To understand this story, you'll need to read A Texan Wildflower and The Boxes first. I would like to write more of CJ's and Rorie's adventures. I imagine the ways they keep their dads and uncles on their toes.
The reason I put in the secret passage way in the house is I need a way for the girls to get around the house undetected.
Vin took CJ to the pre-school for evaluation. He had no doubt his daughter was ready. She was smarter than most kids her age. He was not just saying that because she was his daughter. Her Uncles thought so too and that was enough for him. While CJ was being tested, Vin filed out the paperwork. It took less than an hour and the Principal said the results of the test would be in the mail. The two men shook hands and Vin left with CJ.
"I's got the day off, Munchkin. What do ya wanna do?" Vin asked, buckling CJ in her car seat.
"Can we go an' get Rorie?"
"Sorry, no. This is a me and you day."
"I don't have any more boxes."
"Nope," Vin answered then climbed in behind the wheel of his Jeep.
"It's gettin' a bit to cold ta do anythin' outside."
"Yep." Vin turned the key in the ignition and sat and let the Jeep idle.
CJ sat and thought for a minute. "Ma'be, lunch an' a movie?"
"That we can do." Vin smiled at his daughter.
Vin drove to the movie theatre to check what was playing and their times. The latest kid movie wasn't showing until three that afternoon. He looked at his watch and noted it wasn't quite noon yet.
Vin looked back at CJ. "We got three hours till the movie starts, Munchkin."
"Three hours? That's a long time," CJ pouted and crossed her arms in front of her.
"We could go get lunch fer yer Uncles and have lunch with them till the movie starts."
"Yeah! Let's do that," CJ said, excitedly.
Vin phoned the office. Buck picked up the phone. "Wilmington."
"Hey there, Buck. Any of ya hungry?"
"Hey, Vin. Yeah we are. JD and me were just about to leave to get lunch for everyone."
"Give me the list and Charity and me'll get it. The movie Charity wants ta see ain't startin' till three. So I's thought we could have lunch with ya'll till then."
"Sounds good to me," Buck said and gave Vin the list of what everyone wanted.
Forty minutes later, Vin and CJ arrived at the offices of team seven. CJ skipped into the office with a McDonalds plastic carrying bag. She handed it to the first Uncle she came to, Buck.
Buck took the bag and took a whiff. "That smells good."
Vin handed Ezra his bag from his favorite take out.
"Thank you, Mr. Tanner," Ezra said then looked up at his room mate, and instantly became alarmed. "What happened, Vin?"
This got everyone's attention.
Vin dropped into his office chair, and sighed. CJ walked over to him and laid her chin on his knee. "It's okay, Daddy. We didn't get hit."
Chris walked over to Vin and sat on the corner of his desk. "What happened, Vin?"
CJ looked up at her Uncle. "A jerk ran a red light and almost hit us."
"The Jeep don't got anti-locking brakes, so I was able to stop on a dime and not get hit." Vin shook his head. "Reckon I need ta get another Jeep. One with four doors."
"Why?" Chris asked. Vin loved that heap of his.
"My Jeep has only two doors, Chris. If I got hit," Vin said and looked down at CJ and took a shuddering deep breath. "How in the hell would someone get her out if I was unconscious."
Chris and the others understood where Vin was coming from.
Ezra looked over at Vin. "After the movie, we could go Jeep shopping if you like?"
Vin smiled and nodded. "Yeah. I think that would be a good idea. Thanks, Ez."
"Rorie will be out of school by that time." Ezra tossed Vin the keys to the Jag. "Return here after the movie and we shall go to the Jeep dealer and purchase you another."
Vin caught the keys. "Thanks."
CJ looked up her father. "Will Rorie be out of school before the movie?"
"May I assume, Charity, you wish for Rorie to accompany you and your father to the movies?" Ezra asked.
"Yep." CJ smiled up at him.
"It's been slow today. After lunch, Ezra you can leave," Chris said.
Ezra looked down at his computer and saw his report was just about done. All he had left was to proof read it and send it to the printer. While he ate, he did just that. He had called Rorie's school and let them know he was going to pick her up a little early. He then called Terry Greer to let her know of his and Vin's plans. After he sent his report to the printer, Ezra shut his computer down.
"Vin?" Josiah said and walked over to him and picked CJ up and sat her on his desk so she looked Vin in the face. "This is the only justification you need. I know that Jeep means a lot to ya and you don't like spending money frivolously. Getting a new Jeep won't be frivolous. Stop trying to talk yourself out of it."
Ezra came out of the copy room to hear what Josiah told Vin. "Listen to him, Vin. I am sure we'll be able to procure a suitable vehicle of your choosing before night fall."
"I ain't talkin' myself out of it, Josiah. I'm just thinkin' how close that car came ta hitin' us."
"Good. The next time I see you, Vin, I want to see you in a new Jeep," Chris said then ate his lunch.
CJ's face lit up. "You's goin' ta the movie with us, Unca Ez?"
Ezra bowed his head and pinched the bridge of his nose, sighed then looked at his niece. "Yes I am, as is Rorie."
CJ cocked her head to one side. "Did I's say somethin' wrong, Unca Ez."
Buck and Nathan snickered. Ezra glared at them.
"Naw, Munchkin. Unca Ez just has this thing about someone murdering the English language," Vin chuckled, then picked up his daughter off his desk and carried her to the break room with their food. The rest of the team followed them and they all ate together.
Vin looked down at his watch. "We gots ta go and get Rorie iffin we wanna make the movie on time."
Vin gave Ezra back his keys as they entered the elevator.
"We can come back for your Jeep after the movie if you like."
"Naw. I was thinking of having JD take it to my old place and let the kids have it fer their new play ground."
"New play ground?"
"Yeah. Some of the bigger kids got together and are fixing up one of the empty lots so the little kids can have a safe place to play. I thought maybe somebody could turn the Jeep into something they can use. It's beat up a mite and not worth anythin'."
