Help me Daddy, help me! The young boy cried out in terror, Daddy, they´re hurting me, help!
Chris Larabee sat bolt upright in bed, NO! ADAM! he cried out. Vin Tanner burst into the bedroom, snapping on the light beside the door. He was stunned to see his friend, tangled in the sheets, rocking back and forth, a pillow clutched tightly to his chest. The man´s eyes were glazed and fearful, and his breath came in uneven gasps.
Chris! Are you all right? Vin asked anxiously.
His friend didn´t appear to hear him, so he repeated the question. Chris just stumbled to the closet and took out jeans and a shirt, pulling them on as he walked past the stunned man. The other members of Team 7 had started poking their heads into the now bright room, trying to see what was wrong. Larabee ignored their glances, one to another, and continued in his preparations; boots were next, followed by a baseball cap on his unruly blond hair.
The distraught man pushed past Vin and then past the other members of his team. Buck looked into his eyes and could tell that he wasn´t seeing them. Junior, I don´t think he´s awake.
I think he´s right Vin, I think he´s sleepwalking, replied Josiah.
Chris, come on, wake up. Look at me Chris.
The anxious man continued his path to the front door, stopping only long enough to retrieve his keys that lay on the table beside the door. Vin grabbed his shoulder and turned him around just as he laid his hand on the doorknob. Chris, come on man, what´s going on? The sharpshooter never saw the punch coming. Chris´ fist snaked out and connected with the stunned man´s jaw and almost drove him to the floor.
Josiah and Buck stepped in and held Chris by the arms while JD helped Vin regain his footing. The Texan´s eyes sparked with fury, but one look into the dead eyes of his friend immediately drove the anger away.
Buck, get him to the couch, said Nathan. Let me check on him.
Larabee allowed himself to be pulled in the direction of the couch. Josiah´s firm grip on his elbow lessened and he jerked his arm away from the big man. Chris once again bolted for the door. Get him! yelled Vin.
Buck once again intercepted his friend. He also noticed Chris´ sorrow filled eyes. What is happening in that head of his?´ thought Buck. He knew, deep down, what was causing his friend´s pain. This was the fourth anniversary of the death of Sarah and Adam, Chris´ wife and young son. The two of them had been killed in a car bomb, meant for the Denver PD´s top homicide detective. This day was always hard for him, so the team had decided to stay at the ranch with him after he had drank himself into oblivion earlier in the evening. He was sober now, but still in no condition to be wandering about in the cold.
Chris continued to struggle to be free of his captors. Tanner was rubbing his jaw and still trying to get through the fog of his friend´s confusion. The team leader swung at Josiah and the big man went to his knees. Chris! Vin´s voice was loud and firm. Larabee swung at him again and the sharpshooter let loose. He swung his fist and caught the raging man on the left side of his face. He was not even affected. Tanner swung again and caught him on the side of his head. This time Chris went down. Vin was opening and closing his fist and cursing, Damn Nathan, I think I broke my hand.
Chris was starting to become aware of things around him. Man, what an intense dream,´ he thought to himself. Then he realized it wasn´t a dream. Buck was standing over him, holding an ice pack to the side of his head, and Nathan was putting ice and an ace bandage on Vin´s hand. Then he felt the pain. Damn! he swore. Who hit me? Chris asked obviously confused.
Vin answered Who hit you? Don´t you think the better question is Who hit me?´ Cowboy?
Vin, one question at a time, what am I doing on the floor with Florence Nightingale here tending to me? Chris asked nodding to Buck. Larabee´s tirade stopped when he saw the bruises on Sanchez and Tanner´s faces. What the hell happened to you two, and to me by the way? He asked curiously.
You happened Pard, Vin replied good-naturedly. He realized Chris was not to blame for what had happened. The man had been in the clutches of some god-awful dream and no one could hold him accountable for any action he might have taken to get out of it. Where were you so fired up to get to Chris?
Chris´ facial expression changed from confused to haunted in a split second. I don´t know where I was heading or why, I just know I´ve got to get there, and with that cryptic statement Chris Larabee jumped to his feet and bolted out the door.
The sharpshooter was close on his heels. Larabee, come back here. You´re in no shape to drive anywhere.
I´m sober, Chris responded.
