Ninety-Six Hours of Darkness

by Angie

Author's Note: This is taken from a story I read in high school. I think the book was called ‘86 Hours til Dawn’ but I can’t find it anywhere so I don’t know who wrote it. Thanks to Crystal for checking my spelling and pointing out where I leapt instead of leaving a clean trail for you to follow.

Size: Approx 120K

“One more round over here, Inez!” Vin shouted over the din to the pretty barmaid. The whole team was celebrating Buck’s birthday at Watson’s. After spending the entire day thinking that his friends had forgotten, Buck hadn’t stopped smiling all evening.

“Excuse me, ladies, I gotta go get rid of some of this beer. I’ll be right back.” Buck carefully extricated himself from the tangle of arms and legs that were sprawled across him in the corner booth. Melanie and Leanne pouted as he wiggled out of their embrace.

“Fear not, darlin’s, I’ll be back before you even know I’ve gone!” Buck called out as he made his way thru the crowd. Sissy, from accounting, draped her arms around him before he reached the door of the private party room.

“You can’t leave! I haven’t given you my present yet!” She pulled herself up using his shoulders and blew in his ear. Any other time, he would have followed her anywhere but he really needed to go to the men’s room.

“Excuse me, Sissy, darlin’. I really do need to visit the little cowboy’s room. I promise I won’t leave until you get a chance to finish giving me your present.” He smiled broadly as he eased her arms from around his neck and tried to get away. He no sooner turned around than another pair of hands latched onto his bicep.

“Where do you think you’re going, big boy?” Lisa, from Team 2, purred into his ear. “I only just got here. You can’t be leaving already, it’s early.”

By now, Buck’s need was urgent as he pried her hands from his arm. “I’ll be right back!” He made a mad dash for the door, bumping into Inez as she was coming in with a tray of beers. The tray crashed to the floor, beer and broken glass going in all directions. Buck caught the barmaid as her feet slipped in the wet mess. “I’m so sorry, Inez, darlin’ but I’ll be right back!”

From the far side of the room, Vin was having himself a good laugh. He had known that Buck was headed for the restroom and had put the ladies up to slowing him down. As his eyes scanned the crowd, a pair of hazel eyes locked on him.

“Aw, hell!” He knew from the look in Chris’s eyes that he was in trouble. He wormed his way thru the crowd to Larabee’s side. “I was just havin’ a little harmless fun!”

“You go help Inez clean up the mess your ‘harmless fun’ caused.”

The drinks were cleaned up and Vin made his way over to the corner where Nathan and Josiah were sitting just as several members of the Denver Police arrived at the end of their shift. The room was now wall-to-wall partygoers and it was threatening to spill out into the main part of the bar.

Buck returned from the restroom and squeezed back into the room. Immediately, he was set upon by Bonny and Lucy from the secretarial pool. After cuddling in the corner by the jukebox, he managed to slip away and made his way back to his corner booth. He stood at the edge of the table scowling at Vin as he sat between Melanie and Leanne.

“What do you think you’re doing, Vin?” Buck growled as he leaned over the back of the booth. The face that turned up to his was the picture of innocence.

“I saw these two lovely ladies just sitting here all by themselves and wanted to keep them company. You weren’t anywhere to be found. Some party host you are.”

“I’m not the host, Vin, I’m the guest of honor! And you might try showing a little honor by getting your scrawny ass out of my booth!”

Reluctantly, and with a lot of complaining, Vin left the booth and weaved his way thru the crowd again. He bumped into someone and turned quickly to catch the person before they fell. Pulling the smaller form in closer, he realized that he had JD in his arms. The kid smiled at him mischievously.

“Hey Vin, I like you and all but you’re really not my type!”

Amidst the laughter around him Vin replied, “Next time I’ll let your butt fall!”

Finding his way to another corner of the room a voice spoke softly from behind him.

“Something you want to tell us, Vin?”

The sharpshooter turned to find one of the FBI agents grinning like an idiot. Vin jabbed the man with his elbow.

“Just wait until you need my back-up one of these days, Marty.”

Another person jostled the Texan and he turned to complain only to find Ezra fumbling with his drink as he tried to avoid spilling it on his good shoes.

