The Price of Fame

The Price of Fame by SueM

Characters: JD, Buck, OMC

Ratings/Warnings: Some bad language

Summary: We all dream of being rich and famous…but, sometimes there's a price to pay.

Thanks to Sarah for LV/AU

To my good mate Mari, who not only recognized that my Muse was nowhere near done with this story, but offered some excellent suggestions, not to mention made the most splendiferous wall, and all while creating a blond JD and an image for the one and only…Andy Krystal! Thank you, hun :o)

Andy Krystal is all mine, but if you like him, he appears again in the sequel to this The Offer of a Lifetime.

Thanks to Antoinette and Sherry for the betas and advice.

And thanks also to Nancy and Blackraptor for the transcript archives, and for giving my stories a home.

As he crossed the foyer of the Montecito Resort to meet up for dinner with on/off girlfriend Casey Wells, security tech JD Dunne looked to his right on hearing a familiar voice squeal out. His friend and one of the hotel's domestic assistants, Candice, was rushing toward him with a big goofy smile on her face.

"Have you heard? He's coming…he's coming here!"

JD frowned. "Who is?"

"Andy…Andy Krystal…he's coming here, to the Montecito!"


"You *must* know Andy…top selling pop artist…" she fake swooned. "Dreamy eyes…cute nose…cute butt, cute…" she giggled.

JD nodded. "Yeah, yeah…I get it. Yeah, I know him. He's okay, not really my type of music, though. He's staying here?"

"Not just staying here…is performing here! I can't believe it, I'm so excited!" She skipped off, still giggling.

JD had to laugh. He'd be no different if one of his idols was coming here. Still, this was surely a security issue and he wondered why he hadn't heard anything. He shrugged. That was a question for tomorrow, he'd had enough for tonight. It had been a particularly difficult week, the hot weather and lack of respite from it, seemingly setting customers on edge and cranky and a lot of that frustration had been aimed at him and Vin. Now, finally off duty, he was planning on him and Casey having one date where they didn't end up arguing. It wasn't helping that the feisty girl was one minute seemingly on the verge of wanting to take their relationship to a much more intimate level, to then be back to nit-picking every little thing JD said or did.

He sure could do without all that, tonight.


Half way through their meal, Casey glanced around the restaurant. There was a definite buzz in the air amongst the younger, female waitresses and she turned her shiny, smiling face back to JD.

"So…it's true? Andy Krystal is really coming here?"

Continuing with his meal, JD raised an eyebrow. "Apparently, but as far as I know, we haven't been briefed, yet." He noted her wide-eyed gaze.

"Any chance…you being in security and all, that you could help me get to meet him? Just for a minute…or two…or three…" She grinned and batted her eyelashes.

"I don't know, I'm not even sure I'll get that close myself…" He sighed, inwardly. `What was so all-fired special about this guy, anyhow?' "I'll see what I can do."


After their meal, as both had driven to work that day, the young couple walked to the underground garage to collect their cars. On reaching his car, JD was halted by one of their guests.

"You…boy! You work here, don't you? I have packages to take to my room, I need your assistance."

JD smiled, sweetly. "I'm actually off duty, sir, but if you give me a moment…" he pulled out his cell.

"So, you're refusing to help me? I make a simple request of you, but, oh no…the hired help is far too busy with his girlfriend to consider the needs of one of the guests…who helps pay your salary, by the way, sonny!"

Feeling his face burn with color, JD glanced at Casey. "Okay, which car is it, I'll be happy to assist…" He looked shocked at the push aside from the irate man.

"Forget it. I'll find someone with manners. And be sure, I *will* be reporting this!"

`Prick!' JD thought as he watched the man storm off. Jesus, he may be the `hired help', but even slaves got time to themselves at some point. He looked down as Casey took his hand.

"Come on, the guy's a freak." She ran a finger down his cheek. "Let it go, I have much better uses for you than carrying packages," she grinned.

The pair leaned back against JD's car. He had taken her weight as she bent forward and they kissed for some time. Casey's kisses and hand movements promised more than just a quick goodnight, and JD was just about to get a little more tactile, when she unexpectedly pulled back.

"I can't believe Andy Krystal is coming here…this is so wonderful!"

JD sighed, he couldn't help it. `Wonderful, yeah…just what you want to hear about…another guy, just as I'm about to play with her bra strap…' He composed himself. "Cool." He muttered.

She giggled, adjusting her disheveled clothing. "You're not *jealous* are you, John Daniel?"

JD straightened, gently pushing her off him. "Jealous? Of who, some semi-talented, jumped up, short-assed, blond, rich kid?" He was about to laugh at his own words and add `hell yeah', but something in Casey's demeanor halted him and he just stared at her.

"You are!" She laughed and made her way to her car, looking back at him as she walked. "Jealousy doesn't suit you, JD!"

"I'm not jealous!" he yelled back. JD bleeped his car to unlock it and jumped in. He grabbed the wheel tightly as the memory of the earlier confrontation with the guest raised its ugly head. He snorted. This was gonna be great…NOT! Every girl within miles was probably planning on turning up to go all gooey-eyed over this guy…and in the morning, Chris was likely gonna tear him a new one for pissing off a customer. "Roll on tomorrow," he huffed, sarcastically.


7:15am the next morning and the security brief was over. No one had missed the pretty, mid-thirties brunette sitting next to Chris, especially Buck. Larabee finally introduced her.

"This is Elspeth Walker, she's Andy Krystal's manager. For those of you not familiar with him, there's an information sheet on him in front of you. Tomorrow, he's arriving here to perform for two nights in Mystique, staying four days in total. Our problem is, he has hordes of female followers wherever he goes, and they'll stop at nothing to get at him."

"Tricky one," Buck interjected, offering a huge smile to Elspeth as he continued. "But he'll be as safe as a virgin in a room full of eunuchs, with us, ma'am!"

JD snorted out a laugh. He looked around apologetically, relieved to see others in the room were also biting back laughter.

Elspeth laughed, but her gaze was on JD. She leaned into Chris and whispered for some while, causing his eyebrows to rise and him to also glance at JD.

"Okay, dismissed. I'll get back to you all with the details. Would the core members of Team Seven remain behind, please?"

`Oh, this is it,' JD thought, preparing to ask Nathan if he could kindly sew his head back on his shoulders once Chris was through with him.

As soon as the room had cleared, Ms. Walker stood and approached JD.

"Would you stand, sweetie?"

Confused, and as the others in the room looked on, JD complied, soon realizing how a prize horse must feel, as she pulled, twisted and turned him, left and right. She nodded to Chris. "This might just work."

"What might just work, ma'am?" JD asked.

"How do you feel about dyeing your hair blond?"

Dunne paled. "Blond?" he squeaked.

"Hmm…okay, a wig then."

"What's going on?" Buck wanted to know, a little put out by how uncomfortable JD seemed with this stranger poking at him.

Chris answered the question, noting the other four, as well as Buck, were also curious, now. "Ms. Walker…"

"Please, call me Elspeth," she encouraged.

Chris nodded. "…Elspeth was wondering about a decoy arriving here with all the pomp and ceremony, while Mr. Krystal arrived via the back entrance, so he can have some peace and privacy."

JD pointed at himself. "Me? But…but I look nothing like him!"

Elspeth touched his face. "Actually sweetie, there are a few similarities. With a wig and the right clothes, you would. He's about the same height and build as you. Would you…please? It would be such a help to us. Our management team suggested it, and Andy really liked the idea. He's had such a hectic year." She smiled, hopefully.

The young tech couldn't help releasing a small laugh. `I look a bit like him? Yeah, right, that's why so many women were battering at his door every day'.

Buck addressed Elspeth. "What elements of risk are we looking at here?"

"Oh, none," she assured. "We have plenty of bodyguards, he'll be perfectly safe. And while JD is helping us, he'll be well looked after…and, of course, I'm willing to pay a fee."

Buck nudged the young tech and whispered to him. "Maybe you should do it, kid! You'll have a blast."

She turned back to JD. "We'll put you in one of the suites for the duration of our stay, all you'll have to do is sit tight and let people think the room you're in is his," Elspeth explained, looking toward the man with the longer hair who was about to speak.

"It's all a little too fast for my likin'. We don't have time to research our position, weigh up the problems…" Vin pointed out.

Seeing Chris and the others start to nod, Ms. Walker jumped in. "We handle these issues every day. I'll have my team liaise with yours. I can understand your concerns. You would have had these problems with Andy anyway, this way, you get to decide how to handle taking care of one of your own, while watching over Andy with far less pressure."

Chris chewed his lip and put a hand on JD's shoulder. "It's up to you, JD. If you're prepared to help out, we'll get on with organizing it. We don't have much time." He moved closer and lowered his voice. "And, when this is all over, I'll be talking to you about a complaint that I received this morning,  from an incident last night."

JD paled and nodded.


As they left the conference room, JD still wasn't sure how he'd ended up agreeing to Elspeth's request…but there was something appealing about seeing how the other half lived. Plus, it delayed having to face the wrath of Larabee over something he didn't think was justified, anyway, which wasn't a bad thing; and so he had said `yes'. Escaping from his life right about now sounded appealing.

It was decided that Josiah was to stick with him in the guise of bodyguard, while Vin and Buck would be with the real Andy. Later, JD was to be taken to the airport, to be smuggled aboard Andy's jet to make a grand exit, and from then, just be the decoy. But first…shopping.

Elspeth took him to the top department store in the city, buying him footwear, jeans and shirts, some items worth more individually than what he paid for his apartment each month. His protests had her reminding him, in a nice way, that to play the part, he had to live the part, and no `off the rack', mass-produced, supermarket attire would cut it, the fans would see through that in an instant.

