by Niteowl

Katy’s Royal National Lifeboat Institute AU

Rating PG – There be Buck owwies and just a tad of cussin’

Disclaimers: The original characters we know and love belong to MGM and/or John Watson and company – Making them English and on a Lifeboat crew was Katy’s wonderful idea – Thanks to my beta LT and Katy for her help keeping them English – I wish I was making money on this, but it’s just for fun – Besides, they say money isn’t everything! (Do you ever wonder who THEY are?)

This is in response to a July 2003 challenge to write a story with Mother Nature at her worst – I guess better late than never <g>

He bobbed up and down in the sea like a cork, rising and falling with each trough of water. The sky was as dark as the water, making it impossible to distinguish the horizon. Not that it would have done any good. He could be five miles from the coast or five hundred. He had no idea how long he had been unconscious before waking up in the cold Atlantic Ocean.

How had he gotten here, wherever here was? Better still, how was he ever going to get home?

A year had passed since the RNLI St Nicholas and her new crew began serving together. And for the most part, it had been a good year. Chris Larabee ran a tight boat, but he was fair and worked just as hard as the rest of the crew when it was their turn on duty. Buck Wilmington, as second in command, took it upon himself to ensure the well being of each and every member of the Lifeboat’s crew, on or off duty. Vin Tanner had been the kind of mechanic every captain dreamed of – talented and dedicated. JD Dunne had proved himself on more than one rescue that he might be young, but he knew his stuff when it came to computers and instruments. Ezra Standish was slowly but surely feeling more and more at home in the company of his crew mates, something that was as much a surprise to himself as it was to the other men. Nathan Jackson was still serving double duty as the Lifeboat crew’s medic and doctor at the small hospital in Four Corners. And Father Josiah Sanchez had given up the idea of early retirement and was a more than competent Assistant Mechanic to Vin.

It was late autumn again, and the typical weather for the season was upon them – wet and windy. But instead of the cool, sometimes cold wind, it was unseasonably warm, the perfect combination for nasty and dangerous near-hurricane strength storms. Within the past twenty-four hours, a sudden storm had blown in out of the south and had taken almost everyone by surprise. It wasn’t any kind of record breaking cold, but it had dropped the temperature a good twenty degrees. And it was wet and most definitely windy.

The door to the Lifeboat Inn swung open, and JD Dunne came in. He tried to force the door closed faster than normal to keep as much water out of the room as possible. It was still early and no customers had come in yet.

“Careful, kid. That wind could lift a bigger man than you off his feet!” called out the big man behind the bar. Buck Wilmington had just opened his establishment for business for the day and was still setting things to right. The noise and wonderful aroma coming from the kitchen told him Mrs. Potter was already hard at work, preparing the day’s special dishes.

“Ha-ha-ha,” the younger man replied as he made his way inside. He walked across the room to the large fireplace, stopping in front of the woodpile to add another large log to the dying blaze; it was as much for warmth today as atmosphere. He then squatted down beside the large, dark form lying on the rug in front of the hearth. JD gave their beloved dog and pub mascot Mac a few gentle strokes before turning back toward Buck. After running his fingers through his long dark hair and shaking out as much of the excess water he could, he went around the end of the bar and grabbed his apron, donning it to start his day’s work. He was still washing his hands when he looked up at Buck. “Have you seen Vin?”

“Not yet today,” he replied. “Why?”

“Couple of strangers in town looking for him.”

Buck thought for a moment. “With all this wind, he’s probably sticking close to his boat. Did they say what they wanted?”

“Not really,” JD answered, “but they looked like a couple of military types. Supposed they served with him in the Marines?”

“Could be. Are they staying in town?”

JD shook his head. “They came in on a boat – a really nice little yacht. Tied up at the far end of the harbor. Tiny says their pilot got off sick, had to take him to the hospital. He thinks they might be looking for a new one to take them out to again.”

“They’re not going to find someone to take them out there in this,” he said in surprise. The time of year was pretty much the off-season, with very few tourists staying longer than overnight. The weather was unpredictable at best. “Maybe when this blows over. You suppose that’s what they want Vin for?”

JD just shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

“Well, if I see him, I’ll let him know.”

Just then the door opened and the day’s first customers came in. Three men Buck had never seen before made their way in and to the large bar. Buck looked over at JD with a question in his eyes. JD nodded slightly in response. Then Buck made his way over to them.

“What can I get you gents?” Buck asked cheerfully.

“A pint of your best all around,” answered one of the three. He was calm compared to his two companions. One was looking around nervously; the other seemed to be angry about something. “How long ‘til lunch is ready?”

“Well, should be about half an hour,” Buck replied.

“We’ll wait, thanks,” replied the obvious leader of the trio. “Bring us all whatever the special is.”

