CHAPTER 1 - 5 | CHAPTER 6 - 9 | CHAPTER 10 - 13 | CHAPTER 14 - 17
By the time Chris Larabee reached the office Monday morning he was ready to explode. As his Team came in to work, they'd each taken one look at the thundercloud on his face and decided it was safer to avoid him altogether. They went to work quickly and quietly, trying to stay invisible to their leader. Several times they heard him yell into the phone then slam it down on the cradle, until finally at nine o'clock he rushed out of his office and down the hall to the elevators, slamming his hand on the buttons. JD watched the Team leader, never having seen him so angry. As the blond man finally entered the elevator, JD caught a quick glimpse of Chris' eyes just as the doors closed, and was stunned to see, angry and ... fear? 'Scared? He's scared?' JD wondered what was wrong with their leader.
As soon as Chris disappeared, all eyes turned to Buck and he looked helplessly back at his friends and teammates.
"I have no idea what's twisted his tail. And I'm not going to ask him until he settles down," Buck told the men.
"May we assume this might have something to do with the fact that Mr. Tanner has not yet returned from his assignment?" Ezra asked, his green eyes flashing from one friend to the other.
For several minutes the men asked questions and exchanged theories until Buck held up his hands in surrender. "I DON'T know! It could be Vin. It could be the last bust we did. It could be something Travis said. It could be anything! I DON'T KNOW! As soon as Chris gets back and IF he is calmer, I'll ask him," Buck said. "Now let's get back to work until he gets here. We have enough paper work to last us several days, so the faster we get to it the faster it'll be out of our hair."
The men reluctantly returned to work, mumbling under their breath, but each time they heard a 'ding' from the hallway, five heads rose and looked hopefully, and apprehensively, towards the elevator.
Almost four hours later, as the men were finishing the pizza lunch they had ordered from their favorite nearby Italian restaurant, the elevator finally discharged the blond fury also known as Chris Larabee.
Chris stalked into the lunch room and slammed a stack of envelopes down on the table. "We're going to New York City. Go home, pack, and meet up at the airport at four o'clock; our flight leaves at six. We have clearance to bring our weapons." Abruptly he turned and was headed out the door before anyone had a chance to say a word. Buck jumped up and ran after his long time friend.
"Chris, what's going on?"
Chris spun around and opened his mouth to fire back a sharp retort, but stopped upon seeing the five men crowded around him, their faces full of concern. With a deep sigh he ran a hand through his hair, and then clenched his fist as he brought his hand to his side.
"Vin is missing. The semi he was driving never made it to Indianapolis or Denver. There was a bad crash above New York City; a Vincent Taylor was transported by ambulance from the scene, but no one knows where he was taken. The FBI raided Brigham's depot Friday afternoon in Brooklyn and found 'evidence' that 'Vincent Taylor' was in on everything. I think we have them straightened out about Vin, but they can't find him; there is no record of him being admitted to any of the area hospitals nor any mention of him in any police reports. I'm meeting with Agent Bob Keller tomorrow at one o'clock, after we meet with a Special Agent Jack Malone of the Missing Persons Unit. Now go pack. I'll meet you at the airport. Your tickets are in the envelopes." The black clad man turned and entered his office, the door closing behind him.
Seconds ticked by as the five men stared from the closed door to each other in despair. How could they find one lone Texan in the midst of the millions of people that made up the five boroughs of New York City? Their team mate could be anywhere in that vast metropolis and none of them had a clue where to start looking.
Josiah moved to the table and snagged the envelopes, handing one to each man. The team members moved together, quickly cleaning up their lunch remains, shutting down their computers and clearing their desks. Within five minutes the office was empty, the men heading for their various homes to pack.
Chris was the last to leave some time later. He tucked a file with photos of Vin and other papers into his briefcase, picked up the emergency suitcase he kept in his office at all times, and made his way through the quiet office. He refused to let his mind linger on what Travis had told him about the contract that had been taken out on Vin's life. There was no word as to whether or not the contract had been fulfilled as of yet, but Travis had made it clear he believed that Vin was dead. Chris' fear for his friend ate at him as he rode the elevator to the parking garage. He was positive that Vin was alive, but there was something very wrong; his 'connection' with his friend was fuzzy and he had no idea where he was. All he could do was pray that they would find Vin in time.
The six men left the hotel Tuesday morning and piled into the van that AD Travis had acquired for their use while in New York City. The driver was a retired FBI agent and friend of Travis'.
James Donavan smiled as the men made themselves comfortable and buckled their seat belts. "Good morning gents. I hope you slept well," he said as he eased the van into the morning traffic.
All of the men greeted him pleasantly except for the blond beside him in the front seat, but he didn't push. Travis had warned him that Chris Larabee would probably take his head off if he was in a bad mood, and he could see the blond, black clad man was ready to burst.
"We'll be to headquarters in half an hour or so. I can get into the parking lot, so will wait for you all there. I'll be ready if you need me."
Chris gave the driver a sidelong glance; James smiled at him and Chris finally allowed himself to relax a little and smiled back.
"Thanks James. You shouldn't have to wait for us. I'm sure there will be someone there who can run us around."
"Don't worry Agent Larabee, I don't mind hanging around. I can visit friends there and meet you whenever."
"Call me Chris. We're to meet with an agent named Malone at nine o'clock, and then I have a meeting with Agent Keller at one. We'll let you know if we need you."
"I know Malone; he and his team are good, one of the best in the FBI Missing Person's Unit. Heard of Keller too; he's all business but a good man. You have my cell phone number; if you don't need me later just give me a call and I'll head home. Otherwise, I'll hang around for you. I am at your command."
"Thanks," Chris said as he gazed out the window of the van. Behind Chris, the five other men quietly watched the cars rushing past, lost in their thoughts, and refusing to allow themselves to dwell on the possibility that Vin was dead.
James turned into a secure parking area, showing his ID at the gate and waiting for the cross arm to rise. Minutes later he led the six men to the security area and pointed the elevators out to them. "I'll be back here at eleven. You want the 10th floor for the MPU. I'll see you later," Donavan said as the men were checked in by the security agents.
Team Seven exited the elevators at the 10th floor as directed, and headed for the Missing Persons offices, looking for Jack Malone. Pushing through the glass doors leading to the MPU, the men glanced around the quiet bullpen, spotting two black haired men talking to each other. After a quick glance in their direction, both men headed towards the six newcomers.
"Agent Malone?" Chris asked as the sturdy older man stopped in front of him.
"You must be Agent Larabee?" Jack Malone asked, sticking out his hand.
They shook hands and Chris quickly introduced his men.
"This is Agent Danny Taylor. Martin Fitzgerald will be here in a minute; he's getting coffee for us. Let's go into the conference room," Jack said leading them into a glass enclosed room.
"Kind of quiet around here," JD said as he followed Buck.
"Two of our agents are on a case out of town and one is home with the flu; she might be able to join us tomorrow though," Danny said to JD as he waited for the ATF agents to enter the room.
JD blushed, "Sorry didn't mean anything by that."
"No problem," Danny said with a smile at the young agent, who looked like he should still be in school, "We are a little slow right now."
Inside the men quickly took their seats and Chris removed the file he'd brought from his briefcase and set it on the table. For a moment every eye focused on the file as Chris' hand rested on it. Taking a deep breath he looked up at Malone and opened it.
The door swung open and all eyes turned to the man who entered carrying two sacks filled with large cups of coffee. A collective gasp was heard from the ATF agents; Chris came to his feet, his face turning white as his shocked eyes landed on the young blue-eyed man who stopped abruptly, frozen in place by the gazes of the six men.
"Oh my God!" Josiah exclaimed.
Martin Fitzgerald carefully set the sacks of coffee on the table, his bright blue eyes held by the blond man's sea green ones in front of him. "What's wrong?" he managed to ask in a half whisper.
"Vin!" JD said.
"Mr. Tanner, what have you done?" Ezra Standish asked.
"Junior?" Buck growled.
"What's going on?" Nathan asked, as the men stared at the young man in the suit standing at the end of the table.
Martin looked back at the men in confusion, but was unable to tear his eyes away from the black-clad man before him for long. Chris stared hard at the younger agent, looking deeply into the familiar blue eyes, then suddenly shuddered and looked away.
