All But Forgotten

by Beth Green and Hercat

Part 3

When he and JD walked into the office, Vin was relieved to discover that things were not quite as hopeless as he’d assumed.

Chris reported, "After checking through everything that we possibly could in Bower’s file, we’ve managed to track down two of the man’s former associates: Craig Miles and Greg Barrett. Both of ‘em are currently residents in Colorado prisons. They’re our only leads, so we need to pay them each a visit."

Josiah spoke up. "I recollect having established a rapport of sorts with Miles, back when we first tried to take down Bower. I volunteer to visit Mr. Miles and see if I can’t persuade him to plumb the depths of his memories regarding Mr. Bower. I seem to recall that he was none too fond of the man."

Chris nodded. "Okay, he’s yours. The other prisoner, Greg Barrett, is a resident of Florence’s newest maximum security facility, the Administrative Maximum Unit Prison. It’s located some one hundred and ten miles south of Denver. Any takers?"

Vin, none too fond of jails or confined spaces, nevertheless offered to make the trip. He raised his hand. "I will. That way, I can be doing somethin’ other than sittin’ around worryin’."

Although they’d spent a comfortable time together in their frantic search earlier in the day, JD declined to accompany Vin. "I gotta stay here. I need to be close by, just in case."

Vin nodded in understanding. He proceeded to fill a thermos with his special brand of strong coffee, desperately needing the caffeine fix. The caffeine high provided a much-needed second wind. The trip should have taken a little over two hours to drive. He completed it in exactly ninety minutes. Vin’s ever-growing sense of urgency spurred him on.

After passing through a series of checkpoints, he was finally admitted to the area reserved for visitors. He overcame his first hurdle when Barrett agreed to talk to him. Now, if only he could figure out what the hell to say to get the man to spill his guts. He began to speak, carefully feeling his way. "Thanks for agreeing to see me."

"Hey, anything that takes me away from the rabble back there is worth a minute or three of my time. What’s up, cop?"

"I wanted to talk to you about Artie Bower."

Barrett immediately put his face up to the glass separating them. The look in his eyes left no doubt as to the murderous nature of the beast which was currently barely leashed. "Anything that I can do to get that low-life bottom-feeding. . ." Barrett continued, using every profane descriptive term Vin had ever heard, and some that were new to even his experienced ears, to describe Artie Bower. Finally running out of words, Barrett asked, "What do you need from me to get his sorry ass in prison, where he belongs?"

"He’s back in Denver, and I wanna know why."

"Hell, I don’t know from nothin’, being in here. But, what I do know is I got a brother, Donnie. He thinks Bower is a big fat deal, despite the fact that the man is directly responsible for my ass bein’ behind bars. Donnie, he’s a good kid. Trash like Bower shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near him. If Bower’s in Denver, chances are pretty damn good that Donnie is trailin’ after him." Barrett supplied Vin with not only Donnie’s address, but the address of his girlfriend. Vin wasted no time in phoning his teammates with the information.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah’s journey took two-and-a-half hours, to Vin’s ninety minutes. Miles’ greeting was pleasant enough. "Josiah! Long time, no see. Let me guess: you want to talk to me about Artie Bower."

Josiah nodded. "I’d applaud your mind-reading ability, were it not for the fact that Artie Bower is what originally brought you and me in contact with each other."

Miles shrugged. "No offense taken. What’s he done now?"

"A friend of mine thought he’d seen him in town. Before anyone could check it out, they both disappeared."

"That’s too bad." Miles sighed heavily. "Guess your friend’s gone off to the graveyard."

Josiah’s spirits sank to an all-time low at Miles’ matter-of-fact pronouncement. He echoed the words, "The graveyard?"

"Yeah. It’s a hundred or so miles west of Denver, one of those mini-towns that went boom and bust along with the silver mines. Nothing there now but a bunch of falling down, rotting old buildings. I hear tell there’s more than just buildings rotting away there."

Josiah questioned him in minute detail, trying to pin down the exact location of the graveyard. "Thank you. If there’s anything I can ever do for you, please let me know."

