Parts 1-6 | Parts 7-9 | Parts 10-13 | Parts 14-17
Buck worked all day, chipping away at the concrete. His bruised knee ached, he had blisters forming on his hands, the dried blood in his hair itched, but he kept at it. There was nothing else to do. His belly ached, reminding him of three missed meals, but there was no food, so he ignored it.
It was to all intents and purposes a hopeless task, but doing something was better than doing nothing. There was little chance their captors would return and if they did it would most likely be to kill them. While Buck had worked Josiah had worked out where they were. Their prison was the armoury of the cruise missile bunker.
At the height of the Cold War their had been hundred of these bunkers all over the country, the missiles on their transports were moved - always at night - to new locations every so often, at random intervals. Each bunker had a small guard force and while the missile was in place, a larger one. In addition to the guards personal weapons there was a small arsenal in case the bunker was attacked, although Josiah had never been sure who was going to attack it. If the Russians were close enough to mount a ground attack surely is was too late for cruise missiles. In his time in the army, Josiah had twice done guard duty at one of these bunkers. In the new world they were obsolete and abandoned, hidden away, even from spy satellites, to decay and rot. The trouble was they were hard to find when you knew they were there. Now, overgrown and abandoned it would be next to impossible.
More than ever, they had to get themselves out, the right now that meant Buck. He was still thinking on this when Buck began to cough again and Josiah guided him over to the puddle to sip some grimy water.
"You okay?" he asked.
Buck nodded, "Dust," he explained.
+ + + + + + +
The high school was not in any gang territory, it was considered neutral ground, but the closest neighbourhood was the 'res'. The small tightly knit Native American community, that was a good thing, they kept themselves to themselves and although heavy drinking was a problem, were generally law abiding. Chris drove his mother's big station wagon; she wasn't going to need it, having no intention of leaving the house, just in case.
Josiah's car had been removed from the parking lot behind the stands at the football field, but the area was still surrounded by police tape, and at least two black and white patrol cars were parked at the entrance. Chris recognised at least one of the uniformed officers.
"Hello, Officer Yates," he called.
"Chris, boys," the patrolman greeted. He was a heavyset man, thinning red hair and freckles. He gave Chris a little smile of reassurance. "We're gonna find them, I swear."
Chris nodded his acknowledgement. Everyone kept telling him that, which was unnecessary, he didn't doubt for one moment that Buck and Josiah would be found, he couldnt afford to doubt it, if he did he wouldn't be able to continue. He had come to rely on Buck, his brother, not of blood, but of love and friendship. Buck kept him centred, he had a temper and a tendency to violence, Buck helped him to use it and control it, helped him to see the funny side and let things go. He had been an only child for a long time, until suddenly there was Buck in his life, first as a friend, then a house guest and then, as the result of a cruel tragedy, as a brother. He wasn't ready to think about going back to being an only child again.
"Thanks, we're -" Chris indicated the boys standing behind him. "- gonna ask around, see if the kid's 'll talk to us."
Yates nodded, he wasn't going to stop Lieutenant Larabee's son trying to help, the boys had a good reputation in this tense district of the city for being mediators, peacekeepers and where necessary, protectors. "You be sure and tell us anything you find out."
"We will, come on guys." With that Chris turned away and the others followed him.
+ + + + + + +
True to his word, Chris insisted they stay together, when they did split it was into two groups and kept each other in sight. Not far from the football field was a playground and basketball court, several groups of children and young adults were using the facilities. The residents of the 'res' were traditionally wary of outsiders and saw no reason to help sort out other people's problems, but Vin and Nathan had built up friendships and relationships in the district and all of them we seen as honest brokers, so people, both adults and children, were prepared to talk to them, but after a while it became clear that no one had seen anything the night before, that was until JD felt something tugging on his sleeve.
"Hey there," he greeted the smallish boy of about seven.
"Are you asking about the man whose car was over the street, the one the cops took?" he asked.
JD knelt down, closer to the boy's eye line. "Yeah, did you see anything?" The boy looked hesitant. "I'm not gonna tell the cops or your mom if you were someplace you weren't meant to be," JD promised.
By now the others were all watching, trying not to crowd their little witness, but hanging on every word.
The boy looked down turning his toe in the dirt. "I was out," he admitted.
"Out?" JD asked.
"I'm not meant to go out after school until Mom gets home, but it's boring."
There wasn't much money in the 'res', and jobs were too rare to give up or risk, even if it meant leaving your seven-year-old home alone after school.
"Well I won't tell her," JD promised. "Did you see something?"
"Uh hur, I was playing under the stand, I saw them."
"Them, the man who drove the car, the big man with grey hair?"
"Was there someone with him, a young guy, with dark hair?"
"Yeah, I seen him as well and the other men, the men in the other car."
JD looked up, seeing Chris take a pace forward, but stopped him with a look, backed up by Vin's hand on his shoulder.
"Can you remember what kind of car, what it looked like?" JD asked softly.
"It was black, and it "
"It was big." The boy looked at JD with his head on one side. "I think it had, like a star on the front?"
"Was is a station wagon?"
The boy shook his head.
"Nah, it was just a regular car, with a trunk, but it was big and shiny."
JD nodded. "Did you see what happened?"
"The men in the car had guns, Mom told me t' hide if I see guns," he explained looking a little ashamed.
"Hey, hey little buddy, that's good advice, nothing to be a ashamed of."
"Did I help? I heard it's your bother that's missing?"
JD had to take a deep breath. "Yeah you helped, and yes he's my brother."
The boy sighed. "My brother's in the army, I miss him."
"I miss my bother too, you were a big help."
The boy beamed at JD, and if anything his smile got even bigger when Ezra knelt beside JD and offered him a five dollar bill.
"Thank you young man, you have been most helpful."
+ + + + + + +
Feeling that they really had achieved something, Chris and the boys then hurried back to the crime scene to report their findings.
"So," Chris explained to Yates. "It was a big, black, sedan, probably a Mercedes."
"Yeah, eye witness, young but reliable, he saw the whole thing, two men with guns - but then we knew that."
"But you're sure about the car?"
"He described it at a big black car with a trunk and star kind of thing on the front."
