ATF Universe

Chris had learned over the years never to take the good for granted; that, as the saying goes, 'it ain't over till the fat lady sings'.

Fate wasn't about to disappoint him.

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Vin could feel his pulse quicken and the sweat bead on his forehead. He drew in several slow deep breaths as his mind began to swim. He heard the man in front of him speak but the words meant nothing to him. He clutched the arms of the chair in the witness stand as tightly as his splinted hands would allow.

"Mr. Tanner, would you answer the question please?"

Vin heard the voice from off to the side and knew that the judge was probably addressing him. He looked over at the man.

"Mr. Tanner, are you all right?" the judge asked.

Vin opened and closed his mouth a few times but no sound came out.

"Mr. Tanner, do you need to take a break?"

Vin dropped his eyes away from the man looming over him and took another deep breath. He could feel the collar of even the too-big-for-him shirt Chris loaned him closing around his neck and he tugged on it weakly.

The judge looked to the prosecuting attorney. "Mr. Cavanaugh, it appears your witness needs a break. Court will recess for fifteen minutes and evaluate at that time whether the witness can continue." The judge banged his gavel twice on his large desk and stood abruptly to leave. The jury was quickly filed out into their waiting area.

Cavanaugh approached the witness stand and guided Vin to his feet. They stood still for a few moments as Vin steadied himself and then they moved towards the spectator section.

Chris had watched from his seat near the back of the courtroom, his posture stiffening as he watched his friend get paler and paler. He rose and moved to meet the attorney and Vin as they got to the partition. Chris took Vin's arm as Cavanaugh released him and the attorney returned to his desk to review some more notes.

Chris decided not to try and analyze his friend's condition in front of the other spectators so he silently led Vin slowly out of the courtroom and over to one of the many benches lining the walls of the hallway. A photographer was standing outside the courtroom doors and readied his camera to snap a picture when the two men came out but one quick glare from Chris and he lowered his camera and skulked away. Chris indicated for Vin to sit down and then squatted in front of him.

"Vin? What's the matter? You doing okay now?" He twisted low to look into Vin's downcast eyes.

Slowly, Vin raised his head until his eyes met with Chris's and Chris could tell immediately what was wrong. He remembered all too well that look on Vin's face.

"Aww, no. Not again," he sighed as he rubbed his hand over his face. He rested his elbow on his knee and his chin in his hand as he thought quickly. He didn't remember reading anything in any of the files they had gotten about a relapse of the drug that stole Vin's connection with language.

Chris pushed himself up to where he could swing over and sit on the bench next to Vin, keeping a comforting hand in contact with his friend.

Vin squeezed his eyes shut tight as the world around him swirled up and down, back and forth. He felt his stomach twisting in time with the movements and wondered if he'd end up losing his lunch. He reached out and grabbed the edge of the bench with both hands as he took several deep breaths.

Chris's mind raced. He tried to decide what to do and how best to do it. It wouldn't be long before Cavanaugh would come out to see if Vin were able to continue his testimony and Chris would have to tell him that Vin was back where he started from a week before.

Then Chris wondered if that was true. Was Vin right back where he started a week ago? Would the drug simply wear off again or was the last day and a half just a respite from what would become Vin's future?

He turned concerned eyes on the man sitting next to him. Vin had his eyes closed and was taking slow deep breaths. Chris squeezed his shoulder and spoke softly to try and calm him some, even though he knew Vin didn't understand.

"Chris," a voice called and when Chris looked down the hall, he saw JD rushing through the crowd towards him. "Hey Chris, Vin. Court taking a recess?" he asked when he stopped in front of the two sitting on the bench.

"Yeah, fifteen minutes. JD, do you remember reading anything in those files you downloaded about the drug having relapses?"

"Relapses? No, there wasn't anything that I re..." JD stopped and turned his eyes to Vin. He saw the same look that had told Chris what was wrong. "Oh, geez. When did it happen?" JD's expression turned sad as he watched Vin.

