by Beth Green
Author's Notes: Thanks to Chris for the beta work. Any remaining mistakes belong to me. The bold-faced type is from the Hugh Mearns poem, 'The Psychoed.' This disturbing little bit of verse provided the impetus to finish this story, so I included it. Enjoy!
As I was going up the stair . . .
Buck and JD did not let the gloominess of the weather affect their spirits. Both men were laughing and joking as they climbed the steps of the ATF building. Buck was seeking advice from his friend regarding his ongoing prank war with Vin.
JD was trying to remain neutral and play peacemaker. "Buck, maybe it's time for you to wave a white flag and surrender."
Buck shook his head. "No way I am gonna let that sneaky little Texan win. I need to come up with something to put that refugee from the land of the tiny-brained back in his place." His voice took on a wheedling tone as he continued, "Come on, JD, a smart guy like you, I'm sure you've got some ideas floating around."
JD let himself be persuaded. "Wel-l-l, if it was me, I'd start with something simple like 'customizing' the autocorrect feature on his computer. For example, I'd rig it so that every time he types my name, his computer would change the JD to 'King JD.'"
Buck smiled. "King Buck. I like the sound of that. And every time he types his own name, it'd come out, Vin 'Every Day's a Bad Hair Day' Tanner."
Their conversation was interrupted by a man hurrying up the stairs behind them. "Buck! Buck Wilmington!"
Buck stopped and turned to address the caller. His smile brightened in recognition and he extended a hand in welcome. "Jason Riggs! How the heck are you?"
Although his hand clasp was warm and firm, the man did not return Buck's smile. "Buck. I need to talk to you."
Buck inclined his head toward JD as he asked, "In private?"
"No. In fact, is Chris around?"
Buck's face reflected his curiosity. "He's probably upstairs. You want to come up with me?"
The man nodded. "Yeah. That would be good."
Buck had a nasty suspicion regarding the reason for Jason's visit. He guessed, "I don't suppose you're here to deliver good news?"
Riggs confirmed part of Buck's speculation. "No. I'm sorry. What I've got to say, I'd like to say only once to both you and Chris."
Buck began to move toward the entryway. "Well, I guess we'd better head on in."
He introduced JD while their companion was issued a visitor's pass. The necessary clearance obtained, they proceeded toward the elevators. While they waited, Buck provided his younger partner with a little background information. "Jason used to work with Chris and me when we were with the Denver PD."
Riggs gave a sad little smile and nodded to indicate the truth of the statement. It was obvious that the man was not interested in making small talk. The arrival of the elevator helped to curtail any further discussion.
The three men rode up in silence. Buck's formerly cheerful bearing was replaced by an introspective sadness. He was remembering the people that he and Chris used to work with, regretting that he'd pretty much lost touch with his former coworkers despite promises they'd made to keep in touch. If the little information he'd received from Jason was anything to go by, Buck strongly suspected that he'd lost the chance to speak with at least one person permanently. After all, if it was Buck himself who had to deliver the news that someone had died, he'd want to do it in person and not over the phone.
Josiah, Nathan, Vin, and Ezra took notice when their friends arrived with a stranger in tow.
Rather than satisfy everyone's curiosity by introducing his companion, Buck merely asked, "Chris in?"
Josiah nodded. "As usual, Chris arrived before either you or JD. He's in his office."
JD headed toward his desk, stating, "Let me know if you need anything," while Buck proceeded to escort Jason to Chris' office.
Chris' door was open in invitation; nevertheless, Buck paused at the threshold to knock politely. "Chris, you got a minute?"
The Team Seven leader looked up from the file he'd been reading, his eyes warily taking note of their visitor as well as Buck's somber expression. "I guess so. Come on in." Larabee and Riggs had been on less than friendly terms when they'd parted company. Chris didn't bother to get to his feet and Jason had enough sense not to offer a handshake that would no doubt have been rejected.
Buck took a seat in his usual chair in front of Chris' desk and waved a hand to offer Jason the chair next to him. "Sit down, take a load off."
Jason declined the offer. "No, thank you. Let me just say what I have to say." He hesitated a moment then stated, "It's about Eddie."
Buck grimaced in pain. "Aw, no. Please don't tell me."
Despite Buck's plea, Jason continued. "I'm sorry. He didn't show up for his last shift and wasn't answering his phone, so his partner went by to check on him. He was still alive, but barely. He died right after they got him to the hospital. Doctor says it was a massive coronary, a heart attack."
Buck's hands tightened their grip upon the arms of his chair until his knuckles showed white. His voice raised in disbelief. "A heart attack? Eddie? Damn, he was my age." He shook his head. "A heart attack. I can't believe it." Buck could find no further words as he slumped in his chair, eyes staring down at his boots. He no longer seemed to be aware of Jason's presence.
Thankfully, Chris' hostility toward their visitor lessened when he realized that the man had been considerate enough to tell them the news in person. As much as Chris disliked Jason, he had liked Eddie. He remembered the deceased as being quick with a joke and a smile, the kind of man who could easily lift his coworkers' spirits when they were having a bad day. As a matter of fact, the man reminded him of a dumbed-down version of Buck. Chris supposed that's why Buck and Eddie had gotten along so well.
The Team Seven leader realized that Buck was temporarily at a loss for words; not that Chris had any words to offer himself. More than anything, he wanted Jason Riggs to leave. Chris stifled his desire to simply say, 'Get out.' Instead, he verbalized the proper words to send their visitor on his way, "Thank you for letting us know." He added, "Do you have any information regarding funeral arrangements?"
Jason shook his head. "No. I'll let you guys know what his brother decides." He reached out a hand and squeezed Buck's shoulder. "Hell of a thing."
Buck placed his own hand over Jason's then turned it into a handshake as he stood. "Yeah." He gnawed on his lower lip not sure what he should say or do. He settled for letting Jason know that he'd like to talk further, if the man was interested. "Listen, you want to go for coffee or something?"
Riggs shook his head. "No, I gotta get going. Still got a couple of other stops to make. I'd just as soon get it over and done with."
Buck slung an arm companionably across Jason's shoulders as he escorted him toward the door. "Yeah, okay. If there's anything I can do, you let me know." As they headed toward the elevator, Buck offered a final thought. "Listen, let's not wait until somebody dies before we get together again. All right?"
Jason shrugged, silently indicating that Buck's words may have had more to do with wishful thinking than reality. The man gave a smile that was closer to a grimace as the elevator arrived and parted with a noncommittal, "See you around."
Buck stood staring at the closed elevator doors long after Jason had taken his leave, still in shock over the devastating news.
JD and the other members of Team Seven had heard most of the conversation through Chris' open office door. The young man had watched as Buck escorted their visitor to the elevator, shoulders slumped and feet dragging. JD spent a long few minutes debating with himself whether or not he should check on his friend. Maybe Buck needs some privacy. Maybe he and Jason decided to go out for coffee after all. Maybe Buck needs me. His concern for his grieving friend did not allow him to stay seated. He headed out after the man.
JD was relieved to find Buck almost the moment he stepped out of the office. The grieving ATF agent was in the hallway across from the elevators. The younger man hesitated to approach while Buck appeared to be deep in thought. JD paused to assess his friend. The older man had his arms wrapped around his torso. Rather than stand completely still, he gently swayed in place as if listening to a song that no one else could hear. By the shine of tears in his eyes and the tense set of his jaw, the tune was a funeral dirge.
The more JD watched, the more his concern grew. He wanted to say or do something to ease Buck's pain. Unfortunately he didn't have a clue as to how he could help. All he knew was that his friend was hurting. What the hell do I say? JD tentatively approached. "Buck?"
The older man startled at JD's presence. He hastily wiped away any trace of tears. With a poor attempt at a grin, he apologized. "Sorry. I was just gathering some wool there." He sighed. "I guess I better get back to work."
JD stepped in front of Buck, forestalling his forward progress. "Buck, if you want to take off the rest of the day, if you need some time, you know the guys will understand."
Buck shrugged. "Well, that's one less thing I got to worry about. Don't need to explain anything, 'cause I guess you all heard what Jason had to say."
JD nodded. "Yeah, we all heard." He paused, unable to think of anything else to say. He simply offered his condolences. "I'm sorry."
Buck sighed. "Yeah, kid, so am I." And Buck comforted himself with the knowledge that he had friends who cared. It was enough for now. He gently pushed JD back toward the office. "I sure as heck don't want to sit around thinking about this all day. The busier I am, the less time I have to think. Let's get back to work."
+ + + + + + +
Five days later, the members of Team Seven were gathered at their favorite watering hole, affectionately referred to as the Saloon. They were offering support to Buck and Chris, encouraging them to drown their sorrows in copious amounts of alcohol. While Chris was more than happy to do so, Buck remained atypically sober. He was still nursing the same glass of beer he'd begun the evening with.
"I can't believe he's gone." Buck leaned back, toying with his beer mug. "When me and Chris were with the DPD, we spent a lot of time hanging out with Eddie." Buck stared into his glass, fingers tapping idly along its side. He continued, "I'm sorry you never got the chance to meet him. You would've liked him. Eddie is . . ." Buck paused a moment before correcting himself, "was one of the most honest people I ever met." Buck smiled in fond remembrance. "He's also one of the few people who told worse jokes than JD." The mustached man shook his head. "I've just been to the man's funeral and I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that he's dead." Buck sighed. "And to think that he died of a heart attack. I mean, the guy was my age."
Buck's eyes focused on the youngest member of their team as a stifled sound reached his ears. JD held a hand to his face, physically holding back the quip that he'd obviously wanted to make. The older man smiled. "Go on, kid, say it. It's the sort of thing Eddie would say if he was here."
JD removed the hand from his face, revealing a tentative smile. "Aw, Buck, it doesn't seem right."
