Chris drove by the ranch to let the others know what was happening. They
found Dr. Franklin sitting in the recliner watching JD as he slept. The kid
was sitting on the floor with one arm thrown across Ezras legs and
his head resting on the edge of a small throw pillow. Josiah and Nathan steered
Chris and Vin into the other room to bring them up to speed.
JDs had a rough afternoon, Chris. He says hes moving out
of the cess pit. Hes afraid of Buck now. Emily got him calmed down
and then he got upset about not having any place to stay so Ezra offered
to let him move into the condo. That got him all upset again. He pretty much
cried himself to sleep there, Nathan explained.
Will he be okay?
Depends on what happens when Buck gets back here. Where is he anyway?
Some Deputy called here and said that theyd found the jeep, Josiah
Place called The Watering Hole clean over in the next
county, Chris answered.
Until they get him to the drunk tank at the jail, that is, Vin
You asked them to lock him up? Have you lost your mind? Nathan
asked, his voice becoming loud enough to waken the others.
Its for his own good! Maybe hell take the time to realize
that hes in over his head! Chris yelled.
Bucks in jail? Geez Chris, I didnt know you were that mad
at him! JD cried as he came to his feet.
Okay, before anyone becomes any more upset, lets all take a minute
and calm down. JD, earlier this afternoon werent you more worried that
Buck was safe than anything else? Hell be safe at the jail for the
moment. Chris, I would like to go with you when you bail him out, okay?
Then you better get your shoes and lets go. Ezra, you and JD head for
your place and take Josiah with you. I dont want everyone here when
we get back. No argument, JD. Consider it an order, all of you. Lets go
+ + + + + + +
When Kevin and Desmond deposited the unconscious body on the bunk, they stepped
back for a moment to catch their breath. Desmond studied the troubled expression
on Bucks face before he spoke.
How long are we keeping him here?
Just a few hours. Theyll be here and take him back to the
ranch, Kevin answered, completely unaware that Buck was semi-conscious
and listening to every word.
Back to the ranch. Back to the ranch. TO THE RANCH. THE RANCH?
The words rolled around until they touched the exact right nerve. When Buck
sensed the man moving close, he lashed out and fell off the bunk.
The startled deputy backed away when he saw the terrified expression on the
prisoners face. He moved back in and tried to help him to his feet.
Buck braced himself against the edge of the bunk and tried to lash out with
his feet again. The two men backed away and left Buck in the cell.
The ride to the jail was made in silence. Vin glared at Chris a couple of
times before huffing angrily and crossing his arms across his chest. Nathan
and Dr. Franklin sat in the back and observed the byplay between the two
men. When the truck rolled to a stop, the Texan was out and had slammed the
door even before the ignition was shut off.
Buck toppled onto his side and lay shaking on the floor. When Kevin came
in and offered to remove the cuffs, the terrified man only pushed away until
he was under the bunk. Using his feet, Buck wedged himself against the wall
and clenched his eyes shut.
The two deputies tried to explain that they tried to remove the handcuffs
before Chris and Vin came within sight of the cell. They could not have prevented
the explosion that occurred the moment the Texan caught sight of Buck huddled
beneath the metal bunk. Vin whirled on the nearest man, Desmond, and slammed
him into the wall.
What in the HELL did you do to him? Vin screamed as his hands
tightened on the struggling man.
Deputy Schoenfeld drew his gun by reflex and pointed it at Vins back
as he balanced his weight evenly on his wide-spread feet. For several tense
moments the only sounds in the corridor were the ragged, angry breaths of
the frightened and enraged men. Finally, Emily found her voice.
Gentlemen, can we please not start shooting, please? I think there
had been a misunderstanding here.
Nathan reached out and pulled Vin off of the deputy and nudged him toward
the cell. Kevin eased back and holstered his weapon to check on his partner
before removing the key from his belt and passing it to Chris. The blonde
opened the cell door and moved in, crouching down as he approached the bunk.
Buck recoiled. They were coming for him! They were taking him to the ranch!
