Follows Protecting Their Own
"Aww, Inez you wound me."
Buck had been `schmoozing' with the manager of Mystique Nightclub Inez Recillos for some time, without much success and much to the amusement of Nathan and Ezra. Banging down Buck's drink on the bar and splashing him, in a bid to encourage him to go and sit down; Buck took the hint, returning to his friends with a big ol' smile on his face.
"She's definitely weakening," the Hospitality Host grinned, taking a sip of his beer.
"In your dreams," Nathan laughed, tilting a bottle to his lips mid-chuckle.
"Buck, do the words `cold day in hell' mean anything to you?" Ezra asked.
"Let me put it another way," the southerner offered. "Never!"
The brunet grinned. "You got it all wrong, boys I know women, and that one is definitely interested."
The three sat in companionable silence as they waited on the rest of their teammates, smiling toward JD as he came in. The young tech had only been back in work a week, after being injured when Evie Travis had been kidnapped. In less than four weeks the whole team was going on vacation, a thank you from Orin for their assistance in the matter.
But first, they had the Annual General Meeting of the Strip's Casino owners to get through, and that's what Chris, Vin, Buck and JD had been working on all week, amongst their other duties. Inez smiled warmly as JD took a stool at the bar to place his order.
"Ola JD, how are you today?"
"I'm fine, thanks" he grinned. "Can I get a coke?"
"But of course, anything in it?"
"Nah, just ice, please I'm still on meds."
Handing over the coke, Inez stroked JD's cheek. "Oh, chiquito."
Grinning, JD thanked her for the drink. "No sweat, I'm fine, honest." He walked over to the table his friends were occupying. "Hey guys." He said, stifling a yawn.
Buck frowned. "You're overdoing it, squirt. Didn't I tell you ya had to pace yourself?"
"You did and I am," JD insisted. "Where's Chris and Vin?"
"Still with Travis," Ezra offered.
"You all set for tomorrow, kid?"
JD nodded at Buck. "Yep. I've triple checked every system, it should go like a dream."
"I think Chris would likely think it more like a nightmare, but I'll take whatever I can get and just be glad when it's all over." Buck stated.
JD sipped his coke. "Not really expecting trouble, are you, Buck? These are all professional people coming to the AGM."
"Kid, if there's one thing I've learned in this business, it's to expect the unexpected."
They all laughed. Wasn't that the truth? Ordering two drinks at the bar, Chris and Vin joined their friends on Inez's assurance she would bring them over.
"Boys," Chris greeted. The group nodded in return. "This thing kicks off at 10:00 tomorrow morning. I want everyone in at 6:00 to go over the final details."
"No problem, stud."
"Good Lord, 6:00?"
"Yes, Ezra," Chris half smiled, "6:00 *A* M." He acknowledged Inez as she put his and Vin's drinks down.
"Oh, Bucklin, Don Alfredo isn't coming, he's sendin' his son Paulo, instead."
A tiny noise from Inez as she almost toppled Vin's beer, momentarily drew the seven men's attention.
"Thanks, Vin, I'll make a note and get some new place cards made up." Buck watched Inez leave, about to speak when he caught JD yawning, again. "C'mon, squirt, bed."
JD frowned. "Thanks for the offer, but I don't go for mustaches."
The group laughed, Buck faked a smile as he hauled JD to his feet. "Oh, hilarious. Move!"
JD huffed as he gestured `goodnight' to his friends, wagging a finger at Buck. "Tomorrow, I'm driving my own car, in."
"Nuh uh Doc says no driving or heavy lifting for another week," Buck reminded as the pair headed out.
Chris began to chuckle, but the memory of seeing JD with a knife in his chest quickly sobered him. Josiah squeezed his arm. "He's more than fine, Christopher, leave the past where it should be, behind you."
Chris stood and drained his glass. "Tomorrow, guys." With that, he left.
"He okay?" Nathan wondered.
"I fear our intrepid leader takes it personally when one of his own is injured in the line of duty," Ezra answered. "That said, the whole 'kidnapping of Mrs. Travis' debacle, still rankles, I believe."
Nodding, they all stood and left for their homes.
JD soaked up every face and name as each participant signed the ledger to pick up their name tag, Vin collecting the signatures while JD tapped them into the computer. A huff drew his attention and he found himself staring into dark brown eyes and a sneering visage.
"Paulo Madera?" JD asked as the man moved from Vin's position to his.
The man leaned threateningly forward. "In the absence of my father, you will refer to me as `Don'."
"It just says " JD looked at Vin's hand now holding his arm.
"Please take your name tag and move along, sir, you're holdin' up the line," the Texan insisted.
The tension hung in the air until a familiar voice cut through it. "JD, good to see you, again." Rafael Martinez signed the ledger and moved to take his name tag. With a wink to JD, Rafael, the Palms' Chief of Security placed a hand on his employer's arm.
"Don Paulo, I believe there are refreshments being served in the conference room."
With one final look, Don Paulo moved away and onto the room allocated for the event. JD looked at Vin, the security officer offering him a thin smile.
"He's bad news, kid, keep your distance."
"He's sure a sour one," JD agreed, picking up the pen delegates were signing with. "And what's with the `archaic' comment? This pen has a camera that sends the image of the signature to a database "
Vin chuckled. "Hey, tech boy, you don't need to convince me. Okay?"
Lowering his head, JD grinned coyly. "Yeah, sorry."
Vin chuckled and punched him lightly on the arm. "Don't be, we kinda like it."
Having seen the exchange, Chris stepped in front of the two Palms men before they entered the room. "This is my territory now, Paulo, and while you're here, you'll treat my colleagues with the respect they deserve. Do you understand?"
Paulo smirked. "Good to see you again Senor Larabee." He stepped around the security chief. "I have no doubt we will meet again."
Entering the conference room, Paulo glanced at Rafael. "Larabee is professed to be the best in the business, Rafael, what say you to that?"
"That I am better, Don Paulo."
"I may need proof," Paulo warned as they headed toward the refreshment tables.
After a long but successful day one, Team Seven were relaxing in Mystique. The nightclub was buzzing as delegates filled the place. Deciding to call it a night, Josiah, Ezra and Nathan headed out. Vin and Buck got up to order more drinks, while JD sat back and absorbed the atmosphere. Chris looked on, seemingly uninterested.
Rafael walked over to greet them. "Ola compadres, it all seems to be going very well."