Vin stopped at his Jeep long enough to get his insurance papers, license plate and CJ's car seat. Vin buckled CJ in her car seat then sat next to Ezra in the Jag. Ezra drove to pick up Rorie. They then went to the movies and saw the newest kid movie. Then they went to a used car dealership. The girls were excited to go shopping for a new Jeep for Vin.
Ezra pulled onto the lot. He and Vin got out and got their daughters. The four were met by a man in a three piece grey suit. The man stuck out his meaty hand. "Hello, my names Logan Alwood."
"Vin Tanner. This is Ezra Standish." Vin and Ezra shook the man's hand.
Logan Alwood looked down at CJ with a puzzled look on his face. "I know you?"
CJ clung to Vin's leg and nodded her head.
"What's your name?"
Alwood rubbed his chin. "Charity Tanner? Charity..." Alwood said then it hit him. "I remember now," he laughed. "You got me a good one. I'll never forget it." Alwood wiped a tear from his eyes from laughing so hard. "I still like to eat," Alwood said and patted his overly large stomach.
CJ looked the man up and down. "Ya don't look as big. Ya still eat horses?"
Vin and Rorie grinned. Ezra closed his eyes, he could not believe what CJ asked the large man. "Charity? What kind of question is that?"
Alwood laughed. "It's okay Gentlemen. The last time I saw her, I had made the statement I was so hungry I could eat a horse. She happened to be standing with Reggie right behind me when I said it. She then said to Reggie, and I quote, If he's that hungry, there ain't going to be enough chicken for everybody, unquote. Reggie turned all shades of red. I thought the man was going to die of embarrassment. Reggie was a good man. He loved this little girl."
"Was?" Vin asked.
"Yeah, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. That's why he and his wife had to let Charity go back to that home. He fought for over a year and died this past September," Alwood sighed. "So how can I help you?"
"I's lookin' for a new Jeep," Vin answered.
Alwood thought for a moment. "Follow me. How do you feel about a standard transmission?"
"I prefer 'em," Vin answered as he, Ezra and the girls follow the man into the building.
"Good, good. What make and model are you looking for?" Logan Alwood lead the group to his office.
"I like the Wranglers."
"I have a blue 2013 Wrangler Sahara. I'll call over to my other lot and have it brought over for you to take a look at it."
"What about a car fax?" CJ asked.
Alwood smiled. "Bringing it up now." He looked over at CJ and Rorie. "Who's your friend, Charity?"
"This is Rorie. She's Unca Ezra's little girl."
Alwood reached into the bottom draw of his desk and pulled out two booklets and handed them to the girls. "Here, I remembered how much you liked looking at these."
"Cool. Thanks Mr. Alwood," CJ said and started to look through the booklet with pictures of cars. Rorie had one with trucks in it.
The men talked as the girls looked through their new books. It wasn't long before the blue Wrangler Sahara was parked outside the building. A young man came in and handed a set of keys to Logan.
"Ah, looks like the Sahara's here," Logan said when the young man came into the office. "Thanks Brad."
"Sure thing Mr. Alwood," Brad said and left.
"Let's go and have a look at her."
Out in the lot, Vin looked the Jeep over. He checked under the hood. He did like what he saw, but he wanted to see how it performed. Ezra kept the girls with him so Vin could test drive it. Logan rode along. When Vin returned, he and Logan Alwood were laughing. Ezra took this as a good sign.
"How did it handle?" Ezra asked.
"Real good, Ez. And you's right. We procured me a suitable vehicle before night fall."
Ezra laughed. "Good to hear it."
"Hold on a minute," Logan said. "I have something in my office you might like to have." Logan smiled down at CJ.
Logan came out with a video tape in hand. "Here, enjoy. I phoned Lorie, Reggie's wife, she still has some of Charity's things and wanted to know if it was okay if she sent them to you?"
"Sure," Vin answered and gave the man his address.
Logan also gave the girls more auto booklets before he said his goodbyes and went back inside.
The following week, CJ started preschool. Vin went back to work and was pleased with his new Jeep. It made getting the girls in and out a lot easier than the old one. CJ loved it and wanted to know when they were going baja-ing.
CJ had attended the preschool for a couple weeks when Vin got a phone call from the school. Chris said he would pick her up since he was going to be out anyway.
"Thanks Chris. I don't know what's got into her lately. She fights me every mornin' about going."
Ezra nodded. "She is as stubborn as her father. It has gotten so bad, the two of them have stopped speaking to one another. Charity and Rorie talk to one another in that silent thing that You and Vin seem to do," Ezra said.
Chris looked to Vin. "Why doesn't she want to go to school?"
"She won't say," Vin answered.
"Have you tried to find out?" Josiah asked.
Vin glared at Josiah. "Yeah, I have."
"Well, I'm headed out. We'll talk more later on this," Chris said.
An hour later, Chris got into the elevator with CJ in tow. He was disappointed in CJ's behavior. "Your father's not going to be to pleased when you tell him why you have been suspended for the rest of the week."
"He started it," CJ huffed and crossed her arms in front of her.
"I don't care and neither will your dad."
"Hold the elevator," Chris heard someone yell, so he did. He wished he hadn't when he saw who got on. "Thanks Larabee."
Chris reached down and picked CJ up and held her on his hip. "You're welcome Jacoby" Chris said when the doors slid closed.
Jacoby reached over and pushed the button for floor five. Then looked over at Chris holding CJ. "Who is this little cutie?" Jacoby said as he patted CJ on the head.
Chris didn't answer. CJ looked at the man. "I'm CJ."
"Recruiting them kinda early aren't ya, Larabee?" Jacoby laughed at his on joke. "What's Dunne gonna say?"
CJ cocked her head to one side. "You're hair is on crooked."
Chris wanted to laugh. He didn't like Jacoby. The man thought JD to young and Josiah to old. He had other complaints about the rest of team seven but those were the ones he voiced the most and made jokes about it. Just as the man was about to get off the elevator, CJ reached over and snatched the man's hair right off his head and just as the elevator was closing, she waved at the man with his hair piece.
Chris stormed into the offices and sat CJ on Vin's desk and slammed the hair piece down beside her. "Jacoby will be coming for that." He then went into his office and slammed the door.