He had to get away but his hands were secured behind his back! No escape
was possible! Terror coursed thru him as the first pair of hands reached
NO, please! I cant take it anymore! Dont put me in the
The words ripped thru the three men like razorblades. To see their big, fun
loving, ladies man so afraid was incomprehensible. Chris reached for Buck
again only to find Vin pushing his hands away. The Larabee glare flashed
brightly for a moment before Dr. Franklin reached out and laid calm hands
on the tense ones.
Vin is right. Talk to him first. Hes lost and confused and afraid
right now. If you drag him out of there youll only further traumatize
The two men dropped back onto their heels and drew several deep, calming
breaths. Chris closed his eyes and tried to find the words. He remembered
the words Buck had used to clam and soothe him when his world had blown apart.
Easing the painful memory out of the way, he reached for the words.
Buck? Can ya hear me? Come on, man, open them baby blues for me. I
need to talk to ya for a minute, Buck. Please?
While Vin spoke, Chris eased his hand in and stroked the top of Bucks
head. When the ragged breathing dissolved into tears, the two men eased the
big man out from under the bunk. Nathan pressed the keys to the cuffs into
Vins hand. As soon as the cuffs slipped free, Buck wrapped his arms
around Chriss waist and buried his face in the blonde mans stomach.
By the time Chris and Nathan manhandled Buck into the back seat of the Dodge,
Vin had apologized profusely to Kevin and Desmond. Seeing how distraught
the ATF agent was over the incident let them know that he was sincere in
his apology. They assured him there were no hard feelings and urged him to
go tend to his friend.
Buck was secured by the seatbelt in the corner of the back seat for the ride
back to the ranch. He never even twitched on the ride back. As soon as Nathan
tried to ease him out of the truck, all the alcohol in his stomach spilled
onto the gravel. Chris pushed to Bucks side and held him firmly until
the dry heaves passed. After a cold shower, Chris poured Buck into bed and
settled into the rocker someone had knowingly placed at the bedside.
The nightmare was back in vivid, living color! Buck could feel the plywood
touching his skin! He kept his eyes clenched shut because he knew that it
would be dark when he opened them. He turned on his side and drew his knees
up for warmth. An anguished moan escaped his lips.
It was the sound that wakened him, the soft moan. Chris opened his eyes to
find that Buck had kicked all the blankets off the bed and was now curling
up in a fetal position in the middle of the mattress. He carefully lifted
the blankets and eased them up over the trembling body. With firm, even strokes
he soothed Buck until he straightened out and rolled to his stomach. Like
a contented baby, Buck sighed and smacked his lips in his sleep.
The sun was well on its was across the sky when the men with the jackhammers
started their encore performance in his skull. Their guest accompanist turned
out to be Chris and his amazing snore! Rolling over carefully, he nudged
the bare feet resting on the corner of the mattress.
Huh? Buck? You okay? Feeling sick? Chris asked as soon as he
opened his eyes.
No, not sick. Not yet anyway. Dont you have work today?
Called in sick. Needed to be here with you today. Why dont you
grab a shower and Ill go see whats for breakfast. Dont
be all morning!
On his way to the bathroom, Buck looked out the window. He was bitterly
disappointed to see that aside from the Dodge, the only other vehicles out
front were Nathans and Dr. Franklins. Pushing the flight urge
away, he stepped into the shower.
Vin was sprawled out on a chaise lounger in just his cutoffs, soaking up
some sun. He had all but forgotten about Emily, who was kicked back on the
glider watching the horses in the field. JD had called as soon as he figured
it was a decent hour to find out about Buck. After assuring the
young man that his big brother was all right, Chris had extracted
a promise that the young man would not return to the ranch until he said
it was all right.
A dishtowel flicked lightly on his backside and Vin opened one eye. Nathan
motioned him into the house. After retrieving his tee shirt from the lawn
where it had blown off of the porch rail, Vin entered the house and sat down.
Nathan and Emily were already seated and Chris was bringing in a pot of coffee
and a plate of bagels and Danishes.
Buck came down the stairs several minutes later. He had showered and shaved
and looked very much like his old jovial self except for the haunted look
in his eyes. Warily, he circled the couches and took a seat opposite Emily.