So like a mannequin, JD allowed her to kit him out. He didn't care for the way she made his clothes sound like something from a charity shop, but he did enjoy the transformation, and had to agree, $500 sneakers sure felt good as well as looked good…and she said he could keep all this stuff? Bring it on! Besides, how hard could this be? JD thought as he later traveled with Josiah to the airport. Like Ms. Walker said, all he had to do was sit tight.

The move through to the plane was easy. As JD Dunne, he was a nobody, so no one was looking at him. Once on the plane, Elspeth introduced Andy to JD and Josiah.

"Hi," Andy said, his smile warm and easy as he pulled his iPod earphones from his ears and stood. "Thanks for doing this, dude. I really liked the idea of one trip where I could step out from my room and get some ice, without being mobbed. Now, don't forget, while you're being `me', you order anything you want…anything, have some fun with it…it's the least we can do."

JD grinned back and the two shook hands. "Cool, thanks." He watched Elspeth approach.

"Come on, let's get you all kitted out." She turned to her charge. "Andy, sit tight until Henry says you can go," she nodded to one of Andy's bodyguards, who acknowledged her orders.

"Sure thing, Else," Andy also nodded, and turned back to JD and Josiah. "Have fun, guys."


In a small closed off section of the private jet, Elspeth smiled and stepped back from the now blond tech in his designer jeans, sneakers, shirt and hooded top.She adjusted his wig. "Well, I must say, you look a picture, you certainly scrub up well. Definitely red carpet material now, honey. I've sent the rest of your things to your suite, including pajamas and robes, etcetera. Like Andy said…have fun."

Minutes later, JD…AKA…Andy Krystal, emerged, and the reaction from the rest of the staff and Josiah made the young tech blush. He only wished he had been able to get a good look at himself.


JD and Josiah didn't know what hit them as they were `handled' through the airport by an entourage of Andy's security men and women, and then bundled into the back of a stretch limo. Both were shocked at the masses of screaming females surrounding them at every turn, while pounding on the limo as the LVPD tried clearing the way for them to pull off. Laughing, JD turned to Josiah.

"Holy shit, this is wild!"

"Wild, yes…an excellent word for it," Josiah chuckled. "Imagine living like this every day."

"Oh, I dunno, I reckon I could get used to it," the younger man grinned.

"Beware the price of fame, John Dunne…on the surface, it may look like fun, but I suspect this lifestyle is extremely restrictive…no matter how much money is in Mr. Krystal's bank account."

Right then and there, JD couldn't see a downside to this at all. He relaxed back and in the tinted window, caught a glimpse of himself in the blond wig and designer gear. This really could be fun.


The big fuss caused when `Andy' pulled up to the Montecito, was the perfect distraction, while the real Andy made a quiet entrance at the back of the resort just one hour later. In their luxurious suite, Josiah and JD got settled, then, deciding they were hungry, perused the room service menu.

"I've never had lobster, is it good?"

Josiah nodded. "Delicious, why not try it?"

"I'd like to, but I was kinda interested in their super-deluxe burger with all the trimmings and beer-battered fries."

Josiah smiled, warmly. "You could have both."

Recalling Andy's offer of ordering anything they desired, JD grinned and nodded. "Hell yeah, why not?" He took another menu from Josiah, frowning.

"Desserts and beverages," the head valet explained.



Two hours later, and a knock at the door had Josiah cautiously opening it. He had already fended off five attempts of girls trying to gain entry, but this time he opened up and offered a wide smile.

Buck, Vin and Ezra walked in, the former howling out to see the kid he considered his little brother in fancy clothes, and looking back at him with blond hair instead of his familiar black locks.

"Holy crap, JD…you look like one of those Albino kids from computer camp, all pale and washed out!"

"Yeah, yeah, laugh it up, Buck…I just got to eat lobster and `Death by Chocolate'." He ducked, but the wig got ruffled anyway, so he straightened it.

"Not all on the same plate, I hope," Buck grinned, looking out at the view. "This is nice."

"Why aren't you with your charge?" Josiah wondered.

"Jet lag," Vin explained. "He's gettin' his head down, so we get a break."

"He seemed nice," JD stated, offering a pleased Texan some imported chocolate.

"I concur," Ezra said, picking up the menus JD and Josiah had ordered from. "I must say, I agree with Buck, JD, you are looking particularly dapper this afternoon." He frowned, holding up the menus he had just picked up.

"JD…this is simply room service. If one is to enjoy the amenities so graciously afforded you, allow me to obtain some menus from the area's more…grandiose establishments."

JD chewed his lip. "Aww, I don't want to take advantage... besides, I liked what we chose, I know it wasn't real fancy and all… "

"My friend." Ezra smiled. "Whatever you order in the next few days, he will have made back in interest within minutes. Before we left, he reminded us to tell you to…and I quote... 'go for it'. He is thoroughly enjoying padding around in his underwear…and, it would seem, has a fetish for filling his ice bucket, which he does several times an hour. I shudder to think what he does with it all." Ezra paused while he considered that, then turned back to JD.

"So…would you like my advice, or shall I just let you work your way through the room service menu? The offer extends to any etiquette issues you may need to address, also."

JD's smile covered for the nagging little seed of self worth Ezra's words had planted in his mind. "Sure, why not?"


Andy's first performance in Mystique the next evening was like a CIA undercover op. JD was `smuggled' out first, greeted by wailing females pledging their undying love, as he was taken to the dressing room area, while Andy had a nice quiet jaunt down in a service elevator.

While watching Andy's energetic performance from the wings, Elspeth turned to JD. "Thanks so much for this. I haven't seen him this energized in ages. It's by far the best performance I've seen from him in a while." She glanced back at her charge. It never failed to thrill her to see how Andy could get an audience so fired up and involved.

JD studied the young man bouncing around the stage and belting out songs. "Doesn't he enjoy all the fuss anymore?" JD asked.

"Oh sure, he thrives on it. But he's been real busy this year, between writing all his own songs for the new album, and this huge tour, well…I could tell it was wearing him down a little. This was just what he needed before jetting off to Europe for a well-earned vacation." She held his hand. "I'd like to thank you more effectively, is there anything you want?"

About to say no, he suddenly grinned. "Well, I know these two girls…good friends of mine…"

Elspeth smiled. "Not quite what I had in mind, but I'll see that they get to meet him. How about dinner?"

"That would be so cool…thanks." JD really couldn't ask for more. He'd had a wonderful time so far, his own friends commenting on how cool he looked in the neat clothes Elspeth had given him. He couldn't help reflecting on how a blond wig and designer gear had elevated his status so quickly, even, it seemed, with his own friends. Nope, he really couldn't ask for anything more than what he already had, and the buzz that it was giving him.


Early next morning saw JD up and enjoying a glass of orange juice, while tinkering with the numerous games and game machines in their room. Josiah was still asleep and the young tech, no longer feeling like playing games, was bored. He decided to treat himself to more juice. Realizing the ice was all out, he picked up the bucket, and wondered if he could get away with the short trip across the hall.

Catching sight of himself in a full length mirror, JD couldn't help reflecting on the past two days. Andy's lifestyle was like nothing he had ever imagined. The guy had the best of everything, wanting for nothing. When he spoke, everyone listened and never made him wait to be heard. They were close in age, but JD had never been considered in the way Andy was, and now found himself wishing this didn't have to end so soon. Even though he was just pretending, he felt different. The screaming girls were mistaken, but it felt kinda nice to be `desired'.

He chuckled at a few of the notes he had vicariously received, which, if he'd taken advantage of, and if Josiah had been well out of the way, would have led to some pretty wild nights. That would have shown Miss Casey Wells, he mused. And now he was sighing. Soon he would revert back to plain ol' JD `nobody' Dunne and his burgers would be from McDonalds and not some fancy bistro.

JD shrugged. `C'est la vie, as Ezra would say', he thought. Making sure he had his wig on straight, just in case, and in just a white tee and fancy silk pajama bottoms, he peeked out of the door. He was relieved to see no one around, not giving a thought for the fact that, actually, there was absolutely no one around, not even Andy's appointed bodyguards. Cautiously, he padded barefoot across the hallway and pressed to fill the bucket, looking around the whole time. Noting the bucket was almost full, JD turned his attention to the machine, suddenly dropping the container when it all went dark and unfamiliar voices echoed around him.

"Got him…quick…pick up his feet and let's go!"

Deciding he would ponder the reason for having some sort of canvas sack over his head, later, JD kicked out at whoever was grabbing his legs.

"Oww…sonofabitch! "

With JD struggling wildly, whoever was holding him, lost their grip and dropped him, and JD crashed to the floor with a thud. His head hit something hard on the way down, and he was suddenly too woozy to do more than try to yell out. Something heavy pressed the sack into his face, almost cutting off his air as it covered his nose and mouth, and now JD was panicking a little.

A voice hissed in his ear. "I've got a knife and I swear I'll stick you if you don't keep quiet!"

JD went still and just listened as he was carried, observing the sounds and movements of an elevator…the service one, he guessed, it went straight to the underground garage. Alarm kicked in as he recognized the sound of a trunk opening.

"NO! Please, no…don't!"

His pleas fell on deaf ears as he was tossed inside and the lid closed. Seconds later, the vehicle was speeding away.


Elspeth Walker stretched out in her bed as she tried to ignore the knocking on her door. She sighed. "Yes?"

"Urgent message for you, ma'am."

"Just a minute." Crawling out of her comfy bed, she pulled on her dressing gown, pushed her fingers through her hair and opened the door to a bellhop. Thanking him, she tipped him and, closing the door with her foot, tore open the envelope he had handed her.

She gasped and went white as she read the words, before dropping the note and running to Andy's room. She cried out in relief when she saw him fast asleep in bed. The young man roused at the disturbance.

"Else…" He rubbed at his eyes. "What's up?" Seeing her distressed, he jumped out of bed and went to her. "You're shaking, what's wrong?"

