Universe: New ATF AU
Rating: PG 13
"I don't like this." ATF agent Buck Wilmington frowned as he looked around at the warehouse district they were parked in.
"It's where Tag said to meet him," Stephen Travis, Team Seven's team leader reminded him quietly.
"Ain't like Tag," Wilmington insisted. "Man hates closed in spaces. Ain't nothing more closed in than a warehouse filled with crates stacked to the damned ceiling with just enough space to drive a forklift between them."
"He said he had something to show you guys," JD Dunne, the youngest member of the team, put in from behind Buck's right shoulder. "Maybe it's inside. That'd explain him wanting to meet here."
Stephen glanced back at "the kid" as everyone referred to JD. "Exactly. So let's get in there and find out what he's got."
The Agent in Charge strode confidently towards the personnel door that they were parked near. The loading docks were on the far side of the warehouse.
Buck followed, more slowly, holding a hand out to his side to keep JD behind him, muttering darkly, "Damned fool! Just walking in." He reached behind him and pulled his piece from its holster in the small of his back.
JD frowned, then pulled his weapon as well. He hero worshipped Stephen Travis, who was a second generation ATF agent, but Buck was his partner and following his lead had always served him well.
They spread out, Buck taking the left-hand side of the door and JD the right-hand side, flattening themselves against the wall to cover Stephen as he just opened the door and stepped in.
He stood silhouetted against the open door for a moment while his eyes adjusted, then moved a few steps inside.
Buck and JD stepped around the door, again flattening themselves against the wall, this time inside the warehouse.
Stephen looked around a bit then nodded towards the office which was upstairs, set on iron posts and with windows all around that let the people in the office have a good overview of the aisles of the warehouse. "Tag said he'd wait under the office. That should be it."
He once again strode confidently forwards.
Buck and JD followed, still covering him and each other.
They had just reached the end of the row and Stephen had stepped out into the clear area that the forklifts used as a turnaround point when Buck spotted someone rising up from below the window in the office, the silhouette of a gun in his hand.
"Gun! Down!" He shouted.
Stephen hit the floor grabbing for his gun as Buck and JD simultaneously, shouted, "ATF! Drop the weapon!" then opened fire as the man fired down on them.
As Stephen scrambled towards cover, Buck and JD continued to fire at the assailant. Just before he reached the crates he was angling for, a second gunman popped up at the opposite end of the office and opened fire, pumping two bullets into him before he could reach the cover.
He slumped to the floor, lying motionless.
JD yelled at Buck, "Cover me!" He charged out of cover and ran for Stephen, grabbing him and dragging him behind the crates as Buck lay down a withering cover fire.
Seconds later they heard the clatter of running feet, descending the metal stairs on the opposite side of the office.
Buck charged out of cover, running towards the sound as he popped the clip out of his gun and slammed a fresh one in.
"Stay with Stephen! Call for medics and backup!" He yelled as he passed where JD knelt beside his downed team leader.
JD could only nod numbly and fumble for the radio on his hip.
Buck raced through the warehouse, stopping at the ends of rows to check around them before charging down the next aisle. He could hear the runners ahead of him and knew that they were headed for the loading docks but he had to be cautious. They could stop at any time and lay in ambush for him.
The whole damned thing had been an ambush from the start.
The message from Tag had been taken by JD. In hindsight that had been deliberate, routing the call to someone who wouldn't know if the caller were who he said he was or not and the meeting place had been chosen to give the ambushers the high ground.
He hit the loading dock just in time to see someone turn the corner of the next warehouse running towards the more populous streets a few blocks over. He jumped from the dock to the ground and took off after the person, pounding down the broken up sidewalk.
He could see the runners, two of them, ahead of him but he couldn't get a clear shot because they were zigzaging as they ran. He held on to his gun but concentrated on closing the distance hoping to get close enough to get a clear shot before they reached the crowded streets just a few blocks away.
He didn't make it. He pinged a shot off of the corner of the last warehouse before they reached the main avenue in an attempt to keep them from turning onto it but they quickly snapped a couple of wild shots back at him then were gone into the crowded street.
He plunged on. Shoving people out of his way as he went. Ahead he could see where they had knocked over a small table. A woman was on the sidewalk trying to pick up whatever they had knocked over.
Farther along the road, people screamed and dove for cover as the two men shoved their way through them.
A black car careened around the corner and screeched to a halt. The back door was flung open and the two men that Buck had been chasing dove in barely getting the door closed before the car sped off.
Buck cursed silently, bending over to put his hands on his knees as he panted for breath. He'd have sworn aloud, if he'd had the breath. Straightening up, he reached for his radio as he turned to look back at the path the men had taken, calculating who might have gotten a good look at the men. His gaze was immediately drawn back to the young woman still gathering up her things from the sidewalk.
As he checked in with JD about Stephen and Chris Larabee, Stephen's second in command, filling him in on the situation, he walked back towards the young woman.
As he neared her he could see that what she was desperately scrabbling around picking up was money. It was all small denomination bills, mostly ones and fives with a few tens mixed in... but there was also a few playing cards, specifically three queens, each bowed slightly in the middle. His mind quickly added up the pieces and came to the conclusion that the woman had been running a three-card Monte game... an illegal street con.
Reaching her he leaned down, "Ma'am. I'm an ATF agent. I need to talk to you."
She shook her head and scrabbled away from him.
"Ma'am!" He said louder. "I'm not interested in your little card scam. I'm interested in the men that knocked you over. They shot an ATF agent. I need a description."
She shook her head. "I didn't see them."
Annoyed, he reached down and grabbed her arm, pulling her to her feet and giving her a shake. "You had to have seen them! They were right on top of you!"
He shook her again, as she tried to pull loose from his grip.
Suddenly something hit him from the back slamming into the back of his knees and making them buckle. He went to his knees, but didn't loose his grip on the woman as small fists pounded on his back.
"Nonnie! Nonnie! Let my Nonnie go!" a child's voice yelled at him.
He tried to twist around and grab the child, losing his hold on the woman as he did so. He quickly learned that that was a mistake when, as soon as she was free, the woman kicked him in an extremely delicate area.
He howled and forgot about trying to hold either one of them, in favor of covering his privates with his hands, as he doubled over in agony.
The woman stuffed as much of the money she held as she could into the unzipped waist wallet fastened around her waist and swept up the child turning to run, only to collide with a wall of flesh.
Agents Josiah Sanchez and his partner Nathan Jackson had answered the call for backup from their teammates and being closer to Buck's location when he had called in after losing the shooters had come to see if he needed any help.
Both Josiah and Nathan were big men, Josiah standing six-foot three inches and Nathan topping him by an inch. Their size alone was enough to intimidate most people.
Apparently, the young woman wasn't most people. She did jump back but when Nathan grabbed her arm, she instantly reversed her direction, stepping back in toward Nathan, bringing her heel down hard on his instep, never losing her grip on the little girl she held in her arms.
Nathan grunted but didn't let go, although he did bend forwards slightly in pain. She immediately took advantage of his head coming down to her level and slammed her forehead into his face, flattening his nose. Then She ducked under his arm and twisted free of him, only to have Josiah grab her other arm as she swung passed him.
He lost his grip almost immediately, as someone else attacked him from behind.
"Run, Nonnie!" A new voice shouted.
