A Survivor's Soul

by Phyllis

Seven Investigations Universe

Warning: Contains material (violence and implied sexual assault) which may be inappropriate for sensitive readers

This was inspired by Bunny's SI challenge. The first few paragraphs were written by her as a "fic-starter"

Size: Approx 105K

JD lay back in the hammock, looking up at the stars, his thoughts straying towards the case they were currently working on. Buck had told him to relax--- ever the big brother--- but something about this case was just...it just wouldn't leave him alone...

The violence, the particular-ness of this stalker in choosing his victims...

It gave JD the creeps. On one hand, he wanted to catch this guy, but, on the other, he wished he'd never heard of this case, much less seen the crime-scene photos Chris had dug up for them...

Meanwhile, Chris and Buck sat inside, having a beer, looking over some information.

Chris' eyes strayed to a picture of Buck and JD from long ago--- JD was about ten, and Buck was nineteen; his gaze strayed to the patio, seeing the kid staring into space. Yep, very long ago... he mused again... Buck's sudden swear yanked him out of his thoughts, as he tore his gaze away from the patio.

He swore himself as he saw the picture Buck was looking at.

"We have to catch this bastard, Chris..." Buck ground out in a gravelly voice.

"Yeah, we'll catch 'im, Buck, we will..." Chris sighed, rubbing his eyes wearily. "Go get the kid. We need his help going through this crap."

Buck didn't move, or even look up, merely hollering, "Yo! JD! Get in here"

Chris gave him an "I coulda done that..." look, rolling his eyes.

Buck frowned when JD didn't respond.

"JD! " he yelled again.

Chris frowned, getting up suddenly, as did Buck, and they ran to the patio, alarmed to find it empty…

They began to search the area, looking for the young man. A questioning voice drew their attention back to the doorway.

"What are you guys looking for?" JD asked.

Buck's fear dissipated with the sight of the dark haired boy, but was quickly replaced with anger. The youth backed up a step as his cousin quickly advanced on him. The bigger man grabbed two fists full of material and practically yanked the kid off his feet as he drew him upward.

"Why the hell didn't you answer me? Where were you?"

JD's eyes were huge as he stared, open mouthed, at the man. He tried to answer, but ended up stammering incoherent words as his mind tried to figure out what had set his cousin off. Buck had raised him and JD had seen him mad before, but never like this. At least, Buck had never directed that kind of anger towards him.

Chris stepped up and placed a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Buck. Let go."

The words were softly spoken, but the timbre of the voice broke through the red haze in Wilmington's mind. He blinked and looked down at the shirt twisted in his fists. The blood drained from his face as reality set in. He quickly released the boy and dropped his hands to his sides.

JD backed away quickly, not stopping until he ran into the doorframe of the patio. His breath was coming in gulps as he struggled to slow his pounding heart.

Buck dropped his head and took several deep breaths. Finally, he raised his head and looked into the huge hazel eyes. Guilt slammed into his soul when he saw the flash of fear in those eyes. He slowly approached the boy, his fingers splayed out in a non-threatening manner.

"JD. I'm sorry. This case ... well, it's really getting to me. When you didn't answer, I just panicked. I'm really sorry. You just really scared me."

"Scared YOU?" JD's voice squeaked. He had brought his hand to his pounding chest as he slumped against the door. "Geez, Buck. You about gave me a heart attack. I just went to the bathroom, for crying out loud."

As Buck stepped closer to comfort the slight youth, he was staggered as the boy slammed a fist into his arm. Wilmington grabbed his arm and stumbled back into Chris Larabee's arms. He rounded on his old friend when he heard the chuckle. "And just what the hell's so funny?"

Chris merely stared the man down. "You asked for that, grabbing 'em like that. You're lucky he didn't knee ya while ya still had a hold of him. Tanner says he's really picking up the moves he's been showing 'em."

Buck just glared at the blond. He finally shook his head and turned back to JD. He stepped forward and smiled when he saw the slight frame tense. Holding his arms wide, he said, "Truce, kid. I asked for that and I got what I deserved." He brought one hand around in a gesture of good will. "Forgive me?"

The boy hesitated for a moment and then, rolling his eyes, extended his hand.

