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"Josiah ain't heard from Buck, neither. He plans on checking out a conversation he overhead at a rest stop, something about a family finding an 'outlaw' on the Oregon Trail." Vin relayed his conversation with the oldest team member while dialing the third vehicle searching for the missing ATF agent.
"He think the 'outlaw' could be JD?" Chris swerved to miss a hole in the dirt road. "Maybe Nathan or Ezra will know what Buck is up to." He listened to his partner's side of the next conversation and watched the younger man's face morph from a smile into a look of consternation. "What? What did Nathan say?"
"Watch out!" Vin yelled as the pickup bounced through rock hard ruts.
Larabee drove the truck to a smooth stretch of land and stopped. "Sorry about that pard. Now what did Nathan say?"
Vin rubbed the sore spot on his skull. "Can't say I think much of your driving there, cowboy. He and Ez left our resident lover boy cooped up in a motel, surrounded by lots of pillows." At Chris' raised eyebrows, Tanner sputtered, "Just pillows, no women."
"Then where is he, why isn't he answering his phone?"
"Don't know. He certainly ain't in any shape to go wandering around a strange town. Nathan left him with strict orders. He weren't even to 'stroll' to the motel's soda machine."
"Did they take away his pants and crutches? If not, you know as well as I do Buck will start doin' his own searchin', whether cruising for female companionship or his little bro." Chris wiped his hand across his sweat-covered brow. "How far are we from Lander? Everything seems to point to that town. We need to gather the team and co-ordinate our facts."
+ + + + + + +
"Get in there, boy. We've got to make tracks before that idiot deputy and the gimp get it figured out they're both on the same side." Harper shoved the sagging Dunne into the cab of the beat up red Ranger and slammed the door. No one appeared to follow them into the parking lot and a smile crossed the driver's face. Just the thought of snatching the injured agent out of the local law and hospital staff's custody sent a jolt of adrenaline coursing through his veins. He ran around the truck bed and jumped into the driver's seat. The emergency parking area offered little maneuvering room. The two county sheriff's office cruisers blocked one end of the parking lot, leaving the ambulance-loading zone as the only exit.
Throwing the pick-up into reverse, the wanted agent missed the sudden appearance of a man on a mission, Buck Wilmington. As the vehicle passed by the Emergency Room pedestrian entrance, the injured man jumped into the back end, grimacing at the pain shooting through his broken leg. The sudden swerve of the truck sent him ramming into the dented wheel well before another force propelled him crashing into the assorted tools and tack littering the truck bed.
Buck grabbed a dirty bridle and spun it around his head like a lasso. The steel bit crashed into the back pass-through window, cracking the dirty glass. Startled, Harper turned to see Buck preparing to punch the window again. Returning his gaze to the driveway he hit the brakes hard to avoid striking a jade colored Suburban racing toward the emergency entrance.
"Buck," yelled JD, trying to shake off the cobwebs cluttering his brain.
The bald tires skidded across the parking area, tossing Buck around the truck bed like a rag doll in the jaws of a large determined dog. Dunne flew into Harper's right arm seconds before the pickup collided with a solitary light pole. The hood popped open and steam shot from the radiator. The pole teetered before crushing the cab and coming to rest in the truck bed, glass shards showered the saddles and Buck.
JD struggled to open the door in an attempt to get to his 'older' brother, oblivious to the other people approaching him. Blood ran down his arm from the IV site while a dark bruise grew on his forehead and left cheek. Adrenaline renewed his strength and he fought the hands grabbing at him. Buck needed him and he wasn't going to surrender to any moron trying to stop him in that goal. Bear like arms surrounded his slight frame and picked him up from the ground while more hands pried his locked fingers from the truck's side. A deep resonance spreading comfort words, echoed in his fever filled head. "It's OK. You're safe," the Preacher's voice.
Nathan appeared in his line of vision, his large, gentle hands held JD's face. "Deep breaths, son. That's it. You're safe." Like a litany, the words worked their magic and the young man's panicked, shallow breathing changed to slow, deep breaths. JD's brain partially cleared and he knew. His friends came and he was safe.
+ + + + + + +
Buck lay in one hospital bed, his leg sporting a clean, new cast. He wore a pair of navy fleece shorts and a gray tee shirt. JD sat on the edge of a chair, unable to find a comfortable position to rest. Sheets of dry skin hung off his arms, legs and shoulders. Buck laughed, "I saw a rattler shed its skin once. It was able to squirm out of its dead hide, leaving a whole skin behind. Do you want some help shedding?"
"Suppose that would cure the itching?"
"All the more reason to ask Casey to reach them places a man's arm can't. Hey, Chris. You get the chauffer duties?"
The team leader sauntered into the hospital room and smiled. "You boys are stuck with me. Can't let you out of my sight for a moment 'cause you'll find trouble at the drop of a hat."
Buck pointed to his own chest, "Me? I'm not the one who has trouble attached to my hip."
"Don't matter, Buck. Since you became my big brother, you get to share all my good luck." JD joked. He turned to Chris. "Did you get the stuff?"
Chris sighed and shook his head, "Yep, recovered all the contraband and Harper won't be walking free for a long time. Mrs. Steavens confirmed every "i" was dotted and every "t" crossed properly this time, with no hidden messages in the parity space. How did you think of sending us a message using that book title?"
JD smiled but he shook his head negatively. "Didn't Ezra say something about life imitating art? Oh my gosh, I've gotta get that book back to Casey. She loaned it to me before I got sick."
"We'll remind you when we get home. When did you become such a bookworm?" Chris handed him the small sack containing his personal belongings.
"Can't sit at a computer all the time, Buck. She's got another one for me to read. Hear they made it into a movie too. Bet the book's better than the film." A nurse pushed JD's wheelchair as Chris pushed Buck's toward the waiting rental van.
"What's the title? You plan to play-act this one, too?"
"'Deathwatch' helped you find me, didn't it? Sides this one's different, some fellow named Harris wrote it. I think it's called, 'Hannibal', or something like that. Want to read it when I'm through?"
The two long time friends looked at each other, horror shining in their eyes before replying in unison, "No! And you won't be reading it either!"
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