One more round over here, Inez! Vin shouted over the din to the
pretty barmaid. The whole team was celebrating Bucks birthday at
Watsons. After spending the entire day thinking that his friends had
forgotten, Buck hadnt stopped smiling all evening.
Excuse me, ladies, I gotta go get rid of some of this beer. Ill
be right back. Buck carefully extricated himself from the tangle of
arms and legs that were sprawled across him in the corner booth. Melanie
and Leanne pouted as he wiggled out of their embrace.
Fear not, darlins, Ill be back before you even know Ive
gone! Buck called out as he made his way thru the crowd. Sissy, from
accounting, draped her arms around him before he reached the door of the
private party room.
You cant leave! I havent given you my present yet!
She pulled herself up using his shoulders and blew in his ear. Any other
time, he would have followed her anywhere but he really needed to go to the
Excuse me, Sissy, darlin. I really do need to visit the little
cowboys room. I promise I wont leave until you get a chance to
finish giving me your present. He smiled broadly as he eased her arms
from around his neck and tried to get away. He no sooner turned around than
another pair of hands latched onto his bicep.
Where do you think youre going, big boy? Lisa, from Team
2, purred into his ear. I only just got here. You cant be leaving
already, its early.
By now, Bucks need was urgent as he pried her hands from his arm.
Ill be right back! He made a mad dash for the door, bumping
into Inez as she was coming in with a tray of beers. The tray crashed to
the floor, beer and broken glass going in all directions. Buck caught the
barmaid as her feet slipped in the wet mess. Im so sorry, Inez,
darlin but Ill be right back!
From the far side of the room, Vin was having himself a good laugh. He had
known that Buck was headed for the restroom and had put the ladies up to
slowing him down. As his eyes scanned the crowd, a pair of hazel eyes locked
Aw, hell! He knew from the look in Chriss eyes that he
was in trouble. He wormed his way thru the crowd to Larabees side.
I was just havin a little harmless fun!
You go help Inez clean up the mess your harmless fun
The drinks were cleaned up and Vin made his way over to the corner where
Nathan and Josiah were sitting just as several members of the Denver Police
arrived at the end of their shift. The room was now wall-to-wall partygoers
and it was threatening to spill out into the main part of the bar.
Buck returned from the restroom and squeezed back into the room. Immediately,
he was set upon by Bonny and Lucy from the secretarial pool. After cuddling
in the corner by the jukebox, he managed to slip away and made his way back
to his corner booth. He stood at the edge of the table scowling at Vin as
he sat between Melanie and Leanne.
What do you think youre doing, Vin? Buck growled as he
leaned over the back of the booth. The face that turned up to his was the
picture of innocence.
I saw these two lovely ladies just sitting here all by themselves and
wanted to keep them company. You werent anywhere to be found. Some
party host you are.
Im not the host, Vin, Im the guest of honor! And you might
try showing a little honor by getting your scrawny ass out of my booth!
Reluctantly, and with a lot of complaining, Vin left the booth and weaved
his way thru the crowd again. He bumped into someone and turned quickly to
catch the person before they fell. Pulling the smaller form in closer, he
realized that he had JD in his arms. The kid smiled at him mischievously.
Hey Vin, I like you and all but youre really not my type!
Amidst the laughter around him Vin replied, Next time Ill let
your butt fall!
Finding his way to another corner of the room a voice spoke softly from behind
Something you want to tell us, Vin?
The sharpshooter turned to find one of the FBI agents grinning like an idiot.
Vin jabbed the man with his elbow.
Just wait until you need my back-up one of these days, Marty.
Another person jostled the Texan and he turned to complain only to find Ezra
fumbling with his drink as he tried to avoid spilling it on his good shoes.
My compliments, Mr. Tanner. The party seems to be a roaring success.
I have yet to see Mr. Wilmington look happier. A warm blush crept up
Vins face at the compliment.
The party continued well into the night until people began to filter out.
It was nearly three in the morning when Inez flashed the lights and unplugged
the jukebox. Several loud groans announced displeasure with the end of the
party. Buck was in the middle of the floor dancing with several girls at
Aw, come on! Inez, darlin just one more dance?
