"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe

3am, Austin (Central Time)

He wanted to get drunk.

He'd thought through the options very carefully, and drunk seemed like the best he could manage on short notice. Shooting Kemp wouldn't bring JD back. Shooting himself would kind of defeat the object of not shooting Kemp. Destroying the hotel room would just get him a massive bill, sore hands and a dressing down from Travis. Plus, he wouldn't have anywhere to sleep.

Because, really, he was going to get so much sleep tonight.

He'd considered heading out, finding a nice girl and getting laid. Or for that matter, paying a not so nice girl and getting laid. Sex comforted him, gave him something to do that he didn't have to think about, that he could forget everything else in doing. He had always enjoyed it, been good at the dance of finding, wooing, pleasing a woman.

He snorted faintly and lay back on the bed, hands behind his head. It just didn't really interest him so much any more. And right now he felt faintly disgusted that he'd even thought of it. If JD never came home, and he'd been getting off with some faceless woman because he couldn't bear to be on his own, then he would never, ever forgive himself. It was a reflex, and he ignored it.

He grinned up at the ceiling, obscurely proud of himself. Since JD, he'd not played so much. For one thing, it was astonishing how much less money he had for wining and dining when a small boy's shoes had to be replaced every three months, or he caught the child's eyes on some toy or treat that he would never ask for. JD's astonishment at getting little gifts hurt as much as it delighted him. Chris ragged him about spoiling the kid, but really, he wasn't sure it was possible. Certainly not until JD started to expect nice things instead of nothing, or blows, or toys or treats taken away.

One day there would be no wariness lurking at the back of JD's eyes. No flinch when an adult moved abruptly near him. No nightmares that found him curled up in the furthest corner of his bed, his brother wrapped around him like a human blanket, trying to soak up JD's misery.

He sighed, sometimes, rarely, it was the other way around, sometimes JD was comforting Vin. It sometimes seemed to him that it was easy to see the damage done to Vin. His wary, poised stillness and silence. His reluctance to show or express emotions. His desperate clinging to Chris, only Chris, always Chris, his one rock in a world of shoals and treacherous currents. JD though was charming and out-going, friendly and eager to please. It had taken him a long time to realise that the last trait was a defense mechanism, as solid and as false as Vin's silence. He knew he was cute. And he used it.

It was a hell of a thing to long for an disobedient, sullen boy sometimes. He shook his head, grinning. Another ten years and he'd get his fill of both. The grin mutated into a wondering smile. Ten years -- more, with JD. Seeing him grow up. Seeing them both grow up. What would they be? Where would they go?

He sighed, comforting himself with the promise of years to come. He didn't need anything else. Just as well, he thought ruefully. It was strange how there were remarkably few women in his usual circles who found a small child an attractive appendage on a potential date. Leaving at midnight to get home so he could have breakfast with his son didn't really make anyone happy. And although he used to be able to charm effortlessly, somehow now his conversations all ended up being about the boys. Women vanished like dust in water, and to his own astonishment he simply shrugged them off. If they couldn't love a couple of small boys (and for that matter, put up with a rather awkward living arrangement with his best friend and boss), then they really weren't worth knowing.

He smiled painfully. He didn't regret a moment of it. Even if that was all they--No!

He wrenched himself away from the thought. There was too much to do. Too many promises still to keep. "And we have miles to go, before we sleep; miles to go before we sleep," he misquoted softly to himself, making it a promise to himself.

JD's face was going to light up at him when he got home. Chris would drive them back from the airport and the little one would be dancing with impatience and excitement just inside the door, held there by a firm grip on his collar, probably Gloria's. And he'd be let go, and charge down the steps and just about launch himself into the air at Buck, absolutely confident that his 'Da' would catch him.

And he would. He'd catch him, and he'd be warm and wriggly and loud, and all the things a JD was supposed to be. He'd carry him into the house and they'd talk, and laugh, and JD would go crazy, running in mad circles around and around the room until they were all dizzy and Chris threatened to find a set of reins to leash him, and Vin and JD would scream and run away, like they always did when Chris made threats that they knew he would never make good on. And then the pair of them would come back, maybe screaming like banshees, maybe sneaking up, Vin silent as a cat, JD huffing and shuffling behind him with a six year old's gracelessness, and they'd pounce and there would be a pile of Larabee-and-Wilmington-and-kids tickling, squirming, shrieking until they all sprawled out, gasping with laughter, exhausted, calling for a truce, and then breaking it and starting all over again.

He smiled. That's how it would be.

He wanted a drink.


Word had come in through a reliable snitch, and they'd made it to the industrial estate in no time at all. They were all there. He glanced at his team. The others nodded fiercely at him, Buck's eyes cold as Chris's own heart. On a signal they moved, and the air was filled with shouts and gunfire. The warehouse was oddly like the one they had first found the boys in, right down to the pile of concealing boxes at the back. Something pulled him there, and he pulled at the boxes, desperately digging for what seemed like forever, knowing what he was going to find before the last box was hurled out of the way.

JD was lying curled up on his side, small t-shirt clad back curved away from him in a tight ball. He shouted the kid's name. JD didn't move and preternatural calm spread through him. He wondered where Buck was, but it felt like he was the only person there, and he moved as though the noise and bullets didn't exist, leaning in slowly, scooping him up and holding him close.