Vin looked down at the hair piece then back at his daughter. CJ just stared at him.
Ezra recognized the silent treatment between the two Tanner's and sighed.
Josiah walked over to Vin's desk and picked up the hair piece. "Why did you take his hair piece?"
CJ shrugged. "It was crooked."
Just then, Jacoby stormed into the offices, and grabbed the hair piece from Josiah. He then glared down at CJ. "You need to respect people's property young lady. You can't just go around taking things that don't belong to you."
"Back off," Vin growled.
"She needs to know..."
Vin stood and faced him. "She will. But not from the likes of you."
Being as tall as Josiah, Jacoby had to look down to Vin, but saw in Vin's eyes that he was in deep shit if he were to continue his tirade. Jacoby looked around the room at the men of team seven, who were either standing or were starting to stand. Jacoby turned and left in a huff.
Vin looked back at CJ. "Why did ya take his hair piece?"
"I wanted ta fix it but he got off the 'vator."
"Tell your dad why I had to pick you up from school early," Chris said from the door way to his office.
CJ looked up at her dad, and sighed. "I's got in a fight."
"She hit the kid with her cast," Chris informed.
"What was the fight about?" JD asked.
Vin sat down at his desk and put his face in his hands.
"We were playing house and I told Nicky I was goin' ta work. He said I can't because I was suppose to be at home to cook and clean. I told him no. It's not the dark ages, woman work all the time, and I'll do what ever I wanna do when I gets big. He then said boys are better than girls and I had to do what he said. Yeah, right. I then told him I don't think so and he pushed me. So I hit him with my cast."
"Sounds like a case for self defense. However, you should have went to an adult and told them rather than taken care of it yourself."
CJ looked over at Ezra. "I don't start fights, Unca Ezra, but I will finish ''em. And I's never back down from bullies."
Chris came up to CJ. "Why don't you like school?"
CJ looked up at him. "I like the school, I just don't like Mr. Byrd."
"Why?" Chris asked.
"He kinda reminds me of Mr. Crane."
Vin's head shot up and stared at CJ. "The Mr. Crane that took those bad pictures of you?" CJ nodded.
"What makes Mr. Byrd resemble Mr. Crane?" Ezra asked.
"The way he looks at me." CJ then looked at Vin. "That's why I don't want ta go back."
Vin picked up the phone and dialed the preschool. The principle answered. Vin bombarded him with questions about Mr. Byrd and the boy CJ had a fight with. It was then that the principal told Vin about the chicken pox out break and that CJ had been exposed to it.
Vin hung up from talking to the principal. "Mr. Byrd's the janitor and he's been working there going on a year. The principal don't know much about him but he's sending a fax of his picture over. The boy Charity got in the fight with is fine," Vin sighed, "Charity's been exposed to chicken pox."
"We'll just have to keep an eye on her and Rorie," Nathan said.
"That means, we have all been exposed to the dreaded childhood disease," Ezra said with a worried look on his face.
"You ain't got nothin' ta worry about if ya already had 'em," Vin informed Ezra.
"And if one has not? Then what?"
A worried Nathan looked at Ezra. "Are you saying you have not had them when you were a kid?"
"That is correct. Mother never allowed me to be around other children. So as a result, I have never had any of the childhood diseases that children are exposed to."
Nathan shook his head. "This ain't good, guys."
"Why's that Nathan?"JD asked.
Buck leaned back in his chair. "Because adults can get real sick when they get them. They can even end up in the hospital with complications like pneumonia and even possibly inflammation of the brain."
Everyone stared at Buck except for Chris. He just smiled.
"What? Nathan's not the only one who knows something' about medical stuff," Buck defended himself.
"When Adam was exposed, Buck searched the net and read everything he could find on the disease," Chris explained.
"Oh," JD said then looked over at Ezra. "When you say 'never had any', does that mean the measles and mumps to?"
Ezra nodded yes. "Mother did however, make sure all my immunization shots were up to date."
"Ezra, you're not much younger than me. The varicella vaccine wasn't discovered when we were young," Nathan said.
"I know this Nathan," Ezra sighed.
"Since you've been exposed, it's to late for you to get the shot now," Chris said, then looked to Nathan. "Is there anything we can do for him?"
Nathan shook his head. "I wish, but no, not until he starts to show signs that he has it."
Buck started to list all the symptoms and when they could expect each symptom to appear.
"What are ya, Buck? A chicken pox expert?" Vin asked, shaking his head.
Chris smiled. "Not just chicken pox. Childhood diseases in general."
"Hey, I took my job as Godfather seriously," Buck boasted.
Chris smiled at his oldest friend. "Yes you did."
Josiah went and got the fax. Josiah took a good look at the faxed photo of Mr. Carlton Byrd and didn't like what he was seeing. "Brothers?"
With the one word, Josiah had everyone's attention. Josiah handed the fax to Vin. All the color drained from Vin when he looked at the faxed photo then handed it to Ezra.
"Oh Lord, it's Crane. He looks to be much older and heavier. But I assure you, gentlemen, this is Mr. Henry Crane."
CJ got off of her father's desk and sat in his lap and held on to him. "I don't want ta go back there, Daddy. Please don't make me."
Vin held CJ close to him. "No, Munchkin, you don't have ta go back. Not as long as he's there."
Chris dialed the preschool and informed them who Mr. Carlton Byrd really was and that they should inform the parents of their students that there is a pedophile working as a janitor at the school their kids are attending. The principal asked if Chris had proof. Chris had informed the man that he had the proof and asked if the school had a newsletter.
When Chris hung up the phone, he looked to Vin. "Do you have Miss West's number?" Vin nodded his head he had it. "Good. Call her."
Vin took his cell out and dialed the number. He still held on to his daughter. Miss West answered the phone on the fourth ring. "Hi, Miss West. This is Vin Tanner, Charity's dad."
"Oh, hi there Mr. Tanner. How are things with CJ and yourself?"
"Funny ya should ask. Ya have any idea where Mr. Henry Crane is?"
"Why do you ask?"