"As a matter of fact, there is. I go before the parole board next month. It’d really help if you could put in a good word for me."

"I’d be happy to." Josiah hastily said his goodbyes. Once away from the confines of the prison, he placed a phone call to Chris.

Grim-faced, Chris accepted the news of Buck’s probable whereabouts. Nathan was the only team member currently present. JD and Ezra were following up on the leads to Donnie and his girlfriend that had been phoned in by Vin during the past hour. Chris was just as glad to be able to put off sharing the latest news with JD. It was bad enough telling Nathan. Although he wanted to hurl the phone across the room, he hung it up slowly and carefully. Nathan watched and waited.

Chris’ voice wavered with the emotion he did not allow to show on his face. "Seems like Bower likes to visit a ghost town west of here. Rumor has it, that’s where he hides the bodies. We gotta check it out."

Should the worst case scenario prove to be true, Nathan did not want to be the only one present when they found Buck’s body. He did not trust in his ability to keep Chris from doing something foolish without someone to back him up. "I think we need to take JD and Ezra along. They’ll never forgive us if we don’t."

Chris opened his mouth, prepared to argue. However, if Buck was at the graveyard, Chris was hard put to come up with any argument for urgency in their getting there. He nodded at Nathan, grateful when his friend offered to make the phone call to JD and Ezra. Nathan was reaching a hand for the phone when it rang.

JD was calling, obviously excited. Nathan put him on the speakerphone. "Hey guys, me and Ezra went to see Donnie’s girlfriend. She says that Donnie got a ride to her place from some guy in a Cadillac. Although she never saw the other guy, her description of the car matches our man Bower. She says Donnie asked to borrow her car. We need to get out an APB, ASAP. It’s a red 1997 Ford Taurus, license number YNZ 313."

Chris thanked him for the information, promising to get out the APB. "I need you and Ezra back at the office. We’re gonna take us a little trip." Putting off any further explanations, he simply concluded, "I’ll tell you about it when you get here."

+ + + + + + +

Chris bitterly reflected that it would have been far better if he had delivered his news over the phone. Then he wouldn’t have had to watch the hopeful look on JD’s face crumble to one of despair. Chris could offer no words of comfort. He was feeling some of that same despair himself.

A little over an hour had passed since they’d gotten Josiah’s call. In another hour, two at the most, Josiah and Vin would be back in Denver. Nathan stated, "I think we need to wait for Josiah and Vin."

Like Chris, JD could think of no reason to hurry to a place referred to as "the graveyard." If this was the end of Team Seven, JD agreed with Nathan that they should see it through together.

Taking the coward’s way out, Chris used the phone to deliver the news to Vin.

Although he was feeling anything but calm, Vin simply acknowledged the information. "I’ll be there in fifteen minutes. Wait for me. Please." His words were an eerie echo of the plea he’d made to his absent friend yesterday. Choking back the emotions that he had no time for, he hung up the phone. His words a combination of prayer and apology, he whispered, "Oh, Buck."

+ + + + + + +

Buck was drifting in and out of consciousness. He had no idea how long he’d been down in this hole. He had the feeling that it had been days, rather than hours. The pain was now something remote from himself, no longer worthy of the intense attention he’d given it earlier. He remembered his earlier fear that he’d descended into Hell. He was now forced to amend that thought. Hell wouldn’t be so damned cold.

His thoughts his only company, Buck found his mind replaying scenes from his past. He supposed he ought to be worried about the fact that he was doing something like that. Wasn’t that something that folks did when they were dying?

His eyes drifted over to the last occupant of this prison. He feared that he was looking at his future. The poor fellow had been left here to rot, forgotten.

Buck shuddered again. He’d given up on even trying to stay warm, the cold such a part of him now.

Might seem odd to someone else, this brick lined hole in the middle of nowhere, but he knew what it was for. Forgetting.

Oubliette, from the French "oublier," to forget. You put someone in here and just plain forgot about them.

He was here because the bad guys didn’t give a flying fuck whether he lived or not. Hell, they probably already forgot he was here.

