"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe
"Umphhh!" Buck's eyes popped open as the air was forced from his body.
Drawing in a deep, painful breath, he blinked a couple of times then focused on the grinning five-year-old sitting squarely on his chest.
"It's mornin' Buck!" he proclaimed.
Still muddled from sleep, Buck blinked again, glanced toward the dark window then turned his head and squinted at the clock beside his bed,
"JD, it's seven o'clock!"
"Yep, mornin'," the little boy reiterated as he sat back with his arms crossed. "Can we go now?"
Buck couldn't help but chuckle at JD's excitement, despite being rudely awakened. The two young boys had talked of nothing else all week. JD jabbering excitedly every chance he got and Vin, while he didn't say as much, his eyes would light up and he would start grinning ear to ear.
It was two weeks before Christmas and Chris and Buck had promised the boys they could take a horse drawn sleigh ride up into the higher part of the ranch and cut down a Christmas tree. Neither boy had ever had much of a real Christmas, at least not for a long time. So Chris and Buck wanted to make sure that this, their first Christmas as a new family was very special.
They had the whole weekend planned, starting off by letting the boys pick out a live tree to cut down. Then after lunch they were going shopping with a visit to see Santa. They would top the day off by eating in town, anywhere the boys chose.
Santa had been JD's idea with Vin going along. The men weren't sure if Vin really believed and they didn't ask. They suspected he was just indulging JD, however he seemed to be just as excited as the littler boy.
Their enthusiasm had infected all of them, including the other members of the elite ATF team who were coming over the next afternoon for a tree decorating party.
Realizing that further sleep was futile, Buck persuaded JD to quietly go watch cartoons while he showered, hoping to let Chris and Vin sleep a little longer.
Chris gained wakefulness slowly. In the still semi-darkness of the room, he rolled over, planning to catch a few more Zs before facing the busy day ahead. Preparing to drift back off, he suddenly had the feeling he was being watched. Opening his eyes, he saw the dim outline of a shaggy little head on the pillow next to him. Without actually seeing the boy's face, he knew that those big blue eyes were wide open and staring at him.
"Hi," came the response.
"Did you have a bad dream?"
The sleepy man was becoming a little exasperated but tried not to let it show knowing how easily Vin sensed rejection, "You need something?"
Stifling a sigh, Chris gathered the little boy to him before continuing, "What's going on?"
"Jus' waitin'," was the muffled reply as Vin burrowed into the warmth and security of Chris's arms.
"Waiting? Waiting for what?"
"It's mornin'," Vin seemed to think that this was all explanation that was needed.
It took Chris a few seconds before his sleep-addled brain made the connection, then he chuckled, "Oh, I think I see. You're waiting to go cut down a Christmas tree?"
Chris could feel the boy smiling as he nodded his head against his chest.
Chris yawned but was pleased at the warm glow inside knowing how excited the two little boys were about their upcoming adventure. Hugging Vin a little tighter and kissing the top of his head, Chris said, "Well then, I guess we'd better get started. Is JD up?"
Vin pushed himself away from Chris and sat up on his knees, "Yep, he went t' see if Buck was awake."
Chris laughed, knowing that if he werent before JD's visit, he would be shortly after. "OK, go get dressed. Put on some warm cloths and then go watch TV while I shower."
Vin hopped off the bed and ran to the door, but before leaving the room he looked back at Chris and gave him a smile that seemed to light up the whole room.
After breakfast, Buck went out to hitch up the horses and the sledge they had borrowed from a neighbor just for this outing, while Chris and the boys cleaned up and dressed for the long trek.
Chris packed some light snacks and two thermoses, one filled with hot chocolate and the other with hot coffee. He also brought some blankets to wrap the two little boys up in, knowing how sensitive Vin was especially, to the cold.
As they made their way out to the barn and the waiting sledge, Vin voiced his disappointment that they weren't using Pony and Peso, Chris's saddle horses.
Chris patiently explained, "Pony and Peso have never been hitched up to a sled or wagon. They wouldn't like it. The horses we borrowed from Mr. Johnson are used to it and besides they are bigger." He pointed to the two very large draft horses.
JD, who was listening to the exchange, proclaimed excitedly, "Vin! That means we can get a bigger tree!"
"Well, not too big Lit'l' Bit," Buck said, grinning, "or we won't be able to get it into the house."
Vin, with Chris close beside, cautiously walked over to the huge animals who were placidly waiting. The little boy barely came up to the top of the leg. Although the horses were normally very gentle, it wouldn't take much for them to accidentally hurt Vin, Chris cautioned him. Vin gently laid a hand on the enormous thigh. The horse lowered its head, turning to look him in the eye. The two stood that way for a few seconds, then Vin smiled and patted the horse, who in turn softly neighed and gave a little nod, rattling the tack. The little boy turned to Chris, "OK, he's nice. I like him."
Grinning, Chris scooped the youngster up and settled him beside JD on the pallet they had made behind the seat. The older man always marveled at how good Vin was with the horses. He wrapped a blanket around the two and climbed up beside Buck and they were off.
The hour's drive passed quickly with the boys jabbering excitedly, although it was mainly JD. He asked question after question, barely giving the men time to answer one before asking the next. Vin was content, mostly to listen and absorb the beautiful scenery.
Buck, while trying to keep up with JD's rapid-fire conversation, occasionally glanced at his old friend to see how this trip was affecting him. Years ago, shortly after Adam's birth, he and Chris planted a stand of pine trees at the far end of the ranch's property. Chris talked about taking Adam up there to get their Christmas trees. As far as Buck knew, Chris had not been back since Sarah and Adam's deaths.
