Atlantan Legacy XIII - Firestorm

by Squeakypeep

Disclaimer: Not Mine.. no profit.

Acknowledgements: Mog’s Universe - Thank you.

Just a short piece that focuses on Vin and his wilderness skills. I don’t have many such skills myself so if you ever find yourself in this situation – don’t take what he does as Gospel – I made it up! Love to hear what you think. Any more ideas for this series?

Comments: - be nice.

Saturday 28th July
‘Daddy!’ Rorie came rushing into the kitchen. It was mid morning and Ezra hadn’t seen her the previous evening since the whole team had gone to the Saloon to celebrate the end of another successful bust and this morning she had gone to the store with Terri and Olivia.

‘Good Morning Aurora.’ He carefully placed his coffee on the table and folded the newspaper. He frowned at her shoes and she quickly toed them off, leaving them in the middle of the kitchen floor.

‘Daddy guess what?’ Rorie padded over to his knee in small bare feet, her lingering baby flat-footedness causing them to make soft ‘thwack, thwack’ noises as they landed on the tiles.

‘What?’ He winced as she climbed onto his lap, childishly oblivious to his sensitive anatomy. He removed her knee from his groin and smiled at her, placing a kiss on her nose.

‘We’re going on an outing from school on Monday, right up into the mountains. It’s gonna be great. We get to take a picnic and walk in the woods and…

‘…and how exactly is this expedition related to your lessons?’ She was supposed to be studying music, acting and dance. Ezra couldn’t see the connection.

‘There’s a natural anti-theatre we are going to see. We all get to take a turn at performing, kinda like a recital.’

‘I believe you mean amphitheatre.’

‘Zactly! That’s what I said.’ She looked at him as if he was being deliberately obtuse and he chuckled. ‘You have to sign the paper to give percussion…’


‘…for me to go. Can I Daddy, please?’

‘I think I could allow that, if you promise to be on your best behavior. Why don’t you go and fetch the permission slip?’

‘Okay.’ She slid off his lap and shot out of the kitchen towards the cloakroom. He heard the muffled sounds of her greeting Vin in the corridor, his colleague’s deep rumble mingling with the child’s higher pitched tones. The two returned to the kitchen together.

‘Mornin’ Ez.’ Tanner was limping slightly, the result of a fairly insignificant injury the sustained in the bust the day before. He was also sporting a bandaged hand and a minor concussion and had been given three days medical leave as a result, much to his disgust. At least two of the days were over the weekend. He’d be back in the office by Tuesday.

‘Vin.’ Ezra took the envelope being waved in his face and watched as his daughter pulled out a chair for Vin before asking what type of Pop Tarts he wanted this morning. She dragged a stool over to the cabinets and clambered onto the counter, depositing two Very Berry Strawberry Pop Tarts into the toaster.

‘Aurora. I do not care to have you climbing on the countertops.’ His tone was chiding and she dimpled at him unapologetically.

‘I’m just helping Uncle Vin, Daddy. He’s got a poorly leg and a sore hand.’ Her tone made him wonder if perhaps she was the parent and he the child. Vin laughed. He let it slide.

‘Don’t make it a habit.’

He focused on the permission slip, signing his name in the appropriate box and fishing in his wallet for the ten dollars requested for ‘miscellaneous expenses’.

‘It states here that they are requesting any available parents to provide extra adult supervision on the trip.’ He raised his brows at his daughter. ‘You didn’t mention that.’ He wrinkled his brow consideringly.

‘Didn’t think it mattered. I know you’re going to be at work.’ Rorie shrugged. ‘Aren’t you?’

‘I am indeed. However…’ He left the sentence unfinished and gazed at Vin.

‘Am I bein’ volunteered fer something?’ The Texan took on expression of extreme caution

‘Mr Tanner, I know how you hate having to take compulsory sick leave, perhaps a short trip into the mountains would be an acceptable distraction from your misery?’ He handed the slip to Vin so he could see what they were talking about.

‘Yer goin’ ta the mountains?’ Now he looked interested.

‘Yahuh. On Monday. You gonna come?’ Rorie was excited by the prospect of having one of her favorite adults along for the outing. Uncle Vin was her first choice for trips to the wilderness. He could answer any and all the questions she could think up.

