Comments: This story is the result of two things. First, we lost a bet, so we owed Cinda and Jody a story. And, second, a conversation with other members of the "collective," when it was commented that we hadn't seen many amnesia stories in this fandom. Well, naturally, we then had to write one. Now, be warned, it's not medically accurate, but it does follow the typical television amnesia pattern, so we hope you'll just enjoy it and excuse our literary license. It is set after the story Served Cold, written by Erica Michaels.
Vin watched as his best friend limped stiffly across the kitchen, heading for the coffeepot. He winced in sympathy when Chris sucked in a soft hiss after putting a little too much weight on his injured leg.
"Want me t' get that?" he asked, starting to stand up from the table.
"Naw, it's okay," Chris replied, gesturing for him to sit back down while he inched closer to his goal. "The doctor said I need to keep moving around, putting more weight on it."
Vin nodded, but he couldn't look away from the suffering man. This was all his fault, and he sighed softly. Their last assignment had turned sour and he'd let his temper get the better of him. Ignoring protocol, he'd left his position and, as a result, Larabee had gotten shot.
But the man they had been after was a predator, an animal that traded guns for children, and he just couldn't let him get away.
And Chris had paid the price.
Thank God the bullet had only passed through thigh muscle, missing bone and artery, but Larabee was still hurting, and each flinch, each grimace, each grunt of pain sent a stab of guilt and remorse straight through Vin's heart, leaving him feeling miserable.
And if that wasn't bad enough, the firefight between Vin and Thomas Carroll had ended up taking down Ezra as well, leaving the undercover man with a sprained wrist and a nasty bruise on his cheek from where he'd hit the curb, diving for cover.
I should've just stayed where I was supposed to. We would've gotten him...
But the images of Carroll's last victim, a beautiful four-year-old Asian girl, had filled his head, and continued to haunt him. Even in death her face had remained angelic, but what Carroll had done to the rest of the child's body was beyond imagining.
Vin shook his head slightly, chasing the gruesome memories away. I did what I had t' in order t' stop the bastard, he told himself sternly.
But y' let Chris get shot, an' y' got Ezra hurt, the more critical side of his mind chastised him.
The sniper looked up, blue eyes haunted. "Y' need something?" he asked, starting to stand again.
"No, I'm fine," Chris said, waving at his friend to sit once more. He carried his coffee cup to the table and carefully sat down. "Listen to me, okay? It's just a little sore, so stop beating yourself up. It's over."
Vin dipped his head and stared into his own empty cup. "Just feel-"
"Responsible," Chris interrupted him. "I know. Look," he said, reaching out to rest his hand on Vin's arm, "I know it didn't go down the way we wanted it to, but we got the bastard. He's not putting any more guns on the street, and he sure as hell isn't going to hurt any more kids."
"Should've stayed where I was," Vin argued, shaking his head. "Y' wouldn't've got shot."
"Maybe, maybe not," Chris countered. "But sometime we have to go with our gut; you know that. How many times has one of us acted on instinct in the middle of an assignment?"
Vin shook his head. "Ain't the point. If I'd been where I was supposed t' be-"
"Then Carroll might've gotten away, and there might be another family out there, mourning another dead kid."
Vin sighed heavily and leaned back. "Y' could 'a died if that bullet-"
"But I didn't. Hell, Vin, given what that little girl looked like... I would've done the same thing you did."
Vin's pale blue eyes rounded slightly.
"There's no way I could've let that bastard get away."
Chris' words eased some of his guilt, but not all of it. Vin smiled his thanks, but then his expression turned serious again. "Ezra-"
"Is doing just fine," Standish finished as he walked in to join the two men, the rest of the team trailing behind him.
"Hope you boys don't mind," Buck said, grinning. "We knocked, but no one heard, so we let ourselves in."
Larabee nodded that it was all right and the men immediately began raiding his kitchen. JD and Nathan started setting out the bagels they had picked up at Mo's on the way over to Larabee's for a day of poker and football.
"How's your wrist?" Vin asked Standish, noting that the bruise had covered most of one side of the man's face and had reached the ugly green and yellow stage.
"It feels considerably better," was the immediate reply. "In fact, I believe I'll be permitted to remove the brace in a day or two."
Vin nodded, but he still looked like a little boy who had just broken his mother's favorite vase.
Walking to the Mr. Coffee machine, Josiah poured himself a cup, then carried it back to the table and sat down with them. He glanced at Vin and said, "I was going through the mail that's stacking up on your desk on Friday afternoon, and I noticed a letter from the Department of Motor Vehicles."
Vin rolled his eyes and groaned, "Ah hell, I forgot about that."
"You also forgot about sending in the renewal for your CPR and first aid certification, too," Nathan added, his expression apologetic for having to bring it up. He knew how rattled Tanner had been lately. "Alexis Dixon called Friday right before we left..."
Tanner groaned again, leaning over the table and resting his forehead on his folded arms.
"I'm afraid it gets worse," Ezra added, a touch of sympathy in his voice. "Mr. Dutton also called on Friday. He is demanding that you remove the weapon prototypes you were storing at the range. He says he needs the space, post haste."
"An' I have t' testify Monday... at two," Tanner moaned pathetically, rolling his head back and forth on his arms. "They're coming by the office at nine to go over some stuff." A soft whimper came next.
Buck met Larabee's eyes and grinned, shaking his head. "Junior, why don't you ever ask for help?"
Vin lifted his head, a pathetic hang-dog expression on his face. "There ain't nothing-"
"Yes, we can," JD interrupted him. "Me and Buck can drop by the DMV for you on Monday. It's right on our way home."
"And Nathan and I can escort your renewal paperwork to Mrs. Dixon's waiting hand Monday afternoon," Josiah offered. "She likes Nate. She'll listen to him when he tells her how busy it's been."
"I'm meeting Travis for lunch on Monday," Chris added. He glanced at the undercover man. "Ezra can swing by the range after he drops me off and pick up the prototypes."
"But your leg," Vin argued. "Y' can't drive back to the office."
"Travis will drive me back," Larabee replied. "Besides, the Ram's an automatic. I can drive if I have to, or Ezra can pick me up after he's finished at the range."
"Reduced to chauffeur and errand boy, what has my career come to?" Ezra muttered under his breath, making the men grin.
Vin glanced at his friends. They were going to help him out, whether he wanted them to or not. And he wanted them to. Hell, he needed them to. He hadn't been good for much this past week, and he had to get back on track. He sighed, giving in as gracefully as he could manage. "All right," he said on a heavy sigh, then met Larabee's eyes. "But y' take it easy, all right?"
"You worry too much," Chris scolded him. "Just make sure you're ready for court."
A little after one o'clock, Vin stood in the offices of Team Seven, nervously straightening his tie while JD arranged the paperwork for their various trips on Vin's behalf. Tanner tugged and pulled, yanked, then pulled the knot out and started all over again. On the third try he was finally satisfied.
Tugging down his suit jacket, he turned to Ezra. "This look all right?"
Ezra looked up from the paperwork he was working on and grinned. "You appear to have mastered the basics of a civilized wardrobe."
Vin peered at the man, looking for any signs he'd just been insulted. "Y' sure?"
"Very sure," Standish told him, then went back to his paperwork.
"Thanks," Vin said, running a hand over his hair and then tugging at his tie again.
"Looking pretty slick there, Junior," Buck said, maneuvering around desks and chairs to join his friend. "Knock 'em dead in court."
Vin grinned. "Should 'a just shot 'em when I had the chance, would've saved me a lot 'a time," he said, only half in jest.
"Okay," JD cut in, "I'm just double-checking, to make sure I have everything. I have the plates off the Jeep, the registration receipt, your current registration, and your driver's license. Oh, and the power of attorney for this. Do you think they might need anything else?"
Vin shook his head. "Ain't anything else, JD. Can't believe they want t' recall m' personal plates. I've had 'em for years! Whoever this asshole is, he's the one who's gotta come up with a new one. These are mine, JD. Y' make sure y' don't let 'em take 'em away from me, understand?"
JD nodded as he handed Nathan several sheets tucked into the second file folder. "That's Vin's paperwork on the CPR and first aid classes."
"Great," Jackson said, accepting the proffered file. He turned to Tanner. "You want me to run you over to the courthouse?"
