Acknowledgements: Thanks to Mog for creating the ATF AU. Thanks to
Chris for betas and encouragement. Thanks especially to Hercat for her
suggestions and her lovely story, "Forgotten," which inspired this whole
thing. "Forgotten" is reprinted here in its entirety with permission. There
is also an epilogue to this located on Blackraptor. It is written by Hercat,
called "To Remember."
Buck Wilmington frowned, swearing as he proofread the printed copy of his
report. He used his favorite curse word, the "F" word. Coincidently, that
described his hitherto undetected error. Hed neglected to review the
spelling of his own name. Hed typed an "F" rather than the "B" which
should have begun his first name. He smiled, half-considering leaving it
that way for Chris to review. Of course, if Chris was still in as foul a
mood Monday as he was in when hed left the office this Friday, Buck
knew he wouldnt appreciate the humor. More likely, hed agree
with the sentiment. Sighing, Buck reopened the file on his computer, made
the correction, and hit the "print" key.
It had been one hell of a week for Team Seven. Three major cases had all
been concluded in the space of the past five days. Through no fault of his
own, Buck had been late in returning from their latest takedown. When hed
requisitioned a vehicle from the ATF lot, the only car not yet assigned was
the dreaded number fourteen. Everyone knew that number fourteen was actually
number thirteen. When the motor pool had obtained their thirteenth vehicle,
some superstitious soul assigned it the innocuous number of fourteen.
The change in number made no difference. The four door sedan had spent more
time in the shop than out on the road. True to form, when Buck was on his
way back to the ATF building this afternoon, his assigned vehicle sputtered
once, twice, and then expired along the side of the road. Hed been
in a rather rough area of town. Rather than call one of the other team members
for a ride and abandon the sedan to the neighborhood thugs, hed waited
patiently for the tow truck. He didnt want to have to live it down
if the damn car got stolen on his watch. In hindsight, he would have been
doing everyone a favor if hed allowed the four-wheeled lemon to be
forever removed from the motor pool.
By the time Buck rejoined his fellow team members, they were mostly finished
with the report he himself hadnt yet begun to write. Chris had made
it quite clear to all concerned that no one was to leave until their description
of todays events had been placed in his "In" box.
The team leader had growled, "This case is too damn important. I want all
the is dotted, all the ts crossed. I dont care
how long it takes. You get everything down on paper while the details are
Buck resented the hell out of Chris tone of voice. He knew that there
was no way he would forget anything that had happened today. He also knew
that there was no arguing with Chris when he got that "cross me if you want
to die" look in his eye.
Buck suspected that Chris was making a not-so-subtle slam at himself with
his comments. Buck figured that Chris was still sore about the case that
had been dismissed last week. It seems that the judge thought that there
was insufficient evidence presented at the preliminary hearing. Buck had
been the point man on the case, and he felt like its failings were his own
personal failings. Bucks teammates had made some noises about how the
judge must have been coerced or something. However, the judge had made it
a point to personally attack Buck, ruling half of his presented evidence
as inadmissible. Buck would never forget the mans words. "Never in
all my years on the bench have I seen a sloppier attempt to make a case.
You should be ashamed of yourself for wasting this courts time."
Buck wanted to believe that he hadnt done anything wrong, but the judge
was pretty damn convincing. Despite his teammates words to the contrary,
Buck couldnt help but feel that the man was right. Sure, his friends
made sympathetic noises about the crooked legal system. But, somehow, he
couldnt help but feel that they werent saying what they were
really thinking: "Buck, you blew it."
Buck was not surprised when he was assigned a minor role in their current
operation. He figured that action alone spoke volumes regarding Chris
opinion of his conduct. Well, Buck could continue to sit and stew about it,
or he could get down to work.
Team Sevens current resident of the doghouse was just sitting down
to begin his report when his teammates, work completed, headed out the door.
JD called out, "Hey, Buck, were gonna head on over to the saloon. You
wanna come join us when youre done?"
Buck looked at his notes, then back at the computer screen. He sighed. This
was going to take a while. He replied, "No, thats okay. Yall
go on without me." Buck stared at his monitor a minute, then changed his
mind. He jumped up, hollering at the closing door, "On second thought, Ill
be along!" He didnt realize that his friends were too intent on their
leisure time activities to hear his words past the barrier of the door.
