Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be. Not even the title.
Note: This fic is in the Street Gang AU and follows First Day Encounters, Street Gang and Belonging, at which point its plot line diverges from Thalia's Something series. Thanks to Helen and Kerry for the beta work. Thalia created Ryan and Maggie Larabee, so heaps of thanks to her for creating such great characters.
Feedback? Yes please
Size: Approx. 265K
Parts 1-6 | Parts 7-9 | Parts 10-13 | Parts 14-17
"Mom I'm fine," Buck stated firmly, while tucking into a bowl of Cheerios
Breakfast in the Larabee house was, as normal, a somewhat chaotic and loud affair. Ryan had left for work already. JD was eating and trying to finish his reading assignment at the same time, Chris was reading the paper and occasionally reading out bits of it to anyone who would listen, which was mostly Vin. Buck was concentrating on eating as much as possible in the limited time available. Maggie had made him stay at home the day before because he had a slight fever; that had been Thursday. Today, Friday, was the best day of the week as far as Buck was concerned - he had all his favourite subjects, including history, art, and gym, and Friday was the day the cheerleaders practised during the lunch break, always a highlight of Buck's week.
Maggie Ryan placed the palm of her hand on her son's forehead.
"See, I told you, I'm fine," Buck protested again.
Unconvinced his mother turned away to collect something from a drawer.
"Aw hell!" Buck swore when he spotted the thermometer.
"Buck Wilmington, you watch your mouth young man, sick or not "
"Not," Buck stated defiantly.
"You will not use coarse language, what kind of example is it for JD?"
The dark-haired thirteen year old opposite him looked up from his book and stuck his tongue out at Buck, who knew full well that the boy knew and used far more offensive words when he was out of his parents ear shot. Not to be distracted, Maggie held the thermometer in front of Buck's mouth.
"You know they have electric ones now, they go in your ear, only takes a second or two," Buck pointed out.
It was a mistake; the glass tube was thrust into his mouth almost as soon as he opened it.
"I like this one, it's served me well all these years, now under the tongue, no talking for two minutes."
Buck waved his hand as if to say, 'yeah, yeah I know the drill'.
Two minutes of relative silence later, Maggie pulled the thermometer out, and began to scrutinise it.
"Well?" Buck asked. "Normal right?"
"Ninety-nine point six, no school for you to day."
"What! Oh come on Mom, ninety-nine six? Its nothing, I got practice today." Buck was the best quarterback the high school football team had.
"You are sick, you are not going to school, you are definitely not playing football."
"Actually Mom, we're not playing today, it's a tactics session, we're just gonna talk plays and calls," Chris, the captain of the football team, explained.
"Please Mom, they need me to be there," Buck pleased.
Maggie was weakening, Buck was a better than average student, but he didn't get the straight A's Chris got and the A's he did get were the result of a lot of hard work. Sport however came easily to Buck, that was where he really excelled. Not being at the big tactics talk would seriously damage his chances of being picked for the team.
"I'll tell you what, we won't be late back this afternoon, I'll come back and drive you to practice, if and only if your temperature is normal when I get here, so you rest, drink lots of fluids all day and maybe you can go to the meeting - deal?"
Buck hated to miss school.
"But I'm not sick," he protested again.
"You are not as sick as you were yesterday and you are a lot better then you were last night, but you are still sick. The deal is on the table - take it or leave it. Because I warn you, if your temp goes up, you will be inside, in bed, all weekend. Do I make myself clear, young man?"
"I'll take it," he finally admitted. When Maggie got into one of her 'don't mess with mom' moods there was no arguing with her.
Normally Maggie would be at home all day, tutoring Vin, who'd missed so much school, while being bounced from one foster family to another in Texas, he was all but illiterate. Maggie was convinced she could get him up to standard he could enter High School next year. He might have to enter the class below his peers, but that would put him in the same class as Ezra. However, as confident as she was, Maggie wanted to make sure Vin had no problems that could be affecting his learning. It had taken some time and she'd called in some favours, but finally Vin had appointments to have his eyes and ears tested and one with the educational psychologist. For good measure she'd got him a dentist appointment too, but Vin didn't know that yet. It had taken sometime to get him to agree to the visits at all; getting them all over with on one day had been a big selling point with the independent young Texan.
The other boys all finished their breakfast and said their goodbyes.
"I'll get all your assignments," Chris promised.
"You're all heart," Buck commented.
"I'll leave you all my new Gameboy games," JD offered.
"'Preciate it, kid."
"Bye Bucklin, have fun."
"See yer Vin. JD, don't let Chris crash my car."
"Our car!" Chris corrected.
"And who is it who keeps it running and keeps it from looking like the heap of rust it was when we found it?"
"Boys not now!" Maggie stopped the old argument before it could get started again. "JD, remember Chris will be at practice so you get the bus home and bring Ezra with you, he's staying over this weekend," she called as the boys were heading for the car.
"I won't, don't worry," JD called as the door closed.
+ + + + + + +
Despite his protestations of full fitness, Buck slept most of the morning, only waking up when Maggie called him to see how he was, 'fine' being the answer. By the afternoon he was feeling a lot better and beginning to clock-watch. The football meeting was at four, it took twenty minutes to drive to school and it was now half past three and Maggie wasn't there. Five minutes later he was standing in the doorway, eyes fixed on the road, waiting. The car that did pull into the drive wasn't hers, but that of Detective Sanchez, Ezra's guardian and Ryan Larabee's partner.
"Oh hi, Buck," he greeted as the big teen came jogging down the steps to meet him. "I'm just dropping Ezra's bag off for the weekend."
Buck grabbed the bag and tossed it into the hallway. "Can you give me a lift to school? Mom was gonna come back for me, but she's late and her cells on answer." He pulled the door shut and turned back. "Please? I have to get to the football meeting at four."
"Well sure, but why arent you in school?"
Buck was already climbing into the car. "I'll tell you as we go, and I'll leave a message for Mom."
They were about half way there when Buck's foot knocked something on the floor. Picking it up he examined it.
"This yours?" he asked, holding up the CD player.
Josiah looked over quickly. "No, damn it, it's Ezra's, can you take it with you, he'll complain for a week if I forget it."
"Sure, no problem."
By the time they got there, school had been out for almost half an hour, and the place already looked deserted. To save time, since Buck was already late, Josiah drove to the football field and parked behind the stand. Even before the car was stopped Buck was out and running toward the building on the far side of the field, which housed the locker room, the coach's office, a small gym, and a classroom where the meeting was taking place. He was about halfway there when he suddenly pulled up, cursed and spun around, no longer jogging but sprinting back to the car, hoping Josiah hadnt left yet.
"Hey 'Siah!" he shouted as he ran across the gravel toward the car, not even noticing the second car. "I forgot the CD player!"
