A Mother’s Worst Fear

by Monica M. and Debra M.

Regents Universe

Buck stared at the large TV screen but his mind wasn’t fully on the DVD that was playing. The movie, The Scorpion King, featuring the wrestling icon, ‘The Rock’, did not involve much of a plot so his thoughts were soon back to the contents of the letter that was folded and stored safely in his jacket pocket. And many thoughts assailed him including the ones he used to have when he was younger and used to spend time wondering who his father was. What he looked like, where he lived and what he was doing. Yet the old yearnings he had of wanting to meet the father who had remained absent all his life kept being overshadowed by the knowledge that his mother was concealing the letter from him. It affected him deeply that she hadn’t told him herself and while he tried to be his usual self he couldn’t achieve it. He had caught several questioning gazes from Chris but he indicated back to him he wasn’t quite ready to talk about it.

He was jostled from the side and his attention was brought back to the present. Vin and J.D. were fighting for the possession of the TV remote. J.D. kept rewinding the scene where ‘The Rock’ battled with the character played by the colossal actor Michael Clarke Duncan until Vin decided with the backing of the others that they had all had enough of viewing the movie that way. Buck smiled faintly at the look of determination on Vin’s face and the matching one on J.D’s. The freshman wasn’t letting the remote go without a fight. Finally Chris strode over and snatched it from both of them and tossed it to Nathan. Vin shot J.D. a smug look which had the younger boy protesting his treatment. The only response was a flying pillow.

They had taken over Nathan’s lounge room at his parents’ house. His father was not on call for the weekend so he agreed to Nathan having his friends over for a night of pizza and movies. He had rung Dean Parker and persuaded him to allow Ezra to accompany his friends despite his still existing probation. The Dean had readily agreed to the doctor as suitable supervision and even admitted he had found Ezra got into less trouble with the other six around than he did alone and bored. They had started with playing some basketball in Nathan’s driveway, then moved inside when the pizzas arrived. It was the kind of evening Buck enjoyed. Well if he didn’t have a date that was. However, whilst the laughter and teasing from his friends kept him from becoming morose, it couldn’t shake the feelings he was trying to grapple with.

They got ready to leave around 10.30pm; Dean Parker having set a curfew of 11pm for the younger boys. Both Buck and Josiah had brought their cars but as they gathered at the front of Nate’s house and said goodbye to Nathan and his dad, Buck saw an opportunity to speak to Chris alone and took it.

"Can you ride back with Josiah, J.D?" he asked before J.D. climbed into the Mustang.

The boy looked up at him with a mixture of disappointment and worry but Buck turned away to face Vin. "Can you ride with Josiah too? I want to talk to Chris alone," he asked.

Vin nodded agreeably and nudging J.D. they walked over to where Ezra was already climbing into Josiah’s car. Nathan watched the exchange and leaving his father’s side walked over to Chris and Buck.

"Everything ok, Buck?" he asked with concern. Like Chris he had noticed how Buck was subdued during the evening.

"Yeah, Nate," Buck replied with an assuring smile. "Hey enjoy yourself tomorrow ok?" Buck added knowing that Nathan and his dad were using his dad’s weekend off to go indoor rock climbing then catch the NFL game on TV together.

"I will," Nathan grinned. "See you tomorrow night."

After further goodbyes Buck waited until Josiah started his car and moved slowly down the street. Turning over the ignition in the Mustang, he waited until Chris had buckled his belt as well before moving away from the curb.

They both lapsed into silence. An unusual trait for Buck but Chris didn’t push. He knew Buck would come out and say what he wanted when he was ready. Ten minutes later they pulled up next to a brightly lit fast food restaurant. Buck turned off the engine and simply reached into his pocket and handed Chris the letter. Turning slightly in his seat to face Chris, he waited until his oldest friend finished reading. The blonde’s face mirrored his own surprise from earlier in the day and he saw him reread and flick to the attached news article before he handed the letter back and held Buck’s gaze.

"How do you feel about meeting him?" Chris asked directly.

"I’m not sure," Buck admitted. "There was a time I really wanted to see a letter like this. You know that," he added, referring to the many times they had talked about their fathers.

Chris nodded, "And now?"

Buck exhaled blowing between his lips. "It’s complicated."

"How? You either want to meet him or you don’t," Chris replied.

Buck shifted uncomfortably in his seat and paused briefly before he continued. "I’m not supposed to know about the letter."

