Misgivings, Misapprehensions, and Missing Persons
by Beth Green
Crossover "Without a Trace"
- Magnificent Seven ATF: Buck, JD
- Without a Trace: Martin; Jack
Warning: Adult suggestive content may be offensive to some readers. (It's just a wee little bit, but you have been warned.)
Author's Notes: This is a Without a Trace crossover with the Magnificent Seven ATF AU. It is not necessary to be familiar with either universe to enjoy this story. Thanks to all who participated in the search for a title. Thanks to Chris for the beta work. Any remaining mistakes belong to me.
JD Dunne, along with the other members of the ATF's Team Seven, listened shamelessly to the discussion that was taking place between his best friend Buck and their boss, Chris Larabee. His roommate, Buck Wilmington, was simply asking for some time off to attend the wedding of an old friend. In consideration of the fact that it was such a simple task, Buck had seen no need to shut the door when he entered Chris' office. As a result, all of Team Seven were ear-witnesses to the ensuing conversation.
Buck's voice had started out cheerfully enough. "Hey, Chris, I need some time off at the end of next month."
Chris sounded less gruff than usual when he responded, which was a promising start. "How much time are we talking about?"
"I need at least Friday, Saturday and Sunday off, but I wouldn't complain if you saw fit to allow me an extra day or two either way."
"I might; it depends on what you need the time off for."
"I've been invited to a wedding in New York City."
"Anybody I know?"
There was a noticeable pause before Buck answered. "Just so happens, you might."
"So, you gonna tell me who it is, or do I have to guess?"
Buck sighed. "Gina Spinoza."
Chris thought out loud. "Gina Spinoza? One of your old girlfriends? No, that's not it. I know I've heard that name before. Gina, Gina . . . Spinoza."
It seemed that Buck had no desire to prod Chris' memory. "Well, if that's all, I'll be
going. Here's my vacation request form."
Chris' voice abruptly changed from curious to hostile. He had suddenly remembered why the name seemed so familiar. "Hold on a minute. This wouldn't by chance happen to be the same Gina Spinoza whose father is Louie Spinoza?"
Buck tried to head off the coming storm. "Now, Chris . . ."
The ATF team leader's voice overrode Buck's plea. Chris ranted, "I cannot begin to tell you what a bad idea this is. No, wait, I don't have to tell you because you already know."
Buck indignantly disagreed. "I know no such thing. I've known Gina and Uncle Louie almost as long as I've known you. They're good people."
"Good people can have their bad points. In this case, you know the bad all too well."
"Not necessarily. Sure, the man played a little on the wrong side of the fence years ago, but he paid his debt to society. Not to mention the fact that Uncle Louie always tended to exaggerate his connections. I might have stretched the truth a bit myself when I talked about 'em. The thing of it is, when you're Italian, it's a big thing to be connected to the Mafia. People tend not to harass you, plus they show you a certain amount of respect when they're under the threat of swimming with the fishes if they happen to piss you off."
Chris' voice increased in volume, which was never a good sign. "Are you trying to tell me that the only reason that Uncle Louie got sent to prison was because he bragged about running book for the Gamboni family? The legal system sure as hell didn't show him any respect, and they believed that he was connected."
Buck tried to reason with his irate boss. "Well, okay, but that was a long time ago. Trust me, those connections are a part of the past. Uncle Louie has seen the error of his ways and now he's an honest citizen."
"You just uttered the two scariest words in your vocabulary: trust me." There was a minute or two of silence from both men before Chris continued. "How do you think my boss, AD Travis, would react to the news that one of the members of my team has been associating with mobsters?"
Buck was becoming irate himself at Chris' words. "In the first place, you're convicting a man without proof. I have no reason not to believe Uncle Louie when he tells me that he's cut all ties to the Gambonis. In the second place, there's no reason why Travis ever has to know about this."
"With your luck, Travis will be reading about it in the newspapers before you ever make it back home."
There was a dangerous note of defiance in Buck's voice when he questioned, "Are you saying that I can't go?"
JD held his breath, waiting for the inevitable explosion of Chris' temper. Much to his surprise, the explosion did not come. Chris sounded much calmer than any of his listeners thought that he would be when he answered. "No, I'm not saying that. I can see you've got it in your head that you're going to do this regardless of whether or not I approve. For the record, I don't. But, I know how much Uncle Louie means to you. What did you call him once, the father you never had?" Chris continued, "I'm giving you three days, period. All I'm asking in return is that you stay out of trouble."
JD's colleague, Ezra Standish, commented, "That does it. Chris has effectively cursed Buck's upcoming adventure."
Buck didn't seem to see it that way. His voice cheerfully upbeat, he replied, "No problem. Nobody 'll ever even know I'm gone." There was no way that Buck could know how completely and utterly wrong his words would prove to be.
JD was getting sick and tired of Buck rhapsodizing about the wonders of New York City. Although his date of departure was still almost two weeks away, it seemed that New York was all that Buck wanted to talk about.
"Kid, I guarantee you, there is no major city that can compare. Day or night, there's always something going on. A lot of it is pretty damn strange. One of the weird things about New York is that the odder something or someone is, the more people ignore it."
JD had had enough. "Speaking of not caring, that pretty well describes how I feel about all this New York talk. Seeing as it's one place I'll probably never get to, I don't need to listen to you going on and on about everything I'm missing."