Im sorry, Buck, I have to close and clean this place up for tomorrow!
Youve been here all evening, go home and get some sleep!
A firm hand closed on his shoulder and a deep voice spoke from behind him.
Time to go! Last call was over an hour ago, Buck. Lets get you
home and into bed.
Staggering slightly on his feet, Wilmington turned and smiled at Josiah.
Women have been trying to get me into bed all night, what makes you
think youll succeed where they failed?
Instead of answering, Josiah simply scooped Buck into a firemans carry
and headed out the door. Peels of laughter followed the pair out to the suburban.
After depositing the protesting party boy into the seat and securing the
seatbelt, Sanchez allowed the ladies to bid him goodbye before he delivered
him to his apartment.
Since JD had left the party earlier, the cesspit was dark and quiet when
they arrived. Buck had relaxed during the quiet ride and was now nearly passed
out on his feet. Josiah jockeyed him into the apartment and up the stairs
to his bedroom with difficulty. Letting the nearly unconscious man down gently
on the bed, Josiah removed his boots and tossed a comforter over him before
turning out the lights and letting himself out of the apartment.
The noise from the backhoe woke Chris early the next morning. He had hired
some guys to run a new water line to the barn before winter. The beginnings
of a nasty hangover were just beginning behind his eyes and he rolled out
of bed and headed for the shower. A half hour later, his head somewhat more
clear, he stood on the back deck and looked out over the lake behind the
house. He noticed that the trench for the new water line had not ended up
where they told him it would be and that they were using a skid-steer to
move the pile of used hay that had been raked out of the stalls.
This isnt where the water line was supposed to be. Is something
The foreman nodded. We ran into some rock on the other side and had
to change the trench. I hope thats okay. There wont be any extra
charge. It was just easier for us to do it this way. Well have that
hay back where you had it by the time were done.
Im not too worried about the haystack. I was going to have to
move it anyway. The neighbor uses it on his fields in the winter and turns
it under in the spring.
Sorry if we woke you, Mr. Larabee. We wanted to be sure that we got
everything done in one day like we promised.
Leaving the men to their work, Chris headed back up to the house. The rest
of the team was due around noon for Bucks Birthday Bash II. Vin planned
a bar-be-que and trail ride for them as the team had pitched in on a new
saddle for Bucks horse.
It was just after ten in the morning when the phone rang.
Chris, did you take Buck home with you last night? JD sounded
a little worried.
No, Josiah drew the short pretzel. I left after he poured Buck into
the suburban. Have you tried him yet?
No, Ill call him right now. Thanks, Chris. Ill see you
in a couple of hours.
+ + + + + + +
It was only an hour after Josiah left the cesspit that the attack came. Strong
hands gripped him and a rag was shoved into his mouth as his arms were twisted
behind him and handcuffed. A strip of cloth was tied around his head to hold
the rag in place as his feet were tied together. He blinked hard as the light
was turned on beside the bed.
I hope you had a good time this evening, Agent Wilmington, it may be
your last. A needle bit into his arm and everything went dark.
When he opened his eyes next, he was in the dark. His hands were no longer
bound and the gag had been removed. He moved his hands and discovered that
he was in some kind of box. Extending his hands out to his sides, he worked
out the dimensions of the space. He had enough room to turn on his side but
not to sit up. His feet rested against the end of the box and he could just
touch the other end when he put his hands up over his head. His hands touched
several objects in the corner by his head.
As he lay fingering the objects he realized that he was chilled. He had on
only his boxers and tee shirt. One of the things in the corner turned out
to be a flashlight and he turned it on as he inspected the enclosure. There
were several plastic bottles of water and some apples lined up along the
wall. Farther down was an empty milk jug and a bag of beef jerky. Taped to
the surface just above his face was a note.
Buck, Hope you like your little cage. Use your supplies sparingly as they
will have to last you a while. Dont bother yelling since no one will
A deep shiver passed thru him as he re-read the note. On impulse, he pushed
against the top of the box. His muscles quivered with the strain before he
stopped. He tried kicking at the bottom of the box with no success. Finally,
in desperation, he began to yell.