"No Buck! Go ba "
Josiah's warning came too late as Buck pulled up short to find a gun in his face, held by a man wearing a ski mask. His mouth fell open, as if he was about to speak, but no words came out.
"Easy boy, don't do nothin' dumb," the gunman warned.
Buck's now frantic eyes searched for Josiah, finding him pressed up against the second car, a second gun held by a second gunman pressed to his temple, blood running down the side of his face.
"Let him go, he's not part of this, please," Josiah pleaded, but even as he said it he knew it was a mistake.
"You, kid," the gunman's words pulled Buck's attention back to him. "Hand over the phone."
"What?" Buck's confusion was genuine - he really couldn't think straight.
"Your cell phone, hand it over, now."
"I, I don't have one," Buck blurted out.
In a flash, the back of the man's hand slammed into Buck's cheek, sending the tall teen reeling. "Don't lie to me! Hand it over."
"Buck, just do whatever he says," Josiah insisted.
"Listen to the pig, boy," the gunman encouraged.
Buck began to reach into his pocket.
"Careful boy, slowly."
Buck nodded; he retrieved the slim silver object and handed it over.
"See? That wasn't so bad was it? Get over there with your cop friend."
Buck moved slowly to stand beside Josiah. "Are you okay?" he asked anxiously.
"I'm fine, just do what ever they say, okay, no playing hero, promise me."
Buck swallowed hard and nodded. The sudden noise of a trunk being opened made them both jump.
"Both of you, in the trunk." the first gun man ordered.
"Both of us?" Josiah questioned.
"Yeah, both of you."
"There isn't room, well suffocate."
"We can do this with you conscious or unconscious - your choice, pig."
"It's okay, me and Chris hid in the trunk of Dad's car once, no problem, we'll be okay," Buck told Josiah, as much to calm himself, as the big detective. "I'll go first, seeing as I'm skinner."
With as much outward calm as he could manage, Buck clambered into the trunk of the gunman's car, pushing himself back as far as he could to make room for the much larger Sanchez. The very second Josiah was in, the trunk was slammed down, impacting with the big man's hip, making him grunt with pain as they were engulfed in darkness.
"You okay?" Buck whispered.
"I will be - what about you?"
"I'm scared," Buck admitted.
The car, with Buck and Josiah in it, sped away from the high school. In the dark stuffy trunk the two prisoners were thrown about, collecting bruises and abrasions. Josiah tried to keep track of the turns they made, the road noise and such, but it was no good - there were just too many things to remember. The pounding headache he'd got from the gun that was slammed into his temple didn't help, though it had at least stopped bleeding. Buck hadn't said much since the drive started.
"Buck, listen to me," Josiah urged. "They mustn't find out your father is a cop, you understand?"
"Yeah," came the clearly scared response from the black void right beside him.
"You're Buck Wilmington, you live with your mom, I coach basketball at the St Francis', that's how I know you. I saw you walking, I stopped to giving you a lift. Can you remember all that?"
"Sure Josiah, don't worry about me."
"Easier said than done, son."
"What do they want?" Buck asked, not sure he wanted to know the answer.
"Information. Information I have, that they need."
"Are they gonna kill us?"
"No, they were wearing masks, they don't want us to be able to identify them. If they were going to kill us they wouldn't bother with that." Josiah had been telling himself that ever since he'd been ambushed, he just hoped Buck believed him, because he sure didn't.
Buck began to wiggle about, trying to reach his pocket.
"What are you looking for?" Josiah asked.
"M' keys, I got a small flashlight on the ring, I only just remembered it."
With Josiah's help Buck managed to get his keys out. The little light gave out a surprisingly strong beam, and Josiah took a good look at his young friend. He seemed to be unharmed but for a few bumps and scrapes.
"I don't oh yeah - my pen knife."
Buck never went anywhere without his Swiss Army knife. It was the last present his mother had ever given him, just before she was arrested for the last time, before she was sent to prison, where she would die. Killed by a trigger-happy guard.
For some time Josiah used the knife, with Buck holding the light, trying to get the trunk open. But he failed - the car was modern, the lock new and strong.
"Son I know it's not easy, but we should save the batteries, we don't know when we might really need them, and we have to hide these. They'll search me again, but hopefully they won't search you, or at least not that carefully. See if you can push them into your shoe, under your foot."
"We are gonna get out, aren't we?" Buck asked. The darkness, stale stuffy air, the ever-present smell of exhaust fumes and the swaying of the car were beginning to make Buck feel very unwell. The fear wasn't helping either.
"Sure we are have faith, son."
"I'm not one for praying much, you know that, not since Ma."
"I know. I'll pray for both of us, if that's okay?"
"Sure, um thanks."
Getting the knife and tiny flashlight into his shoe proved to be an operation worthy of a circus contortionist, but in the end, and a few more bruises later, it was finally done.
+ + + + + + +
Maggie had driven as fast as she dared to make it back in time to take Buck to school - assuming he was well enough. Their day had gone well, Vin's hearing was fine, his eyesight was excellent, and indeed his distance vision was outstanding. The trip to the dentist hadn't proved popular. Maggie had pulled up out side the dentist office without telling Vin were they were headed.
"What are we doing here?" Vin asked suspiciously.
"When was the last time you saw a dentist?" Maggie asked by way of an answer.
"Dentist? What's that got to do with how I learn stuff? M' teeth is all right."
"You teeth are alright. I didn't ask how they were I asked when did you last see a dentist?"
"I don't need t' see a dentist, I'm fine." Vin folded his arms and fixed his eyes ahead of him, a determined set to his jaw.
"Just listen a moment," Maggie started softly. "You probably don't have any problems with your teeth, but it won't hurt to be sure. All they are going to do is take a look, give them a clean and a polish "
"I clean m' teeth everyday," Vin stated defiantly.
"I know you do, you've clearly looked after your teeth very well, but we all get a clean and polish at the dentist. This is our family dentist; he's been treating Chris ever since he was tiny. Not scared are you?"
"No!" came to reply a little too quickly.
"Good. Well, come on then - you're appointment is in five minutes." With that, Maggie got out of the car and waited for Vin to follow.
Once he had decided to do something Vin didn't flinch from the task. He did whatever the hygienist or the dentist requested. He even allowed the dentist to file down a chipped tooth so his tongue didn't catch it - something that had been annoying him for years.
"Well, that's it Mr Tanner, you're all done. We'll send you another appointment for six months time - okay?" the dentist had announced at the end of the exam.
"Is that it?" Vin asked hesitantly.
"Yup, that's it, all over."
"Oh, okay. Thanks doc."
"Wasn't so bad was it?" Maggie asked as he got back into the car.
"No, guess not. What now?"
