"Look Vin. I turn it on myself."
"Come on, Vin. Hurry up."
"Look Vin it can't write when I sneeze."
??? ??? ???
"I can't. I got a cold."
"Are we ready, gentlemen?"
"Bless you, Master Dunne."
"Thanks, Uncle Ezra."
"You start, Vin."
"K. Well it was real hot, Buck said it was hot enough to melt stones but it wasn't that hot; he was just joking. Even though Torkus comes from a hot place, he hid under the house 'cause it was so hot. Even Uncle Ezra said it was too hot. Didn't you?"
"Yes, it was too hot."
"And I got my finger stuck in the door, it looks so cool, 'cause it's all black."
Buck and Chris climbed almost reluctantly from the air-conditioned cool of the cab of Chris' Ram and headed into the house. Even at nearly six in the evening, the late summer heat was stifling. Gloria Potter came out onto the porch, her purse and keys in her hand already.
"They're all yours, have fun," she announced.
This wasn't typical of their usually ever-patient housekeeper.
"Gloria, honey?" Buck asked with his best, full on 'Buck charm'. "Is something wrong?"
"I'm hot, they're hot, JD has a headache, they're tired but it's too hot to sleep, Vin caught his finger in the door, Torkus is under the house some place, GI Joe's head came off, JD refuses to have any more sunscreen on, Vin won't wear a hat and I'm going home."
The two men stood, speechless and watched their housekeeper march past them and strike out across the yard toward the tree where her car was parked in the shade.
"Umm. I think we're in trouble," Chris commented.
In response, Buck pulled out his cell and punched in a number from memory. "Martha? Yeah, it's me, Buck I'm fine, darlin' what? Oh yeah, he's fine, growin' like a weed. Look, Martha, I need a favour. What? No not that kind of favour, hun. Flowers I know you're about t' close up. Fer me? Darlin'? Please? You're the best; big bunch, simple, pink, blue and white, carnations, freesia, roses and gypsophila.... Yes, on the account, to 4501 Kim Street. What? Oh yes, the card, umm 'Thanks for everything - always, Chris, Buck and the Boys.' I'll call you sometime, darlin'" With that, he hung up and smiled at Chris.
"You have a florist and know the number by heart?" Larabee asked.
In response, Buck just waggled his eyebrows and turned to head into the house. It was dark inside the house, the curtains closed against the heat.
The first sound that hit the men as they moved inside was JD's whiny voice ringing clear and plaintive through the house. "I wanna!"
"Well ya can't, Miz Potter said so." Vin sounded at the end of his tether.
"I want Torkus."
"He's under the house; you know that. Miz Potter said he likes it there, he'll come out when he's hungry."
"I want Buck!" JD was now crying. His second demand was cut short when Buck made an appearance in the bedroom doorway.
"Hey, Little Bit, I'm here."
JD slipped off the bed as Buck dropped to his knees, and ran to his father. Buck scooped him up and carried him back to the bed, sitting down with the small boy on his lap.
"I got's a headache an' Torkus is under the house an' Miz Potter won't let me go an' get him an' I don't like the icky cream but Miz Potter won't let me go out without it an' GI Joe's head came off." Finally taking a breath he looked up at his father. "Can you fix him?" he asked tearfully.
"I'll take a look," Buck promised. JD yawned, he looked ready to drop, his shaggy black locks in disarray and sticky with sweat and dressed only in a pair of shorts. "How about a little nap while Chris gets supper on?"
JD shifted uncomfortably. "'S too hot," he complained.
"I know, but if I help, will you try?"
JD yawned again. "'K."
Vin left the bedroom to join Chris in the corridor.
"Hi there," Chris greeted. "Hear you hurt your finger?"
Vin held up his left index finger, the nail was black.
"Well that looks nasty, bet it hurt." Vin nodded. "What happened?"
"JD don't feel so good and he couldn't nap 'cause it's so hot. I was using the door as a fan, to make wind and my finger got caught." Vin was examining his blackened fingernail. "Miz Porter said my nail'll fall off." Suddenly he looked up, seeking reassurance from his father. "Will it? I don't wanna have no fingernail. Will it hurt if it falls off?"
"Not really and it will grow back, don't worry - okay?" Chris assured.
Vin nodded, he was tired, too; it was so hard to sleep in the hot weather.
"Why were you trying to make wind? Where is the fan?"
They had purchased a large desk fan to help cool the boys' room in the summer heat as the house didn't have air conditioning. The kids were under strict orders not to touch it - ever.
"JD tried to make his GI Joe go around and around so he tied a bit of string to GI Joe's neck and he used the special knot Uncle Ezra it did it wrong. It put a K on not, look it did it right this time."
"A knot that you tie has a K in front of it but you don't say it. It's called a silent letter."
