June 17, 2001
Disclaimers - Do we really need these?
No way! Buck, you are so full of crap!
Its true! I saw Vin slip that new girl in payroll his phone number!
It was my business card, Buck. She said there was a problem with my last time sheet, and I told her to give me a call later.
Yeah, later on so that you two could talk and plan your date in private!
JD, you best get down
Chris Larabee watched in amusement as three of his agents, and best friends, bantered back and forth about the love life, or lack thereof, of one Vin Tanner. Most days he would have stepped in or said something before it got to the point where Vin would throw a roll of duct tape at Buck, but this wasnt most days. This morning, the three men had helped arrest Ricky Younger. Younger and his crew were responsible for breaking into several gun dealerships in Denver and murdering several of the gun shop owners in the process. Vin and Buck had known one of the dealers personally, having purchased many of their own weapons from him. It had been a grueling case for them to work on, for not only was the personal aspect there, but they had to work with the Denver Police Department, and while the two agencies were on very good working terms, it was often difficult meeting several different schedules, policies and procedures. And now, almost a month later, the warrants had finally come through and the arrests were made. It was good to see some genuine smiles on the faces of his men again.
A phone rang and Chris watched Vin race Buck to his desk to answer it.
Tanner! he answered, out of breath and trying not to laugh as Buck made all sorts of rude gestures, thinking it was the woman from payroll calling.
Chris was about to turn around and go back into his office when he saw the expression on Vins face change as the young agent slumped heavily into his chair. He watched, concerned, as Vin ran a now weary hand through his hair, and bunched a fist into it, pulling at it as he listened to whoever was on the other end of the conversation. After a few minutes of Vin nodding his head and giving a few yeahs and uh-huhs to the caller, the sharpshooter hung up the phone.
You okay, Vin? Buck asked. Chris wasnt the only one to see the change in demeanor.
Vin? Chris called, when Vin didnt answer Buck. Vin!
Vin finally looked up then, startled by Chriss shout. What? Oh, yeah, Im fine, Buck, he mumbled before opening his desk drawer and beginning to rifle through it.
Everything okay? Chris asked, walking toward the desk.
Vin stopped his movements for a minute and contemplated his answer. Finally, he said, Uh, no. Nothings okay. He looked up at Chris then and said, Im gonna need a week or two off, if thats okay?
Yeah, sure, but whats going on? Chris asked.
Anything we can do to help? Buck added.
That was my aunt, Vin began. My Dads missing.
Your Dad? I thought he died, JD spoke up, confusion evident in his voice.
I thought you was orphaned, Buck added, equally confused.
You want company? Chris asked.
Vin looked at the three of them in turn, finally settling on Chris. Yeah, he answered all three.
+ + + + + + +
So are you gonna tell me where were headed yet? Chris asked, watching as Vin dropped his duffel bag on his living room floor and began securing it.
Lawton, Oklahoma, he replied.
That where your father is?
Maybe? Is that where your aunt is?
No, but my Dadll probably show up at her place first, then go on to Lawton. Thats the way it usually goes , Vin replied.
Why Lawton, Oklahoma?
Comanche headquarters. When Vin saw the confused look on Chriss face, he went on to explain, After my Ma died, my Dad and I roamed around for a bit. We wound up in Oklahoma where he met a Comanche woman and married her. We stayed in Lawton, Carolines hometown, until I was fifteen.
What happened then? Chris asked.
That was when she died, too.
She died? Then your Dad
My Dads been grievin for over twenty years, Chris, Vin interrupted. Hell, I dont know, maybe Ive been doin it too. I used to think back on things and think that all that time we spent roamin around before meetin Caroline, he was lookin for someone to take care of me. Vin stopped what he was doing, then, and sat down heavily on the couch. Not that he wasnt doin a good job. Hell, I thought he was a great Dad - still do. I always had food in my stomach, clothes on my back, a roof over my head, even if it was soup kitchen food, good will clothes and the local shelter we stayed in. And any time we stayed somewhere, he made sure I went to school. But later I knew that he was just runnin. Runnin away from the pain.
How long? Chris asked, wondering how long the two Tanner men roamed.
About two years, I guess, Vin replied. I remember bein in second grade when I started school with the Comanche and we was livin with Carolines people.
So what happened?
