True to his word, five minutes later, Chris Larabee was driving down the
road, heading for the interstate south. After hanging up the phone, he raced
to his room to dress, ran to the kitchen and filled his monster travel coffee
mug with coffee, grabbed his cell phone, keys and wallet and was out the
door. He felt bad about not calling his team with the news but he knew they
would all want to go and there just wasn't room for everybody. He figured
he'd wait till he was an hour or so down the road before he made the first
He did, however, think it was the perfect time to call the Amarillo Medical
Center to check on Vin's condition. After taking a moment to think about
it, alive was a very good thing, but if he'd been listed as a John Doe up
until now, it was because Vin was unable to identify himself. That could
He dialed information, got the number for the Medical Center and punched
it in awkwardly as he tried to keep his eyes on the road.
"Amarillo Medical Center. How may I direct your call?" said an operator's
"I'm looking for information on a patient. Vin Tanner."
"I'll transfer you to patient records, sir. Thank you." The line clicked
softly and then the relaxing music came on followed by the worst sound Chris
could think of at the moment. His cell phone began beeping that the battery
"Vin Tanner. I need to know how he is? What's his condition?"
"The name again, sir?"
"I'm sorry, sir. I have no record of a Vin Tanner as a patient here."
"I just got a call that said he was there."
"I'm sorry sir. I can't..."
"They said he was listed as a John Doe that they just identified."
"I have two patients currently listed as John Does."
"Can you tell me their conditions?"
"One is listed in critical, one is in good condition."
"But you don't know which one is Vin?"
"No sir. If he was just recently identified, they may not have had time to
update the records."
"Look, I'm driving down from Denver. It'll take me seven hours to get there.
Can't you tell me something...anything?" Chris was begging, but he didn't
care. He needed to know.
There was a long silence followed by a soft sigh. "The John Doe in critical
condition is listed as being approximately fifty years old. Does that help?."
"Yes, that tells me that Vin is in good condition. Thank you very much."
Chris sighed as he hung up. He decided to go ahead and try calling Buck.
He dialed Buck's number but his phone's battery wasn't up to the challenge
and the call didn't go through. Chris set the phone in the recharger and
hoped it charged quickly. His team was going to hit the roof as it was at
not being told that Vin was alive.
Vin was alive.
Chris took a deep shuddering breath as his eyes welled up with tears. Vin
******* ******* *******
Marti came in to the hospital wing and walked in to the locker room where
she kept her personal belongings during her shift. After locking up her purse
and lunch - one always must be careful with one's food - she went on to the
"Oh, Marti, I'm glad you're here," Angela said excitedly when she saw her
friend. "Look what was sitting on the fax machine this morning." She held
out two pages that Marti took and began to read.
The first page was a cover sheet with a short note from sergeant Ristuccia
telling her to expect someone named Chris Larabee sometime that day. She
pulled the second sheet on top and staring back at her was 'John Doe'. She
looked up at Angela and smiled then looked down to read the missing person
"Vin Tanner from Denver, Colorado." She skimmed the identifying characteristics
though she didn't really need to read them at all. The picture was unmistakable.
"Says he's an ATF agent. Wonder if he was hurt working on a case...some
undercover mission," she speculated.
"Oh, Marti, you watch too much television. Those guys don't really do all
that secret stuff. They're probably all just a bunch of paper pushers."
Marti shrugged, liking her scenario better. "I guess I'd better let Dr. Lucas
know that someone is coming for him. And I guess I'd better let Vin
know who he is."
******* ******* *******
Buck picked up the phone after the second ring. "Yeah, Buck Wilmington here,"
he said casually.
"Buck, it's me," Chris spoke into the pay phone receiver.
"Chris, where in the hell are you? We've been trying to reach you for over
an hour. JD thinks he may be able to..."
"Buck. They found Vin."
" . . . hack his way into...what did you say?!"
"I got a call this morning. Vin's alive. He's in Amarillo Texas. I'm on my
way there now."
"Vin's alive?!" Buck nearly shouted.
"What?!" Chris could hear JD shouting in the background.
"Tell me!" Buck demanded as he switched his phone to speaker so JD could
"I'm sorry I didn't call sooner. I got a call about six this morning from
an officer in Amarillo. They had a John Doe that they identified as Vin.
I just jumped in the car and hit the road. I tried to call earlier but my
cell phone went dead. I'm at a gas station just over the state line in New
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, Chris, how's Vin? Is he okay?" Buck interrupted. At this
point, this information was his highest priority.
"He's okay, isn't he?" JD added, concern lacing his voice.
"I don't know anything for sure. The hospital told me he was listed in good
condition but nothing about what was wrong with him. He has to be hurt bad
enough that he couldn't tell them who he was."
There was a moment's silence as the three mulled over the possibilities.