His eyes drifted over the food, but to reach for it would put him within
arms reach of the shrink and that made his stomach ache. Vin came to his
rescue by fixing a couple of bagels and sliding them to the other end of
the table. Pouring a cup of coffee for himself and one for Buck, he took
both cups and moved to the far side of the couch.
So, its us versus them? Emily asked as she observed the
obvious division in the room. She, Nathan and Chris were on one side of the
room and Vin and Buck were on the other.
The light of protest lit in Bucks eyes and Emily held up a hand.
Before you deny it, tell me something. Where would Josiah sit if he
Both Buck and Vins eyes drifted to the couch where Emily sat.
And if Ezra were here?
Their eyes met and then shifted to the couch closer to Vin.
And if JD were here? Emily asked quietly.
Without hesitation, all of them watched as Buck actually reached for the
spot next to him.
Suppose I told you that JD would not sit there? I think JD would be
more comfortable over here, closer to Ezra. How would that make you feel?
You dont know JD, Buck challenged. He could feel the flight
urge building along with the anvil chorus inside of his skull.
I think Ive gotten to know him pretty well in the past few weeks.
Hes actually spoken to me a lot about you, especially after the other
All three men could see the color drain from Bucks face. Nathan shifted
in his seat and watched the other man carefully. He had been sharply vetoed
when he suggested giving Buck something to ease his hangover before beginning
He said he wouldnt tell, came the whispered defense.
So he was supposed to be afraid to come near you forever?
Hes not afraid of me!
It wasnt Emily, but Chris who responded.
He was afraid of you, Bucklin. Thats why I took your gun the
other night. He wouldnt even come I the bedroom with you until I had
Bucks head dropped and his shoulders heaved with silent sobs. His hand
reached out for the empty seat next to him. Vin moved closer to offer comfort.
Buck, Im not trying to hurt you. Im trying to make you
see how much youre hurting yourself. You arent dealing with this
and you must. The deeper you try to bury the pain, the more it will
hurt when it comes out. Your friends can deal with what happened if they
know you are getting well but the longer it takes for you to come to terms
with it, the longer they will languish.
You can tell shes been talking to Ezra, Buck injected.
Will you talk to me about it? Now? Today? Emily pushed.
Buck looked at the quilt draped over the back of the couch and pulled it
to his lap as he nodded. Vin cocked his head to ask if he was sure and got
a wan smile. The three men slowly backed out of the room and headed for the
Every few minutes, one of them would glance toward the house and sigh. Every
stall had been cleaned and fresh straw put down. The loft and been cleaned
and the horses brushed to within inches of their lives. It seemed like an
eternity since they had left Buck and Emily to talk.
A feminine voice coughed politely so as not to startle the three men who
were staring into space. A reassuring smile graced her lips and their hearts
beat freely again.
Hes sleeping, she said in answer to the question scrolling
across the blonde mans hazel eyes. I gave him something for the
headache. Hell sleep for several hours.
He get it off his chest? Chris asked as he came to his feet.
This isnt a one shot deal, Chris. Hes talking to me. Hes
hurting and hes scared.
Scared? Chris challenged. The idea that Buck might still be afraid
Yes, scared! Hes afraid of losing JD, of losing his job or his
mind. He held on to a lot of the fear from his first encounter with
ONeill, buried it deep. It was like a dormant virus, the right catalyst
sent the poison coursing thru him. Hes also still grieving.
Chris dragged a hand thru his hair. The only thing his friend could still
be grieving over had to be Sarah and Adam. His eyes flooded with tears as
he stared at Emily.
Yeah, I can see that thorn has infected you too. Ill be back
tomorrow to talk to him again. Keep him calm and talk to him if he wants
but dont push. Keep the others away for the night. As much as I hate
to use it, keeping the others away is keeping him off balance and that allows
him to talk.
No, JD? Vin queried. Thats harsh, isnt it?
Hes been hovering over the kid since he got out of the hospital.
I know. I need him to admit to the reason hes responding to JD
the way he is. He can talk to him on the phone, briefly. Hes exhausted,
physically and mentally, so he may sleep a lot over the next few days. Ill
be spending the night tomorrow night if thats all right?
