Masbro County Search and Rescue Series
Follows Home Search
and pretend that he is Parson Brown. Hell say are you married Ill say.. Buck hummed as he turned down the road leading to his home. He reached for the trucks volume and turned it up a little bit. The snow was really beginning to fall outside. He didnt doubt that they would get a few inches by the next day. It would be perfect for the holiday season.
He couldnt help but laugh as soon as the street became more and more illuminated as he drove down the street. Normally, he would have to turn his brights on while driving home. That had not been the case for the last couple of weeks. The source of the light became evident when he pulled down the long driveway that led to the house that he shared with friend Chris Larabee and their two foster sons.
Every tree in the yard was lit up with several strings of lights. Plastic figurines of snowmen, toy soldiers, and deer were dispersed across the yard. Icicle lights hung from the garage. The whole set-up got even better when the giant piece of plastic was blown up to reveal blown up Santa in his sleigh complete with eight reindeer.
Buck had never really been a fan of Christmas lights. Sometimes, he or Chris would put a single string of lights up around the house but that would be about it. In any other circumstance, Buck would have found the whole set-up tacky and unnecessary. He would have wondered about the sanity of the designer. Well, this wasnt any other circumstance and Buck happened to know the designer personally, although he sometimes did wonder about his sanity.
JD had been so proud of his designed yard that Buck didnt have the heart to tell him that it was anything but a masterpiece. Chris had almost blown a gasket when he had first seen it. That was before the ten year old had run up to the man, shining brown eyes and all said. I havent gotten to put up Christmas lights since I was with my mom. Isnt it beautiful?
Chris and held his tongue and the two men had put up with the bright lights for the last few weeks. They wouldnt have to put up with the lights much longer. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve.
Buck pulled his truck into the driveway and was surprised to see that the inside of the house was the exact opposite of the yard, pitch black. An uneasy feeling crept into his gut. He pulled into the garage as quickly as he could and walked into the kitchen. He flipped on the kitchen light.
JD? JD? Where are you Kid? Natalie?
He noticed the note on the table.
Your phone doesnt do much good when you leave it at home!
Buck looked over and saw the black cell phone sitting on the kitchen counter. He continued to read the letter sheepishly.
I took JD out to go snowshoeing. He was bouncing off the walls when he got off the bus. Chris had some errands to run so he asked Luke to pick Vin up from after school tutoring. Theyre going to join us. We should be back around five. I turned the crock pot up so the chili should be ready when you get home.
Buck smiled as he crumpled up the note and tossed it into the garbage. Chris and Buck knew what they were getting themselves into when they had agreed to be foster parents for the two boys, but it hadnt made it any easier. Both the boys were wonderful kids, but came with the baggage of not having a steady source of love or home life for many years. Vin was struggling in school and was so withdrawn he had difficulty making friends at the middle school. JD had no trouble doing the school work, when he could still long enough to concentrate. Buck and Chris had struggled to meet the needs of the boys and run a business that supported them all.
Buck and Chris were in charge of New Horizons, a wilderness therapy business that took at risk youth on camping trips in hopes of teaching them skills that would turn their lives around. Although it was the off season, there was still plenty of work writing grants, talking to judges, organizing gear, and talking with teachers to check on the progress of their campers. Buck and Chris had never made a whole lot of money, but they had made enough to be comfortable when it was just themselves. The added cost of raising two boys made them stretch every dollar. The money they received from the state helped a little, but it was not enough.
Taking care of these two boys probably would not have been possible if it hadnt been for their friends. Josiah Sanchez, Nathan Jackson, Ezra Standish, Luke Olson, and Natalie Royal joined with Chris and Buck to make up the Masbro County volunteer search and rescue team. The seven were team members, but over the years they had kind of become their own little dysfunctional family. Buck knew the others had grown to love the boys probably as much as Buck and Chris had.
Buck heard noise out the window and saw that a familiar purple Subaru and an old black pick-up had pulled into the driveway at almost the exact same time. Four of Bucks favorite people in the world began exiting the vehicles. He had never known getting out of vehicles could cause such a commotion. He opened the window so he could hear them.
The first person out of the black truck was a tall lean native American young man. Luke raced around the car and picked up a pile of snow just in time to throw it at the petite brunette who had just exited the small SUV. The snowball hit Natalie smack dab in the back of neck.
Buck shivered himself as he imagined what the snow felt like as it slid down Natalies back.
Luke didnt see the little boy jump out of the SUV until it was too late. The young man reached out his arms to try and catch the boy, but JDs momentum sent both of them flying into the large snow bank containing some of the driveways plowed snow. The teenaged boy who had waited to get out of the truck until Luke had thrown the first snowball sprinted to open up the hatch of the Subaru. A big berense mountain dog jumped out of the back seat. She ran over and began licking both JD and Luke in the face.
Good idea kiddo, Natalie laughed, placing a gloved hand on Vins shoulder. I think that She stopped as she saw JD and Luke get out of the snow, huge snowballs in their hands.
Oh crap, Vin huffed as they sprinted to take cover behind one of the cars.
Buck laughed as a snowball fight full of lots of tackling and face washing ensued. Luke and Natalie had been a huge help with the boys., It was nice for the boys to have role models close to their own age. Heck, Natalie and Luke were just big kids themselves sometimes. Big kids that Buck and Chris would trust with their lives and their sons.
Buck expected that Natalie and Luke enjoyed spending as much time with the boys as they did with them. Natalie and Luke had also both come from troubled childhoods. Luke had grown up with an abusive father, When his mother and he had moved away, Lukes mother hadnt been home much because she was working hard to try and keep her small family afloat. Luke had gotten into lots of trouble with drugs and vandalism at an early age. Natalie was the result of a one night stand behind millionaire Colorado realtor Guy Royal and a Hollywood actress. Neither parent had really wanted her except to save their image. Natalie was smart enough to know that she wasnt really wanted by either parent, and began seeking attention in inappropriate ways.
That was long in the past. Buck and Chris had taken the kids under their wing and the two had managed to turn their lives around. Luke was now a promising nature photographer and Natalie helped Chris and Buck run New Horizons. Buck didnt doubt that both of them saw it as a way to pay back the men who had helped them, but Buck knew they liking having two little brothers to play with.
