Ninety-Six Hours of Darkness

by Angie

Without the water, Buck didn’t sleep as much. Unfortunately, it gave him an opportunity to think. Lying in the dark box, he slowly replayed the major events in his life. His fondest memories surrounded the six men he worked with. He focused on the birthday party. They really had him convinced that they had forgotten. Ezra was getting ready for an undercover operation and JD had a date with Casey. Nathan insisted that Rain had been working evenings for several days straight and he was going to spend the evening with her. Josiah had made a commitment to the local homeless shelter to start a Bible study and was very convincing as he had stacks of outlines for the class in a folder on his desk. Vin was out of the office all day on a ‘surveillance’ operation supposedly connected to Ezra’s upcoming case. Chris had been in meetings with Judge Travis and other bigwigs in the building most of the day and had only stuck his head in toward the end of the day to wish him a happy birthday and promise to make it up to him over the weekend.

The hook had been when Inez called and told him that there was a problem with the plumbing at Watson’s and asked if he could come and take a look at it. With his feelings being so hurt over his friends forgetting his birthday, he never saw it coming. They had jumped out at him and shouted ‘surprise’ and frightened at least ten years off of his lifespan. He had actually gone for his gun.

Chuckling to himself at the fond memory, he let it wrap around him like a warm blanket as the tears rolled from his eyes. He brought up each face and studied it in his mind’s eye. Each one of them was so much a part of him that it had really hurt to think that they had forgotten his birthday. Now he knew that they would never forget and he vowed that they would never catch him like that again.

+ + + + + + +

Graham figured that maybe they were just going out for supper when they all left. He debated calling and leaving a nasty message on the machine but decided not to at the last minute. Instead, he ordered take out for himself. When an hour passed and they hadn’t returned, he became angry. Picking up the phone, he hit the redial.


A surprised silence came over the phone line for several seconds.

“O’Neill, you there?” The rest of the team gathered around the desk as Chris depressed the ‘speaker’ button on the phone.

“You only have 60 hours left.”

“What do you want us to do? What can we give you to get Buck back?”

“I want my wife back! I want my life back! Can you give me that? Can he? I shouldn’t even wait the whole time! I should just kill him and get it over with!”

Chris’s eyes locked on Josiah’s. The unspoken message was painfully clear. ‘You’d better be right about this.’ The profiler nodded in agreement.

“I can’t give you that.” There was a moment of silence on the line and JD slipped a piece of paper onto the desk. Chris read it quickly. “Tell me about your wife. What kind of person was she?”

“Oh, no. I know what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to get inside of my head. You can’t do it, I won’t let you! My wife was my whole world! Wilmington has to pay!”

The line went dead and everyone in the room slumped slightly. Josiah sank onto the couch and rubbed his forehead. When he opened his eyes, Chris was staring at him.

“Tell me that I didn’t just do the wrong thing?”

“No, you did the right thing. If you can turn him to thinking about what she might have wanted, if she was a loving and forgiving kind of person you might be able to convince him that she wouldn’t have wanted him to do this.”

JD picked up the paper he had handed to Chris.

“She was active in her church and attended several charity functions. She was an organ donor, according to her driver’s license.”

Leaning forward, Josiah looked at the young agent.

“See if you can get in touch with any of her family or her parish priest. If we can get specific examples of things that she had done that showed her willingness to forgive, maybe we can shake him up and get him thinking.”

JD and Ezra left the room and went right to work.

After walking the parking lot of the apartment building, Vin surveyed the buildings that offered any view of the cesspit. He finally decided which building he wanted to check and took the elevator to the top floor. Moving quickly to the roof, he pulled his binoculars and studied the window of Buck and JD’s apartment.

Pulling his cell phone, he called his office. Josiah answered and Vin gave him a list of license plates to check. He got the update on the last phone call from O’Neill and heard that Chris was pissed off about him going off on his own.

+ + + + + + +

The dream began again and this time Buck let himself be pulled along willingly. He looked down at the clothing he was wearing and smiled. Resting his hand on the butt of his gun, he rocked back on his heels. He watched as JD came down the street on his horse. He found himself thinking that even in his dreams the kid wore a silly hat. Someone nudged him and he turned around.

“Hey, Buck, are you going to stand there all day or get on over to the livery and get out on patrol? I don’t want to take a chance on those rustlers making off with any more of Garrett’s cattle.”