"Black Merc it is. This is great; we got some partial tyre treads from over there, now we can narrow it down. That car can't be far away, we'll find it." Yates turned away to call in the new information.
"So what happens now?" Nathan asked Chris.
"Once they find the car they give it to the CSI's they can tell where it's been and who was in it and stuff like that. Hopefully they can work out were they took Buck and Josiah."
"And then we find them - right?" JD looked up at Chris, imploring him to say it was so.
"Maybe, hopefully, it'll help a lot, thats for sure." Chris hated the look of disappointment his explanation produced, but he didn't want to lie to any of them - as much as he wanted to, for them and himself.
+ + + + + + +
There was nothing to do after that other than go home and wait, no one felt much like doing the kinds of things they normally did on a Saturday, mostly they sat upstairs in Buck and JD's room. Ezra played solitaire, Nathan played chess against the computer, Vin lay down on is belly and forced himself to do some of the maths Maggie had set him, JD sat on Buck's bed and played half-heartedly on his Gameboy while Chris gazed out of the window. They left the door open, always alert to the sound of the phone ringing.
Downstairs in the kitchen Maggie baked and cooked. Apple pie, peach pie, pecan pie, chocolate fudge cake and a huge pot of chilli. She took out some of the chilli and froze it separately, as she always did, for Josiah to take home for himself and Ezra; the peach pie was for them, too. Even as she worked she was planning the welcome home meal, all Buck's favourites. First there would be anchovies and melted mozzarella on crostini and then steak, with pepper sauce, home made thick cut fries and onion rings, not home made, Buck liked the frozen kind best. For dessert, lemon meringue pie, Buck's all time favourite. She broke off from rolling pastry to check her cupboards for the ingredients and made a list as she went.
The phone rang. Even before she has wiped the flour off her hands and picked up the receiver she could hear five pairs of feet thundering down stairs. Chris arrived at the kitchen door, the others all but colliding with him as he pulled up short. Maggie was sitting at the table, flour smudged her hair and cheek, her hand covered her mouth even as she held the phone to her ear, as tears were forming in her eyes. She didn't even seem to notice the boys in the doorway.
Chris could hear someone speaking on the line; it sounded like his father. He didn't want to hear what ever it was his mother had heard to distress her so but he had to do something, so stepping into the room, with a tiny gesture to the others to stay were they were he crossed to his mother.
"Mom?" he tried, but she didn't respond, so he eased the phone out of her grasp and held it to his own ear.
"Chris, is that you son?"
"Dad, what's wrong?"
"Oh son, we er that is "
"Tell me dad," Chris insisted.
"The blood we found on the dead guys pants was Josiah's, but we found the car you boys identified, a 2003 black Mercedes sedan, there was blood in the trunk, some of it was Josiah's and some was Buck's."
"Oh God," Chris breathed, then he put his arm around his mother's shoulders.
"Son listen. It wasn't enough to be fatal, do you understand, they didn't bleed to death in the car, there wasn't anywhere near enough, okay?"
Chris felt numb, but he nodded his head. "Sure dad I got it. Did, did the car tell you anything else?"
"CSI's are still working on it, trying to identify the various mud and stuff on the wheels and underbelly, trying to get us a geological fix."
"I understand. Dad?"
"Are ya coming home tonight? I think Mom needs you." We all need you.
"Yes son, I'm coming, Chris?"
"Love you son."
"Love you too."
+ + + + + + +
As the light faded Buck examined his progress. For all his hours of work, he'd excavated about two square inches. He had calculated that since each of the two the hinges were about six inches by two inches, at that rate it would take nearly two weeks to dig then out.
"Come on, time to rest." Josiah came to stand beside his young friend.
Buck looked down at his blistered hands and nodded.
"It's not much I'm afraid, I'll do better tomorrow," he promised, and Josiah's heart all but burst with pride.
"You've done fine, never fear, some of it will be in a worse condition, it'll be easier."
"And some might be hard as - well concrete, then what. We're gonna die in here, arent we?"
"No! And don't you go saying it, humans are a lot more resilient and resourceful than you think, we'll get out or your father will find us. And don't you ever doubt it."
As the morning light began to brighten their damp and cavernous prison, Buck and Josiah levered them selves off the old mattress that served as a bed. The night before, Buck had helped Josiah to remove his shirt and pull off his under shirt. Then together they used the small nail scissors on the penknife to cut off the sleeves before his put it back on. Then they used one sleeve to wrap around the penknife's handle; to protect Buck's already abused hand. The other sleeve they cut into strips and used them to 'buddy strap' Josiah's broken fingers. When they were done, Buck had sat back and looked at his work.
"Live long and prosper," he'd commented.
He then pointed to Josiah's hands. Josiah had looked, frowned, and then laughed. With the fingers bandaged in pairs, he did indeed look like he was giving the Vulcan salute. He raised one hand.
"Live long and prosper."
Buck had smiled, but it didn't last. "Do you think we will?" he'd asked.
"Sure we will, never doubt it."
Looking back he had sounded a lot more confident then he felt, and in the cold light of day he felt even more despondent. It was clear to him that their kidnappers weren't coming back; either they had just abandoned them, in all likelihood they had never intended to return anyway. The other possibility was something had gone wrong, and they were unable to return. Whatever the reason, they were on their own, either they got themselves out, or they starved to death, that was if illness and injury didn't get then first. Even as he was thinking this, Buck, who was using the latrine corner, started to cough again. It wasn't much of a cough as yet, but it worried Josiah. As for himself, the pain in his ribs came and went, depending on how he moved, his back, around his kidney, ached continually. His fingers throbbed; one of them was particularly painful, angry and swollen.
Buck limped back, his knee was still swollen, he was scratching at his stubble-covered chin.
"Itches, doesnt it?" Josiah commented, giving his own chin a rub with the back of his less damaged hand.
"Yeah, ain't never had it this long before, know I know why. Chris did, last spring break, at the ranch, didn't shave once."
Josiah had heard of this experiment from Ryan. "What did it look like?" he asked.
"Dumb, Sarah hated it, that's why he got rid of it, pathetic peach fuzz is all it was anyway."
Josiah though that a bit hard, on the few occasions he had seen Chris unshaven his beard looked as if it would grow out fairly thick, it was only because it was so fair that it looked thin. Buck didn't have peach fuzz, his beard, like his hair, it was thick, dark and these days it grew faster and faster.
