Chris sat in his office going over expense accounts when he glanced up at the clock. It was almost eleven and he was curious to see how the bake sale was going. When he came out of his office the only one at his desk was Ezra.
"Where is everyone?" Chris asked.
"I believe they are out by the bake sale," Ezra replied not looking up from his computer.
"Doing what?" Chris asked.
"As Buck said, and I quote, "What better place to pick up chicks?""
Chris just shook his head and started to leave.
"Mr. Larabee, seeing as I'm the only one that stayed at my desk would it be possible that I could "
"No, Ezra, you can't put the Armani suit on the expense account," Chris said.
"In that case I will accompany you."
Chris just hid his smile. Every time the expense accounts had to be done Ezra always tried to get his wardrobe included.
When they stepped out into the hall they were surprised to see the crowd of people. Chris recognized several people from different agencies all over the building. He mingled for a few minutes then walked over to Buck.
"Don't you and Josiah have some place to be?" Chris asked.
"Oh yeah," Buck said nodding. "Come on Josiah."
"Can I come?" JD asked running over.
"Sorry, Little Bit, but it's work," Buck said.
"Ok," JD said giving in easily. "Maybe I can get Miss Evie to give me more cake."
"All that boy has to do is give her those big eyes and she's done for," Josiah said.
"JD's deadliest weapon," Buck laughed.
"So, Master Tanner, how is the sale going?" Ezra asked when he saw Vin was in charge of the moneybox.
"Really good!" Vin exclaimed and opened the box. "'Cept I can't figure out what the checks are for."
Ezra picked up one of the checks and was surprised to see it made out to cash for one hundred dollars. Ezra looked though the box to find several checks. He only looked quickly but with the few checks alone the boys were close to one thousand dollars.
"Pretty amazing what people are willing to donate," Evie said as she came over.
"It is indeed," Ezra said pulling out his checkbook. He quickly filled out a check and handed it Vin.
"Holy Guacamole!" Vin exclaimed as he looked at Ezra's check.
"Mr. Standish, that is far too much," Evie scolded.
"Nonsense," Ezra said waving it off. "My financial advisor is always telling me that I need to donate to more charities.
"Vin, honey, I'll take that check for safekeeping," Evie said.
"Yeah, I guess you better," Vin said handing it to her. "So I'm guessing you want all the cakes?"
"That's quite all right, Vin, you can still sell mine," Ezra said smiling.
"Mr. Larabee, you might want to take charge of this check," Evie said handing it to him.
Chris gave her an odd look as he took the check. How much could it be made out to be for some cakes? When he looked at the check he just shook his head. Ezra loved the boys and would do anything for them, but this was too much. An eight hundred-dollar check was way over the line.
"Standish!" Chris bellowed. "We need to talk."
"If you lovely ladies will excuse me, I'm being bellowed for," Ezra said as he gave them a three fingered salute and followed Chris back to the offices.
"What was that about?" Nettie asked. Evie leaned over and whispered into her ear. "He did what?"
"You heard me," Eve said.
"Well, I'll be," Nettie said.
"Miss Nettie, is Uncle Ezra in trouble for giving us that check?" Vin asked. "'Cause if he is, he can have it back."
"No, honey. Ezra isn't in trouble," Nettie assured him.
Chris came back a few minutes later shaking his head. Ezra had a satisfied smile on his face as he joined Vin by the table. JD was pestering Nettie for some cookies when Orin Travis arrived with Mary.
"Orrin, Mary, good to see you," Chris said.
"Brought Mary along to interview the boys," Orrin said.
"It will make a great human interest story for my paper," Mary said
"You gonna do a story about us?" JD asked.
"Yes. Would you like that?" Mary asked.
"I get my picture in the paper?" JD asked.
"Of course," Mary smiled.
"Cool!" JD exclaimed. "Hey, Vin, we're gettin' our picture in the paper."
"Can you just do JD?" Vin asked quietly rubbing his black eye.
"Your eye doesn't look so bad," Mary said smiling. "It would look nice with both of you in the picture."
"Do I have ta?" Vin asked looking at Chris.
"What if we did a group picture with you, JD, Nettie, Evie and Inez?" Chris suggested. He knew Vin hated to be the center of attention.
"Can we do that?" Vin asked Mary.
