Finding Home - continued
Vin had taken the news that Ezra was leaving them stoically, but the sadness and loss was so clear in his eyes, it just about tore Buck apart to look at him. JD cried and cried and cried and then he blamed Buck, because it had to be the fault of an adult and his brother was the only one around at the time. Buck had just held onto him until he cried himself to sleep.
"Sorry," Ezra whispered as Buck lay JD's sleeping form on his own bed.
Buck looked over his shoulder, puzzled.
"It's my fault he hates you."
Placing a gentle kiss on his brother's head, Buck walked back to door. "First off, none of this is your fault. Second off, he doesn't hate me. By tomorrow, he'll have forgotten all about it. Of course, he may kick the hell out of your mother's shins, if he gets the chance."
That, at least, made Ezra smile. "Now where do you think such a sweet, little boy gets such a temper?"
"Oh, it's all Ma! I tell you, you could push that woman a long way, but only so far, and than Lord help you!"
They walked back into the living room, where Vin was sitting on the sofa, his knees pulled up to his chest, his arms wrapped around him. He looked so small and lost to Buck.
"Hey buddy, you doing okay?" he asked as he sat down next to him.
There was a small, brave nod of the head.
"I was thinking, since I'm gonna keep the Little'n with me tonight, would you two big guys like to share Chris' bed? That way no one has to sleep alone."
Vin's eyes shot up to Ezra, willing him to say yes.
"I think I should like that," Ezra said instantly. "Vin?"
"I'd like it too," he confirmed.
"Right, well that's settled."
"Ezra?" Vin whispered, as they lay in bed.
"Do you love your Mom?"
Ezra rolled over so he was looking at Vin, not that he could see much of him in the dark room. "I yes I love her. She's my mother."
"So how come you don't want to be with her?"
"Because I don't like her."
"But you just said "
"Love and like are not the same. You like Cole Tackett - don't you?"
"Sure, he's great."
"Do you love him?"
"No, course not Oh, I get it."
"You can like someone and not love them and you can love someone and not like them."
"But how come?" When Ezra didn't answer for a long time, Vin thought he had upset him. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be nosey."
"Nonsense, I consider you to be my brother and as family we should have no secrets. Tell me what you remember of your mother."
Vin sighed. "I don't remember much. She was skinny, like me, and her hair was like mine too, only real long. Mom used to comb my hair and she was always hugging me."
"You see, now when I think of my mother, of the time we spent together when I was your age and younger, all I remember is, lessons, being told off, and being left with strangers. I can't ever remember my mother hugging me."
"But you still love her - right?"
"Yes I do, I have no reason to, but I do."
"'Cause she's your mom."
"Yes she is, or at least she claims to be, with mother who knows. She was my only family, but no longer. I now have two brothers and two fathers, not to mention a horse, a priest and a doctor. I even have a judge, which is a lot of family to leave behind."
"I wish you weren't going. I wish Chris was here."
"As do I."
"Chris wouldn't have let her take you."
"There is nothing Mr Larabee could have done that Buck hasn't done. It would have made no difference."
"I guess, I still wish he was here."
**Shit!** Buck swore silently as he leaned on the wall in the corridor, listening to the boys talk. **Damn it Larabee, where the hell are you and why haven't you called or even sent a wire?** Ezra's confidence in him was good to hear, but he couldn't help but feel Vin was right, maybe Chris could have stopped it? Maybe he should have taken the boys and headed for the border? But then again, she was his mother. It had all happened so fast, one moment they were mildly worried she might come back, the next she had a court order granting her immediate custody and there was nothing anyone, not even the Judge, could do about it.