I didn´t say you weren´t, but you are real stressed Chris, come on tell me about the nightmare.
Chris stopped in his tracks. How did he know about the nightmare?´ What do you know about that? he rounded on his friend and for a moment Vin thought Round Two was about to begin.
I just know you woke up screaming and you looked like you were fighting in your sleep. Chris you know what this day is like for you. Why don´t you come back inside and try to get some sleep? Vin said, clearly concerned for his friend´s mental state.
I can´t, I´ve got to go somewhere.
I don´t know, something in that nightmare, dream, vision, whatever the hell it was, told me to drive. It didn´t tell me how far, in what direction, what to look for, just to drive, that I would know when I got there, Chris finished, his voice shaky with emotion. I saw Adam, Vin. It wasn´t Adam like before. He was older. Like he would be now. He was hurtin´. He cried for me, told me they were hurting him, and asked me to help him. I wasn´t there Vin; I couldn´t stop them from hurting him. It´s not enough that I see Adam´s face like he was, now I see him like he could´ve been if I could have just been there to help him.
The grief stricken man stopped speaking and Tanner could sense the shuddering sobs emanating from him. His friend was clearly in a lot of pain, and needed answers to the riddle of the dream that had put him in such a state. Vin stood and pulled on the sleeve of Chris´s jacket and said All right, let´s go.
Chris drove for an hour, heading out of Denver. When he told Vin that he had no idea where he was supposed to drive to he hadn´t been kidding. Larabee had been driving aimlessly all over the city, now he was heading for the mountains.
Both men were quiet as usual, but the silence was now unnerving for them. The two men usually needed no words to communicate, but the bond that created the telepathy between them seemed to be suffering because of Chris´ anger and confusion.
Chris made a severe left hand turn off of Highway 109 and started toward Eagle Rock Mountain. It was a small little known campground that had been pretty much deserted and neglected for the past five years. Vin didn´t know why Chris was so intent on going to the overgrown, weed infested, campsite, but whatever his friend needed to do, he would back him up.
Visions of family outings with Sarah and Adam filled Chris´ mind as he drove, now urgently to the small outcropping of cabins in the tiny rustic camping area. Every landmark seemed to hold a special memory, Adam´s first camping trip, teaching him about fire safety, and his first sight of a wild animal, a raccoon, his little eyes filled with wonder, made Chris´ eyes overflow. Adam, frightened of the noise made by an owl, and refusing to sleep without the lantern all night, he and Sarah, caffeine starved and grouchy, not being able to keep from laughing as he imitated the owl the next morning and diligently claiming he was never afraid in the first place, he just thought Mommy and Daddy needed a night light. These were the thoughts that kept him heading up the mountain path when he thought he was losing his mind.
The truck abruptly came to a stop in front of an old crumbling cabin with a porch stretching all the way across the front. Chris slammed the truck into park and eased the door open. Ok, I´m here, I just broke every speeding law in Colorado, not to mention took curves that made Vin turn green, now what?´ Looking across the seat to Tanner, Chris took courage in the look that his friend gave him. The look seemed to say, All right Cowboy, let´s check it out.´
The cabin was exactly like all the other cabins in the park, except this was the one that he and his family rented every time they came camping here. He knew the cabin like the back of his hand, every loose board, every squeaking hinge, every draft, he could find with his eyes shut. The front porch creaked under the weight of the two men. Vin walked cautiously up the steps and to the door. Chris eased the wooden door open and stepped inside. This was the first time that he had been to the place since the summer before Adam and Sarah died. It hadn´t changed except for the run down quality. Everything was still in place. There was a small stack of firewood, waiting to be used in the fireplace. A small table and chairs, a sofa and a couple of armchairs, and a small desk were the only furniture in the small room. There was dust an inch thick on everything. The two men continued their walking tour of the cabin in the next room. It was a bedroom off the main room. There was a large bed in the middle of the room and a smaller one in the corner. Vin sat on the large bed, watching his friend carefully. Chris wandered over to the bed in the corner and without a thought to the dust on the floor, lowered himself to his knees. Tanner was still watching, wondering what in the world the man was looking for under the bed. Larabee reached under the bed and pulled something out from underneath. The sharpshooter heard his sharp intake of breath and a muttered Damn,´ issue from his friend´s lips. The instantly alert tracker got up and eased up behind his friend and was surprised to see the ball glove in his hand. The blond man clutched the glove to his heart and held on like his life depended on it.