She pointed back to the sitting room. "I…I had a ransom note…for you. But you're here…" She threw her arms around him. "You're here!"

He hugged her back, pulling away to look at her. "How weird is that? I guess they got ahead of…" His eyes went wide. "Oh SHIT!"

He grabbed at the phone. "I need to speak to Larabee, Tanner or Wilmington…NOW! "


Vin was with Head of Housekeeping Beatrice Hedley and a few disgruntled chambermaids. "I can assure you, there's tight security on that floor, but it hasn't been closed."

"And I'm telling you, two men turned my ladies away and told them the floor was closed until further notice. They were most unpleasant and I don't appreciate not being kept updated…" She stopped as Vin apologetically pulled out his ringing cell phone.

"I'll be right there." He touched Bea's arm. "I need to take this…Nathan and Ezra are on their way and they'll escort you up there, okay? I'll be back as quickly as possible."

Arriving at Elspeth and Andy's suite, Vin soon got caught up with the problem. Buck and Chris were already there, and in seconds all three were heading up to JD and Josiah's floor, with instructions to Elspeth to keep the door locked and only to answer to them, Ezra or Nathan.


Josiah waddled out of the bathroom and peeked into JD's room. "John?" Shrugging he moved to the coffee maker and pushed the button. He grinned at the items circled on several menus, glancing around again as he realized how quiet it was. "JD!"

A little unsettled, Josiah checked out the suite, his concern rising as each room proved to be empty. On a whim, he opened the door and looked into the hallway, frowning at the spilled ice bucket on the floor. He stepped out.


He turned sharply on hearing footsteps, relaxing a little when he saw Chris, Buck and Vin arriving. "Have you seen JD?"

"Oh, Jesus, no…" Buck's face crumpled on realizing what they feared might have actually transpired. As Chris explained the note that had been left at reception for Ms. Walker, Vin and Buck checked out every nook, cranny and closet.

"Now we know why Beatrice's girls had been stopped from coming up here," Vin said, seething.

"What…what do we do, now?" Buck asked, raspily. "I dread to think what might happen when they realize they got the wrong guy!"

Chris was grim-faced as he acknowledged Vin telling him he was going to check out the cameras. "All we can do is check things out…and wait."


Within seconds of the car he was in pulling onto the highway, inside the dark, claustrophobic trunk, JD had pulled the covering off his head and taken a few calming breaths. He cursed, loudly as the vehicle swerved wildly, rolling him  painfully every which way. One nasty jolt caused him to momentarily take off, as if weightless, slamming his head into the inside of the lid. As stars clouded his vision, he raised a hand, and felt the tell-tale stickiness of a cut where his head had impacted against the unyielding metal.

"Oh, just great." Blinking hard to lose the sparkles and return to a consuming darkness, peppered only with occasional flashes of red from the tail lights, he suddenly recalled an email that had been circulating some months back. "Right…enough of this shit!" He ran his fingers along the lid of the trunk in search of a clasp to pop the trunk open, but had no luck.

Feeling about him, his hand closed around something like a soda can. Bracing himself against the jerky maneuvers of the car, JD lined it up with one of the tail lights and smashed out the glass, quickly followed by his hand poking out and waving wildly to attract attention.

"Please God…let someone be following us who might give a damn."


Wilhelmina Tiggard was proud of her name, even if she had, for all of her fifty-seven years on this earth, been affectionately known as `Min'. Today being her birthday, she had been enjoying good food, fine wine and the company of close friends, and was now nicely stewed, slouched in a cab, and on her way home.

The first time she saw the hand waving wildly from the trunk of the car overtaking them, she put it down to the fine wines. The second time, when her cab overtook the car with the waving hand, and before said car took off for a desert route, she was pretty sure it was not her imagination, and, judging by the cab driver's reaction, not his, either. Pulling out her cell phone, she dialed 911 and told them what she had seen. She figured, they'd probably dismiss the call, but felt she had at least done her bit.

Still, as she traveled home, Min couldn't help wondering about who the hand belonged to.


Despite knowing Vegas could be a wild kind of town, the LVPD took the call very seriously, and in minutes had dispatched a unit to investigate. Meanwhile, another dispatcher was dealing with a call from the Montecito's security officer, Vin Tanner, who was relaying information taken from security cameras at the resort's underground car park. She figured, by the reception of the call, he was mobile.

She was right.


Buck and Chris, Vin and Ezra and Josiah and Nathan had paired up and taken separate vehicles, in a vain hope of spotting the car in question. Earlier, they had found the three security guards from JD and Josiah's floor, trussed up and dumped in a room on the same floor. All were unharmed, if not a little embarrassed, and not to mention, pissed.

As they traveled, Vin had relayed the plate number of the car from the garage, to the LVPD, while Chris had spoken to Lieutenant Luis Perez to ask a favor. Chris hadn't needed to ask twice. Luis had rallied his troops, and the highways and byways of Las Vegas were about to come to a slow crawl as units were dispatched to every area.

Two hours later, the search was proving fruitless.


Judging by the wild bouncing suspension, the car JD was entombed in was no longer on a regular highway. Every part of him ached as he tried to withstand the constant movement, but that paled into insignificance at the perspiration soaking his thin clothing and the struggle he was having breathing deeply. If it wasn't for the damaged tail light offering some respite with occasional blasts of air, JD seriously wondered if he would still be conscious, now. Panic set in as he felt the car roll to a halt, so he took a breath. He could do this…he had to do this…no one even knew he was gone yet…did they?

When the trunk opened, JD blinked hard against the harsh sunlight. Instinctively he gulped in air, as rough hands dragged him out to stand. He was a little shaky at first from his ordeal, but no less determined to use this opportunity to get away.

"What the hell?!"

A new voice entered the ordeal, and for the first time, the young tech got a look at his abductors.  One reached into the trunk and held up a…'oh shit'…a blond wig.

"The little rich freak wears a wig?" one of the men asked, paling as another snapped back.

"No, you idiots. This isn't him!"

"Huh? You're shitting us, right?" Realizing their leader was doing no such thing, two of the  abductors stared at each other before looking JD up and down. "Well…who the hell is he?"

Summoning all his strength, JD kicked out, twisting and turning out of the hold on him, to kick out twice more, and leave three men winded as he took off, barefoot, across the desert. Knowing the men would soon follow, and ignoring the pain in his feet from the harsh terrain, JD didn't stop until he came across a large cluster of rocks and shrubbery. He dove for cover, as his heaving lungs gasped in the hot, arid air. He had chosen a covering slightly off the trail and he prayed, silently when he heard the men poking around in their search for him. Finally the man who appeared to be the leader, called a halt.

"Enough, let's get the fuck outta here. I'm not going to jail for kidnapping a nobody. Let the little shit die out here…if he's cheap enough to get paid to act the big star, he sure as hell isn't worth doing time over."

Exhausted, and while realizing it could be a ploy to draw him out, JD held firm, but eventually he succumbed to a mix of exhaustion and a mild concussion. As he drifted off, the words he had just heard floated through his mind…

>> `I'm not going to jail for kidnapping a nobody…he sure as hell isn't worth doing time over…let the little shit die out here…he's a nobody…a nobody…a nobody…'<<


With nothing to go on, the rest of Team Seven were back at the Montecito and most were helping with the heartbroken fans, who were slowly coming to terms with the cancellation of the evening show by Andy. They had been promised a reschedule, but still milled around the resort in a vain attempt to spot him or learn why he had postponed the gig.

Vin and Buck were studying camera footage to try and glean any clue they might have missed, but were coming up empty. Watching, for the umpteenth time, JD peek out of his room to get ice, Buck pushed back his hair in frustration. His free hand gestured toward the monitor.

"What the hell was he thinking? The whole point of him being there…" He caught the glance from Vin.

"Easy, Bucklin. There's just no way anyone could've predicted this. The corridor was clear…he just went out for some ice…" His features reflected understanding as Buck's face was lined with tension and misery.

"And look where that got him," the big man rasped out. He went silent for a few moments. "Jesus, Vin…how hard can it be to find a car with California plates in Nevada? We shoulda heard something by now."

The pair looked up as Chris poked his head into the room. "Luis called. They found the car and arrested three guys. JD wasn't with them and they're admitting to nothing."

Both men stood, Buck spoke. "So…where the hell is he?"

Chris shook his head. "Lord knows, but Luis is on it." He gestured with his head for them to follow him. "We got trouble. Everyone to the conference room, now!"

In the room, Chris got to the point. "Andy's management team is accusing us of gross negligence." He waited for the murmurs to die down. "I want no stone unturned. We screwed up…I want to know how!"

With a nod, they all stood and headed out.


JD had been walking for what seemed like days, but was, in reality, only a few hours. He had headed in the direction he thought the highway should be, but after the first hour or so of not coming upon it, feared he was wrong. Then, in the distance and through the shimmering haze, he thought he saw something metallic moving through the heat distortion, and so trudged wearily on, while hoping it wasn't some sort of illusion.

He almost dropped and kissed the blacktop when he reached it, deciding against it in case he couldn't get back up again. After another grueling hour of following the road, not a single car had passed. `Trust me to get stranded on the only quiet road leading into Vegas', he cursed, inwardly. Just when he realized his tongue seemed strangely large and his throat felt more like sandpaper than soft tissue, an air horn blast from behind, almost gave him heart failure. Wearily, he looked up at the guy leaning out of the cab of a semi.

"You look like a guy who needs a lift."

Despite his exhaustion, pain and dehydration, the phrases `you think?'…'nah, I always go walking in the desert, in my pajamas, barefoot and in the middle of the day'…and `duh'…went through JD's mind, but only a grunt actually came out before his knees hit the dirt and his last recollection was how hot the road felt against his cheek.


