Vin let out a Tarzan yell as he swung from the branch of the tree and jumped
to the ground. JD laughed and swung from the branch beside Vin. Vin climbed
up on top of the boulder and JD followed.
"Now you copy me, Vin," said JD.
Chris looked up from his work to check on the boys. They were playing well
together, and hadn't been any trouble. He had taken the week off from work
and had applied himself to catching up on some of the chores around the ranch.
Buck had worked the first three days, but would take Thursday and Friday
off as well.
JD squealed, bringing a smile to Chris' face. They had followed his instructions
so well. He was cutting up some fallen timber with his chainsaw and gave
specific instructions that the boys were not to come near unless the chainsaw
was shut off. He had intentionally shut off the saw more often than he needed
to just so the boys could feel a part of things. They had helped him pile
wood in the back of the truck. They had had a picnic lunch on a nearby log
and JD had entertained them in his attempts to block a trail of ants.
Going back to his work, Chris cut into a fallen tree with the chainsaw. As
the saw cut into the wood, the log shifted, binding the saw in the cut. Before
Chris could get it shut down, the saw bucked back on him, and threw up a
large chunk of wood in the process. Chris tried to duck away, but the wood
hit him in the head. He literally saw stars before dropping to the ground.
Chris blinked a few times, trying to clear his blurry vision. He swiped a
hand across his forehead, shuddering as he made the mistake of looking at
his hand, now covered with blood. Realizing he was in trouble and that he
was the only way to get back to help, he struggled to his feet. He stumbled
as he took a step toward the truck.
"Hold on to me," said Vin, startling Chris at his sudden appearance. Vin
wrapped his little arm around Chris' hip in an attempt to steady him while
JD ran ahead an opened the door to the truck.
The world swayed precariously. Chris leaned his hand on Vin's shoulder and
stumbled toward the truck. He had to get back to the house. He could get
help if he just got back to the house.
"Get in, JD!" ordered Vin. JD quickly jumped up on the seat on the driver's
side and slid across the seat. Vin and Chris reached the truck as JD moved.
Chris grabbed his jacket off the front seat and wadded it up, pressing it
against his forehead. JD covered his eyes, not wanting to see all the blood.
Chris struggled to keep his balance as he climbed into the cab of the truck.
Somewhere in his mind he knew there was no way he was going to stay conscious
long enough to drive them back to the house.
"Need to get to the house...call 9-1-1..." he said to Vin. He knew it was
asking too much for the seven-year-old to run three miles to the house, call
9-1-1 and lead them back. He would have to try to drive. "Get in..."
Vin ran to the other side of the truck and climbed in beside JD, who was
now peeking between his fingers to look at Chris. It took Chris three tries
to get the key in the ignition and start the truck. He was just about to
put it into gear when the battle to remain conscious was lost.
"Chris!" Vin yelled as his father figure slumped against the steering wheel.
Scrambling over the top of JD, Vin grabbed Chris' shoulder and shook him.
Chris simply slumped back against the seat. "Oh...oh...oh..." Vin cried
repeatedly as he tried to get Chris to wake up.
"Vin!" whimpered JD.
"He said he had to get to the house and call 9-1-1," said Vin with a small
voice of reason cracking through his panic. "We have to get him to the house."
"How we gonna do that?" asked JD desperately.
"Drive," said Vin. He began to pull Chris over on his side. "Help me move
JD grabbed Chris' arm and pulled with all his might. Vin climbed over Chris
and pushed his hip. Eventually they inched Chris far enough that he was in
the middle of the truck seat.
JD held up his hands, showing Vin the blood. "It got on me."
"Wipe it off on this," said Vin, handing JD the wadded up jacket. "JD, you're
going to have to help me drive."
"I don't know how!" JD looked at Vin. "You don't know how!"
"Yes, I do," said Vin. "Chris lets me drive sometimes on his lap. But I can't
reach the pedals. You have to do the pedals JD."
JD crawled over Chris' limp form and slid down onto the floor of the truck.
"What do I do?"
"See that one?" Vin pointed to the right pedal. "That's the go pedal. When
I tell you to go, you push the go pedal."
"'Kay," said JD.
"And that one," Vin pointed to the left pedal, "that one is the stop pedal.
When I tell you to stop, you push the stop pedal."
JD nodded and Vin crawled up onto his knees on the seat. He could see out
if he was sitting on Chris' lap, but without Chris to sit on, he was too
short to see where he was driving. He gripped the steering wheel with both
hands. "Okay, JD. Push go!"
The engine revved, but they didn't move.
"I said go!" yelled Vin frantically.
"I did!" JD yelled back.
Vin looked at the steering column. "D!" he shouted. "It has to be on "D!"
He carefully moved the gearshift lever to D. "Go JD!"
The truck jumped forward and Vin began the battle of his life to keep the
truck on the dirt road. He discovered very quickly that it was a lot harder
to steer without Chris.
JD had no idea how hard to push on the pedal, so he pushed as hard as he
could, which made the truck go much faster than Vin was used to. Vin had
to swerve to the left to keep on the road, which tossed JD making him lose
contact with the pedal. With the reduction in speed Vin over steered to the
left and had to swerve to the right to stay on the road. JD rolled to the
go pedal and pushed on it again.
"Keep it steady!" yelled Vin.
"I can't!" yelled JD, "You're making me fall over!"
