Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.

Note: Lost Lambs Universe. This story occurs after 'The Case of the Golden Blooms', but before 'Escape'. Main fic betaed by the wonderful LT, epilogue betaed by Deborah. Additional editing by Marnie.

"You're sure about this?" Buck asked again hardly able to believe what they'd just been told.

"Sorry guys, there is nothing I can do about it - conflict of interest," Travis told them.

"She really has been given custody?" Buck still couldn't believe it. "But she left him, she abandoned him!"

"It's like I told you, there only ever was one witness against her and now he's dead, the district attorney won't prosecute."

"But he must have made a statement," Chris persisted.

"Sure, but without the chance to cross-examine him on it, the case will never stand up. Sorry guys, she's innocent until proven guilty, so there is no reason to withhold custody."

Buck wasn't going to give up yet. "What about abandoning him?"

"She claims she made arrangements for his care and it's not her fault they went wrong, which by Ezra's own admission is true. There really is nothing we can do. Do you want me to tell him? I don't mind being the villain; mind you he might want to go back to her."

"He won't," Buck stated confidently. "I'll tell him."

"You sure Pal?" Chris asked, he knew Ezra felt closer to Buck than to him.

"Yeah, I'm sure. Damn it!"

Three Weeks Earlier

"So, are we all ready?" Chris asked.

Three faces looked up at him, but no one responded.

"Come on guys, it won't be that bad," Buck encouraged.

The summer had come to an end and now it was time for school the local school for Vin and a train to Eagle Bend and high school for Ezra. Too young for school, JD would be staying in town with his brother, or with Inez, or Mrs Potter, or even Fr Sanchez, if Buck or Chris were both busy.

Ezra had been to school before, several of them, in fact. He was a high achiever in subjects that he interested him, in other subjects he did what was needed to get by. He considered himself educated and saw no reason to continue to go to school, his mother had made it clear he didn't need to go to college, which she considered a waste of money. Unfortunately, Chris and Buck had other ideas and were insisting he begin high school. By rights, he was a year too young for high school, but after Mrs Greer, the teacher, had tested him, she suggested he skip a grade. At first Ezra had been pleased, high school would at least be more stimulating that a small town one room school house, then, when he thought about it, about leaving every day to travel to school, alone, he wasn't so sure, not that he was going to let anyone see that.

JD had a death grip on Buck's hand and his toy horse Pony in the other. His nice safe world, one he'd come to rely on since his mother's death, was changing and that scared him. He didn't want Ezra and Vin to go to school and at the same time he wanted to go with them.

Buck looked down at his brother and gave him a reassuring smile. When the teacher, Mrs Greer, had come to the house to give Vin a test, so she'd know where to start him, they'd let JD take the same test. Hardly unexpected, the younger boy, Buck hadn't been that surprised, his mother had begun to teach him to write as soon as he was old enough to sit at the kitchen table and hold a pencil. He'd learned to count sitting at her dresser, using broaches, rings, hair combs and hat pins for counters and he'd learned his alphabet and his first steps to reading on Sunday morning, while the good and descent folk, who despised them, went to a church that wouldn't let her in. She had wanted to be sure that when he did go to school, no one would be able to point to him and say 'see, the little whore house brat is dumb and lazy, what can you expect'. He had no doubt she'd done the same for JD and since he was clearly a very bright boy - much smarter than Buck considered himself - he'd progressed a lot further. He'd thought about asking if JD could join school early, but he was so small, still so insecure, he wasn't ready to let him take that step yet. True Vin would be there, but he had his own problems, looking after JD was a distraction he could do without.

Other children were arriving at the station, preparing to catch the train to Eagle Bend for the first day of the new school year. Ezra looked over at Steven Potter and smiled. Steven was a year older than Ezra, so this was his first day too.


He turned back to look at Chris again. "Yes Sir?"

"Are you sure you don't want me to come with you, it's not a problem."

The truth was he would like it if Chris came with him, walked with him to the school, was there when he came out and rode the train home with him, but he had to say no. He knew it wasn't the done thing, the other children might tease him. He was a year younger than his peers, a lot younger than the majority of the other pupils and still small for his age - though he'd grown an inch that summer. He would need to work hard to make sure he was in a position to take advantage of any opportunities that came his way, being seen as a 'baby' who needed his 'father' to walk him to school, would not be a good start. So he shook his head.

"But the offer was most generous," he added hastily.

"No problem, got your ticket?"

"Yes Sir."


"In my satchel." Ezra grinned and turned his back slightly as if showing of the satchel to the very men who had given it to him.

It wasn't new, with three boys to raise and two of them needing school supplies, they couldn't afford a new one, but Gloria happened to have a second hand one for a fraction of the price. The leather was well used and thus soft and supple, there was an ink stain at the bottom and one of the buckles didn't match, but other than that it was in good shape and a generous size. What marked it out as special were the initials ES embossed into the leather on the flap.

"We wanted it to be yours, at least for now," Buck explained. "So we had Mr Watson put them at the top, so there will be room for Vin and JD's initials when their time comes."

Ezra ran a finger over the indented letters that the town's saddler had placed so perfectly in gothic script.

"It'll be like a family tradition." He had looked up at his guardians, his grin even wider. "Right?"

"I guess so," Buck had agreed.

The toot of the train whistle brought him back to the here and now.

"Time to go." He looked at the men who had saved him, his heroes and the two boys he considered his brothers.

"Good luck," Vin called as he turned to go.

"Be brave!" JD shouted, because it was what Buck told him to be, whenever they had to be parted.

"I will, you be good for Buck, you hear me?"

JD nodded emphatically.

"Like the kid said, be brave," Buck added with a grin. "Supper in town this evening,, special treat."

Supper in town meant Inez's cooking, which was better than either man could manage and fresh, not reheated. With that happy thought, Ezra boarded the train. His family stood and watched until the train was out of sight.


Having seen Ezra off, it was Vin's turn. He didn't have a satchel, with less to transport, he made do with Buck's old canvas, army map case. He was honoured to be trusted with it, but as special as it was, what was inside was more special. It was his pride and joy, a pencil box made by Chris, with his name engraved on it.

Vin would be starting at the town's little one room schoolhouse. He'd met the teacher Mrs Greer, she had seemed nice enough, and he knew Miss Nettie well by now, but all that only alleviated his apprehension a little. He'd never been any good at school. When he'd first been to school, he'd tried so hard, his mother had always told him how important education was. The trouble was, that no matter how hard he tried, he just didn't seem to make much progress and he kept forgetting things. He'd get something wrong and the teacher would get mad, because she'd say they had already learned that. The teachers would call him lazy and a dunce, other kids just called him dummy and stupid, so after a while, he'd given up trying.