"Of course we can," Mary said. "It's your story."
"But can I still have a separate picture with just me?" JD asked.
"Why not," Mary laughed. "But first you have to tell me how all this happened."
"Well, ya see, it's something like this," JD began. "We's got a swear jar at the house. That's a jar where the grown ups, and us sometimes, have to put money if we say a bad word. You know like damn, hell, shit and f ."
Vin clamped his hand over JD's mouth and looked fearfully at the grown-ups. They weren't supposed to use those words and JD had just strung all of them in one sentence. JD squirmed in Vin's hands and pulled away.
"What ya do that for!" JD protested.
"You was cussing!" Vin yelled.
"Weren't not!" JD said. "I was just 'splaning about the swear jar."
The boys started to argue and Chris could see he wasn't going to get any help from anyone else, as everyone was trying to keep from laughing. He stopped the argument and told JD he wasn't allowed to say those words even if he was explaining something.
Mary got JD talking again and the story started to unfold. She tried to get Vin to add things to the conversation but she could see how shy he was. When JD explained Vin did bad staying up watching Animal Precinct Mary could see the older boy wasn't comfortable.
"Don't worry, Vin, I won't put that in the story," Mary assured him.
When JD finally wound down they got the three women and the boys to stand by the tables. Mary took some pictures of all of them and single ones of JD as she promised. She thanked Chris for letting her write about the boys, kissed her in-laws and left.
Chris could see that Vin was getting tired. He could always tell because Vin would always rub his eyes.
"Come on, boys," Chris called. "Time for some quiet time."
"Aw, Chris, do we gotta?" JD pouted.
"Go on, JD," Evie said. "And I'll save the last piece of my chocolate cake for you to take home."
"All right! Let's go," JD said grabbing Chris hand and heading for the offices. Ezra and Nathan followed close behind.
Chris gave Evie a grateful look as he took both boys back to his office.
The couch against the wall was large enough to hold both boys side by side. Vin snuggled against the back of the couch while JD curled in front of Vin. Chris threw a blanket over them and went behind his desk.
"I gotta go."
"I'll take him," Vin volunteered.
"Remember where it is?" Chris asked.
"Yeah," Vin said and climbed off the couch.
Vin took JD's hand and went out of Chris's office. After a few seconds Chris followed them.
"Don't worry," Nathan said. "Ezra went with them."
Chris laughed and went back to his desk. A few minutes later the boys came back and climbed back on the couch. Chris watched as Vin struggled with the blanket.
"Need some help?" Chris asked.
"Nope," Vin said as he got the blankets settled and curled around JD.
Chris knew it wouldn't be long before they fell asleep. He got back to the expense account and started reading. He wasn't sure how long he'd been going over the report when Buck quietly walked in and took a seat in front of his desk.
"Well?" Chris asked.
"Not here," Buck said and jerked his head towards the boys. "Little ears."
Chris followed Buck out to the bullpen. He got comfortable in Buck's chair while the others arranged themselves.
"Well?" Chris asked again.
"The horse is perfect for JD," Buck said.
"Hold on now Buck," Chris said. "This horse was abused and mistreated. How do you know it will be good with children?"
"Well, Chris, the woman who runs the rescue has a little girl Vin's age," Buck began. "She was the one taking care of the horse. Her mother said the horse actually likes children better than adults."
"But the horse is fine around adults as well," Josiah added quickly. "He's just very submissive when they are around and a bit head shy."
"Makes sense," Nathan said. "I'm sure it was an adult that beat him."
"That horse looked pretty bad in the pictures," Chris said.
"Actually that show was taped over six months ago," Buck said pulling a picture out of his pocket. "Here he is today. He's still a bit skinny but he's a beautiful gelding Chris."
Chris took the picture and couldn't believe the difference. The horse looked wonderful. Buck was right that he stilled need to be fattened up and there were a few scars that still hadn't filled in with hair but he looked good. But Chris was still reluctant to give in.
"Still, I don't know," Chris said handing back the picture.
"We can take the horse and if it doesn't work out, she said we could bring him back."
"You give that horse to JD and he won't give it up so easily," Ezra pointed out.
"Ezra's right," Nathan agreed.
"Please, Chris. I want to do this for JD," Buck said. "Vin has a horse and JD can't ride with me forever."