Andy crossed his suite to reach the bar, only to decide against alcohol and choose a soda, instead. Elspeth watched him, smiling as he brought over a bottle of club soda and a glass of ice for her.

"You okay?" she asked.

He slumped down onto a sofa. "God, Else…what have I done? All I wanted was a little privacy, and now JD…"

"Stop it!" she scolded. "We had no idea some cretins were planning to kidnap you." Her demeanor softened. "I know I shouldn't say this, but I'm just glad it wasn't you."

Andy scowled. "No, you shouldn't say that. He seems such a nice guy. I sure hope they don't hurt him." He looked at her. "Call the cops; tell them we'll pay whatever they want."

"I've already told Mr. Larabee that is an option."

Andy smiled. "Who says managers don't have hearts?"

Elspeth returned the smile. "I blame it on hanging around you for four years. I never had this trouble with `Twisted Sister'."

Despite the situation, they both laughed before resuming their near silent vigil.


Sitting in the break room, six men looked lost. They were not ones to sit and wait, they preferred to up and do…but there was no more they actually could do. JD's disappearance, coupled with the accusations being thrown at them by the Krystal management team, had left them despondent. The chirp of Chris's cell broke through the gloomy silence.

"Larabee…" he looked around the faces of the men he had become close to, standing as he smiled. "We'll be right there."

"Chris?" Buck's voice held a note of hopefulness.

"They got him. JD's at the hospital, exhausted and dehydrated, but he's awake." As he spoke, all six were moving. Chris halted them.

"Buck, you and the guys head over there." He looked at Tanner. "Vin and me will join you as soon as we can." With a nod, the group parted. Following his friend, Vin stepped into an elevator.

"Problem cowboy?"

"No, just wanted to tell Andy and Elspeth the good news." He paused. "Also, I thought maybe all of us turning up at once might be too much for the kid. This way, I figured he'd have time to adjust."

Vin frowned, pondering Chris's words. He turned to the blond. "You think he's gonna be embarrassed, don't you?"

Chris raised an eyebrow. "He has nothing to be embarrassed about but…wouldn't you?"

Vin shrugged one shoulder. "Don't reckon it would be my best memory, no. Kinda curious how the kid got away, though." The elevator chimed and they stepped out, nodding to the security guards that greeted them.

Chris smirked. "Knowing JD, the answer to that should be real interesting. "


His eyes were closed, but in the hospital bed in the ER, JD sighed, contentedly on hearing a familiar voice out in the corridor.


Seconds later, not realizing he had dozed off, he felt a hand on his head.

"How you doing, kid?" Buck took in the slightly sun-reddened skin, the sticky patch in JD's hair, initially from the blood, from a small gash, then the glue used to pinch the skin back together; and two bandaged feet poking out from under a thin sheet that was covering the youth.

Before JD could work up to an answer, Nathan read from the chart that had been clipped to the bottom of the bed. "Mild concussion, head lac, dehydration, lacerations and contusions to both feet and he's on antibiotics and painkillers."

JD offered a lop-sided grin. "What he said," he rasped, tiredly. "But you forgot to mention the tan."

The three men chuckled. "The doctor assures us you can return home tomorrow, my friend," Ezra put in. "But they want to keep you here under observation, tonight."

JD's head was shaking slowly, as he frowned, but Buck shook his own head. "Just for tonight, Kid. Better to be safe than sorry, huh?"

"Can we get you anything John?" Josiah asked, a solitary tear rolling down his cheek as he rested a hand on the youth's knee.

"Nah, `m fine, thanks," the young tech sighed out before closing his eyes. In less than a minute, he was asleep.

"I guess I won't be getting a statement anytime soon," Lt. Perez said from the doorway.

"Guess not," Buck answered, his concerned gaze never leaving his slumbering friend. "Thanks, Luis." He uttered, softly. The others all nodded their thanks to the officer.

"Glad me, and the fella in the semi that found him wandering the highway, could help, guys," he said, sincerely. "Oh, and I'll need him to ID the three men we're holding, too," he added, before leaving them.

Buck took off his jacket, removed his tie and rolled up his shirtsleeves, before he pulled a chair over to the bed, and got as comfortable as was possible in a low-backed, plastic bucket seat. "You guys head out, I'm gonna stay."

"If it's alright with you, I would like to stay a while," Ezra replied, pulling over a chair for himself.

"Nathan and me'll scare up some coffee and sandwiches," Josiah insisted, nodding to Vin and Chris when the pair entered, when they exited.

"How's he doing?" Chris asked, moving toward the bed.

Buck pointed to the IV pole. "Got this here IV feeding him fluids and drugs. They're gonna keep him in tonight, but he's good to go, tomorrow, barring any problems."

"Has he told you anythin'?" Vin asked, twisting his head to get a look at JD's feet. "What's with the bandages?"

"Nothing so far," Ezra informed them. "And as for his feet, am I right in recalling he was likely not wearing footwear when he was kidnapped?"

They all nodded. "Shoot, I guess that means he might have walked some distance, huh?" Vin presumed.

Buck sighed. "I guess so."

Chris got settled. "Andy wanted to come, but I said no. I promised he could talk to JD soon. He's rescheduled his concert for five nights from now."

As JD slept, they sat in companionable silence for a while, grateful he was safe, but curious to know what exactly had happened after he left the Montecito.


Almost lunchtime the next day and JD plopped onto his couch with a grateful grunt, balancing his crutches against the nearby wall as he got comfortable. He was still really tired, probably, he thought, due to a combination of the meds and the after affects of his ordeal. He awoke with a start when Buck's hushed tones told him there was coffee and sandwiches on the low table in front of him. JD rubbed his eyes as he sat up.

"Sorry, Buck I must've dozed off."

Smiling as he joined JD on the sofa, Buck nudged him, gently. "Hell, kid, after the events of the last 48 hours, I'm not surprised you're tired." He leaned forward and offered JD the food, frowning as the youth scrunched up his face and shook his head.

"Doc says you gotta eat."

"Sorry. Maybe later?"

Placing the plate back down, Buck turned to his friend. "What you told Luis…that really was all that happened? Those guys never hurt you more than throwing you in a trunk and rolling you around, some?"

"That was more than enough, Buck, believe me," JD said, a little testily.

"Oh sure, I didn't mean it wasn't…I was just hoping they hadn't beaten on you or…"

"Nope. Me running hell for leather, and barefoot across the desert caused the damage to my feet." He paused, paling as he recalled his abductors' parting words. "Once they realized they had the wrong guy, they took off," JD quickly covered.

Buck stared at the kid he felt as close to as kin. Something was wrong here, he could feel it. But until JD was willing to open up, he would just have to be patient. "Just as well, huh? Sounds like you did pretty good once you had the chance." Getting no reaction, Buck patted the youth's knee and stood to leave.

"Get some rest. I'm gonna head up to my place and pick up my mail and start some laundry. I'll be back later. The guys are dropping by…"

"Buck!" JD turned in earnest to the brunet. "I'm…kinda tired. Could you ask the guys for a rain check? I'll feel more up to having company, tomorrow…" he smiled on seeing Buck's confusion. "Honest."

"Okay…well, I'll just pick up a few DVDs…"

"No…really…I just need a good sleep in my own bed. Okay?"

Now Buck was in no doubt something was wrong. He nodded. "No problem, Kid. I got me plenty of laundry to do." He moved the TV remotes. "Here's all you need to watch TV. You got your cell?"

Nodding, JD patted his shirt pocket.

"Okay then. Call me if…"

JD smiled. "I will, Bro, I promise. And Buck…thanks."

With an affectionate squeeze to JD's shoulder, Buck left. Sighing heavily, JD flipped on the TV, but his mind was back at the precinct that morning and having to ID the three men who had snatched him. As he stared at them through the viewing pane, JD realized those men were arrested for kidnapping *him*, so JD had asked Luis about what would happen next.

>>"Well, they'll probably do time, getting out early if they behave. If they had actually succeeded in kidnapping Mr. Krystal, then the ransom note would have been considered in their sentencing, but as they took you, in error, it may be dismissed."< <

Shuddering at the memory as he struggled to his feet, JD turned off the TV, grabbed his crutches and headed for bed. `Of course,' he thought, `a ransom note for a nobody's hardly a threat, is it?'


In his apartment later that evening, Buck handed out five chilled beers.

"Maybe he's awake, now," Vin suggested.

"I tried his cell," Buck answered, taking a seat. "He's not answering. He just wanted to rest. I don't like it, but if it's what he wants, who am I to argue?"

Ezra sputtered out his drink. Composing himself, while realizing he had everyone's full attention, he took a calming breath and spoke. "In the time JD has been with us, you, Buck, have become the definitive `mother hen' where he is concerned. There is no question unasked, no favor too big, and no shoulder more comforting for him. Knowing JD to be the open and honest person he is, I am also convinced there are no secrets between you." He adjusted his position in the chair. "Until now." All eyes turned to Buck.

Chris sat up straighter. "Buck…something you'd like to share with us?"

Buck's gaze was firmly fixed on Standish. On hearing Chris's question, Buck turned to him, his whole demeanor now showing deep concern. "I have nothing concrete, but…something' s not quite right and I just can't put my finger on it. He assures me he's doing fine, but…damnit, I know he's not. Why won't he talk to me?"

"It's very early days, Buck," Josiah soothed. "Once JD feels more like himself and less tired, I'm sure he'll talk about all this."

"I'm not so sure," Buck admitted. "Right now, he reminds me of when he first arrived here, all piss an' vinegar, but…we all knew it was a front."

"He'd constructed barriers to protect himself," Josiah reminded.

Buck agreed. "I can feel those barriers going back up, and I don't know why, or how to stop it." They all jumped when Vin slammed his bottle down on the table as he stood.

"To hell with this!" He moved toward the door.

"Vin…you could make things worse," Nathan suggested.