Whatever Chris's private thoughts, he was wearing a contented smile as he skillfully guided the horses. He truly seemed to be enjoying the day and the two little boys that had come so suddenly into their lives and hearts.
The time passed quickly, and before Chris could bring the sledge to a full stop, the two boys had unwrapped themselves and were running toward the small stand of trees. By the time the men climbed down and retrieved the axe they had brought, JD and Vin were arguing over which tree to cut down.
Chris and Buck eyed the two trees the boys had chosen. Truth be told, Vin's tree was the prettier of the two; tall, straight and nicely shaped. JD's on the other hand was short, bushy and leaned slightly to one side, although from the little boy's perspective, he probably couldn't see it.
Buck glanced at Chris before saying, "Well boys, you picked out some mighty fine trees, but what say we look around a little more before we decide? We want to make sure we have the perfect one."
The boys were happy to agree and ran off into the trees laughing and shouting at Chris and Buck to 'come see'. The two men exchanged looks and small sighs, another mini-crises avoided.
They let the boys run around for a while, expending some of their seemingly boundless energy. When the noise stopped, Chris and Buck went to find them. As they walked up to where the boys were standing. JD turned, his eyes as round as saucers, "Look Buck, we found our tree."
And they had. The tree was beautiful, not too tall and the perfect shape.
Wielding the axe, Chris stepped forward, "Good job boys. This will make a great Christmas tree. Now stand back while I cut it down."
JD scrambled to get out of the way, but Vin stood staring up at the tree.
Chris moved up beside the little boy and looked down at Vin.
When he failed to answer Chris stooped down and placed his hand on his son's arm, "Hey Buddy. Ya gotta move so I can cut down the tree."
In a small voice Vin said, "Chris we can't cut down this tree. Look," pointing up into the thick branches.
Chris squatted down so he could see from Vin's perspective. The older man peered upward, but still couldn't see what Vin was looking at, "What is it Vin?"
"There," Vin again pointed upward, "Don't ja see it? Its a bird's nest. If we cut down the tree the birds won't have a home." Vin's voice held a trace of sadness. This had been such a perfect tree.
Chris looked at his adopted son feeling a constriction around his heart. Having a home and a place to belong was still so new to the young boy who had been without for so long that he was acutely aware of that in others, even animals. Somehow that didn't surprise Chris. Vin had shown an uncommon affinity and understanding of nature and its citizens. They thought this was particularly surprising because from what little they knew of Vins background, it did not include any extended periods outside the city.
Hurrying to reassure the little boy, Chris said, "It's OK Vin. The nest is empty. The birds don't use them at this time of year. They build them in the spring so they can lay their eggs. After the eggs hatch and the baby birds leave the nest is abandoned. The birds don't live there anymore Vin.
Vin turned wide, blue eyes to his father, looking deep for confirmation. Seeing nothing but honesty, Vin still needed to hear him say it again, "For real?"
Chris smiled, "For real, and you know what?"
"What?" breathed the small boy.
"In some countries they think it means good luck if your Christmas tree has a bird's nest in it."
"Really?" Vin's face lit up with the realization that their special tree would have 'good luck'.
"Yup," Chris smiled as Vin ran over to Buck and JD to share his newly acquired knowledge.
With the tree felled and firmly secured to the sledge, the men broke out the hot chocolate for the boys and some peanut butter sandwiches. Chris and Buck enjoyed their hot coffee and at the boys insistence, shared with them the sandwiches.
"So JD," Buck asked, grinning at Chris, "what ya gonna ask Santa for?"
"Mmmppphhhh," JD started then took a drink of cocoa to wash the peanut butter down, swallowed a couple of times, then began again. "I'm gonna ask for a digger!"
Buck grinned and winked at Chris, "A digger?"
"Yeah, ya know! One of those big things that dig in the dirt. Ya know! It has one o' them things on the front, like a....like a arm with claws," With his explanation, JD proceeded to pantomime what the piece of heavy equipment could do.
Buck's expression grew serious but his eyes twinkled as he regarded JD, "Well Lit'l Bit, Santa ain't gonna be able to get one of those big ole 'diggers' on his sleigh. And how is he gonna get it down the chimney?"
JD stared in wide-eyed horror at Buck for a couple of seconds before grinning, then playfully pushing at him, "Aww Buck, not a real one, a toy 'digger', but one that really works. You know!"
Chris grinned at the antics of the two but surreptitiously watched Vin during the exchange. The little boy was watching and listening with a sad smile on his face. Placing a hand on the young mans shoulder, he dared to ask, "What are you going to ask Santa for, Vin?"
Vin ducked his head and shrugged his shoulders without answering.
Buck looked questioningly at Chris, but Chris gave his head a little shake, signaling that they should drop it for now. Then the men noticed JD looking sadly at his friend suddenly aware that something else was going on here.
Determined not to let anything dampen their spirits, Buck slapped his gloved hands and rubbed them together, "What say we get this show on the road? We gotta lot t do and were burnin daylight!"
They had positioned the tree with the trunk toward the front of the sledge. They put a boy on either side, wrapped them in blankets and headed home. Not long into their return trip, the men noticed the unnatural quiet behind them. Looking back they had to smile. The early morning, all the activity and the cold had caught up with their two young charges. With their heads resting against the large tree trunk, they had fallen fast asleep.
