It would have been easier for Chris if Buck had yelled or made threats or something, but his silence was disturbing. When Buck was silent, he was calculating, and when he was thinking up his own plan, he was dangerous.
Vin had had to take the photograph away from Buck. When he did, Buck never looked up. It was as though he were still studying it as he stared at the old floor of the ATF conference room.
For a moment, Vin looked like he would be sick. Chris watched him closely. He needed to know how each of his men would handle this. Vin cussed and passed the picture to Ezra.
Ezra immediately began to assess the room in the picture. "These windows are the kind that are in the warehouse district - circa 1960 or so." Chris was intrigued as the gambler studied the details of the picture. ". . . and there's twine . . . " Ezra tapped the picture absently and looked up at Chris. "Could be the old newspaper building -- the distribution warehouse. That twine would be all over the place."
Chris took the picture and studied it again. "You could be right."
"Let's go," Buck breathed.
Josiah touched his shoulder. Tense as it was, Buck jumped. "Let's see the tape first," Josiah suggested. Buck jerked away and paced across the back of the room.
Chris handed the picture to Nathan. He wasn't prepared for the look of . . . defeat that crossed Nathan's face.
"What?" Chris asked softly.
Nathan sounded apologetic. "Looks like . . . he could lose that hand. . . " The room was hushed again. Nathan studied the picture carefully, then stood up and put his hand on Chris' neck, leading him out of the room. But before he could say what he had to say next, Buck's voice exploded.
"HEY!" he yelled, taking long strides and jerking Nathan by the arm. "No, there ain't nothing you got to say to him that we can't all hear. You got something to say, you say it to all of us."
Chris had insinuated himself between Buck and Nathan, holding his old friend back. Nathan didn't respond in anger. No, Nathan just waited, his eyes sad, so sad. Chris nodded to him. Nathan stepped away from Chris and Buck and addressed all of them.
"I was going to say . . ." his voice quivered. "I think . . . I think he's already dead."
"NO!!!" Buck screamed at him. Chris still held Buck back, and Josiah caught him from behind, twisting one of Buck's arms behind him and hooking his own arm around Buck's neck.
"Pipe down, Buck!" Josiah yelled.
Josiah didn't answer, but kept Buck restrained. He held him as long as Buck kept fighting. Finally he felt his friend's weight sag back against him, and Josiah released his arm. His own arm that was hooked around Buck's neck became very gentle. The restraint became an embrace. Josiah stayed there while Chris hit the play button on the VCR.
The screen was black. A bare bulb flickered on, creating a dim light, and for a moment, nothing happened. Then a distorted voice spoke. It had been electronically altered and was hard to understand.
" . . . you are no longer . . . seven . . . " The electronic laugh was eerie. ". . . can't quite . . . the last time . . . "
"Shit," Chris muttered, trying to crank the volume. Ezra jumped up and hit the pause button. "It's a voice activated distortion. Whoever is speaking isn't loud enough for the signal to remain intact." He hit the pause button again, and the strange voice returned.
". . . wouldn't have had to hurt . . . given . . . the slightest coopera . . ."
The camera scanned the room. It was not the room that was in the photograph. This room was much smaller. It looked like an abandoned bathroom. There were connections for plumbing, but no sink or toilet. There was some tile. Awkwardly the camera jumped down to show a drain in the floor. Whoever was holding the camera must have sat down on the floor. The view shifted from the drain to the boy lying facedown on the floor. Streaks of pink extended from the boy's torso to the drain.
"God . . ." Vin said.
JD's hands were handcuffed behind him and his face wasn't visible. He was still wearing the jeans and overshirt he'd been wearing the last time they saw him. He was shivering. Everyone could hear his soft gasps.
"Tell . . . friends . . . -lo," the electronic voice said.
JD's answer was absolutely clear.
"F*** you . . . "
From out of nowhere, someone kicked him and, groaning, the kid rolled in on himself. He was trying desperately to get his breath.