"That's a chance I'm willin' to take," he replied, exiting the apartment.

Chris watched him leave, raising one hand to halt the growing discontent. "It can't hurt. Maybe Vin's what JD needs right now."

Buck took a gulp of beer, swooshing it around his mouth before swallowing. "Let's hope so."


Vin was just about to pound on JD's apartment door again, when the sounds of bolts unlocking caused him to step back. The door opened to reveal a pale, sleepy, tousle-haired junior security officer in pajama shorts and tee.

"Jesus, dude, I was asleep. Is the building on fire?"

A little guilt creeping in as he watched JD hobble on his crutches toward the sofa, Tanner stepped in, closed the door and followed him. "No, just wondered how you were doin' is all." He shuddered at the withering look JD threw him.

"Well, I *was* asleep."

Noting the cold coffee and dried up sandwiches on the coffee table, Vin frowned as he sat down next to him. "When did you last eat or drink?"

JD shrugged as he turned on the TV, scowling as Vin leaned over and flipped it back off.

"At the hospital, I guess. I got water in my bedroom." He watched the Texan dial and order pizza to be delivered to Buck's place.

"Come on…get dressed. The guys are at Buck's."

"No, Vin…not tonight, I'm too…"

"…Tired, yeah, so you've said. You got two choices, you get dressed and come with me, or I drag you up there like that." He watched JD's face go through the various stages of consideration, before resignation set in.


As he wandered off to get dressed, Vin nodded to himself. "Well, alright."


Finding everyone so pleased to see him, and eating a few slices of pizza, lifted JD's spirits some, but it was obvious the boy was deep in thought about something. Late into the evening, JD was leaning against Buck and snoring softly. With careful maneuvering, the group got him comfortable on the sofa without disturbing him and decided to leave when Buck threw a comforter over him.

"Come in when you can, tomorrow," Chris offered the brunet. "And tell JD Andy's been asking to see him. I'll talk to you both tomorrow."

After Buck closed and locked the door, he turned and stared at the slumbering tech, eventually slumping into a chair opposite him. "Ah, Kid…what's eating at you, boy?" He sighed. "Josiah said we had to wait on you to tell us. I gotta tell you, patience is not my strong point…except with Inez…but that's a whole other ball game. Anyway, for now, I'll wait…but don't go expecting me to wait long…you got that, little bro?"

Rising, he went into his bedroom. He returned with a pillow and his comforter, before settling on his upholstered recliner. He watched the younger man sleep until slumber claimed him. Lord, he was gonna be stiff in the morning. An hour or so later, his cell phone vibrated and, jolting awake, he moved away to answer it.


"Heads up. The shit's hit the fan and Travis wants us to step up the investigation. It'll mean JD's gonna be alone more than I'd like, but I need everyone on this."

Buck glanced at the sleeping tech. "I'll tell him we can't…"

"Buck, no. I want to shield JD from this as much as possible, for now. Just tell him it's because of Andy's visit, okay?"

Sighing, the brunet agreed, his heart heavy from the idea JD would still be suffering from all this. Somehow, waking up stiff and aching in the morning didn't seem quite so daunting.


Two days on and JD slipped his arms into his new elbow crutches, grateful to be rid of the higher ones. As his hands curled around the grab handles, he tried them out. His feet were still bandaged, but were now encased in special gel socks, to absorb most of the impact when he walked. Less than a week and he would have the stitches removed…he could hardly wait.

Andy had wined and dined Casey and Candice as promised. Both girls had thanked JD, Candice over the phone and Casey in person the previous night, but any hopes of him and Casey on the sofa progressing beyond wandering hands and sloppy kisses, were dashed when all she talked about was how wonderful, funny, sweet, handsome, sexy…Andy was. The final nail in the coffin came when, as leaving, she declared to be `in love'.

JD sighed. `Terrific…'

Returning to work had been less daunting than he expected, in truth, almost a non-event. No one asked about the kidnapping, just if he was okay. JD had been glad to get out of his apartment. Apart from Casey, the guys had barely dropped by lately, claiming Andy's visit had kept them fully occupied with more stringent security protocols in place.

Another sigh. `Great…'

Andy had asked repeatedly to see him, but JD kept dodging the request. He felt bad about it, but just couldn't face him right now. Moving through the foyer during a rare escape from the monitor room, he spied a newspaper and JD sat down on one of the foyer sofas to read the headlines that caught his eye.

>> Krystal kidnapping foiled! <<

Intrigued, he read on, balking at one quote from a spokesperson for Andy's management.

>> Thankfully, despite the incompetence of the Montecito's security team, Andy is safe and well. The kidnappers snatched a hired hand, in error. <<

`Hired hand'…there was that phrase again. He tilted his head at raised voices. Something desk Clerk Sandy Merle was saying to a colleague as they discussed the headlines, caught JD's attention, and he leaned back to listen.

"Look at it." She gestured toward the many young women milling around. "It's been crazy here since Andy arrived. I mean, don't we have enough to do? And then they write this crap. Even the day poor JD got kidnapped, Chris and the guys had to be here to control this lot, as if they hadn't enough on their minds."

JD took a sharp breath. Everything around him fell out of focus and he suddenly felt light headed and hot. The guys…his friends…hadn' t been out there looking for him?

He closed his eyes. They hadn't been out there looking for him.

He tried to swallow the lump in his throat, without success. Of course not, why would they? It's not like he was anyone special…just a freaking hired hand! Leaning forward, he cradled his head in his hands. No wonder the guys barely visited. They must be mad at him for making them look so bad.

His stomach churned. Oh God…he had to get out of here. His head was about to explode and the tiny breakfast he had eaten was threatening to make a reappearance… and he really didn't want that to happen in front of everyone. Pushing himself up with his crutches, he hobbled over to the front desk.

Sandy beamed at him. "Hi, hon, what can I do for you?" Noting his paler than usual features, she leaned closer to him. He looked clammy, too. "Are you okay?"

"I…I have to go. I have to go, now. Call Chris…tell him…tell him I'm sorry. Thanks." He turned and headed for the main doors, grateful Josiah was on a break as he asked the stand-in valet, Frank Boyce, to hail him a cab.


Once inside his apartment, JD slipped every bolt, and double locked his security locks on his door, ensuring no one got in unless he let them in. In his bedroom he hung up his suit and tie and threw his shirt in the hamper before using the bathroom. Washing his hands, he stared at himself in the mirror. He looked like shit. Trembling fingers touched the dark circles under his eyes before his hand moved to rest over his heart. His chest and throat ached. He felt so detached from life right now, as the feeling it had all turned to crap washed over him.

`Little nobody…'

It had been a familiar phrase when he was growing up. He had been popular with people older and younger than himself, but his peers had always given him a hard time, though he never knew why. His ma had said it was because he was so smart and way above kids his own age, intellectually. But he had more than made up for that by being a natural born klutz. Giving plenty of ammunition to those looking for it.

The taunts had made him determined to become a `somebody'…a man people looked up to…okay, maybe not physically…and respected. But even with his academic successes, he still seemed to be reaching for that goal.

Being with the guys at the Montecito had quietly restored his faith in achieving his objective. He still had a lot to learn, and still had to stop attracting trouble, but he knew what he had to offer them had been the missing piece of the jigsaw, for him and them.

Until now.

Chris had willingly allowed him to stand in for some rich kid, pop star. Would he have allowed any of the others to demean themselves that way? JD hadn't initially thought of it like that…but the events of the last several days had built up into a picture he wasn't enjoying looking at. Andy's lifestyle, while daunting, had blown JD away to sample it, if only for a little while; a life and status he could never hope to achieve. But the guys who had abducted him, the newspapers, and Lord knows who else, had soon put it into perspective…in truth, he was just a nobody…not even important enough for his friends to drop work and spend some time looking for him when he was in trouble.

JD swallowed, knowing full well he was acting crazy, but was unable to push these thoughts and feelings aside any longer. It was all getting too much for him. His confidence was zero and now, more than his feet and head hurt.

He sighed and hung his head. If he couldn't get past this, maybe he didn't belong here after all.


"When was this?" In his office, Larabee was on his feet, his cell pressed against his ear as he exited and called attention with a shrill whistle.

Looking away from the monitors, Vin watched his friend and boss descend the stairs and join him, waiting patiently for him to end his call.

"You whistled?"

He pointed. "Show me JD on the monitors." He watched Vin tap and search, eventually turning back in response to a flashing icon on the screens.

"It says he's not on the premises." Tanner frowned. "Why wouldn't he be on the premises?"

"Can you retrace his last appearance?"

The Texan grinned. "Oh yeah…JD set up this great…" he noted the glower. "…Doing it now…if I can remember what…he…does…okay, I think this is it."

The screens showed reverse action until it stopped on the images at the front desk. Scrolling back, Vin took it back to play the whole scene, from watching the young tech looking decidedly uncomfortable, to him exiting the main doors. A further search showed him outside and getting into a cab.

Vin frowned. "What's going on?"

"That's what I want to know," Chris answered. "Gather the troops…my office, five minutes."

With a nod, Vin was on it, while Chris returned to his office to call JD.


Snuggling under his comforter on the sofa, JD relaxed. His door was secured, his cell was off, his answer machine was on, and, instead of the milder painkillers he had been issued to enable him to return to work, he had taken the original strong, drowsy ones with a cup of Nathan's herbal tea. Although he regretted that decision as soon as he tasted it, he downed it as quickly as possible and then sucked on a mint to mask the tang. He just wanted to sleep and try to climb out of this funk he was in, and hoped a good rest would do it. With the TV playing softly in the background, and letting the machine pick up the incoming call, JD's eyes closed and he was soon sound asleep.