The men had unhitched and taken care of the horses before they woke the boys. They left the tree on the sledge, figuring they would get the other team members to help bring it in and set it up the next day.
Weaving drunkenly, the boys were herded into the warm house, their outdoor clothes removed and taken to the bathroom to wash up for lunch. By the time the two sat down to their meal, they were more awake and ready to resume their adventure.
The specific goal of the afternoon outing was to let the boys pick out gifts for the other men, Ms Nettie and Mrs. Potter. On the ride into the city, several ideas were discussed. A couple of times this erupted into an argument that was quickly quelled by one or the other of the men. Surprisingly, when it came right down to it, the boys had little difficulty deciding on what to get their friends and adopted uncles.
Weighed down with packages, the little troop made their way to the center of the large mall where Santa was holding court. Chris claimed a nearby bench where he waited tiredly with the presents while Buck waited in line with an excited JD and a reluctant Vin. The older boy at first, refused to go see Santa but finally gave in when he saw that he was disappointing JD. Chris, again, wondered why Vin was acting the way he was about Santa. He seemed as excited as any seven-year-old about Christmas. It was just when anyone talked about Santa that he got a sad look in his eyes.
Chris watched with apprehension as it came the turn of the two boys. JD ran up to the bewhiskered old man, who bore a remarkable likeness to what people believed Santa to look like, and Chris suspected it wasnt make-up.
Vin on the other hand, shuffled slowly forward with an encouraging pat on the back from Buck. By the time Vin got there, JD had already told Santa, with animated hand gestures, what he wanted for Christmas. Vin stood silently in front of the old man with his head down.
"This is my brother, Vin," JD explained.
"Hi Vin." The old man heard the little boy mumble something but couldnt make out the words. He could tell that there was something bothering the boy so he asked gently, "Would you like to sit on my lap and tell me what you want me to bring you for Christmas?"
Vin looked up then and Santa saw the saddest blue eyes he had ever seen. Years of working with children told this former schoolteacher that there was a tragic story here. He noticed the child's hesitancy and seeing the other boy's look of trepidation, he glanced up at the tall man with the kids and noticed the concerned expression on his face. Still the boy didn't move forward, "Well, how 'bout you just stand beside me so we can take a picture for your dad."
That motivated Vin to move cautiously up and to the side of the old man. Instinctively the ex-teacher carefully avoided touching the skittish child. He obediently looked at the camera and even managed a weak smile when Santa's 'elf' told them to say 'presents'. Santa handed both boys a candy cane. JD jumped off his lap and ran to Buck who scooped the laughing boy up in his arms. Vin started to follow when the Santa stopped him by saying, "Vin?"
Hesitantly Vin turned back.
The kind, elderly man looked into the wide, blue eyes that were old beyond their years. "Vin, I want you to have the best Christmas ever, OK?"
The little boy stood stock still for a moment, staring into the all-seeing eyes. Slowly he nodded once, turned and ran into Chris's waiting arms.
As Chris gathered the little boy to him, he turned a fierce glare on Santa. The old man calmly met the protective father's eyes and all Chris could see was genuine concern. "Vin? You OK?" Turning his attention back to his son.
He could feel the little boy nod his head.
"Vin?" Loosening the arms around his neck, "Did Santa say something to upset you?" Chris's gut clinched slightly as he asked the question, but he was all too familiar with the sick people that preyed on children. Waiting for Vin's answer, he sent a silent plea heavenward that what he saw in the old man's eyes was correct.
"No," came the barely audible response, "he just said he hoped I'd have the best Christmas ever."
Chris reached out to tilt the tiny chin up toward him so that he could see his eyes, "Is that all?"
"Yeah," Vin answered and Chris could see the honesty.
"Then what's the matter?"
Vin dropped his gaze and Chris could tell he was hiding something, but decided not to push it.
"Well, you know if you ever want to talk about anything you can tell me."
The little boy nodded but didn't look up.
Chris sighed deeply and raised his eyes to his old friend, who had been standing far enough away that JD couldn't hear the conversation. Buck could tell that Chris was worried about something, but he didn't know what. Putting on his best Buck smile, he did a little jig over to his partner, "What say we get som'thin' to eat? I'm starved. All this shopping really works up an appetite."
"Yeh!" JD exclaimed happily, "can we go to Joe's?"
The men saw Vin's eyes brighten at the mention of the boy's favorite eatery. They liked the place not so much for the food, which was mainly pizza and mediocre at best, but for the several arcade games the enterprising proprietor had installed to lure unsuspecting parents into the establishment.
"Yeah, can we?" Vin asked.
Shrugging his shoulders with resignation, Chris grinned, getting a confirming nod from Buck, "Sure, why not?"
Vins excitement returned. They stopped long enough to pay for and pick up the Santa picture, then made their way out of the crowded mall.
The family spent the next few hours eating and playing games. Finally, deciding that the boys had, had enough for one day and knowing that he was tired, Chris called an end to the festivities. Chris looked sternly at Buck as all three boys protested. Guiltily clearing his throat, he said, "Chris is right guys. Remember we gotta get up early tomorrow to get ready for the tree decoratin party."
With that reminder, the small boys cheerfully readied themselves to leave.
Snow was starting to fall as the boys were strapped into their seat belts in the back seat of the extended cab on the Ram truck. On the long drive back to the ranch, it became apparent that the busy day had finally caught up with the two youngest.
Glancing in the rearview mirror, Chris could no longer see the boys. Quickly peering over his shoulder, he saw that the boys were slumped down in the seat as far as the restraints would allow, and sound asleep.