Vin hit a rut on the edge of the road, which fortunately bounced them back
on to the road. The truck continued bouncing, swerving and jerking on the
hair-raising journey toward the ranch house. The boys couldn't seem to find
a rhythm as the swerves tossed JD on the floorboard, and Vin struggled to
remain upright on his knees on the seat as well as keeping the truck on the
It seemed liked hours, but it was only minutes when Vin saw the barn and
the house come into view. He tried to steer into the pasture to get to the
house quicker, but he hit a big rut flinging him sideways against the door
of the truck, losing contact with the steering wheel. The truck swerved out
Vin tried to crawl back into position. "Stop, JD. Stop!" he yelled as the
truck headed straight for the big old pine tree behind the barn.
It was too late. Vin screamed as the front end of the driver's side smashed
into the tree. He was thrown forward from the impact, fully expecting to
bash into the steering wheel he was stretching to reach. Instead, a big white
balloon thing popped out of the steering wheel, smacking him against the
back of the seat and banging his head against the back window of the cab.
He blinked, trying to figure out what happened. The airbag deflated, dropping
him on the seat. Chris was slid forward, half on the seat, half on the floor.
JD! Where was JD?
"JD!" Vin yelled trying to find his friend. The dashboard of the drivers'
side was pushed up against the front edge of the seat, and JD was somewhere
"Vin! Help me! I'se stuck!" yelled JD.
"Just a minute!" Vin shoved hard on the dashboard, which didn't move in the
slightest. He grabbed the door handle to open the door, thinking that if
he could open the door, JD would be able to crawl out from under the dashboard.
But the door wouldn't open. The force of the wreck had jammed it tight.
"Vin, get me out!" JD yelled with panic in his voice.
"I can't JD. I have to get help."
"No! Don't leave me," JD begged.
Vin was shaking. He didn't want to leave JD. He didn't want to leave Chris,
but he was the only one who could get out. He could try the other door, but
that would mean climbing over Chris. Vin looked at Chris' slack face, coated
in blood and decided he would use the open window on the driver's side. His
mind remembered JD's momma lying on the seat of her car, covered in blood...too
much like Chris... and she was...
"No!" said Vin aloud. "I won't think of that."
"Vin, get me out!" said JD, fighting not to cry. "My arm hurts."
"It's okay, JD. I'm going to go to the house and call 9-1-1," said Vin. "I'll
be right back."
"'Kay," replied JD, but it was clear he was not happy with that option. It
was dark and scary and his arm hurt.
Vin scrambled out of the window and dropped to the ground. The drop was further
than he expected and he stumbled to catch his balance. He touched the side
of his head where it hurt and found a big bump, but no blood. His nose felt
runny so he wiped it on his sleeve, surprised to find blood. 'Go, Vin,' he
Vin ran toward the house, but was much slower than he usually ran, his leg
was sore. As he ran he repeated what he needed to tell 9-1-1. "This is Vin
Tanner. I live at 14911 Rock Ridge Drive. There was an accident and two people
are in the truck." He repeated it several times, racing into the house through
the back door and running to the phone.
With trembling hands, Vin picked up the phone and pushed 9-1-1.
"9-1-1. What is your emergency?"
Vin blinked. "I crashed the truck! Chris is hurt! JD is stuck! We need help!"
all rolled out in one breath.
"What's your name?" asked the operator patiently.
"Vin, where do you live?"
"Uh...14911 Rock Ridge Drive."
"And there was an accident?" asked the operator.
"We crashed into a tree. Chris is bleeding and JD is stuck."
"All right, Vin. Hold on for just a moment." The operator notified fire rescue
and came back on the line with Vin.
"I'm back, Vin. Help is on the way. I want you to stay on the phone with
me until they arrive."
"I can't. I gotta call Buck. And JD's scared."
Vin dropped the phone and ran down the hall to the boys' bedroom, dripping
blood as he ran. He pulled the paper off of JD's bulletin board that had
Buck's phone number at work, his mind too muddled to realize it was the same
as Chris' work number.
Vin ran back to the telephone and tried to dial.
"Vin, are you there?" asked the operator.
"You gotta hang up. I gotta call Buck," Vin insisted.
"Vin, I need you to stay on the phone with me until the..."
Vin dropped the phone and ran to Buck's room. Buck had a special phone that
was all his own. "A separate line," that was what Chris called it. Buck needed
it for all the girls who called him. Vin picked up the phone and punched
in the number.
"Twelfth Floor, this is Carol."
"I need to talk to Buck!" he said urgently.
"JD, is everything all right?"
"It's Vin. Where's Buck? It's really important," said Vin impatiently.
"Just a moment." Carol put Vin on hold and went into Team Seven's offices.
She knocked on the Conference Room door, knowing that Buck was in a meeting
with two agents from Team Nine. "Excuse me, Agent Wilmington. Vin Tanner
is on the phone. It sounds urgent."
Buck was slightly miffed at the interruption, but realized that if Vin was
calling, it must be important. JD would call and ask Buck to bring home
hamburgers or pizza, or just call to say, "Hi," but Vin never called. Buck
punched the button connecting him to Vin.
"What's up, Junior?"
"Chris is hurt. And JD. I crashed the truck," rolled out in one teary breath.
"Whoa, hold on," said Buck, stunned by Vin's words. "Take it slow. Did you
"Yes. Chris is hurt. I crashed the truck," Vin sobbed, releasing part of
his burden to someone who would help. "Come home."
