Taken for a Ride

Carol Pahl

--Wednesday Four Days Later--

"Everything looks good, John. I'd really like to keep you here another day but the state says they'll only pay for so much time."

The dark-haired young man looked up at the woman doctor, his mind still mush. Painkillers hindered his thought process while relieving the excruciating misery coursing through his broken body. "Where should I go?" he asked timidly.

She smiled, her attitude condescending. "The social worker will be in to talk to you shortly. She will explain the hospital policy. I'll send an order to the pharmacy for some antibiotics and painkillers. You need to have your shoulder and the appendix incision checked in a week. Keep your bandages dry and watch for infection. Do you think you can take care of yourself?"

"Ma'am, I don't mean to be rude but I know how to take care of myself. I'm not a child." That much he remembered. He'd been hospitalized before and survived; the fact of being alone bothered him more.

Not letting the comments affect her bedside manner, the doctor said, "If you think of any more questions before you leave ask the nurse to page me. Good luck, John."

Passing by an older woman standing in the doorway, the doctor left the room while the gray-haired lady took over the same spot, looking down at the injured, young man.

"Ready to go face the world, Mr. Doe?"

JD faintly smiled but shook his head negatively, "Not really."

"Have you come up with a name to put on your record? We rather not leave it as John Doe; they usually hog that name down in the morgue."

"Jon seems right somehow, but I'm not positive it's my real name." A look of despair crossed the boy's face. He'd spent the last three days trying to remember his name or anything that would give him a clue to his true identity.

"No one thought to ask the driver of the car that brought you in Friday night any details about where he found you. The ER staff said they'd barely gotten you out of the vehicle before he took off. The police didn't give us any results either about you being a missing person."

"What's next? The doctor said I gotta leave the hospital."

Much more sympathetic than the hurried doctor, the social worker smiled before answering. She liked this boy, no, this young man. He seemed pleasant and thoughtful. Somewhere his family missed him terribly and she needed to step in to help him survive this tragedy. "I've made arrangements for you to stay at a shelter downtown; give you a chance to recover a while longer. You'll have a warm place to sleep and plenty to eat. Later the director will help you look for employment. Sound alright?"

"Yeah, I guess. Don't know what else to do. Too cold to spend the night on the street. Imagine the police would lock me up."

"I know this is hard, being hurt and not remembering but the doctor assured you this was only temporary. I brought you a coat since you weren't wearing one when you came in. The weather's gotten downright nasty this afternoon. I think you're all done here so why don't you get dressed and I'll get your medicine and the nurse so we can leave."


"What's that, Jon?"

"Just thinking about what you said, Mrs. Kline. I'm done. Sounds as good as any other name and better than a dead John Doe."

"Come again?"

"My name. Put it down as Jon Done. I'm ‘done' and who knows what I'll be doing next."

She smiled and laughed. "Sounds good, Mr. Done. See you in a few minutes."

ATF Office, Denver Colorado

"Damnit, Chris. It's been four days. We don't know if he's dead or alive. IA ain't sayin' anything. FAA doesn't have a clue. How'd them drugs get in the boy's bag?"

The team leader sat gingerly in the office chair, trying to ignore the tremendous pain in his side. Under investigation, the Denver ATF team sat behind desks pushing keyboards and phone keypads hoping to discover details about the horrendous accusations leveled at their youngest member.

"Buck, you and I, everyone out in that office knows there is no way in ..," he stopped before letting the curse escape. "I don't know," he said, unable to look his long-time friend in the face. "The bags never left our side. We carried them from the hotel. I put them in the hold of the plane. JD never said anything to me about skipping those meetings. None of this makes any sense. He didn't escape with us so he must have been trapped on the plane but then there's no body. And if he's still alive he isn't here to defend himself against whatever is being slung at him."

A gentle knock at the door stopped the heated conversation. "What is it?" Chris said, his stoic armor in place.

Ezra stuck his head into the room. "Mr. Sanchez left to retrieve Vin. I picked a tidbit off the office grapevine. Unfortunately the news doesn't bode well for our Mr. Dunne."

