Persona Non Grata - Part Fourteen

Why had Travis gotten a van with no shocks? Well, it felt like it had no shocks.

Vin Tanner didn't like this at all. The van was dangerous. The mission was dangerous. They were jeopardizing so much. Yet, they'd be jeopardizing so much more if they didn't make a move--and make it now.

He bit his lip nervously as he watched the doctor work. Then, the van lurched over a bump in the road, and he bit through his lip.

"Shit . . ." the sharpshooter said, wincing. He raised a hand to his mouth and wiped off the trickle of blood with the back of his sleeve. The doctor cut his eyes to Vin at the distraction, then went back to his work.

Vin sniffed. It had been tough enough yesterday, watching those bastards hurting JD--worse watching JD's body arch against the paddles that sent voltage into his chest. It had saved his life . . . for the time being anyway . . . but seeing it had been damn near unbearable.

The van took a curve -- too tightly--and this time it was the doctor who cursed. "Travis, if you can't keep this g**d***n car on the road . . ."

"I know," the judge called back.

God, this was crazy.

"Hold this," the doctor said, curtly, and he handed Vin an IV bag. "Make sure the drip is steady." Then the doctor muttered a string of obscenities as he continued to work. Vin couldn't blame him. This was a hell of a situation, and for a moment, Vin imagined the M*A*S*H* transports during wartime. They'd had to deal with this kind of thing everyday.

Vin was watching closely when suddenly his friend jerked his head.

"G**d**n it!" the doctor said. "Hold him still."

With the doctor's help, Vin eased the patient into his lap and encircled the unconscious man's chest with a strong arm. With his other hand, he held his friend's forehead still.

"Easy," Vin said as gently as he could, and his eyes filled suddenly--unexpectedly. He hadn't anticipated this rush of emotion in the middle of a mission . . .

But then again, it was the second day in a row that Vin held an almost-dead JD in his arms.


Ezra didn't know whether to be furious or humiliated. His face was plastered all over the news as the turncoat ATF agent who had used his position to become a drug dealer. Newscasters who didn't know anything about him were speculating about his life and his childhood.

He got up from the naugahyde couch (to call it a sofa would be too kind) and went into the kitchen. Clearly, the person who decorated the safe house was the same one who was responsible for the decor in their ATF office. How could green linoleum ever have been considered chic?

Furious or humiliated? He'd settle for humiliated. Excuse enough to drink early. If he let himself feel furious, he might have to act on it, and right now, he was too tired.

He opened the refrigerator--a Frigidaire. He hadn't seen one since . . . well, since he and Maude had stayed in a women's shelter in . . . was it Billings? Somewhere like that, anyway. Ezra felt a twinge of emotion. Somehow today he really missed his mother.

Outdated milk, a pizza box he dared not open, mustard, a Tupperware container with something in it that may have been some kind of chicken salad at one time, but he didn't want to check too closely. This was the g**d*** Twilight Zone. He was trapped in 1964 surrounded by linoleum and old chrome and food that had to be as old as the appliances. On a last whim, he leaned over and looked on the bottom shelf of the fridge in the back.

Pay dirt. The motherlode.



"They can't move him," Nathan said, the alarm in his voice alarming Chris. "He won't make it outside the hospital."

"Travis thinks somebody on the inside is behind all this."

"On the inside? What, like one of us?" Nathan's brows furrowed.

"Not one on my team, but maybe ATF." Chris sat in the chair beside Nathan's bed. "Or FBI, or maybe the cops."

"Damn," Nathan muttered, and the two sat in silence for a moment. Then Nathan spoke again. "What do you know about this doctor that'll be taking care of JD?"

Chris shook his head. "Nothing, except that Travis trusts him."

"But JD is gonna need special help. He's gonna need a . . . a state of the art facility."

Chris sighed. He knew that the safe house was no place for someone in JD's condition, but what was there to do? There was no one he could trust.

Nathan sat up slightly. "Take him out of the country," the medic said.

"What?!" Chris almost chuckled in his surprise.

"I mean it, Chris. I know a place in British Columbia--a place where internationals go, internationals who are friends of this country, but who need to keep a low profile. It's a small place, but the medical care there is the best in the world."

"Hell, Nathan, how're we supposed . . ."

"I know a pilot--a renegade, not above working both sides of the law if you know what I mean, but he's loyal to me. If I can let him know we suspect the 'establishment', he'd be all the more willing to help. You help me find him. He'll come get JD."

This was an overwhelming prospect to Chris. The whole situation was, for that matter. How could things have gotten this out of hand anyway?