In the summer, when Chris had first mentioned going to school, he'd been scared. He really didn't want to go to school, not again. His apprehension must haves shown, because Chris had asked him what was wrong. He tried to say 'nothing' but Chris wasn't having it, and over the next week he - like the good policeman he was - got to the truth.

"I'm dumb," Vin had confessed.

"Says who?" Chris challenged.

"Everyone, teachers, other kids, I can't learn nothin'."

Chris had just shook his head and pulled him into a hug. "Where on earth did you get that idea?"

Vin had just shrugged and assured him it was true.

"So you can't learn nothing? Right?"

Vin nodded, sad tears spilling unchecked as he hoped Chris wouldn't send him away, now that he knew the truth.

"So when you came here you already knew how to feed chickens, collect eggs, make pancakes and biscuits? You knew how to groom a horse, put on a saddle and bridle? You knew how to ride? You could already tell the difference between deer, rabbit, fox, beaver and racoon tracks? Right?"

Vin had just looked at him until the truth dawned. "I learned!" he suddenly exclaimed.

Chris couldn't help it; he'd picked the boy up and swung him around. "Yes you did!"

From then on, he'd worked with Chris every evening on his reading. In the morning, after chores but before playtime, he'd worked with Ezra on his writing. At lunchtime, he and JD had worked together on their numbers, with Buck, if he was around, or with Ezra. The test he took with the teacher hadn't been as bad as he'd thought, even if JD had done better. Chris had assured him he'd done okay and anyway, from what he'd seen, JD was smart. Not just ordinary smart, but really, really smart.

"Everyone needs book learning, but not everyone has to do a job that needs book smarts - look at Buck."

Vin had looked at Chris and frowned.

"Do you think Buck is dumb?"

"No!" Vin had answered vehemently, Buck helped him with his numbers, Buck knew more about horses than anyone, even more than Chris. Buck could speak French, kinda, and he was a real good sheriff.

"Right, Buck's smart, but he can't write a report right or do the filing to save his life."

"That's why you don't let him help you with the papers?" Vin asked, remembering the times he'd seen Chris shoo Buck way from the typewriter in the sheriff's office.

"That's right, but just because he can't spell so good and he misreads file names, doesn't make him dumb - right? You have to go to school and do your best, but so long as you are doing the best you can, that'll be good enough. I won't care if you get an A or a D, so long as you tried your best, okay?"


The four of them turned away from the sight of the retreating train and began the short walk to the schoolhouse. Vin walked beside Chris, his bag was over his shoulder and he walked tall. Chris had told him, that whenever encountering new people or new situations and especially when faced with both, to walk tall, don't let people know you're scared or worried or unsure - even if you are. He assured Vin every one was scared when faced with new things, even him. Just behind them, JD trotted along beside Buck, holding on to his brother's hand, or rather two of his fingers, as his hand wasn't big enough to grasp Buck's whole hand.

They were about half way there when JD suddenly let go of Buck, sat down in the street and howled at the top of his lungs.

"What the…?" Buck exclaimed, dropping to his knees in front of the boy, thinking he was injured or sick. "JD, what's wrong?" he asked reaching for the boy.

JD, however, did not want to be picked up and comforted, he batted the advancing hands away.

"No!" he howled, thumping his feet up and down angrily.

Buck looked over his shoulder at Chris, who just shrugged.

"Come on little brother, tell me what's wrong," Buck pleaded.

JD tried, he was clearly speaking, but he was crying so much it was impossible to work out what he was saying. In the end, Buck managed to pick out 'don't' and 'Vin' and 'Ezra' and from this surmised that JD had decided he didn't want his new brothers to go to school. He wanted them home with him. With this knowledge and sure that the boy was only having a tantrum and not otherwise afflicted in anyway, he moved with lightning speed. Before JD knew what was happening, Buck was behind him, and had scooped him up. In no more than a flash, JD was pinned, his back to Buck's chest, his arms pinned by Buck's left arm wrapped around him. Buck had his right arm under JD's legs, keeping the youngster's feet well away from his body - he'd learnt that lesson the painful way!

"Vin you have a great day at school, remember to enjoy it and we'll see you at lunch time, okay?"

Vin looked at Buck and the still crying and struggling JD, not sure what to do.

"Don't you worry about him, he'll calm down once you're gone."

Buck looked pointedly at Chris, who gave him a tiny nod of the head. "Come on, you don't want to be late your first day," he reminded Vin, placing an arm over his shoulders and turning him away.

Buck noticed more than a few of Four Corners' citizens watching the little drama, many of them had a disapproving look on their faces.

**Oh yeah, of course, your kids never did anything wrong, they were perfect angles!** Buck silently fumed as he carried JD down to the sheriff's office as fast as he could without actually running.


To Vin, the schoolhouse suddenly looked a lot bigger than it ever had before. It loomed over him, almost malevolently. Other children were arriving, for most it wasn't their first day, and they chatted with friends as they milled about, waiting for the bell. Some had been charged with caring for their younger siblings, while a couple of mothers stood with their two girls, who's first day this clearly was.

Chris felt Vin press closer to him, he could almost feel the boy itching to take his hand, but knew he wouldn't, he didn't want the other boys to think he was a baby.

"Ready?" Chris asked in a hushed tone.

"Yeah," came the less than convincing reply.

"Want me to stay?"

There was an agonising long pause before Vin shook his and took one step away from him, then he paused and looked back. "I'm coming over at lunch?" he asked, just to be sure.

"Just like we arranged. You come to the office and we'll eat together."

In such a small community, most of the children who lived in town went home for their mid day meal. Only the pupils from the outlying farms brought food with them. In the winter, when the snow was bad, their parents sent them with three pennies and for this Inez provided hot soup, warm biscuits and cookies.

With a patently fake smile, Vin ducked his head and turned back to the school and as boldly as he could, walked way from his guardian, his father, his security, and into the unknown. Not wanting to embarrass him, Chris, with an equally fake look of confidence, turned way and walked up the street as far as the big tree in the corner of Mrs Perrie's garden. There, all his confidence evaporated as he hid, like some peeping tom, watching the children milling around outside the school.

Vin stood with his back to Chris, a little way off from the main group of children. He saw Lucy Potter give him a small wave, but she didn't leave the gaggle of girls she was with. All the girls were gathered on one side of the school steps and all the boys on the other side, while the little kids had congregated around the two mothers near the front. Vin was standing somewhat forlornly between the two groups. Eventually, a taller boy broke way from the main group and approached him. Chris all but held his breath as he watched the two boys, then let out a sigh of relief as Vin moved with the boy toward the main group. Minutes later, Mrs Greer appeared at the door and rang the bell. Instantly, the boys and girls formed into two lines while Nettie came out and ushered the first graders inside. Chris waited just long enough to see Vin file inside before turning away. He knew the knot of nerves in his gut wouldn't leave him until he saw Vin again and knew how his morning had gone.