JD's body was like ice, chilling Chris through his jacket and shirt. He pulled the boy closer to try to warm him, sure he was only sleeping, and the child's head had lolled. The cold spread from JD's body to his own, and he shivered convulsively. He looked into the small face for the first time. The hazel eyes were clouded and unmoving, blank. When he pressed his ear to the small chest there was nothing. No heartbeat. No breaths. Just cold that burned its way through him until he was frozen in place, screaming silently.

"JD!" Chris bolted upright and nearly fell from the sofa, Vin tumbling towards the floor before his reflexes kicked in and his hands flew out to catch him.

"No, oh God, no, please, not dead," he gasped out before realizing that Vin was staring at him blearily, growing panic on his face.

"Dead?" Vin whispered in horror. "JD's dead?"

"No!" Chris scooped the boy up into his arms. "No, God, no. I was just dreaming, just a bad dream, not real."

Vin shook in his arms and started crying, whether with shock, or grief, or sheer tiredness Chris didn't know. He hugged him close, rocking unconsciously, trying to comfort them both.

"JD's fine, I promise," he said recklessly, shaken by his nightmare. "He's just been taken by the bad guys. But I'm gonna find him. I promise you, Vin. Word of a Larabee."

"Dad? You ain't gonna lie to me, are you?"

Chris's heart caught. "I'm not going to make promises I can't keep, son," he said painfully. Vin's thin arms tightened around his chest and he bit his lip. "If it is within my power to bring him home, I will. Buck will. Nate will. Ez will. Josiah will. I promise."

He rocked him slowly, and gradually fell asleep, unaware that Vin remained awake, staring into the darkness as though sheer will could pierce the night to find his brother.

"Come home, JD," he whispered softly. "Come home."


6.30 am (Mountain Time)

JD woke to the sound of yelling. His eyes snapped open and he scrambled away from the hands reaching through the metal bars.

"*Got* you, you little brat!" It was the man from yesterday, who hit him until he'd said what they'd wanted him to say to the camcorder. He stared, panicked, and then without a second thought he jumped.

"Get back here!"

The river below was fast running and cold and he gasped with shock, choking on water. Splashing around with his fathers and Vin had taught him enough to not panic, but to spit it out and wait until his head bobbed above water again. He paddled frantically trying to get to the bank but the current carried him along relentlessly, spinning and tossing him like so much flotsam gasping for breath.

JD swam for his life. He couldn't even see the bank and struggled to get his head above the water, but every time he managed to open his eyes water stung them so bad he had to close them again. "Buck!" He choked on the water that slammed into his mouth, but choked out the name again as he bobbed up to the surface, "Buck!" Something slammed hard into his leg and he wailed in pain, coughing helplessly as he swallowed yet more water.

"What the fuck?"

JD didn't hear the words, only the river roaring past his ears. He certainly knew nothing of the angler who dropped rod and line and dived into the river. The first he knew of any of this was a sharp tug at his shirt, and then an arm around him. He struggled desperately, terribly afraid that it was another one of the baddies as he was pulled out of the river.

"Calm down, calm--ow!--hey, kid, quit that!"

JD was lifted up out of the water and kicked out wildly, connecting with something soft. "Let me go! Let me go!" he screamed out, and bit at the nearest wrist.

"Stop that!" A sharp slap to his leg froze him, and he cowered.

"Hey, don't do that! He's just a baby!"

"He's a hellion with claws and fangs," the first voice said sharply, but then softened. "It's okay, I'm putting you down, come on, kid, calm it down."

JD blinked, scrubbing water out of his eyes. Two men crouched in front of him, one nursing his wrist, the other holding his hand out with a friendly smile, his eyes fixed on JD's. They were soaking wet, and were wearing jeans and the kind of shirts that Buck wore. They even had the waders, and his quick eyes picked out the abandoned fishing rods and the coolers. It looked like when Chris and Da took him and Vin fishing. The men didn't move as he looked around, waiting patiently. His feet and his leg hurt too much to stand, so he dropped down landing with a soggy thump, and tucked his feet up, peering at them with interest.

"Hey, kid, what's your name?"

JD looked up from his feet and shook his head. Don't give your name to strangers was one of the first rules. Even if they weren't bad guys.

"Are you hurt?" A hand lifted towards his face and he backed away, scooting on his behind.

"I'm not going to hurt you, little 'un. Come on, let me see?"

"Want my Da," JD said quietly, his voice trembling. The two men exchanged glances and the smiling one spoke again.

"I know, kid, I know. If you come with us we can find a policeman and he'll know where your Da is."

JD merely shifted his eyes from one to the other and then back to their fishing equipment, wondering where their little boys were. The nice one had hair like carrots and JD really, really wanted to see if it was real, but he kept himself still and small, like Vin taught him. They could still see him though.

The red haired man spoke again, his voice patient and gentle, holding one hand out without touching JD. "I'm Simon, and this is Jack, we live near here. We were fishing. Do you go fishing with your Da?" Jack looked incredulously at his friend, but Simon watched the small boy, who nodded hesitantly.

"Did you fall in?"

JD considered that for a moment, did it count if he jumped in? Would the grownups be cross if he told them he jumped in? He knew very well what Buck would have had to say about it. He shook his head, then hesitated, and nodded.

"Which was it, boy?" Jack asked curtly, and JD shied away from him.

"Jumpeded." Jack had eyes like Chris's, and JD blurted out the truth without really intending to. His eyes widened. He didn't have green eyes or blond hair, but he was kinda like Chris. He shuffled a little closer to Jack. He missed the mirth that filled Simon's eyes as his resolutely bachelor, kid-unfriendly friend acquired an admirer.

