Six men rushed into Denver Memorial Hospital’s emergency room. Chris Larabee and Buck Wilmington had been together when the phone call came. Larabee drove as if the devil himself was in hot pursuit, as Buck called to inform the others and miraculously they had all appeared in the hospital parking lot at the same time.
The ER nurse saw them coming and immediately sent the men to the surgical waiting room. All she knew was that their friend, their brother, had been hit by a car and was taken to surgery due to possible internal bleeding.
The men each had their own ritual for dealing with the wait. Some leaned against the wall or stared out the window, one shuffled a deck of cards, one leafed through a journal, one paced, and they all prayed. As one they came to attention and faced the doctor who stepped through the door in green surgical scrubs stained with blood, the blood of one of their own.
“Doc, how’s Vin?" Chris asked, concern evident in his voice.
“Damn lucky considering he was hit by a car. He sustained two broken ribs, a laceration across the right temple that required seventeen stitches and a puncture wound to the liver.”
“The liver?” Buck asked, worried.
“A puncture isn’t too bad, Buck. The liver will regenerate itself.” Nathan quickly assured the men before asking the doctor, “How much damage to the area’s tissue?”
“Not too much actually, Vin wasn't torn but stabbed and it was a shallow stab of the liver, so he is really lucky. Our best guess is that there was something on the car, like a hood ornament, or a trunk decoration, but it was pointed and narrow. He must have landed on it as he rolled over the front and back of the car.”
“The front and the back?” JD looked questioningly at the doctor.
“You weren't told what happened?”
“Shelia down in the ER called me at home and said Vin was brought in and the police thought it was a hit and run,” Chris answered.
“An officer rode with him in the ambulance and he said the car came up on the sidewalk. Vin saw it coming and pushed the officer out of the way. He then jumped up so the car wouldn't take him down. He apparently landed on his feet on the hood of the car but the speed and impact threw him across the roof and he rolled off the back.”
The six men stood stunned at the news.
“When can we see him?” Chris needed to know.
“He's in recovery right now. I stitched the puncture closed and now we wait and see how he handles the nausea a wound to the liver can cause. We'll just have to wait and see when he wakes up.”
“And pray tell, when might that be?” Ezra requested his concern showing clearly in his voice. He had a bad feeling about the way the doctor had delivered the news.
“Hopefully, he should start coming around in the next few hours,” the doctor replied.
“What do you mean, hopefully?” Chris demanded his stomach tensing.
“The laceration he received was to his left temple. Since the hit and run he has been unconscious. If it had been possible to wait on the surgery, I would have, but I didn't know how damaged the liver was or if there was any other damage until I opened him up. When a blow is applied to that area of the head, it's very serious since it is a very sensitive and vulnerable area. Now all we can do is wait. As soon as we have him settled in a room I'll have the nurse come and get you,” Dr. Adams explained. The doctor had dealt with these men before, he didn't bother to tell them about the visiting hours being over, or how many could be in the room at once. No he had come to the conclusion that it was in the best interest of the patient, as well as the hospital's staff to let them all go together and stay as long as they wished.
Dr. Adams had barely moved away before the men were all turning to one of their own for answers.
“Nathan?” Josiah asked the unspoken questions.
“Your temples are known as pressure points. Any type of blow has been known to give anything from a minor concussion to memory loss, altering personalities, sending some into a coma, or even worse. There are no guarantees; we just have to wait for him to wake up.”
A young police officer stepped toward the intimidating men, “Chris Larabee?”
“How's Vin, I mean Agent Tanner?” Concern was evident in the young man's voice.
“It's a matter of waiting until he wakes up. How do you know Vin?” Chris queried.
The officer's gaze swung to the floor, the man looking even younger as the obvious guilt shadowed his face.
“You were the officer with Mr. Tanner when he was hit by the car, were you not,” Ezra stated rather than asked.
“Yes, I was. I asked Vin to meet me; I needed his advice on how to handle something. You see, Vin believed in me and helped me get into the police academy. He's the only one I knew I could trust. While we were talking, Paulo, one of the higher ups in the Raven gang came out of nowhere and tried to run me down. Vin shoved me into the doorway of the store we were in front of and then literally jumped onto the hood of the car. It all happened so fast, he just reacted before I even realized what was going on.”
