When he and JD walked into the office, Vin was relieved to discover that
things were not quite as hopeless as hed assumed.
Chris reported, "After checking through everything that we possibly could
in Bowers file, weve managed to track down two of the mans
former associates: Craig Miles and Greg Barrett. Both of em are currently
residents in Colorado prisons. Theyre our only leads, so we need to
pay them each a visit."
Josiah spoke up. "I recollect having established a rapport of sorts with
Miles, back when we first tried to take down Bower. I volunteer to visit
Mr. Miles and see if I cant persuade him to plumb the depths of his
memories regarding Mr. Bower. I seem to recall that he was none too fond
of the man."
Chris nodded. "Okay, hes yours. The other prisoner, Greg Barrett, is
a resident of Florences newest maximum security facility, the
Administrative Maximum Unit Prison. Its located some one hundred and
ten miles south of Denver. Any takers?"
Vin, none too fond of jails or confined spaces, nevertheless offered to make
the trip. He raised his hand. "I will. That way, I can be doing somethin
other than sittin around worryin."
Although theyd spent a comfortable time together in their frantic search
earlier in the day, JD declined to accompany Vin. "I gotta stay here. I need
to be close by, just in case."
Vin nodded in understanding. He proceeded to fill a thermos with his special
brand of strong coffee, desperately needing the caffeine fix. The caffeine
high provided a much-needed second wind. The trip should have taken a little
over two hours to drive. He completed it in exactly ninety minutes. Vins
ever-growing sense of urgency spurred him on.
After passing through a series of checkpoints, he was finally admitted to
the area reserved for visitors. He overcame his first hurdle when Barrett
agreed to talk to him. Now, if only he could figure out what the hell to
say to get the man to spill his guts. He began to speak, carefully feeling
his way. "Thanks for agreeing to see me."
"Hey, anything that takes me away from the rabble back there is worth a minute
or three of my time. Whats up, cop?"
"I wanted to talk to you about Artie Bower."
Barrett immediately put his face up to the glass separating them. The look
in his eyes left no doubt as to the murderous nature of the beast which was
currently barely leashed. "Anything that I can do to get that low-life
bottom-feeding. . ." Barrett continued, using every profane descriptive term
Vin had ever heard, and some that were new to even his experienced ears,
to describe Artie Bower. Finally running out of words, Barrett asked, "What
do you need from me to get his sorry ass in prison, where he belongs?"
"Hes back in Denver, and I wanna know why."
"Hell, I dont know from nothin, being in here. But, what I do
know is I got a brother, Donnie. He thinks Bower is a big fat deal, despite
the fact that the man is directly responsible for my ass bein behind
bars. Donnie, hes a good kid. Trash like Bower shouldnt be allowed
anywhere near him. If Bowers in Denver, chances are pretty damn good
that Donnie is trailin after him." Barrett supplied Vin with not only
Donnies address, but the address of his girlfriend. Vin wasted no time
in phoning his teammates with the information.
+ + + + + + +
Josiahs journey took two-and-a-half hours, to Vins ninety minutes.
Miles greeting was pleasant enough. "Josiah! Long time, no see. Let
me guess: you want to talk to me about Artie Bower."
Josiah nodded. "Id applaud your mind-reading ability, were it not for
the fact that Artie Bower is what originally brought you and me in contact
with each other."
Miles shrugged. "No offense taken. Whats he done now?"
"A friend of mine thought hed seen him in town. Before anyone could
check it out, they both disappeared."
"Thats too bad." Miles sighed heavily. "Guess your friends gone
off to the graveyard."
Josiahs spirits sank to an all-time low at Miles matter-of-fact
pronouncement. He echoed the words, "The graveyard?"
"Yeah. Its a hundred or so miles west of Denver, one of those mini-towns
that went boom and bust along with the silver mines. Nothing there now but
a bunch of falling down, rotting old buildings. I hear tell theres
more than just buildings rotting away there."
Josiah questioned him in minute detail, trying to pin down the exact location
of the graveyard. "Thank you. If theres anything I can ever do for
you, please let me know."