"Why?" the sniper asked, confused.
Josiah grinned indulgently. "The Jeep won't have any plates, and you won't have a driver's license. If you get stopped-"
Vin dismissed the older man's concern with a wave of his hand. "It ain't that far and I'll be careful."
"Okay," Nathan said, but his tone was dubious. "I still think you should take a cab or something."
"A cab?" Vin echoed. "Y' know how much that'd cost?"
Nathan shrugged. "Just be careful, okay?"
"I will. And guys?" He waited until he was sure they were all paying attention, even Ezra. "I really appreciate this."
JD smiled. "It's all right, Vin. I mean, we're partners, friends, right? That's what-"
"You can take us out to lunch at Chad's if you want to say thank you good and proper," Buck said, interrupting JD.
"I'll do that," Tanner agreed with a thankful grin.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Walking to his Jeep, Vin's mind drifted to his upcoming testimony. It should be pretty straightforward, but he knew he had a tendency to let defense attorneys get under his skin. He couldn't let that happen this time. The accused was a local thug who was trying to claim Vin had assaulted him when the agent had stopped him from selling stolen guns to students at a high school in Purgatorio. Vin shook his head, anticipating the questions he would face.
It was not going to be a good day.
Anger bubbled to the surface. It wouldn't be so bad if they knew who Deevers worked for, but the little punk refused to say. He was convinced his boss would get him off.
Ain't gonna happen, Vin decided. I'm gonna stay cool 'n' that little sunuvabitch is goin' t' prison. Those kids have got enough t' worry 'bout without half the damn student body walkin' around armed with Deever's guns.
Lost in thought, the agent ignored the distinct clack-and-rattle sound of an approaching skateboard. During the day, kids used the usually empty area of the garage where the services vehicles parked for the night to practice their moves.
When Tanner was hit in the shoulder, he jumped back, yelling, "Hey, watch where you're goin'!"
The teenager on the board ignored him, speeding away, his leg pumping.
Tanner took three more steps toward the Jeep before he noticed something was wrong. His hand automatically reached back for his ID, but it was long gone.
"Damn it!" he hissed. Didn't that kid know the mountain of paperwork he'd have to fill out to get his ID replaced? He checked his watch. There was no time to worry about it now; if he didn't leave, he'd be late for court.
He took a moment to memorize the kid's description: about five-foot-six, 120 pounds, long, sandy blond hair, so-so tan, mismatched high-tops shoes, and shabby clothes that were a mix of army green and bright tie-dye.
Probably a street kid, he decided, shaking his head. They were seeing more and more runaways hanging out downtown, and they tended to pick up skateboards as a mode of transportation. "Rainbow children" they called themselves. Most were under sixteen, skinny, dirty, their eyes a disturbing mix of apprehension and defiance.
He sighed, wishing he didn't have to report the incident, but he didn't have a choice. Reaching his Jeep, Vin climbed in and checked his watch again. He started the engine and headed for the quickest route that would take him to the Lakewood courthouse.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Behind the wheel of his beloved Jeep, Vin's anger dimmed, replaced by a steely determination that his testimony would put Larry "The Bug" Deevers behind bars where he belonged.
Then we're goin' after your boss, he promised the absent thug. An' we'll find him, sooner or later. No way 'm gonna let some assholes like you take over my neighborhood - no way, no how.
Vin's thoughts continued to wander during the drive to the courthouse, from Deevers, to the rainbow kid who lifted his ID, to Carroll and, finally, to what he really didn't want to think about: Chris. The guilt began nibbling at the edges of his thoughts, slowly taking larger and larger bites out of his attention.
He sighed heavily and shook his head. "Too close, Cowboy," he said softly. "Too damn close."
The image of his best friend going down flashed through Vin's mind and he cringed. He had taken Carroll down before the man could kill Larabee, but it had been close. A second or two more and there would have been a funeral. But he still wasn't sure how that had happened. He'd seen Carroll headed away from Larabee, away from the scene, which was why he'd gone after the man. And then he'd heard Buck's call on the radio. He'd cut back, moving through the old apartment building. Which was where he'd found the body... That had slowed him down. Then he'd heard the shot, and bolted forward, stepping into that room just in time to pull the trigger on Carroll, who was about to shoot Chris a second time.
A cold chill snaked down Vin's back and settled deep in his gut. Why do we do it? he asked himself. The rush? The thrill?
He rejected the idea. What we do is important.
But it was also dangerous. And dirty. They saw some of the worst humankind had to offer of itself. Can't help gettin' a little stained, he thought. Y' end up thinkin' like the bad guys t' catch the bad guys.
Y' get numb... Hell, maybe 'm just feelin' a little burned out.
But no matter what the explanation was, he was definitely still feeling guilty about what had happened to Chris and to Ezra. He smiled thinly; their willingness to forgive and forget also kindled a warm glow in his chest. They were good friends. If they could forgive him, maybe he'd eventually be able to forgive himself.
An' the next time I'll stay up top. If he had, he would have seen the confrontation between Carroll and Larabee, and he would have dropped the man before he'd been able to shoot Chris.
M' friends are too few 'n' too far between t' put 'em at risk. I was stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. An' it ain't gonna happen again. 'M not gonna get any of 'em killed... Couldn't live with that.
A flash of bright blue cut along Vin's peripheral vision a moment before he felt a glancing but hard impact along the right side of the Jeep. The vehicle jerked and bounced, Vin's head snapping forward and back, as his right front wheel popped off the pavement, then bounced back down. The Jeep groaned as the suspension twisted.
The car struck him again, and Vin bucked forward, his shoulder- and seat-belts holding him in place as the steering wheel was nearly yanked out of his hands. The Jeep skidded sideways, inching closer to the cement median that separated him from the lanes of oncoming traffic.
"What the hell're y' doin'!" he yelled at the driver, but his attention was on getting the Jeep back under control.
Before Vin could pull the Jeep back off the shoulder and into his lane, the blue car struck again.
Vin felt the Jeep's left fender slam into the cement barrier, the impact whipping the vehicle's rear end around. The torque threw him forward, his head impacting solidly against the windshield. The last thing he heard was the squeal of brakes before everything went dark and silent.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
"Holy shit!" Callie Brin squeaked, jerking her wheel and stomping on her brake to avoid colliding with the bright blue Mustang as it sideswiped the Jeep, then darted across her lane and away.
The car behind her honked, then sped around her, not having seen what had just happened. "Asshole!" she yelled at the driver.
Braking to a stop in the far left shoulder lane, Callie backed up, stopping just in front of the Jeep. Climbing out of her car, she darted to the vehicle.
Seeing all the blood on Vin's face, she paled as she stumbled to a stop. "Oh God," she breathed, bolting back to her Honda and grabbing her cell phone out of her purse. She called for help.
With the state patrol and an ambulance summoned, she returned to the Jeep, trying to remember the details from the first aid class she had taken during high school.
"Ohh," she groaned, "what good was taking the class if I can't remember anything?"
You just wanted to be a life guard so you could hang around with Robbie Stevens, she chided herself.
She rolled her eyes. Then her gaze raked over the interior of the Jeep, looking for something she could use as a bandage. Finding nothing, and not knowing what else to do, she pulled off the well-worn flannel shirt she was wearing over her T-shirt and used that to apply pressure to the bleeding gash on the man's scalp.
With trembling fingers, she sought a pulse on the man's neck while making sure that she didn't move his neck.
She found a beat, but couldn't tell if it was weak or strong. It was, however, very fast.
"Just don't die, okay?" Callie begged the unconscious man as she continued scanning the traffic for the patrolmen. Drivers and passengers slowed down, staring at her as they passed.
"Thanks for all your help!" she yelled at two young men who pointed and laughed as they rolled by. "Assholes," she grumbled.
The sudden whoop of a siren reached her ears and she sighed in relief. A couple of minutes later, two state patrol cars pulled up and parked behind the Jeep, the officers immediately heading for her and the injured man.
"I called for an ambulance," the younger of the two officers said when he reached her. "But they're already on the way."
"I called them when I called you," Callie said.
"You know this guy?" the older officer asked, already examining the Jeep.
