Title In Our Time of Need
Fandom The Sentinel/Magnificent Seven (ATF)
Rating and Warnings Mature, NC-17, Rape
Word Count ~ 69,400
Characters JD Dunne, Buck Wilmington, Chris Larabee, Ezra Standish, Nathan Jackson, Vin Tanner, Josiah Sanchez, Jim Ellison, Blair Sandburg
Author's Notes Written for Nell for Moonridge. See the master post for additional links to art by Mella and Pattrose. Beta'ed by Sallymn, with additional assistance from Mab and Marns.. Thanks you all, ladies.
This is a "Sentinels are known" story, and touches on political and legal issues, bonding, and the spirit world.
Story Summary: Blair goes to Denver to help train a new sentinel and guide;Jim comes along, not willing to be apart from Blair. For four men, choices will be made that will affect them the rest of their lives.
Master Post on my LJ
Master Post at sentinelbigbang
Private camp ground, Estes Park, Colorado
Friday, late evening, June 22, 2001
“Hey, Buck – want to hear a really funny joke?” JD leaned forward from his camping stool and poked a stick into the small campfire, stirring the embers up, and grinned at Buck's groan of dismay.
Buck rolled his eyes theatrically, then smirked at him. “Kid, if you can tell a joke that’s actually got a punch line, I will buy you breakfast at I-Hop when we get back to Denver.” He waved his hand, granting permission to try to make him laugh. “I reckon my money’s safe, though. But go on – give it your best shot.”
Buck placed his hands behind his head, slouching down a little in his camping chair, and waited for JD to commence mangling whatever passed for humor in his head. JD knew this because it was what Buck would remark to him after most of the jokes he’d ever told in Buck's presence, but this time he’d get Buck to laugh. He'd read this joke on the Internet and had practiced it to himself a couple of times. He lifted his mug of hot chocolate and finished it in two gulps, then placed the mug on the ground by his feet.
“Okay. Well, there was this cop and he was trying to give this lady a speeding ticket. She lied to him and told him there was a body in the trunk and that she'd stolen the car and didn’t have any registration. So he calls in backup, right? And a bunch of other cops show up and they look in the trunk and there’s no dead body in there at all. So she didn’t get a speeding ticket because she made him out a liar about the body in the trunk and no registration. Pretty funny, huh?” JD waited expectantly for the praise that Buck owed him, but instead Buck moaned like a zombie and, reaching down to the campground dirt, lobbed a pine cone at him.
“Honest to God, JD, that was terrible. You must be the worst joke teller on this green earth and for making me suffer through that I should make you do the dishes and mop the kitchen floor for a month of Sundays when we get home.” Buck grinned mischievously, just waiting for JD to say something smart back to him, but just then three men walked up to their campfire.
Buck pushed himself out of his chair a little warily, facing them. “How do, gents. There something I can do for you?”
“Yeah, we managed to leave our fire starters at home. Wondered if you could spare a lighter? Or matches?” The tall, dark-haired man spoke in a friendly way, but JD’s spidey sense was tingling. Something was off here. Why did they need three guys just to borrow a lighter? JD stood up, uneasy, and reached into his pocket. He pulled out a lighter and started to toss it to the man who’d spoken, but the guy held out his hand in a stop gesture.
“Kid, you toss that in the dark and I’ll drop it for sure. Just hold on, and I’ll come get it.” The dark-haired man walked around the campfire to JD, who cautiously dropped his lighter into the man’s outstretched hand. The man nodded his thanks and slipped the lighter into his jacket pocket. When his hand re-emerged there was a gun in it, and he pointed it straight at JD’s gut.
The other two men swarmed in on Buck, who fought them off, fists blazing, the three of them coming dangerously close to falling into the fire. Buck got in a few hits on the man closest to him before one of their attackers cracked him over the head with the butt end of a gun. It dazed him enough for the two men to throw him down and as one man held a gun to the back of his shoulder, the other one cuffed Buck’s hands behind his back.
JD's captor poked him with the gun. “You give a yell and I’ll shoot you in the belly. Not a pretty way to die, kid. We don’t need you, so the first sign of trouble and you’re history. Now lie down on the ground, hands behind your back,” the dark-haired man ordered JD.
JD complied. Cuffed, he glanced at Buck on the other side of the campfire and saw his friend being restrained. He judged Buck wasn’t fully conscious from the way his partner's head lolled while one of the men, blond, in his late thirties and taller than the other blond man, tied a gag around Buck's mouth.
So he wasn’t essential, but evidently these guys needed Buck for whatever this was about. He grimly wondered if any of them knew he and Buck were ATF agents.
JD’s baseball cap had shifted a little as he’d fallen to the ground; if he could get it to drop off his head, maybe it’d be left here. The other members of his team would take that as a sign something had gone frickin’ wrong since they knew JD wouldn’t carelessly leave his hat behind for anything.
