Follows The Mentor
It was hot in the apartment! Vin rolled over and groaned at the humid air that refused to give him any ease. The window air conditioner in his tiny Purgatory apartment kept blowing the circuit breaker and the building owner refused to have the box serviced. The box fan circulated the air but did nothing to cool it. Giving up on the idea of getting any more sleep, he rolled off of the bed and headed for the shower. After he had dressed, he headed for the office, at least it was cool there.
Buck and JD entered the Team 7 office carrying the box of donuts and bagels they had picked up on their way to work. The paused at the sight of the sharpshooter stretched out with his boots resting on the desk as his head rested against a jacket bundled up on his shoulder.
Damn, air conditioner must be out at his place again, Buck complained. They had offered Vin a place at their apartment until the heat wave that gripped Denver was over. Nathan and Josiah had made the same offer, but the stubborn Texan chose to tough it out and stay in his own place.
Wonder what time he got in, JD commented softly.
About an hour ago. And the circuit breaker blew three times last night. Every time I reset mine, it blew the one downstairs. Maria and Paul just had a baby and they need the air conditioner in their place more than I do, Vin explained.
Chris and the others arrived later and they had a brief meeting in the conference room before the team leader had to head out to a meeting with ADA Travis. Ezra and Josiah were scheduled for the firing range. Every ATF agent was required to spend a minimum number of hours there every three months. Buck and JD had finished their hours last month and Nathan was scheduled for the next weeks session. Chris and Vin exceeded the number of hours consistently.
The long hours of the quiet day drew to a close and the men headed for their vehicles. Buck followed the sharpshooter to his Jeep, still trying to coax him into staying at the CDC. When Vin started the engine and backed away, nearly getting Bucks toe with the front tire, he finally gave up.
Knowing there was nothing worth eating at his place, Vin stopped at the little grocery store near the apartment. He picked up only the barest necessities because he didnt know if he would stay at his place if the heat wave didnt break soon. Tossing a few articles into the basket, he headed for the registers at the front of the store. He didnt notice the boy watching him from outside of the store.
Jose couldnt figure out what to do. He had been walking for several hours and had no idea where he was going to spend the night. The foster home had been good at first. Lately, his foster father had been becoming more and more short tempered. When he came home from work in the evenings, he would sit and glare at the television for a while before storming out. For the last couple of nights, he had heard his foster mother crying in her bedroom. This morning had been the last straw for the boy.
Lucille put breakfast on the table and the children began to clamor for their favorite foods. The distracted, exhausted woman jostled the table, upsetting the coffee cup and sending the scalding liquid into her husbands lap. He had sprung from his chair and knocked the defenseless woman across the room. She pleaded with the older children not to say anything. The boy had seen enough of that at his home before the state took him away. It was too dangerous to stay.
The man in the store had been kind to Jose at the adoption fair a couple of months ago. He wondered if the long haired man would take him in. If not, maybe he would buy him a hotdog or something to eat. He hurried to the doors to wait for the man to come out.
Not really paying attention to where he was walking, Vin tripped over the boy as he stepped out of the store. He wrapped his arm around the small body by reflex as he tried to keep them from ending up in the street.
Im sorry, I didnt see you, Vin started as soon as he had set the child back on his feet. Hey, dont I know you?
We played football at the park at the adoption fair, Jose reminded him.
Oh yeah, Jose, right? Do you live around here?
The boy froze. He was afraid if he told the man the truth, he would be returned to the foster home and he was pretty sure that he was in trouble by now. He shook his head.
No, Im just looking for some friends of mine that live over here, he lied.
Oh, well, be careful. I gotta get home. See you around.
Jose watched the man as he got into the battered, old Jeep and pulled away from the curb. A small frown touched his features as he tried to figure out what to do next.
In the rear view mirror, Vin watched the boy. The Texan knew every kid in the neighborhood and he was sure he hadnt seen Jose before the adoption fair. On impulse, he swung around the block and came past the boy again. He was sitting on the bus bench, a forlorn expression darkening his face. Vin knew in that moment that something had happened and that the boy didnt want to or couldnt go home. Knowing how hard life on the street could be, he decided to see if he could persuade the boy to return home. He tapped the horn and motioned the boy over.
