He was about eight that summer. Maude had left him yet again at a
relatives house. The grand old Civil War mansion had definitely seen
better days. Ezra could have cared less. There were several children in the
household and they had welcomed him. Like a litter of puppies, they spilled
from the house and played among the magnolia trees.
It was raining that Saturday morning. The children had to play inside. It
was Jeffrey who suggested hide and seek in the attic. The cavernous, dusty
attic was ideal for the five children. Martha was it. She sat
on the stairs and counted as the others hid. Ezra found the steamer trunk
and opened it, inside was more than enough room for him to hide and he would
even burrow under the clothes in case his cousin opened the lid.
Climbing inside, he carefully lowered the lid.
Martha found Millicent and James. She searched thru an old wardrobe and behind
several boxes before she spied the trunk. Lifting the lid, she saw only old
clothes and let the lid fall before moving on to the next hiding place. Ezra
was proud that she hadnt found him and waited for her to call Ollie,
Ollie, all in free to show she had given up. When she didnt call
after an appropriate amount of time had lapsed, he tried to open the lid.
The hasp had fallen when Martha dropped the lid and it wouldnt open.
Ezra screamed and kicked at the lid until he succumbed to exhaustion.
It was hours later before his uncle, searching thru the attic
for the fourth time heard the feeble cries. Throwing open the lid, he was
startled to find Ezra drenched in sweat. The boy had wet his pants and thrown
up in his terror. His fingers were bloody from trying to claw his way out.
Maude had been furious! Not with the family who was keeping him, but at Ezra
for being the reason she was called away from her vacation early.
+ + + + + + +
After finishing a second glass of water, Ezra started back into the living
room. He froze in the doorway, seeing a large, dark shape moving stealthily
across the room. When the figure knelt over JD, Ezras fear ceased.
He had to make sure that the kid was all right. Buck was certain that he
would be able to sleep if only he knew that JD was okay. The easy rhythm
of the young mans breathing was calming. The kid lay on his stomach
with one arm under his head. His hair fell across his eyes and Buck
couldnt resist reaching out to brush it aside. The dark eyes opened
immediately and JDs head came up.
Buck? Is something wrong?
No, kid. Sorry, I just couldnt sleep and I wanted to apologize
for scaring you earlier.
No problem, Buck, go back to bed, JD turned over and went back
After Buck had returned to his room, Ezra crept back to the couch.
The next few days were the same as the first, Buck refused to speak to Dr.
Franklin and he continued to pace at night. Only Ezra and Vin were aware
of the fact that Wilmington seemed abnormally preoccupied with concern over
JD. The young agent was not even aware that Buck often stood over him for
several minutes each night.
Dr. Franklin cleared the entire team, except Buck, to return to work with
one restriction. She didnt want any of them doing any undercover work
and she would meet with them every other day to discuss any issues that they
might be struggling with. Judge Travis agreed and put them back into the
rotation. They were given mostly backup and investigative work.
With the others working again, Buck was alone during the day. Dr. Franklin
arrived the first day, about 30 minutes after the others had gone. Glaring
angrily at the woman, he decided to ignore her. She didnt seem to mind.
She unobtrusively seated herself in a corner of the room and remained silent.
His only concession to her was to make enough food at lunch for the two of
them to share. Around five in the evening, she slipped on her loafers and
left the ranch.
When Chris arrived at the door alone, Buck was upset. He didnt say
anything at first but his shoulders and breathing announced his feelings
clearly. The two men ate while Chris briefed him on what they had been doing
all day. Finally, the dam broke and Buck began to yell.
Why in the Hell didnt you bring JD back with you? How can you
leave him all by himself? You wont even let me stay at my place! Im
a grown man, you cant keep me here!
Hazel eyes locked on incensed blue ones until Buck looked away. Dragging
his hand thru his hair, the ladies man sighed and began to pace. The fact
that Chris hadnt said anything was burning him up inside.
Im not forcing you to stay, Buck. If you want to go back to your
place, get your bag and Ill drop you off, Chris said finally.
The drive to the apartment was made in silence. Neither man spoke, although
both wanted to. Chris stopped in front of the building and let Buck out.
The lights were on in the cess pit and JDs Mustang was in its parking
place next to Bucks truck that Josiah had driven home earlier in the
week. He waited until Buck was in the building before leaving. Chris hoped
that JD could handle it.
+ + + + + + +
The stereo was playing softly in the background as Casey worked her was down
JDs bare chest toward his navel. She had been thrilled when he picked
her up that afternoon. Packing a quick change of clothes, shed jumped
at the chance to be alone with JD after the past couple of weeks. Passing
by his sensitive navel, she unbuttoned his jeans as he stroked her hip with
the insole of one foot.