We had the good life for a while, Vin continued. Dad got a job on Carolines brothers ranch, we got our own house and everything. I even had a baby brother before He stopped and hung his head, then, taking a deep breath. Before the accident.
Vin Chris whispered, putting his hand on Vins shoulder. You dont have to
No, its alright. Just been a while since I told anybody this, Vin answered. We was driving home one night from a powwow. Some dog ran out into the road, Caroline swerved to avoid it, lost control of the car. We wound up goin off the road. Car rolled a few times. Nobody wore seatbelts back then... He stopped again, and blew out a breath, leaning his head back onto the back of the couch. Thats how my back got messed up Caroline and Tommy died.
Im sorry, Vin.
No need to be sorry, but thanks, Vin replied. Dad felt guilty because he wasnt there. Then, it got so bad that he couldnt work at the ranch anymore and we didnt have any health insurance or anything. The money he and Caroline had managed to save got spent real quick. I found out later that he signed custody of me over to Carolines sister, my Aunt Linda, because she had a good job with benefits. Then he went off. Hed work odd jobs where he could, and send his paychecks to Aunt Linda for me. Id get postcards and letters and stuff from him. Never knew where hed be next.
Did he ever come to visit? Chris asked.
When I got out of the hospital, about two months after the accident, he was there. Told me to stay with Aunt Linda and her family. Wasnt so bad. Wasnt like I was a little kid, like when my Ma died. I mean, I was fifteen, you know? Anyways, hed come for Christmas and Thanksgiving and for the big powwows. But I knew even then that he was runnin away again. I stayed on with Aunt Linda until I finished high school.
So what about now? Wheres he gone missing from? Chris asked.
The VA hospital, Vin replied. Hes been there for about five years, now - as an employee, he asserted. He started out working on the grounds crew there, helping take care of the place. He told me that he finally got tired of roamin around. That he needed to stay in one place for a while. But I knew it was because of me. Vin sighed and leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands.
Vin? Chris moved to sit on the coffee table in front of Vin. He put his hand on Vins shoulder again.
He never wanted me to join the Marshals, Vin began, not looking up. Said it was too dangerous, he added with a sad laugh before finally looking up to meet Chriss concerned gaze. That time I told you about, in Texas, when I got shot? I was in the ICU for over two weeks. They couldnt get ahold of my Dad. Couldnt find him. When they finally did, I was fine, on the road to recovery and all, but it shook him. Kept sayin stuff like he shoulda been there sooner, that I coulda died without him bein there and he never woulda known it, just like with Caroline and Tommy.
So he decided to settle down, so hed be there for you if it happened again?
Vin nodded and continued with his story. Not long after he started at the VA, they moved him inside, to help with the patients. I guess hes got the knack for takin care of folks. But every now and then, somethin happens, somethin just snaps inside of him, and he just disappears for a week or so without tellin nobody. Usually he heads for Aunt Lindas lookin for me, first. But then, if he cant find me, he goes lookin for Ma or Caroline and Tommy. Once, I happened to be at Aunt Lindas when he showed up, and he was just fine. Went back to his place and work three days later.
So whats the difference this time? Chris asked.
Aunt Linda said he hasnt shown up at her place yet. That its already been a week since he left the VA, Vin answered. Theres somethin different goin on this time and I need to find him first.
So lets get going, Chris said.
+ + + + + + +
Twenty-four hours, several airplanes and a rental car later, the two friends neared the Lawton city limits. Chris looked around eagerly at the place Vin had called home. Hed known Vin for over a year already, but had learned more about him in the last twenty-four hours than he had in all that previous time. Sure, hed known Vin was from Oklahoma, hed done most of the background check on the sharpshooter before recruiting him to his team, himself. Born and raised in Oklahoma, he had moved to Colorado to be with friends, Vin had said, and worked odd jobs to get through a two-year criminal justice degree before joining the US Marshals. That was where he had met him and asked him to transfer to the ATF, to be on his team.
In the car from Oklahoma City to Lawton, Vin had told him that the friends in Colorado, happened to be his father, who had been working at a job with the State Parks Department. When he asked Vin why he had never mentioned his father or any of his other family before, Vin just shrugged.
With all the shit that went down with the Marshals I thought it best to keep Dad out of it. Didnt want him gettin hurt because of me.