Buck marched into the office and sat JD down on the desk.

"Stop it now," he commanded firmly.

JD gulped and looked up at him, tears still streaming down his cheeks. He opened his mouth.

"No, no more, now just stop it."

Eyes as big as saucers stared at him, tears still fell, but the noise had stopped.

"There you go," Buck soothed, his voice now soft and reassuring.

Pulling out one of the three clean handkerchiefs he now habitually carried, Buck dried JD's tears and had him blow his nose. With that done, he picked up his bother, who this time didn't protest.

"I know you don't want them to go, but that is no way to behave - is it?" he asked.

JD looked down and shrugged.


"No," came the admission in the smallest of voices.

"It's only for a little while, Vin's coming over to eat his lunch and he'll be home at three. Ezra 'll be back at half past five."

They had told JD this more than once, but it didn't hurt to keep repeating it.

"Why can't you teached them?" JD asked.

"Because I have to work and so does Chris and because the law says they have to go to school."

"But I don't want them to go."

"I know, I know." Buck kissed the top of his head. "But you'll get used to it, and before you know it, it'll be your turn to go to school."

JD didn't respond, he just lay his head on Buck's shoulder and sniffed.

By the time Chris came back, JD had calmed done enough to be sitting on Buck's lap at the desk hitting typewriter keys.

"Hey there you, you doing Buck's report for him? I bet you spell better than him."

JD giggled, grinning as he 'typed'.

Buck winked at Chris, letting him know he didn't mind the jibe. 'How's Vin?" he asked silently.

Chris gave him a 'so so' hand gesture.


The wait for noon to come around seemed interminable to the two men and one small boy in the sheriff's office, but just when they thought it would never come, the clock stuck twelve and the school let out for the lunch hour. Vin raced across town bursting though door with a huge grin on his face.

"Hi!" he shouted excitedly.

"So, how is it?" Chris asked.


Chris didn't think he'd ever been so relieved in all his life.

They took out the sandwiches, pie, biscuits, lemonade and cookies they had brought with them from home and settled down to eat. Between mouthfuls, Vin told them all about his day so far. They had started by saying the pledge of alliance, which Chris had taught him already, then they had sung America - My Country 'tis of Thee.

"Than after that Mrs Greer read us a story, well, a bit of a story, she's gonna read a bit every day and when she gets to the end, it's gonna be Christmas," Vin explained.

"What's the story called?" Buck asked.

"Umm, Five Children and It, it's kind of a wired name, but it's a real good book, there are these children and they go exploring. I think they're gonna find 'it'.

"What's an it?" JD asked.

"D'no yet, we have t' wait 'till tomorrow."

"So what happened after the story?" Chris prompted.

"Miz Nettie took the little kids, Mrs Greer told us to write a story called 'What I did this Summer' but she talked to me and said she knew I did lots and lots of stuff in the summer and I only had to write about one of them. So I wrote about when JD hit Ezra with the bat."

Following this statement, there was silence. None of them had ever heard Vin say so much so fast, and in that moment, Chris knew it was going to be alright. He also knew they were lucky to have the young widow Greer for a teacher. Good teachers were hard find and even harder to keep - they had a tendency to get married and leave. He'd attended a one room school himself and in eight years they'd had five teachers and that was considered a good record.

Knowing Vin was happy at school, at least for today, made the afternoon pass more quickly for Chris. Buck had taken JD out with him on a routine patrol in the truck, mainly just to keep him occupied, although the logistics of getting two boys to and from two different schools, work the ranch, man the office and keep a hyperactive five year old occupied and safe was something that he now realised needed more planning than they had given it thus far. Whatever the difficulties, they'd work it out and make it work, just like they had somehow made their new family work.

As they waited for Ezra's train, Vin told them all about his afternoon, even though Chris warned him he'd probably have to tell it all again to Ezra. Apparently, the boy who had welcomed him outside the school was Cole Tackett, his father had a farm east of town, and Mrs Greer had assigned him the job of looking after Vin for the first week.

"So that's why he called you over?" Chris asked.

"Nah, he didn't know then, he's just being nice then."

Chris made a mental note to thank the Tackett boy next time he saw him.

The school train was bang on time and even before it stopped, children were jumping down. The younger ones ran to waiting parents, the old hands, just set out for home, some on foot, some on bicycles, a few headed for the livery to collect their mounts and begin the ride home. Ezra wasn't one of these children, he waited for the train to stop and climbed down with deliberate slowness, then walked over to his family, but he was smiling.


All in all, the first week of school was a resounding success. Chris and Buck decided to spend the money they had got for the big bay colt they had sold in August on a new - well second hand - car. They could manage with the truck and the horses while the weather was good, come the winter, riding into town wasn't going to be viable option on too many days. Plus, the small cab on the truck really was too small for all five of them. So they bought a car with room for five. Buck had wanted another Chevy, to match the truck, arguing it would make maintenance easier, but all they could find was a three year old Ford A class sedan, with only two doors. Worse still, in Buck's eyes, it was grey, but while not ideal, it was available and the price was right.

Vin seemed to be thriving, and while he was still behind his peers in reading and writing, he was able to keep up in arithmetic and was enjoying the other subjects despite the extra effort he had to put in to keep up. He particularly liked to write stories and then illustrate them with surprisingly good drawings.

Ezra was also enjoying school, mostly. He found arithmetic boring, mainly because it was too easy for him, like wise English. However, he was enjoying history and science enormously. The only thing he really hated, detested in fact, was gym. The idea that he was going to be forced to put on such ridicules outfits and cavort about, engaging in sweaty pursuits, was an anathema to him. Worse still, he was expected to do it every single week! When he had 'forgotten' his gym bag one morning and Buck had so 'kindly' picked it up for him, he'd finally confessed how he felt. He'd expected to be ridiculed, but the big deputy had just smiled.

"It's not for everyone, I grant you that, but you can't avoid it."

"Oh but I can! Fredrick Basford has a note from his mother, saying he can't participate due a weak heart. All you need to do is write me a note."

"There ain't nothing wrong with your heart kid, Nathan checked you out, you're fine now."

"But the school don't know that."

"I'm not writing you a note."


"No, and don't even think about asking Chris, not if you want to sit down any time this week."

Ezra sighed deliberately loudly.