The dark-haired guy was talking into a walkie-talkie now, telling an accomplice to bring the van around. Then he grabbed JD by the arm and pulled him up on his knees. As JD struggled to get up to his feet, he saw his lighter on the ground. Realizing it must have come out of the man’s pocket when he pulled his gun, JD lightly covered it with his foot, hoping that when they left the lighter would remain behind. Maybe there would be some prints on it that forensics could identify. He was due in court on Monday, to testify about the technical support used to break the Bowery case. When he didn’t show up, Chris Larabee would know something was wrong. But Monday was three long days away.
Dark-haired man, who was the leader judging by the orders he gave to the others, motioned the shorter man of the two blond guys to move to JD's side. He ordered him to gag JD, and the cloth tasted dry and dirty in his mouth.
When a dark blue van pulled up and the shorter guy manhandled him towards the side of the road, he managed to stumble and fall against a tree, artfully dislodging his cap from his head. Short and blond cursed at JD and, grabbing his arm, hustled him into the van. Buck was dumped in beside him a minute later; the other two men had practically dragged him over since he seemed only half conscious. The men made them lie down in the back of the van, and one threw a blanket over them. Before the van door closed, JD saw Shorty return to the campfire and grab JD's backpack. He returned and climbed in, opened it up and complained when he didn't find any wallets, but he made interested noises when he found JD's camera.
JD nudged Buck with his foot and Buck responded by rolling a bit on his side and scooting closer, shifting his leg over both of JD’s. It was comforting, and JD hoped that Buck knew what was going on and wasn’t just reacting to having a warm body next to him. He might think JD was one of Buck’s on and off again girlfriends, if his roommate was still dazed from the blow to his head. He felt worry tighten around his heart and hoped intently that Buck was all right. Probably his friend needed to see a doctor, but that wasn’t going to happen, or maybe he was playing possum to fool these assholes into underestimating him. He nudged Buck again and took it as a good sign when Buck tightened his leg around JD for a long moment, before relaxing against JD’s body.
JD concentrated on counting, to try to estimate the distance between the campsite to wherever their abductors were taking them. He firmly told himself to not get the shakes; it wouldn’t help and he didn’t want their kidnappers to see him as weak. They had brought him along for leverage against Buck, but what the hell did they want Buck to do for them?
The dark-haired man eventually answered JD's unspoken question after ordering the other men to bring them, still blindfolded, inside. JD estimated they had driven thirty to thirty-five minutes from the campsite but part of that could have been from driving in circles to confuse them. The last ten minutes or so had been a very bumpy ride over what was probably a gravel road.
When someone removed JD's blindfold, he saw Buck slumped on an old, worn out, stained couch with its stuffing escaping through numerous tears. The shorter guy roughly shoved JD so that he ended up sprawled next to his teammate on the ratty couch. He hoped Buck was fudging being unconscious, but he hadn't whispered anything to JD during that long drive to this place. Without some clue from his partner, JD truly didn't know how badly hurt Buck was.
JD glanced cautiously around at his jail. It was an old cabin, lights were few, and he could hear a generator running. It looked to have maybe two bedrooms, besides the kitchen and living room. A wood stove was against one wall, a fireplace lined the wall across from the couch. There was a door off of the kitchen that was maybe a bathroom or a pantry. Probably wasn’t much here in the way of appliances. He’d bet there wasn’t any indoor toilet.
The four men who’d brought him and Buck moved to stand in front of the couch. Looking down at him, the dark-haired man spoke in a contemptuous voice to JD. “You’d better hope your man there values your life, sweetheart. He’s going to help me and if he won’t go along with the plan – then there’s no reason to keep a liability around is there?”
“What do you want from us?” JD tried to keep his voice steady and thought he’d sounded firm enough. Lord knows he didn’t feel very steady.
“Mr. Wilson here is going to take us to the guns he was going to sell to Greer. He doesn't know it, but I watched him on the security camera when he was negotiating a deal with my boss. Greer’s loss will be m-- our gain. Your part, little boy, is to encourage Wilson to coöperate.”
The dark-haired man looked at the other three men and waved his hand towards the guy with the orange-reddish, curly hair. “He’s in charge while I’m gone. You boys just lay low and keep these two quiet and under control. If Wilson won’t help, then convince him by making it rough on his bitch here. We’ve all got a stake in this operation. Don’t screw it up.”
The dark-haired man went to JD and pulled his hair so that JD was looking up at the man. He shook JD’s head a little and admonished him, “If you want out of this with all your body parts intact, little sweetheart, you’d better be persuasive when your boyfriend wakes up.” He shoved JD, making him bounce against the couch, and walked towards the door.
“He’s not my boyfriend; we’re just friends. Good friends,” JD called to the dark-haired man’s back as he left. He didn’t have a clue why he said that. He didn't care if these jerks thought Buck was his lover, but the words had just kind of happened when he opened his mouth.
