By:  Heidi

Disclaimer:  Work of fiction based on the characters from the television series "The Magnificent Seven."  No copyright infringement intended to Hallmark, CBS, TNN, MGM, Mirisch, Trilogy, and any others I have not listed with the rights.  No profit will be made from this work.

Warnings:  Violence, a smattering of bad words.

Part One

"I thought I told you to finish that report ASAP."  Chris Larabee glared at JD Dunne.  "I'm getting questioned about it, and I have to hold my ass and say I don't know."

"I finished it, Chris, and put it on your desk." 

Slowly, the leader of Denver's infamous ATF Team Seven advanced on the youngest, his expression a study in fury.  Each word was spat out with precision in a clipped, hard tone.  "I don't have it."

JD squeezed into the leader's office and around the form blocking his way.  Rifling through a stack of files buried beneath two inches of correspondence, he came up with the report. "Here."

"Why did you bury it?  I never would have found it."  Sparks flew from the leader's gaze.

"The desk was clear when I put it there." 

"You didn't tell me it was there!" Chris yelled. 

Five men served as silent spectators to the confrontation, all fully aware that it would only end badly.  Interference was never welcome; it only made things worse.

Obviously having enough of this rough treatment, JD got right in his superior's face just outside Larabee's door.  "I told you, and then I sent you an e-mail, like you asked, because you said you would forget.  Do you want to see the acknowledgement that you opened and read the e-mail?"

"Get out of my sight, weasel!"  Chris brushed hard past him and slammed the door, nearly hitting JD in the face.

"He's getting worse," JD said softly.  "That's the fourth weasel in two days."  Taking a deep breath, he returned to his desk and collapsed in his chair.  A touch of hurt showed on his face. 

"Don't let him get you down."  Buck reached over and squeezed a shoulder. 

"I know he's tired and stressed, Buck, but he doesn't have to take it out on us.  Shoot, I expect it because I maintain the statistics, but still, we're not his punching bags."

"We know.  Not much of an explanation, but it's budget time.  He's always mean when he's fighting to get us money," Nathan said.  "I'd get testy too if I had to fight everyone that sticks their nose in our business about every penny."

"Mr. Larabee passed testy last week.  I believe he's now reached tyrant," Ezra commented.

The office door flew open.  "Don't you people have work to do?"  A lethal glare encompassed the room, stayed for a moment, and then disappeared with yet another slamming of the door.

"He's gonna break it 'fore it's done."  Vin Tanner sighed.  "Hate seein' him this way."

"We all do," Josiah said.  "Only thing we can do is ride it out.  Then he'll calm down."

"I don't know about the rest of you gentlemen, but I sincerely intend to stay out of his way."  Ezra mock-shuddered.  "Especially considering the next few days will require all his attention and forbearance."

"That's right."  Nathan snapped his fingers.  "The final selections and arguments."

"You mean Mortal Kombat ™," Buck muttered.  "To the death."

"I swear I can't even hear myself think over your chatter!  Will you, for once in your lives, shut your mouths and work in silence?"  Chris stood in the doorway of his office, giving each of his men a look that would send lesser beings scurrying for cover or giving up lifelong secrets. 

"How about we adjourn for lunch?" Buck asked.  "We'll bring you something.  That's an hour's break." 

"Fine, go, do whatever.  Just give me silence."  Rubbing his temples, Chris Larabee went back into his office. 

Quietly, the men left, and when they returned, they used care in not making too much noise.  This pattern continued for several more days, until the hearings were over, and the budget announced. 

When the final announcements came out, Chris managed a weak smile in private – he'd gotten a five percent increase in his budget across the board. It was rougher this year; the success barely justified what he’d put himself and his team through. Now he was exhausted, and too drained to start making amends to his team.  He knew he needed to; they didn’t deserve what he’d put them through, but he was just too tired to even think of how to begin.   He stayed in a funk for a day or so. 