Buck replied, "At Eddie's memorial service, somebody read a quote that really hit home. It was something about the fact that you can still see the funny side of life even after someone has died. You can remember all the jokes and laughter you shared, even if you shed a few tears along the way when you remember that they're not around to laugh with you. Go on, JD. Hit me with your best shot."
JD shrugged his shoulders. "With that buildup, anything I say about you not being exactly young is gonna go nowhere fast. So if Eddie was your age, he was probably getting mail from AARP."
Josiah warned, "Don't knock the American Association of Retired Persons. There's strength in numbers, and as the Baby Boomers age, the members of the AARP will outnumber you younger whippersnappers."
Buck asked, "You figurin' on joining up?"
Josiah answered, "Not for many, many years."
Buck agreed. "Me neither. Leastways, not until you all are ready to join me." Nope. Eddie's death had been a wakeup call to Buck, a reminder to treasure his friends and the time spent with them. Buck raised his glass in the traditional gesture of a toast: "To friends both absent and present."
A chorus of, "To friends," arose from the men seated around the table.
+ + + + + + +
As the days passed, Buck seemed to be coping well with Eddie's death. From time to time his teammates would note a look of distraction on their friend's face, but otherwise the mustached man maintained his usual upbeat attitude. Today Buck was exceptionally cheerful. He was about to take part in one of his favorite activities: kicking some bad guy ass. The ATF agent was currently engaged, along with the other members of Team Seven, in gearing up for their current mission. Buck was peripherally aware of the sounds of weapons and vehicles being checked while he was doing exactly the same thing. He ignored the potential distraction, focusing on his own task.
JD finished fastening his bulletproof vest and checked his weapons for at least the third time. He and Buck were traveling together in one of the ATF's vehicles. JD hadn't had a lot of patience to begin with, and it didn't take long for him to decide that Buck was taking entirely too long to get ready. JD went around to the back of the ATF vehicle to see what was keeping his teammate. He couldn't help but smile at the sight that greeted him. Buck was practically dancing as he loaded the last of his weapons into the trunk of the car. As usual, he had saved the best for last.
Buck was humming a foot stomping rock-and-roll tune as he worked. He hefted what looked like an overgrown sawed off shotgun into a side corner of the trunk of the car.
Ezra strode up, impatient to be on his way. He couldn't help but comment on the trunk's contents. "Most impressive. If the dealers we're after are much more heavily armed than we have any reason to believe, it's comforting to know that we will not be outgunned."
Buck finished tucking the last weapon away, giving it an affectionate pat. "Hey, I always say, 'Better safe than sorry.' Nowadays, you never can tell what kind of hardware these yahoos 'll be carryin'."
Ezra nodded at the M-16 assault rifle secured in the trunk. "While it is true that we are seeing more automatic weapons than ever before, I have yet to be confronted with a grenade launcher." Ezra pointed a finger at the aforementioned weapon. "If you are preparing to meet like with like, that, I believe, is overkill."
Buck shook his head. "Don't hurt none to be prepared." Buck would never admit it, but he had a superstitious need for the presence of the grenade launcher. Although it would probably never see the light of day, as far as Buck was concerned, 'Thumper's' presence assured the success of any assignment.
Ezra hesitated before heading to his own vehicle. "You do realize, of course, that a 40mm M-79 grenade launcher is most assuredly not a weapon covered under the rules and regulations of the ATF as being appropriate armament for its agents."
Buck smiled and gave Ezra a friendly pat on the back. "Hell, yeah. That's what I got you around for: to pretty up my report if I ever have to use the damn thing." He encouraged, "I'm sure you'd be able to come up with something."
Ezra nodded as he walked away with a thoughtful, "Perhaps."
Buck's smile widened. Ezra tossed off his last word absentmindedly, as if he were already working on the problem. Buck responded to a radio check from Chris, and shortly thereafter the team set off on its assignment.
Chris drove the lead vehicle due to the fact that Buck had a tendency to speed for no good reason when he was in mission mode. Following Chris' lead, Buck merely had to concentrate on keeping a safe distance from the lead vehicle in their convoy. He continued to hum, his right hand tapping out a rhythm on the steering wheel.
Bored with the passing scenery, JD turned to his friend. Buck's eyes shone brightly with anticipation. His face was flushed; his lips slightly parted as he silently mouthed the words to the tune currently running through his brain. JD decided to share his own thoughts. "Man, you really love this."
Buck frowned, not quite sure what 'this' was. "You mean my job?"
"No, getting ready to go after the bad guys. Hell, I've seen you take less time getting ready for a date than you do when we're heading into potential danger."
Buck's face brightened with the thought of his favorite subject. "Now, JD, when it comes to women, I'm always ready."
"That's not what I meant. It's just you really seem to get off on this risky business stuff."
Buck shrugged. "There's no harm in a man enjoying what he's gotta do. Besides which, I got my lucky gun along. As long as Thumper's along for backup, I got nothin' to worry about."
"Good. That means you won't be worrying over me."
"I never said that. It's my job to worry about you."
JD shook his head. "It's your job to let me do my job."
The two men continued to argue back and forth for the rest of the ride. JD was glad of the distraction. They arrived at the hotel before the younger man had a chance to work up a good case of pre-assignment jitters.
The criminals they were after had been tracked to the Bide-a-Wee Motel. The Bide-a-Wee had the distinct disadvantage of having both front and rear doors to their individual apartments. The suspects were currently registered in Room 214, on the second floor. Chris, Vin, Nathan, and Josiah were going to take the front entrance overlooking the parking lot. Buck, JD, and Ezra were assigned to the back door. The rear door overlooked the pool, and did not provide an easy exit. If the suspects tried to leave from the rear, they'd have to navigate not only the stairs but the pool area and the gate beyond it in order to make their way to the parking lot.
The members of Team Seven were currently engaged in the part of a mission that JD hated the most: the waiting. He could feel the sweat beading on his brow. Buck looked as if he shared JD's nerves as he wiped a hand along his own brow. Unlike JD, Buck looked like he was enjoying the rush of adrenaline. JD spared a quick glance in Ezra's direction. The man appeared to be his usual calm, cool self. JD almost hated Ezra at that moment. He was distracted from his thoughts by the voice speaking over his radio. It was Chris.
The team leader's words were accompanied by a loud pounding on the front door. "ATF! Open up!"
Rather than comply with Chris' order, three young men rushed out the back door. Simultaneously, the sound of two quick shots from two different guns could be heard. The men waiting at the back door found themselves in the middle of a fight as the suspects confronted the waiting agents. Buck stood directly in their way, with JD behind him. Ezra waited on the other side of the doorway. The lead teen drew up short at the sight of the armed agents. The teens behind him did not stop. Instead, they forced the first boy bodily into Buck, sending both of them tumbling to the ground.
JD was able to step back so that he did not join Buck on the floor. However, the momentary distraction was enough that one of the teens ran right past him, unscathed. JD did not feel threatened enough by the young man to shoot him. None of the teens appeared to have any weapons. JD cursed then took off in foot pursuit. The fleeing suspect made it as far as the pool gate before JD caught up with him. The junior member of the ATF team shoved the kid forcefully into the wrought iron of the gate. JD, breathless from his sudden sprint, gasped out, "ATF! You are under arrest! On the ground, with your hands behind your head!"
+ + + + + + +
While JD was occupied with apprehending his suspect, Ezra was valiantly trying to subdue one of the other teens. The young man confronting Ezra was nearly equal in height to the agent himself. However, the boy was much bulkier and appeared to be a fan of the WWE Wrestling program; at least, that was Ezra's thought as he grappled with the muscle-bound hulk. He would no sooner think that he had the upper hand than the teen would get an arm or leg loose so that he could resume punching and kicking. They traded blows back and forth for far longer than Ezra would have wished until the ATF agent managed to get the suspect face down on the ground with one arm twisted painfully behind his back. Ezra applied pressure nearly to the breaking point as he declared, "You are under arrest! If you don't stop resistin' this very minute I will shoot!"
At that moment, Ezra was considering shooting the young man regardless. There was not a square inch of flesh on his body that did not feel as if it had been bruised or battered. Ezra bit back a groan as he secured the suspect with a pair of handcuffs. He turned his aching head to survey the surrounding area. He observed that Buck and JD were currently holding their own with the other suspects. They did not appear to require any assistance. The battered agent rose slowly to his feet and leaned against the wall. He wrapped his arms around his aching ribs as he ordered, "Get up, you miserable mass of steroid-fueled garbage."
Once the young man was upright, Ezra marched his suspect back into the motel room, all the while reciting the man's rights. "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to legal representation. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights? Good." Ezra shoved the suspect ahead of him and through the door. From the wreckage in the room, the astute agent deduced that his teammates had faced a bit of a struggle with the other suspects. Ezra had heard two gunshots, one immediately after the other, when the door had initially been breached. One of the other suspects, an older, balding man, appeared to have a bullet wound to his right upper arm. He was currently being attended to by Nathan. To Ezra's immense relief, no one else appeared to have acquired any bullet holes.
Nathan looked at the blood running down the side of Ezra's face, at his disheveled clothing and blackened right eye, and immediately came to his aid. "Ezra, you all right?"
Ezra sighed, looking down at his ruined clothing. "I am afraid that my attire will have to be written off as a casualty of this operation."
Nathan forced Ezra into a chair as he began examining his teammate. "I don't give a rat's ass about your damn suit. Now, how many fingers am I holding up?"
+ + + + + + +
Buck and the boy who'd run into him both lay on the ground outside the apartment door, stunned. Buck cursed as the kid made it to his feet before Buck could, and took off running. Buck made a futile grab at the fleeing suspect as he scrambled to his feet. The agent's longer strides put him on an equal footing with the teen. He was furious, cursing the suspect, himself, and his body for not being as young and resilient as some two-bit punk of a kid's. Well, Buck may not be as fast, but he was taller and smarter. He took the stairs three at a time while holding onto the rail, all the while gaining on the fleeing suspect. The older man was almost on top of the kid when they reached the pool area. He reached a long arm out and snagged the teen with a triumphant, "Gotcha!"