As tired as he was, the report took forever to type. He wanted the damn thing
to be perfect. No sense in giving Chris anything else to be disappointed
in. Eventually, he decided that his report was as good as it was going to
get, and turned the thing in.
Buck shivered as he left the office. Itd been unseasonably warm for
fall when hed left home this morning. Hed only worn a lightweight
jacket, rather than a heavier coat. Faced with the evenings chill,
he regretted that choice. He shrugged. "Guess thats just another bad
decision on my part." He was glad that no one was around to agree with that
statement. It was unfortunate enough that Buck, himself, did.
He ran to his truck, trying to generate some additional body heat with the
burst of activity. It didnt help much. He smiled at the sight of his
beloved truck. Buck fondly patted her door as he hauled himself wearily into
the seat. "There, Lady, I know you wanted to come with me today. Its
just that your one-of-a-kind beauty is a bit too noticeable when Im
doin my best not to attract attention." He nodded in satisfaction as
the engine hummed to life with one turn of the key. "Maybe some folks fancy
them high maintenance young things. Me, I want someone wholl always
be there when I need em. I prefer a gal whos been through a little
bit of weathering and is still around to tell the tale."
Buck added, "Of course, thats not to say theres anything wrong
with enjoying the scenery, particularly when it involves the lovely Inez."
Bucks spirits lifted at the thought of his favorite lady. He headed
toward the saloon, thinking that he could really use a drink about now. The
atmosphere among the members of Team Seven had been rather tense lately.
Buck wanted to think that he wasnt the cause of it, but the things
hed observed told him otherwise. The fellas seemed awful eager to leave
him behind when they left the office today. Buck walked into the saloon to
find that his thoughts had been more than idle speculation. The table normally
occupied by Team Seven was filled with unfamiliar faces.
Much to his dismay, the only person in the place he recognized was Inez.
She was being rushed off her feet with the busyness of the evening. Buck
was finally able to gain her attention long enough to ask, "Were Chris and
the others here earlier?"
"Why, yes, Buck. You missed them by fifteen, maybe twenty minutes. I believe
I heard someone say something about going to Mr. Larabees?"
Buck shook his head. If that dont beat all! Not only did they not wait
for him, but it seemed like they were actively avoiding him, with everybody
invited to Chris but him. Rather than fight the crowds to continue
to be ignored by Inez, he wished the dark-haired beauty a good evening and
headed for home.
As he drove, Bucks thoughts drifted to his favorite subject: women.
He was considering a few of the high maintenance women hed known. The
last had been of French Canadian descent: Marie Lemieux. They shared the
common language of love, and little else. She always looked like shed
walked off the pages of a fashion magazine, and had the expensive tastes
that went along with the style. He remembered the scornful way shed
looked down her nose at his truck and refused to ride in it. Despite their
differences, theyd had themselves some memorable times. Buck smiled
in fond remembrance.
His reverie was interrupted when a half-glimpsed object on the road drew
his attention. With the subject of flash and cash uppermost in his mind,
Buck noticed a Cadillac sedan as it began to make its way through traffic.
The Caddy had gold wheels and tinted rear windows, definitely customized
non-factory issue items. It was the kind of vehicle Buck referred to as a
pimp-mobile. Nouveau riche criminals tended to be rather fond
of them. Buck was naturally suspicious of anyone driving such a vehicle.
He slowed, allowing the vehicle to pass him so that he could get a look at
the driver. "Damn!" Buck slammed on his brakes, barely avoiding rear-ending
the car in front of him. "It cant be." He amended that thought. "It
damn well better not be." Hed only gotten a brief glimpse, but Buck
would swear that the man in the Cadillac was Artie Bower.
Buck gripped the steering wheel tighter as he stepped on the gas. He weaved
through traffic, doing his best to keep the Caddy in sight without being
spotted himself. His thoughts swirled furiously. Artie Bower! Why in the
hell would that man be back in town? He couldnt be that stupid, could
he? Any member of Team Seven would cheerfully put a bullet in the mans
brain. Artie Bower truly represented the scum of the earth.