"Well, that wasn't so smart was it, kiddo?" Jack said harshly, and blinked as JD edged closer. "River's a bit big for little 'uns to play in."

JD scowled. "Had ta jump. Da woulda wanted me to jump. Vin woulda tole me ta jump." Jack's face looked just like Chris's when JD mouthed back, and JD couldn't repress a friendly smile. He knew all about Chris; the crosser he sounded the more you had to be kind to him because he was using his prickles to hide all the hurty bits. And Jack was just like Chris.

"Why's that, kiddo?" Simon asked gently, edging a little closer, and throwing a warning look at Jack, who rolled his eyes and plastered a smile on his face.

"Bad peoples. Hadda run away from bad peoples. An' sides, I was all dirty, an' now I'm all clean. See?" JD smiled at his hands, no longer icky with the black stuff from the sewer walls. The men exchanged a glance, wondering how much was small boy fantasy, and how much, if any, was genuine danger to the child.

"Can we go find my Da an' Chris an' Vin now?" He shuffled up close to Jack and leaned trustingly against his side. Jack froze, then reached for his one remaining dry piece of clothing -- the sweater he'd removed an hour earlier -- and tucked it round the small boy with a long suffering sigh and a scowl at Simon.

"Hey, are you hungry?" Simon suggested, hoping to rescue his friend from the improbable affections of a soaking wet, grubby small boy. "Because we've got some sandwiches and stuff in the cooler back there, if you wanted to come along and share some?"

JD's stomach growled right on cue; he nodded and when a hand was held out to him, considered it carefully before taking it and stumbling to his feet. Pain shot up his right leg and he gripped the man's hand fiercely, balancing on just one leg, lifting the other off the ground.

"You hurt?" Jack asked with a frown and JD shook his head silently. "Get the kit, Simon," he ordered Simon brusquely, who rose noiselessly to his feet and headed through the long grass back to the truck.

"You sure?" he hunkered down in front of boy, both hands steadying him as he wobbled on one foot, "Because I could probably manage to carry you if you were hurting. Not too far, of course 'cause you're pretty big, but just over to the food."

"Where's he going?" JD asked, following Simon with his eyes.

"He's going to find some things to stop you hurting." Jack told him. He regarded the filthy, soggy child, and mentally said goodbye to his clean clothes. He scooped the child up easily and straightened. "I've told you my name, kid, come on now, what's yours?"

JD shook his head again, more reluctantly this time, but still quite certain that he shouldn't tell them who he was.

"Well, I could try guessing, but it'd be quicker if you just said." JD shook his head and Jack bit back a sigh of annoyance, ignoring the muffled laughter of his friend. "Well, Jack's a pretty good name. How about Jack?" JD bit his lip, wide-eyed and shook his head again. Jack turned, striding smoothly back to the car after Simon, guessing names as he went, each guess more and more outrageous. "Timothy? Winston? Engelbert?"

"No!" JD was laughing now, his legs wrapped damply around the man's waist.


Jack caught a hesitation, and wondered if he'd hit on it by accident, but the child giggled out another "No!".

"Well, in that case," he lifted the child away from him and set him on the hood of the car, "Your name must be Rumpelstiltskin!" Simon threw him an incredulous look, and JD laughed out loud, and shook his head again.

"You're silly."

"Nope, I'm Jack." He ignored the muttered words from Simon and looked at the small boy. "Let's get you out of those wet things, okay? And maybe have a look at your bumps?"

JD regarded him thoughtfully, and Jack stood as unthreateningly as he could.

"Kay," he said simply and lifted his arms. Jack stripped the soaked shirt and jacket off in seconds, revealing dark bruises in the shapes of fingers and fists. Neither of the men said a word, their hands gentle and their eyes darkening with shock and anger. The jeans required both men, and it was clear in moments that JD's right leg was probably broken, it was sheer luck, judging by the bruises, swellings, cuts and scrapes over the tiny frame that nothing more serious was wrong.

"We need to get him to a hospital, Simon," Jack said seriously, handing his friend a towel to wrap around the boy. "And someone's gotta be frantic looking for him. He's a hell of a cute little guy." He scowled at another amused look from his friend. "And look, those jeans are good quality. Someone's been looking after him."

"Not recently!" Simon snapped, rubbing his own shirt over JD's hair to dry it. "Take a look at his feet!"

Jack tilted one small foot up and winced. It was covered in cuts, some deep, most of which looked puffy and raw, almost certainly infected. "Those bruises on his face--"

JD opened his mouth and poked at the gap in his teeth. "They made my tooth come out, an' I didn't get to leave it for the tooth fairy neither," he grouched at them.

"Tooth fairies are pretty smart, kid," Simon smiled down at him through the messy bangs. "I figure she'll know all about it and drop you off a dollar."

"A dollar?" JD was riveted. "Vin only got a quarter!"

"*You* can explain to his parents," Jack murmured in amusement.

"It's a special case for lost teeth in exceptional circumstances only," Simon tried to recover.

Jack walked away and hit an unsuspecting tree, hard. "How can people do this to a kid? If I get hold of those fuckers..." he swore.

"I know." Simon said shortly. "There's some on his legs and chest as well, more recent, they're just coming up. Calm down, Jack, you're scaring the kid."

Jack walked back and crouched. "I'm sorry, kiddo. I'm just angry with whoever hurt you." He ran a careful hand over the boy's cheek, avoiding the bruised and puffy lip, then stood and turned away. "Damn. What in God's name happened to you, you poor brat?" Jack asked, expecting no answer.