Chris’ face remained impassive but one eyebrow raised questioningly and Buck grimaced sheepishly.

"I found it on my mom’s desk. Today when I was home."

"When she wasn’t home?"

"I wasn’t snooping," Buck replied defensively. "J.D. wanted to see her office and... well I recognized the newspaper article and I picked it up."

"So she doesn’t know you’ve got the letter?"

"No," Buck replied. "At least I don’t think so. Unless she’s noticed it’s gone," he added then frowned heavily. He had not thought about the implications of her noticing the letter was gone and asking him about it. He shook those thoughts away to concentrate on what was truly bothering him.

"Why would she keep this from me, Chris?" he asked sharply.

"How do you know she will?" he countered.

"She’s had the letter nearly a week. Look at the date," Buck pushed.

Chris nodded. "I saw that. I also saw that this guy doesn’t arrive until Thursday next week. How do you know your mom isn’t waiting for the right time to talk to you about it?"

Buck blinked a few times as he considered what Chris was saying. He hadn’t had a chance to catch up with his mother over the last week except over the phone. And today, even if she had been home, he doubted she would have brought the subject up in front of J.D.

"I didn’t think about that," Buck admitted softly. "I should go back home in the morning and put the letter back," Buck decided aloud.

"Why don’t you just talk to her then?"

"No! I don’t want her to think I didn’t trust her," Buck replied vehemently.

Chris nodded understandingly. Buck was extremely close with his mother and he felt a sudden stab of painful regret as he remembered his own relationship with his mother was very close as well. Maybe because he and Clint were so alike that she intuitively understood his nature and moods. Whatever it was he often missed the ease with which he could talk to her. His reverie was broken when Buck spoke again.

"What would you do if you were me?"

"About seeing your dad?"


"I’m not you, Buck. And I’ve known my father all my life," he replied carefully, locking eyes with his oldest friend. It was rare to see Buck unsure or even anxious but those were the emotions that flickered in his blue eyes. Buck suddenly averted his gaze and stared ahead at the flashing neon sign.

"Why don’t you phone him first?" Chris suggested after another long pause. Buck turned sideways toward him and he continued. "If that goes well then arrange to meet him. I’ll come with you if you want."

Buck flashed him a grateful look. "Thanks, Chris."

+ + + + + + +

Josiah glanced over to J.D. as the freshman stared out his window as they drove back to Regents. He had barely said a few words since they had left Nathan’s place. Not that it was noticeable. Vin and Ezra were either arguing or teasing one another constantly in the back seat ensuring that the twenty minute trip passed quickly. He parked his car with ease as they arrived in the small parking lot near the dorms. As Vin and Ezra walked ahead, Josiah held J.D. back.

"Something troubling you, J.D."

The freshman stopped and looked up at the large senior apprehensively. It took him less than a second to decide whether or not to say something.

"I think I upset Buck somehow. I’m just not sure what I did," the younger boy admitted.

"He’s not upset with you," Josiah assured him.

"How do you know? Do you know what’s upsetting Buck?" J.D. asked quickly.

"No I don’t know why Buck is out of sorts this evening but I know it’s not you. It’s not any of us," Josiah replied.

"Are you sure?"

"Have you ever known Buck NOT to say something if he’s upset with any one of us?" Josiah asked and chuckled when he could see his point hit home and J.D. nodded resolutely.

Josiah clapped him on the shoulder and steered him towards the dorms. Before they separated to go to different floors, Josiah spoke again.

"Buck and Chris go back a long way. And they’ve had some pretty intense memories to deal with so sometimes they need to talk. You understand?"

J.D. drew on his own heartache and how much he still missed his mother. While some days were bearable and better than others, there were those times when he still felt inconsolable.

"Yeah I think I do," he almost whispered.

Josiah smiled warmly at him. "Goodnight, J.D."

"’Night, Josiah."

Thursday October 24th

All seven boys gathered together once more in the basement to reveal their costume choices for each other. Ezra sat by the door and eyed his friends once again. He had been surprised when they did not seem to hold a grudge against him for losing the bet. They had teased him about it, but had not seemed overly angry that they were being forced to go through with this costume deal. The southerner had to wonder if he would be that forgiving if any of them had let him down. Of course, he would have to wait and see how they would react once they found out what their costumes would be.