The educational psychologist found that Vin probably was mildly dyslexic. That and his very disjointed and unsympathetic education had left him after nine years with almost no literacy skills. It had taken longer than expected at the psychologist, which was why they were late, but Maggie considered the extra time well spent. Vin seemed almost pleased to find out he was dyslexic, perhaps because it was a better answer to his learning difficulties than just plain being too dumb to learn. Maggie suspected more than one teacher had told Vin that in the past.
As four o'clock drew closer Vin called the house only to get the machine. When they got to the house they found Ezra's bags but no Buck. Vin pressed play on the message machine.
"Hi Mom! It's Chris, can Nate come over after school for supper? He's got science club so I'll bring him after football, is that okay, call me if it's not - bye."
Vin looked up at his foster mother.
"That's fine, there's always enough for one more," she confirmed.
Vin moved to the next message. "Hi Mom, it's Buck, you're not here, so I got a lift with Josiah, I'll see you to night. Oh I'm fine by the way."
"I'll tan that boy's hide if he's still sick," Maggie commented darkly.
"He was always gonna be at that meeting ya know," Vin pointed out.
Maggie shook her head. "I know, I know."
JD and Ezra came home and got on with their homework, just before six Chris and Nathan appeared.
"Hi Mom!" Chris called as he came in. "Is Buck dying? Must be to miss the meeting."
As he reached the kitchen he was met by his mother with a look of fear on her face the like of which he had never seen.
"Isn't he with you?" she asked.
"No, he never showed up. I thought he was still here."
Maggie pulled the two boys into the kitchen and shut the door, not wanting to scare the other boys. "He never showed up?"
Chris shook his head.
"He left a message saying he was getting a lift with Josiah, I was a little late. So where the hell is he?"
"Perhaps he got distracted ma'am?" Nathan suggested.
"By a girl," Chris put in. "Bet he met a girl - you know what Buck's like."
"Yes, yes you're probably right, I'll just call Josiah and check. You boys go and join the others - get on with your assignments."
Nathan turned to go, but Chris put his hand out to stop him. "If we go in there the others will ask were Buck is - especially JD."
"Oh damn it, you're right, stay here."
Josiah's home, office and cell phones were all off, or switched over to taking messages. She tried Buck's cell; it too was switched off. Next she tried Ryan no luck; his cell was taking messages, as was his office line.
"Dad's probably in the car, on his way home," Chris pointed out softly.
"Yes, yes of course he is, he'll be here and then he'll know were Josiah is and he'll know were Buck is." She looked up at her son and his friend. "You wait until I get my hands on that boy, just you wait, he's not gonna set foot out of this house for a month, not 'til Christmas, he's not going any were until he eighteen!"
"I think Buck's in deep shit," Nathan whispered to Chris.
"Yeah, and he ain't eighteen 'til July."
A nervous ten minutes later, while Chris and Nathan tried to do some work and Maggie fussed at the cooking, Ryan walked in. Once he had been appraised of the situation he made some phone calls. To begin with his attitude was the same as Maggie's. Buck had gone off without letting anyone know were he was, and that was unacceptable. But as one call after another drew a blank he began to get worried, the kind of worry that had overtaken Maggie when she first realised that Buck was unaccounted for.
"What is it?" Maggie asked her husband.
"Josiah's missing too. Boys?"
"You join the others, don't worry them too much, I have to make some calls."
+ + + + + + +
By Josiah's watch it had been over three hours since they had been locked in the trunk. The air was hot, fetid and foul with fumes.
"Josiah?" Buck spoke for the first time in a while.
"I don't feel so good."
Josiah didn't feel so good himself, but the prospect of one or both of them vomiting in the small dark space was too awful to contemplate.
"I know, it's the fumes, I doubt it'll be much longer. Can you hold on?"
Never had Buck wanted to be at home more than he did now. When he'd first come to live with the Larabees he'd been used to his freedom, looking after himself, doing what he wanted when he wanted for the most part. It had been a tough adjustment. Strong male authority figures had never figured much in Buck's life before then, so it was against Ryan that most of his resistance to rules and restrictions was focused. But now he was thriving under his new parents firm and patient guidance and care. He wanted Ryan to come charging in and rescue them, he wanted his mother to take him in her arms and tell him it was all over.
Buck swallowed hard. "I'll try."
Josiah's prediction hadn't been that far off the mark. Not long after their conversation the car seemed to leave the road and travel over rough ground, then it slowed right down. There was a jolt after which it rolled to a stop. Much as they both wanted - needed - to get out of the trunk, at least while they were inside nothing was going to happen to them. Now there was no knowing what could happen. As soon as the car stopped there was the sound and feel of the doors being opened and slammed shut, then the trunk popped open.
Instinctively both Josiah and Buck squinted to protect their eyes from the sudden influx of light, except there wasn't much. Wherever they were, it was almost dark.
"You - out," the same masked man who had ordered them into the trunk commanded.
Josiah moved very slowly; he was genuinely stiff and sore. "I could use a hand here," he called.
"You'll make it old man, think I'm dumb enough to get close to a gorilla your size? Out."
"It was worth a try," Josiah whispered to Buck as he pushed himself up higher and stretched one leg over the edge of the trunk, grimacing as it pulled on his badly bruised hip.
By now Josiah was standing on slightly shaky legs, leaning against the car for support, shielding Buck. Any plan he had to take the gunman out was thwarted when the second man appeared, also with gun in hand.
"Move away from the car, over here." He waved his gun in the direction he wanted Josiah to move.
As soon as he did move, Buck began to get out.
"Not you, you stay where you are," the first man instructed.
"Come on! Give the kid a break! He's not involved in this, he's done nothing to you," Josiah tried to sound reasonable.
With that the trunk was slammed shut, barely missing Buck's head, forcing him to fling himself to the floor of the trunk. It was hard to hear, he had to force himself to calm his breathing, to overcome the panic that was setting in and making his heart beat so fast and so loud he believed he could hear it. The voices were muffled but he could make out some of what was being said. The men were asking Josiah questions, he was saying he didn't know. He heard Josiah say something like 'need to know'. Both the kidnappers were shouting, yet Buck couldn't make out their words, only Josiah's. As he listened, he heard the detective say something about telling them if he knew, but he didn't. Then his words were cut off; there was a sound he couldn't identify, a sharp sound followed by the heavy thump. Then the questioning began again, but Buck could no longer here Josiah's voice, yet the sharp sounds and occasional thump continued. In the back of his mind Buck kind of knew what was happening, but he didn't want to know so he pretended to himself he didn't understand the sounds he was hearing. Suddenly he heard Josiah shout something, it sounded like 'no', but he couldnt be sure and he didn't have time to worry about it, because the trunk was opened.
"Out, now!" he was ordered.
+ + + + + + +
"Where's Buck?" JD asked, some how the thirteen-year-old had picked up that something was wrong.
"I don't know, he didn't turn up for the meeting, I guess he went off with a girl, you know what Buck's like."