“What brings you to our part of the world?” Buck asked in his typically friendly way while JD was drawing the beers.

“What’s it to…” the angry one started to ask before he was cut off by a look from the one who had placed the order.

“You’ll have to forgive my companion,” he said. “It’s been a long trip and I guess some of us are just a little under the weather. I’m Matthew Spencer, this is John Hale.” He introduced his angry companion first, then the nervous one. “And this is Robert Thaxton. Actually, you might be able to help us.” He glanced over and nodded at JD in acknowledgement. “We’re looking for a Marine buddy of ours – Vin Tanner. We heard he’d settled down here after his discharge.”

“Yeah,” Buck replied. “I know him. He’s the Senior Mechanic on the local Lifeboat. Good man, good friend.”

JD recognized the change in his friend’s tone. Catching his eye for a second, the younger man could see a guarded expression there. For some reason, Buck had taken an immediate dislike to the strangers, which was not like him at all.

“Do you know where we could find him?” the nervous one asked.

“Not right now, he could be on his boat or the Lifeboat, or even out at our captain’s farm. But he’ll probably be in later,” JD answered, ignoring the glare from his older friend. “I could tell him you’re looking for him, he could come find you.”

“That would be fine,” Spencer replied. With that, Buck moved off to turn in their lunch request. JD slid the glasses toward the three, who picked them up and moved toward one of the pub’s tables. He couldn’t help but notice the way Buck occasionally looked over in the direction of the men. The others didn’t know Buck well enough to notice.

The bad weather may have been a curse for some of the other businesses in Four Corners, but for the small town’s only pub it was a blessing in disguise. A lot of the locals popped in at least once during the day, just to get out of the wet and cold for a few minutes, if nothing else. But if they were to be honest, most of the townsfolk found the pub a comfortable place to be, mostly thanks to the efforts of its big-hearted owner.

* * * * * * *

Lunch had come and gone and the three had eaten, asking JD to give their compliments to the cook. They seemed determined to be friendly to the younger man, which gave him a sense of pride. In between his duties, they spoke to him at some length about boats and captains and the area round about in general. In the meantime, Buck still kept his distance, using his responsibilities as an excuse, but his eyes never wandered far from the group.

By early afternoon, the three were still at the table, nursing another beer. They were obviously waiting for Vin. Buck noticed how Spencer appeared to be the leader of the group. He seemed to be spending his time chatting up the locals that made their way into the pub.

On most bad weather days, the Lifeboat’s crew gathered at the pub. And it was the kind of day that usually had them going out on a rescue, so it made sense to be close just in case.

First Chris made it in, having taken care of the stock on his small farm. Then Ezra arrived, complaining loudly and bitterly about the fickleness of Mother Nature. Next, Nathan made his way in, having just finished afternoon rounds at the small cottage hospital. Finally, Josiah arrived, joining the others at their customary table.

Buck had been eyeing the visitors as each of the Lifeboat crew had come in. His senses were on overload, and he couldn’t help but think that Spencer and his friends seemed to be paying close attention to their little group. It was as if the trio had known all along whom each of the Seven were. But with all the customers to tend, Buck didn’t have time to pull Chris aside and let him know what he was feeling. He really didn’t have anything to tell, just a gut feeling something was wrong.

Finally Vin came through the door. He shook his coat out before hanging it up. “Ye Gods!” he exclaimed. “Where on earth did this one blow in from?”

“Probably followed you back from Hell,” came an unexpected voice. Vin wheeled in surprise, recognizing the voice and the expression. It was one his Marine unit used to laugh away the occasional bad mission. Chris turned and followed Vin’s line of sight to the table where Spencer had stood.

“Spencer?” he finally asked. “Is that you?” He moved across the room quickly and took the other man’s outstretched hand. They shook quickly, then Vin stood back and eyed the other man’s companions. The Lifeboat’s crew watched the exchange, appropriately curious. Their ex-Marine mechanic talked very little of his days in the service, and they respected his privacy enough not to pry. Only Chris had seen his military record at the time he was hired on; the rest of the crew had accepted him as he was. On a previous rescue, Vin did confide some of the details to Chris, which neither he nor Vin had shared with others as of yet.

Only Buck and Chris were in position to see Vin’s face. They both saw the momentary expression of suspicion that passed as he noticed Hale.

“You remember John Hale, don’t you?” Spencer said.

Vin nodded, but did not offer his hand. He looked across at the third man and offered his hand again, a deliberate slight to the other man. “Bobby Thaxton, good to see you. How have you been?”

“Okay,” came the timid reply, as he shook hands with Vin. “Actually, much better.”

“Glad to hear it,” Vin offered with a small smile. “Now, what brings you lot to Four Corners?”

