they thinking anyway?"
It was Ezra who answered. "I believe they are exercising the option to declare JD 'persona non grata'."
"That's no option," Chris said, curtly.
"Evidently, they think . . ."
Chris didn't hear the rest of Ezra's explanation.
"Millard!!!" Chris yelled as he made a B-line for the director of their division of the ATF.
All of his anger now had a target, and he would get answers.
One way or the other.
She was surrounded by chaos and carnage. Some of the people she had been deathly afraid of now lay on stretchers along the walls of the Emergency department. In addition to the injured and dead, there were SWAT officers with automatic weapons, FBI agents and ATF agents. Doctors and other medical personnel were arriving from other hospitals and other towns.
Still, none of that overwhelmed her like the young man whose heart had just started to beat again. She watched her colleagues work on the boy. He must have an incredible will to live. Maybe she would get to talk to him sometime.
"Thea, come sit down. You're white as a sheet."
Thea heard her friend, but the words didn't quite register. What did she want?
"Thea . . . " Colleen was touching her shoulder. Thea looked at her.
"Come sit," Colleen said.
Thea would have. She really would have, but suddenly the room was spinning. Then there was nothing.
Buck was on Chris's heels, and, taking his own life in his hands, Buck grabbed his old friend's arm, restraining him.
"No, Chris!" Buck cried, just before Chris' fist slammed into his jaw, knocking him to the ground. "G**d****t, Chris! This ain't the way."
But Buck could only watch as his friend pressed on toward the retreating ATF director. Thank God Josiah grabbed Chris, pinning his arms to his sides.
Slowly, Buck pulled himself to his feet. He walked over to them and grabbed Chris' chin, forcing him to listen.
"You don't want to do this," Buck almost whispered. "You don't . . ." Chris tried to pull away, cussing like a sailor. "Damn it, Chris! You're gonna jeopardize everything. If you get yourself arrested . . . or worse, you can't help JD. You can't help anybody."
"Shut the f*** . . ."
Buck grabbed Chris' collar with his other hand, still digging his thumb into Chris' chin. "I know you Chris. You want to do something to make this right. Well, this ain't it, you hear me? You attack Millard surrounded by this much firepower everywhere, you're a dead man."
Chris still tried to jerk away. Buck pressed him. "You hear me? That's f*****g suicide. Is that what you want?"
Chris cut his eyes over to where Millard stood, surrounded by the ATF brass.
"Chris!" Buck said.
Josiah, still holding Chris immobile, spoke. "There are six men who need you right now. You've gotta be sharp here, Chris. JD and Nathan need you, and so do the rest of us. This isn't the time to start a fight."
"He started it when he wrote JD off," Chris hissed.
"We'll finish it, Chris," Buck said. "We're all willing to die on this hill with you. But we gotta find out who's after us first or we can't do anything."
"He's right," Josiah said.
Buck realized Vin had joined them. Chris was now surrounded by the surviving team members.
"We'll get 'em, Chris," Vin's gentle voice said, and Ezra nodded his assent.
"Perhaps we could find a place to go so we can figure out what to do next," Ezra said. "No doubt we're going to be interrogated. We need to think about how to handle this."
Buck watched Chris' eyes, trying to read his friend's thoughts. "Can you wait to take Millard on?"
Chris' eyes narrowed, but he spoke what Buck needed to hear. "Yeah, I'll wait. But this ain't over."
Buck slowly released his hold on Chris. "Not by a long shot," he agreed. "Not by a long shot."
Larabee was a loose cannon. He didn't need to be leading this band of renegades. Hell, this band of renegades didn't need to be bearing the kind of weaponry that Davis had supplied. What the hell had Davis been thinking anyway? This was madness. Everyone knew Larabee had gone over the edge when his wife and son were killed. And Sanchez . . . he was an absolute maniac--a cultist and a terrifyingly violent man. Tanner still had a bounty on his head. How had Davis gotten around that? That ex-POW Jackson and his g****n flashbacks, and Wilmington hadn't held a job consistently before this one.
Now the kid--the druggie--had cost good men their lives, all because he got hooked on the stuff, then crossed the wrong guy. The ATF didn't need this kind of publicity. Not on his watch.
Millard had to smile. How odd that the one he trusted was the gambler Standish. Standish had proven to be the most level-headed of the team.
God, look at Larabee--about to take his head off. Millard almost wished he would. Then he could get rid of this thorn in his side once and for all.