Whatever he needs, Chris stated before leaving the barn and heading
for the house.
The phone rang and Ezra calmly folded the newspaper. JD shifted nervously
in the big recliner and stared at the phone. Seeing the hopeful, excited
puppy look in the young mans eyes, Ezra sighed.
Standish residence. Yeah, hows he doing? Thank goodness. I
understand. Ill tell them. Okay.
Ezra replaced the phone in the base and looked at JD and then at Josiah,
who was standing in the kitchen door trying not to look too eager.
Chris said that Buck spoke to Dr. Franklin today. Its a start.
She wants us to refrain from seeing him until he deals with some of his issues.
Theyll have him call you this evening, JD.
The young agent slumped into the recliner for a moment before bolting up
the stairs and into the guest room. Throwing himself on the bed, he wept
from frustration and relief. When Josiah looked in on him later, JD was asleep.
In his arms was Bucks coat that he had picked up by mistake when they
went to get his clothes the night before.
+ + + + + + +
The smell of spicy tomato sauce tickled the sleeping agents nose and
he twitched. Only Nathan made the sauce that called people to the table by
scent alone. Buck pushed the quilt back and looked around the living room.
From the shadows on the wall, he could tell that hed been asleep for
three or four hours. Sitting up on the couch, his headache seemed almost
gone and for that he sent a kindly thought to Dr. Franklin.
The mornings discussion ran thru his mind like a runaway train and
he winced. Even without touching on the most recent trauma, he had found
plenty to talk to her about. From some of the deepest recesses of his mind,
he had dredged up plenty of pain. She had asked him to tell her about where
hed lived growing up. As the list of cities rolled out he had inadvertently
let slip some of the anger he had felt about being uprooted so often.
+ + + + + + +
It was the longest length of time he could remember being in one place. Football
tryouts had begun and young Bucklin had made the first two cuts. Because
of his size, the coach wanted him for a blocker but he also threw beautiful
spirals that eerily always found their mark. He arrived home one afternoon
to the unmistakable signs of relocation. His mother saw the hurt on his face
and she tried to comfort him but he turned away and went to pack.
+ + + + + + +
During the discussion of his feelings toward his mother, he also let slip
a deeply buried secret. He had already told her what his mother had done
for a living. It didnt shame him that his mother was a whore, it bothered
him deeply that she arranged and paid for his first sexual encounter.
He found out purely by accident several months afterward that the young woman
who had so bewitched him and taken his virginity was an acquaintance of his
mother. When confronted with the truth, she had admitted to knowing and paying
the girl. Shed wanted him to learn the right way safely.
The girl had been thoroughly screened before being set up with the 14-year-old
Delving into his past had devastated him to the point that he had become
physically ill, prompting Emily to give him a shot to settle his stomach
and ease his headache. They jumped briefly into his time in the military
before hed dozed off.
+ + + + + + +
The smell of the spaghetti sauce called again and he levered himself to his
feet and headed for the bathroom. He secretly hoped that the others would
be there when he got into the kitchen but found only Chris, Nathan and Vin.
How do you feel? Nathan asked softly.
Not too bad. The explosions in my head have eased. That smells damned
good there, Nate.
Itll be ready in half an hour. Theres cold tea in the
fridge, the medic offered. He knew that Buck had been sick and would
be dehydrated from all the alcohol.
The others coming? He asked hopefully, though it didnt
look like there was enough food for all seven of them.
Nope, just us tonight, Vin answered, sparing Chris of delivering
the bad news.
Buck took it as punishment and his expression dropped. He sullenly opened
the refrigerator and pulled out the pitcher of tea and poured a large mug
for himself before trudging out to the deck.
This is about the lowest Ive ever seen him, Vin commented.
The atmosphere at the Standish abode was no better. JD was sulking at being
kept away from Buck. In spite of the fast paced hockey game on the tube and
the delivery pizza, the kid moped. Josiah had long since given up trying
to entertain or placate the young man and was now ignoring him. Ezra had
dug out every card game he had, Uno, Rook, Mille Borne, Skip-bo and Pit only
to have JD sigh and turn away.