"I'm reasonably satisfied," Chris answered.
Rafael smiled. "With satisfaction, comes complacency. You would do well to remember that."
"I'll think on it, thank you," Chris replied, with an air of sarcasm.
Martinez moved away, winking at JD. "Chiquito."
Having watched him go, JD turned to Chris. "Where does he get off talking to you like that?"
Chris grinned. "He's giving me a heads up."
The blond arched an eyebrow. "That remains to be seen."
"Pardon, senor?" Inez asked Buck as he leaned over the bar.
"Lovely evening, " he grinned, straightening.
From behind him, Vin made a noise in his throat. "Give it up, Bucklin."
Buck's eyes followed the Mexican beauty as she worked the bar. "For her I'd give up any day." He smiled as he caught her eye, his smile widening as she approached.
"Go home, senor, your bed is calling."
"Did it say if it has anyone in mind to warm it up?"
"You, sir, have a mouth "
"So, you've noticed, huh?" He frowned as Inez looked toward the end of the countertop and paled. "Where you going?"
"I must leave."
"Hey wait." He turned to Vin. "What's going on?"
As Inez tried to duck into the back room, Paulo seemingly appeared from nowhere and caught her by the wrist. "Inez I wondered where you had crawled to. But now I have found you, come we have much to talk about."
She glared at him as she tried to pull away. "I have nothing to say to you. Our business was concluded years ago, let me go."
"I have just found you, why would I let you go?"
The pair looked up to see Buck push through the crowd toward them, to partially come between them. "The lady said to let go."
Paulo smirked. "And what is it to you?"
"That's for me to know and you to be fearful of, friend. Now, back off." He felt Vin's hand on his arm and shrugged it off.
Paulo stared at Inez. "Your new lover, Mujer?"
"That is none of your business."
His eyes flashed as he smiled first at her, then Buck. "So, he is."
"I'm just gonna say this once, leave now or I'll toss you out on your ass."
Now Paulo was staring at Vin, aware Rafael had appeared at his side. "Many new amigos, Inez, I am impressed. You are still the whore I knew you to be."
"Okay, Jerkass, you just crossed the line." Buck's palm smacked hard against Paulo's chest.
"Buck!" Chris had approached while the onlookers were quietly dispersed by his floor team.
"Is this how you treat a guest at your hotel, Senor Larabee? I not only have a private conversation interrupted, but am physically assaulted, also?"
Buck leaned in. "You think that's assault? I haven't even *begun* to get physical yet, pal."
"And now he openly threatens me, in front of witnesses."
"Senor Madera, I apologize, my colleague "
"Chris " Buck's eyes flashed fury at Chris's attempt to apologize, backing down when he saw the returned glare.
"I demand satisfaction, " Paulo said, turning to Chris while gesturing toward Buck. "I want this man to apologize or I will insist he is fired."
"It'll be a cold day in hell before I apologize to you *Paulo*." Buck spat out.
Madera raised his hands. "Then I have no choice, I want to speak with Senor Travis now."
Watching from a distance on Chris's instruction, JD was now alarmed on hearing the word `fired' being bandied about. He pushed through to stand with Vin at Buck's side, watching as Chris stared the man out for a long few moments.
"Alright I'll arrange an appointment for the morning."
"Paulo, don't do this," Inez begged.
"I did nothing," he smirked before turning and leaving. "Buenos noche, I will retire, now. Rafael come. "
Once the pair was gone, Buck pushed through his friends to storm away. JD went to follow, turning when Chris gripped his arm. The tech's eyes flashed.
"No! No, Chris not this time." Once Larabee had nodded and released him, JD left.
"You have to make him see reason," Inez begged the chief of security. "Paulo will not let this rest until he feels his honor has been satisfied he is relentless and cruel."
"I'll talk to him," Chris promised, "but Buck's not easy to talk down from situations like this." He looked at the others. "I want you all on alert. This Paulo seems hell bent on causing trouble, I need us to frustrate his every move. Vin, I need your eyes and ears to stay on Paulo and Inez. If he so much as looks like he's laying a finger on either of them "
Tanner nodded he understood what Chris needed.
"I want you all in at 6 am again tomorrow, I want to get an early start on this."
Already at a trot, JD slowed, relieved to see Buck standing in the middle of the foyer running his fingers through his hair. He carefully approached.
"Buck?" For a moment, JD was startled by the wild look in his best friend's eyes, relieved to see some of the normal gentleness return on recognizing who was speaking to him.
Buck laughed, but there was no humor in it. "Sure, just peachy." He stared at his young friend. "You come to tell me I'm crazy and I should apologize?"
Dunne offered a small smile. "Nah, I figured I'd leave that up to Chris. I just wanted to make sure you were okay. How about I drive us home?"
Returning the smile, Buck touched a hand affectionately to JD's face. "Nice try, squirt, but you're not driving `til the doc says you can. C'mon, let's get the hell outta Dodge."
Wilmington spun to meet the cynical gaze of Paulo. "What do you want?"
"I want nothing, I was merely commenting on such a touching moment between two friends." He sidestepped toward JD. "Perhaps I would do well to watch my back with this chiquito, also."
"Good instincts," JD snapped, his disgust for the man evident. Buck moved to stand between the pair, his gaze fixed firmly on his new adversary.
"You leave him out of this " he growled, " this is between you and me."
Rafael shuffled awkwardly at his Patron's side. Paulo laughed before walking away, gesturing Rafael to follow. "We shall see."
At that threat, Buck jerked forward to grab at the man, JD's hand stopping him just in time, pushing him back slightly. "Easy, bro, you're in enough trouble as it is." The glare Buck threw him caused the young tech to recoil slightly, afraid he'd offended his friend.
Seeing JD draw back, snapped the big man out of his fury. "I'm sorry, kid, it's just I'm I'm madder than a hornet right now." He forced a smile, draping an arm over the smaller man's shoulders. "Come on let's go."
Chris had been watching from the entrance to Mystique, relieved when Buck seemed to relax and leave with JD. He was unhappy about this development, and dreading having to talk to Travis about it. He silently feared the
Next morning, most of the team was hovering around the security bullpen. Buck and Chris had been with Travis for a half an hour, and the wait was driving them crazy. Finally, Larabee appeared, ignoring them all to walk straight through them to his office. He turned on hearing JD's voice.