If you cant find your friend, why dont you and I find a place to have a bite to eat? He offered as the boys eyes lit with joy. It was only a minute later that they pulled away again and headed for Vins apartment.
After Vin and Jose had both had their fill of the sandwiches and chips, they moved out to the front stoop to try to catch a breeze. The boy spoke fondly of school and the other kids in his foster home until Vin suggested that he should be getting home for the night. Then Jose became quiet and studied the sidewalk as if it held the secrets of the universe.
I can walk home, its not far, the boy replied.
Its no problem, I can drive you there. Where do your foster parents live?
Getting no response, Vin shifted to a lower step so he could see the down turned face. It was clear that the boy did not want to go home.
Did you run away? The Texan asked. After a couple of minutes, the head bobbed and the boy scooted away. You have to go back, you know?
But I want to stay with you! Youve got room and I dont eat much! Ill go to school and help with the chores and do my homework! Youll see! Jose spoke quickly, the words spilling from his lips as the tears rolled down his cheeks.
It isnt that simple, Jose. Im not licensed as a foster parent. Besides, your foster parents must be worried about you by now. Come on, let me take you home, he encouraged as he came to his feet. The boy slowly rose and wrapped his arms around his ribs as he struggled with his emotions. Vin got the address from the kid and headed for the foster parents house. When he arrived, a police car was sitting outside of the house. As soon as Jose stepped down from the Jeep, a woman burst out of the house and raced up the walk.
Jose! Where have you been? Ive been worried sick! Are you all right? The woman embraced the boy before acknowledging the man who had brought him home. Im Lucille Roberts, Jose is my foster son.
Vin Tanner, Maam. I met Jose at the adoption fair. I saw him walking and picked him up. I took him to supper and we lost track of time. Im sorry if I caused you to worry, Vin said. He hated lying to the woman but he didnt want the boy to get into any more trouble. Two police officers and a burly, angry looking man joined them. The man gripped the boy by the arm and began to yell.
Where in the hell have you been? Weve been all over the neighborhood looking for you! Lucille reached out and eased her husbands hand from Joses arm and nudged him toward the house.
You go on inside and get out of your school clothes. Ill be in to look at your homework in a few minutes, the woman said in a reassuring tone. She cast a pleading look at her husband before turning to the police officers. Im sorry about this. I just panicked.
Its all right maam. Thats part of the job. You might remind the boy to let you know before he goes off visiting. To Vin, the officer gestured, If I can have a word with you, sir?
Vin watched as the Roberts went into the house before turning his attention to the officers.
Where did you pick him up? The officer asked.
Grocery store near my apartment. I recognized him from the adoption fair. We had supper together and talked for a while and I brought him home, Vin answered evenly.
He wasnt running away? The officer pressed.
Nah, he just wanted to talk. Listen, can you tell me if youve taken any domestic disturbances at this address?
You know we cant tell you that. Why do you ask?
Dont tell me you didnt see the bruises on that womans face? Vin challenged.
She said that she hit the corner of the kitchen cabinet, he answered.
Okay. Sure. Well, it isnt any cooler there but Im going home, the Texan said as he walked away from the officers.
Inside the house, Jose cowered as his foster father scowled out the curtains at the police still standing on his walk. As soon as they pulled away, he turned on his wife and the boy.
What are the neighbors going to think? We looked all over for you! Are you not glad to be here? Perhaps you should go back to that group home you were in before we got you! Or maybe youd rather go back to that hell hole you were living in with that slut of a mother and your bastard brother! The mans face was purple with rage as he towered over the child.
Kevin! Dont talk to him like that! Let me take care of this, she offered.
On the drive home, Vin resolved to find out about Joses foster family. He hadnt missed the look of abject terror that crossed the boys face when the man took hold of him. If the man was battering his wife, it was possible that he was hurting the children too. Giving up on spending the night in the sauna of an apartment, he threw some things into a bag and headed for Bucks place.
It took JD a few tries to hack into the Family Services database. He discovered that Jose had been removed from his mothers care after his brothers death. The file showed that the boy was a legal risk adoption. That meant that any prospective family would have to wait until his mothers rights were terminated before he was available for adoption. He also found out that there had been several complaints of domestic violence in the house but no arrests had been made. JD printed everything he could find on the mother before Vin suggested that they get some sleep.