Buck let the snowball fight go on for a few more minutes before yelling out the window.
Get you buts into the house now, before you all freeze to death.
A chorus of yes sirs followed and they all, including the dog began trudging through the snow into the mudroom. He shook his head as he watched Luke give Natalie one more good shove in the snow. She looked around to make sure the boys werent watching and flipped him a gloved bird.
Big kids, Buck repeated to himself.
He busied himself with setting the table as they all took of their snow gear in the garage No sooner had he set the bowl of chili on the table then the door opened and a ten year old ball of energy barreled into him and almost knocked him the other ground.
Buck managed to set the bowl down and scoop up the boy in a matter of seconds.
Well hello Short Stuff, Buck greeted. How was your day?
It was great! We had a Christmas party in school with candy canes and hot chocolate and got to watch the Polar Express and Mrs. Watson says we dont have to do homework over break. Then Natalie took me snowshoeing and we saw a porcupine and Vesper almost got sprayed by a skunk because I think she woke him up.
So it was a pretty boring day, Natalie laughed coming into the house. Vin followed her .
How was your day Vin? Buck asked.
Pretty good, Vin answered with a shrug of his shoulders.
We had to listen to the band play. I really hope they get better by high school, because all that squeaking hurt my ears! But the teachers let us play fun games in most of the classes, and I dont have any homework but to finish reading To Kill a Mockingbird.
How did tutoring after school go? Buck continued.
Vin didnt answer because they all saw the lights from another truck pulling into the driveway . The kids whole face lit up.
Well go tell him hi, Buck pushed the kid a little bit with his free arm.
Vin didnt need to be prompted any farther. He sprinted for the door.
JD was already sitting at the table, looking at Buck expectantly.
You guy staying for dinner? Buck asked, motioning to the two extra bowls on the counter.
Planning on it, Luke answered. If thats alright with you guys, I figured Id spend the next couple of days out here. My mom flew south to be with my grandma for a few weeks. Of course, this had already been discussed, but Buck had thought it would be fun if they surprised the kids that there was going to be one big sleepover at the house for the next few days.
Youre not going to be with your mom on Christmas? JD asked, a little dumbfounded.
Sure I am, Luke answered, smiling at JD. You see when I was little my mom always worked really hard during the Christmas season. She always got paid really well. It kind of became a tradition in my family to celebrate Christmas a few days after. Ill fly out to Oklahoma two days after Christmas to be with her and my grandma.
So you get two Christmases? JD laughed.
Yeah, Luke laughed. And can I spend my first Christmas with you?
Yeah! JD exclaimed. Sit next to me!
Luke sat down next to the boy and helped JD spoon some of the chili into his bowl.
How about you? Buck asked Natalie.
A sad look spread across Natalies face.
I wish I could, but I dont really have the time
Sit down and eat something before you leave! A new voice demanded.
Chris Larabee walked into the room. Vin wasnt far from his side.
Buck gave him a questioning look. Chris nodded his head cryptically. Buck had to work hard to prevent the smile that lit up his face. The boys final Christmas present was ready.
But Natalie protested.
You dont need to be in Four Corners for another few hours and I doubt your mom will be cooking for you. Youve got time to eat a bowl of chili before you leave.
Buck couldnt help but chuckle as Natalie obediently sat down in the chair, but stuck out her tongue as soon as Chris had his back turned. This made both Vin and JD laugh.
Do you really have to go to California Natalie? Vin asked. Buck watched as Natalies face fell again.
Every couple of years my mom wants me to go out and spend Christmas with her Vin, she stated.
But you said that your mom never really likes you around otherwise, Vin stated.
Vin hadnt meant the statement to hurt, but Buck could see the hurt on Natalies face. After all these years, the love she didnt receive at home still burned. Natalie had often talked about what Christmas was like at her mother and fathers households. She always received a large sum of money in her bank account if she was home for Christmas or not. Her dad and mom usually went over to the hotel to smooze with the tourists at the resorts. Natalie had some siblings, but most of them were married or had more enjoyable places to go. Emma simply liked having her daughter around to show off at all her fancy Hollywood parties.
Buck knew that the only reason Natalie was going to California was because Emma had promised to make a generous donation to New Horizons if the girl came.
You dont have to go you know, Buck stated. Chris nodded his head in agreement.
We need the money, Natalie answered. Besides, she continued plastering a smile on her face Ill be back for New Years and were going to have our own party then right? She started to eat her chili.
Yeah, JD answered, and your going to open your Christmas presents from everyone right?
Thats right, Natalie laughed. They all laughed with JD opened his mouth then closed it. They knew what the question was that he really wanted to ask.
Dont worry JD, Natalie answered seriously. I put the presents that Luke and I got you and Vin under the tree. You dont have to wait until I get back to open them.
JD breathed a sigh of relief
Hello? a voice called.
Nathan? JD exclaimed.
Were in the kitchen! Buck called.
A few seconds later, Nathan walked into the kitchen carrying a large duffle bag.
I thought Josiah was coming with you, Chris stated.
Hes unloading all the stuff from the car, Nathan laughed,
How come youre not helping him? Buck asked.
We were arguing about the lyrics to Frosty the snowman. He bet me that he was singing the right version. Well he was wrong.
Help yourself to some chili, Chris offered.
Vin looked at Nathans duffle bag with then at the paramedic.
Are you staying here until Christmas too Nathan?
Well I figured I might as well since Rain is flying out east to be with her family.
Josiah too? JD asked excitedly.
If thats okay with you two, Nathan laughed.
Both boys nodded their heads enthusiastically.
Josiah eventually joined them and the eight occupants enjoyed their dinner and conversation.
At one point, Buck noticed that JD had gotten quiet, a rarity for the exuberant boy. The man instantly knew something was wrong.
Whats up JD? he asked.
Well it seems like everyone is going someplace except for Uncle Ezra. Whats he doing for Christmas?
The others all exchanged a look,
Well you know JD, he has lots of people who stay at his resort. He thinks that he needs to take help take care of them.