"Oh come on, it's not that bad, it's only once a week."

"Only once week!" Ezra spluttered in horror.

"Do they make you go to football practice?"

"Well no, I have to choose this week between football and basketball."

"Well, at least basketball is played inside and you do want to play baseball in the summer - right?"

Ezra shifted in the car seat. "I had, that is, well, yes; I have to admit I am partial to baseball."

"Right, if I give you a note, you'd have to give that up and riding as well. We can't have someone spot you galloping down the valley and then go and tell the principal - can we?"

"You make a valid point," Ezra conceded.

"There you go. Kid, we all have to do stuff we don't like, that's just the way the world is. If we didn't, the world would be buried in shit."


School wasn't the only sign that summer was over. A sudden drop in temperature in the second week of September prompted the logging company to announce they'd be shutting down at the end of the month. This happened every year, and every year, they came back in the spring and set up camp in a different location, bulldozing a new trail up from the saw mill into the forest. The coming and going of the lumberjacks was as much a part of the town's life as the changing of the seasons. Normally, it meant nothing to the town, other than a temporary drop in trade and less work for the two deputies, but the leaving of the loggers also heralded the leaving of the town's only doctor. For ten years, since the death of the town's last resident doctor, there had only been a doctor in town if the loggers brought one with them. In the winter and sometimes in the summer - when the logging company hadn't been able to hire a doctor - the town's folk were faced with a long drive to Eagle Bend to find medical help. In the best of conditions, it was a five hour drive. However, on average, it was more like seven and in bad weather, it was often impossible.

Chris, Buck and Josiah had a plan to solve this problem, they had even talked to Judge Travis about it. Now they needed to get the town to approve it, since it was the town's money they were planning to spend. A town meeting was called, and since it was the single largest building in the town - saw mill not withstanding - it was held in the church. The boys were left at the jail with Ezra while Buck and Chris attended, along with just about everyone.

Josiah welcomed everyone and then handed over to Orin, who outlined the problem, something they were all too well aware of, but it didn't hurt to remind people. Then, he came to the proposed solution.

"Some years ago you all voted funds to a third part time deputy sheriff, but as you know, we've never been able to find anyone of the right calibre who'll take the job, plus Fr Sanchez here has always been willing to lend a hand when needed." There was a murmur of approval from the assembled town's folk. Many still remembered the previous deputies, corrupt bullies who were not above framing innocent people if they caused trouble. They were more than happy with the current arrangement. "So," Travis continued. "The money has been accumulating at the bank, acquiring interest. The main reason we have no doctor is that we are just not big enough to give any doctor a decent income. It has been proposed that the money we voted to pay for a deputy be paid to a doctor as stipend. In addition, if we have a permanent doctor in town, the logging company will also pay him a retainer for the summer, rather than bring one with them. All this should just about make a living wage for a doctor, but only just. To sweeten the pot, we propose using the accumulated money to refurbish the old doctor's office and apartments, which will go with the job, rent free."

There was an ominous silence after Orin finished speaking.

"Any questions?" Josiah asked.

Mr Kelly stood. "It sounds like a good plan, but how do we know we're not gonna get some quack. You make it sound like no half way decent doc would take the job."

Orin looked at Chris, who reluctantly stood. "We have a doctor in mind, a fine man, well qualified and proven."

"Who?" someone called from the back of the room.

"Dr Jackson."

It was clear that not everyone know who Nathan was, but some did.

"Wait a moment, isn't he the doc who's been with the loggers this summer?" Ralph Elliot called out.

"Yes he is," Chris responded evenly.

"But ain't he a negro?" Elliot persisted.

"So?" Chris replied.

This produced a murmur of conversation around the church.

Eventually Walter Conklin stood up. "You can't honestly expect us to vote for a darkie doctor."

"Why not?" Buck asked angrily.

"Well, it's not…, it's… Damn it! It ain't right, I mean, I don't mind, for me, but I'm not letting my wife go to a nigger for that kind of thing, it ain't decent!"

There were mummers of approval around the room, though, from where Chris was sitting, he could see more people in silent contemplation than talking.

"Excuse me!" Everyone looked around to see Gloria Potter standing at one side of the room. "You all know my husband was murdered, stabbed in his own store. The sheriff and Buck caught that man." It was odd, everyone called Chris 'sheriff', even though he was only deputy, and they all called Buck, 'Buck' never 'mister' or 'deputy' or 'sheriff' and that was the way he liked it. Calling him Buck didn't detract from his authority, other than everyone treated Chris as his superior - though they held the same rank, but that was also okay by Buck. Gloria continued. "What many of you might not know is that my Henry didn't die right off. He was still alive when Buck and Father Sanchez carried him to the jail. They were on the phone to the doctor at Eagle Bend; they did everything he told them to do, but it wasn't enough and he died. The doctor told them he might have lived if there'd been a doctor there to tend him. I'm not saying they didn't do their best and I know it pains them both that they couldn't save him, and I thank them, again, for all they tried to do." She ducked her head at the two men in question.


Outside, three boys stood on a bench, one on the seat, one on the arm rest, and one on the back, so that all three could just about peek in through the open window.

"Wow, I didn't know that," Vin whispered.

"Most distressing," Ezra agreed.

"What's a nigger?" JD asked innocently.

Ezra looked over at JD, amazed at his ignorance. "I will tell you later, but it is a word I don't think your brother would like to hear you use."

"Is it a bad word?" JD asked. "Like the words Buck used when he hit his thumb with the hammer?"

"In a way."

"Hush you guys, I can't hear what Miz Potter's sayin'," Vin hissed.


Gloria continued. "I personally don't care if we have a black doctor, a white doctor, a Chinese doctor or even a lady doctor, so long as we have one. Every time my children leave the house, I'm afraid they're going to get hurt and there is no one here to save them." Gloria turned to Elliot's wife, a brow beaten woman named Sara. "What about your boy? What about Justin? When he broke his leg the winter before last; you told me it took you near ten hours to get to the hospital, and him crying and screaming in pain all the way. Would you really do that again, if there was doctor here in town, just because he's a black man? Would you Ralph, could you really?" She turned to the rest of the meeting. "I'm not saying you all have to go to him every time. If it makes you feel better, go down the valley, but I for one want to know there is someone here who knows what to do in an emergency."

The room burst into applause and before it could die down, another woman rose to her feet. This time it was Lydia Cooper. Lydia lived in a kind of limbo, an outcast because she made her living 'entertaining' gentlemen, mostly loggers and yet accepted, because she was the town's midwife.