Buck cursed as the damn kid continued to fight. The teen wriggled out of the agent's grasp and stumbled toward the pool. Buck caught him again in two strides. Rather than do the sensible thing and surrender, the teen kept struggling, landing the both of them on one of the lounge chairs at the side of the pool. It collapsed under their combined weights. The kid kicked out and away from Buck's encircling arms. His knee managed to connect with Buck's groin, causing Buck's grip to loosen. The suspect twisted free again, and kicked at the lounge chair. Buck was in the process of getting to his feet at the time. As a result, he was unbalanced when the lounge chair was upended toward him. Both Buck and the chair tumbled backward. Buck fell back, his arms flailing as he futilely tried to keep his balance. His head hit the ground with an audible crack! His vision blurred with the impact. The injured man did not let that stop him. He cursed, vowing that "No damn too-young-to-shave kid's going to get the better of Buck Wilmington!"
Unable to see straight, he tried to get back to his feet. His blurred vision made it impossible to see the puddle of water he stepped into. Once again, Buck felt himself beginning to fall. This time, instead of landing on the hard ground, Buck ended up in the pool. The agent did not consider it a lucky break. Not only did the suspect get away, but Buck was now thoroughly soaked. He slogged through chest deep water to the edge of the pool. The water seemed to be fighting his every move, exhausting him even further than he'd already been. He paused at the side of the pool, needing to rest up a bit before he tried to haul himself up and out of the water.
JD was walking the kid he'd apprehended back toward the motel room when he saw Buck fall and subsequently end up in the pool. JD took a minute to redo the handcuffs so that his suspect was secured around a support pillar before he went to Buck's aid. His voice tight with worry, he asked, "Buck! Are you all right?"
Buck slapped a hand angrily against the water, sending a small tsunami in JD's direction. "I'm fine! Don't be worryin' about me! Get the damn kid!"
JD didn't need to be told twice. He took off running toward the gate the suspect had just exited through.
Buck watched blearily as JD took off. God, his head hurt! He folded his arms along the side of the pool. He needed to rest a minute before he tried climbing out of the water. He was miserable, in pain, and already soaked through and through. Another minute or two in the water wouldn't make a damn bit of difference, or so he thought. As it turned out, Buck had never been more wrong in his life. Those extra few minutes proved to be the difference between life and death.
Buck felt his head pounding in rhythm with the beating of his heart. His eyes ached with the strain. His vision was fading, the light dimming as dark pain-stars encroached. Buck felt like his head had ballooned to twice its normal size. He feared that his skull was about to crack open from the pressure. At the moment, getting out of the pool was a physical impossibility. Buck's neck could no longer support the weight of his mercilessly throbbing head. He gently lowered his aching head so that it rested in the cradle of his arms. If anyone had been present to observe him at the pool's edge, they might have thought that he was sleeping. More than anything else, that's all that Buck wanted to do. He knew that there was some reason why he shouldn't, but the logic of the situation escaped him as reality faded from his thoughts. Buck was not aware of the moment when consciousness departed. With no brain signal to direct it, the injured man's leg muscles could no longer support him in a standing position. His knees buckled, and his body slipped silently beneath the cool, clear water.
+ + + + + + +
JD looked around frantically as he tried to determine the location of the fleeing suspect. Fortunately, the Bide-a-Wee Motel was located along Motel Row. There really wasn't anywhere for the suspect to hide between the buildings and the parking lots. If the teen had been smart, he would have played hide-and-seek by ducking around the cars in the parking lot next door. Instead, the kid appeared to be trying to find a car that he could break into. JD had no problem locating the suspect. However, the ATF agent still had to catch up with the kid. That proved to be easier said than done. The suspect spotted JD approaching and took off running. JD had no choice but to follow. The chase might have gone on indefinitely if the fleeing suspect had not finally managed to trip on a crack in the asphalt paving. JD applied the handcuffs with more force than was strictly necessary while the kid whined about the road rash he'd obtained in his fall. The harried agent growled, "Serves you right."
They were still a block from the Bide-a Wee Motel when Chris' voice came over his headset. "Buck, JD, where are you?" JD was silent a minute, giving Buck a chance to answer, when he realized that Buck's radio was probably not working. Electronics and pool water were generally not a good mix.
Chris spoke louder, with a hint of anxiety. "Buck, JD, answer me damn it!"
JD decided to answer for the both of them. "This is JD, I'm about a block from the motel, returning with the last suspect. Buck can't answer you 'cuz he decided to take a dip in the pool."
JD responded, "I'm sure Buck will see the humor in it, eventually. For now, I expect he's madder 'n a wet hen."
+ + + + + + +
The responsibility of being team leader weighed heavily on Chris' shoulders as he anxiously tried to account for all of his agents. When they'd first kicked in the door, Chris was afraid that they'd walked into the middle of a gunfight. One of the suspects had taken a shot at the ATF agents. Vin had immediately responded by returning the favor. Fortunately, Vin was a much more accurate shot, and that proved to be the end of the gunplay. It was not quite the end of their raid.
Although the gunrunners were a couple of middle-aged career criminals, their buyers were a bunch of young punks. It seemed that the kids were no more anxious to surrender than the adults. The only saving grace was the fact that the kids didn't try to shoot it out with the heavily armed agents. It took a bit of hand-to-hand combat, but the suspects were eventually subdued; at least, those who remained in the apartment. Chris had no idea how many had headed out the back way.
He wasted no time in questioning Ezra. "Any more head out besides this one?"
"Two, but Buck and JD appeared to have them well in hand."
Chris called over the radio, "Buck, JD, where are you?"
He headed toward the rear exit when he did not immediately receive an answer. He practically yelled his next request. "Buck, JD, answer me damn it!" His anxiety ratcheted down a notch when JD responded.
"This is JD, I'm about a block from the motel, returning with the last suspect. Buck can't answer you 'cuz he decided to take a dip in the pool."
Chris couldn't believe he'd heard correctly. "He what?"
JD continued, "I'm sure Buck will see the humor in it, eventually. For now, I expect he's madder 'n a wet hen."
Chris decided that it would be prudent to check on his as yet unaccounted for agent. He headed out the rear door of the motel room to survey the surrounding area. His eyes were drawn to the pool area where Buck was supposed to be. The Team Seven leader frowned when he saw no trace of his missing agent; then, he looked down into the pool. It took far too long for the message apparent to his eyes to actually reach his brain: there was somebody floating in the pool. His feet were in motion before it had completely registered what exactly it was that he was seeing. From JD's words, the dark-haired man floating just beneath the water's surface had to be Buck. Chris' whispered words were both a prayer and a plea. "Oh God, Buck!"
He didn't remember running down the stairs and jumping into the pool. Time dilated strangely around him. One minute, he was looking down in horror. The next, he was dragging his friend's lifeless body toward the edge of the pool. Thank God, Vin had followed him out the door.
The long-haired agent pulled while Chris pushed Buck out of the pool. Vin called over his headset, "Nathan, get down to the pool, now! Buck's down!"
Vin remembered the first aid training that he'd prayed he'd never have to use. He tilted Buck's head back while he leaned over his stricken friend, searching for some sign of life. He held one hand along the side of Buck's neck, feeling for a pulse that wasn't there. By now, Chris had joined him as Nathan came running up beside them. Vin turned anxiously to Nathan. His eyes pleading that he was wrong, he stated, "He's not breathing, and I can't find a pulse!" Vin bent to pinch Buck's nostrils closed before sealing his mouth over his friend's and delivering two puffs of air.
Nathan knelt across Buck's body from Vin, repeating Vin's pulse check with much more assurance. He declared, "Call 911. We gotta do CPR." He placed the heel of one hand against Buck's sternum and his other hand over the first, interlocking the fingers as he instructed Vin, "You breathe, I'll do chest compressions."
Vin handed his cell phone off to Chris to complete the 911 call as he continued to breathe for Buck while Nathan compressed his chest. Nathan counted off, ". . . and 14, and 15." He paused while Vin gave Buck two more puffs of air, then began pressing rhythmically on Buck's sternum for another count of 15. They repeated the cycle, over and over and over again. Chris stood to the side, a silent and helpless observer. Chris' frozen silence was broken by JD's arrival.
No matter how much JD prodded, the suspect had refused to increase his pace, despite the urgency JD was feeling from what he'd overheard on the radio. JD's pace had initially slowed when he'd heard the words, "Buck's down!" When he'd anxiously inquired, "What happened?" there had been no immediate response. He listened helplessly as Vin reported, "I can't find a pulse!" After that, JD saw no point in continuing to ask. He'd heard enough. He got back to the motel as quickly as the suspect allowed him to. He gasped at the sight of Buck's lifeless body. He automatically handcuffed his second suspect to a support pillar next to the first handcuffed man then went to stand vigil over Buck.
When JD arrived, Chris struck, as quick and lethal as any snake. The older man was shaking with anger, his face reddening as he spoke, his voice low and deadly. "Why the hell did you leave him? You don't abandon your injured partner to go chasing off after a suspect!"
The younger man stepped back, shaken and sick with fear and guilt. He removed his headset, not caring to hear any more. "Oh my God, I killed him. I was making jokes, when I might've saved him. Oh, God." JD headed for the restroom in the motel's office before he could further disgrace himself by vomiting in public. He made it to the stall just in time and proceeded to eliminate the contents of his stomach. Between sobs and heaving, he cried, "I killed him! Oh my God, I killed him!"
Nathan was so intent on his work that he did not initially register the paramedics' arrival until one of the men crouched down at his side.
"Sir, we'll take over now." Nathan reluctantly gave way as the paramedic and his younger partner took over for Nathan and Vin. The first paramedic felt along Buck's neck and announced, "We've got a pulse!"