Well thats not fair, Vin exclaimed slamming down his fork. Youre not supposed to spend Christmas with strangers. Christmas is supposed to be a time to spend time with your family.
The reaction surprised everyone sitting at the table.
Why isnt he with his mom? Vin asked.
Ezras mom doesnt really like Christmas, Josiah answered. I think Ezra said shes somewhere in Europe.
Well then he should come spend Christmas with us, said.
Buck had to work hard to stay serious.
We asked him to come over tonight, but
Both JD and Vins faces fell.
He said that he had some things he had to finish at resort then he would be over as soon as he could.
The smiles that lit up both the boys faces was so genuine everyone at the table couldnt help but feel their heart glow. They all wished Ezra could see it as well.
Is anyone interested in a drink? Buck asked getting up. I think we can bust out the Ben and Jerrys Mix tonight Lord knows we bought enough of it.
Billy says it makes good French toast batter, Vin said.
How about it Nat, you want a drink? Buck asked, the stopped.
He had forgotten that the young woman still had to leave.
Natalie smiled, but it was easy to see that the smile did not light up her whole face.
Thats okay, I really should be going anyway. I dont want to keep Tiny waiting too long.
Tiny flying you to Denver? Nathan asked.
Natalie nodded her head. Four Corners did not have a big enough airport to hold jets. Tiny, a friend of the team, owned a helicopter and a small plane. He picked up tourists at airports across Colorado to bring them to Four Corners. He also helped the team with air evacuations during search and rescue missions.
What are you going to do between Christmas and when you come back? Josiah asked.
I dont plan on staying at moms house very long. I have a few girl friends from college who live in Southern California so I figured I might do some climbing with them.
You have friends who are girls? JD asked innocently. It was a good question. He tried to remember when he had seen Natalie hanging out with any girls.
This statement caused them all to laugh.
Yeah, Natalie laughed as she scooped JD up into her arms. But I dont like playing with them as much as I do with you. She hugged him tight, before setting him back on the ground.
She looked at Vin with raised eyebrows. Vin wasnt a very touchy feely kid. The fact that he was fourteen years old didnt help either. Vin didnt hesitate. He ran over and hugged Natalie.
You know Nat, next years hes going to be taller than you are, Nathan laughed.
Each man took a turn hugging Natalie before she slipped her on her coat and grabbed her keys. Josiah handed her a bag.
Im not opening presents till I get back, She stated.
This isnt your present, Josiah answered. These are just Christmas cookies to eat on the plane and I put some eggnog into a water bottle for you. Make sure you drink it quick or it will spoil.
Thanks, Natalie answered. Merry Christmas everyone, she called before exiting the door.
Come on guys, JD exclaimed when everyone was gone. Lets go play a game!
Buck, Josiah, and Nathan followed JD into the living room.
Chris watched the car pull down the driveway. He felt Vin standing next to him. He put his arm around him .
I wish she was staying, Vin said barely loud enough for Chris to hear.
So do I, Chris sighed.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Ezra drove as fast as he dared down the twisty mountain road. He had no intention of ending up in the gorge that threatened to swallow up drivers who did not stay on the paved road. Despite the treacherous roads, he had to admit that it was rather pretty. A good start to Christmas Eve. A few inches of snow covered the icy road. He was thankful for the four wheel drive of his Lexus GX. His beloved Jag had been put in the garage the moment the snow had started to fall. His mother had never believed in exuberant gifts. He was surprised when he received an email telling him to go pick up the vehicle in Denver last year.
They had received much more snow last night than was expected, making it impossible for Ezra to leave for Chris and Bucks house on schedule. Instead, he had been forced to wait until the next morning when the plows had made their way through town. He gritted his teeth and clenched the wheel as he felt the wheels slide on a small patch of black ice.
Clearly the plows hadnt made it out this far. Ezra doubted they would make it out before Christmas, if ever. Like most Colorado mountain towns, Four Corners was operating on a small budget.
He slowed when he saw flashing lights reflecting on one of the cliffs.
Damn, he swore. He slowed the Lexus even farther and pulled as far over to the side as he dared without sliding into the gorge himself. He turned on his flashers to avoid getting swiped by another vehicle driving down the road.
Ezra had seen this happen several times before. Cars would slide the ledge. Intelligent drivers would know to turn their lights on so somebody would hopefully see them from the road. He began walking down the road hoping that he wasnt too late. This wasnt a well traversed road. In fact, the road led to a total of three parks and a wilderness area that didnt see much business in the winter. He wondered how long the person had been down there and hoped he wasnt too late.
His heart skipped a beat as the ill fated vehicle came into view. His hands was already on his cell phone as he began slipping and sliding all the way down the hill. The purple paint job was unmistakable amongst the white snow.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Chris growled softly as he cell phone began to ring. This had been the one morning in a long time he was going to allow himself to sleep in. He reached over to grab the cell phone on his night stand, not even bothering to check who the caller was.
Hello? he asked in a not so pleasant tone.
Whats up Ezra? Chris asked, shooting up in bed, instantly awake. He could hear the concern in his friends voice and knew something was wrong.
I just found Natalie .her car ..cold ankle
Whoa say that again, Chris answered, feeling his own concern growing. The main phone carrier had just been taken over by another and it was causing problems in the area. Ezra
He threw his phone down when he realized that the call had been dropped.
What good is a cell phone if it doesnt even work when you really need it?
Just as he was about to pick up the phone and try to call Ezra back, the land line started ringing.
Hello? he answered gruffly.
Chris, this is Tiny. I was just wondering if you knew what time Natalie was planning on showing up.
What? Chris asked, caught off guard to hear Tinys voice.
Now it was the pilots turn to sound confused.
Well I figured that Natalie didnt show up last night because of the snow. Ive got other flights I have to make today so I was wondering when
The only words Chris heard where Natalie didnt show up. All of a sudden Ezras phone call made sense.
Damn, Chris swore, feeling sick to his stomach.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Chris Chris .are you there? Damn, Ezra swore stuffing the phone into his pocket.
All were going to hear about is crappy cell phones for the next few months. a familiar weak laugh came from below Ezra.