The amorous couple was unaware that the stereo had been clicked off but when
the door flew open, all hell broke loose. Casey gave a startled yelp as she
was dumped on the floor and JD grabbed for the gun that lay on the nightstand.
Buck leapt out of the doorway and plastered himself against the wall, his
JD? Calm down! Its just me, Wilmington yelled between gasps
Buck? WHAT IN THE HELL ARE YOU DOING HERE? The young agent yelled
as he slammed the gun on the bed and buttoned his jeans. Casey was trying
to turn her shirt right side out with shaking hands. JD slammed his feet
on the floor and stormed out of the room.
Im sorry kid! I shoulda knocked. Chris dropped me off and I was
As the older mans voice trailed off, he realized that he had interrupted
the young couple. JDs hair was mussed and there were several recent
love bites on his chest and stomach.
Ah, hell, Buck exclaimed as he turned away. His eyes fell on
his car keys and he snatched them up and left the apartment. He ran down
the steps and across the parking lot to the truck. Without thinking, he headed
for J. Watsons.
JDs shoulders were still heaving as he heard the trucks engine
gunned and the squall of the tires as it pulled out. Casey slid an arm around
his waist as she pressed her cheek against his shoulder blade. As the shock
of the situation wore off, JD panicked. He crossed the living room and snatched
up the cordless phone.
Chris? Whats going on? Buck just burst in on Casey and me and
then he took off in a huff. I dont know where he was going.
DAMN! Chris yelled as the cell phone slipped from his shoulder
as he slammed on the brakes and spun the black Dodge around on the deserted
road. He fished the phone out of the floor and yelled at JD.
Ill start looking for him. You call the rest of the guys.
It took longer than it should have to find Buck. By the time Chris got there,
his friend had thrown back several shots and Inez was watching him nervously
from the bar. Josiah and Ezra stood out of Bucks line of sight, conferring
in a corner. Chris tossed his head toward the door and they slipped out.
He caught Inez eye and pointed toward the coffee pot. Sliding into
the booth, he quietly appraised his oldest friend.
Want to tell me about it?
Okay, then give me the keys.
Go to Hell.
Been there, done that, took you with me, Chris said to try to
lighten the mood.
I remember, Buck replied acidly as he glared at the coffee Inez
placed on the table. He caught her wrist and pointed to the empty whiskey
glass. When the barmaid looked to Chris for confirmation, Buck exploded.
You dont need his permission to get me a drink! Im over
21 and paying my own way!
As Inez shrank from the outburst, Chris slid out of the booth. Buck jumped
to his feet and snatched his wallet from his pocket. Throwing a couple of
bills on the table, he stormed out. Chris paused long enough to make sure
that Inez was all right before he raced to the door. He only just caught
Buck as he was opening the door of his truck. He was unprepared for the right
hook that threw him against the van parked next to the truck. Before he could
put up his hands to defend himself, Buck hit him again, knocking him out.
The candy apple red Chevy threw gravel as it sped off of the lot. The crowd
that had gathered at the door rushed out to pick the blonde up from the ground.
Rubbing his jaw and spitting out blood, Chris shook off the helpful hands
and started to his truck.
Without his headlights, Buck followed the painted lines on the small blacktop
road. Parking the truck behind the building, he made his way into the bar.
Set on the side of the mountain, the room had an expansive view of the sparkling
city of Denver. Spotting a table near the window, he worked thru the crowd
and eased into the chair. A pretty waitress took his order and a print of
his credit card when he asked to run a tab. She set the pitcher on the table
along with a basket of nacho chips and cheese.
Chris debated calling the guys and setting them out after Buck again but
he decided to handle it himself since he had blown it at the saloon. He made
the rounds of all the places the two of them had frequented during their
days with the DPD. It was nearing closing time and he still had not spotted
the red Chevy.
The pitcher was empty and the glass with the last double shot sat untouched
on the table. The waitress came by and handed him the credit card slip. He
signed the line he could barely see and dropped a twenty on the table. He
swayed unsteadily on his feet as he fished for his keys.
Let me call you a cab, the waitress suggested.
Thru the kaleidoscope that passed for his field of vision, he smiled at the
Just tell him to come get me, Buck said as he pushed the cell
phone into her hand after hitting the speed dial for Chriss cell phone.
Buck? Where in the Hell are you? Youd better not be driving,
Chris started angrily.
Hes not driving. He asked me to tell you to come and get him.
Hes at the Tip Top on
I know where it is. Ill be there in five minutes! Chris
yelled into the phone as he turned around in an empty parking lot.