Buck teased, "Aw, you're just jealous."
Had he taken a moment to think before he spoke, JD might have tried to come up with something a little less true in response. Instead, his words were an honest confession. "Maybe I am."
Buck was touched by the wistful tone of JD's voice. Buck was one of those people who could say of most places, 'Been there, done that, and got the t-shirt to prove it.' A part of the reason for Buck's peripatetic past was simply the fact that the senior ATF agent had a few years on JD. The larger and more significant reason could be attributed to Buck's background. The older man's lifestyle had not allowed for much in the way of permanence over the years. He'd learned to go with the flow, and for the most part enjoyed the many and varied experiences that life had offered. In contrast, JD could count on the fingers of one hand the number of different states he'd visited. Really, if Buck looked at it from JD's point of view, there were too many blank pages in the kid's book of life. There was a big wide world out there, and JD ought to have a chance to see more of it. It only took Buck a minute to come up with a solution. A smile brightened his face as he turned to JD. "Nothing says you can't come with me. In fact, I insist."
JD hesitated at the abrupt change in plans. "I don't know. After all, you're going to a wedding. It's not as if I know any of the people you're going to see."
Buck dismissed JD's objections. "Hell, the Spinozas are the kind of folks that it's impossible to remain strangers with once you've been introduced. They'll adopt you in a - excuse me, but I've got to say this - New York minute. Anyway, it's not like you need to be following me around every second of every day while we're in New York. All you need is a map and a compass and you're good to go." Buck's enthusiasm was growing with every word. "Come on, kid, who knows when you'll get a better chance? My talking about New York doesn't begin to do it justice. It's the kind of place that you've got to experience first hand. Please say you're coming with me?"
JD had already been sold before Buck finished his plea. JD stated, "Okay, if Chris doesn't object, I think a trip to New York would be a heck of a lot of fun."
Buck clapped JD heartily on the back. "'Fun' doesn't begin to describe it. And as far and Chris goes, as long as we tell him that you're coming along to keep me out of trouble, there's no way he won't give you the time off."
+ + + + + + +
Buck's words proved to be a little bit on the optimistic side when they approached Chris. Their boss frowned. "Let me get this straight: you want me to send JD with you to keep you out of trouble? That's such a load of horse shit. When you two get together, more often than not you end up in twice as much trouble. What's that old saying about setting a fox to watch the henhouse? Not a good idea."
Buck argued, "You're just remembering what happened when me and you went to New York back in our wild and wooly days. In our defense, we managed to talk our way out of being arrested. And other than that little petty theft incident, we had ourselves a hell of a time."
Chris grumbled, "That 'petty theft incident' involved all of our luggage being stolen before we even made it to the hotel. And we wouldn't have been threatened with arrest if you hadn't been hitting on the Police Commissioner's daughter."
Buck pleaded, "Heck, Chris, it's only for three days. What could go wrong?"
If Chris had had any idea of what exactly could go wrong, he never would have agreed to either man leaving Colorado. Not being clairvoyant, Chris sighed. "I guess if I'd never been to New York, I might want to go with you. I don't see why I should deprive JD of the opportunity."
JD was hesitant to believe that Chris had really decided in his favor. He questioned, "You mean I can go?"
Buck smiled. "That's what the man said. C'mon kid, pack your bags." He started to sing, "New York, New York, it's a wonderful town," as they left the office.
JD's voice faded into the background. His last understandable words were something that Chris would have preferred not to have overheard. "Chris called me a fox. Should I be worried?"
Buck's reply was inaudible.
Chris shook his head, muttering, "I know I'm going to regret this."
Twelve hours missing
Jack Malone, leader of the FBI's Missing Persons Unit in New York City, briefed his team on their latest case. He nodded appreciatively at the attentive faces surrounding him: Vivian Johnson, seasoned investigator and arguably his equal; Danny Taylor, tough, tenacious, and dedicated; Samantha 'Sam' Spade, who possessed an admirable combination of beauty and intelligence; and Martin Fitzgerald, the newest member of the unit, who'd shown himself to be every bit the equal of his peers.
Jack stood before a whiteboard and pinned up a photograph of their latest missing person. It was a man, blue-eyed with dark, wavy hair, a mustache, and a smile that combined to form a picture of someone that women would tend to describe as attractive. The team leader began to write down a timeline and the pertinent details of the case as he spoke. "Okay, people, listen up. Buck Wilmington, an ATF agent from Denver, Colorado, was last seen at a party at the Hilton yesterday evening. He was in town for a three-day weekend to attend the wedding of a friend, one Gina Spinoza, now Gina Canelli. He was reported missing this morning by a member of his ATF team, JD Dunne. Mr. Dunne will join us in a minute to fill in the details."
Jack forcefully recapped the marker he'd been using. "Here's where it starts to get complicated. In about five hours' time, or sooner if they can get a flight out of Denver, the remaining five members of Agent Wilmington's team will be joining us." Jack paused a moment, giving his team a chance to absorb the news.
Martin tossed his pen on the conference table, his voice more than a little annoyed. "That's just great."
Danny concurred. "That's just what we need, a bunch of tourists interfering while we're trying to do our job."
Jack gave a nod of acknowledgment. 'That's all the more reason we need to get moving on this." He half-smiled. "It'd be nice if we could have the case solved before they get here."