And he had to admit to being a bit anxious about that himself. He believed that he knew who had drawn his name, but that still did not give him a clue as to what he would pick for him. He knew with some certainty that it was not Buck and he was incredibly grateful for that. The tall junior would not have been able to help himself and would have gloated about getting to decide what Ezra wore. And he did not think it was Chris either. He had no doubts that the senior could keep secrets, but not this. Ezra would have read the smirk on his face and known that he was probably in more trouble with Chris’ idea of revenge than if it had been Buck. Instead Chris had seemed more laid back about the whole thing, far more so than the sophomore would expect. It was almost as if Chris had absolutely no worries about having to dress up in a costume.

And it did not appear as if Vin did either. In fact, much to Ezra’s annoyance, Vin had seemed more preoccupied with the cleverness of J.D. in having someone else select their costumes than anything else. The Texan had started commenting on it last Saturday afternoon after Ezra had questioned him on whether he had been inconsiderate enough to allow his alarm to actually go off in the morning. Vin had looked at him as if he were insane and reminded him that he never let the alarm go off, that he just used it as a backup, just in case. Vin also told him that he must have been dreaming. And the southerner had to admit that there was a surreal quality to his hazy memories of Vin questioning him before going on his morning run. And he decided that it being a dream was far better than the alternative that he had been interrogated at an uncivilized hour when he was certainly not at his sharpest and might let something slip.

But even with Vin’s constant reminder about J.D.’s twist on their dressing up for Halloween, Ezra did not believe that his roommate had picked his name either. He had finally asked the Texan that very question, point blank. Vin had reminded him that they were not supposed to reveal that until one week before Halloween. Ezra had known before he asked the question that that would be Vin’s response. So he had not been paying attention to Vin’s words but his nonverbal language. And those told him that the other sophomore was not hiding the fact that he had drawn him.

Ezra knew that it was not J.D. either. He had a long discussion with the freshmen after the drawing of names. That little twist had not been in their agreement and so the southerner had to increase the price of his agreeing to go along with J.D. in the first place. He had also demanded to know if J.D. had drawn him but was told that it was not the case and Ezra had no doubts that he was being told the truth. So that left either Nathan or Josiah. The only problem he had with either of them was that he did not have the faintest clue about what they would choose for him. But as J.D. stood up to get everyone’s attention, Ezra figured that the waiting would be over. Then the dread could begin; the long countdown until this whole despicable turn of events was over.

"Alright, since I choose first, I’m gonna go first now," J.D. began. "I drew Nathan’s name so I’ve decided that he should dress as…" the freshman paused, lengthening the moment before he made his revelation, "Mace Windu."

Nathan grinned at that, deciding that as costumes went, being a Jedi Master was not the worst thing that one could be. And if he got to carry around that purple lightsaber that would be even cooler. His grin faded as he remembered another detail about the Star Wars character. "I’m not shaving my head!"

"You don’t have to, Nate!" J.D. was quick to reassure. "You can use one of those bald caps. I’ve already picked one up for you, along with the robes and ..." He trailed off as the other five burst out in laughter.

Seeing the wounded look on the freshman’s face, Nathan sighed and said, "Thanks, J.D. That’ll be fine. I like Mace Windu. He’s one badass Jedi," he added with a look that silenced the laughter of the other’s, "I’m sure no one messes with him."

J.D. nodded, happy that Nathan at least seemed to be warming up to the idea of his costume. "Now you go, Nathan. Tell us who you picked and what costume."

"I picked my roommate, Buck. So he gets to dress up like Elvis this year."

Buck stood up and struck an Elvis pose, with his arms outstretched and his hips thrust out. "Thank you, thank you very much," he tried in his best Elvis impersonation.

"Well if there was any doubt before, it can now be laid to rest," Ezra drawled. "The King is most definitely dead."

They all laughed but somehow it did seem fitting for Buck to be Elvis. They would just have to ‘thank’ Nathan later for inflicting his impersonation on them. If for no other reason, Halloween could not come and go soon enough.

"Hey," Buck suddenly turned to Nathan, "am I gonna be young Elvis or old Elvis?"

"Depends on how much you annoy me between now and Halloween," his roommate retorted.

Buck rolled his eyes at him, but then spun to face Josiah with a huge grin on his face. "I picked Josiah. And seeing as how he was so believable in the role, I’ve chosen Bigfoot for him." He grinned even wider, quite pleased with himself.

"You sure that won’t give you nightmares, Buck?" Chris taunted.

"Ha, ha, ha," his old friend laughed back at him, not liking that the joke was once again being turned around on him.