"Not Vin," Chris rasped, as the color began to return to his face and he finally relaxed and sat down, his eyes darting around the table to each of his men.
Jack Malone and Danny Taylor had watched the Denver team with interest, noting the shocked expressions on their faces when they got their first look at Martin Fitzgerald, his youngest agent. Jack was puzzled, and his gaze flicked steadily from Martin to Larabee, then back to Martin.
Jack coughed, bringing everyone out of their frozen state. "This is Agent Martin Fitzgerald. Martin, that's Chris Larabee, AFT from Denver, his men, Wilmington, Standish, Jackson, Sanchez, and Dunne. Pass the coffee and let's get to work."
Martin looked around the table as he passed out the coffee out and wondered what was wrong. When everyone had coffee, cream, and sugar, he took a seat, still uncomfortable around these men, who continued to stare at him as if they had seen a ... a ghost or something. He pulled a notepad closer and took out a pen.
Jack looked at Chris and raised his eyebrows.
"Sorry Agent Malone, Agent Fitzgerald, umm ... Well, I guess a picture is worth a thousand words." Chris opened the file and passed several pictures to the FBI agents.
Now it was their turn to stare in surprise at Martin, who gazed at the pictures and felt faint. The man in the picture had his face, a bit leaner but with almost identical features. The only difference was the other man's long, brownish blond hair that reached below his shoulders.
Danny saw the color leave his partner's face and the shock in his blue eyes and said quickly, "Hey Fitz, where'd you get an identical twin? Thought they broke the mold when they made you."
The words had the desired effect as Martin's head shot up. "Don't know anything about this, I've never seen this man before," Martin managed to say through clenched teeth as his gaze went back to the picture.
"We'll worry about this later. Right now we're looking for Agent Vin Tanner. From what AD Travis told me yesterday, he's been undercover for three months. He was probably injured in that semi-truck accident last Tuesday night. We didn't have any pictures of him and a phone call to the Ardsley Hospital didn't produce anything," Jack told the men around the table. "Danny."
"There was the semi crash and another big car pile up at about the same time. The hospital was transferring patients out to all the other area hospitals, even some that were quite far away from the town; there were over eighty people injured in the two accidents and Ardsley was overwhelmed. I plan to go up there and check it out. Ardsley claims they didn't have any record of a 'Vincent Taylor' being treated there that night." Danny glanced at his notes, then continued, "Once I get there with his picture I might be able to find someone who remembers him or treated him."
"Why was he up there in the first place? He told me he was headed west," Chris asked. He opened the file and removed a sheet of paper on which he had recorded the last conversation that he'd had with Vin, and handed it to Jack.
"We'll talk with some of Brigham's employees. I have a report from Agent Masters' office; they're the ones who raided the warehouse. Several records were found naming 'Taylor' as one of the top men in their organization. They have several log books that indicate he was always hauling aliens or drugs." Jack handed copies of the report to Chris and his men.
"Travis told me the same thing, and we talked to Masters yesterday. I'm not sure if he believed us, though he told Travis he did. I'll need to see those books and anything else they have on Vin," Chris said.
"I believe that Keller has most of the evidence, the books anyway, at his office. You have a meeting with him?"
"At one o'clock this afternoon."
"If you like I can go with you and ..." Jack stopped as he saw Chris nod.
"Was going to ask you to. More eyes and ears ..." Chris smiled.
"Alright. Danny, you head for Ardsley, check out the hospital there, and find out where the records are and what they did with Agent Tanner. Martin, go with ..."
"Jack, I'd like one of my men to go along."
Jack looked at Chris a moment, and then nodded, "Okay."
"Nathan, go with Danny. Nate's a trained EMT; he might be able to get more information out of the medical staff."
"You sure that we can get information with your help?" Danny commented glancing at the tall dark man.
Nathan Jackson smiled, "I am usually the one who can get the information from staff members before these guys tear up the hospital when one of ours is in there. I can tell you stories that will make your hair turn colors."
Danny nodded, smiling, "I'll hold you to that."
Jack continued issuing instructions. "Martin, get on the computer, see if you can find a list of ambulances that were used that night in case we have to check each one. Then see if you can find out anything about that contract that was put on Tanner."
Malone looked at Chris, "Since I'm three agents short ..."
"JD and Ezra are good on computers," Chris smiled. "JD can get into almost anything."
JD ducked his head as three heads turned his way. Martin smiled at the young agent, then stood up and picked up his notes. "Well, let's hit the computers."
"We'll head out too," Danny said as he and Nathan rose. He picked up one of the photos of Vin, and the two men followed the three other agents to the door.
"Boys," they all paused, looking back at Jack, "I want reports from you this afternoon. Keep in touch Danny."
"Will do boss," Danny replied, and the five men exited the room. Jack looked at the remaining men, and then passed a sheaf of papers to Chris. "Martin was able to get some phone records from Brigham's. We can check some of these numbers out before we meet Keller. Some will be legitimate companies, but the others? We'll just have to check them out."
Chris glanced at the two pages of phone numbers, some with names. He handed Buck and Josiah the sheets. "Phones and a computer we can use?" Josiah asked as Buck stood beside him.
"Any empty desk out there," Jack waved an arm at the room and the two men headed for the first open desk.
For a brief moment Jack sat at the large conference table, eyeing the black clad man sitting quietly to his right. he could feel the tension emanating from the other man, and finally decided to go with his gut feeling. "Chris just how close are you to your missing agent?"
Chris glared at Jack with narrowed green eyes, but the FBI agent calmly held his gaze, until finally Chris sighed and ran his hand through his already disheveled blond hair. "We're all close. We all care about each other; we're closer than family." He paused getting his thoughts together. "Hell, we're the only family each of us really has."
"But you and Vin Tanner?"
"He's our sharpshooter. When he came along we found there was something between us ... Josiah says he's the other half of my soul. We have a sort of bond; we can 'talk' to each other without really talking. It sounds crazy I know but it's true." His voice fell. "He's only been with us about a year, and already he's one of the best agents we have. I wouldn't trade him for all the agents in the state of Colorado."
Jack smiled at that, glancing through the glass wall at Martin and the empty desks belonging to his other team members. "I know what you mean," he said gently. "I think you're too close though, you should let the rest of us do this."
"No! Vin is a close ... friend ... to all of us. We will work together to find him."
"What if he's ...?"
"He's not dead. I'd know instantly. But something is wrong. I ... we have to find him before anything else happens to him."
"You knew about this contract on him?" At Chris' nod Jack continued, "Someone found out he was an agent. They probably don't know what kind, FBI, ATF, Marshall, CIA, whatever. I figure the contract was for this reason, and they are doctoring the books to make him out to be dirty."
"That's what we figured too. But how did they find out? We had a whole background done for him. Only thing I can think of is someone recognized him."
"He was a Marshall in Texas for awhile, then became a bounty hunter. He was good at his job and brought in fugitives others didn't want to tackle."
"Let's start looking over those bounties. If one of his captures got out of prison, could be they ended up at Brigham's. We need a list." Jack rose.
"He turned them in all over the country. I don't know how many ..." Chris' eyes narrowed in thought as they passed through the glass doors. JD turned and glanced at him suddenly, then waited, as if sensing something was needed from him.
"JD. He just might be able to do it," Chris said as he strode over to the young agent, Jack beside him.
JD, Martin, and Ezra looked at their leaders, a printout of the different ambulance companies spread out on the desk in front of them.
"Vin was a bounty hunter. We need to find out who he brought in and if they are still in jail. Anything about them. Think you can get that information JD?" Chris asked looking at his black haired agent.
A grin crossed JD's face. "I'll get it one way or another."
Martin gave him a password and an instant later JD's fingers were flying over the keys. Martin watched in silence and Jack glanced from the young AFT agent to his leader.
"This isn't legal is it?" he asked.
JD's hands froze and he looked back and forth from Chris to Jack.
"Sir, I'll do anything for Vin," the young man said, as his fingers resumed their flight over the keyboard.
"See if you can help him," Jack told Martin, who gave him Vin's slow smile and turned to his computer.
"I have connected with Mr. Tanner's computer and I am currently perusing his files," Ezra told Chris.
