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Part Three - Persona Non Grata

Part Three - Fears

Chris Larabee didn't even spare a glance at Buck. He didn't have to. Buck would play this by the book right down the line. He wasn't about to jeopardize anything. Chris understood the rage Buck felt. He shared it. There were lots of head cases out there. Each one of his men had his own list of enemies, and at any moment, any of of the agents could become the target of a vigilante. But usually they would have had a lead by now. They still hadn't had a clue about who was behind the kidnapping. According to Ezra, JD had only been able to communicate scant information.

Planes . . . musty . . . five men . . .

Lolita . . . ?

His last word puzzled everyone . . . except Buck. Buck Wilmington knew exactly where the kid was. JD was at an old abandoned theater. It was by the airport and Buck had told JD about his first "experience" in the back row of the balcony. Buck had never disclosed the girl's real name, but referred to her only as "Lolita". That information was consistent with the high windows they'd seen in the photograph and the theater had been converted, not to a newspaper warehouse, but a warehouse for magazine distribution.

Buck and Vin got in the car with Chris, and they took off. Josiah rode with Nathan. Ezra stayed at the office to receive any further communication from the kidnappers.

Chris wondered if it was as quiet in the other car. He used this silence to work out a plan and to curse the lack of back-up. They shouldn't be trying to neutralize a situation like this without the swat team. They should have access to every resource the ATF had. Instead they got only tight-lipped beaurocratic bullsh*t. JD was but a "regrettable casualty" in an ongoing war against international druglords. Well, as soon as they had their boy back, Chris Larabee would hand in his resignation. He wouldn't work for a group of people who had this much disregard for human life. The most infuriating part of all of this was the fact that the powers that be in the ATF didn't trust his men. They certainly didn't trust JD. They had told Chris that the boy would be a liability--that JD would turn at the first sight of the mega-money that flowed freely in these drug deals. The kid didn't have a clean history. He'd had a tough life and had risen above his very difficult circumstances. In some ways, Chris admired JD more for having had to make his own way. JD had been in some trouble when he was in middle school and had subsequently chosen the high road. He had helped a lot of his high school friends get out of gang life and turn their lives around as well. JD Dunne been difficult to check out, and was only marginally accepted as an agent. Had Judge Travis not vouched for the kid, he wouldn't have made it.

Stop light.

"GO!" Chris yelled at the light and when it didn't change fast enough, he slammed his hand on the steering wheel. "G**d****t!"


Vin Tanner rarely felt hopeless. He stayed on an even keel most of the time. In fact he really worked at it. He tried to hear both sides of an argument before making a judgement. He didn't have a hair-trigger temper. That was probably why he was such a superb shot. He was working to maintain his cool, even though what he felt was utter rage. He had to keep it together for JD.

And for Buck.

He watched Chris closely. He knew Chris' temper. Chris was holding it together--but barely.

Suddenly, before the light changed, Chris gunned the accelerator and sped into the intersection dodging the traffic.

"Damnit, Chris!" Buck was yelling at their leader. "What the hell are you doing, man?"

Chris didn't answer. He just gripped the steering wheel tighter. Horns blared, and one car swerved out of his path and hit another in the opposite lane.

"Pull over," Vin commanded.

"What?" Chris hissed.

"Pull over. I'm driving."

"Like hell you are."


Without giving a signal, Chris screeched to a halt at the side of the road. Again, horns blared, and those afflicted with road rage flipped him off, but Chris didn't see them. All of his rage now had a target. He jumped out of the car and caught Vin Tanner by the collar, slamming him against the back fender.


"What? You want to hit me?" Vin's voice was calm, but inside he felt churning.

Chris brought his fist back to level the man in front of him, but in the next second his expression changed utterly. He reached up like he was going to touch Vin on the shoulder, but instead, he didn't touch him at all. He backed up, and looked away, as if bewildered by his own actions.

"Go ahead . . ." His voice was low and raspy. Vin put his hand on Chris' shoulder and walked up to the driver's seat, but not before Buck jumped out from the passenger's side.

"We ain't got time for this!" he yelled.

He was right.