"Quit beatin' round the bush, Ezra. What did you hear?" Buck felt his pulse quicken, fearful of the conman's oratory.

"Seems our young friend's credit card was used to rent a car in Soda Springs. Assorted other camping gear and clothing were also purchased. The powers that be surmise someone is attempting to ‘hole up for a spell'." Ezra held up his fingers to mark the quote.

"Where? Where did he use the cards?" Waiting for the tidbit of news before rushing off to investigate his missing friend, Buck Wilmington's rarely seen temper surfaced.

"I was unable to become privy to such articulations which will hopefully be soon coming available."

"Thanks Ezra." Chris's voice weakly spoke. "I'm getting too old for this crap," he added as the door closed behind the Southerner. He rested his head in his hands and Buck barely heard him.

--New Hope Shelter--

"Mr. Stanhope, this is Jon Done. He's the young man I called you about yesterday. Jon, this is Douglas Stanhope, director of New Hope. He needs to share the regulations with you."

Clutching his injured side, JD barely smiled at the tall, blond man. The ride from the hospital spent what extra energy the boy held in reserve. All he wanted now was a bed, blanket and a chance to sleep.

Both adults noticed the withdrawn expression and knew they were about to loose the intended audience. "Mrs. Kline said you needed to continue with some medications. Due to the volatility of some of the other residents, we need to restrict access to all drugs. My secretary will have what you need, when you need to take it."

Running on autopilot, JD wasn't even aware of thinking before he blurted out, "This some type of half-way house?"

"I'll explain the rules to you later, Jon. Is that the name you decided to use for the present?" Not waiting for a response, the director placed an arm around the slight shoulders and encouraged him to walk. "Let's get you settled before you collapse on us. Since you're not restricted to mobility, I've given you a room on the second floor." He led them up the narrow stairway and down the small hallway. Two bare lightbulbs illuminated the gray institutional walls while three sockets hung bare.

"This will be your room while you stay with us, Jon, room 207. The bathroom is down the hall. You are to have no liquor or women in your room at anytime. Any smoking must be done downstairs."

"Sounds like dorm life." JD's voice slurred as his eyes spied the narrow metal bed.

Smiling slightly, Mrs. Kline helped the hurting young man sit on the edge of the bed. "I don't think you'll have to worry about Jon tonight. Let's get your shoes off and you into bed before you decide to take a freefall to the floor."

Oblivious to the adults' ministrations, he allowed them to peel off the second hand coat and his pair of Reeboks. Pulling the covers over his shoulders, he remembered the woman's kindness. "Thank you Mrs. Kline." Sleep overtook him before the door closed behind the director and social worker.

"He really shouldn't be here. The others will eat him for lunch, Becky."

"I know but where else could he go? With no identification the hospital can't bill any insurance company. The police were no help. I doubt if they even filed the missing person report. He's too sick to be on his own and with no money, well, I hate to think what would become of him."

Walking her to the main door, Douglas replied, "I'll try to keep him safe but this place has its own system and rules no matter how much I try to convince them otherwise."

"I'll stop by on Friday and see how he's doing." Shaking her head she added, "A person can't be that nice now without having been that nice before."

"He certainly is polite but I have a feeling under that injured exterior is a man you don't want to trifle with. Just the way he carries himself, well it's just a feeling I have. But not knowing who you are, that must be tough. Most of the men here would rather forget their past and he's anxious to recover his."

"Maybe someone will recognize him?" Mrs. Kline offered.

"Don't know if that would be a good thing or not. These guys recognize him would mean either he's been in trouble with the law or he's a cop."

She laughed, "You can't expect me to believe he's old enough to be in law enforcement or possess a hard enough constitution either."

"Can't always tell, Becky. How old do you figure he is?"

"Can't be much more than just graduated high school if that," she offered.

"I disagree." Douglas Stanhope observed many individuals during his tenure in the juvenile court system. "His looks belie his true age. He's no juvie. Otherwise the state would have taken him. I look forward to seeing you later, Becky. We'll keep a close eye on him so don't worry. He'll be safe until he remembers."

