JD kept to himself, both fearful of getting kicked out of the shelter and of discovering hidden talents that might hurt someone else. His broken bones ached and the stitches in his side pulled. Most mornings found the amnesiac youth helping in the kitchen. His attempts at drying pans and kettles one handed seemed comic at times while the others grumbled when assigned to kitchen duty.
The first week out of the hospital dragged by but no one attempted to steal his shoes, again. He knew the teenagers watched him and were waiting for the opportunity to extort revenge. First of all JD knew he needed to get a job and earn some money to leave this town. Who would hire a crippled kid with no legal identification? Employers required two forms of ID; he'd be happy if he could remember his name.
The social worker visited but offered no comfort. She warned him to behave. Winter was no time to live off the streets. Promising to return the following Friday, she offered to search the want ads for him.
JD left the doctor's office and walked the ten blocks to the pharmacy. No longer strapped to his side, a blue sling cradled his right arm. He felt tired following the medical procedure to remove the stitches but getting a job interview was too important to pass up. The pharmacist at Corner Drug offered to give the injured young man a trial position. Still waiting for the fog to clear in his brain, JD needed to get away from the shelter and to do that he needed some money. A couple of the older men took a personal liking to the dark haired resident. He needed someplace where he could relax and feel safe but New Hope didn't offer any hope to him.
Walking into the store, JD noticed he was five minutes early. He removed his gloves and hat, stuffing them into his pocket. Unbuttoning the coat presented its own challenges but he was adapting to using only his left hand. The pharmacist looked busy so JD patiently waited for a chance to talk with him.
Scanning the magazine rack, the headlines of the Denver Post troubled him. "No Leads in Missing ATF Agent." He started to read the article when he heard someone behind him clear his throat.
"Can I help you?"
JD turned around and stood face to face with the man he was to visit. "Ah, I'm sorry, sir. I ah was waiting to talk to you about a job. Mrs. Kline called you?"
"First things first. If you want to read any magazine or newspaper you must purchase it before you read it. Is that clear?"
"Yes, sir. Like I said I'm sorry." JD looked up at the tall, lean man who combed his blond hair straight back, like someone he knew.
"Now then, at least I know you can read. Have you ever stocked shelves before?"
"Sir," JD started to explain when the pharmacist interrupted.
"First, my name is Chris, though to the public you will refer to me as Mr. Jackson and secondly I just remembered what Mrs. Kline said about your memory. As long as you are truthful with me about what you can do or are unable to do we should get along fine. Now it's my turn to ask your name. I know I wrote it down when Becky called."
JD shrugged his shoulders but smiled. This man presented himself straightforward and expected anyone in his employ to be the same way. "The name I'm using is Jon Done, until I get my memory back that is."
Chris reached out his hand and shook the younger man's left one. "Welcome to the Corner Drug, Jon. Let me show you what I envision you doing." Since no new customers entered the store, the two men walked into the rear storeroom. JD received the grand tour of the warehoused merchandise. Before walking back into the pharmacy, Chris asked, "Do you think you can handle yourself? You will need to help customers find items but I don't expect you to run the cash register. No one is allowed behind the counter where I work. If you have any questions ask Penny or Juanita up front. Ready to go to work?"
"Yes sir, I mean yes, Chris." Genuinely feeling upbeat about his situation JD followed the older man out of the storeroom and into the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun.
"What the?" Jackson sputtered just before the stocky gunman slammed his fist into the pharmacist's face.
Stopping in his tracks, JD's eyes grew wide. He recognized the robbers; they lived at the shelter with him. The bully who stole his shoes the first day held another pistol at the head of the woman behind the cash register.
"Leave her alone! Leave her alone!" Even though he couldn't remember his own name, he seemed to know how to handle this situation.
"Look who's givin' orders. It's the runt who loves his sneakers."
"And you are a couple hundred pounds of stupid," JD countered.
"Freeze! Police! Drop the weapon."
Five stunned faces turned to the door and looked into the business ends of police revolvers. "Make this easy boys. Drop the gun and put your hands on top of your heads."
"Who called the fuzz?"