Vivian answered with a smile of her own. "Yeah, it would." Her smile vanished as if it had never been with her next words. "We're past due for a win." Everyone in the room agreed with the sentiment. Their last few cases had been either unsolved or concluded with the victim having been discovered too late for the team to do anything other than to turn the case over to the NYPD homicide detectives.
Jack picked up the phone and used the interoffice line. "We're ready for Mr. Dunne."
The man who was escorted into the room was surprisingly young-looking for an agent. Jack quickly made introductions, then got down to business. "Okay, Mr. Dunne . . ."
The young man interrupted, "Please call me JD."
Jack did not attempt to hide his impatience. "JD, tell us everything you can remember that might be pertinent to Buck's disappearance." Jack deliberately used the missing person's first name, wanting to bring this case down to a more personal level. While some investigators lauded the virtues of remaining emotionally detached from their cases, Jack found it helpful to connect personally on some level with their victims or families. On the difficult cases, especially, it helped to self-motivate the investigators to go the extra mile. Jack was proud to say that he and his team had gone that extra step time and time again. They had the successful solve rate to prove it. The trick was retaining enough emotional detachment to avoid job burnout. It wasn't always possible. That was how it came to be that his team had a position available for Martin Fitzgerald to fill.
Although Jack had already heard JD's story, he listened attentively, hoping to pick up on anything he may have missed the first time around.
JD began. "I've never been to New York before, and didn't know anybody, at least until this weekend." A brief smile flitted across his face. "Buck being Buck, he knows everybody."
Three days ago
Buck clapped his hands together in his enthusiasm. "Well, JD, we're finally here in New York City and ready to take a bite out of the Big Apple. This weekend is gonna be one continuous party. Tonight, while the bride and groom-to-be are having a fancy dinner with their future in-laws, the rest of us are going to be at Cousin Jimmy's house in Upstate New York. If you want, you can wander the city while I'm off partying."
JD had spent the few hours since their arrival acting the part of the tourist that he was. He kept looking up, and up, and up at the tall buildings surrounding them. He equally had to keep looking around lest he be trampled like a calf in a stampede by the mass of humanity swirling around them. He felt nowhere near comfortable enough to wander the city by himself. "If you don't think anybody 'll mind, I'll tag along to Cousin Jimmy's."
Buck reassured him. "My invitation said 'Buck Wilmington and Guest.' You're my guest."
JD was relieved when they arrived at Cousin Jimmy's. It was your typical ranch-style suburban home. The party was in full swing, with guests spilling out of the house to wander the grounds. Portable lights and a tent had been set up in the back yard so that the partygoers could enjoy the evening air out-of-doors. Buck wandered over to the tent. It was not long before he was spotted by one of the other guests.
"Lock up the women! Buck Wilmington's here!" The speaker greeted Buck with an enthusiastic hug. "Buck, long time no see! You haven't changed a bit. I can't believe you've still got that cheesy mustache."
Buck teased the speaker in return. "You're just jealous because you can't grow a decent beard or mustache. . ." Buck pinched the man's cheek . . ."with your little baby face."
They were soon surrounded by a crowd of people. Buck made sure that JD didn't get left out as he introduced him time and time again. JD was relieved to find out that Buck had been right. These people had no problem expanding their circle of friends to include the stranger in their midst. The party lasted into the wee hours of the morning. Buck and JD joined a number of guests who'd been invited to share floor space in the family room to catch a few hours of sleep. By noon the next day everyone had recovered enough to make their way home; or in Buck and JD's case, back to the city.
"I talked to Cousin Jimmy this morning. He hasn't seen Buck since the reception yesterday. He was kind enough to make me a list of everyone he could remember who was at his party." He pulled out a sheaf of papers and counted off five pages to be distributed among the investigators. "I've made copies for everyone." JD did not bother to add that 'everyone' included the fellow members of his ATF team.
"Cousin Jimmy knows someone who knows someone. He was able to check all of the local hospitals and police stations. No one matching Buck's description turned up." JD could see that he had gained a measure of respect from the people gathered around the conference table. That was good. His investigation would be complicated if the Missing Persons Unit did not accept his participation. With or without their approval, he intended to personally continue the search for his friend.
"Saturday night we went to a bachelor party for the groom, Joey Canelli. I've got a separate list of the guys who were there." JD handed out another neatly typewritten sheet of paper. "It's worth noting that Buck and the groom ended the evening on less than friendly terms."
Two days ago
Buck and JD were sharing a table in a crowded bar. Buck leaned close to JD, not wanting his words to be overheard. He confessed, "I've never met Gina's boyfriend Joey before today. She loves the guy, so I'm kind of obliged to tolerate him." He sighed. "It'd be even better if I liked the guy."
The bachelor party was taking place in a downtown bar owned by Joey's best man. Cousin Jimmy had insisted that both Buck and JD attend Joey's bachelor party. Jimmy wandered over to the table currently being shared by Buck and JD. "Glad to see you both could make it." He paused to take a healthy swig of his drink then continued, "This is what I call a bachelor party. It's guys, booze, and everything else that goes along with celebrating another fallen brother lost to the glory that is woman."
Buck offered an approving leer as he added, "And what a woman she is."
Jimmy poked him with a sharp elbow. "Don't say that where Joey can hear. He's got a bit of a temper, and you, my friend, have a bit of a reputation."