The car turned down a dusty road away from the town. Chris rolled up the window, to keep the dirt from getting in. Vin cranked on the air conditioner again. About a mile down, Vin stopped the car in front of a small, weather beaten, brick house.
This is it, he said. This is where we lived, when Caroline and Tommy were alive.
Chris looked at the house. Probably built in the fifties, he thought, judging by the architecture. It had a small, fenced-in yard. He saw a rickety old metal swing set to the right of the house.
Swing sets still there, Vin mused, seeing where Chris was looking. Was all rusted when I first rode on it, but it still worked good. Dad painted it a couple of times, couldnt afford a new set.
Just when Chris thought Vin might get out of the car, the younger man put the car in gear and turned around. On to Aunt Lindas house, Vin answered the silent question.
+ + + + + + +
Half an hour later, they pulled into the driveway of a medium-sized split-level ranch home. Chris immediately noticed the well cared for gardens surrounding the house and the woman tending them, who stood to greet them. She was about fifty, he guessed, from the gray streaks in the long black hair and the wrinkles on her skin. She had a beautiful smile, seemingly just for Vin, too, and it stretched wide, like her arms, greeting him.
Vin! she called out, waiting.
She didnt have to wait long for her nephew to reach her and return the big hug.
How are you, Aunt Linda? Ive missed you, he said.
Better now that youre here, Vin, she replied. Whos your friend? she asked, releasing Vin and nodding to Chris.
Chris Larabee, Im a friend of Vins, Chris said, introducing himself, offering his hand to her.
Linda grabbed the hand and pulled Chris into a hug, saying, Any friend of Vins is a friend of mine. Welcome to Oklahoma, Chris!
Thanks, Mrs . he began, pausing when he realized that Vin never told him Lindas last name.
Linda, she said, correcting him. Nobody calls me Mrs. Cloud anymore. Not since the kids grew up.
Linda. Nice to meet you.
Any word? Vin asked, getting down to business.
No, Linda replied, grabbing both men by their arms and leading them toward the house. I even called Jean and Joe, out in Broken Bow. He hasnt been out there, either. Theyll be checking Idabel too, in case he went there first, she added.
After the three were in the house, they sat in the living room.
I guess I still dont understand why youre so worried, Chris began. Everything youve told me says your Dads okay, that he just takes some time off work every now and then.
And for the most part, thats true, Chris, Vin replied with a sigh. But like I said, sometimes, its like hes back to when I was five when my Ma died. Or when I was fifteen and Caroline and Tommy died. It takes him either seein me as an adult or somethin like that to snap him out of it.
Most of the time theres no problem, Linda added. But
But we worry about him, Vin put in, ending the thread of conversation.
Now whats in Broken Bow? And that other town you mentioned? Chris asked, seeing the unease on Vins face and changing the subject.
Idabel, Linda supplied.
Thats where I was born, Vin said. And my Dad worked in Broken Bow, before my Ma died.
Have you figured out any patterns to his disappearances? Chris asked. You know, corresponding with the days your Ma or Caroline and Tommy died? Birthdays? Anniversaries?
Thats just it, there isnt any pattern, Linda said.
Just as random as the places he spent time in, when he was roamin around, Vin added.
+ + + + + + +
Vin and Chris spent the next two days checking out the usual places that Vins Dad would visit during his times off from work. Theyd been all over Lawton and the surrounding towns, visiting old friends, coworkers and family. It was during their second night staying with Vins Aunt Linda that they finally got a lead.
Lindas brother Joe called and said hed seen Vins Dads truck in Idabel. He hadnt seen Vins Dad, but the truck was definitely his. He also said hed keep looking for him. So now, Chris and Vin were packing up the rental car, ready to head for Idabel. The drive would take them about 8 hours or so. Joe said theyd be welcome to stay with him in Broken Bow, another half an hours drive from Idabel.
+ + + + + + +
Vin? What are you gonna do when we find your Dad?
Vin didnt answer right away, but continued to stare out the window while Chris drove. Finally, he just shrugged his shoulders.
Any chance hed stay with your Aunt Linda? Chris asked. She did say he could.
Nah, Vin finally spoke. I think thats what sets him off. Gettin too close, too dependent on someone. I think those years on his own, roamin around I think they gave him some kind of peace, somehow, he went on. When I talk to him about where hes been, its always been to wide open spaces, you know, state or national parks, or just out in the country, where he can go for weeks without seein nobody.
