“Aawww, Buck!” came the plaintive cry from the hallway. “That’s not fair!”
“What ain’t fair, kid,” came an answering growl, “is you lettin’ them get dependent on ya! Then say ya get hurt or somethin’!” The door to Team Seven’s office suite swung open and Buck walked in backward, continuing the discussion as he did so. “Feelin’s are gonna get hurt. An’ we’ll have no way of contactin’ them—“
“What are you on about now?” Nathan asked, stealing a doughnut from Vin’s piled plate as the sharpshooter passed by and putting it back in the box.
JD scooped up the same doughnut and bit savagely into it, taking out his emotions on the pastry. “Buck here is tryin’ t’say how I can spend my money!”
“His money t’spend, Buck,” Vin said evenly as he went back for a doughnut to replace the one Nathan stole – giving the medic a glare when he tried to remove another from the plate. “Man’s over 21 – can spend his money any way he wants.”
“Long as it’s legal,” Josiah put in. All eyes turned to him, and Nathan surreptitiously removed two more doughnuts from the heaping pile. “It is legal, JD?”
JD nodded. “Of course it is. Buck is just pissed cause I cant spot him a few dollars cause I gave it to Jace!”
“Jace?” Ezra asked as he walked in – late as usual. “Would that be Jace Walters by any chance?”
JD’s face lit up. “You know him?”
Ezra set his coffee down and took off his jacket. “I’ve had the pleasure, yes. What did you give Jace?”
“Fifty dollars!” Buck exploded. “He gave fifty dollars of his money to some no-good street kid!”
All movement came to a halt so abruptly Buck had an insane moment of wondering who’d lifted the record needle! “Uh --- guys?”
“No. Good. Street. Kid?” JD snarled.
Buck let out a resigned sigh. “JD, you know as well as I do he’ll just spend it on drugs or somethin’ like that!”
JD’s fists were clenched. He walked forward and ground out, “Jace doesn’t do that shit. Not every homeless kid uses.” Buck opened his mouth, but JD plowed on, “And I would much rather give my money to a kid who needs it than spot a twenty to a no-good bigot like you!”
JD grabbed his jacket and spun on his heel, storming out of the suite and slamming the door behind him.
Before the shocked explosives man could react, Vin and Ezra were running after JD. Buck spluttered his roommate’s name and took a step forward, but Josiah’s hand closed on his arm. “Best stay put, brother. Let them handle it.”
“You were five miles outta line this time, Wilmington,” Nathan snarled before pointedly turning his back and walking back to his desk.
Buck just looked from face to face, absolutely stunned.
In the parking garage of the Denver Federal building, a shadow under Vin’s jeep was revealed to be a pair of legs. A moment passed before the dark-clothed and dark-haired man slid out from under it, wiping his hands clean.
He sang to himself all the way to his car and out of the garage.
Behind him, brake fluid fell from the jeep in a slow, ominous stream.
When JD returned, Ezra was with him. Vin was not.
“Where’s Vin?” Nathan asked.
“He went to procure refreshment,” Ezra said with a smile. “He was grumbling because someone kept taking his donuts!”
Nathan shot him an unrepentant grin.
“Where’s Buck?” JD asked.
Josiah jerked a thumb toward Chris’s office. “Getting his ass chewed.”
“Good,” JD snarled. “He needs it!”
“JD!” Nathan chided.
“Well, he does!” JD pointed toward the office. “He was eight miles outta line!”
“And he knows it,” Josiah said with a cool nod. “He’s genuinely sorry.”
JD sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “I know he is,” he sighed again. “He always is. But he just keeps putting his damned foot in it and it’s driving me insane!”
At that second, Chris and Buck emerged from the office. Buck looked chastised, and Chris looked as though he could still punch the first person who looked cross-eyed at him.
Buck walked over to JD. “Look…ki—JD – I’m sor—“
He was interrupted by the shrill, high ring of a cell phone. Hands went to pockets and belts, and on the second ring, Chris pulled his from his belt, frowning. “Who couldn’t call my office phone?” he asked, flipping it open. “Larabee.”
The others watched as his face paled even as his eyes narrowed. “Where are ya? ...okay, we’ll be there in a few minutes. Stay put.” Closing the phone, he looked at the others. “Vin’s at Mercy General.”
He didn’t need to say anything else. There was a stampede for the door.