"I do my best for the women of this town but I'm no doctor. There are babies in the graveyard now that wouldn't be there if this town had a doctor, and…" she added sadly. "At least one mother." She turned to Conklin. "Walter, your daughter is pregnant, what will you do if the baby comes early, before she can get down the valley. If you have to choose between Doctor Jackson and loosing her and your grandchild, what will it be? Could you live with yourself if you lost them for the sake of your pride?"

The applause was more muted this time. There were a fair number of men who didn't want to be seen supporting Lydia, but it was clear many people agreed with her. More arguments were made, for and against, until Orin felt all that could productively be said had been, and called for a vote.

It wasn't unanimous, but there was a big enough majority in favour that there was no need to actually count the raised hands. They clearly out numbered those which had been raised against. The monition was passed.

"Yes!" all three boys shouted in joy, drawing every head in the room to the window.

"Opps!" Ezra exclaimed as they ducked down.


By the time Chris and Buck were back at the jail, the boys were there, good as gold, listening to the radio. The two men stood just inside the door, presenting a united front of folded arms and stern expressions.

"When we say 'stay in the jail' we mean 'stay here'. Is that clear?" Chris began.

"Yes Sir," each boy responded.

"Good, I hope you remember it, because if it ever happens again, there will be a price to pay - understood?"

"Yes Sir."

"But, tonight was too good a night to be spoiling it with sad boys and grumpy adults," Buck explained. "So we'll say no more about it - except…"

"Except?" Ezra asked.

"Starting this weekend, we'll be helping to clean up the old doctor's office, and you'll be helping," Chris explained.

"We owe him a lot," Buck reminded.

"Buck?" JD piped up.

"Yes Little'n?"

"What's a nigger?"

Buck's eyes when wide as he bent to pick up his brother. "I'll tell you later, but I don't want you to use that word ever again, understood?"

"That's what Ezra said you'd say."

"Did he? Well, he's right, come on let's go home."

Chris watched Buck leaving with JD and then turned to the older boys. "And now you know why we didn't want him to go to the meeting. Come on, home."


When Orin called and said he needed to speak to both men, they both had a bad feeling. They knew if it had been good news, he'd have told them on the phone, or even come to the house, good news wasn't delivered at the office.

So come the next morning, with Vin and Ezra safely at school and JD over at the diner with Inez, the Judge sat down with the two men and delivered the bad news. Maude was free to return and could - if she so wished - claim Ezra back. It was news none of them wanted to hear. Buck volunteered to tell Ezra, though none of them knew how he'd take it.

"Orin, there is something else I need to talk to you about," Chris announced.

"There is?" Buck asked, more then a little surprised.

"Sorry, I've been thinking on this for a while, this business with Maude has made it more urgent. I was meaning to tell you first."

Buck nodded his understanding, he could guess what was coming.

"You want to adopt Vin?" Orin guessed.

"Yes. Fostering is too temporary, I want it made legal, permanent."

"I understand. Well, normally, as a single man, you wouldn't be considered, but your situation isn't normal so you might get lucky. If it came before me, I'd grant it in a heart beat, but I can't sit on your case, I'm too involved."

Chris knew that would be the case, even so the news wasn't what he wanted to hear.

"There is a way to make it easier."

"What way?" Chris asked, urgently.

"Technically, his aunt still has claim on him. She's a close blood relative, even if she won't have anything to do with him. If you can get her to sign custody over to you, the adoption would be a formality."

Buck looked over at Chris and smiled. "Looks like you're going to Texas."

"I can't head off and leave you alone with the boys and the ranch and this place," Chris protested.

"Seems to me you did pretty good while I was laid up. The loggers 'll be gone by Friday, then this place is gonna be quieter than the grave. Vin and Ez are at school, Josiah's here if we need him. You know Inez, Gloria, Nettie and some of the other women 'll help watch JD when I need it. Hell, most of them practically kidnap him the moment they see the poor little guy! And I can leave them with Ezra, while I'm working at home. He's a good boy, he won't let us down." Chris was about to protest again. "You need to do this pal, for both of you."

Chris thought about it. "I'll leave on Monday, if you're sure?"

"I'm sure, this is too important."

"Maybe I'll find out what she was doing here." Buck frowned, not understanding the statement. "Vin's mother, she was from Texas, what was she doing all the way up here, with a kid?"

Buck shrugged. "Looking for work?"

"Here? In sunny Washington? Why not California?

Travis looked from one man to the other. "He's got a point. I'll get the ever eager Miss Evans to see if she can come up with anymore information before Monday. Texas is a big place."

"Thanks, I'll have a talk with Vin, see if he can remember anything more."

"You do realise," Orin called as both men stood and turned to leave. "that if you adopt Vin, you will no longer get an allowance from the state for fostering him. He'll be your son and your responsibility."

Chris glanced at Buck and then shrugged. "We'll manage."


Despite their conversations with the Judge, it was JD who was the first recipient of an 'important talk'.

"Come here little brother," Buck called to JD while Ezra and Vin were doing their homework.

JD obediently trotted over to him. The two of them walked outside to the porch, the sun was already setting and there was a distinct chill in the air.

"I need you to be the biggest, most grown up boy you can be tonight. Can you do that?" Buck asked as they sat on the swing seat.

"Uh ha," JD assured.

"Once you've had a bath and a story, I want you to stay in bed and be as quiet as a mouse."

JD frowned. "Mice ain't quiet, you can hear them when they runs about, spiders are quiet, you don't never hear them, not ever the big ones." Buck was sure JD's obsession with spiders was going to end in trouble one day.

"Right, well okay as quiet as a spider, can you do that? For me?"

JD nodded, then came the inevitable question. "Why?"

"That's why you have to be a big boy. I can't tell you right now. I have to talk to Ezra and Chris needs to talk to Vin - okay?"

Buck could see a question forming on JD's lips. "No, no more questions, time to be a big, grown up, quiet spider."


Buck wasn't sure how Ezra would take the news that his mother was now free to return to the country and regain custody of him. Would he be happy, sad, worried? He hadn't sugar coated the news or offered any empty assurances that things would be alright. Maude had lied to her son in so many ways, Buck wanted, as best he could, to be as honest with the boy.

"Is the judge sure she's free to return?"

Buck nodded. "Only one man ever made a complaint about her, although the judge thinks there are a lot more who haven't come forward."

Ezra nodded. "Mother picks a select few in every location, rich, proud and greedy. She never takes them for more than they can afford. When they find out what ever they have purchased or invested in is nothing but a piece of paper with no value, they are too embarrassed to admit they were taken, especially by a woman." He looked up at Buck. "She counts on them being proud. So long as they can hide the loss, she's safe."

"Seems she miscalculated this time."