"Few minutes ago, on the witness stand. The judge gave him a fifteen minute recess to get over it. They'll probably end up postponing." Chris looked over at the doors to the courtroom as they opened up. A few of the journalists who had lined the back of the court decided they'd gotten enough information for their articles and were leaving.

"Oh, hey," JD began as he reached into his pocket and pulled a few items out. "The police released Vin's stuff...well...all but the cell phone. With Perkins's finger prints on it, it's still evidence." JD had Vin's wallet, keyring and watch in his hand. "I left his weapon in the lock-box in his desk." JD kept the stuff in his hands but debated whether or not to offer them to Vin.

Vin decided for him as he chose that moment to look up and see the things in JD's hands. He reached up and, using his fingertips, picked the keyring out of JD's hands. He lowered his hand to his lap and absently began rubbing the silver 'seven' on the keyring with his thumb.

Chris moved his hand to the base of Vin's neck and squeezed it firmly, supportively.

JD raised his hands up slightly in offer to Vin. "You want these too?" he asked softly.

Vin looked back at the other two items and after a moment, reached up and awkwardly took them. The wallet he slipped into the pocket of the suit jacket Chris had loaned him to wear. The watch, he fumbled with for a moment, realizing he couldn't fit it on his wrist with the splints still in place so he eventually put that in the pocket on the other side of the jacket.

"Anything yet, Mr. Larabee?" Cavanaugh said from the spot near the end of the bench that he had silently taken up. Chris started slightly, though he hid it well, and turned to the attorney.

"Sorry. He's back to not understanding again."

Cavanaugh looked dumbfoundedly at Chris then shifted his gaze to Vin. "He was just talking in there. What happened?"

"We don't know. We didn't know he could have a relapse." Chris rubbed his hand across his face wearily.

"When will he be able to continue?"

Chris slowly raised his shoulders in a shrug. "I can't tell you. We weren't expecting this." Chris looked over at Vin, hoping he could will away the relapse but found himself disappointed. Vin remained sitting dejectedly beside him.

Cavanaugh shook his head. "I'll tell the judge that he's unable to continue today. He'll probably reconvene tomorrow. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. If he can't continue, his whole testimony may have to be stricken. Defense hasn't finished cross-examination and you know they'll argue that point."

Chris nodded, well aware that this could be the end of the trial. Cavanaugh turned silently and reentered the courtroom.

"How was it going... before…?" JD asked, his voice trailing off as he indicated Vin.

"Pretty well, I think. Cavanaugh had finished his questioning and defense was partway through theirs. Peabody was trying to rattle Vin but he wasn't budging. Kept his cool. Then it all just stopped." Chris gripped Vin's shoulder firmly.

Vin tried not to move. He wished he could ask for something to settle his stomach but he wasn't sure he could make his friends understand. Maybe if he tossed his cookies, they'd know something was wrong. He alternated closing his eyes and taking deep breaths and it seemed to keep his stomach from going over the edge, but he didn't know how long it would work.

Chris jumped as the cell phone in his pocket began ringing. He was sure he'd switched it off and was glad no one had called while he was in the courtroom or the judge would have slapped a heavy fine on him. He pulled the phone out of his pocket and switched it on.

"Larabee." Chris sat silently listening to the voice on his phone, nodding once and glancing over at JD. The next time he spoke it was to conclude the call. "Okay, thanks." Chris hit the end button and slipped his phone back into his pocket. "That was Buck. He said he and Kelly from the armory were running inventory and they had a ways to go. Said you should just head home when you're ready and Kelly'd get him home when they were done."

JD nodded then perked up with curiosity. "Why didn't he just call me?" JD reached down and pulled his phone off his belt clip. He flipped it open and immediately saw the problem. "Hmmm, dead battery. I thought it was fully charged." JD rubbed his chin as he tried to remember the last time he had charged his phone.

Chris looked over as the doors to the courtroom opened again and groups of people started filing out. He assumed Cavanaugh would be coming out shortly to inform him what was happening.