When he grew tired of watching Buck pace, Chris handed him the phone.
Call JD before I have to kneecap you!
Ezra and Josiah exchanged a glance when the phone rang. Waving a hand, Ezra
indicated for JD to answer it and the two older men retreated to the balcony
to watch the sunset. For a couple of minutes, the phone conversation was
stalled. Both of them desperately needed to apologize but neither knew quite
how to bring it up. Buck finally broke the ice.
I spoke to Dr. Franklin today, he offered softly.
Shes nice, isnt she? JD asked.
Yeah. It wasnt as bad as I thought. She didnt ask many
questions and I just kinda tossed stuff out.
Me too. We talked about Mr. Fuzzles, JD said as a warm blush
colored his cheeks.
+ + + + + + +
Only Buck knew about the kitten. JD had found it while in the surveillance
van during an ice storm. The bedraggled feline was half starved and nearly
frozen to death when the young agent had found it. Not able to leave the
animal to die, JD had tucked it inside of his coat and kept it. Sequestering
the tiny ball of fur in his bedroom, he managed to keep it hidden for four
days. That was how long it took for the fleas to leave the kitten in search
of something more appetizing. Buck had urged JD to find a suitable home for
the kitten after the flea bath and bug bombing the apartment.
It took two weeks for JD to find Serena. The little girl was sitting on the
bench outside of the laundry room of the apartment complex crying her eyes
out. Her beloved cat, Garfield, had to be put to sleep because he had gotten
too old and the child was devastated. After getting permission from
Serenas parents, the kitten was decked out with a satin bow and sent
to his new home. Buck had stumbled upon JD crying as he packed up the assortment
of toys they had lavished on the tiny ball of fur.
+ + + + + + +
I still miss him, Buck admitted.
Are you watching the game? JD asked.
Nah, cant sit still that long. Howd you get Ezra to
Hes out on the balcony with Josiah. Theyre getting tired
of babysitting me.
They arent babysitting. We all need each other right now,
Well, I just need to go home. Ezras so picky about his stuff.
The conversation ran out of steam and they hung up. Josiah and Ezra crept
back in after seeing JD throw himself into the recliner again. They didnt
ask and he didnt offer.
Nathan massaged Bucks shoulders for a couple of minutes before watching
him curl up on the end of the couch and stare at the TV. After a couple of
hours of mutual silence, the men went to bed. The silence was oppressive.
An anguished cry sounded moments before several loud thumps emanated from
the guest room. The other three men hit the stairs at an all out run. Chris
flung the door open and his the light switch. When the room was bathed in
light, the three men stared in shock as Buck, foundering in his blankets,
was frantically searching for something at the side of the bed. Chris cautiously
circled the bed, calling softly.
Buck? What happened, big guy? Did you fall out of bed?
It was the way he had always wakened Adam from a nightmare and it worked
on Buck too. The confused blue eyes struggled to focus as Bucks hands
continued to pat the carpet around him. He blinked at Chris as the blonde
knelt and placed a hand on his shoulder.
You seen my gun? Buck asked in a decidedly nervous tone of voice.
I put it away, remember? Chris reminded gently.
How am I gonna protect JD without my gun?
Chris slid an arm across Bucks shoulders and pulled him in close.
God, he sounds so scared. As he smoothed Bucks tee shirt
he rocked slightly on his knees.
JD is safe, Buck. Hes with Ezra and Josiah. Lets get you
back to bed now, okay?
They got the ladies man settled back in the bed and Chris sat with him until
he was sure Buck would stay asleep. He left the light on as he crept out
of the room and returned to his bed. It was a long time before he got back
The sun peeked over the horizon and painted the sky with orange, pink and
gold streaks. A small flock of geese flew overhead, their voices arriving
ahead of their bodies on the breeze. A small fish, being chased by a slightly
larger fish, leapt out of the water casting rings on the surface of the pond
and Vin Tanner scratched his thigh where a mosquito had bitten him the night
After Buck had wakened them all, the Texan had been unable to go back to
sleep. The small, frightened voice had once again stirred the insecurities
that had been troubling Vin for a long time. They lingered just beneath the
surface, reminiscent of the movie Jaws, waiting to catch him unaware and
lay him open.