"Guess I could scrape it off with the pen knife?" Buck looked up at Josiah for advice.
"Probably, but I don't think it's a good idea, we don't want to risk open wounds."
"Err, news flash, I have open wounds." Buck held up his right hand and pointed to the blood still clinging to his hair around the scalp wound. "And so do you. This place is bad enough without my face itching like this - you can be my mirror, tell me if I'm going wrong." Buck was already pulling out the knife and opening out the blade. "I keep it real sharp, please Josiah." He was already walking over to the opening in the roof, looking for better light.
Josiah shook his head. "Oh well, I guess, come on then."
+ + + + + + +
Buck was chipping away at the concrete around the hinges. Occasionally he'd come across a particularly loose bit and be able to chip out a bit that was larger than a thumbnail. A chunk the size of a large marble produce a whoop of joy and a little victory dance, or at least as good as he could manage with his stiff and swollen knee. He chatted as he worked, discussing - mostly with himself - football tactics and plays, his favourite films, girls. It was clear to Josiah he wasn't expected to respond to every question or join in the discussions other than occasionally. Hunger gnawed at both of them, Josiah noticed that whenever Buck's monologue strayed onto the subject of food he quickly changed the subject. He was getting cramps in his stomach and suspected Buck was too, though the teen never said a word, he just chipped away, hour upon hour. It hadn't rained and the water was beginning to dry up, but they needed it, so occasionally they would both stop working and take some. Buck still had to scoop it up for Josiah, but it was increasingly stale and gritty. As soon as the light began to fade they both retreated to what they now called the bed, a term the mouldy old mattress didn't deserve.
Josiah was cold, the wind had picked up and the temperature had dropped noticeably. Pressed up against him, Buck felt warm. Was that just normal body heat or a fever, he wondered? All the tall teen had said was his mother had kept him home from school because he'd been sick the day before and she was just being 'mom' and worrying too much.
"You know how she is, ever since the summer she's been fussing over me, keeps asking if I'm okay. She's just being Mom," he explained.
While it was true that Maggie had been some what protective of Buck while he recovered from his appendectomy, that was months ago and he had seen no evidence that she was still being over protective. Buck had coughed a few times during the day, but other than first thing in the morning when it sounded wet and hacking, his coughs did sound as if they caused by the dust. He's looked slightly flushed and sweaty as they washed and drank before lying down, but then he's been working all day.
Your looking for trouble where there is probably none, Josiah chided himself. We got enough problems with the here and now, don't go looking for more. Buck was a big, very big, strong healthy young man, and since he was there only hope of getting out, sick or not he had to keep working, it wasn't as if there was anything he could do for Buck if he was getting ill.
+ + + + + + +
Sunday dawned grey and threatening but dry in Denver. In the Larabee house no one had much enthusiasm for anything. Ryan had come home in the evening, they ate a subdued meal together before he fell asleep in front of the news. He hadn't even wake up when Channel Seven broadcast an item on the kidnapping, they showed pictures of Buck and Josiah and asked people to contact the police if they had seen them.
In the morning he was gone before any of the boys were up, even Chris had slept through his departure. After several hours of a crowded house of boys who were all trying not to upset anyone or show any emotion, Maggie had had enough.
"Boys!" she called. It took no more than that to gather them in the kitchen. "We can't just sit around all day, so I am giving you all jobs to do, and I don't want any arguments. Ryan, the police, the FBI - everyone is looking for them, there is nothing we can do to help but keep going here."
"Right?" she prompted.
"Yes Mom," Chris agreed for all of them.
"Good. Chris, you take the car and Vin and do the shopping, here's the list and my ATM card, you know the number?"
Chris nodded. He didn't want to go, he wanted to be close to home, in case any news came out, doing something, anything, though he had no idea what. They had discussed heading out to the warehouse district to search the numerous empty buildings, but Ryan had anticipated this and told all of them firmly to say close to home.
"I can't cope with worrying about any of you as well, we've got enough manpower already."
Maggie turned to their houseguest. "Nathan?"
"You are a guest but if you don't mind I'd like you to help JD have a real tidy up, his things are all over the house and the bedroom."
"No problem Mrs Larabee, come on JD, let's get you organised."
JD gave Maggie a pleading look, but she just smiled at him, so he turned away and followed Nathan to the living room to start collecting his possessions. Chris and Vin were also heading out, leaving Ezra alone in the kitchen with Maggie.
"Ezra dear, I'd like you to help me. I found a great deal of fruit in the freezer, we picked it last year and I forgot all about it, so I defrosted it and I thought we'd make preserves, you can help me."
Ezra was sitting at the table, cutting circles of grease proof paper to sit on top of the preserve, when Maggie noticed the tears running silently down his fine boned cheeks.
"Hey there, what's all this?" she asked, handing him a tissue.
Ezra hastily wiped at the tears, but failed to stem the flow. "I'm sorry ma'am, I don't wish to cause a scene," he stammered out between still silent hitched sobs.
Some of Maude's training was hard to fight. Tears she had taught him were for show, a device to get you what you wanted, to shed them at any other time was just pointless and a waste of time. She had accused the young Ezra of crying for the sole purpose of annoying and upsetting his mother. Crying when you were sad, hurt or upset was a pointless waste of her time as far as she was concerned and crying in public, where others could see and hear you was a social embarrassment, which she wouldn't tolerate.
"Ezra dear," Maggie placed her arm across his shoulders. "you aren't causing a scene. It's okay to be upset and scared and angry."
Ezra tilted his head enough to see into her eyes. How did she know how he felt, exactly how he felt.
"You're wondering how I know how you feel - right?" He nodded. "Because that's how I feel and I've shed more than a few tears over it, and there are more to come. But you know what? We can cry when we're happy too. When I hold that great long, streak of a son of mine again, I'll be crying make no mistake."
Ezra nodded dumbly.
"I know it's hard for you to do, I really do, but you have to have faith Ezra, you have to trust Josiah to come back for you. I know in the past other people haven't." She carefully didn't mention Maude. "But Josiah is different, he won't leave you, he's coming back, and so is Buck."