"As a matter of fact, there is. I go before the parole board next month.
Itd really help if you could put in a good word for me."
"Id be happy to." Josiah hastily said his goodbyes. Once away from
the confines of the prison, he placed a phone call to Chris.
Grim-faced, Chris accepted the news of Bucks probable whereabouts.
Nathan was the only team member currently present. JD and Ezra were following
up on the leads to Donnie and his girlfriend that had been phoned in by Vin
during the past hour. Chris was just as glad to be able to put off sharing
the latest news with JD. It was bad enough telling Nathan. Although he wanted
to hurl the phone across the room, he hung it up slowly and carefully. Nathan
watched and waited.
Chris voice wavered with the emotion he did not allow to show on his
face. "Seems like Bower likes to visit a ghost town west of here. Rumor has
it, thats where he hides the bodies. We gotta check it out."
Should the worst case scenario prove to be true, Nathan did not want to be
the only one present when they found Bucks body. He did not trust in
his ability to keep Chris from doing something foolish without someone to
back him up. "I think we need to take JD and Ezra along. Theyll never
forgive us if we dont."
Chris opened his mouth, prepared to argue. However, if Buck was at the graveyard,
Chris was hard put to come up with any argument for urgency in their getting
there. He nodded at Nathan, grateful when his friend offered to make the
phone call to JD and Ezra. Nathan was reaching a hand for the phone when
JD was calling, obviously excited. Nathan put him on the speakerphone. "Hey
guys, me and Ezra went to see Donnies girlfriend. She says that Donnie
got a ride to her place from some guy in a Cadillac. Although she never saw
the other guy, her description of the car matches our man Bower. She says
Donnie asked to borrow her car. We need to get out an APB, ASAP. Its
a red 1997 Ford Taurus, license number YNZ 313."
Chris thanked him for the information, promising to get out the APB. "I need
you and Ezra back at the office. Were gonna take us a little trip."
Putting off any further explanations, he simply concluded, "Ill tell
you about it when you get here."
+ + + + + + +
Chris bitterly reflected that it would have been far better if he had delivered
his news over the phone. Then he wouldnt have had to watch the hopeful
look on JDs face crumble to one of despair. Chris could offer no words
of comfort. He was feeling some of that same despair himself.
A little over an hour had passed since theyd gotten Josiahs call.
In another hour, two at the most, Josiah and Vin would be back in Denver.
Nathan stated, "I think we need to wait for Josiah and Vin."
Like Chris, JD could think of no reason to hurry to a place referred to as
"the graveyard." If this was the end of Team Seven, JD agreed with Nathan
that they should see it through together.
Taking the cowards way out, Chris used the phone to deliver the news
Although he was feeling anything but calm, Vin simply acknowledged the
information. "Ill be there in fifteen minutes. Wait for me. Please."
His words were an eerie echo of the plea hed made to his absent friend
yesterday. Choking back the emotions that he had no time for, he hung up
the phone. His words a combination of prayer and apology, he whispered, "Oh,
+ + + + + + +
Buck was drifting in and out of consciousness. He had no idea how long hed
been down in this hole. He had the feeling that it had been days, rather
than hours. The pain was now something remote from himself, no longer worthy
of the intense attention hed given it earlier. He remembered his earlier
fear that hed descended into Hell. He was now forced to amend that
thought. Hell wouldnt be so damned cold.
His thoughts his only company, Buck found his mind replaying scenes from
his past. He supposed he ought to be worried about the fact that he was doing
something like that. Wasnt that something that folks did when they
His eyes drifted over to the last occupant of this prison. He feared that
he was looking at his future. The poor fellow had been left here to rot,
Buck shuddered again. Hed given up on even trying to stay warm, the
cold such a part of him now.
Might seem odd to someone else, this brick lined hole in the middle of nowhere,
but he knew what it was for. Forgetting.
Oubliette, from the French "oublier," to forget. You put someone in here
and just plain forgot about them.
He was here because the bad guys didnt give a flying fuck whether he
lived or not. Hell, they probably already forgot he was here.