+ + + + + + +
The motion on the other side of the bed woke Casey and she reached for JD.
It had taken quite a while for him to calm down after Chris called and said
that he had found Buck. The romantic mood had soured and she had settled
for cuddling with him when he had finally calmed enough to let her hold him.
JD was thrashing under his side of the comforter and crying softly.
JD? What is it? Wake up, she whispered as she drew the hair back
from his ear. He opened his eyes and lay panting for a couple of minutes
before he rolled over and wrapped his arms around her. Warm tears moistened
the tee shirt she was wearing as he cried softly.
+ + + + + + +
The dream was about his mom dying. He had the same dream several times a
year and it always left him with the profound feeling of sadness. This time
he had dreamed that it was Buck that had died. It was the same dream that
he had been wakened from the past few nights. It wasnt a violent dream,
just a funeral that left him feeling empty and depressed.
+ + + + + + +
Death would have been preferable to the agony he was feeling, he was sure
of it. The blind had been raised and the curtains opened so that the bright
morning sun pierced his aching head with steel-tipped javelins of pain. Pulling
the pillow over his face, he caught the smell of stale cigarettes. His stomach
rebelled at the scent and he barely made it to the toilet in time.
Taped to the mirror was a note. Dr. Franklin will not be here today.
Get some rest. Call me when you wake up. Chris. After brushing his
teeth and taking a long, hot shower, he sat in the recliner and made a phone
I know. Its all right. You been sick?
Yeah, feels like World War III inside my head right now.
You made your bed, you lie in it Chris began.
Yeah. JD okay?
Hes fine. Worried about you, but fine, hes with Josiah.
I gotta apologize to him and to Casey. I screwed up big time.
Welcome to the human race. Ill see you tonight. Go back to
For the rest of the week Buck was docile and compliant. He still refused
to talk to the doctor about what had happened but he did talk to her about
other things. When she didnt pry or ask more questions, he became a
little more comfortable with her.
Chris sat across the table from Dr. Franklin as she read over her notes.
It had been a full week since the team, minus Buck, had returned to work.
She was still seeing the others on an individual basis and was going to go
over her report that she was preparing for Judge Travis.
The team seems to be recovering well with the exception of Agent
Wilmington. He continues to refuse to discuss the situation. He is also
exhibiting signs of depression and an ever-increasing anxiety for his young
roommate. As long as he continues to exhibit the signs of PTSD, I cannot
recommend that he be re-certified to carry a weapon or to return to light
duty. Until we find the catalyst that will allow him to discuss the trauma,
he is a danger to himself and others.
What about the others? Chris asked, wanting to know what she
was going to tell Travis about the rest of the team.
Agents Larabee, Standish, Jackson, Sanchez, Tanner and Dunne are showing
healthy responses and are dealing well with the situation. Although it has
reawakened some old fears in Standish, Tanner and Dunne, the three young
men are working thru their fears.
And you cant tell me whats bothering them?
Im sorry. I can only tell you that its nothing that I feel
will endanger their lives. They are making significant progress. I wish I
could be more positive about Buck.
+ + + + + + +
The team got together for the weekend at the ranch. The youngest were up
early, saddling the horses for the day-long trail ride they had planned.
By the time they had everything ready, Ezra and Nathan were putting breakfast
on the table while Josiah and Chris were building sandwiches for lunch. JD
scanned the room before announcing that he would go and wake Buck.
Getting no response when he knocked, JD let himself into the bedroom. Buck
was sprawled out on his stomach. As he had done dozens of times at home,
JD crept onto the bed and moved toward Buck. The only other person who knew
about Bucks ticklish spot, aside from his women friends, was Chris.
Balancing on his knees and one hand, JD reached for the exposed hip.
From some deep place in his memory, Buck felt the weight on the mattress
and remembered what had come after. His eyes popped open and he lashed out
at the hand resting on the edge of the mattress. Losing his balance, JD landed
across Buck. The next thing the young agent knew, he was on his back on the
floor staring up the barrel of Bucks gun.
Buck? JD squeaked softly.
With his heart hammering in his throat, Buck shuddered. He watched as JDs
face ran the gamut of emotions and his dark eyes filled with tears. Sighing
expressively, Buck shoved the gun back under the pillow and eased his weight
off of JDs hips. Grabbing the kid by the arm, he jerked him to his
feet and embraced him.
Oh God, JD, Im sorry! Im so sorry! You startled me and
What? You remembered what? JD asked.
When they took me from the apartment, one guy landed on me and gagged
me. Are you okay?
Yeah, you better get ready to go. Ezra and Nathan are making breakfast.