+ + + + + + +
The phone rang as Josiah was stepping out of the shower. He wrapped a towel
around his waist and ran into the bedroom to pick up the call.
Josiah, did you take Buck home with you last night?
No, JD, I left him in his bed around 3:30 this morning. Why do you
Hes not here. I went up to wake him and hes gone.
A shaft of cold fear passed thru the older man as he began to towel off.
Ill be there in a few minutes! Dont touch anything! Call
the others and get them over there.
It took only an hour for the team to gather at the apartment. They tried
Bucks cell phone and pager with no response. Vin checked the bedroom
and Chris had the front door dusted for prints. Nathan had gone by the parking
garage to make sure that the dodge was still in its parking space.
Now I dont want everyone to panic. He may have gone for a jog
to clear his head. JD, you and Ezra get out and hit all the places you two
like to run. Take your time and be thorough in your search. Vin, you and
Josiah get out and check the rest of the neighborhood. Nathan and I are going
to do a canvas of the building and see if anybody noticed anything last night.
After an hour of searching and coming up empty, the team was more than concerned.
They had called everyone they could think of and asked them to be on the
lookout. Reluctantly, Chris finally called Judge Travis.
We dont know where Buck is, Judge. Josiah brought him home last
night and hes missing this morning. Weve looked everywhere.
Ill put out an APB and get the DPD looking. You should probably
stay where you are in case theres a ransom demand or a taunting
call. Travis hung up the phone.
+ + + + + + +
Buck opened one of the bottles of water and sipped it. His head was pounding
and he felt sick to his stomach. He wished for his watch so he had some idea
of the passage of time. He drifted off to sleep and began to dream.
He opened his eyes and rolled over next to a buxom redhead. Her hands began
to undo the buttons of his underwear, starting at his neck. What am
I wearing? Her sultry laugh was muffled against his chest as she pushed
the material out of the way.
We have time for a quickie before you go on patrol, Buck. Help me out
Her hands were fondling him in a decidedly knowledgeable way as he realized
that he didnt recognize her. He caught her hands and pulled them away
from his waist.
Easy darlin Id like to get to know you a little better
before we go doing that.
Oh, Buck, you tease. If you dont want to just say so. Ive
got to get back down to the saloon anyway. Will I see you again tonight?
He was only barely listening to her as she pulled on her clothes. She was
dressing in an old-fashioned dress with a corset that pushed her breasts
up into the bodice so that she was nearly spilling out of the neckline. She
caressed his cheek and blew him a kiss before she left the room. Rolling
out of the bed quickly, he looked down at the garment he had on. Long
johns? He moved to the window and looked out.
+ + + + + + +
The phone call came in exactly six hours after the lid on the box had been
He will spend 96 hours in darkness. One for each day she suffered because
The line went dead in his hand. Chris looked at Vin knowing there was no
way he had gotten a trace from the call. JD looked up from the computer screen
and shook his head, he had been using a new, top secret, tracing program
and had not been able to make a capture on the call.
Too short. If you can keep him talking maybe I can get the trace.
Okay, start going thru Bucks cases. Were looking for something
involving a woman and 96 days of suffering. JD, you and Josiah hit the files.
Im going to call the FBI agent in charge and tell him that we got the
Nathan went out and brought back take out food for all of them. Ezra was
out tagging his informants looking for information. Vin went back over the
apartment looking for clues. None of the neighbors had noticed anything unusual.
+ + + + + + +
Rolling over in his sleep, Buck tried to draw up his knees for warmth. He
was shaking and the nausea was getting worse. He felt his stomach begin to
lurch and he rolled over and moved as far toward the other side of the box
as he could. As the last of the dry heaves eased, he rolled over and moved
back to where he was before. Taking another sip of the water, he realized
that the flashlight batteries wouldnt last if he left it on continuously.
He turned off the light and lay in the dark. After a couple of minutes he
began to have trouble breathing. He turned the light back on and his breathing
This is going to be bad, Bucklin.
