Field Trip

by Angie

I borrowed a few characters that have been in other stories. Thanks to all the authors whose character I used and I hope I have not offended anyone. I tried to put them back just the way I found them.

Arriving home from work on a Monday afternoon, Chris and Buck were met at the door by two very excited little boys. Vin and JD were both clutching notes in their hands as they danced with excitement. Mrs. Potter stood in the kitchen doorway, wiping her hands on her apron as she smiled indulgently at them.

“We need you to sign these permission slips,” Vin said breathlessly.

“Yeah, we’re going on a field trip! We’re going to tour the state capitol!” JD cried happily.

“Wow! The state capitol? That sounds like a lot of fun. Let me put away my briefcase and I’ll look it over for you,” Chris said as he reached out to stroke Vin’s hair.

“I used to love field trips when I was in school!” Buck told JD as he scooped the dark haired child in one arm and settled him on his hip.

“And we get to see where the Governor sits to do his work and we’re gonna have lunch in the rotunda! What’s a rotunda, Da?” JD asked as Buck turned to step into his bedroom.

“JD sure is excited about this field trip, huh?” Chris asked Vin as the tow headed child lit on the corner of the bed. It was a ritual that started when the boys came to live at the ranch. Chris and Buck had both had to get into the habit of locking up their weapons. Vin watched as Chris ejected the clip from the gun and cleared the round from the chamber before putting the trigger lock in place. Everything went into the small safe he’d had put in the wall when Adam was born. Chris had gotten out of the habit of using it after the death of his wife and son. Closing the reinforced steel door and spinning the lock, he checked to make sure it was locked before turning to get out of his suit. Vin bounded across the room as soon as the gun was secured to get a hanger for Chris’s suit coat.

Buck parked JD on the bed and went through a similar routine of his own. The small safe in his closet was bolted to the wall and had been installed after he had come with JD to live at the ranch. He kept one eye on the youngster as he continued to prattle on about the capitol building. Pulling the Glock from his shoulder holster, he ejected the clip and cleared the chamber. The motions were so familiar that the lovable lothario could have done it in his sleep. The comforting click of the trigger guard assured him that the boys would not come to harm with his gun. Over the summer, an FBI agent’s son had gotten hold of his service weapon and seriously injured another child. It was something he never wanted to deal with. JD continued to talk nonstop while Buck changed into jeans and a tee shirt. Scooping up the boy in the middle of a sentence, he growled and nuzzled his stomach, producing helpless giggles.

“Da! Da, stop! I can’t breathe!” JD gasped after several more growling bites to his stomach.

Vin looked up at Chris and shook his head as if the antics of the other two was unfathomable. Chris only smiled and patted his shoulder.

“Why don’t you two set the table while Vin and I put supper together?” Chris suggested.

Both field trip forms were secured to the refrigerator to be read and signed after they had eaten. Mrs. Potter had made one of their favorite meals, spaghetti and garlic bread. JD seemed to think that this was finger food as he fished for the end of a long strand of pasta. By the time he had finished, he looked vaguely like a clown with a big, red mouth. Vin was more careful about eating and tried not to get the sauce all over his face.

Watching the boys as they ate, both men marveled at how far they had come. Vin was inches taller and filling out to a normal weight for his height and JD, although not growing at the same rate as the older boy, was slightly taller but had reached the proper weight for his height. Both boys no longer ate as if it was going to be the last meal they might have in a while and they had stopped hoarding. Dr. Will had assured both of the men that hiding food was a normal response to what they had been through and would pass when the boys were secure in their new home. Vin carefully mopped up a bit of the sauce with his bread before sighing contentedly and leaning back in his chair.

“Full, cowboy?” Chris asked. Vin considered the spoonful of spaghetti still on the plate before nodding, he couldn’t eat another bite. “Scrape off your plate and put it in the sink, please?”

A soft belch drew their attention to the other child at the table. JD covered his mouth and looked embarrassed. Buck waited patiently.

“Excuse me,” JD said softly.

“Like to see a man enjoying his food,” Buck said with a grin.

After the table was cleared, the field trip forms were brought over to be read and signed. In addition to the two teachers, they had four other parents going along to chaperone the group. Each child was to bring a sack lunch and a drink. The field trip was in connection with the children’s study of the anniversary of the statehood of Colorado.

“Do you think one of us should go along?” Buck asked. Although he knew the kids were going to be adequately supervised, he would prefer one of them to be there.

“I wish we could but that’s the day Travis is having the new procedure training session. It’s mandatory that we all attend,” Chris said.

The rest of the week passed without incident. On Friday morning, JD was bouncing with excitement. Vin was quiet but insisted that he was excited, too. They had their sack lunches in their book bags. Mrs. Potter had frozen some juice pouches so that they would have a cool drink. Chris and Buck had both impressed upon the boys the importance of doing exactly what the teachers or chaperones told them and to stay with the group. Vin promised that he would keep an eye on JD as he moved to take hold of the younger boy’s hand. Chris almost flinched at the serious look in the pale blue eyes; he hadn’t meant to make the boy feel he had to be responsible for JD.

“Just be sure that you both listen and do what you’re told. Have a good time and we’ll see you this evening. I love you,” Chris said as he knelt and hugged Vin tightly with one arm and JD with the other. Buck waited until the blond rose before he knelt to talk to the boys.

“I know that you’ll both do what the teacher tells you. Just pay attention so you can tell us all about it when you get home this afternoon. That means you need to try not to talk quite so much, Little Bit,” Buck said as he cupped the round little face. Smiling, he tweaked JD’s nose before hugging both boys. “Love you. Now let’s get down there and wait for the bus.”

Since the meeting was starting at ten, they had time to see the boys off to school. As soon as the yellow bus topped the next hill and disappeared from sight, they got into the Dodge and headed for the office. They stopped to pick up coffee and donuts before arriving at the federal building. The entire team was already there, surprisingly, even Ezra. Since returning from New Orleans, he was still on light duty but more than able to attend a training seminar. He still carried the cane but only needed it when he was especially tired. After sharing the donuts with the others, the team headed for the meeting room on the fourth floor. To their considerable surprise, the seats were assigned alphabetically. Team 7 grumbled as they sought their chairs.


In the classroom, pandemonium reigned. Mr. Beidler and Mrs. Roquette were collecting the lunch bags and marking them so that there would be no confusion when it came time to eat. Two other mothers were trying to make nametags for the children, color-coded to match the adult they were supposed to stay with. The laminated cards had all the school information on one side and the child’s name on the other. Due to the behavior problems they often had with Eli Joe, his father had agreed to come along to chaperone. An older sister of one of the children, who was taking a semester off from college, completed the group.

Vin looked at the card with his name on it and then at JD’s and became upset. Grabbing the younger boy by the arm, he dragged him back across the classroom to Mrs. Roquette. He waited patiently for her to finish explaining to one of the mothers about the tour plans. When the woman nodded and turned away, Vin opened his mouth to speak only to be interrupted by another child clamoring for her to mark his lunch sack. When another child pushed his way up close to the teacher, Vin reached the end of his tolerance.

“It’s my turn to talk to Mrs. Roquette!” he shouted. In the silence that followed, Vin blushed.

“I’m sorry, Vin, I didn’t see you standing there so quietly,” the teacher said calmly. “What can I do for you?” She knew that the normally reticent child would not have acted that way if it were not important.

“JD and me got different colors. Chris told me to stay with JD and take care of him. I can’t do that if we’re in different groups,” Vin explained, holding out both cards for her to see.