The chief of security stopped, turned and sighed. "Buck refused to have the complaint against him dropped in return for a public apology. While he reviews all perspectives, Travis suspended Buck and sent him home. He's asked for statements from Buck, myself, Inez and Vin, plus Rafael and Madera. Madera's maintaining Buck physically threatened him." He looked at them all. "Travis said he considers that gross misconduct, and if found to be true Buck will be fired."
The team was visibly shocked. JD stood, his throat tight. "I...can I...?"
Larabee shook his head. "I know, kid, but I'm already one down, I can't let you go, yet." He looked again at the group. "Let's go, guys, we've got a busy day." Walking on and into his office, Chris slumped into his chair. He closed his eyes, the conversation between him and Buck before seeing Travis, echoing in his mind.
>> "This is serious, pard. I need you to really think about how you handle this meeting."
"You worry about your side of it, I'll worry about mine."
"Damnit, Buck. In the ten years I've known you, ninety percent of your problems have been with how women make your brains drop straight below your belt."
"It's been twelve years, stud, and while I'm warm and breathing, no woman's gonna take that kind of abuse from a gussied up bully like Madera."
"I understand, I do, but, please Buck consider apologizing."
"No chance. I'm not cow-towing to the likes of him for whatever reason."
"That's your pride talking," Chris snapped.
"NO! That's *me* talking. The guy's scum."
"You're gonna throw away your job because you're too stubborn to suck it up and say sorry to a man you'll never likely see again?"
Buck glared at him. "Tell you what, I'll say sorry, if you look me in the eye and tell me you'd do the same." He smiled fondly at his friend as Chris averted his gaze. "When a man can't take his own advice, maybe it's time to walk away."
Chris swallowed. "I won't need to walk away, Buck without that apology, you'll be doing that all by yourself."
Buck shrugged. "Shit happens. Come on. Let's get this over with." <<
Larabee threw his `Las Vegas scene' snow globe against the back wall in frustration, turning away before it shattered. "Damnit, Buck."
Tanner smiled at Inez as he walked into Mystique. The nightclub manager was setting up for the day. She approached the security officer.
"How did the meeting go?"
Vin's smile faded. "Buck got suspended. We need you to make a statement."
Putting her hand to her mouth, Inez let out a small yelp. "No no, he must not do this. I must talk with him."
"Don't think it'll do much good," Vin said, "Buck's adamant he's gonna see this through."
"He's a fool." She shook her head. "I do not mean that. I must speak with him today."
Vin took up a stool. "What's this Paulo guy to you, anyway?"
Vin held her gaze.
"But, many years ago, we were married."
The normally non-reactionary Texan reacted. "You're married?"
"Was. We married very young. I divorced him over eight years ago. It took a long time to be rid of him, but I succeeded. His father, Don Alfredo, sent him to Europe, and I came here looking for work. I never expected him to walk into this bar. I was wrong."
Nodding to Ezra as he joined them, Vin continued with his line of questioning. "Did you just drift apart?" He glanced at Ezra. "Inez " He paused, unsure of whether he should share.
"I was telling Vin, Paulo and I were once married."
"I see," Ezra answered, maintaining an excellent poker face. "That explains some of what we observed."
Answering Vin's question, the beautiful Mexican's eyes welled up. "At first he was attentive and caring. Then, two years into the marriage, he started accusing me of infidelity. It wasn't true and I always denied it. One night " She caught a sob. Ezra touched her arm.
"If you would rather not share "
"No, it's alright." She took a breath. "One night, he became abusive when I denied yet another accusation. He hit me, several times, then he dragged me to the bedroom and forced himself on me." She was crying openly, now. "I begged for him to stop, but he just kept hurting me. When he was done, he slapped my face and ripped at my clothing and told me I was his and I should never forget that. While he slept, I dressed and ran and never looked back, vowing never to show weakness to a man ever again. I almost left here when his father bought the Palms, but it had been so long, I hoped my torment was over." She sighed. "Again, I was wrong." She looked at the visibly shocked men.
"I should leave here. My pain has brought trouble to my good friends. I must stop this."
Ezra shook his head. "Then he truly will have won."
"Inez, this guy seems the type that will never let this go. Sooner or later, he's gonna come lookin' again."
"Then I ask you, what would *you* do?"
Vin glanced at Ezra, then back to Inez. "I'd wanna make a stand. Maybe this is where you *should* make it with people around you who care."
Standish nodded his approval.
Inez finally smiled. "Then that is what I will do. But also, I must speak to Buck."
"What in hell's name are you doing? Do you think we're stupid or something?"
Surprised at the vehemence JD was using while dealing with a guy on the slots, Josiah gestured for someone to relieve him, motioned for an approaching Nathan to join him and moved toward JD. He looked at the man JD was scolding.
As the man scuttled off, Josiah took the junior security officer by the arm. "Come with us, John."
Stirring a straw through his drink at the `Shake Shack' five minutes later, JD was oblivious to the concerned stares of his two friends. He seemed miles away.
"John talk to us. What's troubling you, son? Is it Buck?"
Hearing his friend's name, JD looked up. "Yeah. He won't answer his phone. I just wanna talk to him." The pain in JD's eyes was heartbreaking. "I don't want him to leave, Josiah. And I don't want him to have to back down to this guy either. What can I do?"
"Give it time," Sanchez advised. "I have a feeling this may all be resolved once everyone calms down."
"I agree," Nathan added. "Buck and this Paulo are all steamed up. A few days may make all the difference."
"What if it doesn't?" JD was terrified Buck would be fired.
"Then we'll take it to the next level," Josiah promised.
Not really sure what the next level was, JD nodded, sadly. It had to be better than doing nothing right?
Paulo watched the three leave the Shake Shack. He turned to Rafael. "I find it hard to believe you wanted to recruit such an impudent child," he snarled, gesturing toward JD.
"He may be young, Don Paulo, but he has a sharp and clever mind. Also, I felt sure if he came to us, others, at least Wilmington, might follow."
"He seems close to Wilmington, no?"
"They all seem close, Patron. You may do well to remember that."
Paulo laughed. "I should be afraid of such men? I think you underestimate me, Rafael."
"That I would never do, Don Paulo, however, I believe, what you have done your father would not approve."
"Well, he is not here, and in his absence, you work for me understood?"
Martinez nodded. "Si, Patron." He watched Paulo gesture to JD.