The call to gather the security team together became official when, just after Chris tried to call JD, the chief of security received a call for a meeting in the briefing room. Montecito owner Orin Travis stared around the room as he stood at the head of the table, flanked by four unknown faces, plus Elspeth and Andy, andwith Chris uncharacteristically sitting to one side. With the rest of Team Seven and the full security detail for Andy's visit completing the numbers, Orin threw down a newspaper onto the tabletop.

"I assume neither of you have seen this, yet?"

Turning it toward him, Chris read it. "How the fuck did Mary Travis get hold of this story?" he growled out, ignoring the sharp look from Orin at the mention of his daughter-in- law's name.

"We felt it our duty to illustrate the incompetence of this security set-up and assure Andy's fans he's safe and well." Max Bindwell was an imposingly rotund man with the appearance of a bulldog chewing a wasp when he spoke.

"And you are?" Chris asked, not disguising his contempt. This man had never been present at their meetings before today.

"I head Mister Krystal's management team, and am here to inform you, I have many friends and connections in the business, and will make damn sure no performer will ever again be subjected to such negligence, and your reprehensible attempts to conceal it. The name of this resort, gentlemen and ladies, will become as welcome as flung shit." He recoiled slightly at the glare Larabee threw him.

Chris could sense the boiling anger in the room from his teammates, raising one hand to stay any responses. "You make this allegation without even consulting with us? We're still investigating this incident, and until I know exactly how this happened, I'm prepared to reserve judgment, while again offering my unreserved apologies to Mister Krystal for any distress this may have caused him." His anger rose to the fore.

"I had a colleague…a friend out there, who may have been in mortal danger. Any initial hasty actions to draw attention to the kidnapping may have caused the abductors to take drastic measures, and I can assure you, if that boy had come to any harm because of such actions, I would have been coming straight for *you*…'sir.'"

"Chris…" Andy smiled. "We're still on speaking terms, right? I can still call you Chris?"

Larabee nodded, relaxing a little.

Andy glared at Max before turning back to Chris. "While I understand where Max is coming from, I agree, this should have been held back from the press until we had consulted again with you. However, for my part, I guarantee I don't blame you for this in any way. No one could have known about a plan to kidnap me, and, in truth, it was my own men that got taken out, not yours. If anyone should feel bad, it's me. I put JD in this position, and I want to help put this right."

"Andy…son…allow your management to deal with this. Mister Larabee understands there was a significant error and gross negligence on their part. If the ransom note hadn't got to Elspeth as quickly as it did…"

Vin, who had been listening and mulling things over during the debate, suddenly shot up in his seat. "How did the note come to you, Elspeth?"

"Uh, a bellhop delivered it," she answered.

"But…the only people who knew you were actually on that floor were the people in this room and JD. Everyone else in the hotel thought JD was actually Andy, so would have it recorded Ms. Wilder was with him on that floor." Buck put in, suddenly catching on.

Chris touched his com. "Sandy, can you recall the envelope the note brought to Ms. Wilder's room was in when JD was kidnapped? Was there anything written on it? Uh huh…" He looked at Max. "I see…you're sure? Thanks." He stood, his face like thunder.

"It had a room number on it."

Vin stood, directing his question to Ms. Walker. "Didn't you say Andy's management team pushed for this diversion stunt?"

Elspeth nodded.

Now Josiah and Buck were standing. "You set us up!" Sanchez roared. His misplaced guilt for having JD snatched right from under him had been tearing him apart.

"Is this true?" Buck's words came out in a dangerously low growl.


Bindwell turned to his employer, at first shaking his head, but the other three with him had no such poker faces and so he answered. "Yes. It was just meant to be a publicity stunt. No real harm, but with a long vacation coming up for you, Andy, we needed a dramatic event to keep you in the news. Do you have any idea of how hard it is to keep you high profile?"

Elspeth gasped at the confession. There was a stunned silence.

"You're all fired!"


The young man's expression was one of fury. "Max…get out! I can't believe you would do this to me…only it wasn't me, was it?" Andy was in turmoil. His cosseted lifestyle had slowly eroded away his independency, but it was suddenly re-emerging, along with a flood of emotions. Recognizing his dilemma, Elspeth stood.

"Chris, would you assist us in showing these men off the premises?"

"Consider it our pleasure," he said, so smoothly it unnerved the four ex-management men enough to prompt them to exit, hastily.

Suddenly looking exhausted, Andy placed his elbows on the table and buried his face in his hands. "What do we do now, Else?"

"If I may?"

The pop star peeked from behind his hands to see Ezra smiling at him.

"You need an immediate audit. Freeze your accounts until you can change the signatories to them and send out an immediate communiqué alerting all business associates to new contact details until further notice. I would be happy to handle these things for you, if you would like."

"Really? Why? You barely know me."

"The issue at hand is two-fold. One; you need urgent assistance, two; *you* barely know me. I can however, assure you, if these duties are not attended to immediately, you may find yourself with a lot more than finding a new management team to contend with. My offer stands," he smiled. "Perhaps Ms. Wilder would be so kind as to assist me?"

Glancing around the room, Andy saw each face reflect nothing but compassion for him. Looking to Elspeth he acknowledged her nod. "Ezra…I'd be real grateful for your help, yeah." He finally cracked a smile of his own. "And…thanks."

With a quick nod, Standish and Elspeth stood before leaving the room. "Come, my dear, we have much to do and very little time in which to do it."

Andy looked toward Travis. "I'm sure sorry about all this. Would you like us to leave?"

Glancing proudly at his team, Orin shook his head. "And have all those heartbroken ladies on our hands? I think not." Soft chuckles reverberated around the room, easing the tension considerably.

"Go and rest. You have a show in two days, and I have some apologizing to do." Orin glanced at Chris. "Plus, I think it's time I paid a visit to JD, I haven't seen him since before the kidnapping."

Chris relaxed his stance. "No need to apologize to us, you did no less than I would have expected. Let us check out how JD's doing, for now. As of a few hours ago, he left here unexpectedly and, so far, we haven't been able to raise him at home."

Travis nodded. "Okay, keep me updated."

"I've been trying to see him, too, but he won't return my calls," Andy added.

Buck cleared his throat."If y'all will excuse me, I've wasted enough time, I have somewhere I need to be." He stared at Chris as if daring him to stop him.

Larabee moved to leave, followed by all in the room. "Josiah, Nathan, go with Buck. Vin, help me with the clean-up here, then," he looked directly at Buck. "We'll be right with you."


>> He was struggling to breathe, it was so damned hot. His eyelids were heavy so he just relaxed back into sleep, but…why was *she* here? "Casey?"

"Why did you stop wearing those cool designer clothes, JD? You looked so much better in them."

"Huh?" JD was confused. "But…they're not me, Case…"

She shook her head. "Now, Andy…there's a guy with style…"

"...Well, he *is* just the hired help."

"What?" JD frowned and turned toward the new voice. `Why is the customer from the parking garage here, and pointing at me like that?'

Suddenly, he was back in the hospital bed just after the guy in the semi brought him in. `Buck, Ezra, Nathan, Josiah…no Chris or Vin…damnit, they must think I screwed up…' From his bed JD turned his head and could see Sandy at the front desk in the foyer at the Montecito.

"Even the day poor JD got kidnapped, Chris and the guys had to be here to control this lot, as if they hadn't enough on their minds."

JD heard himself groan. Was he dreaming? `Wake up, damnit…WAKE UP!' Oh God it's hot…was he still in the trunk of the car? Someone's pounding on it…he must be…'quit pounding, I'm here…I'M HERE!' <<


"JD! The Super says you're in there! He says the doorman hasn't seen you leave all day. Quit ignoring us and open this door, damnit!" As the three men stood in the hallway outside JD's apartment, Buck pounded on the door again. Exasperated, he turned to Josiah and Nathan. "Any suggestions? "

"Ask the Super to bring up a key," Josiah suggested.

"I did and he is, but if JD's slipped the locks on the inside, we're screwed."


"Not entirely, Buck."

Aloysius Binks…Al or Binky to his friends, was a tall, portly man. He had been the Super at the Cactus Palms Apartment Complex for almost nine years, was damned good at his job, and well liked by the residents. Before JD moved in, Al only knew Buck to be the guy in 422 who had a lot of lady friends and worked weird hours.

One evening, not long after JD had moved in, Al had called on the young tech to explain about the `no pizza boxes in the trash chute' rule. He expected to meet, based on the fact the apartments were not cheap to rent and came with security and doormen, an obnoxious, overpaid, computer geek (he had also based his summation on the type of mail JD was receiving on a weekly basis that he was placing in JD's mailbox for pick-up).

Instead, he found a polite, sweet, kind youth who dressed, while off duty, like any other kid Al knew, and who, instead of giving him a hard time over the trash chute, had apologized profusely and invited Al in to join him and Buck in a beer, chips, dips, and John Wayne DVDathon.

The next time, the pair also invited Kyle, the daytime doorman, and now all four were on a hi-five and first name basis. Al had been at home when Buck had called this evening, but within fifteen minutes, was at the apartment buildings, complete with a monster of a tool which, Al guessed, he would be demonstrating the usefulness of, any second now.

"I hope, for your sake, the kid's in there, Buck," Al warned, pulling on his heavy duty safety gloves and goggles. "`Cause this door's gonna be trashed and he'll have to stay elsewhere for a day or two until I can replace it. Stand back!"

"That's no problem, Al," Buck assured, moving away along with Nathan and Josiah. "And I'll pay for the door, just do it."

Yanking a pull cord, the beast roared to life, causing several residents to poke their heads out of their doors before nodding to the guys and returning to their apartments. Placing the machine against the hinge side of the door, it popped and sucked out the steel rivets, buckling the heavy safety door as the roaring machine was guided down to the floor. Switching it off, Al placed the tool down and took out a crowbar. He pulled the door out enough to safely allow a person to get through it. Before he had a chance to shimmy through and detach the door from the bolts and locks in place, Buck, Nathan and Josiah were in.