The short blond man laughed at that. “We listened to you two for a while, ya’ know. We know you live together, and we can recognize ‘married people talk’ when we hear it. Not that you can get married to each other. We’re against that. It ain’t natural, what you gay boys do with each other. So quit your foolin’, kid; anybody can see you’re a cocksucker. You probably was born that way, but it don’t mean you have to act out your impure thoughts. You should try practicing some self-control over your dick, JD.”
The curly-haired man snorted at the shorter guy’s advice. “I don’t care where they stick their dicks.” He stepped back from the couch, and turned to face the other two blond men. “Wilson had better not screw up or the kid's history. You two got a problem with him being our insurance policy?”
“Sounds real good to me,” replied the short guy. “I’m sure glad you and the captain gave us a call. We both could use the cash.” The other blond-headed guy just nodded his head in agreement.
Things had fallen into place for JD while listening to their talk. Wilson was the alias that Buck had used to set up a gunrunning operation. Buck “Wilson” had met earlier this week with Robert Greer, a potential middle man gun broker, who was apparently now being double-crossed by one of his own men. The dark-haired man had seen Buck, but Buck hadn’t seen him. The man must have tailed him or run into him when they stopped for supplies for their camping trip. This was the captain’s – the dark-haired man -- and Curly’s plan. Shorty and Blondie were just hired muscle.
So these chowderheads thought he was gay and judging by all the “sweetheart,” “kid,” and “little” remarks, they didn’t see him as being a threat. Probably because he was small-framed, and though he was going on twenty-seven, he knew he looked years younger. The rest of Team Seven teased him enough about it. He could use that, get them to underestimate him, so when it was time to make a move they wouldn’t be expecting any resistance from him.
JD cleared his throat and said meekly, “My hands are hurting; please, can’t you take the cuffs off now? And I’m worried about Buck; lemme take a look at him, okay?”
Curly eyed him speculatively. “A few rules here, kid. One – you don’t make any sudden moves. You need to piss, you tell us first before you get up. Two – no crying or whining. You’ll get your butt beat if you start any of that nonsense. Three – you don’t talk to us unless we ask you something. You try starting anything and you’ll be sorry.” Curly walked over to the table in the kitchen and came back with a taser.
“Ever been jolted by one of these babies, kid? They hurt real bad; you’ll be spazzing all down on the ground and you might piss your pants. So behave yourself and get your boyfriend to agree to help us and you’ll go home when this is over in one piece. You give me problems – I’ll zap you, and then I’ll introduce you to my knife. Maybe do a little decorating on your skin. We understand each other, kid?”
“Yessir,” JD mumbled fearfully at the man who’d just threatened him. He was practically biting his tongue so he wouldn’t mouth off at the jerk. It would be counter-productive to say the least. He could almost hear Josiah quoting St. Augustine to him again. “‘Patience is the companion of wisdom,’ John Dunne.” He experienced an intense longing just then for the rest of his team. But he guessed he and Buck were on their own for this one.
Curly tossed the cuff keys to Shorty, who proceeded to undo JD’s handcuffs. JD slowly brought his hands around in front of him, grimacing at the pins and needles sensation in his stressed muscles. He pulled himself up on the couch so he could get a good look at Buck. He ran his fingers through Buck’s thick hair, looking for a bump. Buck didn’t stir until JD located the injury, then he flinched and gave a little moan as JD probed it. It was a good-sized goose egg, and he couldn’t tell if Buck was playing possum or was really unconscious.
JD pasted on his most innocent look and raised his hand, like he was a kid at school still. Curly said, “What?”
“Can I put some ice on his head and get some circulation back in his arms? He’s probably got a concussion. You want him to be fit, don’t you?”
Curly said, “There’s no ice here, no refrigerator, but there’s a hand pump at the kitchen sink. The water will be cold. Use a dishtowel. And kid, remember…” He pointed the taser at JD, and then indicated he should get up. JD did so cautiously, wanting to lull these clowns into a false sense of security about how cowed he was. He returned with the wet towel and placed it on the goose bump on Buck’s head.
Shorty unlocked Buck's cuffs and JD massaged his partner's arms to get the blood flowing again. He positioned himself in front of Buck, blocking scrutiny from the other three men. Buck slowly opened one eyelid and focused on JD, then he gave him a slow and deliberate wink before closing his eye again.
JD felt a rush of relief slam into him. Buck was shamming after all, although he’d bet good money that Buck’s head was sore. Now to pick the best time to rush these jerks…
Another hour passed with JD giving Buck little pats on the face and re-soaking the dishtowel and replacing it on Buck’s head. He raised his hand again, feeling like a third grader, and when Curly made a talk motion with his hand he asked in an embarrassed tone if he could go to the bathroom now. He figured there was an outhouse they used, so he thought he could get an idea where to run to when they made their break. Shorty cuffed him for the trip outdoors, but at least his hands were in front of him this time. Unfortunately, he was also blindfolded at the door, so the idea was a bust. He couldn’t tell where they were or what direction to take when they escaped. Shorty and Blondie each grabbed one of his arms and pulled him along for a few minutes, then told him to piss. He did, hoping that some would splash on the frickin’ sons-of-bitches’ boots.