‘Course, he was used to that. Everyone always forgot about him eventually. ‘Cept for his mother. She never forgot and he loved her for that. That was when he’d learned about being ignored, the kids at school "forgetting" about him all the time. He’d also learned being forgotten could be a good thing, what with some of the men around his mom.

He realized with a sudden start that the only people who ever forgot him had known about his mom, what she had to do. He missed Chris, the old one who’d called him ‘pard’ and remembered him. Guess he’s the only one ‘round now who remembers the old Buck. He tried to remember back to that time, but things were getting fuzzy, disjointed inside his head. Guess I forgot too. Oh well, worth it to not be cold anymore.

Buck tried to remember whether he’d told Chris. Must of done, he forgot me quick enough when Vin came by. Nice kid. Vin didn’t know, he was sure. Had he told JD? He couldn’t remember, wasn’t that funny. Hope I told him. Be easier on him really.

Forgetting made it all so much easier, no thinking on a time of love and smiles and the sweet pain of watching his best friend win something he hadn’t even known enough to fight for.

And the time after that, when it was all darkness and pain and I don’t care if you hit me as long as you remember I’m here.

Just don’t forget.

This time, when unconsciousness beckoned, Buck had no strength left to fight. With what he thought might’ve been his last breath, he whispered, "Remember."

Part 4

Team Seven - minus one - were reunited. They all accepted Josiah’s offer of the use of his vehicle. His Chevy Suburban was the only personal vehicle large enough to seat them all comfortably. They had no desire to be separated at this time, especially if their fears turned out to be reality. The drive was made mostly in silence, Vin reflected bitterly, out of respect for the dead.

JD found it difficult to maintain his optimism in the face of the fatalistic atmosphere. Finally, he had to say something to break the oppressive silence. "Buck’s tough. If anyone can make it through this, he can."

Chris understood JD’s need to find some reason to hope. He shared it. He was not ready to deal with Buck’s death until he’d seen the corpse. "You got that damn straight."

The remaining members of their team could not muster the bravado to give voice to the lie. Vin was navigating while Chris drove. The detailed map open in front of him allowed him to easily steer them along the back roads to their destination. Besides, it gave him something to think about other than the prospect that they would find Buck, or what was left of him, at the end of this road.

They bumped along a gravel road until they came to a small block of buildings. Well, some of the structures were still recognizable as having been buildings at one time. For the most part the structures had toppled over, returning to the earth from which they’d come.

The Cadillac was easy to spot. It was leaning at an angle, having been driven onto the floor of what had once been the sunken first level of a house. Chris remained in the Suburban, reluctant to see what was in the sedan.

JD had no such qualms. He was the first one out of the vehicle, running and shouting, "Buck! Buck!"

He was almost to the Cadillac when Josiah’s long arm reached out to stop him. "Whoa, there, JD, hold up!"

JD wrenched his arm roughly away from his friend, his eyes blazing with anger. "What the hell are you trying to stop me for! Buck needs us!"

"If Buck is in that car, what he doesn’t need is for us to go adding our weight to it and sending the whole thing crashing down into that basement." The others approached in time to hear Josiah’s words. "That floor don’t look none too steady. How it’s managed to hold up some odd tons of car until now is a minor miracle unto itself."

Examining the problem as dispassionately as he could, Ezra offered a solution. "The hole’s opening is not very wide. If we can find enough beams of sufficient strength, we can position them under the vehicle’s undercarriage, with the ends resting on either side of the hole. That should provide sufficient support for someone of JD’s slight stature to examine the interior of the Cadillac."

Glad of something to do, they quickly found the required items. As soon as the last board was in place, JD opened the doors of the vehicle. His eyes wide with disappointment, he did not find the object of his search.

As one, they looked toward the trunk of the vehicle. JD shook his head in denial. "No." Nevertheless, with the aid of a tool procured by Josiah, he popped the lock on the trunk. He was dizzy with relief when the trunk was revealed to be empty. Once he’d decided he wasn’t going to pass out, he looked around. "Where is he?"