Dunne sighed heavily on seeing Madera beckon him over. Acknowledging the looks of warning from Josiah and Nathan as they went back to work, he approached.
"I have need of my wallet, but it is in my jacket in the conference hall. My seating position is marked, would you retrieve it for me and bring it here? I have some business to conduct."
"You want your jacket?"
"Just my wallet. It is in my inside pocket."
Surprised at the request, JD nodded. "Sure. Where will you be?"
"I will wait in the dining hall." Watching JD go, he turned to Martinez. "You are excused for one hour."
Nodding, Rafael left.
Locating Paulo's seat, and noting the jacket resting on its back, JD reached into the inside pocket. Frowning, he exited the empty pocket and searched the opposite side. Two more attempts found the wallet in the outside right pocket. With a shrug, JD took it and left.
He searched three dining rooms and two restaurants before a call over his com caused JD to hurry off, pushing the wallet into his jacket pocket as he did so.
Chris stared at Martinez as he joined him in the coffee bar. "Been let off your leash?" he smirked, gesturing for the man to sit.
"Paulo is an idiot," Rafael began. "But I owe his father my life. He took a boy from the ghetto, and made him into a man of honor and respect. The least I can do is serve him honorably."
"Even if it means bullying women and screwing around with my men's dignity?"
"I do not approve, Senor, but for now, I have to support."
"I hope you don't live to regret those words," Chris warned.
"I do, too."
Buck paced his apartment like a caged lion. He couldn't bring himself to answer JD's calls earlier, but now he thought he might give the kid a call maybe invite him over. A knock on the door drew him to look through the spyhole then open it.
"May I come in?"
He stepped back. "Sure."
Once inside, Inez pleaded with him. "Please, Buck, I beg of you apologize. He is not worth it I am not worth it please."
Taking her hands, Buck answered. "I don't know this man, but I know of men like him. The way he looked at you made me go cold inside. If I apologize, he'll never leave you alone. You'll have to leave Las Vegas, or suffer a living hell. Is that what you want?"
Tears filled the woman's eyes. "No but I also do not want you to suffer this way because of me, either. I see how hurt your friends are, how hurt you are. I cannot let you lose your job this way; I cannot live with the pain of knowing I caused your unhappiness. This is my burden, alone."
"Darlin' you're with friends now, you're never alone. As for my problem, you may be involved, but this decision is all mine. I'm not backing down, and if I see him try to hurt you again I'll take his head off."
Inez stared at him, a surge of emotion running through her. She had the deepest desire to kiss him and more. She sighed. "I should go."
"Rest easy, darlin', this is far from over."
With a nod, she left. Outside, she wept. "I know, and that is what I'm afraid of, mi amore."
Almost at the end of the shift and walking into Chris's office having been summoned, JD frowned on seeing Lt. Luis Perez of the LVPD, a police officer and Paulo waiting for him.
"Problem, Chris?" JD's stomach churned at the somber face of his boss and friend.
"Sit down, JD, I need to show you something."
Doing so, the young tech frowned, it deepening as he watched himself on screen. A minute or so later, Chris turned the monitor off.
"That was you?"
"Of course it was me, why?"
"He is not even denying it. Search him arrest him."
Jumping to his feet, Dunne stared at Madera. "Whoa what are you talking about?"
Larabee sighed. "Don Paulo reported his wallet stolen. The monitors picked you up searching his jacket, finding it and taking it."
"NO!" JD glared at Paulo. "No tell them. You asked me to get it for you."
Paulo's expression was sober. "I did no such thing. Why in all that is Holy would I ask such a request of you? I would solicit Rafael's services before yours." He turned to Perez. "Search him, he has it."
Dunne stared at Larabee and the men from the LVPD, producing the wallet and waving it in the air. "Of course I have it, he asked me to get it for him. He's lying! Roll the tape back; you'll see him asking me."
"I am not denying we spoke." He turned to Chris. "I dismissed him, he wanted to plead with me for his friend." Paulo turned to Perez. "I want him charged with theft."
JD stared, his whole body turning to jello. This couldn't be happening. He watched Luis and the officer approach him. "You " he swallowed, nervously. " Are you going to arrest me?" His voice was small as he looked from them, to Chris.
Perez looked crestfallen. "You've admitted to and have shown us you have the wallet. I have to take you in, son, it's procedure. Under the circumstances, you probably won't even need bail." Taking JD's arm, he looked apologetically to Chris, addressing Madera. "You'll need to come down to the precinct to make a statement."
Perez turned JD and pointed them toward the door. JD stared back over his shoulder at Chris, waiting for him to intervene, yell, tell him it would be okay ANYTHING! But Chris just stood there, watching him go. The young tech felt his chest constrict, and wondered if this is what it felt like when your heart broke, turning away from his hero just as Chris closed his eyes and allowed the misery he was feeling to reveal itself.
Vin saw Ezra and Josiah enter the bullpen. "Guys."
"Have you heard from Buck?" Josiah asked.
Tanner nodded his head. "Yeah, the kid called his cell, we're goin' over there after our shift."
"Would you allow us to accompany you?" Ezra inquired.
"Sure, I reckon he'd like th " Vin turned as he noticed Perez, an officer and JD exit Chris's office. "What's goin' on?"
Struggling to hold back his fear, JD swallowed as he dug his heels in to stop. "I'm being arrested. Paulo accused me of stealing his wallet."
Vin glared at Luis. "Are you crazy? JD wouldn't "
"It's on tape, Vin," Luis said, sadly. "And JD has admitted to having it and has shown it to be true. We just need to ask him a few questions, get a statement, then he can leave."
"Vin, Paulo asked me to get it for him he's setting me up," JD pleaded.
Tanner nodded. "I'll follow you down, kid you'll be outta there before you know it."
Ezra held up his cell phone as he looked at JD. "Your lawyer is already on his way."
Josiah touched his hand to JD's face. "Have faith, John we believe you."
JD's chin wobbled. "Don't think Chris does." He dropped his head as Luis gently urged him on.
Vin looked up to Chris's office, took a deep breath and went up there.
Larabee stared after JD as he desperately tried reining in his emotion, only looking at Paulo when the man's hand extended toward him.
"I want to thank you for acting so swiftly on this."
Chris glared at the outstretched hand. "I know you're lying, and when I prove it, I'm gonna stomp your puny, rich ass into the ground."
Paulo laughed. "I seriously doubt that." With a nod, he left.