"Get them up!" The officer motioned with his own gun. In a few short minutes the group of teenagers found themselves handcuffed and loaded in the back of the paddy wagon.
The officer held his gun on the last youth. "I said get your hands on top of your head."
JD knelt beside his new employer and looked up at the man in blue. "Officer, you've got this wrong. I'm not one of them; I just got a job working for Mr. Jackson."
"Get away from him! Tell it to the judge, sonny. I'm getting tired of waiting; get your hands up!" The man did not intend to let any of the gang loose. He recognized the ploy and witnessed it used before. A member entered the place before the others and then tried to act innocent when the gig went sour. They would finish the robbery and the officer wasn't going to fall for the ruse.
"I can't. My collarbone's busted."
"I don't care if your head's about to fall off, get your hand out where I can see it." He grabbed the sling and yanked the stiff arm behind JD's back. The pain brought him to his knees as his hands were cuffed together. Pushing him towards the waiting vehicle the officer spoke so low that only JD heard him. "I hope you rot in hell, boy."
The last to be loaded, the dark haired young man only felt the pain radiating from his shoulder and was unprepared for the kick that sent him to the floor. Size eleven, twelve and a pair of size sixteen shoes pummeled the prone body.
The vehicle halted abruptly and armed officers stormed the prisoners. "Damn, can't understand why you're pounding on one of your own."
"Him, he ain't one of us. He's trash," spit out the shoe thief.
JD's bloody body came out of the wagon and two officers carried him to a cruiser. "Never seen the likes of it. Poundin' on a fellow gangbanger," the youngest officer observed.
"Unless he isn't one of the gang and really worked for the store," another officer contributed.
"Bob, take him to the clinic on Trade Street. Get him patched up and bring him to the station."
"There you go son. Your ribs will sore for a few days but none are broken. Your collarbone is still healing. Your face won't be very pretty the next couple of days but I doubt the other inmates will notice. You need to get some rest. Do you have any questions?" The doctor finished wrapping the bruised chest and handed him a clean, flannel shirt. "Here let me help you put this on."
JD didn't answer the doctor but sat still, his eyes shut and his breathing ragged. Flashes of memory assaulted his conscious but none of the pieces fit together. Finally he looked up at the doctor and asked, "Is Chris alright?"
"Chris Jackson? His head's gonna be sore for a while but he won't have any permanent damage." The doctor watched his patient's confused face. "You worried about the man you set up?"
"Huh? Chris, my boss. He's alright?"
"Sure son, lay back and rest until the police come to get you." The doctor felt sorry for the young man. He looked so lost. His body bore witness to multiple traumas but until the proper authorities released him, Jon Done would remain in custody.
An hour later the concerned doctor called the precinct headquarters. "How soon will someone collect your prisoner? I don't have enough staff to keep an eye on him."
Barely awake JD listened to this side of the conversation. His thoughts seemed more jumbled than before but he knew he needed to get to Denver immediately.
"You sure? I'm not going to..." The man in the white coat looked over at his young patient and replied to the unseen officer, "OK, I'll wait until he gets here."
Hanging up the receiver, the doctor turned toward JD and said, "They aren't holding you. An officer will be by with your possessions and release papers. You're welcome to rest here until they arrive."
"You ever seen anyone that lost their mind?" JD stared at the stain discoloring the ceiling.
"Feeling a might low, Jon Done?" The doctor pulled a chair to the bed and sat beside his patient.
"I feel like I'm a spectator watching my own life. I see things in my mind but I don't know who the people are. I think I should but I don't."
"What do you remember?"
"Something terrible happened and I need to get back to Denver before it is too late but I don't know why."
"Are you from Denver?"
JD shook his head negatively, "I don't think so, but what ever it is, I need to be there."
"Were the Denver police contacted? Missing persons that kind of thing?"
"The hospital, they said they sent a report but didn't get an answer. This Denver thing, I just remembered that after those fellows beat me up."
"Sounds like you're getting your memory back. Do you plan to go to Denver?"
"Mr. Jackson, Chris Jackson, just offered me a job, stocking shelves and stuff. Not much a guy can do without proper identification. Maybe I can hitch a ride north or something."