"Can he survive the flight?" Chris asked.

Nathan shrugged. "I don't know. I suppose he's got as much chance on a plane as he does in a safe house. We'll have to get the doctor to go with him."

"I don't like it."

"I don't like any of it, but I don't see as how we have much choice." Nathan lay back on the pillow and closed his eyes. "This whole thing is crazy."

Suddenly Chris felt very tired. He sighed heavily. "Does this place have a name?"

Nathan opened his eyes and smiled. "Get my wallet."


Buck Wilmington's nostrils flared as he stood with his face inches away from an agent "Frye". Josiah's stronghold pinning his arms to his side was the only thing keeping him from trying to take the FBI agent's head off.

"Lemme go, Josiah!" Buck hissed.

"Not 'til you settle down and listen to me." Josiah jerked Buck away and damn near dragged him to the chapel.

"Josiah, this ain't . . ."

"Shut up, Buck," Josiah said, shoving Buck into a pew. Then he whispered very close to Buck's ear. "We can't trust anybody here--not nurses, not doctors, not cops, not feds. Don't you get it? Nobody. We can only trust each other."

Buck ran his fingers through his hair and his foot tapped nervously.

"Trying to strong arm the FBI isn't going to get us anywhere."

"We're wasting time," Buck protested.

"We have no choice," Josiah said. Buck tried to protest, but Josiah continued. " Let's find Chris. We'll get Travis and Vin and then we'll figure out what to do from there."

Again Buck tried to protest, but he stopped in mid-sentence. "I'm scared." Buck's voice was suddenly very weak.

"I am too, my friend. But we have to use that to our advantage."

"We'd best move Nathan out of here." Buck suggested. "If they can get JD in ICU, getting Nathan out of a regular room should be a breeze."

Josiah nodded, then an idea dawned on him.

Maybe JD hadn't been kidnapped after all.

*************************************************************************** Chris Larabee was surprised to see Josiah and Buck appear in Nathan's room.

"We have a problem," Josiah said.

"JD . . ." Buck started.

"Travis and Vin and that safe house doctor got him out of here this morning."

Buck visibly slumped with relief. "Oh, thank God."

Chris walked over to his old friend and slapped his shoulder. "I know."

Chris pulled a chair over behind Buck and helped him to sit.

"We gotta talk," Chris said. "And we can't talk here."

Josiah nodded. "I don't know about you, but I could go for some Szechuan."

Chris raised an eyebrow in understanding. "Me, too."

Buck looked around the room. He asked Chris a question, while looking at Nathan who was still in bed--not twenty-four hours after having a bullet cut out of his leg. "What say we blow this popsicle stand?"

Before Chris could answer, Nathan chimed in. "Buck, don't talk about 'blowing anything up' today."

Chris would have laughed, but things were too uncertain. He grimaced at Nathan's humor instead.

"I'll call Travis, then I'll get you out of here." Chris said. He walked to the door and paused. "You know we're in way over our heads."

"We've been there before," Buck said. "We'll make it."


Ezra put a can of beer under one arm, while he popped open another. He went back into the den and sat back down on the couch. He set the unopened beer on the coffee table and took a long drink from the open one. He was reaching for the remote when he heard his name on TV again.

Humiliation . . . again.

He took another long drink, but stopped abruptly when he saw the image of his mother on the screen. Reporters were following her, firing questions at her about him . . .

About her . . .

"DAMN YOU!!!!!!!" he cried.

And the humiliation turned to rage.


Maybe it was the look on Vin Tanner's face, or maybe it was because he was so tired, but when Buck Wilmington walked into the safe house, he felt utter and complete dread.

"What?" Buck whispered his question . . . his fear . . .

"Go see him . . ." Vin's voice was husky. He nodded toward the door across from them.

Buck walked to the back bedroom, then tapped lightly on the door. He waited for the doctor's answer.

"Come in," the soft but sure voice called. Buck turned the door knob, annoyed that it rattled in his hand before it caught. Frustrated when he opened the door, he damn near fell into the room. He caught himself with the doorjamb and muttered an oath under his breath.

The harsh glare of the doctor caught his eye first.

Then his eye trailed to the boy in the bed . . .

And he swayed, suddenly lightheaded. He felt strong familiar arms around his torso, only they weren't Josiah's this time. They were Chris' -- holding him up, supporting him. For a moment, Buck allowed himself to lean back against his old friend, then he gathered his strength, pulled himself up and looked back at the bed.

"God . . . JD . . ."