"There is always a risk. 'If you don't play high stakes you can't win big pots' that's one of mother's little sayings."

"But now that one man is dead, and even though he swore out a complaint and gave an affidavit, if they can't cross-examine him on the stand, the case will be dismissed, so there is no point even bringing it to court."

Ezra knew all too well the ins and outs of the court system and how to play it to your advantage. It was one of his earliest lessons. He'd used it himself to win his place with Buck and Chris, rather than a reformatory.

"Do you want to see her?" Buck asked tentatively.

"No, yes … I don't know." Ezra looked away, over the land, toward the faintest of orange glows that marked the last of the setting sun. "I don't want to leave here, not ever." He looked back at Buck. "But, I think I should like to see her, if she came to visit."

"But just for a visit?"

Ezra turned back to the sky and after moment's thought, nodded.


Vin had seen JD go out with Buck, but thought nothing of it. When, after his bath and story, he'd stayed in their room alone, he was a little curious. When Buck took Ezra outside, he was very curious. Then, when moments later Chris told him to come with him to his room, he was worried. Something was going on, and that made him very uneasy.

The two of them sat on the side of the bed.

"Vin, son, you know I love you very much, don't you?"

Vin's stomach did a huge flip of fear. Was it all coming to an end?

"Yes," he replied slightly hesitant.

"And because I do love you, I want you to be my son, not just my foster son, but my real, adopted son. Would you like that?"

"I'm not your son now?" Vin asked, not sure what the difference was.

"To me you are, but not to the law. The state pays me to look after you, but I don't want to be a paid dad, I want to be a real dad."

Vin still didn't really understand the difference. It must have shown on his face because Chris continued.

"If I adopt you, it'll be as if I was your real father, no one can ever take you away from me."

Hope bloomed all over Vin's face. "Really?"

Chris nodded. "Would you like that?"

"Yes!" Vin exclaimed happily, but a second later he frowned.

"What's the matter?"

"Do I have to be a Larabee?"

"Well, I don't know, but - if they law says you have to have my name, we'll find a way for you to still be a Tanner as well." Chris was aware Vin was very proud of his name. "How does that sound?"


"Now, the thing is, the law takes a long time to do things. However, there may be a way to make it happen faster."

Vin was all attention.

"If I can find your aunt, and she signs some papers, then they will make you my son almost straight away."

"She didn't want me."

"I know, but she's still your mother's sister. Is there anything you can remember that might help me find her?"

Vin shook his head, he'd never even met her.

"Well, let me try some questions. Do you know what your mother's name was before she married your father?" **Always assuming she did marry him.**

Vin clearly didn't understand.

"My mother's name was Helen Larabee, but before she married my father, she was Helen Owen."

"My mother's name was Elizabeth, but everyone called her Beth," Vin explained seriously. "She had a bible, with lots of names in it."

"A family bible, I have one with my family names in it. Do you know what happened to it?"

Vin looked very sad. "When Mom died, they put me in a home, and there was a man there who was mean to me so I ran away. I left the book behind."

"Did you ever go back there?"

Vin shook his head.

"Well, it's a start. I can find the name of the home and maybe they still have it." Vin looked at him hopefully, but said nothing. "Can you remember your mother ever mentioning were she grew up, where she went to school?"

Vin thought hard for a while. "It was a funny name, like coppy Christmas, but not that."

"Corpus Christie?" Chris suggested.

"Yeah! How did you know?"

"It's a place, down in Texas. You just wait, I'll find your aunt in no time."

"How are you gonna find her? She's in Texas."

"I'm going down there on Monday."

"We're going all the way to Texas?"

"No, I'm going to Texas. You're staying here with Buck and the others."

"But I can…"

"No, you stay here," Chris' tone was soft but firm. "I know you want come, but you can't. I don't know where I'll be going, I don't know what kind of places I'll be staying at. I know you want to help, but the best way to help, is to say here, be good and I'll be back as soon as I can." Chris put his arm around Vin and pulled him into a hug, kissing the top if his head. "No matter what, you're my son, never forget that."


Louise Evans, Orin's brilliant young law student assistant had tracked down Vin's records with dogged determination, coming up with the names of the homes where he'd been sent to, and run away from. Most importantly, she found the first home, The Holy Family Foundlings Home in Seattle, and Vin's mother's death certificate. It showed that she had died of diphtheria. It confirmed she was a widow and at the time of her death, had been a waitress. Her place of birth was given as Corpus Christi in Texas, confirming what Vin had remembered.

When Monday came, both Chris and Ezra stood waiting for the train. Because he found partings so difficult, JD has said goodbye already and was now with Mrs Potter at the store. Vin was leaning against Buck's leg, trying to be brave. While he had the tears in check, there was no hiding his distress at the separation. When the guard signalled it was time to board, Ezra took Chris' duffle and stepped onto the train, while Chris knelt down in front of his son.

"Be brave and I'll be back as soon as I can. I might even manage to call - but don't worry if I don't, there may not be any phones where I am."

Vin nodded.

Chris kissed the top of his head and then stood up. His look to Buck said **Look after him.** Buck's said **You know I will.**

Vin stayed where he was, pressed against the reassuring presence of Buck's long leg, until the train was out of sight.


The Holy Family Foundlings Home was located just to the south west of State Park, and it wasn't what Chris had been expecting. There was a big brick house, which looked to be about fifty years old, with a large, more modern looking extension to one side. On the other side, set at right angles and connected to the side of the house, was a chapel. From behind the building, he could hear the sound of children playing. Mounting the steps to the front door, he was met by a young novice.

"Are you Mr Larabee?" she asked.


"Come this way, Mother Superior is expecting you."

The mother superior was a short, thin, woman, who reminded Chris of a bird. She looked to be middle aged, but it was always hard to be sure with nuns.

"I'm Sister Mary Clare, please have a seat Mr Larabee," she invited. "How can we help you?"

Chris first asked if she remembered Vin.

Sister Mary Clare nodded. "Yes, I remember young Vincent, his was a very sad little boy when he came here, but he cheered up slowly, then…"

"Then what?"

"He became disruptive, sullen even. When I tried to find out why, he made up some story about our gardener, Mr McKay."

"What kind of story?" Chris asked.

"Oh it was ludicrous, children sometimes do this."

"Do they?" Chris asked icily. "What did Vin accuse the man of?"

"It told you it was ludicrous."

"Tell me."

Sister Mary Clare sighed. "Very well, he claimed Mr McKay had tried to touch him in inappropriate ways. He said he always got away and that made Mr McKay angry."

Chris silently sighed a sigh of relief. He was worried someone had abused Vin, but now at least that seemed unlikely.