"Hate to see you do that, Jon."
"Got no other choice, sir." JD closed his eyes and sighed. The more he remembered the more confused his mind became. 'Chris was in trouble' pulsated through his brain but who was Chris? He'd just met Chris Jackson; what other Chris did he know? Damn this was frustrating.
Three hours later JD found himself riding a commercial bus headed north courtesy to the guilty consciences of four police officers. Pitching in to provide Jon Done a bus ticket was the easiest way to resolve their error. The confused young man reclined in the scratchy seat and let the exhaustion overpower his mind. His need to be in Denver would be a start in recovering his scrambled brain.
"Hey, wake up! Wake UP!" The girl shouted and shook the thrashing body.
"No, don't. Wait. STOP!" Mumbled, incoherent speech tumbled out of the young man trapped in the middle of a horrendous nightmare.
Shaking him harder the young woman, wearing army fatigues, watched for sudden, defensive movements. "Hey, fella. It's just a dream. Snap out of it before you hurt yourself or somebody else."
She smiled as the long, dark lashes fluttered and weary hazel eyes gazed her face. "You were scaring the other passengers. We're almost to Denver and the driver couldn't find a place to stop. Just about got yourself tossed off this bus. It's too cold and wet to be hitch-hiking today."
"'M sorry." Barely audible, he closed his swollen eyelids and sighed. Being awake seemed as bad a nightmare as the one visiting him in his sleep.
Nellie Smith sat down in the seat across the aisle without removing her eyes from the slack form. Returning home on emergency leave to attend her grandmother's funeral, she smiled to herself. A year ago she would have been like the other timid passengers, too afraid to become involved. Service life changed her attitude and she saw people differently than she did before leaving home.
Observing the defeated look on the bruised face, she wondered from what dilemma the boy ran. Abusive father, fighting at school, turf war? As much as she believed he was a trouble magnet, something else about him and his dreams revealed he lost something precious. Trained to observe the unexpected and prepare for it, she saw his troubled eyes open and stare out at the passing scenery.
Suburban streetlights illuminated snowy backyards while clouds obscured the heavens. Snow filtered across the road while the cold, winter winds were held at bay by the mountains. He reached up and felt his face, feeling the sting of icy, snow particles of a memory past. His breathing increased as he imagined himself falling headfirst into the cold drifts, unable to escape the pain. Chris! Chris was in danger from, from who?
"Georg, hey it's Nellie. I just got into the bus station Yep, they let me come for Granny's funeral... No, but then they didn't know when I'd be getting in Could you? That'd be great. By the way, the center have any empty beds? No, not for me, silly. There's this boy on the bus, looks real lost. He's just sitting here like he don't have a clue where to go next I know, still picking up strays. He might be a runaway and he's been in a fight. Tell you the truth, he looks hungry, tired and hurtin' . Thanks Georg. We'll see you in a few. Bye."
After hanging up the phone, Nellie walked over towards the dark haired youth. He slouched on the wooden bench, his dark eyes open but unseeing of the bus terminal activity.
"Hey, you got a place to stay? Someone comin' to collect you?" Nellie asked quietly.
His eyes slowly rose to look the army sergeant in her face and when he spoke she realized he was lost. "Chris, he's in trouble and I've got to warn him." He shuddered and she noticed a sheen of sweat coat his forehead, though the air in the room was cool.
"My friend's coming to get me. He's got an extra bed if you want it. Be better than sleeping here tonight and warmer too," she offered.
The nod was barely visible as he hugged himself, tucking his left hand under his right arm for warmth. "Don't have a clue where I need to go next. My name is Jon," and then he added "I think."
"Nice to meet you, Jon. I'm Nellie. You up to some coffee, my treat?" She watched for an answer but he was too weak to reply. His eyelids fell shut and his head nodded into his chest when sleep claimed him.