“My compliments, Mr. Tanner. The party seems to be a roaring success. I have yet to see Mr. Wilmington look happier.” A warm blush crept up Vin’s face at the compliment.

The party continued well into the night until people began to filter out. It was nearly three in the morning when Inez flashed the lights and unplugged the jukebox. Several loud groans announced displeasure with the end of the party. Buck was in the middle of the floor dancing with several girls at one time.

“Aw, come on! Inez, darlin’ just one more dance?”

“I’m sorry, Buck, I have to close and clean this place up for tomorrow! You’ve been here all evening, go home and get some sleep!”

A firm hand closed on his shoulder and a deep voice spoke from behind him.

“Time to go! Last call was over an hour ago, Buck. Let’s get you home and into bed.”

Staggering slightly on his feet, Wilmington turned and smiled at Josiah. “Women have been trying to get me into bed all night, what makes you think you’ll succeed where they failed?”

Instead of answering, Josiah simply scooped Buck into a fireman’s carry and headed out the door. Peels of laughter followed the pair out to the suburban. After depositing the protesting party boy into the seat and securing the seatbelt, Sanchez allowed the ladies to bid him goodbye before he delivered him to his apartment.

Since JD had left the party earlier, the cesspit was dark and quiet when they arrived. Buck had relaxed during the quiet ride and was now nearly passed out on his feet. Josiah jockeyed him into the apartment and up the stairs to his bedroom with difficulty. Letting the nearly unconscious man down gently on the bed, Josiah removed his boots and tossed a comforter over him before turning out the lights and letting himself out of the apartment.

The noise from the backhoe woke Chris early the next morning. He had hired some guys to run a new water line to the barn before winter. The beginnings of a nasty hangover were just beginning behind his eyes and he rolled out of bed and headed for the shower. A half hour later, his head somewhat more clear, he stood on the back deck and looked out over the lake behind the house. He noticed that the trench for the new water line had not ended up where they told him it would be and that they were using a skid-steer to move the pile of used hay that had been raked out of the stalls.

“This isn’t where the water line was supposed to be. Is something wrong?”

The foreman nodded. “We ran into some rock on the other side and had to change the trench. I hope that’s okay. There won’t be any extra charge. It was just easier for us to do it this way. We’ll have that hay back where you had it by the time we’re done.”

“I’m not too worried about the haystack. I was going to have to move it anyway. The neighbor uses it on his fields in the winter and turns it under in the spring.”

“Sorry if we woke you, Mr. Larabee. We wanted to be sure that we got everything done in one day like we promised.”

Leaving the men to their work, Chris headed back up to the house. The rest of the team was due around noon for Buck’s Birthday Bash II. Vin planned a bar-be-que and trail ride for them as the team had pitched in on a new saddle for Buck’s horse.

It was just after ten in the morning when the phone rang.

“Chris, did you take Buck home with you last night?” JD sounded a little worried.

“No, Josiah drew the short pretzel. I left after he poured Buck into the suburban. Have you tried him yet?”

“No, I’ll call him right now. Thanks, Chris. I’ll see you in a couple of hours.”

+ + + + + + +

It was only an hour after Josiah left the cesspit that the attack came. Strong hands gripped him and a rag was shoved into his mouth as his arms were twisted behind him and handcuffed. A strip of cloth was tied around his head to hold the rag in place as his feet were tied together. He blinked hard as the light was turned on beside the bed.

“I hope you had a good time this evening, Agent Wilmington, it may be your last.” A needle bit into his arm and everything went dark.

When he opened his eyes next, he was in the dark. His hands were no longer bound and the gag had been removed. He moved his hands and discovered that he was in some kind of box. Extending his hands out to his sides, he worked out the dimensions of the space. He had enough room to turn on his side but not to sit up. His feet rested against the end of the box and he could just touch the other end when he put his hands up over his head. His hands touched several objects in the corner by his head.

As he lay fingering the objects he realized that he was chilled. He had on only his boxers and tee shirt. One of the things in the corner turned out to be a flashlight and he turned it on as he inspected the enclosure. There were several plastic bottles of water and some apples lined up along the wall. Farther down was an empty milk jug and a bag of beef jerky. Taped to the surface just above his face was a note.