"Vin, listen to me. Are you in the house?" asked Buck, pushing his fear to
the back of his mind.
"Yes." Vin rubbed his nose on his sleeve again.
"Don't hang up the phone, but go see if Chris' cell phone is on his dresser.
Bring it back to the phone," instructed Buck. He winced as the phone dropped
on the counter with an amazingly loud bang.
"Sorry guys, I've got to cut this short," Buck said to the members of Team
Nine. "There's been some kind of accident at home. Jack, could you tell Josiah,
Nathan and Ezra that I need them in here?" The two men left to round up the
rest of Team Seven.
"Okay Buck. I have the phone," said Vin. "Are you coming home? When will
the ambulance get here?" he asked frantically.
"Shh, Vin. It's on the way," soothed Buck. "I want you to turn on the cell
phone. Do you know how to do that?"
Vin didn't answer, but Buck could hear the beep of the cell phone.
"Okay, Junior. Push two and send."
Buck's cell phone began to ring. "Good job, Vin. Now talk to me on the cell
phone and go out front to wait for the ambulance."
"But Chris is hurt...and JD is scared..." protested Vin.
"Just hang on Vin. Help will be there soon," assured Buck.
"Buck, are you there?" asked Vin anxiously, as he picked up the cell phone.
"Yes. Nathan and I are on the way. We're going to the garage right now. How're
you doing?" Buck was dying to know what was happening with JD and Chris,
but had to make do with talking Vin through the crisis until help arrived.
"My head hurts. I gotta go check on Chris and JD." Buck could hear the screen
door slam in the background.
"No Vin," said Buck. "It's really important that you wait for the paramedics
and show them where Chris and JD are." Buck slammed the door of Nathan's
vehicle as Nathan started the engine and pulled out of the parking garage.
Nathan flipped on the police emergency lights as they pulled into traffic.
"I hear a siren," Vin reported.
"Good, see they are almost there," said Buck. "Now Vin, don't hang up the
phone when they get there. I want you to keep talking to me and tell me what's
going on, okay?"
"Okay," said Vin. "Oh no! It's a fire truck, Buck! Why'd they send a fire
truck?" complained Vin fearfully. "We need an ambulance!"
"Easy, Vin. It's on the way," Buck soothed. "The firemen will take care of
Chris and JD. Go talk to the firemen."
The next minutes seemed to go by impossibly slow as Buck and Nathan raced
towards the ranch in Nathan's Explorer. Ezra and Josiah were wrapping things
up at the office, prepared to head to the hospital when they knew more
Buck listened intently to the background sounds coming through the phone.
"Hey! Hey! We need help," called Vin.
"Hi there. Why don't you let me take a look at you?" a fire fighter replied.
"No, it's not me. It's Chris and JD. They're in the truck. Come on."
There was silence for a few moments then he heard Vin again.
"Chris! Chris! Wake up!"
"Step back son. What's your name?"
"Okay, Vin, I want you to stand right here so I can look at your friend okay?"
"He's on the floor by the stop and go pedals. I couldn't get him out."
"That's all right, Vin. That's why we're here. You did the right thing by
"I can't drive. I crashed the truck."
"It's all right. Hey Phil, could you keep an eye on Vin here for me? Vin,
this is Phil."
Buck could hear more commotion in the background, someone calling for equipment
to help extricate the victims. His heart sank. This was very serious if they
needed equipment to free Chris and JD. JD was so little. It wouldn't take
much to crush his tiny body. Buck shook himself. He wasn't going to think
"Vin, can you hear me? Pick up the phone Vin," said Buck.
"Buck the firemen are here," Vin reported.
"Yeah, Vin. Let me talk to Phil."
"Here. Talk to Buck," said Vin.
"Hello? This is Phil Mayfield."
"Hello. I'm Agent Buck Wilmington, ATF. The boy in the truck is my son, the
man is my best friend and boss, Chris Larabee. He's Vin's dad. What's the
"MVA. Truck vs. Tree. Paramedic says both occupants are alive. It looks like
Agent Larabee has a head injury. Can't see the kid yet."
Buck sucked in a breath, trying to stay calm. "We're in route. How's Vin
"Vin's a brave guy," said Phil. "Looks like he took a knock to the head too.
Bloody nose, but we're going to fix that up, aren't we Vin?"
Buck's hands trembled as he heard the wail of a frightened child - JD's cry.
"JD!" called Vin.
"Hang on!" puffed Phil as he apparently scrambled after Vin.
"Come on, Nate. Let's move this thing!" urged Buck. They were already speeding
along with lights, but Nathan flipped on the siren and increased his speed.
Buck could hear JD's wail and Vin calling out to him, trying to tell JD it
would be okay.
"JD, it's okay. The firemen are here. They'll get you out!"
"Vin! I want Buck! Where's Buck?" cried JD.
"Son, you're going to have to stand back," said a rescue worker.
"No, JD needs me," said Vin firmly.
"Vin, my arm hurts. Where's Buck?" cried JD.
Buck sat in the front passenger seat of Nathan's Ford Explorer unable to
fend off the tears. He wanted nothing more than to be at the ranch at this
moment and calm JD's fears.
"Son, you're going to have to stay out of the way."
Without warning, the line went dead. Whether it was the battery or if it
was inadvertently turned off, it didn't matter. Contact was lost.