He chuckled about talking to himself. He wasnt afraid of the dark.
In his mind, he reviewed the strange dream and allowed his eyes to close
He was instantly transported back into the dream. He was sitting at a table
in an old west saloon. Chris, Vin and Ezra sat at the table with him. In
his hand was a mug of beer. He looked around the dim, cavernous room. The
table where he sat was on a raised dais off to the side of a pair of bat-wing
Buck? Are you in or out? Ezras voice intruded on his thoughts.
Hmm, oh out. Sorry, Im just
Excuse me. He got up
and walked away from the table and out the doors. He stood on the boardwalk
looking up and down the street. He was in an old west town with horses and
Hey, Buck! Where you headed?
He shook his head and looked at the kid again. JD was wearing a wool suit
and a bowler hat. He had a scruffy bit of growth on his cheeks and a pair
of ivory handled colts in holsters on his hips. He was saved from having
to answer by the arrival of the stage. JD turned and trotted down the boardwalk
to wait for the passengers to get off.
+ + + + + + +
A few hours later, the phone rang again.
Have you figured it out yet? I hope Buck isnt afraid of the dark,
or claustrophobic. His little cage could become very unpleasant if he is.
He still has 87 hours to go.
The line disconnected again and again JD shook his head.
Get back on those files! We have got to figure this out! The
team leaders voice was tight with emotion as he glared around the room
for something to take out his frustrations. JD switched back to the files
he had been reviewing on the laptop while Josiah used the computer in the
Rolling his eyes, Ezra peeled another bill off of the bundle he had stashed
in his pocket. The man seated across from him had said that he had heard
something about an agent being kidnapped but was reluctant to share his
information. After considering the tidy sum of money on the table, his hand
snaked out only to be intercepted by the undercover agent.
Look man, Ill tell you what I know. They were building this box.
They wanted these special sound batts. They were making it soundproof. This
guy I know helped them steal the stuff they needed. He said they made this
box big enough to hold a really big dude. He overheard the man say that he
was gonna fix some Fed that had messed with him.
Can you get your friend to talk to me?
No way man! If he found out that I was talking to you hed blow
my brains out.
I can make it very much worth your while. He pulled out the roll
of cash and waived it before the informants eyes, which widened
Let me see what I can do.
Josiah printed the file and handed it to Chris. He and JD had been speed-reading
the files all afternoon. Dunne had set up a search parameter to try to eliminate
all except the most promising cases. So far they had found three that might
fit. He was just turning back to the screen when the phone rang again.
You still havent figured it out yet have you? He has 82 more
Until what? What happens in 82 hours?
Then he dies. The phone line went dead.
Damn! Damn! DAMN IT ALL TO HELL! Chris screamed as he slammed
his fist into the wall repeatedly.
JD ducked his head as each blow knocked drywall loose from the wall. Josiah
placed a calming hand on the young agent as he sighed out loud. He then reached
out for the team leader only to meet with empty air. Vin leapt from the end
of the couch and followed him.
Take care, Brother Vin. He is in quite a fit of pique.
I got it. He wont hurt me.
+ + + + + + +
Buck could not remember ever being so cold. He was curled up as tightly as
possible in the confined space. He had turned off the flashlight and was
staring into the darkness. He had eaten a few bites of the beef jerky and
one of the apples. He used the empty milk jug to empty his bladder.
As he lay in the darkness he thought on the dreams. It was so real! In the
dream he was some kind of a lawman in an old west town. He had seen Chris,
Vin, Ezra and even JD in the dream and they were all different and yet the
Youre losing your mind in here, stud. First talking to yourself
and now these crazy dreams. If I dont get out of here soon I may end
up in the cracker jack factory.
In an attempt to warm himself he began to bend and straighten his legs to
get his blood moving. He rolled onto his stomach and did a few push-ups.
Unfortunately, as soon as he stopped, he was worse than before hed
As he dropped off to sleep the dream returned. He was riding, hard and fast,
following an old style stagecoach. A man climbed up on top of the stage and
began to wrestle with the man who was driving. Another group of men were
riding toward the stage. Suddenly a body fell from the stage and was struck
by the rear wheel. The slight figure on the top of the stage disappeared
and the lurching and swaying vehicle slowed. They rode up along side of the
coach and JD climbed down.