Chris's gaze followed him out. "That was a promise, not a threat, Jerkass."
Vin's arrival made it difficult for Paulo to squeeze past. Entering the office, Tanner glared at his best friend. "*Who's* the Jerkass?"
"You think JD would do somethin' like this?"
"Of course not."
Tanner shifted his weight to one hip. "So allowin' JD to think you do as he's dragged off to jail is what senility settin' in?"
Chris relaxed slightly. "I I was so mad at Paulo I wasn't thinking straight damn DAMN! I need to get down there." He was seriously regretting throwing and breaking his snow globe he could sure use it right about now. This whole day had turned to crap. He slammed his fist down onto his desk instead, his decision made. "Get after him, it's getting late, I don't want him alone down there. I have to go see Travis, then Buck. Keep me updated and tell JD I'll see him soon."
Nodding, Vin left.
Unable to sleep, Buck flipped the channels on his TV again. He was going stir crazy, and if he had to think about Paulo Madera one more time, his TV probably wouldn't survive the fall-out. He wasn't really looking forward to Chris's visit, he was however looking forward to seeing JD and Vin. He knew the kid was worried about him hell, *he* was worried about him which is why he'd agreed to such a late visit after their shift, but Buck knew there was no way he could back down. Which saddened the big-hearted man, he loved his job and would miss it dearly.
Settling on an old western series based on one of his favorite films, he relaxed back to wait for Chris to arrive.
Rafael noted JD leaving between two police officers. Minutes later, Madera joined him, a smug look on his face. Rafael felt his stomach clench.
"The conference has concluded for the day, Don Paulo. I took the liberty of retrieving your jacket." He gestured toward the door. "Just before you arrived, the young one appeared distressed. Do you have a notion as to why he left here with the local police?"
"The boy was arrested for taking my wallet."
"Taking it, Don Paulo? Did I not hear you request that he fetch it for you?" He was shocked on realizing what Paulo had done. "Ay, Patron men of honor do not behave like common liars. Your father will not like this."
"My father will never know will he?" The words came more as an order than a statement. "I am weary and am retiring for the night. You are dismissed."
Watching him go, Martinez recalled Chris warning him earlier about his words coming back to haunt him. He straightened. Tonight, he would sleep the sleep of the restless; tomorrow he would begin to put this right.
JD hated to admit it, but he was pretty scared right about now. His life was slowly going down the toilet, his boss seemingly content with that fact, while his best friend was on the verge of losing his job, and here he was, the middle of the night and huddled into the corner of an occupied holding cell while trying to ignore the looks he was receiving.
His jacket, tie and belt confiscated earlier, JD tugged awkwardly at his open shirt collar while he focused on the wall outside the cell. His lawyer had seen him through his statement, and was now negotiating for JD to be released on his own recognizance, the argument being JD was hardly a flight risk due to his exemplary record, his profession, and over the `assuredly false accusation' of stealing a wallet. He knew Vin, Ezra, Nathan and Josiah were here, he'd been told, but they had not been allowed to visit with him due to his lawyer having that privilege. He couldn't wait for them to take him home; the guys in the cell were creepy. He swallowed hard as several approached him, coaching himself to keep his answers short and non-inflammatory.
"You're staring at me, runt."
"Actually, you were staring at me." `Shit not what he had planned to say at all'.
"What you in for, pretty boy back talkin'?"
"None of your business." 'Oh God...death wish, that's what it is...'
One man leaned in, causing the young tech to grimace at the smell of stale alcohol and tobacco on his breath. "Everythin' in here's my business, runt. Maybe I should give you a little demonstration of just how important I am." He turned to one of the others. "Kiss my boots." The man instantly complied. The first man turned back to JD.
"You, pretty boy, can kiss my ass."
JD laughed. More of a nervous giggle than a laugh, really, but now it was out there and the guy seemed pissed.
"You findin' this funny? Maybe I need to adjust your attitude."
JD held up his hand. "Look man, I'm sorry. I've had a *real* bad day. I just wanna sit here quietly, okay?"
One of the others had been watching the officer at the desk. Seeing him walk away for a moment, he nodded back to the man standing over JD. Dunne figured the smile he was receiving was definitely not the warm fuzzy kind as he was hoisted to his feet.
"Not okay, runt. You may not wanna kiss my butt but your sweet little ass is mine." As his hand clutched at one of JD's butt cheeks, the kid figured enough was enough and delivered a head butt that would definitely leave both of them bruised in the morning. It momentarily rocked his tormentor, but the man rallied and tossed him viciously across the cell. JD yelped as he bounced across the floor and his ribs collided with a bench, but recovered fast enough to push the advancing assailant back with a strong double-footed kick. As others in the cell became excited by the fight breaking out, all the men who had originally approached JD were now all over him. With his back against a bench and someone now pinning down his arms and legs, all JD could do was struggle, curse and ride out the blows to his face and body, vaguely aware of an alarm going off and shouting all around.
Vin, Nathan, Josiah and Ezra hovered and paced in an area just outside the holding cell. Ezra's associate had informed them once JD's release papers were in order, they could take him home, and that moment was imminent. An alarm sounding saw the four men ushered into a side room with an armed officer, the door closing on them, but not before they saw a group of cops racing toward the holding bay.
"What's goin' on?" Vin asked.
"Fight," the officer offered.
"We have a friend in there." Ezra's clipped statement was delivered with an emotion he was unfamiliar with fear, fear for a young man that was only minutes from being with them.
"I'm a doctor," Nathan told him. "I may be able to help.
"I'll bear that in mind, doc, thanks."
The four men stared at each other. They were helpless, all they could do, was wait.
Chris ran a weary hand over his face as he waited for his coffee and to explain why he was visiting past midnight instead of earlier, as arranged. He nodded as Buck came in from the kitchen and handed a mug to him, taking a seat on the chair opposite Larabee.
"How have you been?"
Buck huffed. "Never better, stud, you?"
"'Bout the same." Chris sipped his coffee, sighing inwardly as he pondered how the hell he was going to tell Buck about JD. He felt sure, as soon as he did, Buck would go ballistic.
"How's the charming Mexican munchkin been today?" Buck asked.
"Well," Chris began, "now that you mention him, I have to tell you something, but you have to promise me you'll stay calm."
Buck sat forward. "He been bothering Inez again?"