Vin was shooed away from JD's side of the truck, not allowed to do anything
more than to yell to JD. He went to Chris' side of the truck where they were
just sliding Chris onto a backboard, then placing him on a gurney. Again
he was underfoot as he tried to get close to Chris. Vin almost cried when
he was inadvertently bumped aside by a paramedic as he worked on Chris.
"Vin? Come here and sit on this gurney," said Phil.
Vin shuffled over to the gurney and sat down. JD needed him. Chris needed
him, but no one would let him help.
"I need you to stay right here, Vin," said Phil. "Can you do that for me?"
Vin nodded reluctantly.
"Good. I'm going to help get JD out of the truck," said Phil. "Then Jeff
or Sandy will come over here and check you over. You stay put. Okay?"
Accepting Vin at his word, Phil moved to the other side of the vehicle to
help extricate JD.
Vin sat on the gurney feeling totally useless and unwanted. He watched silently
as the policeman looked around the truck and inside where Chris had been
before they put him on that board and took him out. Vin wasn't afraid of
policemen on a normal day, but suddenly it crossed his mind that he didn't
have that little card you needed to be able to drive, and his driving had
hurt Chris and JD. The police would surely arrest him and put him in jail
forever. Everyone was too busy to notice as the seven-year-old slipped off
the gurney and slunk inside the house. He had tried to help and just made
things worse. He crashed Chris' truck, broke the tree and hurt JD and Chris...
Vin shivered as the picture of Chris bleeding, sprawled on the seat and the
floor of the truck filled his mind. It was almost the same as the way JD's
momma looked when he found JD. Chris was going to die just like JD's momma.
Vin's instincts told him to run and hide, to go somewhere where the truth
couldn't reach him and the police wouldn't get him. If they couldn't tell
him Chris was dead, it wouldn't be true. Not acting on rational thought at
all, Vin followed his instincts. His head and his leg hurt too much to go
far so he instinctively sought out someplace safe. He didn't know how or
why, but he found himself in Chris' room just knowing he had to hide. He
hated small dark places, but it was Chris' room and Chris' closet. It was
Tears began to roll in earnest as he pulled Chris' lamb skin lined jacket
off the hanger and wrapped himself up in it. He snuggled into the softness
of the fluffy wool and inhaled Chris' scent that said this jacket was his.
He didn't notice the blood that was beginning to stain the coat. It was Chris'
coat and Chris meant safety. Vin curled up in the jacket and pressed himself
against the wall of the closet amidst the boots and shoes and cried silently.
"Vin!" called JD frantically. "Get me out! Please!"
"Hang on, son," said a voice that JD didn't recognize.
"It's dark!" JD blinked, trying to see in the darkened cocoon the dashboard
and the truck seat made.
"What's your name?" asked the voice.
"JD, I'm Jeff. I'm a fireman, and we're going to get you out of there."
"'Kay," said JD tentatively, his voice quivering.
"Can you tell me if you hurt anywhere?" asked Jeff.
"My arm hurts," said JD. "It's real dark in here. Where's Buck?"
The metal of the truck frame creaked as pressure was applied to pull open
the door. JD screamed in fear at the sound.
"Hold it, hold it!" shouted Jeff. "JD, are we hurting you?"
"No," sobbed JD. "What was that?"
"It's okay, JD," assured Jeff. "They're just pulling on the door to get it
"Where's Vin? I want Vin," cried the frightened five-year-old.
The door popped open and JD blinked as his cocoon was flooded with light.
"JD?" said Jeff.
"Yeah. Are you Jeff?"
Jeff smiled. "I sure am. Let me take a look at you, then we'll get you out."
JD nodded, relieved that it wasn't dark anymore.
"Does your head hurt?" asked Jeff as he felt around JD's head.
"Nope." JD was feeling a little bolder now that he was getting out.
"How about your neck, or your back?"
JD shivered as Jeff's hand tickled as it ran over his back.
"Nope. Just my arm," said JD. "See?" JD held his arm out for Jeff to see.
It had a long scrape that was bleeding slightly.
"We'll fix that up." Jeff reached behind him to position the backboard, and
before he knew what was happening, JD scrambled out of the truck over the
top of him.
He bit back a chuckle. The kid appeared to be just fine, but he had procedures
to follow, and he was supposed to keep him immobilized until they were certain
there was no spinal injury.
JD ran around the truck, stopping by the ambulance where they were putting
Chris' gurney. "Chris, are you okay?"
The paramedic caring for Chris looked up, amused at her partner. Jeff looked
a little flustered as he chased down his patient.
"JD, I need to check you out. Make sure you're okay," said Jeff, corralling
"Is Chris okay?" asked JD.
Jeff looked to his partner, Sandy.
"He hit his head pretty hard, JD," she answered. At that moment Chris moaned
"Chris! Hey, Chris!" yelled JD.
"JD?" mumbled Chris. "Vin?"
"Take it easy, Chris," said the paramedic. "I'm Sandy. You've been in an
accident. We're going to take you to the hospital."
Chris struggled to wrap his muddled mind around the paramedic's words. He
was hurt. JD was there. Vin?
"The boys..." he said hoarsely. "Call Buck."
"Don't you worry about the boys, Chris," said Sandy. "We're taking care of
them. But right now, we need to get you to the hospital.
"Vin?" Chris struggled to move, but he was restrained by the protective blocks
around his head and the gurney straps.
"We'll take care of them," assured Sandy again.