Buck defended himself. "Aw, come on. Gina is like my little sister. As much as I like her, there's no way I would ever think of her like a woman." Buck snorted at Jimmy's look of disbelief. "You know what I mean. Forgive me if I don't say it the way I wanted to. There's just certain words you don't use when you're talking about your sister."
Jimmy nodded. "I know, I know, you love her like a sister. The thing is, Joey don't know that. All I'm saying is, behave yourself for Gina's sake."
Buck tried to behave himself, he really did. He would have succeeded had Joey not done something that was intolerable in Buck's view.
Joey's party included the requisite stripper. Joey appeared to enjoy her performance tremendously, especially when she shook her overly large breasts in his face. He insisted that she perform a lap dance, and she willingly obliged. Once she had completed her routine, Joey grabbed her by the hand and headed off toward a back room of the bar. He found his way blocked by six-foot plus of angry Buck.
His voice deceptively calm, Buck asked, "Where are you going?"
Joey, not intimidated in the least, looked up at the taller man. "That's none of your business."
Buck crossed his arms, staring down at Joey. "I'm making it my business."
In the crowded confines of the room, the trio was attracting attention. Joey's best friend pushed his way through the mass of people. He pulled at his friend's arm. "Hey, Joey, the party can't go on without you. Why don't you let me get you a drink?"
Joey shook off his friend's hand. "It's my party, and what I do is none of this guy's business."
Buck stated, "What concerns Gina, concerns me. And if you don't want Gina to know everything that went on at your party tonight, you won't do anything that I'd feel obliged to tell her about."
It finally got through Joey's thick head that Buck meant to enforce pre-wedding celibacy. He tried to bluster, "Who do you think she's gonna believe? You or her husband?"
"You're not her husband. Yet. Who do you think she's gonna believe?"
Conceding the argument, Joey ran a hand through the stripper's long hair. "Honey, how about a rain check?" He leaned in and kissed the woman, long and lingering, on the lips. He waved as the best man pulled him back into the crowd. "Ciao."
JD continued. "I checked with Gina this morning. She said that neither she nor Joey had seen or heard from Buck since the reception. Gina was pretty upset. She told me that the honeymoon was postponed until we find out what happened to Buck."
Jack raised an eyebrow. "That's being an incredibly good friend. And Buck says that they were never intimately involved?"
JD nodded, "Buck said it, so it's true. He and Gina met while they were still in high school. Buck's mom had moved in with Gina's dad, the man that Buck refers to as his Uncle Louie. They were in New York less than a year later when Uncle Louie got in trouble with the law. I don't know all of the details. Just that Buck and his mom had to leave town in a hurry. Before everything turned to crap, Buck says it was one of the best times of his life." JD stared at Jack, his gaze reinforcing his words. "Buck says Gina is family. Believe me, once Buck adopts someone as family, he'll defend them no matter what it takes."
JD didn't say what he'd originally thought: that Buck would defend someone even at the expense of his own life. He prayed that whatever had happened to Buck, it hadn't come to that. He continued, "I suppose I'd better tell you about Uncle Louie's legal troubles. He was convicted of assisting the Gamboni family with running an illegal gambling operation."
Danny shook his head. "That's great. Uncle Louie's with the mob. Nice friends your buddy has."
JD leapt to Buck's defense. "Buck swears that Uncle Louie's reformed. He says that the Gambonis brought the man nothing but grief, and Uncle Louie spent enough time in prison to realize that he wanted nothing more to do with them."
Jack interrupted. "Nevertheless, we can't discount completely the idea that Buck's disappearance might be connected in some way to the Gamboni family. We've got to consider all of the possibilities."
JD huffed out a frustrated breath. "I know that. It's just my gut tells me that the mob doesnt have anything to do with this. Truthfully, Joey is number one on my list. Buck's got really good instincts when it comes to people. He doesn't like Joey, and the feeling is mutual. But like you say, we can't discount other possibilities." JD pulled out another list. "This is everyone who was at the wedding and the reception yesterday. I've starred the names of the people who were at both. There are some two hundred people that need to be interviewed."
Jack nodded. "That's fine. It'll give your friends something to do when they get here. So, what can you tell me about yesterday?"
One day ago
The wedding ceremony was long, formal, and very Catholic. Buck and JD breathed a sigh of relief when they arrived at the Hilton for the reception. Buck's tie immediately went into his pocket, and the top button of his shirt was unbuttoned. He waved a little black book at JD. "I bought a new one especially for the occasion. I thought it'd be fun to see how many entries I can get before it's time to go home." Buck proudly handed over the book, showing JD how many pages he'd managed to fill up over the past couple of days. He abruptly snatched back the book and arose from the table. "Oops, there's a new face I need to get acquainted with. See you later." He paused a minute to offer a bit of encouragement. He waved his hand, indicating the room in general. "There's a lot of pretty ladies out there. Go on, enjoy, and collect some new phone numbers for yourself."
JD proceeded to do just that. Three young women, sisters all and cousins to Gina, adopted him into their circle. They were bright, funny, and fine company. JD was having a great time. Once the women danced him into exhaustion, he collapsed into a chair. His eyes sought out his friend. He was not surprised to find Buck sharing an intimate dance with a good-looking blonde.
An hour or so later, it was Buck who sought out JD. This time, he was escorting a tall redhead. "JD, meet Amelia. Amelia, this is JD."
