Revenge / Reproach
Disclaimer: written entirely for my pleasure and possibly for the pleasure of others. I do not own them and I am not making any money in this venture.
April Challenge: Use one of the pictures provided to inspire a story. Thanks Katy.
The four people were laughing as they came out of the restaurant. None of them noticed the old red pickup that was parked in the alleyway just two stores down. They were enjoying a warm spring day in Denver, their thoughts a million miles away from revenge and violence. The two men lived with it everyday, being part of one of the best ATF teams in the country. They understood death and destruction, if not the motives for it. The women were innocents, one being a college student, the other a computer analyst. No, the idea that death was parked a mere hundred feet away never crossed their minds.
“I swear, JD, I seen him eat snails! We were undercover together and we had to meet the top guy for dinner. He ordered snails and ate ‘em. All I could do was thank God that I was the bodyguard and didn’t have to eat with the two of ‘em.”
“Buck, they’re a delicacy. You can get them in all the finer French restaurants.” Trish explained to the three friends she was out with. She hadn’t been in such a festive mood in a long time. But then, things began to change when she moved to Denver and found her neighbor was Buck Wilmington.
“Well, that explains things right there. Obviously, them weasels don’t know anymore about eatin’ than they do about fightin’.” Buck put his arm around the pretty brunette’s shoulders and pulled her in tight to him.
“You got that right, Buck! I still can’t believe they were smart enough to come up with French fries.” JD threw in, his hand entrenched in his girlfriend’s.
“Oh, JD, “ Casey punched his arm with her free hand.
Casey shook her head and turned her attention to the tall woman by Buck’s side. “So Trish, you want to go with me to the new mall? I hear they have a waterfall in the middle that’s really spectacular.”
“Oh yeah, why don’t I pick you up tomorrow around one. I need a few things and maybe they have a lot of grand opening sales.”
“Sounds good. Are you two still going out to the ranch tomorrow?” Casey knew that Team 7 was uniting at Chris’s for a trail ride and that when Team 7 gathered, no women were allowed.
“Yup. Think you can live without us for two days?” Buck looked down into the big brown eyes of the woman he held close. The two of them had been dating for two months now and it felt good to have her by his side. She had been abused by her husband and when they had first met, Trish was quiet and untrusting, like a bird with a broken wing. He had watched her bloom over the past two months into an out going, fun loving, woman whom he cared for deeply. It might not be love but it was close. He really enjoyed being with her.
“I think us women folk can survive with out you men to protect us for a day or two.” She smiled up at him and then softly said, “I will miss you, though.”
He smiled back and squeezed her a little tighter. We still have tonight, darlin’.”
“And I for one am looking forward to it.” She wiggled her eyebrows like she had seen him do so often. He broke out laughing, a full belly laugh that had all of them laughing along.
The red pickup inched further into the street. The driver was so intent on watching the foursome that he didn’t notice the old woman in his path until she pounded on the hood of the truck and gave him the finger. ‘Go to hell, ya old bat,’ he thought as he turned his eyes back to the two couples. They were just approaching Trish’s car and he revved the truck’s engine slightly. His hand was steady over the gear shift. Hatred burned in his mind while revenge fueled his soul.
When the four of them went out, they always took Trish’s car as it was the biggest. Buck’s antique truck, Casey’s Civic, and JD’s motorcycle were not suitable for double dates and the four had found that they had a great time together. However, Trish was adamant that she drive. She was falling in love with the tall, muscular, Federal agent but she wasn’t ready to let him behind the wheel of her “baby”. It was about the only thing she had taken when she slipped away from her husband that stormy night in February. She unlocked the back door and she and Buck watched as first Casey slid in and then JD. She unlocked the driver’s door but then stood back as Buck opened the door for her.
“Always the gentleman. Thank you, Sweetheart.”
“My pleasure, Madame. By the way, you look beautiful tonight, in case I didn’t say it before.” Buck still had his hand on the door, the other ready to assist her inside.
She turned towards him instead, her eyes alight with adoration. “You did, but I never tire of hearing it from you. Have I told you lately how absolutely handsome you are?”
“Not so far this night.”
“Well, you are. And I need to thank you for my salvation, my knight in shining armor.” She turned slightly and pressed her body tight against his. She lifted her mouth to his and gave him a kiss that would melt the knees of any man.
He shifted slightly, his back against the door and with both hands, he pulled her even tighter. For a few seconds, they were lost in each other.