Vin, sensing there was something about the glove, stepped around to face his friend. The look on Chris´ face would melt ice. Cowboy, what is it? he asked quietly.
Chris looked up from the glove and said in a strangled voice, It´s Adam´s.
Vin stopped breathing. What were the chances of coming up here and finding Adam´s ball glove? How had Chris known to come here?´ Everything was a blur to Tanner. Life was mysterious, and this was just about the strangest thing he had ever witnessed. This would give Chris something of Adam´s to hold on to, he knew how important that was to the man. Vin looked again and saw that his friend was troubled. I hope this doesn´t bring back bad memories for him,´ was his first thought. Hey Cowboy, you all right? he questioned.
Chris´ look at that moment frightened Tanner more than the emotional outburst at the house earlier. The look was mournful, fearful, and something else Vin couldn´t put a finger on, then it hit him, it was dread. Dread was the previously unnamed expression on Chris Larabee´s face, something never before associated with his family. Chris struggled to find the words that had escaped him since he found the glove. He turned his stricken countenance to Vin and simply said, He had this with him when he died. Then the clearly distressed man sagged to the floor on his knees and just stopped. Stopped everything, moving, speaking, and practically breathing. Vin struggled to get him to his feet and then onto the bed. He could see that his friend was in trouble. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed the number at the ranch.
Wilmington, a voice snapped into the phone.
Buck, it´s me, I need you out here now. Bring Nathan and Josiah, and get a crime scene kit out here too. And hurry! Vin said frantically.
Junior, don´t hang up! You ain´t told me where you are. Why do you need us? Why do you need a crime kit? Junior, tell me what´s going on.
Buck, we´re at Eagle Rock Mountain at that campground that Chris took his family to. He´s in a bad way and I think there is something going on that we know nothing about. We need a crime kit to take some prints at one of the cabins. Look, I would rather tell you this in private. Get on up here. I need Nathan to take a look at Chris, and Josiah may be needed too.
We´re on our way Vin. Buck now knew that something wasn´t right. If Chris was allowing Tanner to ask for Nathan to look at him, then the stubborn fool must be hurt in some way. The preparations were made post haste and the five men gathered together what they needed for a trek into the mountains and headed out.
Chris continued to sit on the bed and hold the baseball glove. He remembered the occasion that brought the much-loved glove into Adam´s possession. It had been his sixth birthday. Adam had just started to play in the local little league and it was his fondest desire to have a new glove to start play on his new team. He and Sarah took him to the sporting goods store the day of his birthday, under the pretense of buying some new running shoes. The look on Adam´s face when they told him to go ahead and try one on for size was one of the best memories he had of his son. The little guy was so excited. He couldn´t believe he had been good enough to deserve both a new bike and a new glove, at that moment Chris would have given him the moon, even if it would mean him becoming spoiled. Spoiled was something Sarah would not tolerate, but one look at her little man and his complete joy at something as simple as a baseball glove, told him he would be forgiven if he went out and bought a dog, a pony, a new car, anything the child´s little heart desired.
Vin was becoming more concerned every minute. Larabee had not spoken, even at his insistence that he do so. Chris would never purposely worry his friends and that was what was scary. He didn´t realize that he was scaring the hell out of Tanner. He glanced once more at the stricken man and slipped into the front room to wait for the others. It had been almost an hour since he called them; they should arrive at any minute, and he wanted to clue them in before they saw Chris.
Tires screeched to a halt outside, disturbing a covey of quail, and a chipmunk that was sitting peacefully on a rock beside the porch. Buck and the others jumped from the vehicle and charged up the steps, all pausing, alarmed as the porch groaned under their combined weight. They carefully continued mindful of the holes and loose boards of the decrepit cabin porch. They opened the door and found Vin just starting to step out. Buck almost collided with him, and would have had he not stopped short. The agent decided he didn´t like the look on Tanner´s face immediately.
Vin, what the hell is goin´ on? Where´s Chris, Buck demanded.
Shhh, he´s in there, Vin started and reached for Buck as he made a move toward the bedroom door, wait a minute Pard, we need to talk.
The tone of Vin´s voice brooked no argument and Buck stopped and looked apprehensively at the others, OK, what´s going on?