Vin heard the worry in the woman's voice. "Because we have reason to believe he's here in Denver."
"Give me a minute and I'll have a number for you," Miss West said and put the phone down. She came back in a couple of minutes with a number. "Call it and ask for Detective Nancy Hessman. She's the detective in charge of the case."
Vin had the speaker on, on his cell so everyone could hear her.
"Miss West," Ezra said with barely controlled anger. "why wasn't Mr. Tanner informed of this Mr. Crane when he let his intentions be known that he intended to adopt his daughter?"
Miss West hesitated at the calm, barely controlled anger she heard over the phone. "Because, Agent Standish, until the man is caught and convicted, by law, I am not allowed to utter a word. There is a bench warrant out for him. If you can detain him, that would be great."
"Why can't ya say anythin'?" Vin asked.
"It's an open investigation. The courts are reexamining some of our adoptions. You see, Crane had a web site. He posted pics of children for adoption purposes. That's what he said when he was asked about the photos. He said he needed to record the children's birthmarks, scars and whatever else would identify the children for potential parents. He was told not to leave the state."
"Well, he did," Chris stated.
The guys and CJ heard the sigh. "Call Nancy."
"Thank you, Miss West," Vin said and hung up the phone and immediately called Detective Hessman.
As with Miss West, Vin had his phone on speaker. A woman answered, "Amarillo Police Department, how may I direct your call?"
"Detective Nancy Hessman, please," Vin answered.
"One moment please."
A few minutes later, another voice was heard, "Detective Hessman."
Vin smiled at the familiar voice, "Hey there, Nan."
"Tanner? Is that you?"
"Yep," Vin answered.
"You old bloodhound. It's been a long time. What have ya been doing? I heard ya became a Fed."
Vin laughed, "Yeah I did." Vin became serious. "I hear ya have a warrant out on a Mr. Henry Crane?"
"That I do, Vinny. How did you find out?"
"I asked Miss West about him and she gave me yer number and said to ask you."
"Yeah, the weasel skipped bail little more than a year ago. It's as if he vanished in thin air."
Vin looked up at his team mates and smiled. "I know yer birthday is next week, so here's a birthday gift fer ya, he's here in Denver working at the preschool my daughter goes to. He goes by the name of Carlton Byrd."
"When can ya come and get him?"
"I can be there tomorrow morning."
"Good. And, Nan? When did ya change yer name?"
"When I got married last year. If ya stuck around, you could have been there."
"Congratulations, Nan. I'll see ya tomorrow."
"Sure thing, Vinny."
Vin hung up the phone. Vin then called the police precinct the preschool was in and told them what was needed to be done. The officer he talked to said he get right on it. Vin hung up the phone.
Buck smiled at Vin. "Bloodhound?"
"Yeah. I was a bounty hunter when I met her. She's good people." Vin smiled at the moniker.
"She called you Vinny," JD smiled.
"She's the only one alive ta ever call me that and get away with it." Vin glared.
Team seven went back to work. CJ took out the coloring book and colored pencils from her back pack and started to color. A couple of hours later, a uniformed officer entered team seven's offices.
"I was told a Special Agent Vincent Tanner could be found here,' the officer said when he entered the offices.
Vin looked up at the man. "I'm Special Agent Vincent Tanner. What ya needin'?"
The Officer looked around the room and saw the faces of the men. He heard about these men and always wanted to meet them, but not like this. He swallowed the lump that formed in his throat. "I am here to inform you, Carlton Byrd, aka, Henry Crane escaped capture."
"What!" Chris said as seven men advanced on the young Officer.
The officer swallowed. "Carlton Byrd, aka..."
"We heard ya, kid," Buck said. "We just don't understand how it could happen."
"I wasn't in on the bust, Sir. I have no idea how it could have happened," the officer said as he backed up. "All I know is what I was told. My Captain said to tell Larabee if he wants to hit anyone to talk to him," The Officer said, then looked at the seven men. "Who's Larabee?"
"I'm Chris Larabee. Who's your Captain?"
"43rd?" The Officer nodded. "Tell Boyle to come himself next time."
"Yes Sir, Agent Larabee," the officer said and left as quickly as he could.
Chris pinched the bridge of his nose. "He sent a rookie to face us."
"He knew you wouldn't do anything to him," Buck said.
"I'm sorry Vin. Call Detective Hessman back and let her know," Chris sighed and went to his office.
Vin didn't like the idea of having to tell Nancy that her man got away. Vin sat back in his chair after he hung up the phone. He looked down where CJ laid on her stomach, coloring. He watched her for a few minutes.
Ezra watched Vin closely. He had a feeling, Vin was thinking of tracking the bastard. He knew if anyone could find the man, Vin could.
"Mr. Tan...Vin? If you are contemplating, what I think you are, please don't. You are to close to it. You could very well jeopardize the investigation and the bastard could get off on a technicality. We do not want that to happen."
Vin sighed, "I know, Ez. That's why I'm still here and not out there huntin' him down. But I don't know how long I can wait."
It was nearing quitting time. Vin couldn't focus on his work knowing Crane was out there in the streets of Denver. His town. He knew the streets as well as anyone and in some parts, more than anyone. He knew he could find him. Nancy didn't call him her favorite bloodhound for nothing. Vin Tanner was good at two things, shooting and tracking. Maybe even the best. But Ezra was right and he knew it. But how could he just sit here and do nothing.
Ezra sighed, he knew when Vin had made the decision to go after Crane. All Ezra could do now was hope and pray nothing happens to him. Ezra had no doubt in Vin's abilities, he just didn't want to tell Charity of her father's incarceration, let alone, death.
Vin looked up at Ezra when he felt the man's glaring eyes on him. Blue and green glared at one another. The war didn't go unnoticed by the others. Chris came out of his office and stared at the two. He knew what Vin was planning.
"Vin? My office, now."
Reluctantly, Vin followed Chris into his office. "I know what yer goin' ta say, Chris." Vin started when he shut the door. "But I can't just sit by and do nothin'. I can't."
Chris nodded his head. "So you're willing to let Charity grow up without either of her parents?"