"How ... Never mind. I don't want to know. Let me know if you find anything," Chris said.
Jack cocked an eyebrow at Chris, then jerked his head away from the three agents. Chris followed Jack to the side of the room and stopped beside him when Jack paused near a large set of windows.
"Only JD, I think," Chris grinned. "And only when it's really needed. Ezra is just good at whatever he puts his mind to. He's an expert undercover agent, but his talents don't stop there. JD's our computer and electronic whiz. He can make a half dead computer sing if he wants to."
The two older agents waited in silence, drinking their now cool coffee and watching the three men working the computers. Just as Jack's phone rang, JD called out, "Got something!"
"I'm sorry Agent Taylor; there is no record on file for a Vincent Taylor." The grey haired woman behind the counter in the Medical Records department had entered Vin's name and the date of the accident into her computer, with no results.
"Would it be possible for us to talk to the emergency room staff, in case they remember something?" Danny asked, smiling at the older woman.
The woman looked at the tall dark haired men. "Of course, just stay out of their way if they're busy," she said smiling back at the young agents.
"Thank you." Danny and Nathan quickly left the records office and hurried down the hall. "How could they possibly lose the records, even if they were busy?"
"Unless the records never made it up here. Or someone got rid of them," Nathan answered as they made their way to the ED.
"That's what I'm thinking. Someone got rid of them. We've got Vin's picture so we should be able to find someone who remembers him. Here we go." Danny halted at the reception desk where several people were interviewing patients and answering phones. A physician and several nurses were standing off to one side in front of the ER Board, reviewing charts and making assignments.
One of the receptionists moved to the new comers. "Can I help you gentlemen?" she asked.
Danny smiled and flipped open his badge, "I'm Special Agent Danny Taylor, with the FBI, and this is Agent Nathan Jackson. We are looking for a missing agent that we believe was brought in here as a patient. He was driving that semi truck that ran off the road last week."
"I wasn't here, but heard it was a mad house. Jason," she called to a man sitting in front of a computer with a CB radio beside him. He rose and moved to her side. "Maybe you can help these agents. They're looking for the driver of that semi that crashed last week."
"I'll try. We were really very busy, two big accidents in one night."
"His name is Vincent Taylor. Here is a picture of him," Danny showed him the picture of Vin.
Jason shook his head. "I don't remember him, but it was crazy that night. Let me ask around." Taking the picture in hand, he moved through the department showing it to several of the nurses and physicians. Most shook their heads 'no.'
Several minutes later Jason returned. "Dr. Evans said to ask Doctor Jacobs and the triage nurse, Jenny Waller. Hold on a few minutes and I'll see if I can locate them."
"Thanks," Danny said as Jason moved to his desk and began a series of phone calls. Finally he hung up and turned back to the agents.
"Dr. Jacobs is off today and isn't available by pager, but Jenny is on her way and should be here shortly. She took a bad fall the night of the accident and ended up with a broken ankle, so she's not moving as fast as usual." At the agents' questioning looks, Jason shrugged and said, "Here she comes now."
Danny and Nathan both turned to see a pretty, brown haired woman making her way slowly towards the reception area, a walking cast covering her lower right leg and foot. As she started to pass the desk Jason called, "Hey, Jenny, these men need to talk to you a minute."
Jenny stopped and looked questionably at the two men. Danny quickly introduced them. "Ms. Waller? I'm Special Agent Danny Taylor with the FBI, and this is Agent Nathan Jackson. We are looking for a man who's gone missing. We believe he was brought here the other night, but there doesn't seem to be any record of his admission."
"I'll try to help. Who are you looking for?"
"Vincent Taylor, he was the driver of the 18-wheeler that crashed last Tuesday night." Danny handed her Vin's picture.
Jenny smiled a little, and handed the picture back. "He looks a lot better in this picture. I do remember him; he was injured pretty badly. All of our OR's were full that night, and he needed one ASAP."
"I'm assuming you transferred him to another hospital, then? What can you tell us of his condition, and where was he sent?" Nathan asked.
"We transported him to Bronx-Lebanon Center within twenty minutes of his arrival here. If I remember correctly, he has several cracked and broken ribs; one of them was severely displaced and required surgical intervention, but as I said, we didn't have any open OR's. His left shoulder was dislocated; he had a very deep laceration on his hip extending towards his groin, a gash on his head and a serious concussion and various cuts and contusions from broken glass and metal. Once we had him stabilized we sent him immediately to the Bronx. He was pretty seriously injured, how could he have just disappeared?" She looked from one agent to the other.
"We don't know. There's no record of him being here or anywhere else."
"What do you mean there's no record? We always keep records of everyone who comes into this department, even if they are immediately transferred to another hospital."
"We've been down to your Medical Records department, and the woman down there couldn't find any records under that name."
"I just remembered, there was a detective here that night ..." Jenny's brow furrowed. "Can't remember his name. He'd given the EMT's his card and asked that the physician call him about Mr. Taylor's condition. The police wanted to talk to him."
Danny jotted down the information, then both agents thanked the woman for her help and made their way out the door to their car.
"Looks like there should be a police report somewhere, unless that cop is in on Vin's disappearance," Nathan said as Danny drove from the parking lot.
"Yeah. If there's a police report it's got to be around otherwise ..." Danny pulled his cell phone from his pocket and punched the speed dial for Jack Malone.
"Jack, we've got a lead. Vin was transported to the Bronx-Lebanon Center. The nurse we talked to said he was pretty banged up and had a bad concussion. There was a cop there that night, asking to speak to Tanner. We don't have a name yet for the detective, but you might see if someone can find any police reports on the accident. We're heading over to the Bronx and will report back as soon as we talk to someone over there. Also, there are no records of him ever being at Ardsley, even though the triage nurse from that night definitely remembers him."
"Alright. Good work. Let us know as soon as you can." Malone hung up abruptly.
"He'll get someone looking for those police reports," Danny reported, "unless they've gone missing too."
"Don't worry, JD knows how to get around that," laughed Nathan.
Danny grinned too, "I think Martin could too. I don't think we know everything about Mr. Martin Fitzgerald yet."
"Fitzgerald? That name sounds familiar for some reason."
"It should. His dad is FBI Deputy Director Victor Fitzgerald."
Nathan looked at Danny in surprise, "How in the world ..."
Danny laughed. "Martin was the best agent available when Jack went looking for another team member. He got in
with us on his own, nothing to do with his father, who's a conceited ass to my way of thinking. He and Martin bumped heads over a case not to long ago, but the old man finally backed down. Martin was a bit shook up over it all but his head's straight. He's getting to be a good agent, we were lucky to get him ten months ago. But ... we sure as hell didn't know he had a twin!"
"Damn. I can't believe how much he and Vin look alike. There's something funny going on there. Vin's mom died when he was five, and he had a very rough time growing up. He never said anything about a twin or any other family member."
"Looks like we have two mysteries to solve, but we've got to find Vin first," Danny commented as he pulled into the parking lot closest to the Bronx-Lebanon Center ER. "Here we go."
A little while the two frustrated agents left the Medical Records department and headed for the emergency department area.
"How can these medical records just disappear?" fumed Danny as they entered the elevator to the ED. "Pretty sloppy work for such a well known hospital."
Danny stalked to the large waiting room in the busy ER and started to glare at the receptionist, then smiled as a pretty blonde woman turned to face him. Before she could ask, he gave her their names and showed her his ID and Vin's picture.
"We're looking for this man. He was sent here last Tuesday night from Ardsley Hospital."
"I'm not on nights." The receptionist looked around. "Just a minute, I'll get someone who was working that night."
Before the two agents could respond, she was back with a tall grey haired man dressed in yellow scrubs.
"I'm Dr. Navero. Holly said you were looking for a patient? You do know I can't give out any information on him don't you?"
"Yes sir. I'm Special Agent Danny Taylor, and this is Agent Nathan Jackson. We are trying to find a missing agent. He was sent here last Tuesday night; he was involved in that 18-wheeler accident and was sent here from Ardsley." Danny handed the photo of Vin to Dr. Navero. "We haven't been able to find anything about him from your records."