His companion announced, "No spontaneous respirations. I'll bag him." He used a balloon-like object attached to an airway and began to breathe for Buck. He had been at his task for almost five minutes when the anxious observers noticed Buck's chest move independently. The paramedic waited and smiled when Buck took another breath on his own, coughed, and breathed again. The paramedic removed the airway as Buck regained consciousness.
Buck's eyelids fluttered as he coughed and looked around in confusion. "Wha . . . *cough* . . . happen' ?" Buck struggled to sit up. He was weak enough that the paramedic's hand on his chest kept him down.
The paramedic explained, "You've had an accident. Can you tell me if you hurt anywhere?"
Still not quite alert, Buck ignored the man. "I'm all wet. Why am I all wet?" He turned his head and winced at the movement. The injured man raised a hand to the back of his head. "Ow. That hurt."
"Sir, can you turn your head to the side for me?" The paramedic's hands on his head had Buck complying with the request before he knew it. The paramedic continued, "You've got quite a bump back here. Can you tell me what happened?"
Buck shrugged, his brow furrowed in pain and confusion. "I don't remember."
Chris' voice was heavy with anger as he looked around for their youngest team member. "JD probably knows. Where the hell is he?"
Ezra was the only one who had noticed JD's hasty retreat. He stated, "I believe that he's in the motel's office. I'll go get him." Ezra entered the office but saw no sign of JD. The motel's manager was standing outside the office, watching the proceedings. Ezra asked the man, "Have you seen our other agent?"
The manager tore his attention away from the paramedics long enough to hike a thumb over his shoulder while he replied, "He's in the can."
In his haste, JD had neglected to secure the door. Ezra entered and found his friend on his knees in front of the toilet, his body a tightly coiled ball of misery as he cried. Ezra placed a hand upon the trembling shoulders. "JD, Buck is alive and awake and bein' tended to by the paramedics. They would like to know what happened."
JD looked up, his face pale and tear-stained. "He . . . Buck's alive?"
Ezra's smile was full of compassion as he hastened to reassure his friend. "Yes. It seems that rumors of his demise were premature."
JD felt faint with relief. Not yet able to stand, he changed his position from kneeling to sitting. "Thank God!"
When JD did not continue, Ezra prompted, "The paramedics need to know if you observed Buck sustain any injury."
JD rubbed a hand along his tear-ravaged face. "Yeah, I did. But he said he was okay!"
Gently steering JD back to the matter at hand, Ezra asked, "What sort of injury? Did you see him hit his head?"
JD shrugged. "Kind of. He fell backward onto the concrete beside the pool. I guess he might've hit his head when he fell."
"Well, he got hit with one of those lounge chairs beside the pool. He slipped and fell and ended up in the pool." JD's speech became more rapid-fire and his agitation increased with every word. "He said he was okay! He was in the water but he was standing there leaning against the side of the pool and he told me he was okay and not to let the suspect get away!" JD couldn't help the tears that leaked out as he repeated, "He said he was okay!"
"And he will be." Ezra wished that he had time to comfort his distraught teammate, but the paramedics were waiting. Ezra stood up from his crouched position and headed out to share his information.
+ + + + + + +
By the time JD felt composed enough to exit the bathroom, the paramedics and Buck were long gone.
Chris snapped at JD the minute he saw him. "We're going to the hospital to check on Buck. You're going back to the office to write up your report and try to find one reason why I shouldn't fire you."
JD hesitantly began, "Chris, I . . ."
Chris stepped threateningly toward JD, waving a finger in his face as he spoke. "For Buck's sake, don't say another goddamn word! I can't deal with you right now, and neither can Buck. Go!"
Devastated, JD dragged himself away from the scene. He didn't need Chris' harsh words to know that this was all his fault. It might be better for all concerned if Chris fired him. JD was so wrapped in misery that he did not hear the footsteps behind him. He jumped at the feel of Josiah's hand upon his arm, halting his forward progress.
"JD, wait!" The older man hesitated, trying to find the right words before he continued. "Like all of us, Chris is just upset. Don't take his words to heart. You know Buck would want you there, by his side. It's just, to keep the peace, it'd be better if you wait for Chris to cool off."
JD's "Yeah" held more than a hint of despair.
Josiah put an arm across the young man's shoulders. "Buck's going to be fine. We'll get through this, together."
JD resisted the urge to lean into the embrace. He wished that he could believe Josiah, but even if Buck did make a full recovery, it didn't change the fact that JD had left his best friend alone in the pool to drown. Things would never be okay again. He stepped away from Josiah's offered comfort. "I'd better get going."
JD could feel Josiah's concerned gaze follow him all the way to his car. He wished that the man would save his caring for someone who needed it, like Buck. Oh, God, Buck!
+ + + + + + +
At the hospital, Buck was diagnosed with a concussion. Amazingly, he appeared to have suffered no ill effects from his drowning other than a sore chest from the CPR. The doctors had wanted to keep Buck hospitalized overnight, but the concussed man flat out refused. "I got a roommate, and he can check on me every hour to make sure I still got a brain."
Chris was not prepared to cut JD any slack. The simple fact of the matter was that he did not trust JD with Buck. The pain at the thought of losing his oldest friend still burned within his soul. Chris bit back the cutting words that wanted to escape regarding his opinion of JD's ability to care for Buck. Instead he stated, "You need a little peace and quiet. I'd feel better if you'd come back to the ranch with me where I can keep an eye on you."
Buck knew how upset Chris was. If he was thinking more clearly and not suffering from a concussion, the injured man might have spared a thought to wonder at JD's absence. Instead, wanting to both placate Chris and get himself out of the hospital, Buck replied, "If it'll get me out of here any sooner, I'll go wherever you lead."
+ + + + + + +
JD finished his report in the silence of the empty ATF office. He had gone over it and over it, and the perception of his own negligence did not change. He left the document on Chris' desk, and headed over to the hospital. When he got to the Emergency Room, JD was dismayed to find that Buck had already been discharged. He placed a call to their shared apartment, but there was no answer. His concern mounting, JD tried Buck's cell phone, not realizing that it had been damaged by the chlorinated pool water.
He tried to rationalize his worry with the thought that Buck was probably already home and asleep. JD hurried back to their apartment, his banked fear returning in full force when there was no sign of his roommate. The anxious young man determined to call everyone he knew, starting with Josiah, to find out what had happened to Buck.
Fortunately Josiah was able to fill him in. "Buck's okay, except for a bit of a concussion. He went home with Chris, so there's someone keeping an eye on him."
JD wilted in exhausted relief. "Okay. Thanks, I just needed to know that he's all right."
Josiah apologized. "I'm sorry. In all the confusion, I didn't realize that no one had informed you of what was going on or I would've called you myself."
JD sighed. "That's all right. As long as Buck's okay and someone's looking after him, that's all I needed to know." JD did not want to give Josiah a chance to talk to him about what had happened so he added a hasty, "Goodnight," before disconnecting the call.
Despite his exhaustion, JD could not sleep. He didn't blame Buck for going home with Chris instead of him. Not after his supposedly best friend had taken such good care of Buck that he'd almost died. Oh, God! JD's breath caught in a hitching sob as he faced the bitter truth.
The emotionally devastated young man thought that he didn't have any tears left to shed. He was wrong, again. JD found more than a few more as he contemplated losing his job, his home, and his best friend through one careless act. Eventually the storm of tears dried out, leaving JD feeling dull and listless. The condo seemed to echo with the absence of his friend's boisterous presence. The silence provided too much time to think. JD went over and over events in his mind, but kept coming back to the image that had been permanently etched into his brain: Buck lying cold and lifeless on the ground. If only he had taken the extra minute to reach over and pull Buck out of the pool, his friend would not have died. No matter that he'd miraculously recovered; Buck had died, and it was JD's negligence that made it possible.
With that thought lingering in his conscience, JD abandoned the pretense of sleeping, realizing what it was that he had to do to atone for his sin. He showered, shaved, and dressed formally in a dark suit. He looked at his pale image in the mirror, bitterly reflecting that he looked as if he were preparing to attend a funeral. A chill went through his body when he considered how that had been too nearly the case. The young man's shoulders bowed under the weight of the knowledge that his current attire was appropriate to the occasion. Even though Buck had survived, JD was still going to a funeral: his own.
He headed into the ATF office. It was early enough that none of the other members of Team Seven were present. JD reflected that it was just as well. He could type up his resignation in peace.
+ + + + + + +
JD ignored his teammates as they made their way into the office one by one. None of them were Buck or Chris. Nathan and Josiah arrived within minutes of each other. JD's pale, weary face and bowed shoulders did not escape either man's notice.
Nathan asked, "JD, are you okay?"
The young man answered "Yes" despite the fact that both of them knew it was a lie. He turned away, silently letting Nathan know that he did not wish to be disturbed.
Josiah was less easily put off. He remembered how upset JD had been yesterday. "If you'd like to talk, I'm a good listener."
JD shrugged off the offer. "Got nothin' to say."
Realizing the JD would continue his resistance if he persisted, Josiah backed off - for the time being.
Vin and JD merely exchanged nods, neither feeling much like talking.
Ezra was normally the last to arrive, but not today. He entered just as the clock ticked over to eight a.m. Neither Chris nor Buck had been heard from. Ezra was disturbed by JD's obvious depression. The young man had barely acknowledged his greeting. The undercover agent suspected that his friend was needlessly blaming himself. Ezra sat at his desk, trying to decide the best way to approach the guilt-ridden man. Once he'd marshaled the proper words in his head, he stood to approach his teammate. His errand was postponed by the arrival of Chris and Buck.
Nathan stood and went toward them, scowling at Buck's appearance. He stated, "I can tell just by looking at you that you got a killer headache. Am I right? Any blurred vision? Dizziness? Weakness?"