Neither Buck nor Trish saw the red pickup pull out onto the street and turn in their direction. Neither of them saw the look of pure hate on the man’s face. Neither of them noticed the tires spinning as they fought to gain purchase on the asphalt.
At the sound of squealing tires, JD turned and looked out the rear window. The young agent saw the truck speed towards his best friend and his lady. There was literally nothing he could do about it. He and Casey watched in horror as the truck veered towards the couple standing outside the vehicle, locked in an embrace.
JD pushed Casey further away from the street side of the car and fell on top of her as the pickup smashed first into Trish and then Buck and finally the door. Trish was torn from Buck’s arms, her body flying backwards into the grill of the truck and then up and over the cab. Her body ended up on the pavement, twenty feet away from the car she cherished.
Buck and the door were ripped away from the car and thrown into the middle of the street. Buck was still on top of the door when it came to a screeching, rocking, halt. Buck’s right arm raised feebly. It then fell as unconsciousness overtook him.
The old red pickup careened off the front fender of the Le Baron and then sped off down the street. For a few terrible seconds, silence reigned as shock settled in on the bystanders. And then, in slow motion, people began to gather in three groups on the street. Some went to gawk at the torn dead body of Trish Braeden. Some gathered around the driver side door and the shattered body of Buck Wilmington. Still other gathered around the wrecked body of the Le Baron and the two people still huddled in the back seat. Everyone seemed to be talking at once but the tones were hushed and reverent.
JD arose and instantly checked to see if Casey was alright. The door they had entered was crumbled in and jammed tight. He carefully climbed over his girlfriend and exited the car on the curb side. He stood shakily for a brief instant and then he made his way around the wreckage and stood staring at his “big brother”. He rushed to Buck’s side, pushing others away from the critically injured man.
Somewhere in his brain, he heard Nathan’s voice telling him not to move the body as he might cause more damage. Instead, he gently swiped at the blood that flowed quickly down the left side of the ladies man’s face. “No, Buck, no. Oh my God, don’t die, please, don’t die, Buck.”
Six men sat in the waiting room. One of their own was still in the emergency room, being worked on by several doctors and numerous nurses. They had not succeeded in stabilizing his injuries yet and Buck had arrived at the hospital over an hour and a half ago.
“GODDAMMIT, DON’T YOU PEOPLE KNOW ANYTHING?” Several people jumped at the harsh tone of voice that bellowed through waiting room.
“What in the hell could be taking them so long? Nathan, shouldn’t they be taking him to surgery or something if he’s that bad?” Chris Larabee was not a patient man by anyone’s standards. With his oldest friend beyond his reach, he was quickly becoming clamorously agitated.
Vin had tried repeatedly to get his best friend to quiet down, knowing that the doctors would come and tell them about Buck’s injuries the moment they could safely leave the gregarious man’s side. Angry shouting and constant demands made to the staff would get them nowhere. The sharpshooter understood that the anger in Chris’s voice was bred of fear and anguish but the hospital staff didn’t. They were becoming testy, even with Nathan. This time, Vin just shook his head and sighed. The wait was becoming interminably hard on all of them.
One more time, Jackson put his hand on his boss’s shoulder and spoke calmly, “Chris, the doctors will be out to see us when Buck has been stabilized. That means blood pressure, other vitals, blood loss from external damage, all sorts of things. They can’t move him until that’s done. Yelling at the staff won’t get us anywhere except kicked out of here. Sit down and be quiet.”
“He’s right, Nathan. They should have talked to us by now. He’s not that bad off, I just know it. He can’t be.” JD was falling apart, waiting with his heart on his sleeve, marking time in anticipation of the outcome. He couldn’t take it anymore. He had to know if his ’big brother’ was going to live or die.
Josiah pulled the young agent into a tight embrace and held him there, feeling the silent tears dampen his shirt. “Whatever happens, John Dunne, it will be God’s will. Come on, we need a breath of fresh air. Nathan, come get us if the doctor comes out.”
Nathan nodded solemnly. He sat down beside Ezra and without thinking, put his arm around the southerner’s shoulders. “He’s got to make it, Ezra. He’s just got to.”
Standish, usually the most aloof of the seven men, found himself leaning into the black man’s warmth. He didn’t trust his voice and so, he simply nodded his accordance.
After an eternity, the doctor, who had been the lead in the Wilmington case, walked out to face the six men of Buck’s family. He had never been the doctor that had to tell the whole members of Team 7 that one of their own might not survive. However, he had seen the way they reacted before, closing ranks, vowing that they could pull their partner through. He hoped once again that it was true.