A foot dug into the back of his left calf at the top of the muscle, buckling his knee and sending him to his knees as his attacker literally climbed up his back, strong hands gripping his shoulders as the attacker hoisted himself up onto Josiah's back. A leg wrapped around Josiah's right side pinning his right arm to his body. The left foot left the back of his calf just before he hit the ground and the attacker wrapped that leg around Josiah from the left locking his ankles together with his legs wrapped around Josiah's chest and upper arms, pinning both to Josiah's sides. He then quickly shifted his hands from Josiah's shoulders to wrap them around the big man's neck in a chokehold.
It was a remarkably effective way for a smaller person to take down a larger one.
The only thing that Josiah could do was throw himself backwards hoping to dislodge the attacker.
The boy grunted when they hit the ground but refused to relinquish his chokehold, clamping down on it tenaciously, with wiry strength, as Josiah rolled trying to shake him off.
The woman darted away, but she had to pass Buck and, although still in agony from where she had kicked him, he launched himself at her knees as she went by and took her down.
Chris Larabee arrived on the scene just then, gaping at the sight of three of his teammates, struggling with two teenagers and a child.
Buck was trying to just keep a grip on the young woman as she kicked and wiggled in an attempt to get free. The little girl she still held on to was helpfully hitting and kicking at Buck every chance she got.
Josiah was rolling around on the ground, with a teenage boy clinging to his back, arms wrapped around his neck in a chokehold, legs wrapped around his upper arms and chest. Nathan limped around them trying to pry the boy off with one hand while he held his obviously broken nose with the other.
Chris scowled at the tableau.
"WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?" He bellowed.
When that didn't even get him a look, let alone an answer even from his own teammates, he drew his gun and fired into a convenient piece of bare ground between the sidewalk and the curb.
The gunshot stopped all motion. He brought the gun up to point at the teenaged boy. "Get off him." He ordered.
Blue eyes glared at him defiantly, then shifted to look at the woman.
Only then did the kid unwrap his legs from around Josiah and release his chokehold on Josiah's neck, stepping away from him.
"Hands on the wall, feet back and spread. I'm sure you know the drill." Chris ordered.
The teen gave him a disdainful look, but obeyed.
Chris waggled the gun at the woman. "You, too."
She glared at him, as the boy had, as she rose gracefully to her feet, still holding the little girl.
"Put the kid down."
"I suppose you want her to 'assume the position' as well." The voice was as disdainful as the look she gave him.
"That won't be necessary. Josiah, take the kid and call for a police woman and social services." Chris ordered.
"Noooo! NO! NO! NO!" The child screamed, clinging desperately to the woman.
The woman obediently released her hold on the child, but the little girl wrapped her arms and legs tightly around the woman and refused to let go.
When Josiah finally managed to pry her arms from around the woman's neck and pull her away, she wiggled, squirmed and struggled, crying, "Nonnie! Nonnie! Nonnie!" over and over as she tried to get free of him and back to the woman.
Nathan limped over to cover the two prisoners as Chris moved to pat them down.
On closer look the woman was clearly no older than the boy, making them both teens and since the little girl was five or six, it was unlikely that she was their daughter. She could be a younger sister. The two teens looked enough alike to be siblings. Both had long dark hair, the girl's hair darker, curlier and more auburn than the boy's hair. His hair was lighter, more a dark honey blond hanging in waves rather than curls and his eyes were a startling shade of blue. The older girl's eyes were an unusual jade green, while the little girl had dark brown eyes.
It was possible that they were all siblings, but the variation in eye color was unusual if they were.
When the two teens had been searched and handcuffed, Chris turned to his teammates. "Which one of you wants to tell me how the three of you came to be getting your asses kicked by a couple of kids?"
Josiah and Nathan exchanged looks Nathan's hand still cupped is broken nose and his eyes were rapidly swelling shut. Josiah nodded then said, "Buck was down when we got here and she was fleeing. We tried to stop her and... well, she, uh..."
"Kicked your asses," the girl supplied, preening slightly, one hand coming up to fluff her hair.
That was when Nathan noticed that the handcuffs, that Chris had borrowed from him to cuff her with, were missing. "What happened to your handcuffs?" He demanded.
She turned innocent green eyes on him. "What handcuffs?" she asked batting her eyes at him.
"My handcuffs! The handcuffs he just put on you!"
"I don't know what you're talking about." She smiled sweetly.
He huffed and stalked over, grabbing a wrist and pulling it behind her. He pulled out his spare cuffs and ratcheted one down tight on the slender wrist, before pulling the other behind her and doing the same to it. He shoved her towards his and Josiah's car and put her in the back seat, closing the door.
Buck struggled slowly to his feet.
Chris let him get on them before asking. "How'd you get involved with these three anyhow?"
Buck grimaced in pain then managed to grunt out, "She saw the shooter... up close. He knocked her down. I just wanted to question her. She wouldn't even look at me, so I grabbed her arm... just to get her attention. The little one came out of no where, hit me in the back of the knees and I went down. Then she kicked me," his hand again cupped his poor aching balls, "and I sorta let go of her."
"That's when we arrived." Josiah put in. "Nathan grabbed her. She stomped his instep with her high heel. That's why he's limping. Then when he involuntarily bent over, she smashed his nose with her forehead and twisted loose from him. I grabbed her and that's when the kid jumped me from behind."
Chris shook his head. It was a mess. A good lawyer could probably make a case for self-defense since Buck had grabbed the girl first, even if it was only to get her attention.
He sighed. "She doesn't seem inclined to cooperate and give a description?"
"Nope," Buck confirmed. "Not in the least."
"We could offer her a deal, drop all charges in exchange for identifying the shooters?" Chris suggested.
"Might work. Might not. They've both got that hard eyed look that kids get when they've been on the streets a while."
"We'll take them downtown, run them through processing, see what we can find out about them. The more we know about them, the better our chances of getting them to cooperate." Chris said.
Buck nodded, but he wasn't hopeful. The longer kids lived on the streets the less likely it was that they would cooperate with the law and these two had obviously been on the streets for awhile.
As Buck headed towards Chris' Dodge Ram he saw JD pull up in the plain wrap that Stephen had been driving. He frowned.
When JD walked over to him he noted the grief on his face. Chris had stopped and was waiting for them to catch up.
"Stephen?" Buck asked dreading the answer, knowing that JD would have stayed at the hospital to await any news on Stephen if there had been any news to wait on.
JD swallowed hard. "DOA," he informed them grimly.
He paused then added, "We found Eban, Tag's partner in the dumpster behind the warehouse with a bullet between his eyes. No sign of Tag though."
All three men bowed their heads for a moment in grief.
Stephen Travis had been a good leader and a good friend. His father, Orrin Travis, was the assistant director in charge of the Denver office and the one that had recruited Chris and Buck from Denver PD four years before, assigning them to Stephen's team. He'd take the news hard. Stephen had been his only child.
Tag and Eban had been living in the streets of Denver for years, had been snitches for Chris and Buck when they still worked for Denver PD. The two elderly men kept an eye on the new comers to the streets, trying to help them as much as possible. They had formed a sort of floating village of street people who looked to them for advice and aid.
Chris frowned, looking around. "I don't see any of the villagers...." Using the term that the team used to refer to Tag and Eban's followers. Someone should be working the street at this time of day. Josiah take JD and see if you can locate Eban's daughter or any of the others. See if they know anything. We need to find Tag. If they killed Eban, Tag is probably in danger, too."