The atmosphere in the room was heavy and, while Josiah opened the drapes and cracked a window, Buck and Nathan checked over the disheveled form buried somewhere in a comforter on the couch. Buck drew back the hand that found JD's head, in alarm.

"He's burning up."

Calmly, Nathan put down his medical bag and touched the back of his hand to the sleeping youth's forehead. "No, he's just real hot and sweaty." With that, he pulled the heavy cover off JD and tossed it aside. The young tech didn't flinch, so Nathan squatted down on his haunches and tapped at JD's cheek as Buck sat down on the sofa and propped the kid up against himself.

"JD…hey, JD…come on now…" Feebly the youth batted away the hand that was bugging him without fully waking.


The doctor turned toward Josiah, who was holding up a pill bottle. "Aren't these the pills he was originally prescribed?"

"What's going on, Nathan? Why won't he wake up?" The look of dread on Buck's face as he stared at the pill bottle made it clear what the brunet was worried about. He watched Nathan examine the bottle.

"It's still pretty full, so I don't reckon he's taken any more than he should…" as he talked, he glanced around. "Ah ha…" Standing, the doctor picked up a mug and sniffed the contents, smiling as he turned to the two worried men.

"I see what's happened here…Josiah…" he offered the mug to the head valet and waited for the nod and smile.

"What? For Christ's sake someone tell me what the hell's wrong with…"

"Herbal tea, Buck," Josiah cut in.

"Herbal tea?" Buck was fast losing patience as he continued to tap JD awake.

"I assume he's taken two of the stronger pain pills, per the instructions on the bottle," Nathan explained. "And washed them down with the herbal tea I gave him a while back. It's designed to help you sleep. Add that to the drowsy meds he's ingested…"

"So…he's just really sound asleep…that's all?"

Again crouching down to check JD's pulse rate, Nathan smiled. "Yeah, I reckon so. However, I think we should get him checked out at the hospital, just to be on the safe side."

Buck frowned. "But, you're a doc, can't you just watch out for him?"

"I could, but I prefer to play it safe." Again standing, he dialed. "Hi, this is Doctor Nathan Jackson of…oh, high Betty. Yeah, I have a twenty one year-old male, Caucasian, possible detox, definite observation, could you send a unit…? No, no OD, just mixed a combination of drowsy meds. Thanks." He looked at his companions. "There's an ambulance on its way."

"Oh God…" Buck was mortified. "The kid's gonna be real upset about this."

"Like Nathan said, Buck," Josiah reminded, as he sat down on the other side of the still slumbering JD. "Better safe than sorry."


"This door's shot."

All three turned at the sound of Al's voice. "You may wanna grab a few things for him, I need to seal this apartment until I can get the new door fitted."

"How long?" Josiah asked.

"No more than two days, tops. Is…is he gonna be okay?"

Now listening to JD's heart with a stethoscope, Nathan pulled out one earpiece and nodded. "His temperature' s normal and his heart rate's a little slow, but he's well within parameter's…"

"English, Nathan," Buck pleaded.

"He's doing fine," Nathan smiled while patting the brunet's knee.


Seeing a paramedic standing at JD's door, Chris and Vin hurried down the hallway, excusing themselves as they pushed into the apartment.


"Just precautionary, Chris," Nathan advised, "Josiah will fill you in, Buck and me are going to the hospital with him."

Stepping back to allow the gurney to roll by, Vin just managed to squeeze JD's arm as he passed him. "Later, Kid."

The three watched the entourage exit, then Vin and Chris turned to Josiah, the latter speaking.

"Well…fill us in."


Ezra rubbed his eyes. Since the earlier meeting, they had been working hard in Andy's suite to secure the pop star's business interests, and now it was getting late. He leaned across to answer his cell phone, nodding in acceptance of more coffee from Andy, as Elspeth called room service to order more.

"Standish. Mister Tanner, how good to hear…excuse me?" He glanced at his companions. "When was this? But he's doing well? I see. I'll be there directly…no, no, it's all fine this end, thank you for your concern. Goodbye."

"Problem?" Elspeth asked.

Ezra sighed. "It would appear our Mister Dunne has created a little `situation' for himself. Vin called from the hospital." He raised a hand to belay their concerns. "I am assured JD is doing well, but, if you don't mind, I would like to visit him. Your affairs are in order, our only failure was to set in motion, plans to appoint a new management team."

Andy stood. "That can wait. I'm coming with you."

"Thank you, but I think maybe…"

"Ezra," he looked at Elspeth, then back to the southerner. "We're coming. I've been trying to see JD since after he got kidnapped, I'm damn well gonna see him this time, even if I have to sit on him to talk."

Ezra smiled. "Very well, I'll alert the LVPD."

"Cool, I'll go get a few things. Else…I wanna stop at the gift shop before we leave."

"Okay, but let's hustle, I think Ezra's keen to leave."

"Hustle…" Andy laughed as he informed his four bodyguards of his plans and prepared to head out.

"He is a delightful young man, considering his status," Ezra commented.

Elspeth nodded. "He is, and smart as a whip, too…he just doesn't get much normality in his life, unfortunately. She sighed. "Such is the price of fame."

The southerner's thoughts went back to his youngest friend. "I fear that phrase may be more pertinent than we had originally considered," he added.


Two hours after JD was taken to hospital, Doctor Jessica Latimer met with five concerned men in the waiting room just a ways down from the ER. Some were sitting, some were pacing, but all  were clearly worried. She smiled, not at all fazed when all five stood and moved toward her.

"Hello. Mister Dunne is resting comfortably and is awake. The introduction of fluids and electrolytes into his system diluted the mix of meds and tea enough to see a very quick recovery. He's a little tired and disoriented, but lucid and responsive. He'll be able to leave in the morning."

They all sighed in relief. Buck smiled and began to walk forward. "Thanks, doc. We can see him now, yeah?" He stared at the hand on his arm that halted him.

"I'm afraid not. He specifically requested no visitors, as is his right, so the answer to your question is, no."

Buck laughed nervously. "Look, he clearly isn't thinking straight. Let me go on in there…he'll be fine once he sees it's me and the guys…"

"No. If my patient requests no visitors, then that's what he gets."

"Nathan!" Buck turned to the doctor. "Go in there and talk some sense into him."

Jackson sighed, acknowledging the glare from Doctor Latimer. "I can't, I'm sorry. I have no authority here…besides, Jess is right, it's his right to refuse visitors." He glared back at the seething brunet. "I don't like it either, Buck, but that's the way it works, here."

"I'm his boss. He'll see me." Chris stepped forward, his demeanor imposing and authoritative.

Jess eyed the commanding blond. "It's still no. He was very specific and asked me to request you just all go home."


"How about me?"

All eyes turned toward three approaching figures, flanked by four imposing bodyguards. Ezra gave a nod to the five men as Andy stepped away from him and Elspeth, his hands filled with balloons and gifts.

"I'm not a friend…yet, just delivering a few things to cheer him up." He flashed a smile and Jess caught a gasp. She knew full well who he was and was trying hard to get past her girlie crush, but was failing. The others looked at her, their eyes pleading for her to give the young man a chance.

"Okay, go ahead. I'll check on you both in a few minutes. If I see that Mister Dunne is in any way distressed…"

"Hey, no sweat, if he is, I'll kick myself out." He leaned in to kiss her cheek. "Thanks." Before he entered the room, he turned back to the group, pointing back the way he, Ezra and Elspeth had entered. "You uh…may wanna get some extra security. I think I attracted some interest."

They watched him knock and enter. Ezra cleared his throat. "Actually, that was an understatement. There are several hundred ladies occupying the parking lot as I speak."


Hearing the door opening, JD turned toward it, expecting to see a member of the medical staff. He was shocked when Andy stepped in, closed the door and approached his bed.

"How did you get in here? I asked for no visitors."

"I come bearing gifts…" Andy grinned, the grin slipping a little at the lack of response. "Look…if you really want me to go, I will, but, I just wanted to talk for a while, I've wanted to for days. Can we do that…talk?"

"Why would someone like you want to talk to the hired help?" JD didn't mean to sound sour, but he wasn't really up to diplomacy right now.

Andy frowned, taking a seat just after dotting several bobbing balloons around, to dance along the floor, buffeted by the air conditioning. He placed fruit and chocolates on the nightstand and handed over a bear dressed in a sparkly top and leather pants. "Apparently, this is an Andy bear." `Still no smile, huh?' he thought.

"What's this `hired help' crap? I offered to pay a fee for your help, but Mr. Travis refused."

"And the clothes?" JD reminded.

"Shoot, you had to have clothes, I sure as hell wasn't gonna give you mine. I know newspapers that'd pay big for a shot of my naked butt."

JD chuckled softly and the tension between them evaporated.

"There ya go, I heard you had a killer smile."

"Huh?" JD looked at him, a little alarmed.

Andy laughed. "It's okay, I'm not gay. The two ladies you wanted me to wine and dine…all they did was talk about you all evening. Man, I gotta hand it to you, juggling two women isn't easy…"

"Whoa…back up there, cupid. I'm not seeing both of them…shoot, I'm barely seeing one of them."

"Really? Wow, you'd never know from the way they talked and acted."

Frowning, JD shook his head. "But…when I spoke to them, all they talked about was you."

Andy laughed. "Duh…they were hardly not going to, were they? Think about it. What were you expecting them to talk about? The economy?"

JD chuckled harder. "You know, for a rich guy, you're pretty funny."

"So…that means you have to be poor to have a sense of humor?"

"No…I didn't mean…" He relaxed on seeing Andy's grin.

"See how easy it is to take something out of context?"

Nodding, JD sat up higher in the bed. "Sorry, it hasn't been one of my best weeks."