Tears welled up in her own eyes and Ezra handed her a tissue.
"Thank you. So we just have to keep busy, keep it together, look after Ryan, and have faith."
"Yes ma'am," Ezra agreed softly, pulling another tissue from the box.
+ + + + + + +
In this way the morning passed. Neighbours who had seen the news called to offer sympathy and support. Chris and Vin returned with the shopping. Nathan cajoled and helped JD to tidy up, in he end did most of the work for him. Occasionally they found something belonging to Buck, JD would stop, look at it, hold it and sigh, then reluctantly place it on Buck's desk.
While they were eating lunch, simple sandwiches eaten around the kitchen table, Ryan called to say the forensic tests on the car indicated it had been in the mountains west of the city, but they hadn't been able to narrow it down to any specific area. Allowing for the time between Josiah and Buck being kidnapped at the football field and the attack on the safe house that meant they could be anywhere in a huge area covering hundreds of square miles. It wasn't what they were hoping for. No unique rock or sediment that was going to lead them to an abandoned mine or quarry, no specialist fibre to take them to an old factory.
As Maggie relayed the news to them she saw first Chris and then JD go pale, then JD bolted from the table, running - not upstairs to his and Buck's room - but out into the street. Maggie handed the phone to Vin, who happened to be beside her and began to follow.
"No Mom, I'll go, you'll never catch him!" With that Chris was already out of the door.
+ + + + + + +
JD didn't know where he was going or what he was going to do he just ran, pushing himself, faster and faster, heedless of the side roads he crossed.
Chris pounded after him, cursing how fleet the undersized thirteen-year-old was and swearing as a car screeched to a stop, just missing the brunette as he sped past. The driver was still cursing and shouting as Chris ran in front of him, finally making some ground on JD, who was heading inexorably for the big intersection at the end of the street.
"Stop!" he shouted. "JD stop!" He was closer now, any second he was going to be able to reach out and grab JD's arm. "Please kid come on, you're gonna get hurt!"
Two, three, four strides of his long legs and Chris had him. Taking a strong hold on the back of JD's collar he yanked him to a stop.
"Le' me go!" JD squirmed and protested.
"No, now quit this, you're gonna get yer self killed."
"Don't care." JD stared defiantly up at Chris. "I just don't care. Le' me go!"
"Well I care, so behave!" Chris snapped.
"Trouble Larabee," a familiar voice sneered, as Anderson ambled up behind them, three of his cronies behind him. "Can't you keep the little runt under control?"
"Piss off Anderson," Chris growled. JD had stopped trying to pull away and was standing beside Chris, defiantly facing the gang leader.
"Word is Wilmington's gone missing, him and that gorilla of a cop, Sanchez."
Chris didn't respond, he felt rather than saw JD about to say something but a gentle tug on his collar stopped him.
"If it's been more than a day, then they're dead already, everyone knows that," Anderson sneered, with grim satisfaction.
"Ain't so!" JD shouted before Chris could stop him.
"Get the whelp to shut up, or I might remember that you're in my territory."
Anderson's cold eyes never once left Chris, not that he wouldn't start anything, not here, in daylight, with so many witnesses.
"Get on home Chris, Mommy will be worried about you, now she's lost the prison brat."
That did it! Chris lunged at Anderson, shoving him back into the street, forcing his companions to dodge out of the way of on coming cars as they were forced back with him.
"You just shut the fuck up, you scum! You know nothing, got it? NOTHING!"
"Chris?" JD was scared, when Chris got like this it was Buck who calmed him down, already the altercation was drawing attention. "Come on Chris we gotta go now!"
JD had his hand on Chris' arm and was actively tugging him away from the conflict.
"Yeah Chris, run on home like a good little loser," one of the Grey Coats taunted as he pulled himself up.
"Chris is not a loser, you're the losers!" JD snapped.
"I told you to keep the kid's trap shut," Anderson growled, "now I have to do it myself."
Anderson advanced toward JD, who found himself stepping out from behind Chris to meet the challenge.
"Try it why don't you? You're the losers an' Buck ain't dead, I'll take on anyone who says his is!"
For the first time, Chris saw what it was like for the others, mostly Buck and Vin, trying to keep him safe when his blood was up. Now the roles were reversed, and he was terrified, pride be damned he had to get JD away from there as soon as possible. Grabbing JD's forearm he pulled him away with such force that JD nearly lost his balance.
"We're going now," he instructed firmly.
By now Anderson's goons were back on their feet. Arrayed behind him they were smirking and chuckling.
"But Chris?" JD protested. "You can't just let them "
"Yes we can, come on!" By now Chris was all but dragging JD down the street toward the house.
"Run on home to mommy!" Anderson called after them.
Before JD could say anything Chris spun him around and was now propelling him down the street, a hand on each of the younger man's shoulders. When he was sure JD was moving in the right direction of his own free will, Chris looked back at the Grey Coats, all of whom were still ginning inanely. He gave Anderson a look, it said 'this isn't over' and it said it so well, that it wiped the smile of Anderson's face in an instant.
+ + + + + + +
Buck worked all day; he chipped, prised and scraped at the hinges. Even with the cloth wrapped around the pen knife's handle, his hands were still bleeding, his knee throbbed endlessly, it felt as if his jeans had stuck around it, though in truth he knew it really meant the joint was massively swollen. He'd worked out that each of the two hinges was about six inches long and about two inches high, making twenty-eight inches to hack out in total. At his current rate of about two inches a day, it would be two weeks before he had the hinges free. Two weeks in this hell hole, two weeks with out food, two weeks of pain and cold and dirt. Suddenly he had an almost irresistible urge to just give up and cry. He wanted this to be over.
Stop it, you have to keep doing this, it won't take that long, Dad'll find us, someone will come, he chided himself silently.
"'Siah?" he managed to choke out, trying to hide the break in his voice.
"Tell me a story."
Josiah was sitting against the wall, his arms crossed, both hands resting up on his shoulders. They still throbbed and the finger that had been particularly red and swollen was increasingly painful.
"Please," Buck pleaded, his voice breaking even more as he backhanded a tear away.
"Sure son, I can do that. Have you read or studied the Odyssey?"
Buck, keeping his back to Josiah, shook his head.