Callie shook her head and then had to reach up and tuck her loose, dark auburn hair behind her ears. "I saw the accident happen. There was this blue car, a Mustang, I think. It hit him and he crashed into the median."
The two officers immediately went to work, the younger man working with Callie on Vin, the older man beginning to take notes and make sketches.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Callie stood by her car, watching while the ambulance attendants prepared to load Vin into the back of their vehicle. The older highway patrol officer was with the medics, the other one was headed her way.
The young man smiled at her. "Uh, Miss-?"
"Brin. Callie Brin," she said, still watching the medics working on Vin.
"Miss Brin," the officer said, "I need to get a statement from you."
"Is he going to be okay?" she asked, nodding in the direction of the ambulance.
"I don't know, but they seem to think so." He reached out and rested his hand on her shoulder, squeezing lightly. "Good thing you stopped and called for help, though."
Callie looked from the man on the gurney to the officer. She smiled thinly. "I guess so. I just hope he's okay."
"Uh, Miss Brin," the officer said again, "did you see any papers, or a wallet maybe, when you walked up to the car?"
She looked confused. "No," she said, shaking her head. "I was looking for something I could use to stop the bleeding. I didn't seen anything."
"Okay," the officer said, his tone slightly dubious. "Can you tell me everything you saw, from the beginning?"
She nodded and started talking, explaining the bright blue Mustang's multiple attacks on the Jeep, the older car's eventual collision with the cement barrier, and her own near accident as she tried to avoid the fleeing attacker.
"I stopped. I saw he was bleeding, and I ran back and got my cell phone and called for help," she said. "Then I went back and looked for something to stop the bleeding. I ended up using my shirt. Then you got here."
"Did you happen to see the license plate on the Mustang?"
"No," she said apologetically, "I wasn't even looking for it. I was just trying not to get hit."
The officer nodded. "Okay, I have your phone number and address. We'll need to ask you to look over this report when it's done and sign it."
"Sure, no problem," she said.
The young man smiled. "And you're sure there was no ID? We couldn't find anything to tell us who he is."
She shook her head. "I didn't look, but I didn't see anything like that."
"Okay," the officer said. "You're free to go, Miss."
"Where will they take him?" she asked as the ambulance pulled into traffic, siren wailing.
The patrolman waited until the sound faded before he answered, "Denver General," he said. "You going to drop by?"
She nodded. "After work. I want to know if he's okay."
"I'm sure he'll be happy to meet the beautiful young lady who saved his life."
She blushed and dipped her head, feeling her cheeks go rosy. "Thanks."
He grinned. "No problem."
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
"What do we have?" the ER doctor asked when the two paramedics rolled Vin into a treatment room and transferred him to a waiting treatment table.
"Car accident. Head trauma. His Glasgow's eight," one of the medics related. "BP's one-sixty over a hundred, pulse is ninety-four. Pupils are equal and responsive, no lateralizing symptoms, but he's been out cold about twenty or thirty minutes."
"Get set up for a skull series and x-rays," the physician called out.
"I've got it," someone replied.
In the room several nurses took over, working around Vin while the doctor began irrigating the agent's scalp laceration with a large dose of normal saline solution. With the majority of blood removed, he examined the wound with his gloved finger, looking and feeling for a fracture. He found one.
"Definitely need that x-ray," he said. "And set up a CT scan." He looked back at the remaining paramedic. "Any med alerts?" the young Hispanic man asked.
"Not that we know of," the medic replied. "There was no ID."
The doctor looked up, his dark-brown eyes curious. "Nothing?"
The medic shook his head. "He's a John Doe, Doc."
"Madre de Dios, just wonderful. Nurse, suture his scalp closed and get me that x-ray A-S-A-P."
"Yes, Doctor," one of the nurses replied as the Latino physician moved to examine Vin, rechecking his Glasgow scale and probing for any other possible injuries.
A short while later another nurse handed the man an x-ray film. Walking to the view box, he shoved the film into place and turned on the light. A short, fine, dark line snaked through the whiteness of the surrounding bone.
"Simple linear skull fracture, but it's close enough to the temporal bone to worry me," he stated. "Let's get him admitted on a seventy-two hour hold, just in case, and call Doctor Trang for a neurological consult."
His patient stable, Dr. Randy Ortiz exited the treatment room only to find a Highway Patrol officer waiting for him in the hallway.
"Doctor," the man greeted. "You working on the John Doe?"
"How is he?"
"I think he'll be okay. He has a skull fracture, but I'm thinking mild concussion. We have a few more tests to run, and I've called in a neurologist. We're going to have to monitor him for a while before we're sure he's out of danger."
"Listen, Doc, I think we might be dealing with a felon here."
Ortiz's eyes widened. "A felon?"
The officer nodded. "No plates, no registration, and he wasn't carrying any ID either. Sounds suspicious, don't you think?"
"I suppose it does. The paramedic told me he had no identification," the physician said. He looked down at the chart he'd been handed on his way out of the treatment room. "We have him listed as John Doe number thirty-one."
"Until we get this worked out, we'd like him admitted to a secure ward. I'll see to it he's guarded until then. We don't know if he's dangerous."
The doctor nodded. "I'll see to it. But he's not going to be much of a threat to anyone for a while."
"Appreciate the cooperation, Doctor," the patrolman said. "These days, you can't be too careful."
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
In the treatment room Vin moaned softly, the sound vibrating through his body like fingernails scratching across sandpaper. He forced his eyes open with a shudder.
He was cold... and his head hurt - bad.
He swallowed. Nauseous, too, he realized. What the hell happened?
Looking around the room, he blinked rapidly, trying to clear the foggy veil that blurred his vision.
"Sir? Sir, are you awake?"
The voice was tinny and sounded far away. Vin frowned, his head beginning to pound like storm-blown shutters against a wall. He swallowed again, feeling more sick to his stomach.
He turned his head, seeking out the source of the voice. Maybe it held answers to the questions that flooded his mind, most of them getting lost in the pain and confusion.
"Sir, can you hear me?"
Vin carefully continued to roll his head toward the voice. When he found the source, he asked thickly, "Where 'm I?" as he watched the woman's face contort like it was made of soft rubber.
"You're in the hospital," she said. "You were in a car accident. Do you remember?"
"No," Vin said, swallowing again. The press of bile surged slowly up his throat. "Feel sick."
She grabbed a kidney bowl, just in case. "What's your name?"
Vin thought for a moment, but nothing surfaced. "I- I don't know." He felt a wave of panic surge through his body, leaving him weak and trembling.
The woman, a nurse, he realized, reached out, giving his shoulder a gentle squeeze. "That's okay. You hit your head. Don't worry, you'll remember in a little while."
"What's m' name?" he demanded, fear pushing back the nausea for the moment.
"I don't know," the nurse admitted. "The paramedics didn't find any identification. Now, listen, I want you to lie still; I'll get the doctor. And don't worry, you're going to be just fine."
Vin closed his eyes, fear prickling his skin. Who am I? he demanded, but a damning silence, backed by pain, was the only answer.
Despite the nurse's orders, he tried to sit up, but a wave of dizziness swept over him, forcing him to lie back down. His fingers curled around the edges of the gurney and he groaned. Who am I? he demanded again.
Voices drifted in from behind the closed door and he looked, hoping whoever was out there had an answer for him. For a brief moment he felt as if he were falling into a bottomless well, dread and loneliness swallowing him whole. Who? Who? Who? he chanted silently with the throbbing inside his head.
Vin's breath caught, a stab of pain shooting from temple to temple like a spear was penetrating his skull. His stomach rebelled, bile climbing up the back of his throat once again. His mouth watering uncontrollably, he sucked in a deep breath and willed his stomach to settle as he swallowed convulsively.
He shivered, the icy cold creeping further into his bones and making them burn. Who, damn it? he cried silently. Answer me!
But there were no answers forthcoming, so he closed his eyes again and tried to rein in the terror that sparked in his chest, making it hard to breathe. Then, finally, he heard the door swung open.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
"Dr. Ortiz," the nurse called as soon as she stepped outside the treatment room.
The physician turned.
"Mr. Doe's awake, but he has amnesia," she said.
"Amnesia?" the patrolman echoed. "Terrific. Could he be faking?"