Chris had been in and out of Vin’s room. He was so angry all he could say was “Brake line was cut.”
While the others spluttered their outrage and impotent fury, JD slid into the hospital room. “Vin?”
The sharpshooter opened slightly drug-fogged eyes. “I’ve pissed off a lot of people – list a’suspects is gonna be a long ‘un.”
JD nodded and sat down beside him, careful of the IV as he squeezed his arm. “What me to work my magic on the Net?”
“Sure…just don’ go spillin’ all my secrets.” Vin’s smile slid away as his eyes slid shut.
After making sure he was only sleeping, JD walked out to the others. After trying twice to get their attention, he gave up and slid out of the waiting room alone.
There was a young man standing by his motorcycle. JD just smiled to see him. “Jace.”
“Jay.” The street boy nodded at him. “What’s up?”
With a sigh, JD told him what little he knew. Then he tilted his head. “You think you guys can--?”
Jace held up a hand. “Say no more. We’ll see what we can find.”
JD nodded. “Good. I’ll see what I can do electronically.”
Jace nodded and squeezed JD’s shoulder. “Between us, bastard ain’t got a snowball’s prayer in hell o’gettin’ away with this!”
“Good,” JD repeated, his eyes ablaze with fury. “Cause he picked the wrong bunch to mess with.”
JD frowned at the computer. His eyes felt gritty after having stared at the screen for hours on end.
His cell rang and he opened it with a sigh. “Dunne.”
“Hey, Jay!” Jace’s voice chirped at him. “I got the posse in place – we’re just waitin’ on a target or five!”
JD chuckled at Jace’s enthusiasm, then he sighed wearily as he gazed at the screen.
“That good, huh?” Jace asked and JD could almost see him wincing in sympathy.
“Yeah, there’s too many to go on!” JD sighed.
Jace clicked his tongue. “That right there is the trouble with you suits.”
“Too broad, man, too broad! Look, I hate Sid’s guts, okay? You know that. But I ain’t about to shiv him less’n he does somethin’ to deserve it!”
JD’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not suggesting Vin brought this on himself?”
Jace sighed. “You’re not hearin’ me, suit-man! Now hear what I’m sayin’. Me an’ Sid – we hate each other, dig?”
“But I’m not gonna go after him – and he ain’t gonna go after me – less’n one of us does somethin’ to upset the balance.”
JD thought for a moment. “You mean I should narrow the search to our most recent cases?”
“Now you’re getting’ it! Mind you, it’s just my opinion—“
“Jace, I think you may be onto something. Let me run this through and I’ll be in touch.”
“Don’t work too hard, Jay. We still on for tomorrow?”
“Provided nothing changes.”
“I’ll be in touch, Jay. Luck!” And the street kid hung up.
JD closed the phone and erased the screen. He took a deep breath, cracked his knuckles, and began typing in commands.
Moments later, he began to smile.
Chris walked into Vin’s room with a feral expression. Vin took one look at him and quipped, “Will you relax? I ain’t dead yet!”
“I’m not mad at you,” Chris shot back, coming to stand by the bed. “The bust’s goin’ down as scheduled.”
Vin frowned. “As scheduled? But you’re a man short—“
“That’s what I told Travis! But the window of opportunity just got smaller. Travis’s sources say Patillo is going to leave the country sooner than expected.”
Chris sighed. “His daughter’s getting married.”
Vin gave a sound midway between a chuckle and a snort. “Good for her.” Then he sobered. “Watch your back.”
“Always do.” They clasped arms as best they could, then Chris sighed. “I’d better go get ready for the briefing.”
Vin nodded, grinning. “Make sure Daddy misses that wedding.” He was rewarded by a slight grin as Chris slid out.
Then Vin leaned back into the pillows and sighed. “Dammit. I should be there!”
JD walked into Vin’s hospital room, all smiles. Vin looked up and raised an eyebrow. “You’re awful happy!”
“I’ve got a strong lead on who did this to you – and who they work for!”
Vin blinked, startled. “So soon?” At JD’s nod, he began to grin. “Who?”
“’Fish’ Troughton – small time hitman. His specialty is fixing brake lines the way yours was, and get this – he’s part of Patillo’s gang now – hey, what’s wrong?”
Vin had gone two shades of white. “The Patillo bust tomorrow –“
“Cancelled cause of your attack?” JD guessed.