Ever since his ma had died, Vin had tried not to love anyone again. His young
mind reasoned that it would hurt less to lose people if he didnt love
them. It was a survival tactic that has helped him to survive the Social
Service system. Being moved from one home to the next without loving anyone
had kept him sane. Hed seen the ones who were foolish enough to love
their new families. They sat, shell shocked, while their belongings were
gathered and packed, or worse, left behind.
The military had honed his detached attitude by putting him in Special Services
and training him as a sniper. Bounty hunting was easy when you didnt
have to worry about getting home in time for supper or in one piece. All
of that changed when he met Chris. His gut tightened when he thought about
the way things were now. They depended on him to protect them during raids
or busts. How can I protect JD without my gun? The words echoed
thru Vins mind. ONeill had shown them just how fragile they were.
They couldnt protect each other.
Chris glared at the clock before giving up and throwing off the blankets.
He jerked on his clothes as if angry with them. He glared at his reflection
in the mirror for a while. He just felt so damned helpless. Buck had been
with him thru hell and high water. The blonde man had come to count on that
reassuring presence. His greatest fear was that he would lose that presence.
It made him scared to see how vulnerable Buck was right now. Chris was thought
of as a bad-ass when deep down he was just the head of a damned good group
of men. He could feel it all sliding thru his hands like sand.
Striding silently thru the house, Chris let himself out onto the deck and
leaned against the rail next to Vin. Neither man spoke as they watched the
new morning blooming around them. With a deep sigh, Chris turned to study
Vins fine features. The sharpshooters eyes were unfocused as
he faced the horizon.
Couldnt sleep either? Vins voice was a mere whisper
on the breeze.
This thing with Buck is eating me up inside.
For the next hour, the two friends stood watching the sunrise, lost in thought.
When Nathan slipped out and pressed mugs of coffee into their hands, he was
acknowledged with a smile and a nod. The smell of bacon frying brought all
three into the house to find Buck cooking breakfast.
Figured you guys have been carrying me long enough. Sit down and take
a load off, Buck said by way of explanation.
Just as the last of the breakfast dishes were being loaded into the dishwasher,
Dr. Franklin arrived. She smiled brightly as she clasped her notepad to her
chest. Buck handed her a cup of coffee and motioned for her to follow him.
They walked down to the lake and sat on the dock for a long time.
The phone rang and Chris reached over to answer it.
Chris, Orin. Listen, you know I wouldnt do this if I didnt
have to but I need the best and I need you now.
By the time Chris hung up the phone he was shaking. Travis had gotten a call
on a cold case that the team had kicked around several months ago. A string
of murders that were scattered loosely around the Denver and Colorado Springs
area had turned out to be connected. Eight young men in classic gang dress
had been found shot, execution style, in various empty warehouses. Now Travis
wanted to send Vin and JD undercover to try to infiltrate the gang they believed
to be responsible. The director really only needed the two young men but
knew hed never be able to pry them away from the others.
Go get Buck, we gotta talk, Chris said in a deadly level voice.
Buck took the news calmly and hid his emotions under a thick blanket of passivity
until Chriss truck disappeared down the driveway. Turning to face Dr.
Franklin, he pushed everything down deep inside and asked her to leave.
+ + + + + + +
The team met in the conference room to go over what intel they had so far.
The surveillance photos were blurry and grainy. The gang, calling themselves
Los Loco Lobos, had taken up residence in an old factory building.
They were bringing in shipments of guns and explosives. Somehow they had
procured a shipment of C-4 and had enough to take out a couple of city blocks.
The insertion was simple. The police had picked up several of the gang members
on suspicion of solicitation. They would toss Vin and JD in the lockup and
hope they made the connection. Dressed in shabby, beat up clothing, the two
young agents looked as if they lived on the streets. Nathan took JD aside
and when they returned, it looked as if he had beaten the boy.