"You sure he's having a relapse, Chris?" JD interrupted the leader's thoughts. "He looks awful green."

Chris looked up into Vin's face and saw the pallor of it. Maybe Vin was just sick. "Vin," he said softly as he shook his shoulder. Vin slowly opened his eyes and looked over. "Can you understand me? You look a little sick. You okay?"

Vin narrowed his eyes as he watched his friend's mouth move. He opened his own mouth as if he were going to say something but closed it a moment later.

JD squatted down in front of the two men sitting on the bench. He got Vin's attention then patted his own stomach, pointed towards Vin's then made a motion with his hand up his chest, throat and out his mouth. "You gonna be sick, Vin?" he asked, just in case Vin could understand and was just feeling too bad to answer.

Vin began to lift his shoulders in a shrug then alternated nodding and shaking his head. He had no idea. One minute he felt like he would, the next he felt he wouldn't. JD nodded that he understood and took off his jacket. He waded it up into a ball and placed it at the end of the bench. He patted the surface and pushed on Vin's side gently.

"Why don't you lay down for a bit, Vin? It may help."

Vin knew what JD was getting at and eased himself down onto the bench. The motions that were side to side while he was sitting up were top to bottom lying down and the top to bottom ones now flowed side to side. Vin didn't know if he were any better off being horizontal than he had been vertically but at least he wouldn't fall over now. He took several deep breaths and looked at JD gratefully.

"Better?" JD quizzed.

"Is he better?" Cavanaugh spoke from the end of the bench, making both Chris and JD jump. Chris grit his teeth as he turned to the man, wishing he'd announce his presence a little better.

"It's a little too soon to tell," Chris informed him.

"Nine a.m. tomorrow morning; court reconvenes then. I don't think the judge'll wait any longer. Will he be ready?" Cavanaugh asked, indicating Vin.

Chris was getting irritated. Irritated at the situation, irritated as his lack of control and irritated at the questions he didn't have the answers to. Chris shook his head and took a deep breath before he answered. "I can't tell you anything. We just don't know. All we can do is show up and hope for the best."

Cavanaugh studied Chris a moment then nodded. He knew he wanted information that no one could provide. "Mr. Larabee, are you available to come to my office this afternoon. I think we have a little strategy to try and work out."

Chris looked over at Vin who, while in this condition, needed someone with him. He looked up at JD's expectant face. "JD, did you ride your bike over?"

"No, I came in Buck's truck. Why?"

Chris sat silently for a moment while his brain worked furiously. "Can you take Vin out to the ranch? If he's feeling bad, he doesn't need to be sitting around waiting on me. I'll meet with Cavanaugh and head on when we're done," he outlined, speaking as if the attorney wasn't still standing there.

"Yeah, sure."

"Okay," Chris began as he glanced at his watch. Just after two. He pulled his keyring out of his pocket and began twisting off his front door key. "Take this and…"

"Doesn't Vin already have a key?" JD asked, remembering he'd returned the man's keys to him just a few minutes ago. He looked around but Vin didn't have them in his hand anymore. He felt Vin's pocket lightly, not wanting to disturb him, or let him think he was feeling him up and heard the characteristic jingle of a string of keys. He reached into the pocket and pulled out the ring.

Vin had felt JD's hand on his side and slip into his pocket. He had closed his eyes while he lay there and opened them just a crack to make sure it was one of his friends who was picking his pocket. Satisfied, he closed his eyes again.

JD splayed out the keys on his palm. "Is it here?" he asked, not able to recognize the key to Chris's place on sight.

Chris separated out one key. "This one," he said. He then began twisting his key back in place. "Half hour, your office," he said, turning his head towards the man still standing by the bench.

"That will be fine, Mr. Larabee." Cavanaugh adjusted his hold on his briefcase handle and headed down the hallway.

Chris leaned forward and rubbed his eyes briskly with his fingers. The day was not going the way it was supposed to. He thought silently about what needed to be done as JD waited patiently. Finally, Chris looked up.