“But Vin, you were separated by age group. You’re older than JD and you should be with the red group. JD will be fine. He’s in my group and I’ll take good care of him,” she assured him. After a moment of looking into the distraught faces of the two children, she changed her mind. “I’ll take you in my group, Vin. I don’t have time to change your card but I’ll explain to your group leader.”

A relieved expression crossed Vin’s face and he took JD by the arm and led him to their table. Laurel and Jelly greeted them before returning to the paper they were coloring. The other kids in JD’s group chatted happily as they waited for the bus to arrive. When the lights flashed, the room went quiet as the children looked for the teacher.

“Now, the bus is here and we’re going to walk out in an orderly line. I need the group leaders to come forward so we can get ready. The other classes are working so we need to be very quiet as we go out,” Mr. Beidler said.

On the bus, Vin and JD sat together. They were the last group to board and they got the seat directly behind the bus driver. JD began to pepper the man with questions about the bus and the radio. Vin sat quietly, a feeling of dread building in his chest. Mrs. Roquette reminded JD that he couldn’t talk to the driver while the bus was moving and handed him a brochure on the capitol building. The boy was soon completely absorbed in reading the paragraphs and studying the pictures. Vin tipped his head up and stared at the tall buildings until he spotted the one where Chris worked. It made him feel better just being able to see the tall structure.

When the bus came to a stop outside of the capitol building, Mrs. Roquette explained that they would be going through the security checkpoint. She explained about listening carefully to the security staff and being very quiet while they waited for the group to finish. Each adult had four children to chaperone. They got off the bus in the reverse order that they had gotten on and Vin and JD were the first ones in the line to get in the building. The teacher went through first and smiled encouragingly at the small group behind her. When the guard turned back to wave the next person through, he found JD standing right at the edge of the metal detector waiting for permission. When he saw the guard nod, he very cautiously stepped through the machine, spinning around quickly on the other side to see what would happen. He seemed a little confused when the other guard told him to join the teacher.

“But don’t it tell you how much metal I gots with me?” he asked.

“How much metal do you have?” the guard asked as he pulled out the hand held detector. JD wiggled with delight as he reached into his pocket and drew out a small gumball machine ring. The guard held out a plastic basin and JD reluctantly dropped the ring in it. He then obediently held his arms out as the guard ran the hand held devise up and down his body. “I guess you’re all right,” the guard said as he handed the ring back to JD.

Vin smiled as he stepped through the metal detector. As soon as his group was through, Mr. Chavez and his group were up next. One by one, the three girls stepped through and joined Mrs. Roquette. Eli Joe whined and insisted that his dad go first. Joe Chavez stepped through the detector and the bell went off. The guard with the hand held devise stepped forward and quickly picked up the signal in the man’s back pocket. Joe pulled out his wallet and showed his fire department badge. After depositing his wallet in a plastic basin, he stepped back through the detector and smiled when no bells sounded.

Finally, the entire group was through the metal detector and headed for the corridor to meet the guides who would take them on their tours. They split up, three groups with one guide and three with the other. JD immediately buddied up to the guide and relayed, nearly word for word, the information from the brochure. The older woman was politely interested as she agreed with the things he’d said.

The feeling of dread escalated the longer he was in the building. Vin kept a tight grip on JD as they walked the corridors. His stomach was starting to ache and his head was pounding. They stopped at a podium to sign the visitor’s book, which would be put in the time capsule to be buried under a corner of the parking lot. They had set up a box for the students to stand on so they could reach the book. JD tried to extract his hand from Vin’s only to find that his friend had a death grip on him.

“Vi-i-i-i-n, let go!” JD protested as he tried to pry the fingers from his wrist. Mrs. Roquette knelt down and rested her hands on Vin’s shoulders.

“Is something bothering you, Vin?” she asked as she pressed her palm to his forehead.

“No, I’m fine,” the little Texan said.

“Can you let go of JD for a moment so he can sign the book and then you can sign it too,” the teacher encouraged as she soothed her hand over his. Slowly, he uncurled his fingers and allowed JD to step up on the box. Vin curled his arm around his ribs to try to still the rolling in his stomach. As soon as JD stepped down, Vin stepped up and signed the book with his distinctive scrawl before leaping down and gathering JD’s wrist in his grip again.

The groups gathered in the upper floor rotunda to eat lunch. The coolers had been thoroughly searched by the guards and cleared. The adults distributed the sack lunches to the children who were seated on the floor with their backs against the railing that surrounded the circular room. JD wanted to sit with Jelly and Laurel but Vin demanded that he sit next to Mrs. Roquette with him. For a moment, the dark haired child considered protesting but one look at Vin’s face dissuaded him from the idea. He hadn’t seen the ‘empty face’ on Vin in a long time and it scared him a little. JD willingly followed his friend and sat, with Vin sitting quite close. They accepted their lunches from the teacher and JD dug in. Vin peered into the bag and shuddered before rolling the top of the bag down and studying the room.


In the federal building, Chris stared at the coffee cup in his hand. Buck nudged him gently. He looked at the plate of food and seemed almost startled at the noise in the room.

“You okay, cowboy? You’re looking a little green,” Buck said. Nathan immediately came around the table and began to check Chris’s temperature.

“I’m fine,” the blond said testily.

“Are you sure? You’re looking peaked,” Josiah said from across the table.

“I must admit, you are looking decidedly unwell at the moment,” Ezra said.

“It’s just a headache. I’ll be fine,” Chris said more calmly.


Everyone had finished their lunch except Vin. JD had coaxed him into drinking the still cold juice pouch but could not convince him to try the sandwich or the cookies that Mrs. Potter had made. The teacher gathered up all of the trash and she tucked Vin’s bag into her pack, hoping he’d feel up to eating later. They were going to tour the lower level of the building, where all the old records were kept. The cavernous room had been the cellar when the building was first built. Because of the natural coolness and lack of moisture, the room had become the best place to store the old documents and books. The children spread out to look at the various cases that lined the walls. Joe Chavez was the first to notice the nervous young man who followed the last group of children down the stairs. He was wearing a military flack jacket and cargo pants. Two other young men followed the first down the stairs and glanced around the room. Suddenly, they grabbed the double metal doors and threw them closed.

“Everyone sit on the floor and be quiet!” one of the young men yelled. “Get down! Right now! Sit down on the floor!”

The kids responded by dropping immediately to the floor, leaving the six adult chaperones and two guides standing like deer in the headlights. Vin retained his grip on JD and edged behind some of the other children until he reached Jelly and Laurel. Jelly was staring at the three young men as tears rolled down her cheeks. Laurel’s eyes darted from person to person, trying to figure out what was happening.

“My name is Darryl. This bottle contains the anthrax virus and if you don’t do as I say, I’ll drop it and infect all of you. Which of you has a cell phone?” he asked.

“I have one,” Joe Chavez said as he pulled it from his pocket and held it up. Darryl took the phone and gestured the man down on the floor. Each of the adults was trying to shelter the children from the strangers. The man dialed the phone.

“My name is Darryl Hastings. I have taken hostages in the basement of the capitol building. I have anthrax virus in bottles and I’ll smash them and infect everyone down here unless my demands are met. I’ll call back in one hour,” he said before hanging up. Turning around, he surveyed the group of hostages. “You adults, move over there in that corner. Now! Move!”

The adults slowly stood and moved toward the corner. The two women whose children were in the group clung to their kids as they moved. Eli Joe clung to his father as he made his way to the corner. The other children edged toward the adults, seeking the safety of familiarity. Suddenly, a whisper floated above the sounds of people moving.

“Do you think Da and Chris will rescue us?” JD whispered to Vin.