“What's your name, son?” Josiah asked the distraught young man.
“Ricky . . . Officer Richard Razoela.”
“Ah, your mother is Elleana Razoela, in Vin's building.” Josiah nodded his head and smiled.
“Si . . . I mean, yes she is. You know her?”
“We've had the pleasure of meeting her once or twice while we were at Vin's,” Josiah answered.
“Why was this gang member after you and have you caught him yet?” Chris got straight to the point.
“Yes, Paulo is in custody. He wouldn't say why or who put him up to it, but I have a good idea that I know who did. It's why I asked Vin to meet me,” Ricky replied, suddenly unsure of what he should do.
“Officer Razoela, you realize that Mr. Tanner trusts us impeccably. Undoubtedly he would have come to us for assistance regardless, so please enlighten us as to who would want to run you down and why?” Ezra reassured the young officer in an effort to gain his trust.
Ricky looked around to see if anyone else was listening or within hearing range. He explained to the remaining members of Team Seven exactly what he had told Vin.
“A month ago a couple of people in the neighborhood told me that the Raven's had been getting bolder and started to shake-down people and businesses in broad daylight. Old Benjeno, who runs the outdoor market, told them he was going to call the police. Paulo told him to go ahead, that no one would listen or show up and if they did, it wouldn't matter. A week later, Mr. Santeno and his wife saw Paulo giving a wad of bills to a cop. By the description, it's the same cop Mrs. Willard saw taking money from Paulo a couple of days ago. That cop happens to be my Sergeant. He caught me yesterday morning following him in the neighborhood. I told him I wasn't following him, but that I was running an errand for a friend. I wasn't sure if he bought my story or if he saw the camera I had. Looking back, I would guess he did see it. I didn't know who to trust in the precinct or who else might also be on the 'take'. Anyway after what happened to Vin, I called in the hit and run and told them it was a pedestrian who was hit. I didn't want to give Vin's name or that he was ATF over the radio. I didn't want Sergeant Kelly to get suspicious and possibly try to do something to Vin here in the hospital.”
“You did the right thing, Ricky, by not putting out any information on the radio,” Chris reassured before asking, “Did you get any pictures yesterday, before you were caught?”
“I managed to capture a couple of the money exchanges between Paulo and him. I figure he's getting a payment every week. I also have the statements written out and signed by Benjeno, Mr. Santeno, and Mrs. Willard concerning their dealings with Paulo.” Ricky reported as he reached inside his jacked and withdrew a roll of film and three written statements, and then handed them to Larabee.
Chris looked over the statements then walked to the phone in the waiting area. He placed a call to Captain Hayes of the Denver Police Department, who happened to be an old friend. Explaining all that had happened but not mentioning the young officer by name. Chris asked him to meet with Orin Travis who was next on his list of calls.
Within half an hour, Chris had everything arranged. Team Four's leader Agent Martinez and his second in command had picked up Officer Razoela from the surgical waiting room and had escorted him to Travis's office where they would meet with Hayes and decide if they hand enough evidence on which to build a case and arrest Sergeant Kelly, or what they needed to do to bring both Kelly and the Raven gang down.
After what seemed like forever, the floor nurse came in and asked the men of Team Seven to follow her. Vin had finally been moved and was settled into his room.
They followed the nurse down the hall and through the door to the room that held Vin Tanner. The six men stood around the bed looking at their unconscious friend.
Buck, JD and Josiah stepped out of the room only to return a few minutes later with more chairs. The men sat in silence until JD asked, "So Vin should wake up in an hour or so, right?"
"We hope so," Nathan replied.