‘I could. I guess with lots of little kids they won’t be walkin’ too far.’ Vin grinned at his niece. He loved to tell her about all the plants and animals they encountered in the woods and was proud to be able to teach her something, God only knew he was no good to her in the academic department.

‘Indeed. If you would be so kind as to take the video camera and capture Rorie’s performance, I’d appreciate it.’ Ezra smiled at the two enthusiastic faces. Sometimes having Tanner around was like having a second child. A mischievous long-haired, blue-eyed troublemaker. He shuddered.

‘Sounds good. Let’s hope them summer forest fires ta the North don’t spread far enough ta make ‘em cancel the trip.’ Over the course of the next few days, both Agents would have cause to wish they had never heard of the adventure.

11:45 am

The children had been split into groups between the five accompanying adults. Vin was given Rorie, two older girls and a little boy with bright red hair and a mass of freckles. He claimed to be seven but Vin thought he looked more like a five year old.

Having endured the hour-long singsong on the bus, they were all relieved to climb out and start the hike to the rocky cliff where Mother Nature herself had carved the natural amphitheatre out of the mountains. As such it wasn’t much to look at, just a roughly semi-circular indent in an otherwise blank wall of rock. As the children milled around and explored it became clear exactly what was so special about this particular feature.

Arranging the group around on the grassy rise facing the rock, the two teachers stood at the bottom of the incline and whispered softly to each other. Looks of amazement crossed the faces of the audience as they realised that the sound travelled unerringly right up to where they sat, clear as day.

Pretty soon the children were taking turns to perform, playing small portable instruments, reciting poems or acting out scenes of plays. Vin switched his camera to standby as the time approached for Rorie to have a turn.

Rising to her feet and trotting down to the spot pointed out by the teacher, she turned around and beamed at the audience. Vin chuckled. There was no way he could stand up in front of a crowd like that but exhibitionism seemed to be a natural ingredient in the make up of a Standish. He flicked the switch on the camera and focused the lens on the mini performer.

Rorie had decided to try singing a nursery rhyme, one her father often sang to her when he was bathing her or putting her to bed.
Hush Little Darling don’t you cry
Papa’s gonna sing you a lullaby
And if that lullaby…

Vin put the camera down to join in the applause as Rorie began to climb back up to where he was sitting. As she settled beside him he tensed, senses alert, knowing instinctively something wasn’t right. He glanced around but couldn’t see any danger and it wasn’t until he sniffed the air that he detected smoke. He hoped it was just a campfire. The area was popular with campers and climbers nearly all year round so it was possible. His instincts told him different.

Telling his charges to stay put, he rose to his feet and took a short walk around. The forest was very quiet, unnaturally quiet. Vin’s acute survival instincts kicked in. He didn’t like this one bit. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled. He edged down the slope and approached Rorie’s teacher, Mrs Preston. They had a quiet animated conversation. Mr Faversham, the leader of the expedition, joined in, curious to know what was going on.

From her perch on the hill, Rorie watched the adults. Uncle Vin was gesturing madly and Mr Faversham was shaking his head. Mrs Preston just looked worried. She wondered what was going on. They’d listened to two more children perform when suddenly a couple of hikers appeared, running up the trail.

‘Jesus, Kids!’ The breathless man looked horrified to find twenty odd children and five adults lounging on the grass.

‘There’s a fire coming. You have to move. NOW!’ The pair disappeared on an uphill trail on the opposite side of the clearing from where they’d emerged moments earlier.

Vin gave Mr Faversham a withering look and shot up the hill to grab Rorie and the rest of his contingent, a boy of about six and two more girls of around eight. He set off uphill calling ‘FOLLOW ME, ALL OF YOU, NOW!’

‘Where are you going? The bus is that way.’ Faversham pointed down the trail where the hikers had appeared.

‘They came from there. Too late ta head fer the buses. We’ll go ta Carson’s Ridge, there are caves in the rocks. Trust me, I know what I’m doin’.’

‘I agree with Mr Tanner, Sir.’ Mrs Preston grabbed her group and followed the Texan. One of the other adults also set off in their direction, herding his group of four boys as fast as he could in pursuit of the fleeing ATF Agent.

‘Stop! I am in control of this party and I say we head to the buses, there’s the lake down there. We can get into the water if necessary.’