"Listen, Buck, I need to hit the road again. Could you call the rest of the
boys and pass this on?"
"Yeah, sure, pard, consider it done. You'll call back as soon as you know
"Absolutely. Thanks Buck, JD." Chris hung up the phone and headed for his
truck. Checking his watch, he figured he was still several hours away from
Amarillo and Vin.
******* ******* *******
After conferring with Dr. Lucas, Marti went in search of the former John
Doe. She was hoping that maybe by hearing his own name whatever had happened
to cause him to lose his connection with language might be reversed, though
she knew this wasn't likely. These things didn't usually reverse themselves
She found Vin in the common room staring out the window, as he usually was.
She approached him and gently touched his arm to get his attention.
"We found out who you are and where you belong, John." She produced the missing
person fax she had and held it out for him to see. "Your name is Vin Tanner
and you live in Denver, Colorado." She knew he couldn't understand what she
said but she could see that he recognized the picture on the sheet as being
him. He reached up and touched it lightly with his finger tips then looked
up at her as he raised his hand up to touch his own chest then touched the
"Yes, this is you," she confirmed. "Vin Tanner." She said the name slowly
and distinctly to see if he gave any sign of recognition. There was none.
"There is also a note that says Chris Larabee will be coming to see you later.
Is Chris Larabee a friend of yours?" Again, she over-enunciated the
name, but still there was no indication he understood her. She sighed and
hoped this Chris Larabee could shed some light on what had happened to Vin
******* ******* *******
Chris could finally see the Amarillo city limits appear on the horizon. He
decided to forgo the macho man thing and stop to ask directions to the medical
center. Once in hand, he made his way through the city streets and was both
relieved and apprehensive when he pulled into the visitors' parking lot.
He had to stop at no fewer than three information desks to get the information
he wanted and that only got him to the ward entrance. He was stopped from
entering until Vin's physician could meet him. Chris was finding it difficult
to keep himself calm.
Dr. Lucas finally arrived and introduced himself to Chris. He led the way
into the ward and then into a small dark room that Chris immediately recognized
as a viewing room. One wall had a good sized two-way mirror on it which
over-looked a large room. Chris scanned the room quickly and his eyes at
last fell on Vin.
Vin stood alone by the picture window that dominated the entire wall of the
common area and gazed outside. The outside world was overcast, looking like
it may rain. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, sadly.
Chris stood beside Dr. Lucas, looking through the two-way mirror at the forlorn
figure by the window.
"That's him," he said, identifying his friend.
"Mr. Larabee, before you see him, I'd like to go over his condition with
Chris nodded his head as he continued to watch his friend, wondering why
he looked so sad. Dr. Lucas led him out of the viewing room and to his private
office. He closed the door and indicated for Chris to sit down as he headed
for his own chair behind his desk.
The doctor's first question confused Chris.
"Tell me, Mr. Larabee, is English Mr. Tanner's native language?"
Chris wrinkled his brow, then said, "As far as I know, yes."
"No chance he grew up in another country, speaking another language?"
"He was born here in Texas. Spent most of his childhood in foster care."
Chris's expression telegraphed his confusion.
"And as far as you know, is he able to read and write?"
Chris nodded, the confused look growing.
"Mr. Tanner was brought into our emergency room last Monday and since his
arrival has not spoken a single word and does not seem to understand anything
said to him. He also does not seem to understand anything written." The doctor
knew he was throwing a lot at this man but it was an unusual case, even for
"Since Monday," Chris echoed disbelievingly.
The doctor flipped open the file that had sat in the middle of his desk since
mid-morning, awaiting this meeting. "He was found along a stretch of highway
about sixty miles northwest of here. He was unconscious at the time but regained
consciousness in the trauma room. He didn't respond to any of the emergency
room physician's questions. They ran a CAT scan right away and we've done
a second one since but there is no sign of any brain trauma." The doctor
paused to let this information sink in.
"So, if there is no injury, he should be able to talk..." Chris guessed,
not quite understanding Vin's condition.
"Not necessarily. Mr. Tanner's physical injuries include multiple fractures
in both hands and wrists and multiple abrasions and lacerations on his hands,
arms and legs. This and where he was found leads us to believe he was most
likely thrown from a moving car onto the highway. The trauma of that event,
or of what happened before that, is probably what is causing the condition."
The doctor was a little surprised by the lack of shock in Chris's expression
on hearing this news but he didn't know that Chris was well acquainted with
the heinous things that one Russell Chassen was capable of. "We aren't equipped
here to run the full battery of tests that will need to be done on Mr. Tanner.
Those will be done at a mental health care facility when his physical injuries
have healed enough that he can leave here."
"Is this condition permanent?"
"Unfortunately, there is no way to judge that. He could recover in days,
weeks, months. But, even if he doesn't regain the use of his language skills,
he can be re-trained, that is to say, learn English all over again."