“You think your father will come and rescue you, kid? Come here,” Darryl demanded. JD looked up, terror shining in his dark eyes as he tried to hide behind Vin. The man started briskly across the floor and reached for the little boy.

“Leave him alone! He’s too little!” Vin cried as he came to his knees in front of his friend.

“Oh ho! A scrappy little brat! You want a piece of me, kid?” he sneered as he bent close to the fiercely protective child.

“You just leave him alone or his dad and my dad will come down here and arrest you!” Vin threatened before his courage gave out. Darryl thrust the cell phone into the boy’s trembling hand.

“Call your daddy and get him down here, kid,” Darryl hissed.


The meeting seemed to be stretching into infinity when Chris felt his phone vibrate. Pulling it from his pocket, he looked at the caller ID. Recognizing the name caused his hair to stand on end and the steady throb in his head to escalate. Coming to his feet, he hurried up the row and out of the room as he opened the phone.

“Larabee,” he said softly.

“Chris? It’s me, Vin.”

“Vin? Is something wrong, son?”

“There’s some men here and they said they got attacks virus and they’re gonna infect all of us,” Vin explained calmly.

“Are you all right? Is JD with you?” the team leader asked as he was joined in the hallway by some of the other members of his team.

“Yeah, he’s here. The guy said he wants you and Buck to come down here and try to rescue us,” Vin said softly. “But I don’t think you should come. They’re scary looking.”

Chris felt his heart tighten as he heard the fear in his son’s voice. The next thing he heard was an unfamiliar voice.

“He’s a real brave little kid. All spit and venom to protect his little friend. If you want to see these kids again, mister, I suggest that you bring one million dollars to the capitol building in six hours,” Darryl said before closing the phone. “You did good, kid. Now, just sit down over there and be quiet.”

Vin pulled JD back to the wall and sheltered him in between two of the display cases. He also pulled Jelly and Laurel into the narrow space and placed himself in front of them.


Chris closed the phone and looked at the members of his team. Behind Josiah, the door to the meeting room was open and he could see that several of the men were receiving calls. Judge Travis stepped to the microphone and addressed the group.

“Ladies and gentlemen, if you would all sit down for a minute, I’ll tell you what we know so far. Three men have taken a group of hostages in the lower level of the capitol building. So far, all we know is that it’s a group of students on a field trip of some kind. They have announced that they have the anthrax virus and will infect everyone,” the older man explained. He noticed Team 7 cutting through the crowd like a shark. Chris gripped his shoulder and leaned in close.

“It’s Vin and JD’s class trip. They have 24 kids and six adult chaperones. Vin just called me. They want one million dollars in six hours.”

“Oh, God! Chris, I’m sorry. You and Buck should head over there. We’ll have to contact the school and get a list of the students involved. SWAT is already setting up with a hostage negotiator,” Orin said.

The short drive to the capitol building was tension filled. Josiah steered the group toward his vehicle. Nathan jumped into the front seat and Ezra pulled himself up into the back seat with the distraught fathers. The police line was set up several blocks away from the building and Josiah showed his ID to the officer and explained that he had two of the parents with him. They were directed to the south parking lot where the command center would be set up.

Sitting in between Chris and Ezra, Buck felt as if his world was falling apart. He loved JD as much as if he’d been his own biological son. The thought that the child might be hurt or frightened was paralyzing. A hand gripped his and he looked over into Ezra’s face. The Southerner was as devastated as he had ever seen. It was his love of the children that had brought him back from New Orleans, where he had fled to escape the danger in his job.

“I can’t lose him, Ez!” Buck whispered. “I’m not that strong.”

“You won’t lose him. We’ll get them back. Have faith,” Ezra assured him as he firmly squeezed the hand he was holding.

The suburban was directed to a parking space and Chris leapt out. An FBI agent hurried toward him demanding to know who he was and what he was doing there. The blond nearly busted the man’s nose with his badge case as he pushed it into his face.

“My son is in there!” he declared vehemently.

“I, uh, I didn’t know that any of the parents had been notified. I’m sorry. If you’ll come this way, I’ll show you to the waiting area,” the man said quickly as he turned back the way he came. Chris followed the man until he veered away from the SWAT van that was sitting near the front of the parking lot. He ignored the bus that had been brought in for the families and headed for the operations center. Snatching the door open, he startled the four men who where studying images on several monitors.

“Who in the hell are you?” one man demanded as he came to his feet, the rank insignia on his shirt identified him as the captain.

“Chris Larabee, ATF. My son and my partner’s son are in there,” he replied acidly.

The FBI agent noticed that he had lost the group of men and hurried to try to intercept them. Josiah and Nathan effectively prevented his efforts. He heard the angry shout from inside of the van and decided to make a hasty retreat.

“Mr. Larabee, why don’t you have a seat in the family waiting area and we’ll get to you when we know something more,” the captain said as he stepped closer to the hazel-eyed column of fury. Chris reached out and grabbed the man by the arm and jerked him out of the van. Josiah caught the startled man to keep him from falling to the asphalt. Chris stepped up into the van and scanned the monitors.

“Have you hacked into their security cameras?” the team leader asked.

“Yes sir. These are live images. This is the only shot we have in the room where the hostages are,” the man explained as he pointed. Chris leaned close and stared at the black and white monitor. He gasped as he saw Vin kneeling in between a pair of display cases. Most of the children were huddled along the wall and apart from the adults.

“Sir, you must come out of there!” the man demanded as he struggled in Josiah’s grasp.

“Do you see JD?” Buck asked eagerly.

“No, I’ll bet he’s behind Vin in between the cases,” Chris said as he pointed to the monitor. Even in the small, colorless image, he could imagine the fierce glare on the boy’s face. Beyond his field of vision, a woman was escorted to the family waiting area and Ezra limped across the parking lot to talk to her.

“Are you one of the parents?” she asked as he approached.

“No, an uncle. Ezra Standish. And you are?” he asked as he offered his hand.

“Deirdra Sloan, school secretary. I brought the list of students on the field trip and their parents' contact numbers. Which of the boys are you related to?”

“Vin Tanner and JD Dunne,” he answered. Understanding dawned in her face and she nodded.


In the capitol building cellar, a couple of the children began to squirm. Mrs. Roquette recognized the signs and raised her head and cleared her throat to get Darryl’s attention.

“Please, some of the children need to go to the bathroom,” she said softly.

“Tough!” Darryl hissed. Around the room, the children whimpered and groaned as they realized that they were not going to be allowed to use the bathroom. One of the tour guides spoke up.

“Excuse me, sir. There are bathrooms just outside of the double doors. You could still see them as they went.”

Darryl pointed at the college student. “You, open the door. If you try anything stupid, I’ll kill all these cute little kids.”

The girl came to her feet and slowly approached the doors. She opened the one with the handle on the inside and gasped in fear at the sight of the men in full protective gear pointing guns at her.

“What is it? What do you see?” Darryl demanded to know.

“Men with guns!” she cried without moving.


Chris was still staring at the monitor when his phone rang. Pulling it from his pocket, he spoke sharply. “Larabee!”

“Mr. Larabee, there are a number of armed men standing just outside of the room where I am holding your son. If they are not gone in the next three minutes I’m going to hurt the boy,” Darryl hissed. He crossed the floor and snatched Vin up by the arm, causing him to cry out in fear and pain. “Did you hear me? I’ll hurt him!”

“They’ll be gone immediately,” Chris said. Turning to the man with the headset, he growled, “Pull your men back out of that corridor or he’ll hurt the children!” The young man’s eyes widened and he looked around for the man in charge of the operation. The blond reached across the van and snatched the headset. “Pull back! Right now! Pull back out of the corridor! That’s an order!”