Back in the house, Shorty removed the cuffs and blindfold, then pushed him towards the couch. He pretended to stumble and crying out, “Oh, crap,” JD made his pitch forward shift to a turn towards Shorty. The diversion gave Buck the opening he’d been waiting for and he exploded off the couch and lunged for Curly. Buck tackled his target, knocking him to the ground, and started pounding on Curly’s face. JD and Shorty exchanged blows, and JD hit him furiously. They had to subdue the first two quickly before the third man—
Blinding pain burst across his back and he screamed as his muscles turned to jelly. Blondie blasted him a second time, and he fell down as limp as a marionette with cut strings. He was unable to scream anymore as his breath had been frozen in pain. He felt his body being moved so that he was on his belly, his hands cuffed behind his back. After a while, during which his thoughts kind of floated and he could hardly string two words together, enough of the mental fog cleared away for him to realize that his try for freedom had failed. With some difficulty he located Buck; one of their tormenters had restrained him, too, and his partner looked as dazed as JD felt.
He guessed that Blondie had tasered him and Buck. They were back to frickin’ square one, but their abductors wouldn’t be lulled again into underestimating them.
Federal Building, Denver, Colorado
Monday morning, June 25 , 2001
Chris Larabee placed the phone back in its cradle on his desk. His gut had tightened up as the District Attorney on the other end had tried to rip him a new asshole, and not because the DA had yelled at him. A man in his position of riding herd on his team had to expect to take the heat, and then in turn pass it on to whichever man had brought it on, or to shield that teammate, if one of the other six men needed it.
No, what was making him head out of his office to grill the other guys was a strong feeling of uneasiness because --JD wouldn’t miss a court date unless a problem had come up. JD was reliable. He prepared for his court testimony carefully, and he had a passionate sense of justice. He cared about the people whose lives had been harmed by the criminals the kid helped put in prison; there was no way he would forget or blow off showing up at court.
He stepped through his door and said to the room at large, “JD missed giving his testimony on the Bowery case this morning. Has anybody heard from him?” Chris glanced over at Buck’s desk, but there was no sign the man had stopped in this morning. Chris hadn’t been alarmed when Buck hadn’t come in – the man was planning on meeting with more arms dealers in the evening this week, and Chris had told him to try to keep his flex hours from accumulating by taking the mornings off.
Vin looked up from the report he was frowning over and said, “Nope, not since last Thursday when they were talkin’ ‘bout that camping trip.”
Josiah agreed, nodding his head. “JD was looking forward to it. The boy told me Buck knew a great spot up in the mountains, and they were going to do some hiking and fishing.”
A sound made Chris look over past their desks to see another team member quietly pushing open the office door. Ezra briefly looked chagrined when Chris caught his eye. He was keeping track of Ezra’s late entries and the man with the golden tongue had been warned that after too many late mornings without an acceptable excuse, Chris was going to give him some boring paperwork task to complete as punishment for his crimes. They did tend to differ on the definition of “acceptable excuse,” but Chris wasn’t interested in whatever yarn Mr. Standish chose to spin today.
“Ezra, you know anything about where JD is this morning?” Chris asked, a frown settling on his face.
“I believe he was due in court.” Ezra looked thoughtfully at the expressions on the other men's faces. “I take it then, that he has not made an appearance at the Hall of Justice?”
Nathan looked up from his desk, phone in his hand, and said, “There’s no answer at JD's and Buck’s apartment. Does anybody know which campground they were staying at?”
Chris swore softly to himself, then said, “Vin, you contact Casey, see if she’s talked to JD this weekend or seen him. Nathan, call their cell phones and the campground.” Chris looked at the other members of Team Seven, but all he got was expressions of ignorance.
“JD didn’t know which one, Chris.” Josiah sighed and ran his hand through his grizzled curls. “It was going to be a surprise, and I gathered Buck resisted the boy trying to worm it out of him.”
“I’ll find where they went, and send a ranger up to the campsite, see if they’re still there. I’ll have them call me with what they find,' Nathan said firmly and pulled out a Denver area phone book.
“Right. I’ll go to their apartment -- I’ve got a key -- and see what I can find. Ezra, you check with Inez down at the Saloon. See if Buck or JD stopped in there, or if Buck told her about where they were going,” Chris said, and then snapped his fingers. “Everybody check their messages on their cell phones and home phones.”
Chris began to head towards the door, then snapped his fingers again and turned around.
“Josiah … check the hospitals and the County Mounties and the PD, then start reviewing their current cases. See if it’s likely that somebody’s worked up a serious grudge against one of them.”
“Chris – what about the case JD was testifyin’ in court for this mornin’? I didn’t take it that he was a key witness, but maybe I was wrong?” Vin offered, his expressive blue eyes focused on Chris.