Buck returned Nathan's frown with one of his own. "You might want to wait for an answer before you keep askin' questions. For your information, the answers are: yes, no, no, and no. I could 'a stayed home except for two things: one, I wasn't at home. And two, with all the long-distance worryin' you all would be doin' over me, I wouldn't have a minute's peace what with everybody checking up on me." Buck glared pointedly at Chris as uttered the last words of his statement.
Chris shrugged off the silent scold. "I told Buck I wasn't going to leave him alone. We both know how much we still have to do to finish up yesterday's bust, so we compromised. He's here, but not to work. Since Josiah donated his old sofa to the breakroom, Buck can spend the day there and we can all keep an eye on him."
Buck headed for the breakroom with the parting comment of, "Oh, joy." Truthfully, he did feel like shit warmed over. The idea of sacking out on the sofa was very appealing. He hadn't gotten much sleep last night, what with Chris waking him up every hour or so to do the usual post-concussion interrogation: "Do you know who you are? Where you are? What day it is?"
JD was immeasurably relieved to see Buck looking so . . . well, alive. It didn't bother him in the least that Buck didn't acknowledge his presence. He couldn't blame the man. The younger man couldn't stop himself from following Buck. He watched as his friend settled himself comfortably onto the sofa.
It took a minute for Buck to realize that he was being observed. He smiled up at his friend. "Hey, JD, great day to be alive, ain't it?"
As soon as he heard the words, JD realized that as far as Buck was concerned, all was forgiven. That didn't mean that JD was ready to forgive himself. His return smile to Buck did nothing to hide his overall depression. "God, Buck, it's so good to see you."
"Hell, it ain't as if you didn't just see me yesterday."
JD stepped over to the sofa, his words tumbling over each other in his pain. "Yes, I saw you yesterday, lying on the ground. God, Buck, you died! You died, and it was all my fault!"
Buck reached out a hand and pulled his friend onto the sofa with him. "Whether or not I was temporarily not among the living is in no way and no how your fault! Even if I don't remember everything that happened, I know you! I trust you with my life!"
JD looked away and quietly stated, "Maybe you shouldn't."
Buck squeezed his friend's bicep hard enough to get his attention. "You get that nonsense out of your head right now! I'm fine! That's good enough for me, and it should be good enough for you!"
Buck's admission that he did not remember all of the events that had occurred yesterday served only to reinforce JD's already low opinion of himself. However, he could see that he was upsetting his friend, so he nodded an agreement that he did not feel. "Yeah, okay, I hear you loud and clear."
Buck nodded, seemingly satisfied. "Alright, then."
JD gestured toward the outer office, saying, "I gotta go talk to Chris. I'll see you later."
"Count on it."
+ + + + + + +
JD headed toward Chris' office. The door was closed, which made him hesitate. Maybe he could put this off . . . He chided himself. Coward! There's no point in waiting until Chris calls you on the carpet. Get it over with! Decision made, he knocked on the door.
Chris' voice snapped, "Come in."
JD did so. Chris looked up from the file he'd been reading, stating, "I haven't finished reading your report. I'll let you know when I'm ready to debrief you."
JD reached into the pocket of his suit jacket, removing the neatly typed letter he'd labored over. He silently handed it over.
Chris unfolded it, frowning as he read. "What the hell is this?"
JD stood like a soldier at attention. He would not show any sign of weakness as he performed one last act as an agent for the ATF. He reported, "That's my letter of resignation."
Chris made sure that he had JD's undivided attention as he held up the letter and proceeded to tear it again and again until it had been reduced to a small pile of scrap paper. He declared, "I refuse to accept it."
JD could not believe what he was hearing. "But Chris . . ."
"I haven't read your complete report, but I read what's pertinent to this discussion. I know you, and I know Buck. I'm sure that he told you that he was fine, and I'm sure that he wanted you to make sure that the suspect didn't get away. I suspected as much yesterday. Under the circumstances, I couldn't be mad at Buck, so I took it out on you. Case closed. Now, get out of my office and let me get back to work."
JD tried again. "But Chris, you don't know . . ."
Chris cut him off again. "Yes I do." Chris put his head down and began reading the file open upon his desk, effectively putting an end to the conversation.
JD stood a moment, wanting to push the matter, but it was obvious that Chris' mind was made up. JD returned to his desk and grabbed the topmost file from his "In" box. He opened the file but was unable to focus upon its contents.
After a few minutes of silence, Ezra approached. "JD, I was wonderin' if you would care to accompany me to the local coffee shop for a mornin' repast?"
JD slowly looked up to face the undeserved concern of his teammate. He politely declined the offer. "No, thank you. Feel free to go on without me."
Ezra didn't really want to leave. He'd only been looking for an excuse to speak with JD privately. Now that the offer had been made, he decided to go through with it lest his ruse be discovered. Despite the harm it would do to his ready cash, Ezra decided to bring back sufficient provisions to gratify the entire team. He could only hope that Buck would recover quickly enough to talk things over with his guilt-ridden roommate.
Unfortunately, JD had learned a thing or two from observing Ezra. The younger man was able to effectively hide his guilt-fueled depression from his best friend.
As the days went on, it became more and more difficult to do so. Part of the difficulty lie in the fact that JD spent so much time around Buck. He was afraid to let the man out of his sight.
Adding to the difficulty was the fact that Buck had developed a new attitude toward health and fitness.
"Kid, if I learned one thing from ol' Eddie, it was that I got to take better care of myself. From now on, French fries are no longer gonna be one of my basic food groups. And working out at the gym ain't all I need to do to keep in shape."
That being said, Buck embarked upon his new pastime: jogging. At six a.m. every morning rain or shine, Buck headed out for his morning jog. To Buck's surprise, JD volunteered to go with him. "Hell, kid, you're fit enough that you don't have to interrupt your beauty sleep to keep me company."
JD disagreed. He figured that it was the least that he could do. He suspected that Buck's own near-death experience was mostly responsible for his friend's changed attitude. The younger man still believed that he bore a great deal of responsibility for what had happened; therefore, he dutifully arose at six a.m. himself despite the fact that his sleep was frequently interrupted by nightmarish replays of Buck's drowning. The most terrifying dreams featured varying scenes of what might have been. In the worst of them, Buck never recovered, and the remaining members of Team Seven verbalized what JD feared they all felt: "He died, and it's all your fault!"
+ + + + + + +
I met a man who wasn't there.
Buck yawned and stretched. He'd been getting up at six o'clock every morning for long enough that he often woke up before the alarm went off, like today. The morning was cold and overcast, but the reformed couch potato refused to let that stop him and he slipped into his jogging clothes.
Buck decided to take mercy on his roommate. JD had been a real trooper, getting up with Buck every morning to go jogging with him. Although Buck's health continued to improve, he could not say the same of his young friend. JD seemed to be dragging. The kid would fall behind unless the older man slowed his pace to allow him to keep up, not to mention the fact that the kid seemed to be losing weight. JD did not even stir as Buck bustled around their apartment. He paused at the foot of the stairs and spent a few minutes stretching before leaving the apartment.
Buck started off at a brisk pace, picking up speed as he entered the local park. After a few minutes of jogging, Buck entered what he privately referred to as the 'zone,' where his body automatically settled into a steady pace and freed his mind to wander.
He was reviewing his plans for the day when a familiar voice called out: "Buck! Wait up!"
Not only did Buck 'wait up,' he stopped dead in his tracks as he turned around. He felt his stomach drop to somewhere in the vicinity of his shoes as he recognized the runner. His jaw dropped and he stared in amazement. "Eddie?"
Buck's allegedly dead friend jogged up to him, short of breath and sweating. He leaned forward, hands resting on knees as he confirmed Buck's supposition. "Yeah . . . it's me." Eddie looked up, showing a toothy grin on a face that Buck thought he would never see again. Sweat dripped down the man's face as he continued, "Damn! I am really . . . out of shape."
"Out of shape? Out of shape!" Buck sputtered indignantly. "You're in pretty damn good shape for someone who's supposed to be dead!"
Eddie paced in front of Buck, stretching overused muscles. "Well, about that . . ." His voice trailed off as he stopped and stared at Buck.
Ignoring the sweat-stained condition of both himself and his friend, Buck hurried forward and wrapped his arms around his friend, practically lifting the man off of his feet as he exclaimed, "Eddie! Oh God, Eddie, it's so good to see you!"
Eddie tried to free himself from Buck's punishing grip. "It's good to see you, too. But do you think you could maybe give me some room to breathe?"
Not only did Buck give Eddie room, he pushed his friend away so that the man stumbled, nearly falling. The angry man advanced on his friend, shoving both hands against his chest as he confronted him. "I'll give you room to breathe! God, what the hell are you doing, making everybody think you're dead? I went to your damn funeral, for cripes sake!"
Eddie raised a hand defensively. "Come on, Buck, give a guy a break! I can explain."
Buck shook his head, placing his hands on his hips to resist the urge to continue pummeling his friend. "I bet you can. Let me guess: It's some kind of witness protection deal. You needed to pretend you were dead, so you could go on living. If that's the case, you're out of your mind coming back like this." Buck pointed a finger a Eddie's chest, stabbing him with it. "Are you out of your mind?"
"Well, Buck, you know me. The state of my mind's always been a little questionable. As a matter of fact, there's nothing left in my right brain; and nothing right in my left brain."
Buck couldn't help but smile at his friend's familiar jocularity. "Aw, hell, Eddie, even if I'd like to kill you about now, you got to know how happy I am to find out that you're not really dead."
Eddie looked away from Buck for a moment then turned back, all signs of humor abruptly erased. He tugged absently at his ear as he explained, "You see, Buck, here's the thing. I am, actually." When Buck continued to stare at him with no change of expression, Eddie continued, "Dead, that is."