JD stepped away from the vehicle, returning to solid ground. Spinning a slow circle, he examined the scenery around him. His voice reflected his despair as he called out, "Buck! Buck!"

Vin was having a hard time facing anyone. Guilt weighed heavy on his shoulders. He kept his eyes on the dirt at his feet, examining the ground around the Cadillac. As he did so, he noticed something curious. "Hey, y’all, wait up a minute!" All eyes turned to the sharpshooter. "Why in the hell would someone drive a Cadillac into this hole?"

Josiah quickly supplied an answer. "Because it was dark and they couldn’t see?"

Vin shook his head in denial. "Bower knows this area. Even in the dark, the lights from the Cadillac should ‘a showed him what he was driving on." Vin dropped to a squat near the front tire and pointed at what had caught his interest: the ground beneath the car. "I may be wrong, but that looks an awful lot like a door. A door that ain’t got no locks or hinges. What would be easier to use as a lock than a goddamn Cadillac?"

Various curses and ideas were exchanged as they discussed strategies for gaining access to the door. Realistically, the only safe way to move the Cadillac would be via crane. Chris made a few phone calls while JD paced, damning the need for delay. "I know he’s down there. I know it. Would they have gone to all the trouble of sealing him in there if he was dead? I don’t think so."

His friends had to agree with his logic. They shared JD’s frustration, feeling the need for haste, and furious at their inability to provide it. Almost two hours later, the crane showed up. Nathan had the foresight to request an ambulance crew, who were standing by hoping for a patient to treat.

Chris overrode the paramedic’s request to conduct the search when the Cadillac was finally removed. "He’s my friend. I’m going in."

JD stood at Chris’ shoulder, echoing his words. "Me, too." He shuddered at the dead look in Chris’ eyes, but held firm.

The splintering wooden door was easily pushed aside once the weight of the Cadillac had been removed. Chris heard JD’s audible gasp at the remains visible directly below the opening. It wasn’t Buck, as the body was in an advanced state of decay. Silently accepting Josiah’s offered flashlight, Chris entered the dank prison. He thanked God for the cold, as it cut down on the nauseating stench wafting from the dead body. His forward progress abruptly halted at the sight of Buck huddled in a corner of the dungeon-like room.

He heard JD gasp as their friend was revealed. His own heart froze in his chest as light played over the still, pale form. Chris had seen enough dead bodies in his life to know that he was currently looking at one. The flashlight fell from his cold, numb fingers, instantly wrapping him in the gloom of his surroundings.

All of JD’s attention was focused on his friend. When Chris dropped the flashlight, it was a mere inconvenience. There was still plenty of light to see by. He ran to Buck, kneeling at his side. "Buck! Buck!" He reached out a hand, hesitantly touching the cold, unshaven face. In the dimness, he could not tell if Buck was still breathing. He placed his other hand on Buck’s chest, holding his own breath until he felt the weak rise and fall of his stricken friend’s chest. JD turned to Chris, his face a mixture of fear and relief. "He’s alive! He’s alive!"

There was a flurry of activity after JD’s announcement. The paramedics determined that Buck’s condition was too critical for the delay of an ambulance ride, and called for a life flight helicopter. Buck was efficiently bundled off to the nearest trauma center.

Chris watched it all as if from a distance. The cold in that hellhole of a prison seemed to have settled into his soul. He welcomed the numbing chill, as it meant that he didn’t have to feel anything.

The ride to the hospital in Josiah’s Suburban was a much louder one than the trip out had been. JD was back to his usual self, running his mouth a mile a minute, bouncing from subject to subject.

Ezra smiled tolerantly, encouraging him with a helpful contribution from time to time. It was good to see JD nearing a semblance of normalcy. Ezra had never been happier in his life to have one of his suppositions proven to have been in error. Buck was alive. That was all that mattered.

Although Buck’s condition was critical, Vin was confident of his friend’s ability to survive. He’d hung on long enough for Vin to find him, and for that the sharpshooter was eternally grateful. There was no way he was going to give up now.