"The bad guys stoleded me to make Da not testify," JD told them calmly.


"My Da has to pay a dollar every time he says a bad word," JD said reprovingly.

"That can't be right!"

"But it would explain what he's doing out here, in this condition." Jack's voice was thoughtful as he wrapped JD into his own thick woolen pullover, rolling up the sleeves with deft hands.

"But, Jack, come on, 'bad guys'?"

"How old dya think he is?"

"Four, maybe five?"

"And how many four or five year olds do you think know the word 'testify'?"

"I'm *six*! 'n'I know lots of words! They put me up a grade again this year, an' I'm with Vin's class now." JD protested. They ignored him.

"I think we need to get the hell out of here. Hide him in the car, and head to the nearest police station," Jack said tersely.

"There wasn't anything on the news about a missing kid."

"Sometimes there isn't. Look, kid, this is important. What is your name?" Jack looked directly into the child's brown eyes.

"Mustn't tellya," JD said apologetically. "Da and Vin and Dad and Uncle Ezra and Uncle 'Siah and Uncle Nathan said not ta."

"That's a lot of uncles. And they'd be right usually, but it's really important you tell me your name. Or your Da's name?" Jack asked urgently. JD considered this carefully. No one had ever told him to not give his Da's name.

"Buck Wilmington."

"Is that your Daddy's name? You're sure?"


"Okay. We're going to go into town, and we're going to call your Da, and call the police, and we're going to get you fixed up at the hospital.

"I can call him."

"I'm sorry?" Simon asked blankly.

Jack grinned with relieved understanding, "Do you know your Da's phone number?"

JD rattled it off confidently, and Jack grinned as he scooped the kid up. "You're a bright little thing aren't you?" he praised, and JD beamed. "Give him your phone."

"Why mine?"

"Because mine's somewhere in the river," Jack told him dryly.

"Oh, okay." He passed over the small silver cell phone and Jack opened it and offered it to the boy.

"Maybe we should go first?" Simon said slowly, his eyes drifting up river.

"Why do you say that?" Jack turned, and his face hardened. "Got you. Pack up everything, now. Not a clue who we are. Abandon anything that won't identify us." He opened the car door and slid the child inside. "Kid, I'm going to put some coats and stuff on top of you, nothing heavy, just enough to make sure that no one can see you."

"Okay," the boy's voice was muffled but cheerful and Jack shook his head. Maybe if kids were like this one they wouldn't be so bad.

"Simon, come on," he called softly.

Simon ran back, fishing rods and personal belongings piled precariously in his arms. "I left the chairs and nets. No names."

"Get in. Let's go." Jack swung into the driver's side and started the engine even as Simon was still dumping stuff in the flatbed.

They pulled away, ignoring the shouting and waving from the raft careering down the river towards them.


7am, Denver

Chris had arrived an hour and a half early, desperately hoping there would be some news, anything. But there was no word from McKinnon. No sign of his team, and he rested his head in his palms. Vin hadn't wanted him to go, and now he was wondering why he had bothered. He knew he didn't have anything much he could do. Everything relied on someone, somewhere finding a clue, and --

"I've got a building in North Dakota," Standish slammed Larabee's office door open with uncharacteristic force.

Chris was on his feet reaching for the file. "Where, how?" he snapped.

"Subsidiary of a holding company owned by one of Kemp's sisters uses it. It's in Jamestown."

"Why didn't this come up before?"

"It did. It was decided it was legit. A warehouse for a stationery company."

"I need something I can use, goddammit!" he roared at Standish, standing towering over the shorter man, almost toe to toe. Josiah followed Ezra in, his eyes narrowed and gleaming with satisfaction that only deepened as he heard Ezra's findings. Nathan joined them in the small office, caught by the sense of anticipation burning through his veins.

Ezra held his ground, glaring straight back at Larabee, ignoring the other two. "It is." He slammed the file into Larabee's chest. "The tape-" his voice broke, and Sanchez' hand dropped on his shoulder.

"The tape clearly shows JD in what I believe to be a warehouse storage room. The shelves carry boxes of 'Enster computer paper'." Josiah's voice was grim.

Larabee's eyes narrowed. "And Enster...?"

"Is one of the low cost brands that her company ships." Ezra finished looking back at Josiah with dawning hope.

"Do we have probable?" Chris asked fiercely.

Standish shrugged, a mad glint to his eyes, "Who cares?" he asked recklessly, and the four men's face split with feral grins.

"Get your coats, boys. We've got someplace else to be."

Ten minutes later, the room was empty. So there was no one to answer the phone when it rang, and rang. And rang.


7.20 am, Mountain Time

"Da's phone's switched off," JD said forlornly, and carefully turned the cell phone off.

Simon and Jack exchanged looks as the SUV bounced along the unmetalled track.

"Did you leave a message, kid?" Jack asked as he negotiated a steep turn at speed.

"No. Da's in court. They won't let him turn his phone on until lunchtime."

"Do you know where he is? Is there anyone else you could call?"

JD sniffed and rubbed his nose with a fold of Jack's sweater. "I tried, but everyone's phones are off, or they jus' ring an' ring, an' ring, an' ring."

"It's okay, kiddo," Simon comforted. "We'll get you to the police station, and they'll find your Da."

"Hospital," Jack said softly.

"Police." Simon contradicted. "Those guys had guns."

"That kid needs medical treatment. We can get the police to come to the hospital. We can't take the hospital to the police."

"He needs protection."