“A little late vacation time, actually,” Spencer explained. “And we heard you had settled in the area, so we thought we’d kill two birds with one stone. Are you game for a little trip out to St Just Island?”

“I hope you don’t mean today,” Vin replied. “Storm like this, we have to stay close to home. What about your boat’s captain? Surely he told you already.”

“Came down with food poisoning, had to go to the hospital. He’ll be there a couple of days at least,” Spencer answered.

“Then why not wait it out, enjoy a couple of days in Four Corners or take a drive over to Helston?”

“Afraid of a little rain?” Hale smirked. “Big, brave Vin Tanner? Darling boy of the Royal Marines?”

Chris made a move towards the man, but Vin put a hand on his arm. At the same time, Spencer silenced Hale with a withering glance.

“I’m Senior Mechanic on the Lifeboat here. It’s my job to have the boat ready at all times, especially when the weather’s gone bad,” he explained, directing his reply to Spencer. “But even if I weren’t on standby, I’d still not go out in this unless it was some kind of emergency.”

“I told you this was a bad idea,” Thaxton said quietly. “The captain told us we wouldn’t find anyone to take us in this weather.”

“How about you, boy?” Hale directed his comment at JD. “Folks hereabouts say you’re a regular whiz kid with instruments and navigation. You ought be able to find your way there. We’re willing to pay over the odds.”

Before JD could answer, Buck was already striding across the room to stand towering over the unfriendly member of the group. He had heard the derisive tone of voice Hale used when addressing the youngest of their crew, and he didn’t like it one bit. “You heard Vin, we’re on duty – JD here’s part of the Lifeboat crew, too,” Buck said, barely keeping his temper in check.

“I can speak for myself, Buck,” JD spoke up. “IF you don’t mind.” He didn’t understand Buck’s immediate dislike for the three old friends of Vin’s, although he couldn’t imagine Vin ever being friends with anyone as disagreeable as Hale.

“Well, is the whole town part of the Lifeboat crew?” Hale asked sarcastically.

“No, just some of the townspeople, including the seven of us . We make up one part of her crew. We trade off being on call, and it’s our turn up. And like Vin and Buck said,” JD offered, moving to stand in between Buck and Hale as his big-hearted friend had bristled again at the man’s tone of voice. “It’ll have to keep ‘til the storm passes. Then if your Captain is still in the hospital, come back and I’ll be glad to try and help.”

“Don’t count on it,” Buck ground out, addressing the group. “If we get lucky and don’t have to go out on a rescue, he’s already got a job here that’ll keep him plenty busy.”

JD turned a bright red, trying to decide if he was more angry or embarrassed. He was fighting the urge to yell something back at the big pub owner. But somewhere in the back of his mind he remembered that Buck never did anything to deliberately make JD look bad in front of anyone, especially the crew, so he thought there must’ve been some good reason why he was acting this way.

“I appreciate the offer, Mr. Dunne,” said Spencer smoothly, trying to soothe the mood in the pub, “but our appointment on the island is for tonight. It’s very important we arrive before morning.”

Chris’s eyes narrowed. What kind of appointment could they have on St. Just Island so late in the evening? Besides the monks that occupied the abbey, there were a few small farms and a few rented cottages. That made up the entire population of the small community. He couldn’t help agreeing with Buck’s assessment - something wasn’t right.

“Well, if you gentlemen will excuse us, we’ll retire back to our boat and try to come up with a solution to the problem,” Spencer continued. “It was good to see you, Vin. Sorry you couldn’t come along.” With that, the three stood and left the pub, walking back toward the big yacht at the end of the harbor.

Chris turned to Vin. “What’s the deal with those three?”

Vin shrugged before he answered quietly. “Spencer’s not a bad sort, just used to having things his way. Rich kid. Hale was always a hanger-on, didn’t like him much but then I didn’t know him very well either. Bobby Thaxton got himself into a nasty situation on a mission. Spencer and Hale saved his life. He felt like he owed them both, since then the three have been pretty much inseparable. I served with them before…” He broke off, looking at Chris for understanding. While he knew Chris knew all about his service record, there were still things in his past he wasn’t ready to share. “Let’s just say it’s been a while since I’ve seen any of them.”

“That’s quite alright, Mr. Tanner,” Ezra said with a sardonic smile. “We wouldn’t want you to say anything that you would have to kill us for knowing.” Both Josiah and Nathan nodded in agreement.

“When the time is right, feel free to share whatever you want, but don’t think you owe us any explanation,” Josiah finally said, patting the younger man on the shoulder.

In the meantime, Buck had gone back to the bar, followed closely by JD.

“Dammit, Buck!” JD finally exclaimed. “I’m not a kid, and I can think and talk for myself.”