"Nothing to forgive, Buck. I never meant to scare ya. I figured that one of ya saw me get up and come in."

Buck took the offered hand and pulled the slight form against him in a quick, but strong hug. He ruffled the long black hair as he released the kid. JD immediately pushed against the broad chest of the man he looked to as a big brother. He rolled his eyes and then turned and entered the house with the two older men trailing behind him.

Running his fingers through his hair to smooth it back and muttering to himself about 'overly protective big brothers' as he took a seat at the table. His eyes glanced around at the pile of reports and pictures and he shuddered slightly as he remembered the scenes portrayed in the photographs. But he knew his job within the small business and he took a slow breath. Somewhat calmer, he reached into the mound of papers and, withdrawing one, began to study it.

Chris sat back down and also grabbed a report. Buck asked if either man wanted a drink and headed to the kitchen to get the two beers and a coke. He returned to find Larabee on the cell phone. He sat the bottles down and started on the stack of victims' profiles.

The case had been taken at the request of the fourth victim's brother. The man felt that the police had hit a dead end and hoped that a fresh look at the evidence by someone outside of the police department would bring some new data to light. Mitchell Garner's words were 'can't see the forest for the trees' and the two ex-cops understood that phrase. Garner was quick to point out that the police were trying and he didn't fault them. He was willing to do anything to bring his brother's murderer to justice. He had told Chris and Buck that Detective Simmons and his partner kept in close contact and were aware of his intentions to hire an outside firm to investigate. Simmons had been very helpful when approached by the two investigators.

Two Days Earlier

"We've just hit a wall as far as trying to connect the victims. We've gone back as far as school records. We had some hits there, but nothing to link all the victims." Simmons looked over at his partner, Tony Gaffney, and then back at two men from Seven Investigations. "We are thinking that if there is a link, it's so obscure that we may never see it. This guy is one sick individual. He could very well be picking these people at random and that's going to make him very hard to apprehend."

"We've seen a little in the paper. Is there anything you can tell us that wasn't in the news and not compromise your investigation?" Larabee asked.

"Sorry, not much I'm afraid. We have eight victims, male and female. Ages range from twenty to sixty-eight, all of them young except for the first victim. They live in different parts of town, different tax brackets." The frustration was evident in the eyes of the two detectives. "We've checked what kind of cars they drive, if they ever went to the same club or bar, restaurants, coffee shops, malls, doctor, dentist, church. We have victims of each sex, hair color, and race. We even checked to see if they had ever been on jury duty together. The violence of the assaults indicates that it's personal, but.." Simmons threw up his hands in defeat.

Chris nodded. Glancing at Buck, he told the men that they would inform them of any clues that were uncovered by Seven Investigations. Buck and Chris left the two officers sitting in the diner. Climbing into their car, Buck turned to his old friend. He could see the fire in the green eyes.

"Chris, don't make this personal. This has nothing to do with you."

Larabee gripped the steering wheel and twisted his hand around the leather, relishing the feel of heat the movement generated in his palms. "I know, Buck. It's just hard; knowing that whoever killed Sarah and Adam is still out there, walking around free and clear."

"I know, Chris. I wish we were going after him, but we're not. Let's get back to the office and see what the others have found."

+ ++ + + + +

Vin Tanner and Ezra Standish had returned from California on a different case. They had traced a con man that had taken several elderly couples for several thousand dollars each. The two men had traced him down and brought him back for trial. Along with Josiah Sanchez and Nathan Jackson, they were going over the witness accounts and crime scene reports. Photos, reports, graphics, and charts filled the conference table and flowed over onto the floor.

Chris and Buck joined them. Chris asked Standish how the trip had gone, nodding as he listened to the man’s account. Buck walked around and took a chair, glancing around the room as he did.

"Kid went to the store. We ran out of coffee." Vin offered. Buck nodded in acknowledgement.

Chris glanced around at the door. "Nathan, could you decipher the forensics for us?"

Nathan Jackson had run a free clinic downtown and seen a lot of the brutality that humans could inflict on themselves and others, but this case was in a league of it's own. He reached across the table and grabbed a stack of papers.