"He needs to have his leg and stomach seen to."


"Tight as a drum when I put that sweater of mine on him."

Simon shook his head, "Isn't it supposed to--"

"No," Jack shook his head grimly. "It is not."

A moment later, he slowed and indicated left. "Thank God," he murmured, and pulled out onto the main road down towards Jamestown.

"Buchanan's closer," Simon suggested, peering nervously over his shoulder.

"Jamestown's bigger." Jack said flatly. "And I want the kid to get treated at a decent sized hospital, not a nine to five clinic."

"Alright, alright," Simon agreed. "I'm just thinking we might want to crowd it some if we're going that way."

Jack nodded and pushed down the gas.

JD watched the countryside go past curiously. It didn't look anything like home. He frowned, and twisted round. "Where's the mountains?" he asked suddenly.

"Mountains? Further over to the west." Simon told him.

"Oh." JD thought for a moment. "Are we in Colorado?"

Jack's eyes flicked up to stare at the child in his mirror. "Nope. We ain't."

"We're a bit north of Colorado, is that where you're from?" Simon twisted round in his seat and peered at the boy.

"Four Corners, which is near Denver, which is in Colorado." He said as though it was the most obvious thing in the world, and they were idiots not to know it.

"Ah. Well, me and Jack, we're from North Dakota. That's where we are right now."

"Oh." JD's eyes were wide. "Is Denver a long way away?"

"About eight hundred miles." Jack said laconically. "Kid, there's traffic coming. Do me a favor and hide under those blankets."

"Okay." There was a pause and the soft sounds of fabric rubbing over fabric and then the kid spoke again. "Where are we going?"

"To find someone who can get you home." Jack said tersely. "Now be a good kid and stay quiet. I'm concentrating on the road."

Simon reached down and flicked the radio on. "See if there's any news," he said quietly, in response to Jack's irritated glare. A news bulletin was due any moment, and they listened impatiently.

"Nothing." Simon sighed and sat back in his seat. "He really was kidnapped then."

"He thought he was still in Colorado. I'd say that's a big fat, hairy yes." Jack pushed the speed up a little more as he spotted a car in the distance. His shoulders bunched, and Simon tensed.

"Trouble?" he asked softly.

"Maybe." He peered over his shoulder and saw no sign of the kid, just a messy pile of blankets, towels and coats. "Get my handgun out of the dash."

Simon silently reached in and pulled it out. He pulled the clip, checked it, and then loaded the gun again. He held it in his right hand, down beside the door where it would be out of sight to anyone glancing in.

"Now might be a good time to call the cops," Simon suggested after another twenty minutes.

"We're nearly there," Jack glanced in the mirror again. "They aren't gaining. The kid's still got your phone anyway."

"I forgot."

They crossed the city limits fifteen minutes later and both sighed with relief.

"He's been real quiet," Jack said worriedly. "Hey, kiddo, we're nearly there."

There was no reply and Simon spared a small smile for his friend. "He probably fell asleep. Best thing for him."

"I'm heading down to the Community Hospital." Jack glanced over his shoulder into the back of the car, "Come on, kid, you've made it this far."

He eased off the gas as the streets became more built up, but was still well above the speed limits when a siren howled behind them.

"Damnit, not now!" Jack muttered.


9am, Austin (Central Time)

"This session of the eleventh federal court, Austin, is now in session, Judge Merrick presiding."

Buck paced in the witness waiting room. They'd collected him at seven. He'd been trying to get hold of the guys, anyone, on his cell phone, security be damned, but there was no answer from anywhere. He left voice mail after voice mail, desperately hoping someone would call him back before he was called to the stand.

He had barely slept, and even when he had the dreams had left him shaking with cold. He was sure there was more, that Chris hadn't told him everything. Last night he hadn't wanted to know. After a night filled with waking nightmares, interspersed with restless dreams of dank dungeons, and iron bars; rushing water and faceless brutes, he was desperate for any consolation at all.

"Agent Bucklin Wilmington." The clerk of the court called his name and he stared despairingly at his phone before reluctantly turning it off and walking into the court room. For the rest of the day he had to forget.

He stood to be sworn in, and made the mistake of glancing around.

Kemp was seated between two men who had to be lawyers. As their eyes met, Kemp's lips curved into a small malicious smile.

Buck's first instinct was to vault the stand and throttle the man. He eyed the distance, noting the positions of the court bailiffs. He could make it. He could break Kemp's neck before anyone could stop him. Something of this must have shown in his expression and Kemp hunched back into his chair as Buck returned his smile with one infinitely more dangerous.

"Agent Wilmington?"

Buck turned to the prosecution attorney and smiled politely. He would trust Chris to find JD. And he promised himself, so privately that he barely let himself even think it, if they didn't find him, he would give himself the satisfaction of killing the man responsible with his own bare hands.

He had friends who would help him bury the body.


8.00 am, Denver

Sarah McKinnon swore and slammed the phone down. "I can't get hold of Larabee or any of those cowboys," she said with pursed lips. "I imagine they've gone off on some wild goose chase."

"Where could they go, though?" Ferretti asked

McKinnon scowled. "Try the airports. See if any private flights left." She sighed. "I can't put out an APB. I saw the vehicles in the parking garage downstairs, and they haven't actually done anything wrong."

"That we know of," Ravinder Singh pointed out. "I've already got a list of the private flights out of the airports around Denver. I’ll get the airport authorities to update them."

"Thanks, Ravi. It's not essential, though I'd prefer to know where that crazy bastard is. The focus is finding John." Sarah said with a grimace.

