The two orphans played quietly on the floor in the dormitory. Their little heads bent to the task of building a fort for the soldiers out of the Lincoln Logs. All of the other children were outside, enjoying the first warm days of spring. The Little Sisters of Peace childrens home in Houston, Texas had been their home for the past few months. The boys had been found wandering on the beach, lost and alone. The older boy, Vin, had eventually said that he didnt remember what had happened, only that they had awakened on the beach. After searching the Missing Children website, they were turned over to the nuns. The younger boy, JD, had yet to speak, although no reason could be found.
Sister Inez opened the door and looked in on the pair. No matter how hard she tried, she couldnt get them to play with the other children. They werent disobedient or anything, they just tended to stand on the fringes, watching the others play. It was clear that they preferred to play together. In spite of the fact that JD had yet to speak, it actually appeared that they communicated with each other. At the table, Vin would ask for things saying that JD wanted some of it. The doctors estimated that the boys were approximately four and six. Vin later corrected them, telling the doctor that he was already seven and JD would soon be five.
What about this? The Indians come down the mountain and beat on the gate, then the soldiers can ask them what they want and they can say that a bear attacked their village and they need protection, JD suggested, his little voice ringing clearly in Vins head.
But the soldiers wouldnt let them in, JD. Soldiers dont like Indians, Vin said softly. He could respond mentally, but sometimes he needed to hear the sound of his own voice. It had been hard for them in the beginning, when they couldnt understand what was being said to them. It had only taken a couple of days for them to pick up the rudiments of the language and then he could answer the questions they were asked over and over.He remembered waking up on the beach. It was cold and he was wet. In a panic, he sat up and looked for his cousin. Waves were lapping at the younger boys feet and Vin ran down to pull him out of harms way. Clutched in JDs arms was the small box. They didnt know where it came from, only that it was important to them. There wasnt anything in the box but it had a design on the top, it looked like a series of jagged lines.
At first, they just wandered along the beach, looking for someone. As the sky brightened, the beach filled with people. Curious, they watched them for a long time. Finally, a young woman approached them and spoke to them. Days later, when they could understand, Vin realized that she had asked them if they were lost. When she got no answer, she took JD by the hand and led them to a building up away from the water. More men came and they asked questions, over and over. What are your names? Where are your parents? Where did you come from? Finally, they were put into one of the vehicles with the flashing lights and taken to another, larger building. It was scary, they took JD away and put them in separate rooms. When the young boy began to scream hysterically, they put Vin back in the room with him. From then on, they didnt separate them. After a day and a night in that building, they were driven to another place, the orphans home.
The bell rang, calling the children to lunch and Vin and JD hurriedly picked up the toys and put them back in the plastic tote boxes before walking quickly to the dining room. There was already a line and they took their places at the end. The other children pretty much ignored them. After all the weeks of their living there, they had stopped trying to include the odd pair in their fun. They collected their trays and went to sit at the end of a table.
This is good. Whats it called again? JD thought to Vin.
Macaroni and cheese, you want mine? Vin thought back.
You want my chips? The younger boy offered. They exchanged their food and finished their meal.
Sister Inez watched the boys trading their food and shook her head. The boys had quickly wormed their way into the young womans heart. She knew that JD was troubled by dreams that woke him in the night. It was common to find them both in the same bed in the morning. They were no trouble, polite and obedient children. She wondered what would happen to them. She knew that the authorities were still looking for a relative to come forward to claim them. She remembered when they had arrived from the hospital.The social worker led the smaller boy by the hand and the taller child followed them. They had matching denim pants and tee shirts on, no doubt newly donated. The smaller boy had coal black hair and brown eyes while the taller boys hair was light brown and his eyes were the color of the spring sky. The folders on the children were pitifully short on information. Only their blood types and general health were noted on the forms. Clutched in the younger ones hands was the small box.
There isnt anything in that box but he gets quite upset when we take it from him, the woman explained. They will stay here until the state finds a parent or relative. They can hear but neither of them has said a word since they were found all alone on the beach.
As the boys got up from the table with their trays, she remembered the first words Vin had spoken.The boys had been at the home for two days. They watched everything that happened around them. It was as if they were seeing everything for the first time. The older children tried to include the taller boy in their games but he didnt seem to understand. The younger boy was drawn to the fish tanks and the aquarium housing the turtle. For hours and hours, he would sit and watch. The amazing thing was that the fish seemed to watch him too. If he put his little finger against the glass, they would swim following it.
Giving the boys their baths was her responsibility. Sister Inez took the pair into the bathroom and ran a tub of warm water. At first, the younger boy would not get into the tub and stood shaking in the corner. The older boy got in and showed him that it was alright. Eventually, both boys were in the tub but only as long as the precious box was in sight. She placed it on the back of the commode and the little guy consented to being lifted into the tub. They played for a good little while before she shampooed their hair and rinsed them off. After they were dried and dressed in clean pajamas, she led them to the dormitory. When they were both tucked into bed, she did as she had done on the previous nights, she leaned over the younger boy and kissed his forehead and whispered in his ear. When she repeated the process with the older boy, he responded to her. She smiled as she remembered the softly voiced Texas drawl, in imitation of her voice.