So Josiah started to tell him the story of Odysseus and Telemachus. He was forced after a while to relocate to a spot near the pool of water, since he couldn't cup the water in his hand, they sacrificed more of his under shirt. Using his unbroken thumb to secure the wad of cloth he could dip it in the stale water, let it soak up the moisture and then suck it from the cloth to keep his throat lubricated.
Josiah's rich baritone voice was soothing, it washed over Buck like a balm, comforting and familiar, reminding him of camping trips when he and Chris had lay in their sleeping bags around a roaring fire and listened to Josiah tell them ghost stories.
+ + + + + + +
As darkness fell so did the rain, at first it was no more than a gentle pitter-patter, but that quickly became steady, persistent rain that was set to last until the morning.
"Do you think they're under cover?" JD asked, as he watched the rain form puddles in the back yard.
"Yeah I do," Vin assured.
JD walked further out along the back porch, as far as the steps, then he lent out and caught rain drops in his mouth.
"What are ya doin'? Maggie's gonna be pissed if you catch a cold." Vin frowned at the younger boy as more and more of his tee shirt became soaked.
"It's what Buck loves to do, says it's the freshest water any place." JD pulled back in and looked at Vin with a grin. "Mind you he's never lived in Chicago, but around here he's probably right."
+ + + + + + +
Buck managed to lean over far enough to catch raindrops in his open mouth without over balancing. He relished the clean water, not just in his mouth, but on his skin.
As he pulled back from the water a thought seemed to strike him. "Is it Monday tomorrow?" he asked.
Josiah had to check his watch. "Yes."
"School," Buck commented absently. "Math."
"The first class on Monday is math, then Spanish followed by Geometry. Now see, why the hell do you need Geometry to graduate? I mean, I have no desire to be a builder or a surveyor or an architect."
"I expect they believe it is a good subject to teach logic and problem solving."
"It's a hell of a boring subject is that it is. Mind you I got C.J.L.E. and astronomy later."
Josiah was surprised and puzzled. "You do astronomy?"
"Sure, in year 12 we get to do an elective science, I chose astronomy, only had one class so far, but it was pretty cool."
"And what the hell is C.J.L.E.?"
"The best! Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement," Buck supplied.
"So you're still determined to join us then?" Josiah knew Buck was dead set on joining the police.
"Yup, I'm taking law and self defence as well. I was gonna take marksmanship too, but Dad said I wouldn't learn anything there that Mr Larabee couldn't teach me at the ranch. Mind you I reckon Vin can out shoot him." Chris' grandfather had taken on the task of teaching his grandsons how to shoot and on their first visit to the ranch he had taken on Vin, JD and Ezra as students. In truth all three proved to be adept. Ezra and JD had never even held a gun before, but both shot well, and Vin was clearly a skilled marksman.
Buck grinned at Josiah. "You know what?"
"I reckon Vin was holding back, letting the old man beat him."
"You know what?" Josiah countered.
"Your Dad agrees with you. He told me all about the shooting lessons. He also said young JD has a lot of potential."
Buck beamed with pride. "Yeah he sure does, ain't found a thing that boy isn't good at or can't pick up. Ezra was good too, picked it up right off."
Josiah gave him a grateful smile. His 'grand project' - Ezra. Ezra was annoying, lazy, often secretive and pedantic to a fault, but Josiah had come to see the boy inside. A boy who was desperate to be loved, and valued for himself and not what he could do. He had originally planned that he would take on Ezra while he was on probation, straighten him out and see him back with his mother or better still a stable foster family, what he hadn't planned was becoming so attached to his charge.
The light was failing fast now, so they retired to their bed for the night. As Josiah eased himself down, he had to stifle a gasp of pain as his ribs protested, he hated to think about it, but he was sure that what had been stable had become unstable, he could almost hear the bones moving against each other. This new intensity of pain almost blocked out the ache from his hands, and his left ring finger in particular, he was grateful at least that the bruising on his kidneys seemed to be subsiding. Everything hurt, his guts ached, it hurt to move, it hurt to pass water and even breathing hurt, but there was nothing for it but to keep going.
Buck lowered himself gingerly on to his narrow share of the mattress, he could no longer bend his knee which made the whole thing more difficult. Apart from his sore knee he reckoned he had just picked up cuts and bruises from his encounter with their captors. He was hungry, his belly complained constantly about the lack of food, and it was the lack of food blamed for the heavy tight feeling he was beginning to get in his chest. He'd coughed on and off all day, but considering how much dust he was making it was to be expected.
"We'll make you a dust mask tomorrow," Josiah assured him as he settled down to rest.
"I'm okay," Buck assured.
"I know that, but I need to feel I'm doing something."
"You are, you keep me entertained."
"Indulge me, it'll make things easier."
After that they just lay there and listened to the rain as it poured through the hole in the roof to replenish their water supply. Worn down by pain, exhaustion and hunger they drifted off to sleep, oblivious to the cold and damp.
+ + + + + + +
Monday dawned cold and dank, and in the Larabee house no one faced the day with any optimism. Ryan and Maggie had decided that for the boys at least, the day had to go on as normal, that meant Chris, Nathan, Ezra and JD had to get to school and Vin had to do his lessons. It made sense in theory, practice was another thing altogether. In school people were sympathetic, but that sympathy meant answering dozens of well meant enquires. Other people just avoided them, unsure how to react. JD wasn't able to concentrate, eventually he ended up in the nurses office with a stomach ache, where he remained until Maggie arrived to take him home. Ezra, who already considered High School to be a waste of time, found himself in the principal's office for his attitude. He'd been making flippant, biting, and even downright rude comments about the pointlessness of all his classes all day. He was joined by Chris, who had finally lost his cool and hit the twentieth person to ask him why he wasn't out looking for his brother. Nathan hadn't got into any trouble, but then he hadn't done any work either, sitting in his classes apparently oblivious to the teacher or anyone else. Maggie picked them up on her way to collect JD. They drove home in silence. At home, Vin and Maggie had set out his work on the dining table as always and then the two of them had sat in silence and stared out of the large window to the yard for a full two hours.
It was clear that, good intentioned as it was, trying to carry on as normal was never going to work. They were joined by an equally down Ryan.
"I've been taken off the case," he explained.