"He wouldn't do that, he wouldn't miss a football meeting or worry your mom, you know that," JD stated defiantly. Now his mother was dead, Buck meant more to him then anyone in the world. Buck understood his loss, and his pain, Buck was his teacher, protector and friend all in one, everything a big brother should be.
"Dad'll get it all sorted out, just get on with your work," Chris counselled.
He held JD's imploring hazel eyes for a long half minute, until the youngster looked away back to his school work. When Chris pulled his eyes away from JD he found Ezra and Vin staring at him, concern all too clear to see in their faces. What was his father thinking? There was no way he could keep anything from these boys - they were all too cynical, had seen life from the raw end all too often.
"Buck and Josiah are both missing," he announced, deciding honesty was better than whatever they were imagining. "Josiah gave Buck a lift to school, but they never showed up. That's all I know. Dad's trying to find out more."
"Detective Sanchez is missing as well?" Ezra asked, surprised by how effected he was by the news.
Ezra was Josiah's grand project. After he was caught and convicted of hacking, and then abandoned by his Mother to whatever fate the law handed down, he was given the choice between living with the big detective or living in a juvenile detention facility. It hadn't been much of a choice and he was prepared to play the game to keep himself on the outside. But as time went by and he found himself becoming more attached to Sanchez, coming to value his gentle words of wisdom and encouragement. Josiah never dismissed or belittled him as his mother did, something he was only now coming to understand. The Larabee family were also a big part of his life; he had learned what it was to have brothers, to rely on others and have them rely on him.
"Yeah, like I said, Dad's doing everything that needs to be done to find them, they probably just broke down or something," even as he said it, Chris didn't believe it. "What we have to do is not cause any trouble, not get on anyone's nerves, make sure we all pick up, tidy up, offer to do chores, don't wait to be asked, and don't all keep asking what's happening - okay?" he looked around the table. "I'll do that, if we all do it, it's just gonna get in the way or upset Mum and Dad." He couldn't get the image of his mother's face, when she knew Buck was unaccounted for out of his head - she had known then something was wrong. Buck wouldn't let her worry and they all knew it.
"Sure Chris," Nathan agreed.
"You got it," Vin assured.
"That would seem to be the best course of action."
Chris nodded at Ezra and then looked over at JD. Their youngest looked terrified. "Okay Chris," he finally affirmed.
Nathan moved around the table and sat down next to JD. "Buck's a tough guy, he'll be fine, besides he's got Josiah with him, right?" Nathan put his arm around JD's slight shoulders
JD shrugged. "I guess."
"JD?" Chris called softly.
"I'm not gonna tell you not to worry, we're all worried, all I'm asking is that you don't worry Mom."
"Sure Chris, I can do that."
"Good boy. Now as much as you can, get your school work done."
"What are you gonna do?" Vin asked.
"I need to try something."
+ + + + + + +
Maggie sat, fear holding her gut in a vice like grip and watched as her husband made a series of calls. When he was finished there was a patrol car on the way to high school, a full alert was out for Detective Sanchez and the lieutenant's son. Lastly Albert Spinalsi had been relocated.
Chris went upstairs and into the room Buck shared with JD. What he was about to do he had promised his brother he would only do in a dire emergency or after Buck was dead. This fell into the first category; he prayed if wasn't in the second. He crossed to the desk and felt under it, retrieving the small notebook. It was a deep blue, covered in satin, with Chinese lettering on the front. This was Buck's journal. He didn't keep a daily diary, but he did note down important events in his life. His mother had given him the book when he was seven. Chris had seen it once; a few days after Buck's mother had been sent to prison, he happened to walk in on Buck as he was putting it away. He didn't see it again nor did Buck mention it until they returned to the city after a stay at Chris grandfather's ranch. Just two days into the stay Buck had been air lifted to hospital with appendicitis. Although hed made a full and speedy recovery, the whole episode had clearly effected him deeply.
"If something ever happens to be, you got my permission to get my journal out. If I'm dead put it in my coffin," he had instructed.
"Buck, you ain't gonna die," Chris had protested.
"We all gotta die sometime bro, you just never know when it can happen."
Sitting back on the bed, Chris prayed now wasn't that time. He flipped to the most recent entries. If Buck was in some kind of trouble, maybe there was a clue in this book.
"Sorry buddy, but I gotta do this," he apologised out loud to the absent author.
'School starts again tomorrow and I'll be a senior - wow, it's almost over, I'm almost a man, can't say I feel very grown up. I've made up my mind to go straight into the police academy. Mom and Dad can't afford to send us both to college, especially with JD and Vin here now. JD's such a great kid, he's smart and funny and he trusts me, still find that hard to believe, but it feels great.'
Chris sighed inwardly. It was just like Buck to be thinking of others and undervaluing himself, though he'd seen a change in his brother since JD had come to say. Flipping back he read some of the proceeding entries searching for some clue, but there was nothing. Considering how and where Buck's mother had died, there might be a clue there, so he flipped back a few years. Passing quickly over the entries around the time of her death he looked at the time she was arrested.
'Chris told me I could stay at his house until Ma gets out. I don't know, it feels bad, his dad being a cop. I know he's homicide, not vice, but all the same. Guess it's better then the county home. I'll ask Ma first time I get to visit her, and if it's no good I'll run away.'
Chris flipped forward a few pages.
'Saw Ma today, can't write about it.' There were marks on the page that looked as if they were made by teardrops.
The next entry was longer. 'Chris' dad has a lot of dumb ideas about bedtimes and stuff, I hate him, but Ma made me promise to stay. Mrs Larabee is okay, but she's not Ma.'
Chris flipped forward a few more pages and then stopped, looking for some clue to Buck's disappearance was one thing, reading his private thoughts was another. He put the book back, not sure if he was happy or sad. Happy Buck wasn't in involved in anything bad, sad he hadn't discovered any clue to help find him and Josiah.
"Chris!" Maggie called up the stairs.
"Coming!" Chris quickly but carefully, put the journal away. Then he ran back down stairs. "Yeah Mom?"
"Darling, who is Buck dating at the moment?" she asked, keeping track of Buck's love life was really more trouble than it was worth.
"Um well I seem him with Kerry a lot, but he took Beth to the movies last week and he told me he's seeing - meant to be seeing - Christine this weekend."
It never failed to amaze Chris how Buck could be dating three or four girls at the same time, with no attempt to hide the fact and none of them seemed to mind, in fact from what Chris could see being, one of 'Buck's girls' made them closer friends. He'd asked one once why that was. "Well you know, Buck's okay. He's nice, he's not a jerk, he treats you right all the girls like Buck."
"Do you have their numbers?" Maggie asked.
"I can get them," Chris assured. "Do you want me to call them?"
"Please dear, I don't think he's there, but we better just check."