"Are you okay, Chris?" asked JD peering down at Chris on the gurney.
"I'm fine, JD. You do what they say, okay?"
JD nodded. "I hurt my arm."
"Have them call Buck," said Chris.
"I will," said JD. Jeff pulled him back a step as they loaded the gurney
into the ambulance. "Bye, Chris," JD whispered with a sniff as they closed
the door and pulled away.
"Okay, JD. I want you to sit on this gurney," said Jeff. "Then I'll take
a good look at your arm, here."
JD sat down on the funny bed with wheels and watched with fascination as
Jeff began to clean and bandage his scraped arm. He didn't like it when Jeff
shined the light in his eyes, or when he poked at his cheek. It was sore.
But he thought it was great when Jeff put his arm in a splint thing to keep
it still. He twisted around towards the driveway, hearing a vehicle coming.
Buck and Nathan passed an ambulance as it pulled out of the driveway onto
the main road. They didn't know if it contained Chris, or JD, or both of
them. Nathan pressed on. They would sort out things at the house first and
then head for the hospital.
As Nathan parked his Explorer out of the way of the emergency vehicles, Buck
jumped out and headed toward the second ambulance.
"Buck Wilmington, ATF," Buck said as he brushed past the first rescuer. "That's
"Buck!" cried JD, hearing Buck's voice.
"It's okay, Little Bit, I'm here."
"Buck...Buck, my arm hurts."
Buck slipped in next to the gurney. JD looked surprisingly unscathed. He
had a big bruise forming on his cheek and his left arm was bandaged and in
a splint. Buck listened as the paramedic explained their findings on both
JD and Chris. It appeared that JD's injuries were limited to the bruise on
his cheek and a scrape on the arm, but they had splinted it in case there
was a fracture. He would need x-rays, but didn't necessarily need to be taken
in the ambulance.
Nathan arrived in time for the explanation and quickly phoned Josiah and
Ezra, informing them that Chris was headed for Mercy General. Josiah and
Ezra headed for the hospital immediately and would be there to monitor things
until the others arrived.
"Buck, I'se scared," said JD as he hiccupped a sob.
"Well, it's a pretty scary thing to be in an accident. But you'll be okay
now," assured Buck. "We'll go to the hospital and get your arm fixed up."
"Chris was bleeding lots."
"Shh, JD." Buck tried to get JD's mind off the accident.
"Is he going to be mad we broke the truck?" asked JD.
"No," said Buck. Chris won't be mad." Buck glanced around. "Where's Vin?"
he asked the paramedic. "Did he go with Chris?"
"No, the patient was transported alone," replied the Paramedic. "Hey, Phil.
Where's the other kid?"
Phil was packing equipment back into the compartments of the Emergency Vehicle.
Phil cursed as he looked around, realizing that the kid had disappeared on
him. He'd been focused on getting JD out of the truck. He trotted over to
the truck and looked around anxiously. The kid had a bump to the head. Phil
cursed again. "He must have gone inside the house," said Phil, "I told him
to stay on the gurney!" Phil ran toward the house searching for his missing
Buck was torn. JD was hurt and scared and needed him. But Vin had to be scared
too. And maybe hurt. Vin had told him on the phone that his head hurt.
"Nathan, can you stay with JD for a minute?" asked Buck as he quickly ruffled
"Sure, Buck," said Nathan.
"I got a boo-boo," said JD, holding his arm out toward Nathan.
"So I see," said Nathan.
Buck, a police officer and two fire fighters raced to the house, joining
Phil in his search for Vin.
"Vin?" called Buck, but his call was met with silence. Buck went to the boys'
room first, assuming Vin would go for his stuffed cat, his security attachment
to Chris. He searched under the beds, in the closet, in the clothes hamper,
and in the bathroom, but didn't find Vin. The stuffed cat was still on Vin's
Buck followed the voice into Chris' room. Phil directed his attention to
the police officer kneeling on the floor in front of Chris' closet.
"Come on. It's safe now," soothed the officer.
Vin shook his head without looking up. He pulled the coat tighter and buried
his face in the collar. His head hurt and thinking about Chris and JD made
his stomach do flip-flops. The police had found him and now they were going
to tell him Chris was dead just like JD's mom, and it was all his fault.
Now they were going to arrest him and put him in jail forever.
"Junior?" said Buck softly.
'Oh no! Buck,' thought Vin. 'He must hate me.'
"Vin, come on out now," coaxed Buck. "We need to have a doctor check over
you and JD, and we need to go see Chris. He'll be mighty worried about you."
Vin looked up. Chris was alive? Was Buck telling him Chris was alive?
"Wow," said Buck, "You've got yourself quite a goose egg there, Vin. Does
your head hurt?"
Vin nodded slowly.
"I bet it does. Come on out and we'll take care of it."
Vin shook his head. "Don't wanna go to jail," he said softly.
"Jail? Why would you go to jail?" said Buck, squelching his humor at the
thought. He knew Vin was serious.
"It's my fault," Vin mumbled.
"Vin, the police officer is here to help. He's not going to arrest you,"
assured Buck. He watched the big blue eyes blink as Vin processed what he
said. "Come 'ere, Vin."
Vin reached out one arm, clutching the coat around him with the other. The
invitation was all Buck needed. He stepped into the closet and swept Vin
into his arms, careful to keep the coat with Vin. Vin wrapped his skinny
arms around Buck's neck and held tightly. Buck shifted Vin's weight slightly,
to get a better grip. Vin yelped in protest when Buck's arm touched his sore
"I'm sorry, Vin," said Buck with concern. "You're a little tender on your
"Okay, we'll have the paramedics take a look at it."