Vin took a deep breath and began to tell the story. Chris said that something in the dream he had told him to drive, no directions, no time frame, no nothing, just drive. Told him he would know it when he got there. So we drove, for over an hour. This is where we finally stopped. We came in and he went immediately to the little bed in the corner of the bedroom, Vin was interrupted by Buck.
Adam´s bed, Buck said sadly.
Yeah, Adam´s bed. Well he dropped down on his knees and went to looking under the bed. He brought out a baseball glove. He told me it had belonged to Adam. I thought it was strange that we had found Adam´s glove after four years, but things happen, anyway Chris turned to look at me and I swear it was the scariest look I had ever seen, Chris told me that Adam Buck once again interrupted Vin.
Had it with him when he was killed, Buck choked, finishing the sentence for Vin.
Yeah, then Chris just fell to his knees and he hasn´t spoken since. That´s why I called for Nathan, to check him over, see if he´s in shock or something, Vin continued, I just thought Josiah might could be helpful to him.
Tanner stepped aside and let Nathan, Josiah, and JD into the room. Ezra hung back to speak with Vin about the fingerprints he wanted taken. Wilmington started to enter the bedroom but stopped as a thought came to him. You know, we searched that house over a dozen times looking for that glove, Chris and me, after Adam was killed. The first time was to bury it with him. We just figured he had it with him since he had practice that day after school. I guess it did shake Chris up to find it here after four years of looking for it, Buck stopped and a look of confusion crossed his handsome features. Wait a minute, how can this be right? This place closed five years ago, how could Adam´s glove be here? He got it for his birthday, his sixth birthday. That was a year after this place closed down. Besides he had practice that day, he wouldn´t go to practice without that glove. This is weird.
You think so too, huh? Vin questioned.
What do you mean? asked Buck.
This whole thing is strange, the dream, the drive here, the glove, everything. That´s why I had you bring the kit. Something just don´t add up. And I aim to figure out what it is, Vin said, determination in his voice.
Vin, are you going where I think you´re going with this? Buck asked apprehensively, a finger of dread starting to inch up his spine.
Something is strange about this whole thing, there´s more to it than what we think, Vin firmly stated and began to walk toward the bedroom. He turned back to face Wilmington, I feel it, in here, he stated pointing his finger at the center of his chest, in my heart, and my gut.
Wilmington figured out in a matter of seconds where Vin´s thoughts were headed. Buck snagged Tanner´s sleeve as he started into the room where Nathan was checking Chris for signs of shock. What´s going through that head of yours Vin? That boy´s dead, he has been for four years now. We pulled his body out of that truck; we buried him. Don´t go dragging up those memories for Chris.
Vin pulled loose from Buck´s grasp and stared at him. Buck, that boy could still be alive and I´m not going to chance not looking into it. You said yourself that this place has been closed for five years, how could that glove have gotten here if he didn´t even have it the last time he was here?
I don´t know, but I´m begging you not to say anything to Chris about this. You don´t know what that would do to him. You don´t know what he was like then, you don´t want to know. It was ugly Vin, Chris wanted to die, and he didn´t care how many people he took with him. Please don´t do this to him, Buck pleaded.
Buck, if there is a chance that Adam is alive and I didn´t tell him, he would hate me. I won´t chance that. He deserves to know.
He deserves a little peace of mind Vin. He is just starting to recover, don´t ruin that. I have watched him pull himself out of the pits of hell, I won´t let you put him back there.
By this time the exchange between the two men, both friends of Chris´ and both thinking they were doing the best thing for him, had become heated. Ezra stepped in and played mediator, I don´t understand the complexities of this exchange, but for the sake of Mr. Larabee, who by the way does not appear to be well, I think you should remove yourselves to the out of doors to continue this cannibalization of each other.
Both men looked at Ezra and then at the other. Shame was written across both faces. Chris was what was important. They would have to work out their difference of opinion, and work together for the ending that was best for Chris.
Let´s get some prints, see where we are going here. We´ll do some investigating before we tell Chris. That way if nothing comes of it, well, he´ll never have to know. Is that ok with you Vin? Buck asked sincerely. The olive branch was extended by Buck, Chris´ oldest friend, and accepted by Vin, the other half of Chris´ soul.