"Yes. I treated this young man, and Dr. Halliday operated on him. He was here in the ICU for a couple of days and then he was moved into a regular med-surg unit. I'm afraid that's all the information I can give you without some sort of release or consent from the patient."
"When did you last see him?"
"Saturday. When I came in for rounds Sunday morning he was gone. I was told he had left AMA, so I signed off on his paperwork. I would have preferred that he be released on some antibiotics, but ..."
"Did anyone see him leave?"
"I don't know. You might ask the floor nurses, up on the sixth floor. I believe Annie could help you."
"Do you have his medical record?"
Dr. Navero frowned. "His file was processed and entered into our electronic system. The back-up paper file would be in the Medical Records department."
"No sir. We checked. There are no records for Vincent Taylor, electronic or paper. It's as if he was never here."
The doctor looked at the men a moment then turned to the desk. "Get me Dawes in records. I'm going to check into this mess. The man was here, we operated on him, he was in this hospital for several days. I don't understand where they could have put his files. I'll get to the bottom of this," Dr. Navero said as he waited for Dawes to answer.
"Thank you Dr. Navero. We'll head up to the sixth floor and talk to the nurses. By the way, do you think it's possible
someone hacked into your system and destroyed Vin Taylor's records?" Danny asked as they started to walk away.
A look of dismay crossed the physician's face. "I hope to hell not. Wait, I almost forgot. Hold on Dawes, I want to talk to you ... I talked to a Detective Rivera shortly after Mr. Taylor came out of surgery. He was supposed to come back to talk to Taylor on Monday, although by that time the patient was gone and as far as I know he never came back. He could have called and talked to one of the nurses on six though ... Dawes, I have a file missing and I want to know what the hell is going on. Where is my file?"
Danny and Nathan stepped into the elevator, both of them grinning. "I don't think I want to be in Dawes' shoes right now," Nathan said with a chuckle.
Once they reached the sixth floor nursing station, they were directed to another station around the corner and farther down the hall. There they found a bank of elevators with a stairwell nearby, along with several nurses who recognized Vin as one of their patients.
"I'm Rosie Holmes, I found Vin's room empty Sunday morning when I went in to change his bandages and give him his medication."
"Was there any sign of a struggle?" Danny asked.
"No. Just his cell phone in a plastic sack, lying on his bed. His duffel bag was gone. It looked like he'd just walked away."
"He left it here?" Nathan exclaimed.
"It was totally destroyed and couldn't be used, and since it was covered in blood we had to get rid of it."
"Did anyone see Vin during the night? Notice anything?"
"I was in his room at midnight, he was in a lot of pain so I gave him some pain medication, disconnected his last dose of IV antibiotics, and heplocked his IV catheter. He was due for his pain meds at six o'clock, so I told him I'd see him them. That was the last we saw of him. You know, he really needs those antibiotics."
"He had a slight infection in the hip wound. We were watching it closely, keeping it clean. He'd just gotten over a fever too. I am sure he was in a bit of pain from that hip as well."
Danny looked back at the other nurses, "None of you saw him leave?"
"No. We thought he'd sleep the night through. Oh, and he was asking for someone named 'Chris,' but didn't know who he was. It wasn't one of his visitors, he didn't have any."
"Thank you, ladies. We appreciate your help."
"Wish we could have helped more. He was a very nice kid, very confused but nice. We hope you find him soon," Rosie said as they turned away.
In the elevator, Danny looked at Nathan, whose dark features were twisted with worry. "What's wrong?"
Sighing, Nathan looked at the young agent. "Vin hates hospitals, and he's had bad reactions to different drugs, even cold tablets. He's susceptible to fevers too. He's sort of our problem child when he is injured or sick; we have to watch him closely all the time. He's an escape artist when it comes to being in a hospital."
"But if he has amnesia, would he remember that?"
"I don't know. Head injuries are complicated, not everyone reacts the same way. He remembered Chris' name, but not who he is." Nathan shook his head. "If he has amnesia, he could be anywhere doing anything. How will we ever find him?"
"We will," Danny replied with confidence. "We'll just have to look a little harder."
"Now what?" Nathan asked as they stepped from the elevator back into the ED waiting area.
"Take this picture and talk to every doctor and nurse and EMT on this floor. Someone must have seen him leave," Danny told him, handing Nathan another picture of Vin.
The two men made their way down the corridor, badges in hand. Several minutes later Nathan reached the Ambulance Bay right outside the triage entrance. He approached two EMT's who were gathering items to restock their ambulance and showed them Vin's picture. The woman gazed thoughtfully at the picture for a minute, then nodded her head.
"I saw him. We'd just delivered a patient, and I was in our ambulance waiting for Jim to get done with the paperwork. I saw this man cross the parking lot and get into a cab. He had a small duffel bag over his right shoulder and was limping pretty badly."
"Could you show me?" Nathan asked as he looked around for Danny. When he spotted him he said, "Just a moment please, ma'am. Danny!" he called to the dark haired young man waving him over.
"Danny, Ms ... Lisa ... said she saw Vin outside," Nathan quickly told him.
"Could you show us where you last saw him and what he was doing?" Danny asked.
"Sure. Jim, I'll meet you at the rig," Lisa told her partner as she led the two agents outside. "I was over there, where our ambulance is parked now. He came out that door there, stood for a moment, then limped over there." Pointing at a taxi parked across a narrow strip of grass, she continued, "He knocked on the window of the cab and the driver got out and opened the door for him, then they drove away."
"Did you see the driver at all?" Danny asked.
"He was a black man, big. Very dark, darker than you," she said looking at Nathan. Her cheeks reddened with embarrassment, she apologized, "I'm sorry."
Nathan smiled at her. "That's all right. We need to know."
"Well that's about all I can remember. He was very dark and very big. Reminded me of a football linebacker, or larger."
"Oh around two o'clock I think. I could check our record book, but I was working the late shift that night and we weren't too busy. We left here at two in the morning, I'm sure."
"Did you happen to notice which direction the cab went as it left?" Nathan asked.
"No, I didn't, I'm sorry."
"Thank you for your help," Danny told her.
"I hope you find him. He really didn't look that well," Lisa said sincerely.
"We do too ma'am," Nathan told her. He thanked her again and hurried after Danny who was heading towards a taxi that was parked in the area she had indicated earlier.
The taxi driver saw them coming and got out of his cab. "Can I ..." he stopped abruptly upon seeing the FBI badge that Danny showed him.
Danny quickly explained who they were and asked the man if he knew who the large dark driver could be.
"That'd probably be Jamal. He sometimes stops here at night; never know when we'll be needed. I've seen him a few times, but he works nights mostly."
"Do you know where we could find him?"
"Nope. You'll have to talk to our supervisor."
The driver gave the agents his supervisor's name and phone number and told them how to find the cab company's business office. Thanking the driver, Danny called Jack to give him the latest information, then the two agents returned to their vehicle and headed for the taxi company. Above them, the sky was turning grey with the promise of an afternoon of rain.
Saturday Night ~~~~~~~~~~
Vin slid carefully into the back seat of the taxi as the driver shut the door for him.
"Where to?" the man asked sliding, under the wheel and starting the car.
"Umm. Bus depot?" Vin replied, not really sure where to go.
"No problem." The taxi left the hospital parking lot quickly.
Vin dozed as they made their way to the bus depot. He was awakened by a voice calling to him. "We're here mister."
Vin forced himself awake as his door was opened and wet cold air blew in. He staggered out, his left hip and leg protesting the movement, then nodded his gratitude as the driver reached out with one big hand to steady him. He straightened up, hissing in pain, then accepted his duffel bag and slid it over his right shoulder.
"Thank you. How much do I owe you?" he asked politely. The man named a figure and he paid him then slowly limped towards the brightly lit bus terminal.
Once inside Vin paused, letting his eyes adjust to the harsh light. Finally he moved towards one of the counters stretched along the back of the huge room, barely noticing the crowd of people sitting around the room waiting for their buses to be called.
At the counter he asked about the cost of a ticket to Denver and when the next bus left. The tall mustached man reminded him of someone, but he couldn't think of whom.