Buck stared at the ceiling of his bedroom, unable to sleep but powerless to rise from the bed. How could a stranger worm his way into the older man's heart that, with the kid's passing, had left such a large hole? The roller-coaster ride concerning JD's life and death left the normally jovial man incapable to function. Internal Affairs officers, armed with search warrants, confiscated his friend's PC and rummaged through the entire apartment. Though the officers were polite and didn't make a mess Buck still felt violated. Evidence continued to point to the missing agent's guilt and the unknown created horrible images in Buck's intellect.
He ignored the jarring ring of the phone and as if paralysis haunted his body made no move to answer the call. Barely registering, he heard his friend's voice yelling at him to pick up the receiver.
"Buck, pick up! We got a lead. It ain't a ghost trail this time. Pick up the damn phone, Wilmington!"
Grabbing the cordless phone from the nightstand, Buck's monotone voice responded. "I can't, Chris. Can't build up hope when there ain't none to be."
"Listen to me, Buck Wilmington. I've got positive ID, a reverse missing person's report. Just came across the wire. We've gotta move before internal affairs beats us. Buck there's no phantom this time. A hospital sent the kid's fingerprint's in for identification. I'll be by in fifteen minutes to pick you up." The line went dead.
Buck held the phone in his hand, waiting for it to dissolve into another nightmare. Had he heard his team leader correctly? Seems right that the boy would be found at a hospital. Course that meant he'd been hurt again. Maybe he was really sick like he'd mentioned in his journal. The thought that the boy was waiting for him gave the man the strength to get out of bed. Five minutes later he stood outside his door waiting for Chris, the joy in his heart mending the enormous hole.
Clear weather south of Denver left the main roads dry. Without breaking speed limits the two men arrived in record time at the hospital.
"I'm Chris Larrabee, Federal ATF agent." He showed his badge to the receptionist before demanding the room number of JD Dunne.
Looking at her screen the woman typed the necessary information and waited for the database to reveal the answer. Squinting at the screen, she typed some more details before looking at the stern man waiting for a number. She swallowed her fear but her voice still squeaked, "You must be misinformed. We don't have anyone here by that name."
"Chris." Buck grabbed his friend's coat sleeve.
"Not now." His feral smile morphed into the famous Larabee glare. "What is this place trying to hide?"
"Is there a problem here?" A man as tall as Chris approached the desk, security guard written all over his face.
"We're federal agents from Denver and I just received a report that one of my men was in this facility."
"Chris." Buck interrupted again.
"What is it?" He turned his anger toward his long-time friend.
"If they sent for identification then they may not know his name."
Reality kicked in and Chris Larabee knew he was too close to this case to remain objective. Buck was doing a better job of holding himself together.
"We received a missing person's report, looking for the ID of someone brought to the emergency room. A member of our team is missing. The fingerprints matched. We need to talk to him as soon as possible." Buck struggled to keep his voice calm and professional, refusing to reveal how close of a personal relationship he held with the missing agent.
The hospital guard held out his hand and asked, "Do you mind showing me your badges again, please?" He took Buck's and examined the name, picture and details. "Just one minute." Picking up another telephone, he punched in some numbers and waited, never taking his eyes off the two men. "Need to verify someone," he asked someone on the other end of the line. "You sure? Thanks." A smile crossed his face as he spoke to the receptionist and she started punching numbers into her keyboard.
As the screen came to life again her smile changed into a frown. "That report was filed almost two weeks ago. Since there was no response the patient was released last week."
"Where did he go?" Both men spoke simultaneously. "Is there someone we can talk to who treated him?"
Not use to dealing with federal agents and security guards, the woman stumbled around her keyboard, missing keys and hitting incorrect ones. "I'll see," she whispered, continuing to type. As another screen appeared she picked up her phone and pushed a few numbers. "I have two gentlemen here wanting to see a patient of yours .. I realize that but it's a code 385BL ..Yes, I understand. I'll see if she's in." Looking up at the two men her voice froze and she punched a new number into the keypad, praying silently to herself, 'Please answer, please answer.'
"Hello, this is Ann at the reception desk. I have two gentlemen here looking for a patient who was released last week. I was told to call you because the patient code included 385BL .Just a minute." She looked at them and asked, "Could I have your names again please?" The guard laid Buck's ID on her desk as she waited for the other man's name. "Thank you." As the information was relayed into the phone Buck looked around the small waiting area. Why hadn't the kid called him if he was well enough to leave the hospital. How much deeper would this mystery grow?