The next morning, Vin was waiting in his office when Chris arrived. The sharpshooter explained that he wanted a couple of days off. Since he had more than enough time accrued, the team leader told him to take as long as he needed as long as he was available if something came up.
Armed with the printouts from JD, Vin sought Joses mother. It took him several hours to get a neighbor to tell him where she worked. He drove to the restaurant and went inside. Maritza Gonzalez worked in one of the more upscale restaurants in Denver. Vin managed to strike up bits of conversation with her as he drank several cups of coffee. When he heard the manager tell the woman to take a break, he slipped out of the booth and touched her on the shoulder.
May I have a word with you?
The woman turned to face the blue eyed man and her eyes swept up and down his lanky frame. She nodded hesitantly and joined him in the booth where he had been sitting. She waited for him to explain himself as she nervously wrung her hands.
I know your little boy, Jose, Vin said without preamble.
Jose! Is he all right? Has something happened to him? She leaned forward, concern filling her lovely features.
Hes fine. I just wondered why he isnt with you.
A variety of things rolled across the womans face and she stared at her hands on the table.
I got his brother killed. Duane had such a temper and he hit me. Diego tried to protect me. My son started avoiding coming home. The gangs were quick to pick him up. When Duane found out that Diego was running with the Tocadors, he told him not to come back. A few days later, the police came and told me that he was dead. I never even got to say goodbye. Family Services came and took Jose from school and put him in foster care. The worker said it would be better for him if I let him go up for adoption. I havent even gotten to visit him since he went into care. Hes with a nice family, right? Maritza asked, allowing hope to creep into her voice.
Hes a good kid. I just wondered if you wanted him back or not. It doesnt sound like you did anything terrible enough to lose him forever. A boy needs his mother, Vin answered as he sidestepped her question.
Of course I want him back! But the worker told me it was impossible. There were so many things I would have to do! They wont help me with any of it.
He could hear the bitterness in the womans voice. Nodding as his thoughts rolled around in his head, Vin pulled a card from his pocket. He pushed it across the table.
Im going to talk to a friend of mine. Call me in a couple of days and well arrange a meeting. If theres any way to get your little boy back, well find it.
Nettie Wells looked up as Vin came into her small, cluttered office. She smiled warmly at the young man who had overcome so much adversity in his life. Gesturing to the chair opposite her desk, she told him to sit down.
What brings you to my little corner of the world? She asked as she fixed her pale blue eyes on the Texan. She could tell from his body language that it was something serious.
I wanted to find out about a boy thats in foster care, Vin said.
Okay, what boy?
Jose Gonzalez, I met him at the adoption fair. I just wondered if there was any way he could go back to his mother.
The wizened woman studied the ATF agent. She knew that Vin protected the kids in his building fiercely and had a lot of love in his heart. His mother had died when he was young and Vin had been roughly treated by foster parents and the system had dismally failed him. She turned in her chair and punched up the child in the computer. As the file scrolled up on the screen, she cocked an eyebrow. Sending the file to the printer, she sighed and faced Vin again.
It appears that the worker has been a little lax in pursuing reunification. I see where the mother is working and has moved into a better apartment. She hasnt finished the required parenting classes but no reason is shown as to why, Nettie continued.
She says that she cant afford the classes, Vin interrupted.
The caseworker fixed a hard glare on the Texan. She shifted in her chair and laced her fingers together on her desk.
How would you know that?
I looked her up. Shes working at a nice restaurant and she looks really nice. She said the worker told her it would be better for Jose if she let him be adopted, he answered truthfully.
Its unfortunate but children of mixed race, especially boys, are hard to place and harder to find adoptive homes for. He will probably remain in care until he ages out. Im sure she must have misunderstood.
I know you have to defend the worker but I dont think she would have misunderstood something like that. Is there anything you can do to help them? She hasnt seen Jose since they took him away, Vin inquired.
Let me see what I can do. How did you come to be involved in this, Vin? She sensed there was more to it than he had told her.
Jose ran away last night. I picked him up in my neighborhood and took him to my place for a while. We had supper together and I talked him into going home. I think that the foster father is abusing his wife. The police wouldnt tell me but JD found out that they have been out there a couple of times in the past few months. Lucille had bruises on her face and Jose looked terrified of the man.