‘Look Mister.’ Vin stopped, allowing the whole group to catch up. He was furious. They were wasting precious time. ‘I’m responsible fer this kid.’ He motioned Rorie. ‘And I ain’t about ta let her or any o’ my others die. I know ‘bout the wilderness, I was raised on a Reservation. Ya kin head fer the lake but ya won’t make it. Them kids deserve ta live. Now follow me.’ He set off again.

‘How dare you! Come back here!’ The Texan ignored him. ‘I am taking my children this way. You will be responsible for those in your care, Mr Tanner, on your head be it. Mrs Preston, Mr Jacks you must decide for yourselves. Come Miss Gladstone. Children.’ Faversham set off briskly downhill accompanied by his assistant, Miss Gladstone, and the seven children under his direct control.

Vin shook his head and hurried his kids uphill. He didn’t like letting Faversham leave with those kids but he had to help those he could. There wasn’t time to argue. The roar of the approaching fire was getting louder.

By the time the exhausted group had made the climb to Carson’s Ridge, they could feel the heat at their backs. Vin quickly scouted the area and selected a cave for their refuge. He ushered all the children inside and spoke quietly with the adults.

‘Mrs Preston, stay with the kids get ‘em ta sit down quietly an' have their snacks. When ya got ‘em settled see if ya kin find a natural basin, somewhere we kin store water without it seepin’ away. Jacks, git every water bottle and canteen ya kin find an’ come with me. There’s a small spring up a ways. We need ta get as much water as possible. We don’t know how long we’re gonna be here.’ Both nodded and set off to do as he said. The scruffy Texan ATF Agent seemed to know what he was doing. Their lives and the lives of thirteen children depended on it.

Small dry bushes were beginning to burst into spontaneous fires when Tanner called a halt to the ferrying of water. He looked down into the small pool they had created. The last load would stay in the bottles, keeping as fresh as possible, and be used as their first drinking water. He looked around. Mrs Preston had found an old blanket and some bits of wood, a bent tin cup and a broken fishing pole, in the cave. He had taken the blanket to the spring on the last visit and it dripped heavily with water.

He glanced over at the huddled group of kids. Most of them were dirty and scared. Rorie grinned confidently at him and he found himself smiling back, buoyed up by her trust. His leg ached and he badly needed to rest but there were a few more things to do before he could. Grabbing the sopping blanket and the fishing pole he motioned to the bits of wood and Jacks picked them up unquestioningly. They moved towards the mouth of the cave. The one Vin had selected was slightly curved and cut deeply into the hillside so they could huddle out of the direct glare of the fire. The thing that concerned him most was the smoke.

‘Wanna git this blanket up as a kinda smoke screen. Not too close ta the heat but so’s we kin keep some’a the smoke out.’ Jacks nodded. ‘Need ta keep it high. Smoke rises.’ They stretched the blanket between the walls, wedging it up as well as they could. By the time Vin was satisfied it hung roughly half way to the floor, sealed as tightly as possible at the top.

‘Okay. Thanks Jacks. Let’s git back ta them kids.’



‘My name, Don Jacks.’ They arrived back where the children were sitting. Mrs Preston smiled at him and he felt himself blush, thankful it wouldn’t be too obvious in the dimness.

‘Vivian Preston. I teach acting at the school and this is my daughter Heather.’ She nodded to the child tucked tightly into her left side.

‘I’m Eddie Jacks, he’s my dad.’ A freckled boy of about nine smiled in relief as his father settled beside him and placed a comforting arm around his shoulder.

‘Which one is yours Mr Tanner?’

‘Call me Vin, Ma’am. Rorie here’s m’ niece.’ He indicated the small blonde who grinned at him and clambered onto his knee, entirely confident of her welcome. He glanced around at the rest of the frightened group. ‘What about the rest o’ ya? What’s yer names?’

One by one the kids introduced themselves. Of the thirteen kids there were 7 girls and 6 boys. Rorie was the smallest, although another, larger, child also claimed to be four. The eldest was Heather Preston who was ten.

Vin sat leaning against the rock wall, Rorie on his lap and the red haired Charlie Davis leaning against his side. Occasionally he would get up to check the progress of the fire until eventually it grew too hot to venture close to the mouth of the cave. They could hear the roar of the firestorm as it raged close to their refuge.