Ezra looked down to where Natalie was leaning against the car. He had taken off his own coat and put it around her. Ezra could see the blood seeping through his pants where he had scraped it sliding and falling down the gorge in his hurry to get to her. He had been preparing himself for the worst and was surprised to find a groggy and cold, but coherent young woman sitting against the car, a tiny fire next to her side. She had even managed to push up a small snow bank that had protected her from the wind. She had been just as surprised to see him as he was her.
You could climb back up and try again, she suggested.
Not a chance, Ezra answered. Not until I perform an initial assessment on you.
Im fine, Natalie answered.
Ezra gave her a skeptical look.
Alright fine, Natalie wilted under his penetrating gaze. Ive seen better days.
Ezra fell to his knees and began looking her over. Her faces was full of scratches and dried blood. She was going to have a nice shiner on the side of her face. He gently turned her cheek in his hand to get a better look.
I think I hit my head on the steering wheel, she answered.
Did you black out? Ezra asked began looking to see if she any spinal injuries.
No .alright, yeah for a little while I think. I woke up and realized I she hissed in pain as Ezras hand touched her shoulder bone.
Natalie nodded her head. She didnt pull away as Ezra gently pulled the hat off her head. He lifted up her bangs and saw caked blood.
She winched when he touched her left shoulder near her chest.
Sorry my dear, Ezra cringed too. He gently pulled back the jacket and unzipped Natalies jacket and pulled back the neck of her shirt just enough to see the bruising around her shoulder.
Probably from the seatbelt, he told her, patting her on her uninjured shoulder.
Well its nice to know they work, she stated.
Any breathing problems, ribs? he asked.
Natalie shook her head. This time Ezra believed her. He scooted back a little bit and accidentally bumped her foot.
Ahhhhh, she howled.
Oh Lord Nat, Ezra drew in a breath when he looked at the booted foot. Even through the fabric and nylon, it was easy to see how swelled the foot was.
It didnt hurt this bad when I tried to get out of the car, she hissed.
What did happen? Ezra asked, trying to get her to keep talking.
Well I was driving down the road when some bastard took the corner too fast and swiped me going the other side.
What? Ezra growled. He looked at the car and saw red paint striped on the side. If I ever figure out who did
Good luck, Natalie answered.
Ezra sighed knowing she was probably right. Besides now what not the time.
Please continue, he stated, continuing his own assessment. He could see her starting to fade. .\
Well like I said, I think I hit my head on the steering wheel. Im not sure how long I was out. When I woke up the snow was falling down pretty hard. The car had flipped but I was able to pull myself out. I knew there was no way I was going to make it up the hill and knew there was no chance of anyone seeing me. She motioned around. I always keep a lighter and matches in the glove compartment and figured there was enough woods around to make a fire to keep me warm. The heat wouldnt work, but at least the lights were still on. Thats how you found me right?
Ezra nodded his head.
I pretty much just sat here eating Josiahs Christmas cookies and drinking eggnog all night. I think I might have blacked out a few more .
Ezra could see that Natalie was having trouble focusing.
Shhh, thats enough. He whispered, scooting closer to her.
really starting to hurt, she closed her eyes wincing, her voice barley more than a whisper.
Even your damn stubbornness can keep you going for so long my darling, Ezra smiled slightly. Ezra guessed that adrenaline and survival instinct that had kept the young woman going for so long. He had seen it happen to many victims in the woods. Adrenaline and a solid knowledge of survival techniques could keep people alive for a long time. Ezra remembered the guy who survived several days trapped under a bolder before he had cut his arm off. Now that she knew she was safe, Natalies supply was quickly dwindling.
He gently draped his arm around her shoulder, knowing she would probably be unconscious in a matter of minutes. Other than the likely concussion, broken ankle, and bruised body there were no other major injures. Ezra shuddered to think about how the situation could have ended up much worse. He felt Natalies head drop onto his shoulder. Obviously Natalie needed to get out of here, but he it was obvious she wasnt going to be able to climb herself. Ezra didnt want to chance carrying her up himself. He was going to need help. He reached for his cell phone, praying he could get service and be able to convey his need fast enough.
Natalie! Ezra! a familiar voice called.
Over here, Ezra called, feeling a huge sense of relief spread over him.
He watched as Chris, Buck, Nathan, and Luke rush slide and stumble down the hill. Nathan was the first to reach the pair. He looked at Natalie, then at Ezra.
Talk to me Ezra, he stated.
Says she thinks she hit her head on the steering wheel. I am assuming she is suffering from a concussion, lots of bruising, especially around her collarbone where the seatbelt pulled her. Her ankle is at the very least severely sprained, We are going to have to cut the boot off.
Nathan looked down at her foot and winced.
Chris was there a few seconds later.
How is she? he asked, looking at Ezra.
Could be worse, a weak voice answered. Ezra was surprised to see that Natalie had woken up.
How did you find us? Ezra asked.
Well right after you called, Tiny called wondering where Natalie was.
Shit, Natalie swore. I totally forgot about Tiny, she moaned.
Like you would have been in any capacity to talk to him, Chris answered. By the way, where is your cell phone?
Smashed under the car I think, Natalie answered.
Chris looked at the flipped over car hard for the first time. He looked at Ezra and Nathan. All three were thinking the same thing. Natalie was damn lucky to come out of the accident as well as she had.
Anyway, I put two and two together. There is only one road up to the house, so I figured we would drive the road until we found you.
Do you have any plans about how we are going to get her out of here? Ezra asked. I suppose we could try to carry her, but..
Buck and Luke went back up to set the litter and pullies as soon as they saw that you were okay. Josiahs in charge of phone duty.
I thought the phones dont work.
We got walkie talkies with the house. Luke said hed call Tiny and everyone else.
Geez. How many people did you call? Natalie asked, attempting to scoot under the jacket more.
Lots of people care about you, Chris stated, with only a hint of sarcasm in his voice. Especially the two kids I left at home.
Did you tell them? Ezra asked.
No, but Vin figured it out when he heard Natalies name and JD knew something was wrong. Both of them are too damn smart for their own good, Chris stated with a smile on his face. He looked over at Nathan.
