This story follows events in my earlier story Whats Your Mamas Name? It stands on its own pretty well but some of it might be a little clearer if you read the other story first.
Settling into his desk, Ezra automatically smiled at the curly haired moppet in the picture on his desk. His daughter Eve had turned eight during the summer and was starting her second week of third grade. He had taken some personal time the first week so he could escort her to and from school. This morning, Mrs. Hernandez had taken Eve with Bella and would pick them both up afterwards.
The elevator opened and Ezra glanced over the top of the 19-inch flat screen monitor on the corner of the desk. Buck and JD came in together, carrying boxes of donuts and pastries from their favorite place. The younger agent had a plastic quart jug of milk hooked on one finger as he followed his roommate into the kitchen. The teasing argument they were having over last weeks episode of Survivor brought a smile to the southerners face.
The rest of the team arrived a short time later and gathered in the conference room to go over the particulars of their upcoming case. After the meeting, Ezra returned to his desk and checked his messages. The first was from the auto shop reminding him that it was time for the Jag to have an annual maintenance check. He made a note to schedule something for later in the week. He often left his beloved car at the place where he picked up cars for his undercover work. Since he had arranged for the shop to receive a fair remuneration for the use of the used cars that they rented on the side, he got most of the work on the Jag done at cost. It was an equitable deal.
The second message was from Maude. She wanted to know how Eve was liking school so far. Ezra was still secretly amazed at how quickly his daughter had wrapped the cold matriarch around her little finger. During his mothers most recent visit, Eve had only to put out her lip and turn her beautiful green eyes on Maude and she melted. He had vetoed the idea of letting an eight year old get acrylic nails but Maude had spirited the child away from day camp and taken her to a manicurist.
The third message was from the new teacher. Mrs. Soames was new to the school district and the product of a very strict Catholic school. She had made it very clear that she would not be as tolerant of behaviors that the teacher last year had allowed. Ezra had inwardly cringed at the thought of the bright spirit Eve possessed coming into conflict with the stern personality of the teacher. He realized that he had missed most of the message. Pressing the appropriate buttons, he listened to the recording again.
Mr. Standish, this is Mrs. Soames. Im afraid I must urgently request a conference with you in regard to your daughter Eve. Please call at your earliest convenience to set a time to meet with me and the school counselor.
The meeting was scheduled for immediately after school that day. Ezra explained to Chris that he had to meet with the new teacher. A worried look settled on his face as he tried to figure out what could have the new teacher so upset so early in the school year. It did not bode well.
Looking across the bullpen from the corner, Vin caught the worried look on Ezras face. The sharpshooter had been instrumental in the decision to pursue custody of the child Ezra had fathered while undercover in New Orleans. His knowledge of the foster care system had been a Godsend to the southerner. Several times over the first few months, Vin had stayed with the new family to smooth things out between them. He was overjoyed when Eve confided that he was her favorite Uncle although JD ran a close second. Seeing that Ezra was staring at Eves picture, he pushed away from the desk and made his way silently to the other agents desk.
Something bothering ya, Ez?
I just got a most troubling call from Eves new teacher. She wants to meet with me this afternoon.
Has Eve said anything?
No, shes been praising the woman. Thats what has me wondering what could be so urgent that I have to go down there today.
Reaching out, Vin patted Ezra on the shoulder.
I dont know what to tell ya. Eves a good kid so it cant be anything too bad, right? I mean if it was really bad they wouldnt wait until the end of the day. I remember one year when I put a tack on the teachers chair, she called my foster mom and made her come from work to get me. That woman lit into me with both feet!
The rest of the afternoon was interminably slow for Ezra as he worried about what kind of trouble the love of his life had gotten into. Finally, the appointed hour arrived and he stuck his head into Chriss office.
Im on my way out, he said as he leaned against the doorframe.
I wish I had some advise for you. I know Eve, it cant be anything awful, the team leader reassured. Call and let us know.
Pulling up in front of the school, Ezra watched the kids on the playground equipment. He shut off the engine and placed his sunglasses in the holder attached to the visor. Checking his appearance in the rearview mirror, he took a deep breath and got out of the car. With leaden steps, he approached the front door and pulled it open.
The building was almost eerily quiet. His eyes swept over the bulletin boards that lined the hall. Brightly colored construction paper letters proclaimed that it was a new year with new things to learn. His nose told him that lunch had most likely been spaghetti. His nose also tingled at the smell of chalk dust and crayons as he passed the kindergarten room. The desks looked more like footstools, they were so small.