Mrs Preston managed to keep the children chatting about themselves and their families, telling stories and swapping anecdotes for several hours until one claimed to be hungry. That, of course, started them all off.

‘Whatcha got left in yer knapsacks? Everyone git out whatcha got an’ we’ll share.’ Everyone pulled out what they had and put it in a pile in the center of the circle.

There ensued a picnic of carrots, cheese, chips, stale sandwiches, a tin of sweet corn, a couple of apples and bananas and various snack sized candy bars, slightly melted. Everyone was still hungry when the meal was over but not one child complained.

Vin cuddled Rorie against his chest and, at her insistence, started telling a story. The children listened, enthralled, to how the courageous Indian Brave rescued all the animals from the fierce fire sent down on a marauding tribe by the Great Spirit who was displeased with their lack of respect for the land. He gently rubbed his palm up and down Rorie’s spine in a familiar comforting caress and his voice soothed most of the children to sleep before the dramatic climax to the tale. The smoke was seeping into the rocky cavern and his voice was hoarse by the time he finished speaking.

Vivian Preston smiled at him in the faint glow and handed him a water bottle, which he took gratefully. ‘You have a good way with children Vin.’

Tanner chuckled. ‘I ain’t had much practice with the real little ‘uns but I learned from a good teacher, Ma’am. Rorie’s father is one o’ m’ best friends an’ he’s like the damned pied piper. Kid’s jist love him.’

‘It seems to be contagious. They love you too. Rorie is very luck to have you both.’

Tanner smiled sadly. ‘Well Ma’am she ain’t got a mama but her dad n’ me n’ the others try our best.’

‘There are more?’

‘Yep. Includin’ Ez n’ me, there’s seven o’ us, an’ that ain’t countin’ girlfriends an’ adopted grandmothers an’ the like. We’re a big family.’ Vin closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the rock. He wondered what the rest of the boys were doing.

At about the time Rorie was singing her Nursery Rhyme, Ezra received a call from the school informing him that the area the children were visiting was under a firestorm warning but that as far as they knew everything was fine. They were just keeping him informed. Ezra immediately passed this on to the rest of the team and they switched on the local news.

‘….recent bout of fierce forest fires have spread to within thirty miles of the Northern outskirts of Denver, swallowing vast areas of woodland and leaving devastation in their wake. This latest fire, which authorities believe may have been started deliberately, is travelling steadily East, carried by the prevailing winds, and is expected to consume Garvey Valley, a popular destination with tourists and climbers alike. Local Forest Rangers have been despatched to the valley to clear out any campers who may still be in the area and unaware of the threat. On to other stories, in Four Corners today a man was caught…’ Buck flicked the switch.

Chris turned to Ezra who was looking extremely anxious. He was clearly too worried to bother with expending his energy on producing his poker face. ‘They in Garvey Valley?’ Ezra nodded. The leader turned to the Medic. ‘You’ve got friends in Search and Rescue haven’t you Nate? Can you give them a call and find out what’s happening?’

‘Sure Chris.’

‘Ezra.’ Standish turned to his boss. ‘If my kid was up there, there’s no-one I’d rather have looking out for her than that wild and woolly cowboy.’

Ezra smiled somewhat grimly but agreed. ‘Me neither.’

A few minutes later Nathan put down his phone. ‘Fire’s moved through the main parking area for Garvey Valley. It’s skirting round Dawson’s Lake, heading uphill. They’ve picked up a few hikers and climbers but no school groups. They knew about the group going to the amphitheatre but nobody’s seen them yet.’

Chris pulled out a map of the area. ‘Let’s see if we can work out where Vin would have gone.’

Ezra stood rooted to the spot. JD patted his shoulder. ‘Vin’ll make sure she’s Okay Ez. Try not to worry.’

He nodded, his throat constricted with the worry of possibly losing two people he loved.

Two hours after the initial call, the school rang back.

‘Mr Standish? This is Edgar Levinson at Denver School for the Performing Arts. We have been informed that some of the group from the field trip have been picked up and taken to Mercy General Hospital. As yet we have no names, I’m sorry, and I cannot tell you their condition. I suggest you meet at the hospital with the other families and we will try to give you more information when you arrive.’