Team Seven had the misfortune to make his acquaintance during an undercover
operation involving stolen weapons. Theyd managed to cripple his
gun-running organization. Bower himself only escaped through a combination
of luck and ruthlessness. The ruthlessness Buck had experienced up close
and personal. Ezra, too, had damn near been killed by the bastard. The
vengeance-minded members of Team Seven had been able to track Bower as far
as Mexico. From there, the trail led from one dead end to another. Theyd
finally been forced to give up the chase. That had been nearly a year ago.
If fate was kind enough to deliver Artie Bower into his hands, Buck needed
to make sure the man didnt get away. Buck one-handedly flipped open
his cell phone, hitting the speed dial for Chris. The phone was answered
with Chris abrupt "Larabee."
Buck found it difficult to hear him. His voice kept fading in and out through
a haze of static. Buck explained where he was and what was happening, asking
Chris for backup. Just before the phone fuzzed out completely, he heard Chris
say, "Hang up the phone. Call Vin." He stared at the now-dead phone, his
mouth open in shock. Well, shit!
Chris was extremely worried. Artie Bower was a real slimeball. He didnt
want Buck going anywhere near the man without backup. He could barely hear
Buck on the dying cell phone. He directed him to call Vin, who could be there
a hell of a lot sooner than Chris could.
While at the saloon this evening, Chris had tried to persuade Vin to spend
the night over at his ranch. Chris had agreed to help his friend track down
an intermittent problem with the Jeeps electrical system. Vin had declined,
stating that he had a number of errands to attend to in the morning. They
had agreed to meet later in the day. Chris was now very glad that Vin had
gone home tonight. It put him that much closer to Buck.
His line now free, Chris called for additional help. While Buck continued
his pursuit, Chris put out an APB on the Cadillac. Then, he proceeded to
call the remaining members of Team Seven, putting them on alert.
Buck couldnt believe it. Chris didnt want to be bothered. Instead,
he was shoving Buck off on his new best friend, Vin. Well, fuck you too,
Larabee. Buck looked at the street sign hed just passed, suddenly realizing
that he was no more than six blocks from Vins place. He quickly dialed
the sharpshooters number.
He was immensely relieved to hear the familiar voice drawl, "Hello."
"Vin, its me, Buck. Please tell me youre at home."
Buck could hear the confusion in Vins voice as he replied. "O-o-kay,
Im at home."
"Thank God! Im about six blocks over from you, heading east on Third,
cross street Mapleridge. I need some backup, pronto. Im following a
2002 black Cadillac sedan, tinted windows, gold wheels, license number
Adam-Robert-Adam 1-6-0. The driver looks a helluva lot like Artie Bower."
"Shit! Buck, dont you go near him, you hear me? Im on my way.
Just dont lose him!"
Buck snorted, finding a trace of humor in the situation. "I wasnt
plannin on it. Do me a favor? Call this one in for me. Im a little
bit busy at the moment. Call me back." Buck threw down the phone, grasping
the wheel with both hands as he avoiding colliding with a delivery van. He
squeaked past its bumper with inches to spare. The phone slid off the seat
and out of reach. Buck let out a heartfelt "Fuck!" So much for his plan to
give Vin a running commentary on their direction of travel.
Buck continued his tenacious pursuit. Traffic was beginning to thin out.
While this made the Cadillac easier to follow, it also increased Bucks
chances of being spotted. He took advantage of a stoplight to retrieve his
cell phone from underneath the passenger seat. Its insistent ringing had
allowed him to find it in the dark interior.
He was unsurprised to hear Vin bark out, "Buck, where the hell are you? You
better not be trying to get yourself killed, or I swear to God, Ill
kill you myself!"
"Sorry, I dropped the phone. Were over in the warehouse district."
Bucks voice faded in and out. He silently cursed as the phone warned
him, "low battery." He rushed his next words to let Vin know, "I dont
know how much longer I can talk to you. My cell phones just about dead.
Ill call you back." One-handedly, he flipped the phone off.
Buck followed the Cadillac until it turned down a dead-end street. There
was no way Buck could avoid being spotted if he followed. However, he did
not have to worry about anyone driving out of there without him seeing them.