The dream continued and Buck saw himself returning the kids gun belt
and scolding him about leaving his guns out in the rain. He felt himself
eagerly moving toward the events in the dream, at least it was warm there.
+ + + + + + +
Chris had returned to the apartment. Ezra returned a short time later with
the information he had gleaned from the friend of his informant. He had a
rough sketch of the box and a list of the stolen materials that had gone
into its creation. Staring at the pencil drawing, each man felt a cold stab
of fear that their friend was possibly buried somewhere in something like
that. JDs reaction was one of pure exhaustion and emotional grief.
He bolted from the room and threw himself onto his bed. Pummeling the pillow
with his fists, he kicked at the mattress with his feet for several minutes
before Josiah touched his shoulder.
John Dunne, you must not give up the faith. We will find him! We need
your help to do that. You can make the computer give us the information we
need. But first you must rest. Get some sleep. Ill wake you in a couple
When the footsteps receded and the door closed he thought he would not be
able to sleep but in just a few minutes he dozed off. A firm hand gripped
his shoulder and shook him awake two hours later. Chris looked like ten miles
of bad road as he sat on the edge of the bed.
Come on, JD, weve only got about 73 hours to find him.
Allowing himself only a minute to stretch, he got up and headed into the
other room. Nathan and Ezra were reviewing files. Half empty cups of cold
coffee sat on the coffee tables. Empty containers of Chinese take out sat
here and there.
Where are Josiah and Vin? JD asked as he picked up the empty
cups and carried them to the sink. He started washing them without thinking
about it. The roommates had been making an effort to keep the place neat
after Casey and several of Bucks companions had complained about it.
Vin and Josiah are upstairs sleeping. Chris sent them up after you
went to sleep. Were going to have to make due with catnaps until this
is over. Why dont you make us another pot of coffee while youre
Were still pulling information from the files. We just keep hoping
that hell give us a hint or a clue or something.
While the coffee was brewing, the phone rang again.
You only have 75 hours left. You must be getting tired by now. Oh and
dont bother trying to trace this, Im bouncing off of a couple
of satellites and using a disposable phone. Ill give you this much.
Because of Wilmingtons carelessness, my wife lay in a coma for 96 days
before she died.
Chris stood staring at the receiver in his hand for several moments before
JD grabbed him by the arm. He turned on the boy and his eyes widened.
I know who took him. The words came out in a hushed whisper.
Well, dont keep us in the dark, Mr. Larabee. Please do tell us
what he said. Intense green eyes bored into him as the undercover agent
awoke and came to his feet.
Its Graham ONeill. It was an accidental shooting. There
was a hostage situation that went horribly, awfully wrong. Buck was devastated.
He nearly quit the force altogether. A bank robber was holding the woman;
he was using her as a human shield. The exec gave him a go to take the shot
and he did. The man moved at the last second and Mrs. ONeill took the
bullet. She suffered a massive stroke from the blood loss and lay in a coma
for three months.
He blames Buck for his wifes death. How does this help us to
Go wake up Josiah. I need a profilers eye view on this one. JD,
pull up everything you can on Graham ONeill. Last I heard he was living
up in Montana.
You got it! JDs fingers flew across the keyboard as he
accessed the ATF database. He began printing everything the computer gave
him on the man who had taken his friend and roommate.
A couple of minutes later the whole team was busy reading over the single
copy of the information that JD had printed. ONeill had taken the death
of his wife very hard and had been very vocal about the man he held responsible.
He had sent letter after letter to the captain of the squad requesting
Bucks head on a platter. He had filed suit against the city, not seeking
financial restitution but on a personal vendetta to get Wilmington fired.
First impression, Josiah. Chriss voice was hard and tight.
This is personal to him. He wants Buck to suffer the way his wife suffered.
The confinement, the darkness and the deprivation are all aspects of his
perception of her suffering. Tormenting us is also giving him power. We are
supposed to hurt and worry and fear the way he did for his wife.