"Not Inez no." Sipping his coffee, Chris relaxed back deciding to take this the long route. "Let's talk."
Half an hour or so later, Chris watched Buck frown at him while he reached into his jacket pocket to see who was calling his cell. "Vin?" On his feet before he realized, Chris put down his third cup of coffee. "Okay, I'll meet you there. Thanks." He looked at Buck. "We gotta go."
Buck stood. "Where?"
They headed for the door. "I'll explain on the way."
It seemed like an eternity before Vin, Ezra, Josiah and Nathan were released from the side room. Anxious to learn what had happened, Ezra sought out assistance. The sergeant from the front desk approached.
"Who is it you were waiting for?"
"John Dunne," Josiah offered.
"I see, come this way." They were led through several corridors until arriving at a back office, relieved to see Luis Perez approach.
"Guys, a fight broke out in the holding cell. Two people have been taken to hospital JD's one of them."
For a moment, no one spoke. Finally, Nathan found his voice. "How bad?"
"I don't know, I'm sorry. They only just called me down, because my name's on the arrest sheet, I was just about to go off-shift. He's already been transported, if you'd like to head over "
"Got it, thanks," Vin grunted, turning to leave.
"I sincerely hope there will be an investigation into this incident."
Perez nodded to Ezra. "There will be."
The four men traveled together in Josiah's Dodge Caravan. Vin pulled out his cell while they traveled. "I'd better call Chris." It was only when they were almost at the hospital they remembered he had gone to Buck's. Now the shit really would hit the fan.
Luckily traffic was reasonably light and the four reached the hospital in record time. Once they had located JD, they waited until they could see him. Seeing a pretty little nurse exit the ER, Nathan stood.
"We're waiting for news of John Dunne."
She nodded. "He's just gone to x-ray and should be back in the next ten minutes or so."
Acknowledging her, the four resumed waiting. Fifteen minutes later they were called into a side room.
"Aww shit." Vin spoke for all of them as they approached and viewed JD's battered features.
"I'm fine," JD said through clenched teeth. Though not broken, his jaw ached like hell, along with most of his face and body.
"Would hate to see you when you're not," Josiah commented.
JD held his sides. "Don't make me laugh."
Nathan looked up from the medical chart, gesturing with his free hand. "Coupla cracked ribs broken nose, and you can see the cuts and contusions."
"What the hell happened to cause all this an' make you look like a raccoon?"
JD looked sleepily at Vin. "A guy pissed me off, so I gave him an Irish kiss."
Nathan frowned. "Head butt," Vin explained, unable to stifle a small grin.
"We heard tell it was about six against one," Tanner continued.
"Sounds about right." JD sighed. "I only have to sit still and I piss people off."
The others couldn't help chuckling, sobering quickly on seeing JD try to grin, but grimace instead. The young tech looked at his friends.
"Don't tell Buck I'm here, he has enough to worry about " He stared at their faces. "He already knows?"
"I fear when we informed Chris, he may have been with Buck," Josiah stated. They all looked up or turned at a familiar voice in the distance.
"Head him off," JD begged, "tell him I'm okay. If you all go, he'll believe you."
"Don't you want to see him?" Ezra asked.
"Sure I do, but I need him to stay calm and not go off the deep end. Please, guys "
Nodding, the four left. JD's body went slack. He was hurting like hell and the combination of trying to hide it and the pain meds were wearing him down. The last thing he needed was Buck to go off half- cocked. He took a deep breath in preparation, closing his eyes for a moment.
Buck was still reeling from hearing JD had been in jail. Before Chris had explained the whys and wherefores, they had arrived at the ER, so he was still trying to get it all clear in his head. He and Chris stopped walking as Nathan, Josiah, Ezra and Vin approached.
"Where is he?"
"In the room behind us, Buck," Vin offered. "And he's doin' okay."
"I'll just see for myself." As he pushed by to enter the side room, Chris waved him off, addressing the others. "What happened?"
Buck gently pushed open the door to the room JD was in. The kid looked to be asleep. The big man's heart dropped to his boots when he saw the battering JD had taken. In three strides he was at the bedside, a trembling hand hovering over JD's head. Suddenly two hazel eyes peeked through bruised lids. Buck smiled.
"Can't leave you alone for a minute, can I?"
"Guess not," JD tried a grin at a phrase he had heard Buck utter more than once before oww not good. "I'm fine, it looks worse than it is."
"I doubt that I know your `fine', boy, but thanks for trying." He sighed, finally resting the hand that had been hovering on the dark hair just below it. "Chris told me what happened."
JD looked distressed. "You know I'd never steal, right? Paulo's lying, though why he'd do that I have no "
"Paulo ?" The hand absently stroking the dark hair stilled, as Buck figured a way to draw out information without causing alarm bells to ring. "That guy's something, huh?"
"I'll say," JD yawned. "Hey, y'know Rafael was right there when Paulo asked me to get that wallet but not when he had me arrested. Damnit I'd forgotten that. All I need is to get Rafael to Buck?" He noted a considerable change in the man's demeanor.
"Paulo had you arrested for something you didn't do?"
If it were possible, JD paled. "You said Chris filled you in."
"I guess that's one detail he left out." He touched his hand to JD's bruised cheek. "Get some rest little brother I'll be back soon."
Recognizing the look instantly, JD clung to him. "No NO! Buck, listen to me " He called out for help. "CHRIS!" JD was begging now, his breaths in short gasps as his injuries flared up with the desperate movements to hang on to Buck. "Stay here pl please, bro for me "
Buck smiled, calmly unclasping the taught fingers. "Rest easy I'll be back."
"No damnit, Buck NO! VIN SOMEONE, ANYONE!" `Damnit to hell, where was everybody?' JD had no volume to his cries so struggled to drop the side of the bed to get help.
Ignoring the young tech's pleas, Buck peeked out of the door to see the guys deep in conversation, sneaking away easily. As soon as he was outside, he hailed a cab and headed for the Montecito.
Frantic, JD sighed with relief as the metal arm dropped down. Having very little energy, he rolled off the bed, catching an instrument tray on his way to the floor. He landed with a thud and the tray clattered and reverberated around the small room. The noise from JD's room had the Montecito's security team in there instantly. In seconds JD was looking at his friends' feet, then Chris's face.
"What the hell?"
"Good grief "
Chris had squatted down to help the young man. "JD, are you okay? What the hell happened?"