Is there anything we can do right here?
No really, Ill wait to cut the boot off until we get home. Right now its acting like its own splint. She should really see a doctor about the concussion and since Rains gone
Im not flying anywhere, Natalie answered firmly. I .
Coming down! Lukes voice answered. They all turned to see the litter, a metal stretcher with sides drop down. It had been lined with sleeping bags. Luke was sitting in the middle of it. He jumped out of the seat.
Thats real safe, Nathan said shaking his head, referring to the ride Luke had just received.
Yeah, but it was fun! Luke answered, then looked over at Natalie.
God girl, youve always got to make a scene dont you? He asked, but it was easy to hear the concern in his voice.
Shut up Luke, Natalie responded.
I mean come on, there had to be an easier way then driving off a cliff to stay home for Christmas.
Nathalie chose to ignore the statement.
Im not going to Denver General or anywhere else! she repeated firmly.
Well discuss it once we get you out of here, Chris answered, his tone of voice left no room for argument.
The anchors are set? Nathan asked Luke.
Yup, Luke repeated. We tied the ropes to two big pine trees. Buck set up the pullies and he and Josiah are waiting to pull up. We didnt think we needed a climbing attendant for this this short a lift.
Usually when the team was performing rescues on steeper cliffs, someone would be pulled up with the victim in the liter. This situation did not need that kind of safety precaution. It probably wasnt necessary to use the liter, but better safe than sorry.
Ezra stood up and looked expectantly at Chris.
Firemans hold, Chris stated.
Both men reached underneath Natalie. Ezra grabbed Chriss arms just above the wrist. They stood and Natalie slid between their arms. They had used this technique on men that weighed twice as much as Natalie and it had worked just as well.
They carefully carried Natalie over the steep and dangerous terrain and placed her in the litter.
Nathan and Luke were waiting to tie her in with the webbing.
That really isnt necessary, Natalie scoffed.
And have to you fall out and take another tumble down the hill? Nathan asked, his nimble fingers weaving and attaching the webbing quickly. I dont think so.
Luke and Nathan finished their task in a matter of minutes. If this had been a real cliff rescue, they would have spent much more time making sure the webbing was completely secure.
Alright, start heaving her up! Luke called. The litter began to rise slowly and the man walked along side of her.
How you doing? Chris asked, when they were about half way up the hill.
I never realized how uncomfortable these things are, Natalie answered. We got to pad it better when we have to use it again.
It didnt take long at all for the litter to reach the top. Nathan and Ezra rushed to the top of the hill and helped pull the litter over.
Buck and Chris unclipped from their harnesses and rushed over to the litter. Natalie eased herself to a sitting position with Ezras help.
God girl, you nearly gave me heart attack, Buck cupped the girls check in his big gloved hand. He winced when he saw the bruise on her face.
Sorry, she answered honestly.
So whats the plan, Josiah asked, after making sure the girl was okay for himself. You want me to see if I can get a hold of Tiny to lift her out of here?
Nathan opened his mouth, but stopped when he felt a hand grab his wrist. He looked down to at Natalie.
Please Nathan, I dont want to go to Denver. Theyll make me stay overnight on Christmas, she pleaded.
Nathan sighed and looked at Chris.
Its your call Nathan, youve got the most medical experience out of any of us.
It seems to me that a possible concussion would be the major concern and she seems to be showing no serious side effects, Ezra stated, placing his hand on Natalies unhurt shoulder. Ezras hatred of any kind of medical facility was legendary. The only one he would go to without physical force was Rains small clinic in Four Corners.
Her ankle Nathan started to say.
Hell Nathan, shes probably making a bigger deal out of it than it really is, Luke laughed. Natalie looked at the snow, but thought better of it. Buck was the only one who saw it. He shook his head.
But even if it is broken, Luke stated, We can put a cast on it and keep her off of it until after Christmas. It would suck having to sit in an emergency room just to get a stupid ankle x-rayed, Natalie looked up and Luke appreciatively. He smiled at her. Besides, he added. Imagine how excited the boys will be when they find out that everyone gets to be home for Christmas.
Fine, Nathan sighed. But if you dont listen, youll be on that damn e-vac helicopter faster than you can bat an eyelash.
And Santa wont bring you any presents, Buck added with a laugh.
The sound of static broke the momentary silence.
Shit, Josiah answered and rushed to his truck.
Damn, Nathan swore. Were on a roll right now.
The static noise had come from a radio that connected the vehicle to the Masbro County Sherriffs department. It helped the department stay in contact with the search team. The team also carried beepers, but they werent always the most reliable. Chris and Josiahs trucks were the only ones that had them right now. The department was trying to raise the money to buy more.
They all waited while Josiah waited in his truck. Chris saw that Natalie was beginning to shiver. He reached down and easily picked her up in his arms.
While were waiting, weve got to get you warmed up, he stated. You kept my tuck running? he asked Luke.
Luke nodded his head.
Go open the hatch for me and lay down those extra blankets in the back.
I could really use some water too, Natalie answered. That eggnog only goes so far.
Nathan handed her a water bottle. She drank from it greedily.
Josiah was back before they could Natalie situated in the car.
House fire, at the Johnson home, Josiah stated. Everybodys out of the house and okay, but they could really use some extra hands to help put the whole fire out and patch the family up. Almost everyone is off for the holidays. Other than two people, the fire department and EMT services in Four Corners was all volunteer. The Search and Rescue team was often called in to help.
Well what are waiting for, Natalie stated. Ill drive!
Smart ass, Chris told her with a slight laugh.
Well obviously somebody has to take Natalie home, Nathan stated.
I dont think they really need all of us, Josiah stated.
Buck, why dont you and I head home with Natalie, Ill sit in the back with her and you can drive. The rest of you can head down to the fire.
Chris was the official leader of the team, but his word was not law. The others were free to offer suggestions. But his suggestions were rarely challenged.
Once we get Nat settled, we can call and see if you still need help. Buck responded.
The others nodded in agreement.
Ill clean up the ropes and litter and meet you there, Luke stated. Buck and Chris continued over to Chriss truck. Nathan and Josiah raced over to Josiahs truck.