“I’ll check it out, but there were plenty of other witnesses that did show up for the case, as the DA was in some pains to point out to me. We’ll check everything out.” Chris pointed to Josiah.
“You’re in charge of coordinating the information. Everybody report your findings to Josiah. I’ll forward my calls to my cell phone while I’m out. If it was just Buck who was late, I wouldn’t be so concerned. But for JD to miss court – something’s wrong.”
Dunne and Wilmington apartment, Denver, Colorado
Monday, late morning, June 25, 2001
After making good driving time to his friends' neighborhood Chris parked his truck, noticing that JD’s motorcycle was sitting where it usually belonged, and walked upstairs to his friends' condo. He saw no sign of forced entry or a struggle. He prowled around the rooms, but there was nothing to see at their apartment, except a mostly empty fridge, chips and a jar of salsa on the counter, unmade beds, and mail carelessly dumped on the kitchen counter. For all they joked around and called the place the CDC, it wasn't that bad.
Chris pushed the button on the phone and listened to the messages. There were three for Buck from women – Chris didn’t recognize any of the names – and one from Casey, Nettie's granddaughter, telling JD to give her a call sometime. That last one had been before this weekend. Buck guessed JD saved it for the phone number on it; JD and the girl would go out together sometimes. He called the three women, and none of them had seen Buck this weekend. Two assumed Buck had been out with another woman and told Chris to tell him to– well, he wouldn’t pass that along to his old friend. The other one had started to flirt with Chris, but he’d cut her off as soon as he realized she had nothing to tell him. ‘Buck, where do you find these women?’
His shrilling cell phone startled Chris; he answered it fearing he would be told that JD and Buck were dead, but the small sense of optimism he still carried insisted on hoping his friends were still alive. Nathan had information for him, and while they hadn't found their lost lambs, Team Seven had pinpointed JD's and Buck’s last location.
Nathan told him that he'd used a tip that Inez -- bless her tough, flirty little heart -- had given Ezra, and had located the private campground bordering the Rocky Mountain National Forest, up near the town of Estes Park. Luckily, Buck had bragged to Inez the last time he was at the Saloon about the fine spot he was going to show JD, where trails in the National Forest were only minutes away from where he’d reserved a tent camping site. Inez hadn’t paid attention to where he said he was going, she just remembered it was private and around the National Forest.
Buck hadn’t signed out of the campground. The woman who’d answered the phone at the camp store said she’d go and check the campsite as soon as she had a free moment, but she didn’t sound concerned about it to Nathan.
Chris walked over to the large windows and looked out while he thought out his plans, Nathan waiting quietly on the other end of the phone. He decided to check this camping place out himself and take Ezra, Vin, and Nathan, two to a vehicle, to the campground, which was located an hour from Denver. A private campground meant no rangers on duty, and by the time he would have convinced the county sheriff to send a car up there, they’d be there themselves.
Rubbing his forehead, Chris told Nathan their new assignments and asked him to convey them to the rest of the team. They would meet at the Federal Building parking garage to drive up to Buck’s campsite. Although Nathan’s specialty was in explosives, he had the best general knowledge of forensics, and Chris told him to bring his kit. Josiah would continue to coordinate information and was already combing through JD's and Buck’s cases, looking with a profiler’s eye for anyone with the type of character to kidnap or harm Buck and JD.
He also told Nathan to bring his emergency medical supplies. It was possible that his lost sheep had suffered a mishap and were in the National Forest in need of medical attention.
Estes Park, Colorado
Monday, early afternoon, June 25, 2001
Chris and Vin had ridden to Estes Park in Chris' Black Ram Dodge truck, with Nathan and Ezra in Nathan’s Ford Explorer right behind them -- both vehicles running with blue lights. They made the hour-long drive in forty-five minutes and pulled into the little campground nestled next to the National Forest. According to the notice, this was a family owned campground and the sign to the combination camp store and office directed visitors to stop there to register.
Chris went past it, having already gotten the campsite number and directions to the most private site in the campground from Nathan’s talk with the owner. He pulled down the isolated camp driveway, noting as he did that the layout of the camp meant there were no close campsites near the lot Buck had picked.
He parked his truck down the road from where Buck’s Lady was visible under some pine trees. Buck, with some help from the rest of the team, had restored the heap it had been when Chris had first laid eyes on the truck back to its 1957 red and chrome glory. Seeing her here, abandoned... As he turned off his ignition, Vin looked at him, his friend who knew the value of silence, and he knew that no matter what they would learn about Buck and JD, Vin would be there at his shoulder, quiet and doing whatever Chris needed him to be doing. Chris kept eye contact with Vin and gave a nod, then they both pushed open their doors and went to find out what had happened to their friends.
Nathan and Ezra had already climbed out of the Explorer, Nathan holding out big, heavy, rubber bands towards his team leader and Vin. They took them in silence and all four slipped them over their boots and shoes, so their footprints would be identified with band marks from any already on the ground. Standard crime scene precautions, and Chris hoped to hell that they would be totally uncalled for, but if wishes were horses, beggars would ride, as Sarah had used to say. Sarah – he knew he’d called up her memory because in his gut he was expecting to find his men, his friends, taken or – dead. ‘Ah, Sarah. You didn’t deserve to become my talisman of calamity.’