Buck, Hope you like your little cage. Use your supplies sparingly as they will have to last you a while. Don’t bother yelling since no one will hear you.

A deep shiver passed thru him as he re-read the note. On impulse, he pushed against the top of the box. His muscles quivered with the strain before he stopped. He tried kicking at the bottom of the box with no success. Finally, in desperation, he began to yell.

+ + + + + + +

The phone rang as Josiah was stepping out of the shower. He wrapped a towel around his waist and ran into the bedroom to pick up the call.

“Josiah, did you take Buck home with you last night?”

“No, JD, I left him in his bed around 3:30 this morning. Why do you ask?”

“He’s not here. I went up to wake him and he’s gone.”

A shaft of cold fear passed thru the older man as he began to towel off. “I’ll be there in a few minutes! Don’t touch anything! Call the others and get them over there.”

It took only an hour for the team to gather at the apartment. They tried Buck’s cell phone and pager with no response. Vin checked the bedroom and Chris had the front door dusted for prints. Nathan had gone by the parking garage to make sure that the dodge was still in its parking space.

“Now I don’t want everyone to panic. He may have gone for a jog to clear his head. JD, you and Ezra get out and hit all the places you two like to run. Take your time and be thorough in your search. Vin, you and Josiah get out and check the rest of the neighborhood. Nathan and I are going to do a canvas of the building and see if anybody noticed anything last night.

After an hour of searching and coming up empty, the team was more than concerned. They had called everyone they could think of and asked them to be on the lookout. Reluctantly, Chris finally called Judge Travis.

“We don’t know where Buck is, Judge. Josiah brought him home last night and he’s missing this morning. We’ve looked everywhere.”

“I’ll put out an APB and get the DPD looking. You should probably stay where you are in case there’s a ransom demand or a taunting call.” Travis hung up the phone.

+ + + + + + +

Buck opened one of the bottles of water and sipped it. His head was pounding and he felt sick to his stomach. He wished for his watch so he had some idea of the passage of time. He drifted off to sleep and began to dream.

He opened his eyes and rolled over next to a buxom redhead. Her hands began to undo the buttons of his underwear, starting at his neck. ‘What am I wearing?’ Her sultry laugh was muffled against his chest as she pushed the material out of the way.

“We have time for a quickie before you go on patrol, Buck. Help me out here.”

Her hands were fondling him in a decidedly knowledgeable way as he realized that he didn’t recognize her. He caught her hands and pulled them away from his waist.

“Easy darlin’ I’d like to get to know you a little better before we go doing that.”

“Oh, Buck, you tease. If you don’t want to just say so. I’ve got to get back down to the saloon anyway. Will I see you again tonight?”

He was only barely listening to her as she pulled on her clothes. She was dressing in an old-fashioned dress with a corset that pushed her breasts up into the bodice so that she was nearly spilling out of the neckline. She caressed his cheek and blew him a kiss before she left the room. Rolling out of the bed quickly, he looked down at the garment he had on. ‘Long johns?’ He moved to the window and looked out.

+ + + + + + +

The phone call came in exactly six hours after the lid on the box had been sealed.


“He will spend 96 hours in darkness. One for each day she suffered because of him.”

The line went dead in his hand. Chris looked at Vin knowing there was no way he had gotten a trace from the call. JD looked up from the computer screen and shook his head, he had been using a new, top secret, tracing program and had not been able to make a capture on the call.

“Too short. If you can keep him talking maybe I can get the trace.”

“Okay, start going thru Buck’s cases. We’re looking for something involving a woman and 96 days of suffering. JD, you and Josiah hit the files. I’m going to call the FBI agent in charge and tell him that we got the taunt.”

Nathan went out and brought back take out food for all of them. Ezra was out tagging his informants looking for information. Vin went back over the apartment looking for clues. None of the neighbors had noticed anything unusual.

+ + + + + + +

Rolling over in his sleep, Buck tried to draw up his knees for warmth. He was shaking and the nausea was getting worse. He felt his stomach begin to lurch and he rolled over and moved as far toward the other side of the box as he could. As the last of the dry heaves eased, he rolled over and moved back to where he was before. Taking another sip of the water, he realized that the flashlight batteries wouldn’t last if he left it on continuously. He turned off the light and lay in the dark. After a couple of minutes he began to have trouble breathing. He turned the light back on and his breathing eased.