Luke started to walk towards the litter and the rope when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned around to see Ezra standing there.
Do you have your camera with you? he asked.
Yeah I always keep one in my car, Luke stated, confused.
I need you to get some pictures of Natalies car, Ezra stated and filled they younger man in about what Natalie had told him.
What? Why didnt you tell anyone? Luke yelled.
Because I believe it was not the time, Ezra explained. I will make my own inquired. Perhaps Sheriff Travis will be at the fire.
Ezra, lets get a move on! Nathan yelled.
Ezra tipped the imaginary tip of hat to Luke and raced to Josiahs truck.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Buck turned slowly into driveway leading to the house. The morning sun made the new snow glitter. It was hard to believe it was only nine in the morning after everything, they had been through. As soon as he pulled Chriss truck to a stop, two bodies came flying out the front door.
Whoa easy, Buck yelled, catching JD in his arms and lifting him up. Vin stopped and looked at him anxiously.
Is Natalie still alive? JD asked.
Of course she is, Buck stated, giving Vin a questioning look. He would have thought Vin would have told JD everything after talking to him on the phone. The three walked towards the back of the truck.
He wouldnt believe me until he actually saw her, Vin stated.
Buck opened up the hatch of truck. Chris was sitting in the back. Natalie was leaning up against his chest. It hadnt been the safest way to travel, but it had been the most comfortable way for the young woman and Buck had been extra careful.
JDs whole face lit up when he saw the young woman.
Natalie, youre alive!! He yelled so loud, Buck had to pull back. This caused everyone to laugh. Vin was not so vocal, but looked just as relieved.
Its going to take a whole lot more than a stupid car accident to get me JD, Natalie laughed.
JD, why dont you go in and make the couch all nice and comfy for Natalie. Buck suggested.
Okay, JD agreed, proud that he had been given such and important task. He ran into the house. The door slammed behind him.
Vin, Chris stated from the truck. I need to go into the shed and get my hunting knife. Im going to need it to cut Natalies boot off.
Vin hesitated looking at Natalie.
Im alright Vin, really.
This seemed to the confirmation the teen needed because he sprinted towards the barn.
Alright darling, lets get you inside, Buck stated lifting Natalie off of Chriss lap.
This whole rag doll thing is getting kind of old, Natalie complained. Dont you have a pair of crutches inside?
You want to go to Denver? Buck asked, raising his eyebrows.
This shut her up fast.
Chris slid onto the ground. He winced in pain and started hopping up and down.
Why didnt you tell me your leg fell asleep? Natalie sighed in exasperation.
Chris shrugged his shoulders and walked ahead to open the door for Buck.
They all had to hold their breath when they saw the couch for the first time. It was piled high with every extra blanket and pillow in the house. JD had even pulled the blankets off his own bed.
Ah JD, Buck asked, trying to prevent himself from bursting out laughing. just where are you planning to fit Natalie in all that stuff?
Here JD, why dont I help you fix it up? Chris smiled. He and JD pulled everything off but two blankets and an extra pillow. Buck set Natalie on down the coach and gently moved her injured ankle up so it was laying on the arm rest. Vin walked back in with the knife and handed it to Chris.
Thanks, Chris answered. I want to take care of that ankle and then you need to get into some warm and dry clothes, he told Natalie.
JD, why dont you and I got make some hot chocolate for everyone? Buck asked, knowing the ten year old might not be able to handle this.
Do you want some hot chocolate Natalie? JD asked.
I would love some JD, Natalie smiled.
Buck led JD into the kitchen.
You sure you dont want to go too? Chris asked Vin.
Vin shook his head.
I want to learn, Vin stated. He had taken a real interest in what his foster father did.
Chris nodded his head.
Okay, but can you get a fire in the fireplace going first?
While Vin was starting the fire, Chris grabbed hold of Natalie leg just above where her boot was. He knew this was going to hurt her and wished that she could give her more painkillers, but he had given her the highest dosage she could take on the way home.
You ready? Chris asked.
Natalie nodded her head and closed her eyes.
Why did you leave her boot on? Vin asked, walking back over.
Because the boot usually helps prevent swelling, Chris explained. But Natalies ankle already started and her foots so big, I dont think we can get it off without cutting it off.
Chris began sawing away at the fabric. He was as careful as he could be without bumping her ankle, but sometimes it was unavoidable.
She winced several times. Making a hissing noise through her teeth. Vin reached out and grabbed her hand.
Here Natalie squeeze my hand when it hurts, Vin told her. When Chris saw this, he felt his heart swell.
After several minutes, Natalies foot was free. The boot was destroyed.
Those were my favorite boots too, Natalie sighed.
All three of them got their first look at the ankle.
God, it looks like Ive got a grapefruit on my foot, she stated, sitting up. The outside of Natalies foot was completely black and blue
Im going to try and touch it. See where it hurts, Chris told her. Natalie nodded her head.
He reached out and touched the inside of her ankle joint.
Natalie shook her head.
Nope, she answered.
He fingers barely touched the outside of foot when she fell back into the pillow, clenching Vins hand.
Chris pulled back quickly.
Im not even going to have you try walking it, he told her. My guess is an inversion Grade 3 sprain. he told her.
Whats that mean? Vin asked.
It means I twisted my foot inward, she answered.
And has the highest grade of sprain, Chris explained. I dont think she broke it, but its too hard too tell right now. Well bring her in for X-rays in a few days.
So how to do you treat it? Vin asked.
Well well put some ice on it and keep it elevated so the swelling will go down and well tape it up in a bandage. She wont be walking on it for a while.
Natalie, we made you some hot chocolate! JD bounded through the door, the hot chocolate spilling out of the cup.
Hold on kiddo, lets get Natalie all cleaned up and settled, Buck stated.
A half an hour later, Natalie was laying on the couch in an extra pair of fleece pajamas that she kept at Chriss house. She had cleaned up and her wet hair was pulled back. Although she was still sore and worn out, she looked much better. Her ankle was back on the arm rest with a big bag of ice on top of it. Chris and Vin were the only ones who were left in the room. After JD had given Natalie her hot chocolate, Buck had taken him out to see the horses.