Buck muttered something. Chris glanced over at the sound and saw that his dear friend was shaking with anger. Josiah continued to support Buck.
Chris' attention was immediately drawn back to the video.
"That's not polite!" The electronic voice mocked the kid. In the next instant, someone grabbed JD by the hair, jerking his head back. He was blindfolded, but he hadn't been gagged. His face was horrible: cut, bruised, swollen.
Vin Tanner jumped up out of his chair and started pacing.
"Talk . . . friends," the voice commanded, but JD remained defiant.
"Uncuff . . ." the voice continued.
JD's friends watched helplessly as his arm was pulled out. There were track marks.
"Good God," Nathan said, leaning closer to the screen.
"No, don't . . ." JD said, as the hypodermic appeared. He was suddenly terrified. "Please . . . no . . ."
The kid struggled as much as he could, until a blade was pressed against his throat. JD bit his lower lip, and a tear from under the blindfold rolled down his face.
". . . oh . . . baby . . . cry . . ."
Chris felt a white-hot rage as he watched.
Someone jerked the blindfold off and trained a bright light in the boy's eyes. JD tried to turn away from it, but he couldn't move. If he did, the blade would cut him.
Everyone in the conference room could see the effects the drugs had had on the kid by looking in his eyes. JD's eyelashes fluttered strangely.
"Ezra . . . " he gasped.
Chris and Ezra both watched even more closely.
". . . Standish. . . nothing to help . . ."
The needle plunged into JD's arm, and he shivered more violently. He tried to fight. Clearly he knew what was coming. And as the drug surged through his body, he screamed.
The screen went black. Then it went to static. For a moment, no one spoke. No one moved, then . . .
"Rewind it!" Ezra ordered, and the room erupted.
Chris looked at the gambler like he had lost his mind. Ezra was pulling a notebook and pen from his pocket and making his way to the VCR.
In the back of the room, Vin Tanner suddenly threw a glass against the far wall, screaming in anger as he did. Everyone jumped and Chris stormed over to him.
Chris grabbed his friend by his collar and threw him against the wall.
"Get your hands off me!" Vin yelled.
Chris yelled back. "You go after them half-cocked, you're gonna get JD killed."
Vin's eyes filled quickly. "You heard Nathan," the sharpshooter said, his voice breaking. "He's already f***ing dead."
Chris kept a tight grip on Vin's shoulders. "We don't know that," Chris yelled. He wanted all of his men to hear this. "We owe it to JD to use everything we have to get him out of there." He scanned the room and looked at each of them. "We've gotta keep our heads. We're all he's got."
Nathan sat silently, his head in his hands. Josiah had released Buck, and was leaning heavily against the wall, his big arms crossed tightly in front of him. Buck was quiet--too quiet.
Chris turned back to Vin, whose fury was giving way to anquish. Chris held on to his friend's shoulders, then he reached up and squeezed Vin's neck. Vin's chin dropped to his chest.
"We'll get him," Chris said softly. Vin looked up at him and nodded.
Chris was letting go when Vin looked past him, a look of incredulity on his face. Chris heard Buck and Josiah roar in protest. He turned quickly and saw Ezra running the hideous display backwards on the TV screen.
"We've seen enough," Buck cried, taking long strides toward Ezra.
Ezra ignored him as he backed the tape up until just before JD's face was jerked up.
Chris intercepted Buck before he could reach the gambler.
"Ezra?" Chris asked, but Ezra hushed him with a raised hand. The gambler hit play and and he started writing furiously when JD's blindfold was removed.
When the screen went black, Ezra rewound it again.
He played it from the beginning, and wrote more then checked what he'd written. Occasionally he would mutter.
When the screen went black for a third time, Ezra stood up, breathless.
"Gentlemen, I know where he is." The gambler smiled and tapped his notebook.
"He told me himself."
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