Darryl smiled as he heard the man yelling. He looked at the girl standing in the door. “Are they gone?”

Nodding, she turned around, “They went back up the stairs. I don’t see them anymore.”

“Very good, Mr. Larabee. That’s very good. Have you got my money yet?” Darryl asked.

“They’re getting it together. A million is a lot of money. I can’t just walk into a bank and carry it out in my wallet. Please, can I speak to my son?” He could see that the man still had Vin by the arm.

“NO! When I have my money, you can have your kid,” Darryl hissed before he closed the connection.

On the monitor, Chris could see the man shoving Vin away from him. For an instant, he saw JD’s head come out of the space between the cases. He could see Vin returning to his defensive position in front of the case. Tears of relief leaked from the corners of his eyes as he looked toward Buck.


Darryl allowed the children to go to the bathroom in pairs. He threatened them that if they did not go and come quickly back that he would hurt their teachers and friends. The first pair of children was almost too terrified to leave the room but Mrs. Roquette urged them to go. After the first pair returned, the second pair went easily. Vin pulled JD to his feet and headed for the door. Darryl watched the pair of boys. He reached out and grabbed the older boy by the arm. When Vin didn’t fight back, he let him go.


“Buck, it’s JD!” Chris called. Buck stepped up into the van and caught only a glimpse of his son before his eyes filled with tears. The Director of Operations ordered them to allow the two ATF agents full access. The captain sulked outside of the van watching the other parents arriving. When he saw the guards from the security checkpoint being escorted across the parking lot, he hurried to be the first to speak to them.

“Chris, the guards are coming out,” Nathan called. The team leader stepped out of the van and started toward the four men. He passed the DO and grabbed the closest guard by the collar.

“How in the hell did they get in there with biological weapons?” Chris growled into the man’s startled face. The other three men halted a couple of paces back and exchanged worried glances.

“S-sir, if it was in a glass container with a rubber or cork stopper or a plastic cap, the metal detector wouldn’t have picked it up! I’m sorry!” the guard said. The genuine look of contrition on his face eased Chris’s rage.


After all the kids had been to the bathroom, Darryl shoved the door closed again. He and his two companions gathered in the corner to talk. While they were whispering to each other, Vin turned and spoke softly to JD, Laurel and Jelly.

“It’s going to be all right. Chris and Buck are out there. They’ll get us out safe,” Vin assured them. His stomach was still upset and his head still hurt. Sinking to his behind on the floor, he tightened his arms around his ribs and screwed his eyes tightly shut. JD immediately began to worry. He looked at Jelly to see if she realized that Vin was sick. When the little girl returned his worried expression, he reached for his friend.

“Vin? Would you like to lay down? You can use my legs. I’ll be real still so’s you can rest,” JD offered. He leaned against the wall and straightened his legs in front of him. Jelly peeled off her sweater and draped it over the older boy’s shoulders. Vin shook his head and settled for sitting next to JD. He leaned his head against the younger boy’s shoulder and pulled the sweater around his body. Laurel leaned against Vin from the other side and wrapped her arm around him.

“Thanks JD, Jelly, Laurel,” Vin whispered.


Ezra and Josiah had their hands full in the bus with the parents. Several of the mothers were sobbing hysterically while a couple of the fathers were talking about storming the building to reclaim their children. Jelly’s mother sat alone, tears rolling down her cheeks. Freddie’s mother was on her cell phone with her attorney, as if he could actually help her.

Buck started across the parking lot to see how many of the parents had arrived. Although the captain tried to dissuade him, he was going to let them know that he had seen the children and that they were all right for the moment. A car door slammed and he looked toward the sound. A police officer was escorting a very upset Darcy toward the bus. When she saw the familiar face, she pulled away from the officer and ran to Buck.

“I just heard on the radio! Oh my God, what are they going to do? Are the kids okay? Do you know anything?” she asked as soon as she reached his side.

“The kids are all right for now. I just saw them on a monitor in the operations van. Let me take you to the waiting area and I’ll let everyone know at the same time, okay?” He wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her close. A long held sob broke free and Darcy clung to him as she wept.

All eyes were on them as they stepped on to the bus. Ezra was allowing some of the parents to use the cell phones he had garnered from his teammates and Josiah was passing out coffee and as much comfort as he could to the terrified parents. Buck guided Darcy to an empty seat and cleared his throat.

“If I could have your attention for a moment, folks? I just came from the operations van. I wanted to let you know that I saw all of the children just a minute ago on the monitors. They’re fine. It looks like they were being allowed to go to the restroom in pairs,” he explained.

“Did you see my Freddie?” a voice called, prompting the other parents to clamor for confirmation of their children.

“I saw Freddie with Eli Joe Chavez. I saw every one of the children on the list, they’re fine. The men don’t appear to have any weapons that we can see,” Buck began.

“Then why haven’t the police gone in there and gotten them out?” an angry male voice demanded.

Knowing that the FBI did not want the parents knowing about the threat of anthrax, Buck hedged, “We can’t see any weapons, that doesn’t mean they don’t have them. We don’t want to take any chances with any of the children. I know this is difficult, but we’ll just have to be patient.”

“Be patient?” Freddie’s mother shrieked, “My little boy is being held hostage and you want me to be patient? I want to talk to the person in charge! I won’t sit here while my son is being tortured!”

“No one is being tortured! The children are sitting on the floor along the wall and they’re fine,” Buck yelled. “Hysterics will not help resolve the situation! I can send the captain over here and he’ll tell you the same thing. We’re not going to do anything to endanger the children!”

In his fear and anger, Buck hadn’t noticed that Ezra was standing at his side. When the firm grip landed on his forearm, he almost lashed out. Recognizing the same fear in the Southerner’s eyes, Buck took a deep breath and nodded. He had to keep his head on straight if he was going to be a part of the solution. Ezra nodded back at him and patted him on the shoulder.

“Perhaps you should stay and have a cup of coffee?” Josiah offered. Buck took the styrofoam cup and sank gratefully into the empty seat next to Darcy. The profiler placed both hands on Buck’s shoulders and dug into the tense muscles. After several moments, Buck began to feel calmer and more centered.

“Thanks, Josiah, I needed that,” he said with a smile.

On the monitor, Chris continued to stare at the shadowed space where his son was sitting. His mind was sharply divided, one part detached and clinical, noticing the hostage takers and their body language; the other part was terrified to the point of near paralysis. It was the second part that he had to keep tightly under wraps. If he let his emotions get away from him, he would be relegated to the bus with the others and not able to even watch the grainy images on the small monitor. A hand gripped his shoulder and he looked up to see Nathan holding out a cup of coffee.

“Thanks. Where’s Buck?”

“Sent him over to the bus to talk to the parents. He’s letting them know that we saw the kids and that they’re fine,” the medic answered. “Here, take these,” he said as he held out two Tylenol.

“Bless you. It feels like World War 3 inside of my head right now,” the blond said after washing down the caplets. “How are the other parents holding up?”

“Pretty well, all things considered. They’re consoling each other and Ezra and Josiah are staying with them,” Nathan answered.

“How is Ezra?” Chris felt a sharp pang of concern for the Southerner, who was still recovering from being shot.

“Seems to be okay. He’s comforting the parents and helping them make phone calls. Josiah’s keeping an eye on him,” the medic replied. “Have you seen the boys any more?”

“Not since they went to the restroom. They’re holed up in between those display cases,” the team leader answered as he pointed to the monitor.