"Maybe," Ortiz said, "but it's not uncommon for an accident victim to be confused, especially given the nature of the trauma this man sustained."
"But he's awake?" the officer asked.
The nurse nodded.
"Can I see him?"
Dr. Ortiz thought a moment and then nodded. "But just for a moment," he cautioned, escorting the officer into the treatment room.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Vin forced his eyes open when he heard the door swing inward. The first thing he noticed was the state patrolman. Images of cells flashed through his mind and Vin felt his fear escalate another notch. 'M I a criminal?
"How are you feeling?" asked a young Hispanic man who was wearing a white labcoat.
"Head hurts..." Vin admitted. "Feel sick."
"I'm Doctor Ortiz," the young man continued. "And your name is...?"
"Don't know," was the immediate reply. "What's wrong with me? Why can't I remember?"
"You took a pretty nasty blow to the head," Ortiz explained. "You have a skull fracture. Do you remember the car accident?"
"No," Vin replied, his fear making his answers short and curt.
"What's the last thing you do remember?"
Vin searched his mind, but it was curiously empty. "I- I don't know," he half-moaned. "Can't remember nothin'. I-"
"Okay, take it easy," the doctor said, reaching out to rest his hand lightly on Vin's arm. "Don't try too hard; let whatever images there are surface naturally."
"There's ain't nothin'!" Vin declared, his voice rising. "I told y', I don't know!"
"Easy," the man soothed again. He looked at the nurse. "See if you can find Doctor Trang for me."
She nodded and left.
"Do you know what city you're in?" Ortiz asked him.
Vin began to pant when he realized that he didn't. His gaze darted around the room, searching for some clue. "No," he said thickly.
The patrolman took a step closer and Vin immediately felt defensive.
"You were driving an old 1980s Jeep. That ring any bells?"
"No," Vin said, looking back at the doctor. "How long's this gonna last?"
"I'm not sure," the man admitted. "But I want you to relax, okay? Things should start filtering back pretty quickly."
Vin looked back at the officer. "What's goin' on? Why're y' here?"
The patrolman hesitated, then explained, "You weren't carrying any ID, and the car you cracked-up didn't have any plates, or registration." At Vin's confused expression he asked, "Did you steal that car?"
"N-No," Vin replied, but he could hear the doubt clear in his voice.
"But you don't remember," the officer pressed. "Right?"
"I don't remember, but-"
"I think this should wait until later," Dr. Ortiz interrupted. "Mr. Doe needs to get some rest."
Doe? Vin echoed. John Doe? Great, just great.
The patrolman headed for the door, but the doctor remained. "We're going to get you moved into a room," he explained. "Then a specialist will take a look. He should be able to answer your questions."
"I doubt that," Vin grumbled, the pounding in his head escalating again. Did I steal a car? he asked himself.
More images assaulted him: fast moving cars, being chased, sirens, the cells again. Ah hell... he groaned silently, squeezing his eyes shut.
He saw the doctor stop a nurse at the door. There was an exchange of whispers, but Vin heard "psych evaluation" and "secure ward" mentioned.
Crazy? 'M not crazy! he argued silently with the physician. 'M not crazy. An' 'm not a thief either... I think.
He looked back at a nurse, who was arranging his IV for the move. I've gotta get out 'a here.
After work and their errands, the rest of Team Seven met back at Larabee's ranch, each man toting a bag of Chinese carryout. They needed to discuss how they were going to go after Deever's boss.
The blond was the first to spot the police unit waiting for them in the driveway.
"I wonder what that's all about?" JD muttered, frowning as Buck pulled his car in behind Larabee's Ram and parked. Chris was already headed for the cruiser, still moving slowly with his cane.
"Officer," Chris acknowledged as he reached the side of the car.
The officer climbed out, glancing down at Chris' leg for a moment, then said, "Okay, Hopalong, where's that hippy you call a sniper?"
The corners of Chris' eyes crinkled as he smiled. "Hell, Doug, you know Tanner... He's probably swinging from the rafters someplace."
The officer chuckled and grinned. "Probably is. But he missed his court appearance today, and Judge Morris isn't too happy about it."
"What?" Chris said, his expression going stony. "Vin didn't make it to court?"
"Nope," Officer Doug Newman said. "Deever walked."
Chris met Buck's concerned gaze, then looked back at Newman. "Look, Doug, Vin left for the courthouse with plenty of time," he said. "If he didn't get there, then something's happened to him."
The officer looked concerned. "Judge Morris wanted me to let him know he wants to see him A-S-A-P. He cost the DA the case, and-" He shook his head. "Let's just say there are a few folks who are a little pissed with him at the moment."
"I'm sure there's a perfectly good explanation for Mr. Tanner's absence," Ezra said, frowning. He looked as concerned about the news as the rest of the team did.
"Well, maybe you can give the DA a call, huh?" Doug suggested. "Smooth some ruffled feathers?"
"I'll do that," Chris said.
As soon as the officer had climbed back into his car and pulled out, Larabee turned to the others. "Something must've happened," he said, worry making his voice tight.
Chris headed straight into the house as quickly as his injured leg would allow. Dropping the bag of food he carried on the coffee table, he headed straight to his in home office and the computer.
Turning it on, he checked his work and personal e-mail for a message from Vin. There was nothing. "JD!" he bellowed.
The younger man appeared in the doorway. "Yeah, Chris?"
"Start looking for Vin."
JD hesitated for a moment, a little confused. "Where should I start?"
"The usual, JD," Chris said softly. "Hospitals, police..."
Dunne nodded and sat down to take Larabee's place, his fingers tapping across the keys at top speed.
After a few minutes the hyper tapping noise was driving the blond crazy. Luckily for JD, Buck had come in to wait as well, and the ladies' man recognized Chris was nearing a melt down. "Hey, stud, we're all hungry," he said to Larabee. "Let's go grab something, let JD concentrate."
JD shot the man a grateful look, his fingers never taking a pause.
Larabee hesitated for a moment, but then he nodded.
"I'll fix you a plate and bring it to you," Wilmington told JD as he followed Chris out.
"Thanks. I'm hungry, and this might take a while."
The ladies' man nodded, following his long time friend to the kitchen where they each grabbed a plate and dished up some of the food. They headed back to the living room where the others had gathered, Buck detouring just long enough to drop off JD dinner. Someone had turned the television on, the local news playing silently in the background, just in case.
Josiah and Nathan were both on their cell phones. Ezra was working on his laptop.
His leg aching more with each step he took, Chris carried his plate over to his recliner and sat down. Laying his cane on the floor next to the chair, he asked, "Anything?"
"Hold on," Nathan said to whomever he was speaking to, then related, "Security has Vin leaving the federal building at 1:37 p.m. Cameras have him pulling out of the parking garage at 1:42. He was alone."
Larabee nodded. That sounded normal.
"No messages at the office, or on his answering machine," Josiah added. "And he's not picking up his cell phone."
"He didn't take it," Chris said. "It's in his desk at work. Judge Morris gives community service to anyone who has a cell phone go off in his court."
"I checked our current cases," Ezra added, "and, as far as I can tell, there are no recent releases we need to be concerned with."
"Past cases?" Larabee asked him.
The undercover man offered an apologetic shrug. "It's going to take some time to determine that."
Damn it, Vin, Chris thought as he took a bite of the Mongolian beef, where the hell are you? He ran through the possible enemies who might have struck: Deever's boss, someone acting on Carroll's behalf, whoever it was who had sent he and Ezra to the Woverton Penal Facility along with Vin 1, or any number of others. The possibilities were alarming.
Damn, damn, damn, he thought. Call, Vin. Do something.
He paused as he raised a second bite to his mouth, remembering his Sunday morning conversation with the missing man. Green eyes narrowed dangerously. Vin, if you're holed up someplace, feeling guilty, I'm going to personally kick your butt all the way up the nearest fourteener. He sighed. No, that wouldn't have stopped the man from testifying.
"You need your pain pills?" Nathan asked him.
Chris shook his head. "It's gonna be a long night. I need to keep my head clear." Come on, Vin, call, damn it. Where are you? There was no answer to the question, but the dull, constant buzz in his gut was telling Larabee his friend was in trouble.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Almost four hours later, Chris eased down into a chair in his home office. JD was still hunched over the keyboard, grumbling.