+ + + + + + +

Team Seven gathered at Mercy General Hospital, keeping vigil over their stricken member. Buck kept the doctors guessing for the first day or so, but his friends never doubted that he would survive. After all that they went through to find him, there was no way Buck would let them down at this stage in his recovery.

Buck proved worthy of their faith in him. After three days in Intensive Care, his condition improved enough that he was able to be transferred to a regular floor.

Buck made the conscious decision to put up with a bit more pain in order to be a bit less fuzzy mentally. That way, he was able to carry on a conversation of more than one or two words in length before nodding off. He still slept most of the time. However, when he was awake, he was lucid. His increased awareness allowed him to see how much worry his near-death experience had caused his friends. He set about to do all that he could to put their minds at ease.

He started with Chris. The two of them had been friends long enough that they could say a whole hell of a lot without having to resort to actual words. Buck awoke one evening to find Chris seated at his bedside, staring at him. It was not the usual Larabee "death glare." It was more like a "You scared me half to death" glare. Buck grinned and winked in response, offering reassurance and an apology of sorts. Chris nodded, "apology accepted," and they were fine.

Vin was a bit more of a puzzle. It took Buck a few days to figure out that Vin was feeling guilty about what had happened. Although Vin was usually on the quiet side, he acted like he was in church any time he visited Buck, he was so utterly quiet and respectful. Buck finally called him on it. "Vin, please don’t take offense, but what the hell are you doin’?"

Vin looked up, meeting Buck’s eyes for the first time in days. Buck had a sudden flash of clarity when he saw the pain clearly reflected in the too-wide blue eyes looking back at him. He softened his tone of voice. "Ah, hell, Vin, you can’t be feeling guilty for not backin’ me up. It’s not like I really gave you the chance to. You didn’t make me drop my cell phone, and you didn’t tell Bower I was tailin’ him. And you’re sure as hell not responsible for me gettin’ myself shot. The responsibility for that lies with one person only: Artie Bower." He quickly corrected himself. "Well, two if you want to get technical about it and count Dumb Donnie."

Vin was not so easily convinced. "I should ‘a thought about the possibility that Bower might have spotted you. That he might’ve been leadin’ you into a trap."

Buck shook his head. "I got news for you, son. The thought occurred to me before I ever got to the damn warehouse. That was part of the reason I held off ‘a followin’ Bower down a dark, dead end street. Not that it did me any good. Bein’ as I don’t got eyes in the back of my head, they got the drop on me, and the rest you know." He took a minute to raise the head of the bed, so Vin would no longer be looking down at him. He spoke slowly and carefully, emphasizing each word. "It is not your fault!" He breathed a sigh of relief when it appeared that his message had finally gotten through.

Trying to boost Vin’s bruised ego, Buck added, "If it wasn’t for you, Bower and Donnie might ‘a never got caught. Thanks to the information you got outta Barrett, the State Troopers noticed the car they was drivin’ and pulled them fellas over. They had ‘em dead to rights. Too bad they gave up real peaceful-like an’ everything. I wouldn’t ‘a minded if they’d taken a bullet or two. Anyways, you were responsible for them getting’ corralled. Don’t think I don’t appreciate it."

Vin looked away, his face slightly reddening. "Aw, Buck, it weren’t nothin’."

Buck took advantage of the opportunity for a little teasing. "Vin Tanner, don’t tell you’re blushing?"

Vin hotly denied the accusation. "I ain’t neither." The two friends continued to exchange insults and personal remarks, reassuring each other that things were back to normal.

+ + + + + + +

Buck was more relieved than he could say that JD did not need his amateur counseling services. As soon as the doctors had informed JD that Buck would make a complete recovery, all was right with his world. The kid was the ideal hospital visitor. He knew Buck well enough to judge when he needed peace and quiet, and when he needed to talk. Buck did not have to offer any support to JD. Truthfully, he didn’t have any support left to give.

JD couldn’t help but notice Buck’s atypical quiet and somber demeanor. Although he was improving physically, emotionally he remained withdrawn. Once Buck had recovered sufficiently that the doctor was making noises about sending him home soon, JD decided to push a little. "Hey, Buck you’re kind of quiet. What’s on your mind?"