Assistant Director Orin Travis watched the previous few weeks take their toll on his team leaders, and knew he couldn't show any favoritism.  Every team had to win the budget battles on their own. Team Seven, his most unusual, wasn't the only team the Assistant Director was responsible for, and all of them were fighting for the limited funds.  He felt very strongly for his teams, and he wanted the best for them. 

As the boss, and a cunning one at that, he'd been keeping an eye on his team leaders, knowing what they were all going through and how hard it was.  Some of them bore up well under the stress of budget time, declining his offer of time off, but others were more than happy to take leave.  Having sat across from Chris in many of the meetings, he could easily see the strain, since Team Seven – as usual – came under the heaviest scrutiny. 

There wasn't any doubt that Chris could handle it, and he would overcome it, but he knew this year was harder with the budget meetings coming on the heels of several tough cases for Team Seven.  Travis also heard the rumors that Larabee's temper was coming out in snaps and snarls at his own teammates.  He often didn't listen to the rumors, but his infrequent visits during the budget crisis showed how much Team Seven was avoiding their leader, while trying to act natural for the AD's sake.

Since he was the boss, he could do something about it.  A thorough check and comparison of Team Seven's – specifically Larabee's - leave usage showed the man had not taken a vacation by himself for months.  Almost every one of the leaves had been with the entire team, and one was with Vin Tanner.  Orin Travis thought it was high time for Chris to have a break - not only from the job - but from his teammates and friends as well.  Maybe the distance would make him feel a little more disposed toward their antics and in a better frame of mind when he came back. 

Larabee's file spoke of a man who enjoyed his solitude, usually going out of his way during his weekends off by himself.  Sometimes Buck or Vin were invited, sometimes not; either way, though, Chris was almost always on call.  He might be off-duty, but when one of the boys got into the middle of something – a frequent occurrence – then Chris got a phone call.  Being the good friend and team leader he was, Larabee got involved at that point.  Many a weekend was interrupted, and Travis privately wondered why Chris hadn't gone insane, lost his temper to the point of serious violence, or gotten an ulcer from the constant pressure. 

The man needed to recharge.  Constantly defending his friends during the hearings, always on the deferential defensive to higher-ups than Travis, and still dealing with the day-to-day operation pulled him in too many directions.  None of it was helped by the team's latest stunt of losing yet another Administrative Assistant because the woman found the working conditions 'too fast changing' and the 'highly charged atmosphere daunting and overwhelming'. 

Losing the AA only put Team Seven further behind in their routine paperwork, a situation mildly alleviated with Buck and Vin charming other AA's to help them.  Doing that only brought more idiotic complaints by petulant team leaders against Seven, putting Chris further on the defensive.  It had to stop, and it would stop now. 

With Chris Larabee's mental health and welfare on his mind, along with the refusal to take 'no' for an answer, Assistant Director Orin Travis chose to face the lion in his den.  When he entered the offices of Team Seven, they quieted, greeted him, but they were not their ebullient, zany selves.  They were subdued, as if they knew the budget victory was hollow for all the pain they endured.  He was right this was something they all needed.  Giving them an encouraging nod, he knocked on the team leader's closed door.

"What?"  Chris's voice was a cross between a snarl and a yell, with a touch of annoyance mixed in.

Travis opened the door, walked in, and closed it.  "Good afternoon, Chris."  He took a seat across from the man, waving him back into his own chair. 

"What can I do for you?"

The lack of a 'sir' on the end of that told Travis more about his Agent's state of mind; Chris was ready to fight at the least provocation.  "It's more what I am going to do for you."

"Meaning?"  Chris seemed more than wary after the weeks of fending off backstabbing attempts from other administrators trying to do the best for their teams.

The Assistant Director read the suspicion in the tone.  "Meaning you are going to go on vacation for two weeks, by yourself, to a location of your choosing, and the only one you will give your location and phone number to is me."


"Effective at the end of today, you are officially on annual leave for the next two weeks.  Go away, get lost, hug a tree, fight a bear, dance the cha-cha, whatever, but just take a break.  You've pushed yourself and your people hard with your cases and the budget, and the strain's showing.  You need a vacation."

"I didn't ask for a vacation."