"Bus just left for Denver about five minutes ago; it was the express, no stops. The next one leaves at seven o'clock tonight, another at nine and another at eleven thirty. Those all have stops and you have to change buses two times. The next express is three am tomorrow morning. Cost is $139 one way.
'Damn,' thought Vin. He didn't want to have to change buses, much less wait another day to leave. With a sigh he nodded. "How long before the bus leaves do I have to be here?" he asked.
"At least an hour. Your baggage has to be checked."
"O ... okay." Vin started to turn away, his left arm held tightly against him.
"Hey mister," the man called as Vin winced in pain. "There are a couple of hotels just down the street if you need a place to stay for the night. They're not much to look at, but they're clean and cheap." Looking him over critically, the ticket agent added, 'You look like you need some rest, and a doctor,' the man thought to himself; he could see that the young man should be in a hospital instead of trying to catch a bus.
Vin gave the man a crooked smile. "Thanks. I am pretty tired. I'll be back tonight. Umm ... which way to the hotels?"
"Out the door, then go left two blocks. They're on the other side of the street. Can't miss them."
"Thanks," Vin said and slowly limped away. Once outside he pulled his jacket closer around him as protection against the biting wind and the rain coming down. He threw his duffel bag over his right shoulder, turned left and started walking down the street. A man appeared in his path, running down the street and heading for the door to the bus station in an attempt to escape the rain. As he ran by he crashed into Vin, who couldn't help crying out in pain as he was knocked into the side of the building.
"Sorry!" the man said as he ran on.
Vin leaned against the building, gasping for breath and trying to gain control over the pain in his hip and side.
Several people hurried past him, making a wide berth around the seemingly drunk man leaning heavily against the building. Finally, with a groan, Vin pushed away from the wall and slowly limped away, paying no attention to the cold wind and pounding rain.
It seemed to take forever for him to cross the busy street and reach the first hotel, but the 'No Vacancy' sign drove him on. There was another hotel a short distance away and Vin headed determinedly for it. With a sigh of relief he pushed through the heavy glass door and went directly to the front counter, where a middle-aged black woman sat on a tall stool watching him closely.
"Morning," she said as her dark eyes ran over the thin, bedraggled young man facing her.
"Ma'am," Vin answered, shivering in his wet clothes. "I need a room for today. I hope you have one," he said hoarsely, not sure he could keep going but knowing he didn't want to be on the street for the night either.
"Yes, I have one. You have to pay in advance though," she said pulling out a white card for him to fill out.
"Thirty a day or fifty for two days. But, if you decide to stay a third day, I'll give you the lower price later."
"Thank you," Vin shivered as he took the card, his hands shaking. "I don't know, I'm s'posed to catch a bus tonight." He looked at the card, which asked for his name, address and vehicle license number, then carefully wrote, 'Christopher Larabee, Denver, Colorado.' He said, "Don't have a car."
"That's all right Mr. Larabee. Here's your key. Upstairs, third floor, room 301. Off the elevator and first door to your right, or up the stairs and it'd be the fourth on the right."
"Thanks. Is there a restaurant or grocery store around here?"
"End of the block; there's a small diner with excellent food. It opens at 6 am and closes at midnight. There's a small grocery store just beyond it on the next corner."
"Thank you ma'am," Vin said, picking up his duffel bag and turning towards the elevator.
"If you need anything, just ring me here at the desk. I'm Alma." The woman shook her head as she watched the young man limp slowly to the elevator. This one brought out her mothering instinct that was for sure.
"Okay ... Thanks Alma ..." she heard as the wet figure got into the elevator and pushed the button for his floor.
Vin breathed a sigh of relief as he stepped off the elevator on the third floor; he'd felt like he was suffocating as the small space closed in on him. He quickly found his room; it was Spartan but clean, containing a double bed with an extra blanket folded at the foot and a tiny desk with a straight-backed chair. The small end table beside the bed held a phone, a clock, and a lamp. There was a bar with a few hangers just to the left of the entry, and a bathroom with a shower stall to the right. A small window covered with a rollup shade was next to the desk.
Dropping his duffel bag on the empty desk, Vin dug out some dry clothes. Within minutes he had stripped and dried off. He hung his wet clothes over the shower door, then sat on the side of the bed to check out his hip and side. There was some blood on the bandages, but since he didn't have anything with which to replace them he decided to leave them in place. He was too tired to do anything about it anyway, so he quickly pulled on a pair of jeans, crawled underneath the covers, and was soon fast asleep.
It was dark when Vin awoke suddenly; he lay in bed for several minutes before he finally realized that he was in a hotel room. Pushing himself up carefully he rose, swaying dangerously for a moment in the dimly lit room. Pain radiated from his hip and side as he slowly made his way to the bathroom. After taking care of business he cleaned up and washed his face with cold water, trying to wake up, though what he really wanted was to take a shower and crawl back into the bed. Brushing his hair back, he returned to the bedroom flipping on the one over-head light and staggered to the bed. The clock said 7:26; he wasn't sure if it was morning or night but he knew he'd slept longer than a few hours. His stomach growled as he reached for his boots and then pulled on his jacket. He checked to make sure his wallet was safely tucked in his jeans, then walked out into the hallway, locking the door behind him and pocketing the key. He had to get down stairs to pay for the room for another night, the way he felt he was sure he wouldn't be on a bus tonight.
Vin eyed the open elevator apprehensively, then reluctantly entered the small enclosure and punched the first floor button. He wished he could take the stairs but he knew there was no way he would make it down three flights of stairs the way he was feeling, and he couldn't take the chance of falling and injuring himself any further. He kept his eyes closed and breathed deeply as the elevator made its slow way down. Breathing a sigh of relief as the door slid open; he stepped out and limped to the desk.
Alma looked up as the elevator opened; a smile lit her dark face as she watched the young man limp towards her. Her knowing eyes took in the fever flushed face and the way he was favoring his left arm and side; she knew he was in pain. The beautiful blue eyes spoke volumes as Mr. Larabee stopped in front of her.
"Ma'am ... Alma? I guess I need to pay for another night now. Think I slept too long," the raspy voice with the Texas drawl said softly, as he pulled out his wallet.
Alma smiled and replied, "You already paid thirty for one night. Since you are going to stay another one, it is fifteen dollars more, instead of twenty; we are having a special."
Vin looked at her for a moment, then said defensively, "I 'kin pay fer my room."
Alma smiled, "I have no doubt you can, but we're running this special for this week as a sort of a come-on for our hotel. You're in luck, it just started this morning," she lied.
"Well, okay, if you're sure. Thank you for telling me 'bout the special." His stomach took that moment to rumble loudly and he felt his face redden in embarrassment.
Alma laughed and told him, "You go get you something to eat, and I'll see that you have fresh towels in your room."
"Thank you Alma," Vin said as he turned away. Once outside he stayed close to the building as he walked slowly towards the diner. In his head he added up how much money he had left. Thirty dollars would have to last him until he could get to Denver but he knew he needed a job or something to earn some money. Once in Denver, he thought, what would he be able to do there if he couldn't remember anything? In despair he pushed into the small warm diner and took a seat at the counter. A waitress handed him a menu and he asked for a cup of coffee, then perused the menu. The prices were very low and he wondered how good the food was. As a mug of coffee was set in front of him he ordered a combination omelet with potatoes and toast.
The waitress took his order and taking the menu walked away, a slight smile on her face. She turned in the order, and then picked up the phone that was lying on the counter. "Don't you worry, Alma, he'll have the largest omelet he's ever seen this side of Texas for $4!" She listened for a moment, and then laughed. "He'll never know. I'll talk to you later," she said, hanging up the phone. Picking up the coffee carafe she went around the room refilling her customers' coffee cups.
Vin's eyes opened wide in surprise when his meal was placed in front of him. He didn't think he'd ever seen an omelet so big; he figured it had to have at least six eggs. He dug in with a smile, and it wasn't long before the plate was empty and his coffee cup had been refilled for the third time.
The waitress appeared in front of him once again. "Did you leave any room for anything else? Like a piece of our famous peach or apple pie?"
"No ma'am. I think I'm full for now."
"How about you take some with you?"
"Well ... I guess I could take a piece with me." Vin answered, thinking he could eat it for lunch the next day.
"Great. Which kind?"
Umm ... Small piece of each?"