"Of course not! Who says I'll get killed?" Vin said in out rage.
"Who said you were going to get killed? You could find yourself in jail for impeding an on going investigation. Either way, Ezra would be the one more than likely raising both girls. You going to put that kind of responsibility on him?"
Vin sighed, "No."
"It's almost quitting time, you and Ez go home and you calm down. Let the police handle Crane. I don't want to have to suspend you. I really don't want to visit you in the hospital or behind bars. And I don't want to talk about the other."
Vin stood. "Okay, I'll stay out of it."
Chris followed Vin out of the office. "It's almost quitting time, Guys. Shut down and go home."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra and Vin entered their home. Terri heard them arrive and let Rorie go up stairs to the main house to greet them. Ezra went to the top of the basement stairs and called down to Terri to come and join them.
Vin, Ezra and the girls were in the living room when Terri joined them.
"We have something to discuss with you. It has come to our attention, Charity has been exposed to the varicella virus," Ezra informed her.
"Well, both Olivia and I have had them. So were good."
"But Ezra hasn't."
"Unfortunately, Vin is correct," Ezra confirmed.
"That's not good, Ezra. Do you know the danger you're in?"
Ezra sighed, "Thanks to Buck, I am well aware what kind of danger I may be facing.
Vin looked up at Ezra. "Ya have been going ta bed earlier than usual."
Terri looked from Vin to Ezra. "Have you had any headaches lately?"
"Mrs. Greer, I suffer from migraines from time to time, so having a headache is not uncommon for myself."
Vin looked up at Terri. "That would be a yes."
Terri nodded. "How about aching muscles, loss of appetite, nauseous?"
"It's the flu season," Ezra answered. He didn't like where this was going.
Terri left to go to her basement apartment then she returned with something she passed over his forehead.
"Mrs. Greer," Ezra said and took a step back away from the machine Terri had.
Terri showed Ezra the reading. "You have a low grade fever."
"Again, it is flu season," Ezra huffed.
"Well, when you break out in a rash and get so tired, you can't even lift your head up off your pillow, and it hurts to even move the slightest bit. Let me know. Anything else?"
Vin thought about telling her about Crane. He decided she should know. He told her everything. She listened to every word. She told him she would keep an eye out for the man, should he ever come after CJ.
Terri went back down to her basement apartment.
CJ looked up at Vin. "Daddy? What do chicken pox look like?"
Between Vin and Ezra, they described the rash.
Rorie looked over at CJ.
Ezra crossed his arms in front of him and raised an eye brow. "Rorie? Charity? Is there something we should be privy to"
CJ shrugged. "Well, maybe."
"Go on," Ezra encouraged.
CJ sighed. "Last week, Nicky wanted me to scratch his back but I told him no. He had pink stuff all over it."
"The same Nicky you had an altercation with earlier today?" Ezra asked.
"Uh-huh. He still had pink stuff on him, but not as much."
Vin smiled up at Ezra. "Least wise we know where it came from."
"That's not very reassuring, Vin," Ezra said as he dropped into an overstuffed chair. "I can not believe I have avoided the dreaded disease all through my childhood and adolescent years to have to come down with it in my thirties."
Rorie climbed up into her father's lap. "CJ didn't mean ta git ya sick Daddy."
Ezra looked down at his daughter. "I know this, Darlin'. I am not blaming her for it. I am, however, blaming the parents of the Nicky child."
CJ left Vin's lap and stood next to Ezra. "Sorry Unca Ezra. Iffin I'd knowed what the spots was, I'd a told ya and maybe you'd not catch it."
Ezra patted CJ's arm. "By that time, you had already been exposed and therefore, brought it home to the rest of us."
CJ smiled up at her Uncle. "We can be sick together."
Vin snickered. Ezra glared at him.
CJ was truly feeling bad about getting her Uncle Ezra sick. Ezra laid his head back against the back of the chair. He really didn't have the energy to do much.
Vin thought Ezra looked wiped out. "Even though it's yer turn to get supper, I'll get it tonight."
"Thank you, Vin. I think I'll go to bed early tonight."
"You really don't feel good, do ya?" Vin said, concerned for his friend.
"I feel a bit under the weather, yes," Ezra agreed.
Vin watched CJ and Rorie. He could tell they were having a silent conversation just between them. Vin remembered his mother telling him she had a best friend that she had mind talks with. Apparently, it runs in the family.
Vin decided to make a quick meal, seeing that Ezra wouldn't be up for a large dinner.
After dinner, the girls went upstairs to their playroom to play. Vin loaded the dish washer and started it. When he entered the living room, Ezra was asleep in his recliner. Vin sighed and tapped Ezra on the shoulder. "Ya have a bed, Ez. I can handle bath time tonight."
Ezra nodded as he put the foot rest down. "Thank you, Vin."
Ezra made his way up stairs to his room. Vin watched him go up the stairs as he made a phone call.
"Larabee," Chris answered.
"Hey there, Chris. Ez and me won't be in tomorrow."
"You think maybe he has chicken pox?"
"Yeah, I do. I ain't seen a rash, but he has all the other symptoms. He fell asleep in his chair. I know he ain't got the appetite me, Buck and JD has, but he didn't eat much at supper."
"Okay, I'll call Nathan and let him know."
"Thanks Chris. I'll keep ya'll informed," Vin said and hung up. Vin looked down at his watch, the girls had another hour before they had to clean up the playroom and bath time. Vin went up to let them know.
Vin stood in the door way. "One hour girls. Ya need ta keep it down, Ezra went to bed."
"'Kay, Unca Vin."
The girls waited for Vin to leave then nodded to one another before they picked up the toys. They then listened to be sure Vin wasn't coming back any time soon. Rorie stood on the toy chest and turned the old wall sconce to the left. When she did, a portion of the back wall slid open to reveal a secret passage way with a spiral staircase that lead up to the attic and down to the first floor of the house. After they went through the wall opening, CJ stood on a step stool and pressed a button that closed the wall opening. She then jumped down and she and Rorie ran to the staircase and went up to the attic.