"No, you didn't.  But you need one, Chris."

"I'm perfectly fine."

"So fine that your team's reluctant to come to you, screening your calls, your mail, and taking abuse from everyone else in this building with a problem to spare you.  In return, you've called them names, bullied them, and pushed them around.  Not exactly leadership behavior . . . not to mention that of a friend."

Chris scowled, feeling the truth of the words, but still didn’t like facing how bad he had been . . . especially toward his friends.  "We're fine."

"They're fine, you're not."

Chris pushed himself to his feet.  "Are you saying I'm unfit for duty?"

"No.  Sit down.  I'm not straining my neck to stare up at you."  Travis waited until the other man complied.  A part of him wasn't sure that Chris would, but after a few seconds, he did retake his seat.  "Chris, I've checked your file.  You have not had an uninterrupted, solo vacation since the formation of this team, and you used to take them often.  You have had one – just one – with only one other team member.  The rest were with the group.  Now, I know that's by choice, and I have no problems with what you do during your down time."

"Damn right."

Travis raised a hand.  "Hear me out.  The man I hired was a loner, and I worried about making a coherent team.  Against the odds, you've got a great group of people.  Now, if I said that one of them was cranky, mean, derogatory towards the others, and generally an all around pain in the ass, wouldn't you think something was wrong?  I don't mean Ezra and his expense account, either. If you knew that man had been under a lot of stress lately, that maybe just maybe, you might think he needed some time off?  That it might help him regroup and straighten himself out?"

Chris considered for long minutes. 

The AD waited him out.

Larabee finally sighed, "If you order me to take time off, I will."

"I order it."  Travis knew he won, and he gave Chris the out the proud man was looking for gladly.  "Let me know where you're going. Don't think you're staying home; you'll only get bothered there.  If you want, you can use my cabin."

"No.  I know where I'm going."  He gave Travis a half-smile.   "There's a campground in the mountains I used to go to all the time.  Clean air, tall trees, great fishing."

"Sounds good."

"I doubt my cell will work up there, but I'll give you the number to the dry goods store that serves as a base station.  They can find me if you need me."

Travis stood, extending his hand.  "Enjoy your vacation."

"I'm only going because you're ordering me."

Both men knew that statement did not deserve a comment.  On those words, Travis left.



Chris sat in his office and considered.  He knew not going wasn't an option, and part of him looked forward to the break.  That told him he'd been working too hard.  His eyes caught sight of the mostly empty antacid bottle, trying to remember when he bought it.  With a start, he realized it was brand new a couple days ago; definitely not long enough to have eaten that many.  Obviously, he did, especially with the fits his stomach was giving him even now.  The steady diet of coffee, candy, and antacids was ripping a hole in his gut, even some time after his victory and change in eating habits.

The quiet finally reached him.  Outside his office door, six men who only knew silence in life or death situations were not speaking.  He could actually hear keystrokes, and the squeaky file drawers sliding open and closed.  The phones were muted so far he barely heard a ring.

It was unnerving. 

Had he been that bad? 

Rubbing his temples, he thought back on the past few weeks.  He felt like he was waking from a nightmare, yet realized the horrible person starring in it was him.  Did he say all those things?  Taking a deep breath, Chris felt guilt pour through him for his actions and words.

Maybe he'd shattered their trust in him with his words and deeds.  If so, he didn't deserve to be around them.  If not, he still knew he wasn't back to normal, whatever that was, and a little space could help ease them back into a good working relationship, more give and take then him yelling and taking.  Grabbing his courage in both hands, for better or worse, he exited his office.

Immediately, what little noise there was stopped.  Their eyes focused on him, and he saw the wariness in them.  They were trying to hide it - bless them - but it was there.  The silence unnerved him again.

"I'm sorry."

He could tell that wasn't what they expected, all except Tanner.  The Texan's slight smile encouraged him that he was on the right path.

"I've been a jackass, and taking out my anger on you.  I can't promise I won't do it again, but I'm going to try."