God bless you, Sister Inez, Vin had whispered, pulling her down to place a tender kiss on her cheek.
Now, Vin talked, asking and answering questions but JD had yet to speak. The doctors had examined him thoroughly again and could find no reason for his lack of speech, especially since they had all heard him screaming when they separated him from Vin. The older boy had clung to Sister Inez and begged her not to let them hurt JD. She assured him repeatedly that they werent hurting him but the childs terrified screams seemed to belie her words.
A couple of nights later, JD whimpered in his sleep. All he caught were flashes of images. Clinging to something while water poured down on them. Them? He tried to focus on the others. An older looking man with graying hair appeared, putting Vins hands on the same piece of floating material. He put something on the white surface. JD struggled to see what it was through the torrents of water all around them. Important his mind heard just before the man disappeared, swept away by the waves crashing over them.
Uncle Ziah! JD cried out as he bolted upright in his bed. His heart was pounding and his little hands were clenched into fists. Immediately, Vin was kneeling on the bed, cupping his face and staring into the brown eyes that were still unfocused from the dream.
What did you see this time? Vin thought.
We were in the water. There was a man with us, JD responded silently.
Yeah, he put us on something and gave us the box. He said it was important. I think he drowned! JDs projected voice cracked as the little boy began to cry. Vin stretched out beside him and held him until he had cried himself back to sleep.
The next day, Sister Inez had a surprise for them. She brought them gifts. It wasnt much, a harmonica and a small book bag. Someone had donated the items and she immediately thought of the two boys who had almost nothing. JD took the bag, tucking the precious box inside and slipping his arms through the straps. Vin took the harmonica and gave a hesitant blow. Sister Inez saw the curtain billow before it sagged back to its original position. She assumed a gust of wind had swept through the dormitory. If she had bothered to look, she would have seen that the window was painted shut.
Did you see that? I blew on the harmonica and the curtain moved! Vin thought to JD.
Try something else, JD encouraged. With another ring of discordant notes, Vin propelled a Matchbox car across the floor to his cousins feet. Cool!
Over the next couple of days, Vin learned that he could move almost anything. It was an ability that enhanced their play. They were very careful that no one else saw them when he was moving things, since none of the other children had the ability, he didnt want to draw attention to himself.
The social worker arrived, newly assigned to the case, to meet the boys. Her job was to find homes for the boys, now assumed to be orphans. She needed to meet with them and ask them some questions so she could find the most suitable placement. Knowing that the younger child was mute, she was trying to place him in a home where he could learn other ways to communicate. There was a family in a nearby town that took special needs children. She really wanted to get to know the older child to see if she could get a feel for what kind of home would be best for him.
Nettie Wells observed the pair of boys who were playing on the jungle gym. They were both initially wary of going with her until Sister Inez assured them that it would be alright. Vin seemed very protective of JD, even to buckling him into the seatbelt instead of allowing the older woman to do it for him. Both boys were silent, even as they played. If only she had an idea of the amount of conversation taking place between them.
What do you think she wants with us, Vin? JD thought.
I dont know but Ill bet Joseph and Terrence will know. Ill ask them when we get back, Vin thought back. He was worried about the way the woman watched him.
After they had played for a while, she took them to a fast food place. She tried to force JD to talk by telling him he had to order his own food. The darker haired child stared up at the menu for a long time while a line built up behind him. Finally, he pointed to a sign that said picture menus available. The teenager behind the counter grinned as she handed the small boy the laminated menu. Triumphantly, JD indicated what he wanted and handed the menu back across the counter. It never occurred to the woman to wonder that the child could already read.
While they were eating, Nettie peppered Vin with questions. What did he like to do for fun? Did he like animals? Did he like the city or the country? What did he remember about his home before? Vin gave vague responses, feeling very much trapped. When the woman stopped asking questions, JD began to ask.
Why does she want to know all that stuff about us? Why doesnt she ask you what I like to do?
I dont know, JD, but I got a bad feeling about this, Vin thought back.
As they were going back outside to get into the social workers car, JD looked up at the fancy limo on the restaurant parking lot.
Something is going to happen to that car, Vin. That man will be hurt if he gets in.
Are you sure, JD? Of course he was, the little boy often had these flashes of insight. Taking JDs hand, they ran across the lot to the big black car. Vin tugged on the mans coattail. Please Mister, my cousin says that something bad will happen if you get into the car right now.
Ely Joe knelt down and looked at the two boys. They were a handsome pair and he smiled warmly at them as the older woman rushed over to retrieve them. How do you know that something bad will happen?
JD just knows. Hes like that sometimes. He says something bad will happen if you get in the car right now, Vin insisted.
Boys! You must never run off like that! You might have been hit by a car and injured! Im very sorry, sir. Im sorry if theyve bothered you, Nettie said as she pulled the boys away. JD reached out and snagged the mans hand, pulling him along with them. Just as they reached the side of Netties car, the limo exploded!
Holy Mother of God! It it exploded! Ely Joe exclaimed as he shielded the boys against the side of the aged Oldsmobile. Miss Wells was gasping for breath as she clutched at Vins shoulder. Reaching down, she drew JD into her arms and sat on the hood, waiting for her heartbeat to return to normal.