"Been nearly twenty four hours, and only that tape. No follow-up."

"I'd guess they've either tried to make direct contact with Wilmington, or they are waiting to see what happens with his testimony today." Ferretti observed. "The timeline doesn't make sense though. They took the kid about half past nine in the morning. According to the tape it was recorded approximately two-thirty in the afternoon. And it was delivered to the ATF building by four, by hand. Where did they take the kid?"

"Somewhere no more than an hour away," Ravi sat back, thinking out loud. "Between fifteen minutes and an hour to tape off the film to a regular vhs, and then call it no more than an hour to get it here. How far out does that take us?"

"Mid afternoon in Denver? Not very far." Sarah eyed the large scale map of the city and surrounding counties. "That makes doesn't sense though. The kidnapping happens at just before nine thirty, right?" The others nodded. "Okay, the kidnappers then wait five hours before they video the child at two-thirty, but deliver the tape within an hour and a half. And they don't make any other communication than that on the tape. Is it just me, or does that seem weird? Like they had something else going on before they videoed the kid."

"Maybe that's deliberate," Ferretti suggested. "Just trying to scare us. The longer the silence, the worse everyone's fears, the more likely we are to comply with their demands."

"Maybe. I can't help thinking Ravi's rights and the gap is significant." McKinnon drummed her fingers on the desk. "Maybe they took JD further away? Maybe the plane idea is viable?"

"We've had a ports and airports notice out since ten yesterday. It shouldn't be possible," Ferretti disagreed.

"But it could," Ravi backed McKinnon's suggestion. "I compiled a list of possible flights, I've got a couple of private ones that fit the time frame. And if they moved him in a large suitcase or trunk, it's possible no one would realise that he was there."

Sarah nodded. "I wish Larabee had let me listen in on his call to Wilmington. I really wanted to get a feel for how Wilmington would react to a threat like that. Is he going to withdraw his testimony?"

"I shouldn't think so for a moment." A new voice broke in and they all looked around sharply, wondering how long he'd been listening.

"Judge Travis!" McKinnon stood hastily and held out her hand. "Thank you for coming by, we've been trying to get hold of Team Seven, but--"

"I haven't been able to get hold of them either. However, to answer your first question, Agent Wilmington took the stand in Austin about two hours ago, and has completed his testimony against Kemp on the pedophile and slave trading charges. The prosecution sat down half an hour ago, and the defense is making very little head way against his testimony."

"How do you--" Ferretti stopped himself at an irritated look from McKinnon. "Sorry sir."

She shook her head. "I guess that answers that then. Here's hoping the kidnappers haven't heard yet."

"What do you have?"

McKinnon sighed and rubbed a hand over tired eyes. "Not a huge amount more than we had yesterday. We've narrowed the area that they are keeping John down to a one hour radius to the ATF building. *If* the time stamp on their camcorder wasn't tampered with in some way of course."

"How was it delivered?"

"Courier company hand delivery. False details on the company that placed the courier request. We couldn't backtrack it further, and it was dropped off at the courier office."

"It gives us a window of no more than an hour, but that barely gets us out of Denver."

"It doesn't make any sense," Ravi repeated, and shrugged at Sarah's scowl, "Well, it doesn't. Road blocks went up in minutes. Why would they stay that close?"

"Unless--" Ferretti paused. "I'd have to check with computer services, they've got the tape right now, but I can call them."

"What? Unless what?"

Craig dialed the a/v labs. "Unless," he paused again. "Hi, it's Agent Craig Ferretti with the Dunne kidnapping case. Yeah, the tape." He paused for a while and a grin spread slowly over his face. "That was exactly what I needed to know. Are you sure?" A longer pause. "No, no, I see. Okay. And how long would that take?"

He sighed and scrubbed at his face. "Damn. No, no, thanks, it's really helpful." He gave a half hearted chuckle at something the person on the other end of the line said and added, "Okay, not so much useful as blown our first theory out of the water, but that's good, it's made our second string look pretty solid. Yeah, thanks. Could you send up the results once you've got them? Thanks. Bye." He hung up and looked up at McKinnon.

"Ravi was right. The timeline's off. And it could be off by that full four hours they've got in the morning."

"How?" snapped Travis.

Ferretti looked at him. "The video has distinct signs of pixilation in close-up."

"And that means--"

"That means it was probably converted to digital format at some point before it got put on the tape. That means it could be emailed or downloaded, then rendered to tape locally. Whoever did it probably only needed about half an hour from downloading the four minute clip to producing a finished tape and handing it over. Which splits the possible locale wide open."

"Fuck! Sorry, sir," McKinnon apologized to the judge. "We'd been assuming they were tied by physical distance. Four hours-- they could be anywhere."

Singh nodded. "I still think we need to check out that flight from Denver International."

"I don't think it's going to help, Ravi. They pre-booked the flight plan two days in advance. Are kidnappers going to be that careless?"

Ravi sighed. "I know. I've just got a feeling..."

"What feeling, son," Travis eyed him shrewdly.

Ravi turned to him gratefully.

"Lisa Hennessy lives in Aspen, and normally flies in and out of Colorado Springs. Her Cessna Citation flew out of Denver International yesterday morning at eleven am, with three passengers."

"And Lisa Hennessy is?" Travis asked intently.