Chores at the ranch the next morning took a very long time. No one was in any hurry to finish. Most Saturdays, the boys couldn't wait to be done, running from one job to the next as fast as possible, so they could go riding or swimming or play baseball behind the house. In the end, no amount of feet dragging, dropped shovels, sore fingers or deep sighs could hide the fact that all the chores were done. Ezra stood by Lady's stall, saying goodbye. She had been a wonderful mount, safe, but speedy. He and Vin rode most days. They were only allowed out unaccompanied on the understanding that they took things steadily, but - even though Vin's pony, Ben, was 16 - once they were away from home, both boys revelled in a full gallop. They would take their horses up the old logging tracks, high into the mountains. Where the track was reasonably level they'd let the horses have their head and run with loose reins. The tracks would inevitably take them to some lookout from where they could see the whole valley below them. There, they would dismount and let their horses take a breather while they rested and enjoyed the view. Then, after a gentle stroll down the mountainside, for they both knew the dangers of going too fast down hill, they would strike out across the flat valley bottom meadows, whooping and shouting as they reached the river. There they let the horses run through the cool water, kicking up great fans of spray as they went. Ezra back handed tears away from his eyes, as he composed himself for what was to come. He then turned and walked out of the barn for the last time.
It was a sombre and silent drive into town. Normally, if there was only one adult in the car, the eldest boy present would sit up front, but today Buck drove alone, as all three boys sat in the back, Ezra sandwiched in the middle. As they entered the town, three faces turned as one to look at the boarding house, but Maude was nowhere to be seen. Buck pulled up at the jail and unloaded Ezra's bag from the back.
"Come on, boys, out," he commanded, when he realised no one had yet exited from the rear.
They filed out one by one and stood forlornly on the side walk.
As one, they turned to see Maude, immaculate as ever, walking toward them.
"We agreed on ten," she reminded Buck.
"We're here now." As Buck turned to face her, JD moved to stand behind him, clutching onto his trouser leg. Vin pressed himself against Buck's other side while Ezra, working very hard to maintain his composer, stood beside Buck, facing his mother.
"Ezra darling!" She was now in front of him, and - placing a hand on each shoulder - made a great show of kissing him on the cheek. "No kiss for your mother, dear?" she asked when he didn't react to her embrace.
"Of course, Mother." He dutifully kissed her on the cheek. "How have you been?"
"Tolerably well dear, Europe is not what is was." She looked down at his well stuffed bag. "All packed, excellent, the train leaves in ten minutes. I was hoping you'd have more time to say goodbye, but you were so late arriving, we'll have to leave immediately."
While they had been talking Buck had seen Nettie approach from the church behind them. She'd walked out into the street and now stood, arms folded, staring at Maude. As he looked around he saw Inez, a thunderous look on her face, come out of the diner and walk across the street. She took up a position parallel to Nettie. Behind him, approaching footsteps make him look around. Gloria Potter was approaching, with a no nonsense look on her face. He knew what they were doing and while he admired them for it, it wasn't helping.
"Say your farewells, dear, we need to be on our way," Maude commanded.
Ezra turned around to face his family. They had already said their goodbyes, there was nothing more to say.
"Thank you, again," he said to Buck.
"You remember what I told you?"
"Don't ever forget it or doubt it."
"Bye Vin, look after Lady for me?"
Vin sniffed and nodded.
"Be strong, mind Buck," he told JD.
JD's bottom lip trembled as he also nodded, then he leaned out from Buck to look around Ezra at Maude. He didn't think she looked like a mother, not all prettied up like that.
"I hate you," he stated bluntly.
"My, what a rude child." She looked at Buck. "If this is an example of how you have been raising my son, I can see I have retrieved him just in time."
"There's nothing wrong with the way Buck's been raising Ezra," Nettie stated.
Maude turned to her, looking her up and down disdainfully. "Your opinion was not requested."
"Buck is a good father, so is Chris," Inez stated firmly.
"I see no evidence of it."
With that Maude began to stride down the sidewalk toward the station, only to find her way blocked by Gloria.
"What you are doing is wrong, and if you really loved your son, you would leave him here, where he's happy."
"You, Madam, are blocking my way."
"Leave Ezra here, he doesn't want to go with you."