If you dont get in gear there wont be anything left.
JD? Dont say anything about this to Chris, please?
Nodding, JD left the room and pulled the door closed behind him. He stood
for a few minutes trying to will his knees to stop shaking. He made up his
mind to see if Casey was still interested in moving in together. He wasnt
sure he could stay with Buck.
Hey kid! You better get down here before I eat it all! Vin called
from the kitchen doorway.
Better not! You know how I get on an empty stomach, JD yelled
back as he hurried to get some breakfast.
+ + + + + + +
If anyone noticed that JD was distancing himself from Buck, they didnt
comment on it. The group rode out from the ranch and up the mountain. The
sun was warm and there was only a hint of a breeze. The horses were in high
spirits and frequently stopped to munch on fresh fodder. Vin drew his harmonica
and began to play. The soft notes floated across the open fields.
In spite of the fact that he should have been wide awake, Buck was dozing
lightly in the saddle. He almost expected to see a stagecoach when they crested
the ridge and looked down on the old logging road. Vins tan shirt resembled
the hide coat from the dreams. The pattern of the blanket behind Josiahs
saddle reminded him of the serape the profiler had worn in the old west dream.
From behind, Ezras red shirt looked just like the wool jacket the gambler
From his position slightly to the left of Buck, Nathan could see that he
was drenched in sweat. The dark blue eyes darted around as if he expected
to be ambushed at any moment. His hands were clenched on the reins and his
knees were so tight on the saddle that Nathan could hear the leather creaking
softly. The tight set of Bucks shoulders made the medic wince in sympathy.
The grass was nearly knee high on the horses as they rode thru the little
valley. Vin froze as he pointed out the small herd of deer at the edge of
the clearing. The small group of does and their offspring were wary of the
men and horses. When the wind shifted, carrying the scent of the men toward
the animals, they turned tail and ran. Vin rode over and dismounted to examine
the area. JD joined him as they studied the tracks and the signs that the
fawns had been laying down in the sun. Buck walked over leading Ghost, as
he knelt down to examine the marks, he jostled JD. Vin pretended not to notice
the fear that crossed the kids face as he laid the tall grass back
to show off the tracks.
Stopping at the river, the group decided to have lunch. Josiah noticed that
JD wasnt his usual, jovial self and sat next to the young agent. He
didnt ask any questions, just sat and watched as the kid toyed with
his sandwich. Every so often, JD would glance across to where Buck sat. Each
glance was followed by a heavy sigh.
Do you want to talk about it, JD? Josiah asked softly.
No. The response was barely audible as JD watched Nathan move
up behind Buck.
The moment the dark hands lit on his shoulders, Buck sprang to his feet.
Whirling around, he glared at Nathan before storming toward a nearby copse
of trees to take a leak.
What was that about? Chris asked after catching Nathans
I dont know, but hes wound way too tight.
Buck returned from the trees and dropped next to Chris. He sighed as he studied
the group of his friends. JD was sitting with Josiah. Vin was showing Ezra
something along the side of the creek. Nathan was putting something into
How are you doing, Buck? Chris inquired softly. He avoided meeting
the dark gaze.
Ill be fine as soon as I can get back to work! Cant you
talk to Travis and get him to let me go back to work? Even if its just
light duty, Im going crazy sitting home alone everyday!
Talk to Dr. Franklin! Hearing the disgusted sigh, Chris raised
his voice and let his anger show thru. Thats whats holding
you back! Buck, you have to talk to her sooner or later of theyre going
to put you on long term disability! You need to talk about it!
There was no point in continuing to speak as Buck had gotten up and was mounting
Ghost. He jerked the big gray horse around and kicked him hard to spur him
back toward the ranch. Nathan mounted his own horse and took out after the
fleeing rider. The others slowly returned to their mounts and started back.
Responding to the terror that was building in his chest, Buck kicked Ghost
and yanked him around at the same time. His faithful mount's response was
so swift, that Buck was caught off balance and was almost unseated. Turning
the horse off of the path, Buck chose a more direct, if steeper path to the
barn. Nathans horse made the mistake of trying to follow Ghost. A damp
bundle of leaves proved to be the undoing of man and beast. Hippocrates
front feet started to slide and the horse tried to pivot. Unable to keep
his balance, Nathan was unseated and slammed into the ground. The horse crashed
into a tree and instantly began to limp on his hind leg.
The rest of the team came up the trail just as Hippo was limping out of the
bushes. Chris slid off of Diablo and picked his way down the hill to where
Nathan was standing as he tested the stability of his limbs. He threw a grateful
smile to Chris as he was helped up to the trail. Josiah and Vin were checking
the horse to see if he had suffered any permanent injury. JD was shifting
irritably on his saddle because he couldnt see around Ezra and Chaucer.