"Rest assured, Mr. Tanner waking up is a wager I would take gladly, and you know, Mr. Dunne, that I only bet on a sure thing. The problem as I see it will be in keeping him not only in an uncomfortable bed, but in this establishment in general. We are all aware of our colleague’s ability to simply disappear. The last time I must admit he even impressed me with his ingenuity. How he slipped past not one, but two federal marshals and the head nurse, who our own Mr. Wilmington fondly calls 'Iron Pants', and not be detected until his arrival at Mr. Sanchez's home for his birthday cookout is beyond me. However, it did brighten my day when the Marshall appeared, demanding his jacket and badge back from our Mr. Tanner. It was quite generous of you, Mr. Larabee to inform them of his whereabouts when they called to report that he was missing. That he was, in fact, right beside you. Myself, had I answered the call, I wouldn't have let them off so easily for their inability to protect Mr. Tanner, since there did exist a no contact order between the team and Mr. Tanner." Ezra's smile disappeared slightly as a hard look appeared in his eyes as he neared the end of his comment.
"I planned to, but Vin said to give them a break," Chris said quietly, looking at Vin's still face.
"Junior sure does have his moments, don't he?" Buck acknowledged. Receiving nods of agreement from the others, he continued, "I'll never forget that time Vin was stuck here for two weeks 'cause of that bullet in his leg had festered with infection by the time we found him in the mountains. The first week he was pretty subdued what with the fever and all. By the end of the second week he was biting at the bit to get out. I guess we all knew deep down that he would try to pull something when the doc said he wanted to keep him through the coming weekend and run a few more tests. When I heard Vin mumble, 'Thinks I'm his personal guinea pig' I knew it was just a matter of time. We were just making plans as to who was going to watch him, when that orderly wheeled in the bed with Vin under the blanket, sound asleep from the test. Or that's what we thought, but no, Chris knew right off that it weren't him, didn’t you. That connection you share was working real well that day. You pulled that blanket back revealing that lady just as the doc came in." Buck stopped talking as laughter at the memory of the doctor's face overtook him. Catching his breath he continued, "I thought the doc was going to have a fit the way he was gasping and sputtering. Then he demands to know what's going on. I gotta say, I kind of felt bad for the poor orderly, it wasn't his fault. He went in to get a patient that he'd never seen before, how was he suppose to know. I mean, the Lab Tech on the phone just pointed at a person sleeping on a bed. How was he supposed to know the person all covered up wasn't Vin? By the time we realized and went looking for him he had already been picked up by a cab by the outpatient doors and was long gone. I still don't know how he managed to get his wallet and pants down to himself. I know they were still in the room when they took him down for the test."
"Miss Mary Ann," Josiah said shaking his head.
"Who?" JD frowned, looking at his friend.
"JD, get with the program. Miss Mary Ann, that real nice lady we found in Vin's bed," Buck explained as he smacked JD on the back of the head, knocking off his hat.
"Buck's right, Miss Mary Ann was the lady in the bed and I remember her telling us that she was there for an MRI on her wrist to check for carpel tunnel. She excused herself to use the bathroom and none of us really noticed when she left since we were too busy looking for Vin. After Chris texted us that the security guard had seen Vin leave by cab, I was heading out to my car and ran into her. I remember that she asked if we had found our friend and how he was doing. I explained that he was probably on his way home and that we were meeting at our cars and heading over to his place. She got this concerned look on her face and asked if he was really sick and should still be in the hospital. I told her not to worry, that he had been but the doctor had planned to release him in a day or so anyway. It was clear to see by the look of guilt on her face that she had helped Vin in his little escape plan. I'm not sure how he convinced her to help but he did, and she probably slipped out with his pants and wallet right under our noses," Josiah chuckled.
"You’re kidding, this is Junior you're talking about. Between his blushing and his soft 'ma'am', women are willing to help him with about anything," Buck laughed.
"Jealous, Mr. Wilmington?" Ezra smirked.
"I might have been if Vin ever did it deliberately to get women, but we all know Vin ain’t like that," Buck acknowledged, looking down at his friend lying so still in the hospital bed.
"Remember the time the horse Vin was trying to break rolled over on him?" JD asked, with a grin. "There we are sitting in the waiting room wondering when the doctor will finally come out and tell us how Vin is and Chris's phone rings. It's the hospital asking if Vin is with him."
"I thought ol' Chris was going to explode," Buck snickered.
"I tried to tell them that he was slippery and that when confused, like he was with that knock on the head, that he was a flight risk. But would that nurse listen, no, she refused to let any of us stay with him." The arrogant nurse's attitude still disgusted Nathan.
