All But Forgotten

by Beth Green and Hercat

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. He’d neglected to review the spelling of his own name. He’d 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 he’d left the office this Friday, Buck knew he wouldn’t appreciate the humor. More likely, he’d 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 he’d 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. He’d 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, he’d waited patiently for the tow truck. He didn’t 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 he’d 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 hadn’t yet begun to write. Chris had made it quite clear to all concerned that no one was to leave until their description of today’s events had been placed in his "In" box.

The team leader had growled, "This case is too damn important. I want all the ‘i’s dotted, all the ‘t’s crossed. I don’t care how long it takes. You get everything down on paper while the details are still fresh."

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. Buck’s 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 man’s 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 court’s time."

Buck wanted to believe that he hadn’t done anything wrong, but the judge was pretty damn convincing. Despite his teammates words to the contrary, Buck couldn’t help but feel that the man was right. Sure, his friends made sympathetic noises about the crooked legal system. But, somehow, he couldn’t help but feel that they weren’t 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 Seven’s 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, we’re gonna head on over to the saloon. You wanna come join us when you’re done?"

Buck looked at his notes, then back at the computer screen. He sighed. This was going to take a while. He replied, "No, that’s okay. Y’all 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, I’ll be along!" He didn’t 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. It’d been unseasonably warm for fall when he’d left home this morning. He’d only worn a lightweight jacket, rather than a heavier coat. Faced with the evening’s chill, he regretted that choice. He shrugged. "Guess that’s 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 didn’t 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. It’s just that your one-of-a-kind beauty is a bit too noticeable when I’m 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 who’ll always be there when I need ‘em. I prefer a gal who’s been through a little bit of weathering and is still around to tell the tale."

Buck added, "Of course, that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with enjoying the scenery, particularly when it involves the lovely Inez." Buck’s 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 wasn’t the cause of it, but the things he’d 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. Larabee’s?"

Buck shook his head. If that don’t 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, Buck’s thoughts drifted to his favorite subject: women. He was considering a few of the high maintenance women he’d 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 she’d walked off the pages of a fashion magazine, and had the expensive tastes that went along with the style. He remembered the scornful way she’d looked down her nose at his truck and refused to ride in it. Despite their differences, they’d 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 can’t be." He amended that thought. "It damn well better not be." He’d 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 couldn’t be that stupid, could he? Any member of Team Seven would cheerfully put a bullet in the man’s 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. They’d 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. They’d 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 Jeep’s 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 couldn’t believe it. Chris didn’t 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 he’d just passed, suddenly realizing that he was no more than six blocks from Vin’s place. He quickly dialed the sharpshooter’s number.

He was immensely relieved to hear the familiar voice drawl, "Hello."

"Vin, it’s me, Buck. Please tell me you’re at home."

Buck could hear the confusion in Vin’s voice as he replied. "O-o-kay, I’m at home."

"Thank God! I’m about six blocks over from you, heading east on Third, cross street Mapleridge. I need some backup, pronto. I’m 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, don’t you go near him, you hear me? I’m on my way. Just don’t lose him!"

Buck snorted, finding a trace of humor in the situation. "I wasn’t plannin’ on it. Do me a favor? Call this one in for me. I’m 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 Buck’s 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, I’ll kill you myself!"

"Sorry, I dropped the phone. We’re over in the warehouse district." Buck’s 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 don’t know how much longer I can talk to you. My cell phone’s just about dead. I’ll 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 he’d heard the garbled address correctly, Vin tried to call Buck back. There was no answer. Shit! Vin pleaded, "Buck, don’t 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 driver’s side window was blown out by the bullet fired through it. Buck tried his best to ignore the fact that he couldn’t 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 driver’s side door.

Artie Bower spoke from the passenger side, his gun held unwaveringly on Buck. "Ah. If it isn’t my old friend Mr. Williams, or whatever your name may actually be. If you don’t 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 didn’t know whether or not to be grateful to the man as he pleaded his case. "We don’t want to go down for killing a cop. Besides, you never know when a hostage might come in handy." He turned to Buck. "You don’t cause no fuss, and we ain’t got no reason to kill you."