The fire trucks and police cars jammed the parking lot, forcing Nettie to stay longer than she wanted. When she was finally allowed to leave, both Vin and JD were asleep in the back seat of her car. She returned them to the orphanage, briefly explaining to Sister Inez what had happened.
Across town, Ely Joe was practically foaming at the mouth. A rival gang leader tried to kill him by blowing up his limo. He began to reason that if he had those two boys, he would never have to worry again. Placing a call to his attorney, Lucas James, he applied to be made their guardian. While stroking the head of the attack-trained Doberman pincher he kept for companionship, he smiled as Mr. James told him how easy it would be to get custody of the boys.
On the playground of the orphanage, the children were playing a wild game of freeze tag. Vin and JD were sitting on a bench with Terrance as the older, world wise boy explained the facts of life.
Shes trying to find a home to take you. If she cant find a family to take both of ya, shell split ya up. Probably be real easy to find a home for JD if he talked but if he doesnt, shell put him in a special home for retarded kids. Youre older, she probably wont find a home for you, so youll have to stay here with us. Come on, you might as well play with us for a while.
The dog approached the open gate. Snarling and dripping saliva, he tracked the moving, screaming children. As the rage built up, he began to growl and stalk across the blacktop. Amy, a girl of about nine, saw him and screamed, drawing attention to the dog and to herself. The German shepherd mix focused on the girl, now frozen in horror, and began to snap and growl louder.
JD, can you make him stop? Vin asked. His cousin put his fingertips on his temples and stared at the dog. His breathing slowed as he tried to calm the rabid animal.
Its okay, big boy. You dont want to hurt that girl. Lay down, boy. Go to sleep. Its okay, JD thought at the dog. It was difficult for him to concentrate because of all the other running and screaming children on the lot. They were attracting the dogs attention and making it harder to convince him to sleep. Finally, the larger part of the group passed into the building and the Sisters were calming the rest. They were completely unaware that it was the little raven-haired boy who was controlling the dog. All they saw was that the dog stopped, blinked wearily and then lay down on the pavement.
Animal control and the police responded to the orphanage as soon as they could. When they arrived, they were stunned. The big dog lay sleeping peacefully under the watchful eyes of a handful of nuns and the curious children peering out of the windows. JD continued to soothe the animal even as the man with the catchpole shoved the dog into a crate and closed the door. Now that the danger had passed, JD slumped to the floor. Vin struggled to lift the small, stocky body and carried JD to his bed. That was where Sister Inez found them a short time later when she checked on them.
+ + + + + + +
Chris Larabee and Buck Wilmington sat through another round of tedious, boring meetings. They had driven all the way to Galveston for the briefing on the newest, most dangerous kind of explosive ever invented. They had left the rest of their team back in Denver. Ezra was doing some preliminary work on a cigar smuggling ring, making contacts and getting his interest out to the people he needed to know. Nathan was updating his EMT certification and providing backup to the undercover agent.
How many more ways are we going to come up with to blow people up? Chris lamented to Buck at the restaurant that evening. What are they thinking?
I dont know, but I hope I dont run into this new stuff, Buck said as he emptied the mug of beer. At least well be heading home in a few more days. I left several ladies hanging and I need to get back home and take care of things.
Buck, you are so full of crap.
But you love me, Buck teased. Whats not to love? Ive got animal magnetism, you cant help yourself.
+ + + + + + +
Sister Inez stared at the papers in her hand, stunned. The man smiled at her so charmingly as she read over the court order. He had somehow gotten custody of both Vin and JD and was taking them immediately. Blinking back tears, she nodded and went to tell the boys and pack their things.
Both boys cried as they watched their small bags of belongings put into the trunk. They clung to the lovely Mexican woman who had been so kind to them these past months. Ely Joe waited patiently for them and then put them into the new limo. JD cried all the way to the mansion.
Its going to be alright, JD. At least were together. You heard what Terrance said, they were going to split us up. We have to stay together. We have to! Vin thought emphatically to his cousin.
Whats wrong, JD? Just wait until you see your new room. It has everything a little boy could possibly want. Youre going to be so happy, Ely Joe assured the smaller boy.
Vin couldnt ignore the sick feeling he had that this was somehow worse than being separated. He stared with foreboding at the ornate wrought iron gates and heavily armed guards that greeted the limo. The mansion was cold and scary looking in the distance and it didnt improve as they got closer. When Ely Joe opened the door and beckoned them out, Vin kept tight hold on JD. They were led into the house and then to a suite of rooms that they were told would be their very own. It was filled with a variety of toys and video games.
Well, Ill leave you boys to have fun. Someone will be up after while to bring you down for supper. If you need anything, anything at all, you just let someone know and theyll get it for you, Ely Joe said as he cupped their cheeks with his palms. His smile was as cold as Antarctic ice and his eyes fairly glittered with evil as he looked at first Vin and then JD.
As soon as the door closed, JD turned on Vin with wild eyes. We have to get out of here, Vin! Hes a bad man. Hell kill us if we stay here!