“This is going to be bad, Bucklin.”

He chuckled about talking to himself. He wasn’t afraid of the dark. In his mind, he reviewed the strange dream and allowed his eyes to close again.

He was instantly transported back into the dream. He was sitting at a table in an old west saloon. Chris, Vin and Ezra sat at the table with him. In his hand was a mug of beer. He looked around the dim, cavernous room. The table where he sat was on a raised dais off to the side of a pair of bat-wing doors.

“Buck? Are you in or out?” Ezra’s voice intruded on his thoughts.

“Hmm, oh out. Sorry, I’m just … Excuse me.” He got up and walked away from the table and out the doors. He stood on the boardwalk looking up and down the street. He was in an old west town with horses and wagons and …

“Hey, Buck! Where you headed?”

He shook his head and looked at the kid again. JD was wearing a wool suit and a bowler hat. He had a scruffy bit of growth on his cheeks and a pair of ivory handled colts in holsters on his hips. He was saved from having to answer by the arrival of the stage. JD turned and trotted down the boardwalk to wait for the passengers to get off.

+ + + + + + +

A few hours later, the phone rang again.


“Have you figured it out yet? I hope Buck isn’t afraid of the dark, or claustrophobic. His little cage could become very unpleasant if he is. He still has 87 hours to go.”

The line disconnected again and again JD shook his head.

“Get back on those files! We have got to figure this out!” The team leader’s voice was tight with emotion as he glared around the room for something to take out his frustrations. JD switched back to the files he had been reviewing on the laptop while Josiah used the computer in the other room.

Rolling his eyes, Ezra peeled another bill off of the bundle he had stashed in his pocket. The man seated across from him had said that he had heard something about an agent being kidnapped but was reluctant to share his information. After considering the tidy sum of money on the table, his hand snaked out only to be intercepted by the undercover agent.

“Look man, I’ll tell you what I know. They were building this box. They wanted these special sound batts. They were making it soundproof. This guy I know helped them steal the stuff they needed. He said they made this box big enough to hold a really big dude. He overheard the man say that he was gonna fix some Fed that had messed with him.”

“Can you get your friend to talk to me?”

“No way man! If he found out that I was talking to you he’d blow my brains out.”

“I can make it very much worth your while.” He pulled out the roll of cash and waived it before the informant’s eyes, which widened immediately.

“Let me see what I can do.”

Josiah printed the file and handed it to Chris. He and JD had been speed-reading the files all afternoon. Dunne had set up a search parameter to try to eliminate all except the most promising cases. So far they had found three that might fit. He was just turning back to the screen when the phone rang again.


“You still haven’t figured it out yet have you? He has 82 more hours.”

“Until what? What happens in 82 hours?”

“Then he dies.” The phone line went dead.

“Damn! Damn! DAMN IT ALL TO HELL!” Chris screamed as he slammed his fist into the wall repeatedly.

JD ducked his head as each blow knocked drywall loose from the wall. Josiah placed a calming hand on the young agent as he sighed out loud. He then reached out for the team leader only to meet with empty air. Vin leapt from the end of the couch and followed him.

“Take care, Brother Vin. He is in quite a fit of pique.”

“I got it. He won’t hurt me.”

+ + + + + + +

Buck could not remember ever being so cold. He was curled up as tightly as possible in the confined space. He had turned off the flashlight and was staring into the darkness. He had eaten a few bites of the beef jerky and one of the apples. He used the empty milk jug to empty his bladder.

As he lay in the darkness he thought on the dreams. It was so real! In the dream he was some kind of a lawman in an old west town. He had seen Chris, Vin, Ezra and even JD in the dream and they were all different and yet the same.

“You’re losing your mind in here, stud. First talking to yourself and now these crazy dreams. If I don’t get out of here soon I may end up in the cracker jack factory.”

In an attempt to warm himself he began to bend and straighten his legs to get his blood moving. He rolled onto his stomach and did a few push-ups. Unfortunately, as soon as he stopped, he was worse than before he’d started.