"Richard Kemp's sister, but sir, I've got to protest, tarring Mrs. Hennessy with kidnapping because she chooses to take her regular flight to her company headquarters from here in Denver instead of Colorado Springs doesn't make sense." Sarah McKinnon's face was growing red, but she stuck to her guns. "I think insisting that she has something to do with it clouds the issue."

"Does it fit the timelines?"

Sarah frowned, "Nine thirty: kidnapping. Eleven, flight out of Denver."

Ravi carried on at her expectant look, "Three hour flight to," he checked his notes, "Jamestown, North Dakota, landing a little before two pm."

"They then tape JD at a warehouse, possibly this HQ you mentioned? At two thirty or thereabouts." Travis asked, his face intent.

"The tape is time-stamped fourteen twenty three through fourteen twenty seven." Ferretti clarified.

Ravi added, "Her company HQ is Hennessy Paper Mills, based about twenty miles north of Jamestown North Dakota. They've diversified into other stationery type products, but they started as a paper mill. She married the heir, Jacob Hennessy twenty five years ago, and according to the public records, mostly runs it herself since he died in 1997."

"Is she really likely to be kidnapping small boys?" McKinnon said wearily. "I know the time scale fits, but it doesn't make sense."

"Maybe the family's tight," Ravi said.

"Or maybe there's some other connection between Hennessy and Kemp than just sisterly affection," Travis suggested dryly.

"It's a long jump, " McKinnon protested. "And it's going to look like we're trying to carry out some kind of vendetta for Chris Larabee if we keep gunning for Kemp's family."

"The evidence points that way, Agent McKinnon," Ravi said formally. "You're flying in the face of the only clues we have to avoid getting tarred with Larabee's brush."

Sarah scowled. "I don't want us making mistakes that are going to cost that child his life. North Dakota is a long way to go if we're wrong and he's right here."

"You're federal agents, Ms. McKinnon, Mr. Singh. Mr. Ferretti. That means you are here for exactly these times. I suggest you stop worrying about what it looks like, and start acting on the evidence before you," Travis said, not unkindly.

Ravi reddened, and McKinnon threw him an unpleasant look.

"Yes sir," she said finally. "Ravi, what have you got on the Hennessy company?"

Singh pulled a folder out of the pile in front of him. "Shall I notify the Jamestown police department?"

McKinnon nodded. "Go on. And the local FBI office. It's probably Bismarck or Fargo if they don't have one there. I'll work my way through this stuff. Ferretti, get that report from the lab."

Travis frowned faintly, as the trio buried themselves in activity, and wondered what exactly his team were up to.


8.00 am North Dakota

Jack frowned, mentally calculating the distance to the hospital and the hassle if he didn't stop. He shrugged and slowed to a complete stop. Even if the other car caught up, he'd have a cop standing right there. "Put the gun away, Simon. Don't want any mistakes."

The patrol officer bent down and smiled at them. "Could you step out of the car please, sirs?"

Jack wound his window down and read off the woman's name. "Officer Caverty, my friend and I were fishing and found a small boy in the river. We are trying to get him to the hospital as quickly as possible."

Caverty looked into the car skeptically, "I'm sorry, sir, I don't see any--"

"He's under the blankets, we were trying to keep him hidden," Simon blurted out before Jack could stop him. Jack rolled his eyes.

"Way to make the nice police officer believe us, Wedden," he muttered. He drew a deep breath. "The kid had a pretty extraordinary story, and he wasn't in good shape, which kind of backed the whole thing up, but we think there are some people following us, so we sure would appreciate an escort to the hospital. If you want to take us in or something after that, then, well, that's your prerogative, but--" he reached back and tugged on the blankets. The boy's shoulder appeared first, and then a scruffy black head.

"Well, there's a kid in there," the police woman finally said doubtfully, "but he really ought to be properly restrained."

"That wasn't exactly our first priority." Jack took another calming breath. "Can we get moving? He needs medical attention as soon as possible."

Caverty frowned, and then nodded. "If you'll follow me, we'll get you there asap."

She trotted back to her car and after a brief conversation with her partner, the vehicle pulled out around them and Jack followed.

Five minutes later they were at the hospital's emergency entrance. Jack parked the car, and quickly opened the rear door and lifted the boy, carefully keeping a blanket snugly around him.

"Kiddo? We're at the hospital. We're gonna get that leg of yours fixed, and sort out the rest of it, okay?" He shook him very lightly as he jogged towards the entrance. The boy's face was flushed and he felt a tremor of panic. "Come on, wake up, son. Don’t do this," the doors swung open automatically in front of him and he was almost running, trailed by two police officers and Simon as he arrived at the counter.

"Boy's unconscious, I think he's got a broken leg, something's wrong with his belly, and he's got what look like infected cuts on his feet." He gabbled out to the receptionist who stood and peered into the blanket, one hand going to her mouth as she saw the boy's bruised face. Indignant rage filled her face, and he swiftly added, "I and my friend pulled him out of the river about three quarters of an hour ago."

"This way," she turned on her heel and swiped an electronic key to open the door into the treatment area. "Where did you find him?"

"The James River, north of here about forty miles." Jack hurried along after her, watching the boy carefully, trying to ensure he didn't jar him too much.

"In here, I'll get a doctor. If you could just lay him down there and he'll be with you in a moment."

Jack gently laid the boy on the gurney, and arranged the blanket over him. He brushed the soft bangs with his hand and shook his head. "I can't believe anyone would hurt a little kid like this."

"Sir, can you tell me what happened?" Officer Caverty was standing next to him, watching as he petted the child's hair.