Nettie nodded and picked up the phone. By the time Vin left the office, she had scheduled a surprise visit to the Roberts home with the worker. She also called the police and got confirmation of the complaints.
With a little lighter step, Vin left the Family Services building and headed for home. When he pulled up, there was an electric company truck in front of his building and a man on the pole working on the wiring. One of the neighbors said that the power had been out all day. Most of the residents had been transported to area cooling centers until power could be restored. Since he had nothing else to do, Vin drove by the Roberts house. He watched the kids playing in the yard and on the sidewalk for a while. His cell phone rang and Chris invited him to join the team at the saloon for supper. Feeling the need to cool off, he left. He didnt see the small, shaking hand that dropped the curtain in the corner bedroom. Jose cried as the Jeep pulled away.
After several beers and a game of pool, the men decided to call it a night. Nathan slipped out early because he had a late date with Rain. Josiah was more than ready to head for home because he had been awake since daylight. Chris still had a long drive ahead of him as he pulled his keys from his pocket. Buck and JD got up from the table and looked back at Vin.
Why dont you come on back to our place? Buck asked as Vin got ready to leave.
Nah, they were working on the electricity at my building, I need to be there, the sharpshooter deflected. Thanks anyway.
Vin spent an hour sitting with Ezra, who was more of a night owl. They had a couple of beers and shot another game of pool. The Texan voiced his concern for Jose. He explained what he had observed and the gut feeling he had that Mr. Roberts was running with a short fuse. Ezra asked a few questions, but mostly just listened as Tanner poured out his heart.
Is the venerable Mrs. Wells going to investigate the situation? The southerner asked as he lined up a shot.
She was going to look into it. I met with the mother and she seems nice, Vin said.
The electricity was on in the building when he pulled up. After climbing the stairs to his fourth floor apartment, Vin was drenched in sweat. He entered the darkened living room and made his way to the air conditioner in the bedroom. After turning the unit on, he began to peel off his clothes and headed for the shower. The bedroom was marginally cooler when he came out of the bathroom. When he finished drying off, he pulled on a pair of baggy shorts and collapsed across the bed.
Unnoticed by everyone, Jose slipped out the bedroom window and raced away from the house. His worker had come by that afternoon and upset Mr. and Mrs. Roberts. When she left, Mr. Roberts said he was going to send them back to the group home. Mrs. Roberts pleaded with him not to be rash in saying that because they needed the money the state gave them for keeping the kids. Jose had been looking out the window when the Jeep parked across the street. He hoped that Vin was coming for him but, as usual, his hopes were dashed when the long-haired ATF agent pulled away.
It was dark as the boy crept along the sidewalk. He was headed for Vins apartment. For some reason, he trusted the man. A gang of older boys passed him as he crossed the street. The boys surrounded him and taunted him for a while before one of them announced that he was too little to be part of their gang and they let him go. When he reached the apartment, he rang the bell. He had no way of knowing that the wires for the doorbells had been clipped by a tenant who had gotten tired of the ring and run game that the local kids liked to play. Getting no answer, Jose crept back out to the steps and sat dejectedly as he considered his options. The Jeep sat across the street under the streetlight, like a beacon. Jose crossed the street and climbed into the vehicle. Settling in the back, behind the seat, he curled up on the old blanket and clothes that had been thrown back there over the course of the past few weeks.
The bedroom was pleasantly cool when Vin awoke to the alarm. He stretched languorously as he debated another shower. Deciding against it, he dressed for work and headed out. The moment he opened the door of the bedroom, the oppressive heat surrounded him like a shroud. He quickly locked up the apartment and hurried out to the Jeep. It was still early and the heat and humidity, unusual for Denver, were already unpleasant. He stopped at a drive-through and picked up breakfast before heading for the office.
A small, dark, curly-haired head peeked out of the Jeep. He was in the parking garage of the federal building. A cat jumped up into the Jeep and began to knead the cloth in preparation to lay down. Jose giggled at the cat as it purred happily. The cat rubbed its head under the boys hand before moving to sniff at his face and ears. A slightly louder giggle broke from the child as the whiskers tickled.