As he dropped off to sleep the dream returned. He was riding, hard and fast, following an old style stagecoach. A man climbed up on top of the stage and began to wrestle with the man who was driving. Another group of men were riding toward the stage. Suddenly a body fell from the stage and was struck by the rear wheel. The slight figure on the top of the stage disappeared and the lurching and swaying vehicle slowed. They rode up along side of the coach and JD climbed down.

The dream continued and Buck saw himself returning the kid’s gun belt and scolding him about leaving his guns out in the rain. He felt himself eagerly moving toward the events in the dream, at least it was warm there.

+ + + + + + +

Chris had returned to the apartment. Ezra returned a short time later with the information he had gleaned from the friend of his informant. He had a rough sketch of the box and a list of the stolen materials that had gone into its creation. Staring at the pencil drawing, each man felt a cold stab of fear that their friend was possibly buried somewhere in something like that. JD’s reaction was one of pure exhaustion and emotional grief. He bolted from the room and threw himself onto his bed. Pummeling the pillow with his fists, he kicked at the mattress with his feet for several minutes before Josiah touched his shoulder.

“John Dunne, you must not give up the faith. We will find him! We need your help to do that. You can make the computer give us the information we need. But first you must rest. Get some sleep. I’ll wake you in a couple of hours.”

When the footsteps receded and the door closed he thought he would not be able to sleep but in just a few minutes he dozed off. A firm hand gripped his shoulder and shook him awake two hours later. Chris looked like ten miles of bad road as he sat on the edge of the bed.

“Come on, JD, we’ve only got about 73 hours to find him.”

Allowing himself only a minute to stretch, he got up and headed into the other room. Nathan and Ezra were reviewing files. Half empty cups of cold coffee sat on the coffee tables. Empty containers of Chinese take out sat here and there.

“Where are Josiah and Vin?” JD asked as he picked up the empty cups and carried them to the sink. He started washing them without thinking about it. The roommates had been making an effort to keep the place neat after Casey and several of Buck’s companions had complained about it.

“Vin and Josiah are upstairs sleeping. Chris sent them up after you went to sleep. We’re going to have to make due with catnaps until this is over. Why don’t you make us another pot of coffee while you’re at it.”

“Any luck?”

“We’re still pulling information from the files. We just keep hoping that he’ll give us a hint or a clue or something.”

While the coffee was brewing, the phone rang again.


“You only have 75 hours left. You must be getting tired by now. Oh and don’t bother trying to trace this, I’m bouncing off of a couple of satellites and using a disposable phone. I’ll give you this much. Because of Wilmington’s carelessness, my wife lay in a coma for 96 days before she died.”

Chris stood staring at the receiver in his hand for several moments before JD grabbed him by the arm. He turned on the boy and his eyes widened.

“I know who took him.” The words came out in a hushed whisper.

“Well, don’t keep us in the dark, Mr. Larabee. Please do tell us what he said.” Intense green eyes bored into him as the undercover agent awoke and came to his feet.

“It’s Graham O’Neill. It was an accidental shooting. There was a hostage situation that went horribly, awfully wrong. Buck was devastated. He nearly quit the force altogether. A bank robber was holding the woman; he was using her as a human shield. The exec gave him a go to take the shot and he did. The man moved at the last second and Mrs. O’Neill took the bullet. She suffered a massive stroke from the blood loss and lay in a coma for three months.”

“He blames Buck for his wife’s death. How does this help us to find him?”

“Go wake up Josiah. I need a profiler’s eye view on this one. JD, pull up everything you can on Graham O’Neill. Last I heard he was living up in Montana.”

“You got it!” JD’s fingers flew across the keyboard as he accessed the ATF database. He began printing everything the computer gave him on the man who had taken his friend and roommate.

A couple of minutes later the whole team was busy reading over the single copy of the information that JD had printed. O’Neill had taken the death of his wife very hard and had been very vocal about the man he held responsible. He had sent letter after letter to the captain of the squad requesting Buck’s head on a platter. He had filed suit against the city, not seeking financial restitution but on a personal vendetta to get Wilmington fired.

“First impression, Josiah.” Chris’s voice was hard and tight.