He cleared his throat as he began. "Okay, each of the victims was beaten with what is surmised to be a baseball bat. They all had the same injuries- broken bones, bruising, and internal bleeding. Post-mortem cuts to the abdominal area are the letters 'I-G-H'. We can't find any reference to those letters anywhere. All the victims, male and female, were sexually assaulted."

"Raped?" Ezra's voice was not more than a whisper, but every man heard the disgust it held. Ezra had seen a lot as a CIA operative, he had done a lot, but some lines were never to be crossed. This was one of those lines.

Nathan looked at the southerner. "Not raped, assaulted. There's a difference; not much, but a difference." Nathan met the eye of each man and then continued. "They were penetrated by something, but not by.." Nathan hesitated. At this point, Buck stood and threw up his hands.

"I think we got the picture, Nat. Let's just not go any further, okay?" Buck walked over to the window and looked out. He glanced down the street and saw a bright blue jacket and dark hair. He turned back to the men still seated around the conference table. "JD's back. I'd rather not discuss it in front of him."

Chris gave Buck a look of reproach. The blond opened his mouth, but was cut off as Wilmington held up his hands.

"I know. He's read the reports. He's as much a partner in the firm as the rest of us, but he's still only twenty years old, Chris. Reading something and hearing it out loud is two different things. He'll grow up fast enough, without this kind of.. of.. crap being shoved at him. Let's just move on. 'Sides, you started this because he wasn't here. Don't even try to deny it."

Buck looked hard at the man that formed the business with him, the same man that warned Buck about bringing his young charge into this type of business. As investigators, they saw a lot of the bad in the world. Buck had shielded his young cousin from as much as possible. Having never known his father and having lost his mother at a young age, the youngster had been placed in the Wilmington household at the age of three. When Buck's mother died, Buck had been left with custody of the boy. He had to fight the courts for several months to win that custody because JD was only eight at the time and Buck had just turned eighteen. He had become JD's mother, father, and big brother. The man was walking a fine line between keeping the boy close by working at the office and protecting him from the harsh reality of the world. At the moment, Buck teetered on that line.

"Please, Chris. He knows what's happening. Allow me the illusion, okay?"

Larabee stared at his long time friend and slowly nodded. All heads turned as the young man burst through the door.

Slamming the door, JD looked at the group and frowned. "What? It wasn't my fault ya'll run out of coffee. I don't drink the stuff." He stomped off to the break area to start a pot brewing, mumbling under his breath. Behind him the six men shook their heads.

Present Time

The bell rang and Buck got up to answer it. Ezra and Josiah walked in with cartons of Chinese food. Vin Tanner had joined them earlier. Nathan had declined the brain storming session to go out with his girlfriend, Raine.

"Food's here." Buck yelled to the others. The table was still littered with papers, so the boxes were passed around and they ate at any open spot they could find or make.

After two days, the feeling of ineptitude was strong among the men. They were no closer to solving the mystery then the police were. The pattern the murderer followed dictated that he would be taking another victim soon. The longest he gone up to now had been twenty-two days. The last victim had been reported missing twenty-one days ago. Her body had been discovered across town three days later.

"Hey, JD, you ready to go?" Vin called from the kitchen as he tossed the paper plate into the trashcan.

"Yeah, just give me a minute to grab my stuff." The kid took off, tossing his drink can at the recycle bin as he passed.

Tanner bent down and scooped it up, dropping it in the bin. He turned to see Chris Larabee looking at him.

"We'll be back to help in a couple of hours. I promised Jimmy I'd help with classes tonight. Rick is out of town for a couple of days. JD is going to help and I thought we could spar a little before we came back." Tanner didn't usually explain himself to people. He had grown up fast after his mother's death. Independence was a way of life to him before hooking up with Chris and joining the Sevens team. It was still a mystery to them why Buck and Chris had decided on the name before Ezra and Vin come on board. Until then, the group had consisted of four, five if you counted JD. But he had not been a part of the operation in the beginning. So why Seven? Only Chris and Buck knew for sure and they weren't telling.