So how does this help us?
I dont know, Chris. Itll take time to break down the different
aspects of his personality and come up with a more precise profile.
We dont have a lot of time! What happens at the end of the 96
hours? He just goes back to this box and kills Buck? Or he has it rigged
in some way so that hell die of asphyxiation or something?
There was no indication of explosives or any other fatal technology
in the building of the box according to my informant. Ezra studied
the diagram again. There wasnt anything on the list of stolen
+ + + + + + +
The darkness and the silence were working their tortures on Buck. In a fit
of temper, he began to kick and punch at the walls of the box, bloodying
his hands and breaking a couple of his toes in the process. In the dark he
couldnt see that his knuckles continued to bleed for much longer than
they normally would have from such small injuries.
Exhaustion overtook him and he dropped right off to sleep. In the dream,
he was watching a lovely woman standing next to a piano singing. He found
himself incredibly drawn to her even though she hadnt been his first
choice. Hilda her name popped into his mind. He saw a gunfight
and saw the woman fall. He heard the words come out of his mouth.
Just know that where ever youre going, youre taking a little
piece of me along.
It hurt, even in the dream, to see the woman die. She had touched him deeply.
The images blurred as he was ripped from sleep by a horrible pain stabbing
thru his head and chest. He thrashed in the confines of the box screaming
+ + + + + + +
The FBI agent in charge of the kidnapping case knocked on the door around
eight in the morning. JD rushed to open the door hoping to keep from waking
Chris as they had only just gotten him to go and lie down. The man came in
and was quickly ushered into the kitchen so that they could talk.
I understand that you have more information than you had yesterday
about the person or persons who may be holding Agent Wilmington. Would any
of you care to tell me what you have learned?
The man is named Graham ONeill. His wife died at the hands of
Agent Wilmington several years ago. The man has apparently been planning
his revenge for some time. We have a rough sketch of the box they are holding
him in but no idea where it might be located. Ezra explained.
Where did you get the sketch?
From the friend of an informant who helped with the acquisition of
materials and the information from a friend of his regarding the
So youre working from second and third hand information?
The FBI agent raised his eyebrows as if to challenge the southerners
I trust my informants.
You trust them with the life of your teammate?
Unless you have something more to offer I will have to pursue the lead
that I have.
After the FBI agent left, the team returned to the other room to comb thru
the information again. Josiah and Chris slept for only a couple of hours
before they returned to the living room.
The phone rang again around noon.
You have 65 hours. Have you figured it out yet?
Graham ONeill. Your wife died after a hostage situation.
Wilmington killed her!
It was an accident! What youre doing is outright murder! Buck
was found not to be at fault in her shooting. He felt incredibly guilty about
what happened but he did not mean for her to be injured.
It doesnt change the fact that she died. That she lay like the
dead for 96 days in a hospital bed, unable to speak or feed herself. He has
to pay for what he did!
He has paid! Everyday, every time he straps on his weapon, he remembers
what he did and he pays! Killing him will not bring your wife back!
The line was dead in his hand and he slammed the phone down. In his rage,
he struck the wall again. Nathan moved to prevent him from doing it again.
He pulled the team leader into the kitchen to wash the split knuckles.
Ezra left the apartment with a determined look on his face and, after a nod
from Nathan, Josiah went after him. He caught up with the southerner as he
was unlocking the Jag.
Where are you going, son?
Leaning against the car, he pinched the bridge of his nose and screwed his
eyes tightly shut. After taking several deep breaths, he tried to explain.
I have to do something! I simply cannot sit there and wait! There has
to be someone who can tell us where the box is buried! I found a man who
knows a man, if I keep following the chain I will find Mr. Wilmington!
He means a lot to you, doesnt he? I think youre just realizing
now how much.
He means a lot to the team. All of you are important to me.
Can I ride along?
The dark headed man nodded and turned to open the door.
Graham ONeill peered thru the binoculars into the window of Buck and
JDs apartment. He was rather enjoying watching Larabee punch the wall.