Several hours later, JD dropped two folders on Chris' desk. One was thick, the other one extremely thin. He held on to a third folder.
Josiah stepped around JD to prop a hip up on the corner of Chris' desk.
Chris looked up at them and picked up the folders. He flipped open the thick one first.
Inside the front cover a picture of the male teen stared back at him. He began to read the vital statistics.
The kid's name was Vincent James Tanner. He'd been born in Texas and was sixteen years old. His mother had been clerking in a convenience store where she was killed during a robbery in 1993 when the boy was five. The kid had been given into the custody of his grandfather who was a Texas Ranger. The grandfather had retired and moved to Denver shortly after the kid came to live with him. He'd bought a small ranch and they had lived there until the grandfather died of a cancer in 1997 when the kid was nine. The ranch had had to be sold to pay the grandfather's outstanding debts, mostly hospital bills. The boy had been placed in foster care and remained in the first home for four years until he was thirteen. The foster mother had died in a car wreck and the husband, who was also injured, was deemed unable to continue caring for the boy on his own. In the next two years the boy had been in and out of half a dozen foster homes usually running away and living on the streets until he was picked up and returned to the foster care system. He'd been arrested twice for stealing food and he had been placed on probation but had violated it when he run away from his last foster home. That had been just over a year ago. The probation would have ended two months ago, if he hadn't violated it. Still he hadn't been picked up or arrested for anything until now.
A year long blank, when apparently he had been living on the streets but hadn't done any of the things that usually brought street kids to the attention of the police.
Chris looked down at the list of personal effects and blinked. There was no wallet or ID. Aside from his clothes, the kid had been carrying a pocketknife, a length of rope, a sock full of sand, (a homemade sap) and eleven hundred, fifty-one dollars and seventeen cents.
"He had nearly twelve hundred dollars on him?"
"Yes, sir. Wait'll you see how much the other one had on him!" JD said in enthusiastically.
Chris scowled. "Him? The other one was a girl."
"Not according to the police women that searched him." Josiah rumbled.
Chris grabbed the other folder and flipped it open. A mug shot of the girl they had arrested stared out at him from the left-hand side of the folder. On the right hand side the data sheet was mostly blank.
At the top was Jane Doe, #4568 crossed out with John Doe #7843 typed behind it. The rest of the sheet was blank except for the personal effects list. She had had a waist wallet containing only money, no ID. The money in the wallet had totaled seven hundred forty-three dollars and fifteen cents.
But then she/he had had money taped to her/his body in various places. The search had turned up five thousand dollars, divided into one thousand-dollar lots taped to various parts of her/his body. There had been two five hundred dollar bills taped to her/his right thigh, left thigh, right hip and left hip. Taped to her/his chest, under the mastectomy forms that he wore in her/his bustier to give the appearance of breasts, was two sets of twenties, totaling five hundred dollars each.
Chris leaned back and stared up at JD. "His fingerprints weren't in the database?"
"No, sir. Their not in ours or the Colorado DMV. We're still running them. We've sent them to the FBI and to the DMV's of the surrounding states."
"He's a little young for his prints to be in the DMV, isn't he?"
"Probably, but you have to remember that he was dressed as girl." Josiah said. "And because it was an excellent impersonation, once it was revealed as a disguise it becomes obvious that he knows *how* to disguise himself. With makeup girls can look a lot older than they are. If he dressed older, make himself up older and lied about his age, he might have been able to get a license. They have to be living somewhere and with the amount of money that they had on them they could afford a car or maybe a van. I instructed JD to check the DMVs just to be thorough."
Chris nodded, his attention drawn back to the amount of money the kids had had on them. "These two kids had approximately seven *thousand* dollars between the two of them and they are living on the streets?"
"Looks like." JD confirmed. He looked down at the folder in his hand. "It gets better or worse depending on your point of view."
He held the last folder out. "The little girl's prints were in the database. Missing persons, kidnap victim. Her name is Cassandra Wells. The ransom was paid and two of the kidnappers were caught, but the kid was never recovered. The kidnappers claimed that she escaped. That was eleven months ago. She would have been four years old at the time. She's just turned five."
Chris leaned back in his chair and motioned JD to sit down. "Not likely she could have escaped on her own...."
JD dropped into the chair in front of Chris' desk and finished the thought, "...but if she had help."
"Like a couple of street smart teens..." Josiah added.
An evil grin crossed Chris' face. "Our mystery guest," he waved the almost empty folder at JD, "isn't interested in cooperating with our investigation, seems to think that the charges we could bring aren't strong enough to be an inducement to do so.... But he is the only person who might be able to identify Stephen's killer. Soooo, what if instead of assuming that he or she, as he appears to prefer, may have helped this poor little girl escape from her kidnappers we suggest to him that we believe that he may have been involved in the kidnapping...."
"Kidnapping's a real serious offense...." Josiah frowned.
"...and we don't really think that he had anything to do with it, do we?" JD put in.
Chris thought a long moment then shook his head. "No, I don't. I think I've gotten a pretty good read on the Tanner kid while we were running him through processing. He's tough but he doesn't seem all that hardened. I'm relatively certain he wouldn't have anything to do with a kidnapping. Then there was the way that the little one clung to the other kid, coming to his defense when Buck grabbed him, screaming and crying when Josiah tried to get her away from him. She was clean, better dressed than most street kids, and doesn't seem to have missed a lot of meals..."
"... so they were taking care of her."
Chris opened the file and checked something. "According to this, she has no signs of malnutrition, very unusual in a street kid, and no scars or bruises that would indicate abuse of any kind. She's bright, articulate and stubborn, not at all afraid to speak her mind. Keeps demanding that they take her back to 'Nonnie', which is what she calls the boy that was carrying her."
"So, threatening to bring kidnapping charges is just a threat. You don't really mean to do it." JD asked just to reassure himself on the subject.
Chris looked up at Josiah, "You're the profiler. Do you think that threatening to bring kidnapping charges would be inducement enough to get the kid to talk?"
Josiah was silent for so long that Chris thought he might not answer, then finally he said. "I agree with you about the Tanner kid. He seems tough but not hardened, but this one... I can't get a fix on him. He seems softer than Tanner in some ways and harder in others." He rubbed his goatee, thoughtfully.
Finally he said. "No. I don't think that threats will work. Threats will only make him dig in his heels. He's very intelligent, it shows in his eyes, but he's calculating, too. You can almost see the wheels turning as he adds and subtracts, multiplies and divides, figuring the odds of escaping or getting free. Did I tell you that he made another pair of Nate's handcuffs disappear. When we took him out of the car to process him, they were gone. I practically tore the unit apart hunting them. Didn't find them."
"Great! An anonymous magician." Chris muttered.
JD's head snapped up. "Anonymous... Nonnie? You don't think that he told them his name was anonymous, do you?"
Josiah grinned, a chuckle escaping him. "I think, that he would think that, that was funny."
"So how do we get him to talk?" Chris demanded, bringing them back to the main point.
Josiah got thoughtful again but it was JD who finally spoke. "You know the only question he asked the whole time was where was Casey being taken. I think he was really upset about being separated from her. Maybe if we offered to let him see her...."
"I don't know if we can do that. Her grandmother has already been informed that she's been found and is on the way in to see about taking custody." Chris told him.
"Oh, okay. It was just a suggestion."