Buck pulled over to the side of the road. He called to give Vin the address
where he was currently conducting his solo stakeout. As he was repeating
the address, his cell phone finally gave out. All he could do now was watch
and wait, and hope that Vin had gotten the message.
Uncertain if hed heard the garbled address correctly, Vin tried to
call Buck back. There was no answer. Shit! Vin pleaded, "Buck, dont
you go nowhere without me. Please." He heard no response from the now silent
phone. Vin had double reason to curse the fates when traffic came to an abrupt
standstill. He let out an impressive stream of profanity while he frantically
searched for a way out of the gridlocked traffic. He could not find one.
Buck slouched down in his seat, settling in to wait. In his effort not to
be seen, Buck was not able to keep watch on the area immediately surrounding
his truck. That proved to be a fatal oversight.
A figure rose up from the shadows where it had crept up alongside of the
truck. Before Buck could begin to reach for his gun, the drivers side
window was blown out by the bullet fired through it. Buck tried his best
to ignore the fact that he couldnt breathe after the bullet continued
along its trajectory and buried itself in his chest. Despite his shock, he
reacted with a well-honed instinct for self-preservation. He managed to have
his gun ready in hand by the time the passenger side of the truck was yanked
open. It did not help matters when simultaneously his assailant opened the
drivers side door.
Artie Bower spoke from the passenger side, his gun held unwaveringly on Buck.
"Ah. If it isnt my old friend Mr. Williams, or whatever your name may
actually be. If you dont want me to finish the job my friend here started,
I suggest that you put down that gun."
Buck reluctantly complied, giving in to the hopelessness of his situation.
He let his weapon fall from his weakening grasp.
Despite having shot him, the gunman did not want Bower to finish the job.
Buck didnt know whether or not to be grateful to the man as he pleaded
his case. "We dont want to go down for killing a cop. Besides, you
never know when a hostage might come in handy." He turned to Buck. "You
dont cause no fuss, and we aint got no reason to kill you."
Bower was none too happy. "With the bullet youve already put in him,
hell probably die anyway." Bower paused a moment in thought, before
continuing. "Undoubtedly, the police are on their way here as we speak. If
they should make an untimely entrance, I expect theyll be less likely
to run us off the road or use us for target practice if one of their members
is a passenger in our vehicle. Besides, if our little ATF friend does die,
how much better if he were to slowly bleed to death." Bower grinned maliciously,
decision made. "Bring the car around."
The Cadillac pulled up along the side of the truck. Buck was roughly hauled
into the back seat as they drove off. While Bower drove, the gunman used
Bucks belt to tie his hands behind his back. Buck wanted to make like
the best of heroes, and carry on a witty conversation with his abductors.
Instead, he had to concentrate all of his effort so as not to cry out in
pain each time the car swerved. Not to mention the fact that he could hardly
take in enough air to breathe, let alone to try to talk. He prayed, "God,
Vin, where the hell are you? Please find me."
The accident that had trapped Vin in gridlock hell was eventually moved enough
out of the way that traffic began to move again. Vin pounded the steering
wheel of his Jeep, cursing at the delay. "I hope to God I got the right address.
I got a feelin Buck cant afford for me to be wrong." Much later
than hed wished, he turned down the street where he hoped to find his
friend. His tension eased slightly when he saw Bucks truck. "At least
I got the right address." His relief was short-lived.
As he got closer, he could see no sign of Buck. He frowned when he was near
enough to see that the passenger side door of the truck was partially open.
"Damn!" Vin pulled in behind Bucks vehicle. The hairs on the back of
his neck prickled with apprehension. It was quiet; too damn quiet. There
didnt appear to be another living soul around. Gun in hand, the
sharpshooter cautiously approached, calling, "Buck?"
He felt the chill of fear run through his body when he noticed the drivers
side window. When viewed from the comfort and security of his Jeep, it appeared
that the window had been rolled down. Vin could now see that it had been
broken. He didnt want to look inside the truck. He ground his teeth
together, his jaw tightening, preparing himself for what he would find when
he looked into the interior.
He felt no relief at the absence of a body. The large quantity of glass inside
the truck indicated that the glass had been shattered from something outside
of the vehicle. With the blood staining the seat, the odds were very good
that that "something" had been a bullet.