“I know, kid,” Buck replied. Seeing his young friend roll his eyes, he sighed. “Okay, JD. Any other time, I wouldn’t interfere.” He just ignored JD’s snort. “There’s just something not right about those three, and I don’t want you anywhere near the likes of ‘em. I’ve had a little more experience…”

“Yeah, and how am I supposed to get any experience if you keep butting in for me?” JD shot back without letting Buck finish his explanation. With that, he ducked into the kitchen.

Shortly after, Inez came in to take over in the kitchen for the dinner crowd. The Seven remained, enjoying an afternoon of peace. They were talking quietly about past storms and other rescues. They knew it would be time soon enough to return to their homes and responsibilities.

The rain and wind continued their onslaught into the early dusk, but it began to look like the St Nicholas wouldn’t be needed after all. There were good days when everybody had enough sense not to do the sort of things that required a rescue boat. They were certainly few and far between, but they were appreciated nonetheless.

As the dinner crowd came and went , JD was still fuming at Buck’s earlier interference. Buck met Chris’s eyes and just rolled his own. Chris smiled back silently. Finally, Buck grabbed his jacket and made to go outside.

“I’m going for a walk – be back in a few,” he said quietly. “Stay,” he gently commanded Mac, as the dog stood, willing to follow his master out into the gale. Apart from the row with JD, he was still trying to work out why Vin’s ex-Marine buddies made him so uneasy.

His oldest friend knew it was bothering him that JD was still angry, but he also knew it wouldn’t last long. Besides, Chris knew Buck loved to walk by the sea, tempestuous or not, when he had things to think about.

Inez saw him go and grabbed her jacket as well. She had forgotten to remind him she was going to need time off the next day to drive into Helston for supplies needed in the pub. By the time she put her coat on and secured her scarf around her head, she was a number of paces behind him. She was still in the shadow of the buildings when he turned the corner and was out of sight.

“Mr. Wilmington, a moment of your time, please?”

Buck was startled at the sudden appearance of the man from between the buildings. “What is it you want?”

“It has come to our attention that you are even more familiar with the area around the Scilly Isles than either our friend Tanner or your young Mr. Dunne,” Spencer said directly.

“Ay, I’ve spent more than my fair share of time exploring out there. But I thought you were looking to go to St Just?” Buck asked. He tried to keep the suspicion out of his voice, but he was fairly certain they noticed.

“We changed our minds,” Spencer replied.

“Well, I’ll tell you again – we’re busy and not available. And you just don’t want to go out there in this kind of weather. If you’ll wait ‘til this blows over, one of us will be more than glad to help find a pilot for you,” Buck tried to explain, not really caring if they could hear the impatience in his voice or not.

“Waiting is not an option. We have an appointment to keep, weather be damned.”

Before Buck realized what was happening, Spencer pulled a small handgun out of his coat pocket, pointing it directly at Buck’s chest. “What the bloody hell? What do you want with me?”

“Luck of the draw, my friend,” Spencer answered. “We really didn’t care which of you came out first – our old friend, the kid or you. We only need one of you to get us where we need to be.”

Then Hale approached from the shadows. Buck’s eyes narrowed in suspicion as he realized the other man was coming from the direction of the St Nicholas’s slip.

“Let’s go. Our boat’s ready. You will pilot us out to the islands, NOW,” Spencer stated, pushing the small handgun into Buck’s ribs for emphasis.

“Are you daft, man? It’s suicidal!”

“So you say. Be that as it may, I must insist. It is imperative that we reach our destination before midnight.” With that, he motioned with the gun for Buck to walk in front of him.

Buck’s mind was racing. He knew better than most that the Scilly Isles, a group of islands just off the southwest tip of the mainland, were for the most part uninhabited except for larger islands, and the surrounding waters treacherous even in the best of weather. While the British government regularly permitted archaeological expeditions and wildlife surveys, they very rarely granted permission for visitors to stay overnight. Meeting someone there at midnight would probably mean something illegal. And Buck was well aware of the reports that some of the smaller coves were regularly used as rendezvous for drug smugglers coming from France. Hell and damnation! he thought to himself.

As they walked in the direction of the waiting craft, they heard the sound of a woman’s voice gasping in surprise. They all turned to see Inez melting back into the shadows. They knew she had seen the gun, but over the wind had probably not heard their conversation. Hale suddenly had a gun in his own hand. He raised it toward her quickly retreating shadow.

“NO!” Buck cried out in desperation, throwing himself at the gunman, trying to knock him off balance long enough for her to get away. As he struggled with Hale, he called out to her. “RUN Inez; get Chris! Tell JD it’s Scilly…”

At the sound of a gunshot, Inez paused in her flight and spun around to see the big man stagger back with the impact of the shot. “Buck!” she cried out, and instinct almost drove her to stop and go to him. But she also realized she was unarmed and no match for the two men holding the sagging body of the man she secretly loved between them. She knew his only hope was the rest of the crew. Before she continued her mad dash back to the pub, she only had time to glance at his slack face and saw blood already streaming down the handsome features.