"Don’t worry, Chris," Josiah cut in, "I’ll refrain from growling. I believe that is what had him running in terror last time."

Buck was really beginning to think that what had seemed like a good idea at the time was now a really bad one.

Ezra waited now that he knew for sure that Josiah had drawn him. Finally he would learn what costume he would be expected to wear. The southerner smiled inwardly, though his face remained impassive. He still had a few tricks up his sleeve to insure that he did not have to go out with the others. But for now he had to go along and pretend that he was going to fulfill the bargain.

The senior faced him and gave one of those inscrutable smiles that only Josiah could give. That immediately made the sophomore's stomach drop. "I drew your name, Ezra. And I know that you said you never got to dress up for Halloween before. So I decided that you should take this opportunity and dress up in a traditional costume, of sorts."

"Traditional costume?" Ezra asked with trepidation.

"Of sorts, like I said," Josiah smiled again. "You see, I believe that every kid, especially a young boy should get the opportunity to dress up as a superhero." Somehow the senior managed to keep a straight face despite the dropped jaw from Ezra and the snickering from the others.

The southerner shook his head vehemently. "I am not dressing up like Spiderman or Superman!"

Josiah rubbed his chin as if considering, "Well, to tell you the truth, I wasn't even thinking of those. But now that you mention them, they do sound like really good costume choices for you."

"Now, wait a minute, Josiah, let's be reasonable about this," Ezra began, the words flowing smoothly from his lips as he prepared to attempt to talk his way out it.

The senior shook his head, "Don't worry, Ez, I'm going to go ahead with my original choice. I think it is a bit more fitting to you than those others."

"And your original choice would be..?" the southern drawl was thick with impatience.

"One of the X-men. Gambit to be more precise," Josiah answered.

Since Ezra's shock made him unable to immediately respond to that, J.D. turned to the senior in confusion. "There wasn't a Gambit in the movie."

"I don't believe he was in that movie. But from what I understand, he has been a fairly prominent character in the comic books."

"'From what you understand'?" Ezra repeated in amazement. "You mean you don't know anything about this Gambit? Then how did you pick him for me?"

"Well I talked it over with Nathan," the senior admitted a bit reluctantly. When he saw Ezra about to protest further, he hurriedly continued. "See, originally I thought that since your losing the bet was the whole reason we were in this, I should have you be something either embarrassing or uncomfortable. And believe me, I had plenty of ideas there." An almost wicked gleam lit up Josiah's gray-blue eyes. "But then I realized that it was not truly your fault, since we had all decided that you would be our representative, and I know that you did your best. After all you, of all people, would not have intentionally lost."

Ezra squirmed inwardly at that remark, forcing himself not to look over at J.D. though he could feel the freshman's gaze on him. He certainly hoped J.D. was feeling just as guilty as he was at the moment. They were the only people who knew the truth; who knew that Ezra had thrown the game so that J.D. could make sure that they all got to dress up for Halloween. But the only reason he had gone through with it was because J.D. had offered him the use of his laptop. And Ezra sorely missed having a computer available to him. More than any other punishment he had ever received, he felt that restricting him from a computer had to be the most cruel and unusual. After all, he had never hacked into any truly top-secret sites or computers. Well, he had never done any real damage. He figured he was doing the companies a favor by pointing out to them that their systems were not as secure as they boasted. So, he could not resist the opportunity to have a laptop at his disposal again.

Guilt was a new emotion for Ezra and he wrestled with it internally. Outwardly he showed nothing of that struggle as Josiah continued, "But then I just couldn’t think of anything that suited you. So I asked Nathan. And he suggested Gambit right away."

All eyes in the room turned to Nathan. He smiled at them and gave a shrug. "I’ve been collecting comics for a while. And even before we had this costume deal, whenever I would read something having to do with Gambit, I could just see Ezra here."

The southerner eyed Nathan with a most unimpressed look before dismissing him and turning back to Josiah. He was no longer concerned about how the senior had picked his costume choice. And so he asked the question that was most important to him at the moment. "So you're saying that this Gambit costume will not be embarrassing or uncomfortable?" The disbelief was evident in his pale green eyes. He just hoped the costume did not involve tights or a cape.

"No, I don't think it will be. I was going to get some of my friends in the drama department to help me with some of the costume. But Gambit always wears a trench coat, so you don't have to worry too much there. And he always carries around several packs of cards. See his mutant ability basically lets him charge the cards, or any inanimate object, with kinetic energy so that it will then explode. So he uses the cards as his signature 'grenades', if you will," Josiah explained, constantly looking over at Nathan for confirmation on his descriptions.