"Find anything?" the blond asked hopefully.
"No," Dunne admitted, looking up. "I've checked the morgues, jails, hospitals-"
"Morgues?" Chris interrupted, his face going pale.
JD dipped his head. "I'm sorry, I just thought..." He trailed off, shaking his head.
Chris took a deep breath, letting it out in a long sigh. "No, JD, you're right. We had to check."
The man's expression brightened slightly. "But there was nothing, not even a John Doe."
"And nothing in any jails or the hospitals?"
JD shook his head, but then added, "Well, there are seven John Doe's that match Vin's general description either in jail or in the hospital. I'm following up with those right now, but some of the data hasn't been added to the databases yet, so it might take a while to run them all down."
"Stick with it," Chris told him. "You want some coffee?"
He shook his head. "Too much caffeine already, but a glass of milk would be nice."
"I'll get it," Larabee said, turning.
"No, Chris, you should be off that leg."
"I'm fine," he assured the younger man, his tone a warning not to press the issue.
"No luck with the calls?" JD asked before the man could leave.
"Nothing. We called everyone we could think of," he replied, his voice turning slightly rough. "No one's seen him."
"We'll find him."
The blond nodded, then turned, limping out on his way to get the milk.
"Chris!" JD called excitedly, stopping Larabee three steps beyond the door.
Backtracking, the blond re-entered the room, his expression and posture hopeful. "You found him?"
"No, but I thought I should start looking for the Jeep, too. And I think I've found that, in an impound yard, in... Lakewood. I mean, it might be Vin's Jeep. Fits the description, and with the route he probably took from here to the courthouse."
Chris nodded. "Let's go see."
"It's after nine o'clock, Chris," Dunne reminded him. "There won't be anyone there."
The blond stopped on his way to the door. "Nine?" Where had the time gone?
"What's going on?" Buck asked, coming to a stop next to Larabee.
"JD thinks he might have found Vin's Jeep," Chris supplied.
"Where?" the ladies' man asked.
"Police impound lot in Lakewood," JD answered. "It's closed now, but we can head over first thing in the morning," he suggested.
Chris looked like he wanted to argue but, after a moment, he nodded. "First thing in the morning."
"I'll tell the others," Buck said, adding, "Why don't you go get some sleep, stud? You're not gonna help Vin any if you make yourself sick."
The blond shot his friend a hot glare, but it quickly fizzled out. He nodded. "Come get me if you find anything."
"We will," JD said.
Wilmington watched the man limping off, knowing he was going to have to keep a close eye on the blond or Chris would end up right back into the hospital.
Earlier that night
Vin stumbled to a stop in the shadows of a nearly empty alley. Dizzy, his head pounding, he slowly fumbled his way to the first dumpster he saw, sinking down behind it and hoping he was hidden from sight. Taking several deep breaths, he tried to keep from getting sick, but his stomach was too upset to be denied and he leaned forward, heaving onto the dirty pavement.
Every contraction of his stomach set off explosions of agony inside his head, some of which nearly swamped his tenuous consciousness.
When the heaves finally stopped, he crawled to the next dumpster and curled into the space between the container and the dirty building wall behind it. A soft whimper escaped his still-burning throat as the pain inside his skull reached a crescendo, forcing tears past his closed eyelids. He pulled in on himself, wrapping his arms around his legs and resting his forehead on his knees, rocking slightly front to back, as soft whines escaped his throat.
When the pain finally subsided, he was able to uncurl, his abused muscles protesting every movement. Fear caught in his throat, making it almost impossible to breathe. He didn't know where he was, or how he had gotten there. He didn't even know who he was.
Then a collection of memories returned in a rush: hospital... Dr. Ortiz... the police.
A nurse had been going to move him to a room in some kind of prison ward or something. He could just imagine the room, too - small, cramped, with bars on the windows. There was already an officer standing out in the hall to make sure he didn't escape.
Then he had heard something about handcuffs.
But she'd had to take him someplace else first, before the room. A CT scan, he thought he'd heard them call it.
An Asian man had spoken to him somewhere along the way, but the conversation was a blur. All he could think about was the room with the barred windows, and the officer. Trapped; he was going to be trapped.
So, when the Asian had left to get the nurse, Vin had pulled out his IV and staggered to a small closet where he'd seen a nurse hang up a labcoat. But there was nothing else there. Returning to the gurney they had wheeled him in on, he spotted a plastic bag, resting on the bars at the bottom.
He had opened that bag, finding his clothes inside. He left the bloody suit jacket and tie in the bag. The shirt he pulled on was only slightly stained. But, looking down at himself now, he found both his pants and his shirt were smudged and grimy.
Another explosion of pain in his head forced him to press back against the wall where he ground his teeth and rode it out.
How'd I get here? he wondered. Where am I?
Concentrating was almost impossible, but he squeezed his eyes shut and forced his thoughts free of the burning agony inside his skull.
Once he had dressed, he had somehow made it into the hallway, into another room, and then through a open window. He had fallen into the landscaping outside the hospital, cutting the palms of his hands on something, but he had ignored it. He had to get away. He couldn't let them cage him.
He had staggered along the side of the hospital building, using the wall to steady himself, until he'd seen a delivery truck. The driver was standing not too far away, smoking a cigarette and talking to a young woman wearing green scrubs.
Vin crossed to the truck and waited until the man dropped his cigarette butt and ground it out with the toe of his shoe. When he turned and started to cross back to the truck, Vin had opened the back door and climbed inside the vehicle, closing the door before the man noticed anything was amiss.
He couldn't remember where he'd finally gotten out of the delivery truck. But he had, at a red light. Then he'd walked, and walked, and walked, trying to remember where he was, and who he was, but neither question had been answered, and it didn't appear they would be any time soon.
Now, sitting in the dark, rank alley, his head trying to crack itself open from the inside out, he allowed himself to cry.
What's happening t' me? he pleaded with himself. Why can't I remember?
Knife-like thrusts of torment continued to rip through his head, bringing with them more disturbing images of guns... a sniper's scope... a target, going down... being interrogated by cops... a prison of some kind...
I've gotta be a crook... a thief or something. Must've stolen that Jeep and cracked it up...
But that didn't feel right. He didn't feel like a bad person.
He snorted derisively. Oh, man, a crook with a freakin' conscience.
More images assailed him: shooting... men falling... leaping across the open space between rooftops...
Oh shit, I kill people, he silently choked. What the hell am I?
Vin closed his eyes again. Who am I? Who the hell am I? he pleaded silently, but there were still no answers.
With an effort, he managed to struggle to his feet. He eased around the end of the dumpster, and checked the space. It was empty, so he continued down the alley.
It was dark. He needed to find someplace safe to hole up until he could figure out what was going on.
He paused where the alley intersected another street. Peering out at the neighborhood that lay beyond, he knew he wasn't even close to someplace he could call "safe." The neighborhood was dirty and rundown, most of the street lights apparently shot out to give the drug dealers the shadows they needed to operate in. Definitely not the kind of place a normal person would want to be, but he wasn't a normal person, he was... What?
A killer, he answered himself. And in his gut he knew it was true. He had killed people.
Why? he wanted to know, but the answer remained as elusive as his name.
"Well, well, well, look who's back in the neighborhood," a smooth voice taunted him.
Vin turned, too quickly, and staggered back to sag against the wall of the alley as waves of vertigo nearly swept him off his feet. Pressing back against the graffiti-covered concrete, he stared at the man who had spoken to him.
Pimp, he recognized, and felt the short hairs at the back of his neck rise. White suit, open green silk shirt, white fedora, several thick gold chains draped around his neck; an oily throwback to the age of disco, but Vin's gut told him the man was more dangerous than he looked.
"Who are ya?" he demanded.
"Everyone around here calls me the Reverend," the man replied with a sinister smile. His dark eyes remained cold, calculating.
"You- Y' know me?" Vin asked him, his gaze sweeping over the man, looking for any potential weapons.
"Oh, I know you, yes, that's true," the man replied, his tone almost sing-song in nature. His eyes narrowed like a predator, sizing up its prey. His gaze took in Vin's dirty clothes and the bandage on his head.
"Who am I?" Vin demanded.