By the time Inez reached the pub, the unusual sound of a gunshot already had people, including the other members of the Lifeboat team, pouring out the door, searching for the source of the shot.

“Inez?” JD shouted, grabbing the dark-haired beauty as she collapsed against him. “Inez, what’s wrong?”

She tried to speak, but her whole body was heaving in an effort to breathe. Between the shock of what she saw and her sprint to the pub, she was completely out of breath.

“Buck…” she finally got out. “They have Buck. And they have a gun. I think they shot him!”

“Who, Inez?” Chris demanded, coming into her line of sight. “Where is he?”

“The men looking for Senor Tanner. They are taking Buck with them. They would not listen when he said no. They pointed a gun at him to make him go. Then they saw me, and the angry one was going to shoot me. Buck was fighting with him and I think he shot Buck.” She shifted out of JD’s arms and grabbed onto Chris. “Senor Chris, you have to help him, please. I think they will kill him.”

“I should’ve known they were up to no good. Hale was always into some scheme or another,” Vin lamented softly. “And Spencer never did like anyone telling him no.”

“You couldn’t have known, Vin. It’s not your fault,” Nathan tried to reassure the younger man.

“Inez, I want you to go back inside. I need you to call the police, and then call Orrin. Let him know we’re taking the boat and going after them.” Chris exchanged a quick look with Vin, who nodded his support. Then he turned back to the frightened woman. “Don’t worry, we’ll bring him back,” he promised quietly.

“Chris,” Josiah interjected softly. “We’re not the police and we’re not soldiers.” As much as he wanted to help Buck, he also felt he had to be the voice of reason. There were other lives to consider. “They have guns.”

“And they have Buck. I’m not going to just sit here and do nothing and let them take a friend of mine,” he replied tersely. “They get him on that boat and chances are we might never see him again.”

JD had already stepped up next to his captain. JD’s eyes flashed a moment of fear at Chris’s words, then took on a look of absolute determination. Buck was his best friend. No one was taking him anywhere as long as there was a breath in his body. Without waiting for the others, he sprinted for the harbor and the long wall where the yacht was moored at the end. Ezra rolled his eyes heavenward and went running after JD.

“Senor Chris? There was something else he said…” Inez added.

“What?” Chris asked quickly, impatient to catch up before JD got too far ahead.

“He said to tell JD it was silly,” Inez replied.

When Chris just looked back at her in confusion, Vin spoke up. “Could be he was trying to tell JD he was sorry for the fight earlier.”

Chris thought about it for a moment and finally shrugged before gently removing his hand from Inez's. He took off in a run after JD, the others right behind him.

As they reached the end of the harbor, they could hear the sounds of the yacht’s motors dwindling into the wind even as the yacht was disappearing into the storm.

They were too late! JD skidded to a stop, looking back at Chris, devastated at his failure.

“Let’s go,” Chris said, leading them back toward the St Nicholas berth. “Vin, get the engines going. We’ll be right behind you as soon as the rest of us get our gear.”

Vin nodded and took off at a run in the direction of the St Nicholas. The others followed Chris to the small building that housed their equipment. They each grabbed their own already-packed gear bag.

The five men made their way to the St Nicholas only minutes after Vin should have been on board. Chris frowned when he realized the engines weren’t running yet. Stepping on board, he motioned with his head for the rest of the crew to take their stations while he went down to the engine room to find Vin.

As soon as he reached the hatch leading to the engine room, he could hear the string of curses sailing up at him. Some of them were in English, some Welsh and some were in languages Chris didn’t even pretend to understand, but their intent was obvious – Vin Tanner was one angry man.

“What’s going on?” Chris asked, poking only his head through the entryway.

“Sons of b…” he bit another curse off, looking up at Chris with a smoldering expression. “They pulled out all the ignition wiring! Look at this mess!”

By the time he held the tangle of multicolor wiring up for Chris to see, JD and Ezra were looking over Chris’s shoulder.

“Now what?” JD exclaimed, unable to mask his dismay. “How are we going to catch them?”

“Steady there, Mister Dunne,” Ezra said, laying a hand gently on JD’s shoulder in support. “I’m sure Mister Tanner will think of something.”

“Vin?” Chris asked.

The long-haired mechanic was lost in thought for a moment, then he nodded up at Chris. “Yeah, it’ll take me about an hour. We should have most of what I need in the parts locker back at the shed. What we don’t have there, I should be able to scavenge off the Lone Star.”

“Okay,” Chris said, as he moved back to give Vin room to come out of the engine compartment.