Ezra stood with his hand resting on the car door. He had heard what sounded like a childs laugh. Easing the door closed, he pulled his weapon and crossed the parking garage cautiously. Another bout of giggles drew him to Vins Jeep. The southerner crept along the side of the vehicle as he tried to see who was inside.
Cuervo, with the persnickety nature of a cat, leapt away from the boy when hed had his fill of being petted. As the cat reached the front seat, he jumped for the big, black Dodge parked next to the Jeep. He startled the undercover agent as he leapt across the gap, causing Ezra to fall back against the concrete pillar. It was only instinct that kept the southerner from pulling the trigger. The startled yelp caused Jose to hunch down and try to hide under the pile of clothes.
All right, come out of there! Ezra called when his heart retreated from his throat. He kept his gun pointed down, fairly certain that it wasnt a deadly force situation. The child climbed over the seat and peered out of the Jeep. His dark eyes widened at the sight of the man with the gun standing so close.
Dont shoot me. I didnt do anything, the boy said in a shaky voice.
Climb down from there and keep your hands where I can see them! Ezra called. Although he was reasonably certain that the boy wasnt dangerous, he knew better than to be caught off guard. The gangs were recruiting them younger every day. The boy stepped down and put his hands up.
I just wanted to talk to Vin, the boy said. He was shaking with fear and his eyes were pooling tears as he stared at the gun in the mans hand.
Ezra realized that the child was telling the truth. He quickly holstered the gun and knelt close to the boy. His eyes took in the deeper fear in the dark eyes as he stared into them. Letting a smile bloom on his face caused the frightened look to abate slightly. Curiosity appeared as Jose noticed the gold incisor. His hands slowly came down to hang at his sides.
Perhaps we should go and find Mr. Tanner. Im certain someone must be worried about you by now, the southerner stated as he took one of the boys hands and led him back to the Jag. After securing the car and picking up his briefcase, he headed for the elevator.
In the Team 7 office, the phone rang on Vins desk.
Vin, its Nettie. Have you seen or heard from Jose? His foster mother called this morning and reported him missing. It seems that he was frightened by our visit yesterday and ran away, the woman said.
No, I didnt get home until late last night, I havent seen him, Vin began. Just then, the elevator doors opened and Ezra led the child in question into the office. Hang on, Nettie, Ezra has him. Ill call you right back. He hung up without waiting for a response.
As soon as Jose saw the long-haired man, he knew he was in trouble. In a purely defensive move, he tried to hide behind the man he rode up with in the elevator.
Jose? Vin called tentatively. The boy leaned around the southerner and looked up. Are you all right?
As Vin knelt down, Jose slipped out from behind his human shield and flung himself at the man. The sharpshooter came to his feet with the boy in his arms and headed for the conference room. Ezra watched for a moment before continuing across the bullpen to his desk.
What was that all about? JD inquired as the undercover agent passed by.
It would seem that our illustrious sharpshooter picked up a stowaway. He met the boy at the adoption fair, Ezra explained.
Vin put Jose down and sank into one of the chairs. He studied the expression on the childs face for a long time. So many thoughts were racing through his mind. His first instinct was to yell at the boy for giving everyone such a fright. Hard on that thought came the realization that the boy needed his help, not his condemnation.
Are you all right? He asked again.
Yes, Jose answered as the tears hed been holding back began to roll down his face.
Your foster mother is worried about you. She called your caseworker and Nettie Wells called me looking for you. Youd better have a good explanation for this, Vin warned.
Mr. Roberts is going to send us back to the group home! I was gong to ask you again if I could stay with you! Jose said quickly.
Ezra had just sat down with his coffee when Nettie came off of the elevator. He quickly moved to intercept her as she saw Vin and Jose in the conference room.
Mrs. Wells, to what do we owe this visit? He called.
As if you didnt know, she replied in a slightly acid tone.
I merely found the child in the back of Mr. Tanners Jeep! I was in no way involved in his escape from the foster home! Ezra protested.
Nettie stepped into the conference room and cast a disapproving glance at the small boy standing defiantly between the knees of the seated ATF agent. Jose still had moist trails down his cheeks and his eyes were puffy from crying.
Would you like to explain to me how you came to be here when Mrs. Roberts tucked you into bed last night in your room? The older woman asked as she studied the child.