This was all his fault. Buck was counting on Vin to back him up. Hell, hed
even waited in the goddamn truck; the shiny red pickup that was so distinctive
that you could spot it a mile off. If Buck had had the time to call for help
while in pursuit of the Cadillac, no doubt the driver of the Cadillac
couldve called for his own backup. How hard would it have been for
Bower to set up a trap outside of this dark hellhole of a warehouse, leading
Buck to his death? Yeah, Vin could think of shit like that now, when it was
too late to do any good. Where was his brain when hed been on the phone
He headed back to his Jeep, cursing. He wanted to hit something, anything.
"Fuck!" He kicked the side of his Jeep hard enough to leave a dent, had he
been so inclined to notice. Vin was glad to feel the sudden throbbing in
his foot after the assault on his vehicle. He deserved it.
"Alright, Tanner, if you want to find someone to beat up on besides yourself,
youre gonna need some help." Vin pulled out his cell phone and began
to call on the resources of Team Seven. He could only hope that, with their
help, hed find his friend and put the hurt on his abductors. He
didnt want to think on the fact that, more than likely, theyd
only find his friends lifeless body.
+ + + + + + +
Buck was currently all too alive and aware of every aching pain in his body.
To distract himself, he listened with morbid fascination as his kidnappers
carried on a conversation as if he wasnt even present. God, he wished
he wasnt here. His chest ached with each painful breath he took. He
coughed, and suddenly found himself enveloped in a world of hurt. Pain-stars
filled his vision. He literally could not take another breath. He began to
panic at the lack of air and prayed for a quick death, for unconsciousness,
for anything to end the suffocating, all-consuming pain. An unknown agony
of time later, his vision cleared enough so that he could realize he hadnt
passed out. It might have been better if he had. He spat at the taste of
blood in his mouth, his hope sinking with the realization. The bullet
mustve put a hole in his lung. Bower mightve just as well ve
killed him. He was probably gonna choke to death on his own blood, anyway.
His breath was coming to him in short, shallow gasps. Shit. That werent
no way to think.
What had Josiah been yammerin on about the other day? The power of
positive thinking? Yeah, that was it. What the hell. Buck closed his eyes,
the better to concentrate. "Okay. Dont be thinking on your own misery.
That never did no good to nobody. You need something to focus on besides
your own miserable self. Hell, boy. Theres a cure for that right in
the front seat. Remember? Why not listen to Dumb and Dumber?" It took some
doing, but he was eventually able to focus his attention away from himself,
and onto his abductors.
Bower stated, "Weve got to get rid of this car. Im sure that
our little ATF friend here provided the police with all of the particulars."
"I expect my girlfriend would loan me hers. Shes only a few miles away
from where we are."
"That would certainly be preferable to riding around town in a vehicle on
the hit list of the police department, which would appear to be our only
other choice at the moment. All right. Lets go. Well ditch the
Caddy, and Williams, at the graveyard."
Buck grimaced. The graveyard. That did not sound good.
+ + + + + + +
When they arrived at their destination, Bower finally acknowledged Bucks
presence. "If you do anything to call attention to us, I wont hesitate
to finish what my friend started." With the tinted back windows, Buck was
not visible to any outside prying eyes. No one would notice anything unless
he called for help. Realistically, that was not an option. If by some miracle
he could make someone else aware of what was happening, theyd likely
end up dead for their troubles.
At least Buck was able to find out the thugs name when he heard a feminine
voice exclaim, "Donnie! What are you doing here?"
Donnie successfully persuaded his girlfriend to give up her car. Buck remained
with Bower in the Cadillac, while Donnie followed in a nondescript Taurus.
Buck had long since lost track of time when he felt the vehicle leave the
smoothness of the paved road for a gravel one. It seemed theyd reached
the graveyard. Bower and Donnie met outside the vehicle. A few minutes later,
they returned for their prisoner. Buck bit his lower lip so hard that he
tasted blood when they began to move him. He would not give those sorry-ass
bastards the satisfaction of hearing him cry out in pain.