"That disagreeable drill sergeant disguised as a medical professional was quickly dispatched by Dr. Adams when he learned how unprofessionally she had behaved. As luck would have it, we did find Mr. Tanner rather quickly thanks to that little girl who took such a shine to Mr. Dunne. If she hadn't told him about the strange man who climbed through the top of the elevator she was riding in, we might never have found him hiding in the roof's access shaft, cold and confused." Ezra recounted the experience and the heartache at finding Vin in a state of confusion, curled up and shaking from the cold.
"Luckily, Dr. Adams had fired her and she was long gone by the time we returned with Vin," Josiah stated.
A heavy silence fell over the six men as the stared at their friend, hoping for any sign that he might be waking up.
Several minutes passed before Buck asked, "I wonder why Junior hates hospitals so much. I mean, every time we have to pretty much drag him in kicking and screaming."
“Because when he was five he stayed in a hospital room for two days and watched his mom slowly die,” Nettie said for the doorway.
“Nettie?” Chris asked, standing up along with Buck who offered the woman his chair.
She declined the offer of the chair and moved to stand by the bed and gently laid her hand on the side of Vin’s face. “I won’t be staying, I know my boy is here and he’ll be just fine. Casey told me that JD called to cancel their date and why. So, I had her drive me over so I could see for myself. Now that I have, I can feel the life in him and I know he’ll be alright. My boy’s a fighter so he’ll wake up when he’s good and ready.”
The others saw the conviction in her face as she spoke and for the first time since arriving they all relaxed a little.
“Ms. Wells, it would be my pleasure to retrieve a cup of what this establishment passes off as coffee, if you wish.”
“Thank you, but no, Mr. Standish. As I said, I won’t be staying. I just wanted to see Vin with my own eyes and to be told that the driver of the car has been caught, he has been caught, hasn’t he?” Nettie’s voice because firm as she requested verification from Chris.
“Yeah, he was caught. An officer who was here earlier told us that he has been arrested.” Chris explained.
“Explains a lot about Vin’s dislike of hospitals if he was in the room when his mom passed,” JD commented.
“He was in the room staying with her while she was dying. Vin’s mom worked at a little store in the evenings. The manager was a kind, old man who allowed her to bring Vin with her while she worked. He would sleep in the back room. One night a man came in to rob the store, but robbing wasn’t the only thing on his mind. Vin woke up to the sound of his mother’s screams and he came out of the back room to find them fighting. The man had a knife and was beating her as he stabbed her repeatedly. Vin threw everything he could get his little hands on at the man, broke the window and set off the alarms. The ambulance took him, along with his mom to the hospital and when they didn’t find anyone to contact and saw how serious her wounds were... well there was nothing they could do. They didn’t think she would make it through the night but Vin’s mom was a strong lady. She hung on for her son’s sake and used every breath to tell him how much she loved him. She gave the hospital information on her father, Vin’s grandpa and they sent word to him. They knew they should call social services but she convinced them to let Vin stay with her as long as possible. She died early in the evening with Vin right there with her… Everyone wanted to give the two as much privacy as possible so no one had come to check on her. They didn’t realize she was gone until the next morning. Hospitals remind him of that night,” Nettie explained. Vin had told her the story one night, years ago when he was sick with a high fever and had begged not to be taken to the hospital.
Though shocked and deeply saddened for the pain their friend must have endured that night, they now understood why Vin fought so hard to avoid going to the hospital. At that moment they all knew that never again would Vin be left alone in a hospital even if it was to simply be checked out. They would see to it that he knew they would be there beside him always.
Nettie soon left knowing that there were six men there to watch over the seventh and was confident that he was in good hands.
A nurse came into the room and three of the men moved so she could check on Vin’s vitals as well as check the monitors. Mariah tried to keep her focus on her job but found it a bit difficult with the room full of attractive men so intense and so close. Mariah had heard the other nurses talking about this group. She knew they were an ATF team but just watching them she knew it was much more, they were more like a family, like brothers. Mariah had seen families over the years and how they reacted to one of their own being hurt. The worry coming off of these men for their friend was so thick; she could feel it in the air. She finished taking the vitals and prepared to leave but was stopped by the six questioning stares. “Mr. Tanner’s heartbeat and pressures are good and his breathing is steady,” Mariah smiled, saying only what she knew.