I know, JD. But we need to take a day and let him think were settling down here before we try to run. Hes expecting us to try something now, in a day or two, he wont be on guard.
+ + + + + + +
The next two days were long ones for the ATF agents at the meeting. As if the tragedy on 9/11 werent enough, now there were whole new groups of people to be on the look out for. There were also reams and reams of new government directives to be followed if a suspicious person was apprehended. For Chris, it was like having a railroad spike driven into his brain. He and Buck had partied on the beach well into the night the night before and he was paying dearly for it now. A quick glance at his partner showed that Buck wasnt faring much better.
It had been a glorious night! Buck had a voluptuous blonde on one arm and a gorgeous Oriental doll on the other. The beach was lit with shoulder high torches as they walked in the edge of the surf. The drinks were strong and the food was excellent at the hotel where they were staying. He had gorged himself on all that was offered. Right now, he had a headache the size of Texas and was praying for the speaker to stop droning on and on so he could find a bottle of Tylenol and something cool to drink.
+ + + + + + +
Ely Joe was going out to supper with some friends. He had a light, early supper with the boys and assured them that the entire household staff would be there if they needed anything. Smiling like a shark, he bid the boys goodnight. The housekeeper checked in on them a couple of hours later and found them sleeping together in one of the beds. She tucked the blankets in around them before retiring for the night.
A few minutes later, Vin tapped JD and they edged out of bed. Padding silently across the floor, they dressed and gathered their things. They took two changes of clothes a piece and all of the finger foods they had been able to squirrel away over the past few days. JD had the food and the little box in his backpack and Vin had the clothing and a pair of pop bottles filled with water. They slipped out of the mansion and across the huge grounds to the gate. A low growl warned them of danger just before the Doberman leapt out of the dark. JD screamed and clasped his hands to his head, concentrating with all his powers on calming the animal. While he was doing that, Vin slipped his harmonica from his pocket and played a haunting tune. The massive gates shuddered for a moment before slowly swinging open. Vin grabbed JD and jerked him through the opening as the gates swung shut again. The dog immediately went to barking again, the snap of his teeth audible to the frightened boys. They followed the road for a while before Vin decided that it was too dangerous and led them into the woods. When JD tripped for the third time, he found a place for them to hunker down for the rest of the night.
+ + + + + + +
The meeting was over and Chris agreed to spend one more night in town before heading home. He called the office and talked to Nathan, who assured him that things were going just fine. Ezra had made some contacts and was waiting for their return to set any kind of a meeting. After suffering through the day with a hangover, neither of them was interested in any more partying. Both men sprawled out on their beds and slept through the night.
The next morning, they quickly showered and made their way to the local restaurant for breakfast. On the television, they could see an Amber alert scrolling across the bottom of the screen. Two small boys had disappeared from their guardians home in Houston. Before the commercials, a picture of the boys flashed on the screen along with the number for the FBI office in charge of the investigation. A few hours later, they pulled into a gas station in Houston to fill up the Ram and pick up some snacks for the ride. They had passed through a checkpoint a few miles back, showing their badges to move things along.
+ + + + + + +
Dappled sunlight played on the ground as Vin woke up. His back was cold but he was warm where he lay curled around JD. After waking the younger boy and tending to necessities, they started across the woods. Vin had fiddled with the little box and noticed that it seemed to vibrate in his hands when he turned in a certain direction. Like a homing pigeon, Vin headed north, he didnt know why but it just felt right. JD had been restless during the night, squirming and whimpering in his sleep. He murmured the words Uncle Ziah again before settling down.
You dreamed about him again, didnt you? Vin thought.
Yes, hes looking for us. He survived the water! We have to find him. Hell take care of us.
Hes north of here. I can feel it, in my head, the box says we should go north. Thats why we have to go that way.
+ + + + + + +
A few hours later, they crept up behind a service station. It was pretty much abandoned. A big, black truck sat at the pump island and two men went inside the little building to get coffee and use the bathroom. Pulling the smaller boy, Vin ran across the lot and led him into the cab of the truck via the open drivers side door. He and JD climbed into the back seat and both of them got into the floorboard. Huddled together behind the drivers seat, they pulled the suit bag from the seat down to cover themselves and hoped that the men wouldnt notice until they were far away.
Im telling you, Buck, we are not stopping every hour for you to go to the bathroom, Chris warned as he eyed the nearly two-liter cup of soda his friend was juggling. And youre cleaning the trash out of the truck when we get home.
Yes sir! Any other orders, sir? Buck said with a mock salute. It was slightly irreverent because of the bag of chips in his hand.
The steady motion of the truck lulled the boys almost immediately to sleep. They reached another checkpoint on the other side of the town and Chris thrust his badge out of the window. The FBI agent nodded curtly, giving the truck a cursory glance before waving them through. Buck fiddled with the radio, finding a station that wasnt crackling with static. Stretching his long, muscular arm across the back of the seat, he tilted his head back and sang along.
It was well after noon when JD began to dream again. Vin quickly petted and tried to soothe the little boy into silence. He covered JDs mouth to muffle the whimpers and softly mumbled words. He didnt account for the motion of the little, sneaker clad feet. JD braced his feet against the back of the seat and pushed.