Inside of the building, the kids were dozing off. After burning all the adrenaline from being scared, they were leaning against each other for comfort and falling asleep. Several were still awake and watching the strangers. Some of the younger children had managed to move around to the corner where the adults were and they were cuddled up in their laps. Darryl glared at the information on his cell phone. He had an Internet connection and was in contact with the fourth member of their crew who was on the outside. The news was the same, nothing was happening on the parking lot. The parents were together on a bus and the SWAT team and the FBI agents were in the van. The news reporters were being kept well away from the building and told nothing! Feeling his anger building, Darryl glanced around the room at the children. Catching the eye of one boy, he strode over and yanked the hapless child to his feet.

“Does your mom or dad have a cell phone?” he demanded to know. When the boy nodded, he handed Mr. Chavez’ cell phone into the boy’s hands. “Call them!”


“He’s making one of the kids make a call,” Chris announced as he sat closer to the monitor.

The six men, crowded in the small van, stared at the monitor. The captain looked to Chris to see if he knew who the child was. Scanning the names on the paper, he pointed. Another man leapt from the van and hurried across the parking lot to the bus. Mrs. Chaney was talking on her cell phone when she heard the tone that indicated that she had an incoming call. She frowned at first, not recognizing the name and number on the caller ID. When the name connected in her head, she pushed the button to accept the call.

“Hello?” she said hesitantly.

“Mom? It’s Freddie. I’m in the capitol building and...” the boy started.

“Freddie! Darling! Are you all right? What’s happening in there?” Elizabeth yelled. A different voice answered her questions.

“What’s happening is that if we don’t get a million dollars in five hours, I will infect all of these innocent children with the anthrax virus!” Darryl hissed before closing the connection.

“Anthrax! He said he was going to infect the children with anthrax!” Mrs. Chaney screamed as she jumped to her feet. Immediately, pandemonium struck as the parents came to their feet screaming in absolute panic. Buck surged to his feet and whistled loudly to get their attention. Josiah and Nathan were doing their best to keep them from running from the bus toward the building.

“Ladies and gentlemen! Please! Don’t panic! Everything that can be done is being done. We need to keep our wits together. Yes, they have said that they have anthrax but it’s not confirmed. We don’t want to do anything that might cause us to have to find out if they do have it the hard way. For all of our kids sake, we must stay calm,” Buck said.

The FBI agent had paused at the door, hearing the loud whistle. After listening to Buck’s speech, he knew that the ATF agent had things under control. He set his feet heavily on the steps to announce his presence. Buck turned and looked over his shoulder at the man.

“What Mr. Wilmington said is absolutely correct. You must all stay calm if we are to get the children out safely. We have not informed the media of the threat because we are hoping to avoid a full-scale panic. I will keep you informed as the situation progresses,” the man said.


Darryl shoved Freddie toward the wall and stomped around the room, glaring at the kids who were still awake and making more than one of them cry. Mrs. Roquette reached for one of the little girls who was sobbing hysterically. The little girl was too far away for the teacher to reach and she was burdened with several children sleeping across her legs. To the woman’s considerable surprise, Freddie reached out to wrap his arm around the girl and pull her to his shoulder.

In the space between the display cases, Vin shifted uneasily between JD and Laurel. His stomach was growling and his head was throbbing unmercifully. He shifted around until he was sprawled across the legs of both JD and Jelly. Laurel took advantage of the change and leaned over to snuggle up to the Texan’s back with her head cradled on his side. JD and Jelly exchanged worried glances.

The other men with Darryl, Pete and Josh, were getting tired of waiting. They hadn’t expected Darryl to give them six hours to raise the money. They thought to be on the news, but the FBI was keeping all the reporters away. They wanted to be famous! Pete stormed across the room and grabbed up one of the sleeping children. The little girl, Kate, began to wail loudly. Josh sneered at Darryl, daring him to interfere. He pulled his cell phone and dialed a number from memory.

“Hello, my name is Josh Sheridan and I’m one of the men holding the hostages in the capitol building. I want to talk to a reporter,” he demanded.


Mary Travis felt her heart begin to race. She picked up a pen and grabbed a tablet of paper. Across the top of the page, she wrote the man’s name.

“I’m Mary Travis and I am a reporter. Josh, can I call you by your first name? We were told that there was a situation at the building but not the nature of the situation. You say you have hostages, can you tell me how many you have? What are your demands?” Mary asked.

“We want a million dollars. If we don’t get it in the next two hours, we’ll infect all the kiddies with anthrax! We want to hear our demands on the radio and television.”

“I’ll get right on it. Can you tell me, are the children all right?” The next sound Mary heard was a whimper.

“Tell her your name!” Josh yelled.

“M-my n-name is Kate Anderson.”

“Hello, Kate. Are you all right?” Mary asked softly.

“I’m scared. I want my mommy!”

“We’re going to get you out, sweetheart.”


As soon as she hung up the phone, Mary dialed Chris’s cell phone. She quickly filled him in on what she had been told. The ATF team leader was stunned at the shortening of the time they were given to bring the ransom. The FBI agent in charge was adamantly opposed to releasing the information to the press. Further, he was curious as to how the men knew that the reporters didn’t know all the specifics. He ordered a scrambler to stop the cell phone calls from going in and out of the building.

“You can’t do that! There isn’t any phone line down there! If you cut off their only means of communicating with us, they’re likely to go ahead with their plan to infect the kids!” Chris yelled.

“I had to allow you access but I am still the agent in charge of this operation and I think it’s time to start cutting them off from the outside and controlling what they can and can’t do,” the captain said as he came toe to toe with Chris. The hazel eyes were blazing brightly with barely controlled rage.

“That’s my son in there! If you do anything to put him in any more danger than he already is, I’ll rip your arms off and beat you with the bloody ends!” Chris warned.

“Larabee, if you can’t get your emotions under control, I’ll have you dragged out of here in cuffs!” the man growled. He knew he was taking a really big chance getting in the face of the man who could probably kill him with his bare hands.

“Just keep in mind that if my son is harmed in any way, I will not hesitate to kill you,” Chris threatened. “Why aren’t we gathering the ransom money?”

“We haven’t decided to pay the ransom. There are only three of them and they don’t appear to have any weapons that we can see. If they did get in there with biological weapons, they certainly don’t have guns. We’re going to send in a team,” the captain said haughtily.

Chris grabbed Nathan by the arm and dragged him out of earshot of the captain.

“How dangerous is it if the glass bottles are broken? Is it treatable, curable?” the team leader asked.

“Depends on the strain and whether or not any of the powder actually gets on their skin or gets inhaled. I’m not going to lie to you, Chris, it can be fatal,” the medic explained.

“Oh God!” Chris moaned.


Pete pulled the antenna up on his phone and walked around the perimeter of the room. He had been talking to Terry about all the sudden activity on the parking lot when he lost the call. The display on his phone now read ‘no signal’ and he couldn’t dial out. Stopping next to Darryl, he showed him the phone. It took only a couple of minutes to confirm that none of the phones they had worked. Immediately, the three young men grew nervous. Mr. Beidler noticed the way the men were comparing the phones and the angry sound of their voices and he nudged Mr. Chavez.

Joe Chavez eased his son off of his lap and slowly worked his leg out from under the little girl who had crawled to him seeking comfort. He noticed that the teacher was also clearing his lap. The male tour guide saw the other two men shifting around and figured that they were getting ready to jump the men who were holding them hostage. He glanced around and pulled his knees up, getting ready to stand.

A soft moan caused JD to lift his head from Jelly’s shoulder. He was thirsty and needed to go to the bathroom again. He wondered what woke him until he noticed the bright red circles on Vin’s cheeks. He pressed his hand gently against the brightly colored face.