Ezra must have been reading his mind because he stepped up to Chris and said softly, “Mr. Larabee… Chris -- it’s entirely possible that they are merely detained in the forest here, and in need of our assistance to return to the site of this – primitive weekend ritual.” Chris acknowledged Ezra’s words with a nod and then turned to Nathan.
“Call the shots, Nathan.”
Nathan handed evidence bags to each of them and then each team approached the campsite, Nathan directing Chris and Vin to go around through the woods and come up to the tent from the opposite direction.
Nathan and Ezra scanned the area, and then carefully approached the ash filled fire pit, and a knocked over mug on the ground by a camping stool. At the same time, Chris and Vin reached the tent and looked inside. Vin, with a note of relief in his voice, called to Nathan that nobody was in the tent but their friends' rolled up sleeping bags were still there. It was likely then that they’d gone missing on Friday, before bedtime. Chris watched Ezra pick up the blue enamel camping mug and sniff it.
“This was JD’s, I believe. It has the remnants of hot chocolate in it.” He held his hand over the campfire and then poked it with a stick. “The fire’s been out for a long time, possibly days?” Ezra looked over to Nathan, who had pulled on evidence gloves and was picking something up off the ground. "What treasure have you unearthed?"
"Found a lighter, it's been scuffed into the ground. It's just a cheap, everyday lighter, there’s no distinguishing mark on it to tell who it belonged to. I'll have it checked for prints." Nathan spoke loud enough for his voice to carry to the other two members of the team, separated from him by the distance between the tent and the fire pit area.
Nathan sealed the bag and labeled it, and then something closer to the gravel road caught his attention.
“Chris, Vin…” Nathan said urgently. And he pointed.
Chris looked over and saw something under a smallish pine tree.
JD had not left his hat on the ground willingly. That hat was the kid’s favorite headgear and the subject of much teasing from the other six members of the team. JD had defended his hat, loved his hat, and was not careless with it. Finding it abandoned like this was going to change the investigation from JD and Buck maybe getting lost in the woods to definitely being kidnapped.
Chris reached for his cell phone, hoping that the reception would work since they were close to the mountains. “I’m calling in a CSI team and reporting in to Josiah. Nathan and Vin, you secure the site. Ezra, you and I will start interviewing campers and the staff here. Let’s move, people.”
Tobacco Wholesalers Warehouse, East 48th Avenue, Denver, Colorado
Tuesday, late evening, June 26, 2001
“Damn… Ezra, we’re wasting our time here. Didn’t your informants have any more details on when this shindig was gonna start?” Vin eyed his partner for this night’s surveillance on the aging warehouse. Ezra didn’t look like he felt any happier about being stuck in this run-down small fake tool trailer, parked so as to not be noticeable, then Vin did himself.
“I regret to inform you, Mr. Tanner, that the answer to your question is – no. No, my informants do not have any more particulars to pass along. And I tried to persuade the FBI to replace us, but they refused and our Mr. Larabee had to go along with their wishes.” Ezra looked at his Rolex and sighed.
Vin returned to watching the surveillance cameras -- nothing to see except the guard smokin’ a cigarette.
This warehouse was stuffed with cigarette cartons just ripe for the pluckin'. Ezra’d been the one to tumble onto this little fraud and black market scheme, and now Team Seven and the FBI boys were workin’ together to arrest the thieves – actually the owners of the company – when they came to steal their own property to resell on the black market, and turn in the loss to their insurance company.
Vin watched the guard throw his cigarette butt on the ground and grind it with his heel. He took a look at his watch; this felt like the longest damn shift ever, and he'd be glad when the FBI fellers showed up in two hours for their turn.
The word from their inside man – the night guard chain-smokin' out there – was that he was told the theft would take place sometime this week. The warehouse had been staked out since last Thursday; JD had set up the surveillance cameras and mikes. JD – it’d been the last time Vin had seen him. He and Buck had gone up to Estes Park Friday for that camping trip. JD, despite bein’ a Boston city boy, really appreciated the outdoors here in Colorado, and it tickled Buck to introduce him to the areas Buck had grown up enjoyin’.
Ezra had gotten out a deck of cards and was doing his fancy shufflin’ tricks with them. On another night, his friend -- who Josiah often remarked was no doubt the reincarnation of a “Mississippi River Boat Gambler” -- would have been cajolin’ him to play a little poker by now, as they waited out their surveillance shift. But not tonight. Neither one of them had the heart to play card games. Their friends had been taken five nights ago, and Vin was tryin’ hard to not be jumpin’ the gun and thinkin’ they were dead.