Mr. Roberts said he was going to send us back to the group home! I dont want to go there! They picked on me when I was there before! Cant I live with Vin? Please? Jose pleaded.
You already know the answer to that. Vin isnt a foster parent. If the Roberts do decide to stop fostering, well just have to find you another placement. Now, we need to let Vin get back to work. Lets go, Nettie said as she reached for the boy.
It got really busy in the office right after Jose left and Vin didnt have a chance to check with Nettie until late in the afternoon. She assured him that the Roberts had taken Jose back and that he was fine. She had also noted that the caseworker had made contact with Joses mother and was going to visit her new apartment in preparation for allowing visits between mother and son.
None of the new developments meant anything to Jose as he sat on the edge of his bed. Mr. Roberts glared at him all through supper. Mrs. Roberts hurried him into the tub and off to bed. Now he could hear them arguing loudly in the living room. Vin had assured him that he would be checking on him from time to time. He had promised that he wouldnt run away again after hearing that it was too dangerous for him to be on the streets. Memories of his brother telling him the same thing floated up in his mind and the boy began to cry.
For the next few days, it was a flurry of activity for the sharpshooter. Team 2s sharpshooter had fallen from a perch and shattered his femur. The man would be laid up for several weeks and the team was scheduled to provide backup to an FBI team during a raid, so Vin was volunteered. The exhausted agent returned to his apartment to rest. That night, the electrical problem that had plagued the dilapidated building for so long reached its peak. A fire broke out in the basement around the electrical boxes. The Texan awoke when the soothing hum of the window air conditioner stopped. He rolled over and felt for the flashlight that he kept on the bedside table. Pulling on his jeans, he started for the basement. Suddenly, the piercing, high pitched sound of a smoke detector grated on his nerves. He pulled on his boots and grabbed a tee shirt as his mind raced. Grabbing his gun and shoving it into his pants, he raced from the apartment and started banging on doors.
The fire department got the fire under control quickly. Only the apartment directly above the electrical boxes had suffered any serious damage. Vin was forced to wait behind the perimeter the firemen set up as they fought the fire. He borrowed a cell phone from one of the teens who showed up to watch the spectacle. After calling Buck to let him know that he was on the way, he climbed in the Jeep and left.
Waking up stiff and disoriented from sleeping on the couch at Bucks apartment, Vin sat up and considered his options for the day. He couldnt go in to work dressed the way he was so he would have to go by his apartment. Getting up, he went into the kitchen to look for a cup of the coffee he could smell. Taped to the refrigerator was a note saying that he should take the day off. Clearly he must have been exhausted if he didnt hear Buck and JD leave the apartment while he slept. Another idea popped into his head and he headed for his Jeep.
Nettie looked up as the person on the other end of the phone continued to talk. She waved Vin toward the chair opposite her desk. When she finished the call, she peered over her glasses and smiled.
What can I do for you? She asked as she rested her elbows on her desk.
I just wondered how Jose was doing? Vin asked.
Mrs. Roberts says that hes been kind of withdrawn. Were trying to arrange a visit with his mother. She has to finish the parenting classes before we can let her see him. She has a couple left to do. Did I see on the news that there was a fire at your place?
Yeah, the electrical box overheated, again. Luckily, it only damaged the one apartment, Vin answered. He wasnt exactly looking forward to facing the mess that was sure to be there when he got there. As Vin was getting ready to leave the office, Netties phone rang. She listened intently for a minute before covering the mouthpiece and calling to the man leaving her office.
Vin, stay! She watched long enough to see him return to the chair before giving her attention back to the caller. She sketched some information on a pad of paper before hanging up. Jose didnt get to school today and Mrs. Roberts was admitted to the hospital, overdose. Do you have any idea where the child might go?
The sharpshooters mind whirled as he shifted forward in the chair. Ill check my place. He might try there. Ill call the office and get the guys out to look for him, too!
An hour and a half later, Vin slammed his palm against the steering wheel in frustration. He had been all over his neighborhood looking for the child. JD and Ezra were also out looking, Chris needed the rest of the team in the office for their upcoming case. His cell phone rang and he pulled it from his pocket as he steered into a parking lot.