“Travis’s sources say Patillo’s daughter’s getting’ married and he’s gonna go outta the country for it.”
“WHAT?” JD burst out. “It’s on? A man short and he’s not reassigned it to another team?” At Vin’s headshake, JD spluttered, “Tha-That doesn’t make any sense!”
Vin sighed. “I know. It’s just – like you said, it doesn’t make any sense. I know Travis has his bosses breathin’ down his neck—“
JD frowned. “Yeah... and he’s only doin’ his job. I know that. But…”
Blue eyes met hazel and Vin finished the thought. “But you think we’re bein’ set up?”
“This thing stinks worse’n a family of skunks. Watch your back, kid.”
JD smiled again as he moved toward the hospital room door. “Oh, I’ll do better than that.”
He left with that cryptic statement hanging in the air and Vin frowning deeply at his back.
Darkness had long since wrapped Denver in its velvet embrace when the soft roar of a motorcycle tore through the streets. The single spotlight closed in on the warehouse district.
Shadows closed in around the warehouse where Team Seven’s bust would happen the next morning. Soft whispers were heard as the small gathering milled about.
The motorcycle pulled up and the light cut off. The man got off the bike and took off his helmet. “Thanks for coming,” he said softly.
“Not a problem,” one of the figures replied. “So, are we all ready?”
Murmurs of assent went up and the motorcycle man smiled. “Well, then, let’s go inside!”
Together, the figures slid into the warehouse. Nooks and crannies on several levels were explored.
The motorcycle man pointed up toward a concealed area of the catwalk. “The sharpshooter was supposed to be there, but--”
“I’ll do it,” one of the figures interrupted. “I’ll put my ammo up there, get me some food, and I’ll settle in.”
“You sure?” the motorcycle man asked.
“He can do it,” another spoke up. “He’s great at it.”
The motorcycle man grinned and nodded. “Watch your back.”
“You got it,” the volunteer said, jogging out of the warehouse.
“So everyone’s ready?” the motorcycle man asked.
Nods and affirmative noises were his answer, then another of the figures ordered, “All right, everyone go get some rest!”
Laughter rang out, and then the motorcycle man clapped his hands. “That’s not a bad idea – we all have a big day tomorrow.”
Moments later, the motorcycle rolled away and figures melted back into the shadows.
All was silent around the darkened warehouse once more.
Morning came, and the preparations for the bust went into high gear. Final instructions were given, and the teams drove to their places to wait.
At nine-thirty on the nose, the gun-sellers arrived for their meeting. They walked into the warehouse, and their cars drove away.
The teams let them go. They would return and would be arrested then – if all went well.
One by one, the agents got into their final places. JD got into his position inside the van and started the tapes. He surreptitiously laid a tiny microphone over his shoulder and an earpiece in his ear. “Testing,” he said to each of the microphones to the teams. “Testing,” he said to each of the microphones to the teams. Each time, an answer came. He then pressed the key of the small mic and repeated his ‘testing’.
“I hear ya, boss,” came the familiar voice and unorthodox answer. “Waitin’ for your signal.”
“Keep your eyes peeled, Shotgun. Sometimes you can see things we trained men miss.”
“You got it, boss. Keep it open?”
“Always, Shotgun.” He then turned on the video feed. “Team Seven, Dunne ready to go!”
Chris’s voice rang in his ear. “Perfect timing, JD. Let’s go!”
Buck sighed, “I wish Vin was here. I don’t like goin’ in blind like this.”
JD smiled, thinking of Shotgun. “We’ll be fine, Buck.”
The signal was given. With cries of “ATF!” and “FREEZE!” and various curses, the bust began.
Patillo himself had not yet found a way out of the warehouse. The business had been completed and the endgame had begun. Suddenly it was over – and Patillo was ensnared with the others.
But then, the bust began to go sour. Firepower doubled as the runners broke open crates and began to retaliate.
With a grunt, Chris went down. Several others from other teams followed.
JD’s voice suddenly rang over the radios. “Now, Shotgun! NOW!”
Before anyone could really react to his cry, rocks began hurling through the air. Gun runners – and only the runners – were caught in a stony rainstorm.
The tide of battle turned again – and the gang was all arrested. Including Patillo.
Josiah frowned as the ambulances began to remove the injured.
“What’s wrong, Josiah?” Ezra asked as he rubbed his aching wrist.