"Possibly, but that is how it is spelled. Please continue."
"Dumb computer. Okay, where was I? Oh yes. JD put the string through the bars of the fan. We aren't meant to touch the fan but Mrs Potter was in the kitchen and I was in the yard and no one saw him."
"Let me tell it. I was there."
"Okay JD, you tell it."
"I wanted GI Joe to fly all round but it didn't work. The string got all stuck and Joe's legs went around a bit and then he flewded across the room and his head was dangling from the fan. And the fan stopped and made this funny noise - like this."
"Slow down, JD. You know it can't do it if you go too fast and it don't know how to type a noise like a broke fan makes."
"Oh, okay, and it smelled real bad as well. Mrs Potter was so mad at me that she said a bad word and she said I could only have water to drink and no soda. It wasn't fair 'cause I'm real thirsty all the time."
"Yeah it was, JD. You touched the fan, we're not supposed to touch it at all, ever. You know that."
"But I didn't touch it, not once. I was real careful, I just dangled the string in past the bars - honest."
It took some time to unravel the true story behind the demise of the fan and GI Joe's decapitation. Buck promised to have a long talk with JD about the letter of the law and the intent of the law, but not yet. JD had finally fallen asleep, helped by the soothing tones of his father's voice and a cool damp washcloth under his neck. Buck worked at reuniting Joe and his head while Vin helped Chris set up supper outside under a tree. They placed a tray with water and fresh lettuce near the hole under the house into which Torkus had wandered and prayed he would find his way out. Buck had reluctantly woken JD for supper, but he was really only half-awake while he ate his pasta, not showing any of the normal JD exuberance when Torkus finally ambled out from under the house to enjoy his evening meal.
While JD watched Torkus eat, with a newly restored GI Joe on his back, Vin followed the men to the corrals to check on the horses but he was only really watching, not having the energy to help.
Once the boys had cool bath and had been put to bed the men, sank down on the porch with an ice-cold beer each and hatched a plan.
"Chris came and woke us up really early, it was five o'clock."
"Look, Uncle Ezra. It can't make that noise you made."
"Hush, JD, I'm telling this story."
"After we had breakfast, we got on the horses and we all went up to the mountains 'cause it's colder up high. We had a picnic by the river. Chris and Buck put everything we needed in the saddlebags, and as soon as we got to the high pasture Chris said we could go fast. Going fast is the best, Peso loves it, he likes to follow Pony, and Beau follows him. JD was shouting, faster, faster."
"I like going fast, when I get my own pony, I'm gonna go fast all the time."
"You can't go fast all the time JD, your horse'll get tired."
"I know. Can I tell some of the story?"
"When we got to the river we went swimming, and we pulled Buck into the water and the monster chased us."
The high pastures, where the cattle grazed in the summer, were broad, mostly flat meadows, and since there were no cattle in the one they had to cross, Chris pushed his horse in to a steady canter. 'Going fast' as the boys called it, was guaranteed to put everyone - human and equine - in the best of moods. Peso, while possessed of an evil disposition (unless you were Vin Tanner), was not an ill-mannered pony. He didn't buck or bolt and he seemed unafraid of most things that made ordinary horses shy. Buck's big grey was always happy to follow the others. He was possibly the fastest horse in the barn but he was also the most even-tempered. So with Chris and Pony in the lead, the family crossed the meadow. JD was perched on Buck's lap, one strong arm wrapped around him. He was meant to hold onto the saddle horn, but he felt so secure on a horse and with his father's arm around him, he always forgot. Soon, little arms were outstretched in glee; cries of 'faster' however, went - for the most part - unheeded. Indeed, if JD had shown more fear or at least caution, Buck might have considered getting him a pony. As it was, he had resolved to wait until the fearless, little trouble magnet was at least seven.
Since they had eaten breakfast just after five, they stopped halfway for a substantial snack, and then when they reached the spot on the riverbank where they were going to picnic, the boys could have a good long swim before a late lunch. The river valley was heavily wooded, the trees overhung the crystal clear water. At the spot the men had chosen for their day out, the river flowed very slowly, slow enough for safe swimming. So having unsaddled the horses and set out their things, all four changed for a swim.
The men hadn't thought about the boys swimming when they first came to them. It wasn't until the spring vacation, when the school sent a letter home asking permission for the children to have swimming lessons at school that the subject even came up. Deciding not to wait, they took the boys to a local pool, where Vin demonstrated an effective if very basic 'doggy paddle'. JD apparently had never been taught to swim, not that it seemed to bother him. With his natural enthusiasm and blind faith that nothing bad could happen to him if Buck was with him, JD had mastered the basics by the end of the day. The short-lived backyard swimming pool had emphasized the boys' love of water. Peso's little adventure had led to the pool's demise, and they had decided to save money to replace it next summer. Unfortunately, it was unbearably hot now and next summer was a long time off, so they sought relief in the mountain river.