“Thank you, we appreciate you letting us know,” Josiah said sincerely.
Nodding her understanding, she left the room.
Silence again returned to the room setting all the men on edge. Josiah decided it was his turn to do something about it. “My favorite Vin escape was when Chris, Buck and Nathan were gone to DC for that conference and Vin ended up with that broken glass in his back side from falling backwards through that plate-glass window with the bank robber. The boy is a trouble magnet. He goes to the bank to cash his check and comes out with about 30 pieces of glass in both ‘cheeks.’ So there he lies in the ER with the bank robber on the next gurney, Vin waiting on Dr. Adams to come take the glass out of his ass. Instead Dr. Brookman comes in to take care of it. Vin turned about three shades of red when he found out the name was Brigitta Brookman, a female doctor removing the glass from his nether regions. I was doing my best to keep him on that gurney, and then the bank robber gets loose and grabs the gun of one of the officers guarding him. He’s threatening to shoot the nurse he’s using as a shield. The robber’s backing out of the ER doors and into the parking lot and I turn around and Vin’s gone. The doors slid closed and then suddenly open again and the nurse comes rushing in saying some young man tackled the bank robber in the parking lot. I swear, it only took the officers and myself a minute to get out there and they were both gone. We searched a half mile in every direction figuring that Vin was chasing the guy down. Then twenty minutes later we find out from one of the officers that Vin had brought the robber into the precinct. When we ask if Vin was still there we we’re told no that he left. A couple of hours later when I was about ready to give up and call Chris, I decided to stop by his apartment one more time and Mrs. Razoela tells me that old Doc Watson is upstairs with Vin. Seemed that she saw two of her son’s friend helping him up to his apartment and Mrs. Razoela, being a very sharp woman, called the retired doctor who takes care of the children in the neighborhood. Seems she had given Vin some shots of whiskey for pain and she must have given him quite a bit. When I walked into his apartment I could hear him singing. Followed the voice and found Vin face down on the bed with the doc plucking the last of the glass fragments out of his butt. I introduced myself to the doc and Vin just kept singing away, ‘Home on the Range.”
“Damn! Sorry I missed that. It’s Chris’s fault, him making Nate and I go to that stupid conference just so our records would be up to date,” Buck whined.
“Two hours,” Chris mumbled, looking at his watch.
“Time does seem to be passing quickly,” Ezra commented, looking at his own watch.
Nathan glanced at Vin and wondered aloud, “The only one I want to know about is that time down in Texas. You remember Vin was accused of shooting Marshall Kincaid. After that he was shot and beaten for supposedly trying to escape capture. They put him in that secure wing of the hospital after the surgery to remove the bullet. How did he escape out of an eighth floor room that had bars on the windows?”
“Laid…a…fal…false…tr…trail,” Vin’s tired voice floated out.
For a second everyone froze, staring at the slightly opened eyes of their friend.
“Vin!” Chris said, instantly moving beside the bed.
“Water,” Vin’s voice sounded parched.
Chris poured a cup of water and with Josiah helping to lift Vin’s head they were able to give him the requested water.
“Ricky okay?” Vin wanted to know.
“Yeah, he’s fine. He told us what your meeting was about. It’s being handled right now, and Paulo has already been arrested,” Chris explained.
"Good," Vin sighed as he started to drift back to sleep.
"So what false trail did you leave?" Nathan asked, in an attempt to see how aware Vin truly was as well as to check on both his long and short-term memory.
"Took all of them turnkey pins out of the bottom of the bed, and used the flat turn part to unscrew the vent in the ceilin'. I left it hangin' open and figured that while they's lookin' for me in the vent it'd buy me some time to get out and find who set me up. Didn't know ya had already come down and caught Eli Joe while I was escapin'. "
"But how did you get out of the room with the guards right outside your door?" JD asked eagerly.