Josiah held the door as two men wearing fatigues rolled a gurney into the living room. Vin jumped up to help. He couldn't tell right away if Nathan were asleep or unconscious.

"How is he?" Vin asked.

"Exhausted," Josiah answered.

Vin helped them guide the gurney to another bedroom -- adjacent to the one where JD was. He reached that door first and held it open. The two strangers rolled Nathan in. Josiah followed, but Vin grabbed the preacher's arm before he could get into the room himself. "Who are they?" Vin breathed, his jaw suddenly tight.

"Friends of Nathan."

"You sure about them?"

Josiah shrugged slightly. "No . . . but Nathan is, and we have to go with that."

Vin didn't like it, but Josiah was right. They had to have help. He bit back an oath and followed his friend in.


Sometimes he wished he didn't have to be strong. This was one of those times. He wished he could take off and drive . . . anywhere . . .

Anywhere but here.

Chris ached for Buck as he watched the big man walk slowly to the bed. He ached for JD and the horrific suffering he'd endured . . . and would endure . . . if he lived.

The doctor stood, put his thin hand on Buck's shoulder and spoke to him softly. Buck nodded and then sat heavily in the chair the doctor had vacated. Chris watched, resisting the doctor's tug on his arm. Chris' gaze lingered on the scene before him . . .

Buck was studying the young man in the bed. It was as though he were trying to memorize everything. But his study ceased for a moment as he reached for JD's hand. Pitifully, Buck let his big hand hover over JD's, realizing he couldn't touch it. He couldn't touch either of the kid's hands. One had been so horribly injured--the other was the only port for the IV.

Buck's hand traced just above JD's heavily bandaged hand and wrist. Very tentatively, and more gently than Chris had ever seen his old friend, Buck lightly rested his hand on JD's upper arm. Was it the only place on the boy's body that wasn't injured? Jesus . . .

"Could I speak with you, Mr. Larabee?" the doctor's voice drew Chris' attention away. Chris nodded and followed him back into the den, grateful for an excuse not to watch his friends' pain.


Artemis Gordon.

While other parents were encouraging other children to emulate great statesmen, or inventors, or even investors, Maude Standish was encouraging her boy to emulate the master-of-disguise, Artemis Gordon. Ezra and his mother would watch reruns of "The Wild, Wild West" while his other little friends watched "The Brady Bunch". Ezra had been fascinated by Artie's ability to assume other identities so convincingly that even Jim West didn't know who he was sometimes.

Well, Artemis Gordon would be proud. No one--not even Maude Standish--would recognize the round, white-haired man that rode the train that night.

The moustache itched. Of all the aspects of disguise, Ezra hated spirit gum the most. Wax had made his own brows disappear, in favor of bushy gray ones he had long ago built on a mesh backing. The beard was no less than a masterpiece, cupping his chin comfortably.

But the damnable moustache . . .

He sighed and wished he could sleep, but he was hot and the extra weight he wore over his torso made him sweat.

He slid on the vinyl seat, hoping for a more comfortable position, but it wouldn't happen. Ezra decided that, in twenty-four hours, he had been exposed to the most vile man-made upholsteries ever made. The only kind he hadn't sat on was the cracked, padded toilet seat that would, of course, pinch his bare bum. Well, there was still time yet.

Which reminded him . . .


Nathan Jackson could hear the commotion--but it seemed far away. He must've been asleep. He opened his eyes slowly.

What a strange ceiling. What a strange light fixture--a square, etched piece of frosted glass with . . . some kind of bird? Herons? He squinted, trying to let the shaft of moonlight that cut through the room help him to discern what the graceful etchings described.


The light came on, startling him. He threw an arm across his face as light flooded in through the doorway as well.

"Warn a man next time, will ya?" Nathan muttered.

"Sorry." Judge Travis' voice. And others.

"I need to check you out." A voice he didn't recognize.

"Nathan." Chris this time. "This man's a doctor . . . a friend of Travis'. He's been taking care of JD . . ."

"And Ezra . . ." Nathan supplied, and the room became very quiet.

"What about Ezra?" Nathan asked, this time forcing himself to fight the glaring light and take a quick census. Vin was leaning in the doorjamb.

"He took off," Vin said. "He said he was taking a nap and slipped out the bedroom window."

"Why the hell would he do that?" Nathan asked.

"The pressure of it all?" Vin suggested.

Nathan frowned and thought. "No, I don't think so. He wouldn't take off. He wouldn't leave JD to face the music."

"Well, he did," Chris said, tightly.

Nathan looked their leader in the eye. "I bet he's got a plan."


". . . only a matter of time . . . maybe hours . . ."