A long line of boulders midstream marked the boundary between the shallow, slow flowing water and the much deeper and slightly faster water. But between the bank and the boulders was more than enough water to swim, and play and splash. They threw a ball, they played 'horse' and 'dolphins', and they collected stones from the riverbed. It was even deep enough to jump in, though they made the boys promise not to, unless one of their fathers was there. The mountain fed river water was wonderfully cool and the shade made the temperatures bearable. Finally Chris decided it was time to eat.
"Come on you three, let's eat." Chris had already got out, dried off and pulled on his jeans.
"Oh, Chris," Vin whined. They were having a fine game, curling up in a ball and being thrown into the water by Buck.
"Come on, it's past two already, JD's stomach must think his throat's been cut, and Buck gets cranky if he's hungry.
"Do not!" the tall man protested.
"Yeah ya do," JD piped up.
"Hey you're supposed to be on my side!" With that, Buck tossed JD into the river to join Vin.
Both boys were laughing as they swam over to where Buck was perched on a semi-submerged rock. From there, the man looked down at them and grinned.
"What are you two doing down there?" he asked.
His answer was to have one leg pulled out from under him, and with an almighty splash, he crashed into the river. Emerging, arms raised, water cascading of his shoulders, he roared like a lion. Both boys squealed as they tried to escape the sea monster but the monster's long legs and arms captured them easily.
"Okay, we're here," Buck announced as he stood on the bank, a dripping boy under each arm.
"Get them dry and dressed and I'll get lunch set up."
With Buck's help and aided by the fact that he didn't care about being naked, JD was finished first, running down to the water to explore some more.
"Little Bit, don't you get wet again!" Buck called.
"I won't," JD yelled as he ran.
Vin refused all help, and was still clutching his towel when JD called out to him.
"I found fishees in the river and so I called Vin to come see, they was real big fish, big as this."
"JD, the computer can't see you show how big the fish was, anyway it wasn't that big."
"It was so that big. After we saw the fish, we had food. We had sandwiches and chicken legs and we had pepperoni sticks and potato salad and we had ribs and cookies and Vin, what did we have?"
"Umm biscuits and soda's, you remember Chris put them in a bag and put them in the river so they were all nice and cold."
"Oh yeah, that was cool, and we had apples."
"I can't help it, I told you I's got a cold."
"That was when you fed the fishes."
JD had wandered up stream, quickly reaching the place were the streams divided and the water was deep. Standing on a rock, he peered over to look deep into the water and he spied a large fish.
"Vin!" he yelled. "Vin, Vin look a big fishy."
Vin ran over and the two boys spent several happy minutes watching the fish dart about in the deep sun dappled pool until they were called to eat. Once the majority of the food had been consumed, everyone lay down on the blankets, it was warm but not hot under the trees by the river and the sound of the water, along with the hum of the insects and bird song was very soothing, and all four were quickly asleep.
JD woke up first, he looked over to his left where Buck lay on his back snoring contentedly, then to his right were Vin lay on his side, curled up with his head pillowed on his arm. Beyond Vin lay Chris, his position a perfect copy of Vin's. After a lot of water and several sodas, JD's bladder made its self known, so he stood up, and mindful of Chris' firm instructions not to pee in the river, he trotted off to the nearest tree. Once that was taken care of, he returned to the campsite. Food was never far from JD's mind and the sight of two uneaten biscuits in their clear plastic box made him instantly hungry. So it was that, with food in both hands, he wandered along the river looking for more fish. The spot where they had been before was now deep in shade so he moved further up stream to where the sun lit the water. He had to climb up onto a rock to look over into the water. Sure enough, there were the fish, as he munched on his biscuit crumbs fell into the water, instantly a big brown fish leapt up and snapped up the crumb.
JD squealed in delight, and he dropped another crumb and another fish came to eat it. Soon he was scattering crumbs all over the water to feed the fish. At the back of the group was one smaller fish, it looked different to the others and JD instantly felt sorry for it. He knew what it was to be the smallest and to be different, so he tried to make sure the little one got a nice big, juicy crumb of Mrs Potter's homemade biscuit.
The big fish were keeping the little fish at the back, so he had to lean out to get the crumb to the little fish.
"What?" Buck sat bolt up in a flash, still half asleep and momentarily disoriented. Something had woken him but what? Almost at the same time as he registered that JD wasn't lying beside him, he heard the faint splashing and a clear but distant cry.
"Buck! Help me!"