Ezra continued to look skeptical. "That doesn't sound too bad," he allowed.

"You forgot a couple of things there, Josiah," Chris stated from where he sat against the back wall. Ezra winced but did not turn to face the other senior as Chris' teasing floated over to him, "Gambit has red eyes and a Cajun accent." "And he's a thief," the blond added, just a touch of accusation coloring his low voice.

Ezra whirled to face Chris, his dimpled smile firmly affixed. "Well then I certainly hope he's a good thief. I wouldn't want to be anything less than the best. As for the accent…" Ezra paused as he suddenly realized something and his grin deepened as he teased. "But how do you know so much about this Gambit, Christopher? Do you read the comic books as well?"

Chris shook his head. "No, I do not read the comic books. I just remember him from that cartoon they had when I was growing up," he admitted reluctantly. "Gambit was one of the main characters there." Suddenly a few of the other boys nodded as they remembered the X-men cartoon. Even J.D. remembered it now, but just like he had in the movie, he liked Wolverine best.

The sophomore turned back to Josiah, "Then I suppose I must applaud your choice, Josiah. After all it appears that this Gambit made a lasting impression on Christopher and you know that it is what I aspire to for myself." Sarcasm practically dripped from his drawl.

The senior rolled his eyes and shook his head. Chris exhaled harshly to show how he felt about that statement. "Well then you can cross that off your to do list, Ez," the blond said. "Cause the reason I remember Gambit so well is because he was a smart ass and a troublemaker."

Again Ezra turned to Josiah. "Well it appears that you have made a most excellent choice, even if my eyes are green instead of red."

"You can wear sunglasses," Nathan pointed out. "Gambit would do that if he had to blend in with regular humans."

The southerner contemplated those words and nodded slowly in agreement. "But what about the rest of the costume? What will the drama department be creating for me?" A slight tinge of concern colored his words now.

"C’mon, Ezra, you and Josiah can work out the details of your costume later. Now tell us who you picked," Vin prompted, though he knew that it had to be J.D. since the freshman and he and Chris were the only ones left.

A dimpled grin crossed Ezra’s face in anticipation to J.D.’s response to his costume choice. "I believe, J.D., that you will have no problem recognizing the name of my choice for you. In fact, I believe that you will find it most satisfactory."

Like the others, the youngest of them was not sure if Ezra was being sincere or sarcastic, so he waited anxiously until the southerner finally revealed his costume. "You will be Harry Potter for Halloween." Again Ezra grinned broadly as J.D.’s eyes widened with surprise and joy.

"Oh, thanks, Ezra! That’s just what I would have picked if I had my own choice!" J.D. gushed. "It’s great."

"Yes, well then you’re most fortunate," Ezra replied, backing away from J.D. as it looked like the freshman might forget himself and even try and hug him. "I wish that I could say the same."

Once J.D. settled down a bit, the five boys turned to Chris and Vin and waited to hear what their costumes would be. The senior motioned for the younger boy to go first. With a nod to him, Vin said, "I got Chris and he’s gonna be Johnny Ringo for Halloween."

"Johnny Ringo?" J.D. asked. "Who is he?"

"He’s one of the bad guys from Tombstone. I think they were called the Cowboys," Vin answered. J.D. nodded absently and once again reminded himself that he still needed to see that movie.

Buck chuckled at first but then he could not contain it and it erupted into a full-out laugh. "Chris is gonna be a cowboy?"

"Not just a cowboy, but Johnny Ringo, one of the most dangerous shootists to ever live," Vin tried to explain for Chris.

"But all everyone is gonna see is that he’s a cowboy," Buck continued to laugh. "It’s not like they’re gonna look at him and see Johnny Ringo."

Chris stood up and pierced his oldest friend with his harshest glare. The taller boy stopped laughing and then cocked his head to the side as he regarded the blond. "But then again, if you go around like that, maybe they will. Don’t think you’ll get much candy, though."

As the others cracked up laughing at the image of Chris Larabee holding a trick or treat bag and going door to door, Chris shook his head at Buck. Then the senior mimed drawing a gun from a hip holster and with deliberate aim and a crook of his thumb he "shot" at Buck before reholstering his "weapon" with a flourish. Buck simply grinned back at him before asking, "Alright then, so who’s Vin gonna be?"