Beth's brother was on the football team, so Chris had her number and he was sure she would have the other girls numbers, and possible know of any other girl Buck was dating.
+ + + + + + +
Buck looked up at the masked man with the gun, waiting for instructions. A slight flick of the gun instructed him to climb out. His muscles protested the hours he'd spent curled up on his side in the trunk. But with no more than a grunt or two, he clambered out to stand, mainly on one leg, against the car. They seemed to be inside some large hangar or warehouse, what light there was came from a weak lamp on the wall opposite. The whole place felt cold and damp, with the musty smell of decay. Buck looked around for Josiah, but in the gloomy space, with deep shadows it was hard to see anything.
"Looking for your friend?" his guard asked.
"Over there." He pointed toward a small door in the wall, close to the lamp.
Buck began to limp his way over to the door.
"What's wrong with ya leg?"
"Cramp." Buck looked over his shoulder at the man, hoping his explanation sounded convincing.
"Get on with it."
Behind the door there was more light, and on the rough concrete floor knelt Josiah, his hands interlocked on the top of his head. There was blood covering most of one side of his face, his shirt was soaked in it, his pants legs splattered with it. There was so much blood it was impossible to tell where it was all coming from. More blood covered Josiah's hands. Any skin that wasn't covered in blood was covered in a sheen of perspiration and he was breathing heavily, each deep breath was let go with a slight shudder.
"Josiah!" Buck made to move toward him.
"No Buck," Sanchez warned, even as both guns were trained on the teen.
Buck forced himself to freeze where he was.
"I'm gonna ask you once more detective. Where is Spinalsi?"
"I told you I don't know, they don't tell me that kind of thing."
To Buck, Josiah's speech sounded slow and slightly muffled. He was still concentrating on his friend when something slammed into the side of his face, he staggered, unable to keep his balance, partly due to the concealed penknife in his shoe; he fell to the floor. Pain exploded down the left side of his face. Instinctively he put a hand up to explore the injury, it was hot, painful, and his hand came away bloody.
"Leave him alone, he's got nothing to do with this!" Josiah was shouting.
"Oh we know, but he does have something to with you, so tell us where Spinalsi is and we won't hurt the boy any more. If you hadn't been so stubborn we wouldn't have to do this."
Buck was trying to force himself back to his feet, he still wasn't sure what had happened, other than something ha just hit him. His face burned, but he forced himself not to show it.
"Buck, stay down," Josiah hissed.
"Yeah Buck, stay down!" With that his attacker landed a hefty kick to his midriff, sending Buck back down, coughing and spluttering as he clutched at his belly.
This man, the one inflecting the damage on Buck, seemed to be subordinate to the one who had been questioning Josiah.
"You don't seem to care about that happens to you, maybe you care about the boy." With that he delivered some unseen signal to his partner, who kicked the still gasping Buck in the kneecap, producing a yelp of pain.
Buck wasn't sure what was going on, but if Josiah hadn't told them what they wanted after what they had done to him, he sure didn't want him doing it for him.
"No don't," he pleaded.
"Buck stay out of this." Josiah squinted up at his tormentors through puffy eyes. "I'll tell you. Just leave him alone."
Ryan Larabee put the phone down and looked at his wife.
"They found the car - Josiah's car - it was behind the stands at the high school. There were sighs of another car and a scuffle, thats all we know for now. I'm gonna go back to the station."
Maggie felt a little more of her mask of calm slip. "Do you have to?"
"No, but I think I can be more helpful there. I need to go through Josiah's case notes."
"You think someone took him, because of some case he's on?"
Ryan nodded. "That's my guess, and Buck just happened to be there at the wrong time. I can't think of any reason why anyone would want to kidnap him."
"Depends on whose father they are."
Ryan gave a small smile, resting his forehead against hers. "Yes, well, I don't think we've reached the shotgun wedding stage with him yet."
"Don't you believe it. You'll call me when you know something - anything?"
"I'll be here." The Larabees both looked around to see Chris in the doorway.
Ryan nodded his acknowledgement to his eldest son. "I know son. I'm relying on you to help keep the others calm. I don't want them worrying, they're "
"I told them," Chris stated.
"You what? Why? Chris, they're too young, JD - well you know how he feels about Buck."
"Dad, stop, they're not dumb kids! They know Buck and Josiah wouldn't just take off without letting anyone know."
"He's right dear," Maggie soothed. "I take it none of Buck's girls know anything?"
"Kerry and Beth didn't, I had to leave a message with Christine, she wasn't in yet." Just then his cell phone rang. "Hello? Oh hi Christine look, have you seen Buck in the last few hours? No, well I didn't think so, thanks anyway what? Oh, well, he went to school for the meeting, but he never made it, now we don't know were he is. yeah, I know - what? That's right the football field - what? Say that again - wait, wait talk to my dad." Chris handed the phone to his father. "Christine says she was driving past the driveway to the field when she almost got side-slammed by a car coming out."
"Hello miss "
Chris went and stood by his mother, while Ryan spoke to the girl on the phone. It wasn't much but it was a lead.
+ + + + + + +
With the information they wanted the two kidnappers locked the door, leaving Buck and Josiah alone in the dark.
"Buck?" Josiah called.
"Still got that flash light?"
"Best get it out then." Once the thin but strong beam was alight, Buck swung it around until he found Josiah, who smiled reassuringly at him. "Stay there boy, I'll come over to you."
Nevertheless, doing his best to ignore his abused body's protests, Josiah made his way over to him.
"How's your knee?" he asked Buck
"Sore what about you?"
"Josiah, what's gonna happen? I mean to us, now they have that man - Spinalsi?"
Josiah sighed and then wished he hadn't when the deep breath sent sharp stabs of pain across his ribs.
"Unless I've underestimated your father, they don't have him."
"But you told them where he was."
"I know, but as soon as he worked out I was missing, he'll have sent word and the police will move him. Ezra is staying at your house because I was going away for the weekend, so I wouldn't be missed until Monday, but you will have been missed as soon as you didn't come home with Chris."
"And don't waste any time worrying about Spinalsi, he's a weasel, that's why he's testifying - to save his own neck. That's all I'm telling you - the less you know the safer you are, so don't ask."
"They're gonna be pissed when they get back."
"Yeah, that are." Assuming they ever do come back. "Lets see where we are."
The two of them made it to their feet. Josiah found his legs trembling under him and his head swam, Buck was limping heavily. With one arm wrapped protectively across his chest, Josiah shuffled beside Buck as they explored their prison as best they could with the small light they had.
It was a large room, with a high roof that the thin beam of light barely reached. There was one door, the one by which they had entered. It was made of steel, and although the rust had taken a good hold where the sludge-green paint was peeling and cracked, it looked very solid. There was some rubble and a large puddle of water in one corner of the room. In the opposite corner the door there was a lone, very old, mouldy, mattress on the floor.