The woman winked at him and moved over to the pie case. She picked up a Styrofoam container and filled it with several huge pieces of pie, then added a packet of plastic utensils, closed the lid securely, and carried it over to Vin, who was waiting next to the cash register. Placing the container into a paper bag, she rang up his meal. "That'll be six dollars, hon."
Vin thanked her and paid his bill, then exited the diner, clutching the paper bag in one hand. As he limped towards the grocery store he reflected on the size of his meal. 'Good thing I don't eat there all the time or it wouldn't be long 'fore I was as big as a house,' Vin thought ruefully. As he entered the grocery story he grabbed a cart and began filling it with some food items, toiletries, aspirin, antiseptic cream, gauze, and tape for bandages.
A short time later Vin was back at the hotel. Someone had been in his room while he was gone; the bed was made, and there were more clean towels in the bathroom. Hanging up his jacket, he quickly stripped out of his clothes and set out the few medical supplies he'd purchased. Carefully he un-wrapped the length of gauze from around his ribs, then set it aside to re-use later. The bandage on his hip was next and he saw it was badly soiled with dried blood, so he placed it in a plastic bag after removing it. The bandage on his head also went into the bag, which he tied closed and placed in the trash can.
Shivering from cold, Vin hurried into the small bathroom to take a shower. The hot water felt wonderful on his bruised and aching body, easing some of the pain he still felt every time he moved. As he dried off he turned and saw himself in the full length mirror mounted on the back of the bathroom door. He paused and stared critically at
the face looking intently back at him from the mirror, but still remembered nothing but the name, 'Chris Larabee.' He had a vague vision of blond hair and green eyes, but it was so brief and tenuous he wasn't sure if it was a real person or a figment of his imagination. Vin lowered his eyes and looked over the rest of his battered body, seeing bruises, cuts, and gashes, many of them sporting stitches along with the surgical incision. The gash over his temple and the bruising on the left side of his face were both sore to the touch, but he thought it was getting better, on the other hand, the long deep gash on his hip that wrapped around his thigh towards his groin, looked red and swollen under the stitches. He walked slowly back into the room and, perching on the edge of the bed, proceeded to doctor his wounds as best he could. He knew he had some wounds on his back, but he couldn't reach them so he hoped they were healing all right.
Finally, Vin carefully wrapped the long gauze back around his ribs. He couldn't get it as tight as it had been, but it would have to do for now. He made a pad and taped it over the long cut on his hip and thigh. By the time he finished his left shoulder was throbbing from the exertion, and he finally gave in and took three extra strength Tylenol tablets, then spread the spare blanket over the bed, crawled under the covers, and fell almost immediately asleep.
+ + + + + + +
When JD yelled, "Got something!" Chris was beside him in an instant. Jack took a call from Danny, then joined them.
"What?" Chris asked.
"I've been looking into some of Vin's bounties. Found two that are out of jail; one of them has a last known address in Queens, and his work place is Brigham's Company, Brooklyn. His name now is Mark Jefferies, but here's a picture of him when Vin picked him up four years ago. His name was Jeff Markham then. Nice play on words, huh?"
Jack peered over JD's shoulder at the picture of a bald man, facial features hidden by a long, unkempt beard. "Martin, check the report on everyone who was arrested during the raid at Brigham's," Jack said.
Martin quickly began work on an adjacent computer as JD pulled up another file. "Here's the other guy, a Gary Sykes. He got out of prison ten months ago, also lives in Queens, and has been working at Brigham's for the past seven months." JD printed out a sheet of information and a picture of each man.
"There was a Mark Jefferies arrested; he's listed as the dispatcher. Sykes is listed as a driver." Martin said.
"Hell," Chris exclaimed.
"I take it, then, that I may stop my perusal of Mr. Tanner's Denver files?"
Chris looked over at Ezra. "Yeah, I think we found out who made Vin. See what you boys can find on that contract."
"On it," two voices replied at once.
"Martin, I want a list of everyone who was arrested and anything you can find on their backgrounds. Get the police reports too."
Martin turned back to his computer. The bullpen was silence again as the three young men worked their magic on the computers and Buck and Josiah made phone calls.
Chris paced back and forth as he read the information on Sykes and Jefferies. Jack had returned to his office and was on the phone. As Martin rose from his desk and walked over to the printer to retrieve the police reports he'd printed, Chris found himself staring at the young man. Except for the short hair and the way he dressed, Martin was a dead ringer for Vin. Chris smiled as the young man turned towards him with the papers in his hand.
Martin tipped his head at the ATF leader. "What?" His eyes connected with the sea green ones.
Chris stepped closer to Martin. "I'm sorry. You just look so much like Vin, except for the hair and the clothes. He won't let anyone touch his hair, except a trim now and then. And he won't be caught dead in a suit. It's a fight to get him to wear one when he has to testify."
Interested, Martin listened, hearing the affection in Chris's voice. "He's been with you only a short time?"
"Yeah. Just about a year. He's the best sharpshooter in the state."
"And you let him go undercover?"
"Wasn't supposed to happen that way. But before we knew it, Buck was wounded in a bust, and then Vin was the only one with a CDL license; we didn't have time to find someone else. We didn't know it was going to take this long." Chris shook his head remembering. "We had to clean out his apartment to keep it from being robbed too."
"He lives in one of the worse areas in Denver, but he won't move. He's well known by all the kids in that area; they watch his place and his rig for him. His apartment's only been broken into once, and "his" kids caught the guys before they even left the building, then called us. We were lucky, got there before anything else happened. He leaves his door unlocked during the week so the kids can go in and use his computer for their homework."
Martin's surprise showed in the widening of his eyes. "He has guns though, doesn't he? What if the kids got into them?"
"He has several, and he has locks on his bedroom door. The door is iron lined. The guns are in a hidden, locked place in his closet too. If anyone got through the bedroom door, they'd still have to do a lot of work to get to his guns. The kids like Vin and respect him. Hell, he's never even had a problem with parking." Chris ran his hand through his blond hair, "We have to be careful with our rigs. At first we used to have to make sure there were always two of us in the car whenever we went to his apartment, one to go after Vin, the other to guard the car. Once they found out that we're Vin's friends, though, parking there became a non-issue. On the other hand, if we drive something they don't know, it's a problem." Chris smiled, remembering when they'd had to use a pool car and came out of Vin's apartment to find it stripped to the frame.
"Chris!" JD's voice cut into their conversation.
Chris and Martin moved to JD's side. "What?" Chris asked as he and Martin looked at the monitor.
"The contract. Doesn't look like it's been filled yet," JD said pointing at the screen.
"Shit!" Chris exclaimed seeing the fifty thousand dollars listed for a 'Vincent Taylor aka Vincent Tanner.' "Can you find out who set this up and then shut it down?"
Martin had moved to his computer and his fingers were flying over the keyboard. A picture of Vin suddenly popped up onto his screen; motioning to Chris to join him, he could only stare in shock.
Chris was beside him in an instant; as he looked at the picture, he placed one hand on Martin's shoulder.
"Uh ho, we have a problem," Chris said, glaring at the screen.
"Damn, kid! You two HAVE got to be related!" Buck said as Josiah, Ezra, and JD came over to Martin's desk, all of them crowding around the computer screen to stare at the picture on the contract.
Jack pushed his way through the agents and stepped up to stand directly behind Martin. His mouth dropped open in shock and he took a deep breath, glancing down at his agent.
The picture was of a short haired Vin, probably taken when he'd first gotten out of the Rangers. There was a small smile was on his lips and his eyes were opened wide, as if he'd been surprised by the photographer. With his hair so short, he looked exactly like Martin, even though the picture was several years old.
"We've got to get that contract shut down before this goes any farther," Chris said into the surprised silence.
Ezra and JD quickly returned to their borrowed computers. Martin swallowed and shook himself out of his reverie. He pressed the "print" button, then started typing again. Buck and Josiah moved back to the desks they were using, as Jack and Chris stepped away. Jack's cell phone rang and he moved to the windows as he answered, motioning to Chris to join him.
Chris waited silently as Jack listened, said a few words, then hung up. "He was in the Bronx-Lebanon Center Hospital. Walked out under his own power Saturday night around two am, got into a taxi and disappeared."