"What?" Chris leapt to his feet. "They can't do that!"
"Yes they can, I should have been take off as soon as we knew Buck was involved, I pulled in a lot of favours to stay on - until today."
"What happened?" Maggie asked softly.
Ryan shrugged. "I I made my views known to the FBI," he admitted sheepishly. Maggie knew what 'made my views known' meant. Ryan had let his temper get away from him. It didn't happen often, but when it did - look out.
"The FBI, like the real FBI?" JD asked in clear awe.
"Yes, they are involved now, they have a special missing persons unit."
Vin was pacing restlessly by the window. "We gotta do something," he declared darkly.
"But what?" Nathan asked.
Ryan took a deep breath, he was hoping not to have to do this, it would be so much better if the boys went to school but it was clear that wasn't an option now.
"The geology department at the university are working on the soil samples from the car. They think they can narrow down the location a bit, hopefully by tonight. Then all the landowners in the target area will be contacted and visited, their property searched, especially any out buildings. The public land is also going to be searched, if you like we can join on of the search parties.
"Yes!" Chris declared, "We'll help." He didn't even look at the others for their answers, he knew what the answer would be.
+ + + + + + +
For Josiah and Buck Tuesday was much like Monday, Buck now had a kind of bandanna made form more of Josiah's under shirt, it didn't stop him coughing. The only real difference was they both felt worse. Nevertheless, determined to do something while he still had the strength, Josiah set about getting one of the reinforcing rods free from the concrete rubble under the collapsed roof, without damaging their precious water collection pool. When Buck did get the hinges free, they were going to need something to pry the door open with. Unable to hold much, he used his sturdy boots to kick at the crumbling concrete. But even as he worked, he continued to tell a story, the Iliad this time.
+ + + + + + +
Maggie couldn't stand staying behind alone, so a police officer remained in the house while she joined the others and hundreds of other volunteers to beginning searching. The university had identified tiny micosopic chips of a volcanic rock that had narrowed down the search area from several thousand square miles to a few hundred. But it was still a huge area to search.
Ryan had a friend who was a now a county sheriff, he had agreed that they could join the sheriff's posse, he'd even borrowed horses for most of them. As they drove toward the search area Ryan explained what was going to happen.
"I'm sorry JD, you're not old enough to join the posse," he had to explain.
"What? That's so not fair, I can ride, you know I can, I want to help," JD protested.
"I know, but the rules have already been stretched for Ezra."
"I'm not gonna have to ride am I?" Nathan asked anxiously, he had only visited Larabee Senior's ranch once, and although he was learning to ride he still wasn't that confident on a horse.
"No son, you, JD and Maggie are gonna join the foot search."
Ezra said nothing, he was still finding it hard to understand that someone - anyone - would go to any trouble for him.
"Mom can ride," Chris stated indignantly.
"It's alright dear," she soothed. "I have to got with JD and Nathan, or they can't come, just as your father has to go with you older boys." Maggie reached out and ruffled her son's hair. "It's going to be alright, I just know it is."
+ + + + + + +
Some of the volunteer posse members had supplied horses for Ryan and the boys. Since the Mercedes wasn't an off-road vehicle, they started with areas that were accessible to regular cars, although of course there was no guarantee Buck and Josiah hadn't been transferred to anther car or made to walk or even ride to their place of imprisonment. Nevertheless, they had to start somewhere. The foot searchers concentrated on abandoned buildings, and places where the vegetation was too thick for the horses.
They searched all day, eating sandwiches and granola bars to keep them going until the sun began to set. JD was so tired he could barely put one foot in front of the other but he refused to give in. The adults were all impressed at the boy's determination and endurance. There was no way they were going to be able to return to Denver that night and be back at daybreak the next day, so Ryan booked them into a motel. Maggie and Nathan brought supplies at the local mini-mart and Ryan spoke to the officer watching the house. The DPD would keep someone at the house and - after taking detailed notes from Maggie - send over clothes and other supplies the next day. Too tired and too despondent to do anything but veg out in front of the TV with pizza, they all retired to bed early. For the first time since Friday even JD slept soundly.
+ + + + + + +
Come morning Josiah knew he had a fever, not much of one, no more than the one Buck had had ever since their first morning, but it was there and he reckoned it had something to do the way his left ring finger throbbed constantly. The pain in his hands had become manageable, no more than a background ache, all for that one finger. Buck rolled away from him and forced himself up, using the wall for support, even before he was up he was coughing. From what Josiah could see he wasn't coughing anything up, but it was a hideous sound. All Josiah could do while his young friend fought for each breath was offer verbal support and rub his back, once he was also up on his feet. Much as he wanted to say 'take a break, have a few hours off' that just wasn't an option, survival meant work, it meant not giving in and never giving up. People had survived in situations which were seemingly hopeless because they hadn't given up, because they had refused to accept the seemingly inevitable.
Each day from then on was basically the same. Josiah did his best to free an iron rod, Buck chipped away at the hinges, when after six days hard work he finally had the top one free he began on the bottom one. This at least meant he was able to work sitting down, albeit on the cold damp concrete. Each day his work rate fell as his heath deteriorated. There was no longer any pretence that his cough was anything to do with the dust. His hands were torn to sheds but he no longer noticed, his knee was still swollen, but sitting rather than standing had eased that some.
While they both continued to think and dream of food their stomach cramps had eased off. Five days became six, then seven. A week, a week locked in a concrete prison with nothing but each other and rainwater to keep them going. Josiah was finding concentration hard, he had tried to tell Buck the story of War and Peace, but couldn't remember the plot. So he switched to films, he'd list films he knew until he got to one to Buck hadn't seen, then tell him the story of the film. Sometimes he couldn't remember the character names, so he just used the actors names instead. On day eight Buck hit a patch of concrete that was no stronger than cheese, it just fell away saving him as much as two days work, but that still left some five inches to go.
+ + + + + + +
The sheriffs posse searched diligently for four days, on the fifth day Chris was saddling his borrowed horse when he spotted a Denver PD van he hadn't seem before. Out of this came dogs. Not the bloodhounds the posse had been using, getting their scent from Buck's gym shoes and Josiah's sweat bottoms, these were spaniels and labradors. Concerned, Chris went over to his father.