"Buffalo Bill Cody," Chris answered.

"So you’re both being cowboys," Buck pointed out unnecessarily.

Both Vin and Chris nodded. Buck and the others eyed them, suspecting that the two had not come to their decisions independently. But no one said anything, not even Ezra. They all knew that there was a bond between Chris and Vin, an understanding that flowed only between the two of them. And so it did not bother them at all if Chris and Vin had discussed what their costumes would be. It just seemed right and so should not be questioned.

Some of the boys had already managed to gather some items for their costume choices or had made arrangements for things to be made. But they also decided to make a shopping trip over the weekend and pick up whatever other items they might need. None of them would admit it, but each of them had some measure of excitement associated with their dressing up, even Ezra and Chris. After all they were doing it altogether. And already their short history together had proven to them that there was something special about their friendship of seven. And each of them knew that regardless of the roads that the friendship had them walking, even if it were something that they would not do as an individual, they would all be better off for walking them together.

Friday October 25th

Clint had just finished dressing after his shower when he heard the knock on his door. He tucked in his shirt before he opened the door.

"Bea," he acknowledged as Buck’s mother smiled and walked through the doorway a touch impatiently.

"Clint," Beatrice greeted, placing a light kiss on the cop’s cheek. "I know we said we’d meet up later but I was out this way and..." she paused as she reached his kitchen. "So I wondered if you’d found out any more?" she continued.

Clint eyed her carefully. He had spoken to her a lot over the past week and he knew she was becoming increasingly worried and agitated. So it was with concern he noted her fidgety movements, pale face and slightly puffy eyes.

"Sit down, Bea," he said gently.

He waited until she pulled out one of his kitchen chairs and sat down, immediately crossing her legs and moving her foot restlessly.


"No thanks."

He poured himself one and sat across from her.

"Have you learned any more?" she prompted.

"I don’t have much more than I told you yesterday," he replied. "Everyone checks out so far. We even ran the name Jake Ballinger in case he was using that identity but we came up with nothing. The reality is that until he makes a move or a mistake we’re no closer to knowing who he is."

Beatrice shivered slightly and Clint reached over and patted her hand and she nodded gratefully.

"You seen or heard from anyone suspicious?"

"No," Beatrice replied heavily.

"Any more letters?"

The romance novelist shook her head.

"We’ll still keep up the police patrols past your place just in case. And remember you just have to call me if you need anything," he assured her.

"I know," Beatrice replied appreciatively with a small smile. She took a deep breath and exhaled.

"What about Rick? What did you find out about him?" she asked knowing Clint was checking into her concerns about Buck’s father.

Clint leaned back into chair. "Nothing unusual. He’s married with two daughters, aged eight and six. He’s a sales manager for an agricultural supply company. Been with the same company nearly ten years. Can’t find as much as a speeding ticket on him."

She nodded then lifted her gaze to his. "I know where he works and I know he’s married. I kind of found that out myself."

Clint frowned. "How?" he asked warily.

"I couldn’t get hold of him on the cell number on the letter. So I started leaving messages with his secretary but he didn’t call me back. So..."

"You found out his home number and rang there," Clint supplied.

"I just wanted to talk to him," she replied defensively.

Clint raised his hands. "I’m on your side here."

"Sorry," she mumbled then sighed heavily.

"Something happen?"

"His wife answered. I tried to explain who I was and why I was calling but she got angry, then hysterical. Said she knew he had been behaving strangely lately and now she knew why. He was cheating on her and assumed I was the one he was having an affair with," she explained.

"So did you hear from him after that?" Clint asked.

Beatrice nodded sadly. "Not the conversation I wanted to have with him. He was upset at first but I managed to calm him down enough to talk to me about writing to see Buck."


"He said he just wants to meet his son. When I asked him why he simply said he was making changes in his life and Buck was one of them."

"You believe him?" Clint asked directly.

"I don’t know, Clint," Beatrice replied. "His wife did say he was acting strangely and he talked to me about making changes. I just feel he wants something but I don’t know what that is."

Clint nodded sagely. He knew Beatrice was overwrought but mothers had incredible instincts when it came to protecting their children. He knew there was nothing he could say to alleviate her concerns about him showing up around the same time as her stalker.

"When are you going to tell Buck?"

She sighed heavily then. "Soon. I want to wait. We still have a week and I told Rick that we would call him at the hotel when he arrives and let him know what Buck decides to do."