Buck tried to laugh it off. "Nothin’ more than usual."

JD didn’t let him get away with blowing him off. "You forget, Buck, I know you. Ever since we pulled you outta that hole, you’ve been . . . I don’t know . . . different."

Buck tried to wave off his concern. "Almost meetin’ his maker does tend to do that to a man."

JD’s breath hitched at the reminder of how close he’d come to losing the best friend he’d ever had. He ran his hands through his hair, agitated. "God, Buck, when I think of how close we came to losing you . . ."

Buck shrugged. "Y’all wouldn’t ‘a hardly missed me."

JD stared at Buck, not believing what he’d just heard. "If I thought for one minute that you believed that, I’d slap you upside of your head, I swear I would. Hell, you’re the heart and soul of Team Seven. When we’re at each other’s throats, you’re the one who always comes up with the right thing to do or say to remind us how important each and every one of us is to the Team. Somehow, you always seem to find the good in every person or thing."

Buck snorted at that comment. Curious, JD asked, "What’s so funny?"

"You don’t want to know."

JD disagreed. "If I didn’t want to know, I wouldn’t have asked."

Buck decided to satisfy his curiosity. "Well, when you were talkin’ about my tryin’ to find the good in things, I couldn’t help but think of Clyde."

JD encouraged Buck to continue, asking, "Clyde who?"

Buck looked away, his thoughts going back to the oubliette. "I expect y’all noticed I wasn’t the first one Bower had shown his guest quarters to." JD winced at the reminder of the sight and smell of the decaying corpse that had shared Buck’s prison. His friend continued, "I had to call the fella something, and Clyde seemed as good a name as any. We had us a few talks, Clyde and me. Leastways puttin’ a name to him, somehow I felt a little less alone." Buck did not attempt to hide the pain reflected in his face at the memory of just how truly alone he’d been.

JD tried not to let it show on his face how truly appalled he was at the idea of Buck feeling so alone that he tried to befriend a rotting corpse. Nevertheless, a slight shudder crossed his shoulders at the thought. Fortunately, Buck was too preoccupied with his own thoughts to notice.

Remembering his promise, Buck asked, "They didn’t leave him there, did they?"

JD reassured him. "Nope. He’s the reason they were able to arrest Bower for murder, as well as your attempted murder. Evidently, Bower didn’t like the way his accountant balanced his books."

Buck asked, "What’s his name? Did he have any family?"

"I don’t know." By the droop of his friend’s shoulders, JD could see Buck’s disappointment with his answer. He continued, "I’ll find out for you, no problem."

Buck laid back wearily, nodding his head in gratitude. "Thanks. It’s just, I’d like to know that there’s someone out there who remembers him."

JD remained silent, encouraging Buck to go on. It was obvious his friend had more on his mind. Buck chewed on his lip a minute while he figured out what to say. "I been thinkin’. When I was down in that hole, I had a lot of time to do nothin’ but think. Well, what I was thinkin’ on. . ." He paused a moment, then continued. "Do you remember me tellin’ you about my mom?"

JD hastened to reassure his friend. "Yeah, Buck, I do. I remember everything you’ve ever told me. How she was both mother and father to you, how she had to ignore what other people thought of the things she had to do to make money the only way she knew how." Buck could see the sincerity shining in JD’s eyes as he spoke. "How she managed to do right by her son, and raise him to be the greatest guy I know."

Buck nodded. "I knew you’d remember. At least, I hoped you would." His eyes darkened with the memory of lying utterly hopeless, helpless, and alone. "There’s nothin’ worse than bein’ forgotten."

"My mom, she was a real lady, in every sense of the word. She’s somebody who definitely ought to be remembered. The thing is, besides me and Chris, and now you, there’s nobody to do the rememberin’. And that’s a damn shame."

Knowing that Buck needed to hear the words, JD stated, "I won’t forget."

Buck offered to return the favor. "How ‘bout you tell me somethin’ about your mom?"

JD was glad to oblige. The two men shared their moms, and their memories. They would not be forgotten.


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