Buck crossed the room to circle around him, staring him down with an unreadable expression.  "Look who finally pulled his head of his ass."

The rogue stopped in front of him, holding out his hand.

Chris took it, and then did something that felt right.  He pulled Buck into a back-slapping hug. 

Once released, Wilmington said, "You're lucky, Stud.  Another couple of days, and I was going to do it for you."

Relief filled him that they were okay, until Buck used his eyes to indicate the rest of the team, JD especially.



"I've treated you worst of all.  You're not a weasel."

"I'm not, but you mastered jackass."  JD grinned.

Chris smiled, realizing it was the first one in weeks.

"Ya break inta song and dance, cowboy, and I'll knock ya flat."  Vin strode over, hand extended.  They clasped forearms.

"Mr. Larabee."  Ezra gave him a half-bow.

"Mr. Standish."  Chris returned the gesture.

"I understand our esteemed Assistant Director has ordered your leave."

Chris looked at his undercover agent in shock, wondering now if he was a victim of conspiracy.  “How did you find out so fast?”

Ezra managed to look a little chagrined.  “I merely ascertained that may be the direction the wind was blowing.”  He grinned broadly.  “You just confirmed my deductions were indeed correct.”

Larabee nodded, saluting the intelligent conman. "He figured I needed a break."

"Ya do," Vin said simply.  "We'll mind the store."

Larabee looked horrified, “Maybe I should stay . . .”

Buck clamped his hand around his friend’s neck. “Don’t even think about it.”

“Gotcha,” Chris grinned. "After I buy a round tonight.  I'll leave tomorrow."

Part Two

Warning:  This section contains violence and sets the tone for the rest of the fic.  Please remember this is a hurt/comfort fic.

Chris kept his window down on this last leg of his drive, enjoying the clean mountain air.  He had checked in at the dry goods store, and now was coming to a stop beside his favorite campsite.  Parking the truck, he climbed out and stretched his back.  Each movement brought a particular sense of satisfaction to him, and a sense of peace started to envelope him. 

He didn't mind setting up his camp, and it wasn't long before he pitched a tent, settled in, and was comfortably stretched out in the low folding chair he brought.  A beer was in one hand, and a cigar in the other.  It didn't take him long before he finished his cigar and the beer, taking care to make sure the bottle went into the recycle bag, and the cigar was properly extinguished. 

The drive up here had taken a few hours, and he hadn't slept well the night before.  Of course, carousing with the boys was always a recipe for sleep deprivation.  Especially this time, since they all got sloppy and had to be poured into their beds by friends making sure they reached their homes safely.  But the evening had been a small start to repairing the damaging rift he’d managed to create over the last few weeks. 

Feeling tired, and deciding to treat himself, he went to bed early. Nothing disturbed him through the night, and he woke up refreshed.  His second day found him down by the stream casting his line.  While he waited for bites, he had time to reflect.  He decided his life was pretty good; enjoyable, in fact.

His job, while stressful, was one of the most rewarding of his life.  Not only did he take violent criminals and their weapons off the street, but he had the best team.  He'd heard most of the complaints about his men, and he knew their character flaws.  But it was those very flaws that made them a formidable force. 

Buck had his weakness for women, something that would never change.  Maybe it would when he finally found the right Mrs. Wilmington, but until that day, he'd always believe the best of women.  Female criminals still gave Buck a crisis of conscience, but he did his job.  Often, he did more than his job.  Buck had been his salvation.  Those dark days after Sarah and Adam died sent him into a spiral that was nearly irrecoverable.  He couldn't count how many times the alcohol got him thinking thoughts that he shouldn't, and how many times his weapon ended up missing, or his vehicle keys disappeared.  Or how many times he'd wake up with a bruised, aching jaw, a hangover, and a false hatred of Buck for making him survive.  False because deep down he knew Buck was acting in his best interests, even when it went against everything that he wanted at that time.  Now, Buck was his left arm, and Vin was his right.