The Reverend grinned, starting to enjoy the encounter. "Now that's a very good question, friend."
Grabbing the man's snowy lapels, Vin swung the Reverend around and shoved him up against the wall - hard. But the motion and the impact caused the pain in the sniper's head to flair again and he grimaced, his knees starting to go weak.
"Take it easy, friend. I'm not going to hurt you. In fact, I owe you a favor," he said, watching Vin fight to remain on his feet, his grip losing all its strength. The Reverend broke free.
Vin took a step back, one hand coming up to cradle the side of his head though the bandage. "A favor?"
The man nodded, a dangerous smile curling his lips off his smoke-stained teeth. "You made me the number one man in this neighborhood. And for that I'm... grateful."
"How'd I do that?" Vin asked, not believing a word the man was saying. He didn't hang around with lowlife like this. Did he?
"You're the man who took down Eddie Flesh."
The name felt familiar, and Vin's thoughts tumbled after the feeling, searching out a memory. He found it: a gunfight, a large black enforcer, a Latino pimp, a knife... 2
When Vin finally blinked and looked around the alley the Reverend was gone.
You're the man who took down Eddie Flesh ...
Who am I? Vin pleaded with himself.
A killer, some part of his mind replied.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
The Reverend sat in the Top Hat Lounge, sipping on a glass of white wine and pondering the vagaries of fate. He looked up when the door opened and another man entered the dimly lit room and took a seat at the bar, reinforcing the Reverend's faith in kismet.
Picking up his glass, the Reverend walked over and sat down next to his biggest rival, Robert "Dickie" Ward.
"Reverend," the handsome, bald black man said without looking at the pimp.
The bartender set a glass of beer in front of Ward and moved off, not wanting to get involved with the business of the two men.
"D," the pimp replied. "How's tricks?"
"Just fine," the man half-growled, not amused by the pun. "Why do you ask? Thinkin' about taking me up on my offer and selling out?"
The Reverend laughed. "Hardly," he said. "Just curious."
"Well, I'm doing fine, just fine, thank you very much. Now, go away."
"With Eddie gone we're all doing fine," the Reverend continued with a soft chuckle. "God rest his twisted, greedy soul."
Dickie chuckled, then took a sip of his beer. "Yep, all us little fishes are swimmin' in a happy little pond."
"'Til one of us becomes another big fish," the Reverend acknowledged, his tone a vague threat.
The man's eyes narrowed. "Why the trip down memory lane, Rev?" Ward asked, wishing the other pimp would take a hike.
"Ran into the man who did us all the favor, that's all. It left me in a... nostalgic mood."
"We talkin' about... Tanner?" Ward asked.
"Mmm," the Reverend replied, nodding. He worked on his own drink, but watched Dickie in his peripheral vision.
Ward's eyes narrowed. "You saw Tanner?"
"I just told you, didn't I?"
"You find him again, you let me know," Ward growled, his voice cold and hard. He meant business.
The Reverend's eyes widened. "Oh?" He could smell money in the man's interest, money that might just line his pockets if he played his cards right.
"Hear there's someone who's willin' to pay some serious cash for the man."
"And who would that be?"
Dickie chuckled again. "No way, Rev. You find him, you give me a call. We'll work out a deal."
The Reverend took another sip of his wine and then tapped his glass against Ward's. "I might just do that." Then, draining what was left of his wine, he set the empty glass on the bar and, with a tip of his hat, left, wondering how a man like Dickie Ward, who was known for his ability to provide "unusual" merchandise to his johns, could be connected to anyone who might want Tanner's head on a platter. He shook his head and grinned. It didn't matter. If there was money to be made in it, that was all that concerned him.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
With nowhere to go, Vin finally slipped into one of the many strip joints just off Lincoln Avenue. The music was too loud and the lights too bright for his still-pounding head, but he was able to find a small table in a dark corner on the second level where both were tolerable.
Sliding his chair back into the corner, he leaned his head back against the V of the two walls and closed his eyes. His headache was getting worse, the dizziness and pain almost unbearable sometimes. He knew he should be in the hospital, but that was a one-way ticket to jail, if the cop he had seen there was any indication.
No, he needed to be out here, looking for who he was, and what was going on.
"Can I get you something?"
Vin opened his eyes and stared up at a young woman standing in front of his table. She looked too young to be working in a place like this, but he couldn't bring himself to ask her about it. He had plenty of his own problems at the moment.
"Uh, can I get you something?" she asked him again.
His stomach growled and, reaching around to his back pocket, Vin found it empty. He fished into both of his front pockets, finding a ten dollar bill and thirty-seven cents in change.
"You serve food?" he asked her.
"Just peanuts, pretzels and popcorn," she said, studying him more carefully. "Hey, are you okay?"
Vin shrugged. "M' head hurts."
"Look, why don't I get you a beer and some stuff to munch on, okay?"
Vin nodded and handed her the money. "'M really hungry," he repeated absently.
"I'll see what I can do," she promised, tucking the money into her pocket.
When she left, Vin closed his eyes again, ignoring the top-less dancers performing on a small stage a floor below him. A handful of hooting, ogling men cheered them on, waving dollar bills.
More images flashed through his mind: riding a big black horse up into the mountains... gunfire... a fist fight... an explosion...
The stream of images picked up speed, tumbling into his mind one after another, most of them violent, none of them telling him what he wanted to know: who he was, and how'd he'd gotten hurt.
He wasn't sure how long the barrage lasted, but the images shattered like a bullet-struck windshield when someone said, "Here you go."
He jerked and opened his eyes again. The waitress was back, her short blonde hair reminding him of someone, but who, exactly, remained a mystery. Her green eyes also seemed familiar, and he struggled to call up a face, or a name, to match with the feeling.
The girl set a beer in front of him, along with two small baskets, one filled with popcorn, the other with pretzels. Then she handed him a plastic container full of steaming spaghetti.
"Where'd this come from?" Vin asked her, confused.
"My dinner," she said with a small smile.
He looked up at the woman, his eyes wide with surprise. "I- I can't eat your dinner."
She smiled, the expression making her look even younger than she already did. "That's okay, I need to lose some weight, and I've been snacking on popcorn all night."
She definitely did not need to lose weight. "But-"
"You look like you could really use it, so go on. What you gave me is more than enough to cover it. I can grab a burger on the way home."
"Uh, okay," he said, admitting to himself that it smelled wonderful. "Thanks."
"Sure, no problem."
"Uh, John," he corrected her. "My name's John."
"Okay, John," she said, smiling at him. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"Got a killer headache," he admitted.
"Looks like you hit your head or something," she said, nodding at the bandage.
"Yeah. Car accident."
"I've got some stuff that might help; I get these migraines sometimes from the music."
"No, thanks," Vin replied automatically.
"I mean over-the-counter stuff. You know, extra strength."
Vin tried a bite of the spaghetti. "This is good, thank you."
"I'll get you some, okay? Maybe itll help your headache."
He nodded. "Yeah, okay, maybe it'll help."
"You eat that, and I'll get you another beer too."
Chris sat in the Ram, Josiah behind the wheel. Behind them, Buck and Ezra sat in the ladies' man's Trans Am. JD and Nathan had gone straight to the office to see if they could turn up anything on Vin from there.
"Looks like his Jeep from here," Josiah commented. "But there's no way to know without checking the VIN number. Looks like it took a pretty hard hit, too."
Chris nodded. His first look at the battered vehicle had almost knocked the wind out of him. It was Vin's Jeep; he knew that. "Let's go talk to the attendant."
The two men climbed out of the Ram, Buck and Ezra joining them on the sidewalk. They crossed the street and entered the lot.
Chris drew himself up, squared his shoulders, and led the way across the lot, still using the cane to help take some of the weight off his aching leg. The rest of the team followed.
Reaching the small shack that sat along one chain-link fence, Buck pulled open the door and entered. Inside, a young man in coveralls looked up from the magazine he was reading: Soldier of Fortune.
"Can I help you?" he asked suspiciously.
Ezra flashed the man a professionally cool smile. "I certainly hope so," he said, handing over his identification as he continued, "I'm Special Agent Standish, and these are my associates. As you can see, we're from the ATF." Ezra extended his hand, but when the young man reached for it, he quickly pulled it back and smiled apologetically. "Grease... You understand."