"And not a bad one either, John Dunne." Josiah told him. He slipped off the edge of Chris' desk and began to pace in the area between that desk and Buck and JD's. "Casey seemed attached to both teenagers. Tanner seems very protective of Nonnie, as they call our mystery guest, and while Nonnie tries hard not to seem concerned about Tanner, he couldn't help but ask after Casey's fate. Maybe he is more concerned about Tanner than he wants to let on."
"So, we threaten Tanner?" Chris asked his expression clearly saying that he wasn't much in favor of the idea.
"Oh, no," Josiah reassured him with a grin. "I don't think that you'll get any better results by threatening Tanner than by threatening Nonnie. I suggest you *talk* to Tanner. His file says that he grandfather was a Texas Ranger. Explain to him that an officer and friend has been killed in the line of duty. Ask him how he thinks his grandfather would have felt about that, losing a fellow officer on the line. Tell him that Nonnie is the only person that we think got a good enough look at the killer to identify him. Tell him that if he can get Nonnie to describe the killer we'll let them both go, no charges."
"We might need Nonnie to testify."
"I don't think that there is anything you can do to get him to willingly and forcing him to could backfire."
"If you forced him to testify you'd have to have him declared a hostile witness. He could show up dressed as a girl, an event likely to prejudice the jury against him and his testimony. Even if you forced him to cut his hair and dress like a boy he could mince and prance and act like a flaming fairy. Again, an event likely to have the jury discarding his testimony." Josiah said.
"Shit." Chris swore softly.
He knew, as well as anyone, that in the courtroom image meant a lot. If the killer showed up all suited up and looking like a decent respectable person and the main witness against him showed up looking like either a teenaged transvestite or a flaming fairy they might as well just pack it up and go home.
He sighed. "So, what you're saying is that our only hope is to get Nonnie to testify willingly and you're also saying that you don't think it will happen."
Josiah shrugged. "I could be wrong. Depends on how persuasive you can be with Tanner and how persuasive he can be with Nonnie."
Chris shook his head. "Great... and you're the one that tells me I have no sense of diplomacy at all." He looked up at Josiah. "How about you talk to Tanner?"
"He seems to have taken to you. Why I don't know, but I think you're the one to talk to him."
Chris took a deep breath and stood up. "Get Tanner in an interview room. I'll take a stab at it."
Chris stood behind the two-way mirror and watched as Tanner was led into the interview room. He still had his handcuffs on. Either Nonnie hadn't taught him his little trick or he had chosen not to use it.
The teenager kept his head up, not really defiant but not as subdued as most teens would have been after an afternoon in a jail cell. He didn't look particularly scared either.
Chris waited until he was seated and the officer that had led him in had retreated from the room before moving to leave the observation room and enter the interview room. Tanner had looked directly at the mirror when he'd been sat down at the table. Chris had been stunned to find that Tanner's eyes had actually met his although it was impossible for Tanner to know exactly where to look to do so.
Vin Tanner looked up at the mirror on the wall of the interview room as the officer sat him down at the table. In a way it was amusing that the mirror was there. Everybody knew that there was an observation room beyond it. All having the mirror on this side did was keep the prisoner from seeing *who* was there and when.
Somehow he knew, without knowing how he knew that it was the blond-headed ATF agent in there. The one that the others had called Chris or Larabee. He'd felt from the moment he'd first met the man's eyes that there was something between them, some kind of connection. He didn't have a clue what it was but he had known he could trust the man. He knew that logically he shouldn't but his instincts said he could and he trusted his instincts. They were seldom wrong.
He looked up when the blond agent stepped through the door into the interview room and met his eyes. He felt the connection again. Felt that he could trust this man.
He cocked an eyebrow. [That you behind the mirror a minute ago?]
The agent smiled and gave him a slight nod, before his face settled back into an expression of sadness. [Yes.]
The blond agent sat down across from him. "My name is Agent Larabee. I have a few questions to ask you."
Vin nodded. "Vin Tanner," he said and stretched his hands across the table, ignoring the handcuffs as he offered to shake hands.
Larabee took the outstretched hand and gave it a firm shake. "Pleased to meet you," he said.
Vin leaned back in his chair. "Ya know, I think you actually mean that."
Chris thought a minute before answering, and realized that he did mean it. "I do," he said firmly. "I'm not sure why, but I am pleased to meet you."
Vin grinned, "Likewise." [I'm not sure why either but am pleased.]
"You want those bracelets off?"
"I'd appreciate it."
Chris stood and leaned over the table, unlocking the handcuffs. "Your friend would have already had them off."
"Yep," Vin grinned at him as he sat back rubbing his wrists where the cuffs had been, "but I ain't him."
"He didn't teach you his trick?"
"He tried." Vin answered acknowledging that he knew Nonnie was male.
"So, you know your friend isn't a girl."
"Be hard not to. We've been living in each other's pockets for nigh a year. Sleeping together for mosta it."
Chris sat back his lips thinning. "Sleeping together as in sleeping or as in sex?"
"Now? Both. In the beginning, just *sleeping* together."
"What about the little girl?"
Anger flared in Tanner's eyes. " We took damned good care of Case. Wouldn't never hurt her like that and don't appreciate yer thinkin' we might. Though I reckon you was thinkin' more along the lines that Nonnie mighta than I mighta."
"Nonnie? That your friend's real name?"
"Ain't none of your business." Tanner snapped.
"Look," Chris snapped back. "I'm not the most diplomatic person at the best of times and a fellow officer was killed today. Stephen Travis was not only my boss he was a friend. Your friend is the only person who might have gotten a good look at the killer. I want that killer and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get him. I'm willing to let you and your friend walk, no charges at all for a description of the killer."
"He won't testify. He can't."
"Can't tell you. Not my secret. Not my place to tell."
Chris jumped up shaking his head and started pacing, after a minute he turned back to face Tanner. "According to the file, your grandfather was a Texas Ranger. You reckon he ever lost a friend in the line of duty."
"How do you think he'd have felt, knowing that someone could ID the killer and just flat refused to do it."
"Reckon he'd've felt bad... but I think he mighta wondered if there might not be a damned good reason why that person refused."
"But you won't tell me why."
"But I will tell you, that there is a damned good reason." Vin met his eyes. [Trust me. There is a reason. He's not just being stubborn.]
"Look we know these men killed an ATF agent. We suspect they killed another man as well and may be going after a third. Your friend could possibly save a life by giving us the description. We need him to talk to us. Is there any chance that you could talk him into giving the description... if I promised he wouldn't have to testify."
"Can you keep that promise?"
"There is no try, only do or do not."
"That's what Yoda said to Luke Skywalker, when he was trying to lift the fighter ship with his mind."
"Yeah, well I'm no Jedi Knight. All I can do is try."
"All right. Then all I can do is try. Do we walk if I try?"
"If you try and talk him into giving us a description, you can walk. No charges."
"No. If I try, even if he still refuses, we both walk. No charges." Vin sat forward and met his eyes, his face set in a stubborn expression.
Chris considered for a long moment, then frowned. "You're still sixteen. Even if we drop all the charges you'll have to go back into foster care."
"No. I got a year and a half until I'm eighteen and it's about the same until Nonnie is. We can take care of ourselves. We walk out of here, free and clear."
"That I can't do."
"Then there's no deal."
"Look how about this. You stay with me until you're eighteen."