Do you want me to ride down after him, Chris? Vin asked.
No, we have to tend to Nathan and Hippo before I worry about him,
the team leader yelled angrily.
After some rearranging of riders, JD riding double with Ezra while Nathan
rode Diablo. Chris rode on JDs Tigger while Vin and Peso led Hippo
back at a slower pace. When they reached the ranch, Ghost was in the corral,
still saddled and the Dodge was gone.
A throb set up in Chriss jaw as he considered what to do. He was about
half tempted to report the vehicle stolen but a little voice reminded him
of a time when he had, in a drunken rage, taken Bucks beloved red Chevy.
Borrowing the keys to the Suburban, he headed for the local bar.
+ + + + + + +
Buck had every intention of tending to Ghost when they reached the ranch
but the sight of the saddle left him feeling weak in the knees. The flashback
left him shaking and clinging to the barn door. He needed to numb the terror
that was welling up inside. Knowing that Chris kept an extra set of keys
to the truck in the tack room, he had left the horse in the corral and set
off for town.
The bartender smiled when the big ATF agent appeared. Buck Wilmington was
good for business. That he showed up on ladies night was providence. With
dollar signs dancing in his eyes, he didnt notice the glazed look in
Bucks eyes as he served up the first of many drinks that night.
Buck had a pretty good buzz going when Chris slid into the stool next to
him. Without looking over, the ladies man knew Chris was PISSED. The rage
rolled off of the blonde man in waves. Pouring himself another drink from
the half empty bottle of Jack Daniels, Buck tossed it back. The liquor
didnt even burn anymore, as his mouth and throat were already numb.
I ought to knock you on your ass, Buck, Chris growled angrily.
Id like to see you try, came the slurred response.
Give me the keys, the blonde demanded.
Without looking up from his drink, Buck dug in his pocket and slammed the
key ring on the bar. Peeling a twenty out of his wallet, Chris slid it to
Pour him into a cab and send him back to the ranch, Joe, he said
evenly before leaving.
And another thing, Chris growled at Buck, dont you
EVER leave that horse lathered up in his tack in the corral. You can abuse
yourself but you will NOT abuse that intelligent animal! With a final
shove, Chris left the bar.
It was a long afternoon at the ranch. Vin was angry that Chris hadnt
brought Buck back with him. JD was pulled so far into himself that he only
answered questions with a nod or shake of his head. Nathan took a hot shower
and went to lie down for a while. Josiah and Ezra were tending to the horses.
Not even the considerable charms of the ladies could get Bucks mind
out of the deep depression that was growing in his chest. After an hour of
line dances, Buck slipped out of the bar unnoticed. He walked two miles down
the blacktop to another bar. Changing a five for a handful of quarters, he
fed the jukebox. Flagging a waitress, he ordered himself a pitcher of beer
and an order of chili cheese fries. By the time the bar was closing, he was
the only one there aside from the bartender. Joe had called from up the road
as soon as he realized that the ATF agent had gotten away. He made arrangements
for a cab to be called to get Buck back to the ranch.
At the ranch, only JD managed to get any sleep. Ezra had a poker game going
in the kitchen while the young agent slept on the couch. The kid began to
dream about what happened that morning. His eyes darted quickly behind his
eyelids as he thrashed under the light blanket Josiah had draped over him.
The scene replayed in his mind. He saw himself reaching out to tickle Buck.
He felt himself flying thru the air and landing on the floor. Twisting around
on the couch, JD whimpered slightly as the final moments of the dream played
out. He saw the muzzle of the gun, impossibly large when viewed from the
perspective, and beyond that he saw Bucks finger tighten on the trigger.
Buck! No! JD screamed as he fell off of the couch. Nathan toppled
out of the recliner and crawled over to where the young agent was frantically
looking for the bullet wound he was sure he now had.
Shaking the kid awake, Nathan tipped his face up gently.
What is it JD? What happened?
For an instant, JD almost blurted it out. He almost told Nathan how close
Buck had come to killing him that morning. Blinking away the confusion, JD
shook his head and looked away.
I dont remember. It was just a dream. Im sorry I bothered
JD, its not a bother. Were all worried about him,
Nathan said as he stared intently into the younger mans eyes.
Just then a car door slammed and Vin ran to the front door. Buck staggered
in, looking like ten miles of rough road. He blinked at the brightness of
the room. Chris drew his breath as he prepared to yell but was stopped when
JD launched himself at his roommate.