Vin shook his head. "Uncle Nathan."
Buck smiled. Any other time, Vin wouldn't want Nathan poking and prodding
at him, but when it was a choice between Nathan and a stranger, he'd choose
Thirty minutes later, Nathan parked near the emergency entrance of the hospital.
They had opted to bring the boys in themselves rather than taking the ambulance.
Taking the ambulance would have meant that the two boys would ride in the
back with the paramedic, and Buck would have to ride in the front. Instead,
Buck rode in the back seat of Nathan's Explorer, sandwiched between two boys
who each had a hold of one of his hands pressing as close as they could to
the security Buck offered.
JD wanted to be carried into the hospital. Independent Vin wanted to walk,
but whimpered slightly as his leg twinged when he stood on it. Nathan picked
him up, surprised that Vin didn't protest.
As they approached the check-in station, Josiah made his way towards them.
Buck began filling out paper work on the boys while JD showed Josiah his
"Look, Uncle 'Siah! I got an owie."
"You sure do," responded Josiah, appropriately impressed.
"We crashed the truck."
"So I heard." Josiah watched Vin turn his face away at the mention of the
truck. "How about you, Vin?"
Vin wouldn't look at him.
"Vin bumped his head and his nose was bleedin'," informed JD. "And his leg
Josiah rested his hand lightly on Vin's back, and then rubbed gently. "Are
you all right?" he asked.
"I want Chris," whispered Vin.
"Well, that's good," said Josiah, "because he wants you too."
Vin turned quickly to face Josiah. "He's okay?"
Josiah smiled. "He will be. He's getting stitches right now. Ezra's with
him and told me the doctor says he has a concussion and will have to stay
here tonight just to be safe."
"He bleeded a lot! We couldn't wake him up," said JD. "It was scary..." JD's
voice trailed off.
The small group sat down in a row of chairs to wait their turn to be seen.
JD's comments stirred Nathan's curiosity. He had checked the truck at the
scene. Indeed there was a lot of blood staining the seat of Chris' truck.
Seeing the slight injuries to JD and Vin, he knew the blood was Chris', but
if Chris was on the floor on the passenger side of the truck... how did the
blood stains get high up on the back of the passenger seat? And how could
Chris have been driving when he ended up where he did?
"Curious thing," said Josiah.
"What's that?" asked Buck.
"The doctor wanted to know how Chris got wood splinters in the head laceration
if he was in a vehicle accident," said Josiah.
"He got splinters from the log," said JD. "I did too, see?" JD held up his
finger. "Chris pulled it out."
Buck was piecing things together. Vin had told him, "I wrecked the truck,"
but Buck hadn't thought Vin literally meant he had wrecked the truck. He
thought maybe Vin had distracted Chris and inadvertently caused the accident,
"Was Chris hurt before the accident?" Buck asked. He watched Vin press tighter
to Nathan. Buck nodded to Josiah and passed JD over to the senior agent.
Very gently he peeled Vin away from Nathan and held him on his lap.
Vin toyed with the collar of Chris' coat. "I got blood on it."
"It's all right, Vin," said Buck. "We'll get it cleaned. Was Chris already
Vin nodded. "We was being good. We stayed back and played in the trees until
the saw stopped, just like Chris said. But the saw sounded funny, and I looked
and Chris was layin' on the ground."
Seeing Vin shiver, Buck wrapped his arms around him.
"Me and Vin helped him up," said JD. "He telled us he needed to get to the
house and call 9-1-1. He got in the truck and started it, but then he just
falled on the seat."
Realization struck the three men surrounding the two boys. Vin and JD had
rescued Chris. They must have driven the truck.
"We pushed him out of the way, but it was hard. Chris is heavy!" said JD.
"How did you get back to the house?" asked Buck.
Vin squirmed a little. "I broke the rules." He looked at Buck. "And I made
JD break the rules. It ain't his fault."
Buck nodded his understanding, hoping Vin would continue.
"It was the only thing I could think to do. Chris was hurt and wanted to
call 9-1-1. It was too far to run back to the house." He looked up at Buck
expecting punishment. "So we drove."
"You drove?" asked Buck.
"Well, sorta," said Vin, encouraged that Buck wasn't mad at him. "I couldn't
reach the pedals and Chris always does that part when he lets me sit on his
lap and drive. So I told JD which pedal was the stop pedal and which one
was the go pedal..."
"And I got on the floor and pushed go while Vin drived," added JD. "Vin don't
drive as good as Chris or you, Buck."
"It was going too fast!" protested Vin.
Amused smiles were exchanged over the boys' heads as the boys bickered about
their driving skills or lack thereof.
Vin turned away from JD and looked up at Buck again. "I tried real hard Buck,
but we hit a bump and it got away from me. I crashed the truck." Tears of
remorse filled the blue eyes.
"Hmm," said Buck. "The truck may have run into a tree, but that's not what
"What'cha mean, Buck?" asked JD.
"I see two very smart, very courageous boys who got help for Chris," said
"That's right, Vin," said Nathan. "You got him back to where the paramedics
could help him. You called 9-1-1 and got help."
"And he couldn't have done it without you, John Dunne," added Josiah.