"What about Nonnie and Casey?"
"Casey's grandmother has already taken her home. She was a kidnap victim..."
"We know that. We got her loose." Vin snapped.
"If you'd left her alone she'd have been home--"
"Hell she woulda! They woulda kill her! Bastard that was watching her kept touching her, running his hands up under her dress and rubbing himself. If we hadn't come up with a plan and distracted him, he'd've raped her!"
Chris blanched, but for some reason he didn't doubt the kid's word. He held up his hand. "All right... but she's home now, safe and sound with her grandmother and changing that isn't a negotiable item."
"Where's her ma and pa?"
"According to her grandmother, her mother got pregnant without being married. Her father never was in the picture and her mother was killed when the kid was snatched. The ransom demand, fifty thousand dollars, went to the grandmother. She had to mortgage her ranch to pay it, but she did pay it. She had already lost her daughter and didn't want to lose her granddaughter as well."
"That leaves Nonnie."
Chris shook his head. "I don't know.... I think that you and I could get along all right. I live on a ranch. I have horses. According to your folder, your granddaddy had a ranch and horses. Figure you might like living on my ranch but your friend.... I just don't know and I can't condone the two of you having sex...."
"That ain't your call."
"In my house it's my call."
Vin looked down at the table then sighed and looked back up. "Up to Nonnie. If he agrees to not having sex, I'll agree... but we're a package deal and you might as well get used to the idea that when we are eighteen, ain't you or nobody else coming between us. I love him... and he loves me. We've done made plans for when we're of age and we ain't changing them."
"You'll have to go to school."
"No. That's too dangerous for Nonnie. We're almost ready to take our GEDs. Hell, Nonnie could pass his now. He's just waiting for me to finish studying for it. He's been tutoring me ever since we met. With a decent place to stay and without Casey to look after and a living to make, I can finish up and be ready to take the test in a couple more months."
"You are sixteen. I don't reckon that I can make you go, if you don't want to... but Nonnie takes his GED immediately and you take yours as soon as you think you can pass it."
"He says that I can probably *pass* it now, but the higher I score the better. He wants me to wait until I can score at least the equivalent of a B or maybe even an A."
Chris went back to pacing, reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose. How in hell had this turned into a negotiation? He didn't negotiate... but if he wanted the kid to talk to the other kid for him, it looked like he was going to have to.
"All right. You take your GED when Nonnie thinks that you can score the equivalent of an A or a B." He fixed Tanner with look. "You don't seem worried about his score."
"He's real smart." He tilted his head and looked up at Chris, "So, this is the deal. I talk to Nonnie about giving you a description of the guy that shot your friend. Whether or not he agrees to do it, we walk, no charges. We go live with you until we're eighteen then we're free to leave."
Chris nodded. "That's the deal."
"One more question. Where do I talk to him and where will you be while I'm talkin' to him?"
"You'll talk to him here."
"And you'll be...." Vin let it trail off into a question, inclining his head towards the mirror.
"Yeah... and I'd appreciate your not telling him that I'm there."
"I doubt that I'll need to tell him that *someone* is there."
Chris nodded. Then turned to leave. "I'll have him brought in."
Ezra Standish, AKA Nonnie, AKA Anonymous, walked along beside the guard who was holding his arm, with graceful strides. His calf-length skirt swirled softly around his legs as his hips swayed gently as he walked. The soft-soled slippers that they had given him when they had taken his high heels, declaring them to be usable as weapon's (Nathan's limp providing evidence of the validity of that statement) made no sound on the tiled floor, while the guard's leather soled shoes rang loudly.
He was led into the room where Vin waited and ordered to sit at the table. He sat, his movements as graceful as a dancer's. He clasped his hands in front of him on the table, ignoring the indignity of the plastic tie that held his wrists together. Until he looked over at Vin and noted that his friend's hands were unfettered.
Turning to look at the mirror, he addressed it, "This hardly seems fair. Mister Tanner is quite unfettered, whilst I must labor beneath the indignity of being bound."
Chris shook his head at the haughty English tinged accent and reached down to activate the intercom, which would allow the prisoners to hear him. "Mister Tanner didn't make two pairs of handcuffs disappear into thin air."
Nonnie smiled smugly and informed the mirror. "Some of us are more talented than others. Might I inquire, why I am here? I believe that I have already been interviewed."
Vin chose to answer the question. "They want me to try and get ya to give them a description of the guy that knocked you down."
"I've all ready told them that I will not testify."
"They're not asking you to testify, just describe the guy." Vin argued.
"Yeah, right," Nonnie said derisively. "And how do they intend to convict him without my testimony?"
"Nonnie, the guy killed a cop! You know my granddaddy was a Texas Ranger. You know how I feel about cop killers!"
"I know and obviously so do they. They're manipulating you. Can't you see that?"
"I *do* see that, but it don't change the facts. The guy killed a cop. Granddaddy---"
"You and your sainted grandfather are going to get us both killed!" Nonnie rose in a swirl of skirts turning on Vin, leaning over him. "You know I can't testify!" he hissed. "To testify in a court of law you have to give your real name. To be a viable witness I would have to cut my hair and become a boy again!"
Chris leaned forwards. Josiah had said the kid was smart, always thinking but he hadn't realized that the boy would think of things like that or even know about courtroom image and how important it was.
"My name would appear in official court records. That's all it would take. He'd find me. He'd find us... and he'll kill us both. You slow and painful in front of me to make me tell him where *it* is and when he has what he wants, me, probably just as slowly and painfully just for the fun of it!"
"Nonnie, we gotta trust someone sometime..."
"No! We don't. We can't trust anyone but each other! Do you know how many cops he owns?"
"There weren't any ATF agents on the list!"
"That list is a year old! He was just moving into gun running, which means that he would be *looking* to *buy* ATF agents! We don't dare trust any of these men!"
"I trust Larabee."
"Fine. Then *I* don't dare trust any of these men."
"He made a deal with me, Nonnie. If I'd talk to you, even if you still won't give him the description he'll drop all the charges and let us walk."
"Sure, right back to Child Welfare."
"No. He said we could stay with him until we're eighteen."
"And you believe that?" The scorn in Nonnie's voice was clear and he shot a withering glance at mirror.
"Yeah. I do believe him."
Nonnie turned back to Vin, his voice dropping too low for Chris to hear. "And you want to go live with him?"
"Yes, but only if you come, too."
Chris leaned over and keyed the intercom. "Tanner aren't you forgetting something?"
Vin bowed his head and stepped closer to Nonnie. "He says that if we stay with him, we can't make love for as long as we're there 'cause we're under age."
Nonnie looked up at him with a shattered look in his eyes, "You... don't want me anymore?" he whispered.
Vin gathered him into his arms, pressing his cheek to Nonnie's as he replied, whispering forcefully into Nonnie's ear. "No! I'll always want you! That's why it don't matter, if we don't do it while we're there. I love you, Nonnie. We can wait. We got our whole lives ahead of us. It'll only be a little while then we'll be eighteen and we can do what we want to."
Nonnie pulled back. "A year and a half is not a little while."
"Compared to the rest of our lives, it is."
"The rest of our lives could be the blink of an eye."
"Or another seventy, eighty, or ninety years. You're a gambler, Nonnie, take this gamble... for me?" Vin said drawing him back into his arms.