Ezra slowly replaced the receiver and took a deep breath. ‘Could someone please drive me to Mercy. I think my hands are shaking too badly.’ He looked up at the worried faces, answering the question nobody wanted to ask. ‘I don’t know. Some of the group have been transported to the hospital, not all, and they don’t have any names.’

‘We’ll all go.’ Chris grabbed his jacket. ‘They’re our family too Ez.’ Standish just nodded.

When they arrived at Mercy General Emergency Department the crowd of anxious families quickly swallowed them up. Being members of the most injury prone ATF Team in the State did have some advantages, however, and the chief nurse approached them immediately.

‘Hey guys. What are you doing here today?’ Mindy smiled wearily at them.

‘The group on the field trip from the school, Mindy, any names yet?’ Nathan stepped forward and shook the outstretched hand.

‘None of your lot.’ She glanced at each face, noting who was absent. ‘Vin taking dance lessons?’

‘Ezra’s daughter is. Her name is Rorie, blonde, four years old. Vin went with her as an accompanying adult.’

Mindy shook her head and indicated a side room. Once inside she shot Ezra a sympathetic look. ‘They aren’t with the group we’ve admitted, I can promise you that. According to the kids there was an argument and they split up. The expedition leader and his assistant took a group of seven kids back down to the parking area and the lake. Unfortunately they got caught there by the fire. The others followed one of the parents uphill. We think the second group consisted of one teacher, two parents and thirteen kids.’

‘Sounds like they were following Vin.’ Chris voiced what they were all thinking.

‘In what kind of condition are the ones who were rescued?’

Mindy examined her hands.

‘Mrs Watkins, you are aware that we always prefer to know what we are dealing with. Please.’ Ezra’s tone was gently persuasive. His hands were shaking and he was desperately worried, both about his daughter and his friend. He wouldn’t contemplate losing either of them.

She looked up at him and took a deep breath. ‘Not good, Ezra, I’m sorry. Only one Adult was brought out alive and he suffered serious burns. I doubt he’ll make it. Two kids are already confirmed dead, one from the smoke, the other drowned in the lake, trying to get away from the flames. The five surviving kids have various degrees of burns and lung damage from the smoke inhalation. We expect them all to survive but some will be permanently scarred.’

The pale Undercover Agent let out a strangled wail of distress and made no attempt to escape from Josiah’s enveloping hug.

‘Jesus!’ Buck pushed a hand through his thick dark hair. ‘What a mess.’ He glanced over at Chris who was stark white. Buck didn’t think Larabee would survive losing his best friend and yet another much loved child, especially to a fire. His oldest friend met his look and shook his head, turning to examine a blood-pressure chart on the wall.

‘Mindy?’ The nurse turned to JD. ‘Can you check Vin and Rorie are not among those brought in?’

‘They’re not. Every member of staff here knows Vin and I would have heard. I know for a fact that there is no female child under 6 admitted with the first group.’

‘Thank you.’ Ezra sighed, partly in relief, partly in frustration.

Mindy nodded and left to resume her duties, squeezing Chris’s shoulder as she passed. Everyone knew how close this motley group were. They probably wouldn’t survive the loss of one of their number and nobody recovered from the loss of a child.

‘Let’s head up to the main search area, try to hook up with the emergency teams. We may be able to help and it will allow us to keep a watch on what’s happening and stay busy at the same time.’ Chris lead the way from the hospital, waiting while Ezra exchanged brief words with the Principal, Mr Levinson.

‘Mr Tanner is a survival expert Mr Levinson. He knows the area well. If anyone can keep those kids safe it’s him.’ Edgar Levinson nodded.

‘Excuse me.’ Ezra turned to the distraught looking young couple standing beside the Headmaster.

‘Can I help you?’

‘Our son Charlie, is with the second group. He was in Mr Tanner’s party. You said your friend is a survival expert?’

‘Indeed. He is extremely proficient when it comes to matters concerning the wilderness. Try not to worry. I have every faith in Mr Tanner.’ He shook hands with the concerned parents. ‘My four year old daughter is also up there.’

‘Thank you. At least we know he’s in good hands.’ The small woman hugged her husband tightly and moved to sit on the plastic chairs to await news.