The scenery around him passed in a blur of looming shadows. The only light
was that provided by the vehicle headlights. They revealed the skeletal remains
of what had once been some sort of settlement. Buck was dragged over to the
remains of a building. They were heading for an open, gaping hole in the
ground. Buck was dumped head first into the inky blackness. With his hands
tied behind him, he had no chance to catch himself when he fell. He tried
to twist and tuck his vulnerable head in closer to his body. He succeeded,
managing to take most of the impact on his left arm and shoulder. He felt
and heard bone snap with a sickening crunch before unconsciousness claimed
+ + + + + + +
The remaining members of Team Seven were gathered around Bucks truck.
Somehow, it seemed the natural place for them to have gravitated to. They
had enlisted the help of local law enforcement officers, and had conducted
a building by building search of the area with no trace of their missing
friend. That was both good and bad. Good, because they could still hope to
find Buck alive, although unwell. Bad, because if he were alive, the longer
his wounds went untreated, the greater the possibility that they would prove
to be fatal.
Nathan attempted to provide reassurance. "From the amount of blood in the
truck, it seems more than likely that the wound was not immediately fatal.
In other words, he didnt bleed to death."
Vin paced, unable to keep still. He felt like he ought to be doing something,
anything other than just standing around. Hed known that the building
to building search would be futile, but at least theyd been doing
JD, normally the hyperactive one of their group, stood quietly beside Chris,
his face reflecting the despair they were all feeling to one degree or another.
The kid looked to Nathan, pleading for an answer. "Then where is he?"
Vin repeated the observations hed made earlier. "The only blood outside
the truck is the few drops on the passenger side, just outside the door.
The trail stops just a couple of feet away. More than likely, he was transferred
to another vehicle."
Theyd done the routine checks of the local hospitals and the morgue.
No one fitting Bucks description had turned up. Therefore, Bower had
taken him away from the scene. Vin didnt realize that hed said
that last thought aloud, until JD responded, "Taken him where? And why?"
Ezra had his owns thoughts as to what motivates a man like Artie Bower. He
declined to share his speculation with his teammates. In his dealings with
the man, Ezra had observed that Bower liked to prove his superiority by
demonstrating his cruelty to others. To have in his power one of the men
who had helped to destroy his criminal empire would have a certain appeal
to the mans sadistic nature. Ezra did not care to speculate on the
possible consequences to Buck.
Chris knew that theyd done all that they could at the scene. He refused
to consider the possibility that Buck might not be found alive. Indeed, that
he might not be found at all. "We need to head back to the office. Well
pull Bowers case file, and go through the damn thing word by word.
Well track down every known associate of the man that aint six
feet under and try to figure out why in the hell hed risk coming back
here. With any luck, well be able to follow the trail to Buck."
Liking the sound of that last statement, as well as the conviction behind
the words, they all concurred with Chris plan. The team regrouped at
the office to begin the process of organizing and collating information.
There was not much to go on. The few known associates of Bower that werent
dead, were either in prison or designated as simply "Location: unknown."
JD paced in agitation. He gave voice to his frustration. "How can we just
sit around while Buck is out there hurt somewhere, maybe even dying?"
Chris sighed. "JD, if any of us had the first clue as to where to begin to
look for Buck, dont you think wed be out there? What do you want
us to do? Start driving up and down every street to see if we can find Buck
lyin out there waiting for us?"
JD shouted back, "If thats what it takes, yes! I cant just stay
here doing nothing!" With that statement, JD grabbed his jacket and he headed
for the door. "Im going for a ride." JD knew the futility of his action.
That didnt stop him. His need to do something, anything to help
to find his friend, was too great.
To Chris surprise, Vin jumped up to follow. "Wait, JD, Id like
to come with you." JD nodded his head in agreement, and the two friends set
Chris supposed he shouldnt have been surprised that the level-headed
Vin would be so willing to accompany JD on a fools errand. Chris knew
how guilty Vin was feeling. Hed tried to tell Vin that he had nothing
to feel guilty about, but he could tell that his words made no difference.
"Vin, last time I looked, you aint God. You had no control over
Bucks cell phone, nor over the traffic in this city. You tell me what
you couldve done different."
Vin had simply stared, looking more lost than Chris could ever recall seeing
his usually rock-steady friend. After a moments silence, he stated,
"Ive couldve been there when Buck needed me."