Vin went to his room to take a shower when his cell phone rang. He smiled at the name on the caller ID, Dr. Jo Waterhouse.
The girls went to a chest and opened it and took out the old cloths and started to play dress up. There were decks of cards and cigar boxes of cash and gold coins.
"We better be gettin' back before Daddy comes and gets us," CJ thought.
Rorie nodded and the girls put the cloths and their play money away and went back to the play room. Once inside the room, they heard Vin coming down the hall way. Rorie ran to the toy chest and quickly turned the sconce back in place and jumped down just as the wall slid closed.
Vin entered the room and looked around the room and noticed the room was already picked up. He looked from one girl to the other and knew something was up but nothing looked out of place. They had smiles on their faces as if they had done something wrong.
"Okay you two, what's up?"
"Not a thing, Unca Vin."
The girls answered Vin at the same time.
"Okay," a skeptical Vin said. "Any ways, Dr. Waterhouse said for ya ta stay in CJ's room for now, Rorie."
"Yeah!" Both girls said.
Vin gave them their baths and tucked them into bed. He made his way down stairs and dialed Nathan's number on his way. "Hey, Nate. Yeah, Charity and Rorie has 'em. I seen spots when I gave them their baths. Okay. I'll see ya in a bit." Vin hung up the phone.
In a couple of hours, Ezra made his way down the stairs and into the kitchen where Vin and Nathan were having coffee and chatting.
"Good evening, Mr. Jackson. What brings you out to our home?" Ezra asked as he went to the coffee pot and poured himself a cup.
"I seen spots on the girls when I's given' 'em a bath. I phoned Nate and he brought some stuff for the girls and you."
Nathan got up from where he was sitting and walked over to Ezra. "May I look at your back?"
Ezra sighed, "There is no need. They're there. At least wise I assume so since they're on my chest."
"I am so sorry, Ezra." Nathan said and felt it. He patted Ezra on the back.
The two men made their way back to the kitchen table and sat down.
Ezra took a sip of coffee. "Do we know the whereabouts of Mr. Byrd, aka, Mr. Crane?"
Unknown to the three men, the back wall of the pantry slid open and two little girls snuck in to raid the pantry when they stopped to over hear the three men. CJ sighed.
Ezra sighed, "Remind me to call an exterminator."
Vin and Nathan looked toward Ezra. "Why's that, Ez?" Vin asked.
Ezra looked toward the pantry. "The rat. Can't you hear it? I am not going in the pantry to show you, but I just heard it scurry in there as well as earlier when I laid down in my bed. I swear I heard it in the attic above my room."
Nathan tried to hold his mirth in but listening to Ezra go on about the rat that he knows he has in his walls.
Vin listened carefully to hear the rat Ezra was talking about. "I don't hear a thin', Ez. Are ya sure ya heard somethin'?"
Ezra glared at Vin. "I know what I heard, Mr. Tanner."
"Okay, Ez. I just ain't seen any rat droppin's."
"Thank the good lord for that."
In the pantry, CJ and Rorie wanted to laugh so bad, that they hurried up and grabbed the snacks they came down for and left through the shelf lined, opened wall and after closing it, they ran quietly to the spiral staircase that led to the second floor and secret passage way behind their playroom. The passage lead to both wings of the house. The girls went to Vin's and CJ's wing of the house. They entered through the small door in CJ's closet.
Nathan jerked around toward the pantry when he hard a noise.
"See? We have a rat. Nathan heard it."
Vin stood up. "I heard it too, Ez."
Vin opened the pantry door and looked inside the walk in pantry after he turned the light on. He looked over the food and saw that the rat hadn't been eating on any of the food, but there seemed to be some of the food missing.
Nathan came up behind him and looked around. "What did you find, Vin?"
"Nothin'," Vin answered. "It ain't in here now, but I can see it's been in here afore cause there's food missing." Vin shut the light off and exited the pantry.
Nathan followed Vin back to the kitchen. "Maybe you have ghosts, Ezra. This is an old house."
Ezra raised an eyebrow at Nathan. "Seriously, Mr. Jackson?"
Vin hid his grin from Ezra by going over to the coffee pot to get himself a cup of coffee.
Nathan didn't hide his grin. "Sure, why not?"
"Because they do not exist."
Up stairs in CJ's room, the girls were laughing. "Oh we are going to have so much fun," Rorie said when she stopped laughing.
"Oh, yeah," CJ agreed, then took a bite of the snack cake she and Rorie snitched.
+ + + + + + +
For the next two days, Ezra pretty much stayed in bed as per the doctors orders. Terri Greer took care of the girls and Ezra during the day while Vin took over after work. Chris and the others would stop in and check on things then either go home or back to work. The girls had fun exploring the passage ways. Up in the attic, they found more stuff to play with. They found rolls of paper they could color on.
The exterminator said he didn't find any sign of a rat problem. Vin suggested there might be a hole up in the attic for the critter to get in and out of. This didn't ease Ezra's mind and nerves at all.
"How am I going to plug up this hole in my attic if there is no key to the attic door?" Ezra asked when Vin refilled Ezra and his coffee cups.
"It really bothers you, don't it?" Vin asked as he brought their coffee cups to the kitchen table and sat down.
"Thank you," Ezra said and took the coffee cup and took a sip. "Yes it does. If one critter, as you put it, can get in through the said hole, what is to prevent other critters from doing so? Before you know it, there's a menagerie of wild life living in my attic."
Vin got up from the table. "I'm goin' ta look in on the girls."
"You look like ya need ta go lie down."
"Yes. I am a bit tired, but when I go to bed, the itching starts."
"And ya can't sleep." Vin smiled. Vin felt bad for his friend having to go through the chicken pox. Vin patted Ezra on the shoulder. "I probably should go and check on the girls."
Ezra nodded his head. "That would be wise."
Vin stopped at the bottom of the stairs. "I was just coming ta check on ya."
"We thought ya might, Unca Vin. How's Daddy?"
"He's real tired and not feelin' good."
"We's tryin' ta keep quiet," CJ said in concern.
"I know Munchkin. Yer doin' real good, too. Ya hungry?"