JD smiled broadly at the praise from the adults. Vin wasn't so sure, yet.
He would have to see Chris was okay before he accepted the praise.
"Our turn, boys," said Buck. Since Vin was on his lap, he carried the older
boy, while Josiah carried JD. Nathan told them he was going to check on Chris.
Once they were actually in the exam room, it didn't take long to sort out
their bumps and bruises. JD and Vin both had x-rays, but no breaks were found.
JD had an impressive scrape on his left arm, likely from the underside of
the dashboard. The bruise on his cheek was from connecting with the brake
pedal when they hit the tree.
Vin had a lump on the right side of his forehead. He told Buck he had lost
his balance and was crawling on the seat trying to get a hold of the steering
wheel and was doing just fine until that big white balloon thing came out
of the steering wheel and bounced him against the back window of the cab
banging his head on the window. He had banged his hip on the door when he
lost control of the truck. His upper thigh showed a good-sized bruise from
the impact, but the x-rays had been clear for Vin as well.
The doctor smiled as JD retold the tale of their adventure once again. He
was impressed with the ingenuity of the seven-year-old and five-year-old,
and commended them for rescuing Chris. Then he pronounced them fit, and told
them if they had any problems, to come back and see him.
Vin's leg was sore so he let Josiah carry him. Vin knew JD needed Buck to
hold him for a while 'cause he sure wanted Chris to hold him.
Josiah smiled at the thin boy swallowed up in the comparatively gigantic
coat. Vin would hold on to that symbol of Chris until he was certain that
Chris was all right. Josiah almost stopped walking when Vin whispered in
"Are you sure Chris is okay? He looked just like JD's momma."
Josiah's steps faltered, then steadied as he continued following Buck toward
Chris' room. He wanted to wash that memory out of Vin's mind, but he knew
that wasn't possible. "Yes, Vin. I am positive Chris is okay," assured Josiah.
"I saw him before you got here. I talked to him. He was worried about you
"He talked to you?" whispered Vin.
"Yes. He asked me if you were okay," answered Josiah. "He wouldn't let them
put in the stitches until they said you were okay."
"Was he mad?" asked Vin. He was certain that Chris would be angry that he
wrecked the truck.
"Nope," said Josiah quickly, "He was scared."
Vin pulled back from Josiah and stared him in the eyes. "Chris ain't scared
"There's one thing that scares Chris, Vin." Josiah stopped and sat down on
a bench with Vin, letting Buck and JD go on without them. "Chris is afraid
of losing you, Vin. He loves you... and JD... with all his heart. He was
very frightened that he had hurt you."
"But I'm okay," said Vin.
"And so is he." Josiah rubbed Vin's back softly. "I know you were scared.
I would have been scared too." Josiah paused, pulling together the right
words to express his thoughts. "Vin, I am so proud of you. What you did was
very brave. And don't you worry about Chris and the truck. He will not be
angry about the truck. It's just a truck. He can get a new one. But he can't
get a new Vin or JD."
Vin nodded his understanding.
"Are you ready to go in now?"
Vin shook his head.
"What's wrong?" asked Josiah sympathetically.
"I don't want to see him," said Vin. He grimaced in frustration. "That's
not what I mean."
"Are you thinking he'll look like he did in the truck?" asked Josiah.
"I can assure you, he's all cleaned up. There's no blood." Josiah watched
Vin and knew he was struggling with the picture in his head of Chris at the
accident and the comparison to JD's mother's death. "He has a big bandage
on his forehead and some bruising by the bandage. Under the bandage he has
a bunch of stitches. Other than that, he looks just like he always does."
"You ready now?"
Vin smiled and nodded as Josiah stood up and carried him to the doorway.
"And then we bounced off the road and ran right into the big tree behind
Chris cringed inwardly at JD's retelling of their harrowing ride, but kept
a smile on his face, grateful that they had all survived relatively unscathed.
"And I got stuck under the dashboard and couldn't get out 'til the firemen
came. And I scratched my arm. See?" JD held out his bandaged arm for Chris'
Chris' head was throbbing. He needed to rest, but what he needed more was
to make sure his family was safe.
"Woo-wee, JD," said Buck, "I think Chris needs to rest."
"He has to stay here?" asked JD.
"Just for tonight," said Nathan.
"Can I kiss you, goodnight?" asked JD.
"Sure," said Chris.
Buck lifted JD carefully and held him so no stray arms or dangling feet would
bump Chris. JD kissed Chris on the cheek, and Chris hugged him.
"I'm so glad you're all right, JD," said Chris.
"Me too," said JD.
"Well, Master Dunne," said Ezra, "I have yet to see this wound you have
JD giggled. Uncle Ezra always said things in a funny way.
"Perhaps you can join me in the corridor and show me," said Ezra. Buck and
JD walked out into the hallway, allowing Josiah and Vin to come in.
"Vin," Chris called softly.
Josiah could feel Vin reaching for Chris and stepped quickly to the bedside.
"Vin's got a bit of a sore leg. Would it be all right if he sat on your bed?"
Chris patted the bed, inviting Josiah to set Vin beside him.
"Are you all right?" Chris and Vin asked at the same time. Vin grinned and
"Nate, I think I want a cup of coffee," said Josiah.
"Sound's good to me," said Nathan. "We'll be back later. Be good you two."
When the two agents left the room, Chris reached up and gently fingered the
goose egg on Vin's forehead. "I hear you saved my life."