"What is this place?" Buck asked.
"Some kind of store room. See the marks on the walls?"
Buck swung the beam back to pick out the regular lines of small holes in the concrete walls.
"Looks to me like there used to be something bolted to the walls, storage units most like. Come on, let's bed down for now."
Buck began to illuminate the way back to the narrow mattress. "You take it," he offered.
"We will both take it."
"It's too small."
"So we'll be a bit cosy. Buck, we need to stay warm. Lying on cold damp concrete is one very quick way to loose body heat, sharing body heat on the other hand will help. Come on, I'll go first, you lie next to me, with your back to my chest."
It took some doing, getting their large, battered bodies down on to the mattress, pressed up against each other.
"Turn the light off now," Josiah instructed, "hide it again."
Buck hesitated; he was in no hurry to be in the dark in this place.
"Go on, we have to save the batteries," Josiah coaxed.
Buck reluctantly complied. "It took us three hours to get here, so its gonna be at least six before they get back."
"Maybe, let's just try and rest, save our strength."
+ + + + + + +
No one got much sleep in the Larabee house. Nathan had returned home, but to lie awake all night. Ezra slept, not in Chris and Vin's room - his normal berth when he slept over - but in Buck and JD's, keeping the younger boy company. The two of them talked for sometime, studiously avoiding the subject that was uppermost on both their minds. After a while the conversation died down and both boys pretended to be asleep. Ezra didn't sleep, but eventually JD's breathing evened out, slowed and deepened. Ezra lay and listened to him sleeping for a while, before he got up and went to the window. Pulling back the drapes he gazed out at the moonlit street below. Nothing moved, no cars drove down the street, no pedestrians ventured out, not so much as a stray dog crossed the street. Ezra lent forward, resting his forehead on the cool glass.
While he liked and cared for Buck, despite his deplorable abundance of personality, he found his thoughts going to the big detective who had show him so much trust. While Josiah was big and strong, he had never been anything but gentle and patient with Ezra, firm when he had to be, but always fair. All this was a revelation for Ezra; trust was something he had little experience with. No one had ever trusted him before and the only person he had ever trusted - his mother - had betrayed him, had in fact thrown him to the wolves and abandoned him. Then along came Josiah Sanchez and he trusted him, and - after a few hiccups - Ezra had not betrayed that trust.
He wasn't sure how long he stood there, gazing out at the empty street, but a sudden sound made him look around.
"NO!" JD suddenly shouted. "Don't take him away, you can't have him! He's mine!"
JD thrashed in the grip of his nightmare, sheets wrapping around his legs as his limbs flailed. Ezra didn't hesitate; he rushed across the room, trying to hold the smaller boy down.
"Hush JD, hush," he soothed. But JD didn't hush he continued to thrash and cry out. "Wake up, come on JD," Ezra raised his voice a little, not knowing what else to do.
Bright, startled, hazel eyes flew open. Scared, even terrified, JD gazed up at Ezra, illuminated in the silvery moonlight. "Buck?" he asked desperately, looking across the room to the now empty bed.
"I'm sorry," Ezra said softly.
"No," JD's voice trembled. "I had a dream, Buck was missing, taken away, it was just a dream."
Ezra shook his head. "No dream, they, Josiah and Buck, are still missing."
"But it was just a dream," JD all but pleaded for it to be true.
"I'm sorry." Ezra found tears in his eyes. "I'm so sorry," he repeated.
Just then the bedroom door opened, and Chris stepped in with Vin hovering behind him.
"You guys okay?" he asked.
Ezra nodded dumbly.
"No you ain't." He crossed the room to the two youngest boys, tears now bright in their eyes. "Come on, let's go down stairs, find some milk or hot chocolate."
JD looked up, tears running unchecked down his cheeks, while Ezra backhanded his own away.
"Okay," JD agreed, climbing out of bed.
The four boys padded down stairs and approached the kitchen, only for Chris, who was leading to freeze. Through the open door they could see Maggie, sitting alone in the dark room, just sitting, staring out of the window, silhouetted in the moonlight.
"Stay here guys," Chris hissed, as he moved forward. "Mom," he whispered as he approached.
Her head turned at the sound of his voice, the desperation in her eyes clear to see even in the weak light. She held out her arms and he stepped willingly into his mother's embrace.
"I want him back, I want my boy back." She didn't even try to keep the emotion out of her voice.
"Dad'll find them, I know he will, he'll bring Buck back," Chris' faith in his father was total, he could not - would not - conceive any scenario where his brother didn't come home.
Maggie looked up to see three frightened faces gazing at her from the doorway. Consumed by worry as she was for her second son, she had other boys looking to her for support and strength, a strength she was currently drawing from her son. Wiping away the tears she pulled herself up and beckoned the other three in. Never had a group hug been more needed. JD all but ran to her, Ezra to his own surprise welcomed the embrace. Vin hung back a little, not sure how he fitted in or how this family dynamic worked. A loving family was as alien to him as it was to Ezra. Chris stepped to one side so she had a view of the Texan teen.
"Vin Tanner, you come here and give me a hug, I need it."
Never one to disobey a lady, he did as requested and all but sighed as he took comfort from his foster mothers touch. Slowly the boys peeled away except for JD, who was now attached limpet-like to his new mother. JD wasn't usually that tactile with Maggie. The loss of his own mother was too recent, comparisons too easy to draw, and Maggie would of course come of worse in any comparison. Buck on the other hand held a unique place in the undersized thirteen-year-old. He had never had a father or a brother, Buck filled one role perfectly and shared the other with Ryan Larabee, but JD had looked to Ryan for a hug.
"Hey there," Maggie whispered. "How about some hot chocolate? I see Chris putting milk on to heat and since he hates warm milk and Vin has that 'feed me chocolate' look on his face, it looks like he's going to make some."
JD summoned up a hesitant smile. Then the phone rang.
+ + + + + + +
Albert Spinalsi was a gang enforcer who had been arrested in a police sting operation to ensnare a protection racket. Rather than face a long prison sentence, he agreed to testify against his mob bosses. His evidence was damning and if he made it to court he could put the head of one of Denver's biggest gangs behind bars. Josiah was part of the team assigned to watch him, and as soon as he went missing Ryan Larabee had alerted the men guarding him. In less than half an hour, Spinalsi had been removed from the Pine Ridge Motel to a new secret address. The police 'babysitters' remained, hoping to trap whoever came to kill Spinalsi.