Buck gave a snort of laughter. "Yeah, right. I can see that. Hey, if you want me to continue to pretend to believe that you're dead, that's fine with me."
Eddie leaned toward Buck, sincerity dripping from every pore as he said, "It's not really fine with me, but believe me, I died. I remember every minute of it. I felt this huge crushing pain wrap itself around my chest. I couldn't move, couldn't breathe. Then, the next thing I know, I'm floating and looking down at myself lying flat out on the floor, deader than roadkill." Eddie, true to form, began to quote Monty Python. In an atrocious British accent, he declared, "I'd kicked the bucket, shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible!"
Not believing a word of it, Buck stated, "If you're so dead, then what are you doing standing in front of me quoting the Dead Parrot Sketch?"
Eddie shook his head. "I'm damned if I know. The only thing I've figured out so far is that if I'd jogged when I was alive, then I probably wouldn't be dead now. So, I'm trying to make up for lost time." He turned away from Buck and waved a hand over his shoulder as he started jogging. "See you later!" He took one step and then another before he vanished as suddenly as he'd appeared.
Buck stared at the spot where the man had just been standing, slack-jawed. "Shit! I know that brain cells die when they're deprived of oxygen. I must be having some kind of delayed reaction, what with dyin' and everything." He slowly began to retrace his steps, declaring, "Yeah, that's it. I just overdid things a little this morning." Not sure if he believed his own explanation, Buck added, "And there's no way in hell I'm ever gonna tell anybody what just happened."
+ + + + + + +
He wasn't there again today.
Buck managed to convince himself that his visit with Eddie had been a product of his damaged brain. That is, until three days later when it happened again. Buck was jogging solo courtesy of Casey, who had dragged JD away for an overnight party with a group of friends. The mustached man was doing fine until he began his second lap around the park. Another set of footsteps pounded the pavement behind him until Buck found himself jogging shoulder to shoulder with Eddie. He immediately stopped when he realized the identity of his companion.
"Now wait just a damn minute!" He reached out a hand, feeling the solid bulk of Eddie's shoulder as he squeezed forcefully to verify what his eyes were telling him. "If you're gonna tell me that nonsense about you bein' dead again, you can stop right there!"
Eddie shrugged, his eyes conveying his regret as he apologized. "I'm sorry, buddy-boy, but what you see is what you get. Me, in the not-so-flesh."
Buck scoffed. "Yeah, right. Pull the other one."
"I wish this was some kind of joke, but it's not. Better still, I wish I knew why I'm haunting you. It's not like I have a choice. I've been thinking about it since I last saw you, and I think I have it figured out. I'm here to serve as a bad example, to remind you that if you live like I do, or did, you'll be dead."
Buck frowned. "That's bullshit. I've been watching my diet and exercising since before you started in with your ghost act."
Eddie crossed his arms in front of himself. His voice reflecting his frustration, he replied, "Fine, then, you tell me why I'm here."
Buck raised a hand and rubbed it along his suddenly aching forehead. His eyes closed as he responded, "To make me think I'm losing my mind." When Eddie did not immediately reply, Buck opened his eyes. Eddie was gone. He looked around frantically. There was no sign of his missing friend. "Goddamn it!"
Buck was standing in an open area of the park. There was nowhere that Eddie could have gone in the few seconds that Buck had not been watching him. Feeling older than his years, Buck's feet dragged as he made his way home, nervously checking behind every tree and bush he passed.
+ + + + + + +
The members of Team Seven noticed Buck's distracted air at work. Each one of them made attempts to draw the atypically silent man out of his shell. Only Josiah succeeded.
"Brother Buck, you seem to be deep in thought this morning. Would it help to share what's on your mind?"
The dark-haired man rubbed his chin while he considered the idea. Nodding to himself, he stated, "You know, it just might. Josiah, do you believe in life after death?"
Josiah sat on the corner of Buck's desk and replied, "Yes, I do. The mere fact that we exist in all our complexity is enough to make believe that our existence does not cease with death. Are you asking me if I believe in Heaven or Hell?"
"No, that ain't it. More like, do you believe in . . ." Buck hesitated. Not wanting to appear foolish, he tried to think of another way to express what he'd experienced, but he couldn't. He sighed. He'd gone this far, he might as well just say it. "Do you believe in ghosts?"
"I believe that the spirit in one form or another lives on after we die." When Buck declined to speak further, Josiah went on, "Does this have anything to do with the fact that, no matter how short the time, you were actually dead?"
Thinking back on his private assertion that he was suffering from some form of brain damage, Buck replied, "Yeah, it might."
Josiah couldn't help the enthusiasm he felt at his friend's confession. "You know, I've read many accounts from people who've had near-death experiences. They report seeing and hearing things during the time that they were clinically dead. I wanted to ask you this before, but I didn't want to make you uncomfortable. If you don't mind my asking, did you feel or see anything when we all thought that you were dead? Did you feel like you were in a dark tunnel, and that there was a warm light drawing you toward it?"
Buck shook his head. "No, nothing like that. I just thought I saw someone else, somebody who was supposed to be dead."
Josiah stated, "You very well may have. Sometimes the veil between the worlds thins, and I wouldn't discount anything you might have seen or heard."
Personally, Buck thought that Josiah was heading off into nonsensical territory, but he was kind enough not to say so. It's not like what he himself experienced was any less crazy. He simply replied, "Thanks, Josiah."
"Any time you'd like to talk, you know where I live." Josiah pointed toward his desk, then headed for the same.
+ + + + + + +
After his second encounter with Eddie, Buck abruptly ceased his morning jogs. His sudden lack of interest in the activity did nothing for JD's peace of mind.
"What do you mean, you're not jogging any more? I thought that you wanted to do everything that you could to live a long, healthy life. You've been doing good at it; a lot better than I have. You can't just stop!"
Buck frowned, puzzled at his friend's vehement response. "Now, JD, there's lots of ways I can stay healthy without runnin' around outside. I can start putting in more time at the gym, if it comes to that. I'm thinkin' that I've been overdoing it a little. It won't hurt me any to cut back on running."
JD grabbed Buck and leaned into his friend's personal space. His voice intense, he replied, "But you don't know that!"
The older man gently disengaged himself from his roommate's too tight grasp. "Kid, I think you're overreacting a bit here."
JD stepped back a pace and began to wave his hands agitatedly as he responded. "Overreacting? I don't think so!"
Buck realized that he and JD had never really talked about his poolside misadventure. It was obviously time to do so. "You've been fussin' at me like a mama bear over a cub ever since my little extended swim."
"Extended swim? Screw that!" JD began to pace, too anxious to stand still. "Don't you get it?" He stopped to stand toe to toe with his best friend. His eyes wide and dark, he slapped a hand against Buck's chest to emphasize his point. "You died! You died, and it was all my fault!"
Buck's eyebrows rose in dismay. He suspected that JD had been thinking something along those lines, but he had really hoped that he was wrong. The older man placed both of his hands on his distraught friend's shoulders. "You listen to me, and listen good. Nothing that happened was your fault."
JD shook his head, his eyes bright with unshed tears. "You don't know that. You don't remember what happened. I do. I was there!"
Buck squeezed his friend's arms. What he really wanted to do was to just wrap his arms around the kid, but he suspected that the affectionate gesture would be rebuffed. "I may not remember, but I read your report. I got no reason to believe that you wrote down anything but the God's honest truth. I'm sure that you wrote down exactly what I said and did. Besides which, what you said I told you, about me bein' fine and all . . . well, it sounds exactly like something that I'd do. I told you that I was fine when I really wasn't. Hell, with the adrenaline of the chase and all, I may have believed it at the time. I would've wanted to make sure that the kid who decked me didn't get away, and you could get to him a lot quicker than I could." Buck shook his friend gently, trying to shake some sense into JD's disturbed brain. "It was *not* your *fault*!"
JD stepped back, wiping hastily at his moist eyes. "It's got to be somebody's fault."
"And it is. And the perp who's responsible is rotting away in a jail cell as we speak. I'm okay." Buck nudged a fisted hand gently under JD's chin, forcing him to look up. "This time, I'm telling you the truth."
JD's eyes teared again and he wordlessly threw himself at his roommate, wrapping his arms around the solid form. He needed to feel for himself that Buck was alive and well and whole. In doing so, a little piece of his soul that he hadn't realized had been missing was filled in as Buck returned his hug.
+ + + + + + +
He wasn't there again today.
Buck thought that halting his morning runs would put an end to Eddie's visits. Much to his annoyance, he was soon proved wrong.
That morning had started as usual for the members of Team Seven. The bullpen was a riot of noise as people came and went and conversations were sometimes shouted between desks. Currently, Josiah's deep voice was booming across the office toward Ezra. Buck yelled, "Why don't you use the damn interoffice phone?"
Ezra blandly responded, "Why don't you?"
Buck shook his head. There was no way he could concentrate with all of the chaos surrounding him. He grabbed the stack of files from his desk and stood up, announcing, "If anyone needs me, I'll be in interrogation." He headed toward the sound-proofed room, breathing a sigh of relief when the door closed behind him and he was surrounded by blessed peace.
His relief was short-lived. Buck placed his folders upon the table and was preparing to sit when a voice behind him caused him to straighten so abruptly that he banged his shin on the table leg. The agitated man rubbed his sore leg as he turned to confront the intruder. "Eddie! What the hell are you doing here?"
Eddie spread out his arms as he asked, "Is that any way to greet an old friend?"
"It is when that friend is supposed to be six feet under!"
The allegedly deceased man seated himself comfortably on top of the table. "We need to talk."
Buck stepped away from the table and declared, "No, we don't!"
"You know, you're not doing yourself any good by giving up jogging."
Buck stepped back, one hand on his hip, the other pointing at his friend as he spoke. "In case you haven't figured it out yet, I'm trying to avoid you."
