by The Dirty Dozen

"You know, Josie, if the sheriff finds us out here doin' this, he'll have both our jobs."

"Relax, Mark. You heard him on the radio. He's taking his dinner break at MarvaLou's. It's Buffet Night. Now hush up and get over here," Deputy Josie Clifton replied, continuing to ply her fellow deputy's duty belt off of him.

"Well, the last time we almost got caught," Mark went on, grabbing her hands, "and by that biker gang, too!"

"Mark?" Josie called, authoritatively. "We're out in the middle of fucking nowhere. The rabbits and raccoons don't even come out this way." She stared at him until he relaxed and nodded his head. "Good. Now let's get down to business before Marva Lou serves dessert."

Mark finally got with the program and was doing exactly what Josie had wanted when he found himself shoved aside, hitting his head on the radar unit.

"Well, damn! Would you look at that!" Josie exclaimed, pulling her shirt back together.

Mark struggled with his own clothes as he turned to look out the windshield at whatever had gotten Josie's attention.

There, walking down the middle of the road, past their patrol car, oblivious to them, was a man. A naked man.

"Hey!" Josie shouted to the man as she got out of the patrol car, still getting her clothing and gear in proper order.

The man ignored her, or didn't hear, and continued on walking.

"Hey, you! Stop!" Mark yelled as he ran to catch up.

It wasn't until Josie stepped in front of him that the man stopped, suddenly surprised that he was not alone.

"What are you doing out here? And naked?" Mark asked.

The man looked at the two deputies in turn, but did not speak. If anything, he seemed at a loss for what to do or say. He seemed to want to keep walking, but didn't know how to get around Josie. He stared at the ground.

"You deaf or something?" she asked, putting out a tentative hand to touch him and get his attention again. She was not ready for the reaction she got.

The man howled as if in pain at her touch and backed away from the two deputies. There was fear in his blue eyes and his breath came in harsh pants.

"Easy now," Mark tried to soothe. "We ain't gonna hurtcha."

"He's gonna run," Josie murmured to her partner.

"You go right, I'll go left," he returned.

"Why don't you come with us, now, Mister," Josie said. "We'll find you some nice warm clothes and some food to eat. Wouldn't that be nice?"

And sure enough, as soon as the deputies took another step closer, the man bolted. But since they were ready for it, Mark and Josie were able to grab him and bring him down onto the hard pavement to prevent his escape. Josie got her handcuffs out and quickly secured the man, despite his kicking and screaming.

The two managed, with difficulty, to get the man back up off the ground and back to their patrol car. They deposited him into the back seat, grateful that there was a cage between the seats.

"Better call the sheriff," Mark said, catching his breath, wincing at the bruises the man was getting as he banged his head, shoulders and feet against the inside of the patrol car.

Josie nodded and then reached in for the radio mike. "Patrol Three to Sheriff Brewer," she called.

After a few seconds the sheriff replied, "Go ahead Patrol Three."

"Sheriff, we found a mental health case walking naked down Route Twelve. We had to physically subdue him. We're bringing him in to the station."

"Anybody we know?" the sheriff asked.

"No, sir. He's a white male, mid-twenties, shoulder length light brown hair. Looks like he's been out here for a few days."

"He say anything?"

"He hasn't been verbal at all. Looks like he's got some old gunshot scars. Maybe we'll be able to run his prints and come up with something, though."

"All right. I'll meet you there at the station."

+ + + + + + +

Sheriff Brewer wasn’t annoyed; he was pissed. Not only had he missed the best meal to be had in town, served by Judy, the prettiest woman to be had in town, but he guessed he would be spending most the night trying to find out who this naked idiot was.

Waiting at the office, he turned at the sound of company, to see his two deputies entering on either side of the semi-naked man, who was now draped in one of the officer’s jackets.

“Hey, Boss. This is that guy we radioed in about.”

“You don’t say, Baker. I wouldn’t have guessed seeing as you’ve brought in half a dozen other naked guys tonight,” Brewer replied sarcastically as he gave the prisoner the once over. “So where’d ya find him?”

Mark shifted uneasily on his feet as his female partner answered.