"Why do you think he was lying?"

"I asked Mr McKay and others. He denied it and no one else had seen anything. Who should I believe it? After all, Mr McKay has a wife and two children."

"Sister, I'm a man of the world and I can tell you, that this thing you don't want to think about, happens a lot more often than you'd like to think. The men who do it are very good at covering their tracks and many of them are married. I'm not saying Vin never lies, he's as capable as any boy of taking an extra cookie and denying it, or denying all knowledge of a broken window, but he wouldn't lie about something like that. You said it yourself, he was getting over his mother's death and then he changed - why?"

"I really couldn't say."

"Oh, I think you could and I strongly suggest you start opening your eyes and watch this man very closely."

"He's, well, he doesn't work here anymore."


"He left by mutual agreement, he was offered a job at the cemetery."

"You knew all along it wasn't a lie," Chris accused.

"I don't wish to discus the matter any further. Was there anything else you needed?"

Chris went on to ask about the bible, unable to keep the accusatorial tone out of his voice.

"We should still have it, we would never dispose of any child's positions, especially something as precious as a bible." Without another word, she stood up. "Come on, we'll find it now."

It didn't take long, the orphanage's store room was well organised, with boxes of children's possessions arranged alphabetically.

"We keep anything too valuable to leave with the child or anything they leave behind when they leave or, sadly die. I don't know why Vincent wasn't returned to us, we would have been happy to see him back." She turned to look up at Chris. "I know you think we failed him, but we're not monsters Mr Larabee, we do try our best for the children in our care."

Whatever his reservations, he needed this woman's help so he kept his opinions to himself, giving her a faint smile instead.

"Ah, here we are; Tanner, Vincent J."

She pulled the box out and opened the lid. Inside was a bible, small, black, unremarkable. There was also a crucifix.

"The crucifix is gold, too valuable to be left with a small boy, we gave him another one," the nun explained. "The bible was still under his pillow."

"Was here nothing else?" Chris asked.

"I don't think so, we can look in the records, there will be an inventory in there.

The records confirmed what Miss Evans had uncovered and recorded that he arrived with two sets of clothes, one pair of boots, one night shirt, a small soft toy in the form of a rabbit, a gold crucifix and a bible. Chris wondered what happened to the rabbit, perhaps Vin took it with him when he ran away and lost it sometime later.


On the Friday after Chris left, Buck took JD over to the diner for an afternoon coffee and a glass of milk respectively. Except that Inez brought over a small bowl of ice cream for JD as well.

"I didn't order that," Buck pointed out hastily, aware his little brother's eyes were already the size of saucers.

"I know, but I thought you might need it."

"I, might need him, to have ice cream?"

Inez nodded and tilted her head toward the window. Buck followed her gaze, and saw a well dressed, blonde woman walking down the street from the station. She seemed to be looking for something.

"Thanks," Buck whispered to Inez under his breath. "JD?"


"You stay here and eat your ice cream and I'll be back soon, okay?"


"You mind Inez and stay here until I come back."

Stepping out onto the street, Buck put on his best smile.

"Good morning ma'am, can I help you?"


Ezra was lying on his bed facing the wall. Even if he hadn't been able to hear the thirteen year old, Buck would have known he was crying by the way his shoulders shuddered. He eased his tall frame down onto the edge of the narrow bed. Very gently, he placed a hand on the boy's shoulder.

"Hey there," he said quietly.

Ezra flinched under his touch. "Go away," he managed to get out between sobs.

"Can't do that son, not when yer so upset," Buck explained softy.

"Please, just leave me alone." For a long time Ezra said nothing, his sobs however did not abate. Buck sat there and waited.

The woman he'd met in town was Maude Standish, as he had suspected from the moment he saw her. She already had a court order, giving her custody of Ezra. Buck wondered what dirt she had on the judge who'd signed it. He'd been able to persuade her that Ezra was at school and lived out of town.

"I'll arrange for him to be in town tomorrow." For some reason, Maude didn't seem to know who Buck was, other than a deputy sheriff.

Once she had agreed, he'd picked up Vin from school and driven, not to the ranch, but to the closest rail crossing to the ranch. There he had flagged down the train and taken Ezra off. As soon as they were home, Ezra had run to his room and shut himself in.

"I…I don't want to leave," he finally choked out. "I don't want to go with her, I….I hate her!"

"Now, I don't think you really mean that." Buck squeezed his shoulder gently.

"Yes I do!" Ezra's voice became stronger. "I hate her and I want to stay here. She isn't a real mother, she doesn't do it correctly, not like you and Chris…" He stopped for a moment to catch his breath. "I don't mean you're mothers, I mean…"

"I know what you mean," Buck interjected to save Ezra having to explain.

"She doesn't want me, she never wanted me. I was a mistake, I held her back, I got in the way, I had to be quiet, stay out of the way and pretend I didn't know her. 'Be quiet Ezra, stay in the room Ezra, don't make any noise Ezra, don't talk unless I tell you it's alright Ezra, don't touch anything Ezra, don't play with the other children Ezra, sit up straight Ezra'. Until I was old enough to be a help to her, then she wanted me." Buck could just hear Maude Standish's voice in Ezra's descriptions. He ached for the desperately lonely, unloved boy Ezra had been, and still was deep down.

Ezra sat up and turned to look at Buck, eyes red rimmed and puffy.

"I don't want to have to keep moving. I like having my own room. Every time she left me anywhere pleasant, anywhere I was actually wanted, or wanted to be, she took me away again. I liked it at school, I had friends, my own bed, my own stuff, but she took me away. She took me away to come here and con people. I hate taking people's money, lying to them. I hate it but I'm good at it. I like it here… please, she doesn't want me, she wants a partner to run cons with, it doesn't matter who, she could find some one else. I want to stay here and look after the horses and play with the boys and ride Lady and…and…" The tears fell again, silently now. Buck gently rubbed his back. "And I want to listen to JD talking without breathing…" That made Buck smile. "And I want to play ball with Vin and I want Chris to tell me do something I don't want to, with that look and that voice and I know I have to even if I don't want to. And… I want you make me get up on time and do chores." Buck snorted at this. "Well maybe I don't want to, but I like that you make me, I know it's for my own good…it's not…it's not for your good. You don't do it just because you want something for you."