For a long moment Nonnie stood in the circle of Vin's arms, his face pressed into Vin's shoulder.
Finally he turned his head and looked at the mirror.
Chris was struck by the sorrow in his eyes and the resignation on his face.
After another long moment he pulled back out of Vin's arms and straightened, his head coming up, proud and defiant. "Did you get it in writing?" He demanded of Vin.
"What?" Vin scowled at him.
"Did you get the agreement in writing? Mother always says if you don't have it in writing, you don't have it at all."
He turned towards the mirror with a stubborn look on his face. "I want it in writing." He announced. "What you agree to, what we agree to, and I want witnesses to sign it."
Chris was glad that the kid couldn't see through the mirror to see his jaw drop. He took a deep breath and keyed the intercom. "All right. I'll get it printed out and be right back with a couple of witnesses."
He stalked out of the observation room and took the elevator up to team seven's floor.
Josiah met him in the bullpen. "How'd it go?"
"I made a deal with Tanner. Nonnie wants it in writing... with witnesses. You and JD are tagged."
"Is he going to give us the description?" JD asked.
"The deal doesn't include actually getting the description, it was just for Tanner trying to talk him into giving me the description."
"So, are we getting the description?" JD persisted.
"I don't know!"
Josiah couldn't help grinning. Damn! The kid was wily as an old coyote.
An hour later, Chris returned to the interview room with Josiah and JD in tow. They had been down twice before but had had to return upstairs to make corrections on the agreement when Nonnie refused to let Vin sign it, saying that certain phrases weren't clear.
Josiah had commented that the kid was bound to be a lawyer, as picky as he was about the wording of the agreement.
Chris just hoped, as he slapped this copy down on the table that, this time it was satisfactory.
A moment later they all, except Nonnie, sighed in relief as Nonnie said, "This looks much better. If you will sign first, Mister Larabee..." He slid the paper across to him.
Chris signed it and pushed it back. Vin then signed it. Then pushed it to Nonnie.
Nonnie smiled at him and shook his head, pushing the paper to Josiah. "The witnesses sign next. My signature is not required. If you read the document carefully you will see that I have not agreed to anything. This is strictly between Mister Tanner and Mister Larabee. My release and the provision for my living at Mister Larabee's ranch were contingent *only* on Mister Tanner's *attempting* to *talk me into* giving the description, not on my *giving* the description."
"You mean you're not going to give us the description? That's... that's despicable!"
"I never agreed to give the description." Nonnie said calmly.
"But... but..." JD sputtered.
"JD. Sit down and be quiet. This," Chris lay his hand on the agreement, "is a show of faith, a show of trustworthiness on my part. I drop all the charges, take them home with me, let them live there and by doing so, I prove that I can be trusted. It may take some time but if we're patient, maybe Nonnie here will give us the description we need."
"Meanwhile Stephen's killer walks around free and Tag's life is in danger if they haven't already killed him!"
Chris surged to his feet. "What do you want me to do? Beat it out of him?"
"No! No! Of course not!"
"Then how do you suggest I get it? He's just a kid, JD. They're both just scared kids, trying to survive on their own with nobody to depend on but each other. Maybe it's time someone reached out a helping hand, even knowing that they might not get anything in return."
"Cast your bread upon the waters," Josiah intoned.
"And it shall return to you sevenfold," Nonnie finished the quote.
Everyone turned to look at him.
"Keep your end of the bargain and I will give serious thought to giving you the description that you need."
Chris gave a nod. "Josiah, take the boys up to our offices. I'm going down to processing. I'll get every copy of their hard copy files. JD, by the time I get back to the bullpen I want every trace of them out of the computer system. They never came through here."
JD swallowed hard, then nodded. "Yes, sir."
Chris groaned inwardly when he saw AD Travis as he stepped through the door into the prisoner processing area, but he knew he couldn't avoid the man.
Orrin Travis was a bulldog of a man, far more suited to the life of a federal agent then his son had been.
Travis looked up and saw Chris as the taller agent headed for him. "Chris!" He called, motioning him over.
When Chris joined him he saw immediately that Travis was holding the very files he wanted. "Orrin. I can't tell you how sorry I am about Stephen. He'll be sorely missed."
"Thank you, Chris. I'm having a hard time believing that he's gone. I want to be home with Evie, Mary and Billy but I have to make sure that things are handled down here. I see that you brought these... boys(?) in."
"Yes, sir and I need to talk to you about them, in private." Chris' tone was urgent.
Orrin led the way to an office and ousted the occupant, telling him that he needed some privacy. The officer nodded and left aware that the AD's son had just been killed that day.
Chris quickly explained what had happened and showed Travis the agreement that he had made with Tanner.
"Why the hell would you make an agreement like this? Just make the kid tell you what you want to know!"
"Tell him you'll prosecute him to the full extent of the law on all charges including the kidnapping!"
"Orrin listen to me! It won't work! That kid is afraid for his life and not from the men that killed your son. When he and Tanner were talking he kept saying that if his name appeared in court records that "he", whoever he is, would find him and kill them both. He clearly said that the man would torture Tanner to death to make him tell where something was, and then do the same to him just for fun. What can we threaten him with that is worse than being tortured to death?"
"Jesus!" Orrin turned away wiping at his eyes. "Are... are you sure about this?"
"Tanner tried to tell him that he could trust us, that we were ATF agents and that there were no ATF agents on the "list", which apparently is a list of people that are on the guy's payroll. Nonnie, the one who saw Stephen's killer, replied that the list was a year old and that the man had just been moving into gun running, which meant that he would be looking to buy ATF agents, therefore they couldn't risk trusting us."
"I can't let you handle this investigation. I have to assign it to another team. Being Stephen's team, you're too close to the situation."
"You do that, but don't tell them about the kids."
"How can I *not* tell them about the kids?"
"I came down to get their paperwork. JD's purging them from the computer as we speak."
"Think about it! This is the *best* way to protect the only person who can describe Stephen's killer and the *only* way to earn his trust. Give me a chance here. Let me try and bring this kid around to our side. I think if Tanner were the one that got a good look at the killer there wouldn't be a problem, but he didn't and Nonnie... is obviously terrified of whoever is after him. Josiah thinks that if we push him too hard, he will break before he'll bend. But if we give him breathing room, time to think then he may decide to trust us not only by giving us the description of Stephen's killer but with whatever it is that he has, that the person who is after him wants."
Chris stopped and waited for Orrin to think about it.
The AD stayed silent for a long time, then finally he rubbed his face and sighed. "If we pressure him and he breaks, we get nothing. If you can get him to trust you, maybe we get Stephen's killer."
"That's the long and the short of it, sir."
"You've already established a certain amount of understanding with him. If you hand him off to someone else, he'll view it as a betrayal and they wouldn't stand a chance of getting him to trust them."
Travis gave a sharp nod. It was unorthodox, maybe even dangerous but it was the best chance that they had at finding Stephen's killer. He took a deep breath and nodded. "Let's go get these kids paperwork."
"Sir," Chris began.
"No one will question an order from me." Orrin reminded him.
Half an hour later he was back in the bullpen with all the paperwork. He walked over to where Vin and Nonnie sat.
"This is all the paperwork from where we processed you when you were brought in. JD has been purging you from the computer as well."
He handed the paperwork and the envelopes of personal effects to Nonnie.
Nonnie handed Vin's envelope to him and began going through his.