“Out on Saker Rd, Boss,” Clifton honestly answered as she waited for the sheriff’s reaction to the isolated location.

Brewer shook his head. Saker Rd, he knew exactly what they were doing that far out of town, but his two deputies fucking their brains out on his time wasn’t his problem at the moment. His problem was standing silently in front of him. “We’ll talk about your extra activities later, right now, has he said anything?” Brewer asked as nodded toward the handcuffed man.

“No Boss, not a word. All spit an fire when we first found ‘im but since then nothing,” Baker said as he nudged the younger man forward. “The engines running, but nobody’s driving, you know what I mean, Boss. ”

Brewer stared into the blue eyes that seemed to stare blankly into space. “More likely he’s on something. Is that right, Boy, you flying?”

There seemed to be no awareness, no response from the younger man as he continued to be oblivious to everything around him.

Sighing, Brewer lost his patience, waved his deputies off, “Get him printed, I’ll see what I can find on him, then take him to county and have him checked out.”

“Then what, Boss? You know county ain’t going to keep him if he’s only messed in the head.”

“Well, I ain’t taking responsibility for a retard in my cells,” Brewer argued. “If he checks out at county, get them to call Doc Sorensen, he’ll take him. He knows how to handle his kind.”

“The nut house?” Baker queried. “Is that a good idea? We don’t know who this guy is.”

“He resisted arrest didn’t he? Could be a danger to himself and to others, right? Larkham Place is where we put people like that until they learn their manners. You got a problem with that Baker?”

“No sir, no problem at all.”

+ + + + + + +

The two deputies moved their subject to the booking area, which was really just a table. They printed him and found him a pair of jailhouse coveralls that Baker practically had to put on for him. The young man was functioning somewhere between the level of a 2-year-old and a zombie.

Josie Clifton studied him closely. Baker felt a pang of envy at the thought she might find the prisoner attractive. He sucked in the very obvious beginning of a pot belly while eyeing the John Doe's trim, muscular physique.

"You know...," Josie said thoughtfully. "He doesn't really look like a druggie."

Mark snorted. "And exactly what does a druggie look like?" he asked derisively, even though he knew what his partner meant.

The young man had a slight growth of beard stubble, but had obviously been clean-shaven until recently. His hair was long and tangled, but not matted or filthy. He was slightly built, but not emaciated, and he was reasonably clean considering he'd been walking down a dusty road wearing nothing but his good looks.

Josie examined the John Doe's arms. "No needle tracks."

"So he pops pills," Mark shrugged. "Who the hell cares? Let's get him over to County and he'll be their problem."

"Okay, just a second while I send these prints...." Josie scanned the prints into the NCIC terminal and then attempted to send them only to get a message that the server was undergoing maintenance and their request would be processed as soon as possible. "What the hell?" she asked, tapping the space bar in the hopes that would make everything work faster.

"Just leave a note. PJ can take care of it when he comes on at 11," Mark shrugged.

Josie nodded and picked up a pen only to discover it didn't have any more ink. "Dammit!! Doesn't anything work around here?!" She tossed the pen in the wastebasket and was rummaging through the drawer for another one when the radio on her shoulder squawked to life.

It was the county dispatch center, requesting in code that they call in. Usually, that meant something they didn't want going out over the airwaves for anyone with a police scanner to hear. She picked up the phone and punched in the number.

Mark watched anxiously as she nodded her head and mutter "mm hmm" several times before hanging up.

"Mayor Dunwittie just brought his kid to the ER at County," she said with disgust. "Claims he 'fell down the stairs' - again."

Mark grunted disapproval. One day, they were going to get that child-abusing bastard. "Well, lucky thing we're headed over there, anyway," he nodded towards their John Doe. "C'mon, you," he took the young man's arm. We're going for a ride."

The three of them headed out the door, not noticing that the computer screen had turned blue and was displaying the legend "FATAL ERROR HAS OCCURRED. Your request cannot be processed"

+ + + + + + +

"Appreciate this Doc," Mark Baker said, when Dr. Sorensen came into the lobby of the Larkham Place State Sanitarium.

"No problem," the doctor answered with a smile. "No problem at all," he added too softly for Baker to hear when Baker turned and pointed toward a vinyl couch where the John Doe waited with Josie.