"What the hell are they doing?" Nathan yelled.

"Fighting?" Josiah was infuriatingly sarcastic.

Nathan whipped his car off the side of the road, pulling around behind the other agents' car. He would have jumped out, but Josiah laid a strong restraining hand on his arm.

"Lemme go. . ." Nathan began, but Josiah nodded to the scene ahead.

"It's over."

"It's like tailing a bunch of high school kids," Nathan said under his breath.

"Better it happens now." Josiah sounded so cool. He took the mic from its cradle. "Y'all ok up there?" he asked as the cars both pulled back onto the freeway.

Vin answered with a decidedly even cadence. "We're a little . . . anxious, but everything's ok."

Chris' voice crackled over the radio. "Josiah, you and Nathan check for trip wires. We don't want to . . ."

"Right." Josiah's answer cut him off. "We will, Boss."

Nathan cut his eyes over to his friend. Josiah almost smiled. "Someone should remind him every now and then."


Footsteps echoed across the warehouse. JD tried to find his voice but coughed instead. No . . . don't cough! It hurt too much to cough. It hurt to breathe. He couldn't breathe . . . he wheezed.

Ezra? Was it Ezra? The young agent tried to raise his head, but he couldn't. "Ezra . . . " Why didn't his voice work? He couldn't even hear himself. Oh, they had to find him. No, God, don't let them leave. Don't let them leave him.

"Help . . . " he couldn't say it. He kept trying, but the dry cough gagged him, and it changed to a throaty sob. No tears, though. They wouldn't flow. His eyes burned. But there were no tears. Didn't anyone know he was cold? They'd help him if they knew he was cold.

A hand . . . A hand touched his hair gently. Oh, God. Thank you, thank you, thank . . .

But the hand suddenly grabbed his hair and jerked his head back. The pain in his shoulder shot through his body and he groaned. "You're just too stupid to die, kid." It was the voice he had learned to hate. Then the voice was right beside his ear. He could feel the hot breath on his neck and he shivered. "Thirsty?"

JD tried to nod. The hand in his hair pulled harder and another hand pulled his jaw down.


The two ATF cars pulled up to the deserted street and parked in an abandoned scrap yard. Buck was the first to jump out of the car. He had to get reacquainted with the lay of the buildings. It had been a while since he'd brought JD here. JD was probably the only person in the world who'd ride this far out of town with him just to hear him brag about a girl.

Oh, kid, be all right . . .

Buck worked his way from the back of one building to the back of the next, until he saw it across the street.

The theater.

There it was--the faint letters that had once spelled "The Rivoli" barely visible on the weathered sign. An aluminum sign had been tacked on the front door. It read "Scanlon Periodicals." He pulled out his binoculars and studied the old place. He sensed the presence of another person.

"That it?" Vin's voice was cautiously soft.

"Yeah," Buck answered tightly, handing the glasses to the tracker. "I don't know if the layout of the old building has changed, but there's an enormous g**d**n addition on the back. I don't even know how to tell you where to start."

Vin's hand gripped Buck's shoulder. "I'll find him."

Buck didn't voice his concerns that the video could have been made a week ago--that the kidnappers could have left days ago and taken JD out of state.

And Buck certainly didn't utter his fear that JD was already dead, although Nathan's words hung heavily over his head.

No, Vin knew.

The rest of the guys caught up with them, and Chris spat orders. Vin would scout the area. Chris and Buck would cover the old building and Nathan and Josiah would take the new addition. Vin would report to them and call for the first move. If JD had been right--if there were five men, Chris' team could take them. The agents had the element of surprise on their side.

And they had the highest mission of all.

Saving a friend--saving a brother.

Buck took a deep breath, and watched closely as Vin moved stealthily to the old theater . . .

And prayed as Vin disappeared a side window.


The boy's scream was drowned by the thick caustic liquid fire. He coughed, but there was no escape. He tried to spit it out and must have had a bit of success because the hated voice screamed back at him.

Then someone hit him-- hard. And he felt a needle jab into his arm.

"That'll finish him," still another said. They were the last words he heard before the darkness washed over him.

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