Buck saw Chriss grin and where he was looking. Shaking his head at the uncomfortable positions the two were in, he turned back and gave his partner a satisfied smile, "Oh, to be that young again."
Coming up on a lone convenience store, Chris decided to stop and fill up the gas tank. The snow was falling harder and he didnt want to be caught with an empty tank if they should get more than the couple of inches predicted.
Pulling the big Ram up to the empty pumps, Chris turned the engine off and climbed out, noting that Vin and JD hadnt stirred. Buck exited the other side to go in and pick up a few things and pay for the gas while Chris filled the tank.
Kyle Davis pounded the steering wheel in frustration, "Shit! Of all the fuckin luck! Had t steal a car on its last leg!"
His companion, Gerald "Ratso" (nicknamed for his strong resemblance to the repugnant rodent) Kelsey, scrunched down in his seat, hoping to make himself as small a target as possible. His partner had the habit of taking out his explosive temper on the nearest available victim. Unfortunately, at the moment, that was him.
Davis was seething. He thought they had made a clean get-away, well almost clean, if you didnt count shooting the clerk of the liquor store they had just robbed. They had stolen the car right before the heist. About a mile or so back the engine had started acting up. They had made it to the convenience store out here in the middle of nowhere. They were barely able to crawl into the parking lot and roll to a stop just off the road. At least they werent in the circle of bright lights. Maybe theyd get lucky, because he couldnt see any other cars around but surely the clerk had one or maybe a customer would come in.
He was just about ready to go inside the store when he saw the large black truck pull up to the gas pumps. Two men got out. One to fill the tank and the other went inside. As far as he could see, not that it mattered, they were the only two occupants. Kyle grinned evilly, "Well, well, well, lookee here. Maybe our lucks turnin."
"Rats, get ready to get in on the passenger side. Im gonna knock the blond guy out then well take the truck. Looks like well be home free and hes kind enough to give us a full tank of gas."
As they got ready to get out of the stolen car, he hurriedly whispered a last instruction, "Dont slam the car door when you get out and be quiet!" he said savagely. Davis had no illusions as to his partners intelligence.
Chris returned the nozzle to its holder and tightened the gas cap when suddenly the back of his head exploded in pain and brilliant lights filled his vision. The snow dampened the footsteps so Chris never heard him coming.
The two robbers jumped in the truck and took off, fishtailing as it took the turn too fast for the slick road conditions.
Buck looked up from putting the change from his purchases back in his pocket at the counter, when the trucks engine roared to life, "What the hell?"
He ran out of the store, staring at the fleeing vehicle. While Buck's brain was still trying to process what he had just witnessed, he saw movement on the opposite side of the pump island where the truck had been parked. Slipping on the wet pavement, Buck hurried as quickly as he could to find Chris groggily trying to get up. "Chris! You Ok? What happened? Oh my God...the boys!"
Larabee, fighting to stay conscious, "Buck," he asked weakly, "what happened?"
Buck looked at his fallen partner and rapidly put two and two together as the law enforcement officer took over. Helping Chris to his feet, "Come on buddy, let's get you inside. We need to call the Highway Patrol. Someone stole the truck with the boys inside."
More awake now, Chris felt his insides turn to ice. Realization dawned as they stumbled back into the store. Their sons had been kidnapped.
Pushing through the door, Buck helped Chris to a stack of soft drinks, shouting at the startled clerk, "Get me a phone, then find me a first aid kit!"
Now!" he ordered when the man momentarily hesitated.
The clerk placed a phone on the counter and then headed to the back room. The ATF agent quickly dialed 911. When the dispatcher answered, "This is ATF agent Buck Wilmington, I need to report a carjacking and a kidnapping. We need to issue an Amber Alert."
Buck proceeded to give the woman the pertinent information including a description of the truck, the license plate number and the names and descriptions of the two small boys. He related briefly what had happened and what direction the thieves had taken so that it could be quickly relayed to all the appropriate agencies.
Meanwhile the clerk brought out a first aid kit and cautiously approached the man seated on the soda cases. He saw the man holding the back of his head and took it upon himself to fill a plastic bag with ice. Now, as he drew near to the man who closely resembled a powder keg ready to blow, he was questioning the wisdom of his actions. Still, the man was hurt...
"Sir?" Swallowing convulsively as Chris turned furious eyes on him. Reflexively, he backed up a step. "He...here," he stammered, "I thou...thought this might help." Proffering the ice bag and first aid kit at arms length.
Chris saw the fear in the young man's eyes. Fighting to get his own fear and anger under control, relented somewhat, "Thanks," he said gruffly.
The clerk nodded once then retreated behind the counter.
Chris's insides were churning, he was afraid he was going to be sick, either from fear or the pounding in his skull, as he listened to Buck talk to the 911 dispatcher. He didn't have any idea how much time had passed. The litany in his mind matching the pounding in his head, "Not again...not again...not again..."
Gradually he became aware that Buck was talking to him, "Chris..Chris...you OK pard? Chris can you hear me?"
Slowly green eyes focused on blue, "Yeah," was the soft reply.
"Help will be here in a few minutes. I called Josiah. He'll call Nathan and Ezra. Don't worry pard we'll find them. The Cavalry is on the way."
Buck managed a weak smile but Chris could see he was as torn up as he was.
"Buck, I can't lose another son, I just can't."