“Jelly! You have to get Mrs. Roquette. Vin’s sick!” JD whispered as he stroked his fingers through the long, sweat soaked locks. The little girl wiggled until she could get on her hands and knees.


The SWAT team slipped silently down the steps to stand outside of the metal doors. They were wearing special masks that would protect them from the airborne virus. They were waiting for one final radio signal from the control center van to tell them what corner of the room the hostage takers were standing in. Each of the six men was keenly aware that there were over two dozen innocent children in the room.

Team 7 gathered at the top of the stairs waiting to hear what happened in the room below. Chris had argued and begged to be allowed to be part of the bust team but had been vetoed. Judge Travis himself had stood face to face with the enraged father and informed him that he was too emotionally close to the situation to be able to think clearly and would be more of a detriment to the bust.

In addition to the ATF agents, the upper floor was crowded with medical professionals. Doctors from all over the Denver area had come to help evaluate the children as they were brought out. If the vials were broken, the children would all have to undergo quarantine until they were checked for the deadly virus. They had boxes of medical supplies on hand just in case.


Darryl punched the buttons on the cell phone savagely, trying to get a signal. He checked each of the five phones they had before he began to suspect that something was happening outside. Just then, a little girl stuck her head out of the opening between the cases and looked toward the female teacher.

“What do you want?” Pete yelled.


“Go, go, go! Suspects are in the near south east corner of the room!” the captain called into the headset. He had noticed that the men realized that their phones didn’t work and they appeared angry. He watched on the monitor as one of the men pointed at a child that was crawling out from behind one of the display cases.

Sergeant Evans nodded to his team and launched himself against the reinforced metal doors. The rest of his team surged in behind him, guns ready. He saw the man in the corner as he hurled an object across the room. Another of the men tossed another object before he launched himself at the man coming toward him. It was all over in two minutes.

Jelly screamed as the men burst through the doors. She sprang back into the confined space and covered her face with her hands. JD looked up from Vin’s face just in time to see the heavily garbed men surge into the room. The facemasks and breathing masks were similar to masks he’d seen before. Terror gripped the little boy and he curled up around Vin and the two girls.

Joe Chavez lunged over his son and the woman who had been sitting next to him. He cringed at the terrified screams of the children and the harsh yelling of their rescuers. Thankfully, he didn’t hear anyone shooting.


Nathan and Josiah held on to Buck and Chris as the two men tensed up when they heard the metal doors burst open. They all heard the frightened cries of the children and then the silence. Chris shuddered as the sweat on his body cooled. He glanced over to see that Buck was leaning into the restraining arms of the profiler with a look of pure terror on his handsome face. They all heard the sounds of radios being activated. Chris searched the face of the nearest man with a headset and waited for some kind of sign.

“Quarantine protocols,” the man announced calmly. “At least two vials were broken.”

The ATF team was swept aside as the medical teams rushed forward. Buck and Chris were steered to a bench against the wall and held there as the doctors and nurses quickly donned protective gear and headed down the stairs. Nathan surreptitiously watched both men for signs of shock as they were shaking and sweating profusely.


It was his worst fear come to life in vivid color! JD whimpered and clung to Vin as the numbers of people with masks multiplied. Responding to their friend’s distress, Laurel and Jelly were both sobbing and trying to melt into the solid wall at their backs. Other children were huddled together crying or clamoring desperately for the teacher’s attention. One of the younger boys, a recent immigrant from the war torn area of the Middle East, was terrified at the sight of the men with guns and masks and was frantically trying to hide. Mr. Beidler rushed to the child and gathered him in his arms. The familiar voice was reassuring and the boy’s screams faded to hiccupping sobs.

One of the doctors noticed the group huddled between the display cases and went over to see if they were all right. He noticed right away that the little dark haired boy was sobbing breathlessly over another child and wondered if the report that the children had not been harmed was premature. The two little girls were also sobbing, although not with the same fervor as the little boy. As soon as he reached out and touched the dark haired boy, he curled up tighter around the other boy and screamed louder.

“Beth, can I get a hand over here?” the doctor called over his shoulder. A nurse carrying a plastic box of supplies rushed over and dropped to her knees. “Help me get them out of this corner,” he said. The woman reached forward and took hold of the dark haired child’s left arm and leg as the doctor took the right. They pulled the two children out of the confining space. The two girls immediately surged together, clinging to each other for comfort. Laurel was sobbing for her mommy and Jelly was just crying.

The nurse snaked her hands in between JD and Vin and pulled JD to her chest as the doctor gathered Vin in his arms. JD screamed and clawed at the restraining arms as he saw Vin being taken away by what looked like a troll. The fact that the outfit was a light color made no difference to the little boy.

“My God! He’s burning up! Temp’s 103.8, breathing is shallow and his pulse is racing, we need to get this child stabilized immediately!” the doctor said as he carefully printed the information on a brightly colored card and attached it to the little boy’s wrist. Since the nurse had her hands full with the other boy, the doctor pulled the supply box over and flipped the lid open. He grabbed an IV kit and ripped it open.

“Let me go! I have to stay with Vin! Let me go! I want my DA!” JD screamed repeatedly as he thrashed and struggled with the nurse. He twisted and flailed with his little sneakers as he screamed. He could see the ‘troll’ as he was preparing to stick Vin with a needle. “NO! He don’t like that! Leave him alone!”

Mrs. Roquette turned at the distressed screaming and saw the pair working on JD and Vin. Knowing as much as she did about their background, she knew that what was happening was more terrifying to the boy than the men who had held them hostage. Pressing the child she was holding into the arms of one of the other adults, she crossed the floor and knelt beside the nurse.

“JD? JD, listen to me. You have to calm down. The doctor is taking care of Vin,” the teacher called. She reached out and drew JD into her arms and rocked him gently. Her familiarity took the edge off of his fear and he began to relax. Both girls surged out of the space and threw themselves at the teacher. JD eventually lifted his face from Mrs. Roquette’s shoulder and gazed over at Vin.

“He’s not a troll?” JD’s tremulous voice asked.

“No, he’s a doctor in a protective suit. He’s helping Vin. You can help him to help Vin by staying calm. Can you do that for me?” The teacher knew that the child would do anything for his friend. After another glance at Vin, JD nodded. When she released him, JD slid off of her lap and knelt beside Vin. The doctor glanced at the child, checking him for symptoms.

“Is he gonna dream with the angels?” JD asked as he reached out to gently touch Vin’s cheek.

“He’s going to be fine. Can I ask you a couple of questions?” Dr. Lear hated having to ask so young a child but he needed to know how long the child had been ill. “Has your friend been sick very long?”

“He wasn’t feeling too good at lunch time. He made us hide in here so the bad men wouldn’t hurt us. He was holding his stomach and shivering so Jelly loaned him the sweater,” JD explained as he pointed to the pale blue sweater Vin was lying on.

“Okay, that’s good to know. How about you? How are you feeling?” the doctor asked.

“I thought you was trolls like in the warehouse but Mrs. Roquette said you’re not. You better not let Vin see you though, he got shot by the trolls and he don’t like ‘em even more than me,” the solemn boy stated.

“Then how about I let you sit here with your friend so you can let him know that he’s going to be all right? I’m just going to check on the girls. Okay?” Dr. Lear said. When the boy nodded, the doctor patted his shoulder and moved to check on the girls who had come out of the corner with the boys.


“Let’s get back to the bus with the other parents. They’ll take everyone to the hospital to wait for the kids to clear the quarantine,” Nathan suggested.