Are you out of your mind, Buck? Do you know how stupid it is to go
out like that and not tell us where youre going? Its a good thing
Chris took the truck or youd have been driving home drunk! And you
left Ghost in the corral! You didnt even check to see if there was
any water in the trough! You left Nathan after he fell off of Hippo and
didnt even go back to see if he was okay! Youre being just plain
irresponsible, Buck! JUST PLAIN IRRESPONSIBLE!
For several moments, no one spoke. JD stood before Buck with his shoulders
rising and falling with every angry breath. The young mans hands clenched
and unclenched at his sides as if he would actually hit his roommate and
A wave of guilt washed over Buck as he stared at the angry young man. He
reached for JD only to see the kid back away from his outstretched hand.
Before he could take a step toward the retreating figure, his stomach began
to rebel. Recognizing the gonna hurl look, Chris hustled Buck
into the bathroom. While Buck was worshipping the porcelain idol,
Chris went to check on JD. He need not have worried, the rest of the team
was encircling the young man in a group hug.
It was a half hour before Buck could raise his head without having dry heaves.
When the bathroom became silent, Chris opened the door. Buck was sitting
on the floor with his long legs splayed out on either side of the commode,
he was drenched in sweat and trembling. Leaning past the drunken soul, Chris
turned on the shower before lowering the seat and lid on the toilet to sit
down. He reached out and began to unbutton the flannel shirt.
After manhandling Buck into the shower, Chris went to get him something to
wear. He was mildly surprised to find the three younger men still sitting
in the living room, wide awake. JD looked as if hed been crying and
both Vin and Ezra were trying to comfort him. He decided to deal with them
after he had Buck secured and went up the stairs in search of clothes.
Unable to stand while the water sprayed down on him, Buck was sitting in
the tub while the cold shower water rained down on his stomach and thighs.
He could still see the look on JDs face as hed stood bawling
him out earlier. I deserved that. I screwed up, he told himself.
As the tears flowed from his eyes, he reached for the washcloth Chris had
dropped on the ledge of the tub.
The only thing worse than a happy, drunken Buck Wilmington was a miserable,
drunken Buck Wilmington; Chris decided. Helping Buck out of the shower, Chris
had been forced to endure the tears and apologies. Buck allowed Chris to
guide him to the guestroom but refused to lie down until he spoke to JD.
No matter how many times Chris tried to tell him that JD had, finally, fallen
asleep. Buck would not rest until he talked to the kid.
You stay right there and Ill go get JD. You hear me, Buck?
Slipping back down the steps, he approached the sleeping form. JD was curled
up with his head on Ezras lap and his legs across Vins lap. They
looked so comfortable that he hated to wake them! To prevent a repeat of
the other night, Chris wakened Vin first and warned him that he was going
to waken JD. Seeing the Texan was prepared to protect himself, he gently
JD? Come on, son, wake up for a minute. JD? Buck wants to talk to you,
he wont go to sleep until he does. Will you come up and talk to him,
With the forgiving spirit that only JD seemed to possess in abundance, the
young man rubbed his sleepy eyes and ascended the steps. He paused at the
door and stopped. Turning to Chris he took a deep breath.
Will you go in and get his gun first? He has it under the pillow on
the far side of the bed.
Chris didnt question the request, that could wait until morning, he
just nodded and slipped into the room. Walking around the bed, he lifted
the pillow and picked up the Glock and shoved it in the back of his jeans.
What are you doing? Is JD coming? Is he still mad at me?
The pleading, plaintive tone of Bucks voice was heart rending and Chris
almost felt sorry for him. Almost, but not quite. He patted Buck on the shoulder.
Hes coming right in. Dont keep him up all night, he has
to work tomorrow, Chris warned.
Opening the door, Chris questioned JD with his eyes.
Did you get it?
Yeah, are you all right?
Ill be okay, Chris.
Need me to stay?
Nah, you go on to bed. Its been a long day, JD said around
a huge yawn.
Chris stood in the doorway for a minute and watched. It was obvious that
the kid cared for Buck in the way he went right to the bed and knelt down
next to Buck. Closing the door, Chris headed for his own room. Only when
he felt the gun at his back did he remember to wonder why Buck would have
it with him and why JD knew he had it.
JD, Im sorry kid. I screwed up and now youre mad at me.
Im sorry, JD.
Its okay, Buck. Just lie down and get some sleep. Ill remind
you of this when I screw up the next time, okay? Come on, lets get
you tucked in, JD coaxed as he pulled the quilt back.
Will you stay here with me? Buck asked in a pleading tone. He
clung to JDs arm.
Relenting of his anger, JD smiled.