Buck's eyes flashed with barely suppressed anger, "Don't ya go givin' up. Don't ya ever say that. We are gonna find them and they're gonna be OK. Ya hear me Chris?" He placed his hands on his old friends shoulders and squeezed, "Ya hear me Chris? Those boys deserve more than you givin' up on them."
Slowly Buck's words tore through the blanket of despair that had wrapped itself around Larabees heart.
Buck watched the eyes change. Saw the determination return and breathed a sigh of relief. The Team leader was back and they would get their boys back. They both turned to look out the large plate glass window as they heard the first of the sirens and watched the snow fall harder.
The duo headed south. The going got slower and slower due to the thickening snowstorm. The big truck, for the most part, had little trouble navigating the dangerous mountain roads, but visibility was a problem. The only good thing about the storm, Davis reasoned, was that it would be harder for the cops to find them. Especially since they would be busy with weather related problems.
They were getting close to Colorado Springs when Kelsey noticed movement in the back seat. Turning his head his eyes grew wide as the little boy sat up rubbing his face to wake up.
"Buck?" JD groggily asked for his adopted father. "Buck, we all most home? I gotta pee."
"What the hell!" Exclaimed Davis, hearing the voice from behind him.
The truck veered as the driver glared at the astonished expression on his partners face then stared at the rearview mirror. The Ram swerved, "Shit!" and he fought to regain control of the sliding vehicle.
The jerking motion of the truck woke Vin, "Chris? .Chris, whats hapnin?"
The second voice didnt register immediately in Daviss mind as he frantically tried to correct the skid. Finally Kyle was able to straighten the truck out and brought it to a stop. Breathing hard, he rested a few moments before turning to glare at the two kids then back to his partner, who was staring wide-eyed and open-mouthed at them.
"Of all the fuckin luck!" yelled Davis.
Vin and JD were both fully awake now.
"Wheres our dads? Who are you?" JD demanded.
Vin reached over and grabbed JDs arm and shook it, trying to make him be quiet. Vin knew they were in trouble, serious trouble.
Ratso finally found his voice, "Now what we gonna do?" he squeaked.
Turning his fury on the smaller man, "Would you shut your fuckin trap and let me think!"
Finally, "OK we gotta dump the truck and the kids. Theyll be lookin for em."
He thought a few more minutes, "We gotta be gettin close to Colorado Springs. Well find us another car and leave this one."
"Wha what about the kids?" Ratso ventured.
"Well ditch em, too."
Now, Gerald Kelsey was many things and he was generally thought of to be out of the shallower end of the gene pool but in his own slightly skewed way, he had standards and not hurting kids was one of them. The only problem was he knew he didnt have the courage to stand up Davis, who was completely without scruples. Somehow he had to figure out a way to keep the kids safe without getting himself killed.
The Amber Alert went out immediately to all law enforcement agencies and the media, even before the State troopers arrived. An ambulance with EMTs followed shortly after. They treated Chris and urged him to go to a hospital to be checked out, but he steadfastly refused.
They were just finishing their reports when Nathan pushed his way into the store, identifying himself as an agent. Spotting his friends at the back of the store, he rushed over to them. Having gotten only the sketchiest of information when Josiah called him, he knew that Chris was hurt but not how bad.
"Chris, you OK?" he asked as he knelt in front of the stricken man.
The senior agent raised pain filled eyes to meet those of his friend and colleague. Nathan knew that only part of the pain was physical. The other was for the loss of their adopted sons. The two little orphans had come to mean the whole world to hardened agents Chris Larabee and Buck Wilmington. And had found a very special place in the hearts of the rest of the team.
Seeing the despair in their leaders eyes, Nathan reached a hand out to grasp Chriss, "Well find em Chris," he vowed.
Chris read the conviction in the ex-medics eyes and gave a small confirming nod. However even that slight gesture sent lightening bolts of pain lancing through his skull.
Nathan saw the face pale and grimace, and though he knew it was futile, he suggested, "Ya really should go to the hospital and get checked out."
Larabee shot him a look that spoke volumes but only said, "Josiah and Ezra coming?"
Sighing, Nathan acknowledged, "Yeah, they should be here shortly."
"Good, cause when they get here we are going after the sons-of-bitches."
Buck and Nathan exchanged glances over the head of their injured leader. The deadly quiet voice told them that those car thieves had just made the most lethal mistake of their cowardly lives.
As the Ram slowly drove into the outskirts of Colorado Springs, the snowstorm had become a full-blown blizzard, reducing visibility to just a few feet. The temperature with the wind-chill, was well below zero, making it hard for the trucks heater to keep the cold out, even turned up full blast.
The blowing wind created huge drifts which made driving nearly impossible. However, the large truck with four-wheel drive was able to make it into the snowbound city. Even as desperate as they were to put distance between them and Denver, Davis realized to go on would be suicide.
He slowly made his way through the side streets looking for a place to lay low until the storm passed. They found themselves in the warehouse district. Kyle checked out the large buildings, finally picking one that looked deserted. He parked the truck on a street with other vehicles, knowing that the snow would help camouflage it. Hopefully, it would be a while before the snow melted and it was discovered. And when it came time to leave they could just take one of the others.
"Come on," Davis said, "well break into that warehouse and hole up there til this storm breaks."
Kelsey looked at the two frightened boys in the back seat. Neither one had uttered a word since they realized that their dads werent there. It was almost like they were trying to be invisible, but Ratso had not stopped thinking about them and what he was going to do.
"What bout the kids?"
The big man had almost forgotten about them, and frankly thats exactly what he wanted to do. He glanced behind him then continued to get out of the truck, "Leave em."