Chris wiggled on the seat and frowned. A moment later, he reached out and turned off the radio. Buck drew a breath to protest and the blond put his finger to his lips. In the silence, they heard nothing. After a few minutes, he shook his head and turned the radio back up.
In the rear floorboard, Vin hesitantly lifted the garment bag and glanced up at the large hand that hung over the seat. Crawling slowly and carefully, he moved to the other floorboard to give JD more room. He had to be very careful because the mens bags were in the seat and he didnt want to do anything to alert them to his presence. On opposite sides of the floorboard, he held JDs hand as they talked silently. A little while later, the news he had been dreading came into his mind.
Vin, I have to go to the bathroom.
Youll have to hold it, JD. When they stop the next time, well get out and find another ride but you have to hold it! Vin thought urgently to his cousin.
Ive been holding it! Please, Vin, I have to go, bad!
Inside of ten minutes, JD was crying, muffling his voice with his little hands over his mouth. Vin was trying desperately to soothe him with little success. A few minutes later, JD began to squirm again as he wet himself. He tried to get up, in spite of Vin telling him to stay down. The younger boy wouldnt lay in the puddle that collected on the rubber floor mat. He was staring in horror at the puddle as the truck hit a bump and he lost his balance, falling against the back of the drivers seat.
Chris looked into the rear view and side mirrors before slowing the truck and pulling off of the road. Buck looked at him, trying to gauge whether or not to panic. As soon as the truck came to a stop, the blond leapt out and opened the rear door. At his side, he held his Glock 9mm ready to defend himself. He stared in disbelief at what he saw. The two little boys from the Amber alert were in the floorboard of his truck. The one nearest to him was looking up at him like a deer in the headlights, huge tears rolling down his face.
Quickly holstering the gun, he reached for the garment bag, pulled it out of the cab and tossed it into the truck bed. The little boy scrambled across the truck, away from the scary looking man with a gun. The other boy wrapped his arms around the smaller boy and tried to shield him.
What in the Hell are you doing in my truck? Chris demanded. Buck opened the door on the other side, prepared to catch the boys if they should try to bolt past him. The boys turned in the enclosed space, terror shining brightly in their eyes as they realized that they were trapped.
To Vins surprise, JD pushed off and launched himself at the dark haired, mustached man, sobbing, Im sorry. Im sorry. Dont let him kill me, please.
In spite of the wet clothes and the unmistakable scent, Buck closed his arms around the frightened boy. He looked across the cab and saw the expression on Chriss face soften. The team leader closed the truck door and walked around the truck to the passenger side. He looked in on the other boy and held out his hand.
Out here, young man, he said sternly. The fair-haired boy slowly crept closer until Chris could take him under the arms and lift him out of the truck. He sat the boy on the doorframe and knelt down in front of him. Who are you and what are you doing in my truck?
My names Vin and thats JD. Were trying to find our Uncle and hes north of where we were. A bad man got hold of us and we ran away. Please dont take us back there, mister, please?
Buck leaned against the side of the truck, rubbing his hands up and down the back of the trembling child. Little JD continued to sob, climbing Buck like a tree until he was able to tuck his face into the mans neck. He continued to cry, his tears being wicked away by Bucks shirt.
What do you mean, a bad man got hold of you? Did he hurt you in some way? Chris asked.
No, but he wanted to use us. He knew about JD being able to see things and he wanted us to stay with him and tell him when other bad men were trying to get him, Vin explained softly. He sniffled and looked up and the man he was addressing. The hazel eyes were hard and the set of his face was unyielding. He was scary.
But your Uncle lives somewhere north, do you know where?
No, sir, but I know he does.
Whats his name? Chris asked of Vin.
Josiah Sanchez, JD mumbled against Bucks neck.
What did you say, Little Bit? Buck asked as he shifted the child so he could see his face.
His names Josiah Sanchez and he lives outside of Denver? Some place called Shadow Mountain, I think.
Vins mouth hung open, that was more words than JD had spoken since they found themselves on the beach months ago. The fact that he knew the full name and location of their Uncle didnt faze him, JD had always been able to know things about people, Vin was better at places, usually.
Not right in Denver, but near there, Vin added.
Okay, lets get your brother changed into some clean clothes and then well see about getting in touch with your Uncle Josiah. While Buck was managing the clothing situation, Chris pulled his cell phone and dialed the office. He gave Nathan the brief rundown. As soon as the team medic confirmed that there was a man by that name living in a little community outside of Denver, he asked him to call the FBI and cancel the Amber alert on the boys. He would bring them in to the Denver office and turn them over to authorities there.
+ + + + + + +
Ely Joe slammed his fist angrily into the seat. Lucas James had just informed him that the boys were in the custody of a couple of government agents and that they were being delivered to a relative in Denver. It took only a few seconds to make the decision to try to get them back, even if he had to kill those G-men to do it. If the little one could tell when someone was in danger, maybe he could predict other things, like the winner of a boxing match or a horse race. JD might be worth his weight in cold, hard cash.