The bloody spatters made him giggle with glee. He had also watched the owner
of the Jaguar and the older agent leaving the apartment. He watched them
on the parking lot and he could tell that they were hurting. He picked up
the bottles of medicine that he had mixed into the water bottles. One was
a heparin derivative, which would thin the blood making him more susceptible
to bleeding. The other was a mild hallucinogenic, which would slowly drive
He remembered the long hours he had spent at Lauras bedside. The bullet
wound had not been particularly severe but the length of time it took to
get her to medical care had done the deed. The stroke left her paralyzed
over a significant portion of her body. The doctor said that there was still
brain activity so she was still in there unable to communicate.
There were the never-ending days of sitting at her side watching her waste
away. There was the daily therapy to keep her muscles flexible even though
she would never use them again. There was the constant parade of people offering
condolences and then the lawyers and then the scam artists who wanted to
steal his money. He would make Buck Wilmington and his friends pay for what
Nathan went out to get lunch for them. He had to get out of the apartment.
He could not imagine what Larabee must have been like when he lost his wife
and son but if Buck did not survive, he was sure that they would all find
out first hand. As the hours passed, the team leader descended deeper into
a black rage. He would sit staring at the files for a while and then explode
and punish the wall with his fist. Only Vin dared to get close to him when
he was in such a mood.
+ + + + + + +
He turned on the flashlight when he awakened. He ate another piece of fruit
and ate a small piece of the beef jerky. He noticed the bloody prints where
he had battered the box with his fists. He pulled the water bottles close
and examined them carefully. With his thumbnail he prodded the plastic rings
under the caps. He noticed that the bottles had been opened, the plastic
rings turned freely under his nail. He now suspected that the water was drugged.
He would just have to forgo the water and make due with the fruit. Turning
off the light, he huddled up as closely as he could and shook with cold.
The dream was different now. He could feel the intensity of it even as he
tried to tell himself he was dreaming. He saw Sarah and Adam, not at the
ranch but at a small house. A corral with horses was close by. He could hear
himself laughing as he rode around with his Godson on the saddle in front
of him. He watched Chris kiss his wife before mounting his horse. The image
shifted and he saw the column of smoke. He heard the cry of anguish and watched
as Chris dragged the burned bodies of his family from the burned out cabin.
No, no! Please, not again! Dont make him go thru this again.
The dream shifted and he saw Mary Travis. She was walking with her arm resting
on Chriss arm. They laughed about something and he saw warmth in the
hazel eyes. He saw them dancing a waltz together in the saloon. In his sleep,
+ + + + + + +
Ezra and Josiah returned to the apartment to see if they had gotten any other
leads or had heard from ONeill again. They had met up with several
of the southerners informants but had not been able to find the man
who had the information about the box. Standish had made a rather sizeable
reward available to anyone who could bring him the man he sought. He had
given out his business card repeatedly.
When they arrived at the apartment, JD was asleep in his bed and Vin was
asleep in the recliner. Chris and Nathan were sitting at the table in the
kitchen. It was apparent from the haggard look on the team leaders
face that he had not gotten any more sleep. The man looked like the walking
We figured that hes been calling about every five hours. I
dont know if that helps.
Their quiet conversation was shattered by JDs cry of terror. The four
men in the kitchen raced for the bedroom, falling in behind Vin as he rolled
from the recliner and headed for the door. They all crowded into the room
as the Texan grabbed the younger man and turned him to his back.
JD! JD, youre dreaming! Calm down, kid. Calm down. Vins
voice dropped in volume as soon as Dunne began to focus.
Im okay, Vin. It was a nightmare. The Abernathy case all over
again. Im sorry if I scared all of you. JDs large, dark
eyes were fixed on Chris.
The Abernathy case had been the time they almost lost Buck. The gregarious
ladies man had been called in to help disarm a bomb dropped near the airport.
After isolating the detonator, the explosives expert had paused to dry his
hands. How he missed the mercury relay he would never know but the explosion
knocked him twenty feet and slammed him into the side of the explosives
containment unit. JD and the others had been forced to watch from a safe
distance outside of the blast zone.