Victor King and Carl Forester were killers, gang assassins, the best there was at making problems go away. They weren't amateurs, they didn't just walk in and start shooting, but they did believe in firepower. A lot of firepower. Had the police in the motel not been expecting someone to try and kill their now non-existent prisoner, they would have stood no chance. But they were ready. Ready with men, ready with bullet-proof vests and ready with firepower. It was just before dawn, the time of day all humans are at their lowest and least attentive, that the two gunmen made their move - or tried to. Their approach to the back of the motel cabin, armed with grenades was intercepted by a SWAT team. Their orders were to take the men alive, but that was before they were confronted with grenades. The brief, lethal shoot out in which three police officers were injured, the motel cabin lost part of its wall, a police van was destroyed, one would be assassin was killed and one badly wounded by his own grenade.
While he lay in a coma in the hospital, all the police had to go on was what evidence the CSI team could gather from his clothing and his partner's body and their car. There was no hard and fast proof these men were responsible for Buck and Josiah's disappearance. Yet how else had the gang found the so-called 'safe house' so fast, if Josiah hadn't told them. Worse, what had they done to him or threatened him or - God forbid Buck - with to get him to reveal that particular bit of sensitive information. Ryan didn't want to think about that, any more than he wanted to call home with this news.
Josiah hadn't wanted Buck to know how badly he was hurt. He'd let him hold the light because he couldnt; all his fingers were broken, though not, thank God, his thumbs. His ribs ached - sometimes he'd move and there would be a sudden jab of pain, but that was nothing compared to his kidneys, which felt like they were on fire. On top of all that, his head still pounded, no doubt he had a mild concussion. Even as they were pounding on him he knew sooner or later they'd use Buck against him and he'd have to give in. He just had to hope he could hold out as long as possible, so that Ryan had time to work out what was going on.
Spinalsi was a rat, lowest of the low. Josiah didn't give a rat's ass if he lived or died, but the information he was giving them - if he stayed alive long enough to deliver it in court - was too valuable to lose. With it the police would bring down a gang and end to a reign of terror in one district of the city which had made the lives of ordinary decent working people hell. Lives would be saved, of that Josiah had no doubt. It wasn't just all those innocent passers-by cut down in drive-by shootings and mistaken identity revenge killings, but the suicides, broken marriages and substance abuse that would not now happen if the local businesses could actually make a profit. They could offer services and jobs, instead of giving it all to the local gang. People might even start to move back into the area, rather than out. The heart attacks and strokes that would be prevented because the fear, stress and apprehension was gone. For all these people Spinalsi had to stay alive long enough to testify. Josiah looked at his fingers, swollen now, mottled black and blue, blood caked on some of the tips where the nails had been ripped off. If they hadn't had Buck around to use as a bargaining chip, no doubt they would have started on his toes.
Buck hadn't slept much, if at all. All the time they lay there together his breathing, while quiet, hadn't evened out into that soft, deep breathing that indicated sleep. As he lay there pressed up against Josiah, he'd tried to stay still, conscious that his moments would be transmitted to the man behind him. There was nothing Josiah could say that would make the teenager feel better or help him to relax, so he didn't try. Mentally he was making a survival list and ticking boxes. The rule of three came to mind. Three minutes without air - well the room wasn't airtight, that much was clear. Three days without water? They had the puddle - presumably it was rainwater. Showers were forecast, so there was no lack of water. How drinkable the water was, now that was a different matter. If the water made them sick then they would dehydrate faster than if they drank nothing at all. Three weeks without food well, that was conservative. People had lasted a lot longer than that with only water, not that he was eager to be proved right on that point. Then there was the fact that while he had some reserves of fat and he knew, to his waist line's cost, a slow metabolism, Buck wasn't carrying an ounce of spare fat. The boy wasn't skinny as such, he had too much muscle. But he was lean, definitely lean and considering how much he ate, his metabolism must run like an express train. For Buck, three weeks might really be the limit. Just then his young friend began to cough, the sudden and unexpected muscle convulsion sending his bony shoulder blades back into Josiah's damaged ribs who was unable to suppress a grunt of pain.
"I'm sorry," Buck gasped out between coughs.
He rolled off the mattress and pushed himself up onto his feet with some difficulty as the coughing eased off. Josiah suddenly remembered why Buck had been with him, why he hadn't been in school sick. He was sick with a fever and had been for two days, mild it was true, but locked away in this dark, dank place with no food wasn't going to help him much.
"Nothing to apologies for," he assured, as Buck seemed to recover.
Dawn wasn't far away apparently. The dark impenetrable mass that had been the ceiling was now just visible, mainly because a section of roof had caved in; this accounted for the rubble and the puddle. The paling sky stood out against the unremitting darkness of the rest of the room. Getting up had been a near impossible task - all of Josiah's abused muscles had stiffened up over night, he could still use the heel of his hands to push off the floor with, but every movement, every knock, brought pain to his fingers. Once he was up, he walked stiffly over to Buck, who had been limping around the room.
"Find anything?" he asked.
"Nothing new, this place is falling apart."
Josiah looked around and couldn't help but feel he was someplace familiar. He kept looking at the peeling green paint on the door and being reminded of the army. As the light improved Josiah could see why the roof had given way. The Colorado weather had worked its way into the concrete that attached the iron reinforcing rods buried within, as they rusted and expanded the concrete was literally blown away. As he viewed the opening an idea struck him. Turning back he walked as best he could to the door.
"Buck?" he called.
"Bring your knife." Once Buck extracted his knife from where he'd hidden it under the mattress he walked over to Josiah. "Does it have a screwdriver?"
"Yup," Buck confirmed, opening out the blade and offering it to Josiah.
"No - you do it, see here?" he pointed to the paintwork on the hinge side of the door. It was blistered and cracked.
"Yup," Buck confirmed.
"Let's see what's behind there."
Buck didn't ask any more questions, he just began to push the broad flat blade under the paintwork and prised it off. As Josiah had hoped, the concrete underneath was cracked, crumbling and stained with rust.
"Well we might as well start on getting out of here, start digging away, with time you should be able to dig the hinges out."
Buck looked at the door and then at Josiah. Was he mad? It would take days, weeks even, they had no food, no heat, and only one little penknife. And what was with the 'you'? Wasn't he going to help?? Buck looked back at his father's best friend. He was a huge man, strong as an ox, so why was he telling Buck to do all the work? That's when he noticed and instantly cursed himself for not seeing it before. Josiah's hands were swollen; the skin tight and angry. Blood still clung to the fingertips and bruising had turned the skin black and blue.
"How bad?" he asked softly.
Josiah lifted his right hand and examined it. "The truth?"
"Ain't much good lying, seeing the state we're in, is there?"
"No, I guess not. I reckon all my fingers are broke, some bones in the hands too."
Buck actually felt his knees go momentarily weak at the very thought of it, knowing it would have been done, slowly, one at a time.
"God, I'm sorry! I'll get us out, I swear it."
Buck turned back to the monumental task of digging out the old rusty hinges. He worked all day, even when his bruised and abused knee began to ache, he didn't stop. Josiah made him take breaks and drink the stale, slightly gritty water from the puddle. On his third water break Buck noticed Josiah hadn't drunk.