JD offered a friendly "Hi."
Amelia returned a "Hello," in a low, sultry, sexy, and seductive voice. It took JD a minute to realize that he was staring at the woman as his thoughts had wandered somewhere below his beltline.
Amelia leaned on Buck, whispering in his ear. Buck returned some quiet words of his own then kissed the redhead gently on the cheek before the lady wandered off. Both men admired the rear view as her hips swayed gently, sheathed in a form-fitting red dress that left little to the imagination. Buck held a hand dramatically to his chest and declared, "I'm in love!" before dropping comfortably into a nearby chair. His smile was a boast of triumph. He reached into his pocket. JD thought that he was going for his little black book. Instead, he was holding up a keycard for a hotel room. Buck stated, "I wanted to let you know that you'll have to find your own way back to the hotel tonight. I'll be staying at the Hilton. Room 314."
JD shook his head. "Damn, Buck, I thought for sure you'd be spending the night with that blonde you were with earlier."
Buck nodded. "That was Robin. I dated her, once upon a time. She invited me out for breakfast tomorrow morning."
Buck looked around at the empty chairs nearby. "Where's Toni, Tessa, and Terri? You guys seemed to be hitting it off pretty good."
JD replied, "They headed off to the ladies' room. That's something I never will understand. Why is it that woman always have to go to the restroom in a group?"
"JD, there's a whole lot of things about women that men will never understand. Trying to solve the mystery that is woman is the task of a lifetime." Buck stood up. "So, I'm off to do some investigating. See you." Buck wandered off with a half-wave and a smile. The image was presently burned into JD's brain as the last time he'd seen his friend.
"This morning I got a call from Robin."
Earlier the same day
JD had finished packing his belongings. With nothing better to do, he started on Buck's. There was no telling how long his friend's breakfast with Robin was going to last, and they had a plane to catch. His packing was interrupted by the ringing of the hotel phone.
"Hi, is this JD? This is Robin, Buck's friend. He was supposed to meet me for breakfast this morning and I haven't seen him or heard from him. I tried his cell phone number but there was no answer. I wondered if you knew where he was?"
Immediately, alarm bells and warnings went off in JD's brain. His voice sounding calmer than he felt, he replied, "I've got an idea or two. I'll try to track him down and have him give you a call."
After a quick 'Goodbye,' JD tried calling Buck on his cell phone. There was no answer. He then called over to the Hilton hotel, Room 314.
The low voice of the redhead from yesterday answered. "Hello?"
"Hi, this is JD, Buck's friend. I was wondering if he was there?"
The voice sounded irritated as Amelia answered, "No, he's not here. Why would he be?"
JD swallowed his embarrassment before he continued, "Look, I know that he was planning a visit to your hotel room last night."
"If he was, he stood me up." She paused, then continued in a much less hostile tone of voice. "I spent half the night cursing his sorry ass. Are you trying to tell me that he's missing? It never even occurred to me that something might have happened to Buck."
JD did not want to think about her last words. Trying to deny the facts, he responded, "I haven't said that anything happened to him. It's just that nobody seems to know where he is."
Amelia apologized. "I'm sorry. I haven't seen or heard from Buck since we shared our dance yesterday." She added, "When you find him, you tell him to call me, okay?"
JD replied, "Okay, yeah, I will. Goodbye." The young man set down the phone with exceptional care in order to counteract the sudden urge that swept through him to relieve his frustration by throwing the instrument across the room. The last thing that Buck would ever do would be to worry his friends by remaining out of touch. As far as JD could tell, it had been ten hours since anyone had seen or heard from the man. All that JD knew was that his friend was out there somewhere in the seething mass of humanity that made up New York City. He prayed that the phone would ring and Buck would be on the other end of the line with some wild tale of adventure. His prayer was not answered. JD stared accusingly at the too-silent phone. He mentally began to map out what he needed to do as the question kept repeating in his brain, "Buck, where the hell are you?"
JD's shoulders slumped as he concluded his story. "So, that's what I know so far. Buck's missing, and no one knows what, why, when, or how."
Jack began to hand out assignments. "First we need to talk to this Amelia White." He turned to JD, to clarify his statement. "The last person known to have been with Buck is the place we need to start from."
JD frowned at the implied insult. "I know that."
Jack ignored him. "Danny, Viv, you two to go to the Hilton and interview Ms. White. If she doesn't give you anything that we can use, I want you to start going through the guest list and talk to any of the wedding guests who are still at the hotel."
"We also need to talk to Gina and Joey Canelli. JD, you and I will meet with the happy couple."
"Martin, Sam, you two track down Robin Douglas. If no new leads turn up after that, I want you to interview Louie Spinoza."
Jack waved Vivian over to a corner of the room. "While you're talking to people, get their impressions of Mr. Dunne. We need to make sure he's as innocent as he appears to be."
Vivian looked toward the young man standing impatiently across the room, one hand tapping out a tattoo of anxiety upon his thigh. She nodded. "I'll see what I can find out."
Twelve hours missing
Danny's initial impression of Amelia White was a favorable one. She was a strikingly impressive redhead, rating a 'nine' on his personal rating scale of one to ten. He knocked off a point for the fact that, with her expensive clothes and haute couture style, she'd fall under the category of 'high maintenance.'