In a fraction of a second, he was off and running, long legs making short work of the uneven terrain. He didn't bother to check to see if help was behind him, he knew it would be. As he got closer, he heard splashing coming from the deep water beyond the boulders in front of him.
"JD!" he shouted.
"Help!" Came the panicked response.
As Buck crested a large boulder, he spotted the little dark figure midstream splashing ineffectually in his panic and now some distance from the shore. The tall man didn't stop to think, he didn't even break stride as he crested the rock and dove off into the water. The shallow dive took him to within just one stroke of his son.
Once JD was safely clamped around his father, Buck began a litany of reassurances. "Hey, there, Little Bit, I'm here, Buck's here and he's got you, you're safe, everything is okay."
JD might have been out of his depth but Buck could stand up - just - and began to walk back to shore where Chris was watching. Only a minute later, Vin ran up to join him, carrying a towel.
"I wanna get out," JD wailed. "I don't like it no more."
Buck thought back to the wonderful fun JD had had in the river just a few hours ago, and the great time they had enjoyed in the backyard pool last week. He looked up at the others watching him anxiously.
"You know, guys? I think me and Little Bit are gonna go for a walk in the water, we'll meet you back at camp," Buck explained.
"No," JD wailed, clamping himself more tightly around Buck. "I wanna get out now, please Buck."
But Wilmington took no notice, turning away from the bank and wading slowly through the water in the general direction of the campsite.
"But Chris, JD wants t' get out now, he doesn't like it in the river now," Vin implored, watching the other two moving away, JD still crying.
"What's the first thing you do if you fall off your horse?" Chris asked.
"Get back on, of course," Vin replied instantly.
"Right," Chris confirmed. "Why?"
"Well, so you don't get afraid of the horse."
"Right, JD likes swimming doesn't he? He had fun today?"
"Yeah, but oh I get it. Buck's gonna make him like the river again."
What had taken Buck mere seconds to cover on the bank, took nearly half an hour to cover wading slowly through the water, fully clothed. He talked to JD about what happened, about the river and the animals, and the games they had played and told him jokes. Little by little the small boy relaxed and by the time the two of them reached the others, JD was holding on to Buck's belt and being towed through the water, laughing and shouting.
Experience had taught the two fathers to never go far without a spare set of clothes, so JD was quickly changed into dry jeans and a tee shirt. Buck, unfortunely, was not so lucky, and was forced to ride home in his wet clothes.
"That was a dumb thing to do, JD."
"'S not, I had to feed the little one, the big fishes was being mean to him and not letting him have some crumbs."
"But you fell in, JD and Buck had to rescue you and now you have a cold, so it was dumb."
"Don't say I'm dumb."
"I said you did a dumb thing."
"Gentlemen, what is amiss?"
"Uncle Ezra, he called me dumb."
"Did not. I said falling in the river was dumb, and it was, too."
"Was not, was a accident, Buck said so. Didn't he, Uncle Ezra?"
"Indeed he did. Vincent, please apologize to your brother.
"Bless you. Now is the story finished?"
"Not yet, Vin you have to tell about this morning and Buck's funny walk. He walked like this."
"JD, I told you the computer can't see you."
"Buck walked with his legs all out wide, Chris said he walked like this old movie guy, John Dane."
"Would that be John Wayne?"
Buck, clad in soft sweat bottoms and tee shirt, waddled out of his room and into the kitchen the next morning to be greeted by concern from JD, curiosity from Vin and amusement from Chris.
"Well, howdy pilgrim, where's yer horse?" Chris drawled in a fair imitation of John Wayne.
"Shut up!" Buck snapped as he eased himself down onto a chair, legs still spread wide.
"What's wrong, Buck?" JD asked.
"Just a mite sore, Little Bit, that's all, I'll be fine in no time, don't you fret none."
"A little saddle sore there, pilgrim?" Chris drawled.
"Will you stop that? Chaffed, if you must know."
"Chaffed?" Chris asked in his normal voice.
"Well, you try riding in wet jeans with a squirming with JD on your lap. Things chafe a mite."
"Told you them jeans was too tight," Chris commented, with more than a little amusement.
"Look who's talking!" Buck countered.
"Yup that's him, John Wayne, anyway Chris thought it was real funny, he laughed so hard he cried. Buck called Uncle Nathan and he said to put some gas on it."
"Yup, petroleum something. That's gas ain't it? Petroleum?"
"Ah, petroleum jelly, is that what he said?"
"Yeah, that's it."
"Why did Uncle Nathan say for Buck to put gas on it and what's 'it'?"
"It's not really gas; it's just made from the same thing and I think you will have to ask Buck what 'it' is yourself, later, much, much later. Now, is this assignment completed?"
"Yup, bye computer."
Next: Special Delivery...
In The Good Ol' Summertime (Index)