Whoo, what did you do, Nate? Josiah asked as he tipped JDs
bruised face upwards.
It had taken a lot of coaxing to get JD to agree to the injections that would
create the colorful bruises without leaving any permanent damage. There were
also bruises on his hands and wrists.
Our intel suggests that the gang is actually paired up. Vin
owns JD, that way they can stay together. No one will bother
them, Nathan explained.
Vin didnt like it. He had seen enough of these gangs around Purgatorio
and while growing up to know that marking JD as fresh meat was
setting the young man up for danger. He would need eyes in the back of his
head to watch both of their backs. Tying the dark bandana around his head,
Even the cops didnt know that Vin and JD were Federal agents. They
were picked up for panhandling and tossed unceremoniously into the lockup.
Five other young men glared at them from various places around the cell.
JD sank to the floor near the bars and pulled the battered bomber jacket
more tightly around his ribs. Vin took a corner and leaned his lanky frame
against the bars.
+ + + + + + +
Alone at the ranch, Buck paced. When he grew tired of pacing, he cleaned.
He stripped the beds and washed the bedding. He turned the mattresses. Noticing
streaks on the glass when he pulled down the curtains, so he washed the windows.
By the time darkness came, he was exhausted. And he still could not fall
With a disgusted sigh, he rolled over and opened the nightstand drawer. He
still had all of the sleeping pills hed palmed since coming home from
the hospital. The little blue pills lay in a tissue in the corner of the
drawer. He forced himself to swallow one and waited for it to deliver him
into a dreamless sleep.
+ + + + + + +
When the evening meal was distributed to the lockup, one of the gang made
a move on JD. Vin watched the interaction for a while to make sure the man
was interested before he made his move. Striding across the cell, he slipped
his leg in between the kid and the gang member.
Almost shaking with relief, JD remembered what he was supposed to do. Hesitantly,
he handed his sandwich to Vin and wrapped one arm around the Texans
leg and pulled himself closer. The gang member backed off and Vin went to
his knees, pulling JD into his arms. Rubbing his cheek against the top of
JDs head, Vin broke the stale sandwich into bite-sized pieces and hand
fed them to his friend.
The thoroughly rebuffed gang member returned to the slight blonde kid on
the bunk and they cuddled up together. Vin kept his arm around JD until the
main lights were dimmed. From the motion and sounds coming from the bunk,
Vin knew the gang member was claiming the blonde kid. When the
larger man glared across the cell, Vin nuzzled against the side of JDs
head and shifted the blanket over the two of them.
+ + + + + + +
Bolting upright in the bed, Buck realized that he had been dreaming again.
His heart was pounding so hard that he could feel it all the way to his toes.
In the dream, he was searching for the others. Hed had an image of
them buried in a giant sand dune. He was clawing and digging thru the abrasive
material, screaming their names. One by one, he dug them out until he found
JD. The kid wasnt breathing and Buck raised his head to cry out his
agony when he woke himself.
Climbing out of bed on shaky knees, he went downstairs to the phone and called
Larabee, the sleepy voice said into the receiver.
Chris? I couldnt sleep and I just wanted to
wondered, Buck couldnt say the words.
Theyre fine Buck. They made contact with the gang and the cops
are going to spring the lot of them in a few hours. We put a tag on both
of them so we can track them by GPS if we have to. Are you all right?
The concern in Chriss voice loosened the tightness in Bucks chest.
I had another nightmare. All of you were buried in the sand and I had
to find you. When I found JD he was, he had
Oh God, Chris, what if
Im losing my mind?
Youre not! Youve just been thru a load of Hell and youre
still getting over it. Promise me something?
That youll stay at the ranch and you wont drink and that
youll talk to Emily.
Thats three things, Cowboy, Buck teased. He could almost
hear the smile spreading over Chriss face. I promise. You just
take care of the team for me, okay?
Will do. Ill call you later.
Hanging up the phone, Buck eased back in the recliner and went back to sleep.
Josiah stood in the doorway watching the team leader as he assembled his
face. When Chris finally acknowledged him, the profiler asked, How
He sounds okay for right now. Since neither of us is sleeping, how
about we grab some grub and eat with Nathan and Ezra?
