Without the water, Buck didnt 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 Ezras 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 hook had been when Inez called and told him that there was a problem
with the plumbing at Watsons 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 minds 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 hadnt returned, he became angry. Picking up
the phone, he hit the redial.
A surprised silence came over the phone line for several seconds.
ONeill, 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 shouldnt even wait the whole time! I should just kill him and
get it over with!
Chriss eyes locked on Josiahs. The unspoken message was painfully
clear. Youd better be right about this. The profiler nodded
I cant 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 youre trying to do. Youre trying to
get inside of my head. You cant do it, I wont 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 didnt 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 wouldnt 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 drivers 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 JDs 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 ONeill 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 dont want to take a chance on those
rustlers making off with any more of Garretts cattle.
Huh? Oh, yeah. Ill 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
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 Ghosts reins. The man reached up and flipped
the stirrups down and ran a practiced hand over the horses hip.
Shouldnt have any trouble with him today. If he starts to limping,
though, youd 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. Ive seen animals get tangled up in it and
tear themselves to pieces. Youre lucky he just got grazed by it.
Yeah, Ill 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
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.
Im glad you came by, I was wondering if youd take something
into town for me.
Sure thing, Maam. He really wasnt 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 didnt know this woman
at all. She handed him a list.
Give that to Mrs. Travis and ask her to run it in her paper. Ill
be in to pay for it in a couple of days. Are you boys still chasin
after them rustlers?
Yes, Maam. In fact, Id better be going. Ill 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 didnt
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
didnt 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 didnt
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.
Ill have you in check in two or three moves, Ezra. You cant
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 havent won the game yet, Mr.
You play like Captain Kirk. Illogically. The young man moved
his bishop out and picked off the rook. Okay, check.
The southerners green eyes widened as he studied the pieces on the
board. What just happened here? I most definitely did not see that
I tried to tell you. You just didnt 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 Chriss 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
Are you okay, Chris? JD was worried about the blond.
Yeah, Im fine. I just need to be alone. What time is it
Consulting his watch, Ezra looked up. A tightly controlled look settled on
his face as he spoke, Its 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! Were going back to the apartment!
Chriss voice had risen to almost shouting as he stared at the telephone.
Suddenly, it rang. His hand shot out and snatched up the handset.
You sound upset, Chris. Were you beginning to worry? I didnt
call at ten the way you were expecting me to, right? You sounded really upset
just now, whats happening there?
Listen, you sick bastard! If you hurt Buck, Ill find you! When
I find you, Ill make sure that you suffer a lot longer than 96 days.
Ill 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
He laughed. Graham tossed his head back and roared with laughter.
Dont forget, Larabee, I hold all the cards right now. Suppose
I just dont call you for a while. What are you going to do? You cant
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. Hell
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! Its my office and Ill
decorate it any damn way I want! Dont you come in here telling me what
When you calm down, Ill go. You have to get hold of yourself,
Chris. This isnt helping Buck. You have to keep your head.
I said get the hell away from me! Im not helping him? You think
I dont already know that? You heard what he said. Hell just leave
him out there to die alone and in the dark!
At the last of the phrase, Chriss 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
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? Nathans 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, JDs voice was tinged with hysteria.
And were doing just what he wants us to do. Were 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. Ill 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 Ill begin to play on the wife. If he doesnt
talk to Chris again and he knows its because hes been overcome,
it will make him feel powerful and maybe hell slip up and give us a
What if youre 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 dont you grab a shower and change clothes, Ezra. Ill
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.
Chriss 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. Ill
Sitting on the rooftop under the starry night sky, Vin reflected on the wonder
that was Buck. The mans 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 Texans
face as he remembered all the practical jokes that had been played on the
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 mens 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? Weve been worried!
Chriss 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 youd gotten shot or had come up on the
rustlers and were taking them on all by yourself.
No way, Chris, thats more Ezras style than mine. I like
having someone to back me up. Besides, Im 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
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 didnt 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 Bucks heart.
+ + + + + + +
The three agents sat staring at the computer screens for a long time after
they had cleaned up Chriss 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. Josiahs head rested on the top of Chriss desk and the
ringing of the phone startled him out of his sound sleep.
He had a breakdown last night and had to be sedated.
Thats too bad. I rather enjoyed toying with him. So, which one
Im 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
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!
Im the one who loved her!
And she loved you? Josiah allowed his voice to sound just slightly
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 youre 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 wont bring her back and
youll be condemning six innocent people.
I loved my wife!
Then show it! Have some compassion. Laura was a church going person
wasnt 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
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?
Im pretty sure I can. What do you want to do?
Ill 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
ONeill 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 ONeill 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 couldnt 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! Josiahs 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 Bucks 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, Im 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 Chriss face.
Buck, whats wrong with you? Nathans been talking to you
for the past few minutes. Are you hurt? Did you fall?
No, Im sorry, Chris, its just that theres so much
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 mans side. It was so weird to see Josiah with a bandage
on his shoulder and not see the standard life-support machines or IVs
snaking out of his arms. As the night wore on, though, Buck found himself
wishing for antibiotics. Josiahs 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
Like Laura was responsible for your suffering?
Dont you say things like that! She wasnt responsible!
Wasnt she? If she had just died like she was supposed to none
of this would have to happen. If she hadnt gotten in the way of the
bullet none of this would have to happen. Seems to me that she is
STOP SAYING THINGS LIKE THAT!
Well, you didnt want to hear about how she wouldnt have
wanted you to do this. It just seems to me that the whole mess is her fault
completely. Or maybe its your fault. You couldnt protect her,
could you? I saw on your file that you were turned down for the police department
exam. You cant even get a permit to become a security guard because
of the threats you made when Laura was hurt.
Forty one hours. Thats all he has left, you know? Forty one hours
and then he dies.
Thats 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, didnt you? Someone else knows where
Buck is and were going to find that person and get them to tell us
Its 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 Bucks 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 Bucks wallet.
The objects were lovingly taken from JDs hands and turned over and
over in Chriss 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? Lets 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 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, ONeill would not realize that he was being
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 hadnt 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 didnt 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 mans 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, Chriss 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 dont want to be here any more. Im 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 shouldnt have been
made to suffer because of Wilmington. Im 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 ONeill to surrender.
The next sound Josiah heard was what sounded like a gunshot.
The radio in Chriss hand suddenly came to life.
Send in an ambulance! The kidnapper is down! Repeat, hes down!
Get a medic in here immediately!
A second voice asked the nature of the mans injury. What the agent
replied caused every member of Team 7s blood to run cold.
Its a head shot. He turned a gun on himself.
Team 7 stood in a tight circle at the edge of the perimeter. Chriss
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 youve
Im 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
Chriss 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
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 didnt do what he wanted. He
sat in my sons room staring at the building across the parking lot.
He didnt 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
I cant 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 hed
kill my babies if I didnt do it!
The womans husband arrived and Josiah and Vin slipped out of the room.