"Any reason I can't take him home?"
"Physically, his injuries are relatively minor. Mentally, his situation is
a little more tenuous. It would probably help him a great deal to be in familiar
surroundings with people he knows. We just don't know how much he remembers
of his life."
"You mean, he may not know me?"
"He's been surrounded here by strangers. We don't know, and haven't been
able to find out, how much he remembers, although, he was the one who told
us where he was from." Chris wrinkled his brow at that and the doctor elaborated.
"Marti Carpenter, his therapist, found a way to communicate to a certain
degree with him. She got him to point out on a map where he was from and
that led to that missing person report and to you."
Chris nodded at the information. "If he remembers me, will you release him
to go home with me?"
The doctor leaned back in his chair and thought a moment. He was certain
the man could be helped with the proper care so he was hesitant to release
him but he also knew the healing power of friends and family. Finally, he
nodded. "If he recognizes you, I'll release him. I can recommend some facilities
and physicians in the Denver area where you can take him to continue his
Chris nodded his agreement as he stood up. He was eager to see Vin, to touch
him. The doctor stood and led the way to the common area.
"Don't be surprised if he doesn't seem to know you, Mr. Larabee," the doctor
spoke as they walked.
Chris nodded and tried to steel himself to that possibility.
As they reached the entrance to the common area, the doctor stopped Chris.
"Marti," he called softly and waved the woman over when she looked up at
"Yes, doctor?" she asked when she reached the men, glancing over at the blond
"Marti, this is Mr. Larabee. He came for Mr. Tanner." He added the last part
in case she didn't remember the name.
She stuck out her hand and the two shook a greeting.
"This is Marti Carpenter, Mr. Tanner's therapist," the doctor concluded the
"I appreciate you helping my friend." It was all Chris could do to keep from
bolting across the room and grabbing Vin.
"Since Mr. Tanner is comfortable with you, Marti, why don't you take Mr.
Larabee to see him?"
"Sure, come on," she agreed as she headed for the other side of the room.
Chris followed closely behind and the doctor followed him. Chris did, however,
stop at a spot where he was out of Vin's line of sight so the therapist could
tell him he was there.
Marti had stepped up beside Vin and, after glancing out the window, she gently
placed her hand on Vin's upper arm. Slowly, he shifted his eyes to meet hers.
"Vin, your friend is here to see you," she said kindly as she gestured to
the side. Vin continued to watch her for a moment more before he moved his
eyes to the direction she indicated, stopping when they fell on the doctor.
Chris could take it no more and reached out his hand to put it on Vin's shoulder,
squeezing firmly. "Vin?" he said softly, his eyes welling up with the tears
of a week's worth of anguish.
Vin's eyes moved from the doctor's face to the face of the person touching
him. When he saw Chris standing before him he froze, his eyes growing wide
and his mouth gaping open in momentary disbelief.
The next moment saw Vin falling against Chris's chest, his arms wrapping
tightly around his back, his cheek resting on Chris's shoulder. Chris could
feel him trembling as he followed suit and firmly embraced Vin, allowing
the tears to roll down his cheeks.
"God, Vin," he mumbled into the back of his friend's head. "You're alive."
"I guess this answers the 'will he know you' question," the doctor joked.
He lightly touched Chris on the arm to get his attention. "I'll get the release
papers started." He turned and left before Chris could say anything.
The two men held each other for a long moment. The pressure of the embrace
was causing pain in both of Vin's arms but he didn't want to let go.
Finally, Chris loosened his hold and took a small step back. Vin pulled his
hands around to rest on the sides of Chris's waist. He wasn't quite ready
to lose physical contact with him yet. He left his forehead resting on Chris's
shoulder for a moment longer before he raised his head and looked Chris in
"Close friends, Mr. Larabee?" Marti asked, interrupting the moment.
Chris reached his hand up and rested his palm on the side of Vin's head,
his thumb gently stroking the area near the small cut healing on his forehead.
"Very close," he answered distractedly.
Marti took the hint and silently moved away from the pair, though she remained
nearby in case she was needed.
Chris moved his hands from place to place, almost checking Vin's solidity,
making sure he was really there.
"I'm sorry, Vin. We should have known Chassen would try something. We should
have stayed on our toes..."
As Chris spoke, Vin watched his mouth move, recognizing the sound of the
man's voice but not the words that he said. He shifted his eyes to meet Chris's
and as soon as he did, Chris stopped talking. They had their own way of
communicating. Chris pulled Vin to him and pressed his head down onto his
shoulder as he circled his arms around him again.
"I'm gonna take you home, Vin."
Vin felt himself relax against his friend, not realizing he had been that
tense. He knew he would be all right now. He knew Chris would help him.