“I’m not leaving here without him!” Buck declared harshly.

“They called for isolation protocol. They aren’t going to let you touch him until they’ve cleared him. That won’t happen until they get them to the hospital. Darcy and Mrs. Bean are on the bus,” Nathan prodded.

“Come on, Buck. Let’s go sit with the other parents,” Chris urged. As horrible as it felt to leave Vin here, he knew he had to and he wanted to encourage his friend to leave. Slapping Buck on the thigh, he came to his feet and waited for the other man to rise. Ezra was the last one to come to his feet and he stared at the stairs for a long moment before Josiah took him by the arm and led him away.

The scene on the bus was one of hysteria. The FBI agents were trying to contain the parents as they tried to get off of the bus. Three of the fathers were particularly belligerent about being allowed to go to their children. The FBI agent, thinking to comfort the parents, had told them that the bust was successful and that they would be bringing the children out soon. Unfortunately, the parents immediately demanded to be allowed to go into the building to get them. Buck and Chris pushed their way onto the bus and Nathan whistled loudly to get their attention.

“If everyone would just take a seat, I’ll tell you as much as we know,” Chris said. When everyone had taken a seat, he began, “They took the men without incident. Two of the vials were broken.” Murmurs and cries of disbelief rang our in a sudden burst and he waited for them to die down. “They called for isolation protocols. As soon as the children are cleared, they’ll be released to you. We will all be transported to the hospital to wait for the results of the tests.”

Another spate of questioning burst out and Nathan took over answering the questions. Darcy Cunningham slipped out of her seat and Buck wrapped an arm around her and held her as she cried. Mrs. Bean and Mrs. Chaney wiped tears from their eyes as they concentrated on the answers the medic was giving.


In the lower level of the capitol building, the doctors were pleased. It had been over an hour since the vials were broken and only one child was ill. It appeared that he had been ill before the vials of supposed bio-toxin were broken. They still had to wait for the results from the lab. The kids were all tired and upset but they were surprisingly calm about the whole situation.

Dr. Lear knelt next to the still unconscious boy. His temperature had come down to 101 and his breathing was deeper. He had gotten most of a bag of fluids and was resting comfortably under a blanket. He was surrounded by the three children who had been hiding with him in between the cabinets. Someone had opened the soda machine and brought each of the children a soda. The little dark haired boy, JD, had two sodas sitting near his knees, unopened.

A man appeared in the doorway without any protective gear. He called for the doctor in charge. Dr. Lear glanced up at the man as he came to his feet.

“It wasn’t anthrax. It was cooking starch,” the man said. A collective sigh of relief floated up and Mr. Chavez hugged the nurse standing at his side. Protective gear was peeled off all around the room. A pair of paramedics was called down with a gurney.


On the bus, a nervous silence had settled. Buck was still comforting Darcy. Chris found himself sitting next to Mrs. Chaney. The woman had been furious when the FBI’s scrambler device had prevented her from calling her attorney again. Now, she was sitting with tears rolling down her cheeks. She hadn’t spoken to the ATF agent since he sat down next to her. The FBI agent standing guard at the front of the bus cupped his hand around his ear and asked for the information to be repeated.

“Ladies and gentleman, we just got the results from the lab. It wasn’t anthrax, it was starch in the vials. The children will be escorted out in a few minutes. If you will follow me, I’ll take you into the building so you can be reunited with your children.” In the space of two heartbeats, the bus erupted in raucous applause and shouts of joy and relief.

On shaky knees, Buck and Chris waited for the children to come up the stairs. The doctor was checking each one to be certain that they were all right before letting them leave. The parents who had been on the field trip were given the first chance to leave and they opted to remain until the other children were released. By twos and threes, the kids came up the steps. Glancing around shyly, many burst into tears as soon as they saw their parents. Most of the families slipped away as soon as they were reunited with their children. Jelly and Laurel came up the stairs together, nearly the last of the group of children to leave. Mrs. Bean sobbed as her daughter appeared at the top of the stairs. The little girl retained her grip on Laurel until she heard her friend’s joyful cry and saw her point. Both girls dashed into the waiting arms of their mothers. Buck wiped away tears as he watched Laurel hugging Darcy.

The parents who had gone along to chaperone the field trip finally came up the stairs with the tour guides. That left only the teachers and the medical staff with Vin and JD. Chris could feel his heart pounding in his chest as he waited for the tow headed child to come up the stairs. When he saw the paramedics coming up with the gurney, his stomach flipped and his knees nearly folded.

“Vin!” Chris cried as he rushed to his son.

“DA!” JD shrieked, struggling to get down from where Mr. Beidler was carrying him up the stairs. With shaking hands, Buck accepted the child into his arms and crushed him in a sobbing embrace. He felt the little arms and legs wrapping around him as he sank to his knees on the floor.

A few feet away, Laurel pushed away from her mother. She ran back toward the stairs and wrapped her arms around Buck and JD. She placed a big kiss on Buck’s cheek and patted his shoulder, assuring him that it was all going to be all right.

Dr. Lear stopped beside the gurney and addressed the blond man who was devastated by the sight of the small boy. Reaching across the child, he gripped Chris by the arm. “He’ll be fine. I think he was just over stressed on top of whatever bug he had developing. He was a little dehydrated and had a temperature when I got down there.”

The little Texan opened his eyes and looked around hesitantly. His head ached and he felt sick to his stomach. When he tried to toss off the blanket, he discovered that he was strapped down and he spoke softly.

“Dad? What happened?”

“Hey, cowboy, you had us worried. Wish you’d told me you weren’t feeling well this morning,” Chris said as he carded his fingers through Vin’s hair.

“Didn’t want to miss the field trip,” the boy whispered. “Can we go home now? I don’t feel so good.”

“We’re going to the hospital first. Then we’ll see what the doctor says,” Chris said before leaning down to place a kiss on Vin’s forehead. Vin worked his arms free of the safety straps and wrapped them around Chris’s neck.

It was just getting dark when Vin was admitted to the hospital. His temperature had returned to nearly normal and his blood work showed that he was most likely fighting off a stomach virus. Dr. Two Eagles suggested that he rest and have clear fluids for the next couple of days. Laurel and Darcy had come by to see how Vin was doing and stayed to keep Buck and JD company. When they were told that Vin would not be going home, Buck invited them to stop for take out food before they went home for the night. Chris would stay all night at the hospital and the others showed up to bolster the young Texan’s spirits. Ezra made a pit stop at the ranch and picked up Cat and some of Vin’s pajamas so that he would feel more comfortable.


“How about you sleep in my room with me tonight, Little Bit?” Buck suggested as they were tidying up the house after arriving home. He smiled and ruffled JD’s long bangs as they flipped over his forehead. He knew the boy wouldn’t turn down a chance to sleep in the big bed, especially since Vin wasn’t home.

Vin was discharged from the hospital the next morning with instructions that he be on a clear fluids diet for at least the next 24 hours to give his digestive system time to recover. Josiah offered to bring both of them home rather than have Buck drive all the way into the city only to turn around and drive back. They had a quick surprise visit from Dr. Will before they left the hospital. He had seen the story on the news and was concerned at how the hostage situation would affect the children. To his surprise, Vin seemed unfazed by the whole event. He really didn’t remember too much beyond crawling into the corner with the others. Chris had heard JD telling about the ‘trolls’ that came in and turned out to be doctors in protective gear. He assured the doctor that they would make an appointment if it appeared that either child was having trouble dealing with the incident.