“This is personal to him. He wants Buck to suffer the way his wife suffered. The confinement, the darkness and the deprivation are all aspects of his perception of her suffering. Tormenting us is also giving him power. We are supposed to hurt and worry and fear the way he did for his wife.”

“So how does this help us?”

“I don’t know, Chris. It’ll take time to break down the different aspects of his personality and come up with a more precise profile.”

“We don’t have a lot of time! What happens at the end of the 96 hours? He just goes back to this box and kills Buck? Or he has it rigged in some way so that he’ll die of asphyxiation or something?”

“There was no indication of explosives or any other fatal technology in the building of the box according to my informant.” Ezra studied the diagram again. “There wasn’t anything on the list of stolen goods either.”

+ + + + + + +

The darkness and the silence were working their tortures on Buck. In a fit of temper, he began to kick and punch at the walls of the box, bloodying his hands and breaking a couple of his toes in the process. In the dark he couldn’t see that his knuckles continued to bleed for much longer than they normally would have from such small injuries.

Exhaustion overtook him and he dropped right off to sleep. In the dream, he was watching a lovely woman standing next to a piano singing. He found himself incredibly drawn to her even though she hadn’t been his first choice. ‘Hilda’ her name popped into his mind. He saw a gunfight and saw the woman fall. He heard the words come out of his mouth.

“Just know that where ever you’re going, you’re taking a little piece of me along.”

It hurt, even in the dream, to see the woman die. She had touched him deeply. The images blurred as he was ripped from sleep by a horrible pain stabbing thru his head and chest. He thrashed in the confines of the box screaming in pain.

+ + + + + + +

The FBI agent in charge of the kidnapping case knocked on the door around eight in the morning. JD rushed to open the door hoping to keep from waking Chris as they had only just gotten him to go and lie down. The man came in and was quickly ushered into the kitchen so that they could talk.

“I understand that you have more information than you had yesterday about the person or persons who may be holding Agent Wilmington. Would any of you care to tell me what you have learned?”

“The man is named Graham O’Neill. His wife died at the hands of Agent Wilmington several years ago. The man has apparently been planning his revenge for some time. We have a rough sketch of the box they are holding him in but no idea where it might be located.” Ezra explained.

“Where did you get the sketch?”

“From the friend of an informant who helped with the acquisition of materials and the information from a friend of his regarding the construction.”

“So you’re working from second and third hand information?” The FBI agent raised his eyebrows as if to challenge the southerner’s information.

“I trust my informants.”

“You trust them with the life of your teammate?”

“Unless you have something more to offer I will have to pursue the lead that I have.”

After the FBI agent left, the team returned to the other room to comb thru the information again. Josiah and Chris slept for only a couple of hours before they returned to the living room.

The phone rang again around noon.


“You have 65 hours. Have you figured it out yet?”

“Graham O’Neill. Your wife died after a hostage situation.”

“Wilmington killed her!”

“It was an accident! What you’re doing is outright murder! Buck was found not to be at fault in her shooting. He felt incredibly guilty about what happened but he did not mean for her to be injured.”

“It doesn’t change the fact that she died. That she lay like the dead for 96 days in a hospital bed, unable to speak or feed herself. He has to pay for what he did!”

“He has paid! Everyday, every time he straps on his weapon, he remembers what he did and he pays! Killing him will not bring your wife back!”

The line was dead in his hand and he slammed the phone down. In his rage, he struck the wall again. Nathan moved to prevent him from doing it again. He pulled the team leader into the kitchen to wash the split knuckles.

Ezra left the apartment with a determined look on his face and, after a nod from Nathan, Josiah went after him. He caught up with the southerner as he was unlocking the Jag.

“Where are you going, son?”

Leaning against the car, he pinched the bridge of his nose and screwed his eyes tightly shut. After taking several deep breaths, he tried to explain.

“I have to do something! I simply cannot sit there and wait! There has to be someone who can tell us where the box is buried! I found a man who knows a man, if I keep following the chain I will find Mr. Wilmington!”

“He means a lot to you, doesn’t he? I think you’re just realizing now how much.”

“He means a lot to the team. All of you are important to me.”

“Can I ride along?”

The dark headed man nodded and turned to open the door.