Vin, Ive got him. He found his way to the restaurant where his mother works. You should come, quickly, Ezra said as he closed the phone. The southerner was watching the woman as she wept and hung on the boy. It had been a fluke that he happened to turn the corner in time to see the boy get off of the bus and run into the restaurant. He was parked outside watching through the window. A few minutes later, the Jeep whipped into a space across the street and Vin waited for the traffic to allow him to cross.
Inside the restaurant, Jose looked out the window. His eyes widened and he turned and took off through the dining area and into the kitchen. He sought the sign that announced the exit and headed for the door. Vin motioned Ezra around the building as he hurried after the child and his mother. Maritza called after Jose when he took off.
The metal door flew open and the small, dark-haired boy shot out of it like a rocket. Ezra flung out an arm and caught the boy, pulling him into a tight embrace as the child began to kick and scream. His mother stepped out and froze, terror shining in her eyes as she saw a stranger holding her little boy. She picked up a 2X4 that they kept to prop the door open and advanced on the man struggling with Jose. Vin stepped out just in time to catch the end of the board and prevent the woman from knocking Ezra out. He moved to take hold of Jose.
Hey! Settle down! Were not going to hurt you! Vin yelled as the boy continued to dig his elbows into Ezras ribs and swing his tennis shoes into tender shins. When Jose went limp in the southerners embrace, he was released. He immediately flung himself into his mothers arms. Vin guided them into the restaurant and pulled his phone to call Nettie.
What happened? Why did you run away? Ezra asked as Jose wept openly into Maritzas arms. He handed his linen handkerchief to the child to wipe his face.
They took Mrs. Roberts away in the ambulance! I knew Mr. Roberts was going to hurt us when he got home. I dont want to go back to the group home! I want to be with my momma! Jose vowed as he sobbed. Vin slid into the booth next to Ezra and looked across the table at the boy.
Mrs. Wells is on her way over here. Shes going to take you to school, he explained. Shes going to find you another placement.
I want to stay with my momma! Im not going back! You cant make me! Jose yelled before dissolving into tears again. His mother held him as she whispered to him. One of the other waitresses placed a soda on the table for the boy. Nettie arrived a few minutes later and hurried over.
Jose! You had us all worried about you! Im so glad youre all tight! The older woman said. Both Vin and Ezra came to their feet at her approach. The southerner excused himself and left. Nettie sat down across from the teary boy.
How is Mrs. Roberts? Jose asked.
Shell be fine. The doctors will be keeping her for a while. The Mitchell girls have been moved to another home and Philipe was sent home to his family. The Roberts children are staying with their aunt. That leaves just you. What should we do with you? Nettie asked.
I wanna stay with my momma! Jose answered.
How about this? Ill find you a placement, not a group home. Well work really hard to get your mom through the classes she needs and ask the judge to let you have visits. It may take a couple of months but I think we can get you back home. You have to work at it too. You cant run away any more! You have to go to school and do your work. As soon as we can arrange it, you can have over night visits on the weekend. How does that sound? The older woman asked.
Two pairs of tear filled eyes locked and they nodded. Jose excused himself to go to the bathroom. Vin went with him to be sure he didnt disappear again.
Can you really do that? Help me to get him back? Maritza asked hopefully.
I reviewed your file. Your worker has been placed on leave pending a review. She was supposed to be helping you schedule the classes that you needed and encouraging visits. She admitted to telling you to let Jose go up for adoption because she thought it would be easier than reunification. If you finish your parenting classes and have adequate room in your home, it shouldnt be any problem for you to get him back. Ill personally be supervising your case, Nettie explained.
Why are you doing this for us? Maritza asked.
Because the system didnt serve you very well. And because you have someone very special in your corner, Nettie answered as she smiled at Vin and Jose.
Three weeks later, Vin knocked on the door of the Gonzales apartment. He heard the excited cry as Jose ran across the room to fling the door open. It was his first overnight visit with his mother and the boy was bouncing off of the walls with excitement. Vin carried a bunch of wildflowers in the bend of his arm and a two-liter of root beer in his other hand. He handed the soda to Jose and carried the flowers to Maritza. The young mother was shaking as she embraced Vin to thank him for all of his help.
If it wasnt for you, I wouldnt have gotten my little boy back, she told him.
It wasnt all me, Maam. I had a little help, Vin said with a smile.
The Fair #4: JD Nightingale