Reaching deep inside himself, Gerald "Ratso" Kelsey dredged up a shred of backbone that would have surprised him had he not been too scared to think about it, "If we leave em they may go get help and tell the cops where we are. We take em with us we can leave em in the warehouse when we take off. By the time theyre found well be long gone."
"Alright," he growled, "but keep the little brats away from me."
Vin had known since awakening and discovering the two men in the front seat, that they were in serious trouble. He didnt know who they were but life on the streets had taught him to recognize dangerous people, and these two were dangerous. He also knew that their best bet of getting out of this was to be as inconspicuous as possible. Luckily, JD had learned to take his cues from the older boy and once told to be quiet, had done so.
He didnt know how these bad men had gotten the truck, but he knew that Chris and Buck would not have just let them take it, at least not without a fight. And that thought almost left him paralyzed with fear What had happened to Chris and Buck? Were they hurt?
Vin had been hoping that the two would just forget about them, but no such luck, as he listened to the conversation taking place in the front seat.
Part of him was terrified of what was going to happen to them because he recognized the ruthlessness of the big man, and the other part was worried sick about their foster fathers.
Kelsey opened the back door and quietly told the boys, "Come with me. Keep quiet," he warned.
Vin unlatched his seat belt and turned to help JD, who was having trouble. He couldnt quite manipulate the lock with his heavy gloves on.
"Hurry," Kelsey urged, fearing repercussions from his partner if anything thwarted the mans plans.
The boys did the best they could, considering their cumbersome clothes.
Ratso grabbed each boy by the hand and trudged after Davis heading down an alley between two large buildings. The alley created a wind tunnel, blowing even stronger than on the street. The children were having difficulty walking. If it hadnt been for the man holding on to them they wouldnt have been able to move forward.
Davis found a window fairly close to the ground. Standing on a crate, he broke it with his elbow. He listened closely for the sound of a burglar alarm but didnt hear anything. He had been banking on that. He deliberately had picked what appeared to be a run down part of the district, at least what he could see of it through the blinding snow. He made the hole larger and climbed through.
Kelsey got on top of the crate then reached for Vin. He helped the boy up then picked him up to lift him through the window. There was a bit of a drop but not enough to injure the boy. After Vin picked himself up, he turned to help JD down. Ratso followed.
Before leaving the truck, Davis had gone through the glove compartment. There he found a flashlight, which he switched on as soon as he entered the building. He panned the light around the large nearly empty room. In one corner was an enclosed area. The two walls facing into the warehouse were windows from about half way up. Next to that was a smaller room with no windows, probably a bathroom. Along the other wall were a couple of vending machines.
Davis paid no heed to his companions as he made his way to the office.
Kelsey once again took hold of the boys hands and followed.
Reaching the door, Davis found it locked. Never letting anything that trivial deter him, he broke a pane of glass, stuck his hand through and unlocked the door. He found a light switch and flipped it, surprised that it actually worked. A feeble overhead light came on.
The other three inched their way cautiously into the room. Kelsey moved the boys into the corner, telling them to sit and keep quiet.
Davis spied a radio, turned it on, and then left the room. The absolute quiet of the abandoned building was positively creepy. Even street sounds were muffled because of the snow. Besides, he wanted to check out the place and he didnt particularly want Kelsey to know what he was doing.
Neither boy had spoken. Then JD turned to look at Vin with pleading eyes, "Vin, I really gotta go," he said in a loud whisper.
Vin had quickly dropped back into the habits he had developed living on the street. He was busy scanning the room and trying to figure a way out when he spotted the phone sitting on the desk. The first rays of hope began to shine in the little boy. If he could just get to the phone and if it just worked.
He was so busy making a plan that he failed to hear him until JD pulled on his jacket, "Vin, please I need to pee bad! It hurts!"
Vin turned to see tears in the younger boys eyes. He looked toward the door. It looked clear, so he raised up enough to peek out the dirty window. Seeing no sign of the bigger man, he dared to approach Kelsey, who paced nervously about the small enclosure.
"Mister?" he began but stopped when the skinny little man jumped.
"What?" Kelseys voice came out high and squeaky, betraying his state of mind.
"I thought I told you kids to keep quiet. Ya wanna get us all killed?"
Vin glanced over his shoulder, seeing the pained expression on the little boys face, he strengthened his resolve, "but mister, hes really gotta go t the bathroom, please!"
Ratso peered through the window for any sign of his partner. Not seeing him, he motioned to the boys, "alright, come on. I think theres a john next door."
He led the boys to the toilet keeping an eye out for Davis, wondering how he could have disappeared in a largely empty warehouse.
Vin and JD finished their business and Kelsey hustled them back in to the office. He admonished them once again to keep quiet then resumed his pacing. It made him very nervous not knowing what his volatile partner was up to.
No one had been paying much attention to the radio until the music abruptly stopped and an announcer said, "The police have issued an Amber Alert for two little boys abducted from a convenience store earlier this evening. Vin Tanner and JD Dunne, ages seven and five, were passengers in a 2001 Black, Dodge Ram, extended cab pickup. The boys father was knocked out and the truck taken with the boys asleep in the back seat "
Descriptions of the boys followed, and the direction taken.
Shit! Was the only thing he could think of. They were kidnappers. This thought hadnt really occurred to him. That meant the feds would be looking for them, too. With that Amber Alert system, he was pretty sure it made getting the kids back safely a top priority for all law enforcement.