"Now that's a question and a half, officer. Simon, Simon Wedden and I, I'm Jack Gilles, we went up fishing on the river. We got there a little before dawn and--"

"Are you the child's father?" A white coated man hurried into the cubicle and interrupted his recitation.

"No, I found him while we were fishing. Pulled him out of the river," he repeated patiently.

"Was he conscious? Did he inhale any water? Did you have to resuscitate at all?"

"Yes, probably, no. He was trying to swim when I pulled him out. He was wide awake and completely aware until about, I don't know, half an hour ago?" He glanced at Simon who nodded.

"Yeah. I think the last we heard of him was after he couldn't get through to his 'Da'."

"Okay," the doctor carefully unwrapped the blanket from the child's slight form and hissed. "Well, I can tell you right now, that leg is broken." He touched the soft sweater and added, "I'll just need to call a nurse." He stuck his head out of the room and called a name. A moment or two later a woman hurried in.

"This is our senior nurse Elizabeth Smith. Oh, I'm Doctor Lundquist," he added belatedly.

"Simon Wedden, Jack Gilles, Officer Caverty, I'm afraid I don't know your partner's name," Jack smiled as he gave everyone's names.

"Officer Brown."

"And we don't know the boy's name," he smiled faintly, "he was quite adamant that he was not allowed to give his name out to strangers." The adults smiled.

"Liz, can you lift him while I get the sweater off him? Gently, I don't know what other injuries he's got under there."

"It's not pretty," Jack said quietly. "We stripped him off to dry him, and --" he hissed through his teeth. "People who can do that to a littl'un."

"Sir, can you come with me while the doctor looks him over?" Caverty suggested politely but firmly.

Jack looked worriedly at the child. "What if he wakes up with more strangers around? Look, if he calls for me, come and get me?"

"Sure," the nurse smiled at him.

"Sir?" Caverty insisted.

"I'm coming, I'm coming. Don't be so all fired impatient," he muttered, and came to a standstill just outside the room.

"We can do this just here, if you want?" She gestured to chairs along the wall.

Jack nodded. "Thanks."

"No problem. My partner's going to take Mr. Wedden down the corridor a little ways."

"Make sure our stories tally?" he nodded. "Fair enough."

"I'm going to record this sir, make sure there aren't any misunderstandings later. Please state your name for the record, and then describe the incident in your own words. Jane Caverty, police officer, Jamestown PD present."

"Not a problem. Okay. Um. I'm Jack Gilles, I live in Jamestown, I'm a lawyer, used to be in the army and moved back here after my tour was up ten years ago. Me and my friend Simon, Simon Wedden, we usually go up to the river fishing this time of year. Leave real early, and spend the day there. That's why we were up there today, we were fishing, when I saw something in the river. It was probably about six, maybe six thirty. I think Simon realised it was a kid before I did, but we both jumped in. I got a hand in his collar and pulled him out.

"He'd been beaten up pretty badly, whether that was by one of the 'bad guys' he told us about or when he came down the river, I don't know. He was wide awake when we pulled him out, full of beans. Tried to bite me to get away. Kid's got guts. Told us off when we said he shouldn't have been in the river, said that every man jack of his acquaintance would have told him ta jump in," his voice lightened and the accent slid in unconscious imitation of the child's voice, and Caverty smiled involuntarily. "Would *not* tell us his name. Um, oh, he said his father's name was Buck Wilmington, and that he, the boy, had been kidnapped to stop his father from testifying."

Caverty looked up from her notepad.

"Yeah. That was kind of what we thought." He tipped his head back thoughtfully. "What else. He said he's got an Uncle Ezra, and an Uncle Joseph. There was a Vin and a Chris in there, but I don't think they were uncles. Brothers maybe? Calls Wilmington Da. Says he's six, though he looked about four, tops. Says he's just gone up a grade and he's now in the same class as 'Vin'. Um. He knew his father's phone number and a couple of others. Tried ringing them on Simon's cell phone but got no replies. They should be in the recent calls on his phone."

"So can you tell me why you were speeding?"

"You haven't seen the handprints and boot marks on that kid, or you wouldn't be asking," he said grimly. "We saw some people coming down the river in a boat. They appeared agitated and to be brandishing what might be guns. We left in a hurry. I later saw a car appear to be following us. Possibly I was being paranoid, but the kid had stopped talking, and believe me that's more unlikely than it sounds, and I was worried about him, and I wasn't sure if the car was going to turn out to be those clowns with the guns from the river."

"That's fine, Mr. Gilles," she closed her notepad and switched off the tape recorder. "I'm going to tell you now, the kid's name is almost certainly John Daniel Dunne, known as JD. He went missing yesterday morning from his minder's home."

"That makes sense, yeah, he asked where the mountains were; didn't seem to know he'd left Colorado. Said he lived in Four Corners, near Denver," Jack blurted.

Caverty nodded. "That makes it all the more likely. We had a notice through from the FBI yesterday. Didn't pay a lot of attention -- we see a hell of a lot of this kind of thing, and you start to get used to it, kinda," she shrugged sadly, and then brightened. "Anyway, when you said you had a boy in the car, and I saw the black hair it rang a bell. I'm going to have to confirm this, but I'm hoping we're going to be able to match him with the notice yesterday."

Jack felt an unfamiliar grin spread across his face, "Well," he said, amazed. "Well, if that works out, that's." He shook his head in pleased disbelief, "That's good."

"Yes, sir," Caverty was beaming back at him, "yes, that really is. Thank you." And she held out her hand for him to shake.