Buck had suffered a severe concussion, a broken jaw and a broken arm in the
explosion. For days afterward, JD had awakened from nightmares seeing his
friend being flung thru the air and sliding down the wall like a raw egg.
Its okay, kid. Were all wound a little too tight right
now. The team leader dragged his hands thru his hair and walked back
into the other room.
A nagging thought popped into Josiahs head. Hes keeping
us all here. Sitting here and feeling helpless just as he did at her side.
He moved into the living room with the others.
Hes watching us! Hes close enough to be watching us! Maybe
from one of the surrounding buildings. He doesnt just want us to suffer
like he did, he wants to watch!
So what do we do? JD asked the obvious question.
Just what Ezra and I did earlier, we have to get out of here. We
cant give him the satisfaction of seeing us sitting here suffering.
We can forward this phone line to the ranch or to Chriss cell phone.
Is that wise? If he gets more upset mightnt he hurt Buck?
Nathan was concerned.
No, he doesnt have Buck close to him. He wouldnt want to
watch him suffer; Buck has to endure the experiences he attributes to his
wife. He doesnt have to see him to know that hes suffering.
The five men stared at the profiler for a minute before Chris made up his
mind. Pulling his cell phone, he arranged for the calls to the apartment
phone to be forwarded. Taking one final look around the apartment, he walked
out the door without saying another word. The others rushed to follow him
out and jumped into their vehicles. They arrived at the Federal Building
a short time later. Larabee headed straight for his office and transferred
the calls from his cell phone to the office line.
Unnoticed by the team leader, Vin doubled back and parked his jeep in a secluded
spot. He tucked his hair up under a stocking hat and pulled on an old denim
jacket that he kept in the back for emergencies. In the glove compartment
he had an old pair of sunglasses that he had gotten from Ezra after they
were slightly scratched in a fight. Once in disguise he hurried
to get back to the area around the parking lot of the apartment building
so he could keep watch.
JD went directly to the break room and began to make coffee. Nathan and Josiah
had their heads together in the far corner of the room as they surveyed the
group. Judge Travis showed up only a couple of minutes later.
Well, do you know anything? The older mans voice was
broadcasting his tension.
We think the guy who has Buck was watching us from some place close.
He said that he wants Buck to suffer the way his wife did and I figure he
wants us to sit around and feel helpless and frustrated the way he felt.
Hopefully, by moving to where he cant watch us, he will feel the need
to try to scare us and maybe we can catch him that way, the profiler
Where are Chris and Vin?
Chris is in his office and I didnt notice that Vin didnt
come in with us. JD? Have you seen Vin since we got here?
JD stepped out of the break room and looked around. No, I didnt
even notice he wasnt with us. I rode in with Ezra cause he
didnt want me driving.
Nathan slammed his hand onto the nearest desktop. Damn! He went back
to see if he could spot the guy. Chris will have a fit if he finds out.
If I find out what? The blondes head stuck out of his office.
The three agents looked sheepishly at each other. Judge Travis decided to
bite the bullet. He stepped toward Larabees office door.
They think that Vin doubled back to try to spot the kidnapper.
HE WHAT! Ill break his neck! Damn fool knows better than to go
off hot-dogging by himself! Thats the kind of behavior I expect from
Ezra, not from Vin! Chris stormed past the judge and began to rant
and rave as he paced the aisle between the desks. Getting too close to
Bucks desk, some loose papers on the top of a stack caught in his wake
floated to the floor.
The undercover agent stepped out of the break room with his coffee cup, hurt
showing plainly on his face. Josiah quickly moved to stand at his side.
You know he doesnt mean anything by that, hes just worried
And I have given him ample examples of what kind of trouble going off
on ones own can get a person into. Fear not, Mr. Sanchez, I am not
so thin skinned as to let his angry tirade damage my delicate psyche.
Catching the teasing tone in the southerners voice, Josiah smiled before
moving back to Nathan and JD. Their leader continued to pace angrily around
the large room mumbling to himself before he took his anger out on an unused
desk in the corner. The ex-medic winced at the power behind the blow and
headed for the first aid kit.