Bower was none too happy. "With the bullet you’ve already put in him, he’ll 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 they’ll 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 Buck’s 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."

Part 2

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 can’t afford for me to be wrong." Much later than he’d wished, he turned down the street where he hoped to find his friend. His tension eased slightly when he saw Buck’s 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 Buck’s vehicle. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled with apprehension. It was quiet; too damn quiet. There didn’t 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 driver’s 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 didn’t 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, he’d 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 could’ve 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 he’d been on the phone with Buck?

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, you’re 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, he’d find his friend and put the hurt on his abductors. He didn’t want to think on the fact that, more than likely, they’d only find his friend’s 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 wasn’t even present. God, he wished he wasn’t 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 hadn’t 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 must’ve put a hole in his lung. Bower might’ve 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 weren’t 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. Don’t 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. There’s 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, "We’ve got to get rid of this car. I’m sure that our little ATF friend here provided the police with all of the particulars."

"I expect my girlfriend would loan me hers. She’s 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. Let’s go. We’ll 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 Buck’s presence. "If you do anything to call attention to us, I won’t 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, they’d likely end up dead for their troubles.

At least Buck was able to find out the thug’s 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 they’d 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 him.

+ + + + + + +

The remaining members of Team Seven were gathered around Buck’s 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 didn’t bleed to death."

Vin paced, unable to keep still. He felt like he ought to be doing something, anything other than just standing around. He’d known that the building to building search would be futile, but at least they’d been doing something.

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 he’d 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."

They’d done the routine checks of the local hospitals and the morgue. No one fitting Buck’s description had turned up. Therefore, Bower had taken him away from the scene. Vin didn’t realize that he’d 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 man’s sadistic nature. Ezra did not care to speculate on the possible consequences to Buck.

Chris knew that they’d 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. We’ll pull Bower’s case file, and go through the damn thing word by word. We’ll track down every known associate of the man that ain’t six feet under and try to figure out why in the hell he’d risk coming back here. With any luck, we’ll 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 weren’t 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, don’t you think we’d 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 that’s what it takes, yes! I can’t just stay here doing nothing!" With that statement, JD grabbed his jacket and he headed for the door. "I’m going for a ride." JD knew the futility of his action. That didn’t 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, I’d like to come with you." JD nodded his head in agreement, and the two friends set off together.

Chris supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised that the level-headed Vin would be so willing to accompany JD on a fool’s errand. Chris knew how guilty Vin was feeling. He’d 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 ain’t God. You had no control over Buck’s cell phone, nor over the traffic in this city. You tell me what you could’ve done different."

Vin had simply stared, looking more lost than Chris could ever recall seeing his usually rock-steady friend. After a moment’s silence, he stated, "I’ve could’ve 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 everyone’s 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 Buck’s prison. The light brought no warmth. It served merely to allow visual confirmation of the horror he’d previously only imagined. When he’d first woken from his stupor a few hours ago, he realized that he was lying on something sharp and uncomfortable. He didn’t 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 Bower’s 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 restless doze.

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 didn’t 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 he’d seen. He could concentrate instead on the man himself. If he looked at things from the right perspective, he wasn’t really alone. He could pass the time chatting with his unknown companion. "Hey, Clyde. Mind if I call you Clyde? I guess it’s as good a name as any. How long you been down here, anyway?"

"If you don’t feel like talkin’, that’s 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."

"It’s 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, "Did I?"

The silence lay heavy and oppressive on his soul. "Tell you what, Clyde. If by some miracle I make it out of here alive, I’ll 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. I’ll remember."

"Well, I’m just about all talked out here. I’m 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 Buck’s 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 I’m gonna cry. Nope. That won’t solve anything. I don’t 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 we’d better head on back to Chris and the others."

Vin squeezed his shoulder. "I don’t think it was a waste of time; but you’re right. It’s time to head back." Vin knew that heading back would be equally futile. If a search of the files had produced any results, Chris would’ve called.


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