"You need it too, we arent gonna run out, it'll rain again," he assured the wounded man.
"I can't," Josiah gestured with his swollen hands to the murky water.
"Oh," Buck said as realisation dawned.
So Buck cupped water into his own hand and Josiah drank from it, and - when the time came - he helped him with his clothing so he could pee. They had designated the furthest corner of their extensive prison as a urinal. Josiah just hoped that in the dark corner his young friend didn't see the blood he was passing.
+ + + + + + +
Ryan stepped through the door of his own home and felt like a stranger. He was a failure. His job was to protect, to protect everyone, but first and foremost his family, his children and he had failed. The second would-be assassin had died in surgery. He stood in the hallway, the door open behind him. The morning sunlight streaming in behind him seemed out of place.
Maggie walked out of the kitchen to stare at him down the length of the corridor, she looked haggard, hair unbrushed, eyes red rimmed and puffy. Their eyes met and she knew - she knew from a dozen feet away, she knew without a word or a gesture passing between them. As she walked toward him, her expression changed from one of fear to distress, and then anger.
"How?" she asked.
Ryan said nothing, not even able to meet her gaze.
"How could you let this happen? He's our son, he's my boy - how?"
"We tried it wasn't meant to happen this way," he offered.
"So why did it? He was our only hope!" Despite her desire not to wake the boys sleeping above them, her voice rose.
"I know, damn it I know, you think I don't understand? But "
"They had grenades! We weren't expecting grenades."
It took her a little while to digest what he had said, but Maggie had been a cop's wife long enough to know what the implications were.
"You okay?" she asked, her tone softening.
"I'm fine," he assured with a slight bob of the head. "Where are the boys?"
Maggie looked up. "Nathan went home, but we did agree to have him here this week, he tried to say he could make other arrangements, but it doesnt seem fair. The others are asleep, it took a while, but all they're on the floor in Bucks room."
There was a catch in her breath as she said her son's name.
"It's still his room darling, we'll find him, both of them, even if I have to search the whole damn state on my own."
"You won't be alone, I'll be there with you, the boys as well."
"I know honey, I know. I need to grab a shower and something to eat, then head back to the station."
"You need some rest," Maggie protested. Much as she wanted Buck and Josiah found, she could see how exhausted her husband was, he would be no use to them if he crashed the car on the way there.
"Yeah, they found "
"What?" she prompted.
"There was blood on the one of the perp's pants. It isn't his, I need some of Buck's DNA, for comparison."
Maggie blanched. If it was Buck he was hurt. She hadn't thought of that, in her mind he was just lost or a prisoner, he wasn't bleeding.
"What do you need?" she asked hesitantly.
"Toothbrush. I already got Josiah's from his locker at the station."
"I'll go get it while you eat something." Maggie turned back to the kitchen.
"I'm not that "
"Toast dear, have some toast with peanut butter and coffee."
"Oh damn!" Ryan suddenly exclaimed.
"Dad! I gotta call him, tell him what's going on."
Maggie put her arm around her husband again. "He's in Korea, remember, army reunion."
"Oh shit, so he is. I guess I could find him."
"Don't. What can he do? Don't spoil his trip until we know something."
"I guess you're right, as usual."
"I'll get the toothbrush, you get some food."
+ + + + + + +
Chris sat on the stairs, out of sight but not out of earshot, Vin behind him. They had been asleep in Buck's room, which was at the front of the house. Buck and, as it turned out JD, were heavy sleepers, and not bothered by the street noise beneath their window. Chris and Vin's room was at the back since Chris was a notoriously light sleeper. He'd woken as soon as his father's car drew up, and it took little more than him standing to wake Vin. Creeping silently part of the way down the stairs, they had sat and listened to the whole exchange.
Vin liked Buck, he liked him a lot and considered him to be more than a friend, but he didn't have the same attachment to him as Chris, his brother.
"They'll find him, Josiah too," he whispered.
Chris didn't speak, but he did nod in response to Vin's assertion. They rose silently and tiptoed back to Chris' room, then they just sat in silence for sometime. They heard Maggie come up stairs and go into the bathroom. Once she went down again, they crept back down the stairs to listen at the kitchen door.
Maggie was crying, again. "I want my boy back, I know he was never my baby, not like Chris, but he is my son and I loved him. Oh God Ryan what are we gonna do if we never ..."
"Don't say that, don't even think it," they heard Ryan say, then there was a sound as if he stood up.
Vin imagined him crossing the room and embracing his wife. He looked over at Chris to see tears forming threatening to overflow down his friend's cheeks. To him Chris looked scared but also determined. Reaching out he put his hand over his friend's back and gave his shoulders a squeeze of solidarity.
Chris back-handed the tears away, gave Vin a half-smile of reassurance and thanks, then gestured that they should go back upstairs. Once in the bedroom again, Chris turned to Vin and announced.
"This morning we go back to the school, someone must have seen something,"
Vin wasn't so sure. "Saturday? Whos gonna be there?"
"We start asking around the neighbourhood, near the back gate."
"Won't the cops be doing that?"
"Sure, but some folk don't like the cops, 'specially kids, they might tell us what they won't tell the them."
That did sound reasonable. "What do we tell the others?"
"Yup, it'll just be harder later if we don't, besides he'll want to help."
Nathan's father had to leave town to deal with a family issue back in Georgia, he offered again to find someplace else for Nathan to stay, but Maggie refused.
"Obediah, I won't hear of it, Nate is no trouble at all, he's been a great help. In fact I could probably use the extra help."
"Well if you are really sure. This is my cell phone number, please call us if you get any news, we're all praying for you and them."
Maggie took the small scrap of paper with the number scrawled on it and smiled. "I will, and you take care, from what Nathan said you have your own worries to deal with."
Obediah Jackson shook his head. "Don't compare to yours, but thank you anyway."
+ + + + + + +
Once breakfast was over, and Nathan had stowed his bag upstairs, the five boys headed out. It had taken sometime to persuade Maggie to let them go at all, she didn't want to let one of them out of her sight.
"Mom, we will all stay together, I promise," Chris assured. "We have to do something, I can't stay here and just wait. None of us can."
Maggie looked up at her son. "And what about me? I have to say here, and wait. What if one of them makes it to a phone, or even here."
Chris avoided her gaze. "I know, I'm sorry." He looked back at the others. "You guys go on, I'll say behind and keep Mom company."
Vin nodded and prepared to go.
"No, no that's not fair." Maggie reached up and put her petite hand on Chris' cheek. "You're your fathers son, you have to do something, I'll be okay - I'll bake! Go, all of you, see if someone saw something."
"Mom, are you sure?"
"I am, go on." With that she stood on tiptoe and kissed her son's cheek.