It wasnt hard to find out where the boys were, the only difficult part was getting the name of the man who had found them. As soon as he had that information, he was able to get a description of the vehicle he was driving. Plotting the most direct route to Denver, he called for his private jet. He would lay out an ambush for them. He knew of just the place. A defunct little patch of highway that used to be the town of Tascosa, now in the middle of Gods nowhere, was the perfect place for a little diversion.
+ + + + + + +
After washing himself and JD with a couple of bottles of water, Buck dressed the little boy and then put on a clean shirt. Chris carefully lifted out the floor mat and poured the liquid off of it before tossing it in the back. He buckled both boys in the back seat and headed for the nearest town, he needed to eat and he expected that the boys probably did too.
In the McDonalds, Chris watched the boys closely. It was obvious that Vin was very protective of little JD. It was also painfully obvious that Buck was head over heels in love with the little guy. It was difficult to watch his oldest friend fawning over the little boy. JD was about the same size Adam had been when he died. Buck had been a doting uncle, falling all over himself to entertain the little boy. It hurt to see how easily he was giving himself to this strange little boy.
When he had finished eating, JD went off to play while Vin continued to slowly eat his fries. Buck got up and went into the play place with the younger child, leaving Chris alone with the older boy. Vin glanced up at the blond, while seeming to shrink into his seat.
You dont have to be afraid of me, I wont hurt you, Chris said crossly.
You lost a little boy, your son, and your wife, Vin said softly as he looked doe-eyed at the man sitting across the table from him. It hurts you, watching JD, doesnt it?
How do you know that? Chris demanded, his voice rising and drawing curious stares from people.
I just know. Im sorry, Ill go and play with JD. Vin slid out of the plastic seat and walked gingerly into the play area and sat down to pull off his sneakers. He could tell the man was staring at him and resisted the urge to look over his shoulder.
Buck slipped back into the booth across from Chris. Spill it, he said gently.
Dont get too attached, Buck. They have a home and a family to go to.
And I cant enjoy my time with them because youre hurting?
Thats not fair, Buck, and you know it, Chris said defensively. Go get them and lets get on the road. I want to get out of Texas before we stop for the night.
The boys were quiet when they got back into the truck. The men had no idea that the boys were carrying on a conversation that they couldnt hear. JD was happy, talkative and hopeful, while Vin was slowly becoming more depressed. When he heard the name of the upcoming town, he shuddered.
Whats coming up next? Chris asked. Since getting back in the truck, they had exchanged only perfunctory information.
Tascosa, not a town anymore, just a couple of abandoned buildings. There isnt even a rest area there. The nearest town is all the way into the Oklahoma panhandle. We have a ways to go yet, Buck answered before folding the map and laying it on the seat between them. He looked back at the boys and smiled encouragingly. In the wan light, he noticed that Vin looked terrified. Vin, is something wrong, son? Youre pale as a ghost.
Hazel eyes snapped to the rear view mirror as Chriss hand reached for the dome light. Both boys blanched at the sudden intrusion of light. Now, both men could see that Vin looked scared.
Hes there, in the town ahead, Tascosa, the boy answered flatly.
Who is? Chris asked.
Ely Joe. He wants us back.
We wont let him get you, Vin. Just relax. Me and old Chris can handle one bad guy, Buck reassured them. He saw the trembling chin shake from side to side. What is it, Vin?
Hes got an army.
Those four words galvanized both men. Chris turned off the dome light and slowed the truck until he could ease off of the road. Using the stars, he headed cross-country, using only the parking lights to see by. Some few hours later, he rolled back onto the highway, several miles north of Tascosa. Vin closed his eyes for a moment before a faint smile lifted his cheeks. Within the next few miles, he and JD were both asleep.
At the hotel, Chris asked for, make that demanded, the corner room on the second floor. It was the most defensible point in the building and he wanted it in case that Ely Joe fellow decided to follow them. They carried the boys into the room and settled them on a pallet in between the beds, just in case.
A faint sound reached the boy on the floor before it ever reached the men snoring on the beds. Vin had always been able to hear things that no one else could hear. He got up, carefully covering JD as he crawled to the end of the space between the beds. Peering carefully from between the curtains, he saw the limo coming down the highway. All he could really see was the headlights but he knew it was Ely Joe.
Mr. Chris? Mr. Chris, wake up, its them, theyre here, Vin said softly. He had crawled back up between the beds and was hunkered down low in case the man came up shooting. He knew that the man had the gun tucked someplace close. Mr. Chris, theyre here.
Instantly, he was wide-awake. He and Buck exchanged glances as they rolled off of the beds. Vin met the even, hazel gaze and nodded before dropping and taking hold of JD to keep the younger boy out of the way. He heard the men moving around the room and he hid his face in the blankets.
Ely Joe and Guy Royal stepped out of the limo and surveyed the motel. The black Dodge truck sat on the lot, confirming that their quarry was somewhere close by. It only took a few minutes to ascertain which room they were in. Deciding to wait until morning to spring their trap, they took a room and parked the limo on the other side of the building. Guy Royal let the air out of one of the tires on the truck to slow them down.