Vin reached over to the thermos he’d brought and poured himself a cup of coffee. He politely offered the thermos to Ezra, who just shuddered and shook his head. Nobody on Team Seven would drink his extra-strong brew, except Josiah. Of course, Josiah would spin some tale then about other strange things he’d learned to drink in other parts of the world. The chicory blend made the coffee bitter-tasting, but Vin preferred it that way. Buck always had some smart-ass name for Vin’s coffee -- “Texas Tea,” for one and damned if Buck wouldn’t start humming the theme to the Beverly Hillbillies when a cup was poured.
Buck was always cuttin’ up and laughin’ about something. He was about the friendliest soul Vin knew. And Buck and JD had taken to each other like ducks to water. At least they were together. That had to be somethin’ positive in this whole sorry mess.
Vin drank his coffee and thought about what leads they'd managed to scrape up out of the dirt. Kind of literally, turns out.
Team Seven had made some progress on the case. They now knew the name and address of one of the men who’d taken Buck and JD. Besides JD's prints on the lighter found at the campfire, a career criminal’s had been identified. James Carson, orJimmy C as he was known on his rap sheet, hadn’t been at home when they'd executed a search warrant. A thorough toss of his small, isolated house outside of Denver hadn’t given them any clues to where he might be holed up. They’d gone in silently – no lights, no sirens – so hopefully the grapevine hadn’t gotten the news that Jimmy C’s place had been checked out by the ATF.
Vin played with his coffee cup, pushing it with his finger, first one way and then the other, on the table the computer monitor and controls were set up on.
They’d put taps on Jimmy C’s phone line, and were hoping to squeeze any callers into coughin’ up more information on JD's and Buck's kidnapper, who’d appeared to drop off the face of the earth. They’d checked about credit cards and vehicles. Jimmy C hadn’t owned any cards in his own name, and his Jeep Cherokee now had an APB on it.
He stopped movin' his cup and raised it back to his lips. Chris was runnin’ the phone records now, back at the office, coming up with a list of names to be checked out.
Vin finished with his coffee and screwed the cup back on top of the thermos. Nathan and Josiah had stayed to stake out the kidnapper’s cabin tonight, in case he made an appearance. Tomorrow, they were gonna show Jimmy C's photo around the campground area and near his cabin and see if anybody knew the man or connected him with a dark-colored van. A van they wouldn't have known anything about except for Ezra, who’d done his part in finding out who took JD an' Buck.
Vin looked over at his friend, who was now playing a listless game of solitaire. If it hadn't been for him noticing the two little boys with the guilty lookin' faces, when their father and uncle had been assuring Chris that they'd not seen anything suspicious or out-of-place or even any vehicles by Buck's campsite Friday night, then they wouldn't have gotten as much of a description of the van as they did.
But Ezra had asked the nine and eleven year old boys if they'd like to play a game. He'd showed them the old cup shuffle and while the little fellers were busy tryin' to figure out which cup had the pebble under it, Ezra'd wormed it out of the two young-uns about sneaking out of their little tent after their father and uncle had gone to sleep, and braving the night -- like Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett. They'd seen a black, brown, or dark blue large van with no windows on the sides. It was more like a delivery van, they'd said. The two boys had hidden behind the trees when the van had crept in real slow and gone down the campsite road past them, around a curve and out of sight. It returned in a little while and left as slowly as it had maneuvered in. What made the boys pay attention in the first place was that the van had turned off its lights.
The boys were praised for paying such good attention and Ezra'd smoothed over their escapade with the father.
Ezra looked up from his card game, his green eyes worried lookin'.
"Mr. Tanner... is there something I can assist you with?"
"Just wanted to tell you... you did good with them kids back at the campground." Ezra gave a sad smile and nodded his thanks, then bent his head back to the game he was using to while away the time. Vin stretched his arms out and rolled his shoulders, as he watched the guard resume his place in the entryway shack.
So at least they had an approximate time and a vague description of the vehicle used to kidnap his friends. Owners of dark vans in the Denver area and surrounding counties were being looked at for police records and any possible connection to Jimmy C.
They'd dusted Lady for prints, but apparently the kidnappers hadn't gotten into Buck's truck. JD's and Buck's wallets and guns were locked in the truck, which meant that the kidnappers might not know they were ATF agents or what their real names were, if this was related to any of the undercover work both men did. Vin slumped down in his seat and pondered the dangers of undercover work.
Every ATF man or woman knew, once he or she were through bein' a rookie, that undercover work could mean a contract on your head if you was found out. Team Seven didn't do deep cover work -- but some of the agents who did, infiltrating outlaw motorcycle gangs or cult crazies for years -- had to basically run for it when their covers were blown after the arrests had gone down. Their families weren't safe, neither. Maybe it was just as well that none of their team were married or had kids -- although Nathan was pretty serious about wantin' to marry Rain. After losin' Sarah and Adam, Vin thought it weren't likely that Chris would want to put a second family in harm’s way.