“Huh? Oh, yeah. I’ll get right on it, Chris.” Buck looked his oldest friend up and down. Chris was wearing all dark colors as usual. He was leaning against the wall outside of the saloon, watching the street from under the brim of his hat as if expecting trouble. His hand rested lightly on his gun butt, belying the calm he projected. The blond man was worried about something.

Crossing to the livery, Buck met JD coming out.

“Hey kid, are you ever gonna get a decent hat?”

“Hey Buck, are you ever gonna get off of me about my hat?” The kid strode away in a huff as Wilmington watched.

Opening the door of the livery, a giant of a man was tightening the cinch strap on a gray gelding. ‘At least I know the horse,’ he thought to himself as he reached for Ghost’s reins. The man reached up and flipped the stirrups down and ran a practiced hand over the horse’s hip.

“Shouldn’t have any trouble with him today. If he starts to limping, though, you’d best get him back here and take a loaner. That hip might still be tender.”

Buck looked up at the man as he pieced together what he was talking about. Had something happened to Ghost? He moved to examine the hip and noticed the faint scar. The man spoke again, filling in the missing piece.

“You should be more careful about where you jump him from now on. That barbed wire is bad news. I’ve seen animals get tangled up in it and tear themselves to pieces. You’re lucky he just got grazed by it.”

“Yeah, I’ll be more careful. Thanks.” He led the animal out of the livery and swung up into the saddle. Not really knowing what else to do, he rode up the street and turned eastward. The horse seemed to know where he was going and Buck sat back and let him have his head. They moved thru gently rolling hills dotted with cactus and sagebrush. He stopped at the river and let Ghost have a drink. He took a minute to examine the saddle. It looked remarkably like the one that the guys had just given him for his birthday.

As he rode up on one of the homesteads, an older woman called out to him. Turning the horse into the yard, he got down and looked at the diminutive woman. She was hanging laundry on a clothesline. As she turned to face him, he recognized her, Nettie Wells.

“I’m glad you came by, I was wondering if you’d take something into town for me.”

“Sure thing, Ma’am.” He really wasn’t sure how to respond to this woman. The Nettie Wells that he knew was educated and had saved Vin Tanner from a life on the streets as a teen. He didn’t know this woman at all. She handed him a list.

“Give that to Mrs. Travis and ask her to run it in her paper. I’ll be in to pay for it in a couple of days. Are you boys still chasin’ after them rustlers?”

“Yes, Ma’am. In fact, I’d better be going. I’ll pass this along to Mrs. Travis.” He tipped his hat before climbing back into the saddle. He looked at his wrist and then remembered that he didn’t have a wristwatch. He patted his pockets and pulled out an older pocket watch and checked the time. He had been out for a couple of hours already but he didn’t know how long the shifts were supposed to be.

+ + + + + + +

As darkness settled over Denver, Chris sat in his office staring out at the lights of the city. Fear had wrapped itself around his heart and was slowly wringing the life out of him. He could hear the others as they moved about in the outer room. Conversation between the normally talkative group had disintegrated to short sentences and monosyllable answers to questions. Vin had called in a couple of times to get updates but he was determined to remain on the rooftop looking for the kidnapper.

Josiah and Nathan were sleeping in the ‘tank’ just off of the main room. They had often had to work with little sleep and so had converted the empty storage room into a sleeping area with a pair of twin beds. The room had been sound proofed so that the normal noises of the building didn’t disturb the agents rest.

At the table in the break room, Ezra and JD were playing chess. The southerner was doing his best to keep the youngest member of the team from becoming any more depressed. The kid was beginning to look as rough as a corncob. Dark circles under his eyes told of the long hours he had gone without sleep. He had been drinking pot after pot of coffee until Nathan pulled the plug and sent Josiah to the store for other drinks. Ezra had put in a request for some fruit to tide him over until breakfast. All of the takeout food they had consumed in the past two days was not setting well on his stomach.

“I’ll have you in check in two or three moves, Ezra. You can’t put your rook there.”

“Ah, but I have my next moves all planned out. I need my rook there for my first line of defense. You haven’t won the game yet, Mr. Dunne.”

“You play like Captain Kirk. Illogically.” The young man moved his bishop out and picked off the rook. “Okay, check.”

The southerner’s green eyes widened as he studied the pieces on the board. “What just happened here? I most definitely did not see that move coming.”

“I tried to tell you. You just didn’t listen.” The expressive dark eyes rolled.