"Okay, JD, let's get Vin down to the truck." He stood up and he and JD eased Vin up onto his feet. The man swayed just a little but managed to stay upright. It took nearly twice as long to get to the parking garage as it normally did because they were keeping a slow pace. Vin followed along, keeping his eyes low.

JD rushed ahead and unlocked the passenger side door, opening it wide for Vin to climb in. Vin settled in the seat and Chris fastened the seat belt securely across his body while JD climbed into the driver's seat and stuck the key in the ignition.

"JD, maybe you better stop somewhere and get something to help settle his stomach. Ginger ale, or one of those slush things works better for him than any stomach medicine. But not ice cream. I know he loves the stuff but it's too rich. It'll just make him more nauseous." Chris patted Vin's arm reassuringly then swung the door shut.

Vin had become accustomed to not fully knowing what was going on, trusting the six men who were his family to take care of him. He let his head fall back against the headrest and closed his eyes.

JD glanced over and frowned sadly. He hated that Vin had to go through all of this again. Not that he wanted to experience it but he'd change places with Vin in a heartbeat if he could. He sighed and started up the truck.

Traffic was relatively light and JD easily maneuvered his way out of the courthouse parking garage. He merged with the flow of cars and headed towards the outskirts of town where Chris's ranch was located. He glanced over occasionally at Vin but the man beside him kept his head turned towards the window and JD couldn't see his face.

When he saw a mini-mart ahead, JD slowed and pulled into the parking lot. He parked close to the door and turned off the ignition. Turning towards Vin, he tried to let him know he was going inside and Vin should wait. He assumed Vin understood because he made no move to follow when he got out.

Inside the small store, JD went to the soft drink cooler and picked out a couple of bottles of sodas, one ginger ale and a cola for him. He found a machine that produced the flavored icy treats that Chris had mentioned and decided to get one of those too. That way, Vin could have his choice as to what he wanted and if he wanted the ginger ale instead of the other, JD would take it.

They came in several flavors and JD selected cherry, because he liked it and he had seen Vin eat other things of that flavor so he assumed he'd like it too. He paid for his items and made his way back out to the truck.

Vin watched passively as JD fumbled with the things in his hands as he tried to open the door. Finally managing, he got in and arranged the bottles then offered the cherry ice-drink to Vin. Vin looked at it confused and shifted his gaze back to JD.

"It's cold," JD explained. He reached over and gently lifted Vin's hand and placed his fingers on the side of the cup. Vin felt the temperature. JD pointed towards Vin's stomach. "It may help settle your stomach. Or, I got..." JD began as and picked up the bottle of ginger ale. Vin couldn't read the label on the bottle but he could tell by the color of the liquid inside what it was. His eyes shifted between the two drinks and he reached for the cherry ice-drink. JD smiled as he held on until he was sure Vin had a good hold of the cup, then released it and adjusted himself in the driver's seat. He finally had a hand free and pulled closed the door, put on his seat belt and started the truck. They were still over half an hour away from Chris's place.

Vin sucked on the straw slowly and enjoyed the shivering sensation of the cool substance flowing down his throat. In a matter of minutes, he noticed a dramatic reduction in his nausea. He relaxed into the seat as he continued to pull small sips through the straw.

With the nausea abating, Vin felt himself getting sleepy, something that always seemed to happen these days. His eyes drooped and his head fell back against the head rest.

JD kept a close eye on his passenger. He noticed him falling asleep and made sure the drink in his hands was not going to spill. Vin had gotten it wedged between his legs so JD was pretty confident that it wouldn't end up all over the man's lap. The interior of Buck's truck he was less worried about.

The traffic on the highway out of town thinned out and eventually it was just JD driving down the road. Normally, he would have the radio turned up high and be singing along with whatever was playing but with someone else in the vehicle, he didn't usually subject them to that sort of punishment and with Vin dozing, he thought it best to remain quiet. Not to mention the fact that Buck's radio was perpetually broken.

JD was enjoying the drive in the country. The sun was shining but it wasn't hot. He liked living in the city with all the activities there were close at hand but there was a serenity about the country that he enjoyed as well.