“Mr. Larabee, I’m Dr. Jacobs. Mr. Wilmington’s alive, he was even conscious for awhile but he’s in critical condition. He’s going to have a CT scan right now and then, he’ll be going into surgery to stop the internal bleeding. The surgeon is on his way and once he’s here, Buck will be taken right in. I’d like to talk to you all privately. Can we move this to the counseling room, please?” The man was young, barely thirty years old, but he spoke softly and with an air of confidence that immediately made the ATF agents trust him. They followed him down the hall, no one questioning him.
When they were all settled around a small table, Dr. Jacobs took a deep breath and began. “His landing on the door probably saved his life. His head never made contact with the pavement. Unfortunately, it also caused most of the damage. The door handle caused damage to his right kidney which is where we believe all the bleeding is from. The crushing blow to his chest pressed his sternum into his heart. That’s what took us so long in emergency. His heart is damaged but right now it’s beating at a regular rate. It is not pumping very hard though and there is blood pooling in his lungs. I have been in touch with the best cardiovascular surgeon in the state and he can be here by morning. He suggests a wait of at least ten hours to give the heart time to adjust to the shock it has received. So, by morning, it should be sufficiently recovered so that Dr. Barondic can evaluate the damage and perhaps operate.” He wiped at his face with a smooth hand and then continued. Twelve eyes bore into him, breathlessly waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“The door glass shattered and a piece lodged in his back. The CT scan will help us locate its exact position and let us know if the spinal cord has been completely severed. As of now, Mr. Wilmington is paralyzed from the middle of the back down. We can only hope that the glass merely cut through the arachnoid membrane and that the replacement of the cerebrospinal fluid will make it possible for him to overcome the paralysis.” He waited for the questions, not sure he had any answers for them.
“Can we see him before he goes in to surgery?” Larabee was quiet, stunned by the reciting of Buck’s injuries. He needed to see Buck, to tell him to be strong, that together, they would help him through it.
“As soon as the CT scan is complete, one or two of you can see him for a minute. I’ll make sure the nurses know.”
“Will you know as soon as the scan is done or will we have to wait for awhile yet? I mean, will we know if he is permanently …?” Vin asked so JD and Chris didn’t have to.
“I wish I could tell you that we will know immediately. But I can’t. If the membrane his been cut but not the cord itself, well, then we will have to operate and remove the glass, repair the injury, and hope that the fluid will be replenished. The same fluid covers the brain. Until the fluid is replaced, he’ll have the worst headache imaginable. In other words, we won’t know for maybe a week. I also have to inform you that the surgery is precarious and could cause more damage. In some cases, we prefer to leave the offending object alone but with glass, it has to come out. I’m sorry. I wish I could give you more hope but right now, it’s just wait and see.”
“You said he was conscious for awhile. Was he lucid? Did he know what happened to him?” Nathan was still worried about head trauma even though the doctor had said he was spared that.
“He seemed to know he was in a hospital. He asked for JD, wanted to know if he was alright. Then he asked about the woman. We tried to avoid telling him of her death but he became agitated and we finally told him the harsh facts. He took it very hard, I’m afraid. His last words were, ‘My fault’. Then he passed out again. If there aren’t anymore questions, I’ll go see if the scan is done. Feel free to stay in here as long as you need to. The chapel is just around the corner if that would help. I’ll send a nurse to get you when he’s back. We will do all that we possibly can for him.” He stood and exited the small room, leaving the six men to come to grips with the terrible diagnosis.
The next week crawled by. Chris or JD stayed by Buck’s side constantly. The others visited, lending their support but they were also anxious to find the man responsible. The police had not found the old red pickup yet and no one had noticed the plate numbers. They were stumped as to who had purposely killed one person and possibly destroyed another.
Buck managed to survive three operations within the one week period. Whether it was through Divine help or pure grit on Buck’s part, he still lived. The cardiovascular surgeon had been relieved to find the heart had suffered no permanent damage. The internal bleeding was stopped and the kidney regained its function. The glass fragment had cut deep into the arachnoid membrane but had not punctured the pia mater, thus forever damaging the spinal nerves. However, Buck had not yet moved anything below his waist.
When Buck first awoke, the headache was so overwhelming that he could barely recognize JD and Chris. Everyday, the headache seemed to subside a little more but the physical pain was immediately replaced by the emotional agony of being paralyzed and the torment of guilt in Trish’s death. Buck was convinced that Trish was dead because of what he did for a living. None of them could persuade him otherwise. He began to withdraw into a world of guilt and remorse where he refused to listen to or communicate with any of the others.