As soon as they were all back up in the wheelhouse, he paused and looked around at the others. He held his hand up, his expression grim. “I don’t think I need to tell you how dangerous what we’re about to do is. Not all of us have to go, and if anyone wants to stay behind, I’ll understand. I’m sure Buck would too. He’d be the first one to tell you not to risk life and limb on his account, but I’m going anyway.” Chris waited to see how the others would react. He didn’t have to wait long.

“Bloody hell, Chris!” Vin exploded. “D’ya think you’re his only friend on this crew? Not likely! I’m going with or without you.”

“Me too,” JD quickly added. “And not just because I think I owe it to him for all he’s done for me. He’s my friend, and I know without a doubt he’d do the same for me.”

“I think we’re all in agreement here,” Ezra spoke softly. “We’ve certainly been out in worse storms than this to help complete strangers. I won’t let it or those miscreants deter me from helping a friend.”

Chris couldn’t help but smile, and noticed Nathan and Josiah nodding in agreement. “All right then. I’ll go with Vin and get what we need; Josiah, will you get in touch with Orrin, make sure the Navy got the message? See if they have any boats in the area that can help us. Oh, JD – Inez said something about Buck wanting you to know he was sorry right before they took him away.”

“What?” the younger man asked in confusion.

“Inez said he yelled something about telling you it was silly,” Chris replied. “Maybe he meant your argument earlier?”

JD just looked at Chris blankly. “What exactly did he say?”

Chris gave a small shrug. “I’m not sure, JD. Remember, she was pretty upset.”

“Might I suggest we go talk to the lady in question while Mister Tanner is effecting the repairs?” Ezra suggested.

JD nodded and started toward the doorway.

“I’ll stay here and man the radio, start calling out to whatever boats might be out there,” Nathan suggested. “Somebody might see them.”

Chris nodded his thanks to the crew’s doctor. He and Vin were the first out the door, followed closely by JD and Ezra. Josiah went last.

Their first stop was the equipment shed. Chris stood back and gave Vin room to work. He watched in amazement as Vin went from one bin to another, picking up one thing and holding it out to Chris to put in the box he was holding, then momentarily latching onto and quickly discarding something else.

When they were done, they moved quickly to Vin’s boat. The senior mechanic already had a mental list of what he would need to complete the repairs. There would be time later to worry about who would pay to replace the parts from his boat.

Once he had gathered the needed parts, they made their way back to the deck of the Lone Star. “Hold up, Chris,” Vin said, ducking back into the small cabin. He came out carrying something long and dark alongside of his leg. It didn’t take him long to get close enough so Chris could see it up close.

"What the bloody hell is that?!" Chris asked in shock.

"Scary huh?" Vin grinned, holding it up for Chris to get a good look. It was an authentic-looking AK-47 semi-automatic assault rifle, a souvenir of his time with the Royal Marines.

"I'll say,” Chris replied, his voice tinged with admiration. “Does it work?"

"Nope, only way I was allowed to keep it - but they don't know that, do they?" Vin replied, hoisting it up onto his shoulder. Then the two made their way off the Lone Star and back to the St Nicholas. Once they got back on board, Vin handed the rifle off to Chris and took the box of parts before heading down to the engine compartment. He smiled and shrugged when he saw Josiah’s eyes widen in surprise as he recognized the firearm for what it was.

While Vin and Chris were gathering the parts and tools they would need to repair the Lifeboat, JD and Ezra went back to the pub.

“What are you still doing here?” Inez demanded as soon as she saw them come in out of the storm. “I thought you were going after Buck?”

“We are, Inez, I promise,” JD assured her. “But Spencer and his friends did some damage to the St Nicholas. Vin’s working right now to get her going.”

Ezra took her hand in his and patted it gently. “In the meantime, dear lady, we were wondering exactly what it was that Mister Wilmington said to you before they took him away,” Ezra said.

Inez closed her eyes for a moment, remembering. “He was fighting with the angry one for the gun – then he yelled at me to run, to get Chris and to tell JD it’s silly,” she said softly, “then the gun went off and they had to carry him away. There was blood…” She let her words trail off when she saw JD go pale and swallow hard.

“Were those… his exact words?” JD asked, swallowing past the lump in his throat.

Inez nodded. “‘Tell JD it’s silly,’” she quoted.

“It is silly – Not he’s sorry or it was silly?” JD mused out loud.

Inez shook her head in reply. “You will find him and bring him home, si?”

“You have my word of honor, Senorita,” Ezra promised. “Now we must get back to the St Nicholas and be ready to go as soon as we’re able.”

“Vaya con Dios,” Inez said softly, reaching out and gently brushing JD’s cheek.

“Thanks, Inez,” JD replied with a small smile, then he and Ezra made their way back out into the storm.

Ezra couldn’t help but notice how quiet JD was. When he glanced over at the younger man, he could see him deep in thought. “Mister Dunne?”