JD glanced at Vin again then into the rearview mirror and was momentarily shocked to see how rapidly the car behind him was approaching. He began easing the truck towards the side of the road to allow the vehicle room to pass, since they seemed to be in such a hurry. However, the car moved towards the same side and it appeared to JD that they intended to pass on the shoulder, not that there was much of a shoulder. The embankment angled up abruptly from the edge of the road.

JD rapidly shifted his gaze from the road ahead to the reflection of the car behind. The narrow road did not allow much room to play with and JD had to know what the maniac behind him was going to do before he committed on any action. JD kept the truck near the center of the pavement, keeping open the option to swerve in either direction.

The vehicle behind made its move around the right side of the truck. JD turned his head to give the driver the evil eye and was surprised by the large white side panel of a van. Hadn't they spotted a white van before? Someone who was after Vin? Before JD could get a look at the driver, the van turned into the truck, scraping its side panel against the side of the truck bed and began forcing it across the road. Unlike the other side, the side of the road they were heading towards had a steep ravine that fell for nearly fifty feet.

JD fought the movement but the van had more power behind it than the truck had. He cursed as he felt the truck being forced to the drop-off on the opposite side of the road.

The truck was jolted by the hit from the van and the movement jarred Vin out of his sleep. He looked curiously over at JD and saw the look of panic on the young man's face. He could tell something was very wrong but couldn't make his brain form the words to ask what it was. He did realize that now was not the time to distract the man by trying to find out what the problem was. He sat back deeper into the seat and watched.

"Hang on, Vin!" JD shouted out loud as he felt the front tire slip over the edge of the road.

The van driver gave his steering wheel one last sharp thrust and watched as the truck's driver's side rear tire followed the front one over the side. The ravine was steep enough that as soon as the truck was off the road it began sliding down. After about twenty feet of sliding both forward and down, it rolled over onto its side and then continued to roll.

The driver of the van slammed on the brakes and pulled his vehicle over to the side. He climbed out cautiously and approached the spot where the truck went off the road. He peered over the edge and could see that the truck had come to a stop. He maneuvered his way over the edge, carefully picking each spot to place his foot and turning back often to make sure he could make the trip back up to the road.

The truck appeared to have rolled over once and come to a halt when the driver's door slammed up against a good sized tree. It rested on one of the few relatively flat places along the ravine. The man stepped up to the front and peered into the cracked windshield. The driver was up against the door with his head leaning against the trunk of the tree. There was a steady flow of blood coming from a slice above his left eye. He could also see blood from some other source soaking through the sleeve on his left arm.

The passenger was sitting limply, still held securely in place by the seatbelt and shoulder strap, with his head lolling against his chest. The man smiled when he saw the amount of red spreading across the front of his white shirt. A man can't lose that much blood and live.

"Mission accomplished," the man muttered to himself as he smiled evilly. "Even if they aren't dead now, no one will find them for a long time and by then, well, by then they will be so much dust and bones," his mind rationalized. He turned away from the scene and awkwardly scrambled back up the incline. Now that he was sure his deed was done, it was best he leave quickly so as to not be seen in the area by someone passing by.

He got to his van and started the ignition with a heavy foot causing the engine to roar. He shifted into gear and with a less-than-textbook three-point turn, he headed back towards the city.

The roar in his ears started abruptly and disappeared quickly. Vin shook his head as he took a deep breath and slowly lifted his head. He panicked at first when he looked ahead and saw nothing but trees and shrubs in front of the truck. It took a moment to realize that the truck was no longer moving. He shook his head again and looked down at a wet, sticky feeling covering his chest. It was red. His entire chest was red. He concentrated on the area to try and remember why it would be red. He lifted one hand and felt the fabric of the shirt. It felt sticky and was soaked through to his skin. The color had spread and he could tell the suit he was wearing was a lost cause. He hoped it wasn't one of Chris's favorites.