Vin could see that Kelsey was upset. Even in the poor light he could see that the man had grown pale. He had heard what the radio guy had said and prayed that Chris was OK and that he and Buck would find them soon.
About that time there was a loud crash outside the office. All three jumped and Kelsey, despite the cold, started to sweat.
Davis came back into the room munching on a slightly stale candy bar he had taken from the now destroyed vending machine. He slammed the door open, barely missing Vin where he sat huddled with his arm protectively around JD. Noticing the look on Kelseys face he growled, "whats eatin you?"
"Nutin," Ratso whined, "the noise scared me s all."
He reached over and turned the sound down on the radio. No telling what might happen if Davis found out every cop in the state was looking for them. Plus now, all the citizens were alerted. This was going to make keeping the kids alive and safe a lot trickier. Kelsey still had no stomach for hurting the boys but if it came down to them or him, it would be a tough choice. Davis just might decide to get rid of the kids and hide their bodies rather than take a chance on leaving a couple of witnesses.
After a moment, deciding Kelsey was telling him the truth, Davis began to ransack the office looking for anything of value. Shortly it became obvious that there was nothing left of any great worth and that put the man in an even fouler mood. Finally though, he sat down in the chair, propped his feet on the desk and dozed off.
Vin relaxed a little, at least for the moment they were OK.
It had taken a great deal of argument, but after Josiah and Ezra arrived, the police convinced Chris and Buck to go home. They reasoned that in this storm there was nothing they could do that wasn't already being done.
The two men were like caged lions. Although it was reassuring to hear the alert every thirty minutes on TV, it also served to add fuel to the already tense environment.
"I can't just sit here and do nothing!" Buck fumed.
Josiah, for what seemed like the millionth time, tried to reason with him, "And where would you look Buck? Their pictures are on all the TV stations. The alert is being broadcast every thirty minutes. Every cop in the state is looking for them. We don't even know which direction they went."
Glancing at the too still form of their boss staring out the window at the near white out conditions, "The best thing we can do is wait by the phone so we'll be ready when they're found."
Buck raked both hands through his hair before throwing himself into a chair, "God, this just can't be happening!"
Nathan appeared in the doorway in time to hear that last remark. He paused taking in the despondent images of his friends and teammates. This was hard on all of them. Even though patience was part of their job, they all preferred action. But hardest of all on Larabee, who was used to being in control, now found himself once again not being able to help someone he loved. The medic placed a tray of sandwiches and a carafe of coffee on the table, "Y'all need to eat. We gotta be ready when they call."
But his words fell on deaf ears. The men remained motionless, each with their own thoughts, each with their own prayers.
And the endless night wore on.
The loud noise startled the two little boys who had fallen asleep in their awkward position, sitting against the wall. Vin's eyes darted frantically around the room, forgetting momentarily where he was. Memory slammed into him and he quickly turned to JD, who was staring at the big man now standing behind the desk. Vin's arm was still around JD although it had lost feeling from the pressure of the little boy's head. But Vin didn't move it, needing to feel the reassurance of the warm little body as much for his sake as well as JD's
The warehouse was lighter indicating that day had dawned. Davis pushed the chair roughly back against the wall behind him. His mood was definitely worse for sleeping in an uncomfortable chair. He stalked out of the room.
Kelsey, having slept on the floor on the other side of the door, slowly stretched and stood. He cringed as he heard a loud fuck from the other room.
Davis returned slamming the already open door against the wall. He looked like he wanted to break something or kill someone. The big man stood for a moment simply glaring, then he walked over to the radio and turned it up.
"Kyle?" Kelsey nervously ventured.
Davis turned hostile eyes on his simpering partner.
"Wha...what's goin' on?"
After glaring for a moment longer, "It's still fuckin' snowin'."
Ratso didn't say anything, having been around the big man long enough to know that when he was in this kind of mood it was best to be invisible.
"I'm gonna see what they say about the roads. We gotta get outa here before I go fuckin' nuts."
They had to listen to a few minutes of music before the news team came on to give updates on road conditions. Then the moment Kelsey had been dreading, they repeated the Amber Alert.
Davis went ballistic, picking up the radio and throwing it through the window above the boys. He had known they would be looking for the boys, but actually hearing the statewide alert to all media, law enforcement and the public sent him over the edge. It was the last straw. The perfect fucked up ending to a fucked up job.
Vin instinctively pulled JD down, covering his head to protect him from any flying glass.
"God damn!" he raged. He pulled his gun and pointed it at the terrified boys.
" 'S that you?" When the two didn't answer he moved from behind the desk still pointing the gun.
In a very small voice, Vin answered, "Ye...ye...yes sir."
"Of all the fuckin' luck! The streets will be crawlin' with cops an' people wantin' t' be cops!"
Davis had moved to the side of the desk nearest to Vin and JD with Kelsey on the other side of the room.
"Let's go Kyle. If we leave now we can still get ahead of 'em"
In his blind rage, Davis swung the gun towards his partner, "This is all your fault!" And then he pulled the trigger.
With an expression of surprise and horror on his face, Kelsey fell to the floor.
Davis remained frozen for a few seconds, breathing heavily. As he turned back toward the boys he was hit hard above the knees. Davis, knocked off balance, fell backward. His gun arm slammed against a file cabinet and the gun went flying.
Sluggish from being in the same position for hours, Vin wasn't able to scramble out of the way fast enough. Davis grabbed him by the coat and stiffly got to his feet. Bringing a fist back, he slammed it into the little boy's face, "You lit'l bastard," he growled.
Although stunned, Vin fought with everything he had, kicking and punching.