"Yes," both girls said at the same time.
Vin led the way to the kitchen where they found Ezra with his head down on folded arms across the table. Vin patted Ezra on the shoulder. "Go to bed, Ez."
Ezra stood. "Yes, I probably should." Ezra took a couple of steps and felt the room spin and had to grab onto one of the kitchen chair backs to steady himself.
Vin reached out to steady Ezra. "Whoa there, Ez. Doc said ya gonna feel weak and ta stay in bed. I'll bring ya some pain meds."
The girls stood back as Vin helped Ezra to get his bearings.
"Thank you Vin. I think I can make it now," Ezra said as he straightened up.
Ezra did make it back to his room and into bed. Vin came in with his meds. After Vin made sure Ezra was taken care of, he went back down stairs to get the girls something to eat.
"What do ya want ta eat?" Vin asked as he looked in the freezer.
"Mac and cheese and chicken balls," both girls answered.
Vin smiled and laughed to himself when they said chicken balls. Their chicken balls were popcorn chicken. The first time Charity asked for them, Buck was taking a drink of his coffee and ended up choking and coughing. No one knew what she was talking about until he called Miss West and she told him they were popcorn chicken when she stopped laughing.
Vin sat plates of mac and cheese and chicken balls down in front of the girls when the cordless phone rang. "Hey there Cowboy. What's up?" Vin said when he looked at the caller ID.
"Is Terri home to watch the girls?"
"Not yet, why?"
"We've got a tip on Crane."
"I'll call Nettie," Vin said he would be there as soon as Nettie arrived.
+ + + + + + +
Casey showed up instead of Nettie. She told Vin Nettie called her because she was closer and that he needed to go.
"Thanks Case. Ezra's upstairs in bed and the girls are in the kitchen eatin' supper." Vin called Chris' cell and told him he was on his way as he left through the front door.
The girls came out of the kitchen when Vin left.
"Casey?" CJ said, "Can we go color in Unca Ezra's room?"
"We'll be real quiet," Rorie said.
Casey looked down at the girls. She could tell they were frightened and needed to be near one of their fathers. "Sure, if you promise not to disturb him."
"We won't," both girls said and ran upstairs to the play room to get their coloring books and pencils.
Casey cleaned up the kitchen then settled in on the sofa to watch some TV.
The girls quietly crept into Ezra's room and laid down on the hardwood floor and opened their coloring books and started to color.
+ + + + + + +
Casey was channel surfing when she thought she heard glass breaking in the kitchen and got up to investigate.
Casey turned on the kitchen light and screamed when she saw the strange man come straight at her.
Upstairs in Ezra's room, Ezra sat straight up when he heard Casey scream. "Girls, stay where you are and do not leave this room," Ezra said as he got out of bed. He went to the wardrobe and took out the metal box and with the key that hung around his neck, opened it. Inside he took out his extra Glock and checked to see if it was loaded.
Down stairs, Casey is shoved into the walk in pantry by Crane. He shoved a kitchen chair up under the door knob to keep her in it. He then grabbed a knife from the knife block on the counter, and made his way toward the front of the house. Since the house was dark, the only light was coming from the living room, he figured the Fed was upstairs with that little brat that got him in trouble back in Texas. He hoped no one was alarmed when the young woman screamed, but he wasn't taking any chances. With the knife from the kitchen, he crept his way through the quiet and darkened house to the stairway.
Ezra quietly made his way toward his bedroom door. He leaned against the door jam and shook his head to get rid of the dizziness that hit him.
Ezra shaking his head did not go unnoticed by the girls. "Unca Ezra? Are you okay?"
Ezra looked back at the girls. "Don't worry, I'll be fine. Just stay here and call Vin and the others on my cell there on the bedside table."
CJ crawled over to the bedside table and got the cell as Ezra left through the bedroom door into a darkened hallway. CJ held the phone up to her ear after she speed dialed her dad. Rorie had followed CJ to the table and was sitting next to her when Vin answered.
"Daddy! Someone's here and Unca Ezra gots a gun and went afta 'em."
Rorie took the phone. "Unca Vin, ya got ta get back here. We heard Casey scream."
Both girls whipped the heads toward the bedroom door when they heard the stairs creek, then back at one another.
"Rorie? Where are ya?" Vin asked as he whipped his Jeep around and headed back home.
"We's in Daddy's room."
"Stay there. I'm coming back. I got ta let ya go so I can call yer Uncles."
"I will, Pumpkin."
Vin called Chris after Rorie hung up and told him what was going on at Ezra and his place.
Chris raced out of his office, yelling for the others.
Back at the house, CJ crawled to the bedroom door and looked out into the hall. She saw Ezra leaning heavily against the wall. He had the gun in his hands and was blowing wind through his mouth, like he was having a hard time breathing.
CJ looked back at Rorie, and thought, "Daddy ain't goin' ta get here in time ta help yer dad. We got ta do somethin'.
Rorie looked over at CJ. "Like what? Our Dads told us to stay here," Rorie thought back.
"I know, but who ever it is, gots ta go past the play room," CJ thought and ran to the closet.
Rorie followed CJ into the passage ways. They ran to the play room and entered through the wall. Neither one bothered to shut it after them. Instead, they made their way toward the doorway. CJ looked out into the hall but ducked back in quickly.
"Oh no, it's Mr. Crane. We need a flash light," CJ thought.
Rorie nodded and went got the toy truck that was a flashlight. CJ gave her a thumbs up.
CJ smiled. "I have a club," She held up her casted arm. "If ya shine the flash light in his eyes, I can hit him in his bad knee with my cast."
Rorie agreed it was a good plan. When Crane got close enough, Rorie turned the flash light on and shown it in Cranes eyes and blinded him long enough for CJ to reach out and with everything she had, she swung her casted arm and connected with Cranes knee, forcing him to crumble to the floor. The knife that was in his hand went sliding across the hard wood floor of the hall way to stop in front of Ezra. Crane crawled to the knife but saw Ezra lean out from the connecting hallway, he then noticed CJ and Rorie and made a move toward them. He stopped when he heard the distinct sound of a gun cocking and looked back up at Ezra.