Denver ATF offices

Chris Larabee sat at his desk, his hand raking his hair back. A week ago he was in heaven, enjoying the peace and quiet away from the rigors of running the AFT team and in the company of a beautiful and kind woman. Now his elite team was under the microscope on suspicion of harboring a drug smuggling, murdering terrorist. JD missing, first presumed dead but the phone call minutes earlier planted more seeds of doubt in his mind.

Tom Katten's message made him consider doubting his own integrity. Had JD boarded the plane at the same time Cindy and he did? Chris remembered taking the luggage to the open bay and loading it next to the other bags. JD seemed quiet but didn't Cindy show him where to sit? Now the investigators doubted the youngest agent left Phoenix on the Lear. Had one of his handpicked choices turned bad? Could he testify that the kid was on the plane when it left? Doubts clouded his mind when a wafting scent stirred his wandering conscious back to reality.

"Really Chris, you were so lost in thought, I was going to go get a ten foot pole rather than touch you. I figured you would attack first and ask questions later."

Looking up at her with sorrow-filled eyes, she received her answer.

"Is it over? Did they find him?" she whispered.

Barely noticeable, Chris shook his head negatively. In a pain filled voice he asked, "Did JD get on the plane with you while I was stowing the luggage?"

"I thought so. I waited for you. He needed to use the restroom again before we took off. I told him there was one on the plane but I didn't watch him. I assumed he boarded before you and I were in our seats."

"Wasn't he in that seat a couple rows behind us?"

"I don't know. That man you rescued sat behind us and he had dark hair. What's wrong, darling?" She pulled his face to her chest and held him while the anger and despair gushed out. Tonight the mighty Chris Larabee would not sleep alone in his sorrow.

--Thursday morning New Hope Shelter--

"Give them back."

"Make me," the overweight teenager dared. "You and what other midget's gonna take them?"

Trying to stand as straight as his aching side would let him, JD reached out his left arm and hissed, "You don't want to know."

"Possession is law around here. I've got them and you don't so shut your trap before I break your other arm."

Before the intimidator turned his back, the smaller man kicked out with one foot followed by an uppercut chop to the nose. As the bully fell, JD grabbed his sneakers and stepped back. Adrenaline coursed through his veins as he waited for the other boy's friends to retaliate.

"What's going on here?" Douglas Stanhope demanded. On one side of the room the new boy, his right arm bound to his side, stood panting and his shoes dangled from the left hand. On the other side, six belligerent teenagers surrounded their fallen companion. One of the boys shouted, "He cold-cocked Igor. We was just standin' here, jammin, when that runt jumped him."

"He's crazy," another added.

Slowly getting to his feet, the shoe thief glared at the smaller man. "This ain't over. You're dead meat!"

"Igor, you and the others clear out. Get to school. We'll talk about your punishment this afternoon."

"My punishment? Why you comin' down on me? He attacked me. This ain't his blood gushin' out my nose."

"This afternoon. Go." Stanhope pointed at the door and waited until the seven vacated the shelter.

Watching the confrontation, JD felt his knees turn to jelly. He grabbed the wall just as the door closed behind his adversaries. The director turned toward the new resident and demanded. "What was that all about Mr. Done? Two altercations gets your sorry ass tossed on the street. I'm willing to hear your side of this but it changes nothing. You just got your first and last black mark."

"I…he took…shoes." Unable to speak coherently, he held up the sneakers before bonelessly falling to cold linoleum floor. Other residents watched but no one interfered and no one offered to assist the comatose victim.

Stanhope, left with no choice, grabbed JD and hoisted him onto his shoulder. "Fool kid," he mumbled. "Knew you had more gumption than sense."

Buck sat dejectedly, his head rested in his hands. His zest for life evaporated the moment he believed his roommate succumbed on that lonely mountain. Never subjecting himself to commitment, he found himself irrevocably tied to one dark-haired ATF agent. His relationship with JD Dunne was surreal. Missing the younger man was like loosing a part of himself. Working together they shared the same passion for life and enjoyed each other's company away from the office. Living together presented its own set of trials but now the older man only felt pain.