Vin shrugged. "JD too."
Chris smiled at Vin's reluctance to accept the praise. "Are you all right?"
Vin nodded. "I am now."
"Me too. I was pretty scared there for awhile," said Chris.
Chris pulled Vin over to lean against him. Vin slid down onto the bed and
rested his head on Chris's shoulder.
"Do you want to tell me about it?"
Vin stared at the ceiling, noting the funny pattern made by the holes in
the ceiling tiles. "When you were bleeding in the truck, it made me remember
"I'm sorry," said Chris. His arm instinctively curled around the little boy
next to him, snuggling him a little closer. "You thought I was dead?" Chris
could feel Vin nod. "I'm sorry I scared you, but I am so proud of you, Vin.
You did a very brave thing in a very scary situation."
"But I crashed your truck." Vin turned his head looking up at Chris' face.
"I don't care about the truck, Vin. I care about you and JD."
"That's what Josiah said you'd say," said Vin.
"Josiah's pretty smart." Chris leaned back into the pillows, his throbbing
head screaming for a break. He tried to put aside what might have been and
he thanked God that it had gone as well as it had.
"I broke the rules," said Vin as he tried to count the ceiling tiles.
"About not driving the truck without me?" Chris confirmed. He had told Vin
never to drive the truck without his help.
Vin nodded again.
"Well, Vin, in this situation it was the right thing to do," said Chris.
"If you hadn't, who knows what might have happened."
"I thought the policeman was gonna arrest me because I drove without that
card thing you have and crashed the truck."
Chris smiled and squeezed Vin. "They won't arrest you. You're a hero."
"Hunh-uh," denied Vin. "I was scared." Vin rested his chin on Chris' chest.
"I hid in your closet when I was scared."
"I was wondering where my coat came from," said Chris.
Vin tugged at the collar, showing Chris the blood spot. "I got blood on it."
"It's all right, Vin," Chris assured.
Vin leaned back to rest, just content to be next to Chris. Chris ran his
hand up and down Vin's arm, stroking softly, reassuring both Vin and himself
through the physical contact. Chris closed his eyes in an attempt to ease
his headache. The adrenalin rush was gone, both felt safe and relieved. In
the quiet comfort of being together, they drifted off to sleep.
Three weeks after the accident, Chris brought his new truck home. The bruises
were gone and the memories were fading. It had been a wild couple of weeks.
The media had caught wind of the story of a seven-year-old and a five-year-old
rescuing their father and newspapers and broadcasts were filled with the
feel-good story. The local fire station had a party for the boys honoring
their courage and ingenuity. While the boys enjoyed the attention for a couple
days, their patience quickly wore out and Buck and Chris called a stop to
it. Some people had gone so far as to send money for the two "orphan" boys
that had been adopted. Chris and Buck had Nettie make arrangements for the
donations to help provide for needy kids.
JD and Vin ran into the front yard when the truck arrived. It was a sleek,
black, club cab. It had a back seat for Vin and JD, unlike the old truck,
which had a single bench seat. Chris took Buck and the boys for a ride in
the new truck, and then took Vin fishing at the little lake at the north
end of his property.
After a nice afternoon of fishing, Chris and Vin packed their gear and their
catch in the truck. As they climbed into the truck and Chris started the
engine, he popped the CD into the player. As it switched to the next track,
and a country song began, Chris smiled.
"Do you want to drive with me?" he asked Vin.
Vin nodded and slid towards him.
"I was afraid you wouldn't want to anymore," said Chris, pulling Vin onto
his lap. He and Buck had agreed to some new precautions with the boys. They
had agreed that both of them would be around when tackling a dangerous job,
and they invested in a two-way radio set. A second set was installed at Miss
Nettie's home, a mile down the road. The boys were taught how and when to
use the radios and cell phones. But even with all the precautions, Chris
feared that Vin had lost the joy of a fun and special time they shared in
'driving' the truck around the pasture.
"I'se afraid you wouldn't want me to, after I wrecked your truck," said Vin
as he settled in position. He put his hands on the steering wheel, ready
to drive, when the words to the song playing on the CD caught his ear.
"Hey! This song is about drivin'!" Vin twisted sideways and tipped his head
to see Chris' face. "This song is on every time we drive!"
Chris chuckled. "You caught me." He reached over and turned up the volume
slightly as Alan Jackson sang,
I'd sit up in the seat and stretch my feet out to the pedals
Smiling like a hero that just received his medal
Chris wrapped his arms around Vin and hugged him, swaying slightly with the
beat of the music.
It was just an old hand-me-down Ford
With a three-speed on the column and a dent in the door
A young boy two hands on the wheel
I can't replace the way it made me feel
"Did you know that my dad used to let me drive with him, Vin?" said Chris.
"He was never very demonstrative with his love - never showed it much. But
he let me drive with him and that was one of my happiest memories. I'm glad
you like to drive with me."
And I would press that clutch
And I would keep it right
And he'd say, "a little slower son you're doing just fine"
Just a dirt road with trash on each side
But I was Mario Andretti
When daddy let me drive
"Put her in gear and let's break in our new truck," said Chris.
Vin beamed, dropping the shift lever into drive and re-gripping the steering
wheel. Chris stepped on the gas pedal and they went bouncing across the pasture,
laughing and singing, "But I was Mario Andretti when daddy let me drive."
Lyrics to "Drive" by Alan Jackson