The man did, and he wasn't impressed, but he was sure that Ezra and the others were important. He wiped his hand on his pant leg and asked, "What do you fellas need?"
"We're here about the Jeep," Buck explained. "When was it brought in? And, where from?"
The man, whose name patch on his coveralls read "Tom," reached for a clipboard, but then stopped. "You have a release form?"
"You saw it," Chris said, his head jerking to indicate the ID Standish was still holding in his hand. "So, Tom, we're not here to collect the vehicle; we just want to know where it was brought in from, and when. And we'll need to take a look at it."
"But-" the man began.
"You don't want to interfere with an on-going federal investigation, now do you, son?" Josiah asked him.
"Federal, huh?" Tom asked, not sure if he believe these guys, but he was too afraid of them to do anything about it.
"We don't have all day," Larabee told him.
"We only need to examine the vehicle and verify the VIN number. And get that information," Ezra prompted the man. "Then we'll be out of your hair."
Tom pulled the clipboard over and checked the first page, then folded it back to the second. "Uh, here it is. The Jeep... Looks pretty bad. They brought it in yesterday around three-thirty in the afternoon... It was in an accident on I25, at the junction with the Six." He grabbed a piece of paper and wrote down the VIN number, handing it to Standish.
"Excellent," Standish said, flashing a smile at the man. "Well, not that the car has been damaged, of course, but that it was here. We appreciate your assistance, Tom."
"Yeah, sure," Tom replied, "it's out by the garage if you want to check that number."
"You say it was damaged," Josiah said, pushing his glasses back in place and leveling a curious if bored expression on the man. "Any idea what happened?"
"Report said it was involved in a hit-and-run on the freeway," Tom told him. "Pretty much totaled the left front end. Some damage to the rear as well."
"Hit and run?" Chris echoed, his voice taking on a concerned tone.
Tom looked up at him. "That's all I have here. Sorry." He paused a moment, then queried, "Can I ask what this is all about?"
"Ya can," Buck told him, "but we're not free to tell you anything at this point."
"I was talking to one of the officers... He said a blue sports car, maybe a Mustang, hit the Jeep and the driver lost control, hit the median," Tom offered, hoping to wring more information out of the agents. At least this was more interesting than most mornings.
"What happened to the driver?" Josiah asked him. "In case we have to interview him, you understand."
Tom shrugged. "Don't know. Officer didn't say."
"Well, you've been a great help," Ezra said. "Now, we should go look; they're expecting us back in the office by ten to finish another investigation."
"Go out, take a right. Left around the garage when you get there and you can't miss it."
"Thank you," Ezra said, extending his hand only to pull it away again. "Sorry... you understand."
"Yeah, you're welcome," Tom said, reaching for his magazine. He was reading again before they were out the door.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
"It's Vin's Jeep," Chris said as soon as he saw it. He could feel Tanner's presence attached to the car.
"We still need to check the VIN number," Buck said softly.
The blond nodded, waiting while Ezra made the check.
"It's Mr. Tanner's," the undercover man said a few moments later, his voice tight with worry.
"We have to find out who responded to the accident."
"It was probably the state patrol," Josiah offered.
"Let's go find out."
As they started back to their vehicles, Buck asked, "Your leg hurting?"
"You're limping more," he explained.
Chris nodded. "Yeah, it's sore."
"Maybe we should stop, get something to eat so you can take some pills?"
Larabee shook his head, his lips set in a thin line of determination. "Not until I find out what happened to Vin."
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
After working their way through three different people, the agents finally found somebody at the State Patrol office who could help them.
"Chris? Chris Larabee?"
The blond turned, and then smiled as he recognized the speaker. "Kathy Corke?"
The woman smiled back, giving Larabee a quick hug. "Chris, it's so good to see you! But it's Kathy Karon now, Captain Karon, actually."
"You two know each other?" Buck asked, his gaze sweeping over the forty-something woman with short, reddish-blond hair and freckles. She was wearing a State Patrol uniform and carrying a file folder.
"Chris and I went to high school together, back in Indiana," Kathy explained. "Spent a lot of weekends hanging out on the lake."
"Kathy dated my best friend," Chris added.
"How is Hound these days?" she asked him.
"Hound?" Ezra echoed.
"Brian 'Hound' Harrison," Chris clarified. "I don't have a clue. I lost track of him when I went into the Navy."
"Navy?" Kathy asked, her eyes rounding in surprise. "Boy, we do have a lot to catch up on!" She shook her head and then continued. "I understand you want to know about an accident that happened yesterday afternoon?"
Larabee nodded. "Yeah, between one and two p.m. It involved a Jeep on I25. A possible hit and run."
She nodded and offered, "Why don't you come to my office?" As they headed off she looked down at the cane and Chris' limp. "War injury?"
He grinned. "Just a slight accident on a case."
"A case?" she repeated. "Don't tell me, you're a cop now?"
"Was - DPD for a few years, but now I'm with the ATF. These are some of my team. The driver of the Jeep is another one," he said as they reached her office.
The agents followed Kathy into a small but comfortable office. Chris sat down across the desk from her, the others remained standing. "One of your team, huh?" she asked.
Larabee nodded. "Yeah, he was on his way to testify in a criminal case, but he never made it to the courthouse. We're hoping you can tell us what happened to him," he said, his tone and expression imploring.
She hesitated a moment, then opened the file, commenting as she skimmed. "Looks like two of our officers responded to a 911 call at 1:52 p.m. They arrived on the scene to find a Jeep with no plates involved in an apparent hit and run accident."
"They saw the incident?" Ezra asked her.
She looked up, meeting his eyes. "No, but there was a witness who had stopped to render aid," Kathy said.
"Who was that?" Buck asked her.
Kathy flashed him an indulgent smile. "Callie Brin, a good Samaritan," she told him.
"What about Vin?" Chris asked. "What happened to him?"
Kathy looked back down at the file. "The driver, a male, was unconscious and had no ID. He was taken to Denver General. The officers on the scene thought he might've stolen the Jeep."
"It's a long story," Chris said, "but that was Vin, Vin Tanner, and it's his Jeep, so if you're looking for him, you can call that off. Can you tell me anything about the hit and run?"
Kathy looked back at the report. "According to the witness, a bright blue sports car, probably a Mustang, purposefully struck the Jeep twice, then sped off when the Jeep collided with the concrete median."
"Does it say what's wrong with Vin?" Josiah asked.
"No, I'm sorry."
Chris stood. "Come on," he said to his men, "we're going to the hospital."
"Good luck," Kathy said. "And drop by when you have time so we can catch up!"
"I'll do that," the blond promised, picking up his cane and hobbling for the door, the others right behind him.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Less than an hour later the agents sat across from Dr. Ortiz as he explained, "Mr. Doe, uh, Tanner, was brought in with a linear skull fracture and a mild concussion. He was unconscious for less than an hour, and when he awoke, it appeared that he was suffering from amnesia."
"He's lost his memory?" Chris asked, his face paling slightly.
Ortiz nodded. "Amnesia with rapid recovery isn't uncommon with this kind of head injury. However, at the time Mr. Tanner couldn't recall his name, or where he was."
"Can we see him?" Buck asked the physician.
"I'd like nothing more than to say yes," he replied, "but Mr. Tanner snuck out of the hospital sometime yesterday afternoon."
"Snuck out?" Chris repeated, leaning forward in his chair, his face now a distinctive ash-gray color. "When?"
"Around three. He was left unattended for a short period of time and-"
"Doctor, is he in any danger?" Ezra interrupted.
Ortiz's expression turned troubled. "To be completely honest, I don't know. He does have a concussion, and there are potential complications. I'd feel better if he were back here so we could keep an eye on him for a day or two. If he should sustain a second impact, it could cause brain swelling."
Chris swallowed hard. "Worst case, Doctor, if he takes another hit and it-? How soon do we have to find him?"
"Twenty-four hours," Ortiz replied. "But that's a worst case prediction. I don't think he's in any immediate danger. And the police are looking for him; they said something about him stealing a car?"
Buck shook his head. "Vin didn't-"
"He didn't have any ID," Josiah interrupted the ladies' man.