Eddie shrugged and began to swing his legs. "You can see how good that worked. R-2, I suggest a new strategy."
"Quoting 'Star Wars' ain't gonna work, 'cause you certainly ain't no Yoda."
"Ah, Obi-Wan, don't fuck with the force."
"If I could think of some way to force you out of my life, you better believe I'd do it."
Eddie hopped down off of the table. "Then do it! We both know that there's a reason why I'm here. We just gotta figure out what it is. Come on, what do you say?"
Buck sighed in defeat. "I say I must be out of my mind, talkin' to dead people. Only thing I'm glad about is that nobody can see me, 'cause they'd be callin' for the men in the white coats to come and take me away. Hell, it might be a relief if they did." Buck continued to converse with his ghostly friend.
Ezra stared through the one-way glass of the observation window, appalled. He still harbored some concern for his team member after his near-death experience. Therefore, shortly after Buck had retreated to the interrogation room, Ezra slipped into the room next door, needing to reassure himself that his friend was quite all right. Ezra frowned when he noticed that Buck seemed to be speaking to someone, despite the fact that there was no one in the room. Curious, the undercover agent activated the hidden microphone and was able to hear as well as see. It did little for his own peace of mind. It seemed that Buck was talking to some sort of ghost. Now that he had obtained the information, Ezra had no idea what to do with it. He uttered a soft curse. "Damn!"
+ + + + + + +
Ezra decided not to share his observations with anyone. After examining the problem from all sides, he determined that silence was the best policy. If confronted, either Buck would be forced into a lie by denying what Ezra had witnessed; or, he would admit that he was talking to ghosts, which would more than likely earn him a rapid psychological evaluation as well as the disparagement of some, if not all of his teammates.
Ezra declined to examine his own feelings regarding the matter. Nevertheless, he began keeping a close watch on his friend's less than typical behavior.
Ezra was skilled at making himself invisible, and was able to carry on his surveillance undetected. What he saw provided no additional reason for concern. Except for the occasional time or two he was observed talking to himself or some unknown and unseen visitor, Buck's behavior was no odder than usual. He performed his job competently and sometimes even brilliantly.
For his part, Buck continued to converse with Eddie periodically. As the days dragged on, at one time or another each of his teammates, sans Ezra, confronted him regarding his strange behavior. The first was the person who was with him the most. It was not entirely unexpected to Buck that JD caught him out.
"Buck, I couldn't help but notice you talking to someone earlier, when you were by yourself."
The haunted man did not attempt to deny it as he thought furiously. Finally, he replied, "Sometimes I feel like Eddie's still here. It helps me to talk things over with him, stuff we probably should've talked about when he was alive." To Buck's relief, JD accepted his answer.
"I know what you mean. After my mom died, I'd find myself talking to her. Sometimes I still do." He looked at Buck, the pain of that loss reflected in his eyes. "It helps. Sometimes it almost feels like she's still with me."
Buck patted his friend's shoulder. "I expect she probably is." He declined to share with JD the seeming reality of his own visions, happy that the kid seemed satisfied with his explanation.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah was the next to approach him. He began, "Buck, I'm beginning to think that the words of our earlier conversation had more than passing significance to you. I have to ask you, do you think that you're experiencing ghostly visitations?"
Buck should've expected that Josiah would've noticed, after he'd been dumb enough to question his friend. The younger man should've had an answer prepared, but he didn't. He shrugged and decided to admit a portion of the truth. "Happen I might."
Josiah nodded. "I suspected something of the sort. Is there anything I can help you with?"
"Nah. Me and Eddie are working things out."
"If it helps any, I think that the best thing you can do is to talk things out. If it helps you to speak with Eddie, I recommend that you continue to do so."
"Thanks, Josiah." Buck privately added, Thank you for not accusing me of losing my mind. Truly, Buck was beginning to worry about his sanity. His peace of mind was not helped any by Nathan.
The team medic was not subtle. "Buck, what the hell is goin' on with you?"
Buck earned himself a temporary delay by returning the question with a question. His silent concern regarding possible brain damage was uppermost in his mind. Buck didn't want to give Nathan any reason to think that he had any type of disability, mental or physical. "What do you mean?"
"I mean you go around talkin' to folks that aren't there."
Buck shrugged. "So what if I do?"
Nathan seemed taken aback by the calm reply. He paused a minute, then asked, "You havin' hallucinations?"
"Nope. I know I'm just talkin' to the air, but it beats bendin' my friends' ears until they bleed. I'm just tryin' to work out some stuff, and I'll thank you to let me do it in peace."
Nathan grumbled, but acknowledged that Buck's behavior didn't seem to be affecting his work any and decided to let the matter drop.
+ + + + + + +
Chris was the last to approach him, and the hardest to deal with. The Team Seven leader called him into his office. "Close the door and have a seat."
Buck complied with the order. He leaned back in the chair, pretending to an ease that he did not feel.
Chris reached into the bottom drawer of his desk and removed a bottle of scotch and two glasses. He poured a measure of the golden liquid into each glass, passing one to Buck and saving one for himself.
Buck really did not like what he was seeing, and took a healthy gulp of the liquor while Chris sipped at his own.
After an increasingly uncomfortable interval of silence, Chris broached the reason for his summons. He was direct and to the point. "Heard you talkin' to Eddie today. It wasn't the first time."
The dark-haired man was afraid that Chris had caught on to his secret. There were too many ghosts between the two of them for Buck to admit that he was haunted. Hell, if any spirits tormented him, it should've been Sarah and Adam, and not the devil-may-care Eddie. He shrugged. "What do you want me to say?"
Chris toyed with his glass before he spoke. His eyes eventually left the glass and focused upon his friend. "I know you well enough to be able to see when something's bothering you. Seems like things haven't been right for you ever since the pool."
Buck stared at his friend. "You can say it, Chris: since I died." He ignored his friend's wince at the sharp words and continued, "I'll admit it, I've got some stuff goin' on with my head."
"I'd suggest that you talk to someone about it, but it seems like you already are. Can't say I'm too happy at your choice of confidants. Might be better if you talked to someone who could actually talk back."
"What if I told you that Eddie does?" Buck was not surprised that Chris did not answer his question. He upended his glass and finished the scotch, then stood up. "I think we're done here." Buck could see that Chris was struggling to find words that would not come. He decided to take his silence as permission to leave.
+ + + + + + +
After the confrontation with Chris, the last person Buck wanted to see that day was Eddie. The way that fate was conspiring against him, Buck should not have been surprised on his drive home that evening when he suddenly realized that he was no longer alone. He slammed on the brakes and pulled over to the curb.
Eddie smiled. "Hey, Bucky-boy, do you want to go for another round of 'Why is Eddie here?'"
Buck slammed his hand against the steering wheel, his frustration boiling over into anger. He returned the greeting with a show of annoyance. "I'd hit you, but I don't expect it'd do any good. Can't hit a man when he's down, or dead for that matter." Buck swore, then turned in his seat so that he could confront Eddie face to face. "Thanks to you, all my friends think I'm either some kind of basket case, or just plain out of my head. You know, I think I finally figured out why you're here. I've been cursed, and you're here to make my life a living hell!"
Eddie looked at Buck, his eyes speaking silently regarding the cutting depth of Buck's words. The alleged ghost's lips trembled but he remained silent and a minute later winked out of existence.
Days went by, and Eddie did not return. Buck tried to tell himself that he was relieved. However, he could not forget the hurt look on Eddie's face the last time he'd seen him, dead or not. With no other avenues available to contact his friend, Buck decided to go jogging again. Once he entered the park, he began to call out: "Eddie! Eddie!" There was no answer to his repeated hails. The defeated man slowly made his way home, surprised to find that he was actually missing Eddie. Buck gave a deep sigh, reluctantly deciding that whatever brain damage he'd been afflicted with must have been cured.
+ + + + + + +
A week later, everything changed. Ezra found himself momentarily doubting his decision to remain silent, and Eddie returned at the worst and ultimately best possible time.
I wish that man would go away.
The members of Team Seven were being their usual efficient selves. They were preparing to descend en masse upon a run-down apartment building. Weeks of investigation had uncovered the whereabouts of an illegal arms dealer. The man and his cohorts were about to find themselves out of business - permanently.
Buck hummed as he reviewed the contents of his trunk. He was already wearing his kevlar vest, and was more than ready to arrest the bad guys. He bent over the trunk and gazed affectionately at the grenade launcher, snug in its familiar place. The ATF agent gave 'Thumper' an affectionate pat for good luck.
A hand on his shoulder and an all too familiar voice startled him out of his reverie. "Buck!"
The ATF agent straightened abruptly from his crouched position, banging his head on the raised lid of the trunk. "Goddamn it all to hell! Eddie, what the fuck are you doing here?"
Eddie greeted Buck with his familiar grin. "Hey there, Bucky-boy, I thought you'd be glad to see me?"
Buck looked around, fearing that his outburst had garnered the attention of his teammates. He walked around to the side of his car, dragging Eddie along with him. "You couldn't have picked a worse time to pull this shit. I need all my concentration on this bust, and not on some half-assed haunt."
"I thought that you could use the backup."
"You thought wrong!"
Buck continued arguing with his friend, unaware that he was being observed. Ezra had heard Buck's exclamation and decided to investigate. He was dismayed to see Buck arguing with the very air, waving his arms in agitation. He approached his friend to ask, "Is everything all right?"
Buck's angry "Of course it is! Things couldn't be better," did nothing to assure Ezra.
The undercover agent continued, "I could not help but notice that you seem a little upset. I believe that I heard you talkin' to someone."
Buck glared at Eddie, pissed as hell that no one else could see the current bane of his existence. "It's obvious that there's no one else here, so I must've been talking to myself. There was *so* nobody else here that you should've been able to hear the sucking sound from the vacuum!"
Eddie laughed. "If you expect me to take offense at that comment, you can forget it."