She greeted them in obvious concern. "I was hoping to have heard from Buck by now. If there's anything I can remember that might help, I'll certainly share it with you." She recalled her flirtation with the missing man as best as she could.
One day ago
Amelia smiled at the tall, attentive, fun-loving man she was rapidly developing an attraction to. She admitted, "I know we've only just met, but I'm becoming awfully fond of you."
Buck flirted back. "What a coincidence. I was just thinking the same thing about you."
Amelia's dancing partner pulled her in closer. It was obvious the attraction was mutual. She murmured, "Just in case you were wondering, I'm not in the market for a long term relationship."
Buck smiled in return. "I kind of guessed that when you didn't join the single women scrambling to catch the bride's bouquet."
Amelia immediately noticed the flaw in Buck's logic and didn't hesitate to point it out. "How did you know I was single?"
"I'm an agent with the ATF. I know how to conduct an investigation." Buck paused a minute to give Amelia time to be suitably impressed before he confessed, "I asked Gina."
The red-haired woman tightened her grip on her dancing partner. "Well, remind me to send Gina a 'Thank You' card." Their dance came to a stop all too soon.
Buck took advantage of the pause in the music to introduce Amelia to his friend JD. "JD, meet Amelia. Amelia, this is JD."
Amelia and JD exchanged 'Hellos.' Afterward, Amelia reached into her purse and pulled out a plastic card. She wrapped her hand around Buck's and pressed the card into his palm. She leaned forward, lowering her voice to a more intimate tone. "I wanted to give you a card, too. It's for my room. I'm staying here, at the Hilton, in Room 314. If you're not doing anything after midnight, I'd love to have you stop by."
Mindful of their audience, Buck gave her a chaste kiss on the cheek as he replied, "It just so happens I'm free tonight. There's a few folks I still need to say 'Hi' to, so after midnight works fine for me."
Amelia reluctantly disentangled her limbs from Buck's. She turned away, then back to offer one more word to her soon-to-be lover. "It'll be better than fine."
Buck pressed a hand to his heart, declaring "I'm in love."
Her brow furrowed in worry, Amelia concluded her narrative. "Those were the last words Buck spoke to me. I'm sorry I can't think of anything that might be useful."
Vivian handed over her business card. "Thank you, Ms. White. If you remember anything that might help in our investigation, please give us a call."
They made their good-byes, no closer to finding the missing man than they had been prior to their arrival.
+ + + + + + +
Martin and Sam hoped to get a lead from Robin Douglas, Buck's missed breakfast date. Robin was a New York native who shared an apartment with a roommate and three cats. Martin jumped when he was accosted by one of the felines the minute they entered the apartment. The long-haired white Persian entwined itself between the agent's legs, nearly tripping him. Robin shooed the cat away, but not before the bothersome furball had managed to leave a nice deposit of fur on Martin's pants leg. He cursed silently when he noticed that the cat hairs stood out quite clearly against the dark material of his suit. He vowed to remain standing during their visit, certain that all of the furniture must be coated with cat fur.
Sam seated herself at Robin's invitation, giving Martin a scolding look. It was difficult to establish rapport with someone if you stood looming over them. At Sam's look, Martin stepped back and let Sam conduct the interview while Martin busied himself removing the offending cat hair from his pants.
"Ms. Douglas . . ."
"Please, call me Robin."
"Robin, how long have you known Buck?"
"We've been friends since high school. It's been years since we last saw each other, but we've kept in touch. We had a great reunion."
Three days ago
Robin gave a high-pitched squeal of delight when she spotted the tall, dark-haired man entering the tent in Cousin Jimmy's backyard. She flung her arms around the man's neck with a cry of "Buck!"
The man in question was a foot taller than Robin. As he hugged her, he straightened up, lifting her completely off of the ground. Robin gave him a kiss on the lips, which he enthusiastically returned. "Oh, Buck, it's so good to see you! I've haven't seen you in ages. What have you been up to?"
"Oh, the same old, same old. You know, trying to take over the world."
Robin laughed in reply. "I can't believe that the best opening line you could come up with was a quote from 'Pinky and the Brain.' That's not the smooth Buck Wilmington that I remember."
Buck smiled, not offended in the least. "If you remember me as being smooth, you must have me confused with some other old boyfriend."
Robin silently surveyed Buck from head to toe, her eyes growing dark as she suggestively licked the tip of her tongue over her lips. She finally replied, "No, I remember you quite well." She linked her arm through Buck's. "I think it's time to renew old acquaintances."
They walked away together, smiling and laughing as they recalled memories of the good times they'd shared. Robin was one of the many girls Buck had dated in high school. In fact, half of the girls at the party had probably dated Buck at one time or another. Their reunion kept getting interrupted. Nevertheless, the more they talked, the friendlier they became. After yet another interruption, Robin made a suggestion. "Hey, Buck, there's a back room in the house where I can pretty much guarantee that we can find some privacy to talk. Are you interested?"
Buck mused, "That depends. Does this back room happen to be a bedroom?"
Robin smiled as she twined her arms around Buck's torso. "How ever did you guess?"
They absented themselves from the revelers to share an intimate interlude that involved very little talking. Eventually, they rejoined the party. Robin grew serious. "Buck, how come we never got married?"
Buck gently reminded her, "Hell, Robin, we're like fire and kindling. Put us together too long and we'd keep burning until there was nothing left but ashes."