The two Team vehicles had to run a gauntlet of checkpoints before they reached the HQ of the Search and Rescue effort. Darkness was beginning to fall as they arrived, made blacker by the smoke screening the sun. Ezra and Chris sat transfixed in the front seat of the Ram for long moments as they watched the billowing clouds of ash climb skywards.

As they stepped from the cars an S&R paramedic, who greeted Nathan as a long lost friend, approached them.

Jackson introduced his team and the Medic, Pete, nodded to each man in turn. ‘We may be able to use you, especially you Nate. Come on over to the command center and I’ll show you what we’re dealing with.

Inside the temporary HQ, the path of the firestorm was being plotted on a large-scale map. They all pored over the display.

After a few minutes Chris stood straight and looked into the eyes of the head of the S&R Team. ‘Carson’s Ridge.’ The man raised his brows.

‘You think they went there?’

Chris nodded.

‘They have a good chance if they got there in time. Wouldn’t have been an easy climb with all those kids. You sure that’s where your friend would take them?’

‘Completely. Tanner knows the territory and he knows what he’s doing.’

‘Vin Tanner? Ex Ranger Sniper?’ He whistled as Chris nodded again. ‘I’ve heard of him. One of the best snipers in the country, apparently, and a formidable tracker. Part Native American isn’t he?’

‘Not by blood. More by inclination.’ Ezra smiled at the older man. ‘But we are confident he would have known where to go to wait out the fire and made every effort to reach his destination expeditiously.’

‘ I hope so, for the sake of those kids.’

‘Vin’ll make sure they’re okay.’ JD’s confidence in his team member was absolute. Chris and Ezra exchanged glances.

Tuesday 1st August

Vin woke with cramp in his calf and a sensation of something wet trickling down his neck. He took a moment to get his bearings before opening his eyes. The rest of the group were still asleep, piled haphazardly against each other in a peculiar human pyramid. It couldn’t be much past dawn.

He glanced down at his chest. Rorie was drooling into the neck of his shirt. He prodded her awake and set the sleepy child down on her bottom before heading to check outside.

The whole area was a smouldering black wasteland. Small fires ate up what was left of the vegetation and a pall of acrid smoke hung over the entire area like a thick oppressive blanket. Tanner looked at the sky, seeing little but the dense grey smoke cloud and floating whispers of ash and sparks. He sighed. There was no way a chopper would be able to spot them through the all-encompassing smoke.

They’d have to walk down.

‘Hey everyone, rise and shine.’ Vin gently encouraged the children and adults to gather their belongings. Making sure everyone had a drink and a full bottle they left their haven and headed out into the fresh air. At least, it should have been fresh. Both children and adults gaped at the blackened landscape. Where only the previous day there had been lush green vegetation, there stood only grotesque, charred skeletons of the trees and bushes, a stark reminder of the horror they had narrowly escaped. The ground felt hot beneath their feet.

Vin looked down as Rorie slipped her hand into his. ‘Uncle Vin?’ Her voice was hoarse. She sounded like Josiah.

‘Yeah Pumpkin?’ Vin rasped back.

‘Will it come back or will it always be like this?’ He glanced at the other kids who seemed struck dumb with shock, all waiting for his answer.

He smiled reassuringly at her. ‘It’s kinda like when ya clean yer room. Ya like it the way it is but yer dad makes ya tidy it. Fer a while it stays bare until slowly, a bit at a time, more and more things start ta appear an’ pretty soon it’s jest as messy as it always was.’

Rorie chuckled throatily at the bizarre analogy, just as he’d intended. ‘It’s gonna grow back.’

‘Yep. Even greener than b’fore. All the stuff that’s burned feeds the earth and makes it stronger an’ richer. Soon little trees an’ shoots will spring up an’ in a couple o’ years it’ll be green again.’

Little Charlie Davis gripped Vin’s other hand. ‘What about the animals?’

‘Most of ‘em will have run b’fore the fire got too close. That’s how I knew the fire was comin’. The forest was too quiet ‘cause all the animals had gone. Only the weak an’ sick wouldda gotten caught, Charlie. That’s part o’ Mother Nature’s way o’ keepin’ the animals strong. It’s called survival o’ the fittest.’


They slowly picked their way down the mountain. Stopping regularly so that the Texan could scout ahead and check the path was clear and safe from any lingering fires or unwelcome surprises.