Looks like theyre here to stay, Chris, Buck said as he watched out of the window. And they flattened one of your tires.
Damn it all! How are we going to get away with them breathing down our necks?
Call the local sheriff? He did tamper with our vehicle.
Less than an hour later, the local sheriff knocked on their door. Chris explained that they had watched the man tamper with the tire and had not intervened out of fear for the two children they were escorting to their family in Denver. After checking their badges, they went down and rousted Ely Joe and his friend. While the sheriff was keeping the men occupied, Chris and Buck changed the tire and left, driving as fast as was safe.
They arrived in Denver around noon that day. After calling the office to let the others know, they took the boys directly to the ranch. Ezra and Nathan agreed to meet them there. As they drove up the gravel road that led to the ranch, both boys perked up. Soon, they were pointing and exclaiming their delight at the horses and cattle they saw on the hillsides. Chris kept a close watch on his rear view mirror, not wanting to lead the bad guys directly to his home. When he turned up the long driveway, he breathed a little easier.
In Oklahoma, Guy Royal shot off his mouth, calling the sheriff and his deputy good old boys and other choice names. In retaliation, they were locked up until nine the next morning when the judge arrived to arraign them. After paying a hefty fine, they were released. Snarling at the man for not being able to control his mouth, Ely Joe threatened to leave the man there and let him figure his own way home. Finally, he agreed to take him along so he didnt dirty his hands reacquiring the boys. They got back on the highway and called Lucas James to find out where Larabee would have taken the children.
You have horses? JD asked as he stared at the barn and the broad field beyond it. In spite of the way Chris looked, the little boy was getting over his fear of him.
Yes, I do. Buck, why dont you take the boys down and introduce them while I see what I can throw together to eat?
In the barn, Buck hefted JD up onto his hip so he could pet the placid gray gelding. After introducing them to the rest of the horses, the boys were drawn out of the barn by a loud call of challenge. Both Vin and JD were standing on the corral slats staring at the black, blaze faced stallion that was snorting and pawing the ground.
You boys want to stay away from that one, hes wild as the day he was born. Chris hasnt started training him yet. Why dont we go back in the barn and you can give the other horses some treats? Buck urged the boys back into the barn and steered them to the bin where the treats were kept. JD squirmed and giggled as Nathans horse lipped the food from his palm. Vin bravely thrust his arm through the gate to give Ezras beautiful gelding a treat.
This one is so fat, she needs two treats! Vin called excitedly as he stroked the velvety nose of the mare in the birthing stall. While Buck was explaining that she was soon to have a little horse, he didnt notice the raven-haired boy had slipped away. Standing protectively between the little boy and the mare, he guided Vins hand over the swell of her stomach until he felt the foal move. Smiling at the wide-eyed amazement on the boys face, he looked for the other child to let him touch.
Wheres JD? Buck asked as his heart leapt into his throat. Pushing Vin out of the stall and closing the gate, he searched the barn quickly until he heard the giggle. Running out of the barn, he stared in horror at the corral. JD stood, his little pockets bulging with treats, in the middle of the corral, stroking the face of the wild, black stallion.
JD! Get the Hell out of there! Buck! What in the name of Sam Hell are you thinking? Chris yelled as he ran down from the house, stopping in shock at the sight before him. Peso, the stallion he had yet to break, was gently nudging the little boy, begging for a treat. JD seeming to think the horse was like a big dog, was commanding him to do tricks.
Give me your foot, come on, give it to me, JD demanded as he held out his hand. Peso raised his front foot and held it there for the boy to touch. Digging into his pocket, he rewarded the trick and the horse eagerly lipped up the treat.
Fighting to make his voice calm, Chris called out to the boy, JD, come over here. Nice and easy, dont run. Come on over here.
Oblivious to the danger, JD cupped his hand under Pesos head and pulled him along. Come on, horse. Lets go show Mr. Chris you can do tricks.
At the edge of the corral, Buck reached over and pulled the child to safety. JD resisted, complaining that he wanted to show what the horse could do. Chris knelt down and took hold of the little boy. How did you do that? I havent been able to lay a hand on that animal without tying him to a fencepost.
Hes a nice horse! But he thinks hed like Vin better than me. Thats okay though, cause I like the little horse next to the big red horse. Do you think we could go for a ride? I never rode on a real, live horse before. Sister Inez took us for a ride on a carousel one time and we had lots and lots of fun, cept I couldnt reach the pedals and they had to put a big old belt around my waist, JD said, the words coming almost too fast to be understood.
How does he do that without breathing? Buck asked as he stared in amazement at the small boy.
I guess hes got a lot saved up. He only just started talking yesterday, Vin offered in explanation.
Well, lets get up to the house and get cleaned up so we can eat. Nathan and Ezra will be here in a little while with your Uncle Josiahs phone number and we can call him and arrange to meet him someplace, Chris said as he gave another look at the stallion. Peso shook his head, his mane moving vigorously, and snorted at the men.
The boys took a nap after eating the sandwiches Chris had put together for them. When the others arrived, they reported that Ely Joe had been spotted near Silver Springs. That meant that they had only an hour or so before the man would be in Denver or at the ranch. Nathan handed the information on the boys uncle to Chris and watched as he dialed the phone.