Sweat breaking out on his brow and upper lip, the tech grabbed his boss's arm. "Buck " he breathed.
Vin quickly looked around. "Where is he?"
"Paulo he just found out " JD pointed. "GO!"
"Shit!" Nodding to Josiah to take over, Chris stood. "Vin, Ezra with me." In an instant, they were gone.
JD curled in on himself. "Aaahhh "
Nathan buzzed for assistance as Josiah helped JD back onto the bed, both sitting with him once he had been scolded and checked over by a doctor. His actions had ensured he would be staying for what remained of the night, but JD had other ideas and discharged himself, his only thoughts were of going after Buck. Realizing JD was doing it with or without their help, Nathan and Josiah assisted him outside.
"For Paulo's sake, I hope the others catch up with Buck," Josiah commented as he carefully strapped JD in before joining him.
Nathan nodded, closing the car door behind him. "Yeah."
Dunne swallowed, slapping the driver's seat. "GO!"
Any hopes of sneaking a look at the room allocations were dashed when a way-too-bright- for-early- morning grin from Sandy Merle at the front desk, stopped him in his tracks.
"Good morning, Buck couldn't sleep?" As soon as the words were out, Sandy regretted them. "Sorry. How are you?"
Buck approached. "Right now, darlin', words fail me." He kept eye contact. "I'd feel a whole lot better if you were to slip me Paulo Madera's room number."
Sandy's face saddened. "You know I can't do that, Buck. It's not just my job "
Buck raised a hand. "Hey my bad, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked." He tapped the desk once as he turned to leave. "Thanks, anyway."
Wilmington half turned.
"He likes to take an early morning swim. It's a public pool "
Moving quickly forward, Buck kissed her on the lips, chuckled, winked and headed toward the pool area.
Madera stretched as he patted his wet body with a large, white fluffy towel. His swim, in a pool devoid of other bathers, had been exceptionally enjoyable. That, coupled with the imminent firing of Wilmington, the demise of Larabee's `Magnificent Seven', and the opportunity to 'reacquaint' himself with his ex-wife, made life particularly sweet at that moment. Aware someone was approaching, he glanced up, to do a double-take as a furious Buck caught his eye.
"What do you want?"
Narrowing one eye as he stopped in front of Paulo, Buck's voice came low and menacing. "It wasn't enough you terrorized a woman for no reason, got me suspended, treat people `round here like something you scraped off your boot you turned liar, too."
Catching on, Paulo sneered. "If you are referring to the boy Larabee tolerates in his proletarian ensemble of misfits, he is a thief and deserves everything that is coming to him." He noted Buck taking an angry step forward.
"That *boy* has more integrity in his right pinky than you have in the whole of your puny, midget-sized body, Madera."
"Insults," Paulo laughed, dropping the towel onto a lounger. "It would seem that is all you are good for, that, threats and whoring. I know of your reputation, Wilmington you and Inez would suit each other perfectly. And as for your little friend I intend to press charges and will not be satisfied until justice is done."
Buck was seething. "Justice? You wouldn't recognize justice if it rode up to you on a fifty hand-high horse and smacked you in the head with a bat. That kid's in the hospital after getting the shit kicked out of him last night where's the justice in that?"
Pushing his fingers through his long, damp hair, Paulo tied it back and reached for a robe. "Interesting. Inez lives with the knowledge that I am powerful enough to take her any time I please, and your young friend will soon learn the true meaning of being nothing more than a bastard whore for a bunch of criminals. What excellent company you keep."
With a guttural roar, Buck launched himself at the man, taking them both into the pool. Amidst much thrashing, Buck surfaced, clutching Paulo's hair in his hand as he pulled the smaller man just above the water.
"Let's just see how long I can keep you from using that foul mouth of yours, huh?" With far more enthusiasm than he should have, the brunet pushed the struggling man under the water, holding him there far longer than he meant to before pulling the gasping, coughing Mexican up. "More? No problem." He pushed Paulo under again.
Abandoning his car for the valet to take, Chris, Vin and Ezra hurried into the foyer, each man glancing around hoping to spot Buck. Vin approached Sandy.
"Hi, has Buck been through here?"
Her eyes widened momentarily, to drop her gaze to the keyboard she was working on.
"Sandy, it's important. No one's in trouble yet, but we have to find him."
Looking up at Chris, she nodded. "He wanted to speak to Madera, he went to the pool."
The three raced off, Ezra just managing his customary `salute' before doing so. Despite the early hour, a small crowd of shocked onlookers were standing poolside, staring at the unfolding spectacle. Jackets and shoes already off, the three security men jumped in as Chris yelled.
Content with having scared the shit out of Paulo, Buck raised a fist to complete the punishment, when strong hands grabbed his arms.
"Knock it off, for Christ's sake, pard!"
"Back off this is my business he needs to " The more Buck struggled, the more Chris and Vin tightened their grip. While they maneuvered the big guy out of the water, Ezra took a spluttering Madera and guided him out of the pool. With willing hands to help them out, soon all five men were standing, dripping at the pool's edge. Paulo tried, unsuccessfully to push past Ezra.
"I want him arrested!" he bellowed. "He tried to kill me!"
Buck strained to be free of Chris and Vin's grip. "Oh, believe me, if I'd wanted you dead, you'd *be* dead!"
"Quit it," Chris hissed in the brunet's ear. "You're in enough trouble as it is."
Buck's eyes flashed as he glanced between Chris and Vin. "Did you see what that kid went through? He's one of us " He pointed at Paulo. "How can you stand there and defend this little prick?"
"I'm not " Chris began, his gaze following Buck's as the big- hearted man focused on something and his face crumpled.
"Jesus, Buck. What did you do?" Walking stiffly, JD, assisted by Nathan and Josiah, approached the sodden group.
His anger forgotten, Buck pulled free and approached his injured friend. "What are you doing out of the hospital?" he said, softly, instantly offering a supportive arm.
JD looked up at him. "I was afraid for you," he whispered. "Hasn't this guy done enough, without you getting tossed into jail, too?"
"Truly, you two should get a room," Paulo spat as he wrapped himself in his robe. "Perhaps you can share jail cells," he laughed.
Just as Buck was about to round on him again, a commanding voice bellowed out. "What is going on, here?"
Paulo paled slightly, straightening as he spoke. "Good to see you, Papá. I have much to discuss with you." He glared at Rafael as the Palms' Chief of Security stood next to Don Alfredo.