Course, he was used to that. Everyone always forgot about him eventually.
Cept for his mother. She never forgot and he loved her for that. That
was when hed learned about being ignored, the kids at school "forgetting"
about him all the time. Hed also learned being forgotten could be a
good thing, what with some of the men around his mom.
He realized with a sudden start that the only people who ever forgot him
had known about his mom, what she had to do. He missed Chris, the old one
whod called him pard and remembered him. Guess hes
the only one round now who remembers the old Buck. He tried to remember
back to that time, but things were getting fuzzy, disjointed inside his head.
Guess I forgot too. Oh well, worth it to not be cold anymore.
Buck tried to remember whether hed told Chris. Must of done, he forgot
me quick enough when Vin came by. Nice kid. Vin didnt know, he was
sure. Had he told JD? He couldnt remember, wasnt that funny.
Hope I told him. Be easier on him really.
Forgetting made it all so much easier, no thinking on a time of love and
smiles and the sweet pain of watching his best friend win something he
hadnt even known enough to fight for.
And the time after that, when it was all darkness and pain and I dont
care if you hit me as long as you remember Im here.
Just dont forget.
This time, when unconsciousness beckoned, Buck had no strength left to fight.
With what he thought mightve been his last breath, he whispered,
Team Seven - minus one - were reunited. They all accepted Josiahs offer
of the use of his vehicle. His Chevy Suburban was the only personal vehicle
large enough to seat them all comfortably. They had no desire to be separated
at this time, especially if their fears turned out to be reality. The drive
was made mostly in silence, Vin reflected bitterly, out of respect for the
JD found it difficult to maintain his optimism in the face of the fatalistic
atmosphere. Finally, he had to say something to break the oppressive silence.
"Bucks tough. If anyone can make it through this, he can."
Chris understood JDs need to find some reason to hope. He shared it.
He was not ready to deal with Bucks death until hed seen the
corpse. "You got that damn straight."
The remaining members of their team could not muster the bravado to give
voice to the lie. Vin was navigating while Chris drove. The detailed map
open in front of him allowed him to easily steer them along the back roads
to their destination. Besides, it gave him something to think about other
than the prospect that they would find Buck, or what was left of him, at
the end of this road.
They bumped along a gravel road until they came to a small block of buildings.
Well, some of the structures were still recognizable as having been buildings
at one time. For the most part the structures had toppled over, returning
to the earth from which theyd come.
The Cadillac was easy to spot. It was leaning at an angle, having been driven
onto the floor of what had once been the sunken first level of a house. Chris
remained in the Suburban, reluctant to see what was in the sedan.
JD had no such qualms. He was the first one out of the vehicle, running and
shouting, "Buck! Buck!"
He was almost to the Cadillac when Josiahs long arm reached out to
stop him. "Whoa, there, JD, hold up!"
JD wrenched his arm roughly away from his friend, his eyes blazing with anger.
"What the hell are you trying to stop me for! Buck needs us!"
"If Buck is in that car, what he doesnt need is for us to go adding
our weight to it and sending the whole thing crashing down into that basement."
The others approached in time to hear Josiahs words. "That floor
dont look none too steady. How its managed to hold up some odd
tons of car until now is a minor miracle unto itself."
Examining the problem as dispassionately as he could, Ezra offered a solution.
"The holes opening is not very wide. If we can find enough beams of
sufficient strength, we can position them under the vehicles undercarriage,
with the ends resting on either side of the hole. That should provide sufficient
support for someone of JDs slight stature to examine the interior of
Glad of something to do, they quickly found the required items. As soon as
the last board was in place, JD opened the doors of the vehicle. His eyes
wide with disappointment, he did not find the object of his search.
As one, they looked toward the trunk of the vehicle. JD shook his head in
denial. "No." Nevertheless, with the aid of a tool procured by Josiah, he
popped the lock on the trunk. He was dizzy with relief when the trunk was
revealed to be empty. Once hed decided he wasnt going to pass
out, he looked around. "Where is he?"