Three moves later, JD was leaning over the board trying to figure out how Ezra had turned the game around so completely. The southerner had punched a hole in his defenses and was about to do a ‘Hail Mary’ right into his king. He sacrificed a pawn to distract Ezra from the lack of protection on his side of the board.

A sudden crash of glass from Chris’s office sent both men running to see what had happened. The team leader stood behind his desk, brushing coffee off of his pant legs in the dark. JD flipped on the lights and looked around hesitantly before coming in. Ezra was right behind him peering cautiously around the door facing.

“I just dozed off and dropped the coffee cup. Go on back to what you were doing.”

“Are you okay, Chris?” JD was worried about the blond.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I just need to be alone. What time is it anyway?”

Consulting his watch, Ezra looked up. A tightly controlled look settled on his face as he spoke, “It’s nearly midnight.”

Chris looked at the phone on his desk and felt a stab of dread in the pit of his stomach. He had been calling at five-hour intervals until they moved from the apartment.

“Get the others up! We’re going back to the apartment!” Chris’s voice had risen to almost shouting as he stared at the telephone. Suddenly, it rang. His hand shot out and snatched up the handset. “Larabee.”

“You sound upset, Chris. Were you beginning to worry? I didn’t call at ten the way you were expecting me to, right? You sounded really upset just now, what’s happening there?”

“Listen, you sick bastard! If you hurt Buck, I’ll find you! When I find you, I’ll make sure that you suffer a lot longer than 96 days. I’ll break your neck and rip out your tongue just to make sure that you lie in that shell of a body for a long, long time! Tell me where he is!”

He laughed. Graham tossed his head back and roared with laughter.

“Don’t forget, Larabee, I hold all the cards right now. Suppose I just don’t call you for a while. What are you going to do? You can’t trace the call and you have no idea where he is. I could just disappear and it will take him a while to die in that box. Alone and in the dark. He’ll run out of food and water. What a horrible way for a brave man to die.”

The line went dead in his hand and Chris began to tremble. He tossed back his head and howled with rage before grabbing the first thing he came to on the desk and slamming it into the floor. The glass paperweight exploded from the force. He grabbed the wireless keyboard off of the desk and slammed it on the desktop until it shattered under the blows.

Ezra pulled JD out of the doorway and pushed him toward the tank.

“Get Nathan and tell him to bring his bag!” As the kid ran across the room, the southerner slipped off his jacket and watch and dropped both on the couch before moving toward the tower of rage.

“Stay the hell away from me Ezra! It’s my office and I’ll decorate it any damn way I want! Don’t you come in here telling me what to do!”

“When you calm down, I’ll go. You have to get hold of yourself, Chris. This isn’t helping Buck. You have to keep your head.”

“I said get the hell away from me! I’m not helping him? You think I don’t already know that? You heard what he said. He’ll just leave him out there to die alone and in the dark!”

At the last of the phrase, Chris’s voice hitched slightly and his eyes filled with tears. Ezra moved around the desk and reached out for Larabee. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the others preparing to come into the room. He shook his head at them and Josiah put an arm across the doorway to prevent Nathan from charging into the room.

The team leader was in a red haze. His head hurt! It hurt to breathe! Despair was overwhelming him. As the adrenaline rush abated, he began to tremble all over. He felt sick and weak in the knees as he reached for the outstretched hand. Collapsing against the smaller man, he dropped his head and cried.

Easing Chris away from the desk, Ezra backed up against the credenza in front of the windows. His heart was pounding like it would soon escape his chest as he absorbed the anguish pouring from the team leader. When he finally felt Chris begin to relax, he nodded to Josiah and Nathan. The ex-medic had already drawn up a shot that would put Larabee into a deep sleep for several hours.

Like a small child, Chris allowed Nathan to roll up his sleeve without releasing his hold on the smaller man. When the hazel eyes went unfocused and finally closed, Josiah picked him up and carried him to the tank.

“What happened?” Nathan’s voice was soft and carefully modulated not to upset the man sitting before him. For the first time since the nightmare began, Ezra looked scared.

“Perhaps we should sit down in the conference room and discuss it.”

When the four of them had gathered in the conference room, Ezra recounted the telephone conversation. Josiah shook his head as Nathan rubbed his shoulder in a consoling way. When the southerner was finished speaking, he lowered his head onto his folded arms and sighed. They were all being pushed to the limit and they were exhausted.