Vin Tanner was someone else that had flaws.  The reports and evaluations by the Army described a loner, someone who played for the team, but wasn't fully integrated into the team.  He also didn't have the college education required, and was slowly earning his degree, but his skills outweighed the lack of a piece of paper.  But it only took one meeting for Chris to know he needed the man on his team; he saw someone that knew what he wanted, wasn't going to take too much crap from anyone, and would always do the best of his ability.  His friendship was the same way - Vin Tanner knew what he wanted out of his friends, he wouldn't take their crap for too long without retaliating with words or jokes, but would always do the best by his friends.  The bonus was the Texan understood Chris almost better than Chris knew himself.

As for understanding himself and others, Josiah was the one person that understood his demons, along with those that resided in the man's soul.  The profiler could easily heal or wound Chris with a few simple words, raising or quelling demons.  Yet, without Josiah, Chris figured he'd probably have gone mad.  Sometimes, his friend could see right to the heart of a problem and fix it before it ever came to his attention; without those shoulders and willing ears to listen to everyone else, they'd probably have torn each other apart.  That's one of the reasons Chris understood and appreciated Josiah's demons; no man was a saint, and Josiah was no exception.  Given the rarity of Josiah losing his temper, or getting so drunk he got mean and stupid, having the profiler at his back was greatly appreciated.

Another person he greatly appreciated for the morale of the team was Nathan.  The forensics specialist has strong beliefs and convictions, plus the willingness to fight for those convictions, but that was one of Nathan's strengths.  He often challenged them, Chris especially, to see things from a different point of view.  Methodical arguments were his stock in trade, forcing them to think things through before firing off a response.  Sometimes, though, his views were not those of the others, and that caused a little friction.  Nathan's hot buttons were ones that usually involved prejudice, and something that they ran into when dealing with the 'good ole boy' network in some of the smaller municipalities.  But Chris knew that Nathan could keep the others from running pell-mell into trouble, and that was one of the biggest helps to the team leader, not having to continually hold and yank on the reins of his team of mavericks.

The biggest maverick he had was Ezra, both a comfort and a pain to him.  Ezra was the best at what he did; no one that Chris knew of came close, but Ezra also knew it.  Only the man's insecurities about belonging and acceptance kept him from being the megalomaniac that he could be from all the accolades.  Somehow, Ezra always knew when Chris needed to blow off some tension, and that was when the Southerner would start a debate with him.  Those debates often helped Chris feel better, and no feelings got hurt.  If he could only make the man understand that the ATF would not pay for every dry cleaning of his Prada suits.  Of course he knew that was one of ways the undercover agent pushed his buttons to distract him, at least he thought it was; he hoped that was the case. But that was an ongoing discussion with a man that Chris honestly believed to be one of his own, and he hoped he'd finally convinced Ezra of that.

Then there was JD.  JD was so young, so impressionable, but he was toughening up quick without losing too much of his innocence.  The badge still had a shine to it, and he hadn't gotten too jaded yet.  His enthusiasm returned a measure of Chris's nostalgia for his own days when things were so black and white, and Larabee swore he'd make sure that the kid – young man – would go as far as he could without losing that optimism.  Sometimes, though, the kid's energy would drive Chris to distraction, along with exhausting the rest of the team.  But as another bonus, JD brought back a spark of life to Buck, who had lingered too long in Chris's own dark shadow, giving Chris back his old friend even more than before.  Buck now had someone new to tell his stories too; heck, they all did, and they had someone to protect. 

Then there was him.  Figuring that he'd done enough introspection for one day, plus he'd already caught his dinner, Chris headed back to his campsite.  The simple dinner of pan-fried fish tasted great to him, and his stomach appreciated it.  It also made him sleepy, and deciding he was still trying to recover from a host of sleepless nights, he turned in early.

Day three saw him hiking.  When he returned to his campsite, his legs ached, his lungs burned, his feet hurt, but he felt better than he had in days.  He'd seen and appreciated nature, giving him a sense of peace.  Maybe Travis was right – he did need this time alone.  What was even better was that his cell phone, which unfortunately did have service up here, had not rung once.  Not one law enforcement agency calling him, nor any of his boys.  He wouldn't have minded hearing from them, at least talking to them, but it was probably better that they didn't.  Then he'd worry about what they were up to and what they were doing more than he already did, which would only defeat the purpose of him being here.  By the end of his third night, he'd finished the last of the six pack – his self imposed two a day limit, and decided to go to the dry goods store the following day for more.