Robin leaned her chin against her hand in contemplation. Her smile was sad and wistful. "Yes, I suppose you're right." She sighed. Her melancholy lessened as she recalled her first and best love. "But we made one hell of a lovely light when we were together." She kissed him fondly on the cheek. "Thanks for the reminder."
Buck kissed her in return. "You're welcome."
Robin continued, "I didn't see Buck again until yesterday at Gina and Joey's wedding."
Sam asked, "Did you notice anything out of the ordinary going on with Buck this weekend?"
Robin shook her head. "No. Buck was being his usual self, hitting on every woman in sight." Robin looked at Sam and Martin as a thought occurred to her. "You know, there was this one woman, a redhead, Amelia somebody-or-other. By the way she and Buck were acting yesterday, I think he got beyond first base." Robin insisted, "She's the woman you should be talking to."
Sam questioned, "Didn't it bother you to see Buck flirting with those other women?"
"No, that's just Buck being Buck."
Martin could not remain silent. "Are you trying to tell us that you didn't mind seeing your boyfriend with another woman?"
Robin became defensive. "No, I didn't, not really. For one thing, he's not my boyfriend. He's just . . . a friend; a very good friend. For another, there was never any question of exclusivity with Buck."
Martin didn't say anything, but Robin caught his eye-roll of disbelief. "It's true! With Buck, what you see is what you get. A woman knows he's the guy to be with for a good time, and not necessarily for the long haul." Robin's voice rose in anger as she continued, "Buck Wilmington is the most decent, honest man I've ever known. And you'll find that out, once you meet him. All you've got to do is your damn job and find him!"
Robin leaned back, her anger spent. She pleaded, "Please find him."
+ + + + + + +
Martin consulted his colleague as they made their way to Louie Spinoza's. "Sam, did you believe a word of what she said?"
Sam jumped, startled from her thoughts. The agent had been thinking about Robin's words, and how she wished that she herself could have a relationship with a man where she would have no doubts whatsoever that he was being one hundred percent honest with her. She stated, "Actually, I think that she was on the level." Sam could see that Martin was not convinced. She continued, "There are so many men out there who will do or say anything to get a woman into bed. I think it would be a breath of fresh air to have a man be honest and open with his thoughts, yet be able to say them in such a way as to make a woman feel special and desirable."
Martin drove on, pondering Sam's words. For a while now, he'd found himself attracted to his partner. Perhaps she had just given him a hint as to how to advance the feeling into action. He would have to give the matter some serious thought.
+ + + + + + +
JD fidgeted restlessly in the car as Jack drove to the newlyweds' home. The young man's anxiety increased with each passing hour. He knew that the longer Buck remained missing, the greater the chances were that he would be found injured or worse. JD could not bear to think about the worst. Buck was truly the best friend that JD had ever had. He could not imagine his life without Buck's upbeat, boisterous presence filling in the empty spaces. He could hear Buck's voice in his head. "Hell, kid, if you've got to rely on the 'feebs' to find me, I'm in shit up to my eyeballs. Tell Chris and the others to get off their lazy asses and come and get me." Chris Larabee and JD's fellow ATF team members could not get here soon enough to suit JD. Under Buck's tutelage, JD had developed a healthy sense of disrespect for the FBI. It was intolerable to think that Buck's life could very well depend upon the competence of the 'feebs.'
JD more than half-expected that his help would be needed in order to get the truth from Gina and Joey. He figured the fact that he'd already met the newlyweds was a distinct advantage. JD was about to share his thoughts with Jack when they arrived at their destination.
Both men were disturbed when they got their first look at Gina. The young woman who answered the door bore little resemblance to the happy bride JD had seen yesterday. Her beauty was marred by a split lip and a blackened right eye. Her eyes were reddened and swollen, with evidence of recent tears visible. She anxiously asked, "Have you heard from Buck?" When the answer was 'No,' Gina closed her eyes in silent prayer. She escorted the two men to the front parlor where an older woman was already seated. Gina introduced the woman as her Aunt Rosa.
JD and Jack introduced themselves in return. Jack began with what should have been a simple question. "Mrs. Canelli, we'd like to speak with your husband as well as yourself. Is Mr. Canelli home?"
Jack's query sparked a torrent of tears from Gina. Her shoulders shook with sobs. Aunt Rosa rubbed her back and murmured words of comfort. It took several long minutes for Gina to calm herself enough to speak. "Joey's not here. We had a fight." She twisted her handkerchief between her fingers as she continued. "I . . . I don't know if I still have a husband." The words were rough and stuttering as sobs kept trying to escape. "When I heard that Buck was missing, I told Joey that I had to stay. I couldn't leave without knowing what happened to Buck." JD had no doubt of the woman's sincerity. It shone in her tear-filled eyes.
"Joey . . . He didn't understand. I tried to tell him, but he wouldn't listen. He started talking crazy. He accused me of being in love with Buck. He said that I cared more about Buck than about my own husband. Joey . . . I never saw him so angry. He . . . He hit me. He said if I loved Buck so much, then he could have me. And then he left." Gina leaned back, emotionally exhausted.
Jack tried to tread carefully verbally. He had no desire to renew the woman's sobbing. "I'm very sorry. It would be helpful if we could speak with Joey. Do you have any idea where he might have gone?"