"I know," Chris agreed. "But I was thinking more along the lines of a pony."
"Why?" Ezra said. "He'll only outgrow it."
"Then when he does you'll be stuck with the pony," Josiah pointed out.
"We'd sell it," Chris said.
"Uh huh," Nathan said smiling.
Chris knew he was outnumbered. Buck was a good judge of horseflesh but Chris was still leery about taking on an abused horse. There was no telling what it would be like down the road. Chris sighed and finally gave in.
"All right," Chris said. "But if he doesn't work out, then you're the one that has to explain it to JD."
"He'll work out just fine," Buck said smiling.
By the end of the day everyone was exhausted. Most of the women at the federal building thought JD was the cutest thing and that Vin was a little gentleman. Buck got a few phone numbers and everyone was happy. When then money was finally counted the boys had raised a little over three thousand dollars. Chris was still not happy with Ezra's donation but there was no getting him to take it back.
As they left the office they thanked the women for all their help. The boys would have said thank you as well but Vin was sound asleep draped over Ezra's shoulder and JD was asleep on Buck's. It had been a long day for both of them. They said their good byes and headed for the parking garage.
Chris unlocked the Ram and Ezra loaded Vin into his car seat. Vin didn't like being in the seat since he said he wasn't a baby but the law said that children up to 70 pounds had to ride in a car seat. Vin didn't weigh over 70 yet so he was still required to ride in one. As Ezra put him down, Vin woke with a start and looked around.
"It's ok, Vin," Ezra said. "Go back to sleep."
"I'm not tired," Vin said.
"Suit yourself," Ezra said as he finished buckling Vin in.
JD was all set to go and Buck closed the door. They all said their good-byes and everyone headed home.
The bake sale was pretty cool. People gave lots of money even when they didn't buy stuff.
Yeah, and we sold Uncle Ezra's cake four times.
That wasn't Uncle Ezra's cake, JD.
Yes, it was. He bought it first. But then he said we could sell it again. And then Mr. Cooper bought it and he said we could sell it again.
Only after you told him that Uncle Ezra did that.
What are you giggling about?
It worked almost as good as looking ????
Pathetic, JD. Pathetic.
And we got our picture in the newspaper and on the TV.
There were too many people. I didn't like all those people.
But it was cool to give the vest to Officer Zeus.
Yeah, JD. That was great.
Over the next few days things were a little hectic as several newspaper reporters called to talk to the boys. Mary's article had generated quiet a buzz and everyone wanted to find out about the boys who had raised all that money.
Because of the article, donations stared pouring in to Mary's paper. The total raised now was close to five thousand dollars.
It was Thursday when Chris got another surprise at work. Chris had been busy finishing up the paper work when the phone rang.
"Hello, Agent Larabee? My name is Mark Hanson. I'm the owner of K-9 Protection. We make the bullet-proof garments for police dogs."
"What can I do for you, Mr. Hanson?"
"Well, we've heard all about your boys raising the money to buy the vests for the dogs. We'd like to donate the first one and present it to the officer whose dog was shot in the line of duty. We're hoping the police department will buy future vests from our company."
"That's very generous Mr. Hanson, but maybe you should talk to the Denver PD."
"I already have. The reason I'm calling you is that we would like to hold a press conference with the boys in attendance."
Chris just shook his head at all the media hoopla this whole thing had caused. JD ate it up but Vin wasn't comfortable with it. Chris finally agreed and they would bring the boys to the police station in the morning.
Vin hadn't liked the attention and Chris wasn't surprised. There were several newspaper reporters as well as two TV news crews at the conference. They were waiting for Officer Tomas Riggs and Officer Zeus. When they finally arrived Chris was surprised at how well the dog reacted to everything that was going on. Finally the media circus got under way as K-9 Protection presented the vest to Zeus. JD and Vin helped put it on and pictures were taken. The whole experience was certainly something the boys would remember. Chris certainly would.
When they finally got home that night, Chris found a package waiting for them on the stoop of the house. Buck took the boys to their room to get ready for bed.
Chris opened the package and found several pictures of the boys from that afternoon. The last picture was a larger one with a note attached.
Thought you might enjoy this one.