Move over. But just you remember, if you touch me, I aim to maim and
youll be singing with the girls choir, he cautioned.
Buck wiggled to the far side of the bed and waited for JD to lie down. When
the kids breathing dropped off to a soft snore, Buck closed his eyes.
It was the best nights sleep hed gotten since before the kidnapping.
When he opened his eyes in the morning, JD was gone but the men with the
jackhammers had taken up residence in his head again. Stumbling around in
the bedroom, Buck managed to straighten his bed and put on clean clothes.
He went into a panic when he realized that his gun was missing. Reaching
for the door to run downstairs and call Chris, he saw the note on the door.
We went to work for a few hours. Locked your gun in the safe. We will
talk about it when I get home! Dr. Franklin will be there at noon, TALK TO
Ripping the note from the door, Buck felt panic rising. A quick look out
the window showed Vins jeep sitting in the driveway. The jeep was a
stick shift and Buck managed to get it rolling down the driveway and popped
the clutch. The engine coughed and roared to life. Without a backward glance,
he headed for a bar.
Chris was almost finished with his paperwork when the phone rang.
Mr. Larabee, Dr. Franklin. I just wanted to let you know that Buck
isnt at the ranch. Ive been all over the house and hes
nowhere to be found. All the horses appear to be in their stalls so Im
assuming he went for a walk. Ill come back in a few hours and check
Dr. Franklin, is there a jeep in the driveway? Chris had a sinking
No, there isnt anything in the driveway right now.
Thanks, well find him. Slamming down the phone Chris began
to yell. DAMN, DAMN, DAMN IT ALL TO HELL! Vin, get in here!
The sharpshooter, like the rest of the team, had bolted upright at the first
shout. Vin now slid hesitantly from behind his desk and warily approached
the door. The others scurried around to plaster themselves against the wall
Get your skinny Tanner ass in here! Chris wailed.
Whats your license plate number? Buck took the jeep and left
After reporting the car missing to the counties around the ranch, the team
quickly finished their work and headed out to witness World War III.
+ + + + + + +
It was pleasantly quiet in the bar and Buck swirled the ice in his drink
as he watched the waitress bustling about. The lunch rush was
on the place was about half full. She dashed past his table and set down
the burger and fries he had ordered. The burger was slathered in barbeque
sauce and the steak fries were hot and mildly seasoned. He smiled as he dug
Hurricane Larabee was in rare form when he hit the ranch. Hed forgotten
about the incident the night before with JD and the gun. As soon as they
hit the living room, he turned on the youngest member of his team.
Exactly what happened between you and Buck yesterday, JD?
What do you mean? JD didnt want to tell but he knew Chris
wasnt going to let it slide.
I think you know what Im talking about! Chris growled as
he pulled his gun out of his holster, ejected the clip and slammed it on
the mantle. What was the deal last night with the gun, JD? Did he say
something or do something that made you think he might use it?
Yes, well no, I mean I dont know!
Chris took hold of JD so quickly that both Ezra and Vin gasped. Nathan and
Josiah each grabbed one of the younger men and held them back. With a horrified
fascination, they watched as JD crumbled. Chriss expression softened
and he relaxed the death grip he had on JDs arms.
JD, look at me. I have to know. Did he or didnt he make you think
he might use the gun? You cant be worried about telling me. He could
be in serious danger.
Not on himself, Chris. He drew on me yesterday, JD whispered
before twisting out of the leaders grasp. He was ashamed that he could
not control the tears that coursed down his cheeks.
Good Lord! Ezra exclaimed quietly.
Damn! Vin whispered.
JD? Tell me what happened, son, Chris coaxed as he placed a gently
hand on the kids trembling shoulder.
Yesterday morning when I went to wake him up, JD began as he
sniffled, I was gonna tickle him like I do at home sometimes. I
hadnt even touched him when he threw me off the bed and landed on top
of me. When I opened me eyes he, he had
he couldnt say
JD? He what? Chris goaded firmly.
He had his gun in my face. His eyes were glowing almost! I honestly
thought he was gonna kill me. Ive never been so scared, Chris. I thought
I knew him!
Pulling the shaking man in close for a moment, Chris felt his gut tighten.
Buck wasnt suicidal but he might end up killing one of them in a flashback.
He knew he had to find Buck and convince him to get help. When JD pushed
himself away, the team leader reached into his pocket and removed the clip.
Replacing it in the gun, he holstered the weapon and proceeded to pace. Josiah
slipped up and pulled JD outside to give him a moment to pull himself together.