Chris nodded and returned to the discussion going on at the table. JD came back into the room, carrying a gym bag. He moved past the others to stand next to Buck. The younger man reached across and grabbed a cookie out of the older man's hand. Laughing, he spun out of reach, saying, "I'm going to workout with Vin. We'll see ya in a couple of hours." Buck tossed a paper wad at the departing backs. The door slammed before it reached its target.

"Okay, so what do we have?" he asked.

Chris looked at the ledger he had been scribbling notes on. "Basically, nothing. There is not one thing to tie these people together."

Josiah sat back and ran a callused hand over his face. "Let's step back.

Forget the reports. Let's look at the pictures."

Ezra shuffled through the piles and drew out all the photographs. He handed them to Sanchez.

"Let's look first at the ID pictures." He pulled out photos that relatives had given to the police for identification. "Let's each take two and describe it to the others. See if something clicks."

The time passed slowly as they went over the information again.

Almost two hours later, Buck sat staring at one of the photos. Chris watched as the man tried to figure out what he was looking at. Finally,


The dark haired man shook his head in surprise. "What? Oh, sorry. I just keep coming back to this one. She looks familiar somehow."

Ezra leaned forward and in his soft drawl asked, "Familiar how?"

"I'm not sure. But when I look at the picture, I have the feeling that I know her. Or knew her before, a while back, when she was younger maybe."

Josiah looked at the name and pawed through the papers until he found her file. "Maxine Appleton. She was sixty-eight, widowed, no children. Wasn't reported missing. Body was the first one found."

"Maybe you saw her picture when they found her, Buck." Chris suggested,

"No, that's not it."

"She had lived at 5551 Eastern since her husband was killed in a traffic accident in'86. Previous address was 35421 Marseilles. She had a business in her home and her husband worked at the power company-a lineman. She ran a day care.."

"That's it." Buck cried. "She had a small day care out of her house. Kept seven or eight kids. She kept JD for a couple of months."

Buck looked at Chris. "You remember, Chris. There was some kind of trouble and she had to close down. Ma really liked that woman. She was good with the kid. He had been shuffled around to several places cause of Ma's hours. They didn't want to stay late. Mrs. Appleton didn't mind cause she worked out of the house. JD was almost six then. I can't remember why she closed down."

Ezra was already typing on the laptop. "It would appear there was some sort of scandal involving her husband. A child disappeared from the home and was later discovered murdered. The husband was suspected, but released and never charged with anything. Apparently, the murder was never solved."

Buck thought for a minute. "I seem to remember a little about it. But not any details. There anything else in there?"

"The child was eight years old, named Tamara Lynn Jaquiss. Her father accused Mr. Appleton of the crime. He was apparently quite adamant in his acquisitions. He made an attempt on the man's life and was incarcerated as a result. He was a single father, wife walked out a month before, and she was his only child."

"Damn." Buck muttered.

Josiah was looking over Ezra's shoulder. "Are you in the police records, brother Standish?"

Ezra did not bother to deny that fact that he had broken into the police department computer. He merely smiled.

Standish grinned at the admission. "I wish I could take credit for the ability to break in to governmental systems such as this, but as much as I learned while employed by the agency, I must point out that I did not do this. It is merely a connection that was established for me."

Chris looked over at Buck. "JD" they said in unison.

Seeing his partner's face, Wilmington held up his hands. "I know, I know. I'll have a talk with him."

Ezra ignored the two men and continued to search the police files. He found what he was looking for and his face lost it's amused appearance. Josiah noticed and quickly scanned the file that Standish had brought up.

"Buck" rumbled Josiah.

Wilmington turned to the two men at the laptop. He frowned as he saw the solemn looks both men wore.

Chris was the one to ask, "What did you find?"

Ezra looked away from the screen and his eyes bore into Buck. "They have a list of names of people interviewed after the girl's disappearance."

"Okay," Buck said, his eyes flicking around as he pondered what the man was trying to say. "And is that important after fifteen years?"

"It would seem that John Daniel Dunne was one of the people they interviewed."

"Well, hell, Ezra, it's not like JD knew anything; he was only five or six at the time. 'Sides, he was only there for a couple of weeks before it happened. Then she closed down a couple of months later. What's got you so spooked?" Buck was at a loss. Both men looked stricken. Buck was sorry for what had happened to the little girl, but it had nothing to do with the investigation they were involved in now.'