The counselor came out of the office with a folder in her hand and waited for him to catch up to her. She flashed him a warm, caring smile. The woman had been surprised during the last year when the ATF agent had enrolled his daughter. He knew almost nothing about her when he brought her in that first day but the bond between father and daughter was strong. They had met a few times to go over Eves transcripts and to address her special needs. The little girl was a gifted writer, something she had inherited from her mother, Ezra insisted. They had given her more challenging writing assignments and she had taken 3rd place at a writing competition in the district.
Stopping at the doorway of the third grade classroom, the counselor gave him another reassuring smile as he held the door for her. Talk in the teachers lounge was that he would be quite a catch for any of them but he only had eyes for his daughter.
The classroom was laid out in neat rows of desks with each childs name printed in large letters on the top edge. This room, like the rest of the school, smelled of chalk dust and crayons. An undercurrent of paste and finger paint teased his nose as he followed the counselor to the table in the corner of the room. Ezra found himself staring at the fish tank on the bookshelf.
Mr. Standish? Im so glad you could come on such short notice. Im certain that we can straighten out this situation. One of the first assignments I gave the children was an essay on what I did on summer vacation. The children read them in front of the class. Your daughters essay reads like something out of the TV guide. Im afraid I gave her an incomplete on the assignment.
Ezras eye fell to the sheets of notebook paper Mrs. Soames pushed across the desk. His daughters careful printing filled two pages from margin to margin.
What I did on Summer Vacation
by Eve Simpson
A few days after school ended for the year, my daddy and I took a plane back to Memphis to put flowers on my mommys grave. We visited with the Crawfords, my foster parents, and had some of her amazing lasagna. They still have one of the kids from when I was there but the others went to adopted homes.
When we were at the gas station one afternoon, my daddy noticed a man who was wanted by the FBI. We followed him while my daddy told the police where he was going so they could pick him up. The guy must have noticed we were following him because he started driving faster. My daddy followed him until his car started smoking and it smelled really bad. The car pulled over to the side of the road and the man jumped out and shot at our car. He hit one of our tires and daddy had to pull over quickly. He made me duck down on the floor and told me not to put my head up. I peeked up one time and my daddy hit the guy in the stomach and in the nose and the guy was bleeding all over my daddys coat. The police came and they took the man away.
When we got back, we had to go with Uncle Vin to a sharp shooting contest. My Uncle Buck says that Uncle Vin can shoot the balls off of a fly. I think he meant shoot a fly off of a ball but I didnt tell him he had it backwards. We all drove to New Mexico where all of the other sharpshooters were meeting. They had this big auditorium with all these targets. We had to put these little squishy things in our ears so we didnt get deaf from all the noise.
Uncle Vin had to do three different competitions against guys from other parts of the country. He took his rifle and walked to the far corner of the auditorium and put three shots in the red circle! The man from the Montana office got mad because he only got two in the red circle.
That night at the restaurant, this guy tried to rob the place. Uncle Buck and Uncle Chris walked up to the guy and he had a knife in his hand. He told Uncle Chris that he would hurt him if he got any closer and Uncle Buck says, Go ahead punk. Make my day. Uncle JD laughed but I didnt think it was very funny. Anyway, the robber decided to put down the knife and Uncle Chris handcuffed him to the door and came back to the table so we could finish our dinner.
When we got back to Denver, Uncle JD and Uncle Chris were entered in a rodeo. Uncle JD does something called barrel racing. His pony can change directions on a dime according to Uncle Nathan. And Uncle Chris took Diablo for the calf-roping contest. It was all so exciting! We saw big Brahma bulls and they even had buffalo! Uncle Buck was more interested in the pretty wranglers than the horses and stuff. Uncle Josiah took me to see a horse called a Clydesdale. His hoof was bigger than my whole head! We also saw some horses at an auction that Uncle Josiah called wild mustangs. He said that they catch some every year so that the herd doesnt get too big.
The day we were supposed to leave for home, some guy tried to steal one of the horses and they all went after him. Uncle JD and Uncle Chris started chasing the guy on their horses. Uncle JD turned the guy around and Uncle Chris roped him like one of the calves and they trussed him up and left him for the sheriff. Uncle Nathan told me what the word trussed means, it means they tied him up good.
When we got home, daddy had to go to work trying to catch some bad men who were selling guns on the reservation in Arizona. He said it was too dangerous for me to go so I stayed with Uncle Nathan and Aunt Rain. They have an adopted boy named Gabe, hes too cute.
Aunt Rain was helping at a day camp for special kids. I got to go with her and we helped them get ready for the Olympics. I met lots of kids and everyone was so nice. They even cheered for the other team! I had so much fun that Aunt Rain said I could help her again next summer.