“Chris wants to go back to the apartment. If this guy can watch us suffer, maybe we can get something out of him. I think we should go back. He threatened to leave town and let Buck die,” JD’s voice was tinged with hysteria.

“And we’re doing just what he wants us to do. We’re turning on each other and coming apart at the seams. Giving in to him is not the answer. I still think our first plan is the best. I’ll take over talking to him when he calls and …” Josiah was cut off by an angry voice.

“If he calls.” JD was nearly in tears as he spat out the words.

“When he calls and I’ll begin to play on the wife. If he doesn’t talk to Chris again and he knows it’s because he’s been overcome, it will make him feel powerful and maybe he’ll slip up and give us a clue.”

“What if you’re wrong, Josiah? What if we sit here and he leaves and Buck dies?”

Seeing that the young man was dangerously close to breaking, Nathan drew up another dose of the sedative and coaxed JD into the tank to sleep. When he returned to the conference room, Josiah was gone.

“I do believe that our profiler is having a crisis of faith, Mr. Jackson. He said he would return within the hour after he cleared his mind.”

“Why don’t you grab a shower and change clothes, Ezra. I’ll keep an eye on things here for a while.”

It was the first time Ezra noticed the blood on his clothes. He raised his eyes to Nathan.

“Chris’s hands were cut in a couple of places. You have blood all down the back of your shirt, too. Go take a shower and change. I’ll manage.”

Sitting on the rooftop under the starry night sky, Vin reflected on the wonder that was Buck. The man’s heart is the size of the great outdoors. He has an infectious laugh. That was the thing that eased the tensions between the diverse personalities of the group. The way he had taken JD under his wing was nothing short of awesome. A gentle smile crossed the Texan’s face as he remembered all the practical jokes that had been played on the mustached man.

He and JD had hired a female impersonator to approach Buck at the saloon one night. The ladies man had already had too much to drink and when the luscious blonde had approached him, Buck latched onto her. When she followed him into the men’s restroom and used the urinal, Wilmington had burst out of the room howling. It had taken him weeks to get over the shock and plan a suitable revenge.

Activity on the parking lot below drew his attention back to the present. He studied the face of the man getting into the red Dotson and looked at the name of the person the vehicle was registered to. The man lived in the building and, according to the manager, had a wife and two small children. He sighed in frustration before returning his gaze to the stars.

+ + + + + + +

The dream was pleasant and it was easier to let his mind wander than to lay awake. Buck saw himself riding back into town several hours later. Several familiar horses were tied to the hitching post and JD ran into the saloon as soon as he recognized the incoming rider. Five of the other six members of the team ran out and looked him up and down as he dismounted.

“Where in the hell have you been? We’ve been worried!” Chris’s eyes flashed angrily.

“What? I was on patrol, so I patrolled. I rode all the way around the town. Sure is some pretty country out there.”

“You were supposed to be back two hours ago. Vin has been out looking for you. We were afraid that you’d gotten shot or had come up on the rustlers and were taking them on all by yourself.”

“No way, Chris, that’s more Ezra’s style than mine. I like having someone to back me up. Besides, I’m fine, calm down stud.”

The subject was closed by the arrival of Billy Travis. The boy was running down the boardwalk to show them his spelling test.

“Look, Chris, everyone, I got them all right! I got every word spelled right!”

The gunslinger swept the boy up into his arms and congratulated him warmly. After a minute, all of the others were congratulating the boy and praising him for his exceptional abilities. Mary finally had to pry him away from them to get him home for supper.

After Vin returned from his search, they gathered in the saloon for supper and drinks. The beer was warm and tasted flat, so Buck switched to whiskey. Ezra invited them to play cards. Since it was near the end of the month and they were all broke, the gambler generously agreed to play for chips.

It amazed Buck how naturally the gambler persona seemed to fit Ezra. Even the oddly flashy, brightly colored coat seemed somehow akin to the way he dressed normally. Each man seemed so much like they were in the ‘real’ world. The only one that didn’t seem to fit was JD. The kid was a genius in the ‘real’ world, a member of MENSA, but here he was barely a high school graduate and so innocent that it almost broke Buck’s heart.

+ + + + + + +

The three agents sat staring at the computer screens for a long time after they had cleaned up Chris’s office. Ezra felt better after his shower and Josiah seemed a little more centered after he returned from where ever he had gone off to earlier. As the hours ticked by, the men dropped off to sleep. Josiah’s head rested on the top of Chris’s desk and the ringing of the phone startled him out of his sound sleep.