It was a lazy Saturday at the ranch. Vin wasn’t sleepy but he didn’t have any energy to expend on playing so he piled up on the couch and watched cartoons on TV. JD was too keyed up to stay inside and coaxed Buck into taking him for a ride on the horses. The dark haired whirlwind had slept fitfully at first. He never had a full-blown nightmare and once settled firmly across Buck’s chest, he slept like a stone.

Chris caught Vin gazing off into space. “What’cha thinking on so intently, Cowboy?”

“It was pretty scary yesterday for you, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, the most scared I’ve been in a long time. How about you?”

“I was glad they didn’t have guns. It wasn’t too scary as long as they didn’t have guns.”

It all boiled down to that simple thing. As long as the bad guys didn’t have guns, it would be all right. Chris reached out and squeezed Vin’s shoulder. The boy had no idea of the horrors that could have happened if it really had been anthrax that they carried in the vials.

The rest of the team came out on Sunday like they normally did. Vin was still feeling poorly and not up to keeping up with JD and the dogs. Ezra coaxed him to come out on the deck and brought out a new game for them to play. Nathan joined them so he could appraise the boy’s condition and make sure he didn’t get over tired. The Uno Attack game soon had all of them crowded around the table to play. The phone rang just after lunch and Darcy asked if she could still bring Laurel out for her regular ride. The little girl had been riding one of Chris’s gentle horses in place of the equestrian therapy she had been receiving. Darcy was still looking for a suitable mount for her daughter but she also seemed to enjoy the company of a certain ATF agent. Buck urged them to come on out and quickly rejoined the game.

After Darcy and Laurel and the team left for the night, both boys were bathed and tucked into their beds. As Chris sat on the edge of the bed, he heard the question he had been dreading.

“Do I have to go to school tomorrow?”

Dr. Will had privately warned Chris that the normally shy child might be traumatized by the hostage situation in ways that he couldn’t fully articulate but that would emerge as new fears or nightmares.

“We’ll have to see how you feel in the morning,” Chris hedged.

“I forgot to do my spelling homework,” Vin admitted softly.

“I’m sure Mrs. Roquette will understand and give you another day to do it.”

“Ya think so?”

“I’ll talk to her about it if it will make you feel better,” he promised.

“G’night, Dad,” Vin said as he snuggled up to Cat.

With a sigh, Chris sank into his recliner and accepted the cup of coffee that Buck handed him. He watched as his friend picked up the stray socks and tossed them into the laundry room before dropping on the couch and leaning back with a growl.

“He ask to stay home tomorrow?” Buck asked, breaking up the oppressive silence.

“I’m not sure. He asked if he had to go but he said it was because he didn’t have his spelling done.”

“I’m sure they’d give him another day.”

“That’s what I said. I guess we’ll have to see how he feels in the morning. Travis left a message on the machine, they caught the guy on the outside," Chris said. After he finished his coffee, he put the cup in the sink and headed for a quick shower.

In the morning, both JD and Vin came out of the bedroom dressed for school. Chris grabbed the electronic thermometer and checked the little Texan for fever.

“Can I go to school today, Dad?”

“No temperature. How does your tummy feel?”

“I’m fine. If I get to feelin’ poorly, I’ll ask Mrs. R to call ya at the office,” Vin promised.

“It’s a deal. Let’s get you fed then. Buck and I will drive you in to school this morning,” Chris said.

“Cool! Hey, JD, did ya hear? They’re drivin’ us to school today!”

The scene at the school was not what they expected. Police officers and squad cars blocked the streets around the school. News trucks and reporters clamored for comments from the parents and children. A pitiful group of kids was huddled in the far corner of the playground, too disturbed by the frenzy to even play. A teacher hurried out and ushered the kids inside the building.

“Great! Just what they need, a circus,” Buck huffed as they waited for the cars in front of them to move through the police barricade to drop off their children. “We probably should have put them on the bus.”

“What’s all them people hangin’ around the school for, Dad?” Vin asked as he squirmed to see out of the windshield. He pushed up against the harness of his booster seat and leaned to the right to see around the headrest behind Chris’s head.

“They’re reporters, son. They want to talk to the kids and parents about what happened on Friday. The police are to keep them from bothering anyone who doesn’t want to talk to them. We’ll get you in without anyone bothering you, don’t worry.”

“Are we gonna be on TV?” JD called excitedly from his seat.

“It would be best if we weren’t, Little Bit,” Buck said. A police officer approached the Dodge and Chris rolled down his window.

“We’re trying to get a clear path for traffic to flow around the building. If you want to leave your vehicle and walk the children in, go ahead. As soon as we get the news vans situated, we’ll get things moving,” the officer said.

Leaving the truck, they approached the line of barricades. A voice called out and Buck turned to see Darcy coming toward him with Laurel glued to her side.

“Are you taking them in? I’m beginning to think I should take the day off and keep Laurel out of school,” Mrs. Cunningham said.

“They want to be here. Is Laurel okay?” Buck asked softly as he cast a sideways glance at the little girl.

“Yeah, she really doesn’t have any idea of the danger they were in. Can we walk in together? I’m a little uneasy about walking past all those reporters.”

The three adults made their way past the line of reporters and into the building. JD waved cheerfully at the cameras from his position on Buck’s hip. Vin chose to bury his face in Chris’s coattail. Once inside, the school counselor and the principal greeted them. JD and Laurel were eager to be off but Vin clung to his father.

“Go on, son. It’ll be okay,” Chris urged as he patted the boy’s shoulder. Slowly, reluctantly, Vin eased away from Chris and took the hand of the counselor. Buck and Darcy had moved back toward the doors to watch the feeding frenzy as the bus pulled up. The police were working to move the reporters back and the children were peering out of the bus windows, some clearly afraid while others were excited. Squaring his shoulders, Chris strode to the door and up the walk. As he passed the reporters, he glared menacingly at the reporters and cameramen. He grabbed one of the police officers and asked for the officer in charge. A moment later, an older sergeant reached his side. “Call for a backup car and lets get these reporters back. Get a K-9 unit, it’ll intimidate them enough to get them to back off.”

While waiting for the backup car, he went to the bus. The driver refused to open the door until he pressed his badge against the glass. He got on the bus and spoke to the kids. “We’re going to get the reporters to move back. I’d like for all of you to just sit quietly until we get things under control.”

A little girl raised her hand. “Aren’t you Vin and JD’s daddy?”

“Yes, that’s why I’m staying to make sure you get into the building safely.”

Two additional police cars arrived and officers with K-9 partners got out. The officers deliberately strode directly to the barricades, smiling inwardly as the crush of reporters stumbled back. The dogs growled and bared their teeth at the men carrying the big cameras and battery packs. Other officers moved to quickly push the barricades back. Chris left the bus and took a bullhorn from one of the officers.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you can’t broadcast pictures of minor children without their parent’s consent. I would suggest that you point your equipment away from the bus and make whatever reports you are going to make with the building in the background. I’m going to stay while the children are unloaded and if I see any camera pointed this way, I will confiscate it immediately.”

Several disgruntled faces glared his way before turning away. Small clusters of reporters spread out on the lawn and began to make their reports. The police lined up along the barricades and watched the crowd dissipate. After a couple of minutes, the principal hurried out to escort the children into the building.

A few reporters showed up the next day and fewer still the day after that. Several of the children stayed home until the furor over the situation had completely dissipated. Counselors remained at the school all week to assist with any of the children who were suffering post trauma stress. Surprisingly, only a couple of the kids seemed bothered. The teachers went out of their way to make things as normal as possible. By Thursday of that week, some politician’s dalliance with a hooker had taken the attention away from the school and the kids, thankfully.