Lets get your grapefruit taped up, Chris told Natalie walking over with an ace bandage and some adhesive tape.
Vin scooted out from his spot on the recliner so he could get a better view.
Do you want to try and tape it Vin? she asked.
Vin looked at her surprised.
I saw you practicing on JDs stuffed animals, Natalie laughed. You got a perfect chance to try it on a real ankle right now.
Can I? Vin asked, looking at Chris.
Are you sure Nat? Chris asked.
Why not? Youre not going to hurt it any worse.
Chris handed Vin the supplies and moved out of the way so Vin could have lots of room.
Vin began weaving the bandage in a figure eight pattern around Natalies foot.
Nice and easy, Chris coached. Thats it, not too tight. Vin finished and attached the adhesive tape.
Natalie and Chris admired Vins work.
Great job! I think you did better than Chris. Natalie praised.
Way to go buddy, Chris clapped Vin on the shoulder. Vin beamed with pride.
Natalie yawned tiredly. The vicodin he had given her was starting to take effect.
Now, I think its about time you get some sleep.
Chris grabbed on of the blankets on the floor and covered Natalie with it.
Vin, why dont you head out with Buck and JD. Im just going to sit in here.
Vin knew this was not open to argument. He went into the mud room to get his snow stuff on.
Chris? Natalie asked, tiredly.
Yeah? Chris asked.
Can you call my dad? I dont think hell have any clue about what happened. Hell know how to get a hold of my mom.
Sure sweetheart, Chris told her, not sure if he even heard him before she fell asleep.
He shook his head, glad that Natalie was safe at her real home for Christmas.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Luke opened the door and checked to make sure that Natalie was still sleeping soundly. When he saw that she was, he quietly closed the door and walked back down the stairs. He crept back down the stairs and joined his friends who were sitting on the couches and other pieces of furniture.
She still sleeping? Josiah asked, handing Luke his wallet.
Luke nodded his head.
You realize thats about the fifth time hes been up there in the last two hours, Buck whispered in Ezras ear. Ezra just smiled.
After the crazy morning and afternoon, everything had finally settled down for a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas Eve. They had been able to put out the Johnson fire with minimal damage to the house. Natalie was upstairs resting peacefully and his friends were sitting around a warm fire and decorated Christmas tree swapping memories of Christmass past. Vesper laying on the rug in front of the fire made the scene complete. Better yet, there were two very excited boys with smile on their faces. Both boys had learned from a young age the truth of Santa, but that didnt stop them from anxiously looking at all the presents underneath the tree.
I say its about time for you to go to bed JD, Buck stated. Its almost eleven o clock. Youve had a busy day.
But Im not ready! JD started to complain. Nick gets to stay up until midnight.
JD had played with the next door neighbors for a little while that afternoon. Buck had told them how the boys didnt like using sticks to make arms, because they werent the same skin color. Nicks mom had suggested using two rawhides instead.
Come on JD, I think Im tired too, Vin stated. Vin was sleeping on the floor in JDs room so Ezra could sleep in Vins bed.
Okay! JD yelled excited to have his brother go with him. Come on Vesper. Vesper got up, stretched and trotted after the boys.
JD stopped and looked and at the presents.
Theyll be here tomorrow, Ezra laughed.
Vin got up and followed his younger brother and dog.
Thank you, Buck mouthed to him.
Vin just nodded his head, but smiled.
Hes a good kid, Buck told Chris.
They both are, Chris answered. He thought about the envelope tucked inside his desk drawer and the his own anticipation for the morning grew.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Josiah woke up to hear a loud knocking noise. It took him a moment to comprehend where he was. He stared groggily at the Christmas tree and remembered that he was on Chris and Bucks house. The knocking was coming from behind the front door. He put his foot down to go open it, but Nathan was already off the air mattress and headed for the door.
Who on earth? Nathan said to himself.
Apparently the knocking had woken everyone else in the house. Because all of the upstairs occupants, dog included, were standing at the top of the steps in their pajamas.
Gloria Potter, the middle aged widow who lived next door with her two kids was standing in the doorway.
Nathan? she asked, surprised to see him.
His Gloria, Nathan answered, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. We all stayed over for Christmas, he explained. He looked at her worried face.
Why do I assume that you are not here just for Christmas greetings?
You havent seen Misty and Marco have you? she asked, worry in every line on her face.
Your dogs? Nathan asked.
Gloria nodded her head.
They must have broken out of their pen last night. I had Nick put them inside the kennel last night so they wouldnt get into the presents. He must have not closed it out all the way, because when I went to get them this morning, they were gone.
Cant you just follow their
Nathan stopped and looked out the window. The freshly fallen inch of snow would probably have covered any dog tracks.
Has anyone seen any golden retrievers? Nathan called up the steps.
A chorus of negatives followed.
Alright, Gloria said as she turned, Sorry for waking you up. I better go help the kids. Nick was almost in tears last time I saw him.
But this time everyone had made it down the stairs.
Gloria, if you will wait a few minutes, you can show us where you think they would have went, Josiah stated.
No, I couldnt ask you to help, Gloria protested. Not on Christmas.
Gloria, you just knocked on the door of the house of the whole search and rescue team. You better believe youve got out help, Josiah stated.
But they are only dogs Gloria kept protesting.
And important members of your family, Chris told her. He looked at Vin and JD. What are you boys waiting for? Go get your snow pants and boots on.
Vin and JD looked at Chris dumbfounded.
I think this in one search we could use your help on, he smiled. The boys rushed to the mud room.
I better go talk to them about what happens if we cant find the dogs or Buck didnt need to finish the sentence. They all knew the chances of dogs surviving in the wilderness alone.
Ezra was the last one down the stairs.
I dont think I can thank you enough for your help Mr. Standish, Gloria told him.
Nick and Molly wont be able to celebrate Christmas if their friends are missing, Ezra stated. And that thought would most certainly ruin my
Day as well. So you can see my interests are purely self serving, he answered.
Gloria couldnt help, but a smile.