“Where’s Larabee?”

“He had a breakdown last night and had to be sedated.”

“That’s too bad. I rather enjoyed toying with him. So, which one are you?”

“I’m the one that has been talking to your sister-in-law, Peggy. She says that her sister would never have wanted you to seek revenge like this.”

“You leave her family out of this! They wanted to turn off her life support when the doctor said she might not wake up. Besides, she was my wife! I’m the one who loved her!”

“And she loved you?” Josiah allowed his voice to sound just slightly questioning.

“Yes she loved me! And I had to watch her suffer and waste away! I only wish you could watch Wilmington suffer and die!”

“You must have an awful lot of hatred for him to be willing to torment six innocent people just to satisfy your need for power.”

“Innocent? How do you figure that you’re innocent?”

“I was working in Kansas when your wife died. One of the other agents was serving his country overseas when she died. Hell, a couple of our team were just high school kids. What have we done that we should be made to suffer? You want it both ways. You want Buck to suffer and waste away like Laura and you want us to suffer the way you did. It won’t bring her back and you’ll be condemning six innocent people.”

“I loved my wife!”

“Then show it! Have some compassion. Laura was a church going person wasn’t she? Attended in the parish church over off of 98th, right? Every Sunday according to the priest.”

“Stay out of her life!”

The line went dead, but not before Josiah heard a horrific crash of glass and a scream of primal rage. The profiler looked up at the two faces on the other side of the desk and sighed.

Looking at his watch, Ezra announced, “Forty six more hours.”

An idea hit him and Josiah picked up the phone and dialed a number.

“Hey Vin, did you just hear a crash of glass breaking and someone screaming?”

“Yeah, from somewhere in the building, why?”

“We just got a call from the kidnapper and he was screaming and smashing glass when the line went dead. Can you tell which apartment?”

“I’m pretty sure I can. What do you want to do?”

“I’ll get back to you. Keep your eyes open and your head down.”

Nathan went to wake Chris and JD while Ezra went out for breakfast. The southerner was almost surprised to see other people in the building. With all that they were going thru, it almost seemed as if they were all alone in the world.

While they ate, Josiah laid out the plan he had in mind. He suspected that O’Neill was holding two or three hostages of his own in the apartment. The man driving the red Dotson had been stopped and questioned. A man with a gun had forced his way into the apartment and was holding his wife and children. They were going to have to scope out the setup before they could make a move. They called the FBI agent and had him come to the meeting. He agreed with their assessment of the situation and arranged for a phone tap for the apartment to see if they could pick up any clues.

Vin watched from the roof as the people left for work. He carefully scrutinized every face to see if O’Neill was trying to slip out in the morning rush. The sharpshooter found himself wishing he had his sniper rifle in case he should see the man. A couple of well-placed shots in the knees and elbows would hurt like hell and make a person liable to tell everything they know in order to stop the pain.

+ + + + + + +

The water bottles sat in the corner and he knew they were there. Buck was so thirsty that he was becoming tempted to just take a few sips. He knew he couldn’t survive for very long without water. The beef jerky only made him thirstier. Even the water from the apples was not enough. Being a big man, he needed water to survive. He checked the bottles again to make sure that they had all been tampered with. He smelled each one but any odor there might have been was hidden by the smell of the vomit and his own waste, which he had left in the far end of the box.

To take his mind off of his thirst, he reviewed the dreams in his mind again.

The horses ran down the dusty street and the riders were shooting at anything that moved. The team moved from the saloon and began to pick them off, one by one. Buck heard a cry of pain and he looked over to see Josiah holding a bleeding shoulder wound. The big man continued to fire his gun by propping his arm on the edge of the bat-wing door. When the shooting was finally over, he collapsed and his eyes rolled back in his head.

“Nathan! Nathan, come quick! Josiah’s down!” Buck knelt helplessly beside his friend and teammate. He knew what he should do but these guns were different and the bullets were equally as different.

The dark skinned man knelt and began tugging at Buck’s kerchief. He quickly surrendered the material even though he knew it was dusty and dirty.

“Here, hold this and press down hard. We gotta get the bleeding stopped before we take him up to the clinic. Inez, I’m going to need hot water and a bottle of whiskey.”

Looking around him in amazement at the rest of his friends as they stood around the fallen man, Buck felt a cold fear and he looked away. A firm hand lifting his from the blood-soaked material brought his attention back and he looked into Chris’s face.