After a morning run through the woods, he felt great.  His stomach had finally stopped having fits, his muscles were loosening up, and his mind was starting to sharpen back up again, the fog of the sleep deprivation and budget arguments receding.  He hadn't shaved since his last day of work, giving him the start of a good beard.  Lunch was some of the trail mix he brought with him, and dinner was soup.  He opted to sleep instead of trekking down to the dry goods store, and went to bed early.

Day five was just as peaceful as the others – he was getting the hang of this mountain air and his morning jogs were revitalizing him.  Chris pushed himself on the hike, and when he returned to his campsite, it was late afternoon.  Checking his watch, he realized there was time to get down to the store.  Grabbing up supplies to shower, the relaxed team leader headed that way. 

The only problem was when he climbed into the truck.  He wasn't paying attention, catching sight of an eagle flying high above him, and banged the top back of his head against the doorframe when he twisted his neck. 

"Ouch!"  One hand reached up and rubbed the spot, and then he tried to ignore the sting.  Settling in the driver's seat, he didn't realize that the abrasion was deeper than he thought, and it started to bleed.  With his head resting against the back of the seat, the crimson soaked in.  Once he arrived at the dry goods store, he'd resolved to buy additional aspirin for his new headache. 

Climbing out of his truck, he unconsciously rubbed the back of his head.  There was moisture, and his fingers came away red.  Disgusted with himself, he grabbed his shower kit and went directly to the public bathrooms.  After cleaning himself thoroughly, he bandaged the back of his head, got dressed, and went inside to purchase supplies.  After a few minutes of shopping, and some joking about the new injury, Chris headed out with his purchases. 

The only thing he didn't have was beer; he didn't like the limited selections at the dry goods store.  Damn Ezra for that – he couldn't stomach cheap, off-brand beer anymore.  He decided to go down the mountain to the liquor store in the nearby town.


"It's not stopping," the officer reported into his radio.  Siren wailing, lights flashing, he tried pulling over the Dodge Ram truck speeding on the highway.  It caught his attention a few scant minutes ago doing eighty miles per hour down the mountain, well over the thirty mile an hour limit. 

He'd initiated the stop right after the runaway ramp a few minutes before, but the truck was refusing to stop.  They were now entering the base of the mountain, so the drops weren't that steep on either side of the road, but still, these speeds were not safe, especially at night.

Officer John "JJ" Jefferson flipped the a-frame spotlight at a certain angle onto the driver's side mirror, giving him a good look at the driver.  "He's a white male, approximately 30-40, blond hair, black shirt.  Acting real nervous." 

"Call it off," his sergeant replied.  "You're still too high on the mountain."

"10-4," JJ replied.  "Pursuit terminated."  He deactivated his lights and slowed down.  It was a pretty good idea to not chase someone down the mountain roads, even into the foothills.  He'd already gotten the tag information, and that gave him the address and name of the registered owner.  When he returned to the station, he would contact the registered owner to find out who was driving.

Rounding one of the curves, he saw the break in the guardrail.  Damn, he thought, coming to stop on the shoulder near it.  Then he saw the smoke plume. 

"Shit!" He yelled.  He practically choked himself by trying to get out without removing the seatbelt, and then went running to the opening in the metal.  Down below, twisted into a heap, and now on fire, was the Dodge Ram pickup. 

He called it in, not realizing he was screaming in the radio, got his fire extinguisher, and scrambled down to the truck.  More like fell and slid; he wasn't being too careful how he went down.  When JJ reached the truck, he saw that it had rolled several times.  Glass littered the trip down, catching on his uniform, but he ignored that.