The doctor's words resonated in his head. But Buck wouldn't believe it.

"Sit with him . . . talk to him . . ."

Buck remembered nodding. Sure he'd sit with JD, he'd talk to him, he'd . . .

What could he really do?

"JD, please . . ." Buck said. "Listen to me, son. You've gotta be strong now. You've gotta hold on." Buck squeezed JD's arm. "Can you feel that? Can you feel my hand? I've got you, boy. I'm holding on to you."

There was nothing else. No safe house. No ATF. No doctor. No one else. No one but JD. Buck slid closer and leaned over near his partner's ear.

"I'm here, JD. I'm here and I'm strong enough for both of us. And I'm not letting go. You hear me, boy? I'm not gonna let you go."

Buck sat up slightly so he could look at his friend more closely. The familiar face, once so full of life was now so still. The marks on his brow, across his cheek, the bruises, the bandages, they were wrong.

They were wrong.

Who could do this to another human being? Buck's lip trembled as he studied the trail of blisters on JD's lips where he'd fought the caustic poison those bastards had tried to pour down his throat.

Dear God, JD, I'm so sorry . . . so . . . sorry.

"They can't hurt you now, son. I won't let them. I won't let anybody hurt you."

He imagined how terrified JD must have been. Day after day, not knowing when they would kill him. If the picture had been any indication, he had been hurt early in his captivity. Nathan had pointed out old bruises, old cuts . . .

And new ones.

They had tried to break his spirit.

But they couldn't do it. In the video--beaten and dying--JD had fought. He hadn't lost hope. He was communicating to his friends the only way he could.

JD wanted to live. He'd tried so hard to survive. He'd come this far.

Buck leaned his head on the mattress, sqeezing his eyes closed as tears rushed him.

"God, please, don't take him. Not like this." Buck prayed . . . and wept. He squeezed JD's arm more firmly now. He would hold on. He would hold on no matter what.


Chris Larabee was livid. He almost took the door down with him as he strode angrily out of the safe house. What the hell was Ezra thinking? Why did he suddenly assume he could just take off on his own?

Vin followed Chris out, and wisely kept his distance. Anybody else, and Chris would have bitten his head off.

But it was different with Vin.

Vin was one of those rare people who understood the art of friendship by presence. He didn't have to say anything. He didn't have to do anything. He was just . . . there. Vin would wait until Chris wanted to talk.

Chris didn't want to talk. He wanted to . . . hit something. He made a tight fist and coiled his arm back to drive that fist into the one tree in the yard.

Vin's easy voice halted him. "We need every hand we can get, cowboy. Don't break one of yours."

"Who the hell asked you?" Chris got some sick satisfaction out of yelling at his friend.

The tracker didn't answer, of course. Chris really was lucky. Vin wouldn't leave him out there just because he was being a jerk. Chris' hand finally relaxed and he hung his head.

"This is crazy. What does Ezra think he's gonna do?"

Vin crossed his arms. "When we got here with JD, he helped out, then went on to bed. Said he wasn't feeling well."

Chris waited while Vin got his thoughts together. "It was weird, because he didn't seem tired, really. It was like . . ."

"Like he was high?" Chris challenged.

Vin's hesitation was enough.

"God, Vin, it can't be true." No, Chris wouldn't accept that.

"He was pissed off." Vin frowned. "I think he may have had some left over effects from being drugged, but this was like something else had happened. He was . . . different somehow."

Chris turned to his friend and walked over. "I don't know what to do."

"I know. And it's ok. You don't have to have all the answers."

Chris met Vin's gaze and they stood there for a moment. Vin understood him.

"Chris, we were hired for our skills, for our special . . . gifts. But we were also hired for our minds. We chose this life, Chris--with its risks and its challenges. We all knew what we were getting into." Vin leaned closer and lowered his voice. "Trust your men, Chris. We've survived this far."

"Ezra . . ."

"Is part of your team," Vin said quickly. "He'll stand by you. He'll stand by all of us."

Chris' throat got tight. "I know."

"So does he, Chris," Vin slapped his friend on the shoulder. "So does he."


At first, Buck didn't realize what was happening. But then he felt it.

JD's arm flexed.

It was surely one of those involuntary movements that happened with comatose patients.

But what if JD were suffering. What if he were hurting? Could he even tell anyone?

Buck raised his head to call the doctor, when he saw terrified hazel eyes looking back at him.

Back to Part Thirteen:
Back to the "Persona Non Grata" Home page:
Back to the "Newest Desperado's Daughter's Home Page":