So there actually *was* a benefit to spending so much time in a doctor's office. Vin's doctor, Dr. Chen, had come over from Mercy General to assist. He arranged for Chris' team to use the doctors' lounge as a private waiting area. It was nice, Ezra noted to himself--nicer than where the agents usually wound up.
Josiah was stretched out on the leather sofa, and Ezra remembered how the big man had been in the ER at the time of the attack. Josiah had been dazed by the blast, but seemed to be doing all right now. Still, Ezra would watch him.
Chris paced part of the time, then would sit at the table, then he'd bolt again.
Buck was sitting at the table, nursing a cup of coffee, staring blankly most of the time.
Vin had plopped crosslegged on the burber carpet--the only institutional looking accoutrement of the lounge.
So why couldn't Ezra "plop" down somewhere?
Odd--Ezra felt like he was on an adrenaline high or something. He was overcome with energy, and not necessarily beneficial energy. His heart raced, he felt nervous, and he realized he'd been talking a mile a minute. It had to be the excitement of two terrifying gun battles and a bomb all in one day. And that was after a week of almost no sleep worrying about JD.
Surely that was all that was wrong with him. Right?
Ezra was on a roll, trying to guide his friends to some kind of game plan. Why would JD kidnappers risk an all out war in an ER? What could they possibly gain? Who were they?
"Speaking of 'who were they?'" Josiah said, his face serious, but his eyes showing signs of amusement. "Where did you recruit your cavalry?"
Ezra chuckled. "The less you know, gentlemen, the better."
"The more *I* know, the better."
Damn it. Who the hell told Millard where they were?
Ezra never dropped a beat. "Ah, sir, the more you know about what?"
"The 'cavalry' Agent Sanchez is referring to."
Millard strode into the lounge with long strides--for such a short man. He rested his hand on Ezra's shoulder as if it belonged there.
"Oh," Ezra said, stepping away. "I'm quite sure he is referring to the quick and sure detachment of the SWAT team. They saved us from certain death and are to be commended."
"Don't b***sh*t me, Standish."
"I'm sure I have no idea what you mean, sir. I would never presume to . . . obfuscate in your presence." Ezra loved this kind of parlez better than any other and Millard was such an easy "obfuscatee".
Millard went over and sat at the table where Chris and Buck were sitting. This could not be a good thing, Ezra thought, and he ambled over and joined them.
"You live with Agent Dunne, isn't that right, Wilmington?"
Buck looked up, but didn't answer. Millard of course knew that Buck and JD were roommates. Ezra didn't like where this was heading at all.
"How much do you know about his . . ." Millard was milking this--looking for a word, knowing all the time it would be incindiary.
"Habit," Millard found his word.
Buck's voice was low and nothing short of venomous. "What 'habit' would that be . . . 'sir'?"
Ezra cringed upon hearing the sarcasm in Buck's use of the moniker.
"Why, his cocaine addiction, of course." Millard said it as matter-of-factly as if he were talking about the weather.
Vin and Josiah were on their feet protesting immediately. This time it was Chris who restrained Buck.
"You son of a bitch!!!" Buck screamed at his superior. Then he spun around to Chris. "Get offa me!" he cried, trying to shake Chris off, only to find Josiah and Vin restraining him as well.
Chris spoke, and his voice was remarkably calm. "If you are going to make an accusation like that about one of my men, you'd best have proof."
Millard pulled a folder from his briefcase. He seemed almost . . . gleeful. He shuffled through for a moment (staged, no doubt, Ezra maintained) then pulled out a document and slid it over to Chris.
Chris and Buck both studied it for a moment, then Chris frowned. "These are the 'fake' records we've created. . ."
"*JD* created," Vin interjected, trying to see around Buck so he could look at the document as well.
"JD created," Chris corrected, "to support his cover in the case he was working on."
"I have it on good authority that Dunne has been purchasing drugs illegally for the past two years."
"That's crazy!" Vin said, and the others concurred.
Millard turned to Ezra. "Is it?"
What was that supposed to mean, Ezra wondered. "Sir?"
"Will you submit to a drug test?" Millard asked.
Something was up. Ezra began to feel as though the walls were closing in somehow. Even though he had nothing to hide, he knew a set up when he saw one.
"Certainly," Ezra answered. "But why?"
Millard slapped that hand back on Ezra's shoulder. "Because you've been supplying the crack to your colleague."
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