"Who are they?" he asked, pointing at the dogs.
Ryan looked up briefly then averted his eyes. "Don't worry about them."
Chris knew when his father was hiding something from him. "Dad, tell me, what ever it is, I won't tell the others."
Ryan turned to look at his son, Chris was more like his grandfather, Chris snr than he was his father, had he'd never been able to lie to his father.
"They're cadaver dogs."
Chris frowned, not comprehending.
"They can find bodies."
"But but they're not dead, we dont need them."
"Chris we have to "
"NO! No we don't. They're not dead!"
"It's been more than a week son."
"I don't give a fuck if it's been a month, you can't give up on them. I won't do it, even if I have to stay out here on my own. He's not DEAD!" Chris voice suddenly lost the volume and power it had built up. "He can't be," he all but whimpered.
Ten days after Josiah and Buck were kidnapped the official search was called off. The area indicated by the geologists as the source of the mud found on the kidnappers car had been divided up into a grid, each square containing twenty-five square miles. When each one had been checked it was crossed off the master search map. On the ninth day the last square was crossed off, and they had found nothing.
Ryan had argued hard for widening the search area, but experienced heads reluctantly informed him it was hopeless. So as the FBI packed up its missing persons unit, the Denver police department went home to plan a memorial service for a much loved brother officer and the local sheriffs posse prepared to return to their regular day jobs, Ryan Larabee had to head back and tell his family it was time to pack up and go home. They were incomplete and now they always would be.
The family had been living in the local motel, Maggie, Ryan, Ezra and JD in one two-room cabin and Chris, Vin and Nathan in a smaller one next door. The motel seemed somewhat unplanned, cabins and rooms of varying style and age scattered randomly over a sprawling site, backed by open fields and facing onto the main road through town. It was almost ten in the morning; normally they would have loaded the horses by now and be heading out. Restless with worry and nervous energy, Chris paced in the crisp chill morning air outside the larger cabin as he waited for Ryan to return. Every morning his father set out to get the days instructions from the sheriff's office and where the search was being controlled from, but it had never taken this long before.
He knew there was something wrong just from the way his father walked - he knew what that was, but he refused to acknowledge that thought; it wasn't true and therefore it didn't exist.
Ryan drew close enough to speak to his son. "Everyone else inside?" he asked.
Chris did no more than nod and then followed Ryan in.
"Everyone take a seat," Ryan Larabee instructed, then waited until they were settled. Maggie on the big sofa, with JD on one side and Chris on the other, Vin perched on the arm of the sofa near Chris, while Nathan and Ezra took two of the chairs at the small table.
"I'm not sure how to say this, so I'm gonna come right out with is. They're calling off the search, there's no place left to look."
Everyone started shouting at him at once.
"Stop it!" Maggie's voice cut through the cacophony of noise in an instant, and they fell silent. "That's better, now just hear what your father has to say."
They might disagree in private, but to the world at large and their children in particular the Larabees always presented a united front.
"You've all seen the map." He indicated a smaller version of the master map, pinned up on the cabin wall, all its allocated squares filled in with red marker. "What else can we do? I don't want this anymore than you guys, but " And there his voice and his resolve failed him. The crack in his voice became harder to hide and he turned his gaze away from his son. He had tried God, how he had tried - to get the decision reversed. It was not to be.
"He's not dead." Chris stated firmly.
"Chris, don't," his father pleaded.
"I'll say what I know Dad. Buck isn't dead, and if he's still alive that means Josiah is too."
"Son, what more can we do?"
"Keep looking I say we keep looking." Chris stood up and turned to face his father, glaring at him. Slowly Vin got up and walked over to stand just behind and to the right of Chris. Vin was followed by JD who pulled himself regretfully from Maggie's side and stood beside Chris on the left. A second later Ezra joined him, followed by Nathan.
"Please boys, I know this is hard, but we have to face the truth."
"NO!" Chris bellowed. "It's not true, he's not dead and I'm not giving up. Maybe Buck was right, maybe you don't love Buck like you do me - "
"Chris that's enough!" Maggie cut in, knowing how much that accusation hurt Ryan.
"It's okay dear, there is some truth in it. But," Ryan turned back to his son. "That has nothing to do with this. If there was someplace left we could look, but there isn't. We have looked everywhere that car had been, there is nothing left to search."
"I'm not gonna stop looking."
"Where? Where are you gonna look? You can't just search randomly."
"If I have to I will."
"Please son, don't make this any more difficult than it is already."
"I'm not making it difficult! It is difficult!"
"That's not what I meant - please."
"No, no Dad, you're wrong. Mom?"
Maggie was torn. In her heart she didn't want to accept that they were gone - she told herself she would know if Buck were dead. But would she? He wasn't of her blood, she hadn't given birth to him, she hadn't diapered him or nursed him through the croup. She hadn't cried alone in the car on his first day at school or held her breath for him as he spoke his lines in the kindergarten Christmas play. The first time she met Buck Wilmington he was fourteen, tall, gangling, polite but very independent. Was there a time limit on love? Had she missed her chance to truly bond with her second son? She felt he was still alive, but was that just because she wanted him to be alive? She knew if you wanted something strongly enough you could make your brain believe anything was true.
"I don't know dear. I don't want to give up, but I don't know what else to do."
Chris just shook his had. "This sucks!" With that he turned and stormed out, the other boys following in his wake.
Maggie was up and on her feet, following him. "Chris, please don't," she called.
Ryan grabbed her before she was through the door. "Let him go, he'll be okay, Vin won't let him do anything stupid."
She looked up her husband, tears already overflowing. "He shouldn't have to, that's Buck's job."
Ryan pulled her in close. "I know, I know," he whispered as they stood there, wrapped in each others love and their joint grief.
They didn't see the boys for the rest of the day; it was hard to trust Vin and the others to keep Chris safe and out of trouble. Eventually, just after eleven Maggie went across to the other cabin and looked in. JD, Ezra and Vin were asleep on the bed, Chris and Nathan were on the floor, also asleep. Pizza boxes and soda cans littered the floor. Speculating that they had held some kind of wake, she saw no reason to disturb JD and Ezra just so they could go back to sleep in a different bed. Wishing them a sombre 'good night' she returned next door to her husband and her own grief.