JD stepped away from the vehicle, returning to solid ground. Spinning a slow
circle, he examined the scenery around him. His voice reflected his despair
as he called out, "Buck! Buck!"
Vin was having a hard time facing anyone. Guilt weighed heavy on his shoulders.
He kept his eyes on the dirt at his feet, examining the ground around the
Cadillac. As he did so, he noticed something curious. "Hey, yall, wait
up a minute!" All eyes turned to the sharpshooter. "Why in the hell would
someone drive a Cadillac into this hole?"
Josiah quickly supplied an answer. "Because it was dark and they couldnt
Vin shook his head in denial. "Bower knows this area. Even in the dark, the
lights from the Cadillac should a showed him what he was driving on."
Vin dropped to a squat near the front tire and pointed at what had caught
his interest: the ground beneath the car. "I may be wrong, but that looks
an awful lot like a door. A door that aint got no locks or hinges.
What would be easier to use as a lock than a goddamn Cadillac?"
Various curses and ideas were exchanged as they discussed strategies for
gaining access to the door. Realistically, the only safe way to move the
Cadillac would be via crane. Chris made a few phone calls while JD paced,
damning the need for delay. "I know hes down there. I know it. Would
they have gone to all the trouble of sealing him in there if he was dead?
I dont think so."
His friends had to agree with his logic. They shared JDs frustration,
feeling the need for haste, and furious at their inability to provide it.
Almost two hours later, the crane showed up. Nathan had the foresight to
request an ambulance crew, who were standing by hoping for a patient to treat.
Chris overrode the paramedics request to conduct the search when the
Cadillac was finally removed. "Hes my friend. Im going in."
JD stood at Chris shoulder, echoing his words. "Me, too." He shuddered
at the dead look in Chris eyes, but held firm.
The splintering wooden door was easily pushed aside once the weight of the
Cadillac had been removed. Chris heard JDs audible gasp at the remains
visible directly below the opening. It wasnt Buck, as the body was
in an advanced state of decay. Silently accepting Josiahs offered
flashlight, Chris entered the dank prison. He thanked God for the cold, as
it cut down on the nauseating stench wafting from the dead body. His forward
progress abruptly halted at the sight of Buck huddled in a corner of the
He heard JD gasp as their friend was revealed. His own heart froze in his
chest as light played over the still, pale form. Chris had seen enough dead
bodies in his life to know that he was currently looking at one. The flashlight
fell from his cold, numb fingers, instantly wrapping him in the gloom of
All of JDs attention was focused on his friend. When Chris dropped
the flashlight, it was a mere inconvenience. There was still plenty of light
to see by. He ran to Buck, kneeling at his side. "Buck! Buck!" He reached
out a hand, hesitantly touching the cold, unshaven face. In the dimness,
he could not tell if Buck was still breathing. He placed his other hand on
Bucks chest, holding his own breath until he felt the weak rise and
fall of his stricken friends chest. JD turned to Chris, his face a
mixture of fear and relief. "Hes alive! Hes alive!"
There was a flurry of activity after JDs announcement. The paramedics
determined that Bucks condition was too critical for the delay of an
ambulance ride, and called for a life flight helicopter. Buck was efficiently
bundled off to the nearest trauma center.
Chris watched it all as if from a distance. The cold in that hellhole of
a prison seemed to have settled into his soul. He welcomed the numbing chill,
as it meant that he didnt have to feel anything.
The ride to the hospital in Josiahs Suburban was a much louder one
than the trip out had been. JD was back to his usual self, running his mouth
a mile a minute, bouncing from subject to subject.
Ezra smiled tolerantly, encouraging him with a helpful contribution from
time to time. It was good to see JD nearing a semblance of normalcy. Ezra
had never been happier in his life to have one of his suppositions proven
to have been in error. Buck was alive. That was all that mattered.
Although Bucks condition was critical, Vin was confident of his
friends ability to survive. Hed hung on long enough for Vin to
find him, and for that the sharpshooter was eternally grateful. There was
no way he was going to give up now.