Josiah turned the screen so it was easier for him to read. "Mitchell Garner told us the his brother was named Lawrence, correct?"

"Get to the point, Josiah." Chris was getting a real bad feeling about this.

"The people interviewed were Maxine and Albert Appleton, Lawrence Stephen Garner, Teresa Ann Fulbright, Jerry M. Getty, Beth Lynn Maxwell, Richard Allen Sterling, Mark A. Barnes, Donald Gordon, and John Daniel Dunne."

Buck's blood ran cold in his veins, yet he broke out in a sweat. His eyes stared at the man, yet failed to see him. He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Chris squatted next to him.

"Buck, are you all right?"

"Chris. That's-they're all.." Buck couldn't get his mind to work. He simply stared at his friend as if to mentally convey the words to him.

"I know, Buck. It’s a list of the victims."

Buck staggered to his feet. "We have to find JD." He had turned and headed for the door without even realizing it. Chris grabbed him and spun him around.

"Josiah is calling Vin right now. He'll watch over the kid until we get

there. Josiah is going to tell Vin to stay at the center until we get there. Ezra is calling Simmons and Gaffney. We need to get them in on this." Chris clasped the taller man's arms. "Are you getting this, Buck? Wait until we have everything in place and then we're at the kid's side."

Wilmington nodded, but his eyes strayed to the picture of him and JD that sat on the counter. He had to be all right. Vin was there. He would take care of the kid until they arrived. Buck repeated it in his head, over and over-Vin was there. He could take care of him. Vin was there. Vin. Vin.'

+ ++ + + + +

The two young men had a good workout after supervising the karate class held weekly at the youth center. JD was quick to pick up the theories and disciplines that Vin taught him. Tanner had to admit that the kid was quick. If he could learn to think the situation through and stay in control of his emotions, he would become expert at the art.

They moved around the center checking the locks and turning off the lights. Vin hefted his bag over his shoulder.

"Hey, Jimmy!" Tanner called out. "We're heading out now. Want me to lock the front doors?"

"Nah, I'm right behind you guys. Just have to fax this report. See you guys next week."

"Good night, Jimmy." JD yelled out as they pushed open the heavy commercial doors. The man's voice carried a good night back through the doors as they clicked shut.

Vin Tanner took a deep breath. JD looked as he crinkled his nose. "Dog's been around here, kid. Watch where you step."

They headed to the parking lot and Vin's battered Jeep.

"Vin, you ever wash this thing?" JD asked. The vehicle was brown in color and the dark haired young man wasn't sure if it was the original color of the Jeep or the dirt that decorated the exterior.

"If I wash it, it might fall apart. Dirt's the only thing holding it together."

They laughed as they crossed the empty parking lot. Halfway there, the phone in Tanner's pack started ringing. He stopped and pulled the canvas bag off his shoulder. He reached in and took out the instrument, flipping it open as he brought it up to his ear. "Tanner."

JD could hear someone talking on the other end, but could not make out the words. He frowned as Vin tensed and turned, surveying the parking lot and surrounding areas. "Okay, Josiah, we'll be inside."

He snapped the phone closed and gripped JD's arm, propelling him back the way they had come.

"Vin, what are you doing? Where're we going?" the startled youth asked. He was unnerved by the abrupt turn around. Dunne found himself glancing around, even though he had no idea what he was looking for.

Half way back, Tanner suddenly stopped. JD turned toward him and saw a frown on the man's face. Suddenly, Tanner's knees gave way and he sank to the ground. JD tossed his gym bag and, taking Vin by the arms, guided the man down.


"JD, run" the man whispered. Tanner's eyelids drooped as he spoke.

"What? No, I can't leave you here." JD protested.

Tanner pushed weakly at the hand on his arm. "Please, JD. Get back in.." Vin slumped over, unable to remain upright any longer. It was then that JD saw the small dart imbedded in Vin's back.

The slight youth reached down to lift the man when he felt the sting in his arm. Glancing down, he saw a second dart, a twin to the one in Tanner. He stood up, pulling it out and tossed it to the ground. Stumbling, he turned toward the youth center doors. He fought to maintain forward motion, but became aware that something now stood between him and the doors. He tried to focus on the jacket of the man in front of him, but found he could not. As consciousness faded away, he thought he heard someone say, "Last one and then I can rest."