"Damn," Chris breathed. "But Kathy should've already taken care of that."
"That's too bad," the doctor said. "The more people looking for him, the faster we might find him."
"There is that," Ezra replied, nodding thoughtfully.
"Do you have any idea what he might do?" Chris asked the doctor.
"Even though he's lost his memory, that knowledge is still in his head," Ortiz explained. "You're his friends; you might be able to anticipate where he might go. He's likely to be attracted to familiar places. But if you do find him, please, bring him back here, or get him to another hospital as soon as possible."
"We will," Chris promised, standing. He shook the physician's hand. The others thanked him as well.
In the hallway, Buck asked, "Where do we start?"
Chris thought a moment, then said, "Purgatorio."
As they headed out, Ezra pulled Larabee to a stop.
"What?" the blond asked.
Standish nodded at a young woman standing at the information desk, arguing with the volunteer on duty. "I told you, I don't know his name," she said, "but he was brought in yesterday, around two-ish. He was in a car accident."
The aide behind the desk shook her head. "If you don't have a name, I'm afraid I can't help you."
"Uh, excuse me," Chris said, limping over to the young woman.
She looked up. "Yes?"
"Are you asking about a man in a Jeep?"
Her green eyes widened and she smiled. "Yeah, how did you know?"
"Can we talk someplace?" Chris asked her.
She shrugged, eyeing the four men cautiously. "Uh, yeah, I guess so. What'd you have in mind?"
Chris glanced around, thinking. "How about the cafeteria?"
Relief flashed across her face and she nodded. "Sure, I can do that."
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
In the cafeteria, Chris treated her to a cup of coffee, the other agents picking up cups for themselves as well. As they sat with their drinks, Josiah asked her to tell them about the accident.
When she was through, Buck reached out and squeezed her arm, saying sincerely, "We really appreciate you stopping to help him."
Chris nodded his agreement.
"I just wanted to find out how he is. So, how is he?" Callie asked them.
The agents exchanged concerned glances.
"To be perfectly honest, Mss Brin, we don't know," Ezra admitted.
"Excuse me?" Callie asked. "You mean you haven't seen him?"
"Vin, uh, left the hospital yesterday," Buck told her, not sure how much Chris would want him to tell the young woman.
"Left?" she echoed. "But he was bleeding so bad..."
"The doctor said he lost his memory," Chris explained. "He thinks Vin might've panicked and left because he was confused about what had happened to him."
"Will he be okay?" she asked, concern clear in her voice.
"The doctor thinks so," Josiah assured her. "But we're going to see if we can't find him."
"We just wanted to hear about the accident from you," Chris told her.
"Why don't you give me your phone number?" Buck suggested. "I'll give you a call, let you know how it works out."
"Great," Callie said, waiting for the ladies' man to pull out a small notepad and a pen before rattling off her number.
When she left, Ezra turned to the ladies' man, saying, "She probably already has a boyfriend."
Buck grinned. "Maybe, but I never pass up the chance to add a pretty girl's number to the little black book."
The men headed for Purgatorio to begin their search for Vin.
Late tuesday morning
Vin woke and glanced around, studying his surroundings: a small bedroom. There was a dresser, a nightstand, and a full-length mirror in one corner. The walls were a utilitarian cream color, the carpet a mixture of warm earth-tones. Several small Victorian paintings hung on the walls, their surrounding frames gilded and lacy. It was clean and neat, but none of it looked the least bit familiar.
He frowned, trying to remember how he had gotten there.
He blinked and turned his head. The waitress. "How'd-?"
"You almost passed out at the table in the club. I had Sam help me get you into my car. I was going to take you to the hospital, but you refused to go, so I brought you here. It's my apartment," she explained.
She blushed and giggled. "No. I slept on the sofa. You were out as soon as your head hit the pillow."
Relief swept over Vin, although he didn't know why. She was pretty enough, and thin, with short blonde hair and pale green eyes. She obviously had a good heart, too. He paused, staring at her for a long moment.
She looked familiar last night, he reminded himself. Why? Who does she look like?
"Look, uh, your clothes... They were, uh, pretty dirty. I borrowed some things from my neighbor for you. I hope you don't mind. You didn't have anything in your pockets."
Vin nodded, slowly sitting up in the twin bed, but making sure he kept the sheet over his lap, even though he was wearing briefs. She handed him a pair of worn jeans, a faded flannel shirt and a pair of white athletic tube socks. She dipped her head, saying, "Uh, all Tony wanted for the clothes were your shoes."
"My shoes?" he echoed.
"Yeah, but Tony gave me some money to get you a new pair. We can stop at Payless and pick up something, okay? How's your head?"
"Better," Vin lied, reaching up to touch the bandage. "C'n I borrow the shower?"
"Sure," the woman said. "Out the door and to your left."
She turned to leave, but Vin stopped her, saying, "Hey, I don't even know your name."
"Stacy," she said and smiled. "I'm going to go get breakfast started. Toast and eggs sound okay?"
"Sure," he replied, his stomach grumbling.
He waited for her to leave before he climbed out of the bed. He reached out and used the dresser to steady himself. His head pounded almost as fiercely as it had the night before, and the dizziness still haunted him. He sighed. At least his stomach wasn't doing back flips at the moment.
In the tiny bathroom, Vin stared into the mirror as he tugged the ends of the bandage up and then removed it. Gingerly feeling along the stitches, he grimaced. It wasn't as bad as he'd expected, given how much his head hurt.
Then, climbing into the shower, he washed away the dirt and hospital smell.
"Nothing," Chris grumbled. He sighed and dropped onto Vin's chair in the office, his leg throbbing painfully.
"Me, either," Buck admitted, leaning against his own desk.
"I started a search for that blue Mustang," JD told them.
Buck looked skeptical. "Kid, you know how many blue Mustangs there are in the Denver metro area?"
"Over fifteen thousand, actually," their computer expert admitted. "But only seventeen were reported stolen as of this morning."
Buck's expression brightened. "Good idea!"
JD looked pleased with himself as he said, "I'm running those down as best I can."
"So, where do we look next?" Nathan asked his boss.
Chris thought for a moment, then shook his head. "I have no idea. He's been in Purgatorio since he got to Denver. We hit every place he might hole up at."
Buck huffed out a long sigh. "Maybe Josiah and Ezra are having better luck than we did."
"I called all the places in Purgatorio where Vin spends time: gym, rec center, St. Philips, and his apartment building," Nathan told them. "They'll call us if they see him."
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
After stopping at a Payless shoe store, where they picked up an inexpensive pair of tennis shoes for him, Stacy drove Vin to a small community clinic. After a two-hour wait, he was taken in so a doctor could examine his scalp wound.
"Have a seat on the table," the young black man said.
Vin walked as normally as possible to the examination table and eased himself up. The movement triggered a wave of dizziness and nausea, but both quickly faded once he was settled and not moving any more.
The doctor pulled on a pair of latex gloves, then maneuvered an overhead light over and turned it on. Leaning close, he inspected the wound.
"Well, whoever fixed you up did a good job," he said as he probed. "I'm just going to clean this up and put some anti-bacterial cream on it. I'd like to put another bandage on it as well."
"Sure. Thanks, Doc," Vin replied, trying to ignore the pounding inside his skull.
"I noticed you gave your name as 'Doe,'" the man said casually as he worked.
"Uh, yeah," Vin said. "Not too original, huh?"
"We don't ask any questions here, Mr. Doe," the doctor assured him. "I just want to make sure you're not having any other, more serious problems. Any headaches?"
"No," Vin lied, wincing as the man worked.
"Well, then, I guess you're okay," the physician concluded. "But if you did have any of those symptoms, it'd be a real good idea if you checked yourself into a hospital."
"I'll keep that in mind, Doc," Vin replied.
A few minutes later, his new bandage in place, Vin and Stacy left the clinic. In the car, he asked her, "Y' think we could just drive around a little?"
"You want to see if you remember anything?" Stacy asked him.
"Sure. I don't have to be at work until five."
"Thanks. I appreciate all your help."
She smiled. "That's okay... To tell you the truth, you kind of remind me of my brother. Do you have any brothers or sisters?"
Vin thought for a moment, then mumbled, "Wish I knew."