"Agent Larabee, Agent Wilmington. This is most upsetting. The young man was delivered to the hospital during the middle of a blizzard, severely injured and in enormous pain. When he claimed to not remember we followed all established rules to obtain his proper identification." The social worker sat behind her desk while horrible images danced through her head. The boy didn't seem old enough to be in law enforcement let alone be a federal agent.
"Ma'am, I realize you have your protocols but you've got to understand. JD's been missing for two weeks now and someone is attempting to frame the boy for a crime we know he didn't commit." Chris laid JD's photo on the desk. "We must find him as soon as possible for his own safety." Chris put his emotions under control and returned to his professional persona. Buck sat still, his face emotionless as his stomach churned.
Shuffling through the pile of papers on her desk while stalling for time, Rebecca Kline knew she couldn't reveal patient confidentiality, but Jon Done deserved to know the truth. She made a decision to trust these officers. "When policy says a non-insured patient must leave here, I try to find them a place to live. I made arrangements for the young man in question to stay at a shelter. Unfortunately things didn't work out the best and he left there. I don't know where he is."
"Mrs. Kline if you are trying to protect your own be.." Buck whispered, his restraint evaporating.
She shook her head. "I want to help him, but I don't know where he is. He had an appointment with his physician last Thursday and no one saw him again. I can only pray he remembered who he was and returned home."
"Afraid he hasn't done that yet." Buck's repaired heart tore in two. What was the kid hiding? "What do you mean, remember who he is?"
The two men walked dejectedly out of the small town hospital. If it was JD that received treatment here they would never know unless they revealed the information to the IA investigator, the only person with the authority to subpoena the mystery man's medical records.
Before climbing into his truck, Chris punched numbers into his cell phone and waited for an answer. "Ezra, dead end .Confidentiality .You sure?" His face brightened and he stood a little taller. "On our way. Keep searching. I'll let you know as soon as we find anything. Yeah, right. Thanks, Ezra".
"Well, what'd he give you ta smile about?" JD's roommate sat dejectedly in the passenger's seat of the pickup.
"Standish stumbled on another police report from here." Chris shook his head at the thought, ' Damn that boy attracts trouble.' "Seems like he was arrested with a gang attempting to rob a drug store."
Astounded, Buck asked, "He joined a gang?"
"No, he was trying to get a job at the store. Wrong place at the wrong time. Cops brought them all in until they could sort it out."
"So he's not in jail? Then where is he? He must be coated with grease the way he keeps slipping through our fingers."
Chris climbed into the truck and started the motor. "Ezra gave me the name of the arresting officer. What'cha say we give him a visit?"
"Listen Agent Larabee. I didn't know he wasn't part of the gang. Who knew they'd attack him like that? Doc said he'd be fine."
"Where did he go?"
The nervous officer bit his lip and swallowed trying to remove the lump of worry sitting there. He shrugged his shoulders. Chris resisted the urge to beat the daylights out of the man in blue but his eyes bore into the man's soul.
"We, ah, couple other cops and me, we gave the poor kid some money. He kept saying something about a Chris bein' in trouble. I figure he meant the pharmacist, Chris Jackson. He'd get a faraway look and said it was someone else who was in trouble."
"Damn you. Where..Is..He?" Chris's eyes snapped as he emphasized each word.
"We put him on a bus to Denver. Should have gotten up there late last night."
The two Denver residents looked at each other. The kid was trying to get home but his Swiss-cheesed brain muddled the process.
"I am, we're really sorry about him getting hurt more. I hope you find him."
Chris and Buck ignored the man's apology and jumped into the truck. Buck grabbed the cell phone while the team leader steered toward the interstate. "No answer from Ezra, Nathan or Josiah. Where did they all go?"
"Did you try Vin's apartment?"
"I tried there; I tried his cell phone. I even tried the office."
"Try again later. Think you can relax enough to get some sleep? I'll need to have you take over driving before we get to Colorado Springs."