“Those rocks – they didn’t start until JD called to someone.” His frown deepened. “Our young brother apparently arranged for us to have a sniper.”
Now Ezra frowned. “How?”
“Let’s find out, brother. Come on.”
Look though they might, the pair could find no evidence of a sniper. Frowning, they went to talk to JD about it.
Josiah and Ezra found JD in conference with Buck and Travis. They were going over the tapes from the bust. Curious as to what those tapes would show, Josiah and Ezra moved toward the trio.
One of Patillo’s pickup cars chose that moment to approach the warehouse. Seeing the vans, the car accelerated and tried to reverse.
It didn’t get very far.
As the ATF agents watched, the windshield spider-webbed and a jagged hole appeared. The driver lost control and the car spun out. It came to rest against the wall of the warehouse with a loud crashing noise.
The five agents ran for the car. “Who fired that shot?” Travis demanded as Buck jerked open the door.
“Nobody,” Buck reported as he hauled the semi-conscious driver from the vehicle and pushed him toward Josiah. “That wasn’t a shot.” He straightened, revealing a smooth rock in his hand.
Quite beyond his control, JD began to smile. By the time the others had turned to him, however, he was back at work.
“Curiouser and curiouser.…” Josiah whispered.
Vin smiled to see JD walk into his room. “How’d it go?”
“Two of our Team hurt – Ezra twisted wrong mid-spin and hit his wrist. Chris was shot in the right leg.”
Vin hissed. “Both gonna be fine?” At JD’s nod, Vin nodded as well. “Good. Then I can kick Travis’s ass with a clear conscience.”
JD sat down. “Why?”
“The man sent us in blind! No sniper, barely any information…” His eyes narrowed and he tilted his head. “Though Bucklin was tryin’ t’feed me a cock-and-bull story about there bein’ a sniper there….”
Vin watched JD’s face. He gave a sharp nod and leaned back against the pillows. “Okay, kid. Spill it.”
JD sighed. “I need to. I can’t tell Chris or Travis…but I need to tell someone.”
Vin frowned. “Why can’t you tell Chris or the Director?”
He leaned forward. “Because they will try to control them. That won’t do.”
“Why not? Control who?”
And JD’s smile was almost feral as he answered, “The Posse. My Posse.” Vin opened his mouth, and JD went on, “They’re street kids I befriended. Some have records. They distrust ‘suits’ like us… but somehow….”
Vin nodded slowly. “Somehow, they trust you.”
JD nodded, and his face clouded. “There’s another reason I don’t want them knowing.” At Vin’s questioning look, JD sighed. “The Posse – it’s complicated. They help when it suits them to. I can’t tell them consistently to help us.” He snorted, though he was smiling. “Hell, Vin, I can’t tell them to do anything!”
There was silence for a moment, and then Vin chuckled as he leaned back against the pillows. He looked at JD, then started laughing outright, holding his sides as he giggled and laughed himself to tears.
Startled, JD grabbed some water and helped Vin sip it. He wiped Vin’s tears and helped him get himself under control. When Vin had control again, JD asked him, “What in the world hit you?”
Vin looked up at JD and grinned as he started laughing again. “Just a stray thought that tickled me.”
“Care to share it?”
Grinning unrepentantly, Vin met JD’s eyes. “Just thought that now you understand Chris a bit better.”
JD chuckled. “Yes, I do.” Something hit him and his own grin spread. “Wow.”
“Yeah….” Vin closed his eyes.
“Guess how many are in the Posse?” Vin’s eyes opened to see JD’s dancing ones. “Including me?”
They laughed heartily together, then JD petted Vin’s un-IV’d hand. “I’ll split and let you get some rest.”
“Thanks, kid. I won’t tell Chris or Travis – you got my word.”
JD nodded and left the room. Vin paused a moment, then his eyes slid toward the bathroom in his hospital room. “He’s gone.”
The door opened and Ezra and Josiah stepped out. “My, my,” Ezra said with a smile.
“I won’t tell Chris or Travis either,” Josiah said softly.
“Nor will I,” Ezra said, shaking his head with a dazed half-smile on his face. “It would seem our young Mister Dunne has been wearing quite a bit of sheepskin!”
Josiah beamed at the doorway. “And I, for one, have never been so proud of JD!”
“Hear, hear!” they chorused – and JD’s secret was sealed among them.
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