“Buck, what’s wrong with you? Nathan’s been talking to you for the past few minutes. Are you hurt? Did you fall?”

“No, I’m sorry, Chris, it’s just that there’s so much blood.”

They moved Josiah to the clinic above the livery and Nathan went to work trying to remove the bullet. JD paced nervously outside of the door while the others sat on the bench or reclined against the banister. Only Chris had been allowed to stay with Josiah.

When the lead ball was finally removed, the men began the ritual of sitting at the injured man’s side. It was so weird to see Josiah with a bandage on his shoulder and not see the standard life-support machines or IV’s snaking out of his arms. As the night wore on, though, Buck found himself wishing for antibiotics. Josiah’s fever rose quickly as his body fought off the infection. The man became delirious and it took both he and Nathan to hold him still as he tried to wave off the ‘crows’ that were coming to take him away.

+ + + + + + +

The phone rang again at noon and Josiah practically had to hog-tie Chris to prevent him from answering it. After cautioning the team leader not to make a sound, he pressed the speaker button.


“Where is Larabee? Still sedated? You know, you were right. I do like the feeling of power. Knowing that another innocent person is suffering because of Wilmington is exciting. It serves him right to be responsible for other people’s suffering.”

“Like Laura was responsible for your suffering?”

“Don’t you say things like that! She wasn’t responsible!”

“Wasn’t she? If she had just died like she was supposed to none of this would have to happen. If she hadn’t gotten in the way of the bullet none of this would have to happen. Seems to me that she is responsible.”


“Well, you didn’t want to hear about how she wouldn’t have wanted you to do this. It just seems to me that the whole mess is her fault completely. Or maybe it’s your fault. You couldn’t protect her, could you? I saw on your file that you were turned down for the police department exam. You can’t even get a permit to become a security guard because of the threats you made when Laura was hurt.”

“Forty one hours. That’s all he has left, you know? Forty one hours and then he dies.”

“That’s another thing that has me wondering. If you buried this box, how will you know when he dies? Are you going to dig it up yourself, by hand? You had help burying it, didn’t you? Someone else knows where Buck is and we’re going to find that person and get them to tell us everything.”

“It’s too simple for that. I dug the hole all by myself, early in the morning. You can bury anything if you have the right equipment.”

“Okay, so you have a backhoe or something like that, right? It still took more than one person to carry him out of here without waking his roommate. Someone else knows and we will find that person!”

Another cry of rage started before the line went dead.

A short time later, a package was delivered to the office along with the deli sandwiches that they ordered for lunch. JD had accepted the food and set it up in the conference room. He opened the box because he thought it was part of the lunch order. In the package was Buck’s badge and wallet. The kid ran from the conference room yelling at the top of his lungs.

“Chris, get out here! OhmyGod! It looks like Buck’s wallet.”

The objects were lovingly taken from JD’s hands and turned over and over in Chris’s hands. The team leader swallowed hard as his fists closed on the objects. The others stood around the two men and looked at the badge.

“We still need to eat, okay Chris? Let’s go before the warm food gets cold and the cold food gets warm.” Josiah nudged the group toward the conference room.

While the team ate their lunch in silence, Nathan called the Chinese restaurant to see if he could find out where the package had come from. The delivery boy said that a woman had handed him the box outside of the restaurant and told him that it was a surprise for the blonde man. The delivery boy was mortified that he had done something that had caused the ATF agents to be upset. Nathan reassured the owner that there were no hard feelings toward the boy.

The FBI contacted the other residents of the building and made up excuses to get them out of the way. By three in the afternoon, they had evacuated 85% of the people from the building and were preparing for the next phase. They sent agents back into the building after borrowing the cars of the true residents. Hopefully, O’Neill would not realize that he was being surrounded.

As soon as the first agents were in place, Vin had left his perch on the roof and headed for the office. He wolfed down the sandwich JD had ordered for him and grabbed a couple of hours of sleep.

+ + + + + + +

Thirst was working its own torture on Buck. He had tried sucking on the bites of apple to fool his stomach into thinking it was getting the water it sought. It hadn’t worked and he found himself holding one of the water bottles again. Seconds in the dark began to feel like minutes and the minutes were an eternity. The harder he tried not to think about the water, the worse his craving for it became until he finally gave in and took a few sips. When he didn’t feel any side effects, he drank some more to satisfy his need.