It´s ok with me. I don´t want to hurt Chris, Buck. You know I would never deliberately hurt him. I just keep thinking what it would mean to him if by some miracle, Adam was really still alive, you know?
I know Vin, but how after all these years, why after all these years? We buried him Vin. I was there. I was with Chris when the coroner had him identify the bodies. Is he absolutely sure the glove is Adam´s? Buck asked a sob catching in his throat at the memory of the burned bodies of the beautiful Sarah Larabee and the precious six year old boy, his godson, Adam.
Yep, I even looked at it myself, when I could get it away from him for a second. It had his name written in it in permanent marker, it was Chris´ writing.
Meanwhile, Nathan was having no luck getting Larabee to communicate with him. Chris still sat, stock still, on the small bed in the corner of the room clutching the ball glove to his heart, as if it were his lifeline. Nathan didn´t know the whole story yet, but someone was going to tell him if he had to sucker punch the first person to approach him. He walked over to the doorway where Vin and Buck were still discussing, arguing, and generally agonizing over the entire situation. If somebody don´t tell me what´s going on here I´m gonna walk out that door and not come back, I mean it now! Nathan had gone his limit with being left out of the loop.
Nathan, how´s Chris? Vin asked urgently.
He´s practically catatonic, that´s how he is. Would either of you consider filling me in on exactly how he came to be in such a state, and what in the hell is he doing holding on so tight to a damn ball glove?
It was Adam´s, Buck said quietly.
What? Nathan asked confused.
It was Adam´s ball glove, except it can´t be Adam´s cause this place shut down a year before his death, and Adam had the glove with him when he died cause he had ball practice that afternoon. So the big question is how did it get here and why did Chris have a dream that led us here? Vin finished his explanation and paused to catch his breath and take in the startled look on Nathan´s face.
Are you saying that you suspect foul play, questioned JD. It amazed Vin and Buck, the intuition the young agent possessed.
Yeah, something like that Kid. This is where Buck and me are disagreeing. I think we should handle this one way and Buck thinks we should go another.
Look Junior, it ain´t that I´m totally disagreeing with you. I think we should check this out, just not at the rate you´re going. Chris can´t handle what you´re wanting to do, Geez, look at him, he can´t even handle walking and talking right now.
You think he´s still alive, don´t you? JD asked excitedly.
Whatever gave you that idea Kid? asked Buck.
The way you´re just skirting the issue. You ain´t telling us anything, just smoothing it over. You need to fill us in, we want to help.
The other men in the room agreed and Tanner looked to Buck for permission to include the other agents in the information they had at the moment. After an affirming nod from Wilmington, Vin went into the story about the dream and the drive that ended up at the campground. He ended the story by saying simply, He´s alive, I know it. I can feel it.
Ezra and Buck took fingerprints around all the rooms in the cabin. It would probably be a waste of time since there could possibly be thousands of fingerprints in the room. They looked especially for small fingerprints that could be Adam´s. They dusted everywhere they thought the small active child would play. When they were finished they took fiber samples and even some hair they found on the bed and the rug. A single strand of hair could produce enough DNA for testing.
Larabee suddenly left the bed and the cabin. Nathan followed him to the truck and stopped him from starting the engine. Where you going Chris?
To work, I´ve been away from the office too long, messing with this shit. Ya´ll coming? Chris remained in the truck and dared Nathan to attempt to stop him from leaving.
Nathan looked to Josiah for help and he looked helpless as well. Ezra, noticing his boss´ abrupt departure, followed the trio outside where Chris was threatening to run over Josiah if he didn´t get the hell out of the way! Ezra was disturbed at the sudden recovery of his friend´s senses. He figured out quickly that Chris had not regained his senses; he just misplaced them somewhere in the back of his mind. Larabee had decided it was better to believe that none of this had ever happened. Ezra understood this well. It was an old Standish trick. Trick your mind into believing something never happened by going on your way like nothing had. Ezra was a master and apparently so was Chris Larabee.
The drive back to Denver was a quiet one except for the radio in Chris´ truck. He had it blasting out a rock and roll song. Vin didn´t know how to react to his friend´s sudden love for music. The man appeared to be enjoying the song. It was a Rolling Stones rock block and Satisfaction was coming to an end. The next song was Paint It Black. Tanner looked to the blond man and saw the tense jaw muscles grinding. Larabee clenched the steering wheel tightly and his breath was coming in painful gasps. Vin reached over and turned the radio off. The enraged agent turned on him and threatened to shoot him if he ever touched the radio again.