+ + + + + + +
Team Seven gathered at Mercy General Hospital, keeping vigil over their stricken
member. Buck kept the doctors guessing for the first day or so, but his friends
never doubted that he would survive. After all that they went through to
find him, there was no way Buck would let them down at this stage in his
Buck proved worthy of their faith in him. After three days in Intensive Care,
his condition improved enough that he was able to be transferred to a regular
Buck made the conscious decision to put up with a bit more pain in order
to be a bit less fuzzy mentally. That way, he was able to carry on a conversation
of more than one or two words in length before nodding off. He still slept
most of the time. However, when he was awake, he was lucid. His increased
awareness allowed him to see how much worry his near-death experience had
caused his friends. He set about to do all that he could to put their minds
He started with Chris. The two of them had been friends long enough that
they could say a whole hell of a lot without having to resort to actual words.
Buck awoke one evening to find Chris seated at his bedside, staring at him.
It was not the usual Larabee "death glare." It was more like a "You scared
me half to death" glare. Buck grinned and winked in response, offering
reassurance and an apology of sorts. Chris nodded, "apology accepted," and
they were fine.
Vin was a bit more of a puzzle. It took Buck a few days to figure out that
Vin was feeling guilty about what had happened. Although Vin was usually
on the quiet side, he acted like he was in church any time he visited Buck,
he was so utterly quiet and respectful. Buck finally called him on it. "Vin,
please dont take offense, but what the hell are you doin?"
Vin looked up, meeting Bucks eyes for the first time in days. Buck
had a sudden flash of clarity when he saw the pain clearly reflected in the
too-wide blue eyes looking back at him. He softened his tone of voice. "Ah,
hell, Vin, you cant be feeling guilty for not backin me up.
Its not like I really gave you the chance to. You didnt make
me drop my cell phone, and you didnt tell Bower I was tailin
him. And youre sure as hell not responsible for me gettin myself
shot. The responsibility for that lies with one person only: Artie Bower."
He quickly corrected himself. "Well, two if you want to get technical about
it and count Dumb Donnie."
Vin was not so easily convinced. "I should a thought about the possibility
that Bower might have spotted you. That he mightve been leadin
you into a trap."
Buck shook his head. "I got news for you, son. The thought occurred to me
before I ever got to the damn warehouse. That was part of the reason I held
off a followin Bower down a dark, dead end street. Not that it
did me any good. Bein as I dont got eyes in the back of my head,
they got the drop on me, and the rest you know." He took a minute to raise
the head of the bed, so Vin would no longer be looking down at him. He spoke
slowly and carefully, emphasizing each word. "It is not your fault!"
He breathed a sigh of relief when it appeared that his message had finally
Trying to boost Vins bruised ego, Buck added, "If it wasnt for
you, Bower and Donnie might a never got caught. Thanks to the information
you got outta Barrett, the State Troopers noticed the car they was drivin
and pulled them fellas over. They had em dead to rights. Too bad they
gave up real peaceful-like an everything. I wouldnt a minded
if theyd taken a bullet or two. Anyways, you were responsible for them
getting corralled. Dont think I dont appreciate it."
Vin looked away, his face slightly reddening. "Aw, Buck, it werent
Buck took advantage of the opportunity for a little teasing. "Vin Tanner,
dont tell youre blushing?"
Vin hotly denied the accusation. "I aint neither." The two friends
continued to exchange insults and personal remarks, reassuring each other
that things were back to normal.
+ + + + + + +
Buck was more relieved than he could say that JD did not need his amateur
counseling services. As soon as the doctors had informed JD that Buck would
make a complete recovery, all was right with his world. The kid was the ideal
hospital visitor. He knew Buck well enough to judge when he needed peace
and quiet, and when he needed to talk. Buck did not have to offer any support
to JD. Truthfully, he didnt have any support left to give.
JD couldnt help but notice Bucks atypical quiet and somber demeanor.
Although he was improving physically, emotionally he remained withdrawn.