After a while longer, Buck began to feel cold again and he drew his legs up and tried to wrap his arms around them. As the shaking increased, the gashes on his knuckles began to seep again. He closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.

In the dream, Josiah had recovered from the fever and was mending well. He and Chris were sitting outside of the saloon after breakfast one morning as Buck came out of the boarding house. The ladies man started toward the two men when suddenly there was an explosion behind the hotel in the vicinity of the Chinese laundry. Several of the townspeople rushed into the gangway between the buildings to get to the site of the disaster.

The first thing they saw was the body of the old man who ran the laundry. He lay amidst the rubble from the wooden barrels that they washed the clothes in and piles of clean clothes. The smell of gunpowder, like rotten eggs, floated on the air. Nathan and Buck rushed to the old man and gently eased him onto his back. He moaned softly and tried to push away the hands that touched him and brought him more pain.

They moved the injured man to the clinic and began to tend his injuries. The elderly man’s family appeared at the clinic and Nathan allowed only the wife and eldest son into the room while he worked on the man. The ribs on the right side were badly broken and the lung was collapsed. The family brought their own herbal remedies and insisted that the healer use them. The old man died during the night.

+ + + + + + +

They got the call from the FBI agent in charge that they were nearly ready to attempt to get the people out of the apartment. Team 7 piled into a van with Judge Travis and headed for the perimeter line. It was as close as the FBI would let them get to the suspected kidnapper.

Agent Martin Upshaw was in charge of the situation. His snipers were on the roofs of the nearby buildings and he had a complete squad in the hallway outside of the apartment. They wanted to wait for the kidnapper to make another phone call to Team 7 before they attempted to move in on him.

It was a long wait. Finally, around five in the evening, Chris’s cell phone rang. Handing the phone to Josiah, they rushed into the back of the sound proof van on site for just that purpose.


“He has 37 hours left. This will be my last call, I have things to do and I don’t want to be here any more. I’m going home. Perhaps in a couple of weeks I will call and tell you where he is buried. I am sorry for the younger members of your team, they really shouldn’t have been made to suffer because of Wilmington. I’m sorry.”

There was a muffled sound on the line and then the sound of a woman screaming. The FBI agents announced themselves and called for O’Neill to surrender. The next sound Josiah heard was what sounded like a gunshot.

The radio in Chris’s hand suddenly came to life.

“Send in an ambulance! The kidnapper is down! Repeat, he’s down! Get a medic in here immediately!”

A second voice asked the nature of the man’s injury. What the agent replied caused every member of Team 7’s blood to run cold.

“It’s a head shot. He turned a gun on himself.”

Team 7 stood in a tight circle at the edge of the perimeter. Chris’s knees folded and he was escorted to the van that they arrived in and the rest climbed in after him. Judge Travis drove the van to the hospital. The blonde man was treated for shock. The kidnapper was brought in, dead on arrival. The FBI agents stood around the ATF agents and offered their support.

Sitting on the edge of the hospital bed, Chris glared at Agent Upshaw.

“How could you let him kill himself? Do you know what you’ve done?”

“I’m sorry, Agent Larabee. We did everything we could. There was simply no time to prevent what happened. We will have the body delivered to the lab. Our guys will pick up any clue. We will find him. I promise.”

The FBI agent left quietly. JD hung on Josiah, fighting back his tears. Vin sat on the other bed in the room, his hands clenched so tightly that they were shaking. Ezra fought to hold a neutral expression. Nathan remained at Chris’s side waiting for the effect of the drugs the doctor had given him to take effect. He had asked for the team leader to be sedated.

In the next examination room, the hostages were being examined. Josiah and Vin waited until the doctor gave them the okay to talk to the woman. She fit the description of the woman who had given the package to the Chinese delivery boy.

“Mrs. Dawson, can you tell us what happened?” Josiah asked softly as the woman clung to her children.

“He forced himself into the apartment a few days ago. He threatened to kill the children if my husband and I didn’t do what he wanted. He sat in my son’s room staring at the building across the parking lot. He didn’t hurt any of us. He said that he would leave in a few days and everything would be all right.”

“Did he say anything? Anything you can remember could be very important.”

“I can’t remember! He laughed sometimes. He paced back and forth after a while and stared out the window. Last night he made me take this box to this Chinese restaurant. He told me to give the delivery boy twenty dollars and he would take the box to the office on the top. He said he’d kill my babies if I didn’t do it!”

The woman’s husband arrived and Josiah and Vin slipped out of the room.