He complained all the time about chores, 'menial labour' as he called it, he complained about getting up so early to do the chores, especially if there was no school. He resented being made to help with the house hold chores. But for all his complaining and muttering, he knew Chris and Buck didn't ask him do things just to save them the work or to make them money. He had to do it because they all did chores, with five of them in the house, horses and chickens to look after and the two men also holding down full time jobs, having everyone help was essential. He could understand that, however much he disliked it. That was the price he paid for security and stability. He was the oldest and the biggest. JD tried to help but he really was too young and much too small to do much more than feed the chickens and collect eggs on his own. That left Vin and Ezra to help out with most of the 'dirty' jobs as well as the more fun jobs like feeding and grooming the horses, JD followed Buck, or in his absence Chris, and 'helped'. In the house, the boys helped sweep and dust, lay the table and wash the dishes, kept the wood basket full and swept the grate. Which was to say, Vin and Ezra did these things. JD laid the table, carried things and moved the dust from one place to another and talked to the spiders in the woodpile.

"I want to know you're here, and you'll protect me if 'he' ever comes looking for us and…and you'll speak Cajun to me sometimes. Please don't make me go with her again, please. She'll just leave me some place - again; like she always does," he begged, falling back onto the bed.

Buck reached over and lifted the slight boy up, pulling him closer so that he now lay across Buck's lap. Ezra's slim arms instinctively snaking around Buck's waist and clinging on to him in desperation. Buck made no attempt to stop the tears, he continued to rub the boy's back and now spoke gently in Cajun, telling him it was all right to cry. Finally, he was too tired to cry anymore, but he didn't let go of Buck.

Feeling the change in the boy on his lap, Buck switched back into English. "I don't want you to leave, nor does Chris or the boys, but I've spoken to Judge Travis, and he says there is nothing we can do to stop her. But you remember this; you will always have a place in this family, this is your home. You can always turn to us for help, anytime, anywhere. I mean that! If you're in trouble, I will come for you, no matter where you are, I promise you."

"Really?" Ezra asked in a quiet voice, muffled by Buck's shirt.

"I swear it."


Corpus Christi was a bigger place than Chris had been expecting, finding someone with as little information as he had wasn't going to be easy. The original file had only given her name as J Patterson. He'd been hoping the bible would fill in some of the blanks, but unfortunately, it didn't, because it wasn't Vin's mother's bible. It was her husband's, it was the Tanner family bible. As such, it contained a wealth of information about the Tanners, but precious little about Elizabeth and her family, other than her maiden name, Miller.

It was late on Friday when he finally got to Corpus Christie. By the time he'd secured a room at modest hotel close to the station, it was too late to call home. With all the official buildings closed until Monday, there was little he could do the next day but check the phone book and ask questions. Since Patterson and Miller were fairly common place names, he wasn't surprised to find a good number of both in the phone directory and there was no guarantee the woman he was looking for even had a phone. Worse, since she was clearly married, any listing there might be would in all likelihood be under her husband's name, and he had no idea what his first name was. While asking about Pattersons and Millers everywhere he went, he decided to see what he could find out about the Tanners. Elizabeth had apparently married James Tanner when she was seventeen and he was eighteen. Vin was born only four months later - which probably explained why they were married so young. James Tanner was born in Denver, as was his father, so what was he doing way down in Corpus Christi? Even more intriguing, his mother, Vin's grandmother, was born in Wichita Falls and her maiden name was Cizik', a name Chris had never heard before. However, he had heard similar names which raised some interesting possibilities. The one thing he did have was the name of the church where Beth and James were married, St Francis Catholic church. It was located on the bluff that over looked the harbour, was fairly small, built of wood and in need of a fresh coat of paint. He checked the board outside, before he entered, not wanting to walk in on a service. Chris had never had a strong faith. His father, a career solider and a protestant, attended service in the same way he attended an inspection parade, it was part of his duty nothing more and while his mother had been raised as a Catholic, she had parted company with the church early on and become more of a humanist than a Christian. In the Larabee house, church was a duty, faith was a personal thing you didn't talk about. Chris considered there might be some all powerful deity, and if there was, he hoped it was merciful and fair. He considered he'd done nothing in his life to deserve eternal damnation - if such a thing existed, which he doubted - and so he had no reason to fear the after life. Besides, he wanted nothing to do with any god that would damn him without just cause.

Inside, he found an unremarkable church, the rather lurid and bright stations of the cross weren't to his taste. Josiah would have shuddered, he was very proud of his locally made, plain wood carved tableaux. The curtains on the confessional were both open, so he stepped back outside and went around the church looking for the priest's house. The man who answered the door was large, not as large as Josiah, but not a small man by any means. His hair was white, to match his full beard. He was wearing a long brown robe, belted with rope and - Chris glanced down - sandals, no socks.

"Father?" Chris began.

"Juan Pascal, what can I do for you?"

"I'm looking for information about a young couple who were married here about ten years ago. Were you here then?"

"Yes I was, been here twenty years now, hope to die here. Come on in."

Chris explained the reasons for his enquiry. "I know it was a long time ago, you've probably married hundreds of couple since then."

"Probably." They were headed for the priest's small office, where he kept his registers.

"They were very young."

"They often are."

"And she was pregnant."

"That, too, is sadly not uncommon." Pascal pulled the relevant register from the shelf. "What were the names?"

"James Tanner and Elizabeth Miller."

Pascal froze. "Oh, them I remember."

"You do?"

"Don't get too many couples like those two. Have a seat and I'll tell you what you need to know."

Chris learned that Elizabeth Miller was born Jewish and when she fell pregnant to a gentile, she was shunned by her only family, her older sister.

"She wanted to convert, normally it takes time, but with the baby on the way, well, I hurried things along." He smiled conspiratorially. "In such cases, the church allows for expedient measures." He pulled out another book and showed Chris the entry. "Here we are, Vincent James Tanner, I baptised him myself."

"Do you now anything about James. I have the family bible and someone, probably Beth, has written, 'died 1924?'."

"He disappeared. James worked at the Tex Mex railroad depot, but he was also working on a fishing boat. She set out one Saturday and was never seen again. No wreckage was ever found, there had been a storm, but nothing exceptional, the boat and the crew just vanished."

Chris shook his head. "The poor girl."

"She waited for a year, hoping he'd come back. The seaman's mission and the church helped as best we could. Her family still wouldn't help, so in the end, she took her little boy and went in search of his family. She did tell me where they lived, but, I'm sorry, I can't remember where it was exactly."

"Wichita Falls? That's where his parents were married."

"No, it was somewhere further north than that."


"That was it."

"All this is very helpful, but I still need to find her sister. All I have is the name J Patterson."

Father Pascal smiled. "Well I don't know where she lives, but I do know where the bakery is."


"There is a Jewish bakery called Patterson's, down town - sells the best bread in town." He winked. "Don't tell the bishop. But the point is, how many Jews called Patterson can there be in a place like Corpus Christi?"