Chris looked over at JD. "How's that coming?"
"Is there a problem?"
"Not exactly. I have them out of our computer but we sent her, uh, his fingerprints to the FBI and the surrounding states' DMV's."
"Will that be a problem?" Chris asked the boys.
Nonnie answered. "No. Mother has been very conscientious about keeping our fingerprints out of any database."
"And why would she do that?"
"Mother has made a lucrative career of marrying well and divorcing better. Wealthy men routinely run background checks on prospective brides. She prefers that they only be able to check the facts that she wants them to be able to check."
He had continued to look through the envelope of personal effects as he talked. Now, he frowned. "These are not all my personal effects."
"What?" JD gulped.
"My breasts." Nonnie repeated, patting his flat chest. "They took them when they searched me. Teardrop shaped, gel-filled mastectomy breast forms, with soft vinyl covering and authentic looking nipples. Made for women who have had mastectomies and guaranteed to look and move naturally under clothing. They cost forty-nine dollars and ninety-five cents plus tax, shipping and handling *each* mind you. I ordered two sets. I was wearing the B-cups today. The total delivered price was two hundred twenty-nine dollars and ninety-seven cents. Dividing by two that gives my missing effects a value of one hundred fourteen dollars and ninety-eight and one half cents."
"Wait a minute. If you ordered them through the mail you must have a mailing address..." Josiah said.
Nonnie cocked his head and looked at him. "So."
"So, what is it?"
"As if I would tell you." Nonnie replied.
Chris stood up, "Josiah, drop it. He'll talk when he feels he can trust us. I'm going to take the kids home---"
"I'm not going anywhere without my breasts!" Nonnie declared.
The agents gaped at him.
Vin rolled his eyes.
Chris tried patiently to explain. "Nonnie, I'm trying to keep this as quiet as possible. If I go back downstairs demanding to know what happened to your... your missing effects people are going to remember it... and talk about it. People remember unusual occurrences...."
Nonnie crossed his arms over his chest, a pout gracing the pretty face. "I can't go out in public looking like this."
"Well, I'm not going back downstairs looking for them!" Chris snapped.
Vin shook his head and stood up. "Look. He's stubborn as a rock," he gestured to Nonnie, "and I'm starting to get it that you are, too," he looked at Chris. "So rather'n sit here all day waiting to see which one gives in first, how about ya'll give me, say, an hour to go get his other set and then you can take us home."
"I'll need my other bustier." Nonnie said. "Those forms won't fill this one."
"I know," Vin said.
"You two have someplace that you feel is safe enough to leave your things?" Chris questioned. Most street people carried everything that they owned everywhere with them.
"As you well know, we have more money than most street people." Nonnie informed them. "So, yes we have a safe place to leave things. Of, course I must insist that Vin go alone and that no one follows him."
"If they try, I can lose them." Vin assured him.
"How do we know you'll come back?"
"Nonnie stays here... and I give you my word as a Tanner." Vin said, looking Chris in the eyes.
"Your word any good?"
"As good as yers... and I want yer word that you won't have me followed."
Chris started into his eyes for a long moment then nodded. "You've got it."
"Chris!" JD protested.
"This is about trust, JD. To get it we have to give it."
"Seems to me we're giving a lot and getting nothing back." JD grumbled.
Nonnie turned back to them as Vin headed out the door. "Then perhaps we need to negotiate some more."
"What about?" Chris demanded.
"The agreement you just made was with Mister Tanner alone. I have actually received no incentive to cooperate with you."
"What do you call my taking you in?" Chris snapped.
"An unfortunate necessity, that may well become a disastrous situation as I fear that we are far too much alike."
"Alike? You think we're alike?" Chris asked incredulously.
"We are both strong-willed, independent, self-sufficient, accustomed to having our own way and doing things in our own way. Since you made no mention of discussing your decision to take us in with anyone, I assume you live alone. You are therefore accustomed to your own space, as am I. I have, shall we call them, privacy issues. I utterly detest anyone plundering in my things. You have made no mention of the exact living arrangements but if necessary I am willing to share a room with Vin..." His voice hardened, "but not with anyone else. Try to make me and I'm gone. Period. No discussion."
"Then what exactly are we negotiating."
"I wish to see Casey."
"Casey's grandmother has her. I can't make her let you see Casey."
"You can ask. I need to see her, to know that she is all right, that she is happy and being well cared for."
"She hasn't been with her grandmother long enough for you to tell any of that."
"Of course not! I'm not stupid. You could hardly arrange it for today or even tomorrow." He took a deep breath and reached up to rub his temples, grimacing slightly. "Saturday after next. That will be ten days from now, plenty of time to ask her grandmother, get an answer and make arrangements for a supervised visit."
"Supervised visit?" JD asked.
"I repeat.... I. Am. Not. Stupid. If her grandmother does love her and is the right person to be taking care of her, she is not going to want to let me see Casey without her being present. I also wish to meet the grandmother so that I can see for myself how she interacts with Casey. Whether Casey likes her, or is afraid of her, that sort of thing."
"And what do we get?"
"While we were down stairs, I heard talk that only two men were arrested in Casey's kidnapping. When we first saw them with her, there were three. You get the third man."
"You can ID him?"
"Give me a sketchpad and I can draw you a picture of him and give you the name the others called him by." Nonnie said confidently.
Chris considered it for a long moment. Then turned to JD. "Can you hack the FBI system and get the file on the Wells's kidnapping?"
"We can't let them know that we have a possible witness in their case or they'll be over here trying to take Nonnie away from us." He reached up to rub the back of his neck, "God this is a mess. How in hell does a sixteen year old get mixed up in two federal cases?"
Nonnie rolled his eyes, "Just lucky I guess."
Chris shook his head, then picked up a yellow legal pad and handed it to Nonnie, "Here, write up the agreement, the way you want it. I'll read it and decide then if I can sign off on it."
By the time that Vin returned, carrying a small gym bag, Nonnie had written up the agreement and Josiah had printed it out. Chris was reading it over as Vin walked back in the door and tossed the bag at Nonnie.
"Figured you'd want a couple of changes of clothes until you could shop." He told him. "Got a couple of pairs of jeans and T-shirts in there for me too."
Nonnie stood up and glanced around. "Can I use that office to---"
"That's Stephen's office!" JD snapped.
"Perhaps the breakroom would be better." Josiah suggested, gesturing towards it."
"Of course," Nonnie said to Josiah, "I meant no offense. I was not aware that that was Mister Travis' office."
"I understand." Josiah assured him and walked along side him to the door of the breakroom. "I'll just stay right here to make sure no one disturbs you."
"Certainly." Nonnie replied knowing full well that what he meant was 'I'll just stand here and make sure you don't disappear.'
Vin glanced over Chris' shoulder at the agreement he was reading. "What's that?"
"Your friend has negotiated another agreement."
"What's it say?"
Chris looked up at him and grinned, then began reading aloud. "Agreement between Agent Chris Larabee of the ATF and "Nonnie", a minor male child in his custody. Agent Larabee agrees to attempt to negotiate a visitation with the minor child Cassandra Wells and the minor child "Nonnie" in the presence of Ms. Wells's grandmother for the purpose of determining if said child is happy and if said grandmother is taking proper care of said minor child. Said visit is to be conducted ten days hence at the residence of Agent Larabee and in his presence. Other persons to be present at said visit include, but are not limited to Mr. Vin Tanner and ATF Agent Josiah Sanchez. In exchange for Agent Larabee's attempt to arrange said visit, the minor child, Nonnie agrees to present Agent Larabee with a sketch of the third kidnapper in the Wells case, even should said visit be denied. Signed and Witnessed this fifteenth day of September, in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Three."