The doctors fretted, saying he was making recovery nearly impossible with his morose self spite. He refused to eat so two intravenous lines fed his arms. He refused to acknowledge pain and thus the doctors were forced to keep him on the verge of sedation. The plain truth was, for once, Buck Wilmington had given up.
Chris knew the feeling. He had been driven by guilt and remorse for almost three years after the deaths of his wife and son. But he had had Buck to help him survive. He hadn’t a clue as to how to get through to the life loving man who now seemed to want nothing but death. All Chris could do was stay by Buck’s side and pray that his friend would somehow snap out of his depression.
JD was lost. He felt isolated, the love and protection he had come to rely on from Buck was gone and none of the others could replace it. Buck had been his rock since he had been taken in by the big man, since he had found a home. He didn’t know what to do or whom to turn to now.
On the eleventh day of his hospital stay, Buck moved his left leg. The doctors were pleased, his teammates were ecstatic. Buck seemed to fall deeper into his depression. Guilt at being made whole again when Trish was already in the ground drove him further away from the others. Nobody knew what the answer was, not the professionals, not his teammates, not his best friend.
Ezra walked down the street towards one of his favorite restaurants. He had just returned from his daily visit to Buck. He had vowed that he wouldn’t give up on the man who had welcomed the defeated ex- FBI agent into the fold of Team 7. Buck had helped him through some tough times, both physical and mental, and he wanted to reciprocate. It was hard to see the man who loved everything about life slowly melt away.
He sighed as he pulled his collar up. The wind was blowing a late spring chill into Denver and he had no hat or gloves with him. He huddled down in his coat, his mind still in Room #402. He didn’t realize he had walked right past the street he wanted to turn on until he was halfway down the next block. Not wanting to retrace his steps, he turned and walked down the dimly lit alleyway.
Halfway down the alley, he stopped. Parked right up next to the building, under a fire escape, was an old red pickup with major front end damage. Someone had tried to cover it with a tarp but the bitter wind had lifted the piece of cloth and tossed it back, revealing the bright red paint.
Ezra slowly checked the truck inside and out and then he wrote down the license number. He ran back to the street and hurried back to his condo, food forgotten.
He drove quickly back to the hospital, the piece of paper still crushed in his hand. He had gone with the police inside the cheap hotel and arrested the owner of the old red pickup. The man was falling down drunk and the two officers that had gone into the hotel room with the ATF agent, none too gently hauled his carcass down to the squad car and threw him in. Ezra had told them the report number from the hit and run homicide and then proceeded to the hospital.
Quietly, he opened the door of #402 and made his way to stand beside JD. “Is he asleep?”
“Just drifted off. Why?” JD turned to look at the undercover specialist who stood there smiling.
“I think he will want to hear this right away. Buck, wake up, my friend. I am the bearer of news that I think will lift the veil of guilt from your mind.” He shook Buck by the shoulder.
Groggily, the lanky man turned his head to face his friends. He didn’t say anything, but he was aware that Ezra had something important to tell him.
“Mr. Wilmington, I have found the offending vehicle and its owner. He is now incarcerated in the Denver Police lock up. Buck, his name is Carl Braeden, Trish’s ex-husband. He wasn’t after you! He was after her. It seems he has tried to kill her before, at least twice that we are aware of. I know the pain of her death is still going to hurt, but, my friend, you are not guilty of any transgression that led to her demise.”
JD turned to watch Buck’s face. The news seemed to sink in slowly but the moment of knowledge was clear in his eyes. Life seemed to pour back into his body and although tears bloomed from his eyes, a small smile found his lips.
“She was so warm and loving.” The words came quietly, the voice husky with emotion. “I think he took her life long before he hit her with the truck. She was just recovering from her broken wing, a frightened bird that was barely ready to try to fly once more. Such a waste, such a waste.”
Buck walked through the cemetery, a dozen red roses in his hand. He hadn’t been to the grave of Trish Braeden before today. He wanted to be able to make it on his own before he visited her gravesite.
He looked down at the grass covered grave and bent to place the flowers by the headstone. He lost his balance and quickly stuck his hand out to catch himself on the marble marker. He felt the tear fall down his face as he noticed the small marble bird on the top of the headstone. One wing was dropping down but the beak was open in song. He wiped the tear as it rolled down his cheek and then turned and left. He hurt inside, missing her, but the pain of culpability was gone.