Gina replied with a rapid headshake. "No, I don't know."
"When was the last time you heard from Buck?"
"I saw him last night, at the reception." Her face took on a sad, wistful expression as she continued. "He danced with me." She rubbed a hand along her forehead. "I've been trying to think, but I don't remember seeing him after that."
"Do you remember anything he might have said, or that someone else might have said that might help us in our investigation?"
"No, I'm sorry."
JD had been getting angrier with every passing minute. He could no longer remain silent. His voice held none of the soothing tones that Jack had used as he asked, "Do you think that Joey might have had something to do with Buck's disappearance?"
Gina shook her head. "No, I don't. Most of the time he was with me, or somewhere close by."
"Does Buck know that Joey hit you?"
Gina grew defensive. "I told you, I haven't seen Buck since he danced with me."
JD continued relentlessly, "Because Buck is the kind of guy who finds it unacceptable for a man to hit a woman." JD leaned forward, closing the distance between himself and Gina. "If he knew that Joey hit you, Buck would go after Joey. Do you think that Buck might have done that? If he did, what do you think Joey would do?" JD slapped a hand forcefully upon the table at his elbow. Gina jumped at the sound. "Isnt it true that Buck disappeared because Joey wanted him to?"
Gina's face crumpled she broke down, sobbing. "No, no, he wouldn't! He couldn't! Oh, God, Buck!"
Aunt Rosa wrapped her arms around Gina and began to gently rock the distraught woman. Her voice stern, Aunt Rosa stated, "I think that you had better leave. Now."
Jack pulled out his business card and set it upon the table. "I'm sorry. If you think of anything that might help, or if you hear from Joey, please call me. Thank you for your time."
Jack didn't bother to wait until they returned to the car before he loosed his anger at JD. Once they were certain not to be overheard, he started in. "What the hell did you think you were doing?"
JD stated emphatically, "My job."
Jack fumed, "If this is how you usually conduct an interview, I don't want you to do anything else but go back to your hotel room and wait. My team and I will handle any and all interviews in this case."
JD stopped to stand with his hands on his hips. "Oh, come on! I'm the only one here who knows Buck, what he'd say, what he'd do. As soon as Gina told us that Joey had hit her, I knew what Buck's reaction would be if he found out. Are you honestly going to stand there and tell me that it's just a coincidence that both Buck and Joey are missing?"
Jack started walking toward the car. "If we're going to argue, let's do it in the privacy of the car. Buck doesn't have the time to waste for us to stand here all day."
JD was silent as that comment hit home. He followed Jack to the sedan. Once they were on the road again, Jack waited until his temper eased before he resumed their conversation. "Okay, I'll concede the point that you know Buck better than I do. But you need to give me credit for knowing how to conduct an interview. Mrs. Canelli was obviously upset before a word was even said. You may not have noticed, but I was doing everything that I could to keep the woman calm enough to answer questions. With just a few words, you blew all my efforts to hell."
JD spent a few minutes silently contemplating Jack's words. In his anger and anxiety over Buck, he hadn't stopped to consider Gina's feelings. It was totally out of character for him to be so thoughtless. It's just that he knew the clock was running out on Buck, he could feel it, and his desperation was growing with each passing hour. He literally wanted to shake the facts out of somebody. Finally, he spoke. "I'm sorry. I'm usually not such an insensitive jerk. Any time that I might be heading in that direction, it seems like Buck is always there to settle me down." JD turned sideways in his seat to face Jack, the better to plead his case. "You've got to understand, there's no way that I can just sit back and do nothing while my best friend is missing. You know this town, but I know these people. I can help, if you let me." JD added silently to himself, 'Even if you don't let me, you can't stop me from trying.'
Jack could pretty much guess what the young man was thinking. He supposed it was better to have the agent underfoot than off on his own doing God knows what. He offered a bargain. "I'm willing to give you one more chance. If you stay in the background and let me do my job, I'll let you come along on the next interview. If I see any hint of a repeat disaster, I'll kick you out faster than you'll be able to see my foot on your ass."
JD gave a nod of agreement. "Deal."
+ + + + + + +
Jack and JD had just finished another unproductive interview with one of the other wedding guests when JD's cell phone rang. The young man's eyes lit up when he saw the familiar number on the caller ID. He excused himself then answered, "Chris! Where are you?"
His boss replied, "I'm at the airport with the rest of the team. We've got a rental car waiting. Where can we meet?"
JD repeated the question as he pondered its answer. "Where can we meet?"
Jack asked, "Are you talking to your friends from the ATF?"
JD spoke into the phone as he answered, "Yeah, hang on a sec." He turned to face Jack. "My friends are here in town. They just got off the plane."
Jack had been considering the problem of what to do with the ATF agents as soon as he heard that they were coming. With the lists that JD had distributed earlier of party and wedding guests in mind, he replied, "Have them meet us at the FBI office. I'll have the rest of my team check in, and we'll work on assigning people to talk to anyone who might have come into contact with Buck this weekend."
JD conveyed the message while Jack contacted the other members of the Missing Persons Unit. They had no new leads to report. Jack hoped that with the additional manpower, they'd be able to get a line on Buck's disappearance sooner rather than later. Jack had also issued an APB for the missing bridegroom, Joey Canelli, as a person of interest to their investigation. One way or another, Jack vowed that this case would not remain unsolved.