Gee, that kinda sounds familiar, Chris said, raising an eyebrow toward his companion.
Yeah, I guess thats where I get it from, Vin replied with a soft laugh. Whether it was from those two years after my Ma died, or when I lived with him in Colorado before joinin up with the Marshals, I dont know, but it has taught me that every now and then, its nice not to have any ties to the real world. To just exist with nature or go with the flow I dont know. Im sure Josiah would have a word for it.
Freedom? Chris suggested.
Maybe. Or maybe its just my way of runnin away, too.
You think maybe that thats what he does? When he goes on these little trips? Chris asked, taking his eyes off the road for a moment to look at Vin.
Run away? Vin asked, both Chris and himself. Maybe. Probably. Yet when he was with my Ma, or later with Caroline, he didnt need to. Guess cause he didnt have to then, that they offered him the freedom and peace he needed.
Makes sense to me, Chris replied. Ive been there, Vin. After Sarah and Adam died Shit, I wish I couldve just gotten lost somewhere, with no one to bother me, find me I guess, in a sense, I did. Just took a different road.
Yeah. Totally immersed myself in the job. Not just to find out who killed Sarah and Adam, but to make me forget the pain, push it aside. I didnt have any other outlet for it, nowhere else to go with it. Turned me into a real bastard for a while.
Youre still a real bastard, sometimes, Vin laughed, breaking the seriousness that filled the car.
Chris laughed at the remark and continued, Until Buck came back into my life, helped me turn things around. Made me see that I still had a life left, if I wanted it.
The men were silent for a few minutes before Chris spoke again. I still have my moments, Vin. Times when Im reminded of them, when Ill see something that sparks a memory or two. Next thing I know, Im back to being a miserable, self-pitying bastard.
You think thats what happens to my Dad? Vin asked.
I wouldnt doubt it, Vin, Chris answered, taking a deep breath. Cant blame a man for wanting the good times back in his life.
Vin just nodded his head and turned back to stare out the window.
+ + + + + + +
Nine hours later, the pair arrived in Idabel, Oklahoma. Vin was driving as they passed the city limits. He reached over and nudged Chriss shoulder, waking him up.
Were here, he said, returning his attention to the road. Theres a good diner up the road a bit. Thought we could take a quick break. I can call Uncle Joe from there, too.
Sounds good to me, Chris replied, stretching out as much as he could in the confines of the car. I am kinda hungry.
They drove for another ten minutes or so before Vin pulled over along the curb in front of a group of older looking buildings. Chris saw the little diner nestled amongst the storefronts right away. He couldnt miss the bright red and white checkered tablecloths adorning the tables that sat in behind the front window. And as soon as he got out of the car, he could smell the aroma of the foods being cooked inside. He took an appreciative deep breath through his nose.
Best place to eat, this side of town, Vin said with a smile, having seen Chriss reaction. Mary Ellen used to make the best omelets on Sunday mornings.
And it is Sunday morning! a voice called from the doorway.
Dad!! Vin shouted, running toward the diners entrance, and the man standing within.
Chris watched as the two men hugged. He'd heard the relief in Vins voice and saw it on his face. He hung back a bit as the two Tanner men were reunited.
Dad? You alright? Vin asked, stepping back to take a look at his father, holding onto the older mans upper arms.
Im fine, Vin, the older man replied. Aunt Linda call you again? he asked, rolling his eyes.
Yeah, Dad. She said youd been gone for a whole week! Nobody knew where you were!
Did anybody bother to call work? Im on vacation, son. A legitimate vacation. I went up to the lake.
Well, Uncle Joes the one that called Aunt Linda, Vin replied. Figured since he actually works with you, that hed know!
Joe dont know squat, the elder Tanner responded. Sides, he was just on vacation, too, so how would he know?
Vin shook his head. Hed heard his Dad banter on about Uncle Joe before. Well, regardless, youre here now and thats what counts, he said.
As the two turned to enter the diner, the elder Tanners arm around the youngers shoulder, Vin turned to Chris and smiled. You comin, Cowboy?
Chris nodded and followed the two men into the diner, noting as he did, the large sign on the front counter listing the Fathers Day specials from the menu.
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