Chris sighed, muttering about "mule-headed, damn stubborn Texans." He stifled
a yawn as he resumed the tedious work of going through the Bower file yet
again. There was not a word said by any of the remaining members of Team
Seven. None of them cared to voice the thought that was currently uppermost
in everyones mind: that they were already far too late to do anything
to help Buck other than to track down his murder.
+ + + + + + +
A sliver of light shone through the darkness of Bucks prison. The light
brought no warmth. It served merely to allow visual confirmation of the horror
hed previously only imagined. When hed first woken from his stupor
a few hours ago, he realized that he was lying on something sharp and
uncomfortable. He didnt need his sight to know what he was half-lying
on. His sense of smell, combined with touch, told him more than he wanted
to know. He was lying on top of what had once been a human being. Overwhelmed
with the stench of decay, he was suddenly violently ill. As quickly as he
could, he rolled himself off of his disgusting bedding. The pain generated
by the movement plunged him back into unconsciousness.
He did not regain his senses until sometime the next day. In the cold, cruel
dimness of daylight, Buck could see that he had not been the first man to
have been imprisoned in this brick-lined hellhole. The remains of one of
Bowers previous victims shared his current living space. Feeling sick
to his stomach, Buck dragged himself as far away from the corpse as he could
in the confined space. Exhausted from the painful effort, he fell into a
Minutes (or was it hours?) later, he was again painfully awake and aware
of his surroundings. There was no position of comfort possible to be found
lying on the cold, hard ground of his prison. He was distantly pleased to
note that his nausea was no longer present. The smell was one of the many
things in his surroundings that he was getting used to. His breath hitched
as a coughing fit left him gasping blindly in pain. God, his chest hurt with
every breath. He tried to console himself with the thought that if he could
feel pain, it meant that he was still alive. Either that or he was in Hell.
He shivered. That was no way to think. Unfortunately, he didnt have
a whole heck of a lot else to do to occupy his time.
It was tough waiting all alone. If there was a Hell in the afterlife, for
Buck it would be to spend all of eternity with only himself for company.
He shuddered at the thought. Well, shuddered more than he had been already
from the cold.
Buck glanced toward the remains of his fellow prisoner. In the shadowy dimness,
Buck could forget the horror hed seen. He could concentrate instead
on the man himself. If he looked at things from the right perspective, he
wasnt really alone. He could pass the time chatting with his unknown
companion. "Hey, Clyde. Mind if I call you Clyde? I guess its as good
a name as any. How long you been down here, anyway?"
"If you dont feel like talkin, thats okay. I can do the
talking for the both of us. You got any kin, any friends out there lookin
for you? I do. At least, I think I do." His voice reflecting his uncertainty,
he continued. "I hope I do."
"Its a terrible thing, to be forgotten. Did you do anything more memorable
than get yourself stuck down in this hole?" His voice a sad echo, he questioned,
The silence lay heavy and oppressive on his soul. "Tell you what, Clyde.
If by some miracle I make it out of here alive, Ill take you with me.
Even if no one else remembers, I will." He wished that the man could see
the sincerity in his face as he swore, "I promise. Ill remember."
"Well, Im just about all talked out here. Im gonna take me a
little nap." And if Buck fell into unconsciousness rather than sleep, no
one was aware of the fact.
+ + + + + + +
Despite his agitation, JD proceeded logically and systematically with his
search. Starting from the central point of Bucks last known location,
he drove up and down the streets in a spiral pattern, covering miles of city
streets. Hours later, he pulled over to the side of the road when the sky
began to lighten with the first rays of dawn. He folded his arms across the
steering wheel and let his head slowly droop toward their comforting cradle.
He felt Vin lay a hand comfortingly on his shoulder. He thought to himself,
Huh. Maybe he thinks Im gonna cry. Nope. That wont solve
anything. I dont feel anything other than numb with cold and bone-deep
tired. Lifting his too-heavy head, he turned to Vin. "Sorry for wasting
your time. Guess wed better head on back to Chris and the others."
Vin squeezed his shoulder. "I dont think it was a waste of time; but
youre right. Its time to head back." Vin knew that heading back
would be equally futile. If a search of the files had produced any results,
Chris wouldve called.
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