+ ++ + + + +

The scene that greeted them was like one out of a nightmare. Flashing lights splashed the walls of the youth center and the surrounding area in an alternating strobe of red and blue and white. There were police cars and an ambulance parked in front of the center.

The four men jumped out of the Dodge truck and ran to the chaotic scene, where a uniformed officer stopped them at perimeter. It took both Josiah and Chris to keep Buck from assaulting the man. Luckily for them all, Detective Gaffney spotted them and instructed the patrolman to admit them. They were surprised to see Nathan come around the back of the ambulance and hold up his hands to stop them once again.

"Nat, how did you get here so fast?" Larabee asked.

"Raine and I were just a couple of blocks away when Ezra called. She dropped me off and headed back to her place." The tall man grabbed Buck's arm as he started to step around him. Wilmington's reaction was swift and predictable BORDER="1", so Jackson was prepared when the man swung on him. The force of the swing, unimpeded by an impact, swung the man around so that Nathan could grab both arms and pin Wilmington against the side of the bulky emergency vehicle.

"Buck, he ain't in there. You need to calm down." Nathan maintained his hold on the trembling man as, over his shoulder, he explained what he had found out since arriving at the scene.

"The guy that runs the center, Jimmy Curry, was leaving when he spotted Vin lying on the ground. He was out cold, but alive. Curry went back in and called the police and an ambulance. He was just coming back out when Detectives Gaffney and Simmons showed up. Vin had been shot with a

tranquilizer dart."

Chris stepped around Nathan to the open doors of the ambulance. Tanner lay on the stretcher, unconscious. Larabee looked at the paramedic sitting next to the stretcher.

"How is he?"

"Vitals are good. He's still out, though." He glanced at Tanner and then back to Chris. "We're going to General. You can meet us there."

Larabee nodded. He slammed the doors closed and banged one with the heel of his hand. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Nathan release Buck and they both stepped back as the ambulance pulled away.

Buck watched as the vehicle pulled away and then, turning to Chris, he asked in a soft voice, "He okay?"

"He will be. Let's go find Simmons."

The five men found the detective talking with Jimmy Curry. He turned and acknowledged the men as they approached. "Mr. Larabee. Thanks for the call."

Seeing the distraught nature of the group, he added, "Sorry we didn't get here sooner."

Chris waved him off with one hand as he asked, "Detective, what's the plan now?"

"Well, seeing as we have a name, we can check records of employment, land records, stuff like that."

"Can we help?"

Simmons glanced at Gaffney and their eyes spoke volumes. "Well, not officially. I don't think there's much I can do if you decide to do some checking on your own. I really hate to leave you out, but hands are tied."

Chris nodded. "We'll keep in touch." He started to turn away when Gaffney reached out, lightly touching Larabee's sleeve.

"According to the autopsy reports, the victims were kept alive for a couple of days. I know that is little consolation, but" The man stepped forward and looked Buck in the eyes, "that gives us time to find him."

Buck stood with his mouth pinched tight; his eyes were black with anger. "Two days of torture and assault? I know you're trying to offer hope, but knowing that my cousin has two days of abuse to endure if we can't find him.." Buck choked on the thoughts that sprang to mind.

Chris turned Wilmington away from the detective. "We'll keep in touch. We have work to do, men" The five men walked away from the youth center.

Getting into the Dodge, Chris started directing their next actions. "We go back to the house and start the same places that Simmons mentioned. Ezra get on your computer, see when Jaquiss got out of prison. Get a PO's name. Find out where he's working. Josiah, get on the computer at the house and see if the man has any land holdings. Nathan, when we get to the house, take the truck and.."

Buck broke in at that point, "No. Nat, take my truck. We'll need the room in the Dodge when we locate JD." His voice was flat, emotionless as he spoke.

Chris glanced over at him and nodded. "Okay, Nathan, take Buck's truck. Go over to the hospital and check on Vin."