"He must not have been hurt too badly?"
Jack shook his head, "He's got, or had, amnesia from a bad blow to his head. He was pretty banged up ..." Jack quickly listed all of Vin's injuries, then concluded. "The amnesia might be the worse thing here; at least, that's what had the physicians the most concerned."
"How in the hell are we going to find him?" Chris asked worriedly, feeling his heart sink as he stared out the window at the jagged New York skyline.
"We will," Jack said confidently feeling the tension roll off the man beside him. Placing one hand on Chris' shoulder, he said, "Lets take a break, it's almost lunch time. I know I can use something more then coffee."
Chris nodded and dragged his eyes away from the scene outside the windows. As he followed Jack towards the door he asked the rest of the men if they wanted to take a lunch break. JD, Ezra, and Martin all declined, while Buck and Josiah joined the two leaders and the four of them left the room.
Vin forced his eyes open and looked dazedly around the room. He was hot and shivering with chills; his whole body ached and he felt as if he'd been beaten with a pipe. He glanced at the clock saw that it was five o'clock; was it Monday afternoon, he wondered. With a groan he carefully pushed himself up, then got out of bed. He glanced around the room as he turned on the bedside lamp and noticed an open Styrofoam container sitting open on the desk. Gazing into the empty container he vaguely remembered that he had brought back a couple of pieces of pie from the restaurant; but he had no memory of actually eating it. His stomach growled as he turned away towards the small bathroom.
As he washed up he decided he needed to find out what day it was first, then get to the bus depot. He shook his head and felt his too-long hair brushing over his shoulders. He needed to get out of New York; he knew the man from the hospital would be looking for him. Digging in his duffel bag he found an old rubber band and pulled his hair back into a ponytail. He dry-swallowed several more Tylenol tablets, then slowly dressed as he chewed on a piece of jerky.
Vin sat heavily on the side of the bed, dizzily contemplating his boots. Finally he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and slowly bent down; when he was finally able to straighten up again several minutes later, his boots were on his feet and he was wishing the pills would kick in so he could get going. He felt like hammered shit and wondered what he would feel like by the time he arrived in Denver.
Determinedly he rose, pushed back the pain, and shoved the rest of his few belongings into the bag. He put on his jacket, slipping the duffel bag over his right shoulder he left the room without a backward glance.
The elevator ride made Vin nauseous and he was gasping for breath by the time the doors opened on the main floor. He limped over to the front desk where a short grey-haired black man smiled up at him.
"Mr. Larabee, are you heading out?" Jess asked as his knowing eyes looked over the young man in front of him. He could tell instantly the youngster needed medical help. The handsome features, marred with bruises on the left side of his face, were pale with fever spots on his cheeks; he held his left arm tightly against his side, and he was limping badly on his left leg. The determined blue eyes were glazed with pain and fever.
"Yes sir, I need to leave. 'Kin you tell me what day it is?"
"It's Tuesday evening," Jess answered and saw the man's eyes widen in surprise.
"Tuesday?!" Vin exclaimed in shock.
"Yes Mr. Larabee. And you owe twenty dollars."
Vin nodded and pulled the money from his wallet, knowing that he was now short on funds to get to Denver. With a sigh he handed the money to the man, thanked him, and left the hotel, shouldering his duffel bag with some difficulty. Outside he turned left and slowly made his way to the bus terminal two blocks away.
Brushing sweat from his forehead, Vin approached one of the counters. When it was his turn, the woman smiled at him. "Good evening sir. How can I help you?" she asked.
"Need to get to Denver, but I only have a hundred dollars. How close can I get for that?" Vin asked shivering from the chills.
"Just a moment, I'll check." The woman's fingers flew over the computer keyboard. "Well, the closest I can get you is Ogallala, Nebraska, for ninety three dollars. It's about two hundred miles from Denver," she said a couple of minutes later. "There are two bus changes, one in Cincinnati, the other in Des Moines. There is a two hour lay over between the buses, so the passengers have time to get something to eat before finding their next bus."
Vin glanced away with a nod of his shaggy head. "What time does this bus leave?" he asked in a raspy voice.
"Six thirty tomorrow evening."
Vin looked around the huge depot, wondering if he could find a place to stay for another night. But he knew he didn't have enough money for a room and the ticket too. He just wanted out of this city. "When can I get a ticket?"
"You can purchase one now or tomorrow. You'll need to be here an hour before the bus leaves to check in your baggage."
"Okay. Guess I'll get it tomorrow," Vin said and turned away, looking for a seat in the busy terminal. A bus was called and people rushed past him heading for the gate. He barely managed to get out of the way, but saw several empty seats and made his way to one. With a sigh he sank into the chair and tried to settle comfortably into it. The left armrest pushed against his hip and he had to sit sideways to avoid the pressure and the pain.
Over the next several hours the terminal filled and emptied several more times. Vin dozed off and on. A seat closer to the restroom opened up and he grabbed it, relieved to find that it was quite a bit wider than the one in which he'd been sitting. He felt much more comfortable and was able to rest the duffel bag beside him rather then stow it underneath. He kept the handle strap over his right arm for safety anyway, not wanting to lose what few clothes he had.
As midnight approached Vin's stomach grumbled and he wished he'd gone to the diner for a meal earlier; instead he pulled out several pieces of jerky and chewed. When he was finished, he looked longingly at the water fountain twenty five feet from where he was sitting. He debated what to do, he was thirsty, but he didn't want to lose his seat, or his bag.
Holding a couple of Tylenols in his hand he looked around. A janitor was slowly moving in his direction, sweeping the floor. Vin waited until the man was near him, then asked, "Sir, could you watch my bag for a minute while I get some water?"
The grey haired man looked at the young man, noting the flushed face, shivering body, and shaking hands. He nodded his head, "Go on. I'll stay here until you get back," he said kindly.
"Thank you," Vin said. He staggered a little as he crossed to the water fountain, took the pills, and drank deeply. He started to return to his seat, then hesitated as he felt his stomach rebelling and felt the bile rising in his throat. Vin looked desperately at the janitor, who was watching him closely. He pointed to the men's room and was relieved to see the man nod. He rushed into the restroom, barely making it into one of the stalls before everything came back up. As he cleaned his mouth and wiped his face with wet paper towels, he wondered what in the hell he was doing. He shouldn't be trying to get on a bus; he was too sick to even think of riding one for days to ... Denver? He had no idea who or what he was looking for or why Denver seemed so important to him. What if there was nothing there that would help clear his head and bring back his memory? The name 'Chris' flashed through his mind again and he thought desperately, Chris, I need you. Help me.
Straightening his shoulders, Vin pushed through the restroom doors and returned to his seat. He thanked the janitor and allowed his eyes to slide shut, thinking of 'Chris,' wondering who he was and why the name comforted him so.
+ + + + + + +
Chris was exhausted, in body and spirit, but despite his fatigue, he just couldn't get to sleep. The Team had been back at the hotel for over an hour, but as he lay in bed trying to sleep his mind kept replaying day's events. Danny and Nathan had spent most of the afternoon looking for the cab driver who had picked up Vin at the hospital, only to finally discover that he had gone fishing and wouldn't be back until the following afternoon. The dispatcher had given them a copy of Jamel's log book for that day, and they found that he'd had four customers from the Bronx-Lebanon hospital between 1:30 and 3:30 a.m. The records indicated only that Jamel had taken his passengers to the 'airport' and the 'bus depot;' Danny and Nathan had checked two airports this evening and would start checking the bus depots tomorrow. Unfortunately, there were several in the area and it would take time to cover them all.
Chris thought back to the meeting with FBI Agent Bob Keller. There wasn't much the agent could tell him, as they were still sifting through all the material they had confiscated from Brigham's warehouse. Chris had looked at some of the records the FBI had brought back and was able to show that Vin's signature had been forged, so he was cleared as a suspect almost immediately.