"Ok," Clint replied, seeing from her posture that her mind was made up. "I’ve had photocopies taken of your letters. I’m getting the experts to look over them. See if we can get a profile on this guy."

Beatrice looked at him doubtfully.

"It could help," he replied hopefully. "He may be harmless and he may just give up and go away."

"I hope you’re right," Beatrice replied fervently.

+ + + + + + +

Jake Ballinger unlocked the door to his apartment and almost bounced through the door. He pulled off his coat and with a flourish threw it on the couch. He then cockily walked across the room and opening the fridge, took out a soda. As he leaned back against the kitchen bench and drank several gulps, a well satisfied look graced his face.

It had gone perfectly. His practice run, his plan. It had all ran perfectly. He was ready. More than ready and all that remained was to wait for Gage Morrissey to return. He knew it would be soon and he knew the hotel he favored. Soon. It would be soon.

Saturday October 26th

Vin picked another holster complete with a realistic but toy gun and buckled it on, settling it around his hips. He knew that Buffalo Bill had earned his name with his rifle work, but he also knew that carrying around a rifle, even a toy one, would not be in good taste these days. Liking the feel of this gun belt, Vin removed it and tossed it over his shoulder so that he could purchase it. He looked across the aisle and saw Chris attempting to find a belt, holster, and gun that suited him. A smile crossed the Texan’s face as he saw the rather large discard pile that was accumulating next to the senior.

He, Chris, J.D., Nathan, and Josiah had driven into Louisville earlier this afternoon to finish shopping for their costumes. Buck had remained behind because he said that he was having his mom source out a Bigfoot costume for Josiah, so he did no need to do any shopping. And while they had all accepted that excuse from the junior, they had all also known that there was still something bothering him and that he probably just wanted to be alone for a little while.

Ezra had stayed behind because he also said he did not need to do any shopping. And they all knew that to be true. Shortly after they had all revealed their costume choices, the southerner had talked Josiah into logging onto one of the library computers and connecting to the internet for him, since Ezra was restricted to their use only with administrator supervision. But with Josiah and the others watching over his shoulders, Ezra had found and ordered a complete Harry Potter costume for J.D, complete with a Quidditch broom and a lightning bolt temporary tattoo scar. The sophomore had then ordered his own trench coat. And then at Vin’s prompting had found him a fake buffalo coat complete with fringe and a wide brim hat, and then had found a vaquero style black hat for Chris. Nathan had stepped up then and they found the perfect white jumpsuit for Buck as Elvis. All the purchases had a guaranteed delivery by Wednesday, October 30th and had been placed on Ezra’s stepfather’s credit card. The others had questioned the ethics of that, but the southerner had told them that Robert Carlisle III would never notice the charges and even if he did, he would be too embarrassed to question them. Then when the others were still going to protest, Ezra had told them that Carlisle gave each of his children a huge weekly allowance but never offered him anything, so he figured he was owed something. They had known that it was a flimsy excuse but Vin had seen that there was a level of truth in what Ezra said and how it hurt him, and so had said that he thought it would be alright and the others went along with it.

Now, as Vin walked over to offer his assistance to Chris, he wondered what Ezra was getting up to back at the school. So far the Texan had not been able to discover what Ezra had gained by throwing the bet for J.D. He had even interrogated J.D.’s roommate, Jeremy, to see if the boy knew anything, but the freshman swore that he did not. Vin had gotten the younger boy to promise that if he did learn anything that he would tell him right away.

"Having a problem there, Cowboy?" Vin teased.

Chris only glanced up at him to toss him a glare before returning to going through the various gun belts and toy pistols. "I might have to dress up, but I ain’t gonna strap on some sissy looking plastic gun," the senior growled. "So yeah, I’m having a problem finding something that I like."

Vin nodded and leaned up against the aisle shelving and said nothing. If Chris asked his opinion, he gave it, otherwise the sophomore kept his mouth shut. But after another fifteen minutes of Chris trying on various gun belts, Vin told him, "While you keep looking, I’m gonna go and see if I can find you a nice red sash."

The senior’s head shot up and he eyed Vin carefully. "A sash?"

The Texan smiled brightly. "Yeah, you remember the sash. It was like the Cowboy’s badge. You have to have one if you’re gonna be Johnny Ringo."

Chris’s eyes closed and Vin thought he heard a groan of dismay escape his friend’s lips. But he did not give him time to protest any further as he walked away with a very smug smile.