It didn't look like blood, far too bright a red for that, even for fresh blood. Plus, he didn't hurt anywhere, though he knew that wasn't always a telltale sign that one was not injured. He shifted his eyes down to the seat and between his legs was a thoroughly squashed cardboard cup and Vin realized that the red stuff covering him was the remnants of the ice-drink that JD had gotten him.



Vin turned his head sharply to the left and could see JD slumped towards his door and the large tree trunk the truck was partially wrapped around. Vin reached out and tried to gently rouse his friend with a shake. There was no response. Vin reached down and with stiff, sore fingers, fought with the release mechanism of the seatbelt until it let go its hold and he flipped it out of his way. He shifted in his seat towards the driver's side and felt JD's neck for a pulse. He felt what he thought was a strong one and sighed in relief. At least he was still alive.

Vin tried to check JD over without really moving him. He saw the same blood flow that their assailant had seen and he was determined to stop it. The cut on JD's forehead had slowed considerably on its own. Vin rummaged through the glove compartment and found a small stockpile of fast food restaurant napkins shoved in amongst service receipts, several pairs of sunglasses, a collection of pens and the truck's owner's manual. He folded several of the napkins together and using his fingertips he pressed the makeshift bandage against JD's forehead. JD moaned softly but otherwise did not respond.

The pressure against his wrists was painful but Vin ignored it. He held the napkins in place with one hand while he loosened his necktie and yanked the snug loop over his head with the other. Grabbing one end between his teeth, he used his free hand to stretch the loop out a little till he was sure it was large enough so he could get it placed around JD's head. He slipped it in on and tightened it just enough to hold the bandage in place and apply a little pressure to keep it from bleeding more.

With further checking, Vin found the cut on JD's arm and saw that it was still bleeding pretty well. Buck carried all manner of junk in the area behind the seats and Vin began searching the stuff to see if there was anything that he could use to help JD. He found a gym bag and knew as soon as he opened it that it was full of dirty clothes. He didn't have anything else so he decided dirty was better than nothing as he pulled a tee-shirt out. He folded it as best he could and slipped it in gingerly around JD's upper arm. As he pressed it against the wound, the blood soaked through the many layers quickly. Vin shifted the shirt around and pressed a cleaner spot to the wound. Again, very rapidly it was red. He turned it once more and held it in place.

Vin leaned back slightly as he took a deep breath and tried to think. He saw JD's cell phone sitting in its holder on his belt but he didn't think he could use it. He was pretty sure he could figure out how to dial 9-1-1 but he couldn't tell the emergency people where to find them. Then, he wondered if they could trace a call to a cell phone. He decided to try and reached down to pull the gadget off the belt clip. He flipped it open and noticed the small red light which usually meant the phone needed to be charged but this phone was different than his own. Maybe it meant something else on JD's phone. He searched the face of the device but couldn't tell which button turned it on. He tried pressing several, holding it to his ear each time but never heard a sound. After he'd tried all the buttons he thought could activate it, he flipped closed the phone and slid it back into its clip on JD's belt.

Now what was he going to do? He readjusted the tee-shirt-turned-bandage again only to watch it change quickly from dirty white to red. Vin frowned and clamped his teeth together. He should probably go for help. He pressed the bandage in place and bunched up the sleeve of JD's jacket around it to keep it from sliding down for a minute.

Vin slid back over to the passenger door and tried to get it open. When the truck rolled, it caved in the top enough that the door was stuck shut. Vin reached down to grab the handle to try to roll the window down but Buck's truck was missing that particular amenity. Vin tried pushing the door with his shoulder and kicking with his feet but couldn't get it to budge. He braced his feet against the center console and while holding the door handle in the open position, pushed his back against the door, grunting with the effort but still the door wouldn't move.

He thought next to try and kick out the windshield. He sat back in his seat and raised up his legs but couldn't draw them back far enough to kick with much force against the glass. He did manage to extend a couple of the cracks but nothing more.