By the time they reached the house everyone knew what they had to do. They had been back at the house for a couple of hours when the door opened and Nathan walked in with Vin. The four men looked as Vin staggered across the room and fell heavily into a chair. Chris gave him a hard look and got a wave off for his trouble.

Vin saw Buck standing at the patio door, staring into space. He pushed himself up and carefully walked over to stand beside the tall man. They stood quietly for a few minutes. Finally Tanner broke the silence.

"Buck. I don't know..."

Wilmington started, as if he hadn't realized Tanner was standing there. He frowned down at the longhaired man. "What? Oh, hell Vin, don't even say it. There wasn't a thing you could have done. None of us knew about the darts. You did all you could do. I know that, JD knows that, you know that. There ain't a thing to apologize for."

Buck had placed a hand on the younger man's shoulder. He felt the slight sway of the wiry frame. "You okay? Seem a mite unsteady."

"I'm fine. Maybe a little wobbly, but I'm okay."

"I think, maybe, you need to sit down." He gripped the arms of the man and guided him back to the table and pushed him into a chair. Buck looked over where Chris stood at Ezra's shoulder. Chris gave him a slight nod.

"Seems that Jaquiss still has the house and the building where his business was located." Josiah told them.

"Got the addresses?" Chris asked.

"If I remember that area, they're in the same neighborhood as the day care center." Josiah informed them. Buck had walked over and looked at the addresses Josiah had written down. He nodded in agreement.

Ezra hung up the phone he had been quietly talking into. "It would seem that Mr. Jaquiss was liberated from the state facility in which he had been residing six months ago. His parole officer, Mr. Austin Crawford, says that Mr. Jaquiss reports in each week without fail. He informed me that Mr. Jaquiss is employed at the zoo as a grounds keeper. He has even helped in the hospital. Gets nothing but glowing reports from his supervisor."

"Zoo? Must be why I smelled dog crap." Vin murmured to himself.

Everyone looked at the ex-bounty hunter. Chris leaned toward the man. "What did you say, Vin?"

"Dog crap." Vin shook his head and looked at the others. "I smelled crap when we came out of the center. I thought some dog had done his business near the door. Told the kid to watch his step. Must have been ‘him’. He must have been standing near the corner of the building. Wind was from that direction."

"You noticed the direction of the air stream as well as the aroma of animal fecal matter, all in the space of what, five seconds of exiting the edifice?"

Tanner stared at the southerner, frowning. "Damn Ezra, can’t you just talk plain? You can see I’m a little fuzzy here."

Chris chuckled as he patted the man’s shoulder. "Just accept it as a compliment, Vin."

"Ezra meant that you have a keen sense of your surroundings, Vin." Nathan translated.

"Oh. Not too keen apparently. Still lost the kid." Tanner’s guilt was evident on his face and in his voice. Buck squatted down in front of him.

"Vin, if you had all the information we have now, then, yeah, I’d say you failed the kid. But, all you knew was we were looking for a murderer that no one knew a thing about. Now we know who we’re looking for. All we got to do I figure out where he is and go get him and the kid." Buck looked at the man as he considered those words. He could see he was regaining his sharp edge as the minutes passed. Finally, Wilmington saw a slight pull of the man’s mouth to the right, Tanner’s version of a smile.

"So, what are we doing sitting here? We got two addresses to check." He pushed himself upright. Buck stood with him, clasping his shoulder.

"Well, let’s go then."

Chris turned to the others. "Two addresses, two teams. Ezra, Nathan, Vin, take the factory. Buck, Josiah, and I will take the house. I’ll call Simmons on the way."

Buck turned to Larabee. "Don’t you think one of us", indicating himself and Josiah, "should go with the others?"

"No. I think you and Josiah should go with me." Chris’ glare bore into his old friend.

Buck caught the meaning and smiled as feral a look as Larabee had ever seen on the normally jovial and open face. With a slightly crazed glint in his eyes, Buck asked softly, "Afraid I’ll lose it and you’ll need help?"

Chris returned Buck’s look with one of his own. "Afraid you won’t leave anything for the rest of us." Chris cocked an eyebrow at the man. Buck merely shrugged. Chris turned to the door, growling, "Mount up, boys. Time to reclaim what’s ours."


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