+ + + + + + +
The cop opened the cell door and escorted the young ruffians to the desk.
One by one, they signed for their belongings. As a group, they were shoved
out of the police precinct building. Vin quickly draped an arm over JDs
shoulder and steered him away from the others. The big gang member, Gerard,
called out to him.
Hey, you guys need a place to crash for a few days?
Tightening his grip on JD, Vin stopped and studied the man.
Hey, its okay! Finders keepers, I get it. We got a place across
town. It isnt much but its dry, Gerard commented quickly.
Okay, but no one touches the kid!
Its cool, come on.
Josiah rested the binoculars on the dash and looked to the team leader.
Theyre in, he said softly. God help them.
Amen, Josiah, Chris said as he started the car.
+ + + + + + +
Emily quickly noticed the results of Bucks nervous energy. The house
was immaculate! He was talking nonstop about nothing as he scrubbed the copper
bottoms of Chriss old Revere ware pots and pans. She waited for a pause
to ask a question.
Have you spoken to the others?
She almost flinched at the speed with which the door slammed in Bucks
expression. He lifted his tightly veiled eyes and nodded. He studied the
pale cuticles of his hands without elaborating for a long moment.
Chris put tags on them so he can keep up with them.
Tags? She had to ask because she didnt know what he was
Electronic tags so he can track them by GPS if he has to. I figure
hell be having us micro chipped eventually, he replied with a
hint of a grin.
Emily smiled at the image that popped into her mind. She wiggled in her chair
as she imagined it. Bucks smile widened.
+ + + + + + +
The warehouse was abandoned and the gang had quietly set up housekeeping
on the top floor Gerard introduced them to the others. Vins initial
impression had been correct. The nucleus of the gang was a small group of
dominant personalities. Each of them had two or three chickens,
most likely frightened runaways. There was a wide variety of combinations
of pairs and trios.
He and JD were given an empty stall of their own. The warehouse had, at one
time, manufactured mattresses and was generously littered with pieces of
foam and old rolls of cotton batting to use for bedding. After securing their
sleeping space, Vin and JD had gone out with some of the others to try to
scare up food. Several of the girls were turning tricks to earn money. A
few of the boys did too. Vin spotted the surveillance car and shoved JD in
The older man climbed out of the car and rested against the hood as he watched
the young pair approach. They talked for a minute before the driver got out
and came around. There was more discussion. The older man took JD by the
arm and walked away with him while Vin got in the car with the driver. Gerard
turned back to the young blonde chicken he had picked up at the
Theyre predators, Chris! Probably picking up kids on the streets.
You have to get JD out before they try something. Buck will have my head
if anything happens to the kid!
Just keep your eye on the goal, Vin. What are they doing with the guns
Hell, we just got there! You dont think they arent suspicious?
Give me a day or two. Lets get back, what Im selling doesnt
take too long.
Chris didnt need to ask. He guessed that the kids were prostituting
themselves for money. He pulled his wallet and handed over the two twenties.
Vin pocketed the bills and they drove back to the place theyd left
the others. Chris instructed Vin to meet Ezra at the same corner the next
As soon as the car stopped, Vin bolted out and jerked JD away from Josiah.
Loud enough to be overheard by the girls on the near corner, Vin spoke to
He didnt hurt you, did he? Turning on the profiler, he
shouted, The deal was me and your friend! You didnt say anything
about the kid!
Responding appropriately, Josiah grabbed Vin and shoved him against the wall
and pinned him with one arm while fishing a bill out of his wallet. Tucking
the ten in the front pocket of Vins jeans, Josiah smiled menacingly.
Thats more than hes worth.
Vin shoved free of the man and retrieved JD. After inspecting the fresh
bruises on the kids face, he shoved him toward the warehouse.
Three of the girls from the corner followed them. Gerard rushed out to meet
them to find out how theyd done with their search for money. Vin willingly
surrendered one of the twenties. That night the group ate and a couple of
bottles were shared before they retired to bed. A young girl, Carlotta, offered
to sleep with them but Vin refused her.