Mark Wilson, AP
Chris took the note off the picture and smiled. The photographer had caught Vin in an unguarded moment. Vin had his arm around Zeus and a huge smile was on his face. Vin reserved that smile for a rare few.
"What ya got?" JD asked as he ran into the living room in his PJ's.
"Some pictures," Chris said.
"What kinda pictures?" Vin asked as he walked in followed by Buck.
Chris showed them the pictures and JD got all excited. Vin picked up the one of him and Zeus and smiled.
"That's a great picture, Vin," Buck said.
"Yeah," Vin nodded. "I like it too."
"Vin, would it be okay if I put this on my desk at work?" Chris asked.
"I guess," Vin said as he handed the picture back to Chris.
"What one are you gonna choose of mine, Buck?" JD asked.
It took Buck and JD a few minutes to decide which picture would be best. When they both finally decided on one it was time for bed. Buck agreed to read them a story and he hoped that would calm JD enough to go to sleep. Buck didn't have to worry. He barely got through three pages before both boys were asleep. Buck tucked both of them in and smiled. If they only knew what was going to happen tomorrow.
It was a rare Saturday when Chris woke before the boys. Buck had been up early to meet Josiah to get JD's surprise. Chris was quietly reading the paper when he heard footsteps coming down the hall. He looked up to see a tousled-haired Vin walking towards him. Vin was rubbing his eyes and yawning.
"Mornin'," Vin said as he leaned against Chris's leg.
"Hey! Where's Buck!"
Chris smiled as JD came running down the hall wide-awake. JD stopped short at the table and looked up at Chris.
"He had to run an errand," Chris said. "Why don't the two of you go get dressed and I'll make breakfast?"
"I want Cap'in Crunch!" JD yelled as he ran back to his room.
"You want the same, Vin?"
"Nah, I want the circle ones in all the colors, with the cool bird on the box."
"You got it," Chris said.
Chris just shook his head. Next time he was going shopping and not Buck.
By the time Chris got everything on the table the boys were back. They were just finishing breakfast when they heard a loud beeping from the back of the house as the truck backed up.
"Buck's back!" JD declared as he ran for the door.
Vin ran after JD followed by Chris. Both boys were surprised to see the horse trailer hooked to the Ram. Josiah came from the other side and smiled.
"What ya got, 'Siah?" JD asked.
"Ya wanna see?" Buck asked.
"Yeah!" both boys yelled.
"Okay, step back," Buck said.
Josiah helped him lower the ramp on the trailer. Chris was forced to grab JD's arm or he would have run up the ramp following Buck. They heard some scrambling then finally a horse started backing off the trailer. When the horse was completely out of the trailer both boys gasped.
"It's him!" JD yelled and pulled out of Chris's hold.
"Ya took him?" Vin asked as he looked up to Chris.
"Yeah, we took him," Chris said.
"You're the best!" Vin yelled and hugged Chris's leg before running over to the new horse.
"Do you like him, JD?" Buck asked as he picked JD up so he could pet the horse's head.
"I love him!" JD yelled as he hugged the horse's neck.
"You gonna take good care of him?" Buck asked.
"He's mine?" JD asked in awe.
"Well, Vin has Peso," Buck said. "Figured you needed a horse of your own."
"Yippee!" JD yelled and hugged Buck. "What's his name?"
"His name is Milagro," Josiah answered.
"Milagro?" JD asked. "What's that mean?"
"It's Spanish," Vin said.
"Do you know what it means, Vin?" Josiah asked, impressed that Vin knew it was a Spanish name.
"Uh huh," Vin nodded. "It means miracle."
Vin reached out and stroked the horse's nose. "It's a good name for him."
"Yes, it is," agreed Chris, thinking it was a miracle that the horse had survived at all.
"Yep," said Buck, thinking that it was a miracle that everything had worked out to enable them to adopt the horse. "Miracle."
"Yeah," JD agreed. "It's a miracle that Buck let me have him, alright," JD said and everyone laughed.
Chris stood back watching for a moment as they led the newest member of the family down to the barn to meet the other horses.
Milagro certainly was a miracle, but he wasn't the first miracle in this unique family, and with the two little boys who had changed all their lives, he certainly wouldn't be the last.
Chris smiled and joined his family.
Yep. Milagro was a very good name.
Next: Empty Kingdom...
Things We Learned (Index)