"Picked the lock with a stiff wire out of one of the monitors they had me hooked up to. The locks on the bathroom door of the adjoining' bathrooms were easy to pick. Relocked it behind me. Went to the closet when I saw there was a patient sleepin' in the room. Changed the clothes I had put on in my room with the ones they had hanging and then put my clothes in their overnight bag to carry out with me. That way I could change once I got out and away from the hospital. I opened their door and looked around. Found it was a secure wing not for criminals but for those wantin' their privacy. So I walked out of the room and into the first elevator, got off at the next floor and went to the opposite end and took another elevator all the way down. From there I went out the main doors," Vin explained, closing his eyes and sounding tired as he finished his tale.
Chris noticed as a slight blush coated Vin's cheek and he pretended to drift back to sleep and hide the tell-tale color by turning his face into the pillow.
Buck noticed the corner of Chris's mouth turn up into a grin and followed his line of vision. Noticing the slight blush, Buck grinned and asked, "So Junior, what type of clothes was it that you 'borrowed' to slip out of the hospital?"
"Just clothes," Vin mumbled.
"What was that, Mr. Tanner? To whom did the clothing belong?" Ezra smiled, joining in the fun, knowing something was up and it must be good by the way Vin was acting.
"What was that, Vin?" Chris smiled as relief flooded through him with the realization that Vin was going to be just fine. He watched as Vin blushed and then became aggravated when he realized he wasn't going to get off the hook on this one.
Vin huffed once and tried another tactic. "Can't believe you're standing' around askin' me nonsense questions after the day I had, what with me being tired and in pain."
"Where are you hurting, and how bad is it, Vin?" Nathan asked instantly. He pushed Buck out of the way so he could get up to be bed beside Vin and look him over. "JD, go tell the nurse that Vin is awake and in pain."
"No, JD. Nathan, it ain't that bad," Vin admitted, stopping their medic from worrying and to stop his poking and prodding.
Buck tried again, "Come on, Vin, tell us what it was you put on to get out of the…"
"A nun! You took a nun's clothes! You put on a nun's habit! Vin, that's sacrilege!" JD rambled as he suddenly figured out what Vin had mumbled earlier.
"I'm sure the Heavenly Father understood, JD. It was an emergency," Josiah assured and he suppressed the laughter that coated his voice.
"Vin, you should be ashamed, stealing from a nun," Nathan teased.
"I must agree with Mr. Jackson. You should be ashamed of pilfering the meager belongings of one of the sainted sisters. Leaving a woman of such high moral fiber stranded without any garment," Ezra chastised, his gold tooth gleaming in merriment.
"No, I didn't. Went to a gas station straight away and changed clothes. Took the outfit to one of those one-hour cleaners and told the lady to clean the sister's habit and to deliver it to her at the hospital room. Said had gotten dirty while helping me and I just wanted to do what was right. The lady thought I meant that the nun had gotten dirty and was in the hospital helping me. I let her think what she wanted and she promised to have it cleaned, pressed and delivered to the nun within the hour," Vin explained, his long-winded explanation tiring him.
Chris noticed his friend's tired eyes, "Nathan, should the doctor come in and see him before he goes back to sleep?"
"Yeah, it would be best just to make sure, let him give Vin a once over," Nathan agreed.
"JD, go tell the nurse that Vin's awake and to page the doctor," Chris requested.
“I'm fine, just tired. Had a hell of a workout this morning," Vin reassured.
"Mr. Tanner, I hate to inform you, but wrestling with a moving vehicle is most certainly not a workout. It is very much a fight and one that should never be taken on, for few ever win," Ezra state, allowing his emotions to show how worried he'd actually been.
"I know Ez, sorry to worry ya. But really, I'm fine," Vin said sincerely, still seeing the worry in his friends eyes. He knew he'd have to reassure them in some way if he ever wanted them to let it go.
A short time later the doctor came in with the nurse. The men moved out to the hall with the exception of Chris who stayed in with his friend.
"How is he, Doc?" Buck blurted out the moment Chris and the doctor walked out of Vin's room.