Sadistically, he laughed at the frantic child, then he backhanded him, sending him flying across the room where his head landed with a sickening thud against the wall. He lay motionless.
Davis moved to finish the job.
He turned back to find himself facing the youngest boy who was holding the gun he had dropped.
"Well, well, well..." He grinned ferally. He moved toward JD.
No one was more surprised than JD when the gun went off.
Davis's expression turned to one of disbelief as he too, fell to the floor.
JD stood there in horror, afraid to move, not quite sure of what or how it had happened. Then he heard a soft moan. It brought him back to reality. He dropped the gun and ran over to the other boy.
"Vin? Vin? Please Vin, talk to me! Please, Vin, I'm scared. Vin I don't know what to do. Please Vin!" the small child sobbed.
He gently shook the unconscious boy, pushing him over he saw blood all over Vin's face. "No! Vin! Please Vin! Ya gotta be OK!" He lowered his face to Vin's chest and cried, wishing with all his heart that Buck were there.
He sat up when Vin moaned again. He had to find help. He needed Buck.
The five-year-old stood up and looked around. Wiping the tears from his eyes he tried hard to not look at the bodies of the two men. Then he spied the phone. Not able to bring himself to step over the men, he crawled under the desk to reach the other side. He picked up the receiver and dialed the number most familiar to him
Buck sat at the kitchen table drinking another cup of coffee. He hadn't been able to ear anything and the acrid brew was beginning to play havoc with his stomach. Chris still stood at the window, as if trying to stop the snow by sheer willpower. Josiah, Ezra and Nathan were all dozing in chairs and on the sofa.
When the phone rang all the men jumped. Buck rose and reached for the kitchen wall phone. His hand paused momentarily as he gathered his courage, praying that it was good news, but dreading that it wasn't.
Taking a deep breath, he picked up the receiver, "Wilmington."
At first he heard nothing, "Who's there?"
Then loud sobbing, sobbing that could only belong to one person, "JD?"
The crying got louder, "JD? Is that you? JD ya gotta stop crying' and talk t' me."
"B...B...Buck?" the little boy sobbed.
Relief washed over him like a tidal wave. He thought he was gonna pass out, and sat down heavily into a chair, passing a shaking hand over his eyes. By this time the other men had joined him. Chris rushed over, "Vin, where's Vin?"
Buck held up his hand, "JD, lit'l pard, now, ya gotta calm down. JD hon where are ya?"
JD gulped a couple of times, "I I don know."
"OK JD, listen t me. Are ya OK? Wheres Vin?"
JD started sobbing again.
"Litl Bit ya gotta talk t me. Are ya OK?"
Between sobs, "Buck Vins hurt bad." More crying.
Buck glanced at Chris and fear clutched Larabees heart.
"B Buck? I shootd him," the sobbing grew louder.
Buck shut his eyes and clinched his fist not believing what he was hearing.
"JD? JD, sweetie, who did you shoot?"
The others turned horrified eyes to Wilmington.
"The the bad man."
Buck let out a sigh of relief, his shoulders slumped.
"He hurtd Vin bad and and I shootd him."
"Ok pard, OK. JD, I need you to listen to me. Can you do that?"
Gulp, "ye yes."
"OK Pard, I want you to hang up "
"NO no Buck, Ise scared. Buck, please come get me!"
JD was crying so hard Buck was afraid he wasnt hearing him.
"JD please, listen."
"Look pard I dont know where you are. Heres what I want you to do. I want you to hang up and call 911. They will find you and they can help Vin. JD do you understand?"
"Uh huh, but Buck I want you," Buck almost had to smile at the obvious sound of the little boy wiping his nose on his sleeve.
"I know Litl Pard. I want you too, but we gotta find you first. The people at 911 can trace your phone call and find you, then they will call me and Ill come get you."
"Now, JD hang up then call 911."
"And JD, dont hang up when you call them, OK? They want to talk to you so they can find you, OK?"
"OK pard, hang up now and well see you soon."
"I love you, son."
"Luv you, too."
"OK JD, hang up." And Buck listened as the phone went dead. His hand shaking, he hung up. It was one of the hardest things Buck Wilmington had ever done.
He turned to face his oldest friend, "I dont know Chris. He said Vin was hurt, and," Bucks eyes grew wide, "and that he had shot the man who had hurt him."
"Dear Lord," Ezra voiced all of their disbelief.
The men stood in shocked silence for a few moments then Chris moved quickly to the living room. Picking up his cell phone, he dialed a number.
"Agent Johnson, this is Larabee, we just got a call from JD." Chris gave him a rundown of the conversation and the FBI agent in charge, told him he would call him back as soon as they heard anything. Chris gave him his cell phone number, asking to be called on that line, wanting to keep the house phone clear just in case JD called back.
They didnt have long to wait. Chris grabbed the phone on the first ring, "Larabee."
"This is Johnson. 911 in Colorado Springs just notified the FBI field office that they have a young man on the phone who identifies himself as JD Dunne. They still have him on the phone because he said his dad told him not to hang up," Chris could hear the smile in his voice and had to bite back a sharp retort, wanting the man to get on with it.
"Anyway, theyve traced the call to an empty warehouse. Emergency crews are on the way." The man hesitated, "He said the other boy was hurt." Chris sucked in his breath. "He couldnt give us details, but hes alive. Theyll take them to Saint Mathews Hospital in Colorado Springs, if you want to meet us there."
"Were on our way." And the men moved as one to gather their things.
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org