Smoke started to seep into his pores and lungs, causing him to cough.  Lifting his handkerchief to his face, he covered his mouth and nose.  The flames and heat were intense coming from the engine compartment, nearly driving him back.  He couldn't see through the smoke where the driver was; he just used the extinguisher. 

The smoke and extinguisher fumes cleared, allowing him to see after a few moments.  What he saw made him nauseous.  Obviously, the driver had not been wearing a seatbelt; he was ejected partway through the windshield, lying on the hood of the burning truck.  The body was completely mangled, blood everywhere, and burning.

JJ aimed the rest of the fire extinguisher at the body more than the engine, hoping that the man was alive.  He wasn't moving at all.  The extinguisher emptied, so now he could only wait for help to arrive.  The flames created an impenetrable wall between him and the driver.  Two attempts to reach the person failed, the last catching his coat on fire.  He had to roll around on the ground to extinguish it, and then wait. 

It took so long it seemed, for the fire department to arrive.  JJ felt so helpless watching the truck become fully involved from front to back, keeping him out.  Even after the firefighters got there and worked their way down to the truck, it was entirely too late.  Moving out of their way, JJ started climbing up the mountain.  He was picking through the debris, looking for anything that might give him information on the occupant.

An object caught his attention near where he was about to put his foot, gleaming dully in the beam of his flashlight.  He'd found a gun.  A chill ran down his spine.  Maybe now he had his reason why the man was tearing down the mountain and not stopping.  The campgrounds were up there. 

JJ reached up to his radio.  "Communications call the dry goods store, make sure they're okay." 


He left the gun untouched, knowing an investigator was going to want to see it where it was found, and then the investigator would take pictures of the location.  Assuming the worst, JJ didn't want to ruin any possible future court cases.  His backup arrived, and JJ used his radio again.  "Mike, check the slope for any personal property.  I've recovered a gun down here."


"All units, subjects at the dry goods store are okay," Communications radioed back.  "Direct on the gun recovery."

"JJ," Mike called on the talk around channel.  "I've got an identification wallet lying open up here, and it's got a badge in it."

"Can you read where?"


JJ's stomach suddenly soured.  "Why would he not stop?" he asked aloud. 

His question would not be answered immediately.  In fact, it wouldn't be answered for hours.  By the time that the fire was out, the scene photographed and processed, the body removed, the truck towed, and the ATF called, JJ was already into his third hour of the call, and knew he would be in for several more. 

He drove to the station, answering questions from the on-call ATF representative that responded to the scene, and waited.  The Agent informed him that no one was home at the residence, and they were checking the truck tag owner's listed campsite from the dry goods store for information.  JJ was also told that an Assistant Director named Orin Travis was coming out.  Investigators were conducting interviews at the dry goods store to find out if the man they suspected might have been the driver had been in earlier. 

JJ didn't know the victim; he only had a name:  Christopher Larabee, Special Agent In Charge, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Enforcement.  The name sounded familiar, but he couldn't place it.  There was only one hope – that the body that was mangled and burned beyond recognition was not that of this Agent, which the other ATF Agents on site spoke so highly of in hushed whispers. 


Orin Travis was worried.  Not only did the local police have Chris's truck in an accident where Chris said he was going, they told him there was a fatality.  When he talked to the on-call Agent, he got more information – the driver had fled from the officer and refused to stop.  The driver lost control of the truck after the pursuit was called off and subsequently went through a guardrail; the description of the damaged body was too gruesome for Travis to contemplate. The clerk at the dry goods store remembered him coming in and wanting to go down the mountain for some beer.  Adding that the description of what the officer saw using his spotlight on the mirror; it could be Chris.

He dearly hoped they were wrong; he didn't know what he would do if it was truly Chris.  A large part of him didn't believe it, though; Chris wouldn't run from the police.  But with the man's recent stress and attitude, anything was possible.  Chris was a good actor, carrying off his undercover roles with a believability that almost rivaled Ezra's talent. 

The flight seemed so long, each minute stretched out.  Although he was getting closer, he did not look forward to what he had to do.  They'd already told him he needed to attempt an identification of the body. 

Orin Travis was scared.