Chris rolled over and punched his pillow before settling down again. He could hear quiet snores coming from Ezra in the other bed, and wished that he could fall asleep as easily. Fleetingly he wondered if the others were asleep or if they were having as much trouble sleeping as he was. With a sigh he glanced at the clock; it was 11:15 p.m. and he'd been in bed for almost half an hour. Forcing his eyes closed he tried to clear his mind; it was going to be a busy day tomorrow. Before they left the office that evening, Jack had told them that agent Vivian Johnson would be back the next day; she had finally recovered from the flu and was anxious to get back to work. The other two members of Jack's team would be back sometime Wednesday evening.
Chris relaxed and finally fell asleep. For a short time he slept peacefully. A raspy voice calling for him woke him, and he was out of his bed, gun in hand before he realized the voice had been in his head. He looked around the darkened room, seeing Ezra half raised in his bed, a gun in his hand also.
"What's wrong Mr. Larabee?" Ezra inquired.
Chris ran his hand over his head as he slid the safety on and lowered his revolver. Shaking his head slightly as he sat down on his bed, he said, "I heard Vin. He was calling me for help. I don't know where he is, but he is in pain ... Something is wrong," Chris ran his hands through his hair again. "We have to find him, and fast."
"We shall do our utmost to expedite the search in the morning, but I believe, Mr.Larabee, that you need to obtain some sleep so that you will be up to the strenuous day that lies ahead of us."
A crooked grin lifted one side of Chris' mouth, "In other words, shut the hell up and go to sleep so I can get some rest too?" Chris said as he lay back down.
"Whatever works, Mr. Larabee," Ezra smiled and snuggled back into his blankets.
Chris lay still, going over the cry for help he had heard. At least he knew Vin was alive and somewhere in the City, but where? He could feel his friend's pain and despair, and wished he could get through to him. As his eyes slid closed he sent his thoughts out in hopes Vin could 'hear' him, We're coming, hang on Cowboy.
Wednesday morning dawned cold and windy. There was a skim of ice on the sidewalks and streets that were shaded by the tall buildings of the bustling city. The six men of Team 7 made their way into the Federal Building at seven o'clock, Nathan, Josiah, and Ezra carrying coffee, and Buck a large box of donuts. The six men entered the Missing Person's Unit and were surprised to see the conference table already loaded down with boxes of donuts and coffee, cream, and sugar set up on a side table in the conference room.
A nicely dressed African American woman was talking to Jack Malone when Team 7 walked through the glass doors. She took in the six men striding towards them, noting that they all looked tired, especially the leader, the man clad entirely in black. She could see something in the black clad, blond's, green eyes that spoke volumes to her, worry, vulnerability, anger, and determination, and her respect for him rose. She shook hands firmly when Jack introduced her to ATF Agent Chris Larabee and his Team.
Within a few minutes the nine men and one woman were seated around the conference table, coffee, and donuts at hand. Looking at the six ATF agents Jack commented, "Not a very restful night I see."
Chris sent a half smile his way and nodded, "Seems we were too tired to sleep."
"Mr. Larabee 'heard' from Mr. Tanner last night too," Ezra stated, accepting the glare Chris shot his way.
Jack raised his eyebrows as Martin and Danny leaned forward to hear what went on. Vivian looked at Chris, a question on her face.
Chris sighed, then said, "Vin and I have this, umm ... sort of connection. We sometimes know what the other is thinking..."
"It's one of the creepiest things to see too." Buck interjected.
"It is pretty unsettling to everyone around them." Nathan said.
"Unsettling? It's downright eerie!" JD added.
"It's uncanny to see," Ezra added.
Chris glared at each member of his team, and then continued, "As I was saying, last night I heard Vin calling to me for help. He was in pain."
"Gentlemen, it is imperative that we locate Mr. Tanner without any further delay." Ezra took a sip of his coffee, grimaced, and added a small dollop of cream.
Silence fell around the table, then Jack started issuing orders. "Danny, head for the two bus terminals on the east side. Martin, you take the ones on the west side. Vivian, you're here. Chris ..." Jack looked at the blond.
"Nathan and Buck can go with Danny; they'll cover more ground that way. Ezra and I will go with Martin. Josiah and JD stay here. JD, watch that contract, make sure it isn't up again. Josiah can help Vivian or ..." Chris paused and looked at Jack. "We haven't found that detective Rivera yet, have we?"
Jack knew what Chris was thinking, "No. Viv and Josiah can check out all the precincts. Start with Ardsley and work this way."
Chris looked at Vivian, then Josiah, "I have a feeling there is no Rivera."
Jack nodded in agreement, as he handed out several copies of Vin's picture. "I had more made, figured most of us would be out looking again today."
As the pictures were passed around Vivian picked one up and looked at it in surprise. Her dark eyes looked appraisingly at Martin and he felt his face flush red. "I don't know anything about him," he told his co-worker before she could ask.
"Okay, so does this mean we will be doing some follow up to find out what is going on?" She asked him teasingly.
Martin looked around the table, then nodded, "Maybe once we find Vin."
"Well boys, let's get to it then. We're burning daylight and time is flying," Buck said loudly as he rose from the table, grabbing several donuts and slapping a hand across JD's back, he added, "JD, be good. I'll see you later. Danny boy, what are you waiting for?"
Danny and Nathan rose and grabbed their coffee as they hurried after the black haired man who was already out the door and halfway down the hallway to the elevators. Walking backwards several steps, Danny waved and said, "We'll keep in touch," before turning back around and following the ATF agents.
Chris, Martin, and Ezra gathered their cell phones, grabbed a stack of Vin's pictures, and were soon out the door as well.
Martin drove quietly through the rush hour traffic, working his way north towards the Bronx. The ATF leader sat beside him gazing out the window, his eyes focused on something only he could see. In the back seat Ezra stared out the side window as his hands shuffled a pack of cards. Martin knew it would take at least an hour, if not longer, to get to the bus terminal in the Bronx, so he slipped a CD into the disk player and let the music flow quietly through the silent car.
"'Garth Brooks,' Mr. Fitzgerald?" Ezra inquired from the back several minutes later.
Martin glanced in the rearview mirror, then at Chris who had a small smile on his lips.
"Um ... yes. I like most of his songs."
Ezra smiled, his gold tooth glinting, "You and our esteemed Mr. Tanner have the same tastes in music."
Martin shot a quick look at the blond beside him.
"Garth Brooks, Toby Keith, John Denver, George Straight, Chris LeDoux, and several others." Chris said, catching the glance.
"Oh." Shaking his head, Martin handed Chris a soft sided CD holder. Chris opened the holder and flipped through
some of the CD's nestled inside. Ezra leaned forward to see what he held, then laughed out loud, and slid back into his seat. Chris smiled as he closed the holder, it seemed that Vin and Martin shared more than just their appearance.
"Mr. Fitzgerald, we are now obligated to uncover your connection to Mr. Tanner," Ezra exclaimed as he laughed.
"I guess so. It's so strange to think of someone having your face and the same interests."
"Coffee! How do you make your coffee Mr. Fitzgerald?" Ezra asked suddenly. Vin liked his coffee so strong it could be used to clean a diesel engine.
Red tinged Martin's cheeks as he guided the car around a truck parked in the lane. "Well, they won't let me make it at the office, it's too strong. I like it pretty strong I guess."
"That's it Mr. Larabee! Mr. Fitzgerald is indisputably related to our Mr. Tanner."
"What do you mean?"
Chris, who had been quiet for several minutes, looked at the younger man, "Vin's coffee is so strong you need to add a cup of sugar and a quart of creamer to it to be able to drink it. He likes it strong. Someone is always trying to beat him into the office so he doesn't make the coffee."
Ezra chuckled, "Not too long ago Mr. Tanner was working late on his reports. He ended up spending the night in the office. Mr. Wilmington arrived at six o'clock the next morning to find containers of Mr. Tanner's coffee on each desk. Mr. Tanner had even gotten into Mr.Larabee's office. We found him asleep on the floor beside his desk."
Martin laughed. "I can imagine there was some kind of payback?"
"Naturally. He woke with a sheaf of paper glued to his boots."
Martin shook his head, laughing; he hoped that he could meet this Vin Tanner someday. He thought hard as he maneuvered through the heavy midtown traffic; who was this Vin Tanner? Was it possible that he really was related to the missing man? He drove along for several minutes in silence, his thoughts in turmoil. Suddenly he looked up ahead and saw the large sign for the Bronx bus terminal.