Chris knew he was being irrational about the radio. So Vin didn´t like the Stones, they could listen to something else. There was something eating at the back of his mind, something that was important, but he couldn´t remember what it was. I´ll ask Vin. Surely he´ll know if I was supposed to be doing something today, something besides driving out here in the boondocks all day. What the hell are we doing out here anyway?´ Chris´ mind was wandering and he couldn´t keep from being distracted by the images running through his mind. Adam, the cabin, ball glove, wait, no, can´t go there, think about something else.´ Vin´s startled cry halted his thoughts. He glanced at the road, there was a huge buck deer running across the road in front of him. He quickly applied his brakes and attempted to swerve to avoid the deer, unfortunately the buck´s mate decided to join him in his jaunt across the highway and ended up on the hood of Chris´ big black Ram truck.
The truck skidded and the buck was caught up in the ensuing mayhem. Both deer were irreparably damaged, as was Chris´ truck. Vin looked up and gingerly felt a bump rising on the side of his head. Damn Chris, I think we got em´ both, he said as he turned his head to look at the other occupant of the truck. Larabee´s head was down and he was slumped in the seat. Chris? Chris! Dammit answer me!
Vin released his seatbelt and leaned over to check on the unconscious man. He touched Chris´ head and felt something wet and sticky. He pulled his hand away and was dismayed to see blood. Oh shit, Vin swore. He searched for his cell phone and after locating it under the truck seat he punched in 911, then he dialed Josiah´s number.
Sanchez, Josiah answered his phone on the first ring.
Josiah, watch out coming up on us, we´ve had an accident. Chris is out cold and I ain´t feeling too good. I´ve already called 911 and gave em our location.
On our way Vin. Is Chris bleeding?
Yeah, from his head. He took a pretty hard knock. We hit a pair of deer so be careful how you approach us. There could be pieces of them scattered in the road.
Right, just hang in there we should be coming up on you right about now.
The phone call warning them of the occurrence should have been enough forewarning for the five agents that were occupying Josiah´s large Land Rover, but the actual sight left them feeling a bit queasy. There were indeed pieces everywhere. They didn´t know what Chris was thinking taking that curvy road with enough speed to dismantle two fully grown deer and an overgrown Ram truck. The men piled out of the truck and hurried over to the driver´s side door and attempted to open it. The impact of the deer on the front of the truck had forced the door closed. Vin´s door opened and he stepped out looking a little worse for the wear. He caught one look at the carcasses lying in the road and on top of the truck and took four steps, fell to his knees and began to vomit violently. Nathan told Josiah to check on him. Buck had managed to get the window open on Chris´ side and was holding the injured man´s head still so Nathan could check his neck for injuries.
Nathan determined that Chris´ neck was probably ok but that the paramedics would put a cervical collar on just in case. He was more worried about the head wound. Chris had not been wearing his seatbelt, which was unusual, just another instance of their leader´s odd behavior today. The wound on the man´s head was bleeding freely. Nathan checked his pulse, bp, and respirations. He also checked his pupils and was a little worried that one of them was slightly dilated. That could be a sign of a concussion. The strange way the man had already behaved earlier was unusual enough, he sure didn´t need a head wound on top of it.
An ambulance siren screamed as the vehicle came around the sharp curve. Two paramedics jumped out and immediately began to assess the condition of the two injured men. Vin was not severely injured, just a couple of cuts and some bruises. Chris was bruised but nothing appeared broken. The blow to his head didn´t appear to be too serious, but there had to be some reason for his loss of consciousness. Both men were transported to Denver Memorial Hospital for treatment.
The five uninjured agents paced the emergency room waiting area, anxious for news of their friend´s conditions. The wait on Vin was relatively short. The doctor gave him a clean bill of health. He would just be sore for a couple of days. Chris was x-rayed and examined and put into a room for observation. He did have a concussion and there was a little swelling, as indicated by the dilation of his right pupil. If he woke up soon, the doctors could foresee no complications. The sooner he woke up, the better his prognosis.
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