Graham O’Neill peered thru the binoculars into the window of Buck and JD’s apartment. He was rather enjoying watching Larabee punch the wall. The bloody spatters made him giggle with glee. He had also watched the owner of the Jaguar and the older agent leaving the apartment. He watched them on the parking lot and he could tell that they were hurting. He picked up the bottles of medicine that he had mixed into the water bottles. One was a heparin derivative, which would thin the blood making him more susceptible to bleeding. The other was a mild hallucinogenic, which would slowly drive him mad.

He remembered the long hours he had spent at Laura’s bedside. The bullet wound had not been particularly severe but the length of time it took to get her to medical care had done the deed. The stroke left her paralyzed over a significant portion of her body. The doctor said that there was still brain activity so she was still in there unable to communicate.

There were the never-ending days of sitting at her side watching her waste away. There was the daily therapy to keep her muscles flexible even though she would never use them again. There was the constant parade of people offering condolences and then the lawyers and then the scam artists who wanted to steal his money. He would make Buck Wilmington and his friends pay for what had happened!

Nathan went out to get lunch for them. He had to get out of the apartment. He could not imagine what Larabee must have been like when he lost his wife and son but if Buck did not survive, he was sure that they would all find out first hand. As the hours passed, the team leader descended deeper into a black rage. He would sit staring at the files for a while and then explode and punish the wall with his fist. Only Vin dared to get close to him when he was in such a mood.

+ + + + + + +

He turned on the flashlight when he awakened. He ate another piece of fruit and ate a small piece of the beef jerky. He noticed the bloody prints where he had battered the box with his fists. He pulled the water bottles close and examined them carefully. With his thumbnail he prodded the plastic rings under the caps. He noticed that the bottles had been opened, the plastic rings turned freely under his nail. He now suspected that the water was drugged. He would just have to forgo the water and make due with the fruit. Turning off the light, he huddled up as closely as he could and shook with cold.

The dream was different now. He could feel the intensity of it even as he tried to tell himself he was dreaming. He saw Sarah and Adam, not at the ranch but at a small house. A corral with horses was close by. He could hear himself laughing as he rode around with his Godson on the saddle in front of him. He watched Chris kiss his wife before mounting his horse. The image shifted and he saw the column of smoke. He heard the cry of anguish and watched as Chris dragged the burned bodies of his family from the burned out cabin.

“No, no! Please, not again! Don’t make him go thru this again.”

The dream shifted and he saw Mary Travis. She was walking with her arm resting on Chris’s arm. They laughed about something and he saw warmth in the hazel eyes. He saw them dancing a waltz together in the saloon. In his sleep, Buck smiled.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra and Josiah returned to the apartment to see if they had gotten any other leads or had heard from O’Neill again. They had met up with several of the southerner’s informants but had not been able to find the man who had the information about the box. Standish had made a rather sizeable reward available to anyone who could bring him the man he sought. He had given out his business card repeatedly.

When they arrived at the apartment, JD was asleep in his bed and Vin was asleep in the recliner. Chris and Nathan were sitting at the table in the kitchen. It was apparent from the haggard look on the team leader’s face that he had not gotten any more sleep. The man looked like the walking dead.

“We figured that he’s been calling about every five hours. I don’t know if that helps.”

Their quiet conversation was shattered by JD’s cry of terror. The four men in the kitchen raced for the bedroom, falling in behind Vin as he rolled from the recliner and headed for the door. They all crowded into the room as the Texan grabbed the younger man and turned him to his back.

“JD! JD, you’re dreaming! Calm down, kid. Calm down.” Vin’s voice dropped in volume as soon as Dunne began to focus.

“I’m okay, Vin. It was a nightmare. The Abernathy case all over again. I’m sorry if I scared all of you.” JD’s large, dark eyes were fixed on Chris.

The Abernathy case had been the time they almost lost Buck. The gregarious ladies man had been called in to help disarm a bomb dropped near the airport. After isolating the detonator, the explosives expert had paused to dry his hands. How he missed the mercury relay he would never know but the explosion knocked him twenty feet and slammed him into the side of the explosives containment unit. JD and the others had been forced to watch from a ‘safe distance’ outside of the blast zone.