Sweating with the exertion, Vin paused and looked out the passenger door window. He could see what a steep climb it would be to get back up to the road. He looked down at his hands, hands that were starting to throb with the use he'd given them and he wondered if he'd even be able to get up to the road if he could get out of the truck. He knew that he would have to because JD needed him to but he didn't think he could do it easily. Not that it was an option at this point. Vin was stuck inside the cab of the truck.

JD moaned a little and Vin slid back over to his side. He patted his cheek lightly but got no more sound out of his young friend. Vin squeezed his eyes shut as he tried to think of a way out of this mess. He knew Chris would be along eventually. This was the only way to get to his ranch but there was no way they could be seen from the road. Chris would know something was wrong when he got home and he and JD weren't there but Vin didn't know if JD had the time to wait.

He leaned back and felt the steering wheel behind him. Turning to look at it, he saw the buttons for the horn. He reached forward and pressed one. The horn sounded sharply from under the hood. If Vin could make enough noise, maybe someone would hear and come to help them. He laid his hand on the button and pushed, holding it down until the sound rang through his head. He didn't think he could stand to listen to that indefinitely. He had to think of some way to get the attention of anyone in hearing range.

Morse code. He could beep out an S-O-S. He'd heard it enough on TV shows. What was it…short-short-short--long-long-long--short-short-short…or was it long-long-long--short-short-short--long-long-long?? Damn! Remember!!


The sound reverberated through his head. Short - long - short. Vin began pressing the horn button in code, hoping that someone would pass by soon and be able to help them.

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Chris finished with Cavanaugh and was now heading down to his truck. He had to make a quick stop at the office before he headed home to relieve JD and deal with Vin. As he reached his truck, he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. He had to think a moment before he dialed his home number. It wasn't a number he called very often. As the phone was ringing, he unlocked his door and got behind the wheel of his truck.

He let the phone ring, hanging up when the answering machine clicked on. He immediately dialed the number again, hoping that the reason no one answered was because they couldn't get to the phone before the machine picked up. When the answering machine clicked on a second time, Chris waited for the beep.

"Hey, JD. You there? Pick up, would ya?" Chris waited then repeated his words. There was still no human response so he switched off his phone and put it back in his pocket. He sat still for a moment, trying to convince himself that the men were okay, just out of ear-shot of the phone...maybe out in the barn with the horses. He seriously had to consider putting an extension out there. He reached up with his keys and started up the truck, telling himself he would try the ranch again when he got to the office.

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The old man loved this time of year. The air was clean and brisk. He drove down the road with the window open so he could smell the fresh mountain air. He knew it was just a matter of time before the city of Denver spilled over into these mountains. It was already spreading in every direction with no signs of slowing down.

"Dad-burn stupid new-fangled car alarms," the man grumbled as the steady beeping assaulted his ears. He could never figure out why they had to be so annoying. "Wake the dang dead, why don't'cha?" he continued grumbling to himself as the sound got increasingly louder.

The man could tell he was approaching the source of the noise and as he got nearer, he slowed down. There was something familiar about the sound that he was hearing. The repetition of it was sinking into the recesses of his mind and bringing forth long buried memories. He now recognized the sounds for what they were.

Morse code. S-O-S. Someone needed help.

He drove slowly along the road until he was sure he was close to where the sound was coming from. He pulled over and shifted his car into park. Cautiously, he opened his door and slowly pushed his old bones up onto his feet.

The sound was coming from below the road and as he approached the side, he could see a rut where the grass and small growth was dug up. He stopped at the edge of the ravine and leaned forward. He knew his old body could never make a climb down the steep terrain so he hoped he would be able to see something.

Against a decent sized tree, he saw the top of a vehicle. If he squinted his eyes, he thought he could see movement from within it. It was definitely where the call for help was coming from. He had no way to let the poor people inside know he had found them without risking falling down the ravine himself.

"I'll get help," he called and immediately started a wheezing cough. The spell lasted almost a minute but finally, it subsided and he turned for his car. He didn't know if anyone down below had heard him and he didn't want to take the time to find out. He got in his car and headed towards the nearest phone.


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