It was just supposed to be a weeklong conference, computer training and mandatory assessments. How could the kid just skip the sessions? If an agent didn't re-certify, he was pulled off active duty until the papers were signed. JD lived for the computer updates, sharing hacking stories with the other computer fanatics. All he could talk about the week before was the conference, spending time with Chris and meeting the requirements.

What happened to the kid? There was no way that JD Dunne could have done all the things the Internal Affairs investigators were uncovering. How did those damm drugs and paraphernalia get in his luggage? The boy worshiped Chris Larabee too highly to attempt to murder him with a terrorist attack on a private airplane.

And Chris, what was with his long-time friend? Granted the man needed female companionship but to not even know if the kid boarded the plane was ludicrous. He'd never seen Chris so emotionally drained as the man looked earlier. The whole affair seemed so unreal, almost like someone else was directing the program.

Talking with the other members offered no solutions either. Ezra, Josiah, Nathan and Vin continued to deny the youthful easterner could be responsible for any of the accusations leveled at him but were unsure how to silence the growing rumors circulating their bureau.

Unable to stand the silence in the apartment, he grabbed the remote and surfed through the channels. Abruptly he flipped back to the local news channel when he recognized JD's official photo and the words "MOST WANTED" emblazoned across the bottom of the screen.

The reporter continued her report, "New evidence in last week's crash of Hemple Industries Corporate jet prompted FFA officials to investigate the private lives of the plane's crew, survivors and victims. Through an anonymous tip, this reporter learned that the investigation is zeroing in on a Denver based ATF agent reported as one of the passengers but not listed among the survivors. His body was not found at the crash site though his luggage containing contraband drugs was among the wreckage. Officials issued an arrest warrant for John D. Dunne earlier today after discovering large deposits of cash into his personal account. We will have follow-up reports tomorrow. Stay tuned for the weather with John Waston."

Buck stared at the television though he heard nothing more than the woman reporter's nasal voice repeating, "arrest warrant for John D. Dunne." He angrily stood up and paced the living room before finding himself inside his roommate's bedroom. JD tried to clean it before he left, but the room still possessed its normal clutter of papers, books and clothes. Wearily Buck sat down on the bed and wondered how soon the investigators would show up at his door with the search warrant. Had he escaped their interest this long because they knew this room and the kid's home would offer no evidence in their slick frame-up?

Sitting up straight, Buck Wilmington's professional mind kicked into gear. A frame-up, someone was framing the kid and planting the evidence for the investigators to discover. JD didn't own much but he did have his reputation and integrity. Now, dead or alive, someone was attempting to steal those from JD.

Buck began a thorough and diligent search through the kid's personal belongings, searching for anything that the creeps might use to convict the young man. An hour and a clean room later, he immerged dirty, hungry and happy. Too late to call the team together tonight, Buck thought as he held the cordless in his hand.

Laying the phone on the table, the computer caught his eye. Unused all week the machine almost seemed to beg the mustached man to boot it up. What had JD told him about the machine's idiosyncrasy? He walked over to the keyboard and gently stroked his fingers across the keys. Dare he look at his friend's personal files? IA would most certainly confiscate the PC. Buck pushed the power key and prayed the resident computer genius would understand his snooping and copying of files.

Grabbing the instructional manual Buck researched how to run the tape back-up. Just before loading the small cassette into the drive he noticed the most recent entry. Leave it to JD to back-up his personal machine as often as he preached the rest should back-up their office PC's. The logon screen appeared and Buck sat back in the chair. He'd need the boy's password to access the journal pages that he knew existed. Just as he decided to give-up the answer came to him. He'd watched JD punch the keys so often he subconsciously knew the password. Wasting no time Buck tried the mystery combination and yelled when the logon screen was replaced by the crowded desktop.

Every night JD took a few minutes to record events of the day in his journal. Buck found the shortcut and clicked the icon. The last entry was dated the night before JD and Chris left for Phoenix.

I really want to go to the conference. Spending time with Chris will be great. I wish I felt better. Maybe it is just nerves that make my gut ache. Something isn't right. I hope I feel better in the morning.

The kid wasn't skipping the meetings to attend some other agenda; he was sick. Cindy mentioned several times that he disappeared into a restroom. Not to do drugs but because he was ill!

Part 3