Vin shifted in the chair and wondered if the undercover work Buck and JD had done had backfired on them. Josiah was looking into that possibility. Buck's latest cover was posing as a gun dealer, and he'd been at legitimate gun shows with some stock. He'd put out the word that he had some special items that he was willing to negotiate about. In private. With cold, hard, cash, thank you very much.
JD was a tech wizard and spent most of his time foolin’ with equipment, but he also had done undercover work. Not long after landin' here, he'd posed as a tough kid who'd transferred to a Denver high school from Boston -- his accent was wearin' off the longer he lived in Colorado, but it'd been strong when he first come to Denver -- and had helped close down a pipeline that was supplyin' teens with no-serial-number hand guns.
Vin grinned, despite being worried about his missing teammates, at remembering the trouble JD couldn't keep out of. He was supposed to have acted like a D student, but he couldn't keep his brains hidden under a bushel like he'd been told to do. He'd had half the teachers in the school wantin' to talk to him to try and motivate their underachiever so that he could make better grades and go on to college. The guidance counselor had practically been in tears when, as part of the cover about the bust, JD had been “arrested” too, along with the other handful of teens that were caught with weapons at school. Buck had gotten ahold of the report card the school had on JD and had it framed and hung on the wall of their office. Even tryin' to make bad grades, JD had done much better in high school than Vin had managed. Of course, back then, Vin was on the streets a good part of the time…
Vin saw movement on the monitor and straightened up in his chair. Ezra was halfheartedly moving a stack of cards from one line to another, and Vin motioned to get his attention. "Ezra, we got some action comin' down."
Ezra moved next to him to watch. JD had set up the monitor to go from one camera angle to the next, and Ezra changed it so that the monitor would stay focused on the entrance. A large U-haul truck had pulled up to the side of the gate. They watched together as a second, then a third truck lined up behind the first one. Ezra stepped away to the other side of the trailer and pulled out his phone, his fingers dancing over the number pad, and Vin heard him telling their FBI contact to bring in the troops.
Vin cupped his chin, wondering why the owners had bothered with U-HUALs, when their original scheme, as reported by the night guard plant, had been to come in with semi-trailers. There were a lot of cigarettes in that warehouse; these trucks weren't going to hardly make a dent in the pile.
A dark blue van pulled up to the guard shack, and a tall, dark-haired man carefully got out of the driver’s side. In contrast, the passenger door crashed opened and out bounded another tall man. Vin’s attention was drawn to the passenger, who was now stretching his arms… and then he had to look twice at the man who seemed to be takin’ up more than his share of space. He hit the control button to zoom in on the feller who'd hopped out of the passenger side.
And he recognized him; he'd sweated with him, bled with him, laughed with him, and mebbe even cried with him over the years. He by-God knew who was walking with that familiar long-legged stride right up to the entry point to talk to the guard.
"Ezra! Sweet Jesus, that's Buck!"
Vin found his own phone and, fingers feeling awkward, punched in Chris' number. Ezra had practically skidded over and was leaning over Vin, his left hand gripping Vin's shoulder as he watched the monitor, his right hand reaching down to increase the sound from the hidden mike by the guard shack.
Looked like Nick, the guard and their inside agent, recognized Buck, because he pressed the panic button JD had installed, which would not only sound the alarm in the trailer they were using for surveillance, but would also trigger alarms at the FBI and ATF headquarters. Word of the missing men had raced through the ATF and FBI ranks, so Nick was aware that Buck had been kidnapped.
Chris answered the phone and Vin pushed away from the monitors and quickly moved to the side, so Ezra could continue to listen for any speech. Buck and the other man had reached the guard shack and Vin prayed that Nick could improvise whatever Buck needed him to do.
Vin focused on giving Chris the concise information his team leader needed, then returned and sat down beside Ezra at the monitor, shoulders touching, and indicated with his eyes for Ezra to tell him what was goin' on with Buck.
"Buck's told Nick that 'he had some business to conduct with these gents, and to give him the keys.’ Nick agreed and relinquished the keys with several 'yes sirs' added to impress the van driver." Ezra held up his hand then and both listened as Buck started talking to the other man. Come on, Buck -- give us a clue how to play this hand.
As Buck walked back to the van, they heard him tell the other man that the guns were in a closed off section of the warehouse.
Ezra and Vin locked eyes and then both of them got up. There were no guns in that warehouse and once Buck's new business partner figured that out, Buck was gonna be in a world of trouble.
"We can't wait for back-up," Vin said matter-of-factly.
Ezra nodded. “I agree. I'll update the FBI, and you call Chris. Tell him we have to move in now, and to please, try not to shoot us."
As he and Ezra got their cell phones out again, Vin said, "Let's see if we can start by takin' out the truck drivers. I'll call Nick and fill him in. We'll wait till Buck has got his man in the warehouse and rush the other three, and then go for Buck's man." He handed Ezra a bulletproof vest, and then thrust his arms through his own vest, fastened it up tight and got out his gun. "Let’s ride, partner."
Continued in In Our Time of Need Part Two