"Doing very well. Since the surgery was performed as an out-patient surgery I would normally let the patient go home as long as they were not going to be alone. However, Vin Tanner is anything but normal and I know that he won't take it easy, and he won't stay off his feet and rest. That said, while I have complete confidence in you gentlemen. He needs to stay off his feet and someone needs to wake him every 2 hours. I do feel it would be best to keep him here for a day or two so we can make sure he stays in bed and rests," Dr. Adams explained. The man stepped back so a cart could go by, and then added, "Give Mariah a few moments to finish up and take his vitals one more time, as well as change his dressing. When she comes out you can all go back in."
“Thank you, Doc,” Chris said, shaking the doctor’s hand.
The door behind them opened. “Doctor, there’s a problem,” Mariah said.
The six men and Doctor Adams quickly followed her into the room. The bed was empty and Vin was nowhere to be seen. Mariah pointed to the closed bathroom door. “He refused to use the bedpan and said he wanted to go into the bathroom. I thought it would be alright since he is stable. However he was a bit unsteady on his feet so I helped him make it into the room. He was blushing so deeply when I asked him if he needed help, that I left him alone to have some privacy. I’ve knocked several times and there’s no answer and the door appears to be locked. He was so unsteady on his feet, I’m afraid he’s fallen or has passed out.”
Mariah had barely stopped talking when the six men turned as one and the largest, Josiah, hit the door with his shoulder, busting it open. “What the…” the surprised man shouted.
Looking in, they found the bathroom to be empty.
“Where is he?” Doctor Adams asked, confused.
Josiah reached across and turned the knob on the adjoining door. The door was unlocked and he pushed it open. He looked into the room and finding it empty simply shook his head.
“The laundry cart, he’s hiding in it,” Chris growled, realizing that the cart had been pushed right past them in the hallway.
Rushing out of the room and down the corridor, they watched as the cart was pushed into the elevator. Chris and Ezra took off for the elevator, catching the door before it could close.
Chris pulling the laundry cart back out into the hallway.
“Hey man, what ya doing?” the laundry orderly shouted.
“We think you may have a passenger, my good sir, either with or without your knowledge.” Ezra explained as he grabbed the top bedding and flipped it back.
“Hi!” A woman popped up, smiling from the cart.
“Well, hello there, darlin’.” Buck returned her smile as he offered his hand to help her out.
“You must be Bucklin. He said I would like you, that you were real nice. I’m Nadine,” the woman said as she held out her hand to the man, but suddenly found herself picked up and lifted out of the cart into Buck’s arms.
“Miss Nadine, by any chance would you know the whereabouts of the gentleman you were talking to? I assume he convinced you to hide in the cart?” Ezra asked.
Pulling her eyes away from Buck’s warm smile she replied, “I’m not sure. He just popped into my friend Donna’s room and asked me if I’d like to meet someone real nice. He helped me slip into the cart as the orderly was picking up the linens from the room across from Donna’s. I guess he still might be there. It’s room 373.”
The men turned and headed back down the hall.
“Buck, put her down,” Chris ordered when he realized that Buck was still carrying Nadine in his arms.
Arriving at room 373 the men opened the door and entered.
“Oh my, he wasn’t lying was he?” Donna commented to her friends sitting beside her bed as they all admired the handsome men who had entered the room with Nadine and the doctor in tow.
“No, he didn’t lie. Bucklin is as nice as he said.” Nadine’s grin was returned by Buck.
“By the description that Vin gave me, you must be Chris. He said I would like you,” Donna said as she smiled sweetly at the man in black.
“By any chance, do you know where Vin is?” Chris asked, smiling back.
“He said you would come and ask and that I should tell you… Excuse me, I have to remember this just right, he was so polite when he asked me to tell you. Oh yes… ‘You should know better than falling for a false trail, Cowboy.’”
The room became deadly quiet, and then laughter broke out from the men.
“Smart ass, Texan.” Chris just shook his head.
“Chris, he said to tell you not to worry. He used my phone to call his friend Ricky and was going out to your place. He said he would see you there,” Donna finished giving the rest of the message.
“Well, I’ll sign him out and give you his meds and the instructions for his care,” the doctor shrugged, leaving the men and their new acquaintances.
“Is your friend in trouble?” Nadine asked Buck with concern in her voice.
“Nah, Darlin’. He’s just slick and quick.”
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