JD suddenly snapped his fingers. “That’s it!” he cried. “That’s what he was trying to tell me.”

“What is ‘it’?” Ezra asked.

“He didn’t mean silly – he meant Scilly, the Scilly Isles,” JD replied. “That’s where they must be going! Come one, we have to tell Chris.” JD picked up his speed and Ezra found himself almost running to keep pace with the younger man.

When they got back to the St Nicholas, Josiah had also returned. He and Nathan were each holding a mug of hot coffee. Before Josiah could even offer them a cup, JD was already rushing through the room.

“Where’s Chris?” he asked breathlessly when he didn’t see their captain in the room. “Is he down in the engine room with Vin?”

Nathan nodded and JD was out the door in a flash.

“What was that all about?” Josiah asked, handing Ezra a steaming mug.

“Apparently, Mister Dunne has solved the mystery of Mister Wilmington’s cryptic comment and knows where it is they are taking him,” Ezra replied, taking the cup with a nod of thanks.

“Chris!” JD called out as soon as he was near the entryway.

“In here, JD,” Chris answered. He stood up from where he and Vin had been working to meet JD at the door. “What is it?”

“I know where they’re taking Buck,” JD answered excitedly.

Chris nodded as he replied. “Yeah, Spencer said they were looking for a pilot to get them to St Just.”

“No, they’re going to the Scilly Isles,” JD countered. “What he said to Inez, ‘tell JD it’s silly’ – It has to be something important, more than just the stupid quarrel we had. We were just talking about it the other day, taking some time off and running a boat over to St Agnes. He was going to show me some really nice little coves where I could take Casey on a picnic for her birthday.” The last he finished with a blush coloring his cheeks.

“Are you sure, JD? The Scilly Isles and St Just are in the opposite direction,” Chris pointed out. “If you’re wrong, we’ll be looking in the wrong place.”

“I’m sure, Chris. It has to be why he said it,” JD answered emphatically. “Think about what they’re up to. Why go through all the trouble of kidnapping someone only to go to St Just? Buck’s been telling me there’s all sorts of smuggling and illegal activity around the smaller uninhabited isles.”

Chris took a moment to think about it, then laid a hand on JD’s shoulder and nodded. “Okay, we’ll give it a try. You just better pray you’re right.”

JD replied with a confident nod of his own.

Just then, the engines came to life around them. Vin stood with an elated grin. “Let’s go get Bucklin!” he declared, pushing the others toward the door.

* * * * * * *

When Buck awoke, he found himself in a strange, dark room. He had a splitting headache and his stomach was flip-flopping in a sickening motion. He frowned, trying to remember when he had gotten so drunk. It just wasn’t like him to get so bad off that he passed out. But as soon as he tried to sit up, he realized it wasn’t his stomach that was the problem, the entire room was rocking back and forth. He quickly recognized he wasn’t in a room, but a small cabin on a boat. “Crap!” he exclaimed to himself as his memory returned in a rush – Spencer and his friends, the gun and Inez. He closed his eyes and tried to sort through the disconnected visions from earlier, finally releasing his breath in a long sigh as he remembered Inez getting away safely. His hand went to his head, trying to find where the intense pain was coming from. He found it just above his left eye, still sticky from the drying blood.

He managed to make it to his feet, swaying unsteadily with the rocking motion of the boat. Putting out his arms to brace himself, he began feeling his way along the wall to the doorway. As he reached out to the doorknob, the door swung open and John Hale stood there, gun in hand.

“Well, nice to see you’ve decided to join us,” he said sarcastically, motioning Buck back with the gun.

“Like I had a choice,” Buck mumbled, taking a reluctant step back. He brought a hand up to his eyes in a futile attempt to block the light streaming in through the open doorway that was making his head hurt worse. Hale immediately tensed, gripped the gun tighter and brought the barrel level with Buck’s chest. “A little nervous, are we?” Buck said with a smirk.

Hale made his way into the small room and maneuvered himself behind Buck. “Shut up and move!” he snarled, giving Buck a shove with his other hand.

They made their way down the short and narrow corridor from the living area to the main cabin. Spencer and Thaxton both looked up as Hale shoved Buck again, propelling him unbalanced into the room. Spencer was leaning against what appeared to be a bar and the younger man was sitting at the boat’s controls.

Buck stood tall and looked down at Spencer impassively. His head was still throbbing with every heartbeat, but he pushed back any outward reaction, refusing to give these men the satisfaction of showing any weakness. He glanced in the direction of the windows and could see the storm was still raging around them, accounting for the pitching motion of the boat.

“Ah, Mister Wilmington,” Spencer said. “Time to put your expertise to the test. Bobby here has been doing his best to keep us on a course due south, but now we’re at the point where we need your guidance to get us where we need to be, preferably in one piece.”