"Nonnie wrote that?"
"Every word." Chris grinned.
Vin shook his head. "And he swears he ain't gonna be no lawyer. Sure sounds like one."
"Yep." Chris agreed.
Just then Nonnie emerged from the breakroom. He hadn't actually changed clothes, simply taken off his blouse, changed bustiers, inserted the breast forms and redressed. "Is the agreement satisfactory, Mister Larabee?"
"I don't see anything wrong with it. According to it, you give me the sketch even if I don't get you a visit. Correct?"
"Then I guess the only thing I need is for you to prove you can draw."
For an instant Nonnie stared at him, then he burst out with a short laugh. "I am so sorry! It never occurred to me to prove that point to you. However, it will be quite easy I believe." He glanced around at the various desks and the nameplates on them, then said, "I assume that B. Wilmington and N. Jackson, are the mustached gentleman and the African American gentleman that we encountered this morning?"
"Very well then, as they are not here, they will serve as a test of not only my skill as an artist but of my ability to sketch from memory as well. If I might have some unlined paper...."
Josiah was quick to provide him with a small sheaf of blank copier paper.
Nonnie sat down at one of the desks, picked up a pencil and began to draw. In just a few minutes he handed Chris a quick but accurate sketch of Buck. The one of Nathan took longer as he used shading to show Nathan's dark complexion.
Both were amazingly accurate and detailed. Buck had that determined look on his face that he got when he was focused on getting what he wanted. Nathan simply looked grim. Both were very easily recognizable.
Chris looked at them a long moment, then signed the agreement. Nonnie then signed and JD and Josiah witnessed it as they had the agreement between Chris and Vin.
The next day
Chris Larabee pulled his Dodge Ram into the yard of Nettie Wells's small ranch.
He'd called his house to tell Vin that he and Josiah were going by the Wells ranch before coming home to talk to the old woman about letting Nonnie and him see Casey and that he might be quite late getting in. He'd hesitated a moment before asking how things were at the ranch.
Vin had chuckled and told him that everything was fine. He was tending the horses and Nonnie was fixing supper.
He'd hesitated then asked if Nonnie could cook. Vin had laughed again then said he really didn't know, they usually bought ready cooked meals, but he guessed they'd find out.
Chris pulled his thoughts back from what condition he might find his kitchen in when he got home, as Nettie Wells stepped out on her front porch to greet them.
He and Josiah had barely gotten on the porch when a small figure came barreling out the screen door, charging up to Josiah and hitting him on his thigh with small fists.
"Where's my Nonnie? What'd you do with my Nonnie? Where's my Vin? I want my Nonnie! I want my Vin!" Casey demanded in her shrill voice.
Nettie shook her head as she moved to pick the child up, pulling her away from Josiah and settling her on her hip. "Casey! Stop that!" she ordered but her voice was gentle rather than harsh.
Casey quit struggling and let herself be held but she scowled at the two men from the safety of her grandmother's arms.
Nettie shook her head. "She keeps asking for those two. Don't seem to remember me, hardly. Does recognize her mama's pictures though and some of her toys that she had before she was took."
"It'll just take time for her to get used to you again." Josiah assured her.
"Well, I really didn't get to see her as much as I'd have liked. My Cathy was real independent. Insisted on living on her own. Moved into Denver to be close to college. I only got to see Casey on the weekends. Can't really blame her for not remembering me much."
Chris and Josiah exchanged looks then Chris said, "The reason that we're here, ma'am is to ask if you'd be willing to allow Nonnie and Vin to see Casey."
Casey's face lit up. "Please? Can I see Nonnie? Please, grandma? Can I see Nonnie and Vin?"
Nettie sighed, "I don't know... let's go inside and talk about it."
She stood Casey down and took her hand to lead her inside.
Josiah caught the door and held it for the others before following them in.
Inside Nettie led them into an old fashioned parlor and indicated that they should sit on the sofa.
After offering to get them something to drink and being declined, she sat down in a nearby platform rocker and allowed Casey to climb up onto her lap, chiding her gently. "This is grown up talk. If you want to stay and listen, you be quiet now. None of your endless chattering. Understood?"
"Yes, ma'am." Casey answered as she snuggled close to her grandmother. She did pout a little but she did it quietly.
"You said that she keeps asking about Nonnie?"
"Woke me up last night, crying and calling for Nonnie. Reckon she had a nightmare. Wouldn't go back to sleep for the longest. Kept calling for Nonnie and then Vin."
Josiah nodded. "According to Vin it was Nonnie that untied Casey and carried her out from where the kidnappers had her. Nonnie seems to be very attached to Casey just as Casey appears to be attached to him."
"That may be... but I'm just not sure that I want that type of person around my granddaughter."
Chris spoke up. "Exactly what do you mean by that type of person?"
"Well," she had the grace to look somewhat abash, "I'm told that Nonnie is a boy but he was dressed as a girl..." she trailed off. "I'm just not sure what kind of an influence that he'd have on Casey."
"I doubt that a supervised visit would allow him to influence her any more than he already has in the last eleven months. He and Vin obviously took good care of her. Unlike most street kids, she showed no signs of malnutrition or abuse." Chris told her.
"A am grateful that they took care of her, but I can't help thinking, that if they hadn't taken her..."
"...she might have been home sooner?" Josiah finished it for her.
Chris shook his head. "According to Vin, and I see no reason for him to lie, Casey was bound and gagged when they first saw her and one of the men with her was fondling her... had his hand under her dress and was rubbing himself. That was why they decided they had to get her away from the men."
"Dear God!" Nettie gasped and hugged Casey closer.
Chris plowed on. "Mrs. Wells, Nonnie has agreed to give us a detailed description of the third man in your granddaughter's kidnapping in exchange for my asking you for this visit, give it to us even if you refuse the visit. Your daughter's kidnappers are not the only criminals that Nonnie has seen. Stephen Travis' killers knocked Nonnie down when they were fleeing the crime scene. Nonnie saw them, but he's afraid of something, of someone and he doesn't trust us enough yet to give us a description of them. We think that giving him this supervised visit with Casey may go a long way towards showing him that we can be trusted, that we are willing to give in order to get."
"Gramma?" Casey asked hesitantly. "Please. Nonnie loves me... Vin loves me, too. I want to see them, please, Gramma?"
Nettie closed her eyes. "All right, but not here."
Chris grinned. "The agreement I made with Nonnie specified that the meeting would take place at my ranch, with me and Josiah in attendance as well as you, Casey, Vin and Nonnie. Is that acceptable?"
"I... yes, that's acceptable? When?"
"Nonnie picked Saturday week. He said that, that would give us time to arrange it and give you and Casey time enough to have gotten reacquainted. Then he could see how you relate to each other, if you're getting along, if Casey's happy with you and such."
Nettie gave him a thoughtful look. "If he made that decision himself, he sounds like a smart kid. Why would a smart boy dress as a girl?"
"Maybe because he is smart and the man who is after him is looking for a boy... and wouldn't think of looking for a girl." Josiah suggested.