Looking at his watch, Buck was startled to see how long he had been sitting
staring at the empty glass in his hand. Catching the waitress, he asked for
the bill. It took him a couple of minutes to get the jeep turned around so
he could start it down the incline and pop the clutch.
The sun was warm and it was soothing to feel the breeze blowing over him
and Buck passed two or three other bars and taverns before pulling onto a
slightly more crowded lot. The loud streams of country music wafted out along
with the smell of steaks being grilled. With a broad smile, Buck swaggered
inside and ordered a pitcher.
+ + + + + + +
Dr. Franklin arrived at the ranch after Chris called to say that JD needed
to talk. She was still concerned that they had not found Buck, but the tone
of the ATF agents voice told her that the rest of the team was in trouble.
On impulse, she tossed her overnight bag into the Sidekick and headed for
Leaving the others at the ranch, Chris and Vin set out in search of Buck.
The Texan could almost hear the thoughts racing thru the blonde head. When
the big Dodge began to fishtail wildly on the gravel driveway, he reached
out and rested his hand on Chriss shoulder.
Take it easy, Chris. Well find him.
He nearly killed JD! Vin, I didnt even think about the gun! After
Sarah and Adam, when I hit rock bottom, I thought about my gun a lot. I should
have thought to take it from him! If hed hurt the kid
Dont beat yourself up over it. Bucks strong, hell
get thru this. We just have to convince him to accept help from his
friends, Vin stated calmly.
You dont know what its like. When all you can see is darkness
and despair, its really hard to see the help being offered.
But youve been there, cowboy. You can bring him around.
When we find him. After I kick his stubborn ass! Chris exclaimed.
Dr. Franklin knocked on the door and smiled when Ezra opened it. The undercover
agent put on his best dimpled smile as he escorted her into the living room.
After getting a brief rundown on what had happened the previous day, she
went in search of JD. She found him in the barn. He was brushing the big
gray gelding. She leaned against the stall gate, sure that he knew she was
there. Finally, he looked up.
I guess they told you, he blurted out.
I got the Readers Digest version. You want to tell me about it?
Seeing the dark head shake no, she slid back to the hay bale
and sat down. For nearly an hour, she watched him tend to the animal. His
hands moved lovingly over the horse as he brushed and smoothed the horses
coat. When he moved to another stall, she remained silent. She knew from
the nameplate on the stall that it was Nathans horse the young man
+ + + + + + +
The end of the cue stick seemed to split and wiggle the longer Buck stared
down its length. When he finally took the shot, he scratched. The other man
chuckled as he picked the white ball from the pocket and moved around the
table. It didnt matter anymore. Buck was just as happy when he lost
as when he won. Throwing another mug of beer, he looked for the waitress.
The cell phone rang and Chris fumbled with it before surrendering it to Vin.
They found Buck! Hes at some place called The Watering
Hole off of the highway. The sheriff wants to know if you want him
arrested, Vin relayed.
Chris took the phone, Who is this? Kevin? Hey, do me a favor? Cuff
him and dump him in a cell for a few hours. Hell yes, Im serious. I
appreciate it. Yeah, Ill be there by then.
Closing the phone, Chris dropped it into his pocket and pulled of the highway.
Putting the truck in park, he rested his arms on the wheel while he counted
slowly under his breath. When Vin cleared his throat, Chris fixed his gaze
on the sharpshooter.
Are you really gonna let them throw him in the drunk tank?
Can you think of a better way to get thru his hard head? Its
only a couple of hours. Itll give him a chance to think. Its
what he needs!
Deputy Kevin Schoenfeld and his partner Desmond Riley entered the bar and
spoke briefly to the bartender. Within minutes, the entire corner of the
room was cleared of spectators and possible innocent victims. Their quarry
was just finishing his pitcher. Bucks eyes were completely glazed over
and his good-old-boy smile was beginning to soften.
Agent Wilmington? Can you come with us please? Kevin said firmly
as he positioned himself in front of the big man. Desmond was standing quietly
behind the booth, handcuffs in hand, waiting for Buck to stand.
Smokey the Bear was standing at his table! Buck blinked at the man with the
thin leather strap that ran across his chest from his shoulder to his opposite
hip. The rounded hat with the wide brim cast a shadow across the face. Someone
moved his empty pitcher and Buck came to his feet in protest.
Now wait just a minute there Dudley Do-right, I wasnt finished
with that! Buck protested loudly. He swayed slightly as his hip struck
the corner of the table.
He never saw the man who grabbed him from behind and slapped a cuff of his
right wrist. As Buck tried to turn on his attacker, Kevin shoved him against
the table and they forced the other wrist into the open handcuff. When he
realized that he could not get free, Buck collapsed.