Over a few aisles away in the costume shop, J.D., Nathan, and Josiah were looking over some wigs with huge pompadours. "You don’t think Buck could get his hair to do this on its own?" J.D. questioned.

"I don’t think Buck could quite get this kind of height with his hair," Nathan laughed. "But I think he’ll manage just fine with his natural hair, J.D. I just need to get him some sideburns. And we might want to see if Vin is going to want a mustache and goatee for his Buffalo Bill costume. Oh, and Chris will need a mustache for Johnny Ringo, won’t he? And a soul patch?" After laughing to himself at the image of Chris with a soul patch under his bottom lip, the junior looked over at Josiah, "Is there anything you still need to get for Ezra’s costume?"

"No, I picked up a couple of decks of cards to use. Otherwise the guys in the drama department have done a great job on putting it all together. I don’t know how Ezra is going to react when he sees it all, but I think it’s going to look great." Josiah smiled, "In fact, one of the guys got ambitious and even made him a telescoping bo staff. At least I think that’s what he called it. Who knew I’d be so lucky as to find a real X-men fanatic in the drama department. You’ll have to watch out there, Mace Windu, you won’t be the only one armed with a weapon with reach."

"You don’t have to give it to him, you know. He could be a menace with it," Nathan pointed out, then shook his head. "What am I saying? Ezra’s a menace even without it."

Josiah and J.D. laughed. "Oh no, Matt worked way too hard on all this. I can’t disappoint him. We’ll just have to make sure he doesn’t put anyone’s eye out."

"Oh great, put that worry in my head!" Nathan complained. Deciding that it would just have to be something he would worry about on Halloween night, the junior turned to J.D. "Speaking of Mace, is there anything else we need for my costume?"

"Nope! I got the robes, the lightsaber and the bald cap!"

"Wonderful," Nathan responded. And as he turned around, Josiah caught the look in his best friend’s eyes and had to laugh. He was determined to keep working on Nathan and get the younger boy to lighten up a little. He simply took life too seriously sometimes. And while Josiah knew that it was important to keep a level head, it was also important to kick back and simply enjoy life for the simple and beautiful mystery that it was. But that was one thing about Halloween, it was a time to cut loose a little, hide behind a mask for a night and allow yourself to be someone completely different from who you truly were. Of course, Josiah had to wonder just how much enjoyment he was going to get in what he figured had to be a heavy and full bodied Bigfoot costume. Next time he would have to remember to let J.D. be the monster in his own pranks.

Tuesday October 29th

Gage Morrissey ran his hands over his newly shaved face before applying aftershave. He dressed and then surveyed his image in the full-length mirror of his hotel room. He was a tall, good-looking man, just shy of 6’2" with a lean and well looked after build. As he tried to bring some tidiness to his tousled dark curls with his fingers and failed, he half shrugged in the mirror. She liked his hair to have that messy look and the main reason he had grown it longer than usual was to please her.

He picked up his sports jacket and donned it knowing it went perfectly with his dark trousers and pale green shirt. He had checked into the hotel late morning and had gone out to Montana’s home where they had spent a few hours catching up. He immediately noticed she seemed tense and he asked her about it and she had paused and looked at him intently before replying she hadn’t been sleeping well. He had assumed it was because she was a little behind on writing her latest book and she admitted she had not been writing for almost a week. He reassured her that he had no doubts she would be writing again soon and then kissing her deeply, proceeded to show her how much he had missed her.

As he hit the button for the elevator he checked his watch. They were meeting for dinner at the Atrium restaurant and she was always careful that they arrived and left separately even if she did meet him back at his hotel later. She was wary of any commitment and initially that had suited him and his lifestyle. However, he had become increasingly attached to her until he could no longer deny he had deep feelings for her. She was a vibrant and intoxicating woman and over the last few days he contemplated discussing with her how he felt now. Maybe even tonight.

A chime heralded his arrival in the basement and exiting the elevator he made for his car. Searching in his pocket for keys, he glanced up when he heard tires squeal. His eyes widened in shock as a car came barreling towards him and he reflexively tried to move out of the way but the car altered direction still coming for him. With no time left he instinctively leapt and tried to roll over the hood. He couldn’t quite clear it and he screamed with pain as one of his legs then his hip bore the brunt of the impact. The forward momentum sent him smashing into the windshield and he felt pain erupt throughout his head before he bounced backwards and slid off the car landing in a crumpled heap.

He was barely aware of the car screeching away before he succumbed gratefully to the darkness.


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