Buck had suffered a severe concussion, a broken jaw and a broken arm in the explosion. For days afterward, JD had awakened from nightmares seeing his friend being flung thru the air and sliding down the wall like a raw egg.

“It’s okay, kid. We’re all wound a little too tight right now.” The team leader dragged his hands thru his hair and walked back into the other room.

A nagging thought popped into Josiah’s head. ‘He’s keeping us all here. Sitting here and feeling helpless just as he did at her side.’ He moved into the living room with the others.

“He’s watching us! He’s close enough to be watching us! Maybe from one of the surrounding buildings. He doesn’t just want us to suffer like he did, he wants to watch!”

“So what do we do?” JD asked the obvious question.

“Just what Ezra and I did earlier, we have to get out of here. We can’t give him the satisfaction of seeing us sitting here suffering. We can forward this phone line to the ranch or to Chris’s cell phone.”

“Is that wise? If he gets more upset mightn’t he hurt Buck?” Nathan was concerned.

“No, he doesn’t have Buck close to him. He wouldn’t want to watch him suffer; Buck has to endure the experiences he attributes to his wife. He doesn’t have to see him to know that he’s suffering.”

The five men stared at the profiler for a minute before Chris made up his mind. Pulling his cell phone, he arranged for the calls to the apartment phone to be forwarded. Taking one final look around the apartment, he walked out the door without saying another word. The others rushed to follow him out and jumped into their vehicles. They arrived at the Federal Building a short time later. Larabee headed straight for his office and transferred the calls from his cell phone to the office line.

Unnoticed by the team leader, Vin doubled back and parked his jeep in a secluded spot. He tucked his hair up under a stocking hat and pulled on an old denim jacket that he kept in the back for emergencies. In the glove compartment he had an old pair of sunglasses that he had gotten from Ezra after they were slightly scratched in a fight. Once in ‘disguise’ he hurried to get back to the area around the parking lot of the apartment building so he could keep watch.

JD went directly to the break room and began to make coffee. Nathan and Josiah had their heads together in the far corner of the room as they surveyed the group. Judge Travis showed up only a couple of minutes later.

“Well, do you know anything?” The older man’s voice was broadcasting his tension.

“We think the guy who has Buck was watching us from some place close. He said that he wants Buck to suffer the way his wife did and I figure he wants us to sit around and feel helpless and frustrated the way he felt. Hopefully, by moving to where he can’t watch us, he will feel the need to try to scare us and maybe we can catch him that way,” the profiler explained.

“Where are Chris and Vin?”

“Chris is in his office and I didn’t notice that Vin didn’t come in with us. JD? Have you seen Vin since we got here?”

JD stepped out of the break room and looked around. “No, I didn’t even notice he wasn’t with us. I rode in with Ezra ‘cause he didn’t want me driving.”

Nathan slammed his hand onto the nearest desktop. “Damn! He went back to see if he could spot the guy. Chris will have a fit if he finds out.”

“If I find out what?” The blonde’s head stuck out of his office.

The three agents looked sheepishly at each other. Judge Travis decided to bite the bullet. He stepped toward Larabee’s office door.

“They think that Vin doubled back to try to spot the kidnapper.”

“HE WHAT! I’ll break his neck! Damn fool knows better than to go off hot-dogging by himself! That’s the kind of behavior I expect from Ezra, not from Vin!” Chris stormed past the judge and began to rant and rave as he paced the aisle between the desks. Getting too close to Buck’s desk, some loose papers on the top of a stack caught in his wake floated to the floor.

The undercover agent stepped out of the break room with his coffee cup, hurt showing plainly on his face. Josiah quickly moved to stand at his side.

“You know he doesn’t mean anything by that, he’s just worried and upset.”

“And I have given him ample examples of what kind of trouble going off on one’s own can get a person into. Fear not, Mr. Sanchez, I am not so thin skinned as to let his angry tirade damage my delicate psyche.”

Catching the teasing tone in the southerner’s voice, Josiah smiled before moving back to Nathan and JD. Their leader continued to pace angrily around the large room mumbling to himself before he took his anger out on an unused desk in the corner. The ex-medic winced at the power behind the blow and headed for the first aid kit.