Buck raised an eyebrow. “Why on earth would I help you?”

“Because if you don’t, I’ll shoot you and throw you overboard,” Hale replied smoothly.

Buck glanced back at Hale, who was grinning maliciously. As he turned his attention to Spencer, he couldn’t help notice Thaxton making a conscious effort to avoid meeting Buck’s eyes.

“And just in case you’re thinking your friends will catch up to us and rescue you,” Hale added. “Forget it. I made enough of a mess of your precious Lifeboat that it’ll take even the great Vin Tanner at least ‘til morning to get it going again.”

Buck turned back to Hale and fixed his angry blue eyes on him, seething at the thought of the St Nicholas crippled and unable to respond in case of a real emergency. Finally Hale broke their glaring contest by looking down at his watch and catching Spencer’s eyes.

Spencer made a motion for Hale to bring Buck closer to the table where the maps and charts were laid out. “Are you familiar with Jolly Rock?”

Buck nodded. “I can get you there,” he finally said, folding his arms across his chest. “But it’s going to be rough going. You might just miss your appointment.”

“Let me put it this way,” Spencer warned. “This appointment is just important enough that if I even think you did anything to make us miss it, not only will Hale finish you off, we’ll go back to that little pub of yours and burn it to the ground, with the kid inside for good measure. Do we understand each other?”

Buck swallowed hard before nodding his reply, then drew an imaginary line with his finger on the map. “In this weather, your only chance is to come up from the south ‘til you’re even with the lighthouse on Bishop Rock. Then go due east and turn south again when you’re about two miles from the lighthouse. Don’t start drifting south too soon or you’ll end up aground on the Retarrier Ledges. Jolly Rock will be right there.” He tapped the chart for emphasis.

“Just so we understand each other, I know how to read a compass, Mister Wilmington,” Spencer continued. “And make no mistake about it, if this boat so much as drifts back to the north before I see the lighthouse, if you run us aground or cause any other delay in our appointment, I assure you John will take great pleasure in shooting you where you stand. Do you understand?”

Buck reluctantly nodded.

“What about afterwards?” Hale demanded, looking over Spencer’s shoulder. “What’s the quickest way back to the mainland?”

“Depends – If the weather’s decent by then, you can go north through Broad Sound, around the edge of Bryher, then past the Seven Stones and back towards Land’s End. But if the weather’s still bad, you’d be better off to just stay put, or go back the same way we came.” Buck already had a pretty good idea he wouldn’t be with them when it was time to head back.

“All right, Mister Wilmington,” Spencer finally nodded. “If you want to stay alive, take us to Jolly Rock.”

* * * * * * *

Once they were out to sea, Chris turned the boat over to Vin, who opened up the engines. They were making good time toward the Scilly Isles. Chris went below where the rest of the crew was making preparations to find and rescue Buck.

Chris motioned JD over to the table in the galley, where he spread a chart out. “Okay, where exactly were you and Buck talking about going?”

JD studied the map for a moment, then pointed out Bishop Rock. “Here,” JD explained as the others gathered around. “Since it was going to be my first time out, Buck was going to take me out to the lighthouse first.” Like most fair weather sailors, Buck had learned to depend on landmarks to find his way around the Isles. “He said just below the lighthouse is a little island called Crebinicks. He was going to show it to me, then he talked about going over to St Agnes and showing me a great beach.”

Ezra looked at the map and blew out a breath with a sharp whistle. “Great, right past the Western Rocks. Not a place I’d care to be in a storm. Far too many ships with captains more experienced than our Mister Wilmington have been lost there.”

“Yes, but it would also be the last place the Navy would be looking. Spencer struck me as an intelligent sort. He probably knows most of the smuggling takes place in the Eastern Isles, since it’s closest to France. And I doubt when they made their plans, they expected to be out in something like this,” Josiah added.

“Well, where do we start?” Nathan asked.

“God, that’s a lot of water to cover,” JD said softly to himself, looking to Chris.

“Sure is,” Chris agreed, smiling grimly back at the younger man. “But we have the advantage of knowing where we’re going, and we have help. Nathan, get on the radio with the Navy. See if they can cover the Eastern Isles. We’ll head over to the Western Rocks and work our way back toward them.” He couldn’t help but notice that JD was absent-mindedly nodding in agreement.

“Another factor working in our favor it the size of their ship,” Ezra added. “It’s not like they’ll be able to hide once it’s daylight.”

“So we have to hope Buck can hold out that long,” Nathan said worriedly.

“Well, we all certainly know how stubborn he can be,” Josiah said. “And he knows we’re coming. Right, JD?”

JD looked up quickly, offering a small smile to the priest. “Yeah,” he said softly. “He knows.”