Deciding to address both Eddie and Ezra at the same time, Buck replied, "I wish you'd just leave me alone so I can get ready to do my job."
Ezra frowned, not prepared to let the matter drop. "Well forgive me for wantin' to make sure that you're in a proper state of mind to perform the job required of you."
The mustached man waved a hand in apology. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean that the way it sounded."
Eddie smiled and responded, "I knew you didn't."
Buck had to bite down on his tongue to stifle the words that he wanted to throw at Eddie. He sighed, and continued talking to Ezra. "I was just going over some things in my mind, and I guess I didn't realize I was talking out loud. I'm fine, just tryin' to get my head completely in the game. Can you give me a few minutes here?"
Ezra's concern grew when Buck admitted that he didn't have his mind entirely focused upon the upcoming operation. He reluctantly agreed to Buck's request, running interference for his friend by stopping JD's advance. The younger man had wondered what was keeping Buck, having heard his friend talking to someone. JD was on his way to investigate when he heard the tail end of the conversation with Ezra. He was prepared to question Buck about it when Ezra approached. "Mister Dunne, I was wonderin' if you could spare a moment to review the parameters of the apartment building's setup one more time?" While he was talking, Ezra wrapped an arm around JD's shoulders and propelled him away from Buck.
Meanwhile, Buck hissed at Eddie, "Will you do me a favor and get the hell out of here?"
Eddie waved a hand at Buck and smiled. "Alrighty, then, I'll see you in a few!"
Buck muttered, "I'd better not!"
+ + + + + + +
After the mini-drama involving Buck and his unseen visitor, the actual arrest was anti-climactic. The gun-runners occupied a supposedly abandoned one-story apartment building. Once the door was kicked in and the members of Team Seven announced their presence, the criminals surrendered without a fight.
As they led the men out to the waiting police van, Ezra commented, "Well, that was unexpected."
Josiah agreed. "Yes, especially when you remember our last bust."
The members of Team Seven were quiet, remembering the operation that had resulted in Buck's drowning.
Ezra decided to try to relieve the tension. He commented, "At least this apartment building did not come equipped with a pool."
JD's jaw dropped in dismay. He could not believe that Ezra would attempt to turn what had happened to Buck into some kind of joke. His words of condemnation were never uttered, thanks to a burst of laughter from Buck.
"Hell, I thought that I was the only one thinkin' that." He patted Ezra on the back, commenting, "I knew that there was a reason I liked you."
Once the prisoners had been hauled away, Chris organized his men to complete their investigation. "There's a shitload of illegal arms and God knows what else that needs to be catalogued. Me and Vin and Buck and JD will check out the basement. The rest of you cover the first floor."
Chris and Vin started at one end of the basement while Buck and JD began checking the other. The lower level had been divided into apartments, and each room needed to be checked.
Buck stated, "Let's begin at the beginning," and headed for a door marked "1-0-1." His hand was on the knob when Eddie materialized in front of his face, having seemingly walked through the door.
Eddie yelled, "Stop! Don't move! There's a bomb!"
Buck froze in place, sputtering, "What?"
JD replied, "I didn't say anything."
At the same time Eddie was explaining, "There's a shitload of C-4 on the other side of this door, probably enough to bring this whole place down on your head. It looks like it's triggered to go off as soon as you open the door. God, Buck, tell me you haven't turned the knob yet!"
Buck replied, "Nope," and carefully let go of the doorknob. He stepped back, dragging a protesting JD with him.
The younger man's astonishment showed on his face as he asked, "What are you doing?"
"Trying to save both our lives." The intensity of Buck's reply left no doubt regarding the depth of his belief.
JD ran a hand through his hair in agitation. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"There's a bomb on the other side of this door."
"Trust me on this one, kid. We gotta get the hell out of here." Buck activated his two-way radio and contacted his teammates as he hurried out of the building, JD in tow. "Everybody out of the building! This place is rigged to blow!"
The members of Team Seven obeyed Buck's order without question. They regrouped outside of the building. Chris asked the question on everyone's mind. "What's going on?"
Buck replied, "There's enough C-4 in the basement to bring down the whole building."
The leader of Team Seven had heard enough. He contacted the bomb squad.
JD could not let Buck's statement go unchallenged. He asked, "How do you know?"
Buck shook his head. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you. Why don't we wait until the bomb squad gets here? Then, you can either lock me up for being completely out of my mind, or I'll tell you the truth." After that pronouncement, Buck refused to say another word.
+ + + + + + +
When the bomb squad finally arrived, they confirmed Buck's statement. The captain commented, "You guys are damn lucky. The C-4 was rigged to blow if anyone opened the door to apartment 101. The detonator was armed by remote, probably activated by your perps when you arrested 'em. You guys must have an angel looking over your shoulders."
JD, being the only one who knew how truly impossible it was for Buck to have known about the bomb, was the first one to question his friend after the bomb squad's revelation. His eyes were wide with amazement, his voice soft as he asked, "How did you know?"
Buck rubbed a hand along the back of his head, then leaned comfortably against the ATF van. "I didn't believe it myself, but there's no way around it. A ghost told me. Specifically, Eddie's ghost." Buck looked around at his friends, waiting for the expected derisive remarks and comments of disbelief. To his surprise, his teammates remained silent. Encouraged by their acceptance, Buck continued. "The first time I saw him, I was jogging in the park. I thought maybe I had some kind of brain damage from what happened to me with the pool and everything." At Nathan's scowl, Buck inserted, "Sorry, Nathan," before he continued. "The thing is, he wasn't a scary spook or anything. He was just, well, Eddie. And he kept coming back, talking to me about how he didn't know why he was haunting me, and asking me to help him figure it out."
"I know it sounds crazy. In fact, sometimes I thought maybe I was going crazy myself. But today, right before the bust, Eddie showed up, telling me he was going to back me up. Now I ask you, can you think of anything crazier than being backed up by a dead guy?"
JD exclaimed, "So that's who you were talking to!"
Ezra nodded. "Indeed. I admit to having observed you speakin' to the air as if there were another person present on more than one occasion."
Buck continued. "Anyway, when me and JD were ready to check out apartment 101, out pops Eddie. He told me about the bomb, and you all know the rest."
Josiah was the first to speak up. "I don't blame you for keeping your visions to yourself. I expect most of us would have laughed you out of the room if you'd tried to tell us this before today. However, your knowledge of the bomb defies all logical explanation. When logic fails, it's time to look toward the spirit." Josiah's eyes glowed with the fervor of his belief. "Buck, I believe that this is tied to your near-death experience. I think that when you died, however temporarily, you were granted access to the spirit world. I envy you."
Buck snorted in disbelief. "You want my ghost, you can have him." Buck looked around, half-expecting Eddie to pop in with a comment. However, his only companions at present were his fellow team members.
Chris was intensely uncomfortable with the entire discussion. He stated, "Well, as soon as the bomb squad gives us the all clear, we've got work to do." The members of Team Seven followed Chris' lead and left discussion of Buck's remarkable revelation for another time.
That time did not come any time soon. They had two major cases break at the same time, and it was a full two weeks before the members of Team Seven found themselves lounging around the office with nothing to do.
Josiah brought up the subject of Buck's haunting. "So, have you heard from Eddie lately?"
Buck raised his empty hands palms upward as he replied, "Haven't seen hide nor hair of him since he warned me about the bomb. You know, I've been thinking. He kept going on about how he must've returned for a reason. I figure that his reason was to save all of us. I wish he'd come back, just so I could thank him." Buck looked around hopefully, but Eddie did not appear. He sighed.
Josiah speculated, "I expect you've seen the last of him."
Buck agreed. "Yeah. The whole ghostly visitation thing, it reminded me how important it is to see people when they're still alive. So, you guys up for a visit to the Saloon?"
Buck's suggestion was met with a chorus of 'Yes's.
The members of Team Seven spent the evening engaged in one of their favorite pursuits: drinking. Not surprisingly, the topic of conversation drifted from entertainment to work.
JD commented, "I still can't believe we didn't get blown up."
Josiah agreed. "Fortunately, we had our own guardian angel looking out for us, in the form of Buck's friend, Eddie."
Buck responded with a laugh. "Eddie the angel. Man, he sure would get a kick out of bein' called that." Buck took a sip of his drink, then continued. "I think I exchanged one guardian angel for another. JD worries over me like I was a nun in a biker bar. I don't think the kid will ever believe me again when I tell him I'm fine."
Chris scolded, "And with your track record, he shouldn't believe you."
Buck blithely ignored his friends as he rambled on. "You'd think that doing the Dead Man's Float would 'a put me off 'a swimming." He took a sip from his beer mug to wet his dry throat, and continued. "Nope." Now that his throat was well lubricated, the mustached man began to sing: "I love to go swimmin' with bow-legged women and swim between their legs . . ."
Buck's solo was interrupted by a clearly agitated JD.
"Damn it, there's nothing funny about it!"
Buck smiled as he responded, "I'm afraid that I gotta disagree with you. That song has always tickled my funny bone."
JD's next words were shouted as he shoved his beer glass away and placed his hands upon the table, wringing them together. "That's not what I'm talking about and you damn well know it! God, Buck, you died!" His voice breaking, JD repeated, "You died!"
Buck reached out a hand to still the agitated twisting of his friend's hands. The older man tilted his head so that he could stare at JD eye-to-eye. All trace of humor was gone from his manner as he reassured his distraught friend. "But I didn't. I'm here, and so are you. And for that, we can thank Eddie." The tense hands beneath his own finally relaxed, and Buck sat back.
The mustached man raised his glass and toasted, "To Eddie!" Seven glassed connected with a resounding 'clink' and Buck felt the need to make one last comment. "That, my friends, is the sound of an angel getting his wings!"
| As I was going up the stair
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today.
I wish that man would go away.