It was mid morning when they spotted movement coming towards them. Vin put his fingers to his lips and let out a piercing whistle that was immediately answered. Within minutes an excited team of Search and Rescue volunteers surrounded them.

‘You must be Tanner.’ The leader of the search team shook his hand, mentally counting heads. ‘Any injuries?’

‘Nope. All taken in a bit o’ smoke though.’ The man nodded and one of the medics handed out water and high-energy bars to the group of tired, hungry kids.

The leader fished out his walky-talky. ‘Rescue HQ this is team Gamma, come in.’

There was a squawk from the handset. ‘Go ahead Gamma.’

‘Confirm contact School group. Three Adults, thirteen children, all walking. Arrange pick up, Dawson Parking area, 30 minutes.’

‘Acknowledged Gamma. Good job.’ They set off back down the slope, the smaller children being carried by members of the rescue team.

The remaining members of Team 7 were disconsolately hanging around the mobile café when the HQ Commander approached. They all looked tired and anxious as they rose warily to their feet.

‘We found them. Seems your man’s reputation is justified. They are all walking. Three adults and thirteen children. We are collecting them by chopper in thirty minutes. They will be taken directly to Mercy.’

His announcement was met with beaming smiles and the ATF Agents quickly left to head for the hospital.

Once there, the parents of Charlie Davis greeted Ezra. ‘Is it true? They’re all Okay?’ He nodded, grinning, and the small woman burst into tears and hugged him. He patted her back.

‘They should be here any moment Mrs Davis. Calm yourself. Do not let your young man see how distressed you are, it will only make his trauma that much more real and frightening.’ The woman wiped her eyes.

There was a sudden rush of medical staff towards the elevators as the call came in that the chopper had landed. Anxious families rose to their feet and waited.

The elevator doors opened to reveal a collection of small, blackened faces, all split with beaming white smiles. The relieved parents converged on the group, as Team 7 stood back and waited. Finally, their missing Texan appeared through the throng, carrying his small charge who wriggled down and raced over to leap at her father.

‘Daddy!’ Ezra chuckled at the deep baritone.

‘Hello Honeybee.’ He hugged her tight, teary emerald eyes meeting the red-rimmed blue of his friend’s over her head. ‘Vin.’

Tanner just nodded. Chris slapped him on the shoulder as Nathan fussed around the returning pair, trying to get them into a cubicle to be checked over.

‘We’re fine Nate.’ There was a collective rolling of eyes over that familiar pronouncement. Mindy appeared to check them over and soon they were ready to go home.

‘Mr Tanner?’ Vin turned to see the Principal of the school and several parents standing behind him. ‘Thank you.’ The words were heartfelt in their simplicity. Vin blushed, although it was hard to see under his soot-covered skin.

‘Jest did what I could, Sir. Ain’t nothin’ nobody else wouldn’t a’ done.’ He grinned at the kids. ‘Ever’body Okay?’




‘Great. Ya’ll be good fer yer parents now ‘cause they’ve had a rough night.’ He hugged each child in turn, shaking hands with some of the parents before quickly slipping away.

Standish/Tanner Household

JD flicked off the video that had lapsed into white noise. There was a silence.

‘That is quite some adventure you had Brother.’

Vin had videoed inside their hidey-hole, capturing the faces of the children in the dimness of the cavern. The sounds of the raging fire could be heard clearly in the background.

‘I wanted ta film ‘em all, jest in case.’

‘You doubted your ability to bring those children safely through their ordeal?’ Ezra gazed steadily at his friend. ‘There is no one I trust more with the precious life of my child than the six of you, and in these particular circumstances you would have been my first choice. You obviously have less faith in your expertise than we do.’

‘We never questioned that you would take charge and keep those kids safe Vin.’ Nathan smiled at the Texan. ‘Even Ezra wouldn’t have taken bets against you, it was a sure thing.’

Tanner met the eyes of his best friend.

‘Never doubted you Vin.’

The tired Texan smiled slowly, a feeling of contentment rushing through him at the confidence and trust placed in him by the men whose opinions he valued above all others.

He let out the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. ‘Thanks, fellers. Means a lot ta me, knowin’ how much faith ya’ll have in me.’

The Seven lapsed into comfortable silence, content with the company of their closest friends, now family.

The End

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