About twenty minutes later, the boys and the whole search and the whole Masbro County Search and Rescue Team, minus Natalie who had been left at home grumbling with a new ice pack on her ankle, were out searching for the dogs. Gloria and her kids were searching closer to the house. The team had spread out to cover a bigger radius.
There had been no trace of the animals and the team was beginning to give up hope.
If I were a dog where would I go? JD asked himself. He had strayed off a little by himself. A sudden idea occurred to him. He took off at a sprint.
Hey JD. Where are you going? Buck took off after the kid. It was much harder for him to run through the snow. He almost ran into JD when the kid stopped.
Buck looked up and saw a small snowman with missing arms.
Here Marco, Here Misty, JD called.
JD, I dont think .
Buck stopped when he heard barking. A few seconds later, two bundles of yellow fur were running at them. One of the was carrying a raw hide in her mouth.
Well hello Misty, Buck laughed grabbing the paws of the dog who had just jumped up wagging her tail.
JD laughed as Marco licked his face.
I remembered that we brought the dogs with us yesterday, JD said. I thought maybe they would come back to get their bones.
Good thinking kiddo, Buck told him ruffling his hat. You saved the day.
JD beamed with pride.
Come on guys, he called to the dogs. Lets go find Nick and Molly!
JD took off at a sprint again, the dogs followed him barking the whole time.
By the time Buck got back to the Potters house. Nick and Molly were rolling in the snow with their dogs. Buck smiled.
I cant thank you enough, Gloria was telling Chris.
Dont thank us. Thank JD, Chris told her.
Kids, what do you say to JD? she called.
Thanks JD, Molly and Nick chorused.
Come on Nick, lets go open presents! Molly stood up and raced for the house.
Buck watched the look JDs face when the little girl mentioned presents. Vins was very similar.
Would you boys like some coffee? Gloria asked.
Thanks Gloria, but I think we better go home and see whats under our tree, Nathan laughed. Besides Natalie will get crabby if we dont get home soon.
Poor girl. Tell her if she needs anything to give me a call, Gloria stated, following her children. Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas, they all chorused back.
There was an impromptu race back to the house and to take off the snow gear. JD and Vin easily run although they hadnt bothered to hang up their jackets and had thrown their snow pants onto the ground. Chris decided to let it go today. Ezra had walked up the steps to go and get Natalie.
Both boys were standing in front of the Christmas tree.
Go ahead and start opening, Buck told the boys. Neither boy moved.
Whats wrong? Chris asked, surprised at their reaction.
Well, it just doesnt seem right that you should buy us all these presents, Vin answered. You already are taking care of JD and I. We were talking about this last night. All of you already spend a lot of money on us when you dont have to, so we want you return the presents. There was a long pause. That way you can keep us longer.
Everyone stopped dead cold. Even Ezra who was half way down the steps with Natalie in his arms.
There wasnt an eye in the room that didnt start to tear up at the words of the teen.
Oh JD, Bucks voice quivered as he wrapped his arms around the boy.
Chris just stared at Vin.
You really want us to send all these gifts back so we can keep you longer?
Vin nodded his head.
Chris walked over to the desk and pulled out the envelope.
Why dont you take a look at this? he said, handing the envelope to Vin.
Vin gave him a confused look, but opened the envelope without a word. Chris knew that Vin might have trouble reading all the words, but the Colorado Social Services label at the top of the page should be enough to help him figure out what it was.
You are serious? Vin asked.
I want to see! JD broke out of Bucks embrace and raced over to Vin.
What is it? he asked.
Their adoption papers JD, Vin told JD.
JD looked at Vin and then around the room.
You mean you really want me to live here forever? JD squealed.
For as long as you want kiddo, Buck told him.
JD ran straight into Bucks arms. The man lifted him off the ground and squeezed him hard, not wanting to let go.
What do you say Vin? Chris asked. How do you feel about not having to move around anymore and living with us from now on?
Chris didnt have long to wait for an answer. Although he was fourteen and not easily lift able, Chris squeezed just as hard Buck when Vins arms wrapped around his middle.
Chris just held onto to Vin for a few more seconds without saying a word. He looked into the grinning faces of his friends. .
Have you ever seen Chris cry before? Luke whispered in Natalies ear after Ezra had placed her beside him on the couch.
Natalie shook her head.
Finally, Chris let go of Vin. He wiped his eyes with his shirt sleeve.
Well boys, I guess that we are going to have return all the presents for Vin and JD.
JD looked at Buck.
Maybe I could have just one small present? he asked.
Buck just laughed
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Ezra and Josiah were sitting on the coach watching the Christmas lights on the tree finishing the last of the brandy and Tom and Jerry mix. The others had gone to bed about a half an hour ago. The two men were alone with all the boxes and opened gifts underneath. The boys had enjoyed all their gifts, but they had been especially excited about the snowshoes from Chris and Buck and their very own climbing harnesses from Natalie and Luke. The boys had been just as excited to give their gifts, a picture taken of the nine of them on camping trip in Glacier National Park. The picture had been put in a picture frame the boys had made.
Natalie and Luke had been almost as excited as the boys when they had opened their own gifts. Buck had to literally hold Natalie down so she would not put weight on her foot.
Are we really invited on the team to climb Everest? Luke had asked.
Chris nodded his head.
Mike Toggle was just got funding from National Geographic to lead an expedition next season. They want to do some pieces on the next generation of American climbers. I submitted your names and he seems to think you too will make great additions to the team.
It will be quite interesting to see if they make the top, Ezra stated
Ill bet their take their new search and rescue jackets with them, Josiah laughed. Ezra had always complained about the bulky, unfashionable orange jackets the team was forced to wear. This year he had given everyone a top of the line breathable and waterproof jacket with their names on the front and Masbro County Search and Rescue printed on the back.
It was a very nice gift Ezra, Josiah stated.
Ezra shrugged his shoulders.
I just happened to be involved in a Poker game with the president of the company. He owed me quite a bit of money, more than I think he was able to pay. I simply stated that if he donate to this worthy cause I would forgo his debt.
Josiah just shook his head.
All in all, I would say this was a pretty good Christmas.
One to remember my friend, Ezra answered in agreement. I propose next year may not be quite as stressful.
Both men clanked their warm mugs together.