After day camp, I got to go camping with Judge and Mrs. Travis and their grandson Billy. Billys daddy is in Heaven with my mommy and Uncle JDs mommy and Uncle Vins mommy. We took a big camper and went to Yellowstone Park. It was really great! We cooked over a campfire and heard wolves howling at night. The park rangers came and told us to be extra careful with our fire because it was so dry that one spark could start a whole forest fire!
One night, Mrs. Travis woke Billy and me and told us that we had to leave because there was a fire coming down the mountain. Judge Travis said it was probably someone being careless with their campfire. It was really dark and we could see the glow from the fire. Billy and I were scared but Mrs. Travis said we were safe. We ran into a roadblock and had to turn back. The firemen were working around the campgrounds trying to make a fire break. Thats a place where the fire cant burn across the ground where the trees dont touch. We finally got far enough away from the fire to stop for the night but we could still smell the smoke so we couldnt sleep. The next week, we drove back up to where we were camping and it was all gone. It was like pictures of the moon, all one color and no trees or birds or anything.
My Grandma Maude was waiting for me when we got back from Yellowstone. She was staying for a couple of weeks for my birthday. Grandma was just coming back from her vacation in England. She said Prince Charles is a lousy dancer. My daddy just laughed at that. Uncle Josiah was sure glad to see her. I was going to day camp with Bella for a few weeks. Grandma took me out of camp and we went to a spa and had a seaweed wrap and a massage. Then she took me to a beauty shop to get my hair and nails done. My daddy about had a fit! He said I was too young to be painted up like a harlot. When I asked him what the word meant, he just looked at me and said it was a grown up word. I had to wash off the make up before we could go out to supper.
For my birthday I got a lot of really neat gifts. Uncle Chris got me a new pair of riding boots. Uncle Nathan and Aunt Rain gave me a new riding outfit for when I show my pony. Uncle JD gave me some really neat games for my computer. Uncle Buck gave me a new TV with a DVD player built in. Uncle Josiah gave me a really pretty Bible and a necklace with a gold cross on it. My daddy gave me a new porcelain doll that looks just like me! It even has my same color of eyes! Grandma just gave me a card with some money in it because her gift was the day at the spa and the manicure. But the best gift is the one from Uncle Vin. He gave me a dollhouse that looks just like Uncle Chriss ranch. It has working lights and everything! It came with a complete set of dolls, one for each of my Uncles and my daddy and the Traviss and Grandma and even me! He made it all by himself. Uncle Vin says hes not as smart as some other guys but I think hes a genius!
When Ezra raised his eyes from the paper, Mrs. Soames spoke.
As you can see, I am concerned that she is fantasizing or embellishing. I know she has an imaginative mind and Im sure youll want to address this with her at your earliest convenience.
Mrs. Soames, I regret that I have to tell you this, but this is exactly how it happened. Im gratified to see that she left out some of the more gruesome details but everything she wrote actually happened.
The teacher sat, dumbfounded. Ezra blinked back tears as the words on the paper blurred. Digging his handkerchief from his pocket, he dried his eyes.
Mrs. Soames, did you ever ask my daughter what I do for a living?
Yes, she said you were like a secret agent, going undercover for days at a time and leaving her with her Uncles, who are really not related to her. She told me some wild story about how your Team rescued her and a classmate last year after they were both kidnapped at gunpoint. I really feel that she is watching far too much television and it is imprinting on her imagination.
Ezra reached into his jacket and put his badge and ID case on the table. The look of surprise on the womans face was priceless as her mouth opened and closed several times without making a sound.
Well, Mrs. Soames, Im sure youll want to change the grade on the assignment. I do wish you had come to me before you bothered Mr. Standish. Eves file has all the documentation to back up most of what she wrote, the counselor chastised the teacher.
Reaching onto the table, Ezra picked up he badge case and slid it back into his pocket. Still clutching the notebook papers with the essay on it, he extended his hand to Mrs. Soames.
It was a pleasure to meet with you again, Maam. Please feel free to call any time you want to discuss my daughter. Im sure the coming academic year shall be an interesting one for both of us.
Mr. Standish, may I have the essay back? the teacher asked anxiously.
No, there is a certain genius that needs to see it, he replied as he walked away.
That night, after supper, Vin stopped by the condo. He had been puzzled by the request that he show up there. The Texan was afraid that it had to do with the conference at the school and that something was very wrong.
Ezra had stopped on the way home and picked up some pretty linen stationary and several picture frames. He quickly scanned and copied Eves paper seven times. He wanted each of them to have a copy, but he wanted Vin to get his first.
The sharpshooter read over the paper, laughing in places and blinking back tears in others. When his blue eyes finally rose from the paper, the smile came from his heart.
Where is she? Vin finally managed to ask.
Up in her room. Dont be long, she has school tomorrow.