Once Buck had recovered sufficiently that the doctor was making noises about
sending him home soon, JD decided to push a little. "Hey, Buck youre
kind of quiet. Whats on your mind?"
Buck tried to laugh it off. "Nothin more than usual."
JD didnt let him get away with blowing him off. "You forget, Buck,
I know you. Ever since we pulled you outta that hole, youve been .
. . I dont know . . . different."
Buck tried to wave off his concern. "Almost meetin his maker does tend
to do that to a man."
JDs breath hitched at the reminder of how close hed come to losing
the best friend hed ever had. He ran his hands through his hair, agitated.
"God, Buck, when I think of how close we came to losing you . . ."
Buck shrugged. "Yall wouldnt a hardly missed me."
JD stared at Buck, not believing what hed just heard. "If I thought
for one minute that you believed that, Id slap you upside of your head,
I swear I would. Hell, youre the heart and soul of Team Seven. When
were at each others throats, youre the one who always comes
up with the right thing to do or say to remind us how important each and
every one of us is to the Team. Somehow, you always seem to find the good
in every person or thing."
Buck snorted at that comment. Curious, JD asked, "Whats so funny?"
"You dont want to know."
JD disagreed. "If I didnt want to know, I wouldnt have asked."
Buck decided to satisfy his curiosity. "Well, when you were talkin
about my tryin to find the good in things, I couldnt help but
think of Clyde."
JD encouraged Buck to continue, asking, "Clyde who?"
Buck looked away, his thoughts going back to the oubliette. "I expect yall
noticed I wasnt the first one Bower had shown his guest quarters to."
JD winced at the reminder of the sight and smell of the decaying corpse that
had shared Bucks prison. His friend continued, "I had to call the fella
something, and Clyde seemed as good a name as any. We had us a few talks,
Clyde and me. Leastways puttin a name to him, somehow I felt a little
less alone." Buck did not attempt to hide the pain reflected in his face
at the memory of just how truly alone hed been.
JD tried not to let it show on his face how truly appalled he was at the
idea of Buck feeling so alone that he tried to befriend a rotting corpse.
Nevertheless, a slight shudder crossed his shoulders at the thought. Fortunately,
Buck was too preoccupied with his own thoughts to notice.
Remembering his promise, Buck asked, "They didnt leave him there, did
JD reassured him. "Nope. Hes the reason they were able to arrest Bower
for murder, as well as your attempted murder. Evidently, Bower didnt
like the way his accountant balanced his books."
Buck asked, "Whats his name? Did he have any family?"
"I dont know." By the droop of his friends shoulders, JD could
see Bucks disappointment with his answer. He continued, "Ill
find out for you, no problem."
Buck laid back wearily, nodding his head in gratitude. "Thanks. Its
just, Id like to know that theres someone out there who remembers
JD remained silent, encouraging Buck to go on. It was obvious his friend
had more on his mind. Buck chewed on his lip a minute while he figured out
what to say. "I been thinkin. When I was down in that hole, I had a
lot of time to do nothin but think. Well, what I was thinkin
on. . ." He paused a moment, then continued. "Do you remember me tellin
you about my mom?"
JD hastened to reassure his friend. "Yeah, Buck, I do. I remember everything
youve ever told me. How she was both mother and father to you, how
she had to ignore what other people thought of the things she had to do to
make money the only way she knew how." Buck could see the sincerity shining
in JDs eyes as he spoke. "How she managed to do right by her son, and
raise him to be the greatest guy I know."
Buck nodded. "I knew youd remember. At least, I hoped you would." His
eyes darkened with the memory of lying utterly hopeless, helpless, and alone.
"Theres nothin worse than bein forgotten."
"My mom, she was a real lady, in every sense of the word. Shes somebody
who definitely ought to be remembered. The thing is, besides me and Chris,
and now you, theres nobody to do the rememberin. And thats
a damn shame."
Knowing that Buck needed to hear the words, JD stated, "I wont forget."
Buck offered to return the favor. "How bout you tell me somethin
about your mom?"
JD was glad to oblige. The two men shared their moms, and their memories.
They would not be forgotten.