+ + + + + + +
While Buck's fever and cough had stayed fairly constant, Josiah's fever had risen steadily. He no longer told stories, most of the time he just dozed. Buck had dragged the old mattress over to the puddle. Josiah could no longer get up without help and he needed the little - oh so very little - comfort the mattress brought.
Every so often Buck stopped working and pulled himself up to go and check on Josiah and force him to drink. Then it was back to chipping and prying. This was all he had, if he didn't get then out Josiah was going to die, and he'd be not far behind him. So he blanked out the pain and the discomfort and worked, on and on he worked, until on the tenth day it was done.
It should have been a triumphant day, a day to remember, but it didn't feel that way. Amazing achievement as it was, it meant nothing if they didn't get the door open. With the hinges done Buck worked away at a small patch of concrete right near the floor on the hinge side, making space for their improvised pry bar. It was almost dark but he couldn't stop now; it wasn't as if he was going to feel better or get stronger in the morning. With some difficulty he got up and collected the long, rusty iron re-enforcing rod Josiah had worked so hard to free. He'd gotten used to the way the penknife cut into his hands, but the narrow rusty rod ignited the open blisters in waves of hot pain. Gritting his teeth against this new discomfort, he worked the rod in behind the door. What he couldn't do on his own was move the door.
"Josiah?" He bent over as best he could and gave the dozing man a shake.
Josiah felt Buck's presence, he could hear him calling, but it was hard to reach him.
"Come on big guy, I need your help now," Buck pleased.
Red rimmed pale blue eyes finally opened to gaze at him, trying to comprehend what was going on.
"If I help you can you get up?" Buck asked.
Josiah frowned and then nodded. He really had no idea what was going on, but he understood that Buck needed him, so he would do his best to help. It took sometime to get up even with what help Buck could give. His head swam and his vision blurred, but he made it up, and leaning heavily on Buck he made it across to the door. Buck helped him to turn around and eased his descent as he slid down the wall right beside the door.
"Okay," Buck gasped. The whole exercise had drained him of what little energy he had. "I'll just take a drink and then we can get on."
It was very tempting to just lie down on the mattress and sleep, just for an hour or two, but he didn't. The chances were if he did that he wouldn't wake until morning, and who knew if by then they would have enough strength to open the door. He had to get out - he had to get help for Josiah, that was all that mattered. He limped back to the door the door that had become the focus of his world.
"Josiah, I'm gonna put your feet on the bar. When I say go, you push, okay?"
How much Josiah understood was questionable, but he nodded as Buck moved his feet into position. Bracing himself, because he knew it was going to hurt, Buck took hold of the top hinge.
"Now, push now," he yelled, hoping the semi-delirious man could understand him.
He did, just. As Buck pulled on the hinge, Josiah pushed on the iron rod. At first nothing happened - then it moved. It moved so fast Buck almost didn't realise what had happened. Then as soon as it moved it stopped and stuck fast, rammed into the floor - but the door was open. Just.
+ + + + + + +
When Chris had stormed out of the cabin he had little idea the others were following in his wake. He climbed over the fence behind the motel and struck out across the field toward the forest beyond, and on reaching the trees just kept going. None of the others said anything; they just followed on behind him in silence. It was almost an hour and a half later, though none of them had noticed the passage of time, before Vin finally moved to draw level with Chris.
"Ya gonna keep walking fer ever or are we gonna stop and think about this, cowboy?" he asked softly.
Chris pulled up short. He hadn't even realised the others were there. For a moment he stared uncomprehendingly at Vin, then he turned to see the other three standing behind him.
"He's not dead," he stated. " They're not dead.
"We know," Vin assured equally softly.
Chris turned to look at the others, who all nodded their silent faith.
"So what do we do now?" Vin prompted.
Chris seemed to regain his customary confidence and natural authority. "I've been thinking."
"I need to show you guys something, back at the search centre."
"Ok then, let's go."
As all humans do when walking with no plan, no path and no point of reference, Chris had been moving in a large circle. Having completed more than half, they were little more than a twenty-minute hike from the road. With his unerring sense of direction Vin guided them out of the trees to emerge on the road not two hundred yards from where they needed to be. The different elements of the search team were packing up to go, state troopers, forest rangers, sheriff's posse, Denver PD and the FBI. The reporters and new crews were already gone, moved on to something new, something that would hopefully have a more newsworthy outcome.
"I need to get into the main room, the one with the maps," Chris explained as they approached.
The search had been co-ordinated from a large meeting room behind the diner that stood beside the sheriff's office. It seemed to be closed up, but looking in through the windows it was plain to see the maps still on the walls and table. The door however was locked.
"Allow me." Ezra pushed past them and pulled something from his pocket. Seconds later the door opened.
"I don't want to know how you do that - do I?" Chris asked as he walked in.
"Probably not," Ezra admitted, following him in.
Chris pulled the master map down from the wall. "Okay, the red areas have been searched, we know that. They cover the whole area where the mud on the wheels could have come from. But what about this area?" He pointed to an ominously white section that seemed to bulge down into the red. "I asked dad about it, but he said it was the wrong geological profile and in any case there are no buildings or tracks in the area."
"But what about this track?" Ezra pointed to a line indicating dirt track that seemed to run up to the area in question and then just stop.
"Exactly, I asked one of the posse guys and be said that's because it's military land. That's where I want to search, right in there. Who knows what kind of tracks, roads and buildings there might be in there?"
"Well if there are any, won't the army be using them, I mean if you were a kidnapper you'd hardly hide people where the army are gonna be patrolling and stuff - would you?" Nathan asked.
"Right - if they are still there. The state troopers came all the way from Fort Jessop, that's almost a hundred miles from here, why do that if there's guys right here? I don't think it's in use anymore," Chris explained.
"But it's the wrong kinder mud, isn't it?" JD asked.
"Maybe, but they'd have to drive through this area to get there, and anyway if it used to be all classified and shit, then maybe the geology guys couldn't get there to check it properly," Vin speculated.
"Right!" Chris ginned at them. "What do you guys say, do we do this?"
"I say yes, most assuredly. But how? Do you intend to steal your father's car?" Ezra asked.
"Nope, I've got a better plan."