"Make one more move, and I swear, I'll blow your head off."
Vin came into the house, gun in hand and made his way to the stairs and quietly crept up the stairs. When he got to the top, he sighed and put his gun away and took out his hand cuffs and cuffed Crane.
Ezra dropped his hands and slid down the hallway wall to land on his butt. CJ and Rorie ran from the play room to Ezra and knelt down beside him.
After looking both the girls over, Ezra sighed, and looked them in the eye. "The two of you disobeyed me."
"I know, but Daddy wasn't goin' ta get here in time ta help ya," CJ pleaded.
Vin dragged Crane over and sat him against a wall then went back to Ezra and the girls. He knelt down in front of them. "Charity? I's told ya ta stay put." Vin was angry with the girls. So was Ezra.
Ezra leaned his head back against the wall. It just occurred to him, the girls didn't pass him on their way to the play room. Ezra brought his head down and looked the girls in the eyes. "How did the two of you get to the playroom without passing me in the hallway?"
Before the girls could answer, the rest of team seven arrived.
Casey was finally let out of the pantry when Josiah heard the pounding on the pantry door.
"How are the girls and Ezra?" Casey asked as soon as she was let out.
"They're okay, Casey," Josiah told her.
"I was so scared," Casey said when she saw JD.
JD held her and patted her back. Josiah left JD to comfort Casey and went to join the others.
Nathan checked Ezra out and found him to be feverish and wanted him to go back to bed.
Ezra glared at Nathan. "Not until Charity and Aurora answer my question."
"What question is that?" Chris asked.
"How did they get past me without me seeing them."
"Through the walls," both girls sighed.
Six pairs of eyes stared at the girls.
"Come on," CJ and Rorie said and led Vin, Chris, Buck and Josiah to the play room.
Once there, the four men saw the opening in the back wall. They followed the girls into the wall and past the spiral staircase that went to the attic.
Josiah stopped at the staircase and looked up. "Where does this go?"
"The attic. Come on." The girls led them to Ezra's room and through his closet.
The four men stepped out into Ezra's room as Nathan was helping Ezra into bed.
Nathan and Ezra were shocked to say the least when CJ, Rorie, Vin, Buck Chris and Josiah stepped out of the closet.
"Told ya Daddy, the walls," Rorie said and came to stand next to the bed.
"We's been havin' fun in the walls," CJ said and stood next to Rorie.
Ezra looked to the girls. "How did you discover the passage way in the wall?"
"We were playing in the playroom and accidently knocked the wall light over. I thought I broke it," CJ confessed.
"Then the wall opened up. We had to check it out," Rorie smiled.
"There's stairs Unca Ezra."
"Yeah, it goes up to the attic and down stairs."
"And there's a little 'vator that goes from up here to the basement."
"I think we found our rats, Ez"
"I believe you are correct, Vin," Ezra sighed.
"Wait till you see the cool stuff in the attic."
Josiah was curious about the attic.
JD came in and told everyone the Sheriff took Crane and said he would get Ezra's statement later since he wasn't going anywhere.
"Hey, Rorie, CJ? Mind showing me what ya found in the attic?"
"Sure Unca Josiah."
The girls led Josiah and Chris to the attic using the spiral staircase.
Chris and Josiah looked at all the stuff the girls were playing with then at one another and burst out laughing.
Josiah looked in one of the trunks and whistled. "Chris?"
Chris went over to Josiah and looked in the trunk. "Those are old."
"Yeah, I'd say mid to late nineteenth century," Josiah agreed.
"We didn't touch any thing in there," Rorie said.
Josiah and Chris watched as the girls showed them all the stuff they played with.
"I think I had better go and get the others," Josiah said and left the attic.
Josiah came back with the others. Vin and Nathan helped Ezra up the stairs and guided him to an old trunk he could sit on.
Ezra looked around the attic. "I had no idea all this stuff was up here."
"There's quite a few trunks up here and it looks like the girls have been having themselves a ball up here exploring it all," Chris said.
Josiah handed Ezra a cigar box. "There's more of them just like this one."
Ezra looked in the box and pulled a few bills and examined them closer then looked up at Josiah. "It's confederate money."
"That's our play money, Daddy," Rorie said.
Ezra raised an eyebrow. "Play money?"
Chris showed Ezra the trunk that he and Josiah looked in earlier. Ezra was shocked to say the least. The trunk had firearms from the eighteen hundreds.
The real estate agent didn't know where the key was. I was going to have a locksmith come and make a new one. I am pleased I had not done that as of yet."
"Here's the key Unca Ezra." CJ handed the key to Ezra.
Ezra took the key from CJ and sighed, "Well, I am exhausted. I'm going to turn in for the night. I have a lot to think over and with the pending visit of the County Sheriff some time soon, I fear I'm going to need all the sleep I can get. Good night," Ezra said and let Nathan help him to bed.
Ezra heard good nights from everyone as he went down stairs to his room. He was out before his head hit the pillow.
The six men and two girls went down to the living room. The men dropped down into the various furniture. CJ and Rorie crawled up into Vin's lap.
Terri and Olivia came home at that time. The guys told Terri of what went on while she took Olivia trick or treating at the collage. Olivia handed CJ and Rorie each a bag of candy. Olivia felt bad that Rorie and CJ couldn't go trick or treating because they were sick with the chicken pox.
"How about sharing all that candy with yer Uncle Buck?" Buck asked.
"Nah. Don't think so. We had ta miss trick or treatin' because we got sick," CJ said.
"How about I just chase ya and take it?" Buck said as he started to get up off the couch.
Rorie and CJ looked at one another then back at the adults and smiled. "You can try to take our candy. You fergot, Unca Buck, we know where most of the hidden doors are in this house and can hide anywhere and you won't ever find us," CJ said and Rorie just smiled in agreement.
Chris leaned over to Vin. "You do realize the implications of that statement, right?"
Vin nodded his head. "Yeah, I do," Vin then looked over at Chris. "And it scares the hell out of me."
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