Mr. Sanchez, my name is Chris Larabee and I have two boys here who claim to be your nephews. Their names are Vin and JD. Yes, sir, theyre fine. Well, the truth is, there is a man trying to find them to take them back to Houston. Yes, I know where that is. Fine, well meet you there in an hour. Hanging up the phone, he turned to face the others. He wants to meet us at the golf course, in the club house parking lot. We better get going.
Is that wise? That puts us directly in the path of the men who are pursuing the boys, Ezra protested.
Thats where the man said to bring them. Once we deliver them to him, if Ely Joe tries anything, its a federal offense and hell be locked up for it. Why dont we all go in one vehicle?
In the truck, Vin was put in the front seat, between Chris and Ezra, while JD rode in the back between Buck and Nathan. JDs little voice filled the cab as he asked question after question of Nathan and giggled at Ezras accent. The southerner rolled his eyes but continued to regale the boy with phrases that left him wiggling and helpless with laughter. The truck hit a bump and the glove box fell open, spilling a flashlight into the floor at Ezras feet.
Ill get it! Vin called. Chris reached out to prevent the boy from unbuckling the seatbelt. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the flashlight floating up out of the floor and back into the glove box.
Merciful Heaven! Ezra whispered as his eyes tracked the levitating flashlight. When the glove box door closed seemingly under its own power, he looked in awe at the little boy. How did you do that?
I just can. Usually, I have to use my harmonica, though.
Your h-h-harmonica? It levitates things? The confused southerner asked.
No, it helps me control my power. Like JD can talk to the animals, its just something we can do.
Regaining control of his heart, Chris asked gently, Is that how he got Peso to do what he wanted?
Yes, but Peso would like it better if you didnt put that heavy saddle on him anymore. He says you have another one that he likes better. Its the one with the little stars on it, JD called from the back seat.
Before Chris could respond, he noticed the limo speeding up to catch up with him. Hang on, weve got company, he called as he pushed the gas pedal closer to the floor. The big truck steadily picked up speed as all the passengers fell silent.
Tell Mr. Larabee not to lose the other car. I will take care of them when they get here, a voice with a deep timbre thought into both boys minds.
He says not to lose them. Hell take care of them when we get there, Vin said.
Uncle Ziah, hes talking in our heads now, the older boy explained.
In only a few minutes, the truck slowed to turn into the parking lot. The limo fishtailed around the turn, nearly taking out a row of golf carts. The truck screeched to a stop and all four men got out, weapons drawn.
You have no need of those guns, gentlemen. Those men will not harm you or the children, the gray haired man said as he approached them.
Uncle Ziah! JD yelled as he fumbled with the seatbelt release. Vin had already released his seatbelt and was getting ready to slide to the ground when a voice called out to them.
Thats right, I dont want to harm them but I will kill you if you dont hand those boys over to me at once, Ely Joe said as he and his men approached with their guns drawn.
You wont be allowed to harm the children either, the older man said. Suddenly, Guy Royal fired his gun. All eyes were instantly focused on the man as he held out his hand. The bullet slowed until it landed in the gravel at his feet. Allow me to give you something in return, the man said with a smile. There was a slight rumble and then hundreds of golf balls began to pelt the men. Throwing their hands up to protect their heads, the men ran back for the limo. They were horrified to find the doors locked. One by one, they slumped to the ground unconscious as the hail of golf balls continued.
It started with one childish giggle. JD, on his knees and peering out the window of the truck, started laughing. Then Vin joined in, followed by Buck and then Ezra. When Nathan and Chris gave in to the urge, the older man threw back his head and joined in, his rich, warm laughter echoing around the parking lot. When the last of the balls was still, Nathan and Ezra walked over to check on the men and relieve them of their weapons. The boys scrambled out of the truck and ran to their uncle, who swept them up into a crushing embrace.
I knew youd find your way home! I felt it in my heart!
Uncle Ziah, what happened? How did we get into the ocean and why werent you there when we washed up on the beach? JD asked.
Im so sorry, boys. I had to try to save as many of the others as possible. It was difficult to get them all to a floatation devise. Im afraid that youre the first to make it home.
There are others like them? With those powers? Chris asked.
Yes, we were transporting an entire load of children. Im sorry to say that we made a navigational error and crashed into the water. I lost almost all of my crew but we managed to get the children to safety. I have been searching for them as time allows. I must find a safe place for JD and Vin while I search for the others, the man said.
Before Chris could glare him into silence, Buck spoke, How about if we take them? Chris has that big old ranch house and he could sure use some company. I doubt that those bozos will bother them anymore.
Buck? The blond began. He felt a small hand wrap around his fingers and looked down to find Vin smiling up at him. JD had already leapt from Josiahs arms to Bucks and was staring at him with such a hopeful expression that he just knew he couldnt refuse them. Okay, but only until you find the others.
Its a deal, Josiah said as he shook hands.
Okay, so I didnt exactly tie it to Shadow Mountain, but it is a real place not too far from Denver. We watched the original Escape to Witch Mountain this weekend with Eddie Albert. I always loved that movie!