The owner of the Palms stared around at Larabee and his team, first approaching Buck. "My sincere apologies to you, Senor Wilmington. You have my assurance this matter and your suspension will go no further." He moved to JD. "Ay, muchacho " he touched his hand to his heart. "I fear an apology would be worthless after all you have endured, but I offer it sincerely, anyway. I will consider worthy compensation for your pain and pay any hospital bills you have incurred."
JD fought his rising emotions. "As long as Buck's okay, that's all I ask," he said, softly, leaning into the wet, but welcome arm around his shoulders.
Don Alfredo smiled warmly. He had grown fond of the young man that took a knife to the chest while protecting a friend, at his hotel.
"What are you saying?" Paulo howled out, approaching his father. "These men threatened me and stole from me and almost killed me and you absolve them?" He reeled at the blow across his face from his father's open palm.
"I am ashamed of you. You dishonor the name of Madera. Go pack your things and return home. You will find a plane ticket to Atlantic City, where you will work for the uncle of your mother."
"I will do no such thing," Paulo snapped back. "The man is a tyrant."
"You will, or be cut off. I would be interested to see how you fare in the real world without my money."
Just as Paulo was accepting his fate and sweeping out of the area, Travis and Inez arrived.
"Orin, my good friend. Thank you for coming so promptly."
"My pleasure." Travis smiled as they shook hands.
"Inez, mi cariño. You have my word; Paulo will not bother you again."
"Gracias my Don," she beamed, kissing the palm of the hand that caressed her face. The man turned to Travis.
"You will oversee my requests?" he asked.
"Consider it done. Have you contacted Perez?"
"Si. He seemed displeased at being called so early in the morning."
Travis laughed. As the men moved away, Chris approached Rafael.
Martinez shrugged. "A man has to do what a man has to do in the name of honesty and honor even if it divides a loyalty." He glanced around at the six men supporting each other. "I could grow fond of a place like this, mi amigo."
"Anytime you need a change, let me know."
"Or maybe you and your six compadres would like to join me?" he grinned.
Chris laughed, softly, his gaze on his friends. "Who knows what tomorrow brings?"
"Magnifico." Clasping Chris's hand in a firm handshake, he called to JD as he turned to leave. "Adios, chiquito."
Flipping a weary hand toward Rafael, JD looked for somewhere, anywhere, to sit. He was feeling decidedly unwell, but was trying hard not to show it. His traitorous body decided for him and he started sinking to the ground.
"Hey, whoa, where are you going?"
"I'm fine, Buck, just needed to sit "
"Mister Dunne, this might be a good time to return to the hospital," Ezra suggested, looking increasingly uncomfortable in his wet clothes.
"He discharged himself," Nathan explained.
"He what?" Buck was about to get stuck in when Chris's hand touched his arm.
"Get him to 302, Travis keeps it as a reserve in case he gets delayed and needs to crash here." He looked around at his men. "We need to get into dry clothes." He checked his watch. "We got three hours before the conference kicks off on its final day. Let's get going."
As Chris entered the semi-darkened room, he spotted Nathan on one side of the occupied bed and Buck on the other. Making his way toward Buck, he brought over a chair from the small table in the room, and placed it next to his long-time friend. He raised a halting hand as Nathan stood.
"No need to leave, Nathan," Chris whispered.
"Yeah, there is, I need to get JD's prescription filled, he's taken something I've given him, for now."
The two old friends sat in silence for a long while, watching their youngest teammate sleeping. Buck broke the silence.
"Something on your mind, stud?"
"Could sure use you today, if you're up to it."
"'Preciate the offer, but I'm gonna stay here. I'll be back tomorrow."
"You are coming back, then."
Buck laughed, softly. "I guess I am."
There was a pause. "Thanks." Chris shifted slightly. "Just have to square things away with the kid, let him know I always believed he was telling the truth."
Buck glanced at him. "Did you go to the hospital when he got hurt?"
Larabee frowned. "Of course I did."
Smiling, Buck turned back to watch the bump in the bed. "Then, he knows."
"Not so sure, pard when he got arrested " Chris looked down at the large hand squeezing his arm.
"He knows." The pair sat in companionable silence for a while. Eventually Chris rose.
"Best get back. Tomorrow, then."
Nodding, Buck flipped a hand as a goodbye. He leaned forward in his chair. "He's gone, you can quit pretending, now."
Turning awkwardly toward him, JD offered a small grin. "I was faking it to stop Nathan giving me any more of that cat's piss he calls tea."
They both laughed. Buck sobered. "Kid I'm real sorry you got caught up in all this."
JD's smile lit up the room. "Shut up, you idiot. It wasn't down to you, and now it's over let's drop it, huh?"
"Yeah," Buck breathed. "Get some sleep."
"I would, only I got me this annoying big brother who keeps talking to me."
Buck chuckled. "I understand a pillow over the face is effective," he teased.
"Whatever, just don't toss me in the pool."
Buck's grin faded as the sounds of sleep from JD increased. It had been a hard few days. Thank God they were taking a vacation in less than ten.
Next day, the seven men met for coffee in the break room before heading into their morning meeting. JD had begged to return to work on the promise he wouldn't move from the monitors all day. There were disgruntled murmurings, but it was quickly agreed to. They all wanted a return to a normal routine, and having all seven on duty would certainly pave the way. They all smiled and stood as Inez came in, thanking each one in turn for their support before kissing JD on the cheek and standing in front of Buck.
"Senor Buck, I have not yet acknowledged what you did for me, so gracias."
Buck grinned. "Ooh, I'll bet that took some saying."
"You have no idea," she smiled back.
"Well, you could always make it up to me by having dinner with me tonight."
"How about I make it up to you, now?" Placing her hands on either side of his face she leaned in and kissed him long and hard. Before moving away, she whispered in his ear. "Pick me up at eight."
Watching her leave the break room, Buck smiled broadly at his already grinning friends.
JD groaned as they moved to leave. "Oh God, we'll never hear the last of it, now."
Draping an arm over the young man's shoulders, Buck said, "Maybe it's time I gave you a few pointers on how to woo a lady, kid."
"Oh God, please, don't."
Laughing, Buck turned to address the others as they all headed off to the morning briefing. "Come to think of it, maybe you all could learn something." He ducked as paper missiles were launched at him. "No?"
The answer was unanimous. "Nunca!"