"Why don't you and your partner let me take over now," Sorensen suggested.

"You sure that's a good idea Doc? He's calm now, but he was pretty riled up when we first picked him up. He might get to fightin' you."

"There are plenty of strong orderlies to help with aggresive patients. I'm sure you and your partner must have other duties," Dr. Sorensen said.

"Yeah, we do at that," Baker answered. He and Josie were already on the Chief's shit list. They'd wasted three hours at County trying to get the doctors to state definitively that Emily Dunwittie's broken arm was the result of child abuse and not a fall, and finding out that their John Doe was in perfect physical health. Another referral to DPS for Emily and an all-expenses paid trip to Larkham  Place for John. Getting back to the station before the end of shift and getting some actual work done could go a long way toward getting them off the Chief's list.

He caught Josie's eye and nodded his head toward the door. She looked at him questioningly and he nodded again. Josie looked like she wanted to say something, but she left with a frown - and, he was sure, some not-so-polite words he'd hear later. He handed the clipboard with the transfer authorization to the Doctor.

Sorensen signed it and Baker tore off the yellow copy and handed it to the Doctor. "He's all yours, Doc."

The two men shook hands and Sorensen smiled at the officer's retreating back. Baker stopped at the door and gave a quick wave in John Doe's general direction and then he was gone.

The doctor's smile faded, as soon as the patrol car pulled off the lot. He strode over to where the John Doe sat, staring off into space. "Welcome back, Agent Tanner," he said, with a cold smile. He pulled his cell phone off the clip at his belt and keyed the walkie-talkie feature. "Tanner's back. Get down to the lobby," he ordered.

+ + + + + + +

Buck entered the office, file folders in hand, trepidation in his step.

“Anything?” he asked.

Chris looked up from the paperwork on his desk, his own file folders and shook his head silently.

“He’s two hours late, Chris.”

“I’m well aware of that, Buck,” Chris replied, his voice tight, controlled. He’d been watching the clock as well, waiting for Vin’s scheduled check-in call. “And I’m also aware of the nature of the job, as are you: schedules sometimes get changed, sometimes the opportunity just isn’t there.

Buck nodded his agreement, but the worry outlined on his face didn’t go away.

“For the past two months, Chris, since Vin’s been under, he’s made every single one of his contacts. He ain’t been more than two minutes late.”

“You think I don’t know that, Buck?!” Chris shouted back, slapping his hand on his desk as his own worry and frustration final came out.

Buck was about to reply, but seeing that Chris wasn’t finished, smartly held back.

“Ever since Travis dropped this case in our laps six months ago, I’ve been against it. I told him that sending a lone agent in deep like this was a bad idea, but did he listen? No! Because some Congressman from Washington on the ATF Board had a hard on for some stupid backwoods moonshine operation, probably the Congressman’s competitor....

“Chris, you know that ain’t it ...well, not entirely,” Buck interjected. “You saw the autopsy reports. Those folks didn’t die from alcohol poisoning, but just plain poisonin’. Including the Congressman’s daughter.”

Chris sat back down in his chair and ran shaky hand over his face. “I know, Buck,” he whispered. “I know we’ve argued this since day one. I know other, local teams have tried to find the source. I know about the deaths. About his daughter.” He let out a sigh. “I just don’t understand why we had to be the ones, why Vin, in particular. What was that about?”

“He said he knew Vin, knew of his rep with the Marshals and us. And you know from Vin’s initial reports that he was the right choice, Chris. None of us could have gotten through all the woods and terrain for that first month, before he found the operation,” Buck replied.

“I know, Buck,” Chris conceded.

“So he’s late. We gonna go in?”

“Has his GPS changed?”

“Got the latest right here,” Buck said, opening the file folder he held and putting it on Chris’s desk. He pointed to a spot on the map. “Still within ten miles of his last location, when he called last week.”

Chris looked closely at the map, then up at Buck. “He said he thought local law enforcement might have a hand in the operation, right?” At Buck’s nod, he continued, “Then we go in unannounced, get the boys ready. Conference room in thirty.”

+ + + + + + +