"I'll bet. Perhaps now is the wrong time to tell you your apartment door's been made into firewood too, huh?"

"What? Oh man…that's gonna cost me."

"No problem, it's covered." Andy gulped. Shit, the scowl was back.

"I can pay, I'm not destitute, you know."

"Will you quit it, JD? No one suggested you were. I wanted to do it because, I feel responsible for all this."

JD seemed surprised by the admission. "Why, it's not your fault someone wanted to kidnap you, but got me instead." He watched Andy stand, pace a while, then perch on the edge of his bed.

"Well…actually, we just found out my management team arranged the whole thing…some kinda…stunt. But it backfired. I'm so sorry. I fired their asses, of course."

JD gasped. "Your own people tried to hurt you?"

"I don't think anyone was meant to get hurt…" he noted JD's face pull at that remark. "…But clearly that's not how it worked out. Sorry dude."

"Thanks, even if it wasn't your fault." JD licked his lips. "It's not just that, though. Things were a little shitty before you came, you know, just work…Casey…work… " He paused to take a sip of water from the glass on his nightstand.

"Then…just for a while, I became this whole other person. For the first time in my life, I got to live like the rich folk. Even people I knew, were commenting on my appearance…and, I kinda liked it, you know? See, my mom used to clean for this real nice lady in Boston…huge house, money coming out of their ears. I could see how Ma would look at that lady's nice things, and I remember wishing I could give them to her. When I learned I had a high IQ, I set my mind to working hard in school and getting rich." He sighed. "Sadly, I was a little too late. Ma passed on just before I graduated from college. That's how I ended up here."

The two young men sat in silence for a moment.

"So…why won't you see your friends?" Andy slipped in.

JD twiddled his hands together. "Well, I'm not real proud of how I ended up here…not that I really know *how* I ended up here, but knowing me, it's likely to be dumb. Plus…just before I left the resort, I read the comments in a newspaper about the kidnappers only snatching a hired hand. Then Sandy, our receptionist, was talking about the day I was kidnapped. She said the guys spent the day fighting off disappointed fans…and I thought…shit, they didn't even come looking for me. If that had been one of the others, I would have been out there…"

Andy raised his open palms. "Whoa, whoa…hold up. I gotta set this straight. The day you got taken, those guys were going crazy. It was their actions that helped the cops find the car. They were out there for hours, searching, until that guy…Perez? Told them to leave it with him. When your friends got back to the resort, it was nuts, so, yeah, some of them did pitch in…but I heard from Else that others were still checking out the cameras for clues. As for the newspaper…my team jumped the gun with the press release, not to mention, it didn't get my approval. I guess now we know why they were so keen to make your guys look bad, to cover their tracks."

Something about that phrase bothered JD and he slowly began reconciling events in his head. He groaned. "Oh God, what the hell is wrong with me?" He rubbed a weary hand across his face. "I've been a right jerk, haven't I?"

Andy shook his head. "No…you had a really tough time, and it took its toll more than you realized. People don't get injuries like you had without a fair amount of suffering." He placed a hand on JD's arm. "I'm so sorry, JD. I wish I could roll back time and say no to that stupid decoy idea. But I can't, so I hope one day you can forgive me…"

"Shut up, dude, I already have," JD assured, grinning. The pair laughed and started sharing out the chocolate.

"The clothes are all yours, the wig too, if you want them."

JD looked at his new friend. "Thanks, I'll see. The clothes are really neat, but…they're not me. But, thanks anyway. I'll keep `em, at least for a while, to remember that, initially, it was fun."

Andy tilted his head. "Let me run something by you. I heard you're shit hot on IT. I need to appoint a new management team…are you interested? Be kinda fun…lots of traveling, huge salary."

"How huge?"

"Name your price. Having someone around me I could trust would be worth paying for."

The pair stared at each other. JD spoke. "Wow…that's the offer I've been waiting for all my life."


Outside the room, Buck was leaning against the door. "They were laughing, that's good, right?"

"I'd say so," Elspeth smiled. "Andy really is a sweet boy. His mother is unable to travel, and he misses her and his sisters terribly. He's taking the girls to Europe with him, though we haven't made that public. He wants them to adjust to it all before being thrust into the spotlight. He's very protective of them, even though he's actually the youngest by a year."

"Sounds like he's got a good head on his shoulders," Chris said, softly.

"Hmm…most of the time," she laughed.

The door opening caused them all to turn that way. Andy grinned. "Uh…sorry, I wore him out, but…he asked, if you're okay with it, if you could all call in sometime later."?

"Oh…I think we could manage that," Buck said with a twinkle in his eye. As they were laughing, he moved past Andy to go into the room.

"I uh…offered him a job, with me." All eyes turned to Andy, some showing more than a little alarm. "Open salary, company car…travel, five weeks paid vacation…" Andy studied the faces of the men before him, wishing JD could see these expressions now. He wrapped a hand around Elspeth's arm and moved to go, looking back at them before he left.

"He turned me down…something about finding family." He bit back a grin at the instant change of mood. "Later, dudes."

Buck took a deep breath and continued on into the room. He quickly reappeared. "Tanner, phone, quick!"

JD was sleeping, while blissfully unaware of the snapping camera phones capturing him curled up around an Andy Krystal teddy bear.


Two days after Andy's farewell concert and lavish leaving party, the Montecito was finally finding some normality. In Buck's apartment, JD sighed, contentedly. His stitches were out, and he was occasionally walking without crutches, now. His door was being fixed while he sat on Buck's couch, but he wasn't moving back until after the guys had visited, that evening. A light cough had him turning, to howl with laughter as Buck served him a soda, while wearing the blond wig he'd used when decoying for Andy.

Wiping his eyes, JD chuckled again as Buck pulled off the wig and plopped it, askew, on his head. Buck sat down next to him, and delved a hand into the bowl of popcorn on JD's lap.

He pointed at the TV. "What we watching?"

"Static. The storm moving in's taken out the signal." JD turned to Buck. "Bro, I just wanted to say…I'm real sorry about…"

Buck shook his head. "We've already talked about this, kid…and it's over, okay?"

"Sure, I know. I just wanted to say it once more." He watched Buck turn to him.

"First up, there's nothing to be sorry about. You had a rough time and we failed to recognize that. You came back to work way too soon and with all the hoop la over the security breach during Andy's visit, none of us visited half as much as we wanted to, resulting in us failing to realize just how bad things had gotten. And that made Josiah even more distressed about the whole thing than he already was, because he hadn't talked to you about what happened." Buck smiled at the memory of Josiah and JD talking in this very apartment two days ago. "Plus, what you read and heard just made things ten times worse." He smiled and squeezed the back of the younger man's neck.

"I'm real glad you turned down Andy's offer...though I can't for the life of me understand why."

"Yeah, you can," JD whispered, and the pair smiled at each other. Buck squeezed JD's neck a little harder.

"Well, it's good to have you back; I've missed having my sassy little brother around to give me a hard time."

"Oh, well, if that's what you missed, that's what you'll get," JD grinned, heaping another handful of popcorn into his mouth. He pointed to the TV as it flared into life. "Hey…the signal's back!"

The doorbell sounded. "Just in time, too I reckon." Buck placed a hand on JD's head as he rose to answer it, chuckling at the smaller man's attempts to get up while he held him down. "No…please, don't exert yourself, I'll get it."

Slapping his hand away, JD grinned. "Jerkass!"

"That's my name, don't wear it out, Squirt."

A noisy entrance by their five friends had JD's grin growing. He hi-fived Vin as the Texan passed him, carrying chips, dips and beers. Josiah ambled in hauling a huge pot.

"Chili?" JD asked, hopefully.

"Not today, John Daniel. Today, we have chicken balti curry, with naan bread and poppadums."

"Was that said in English?" Vin asked.

Ezra took a seat. "Balti, as I understand, is a curry dish that originated in Birmingham, England, by immigrants from India and Pakistan. It is cooked in the traditional way of a curry, but derives its name from the last ten minutes of high temperature cooking in a vessel known as a balti. Poppadums are…" he paused. "Like giant chips, and naan bread is a large flatbread which, traditionally, is dipped into the balti and that is how the dish is eaten."

JD gaped. Vin leaned in. "I bet he googled it on the way over here."

Ezra simply raised his bottle of imported beer and grinned.

"Wait, we all have to dip this bread into one pot? We don't know where Buck's hands have been…well, actually, I do, which is why I'm not keen to share…oww!"

Flipping JD's head as he passed, Buck grinned at the youth and took a seat.

"I have individual bowls for each of you to help yourselves," Josiah assured, smiling at the look of relief on Ezra's face. "Buck…be sure to try the lime pickle." He winked at JD as he placed the pot down on the coffee table and suddenly the youth was looking forward to that event.

While the group chattered, Chris turned the local newspaper toward him as he entered the kitchen for another beer. The headlines stated that pop star Andy Krystal had cancelled his upcoming vacation due to his mother's sudden illness. Larabee shot a look toward Buck, whose returned gaze prompted the blond to conceal the newspaper, nodding his understanding. This was news for another day. Probably the same day he would finally tackle the outstanding complaint against JD…more of a formality now, seeing as he himself had seen off the guest with a stern talking to about harassing off-duty staff.

Joining his friends, Chris grinned as Buck piled lime pickle onto a piece of poppadum, and bit into it, to, only seconds later, howl out, stand, and head to the kitchen. The others were laughing, hard, JD eventually standing to go check Buck was okay.

Chris relaxed back with his beer. Tomorrow saw the arrival of the South Texas Naturist Society. Buck in particular had been looking forward to that, so Chris had put Vin and JD in charge of it, much to the dismay of all three.

Larabee grinned. Just another normal day for the staff of the Montecito Resort and Casino, and the men of Team Seven. He took a swig of beer. Bring it on!

The end