"Is that right, Ezra dearest? Do you not want to be with your poor widowed mother?" she asked in a saccharine sweet voice.
Ezra looked back at Buck and then at his mother. He knew there was no way she was going to let him stay, so he might as well keep her in a good mood.
"I would like to visit with you Mother," he told her quietly.
Maude looked back pointedly at Gloria, who, after a moment or two, moved aside. Buck picked up JD and took hold of Vin's hand as they followed Ezra and his mother to the train, which was waiting at the station. There was no time for any further goodbyes. The last they saw of Ezra was a forlorn face at the train carriage window and then, he was gone.
The bakery was shut. Chris headed to the railroad depot, to see what he could find out about James. The stationmaster on duty did remember him, but took him to the yard master, a man called Hank, who had actually worked with him.
"I was only a deputy back then, young James worked in the wood yard, he was a good worker," he remembered.
"Do you know why he was working on the fishing boat as well?"
"Money, needed to provide for his wife and son. Told me he wanted t' buy a house, some place nice with a yard, for the kid."
"Where were they living?"
"Some rented place, he didn't like the neighbourhood."
"Did he ever mention his family, parents, anything like that?"
"Told me once his Pa had been on the railroad, but he'd had t' give it up a' go back home."
"Did he say where that was?"
Hank shook his head. "No, but I got the feelin' it was too far way t' visit."
On Sunday, Chris sought out Corpus Christi's only synagogue. The rabbi wasn't prepared to tell him where the Patterson's lived, but he did offer to act as a middle man. As a result, Chris met Judith Patterson in the front room of the rabbi's house. She was a striking woman, tall, slim, with auburn hair and soft brown eyes. In his mind, Chris had almost demonised her for refusing to help her sister and rejecting Vin and, for some reason, this wasn't the mental image he'd formed of her. Rising to his feet, he extended his hand.
"Mrs Patterson, I'm Chris Larabee."
She took his hand politely. "Mr Larabee."
"Now, why don't you two sit and talk and I'll make myself scarce," the rabbi encouraged, indicating the comfortable looking chairs.
With the room to themselves, Chris opened the conversation. "Did he explain why I'm here?"
"Yes, you want to adopt my sister's son."
"He's been my foster son since the spring, I want to make it permanent. He needs to know he's got a home, a real home."
"You think I'm a monster, don't you?" she asked him bluntly.
"No," Chris kept his tone measured. "But I would like to understand why, more importantly, I need to explain it to Vin. He thinks no one wanted him."
She looked surprised, even shocked by this. "I I didn't know he knew they told him?"
Chris nodded. "I'm not sure how, or why, but he knows he has an aunt who wouldn't take him in when his mother died."
"Oh, I " She looked down at her lap. "You have to understand, our community here, it's very small. We rely on each other. Beth, what she did brought such shame onto me." She looked up. "We lost everything in the hurricane, back in nineteen. Our parents owned a hotel, down on the beach. When the police told everyone to evacuate, they sent us up here, to the synagogue, but they stayed. Father was afraid of looters and mother wouldn't leave him. The hotel was destroyed, there was nothing left. They found my father's body under some rubble, my mother's washed up down the coast."
"I'm very sorry for your loss, it must have been very traumatic for you."
"We had nothing, only the clothes we stood up in. Beth was only fifteen. The Patterson's offered us a home, they were good to us. Daniel and I were courting, seriously, and then, Beth..." Her eyes flashed with anger. "She was seventeen and she gets herself pregnant to some half breed gentile! It wasn't even that he forced himself on her, she kept saying she loved him. What was I meant to do?"
"She was your sister."
"Which is why I let them get married. I was still her legal guardian. He had a job, a place to live. I didn't put her out on the street!"
Chris had sensed that this was true. "Why couldn't you help her when she was widowed?"
"Because, because she had rejected her faith, her own people! She was a Catholic by then, and so was the boy. I was just married myself, I was pregnant, Daniel had just opened the bakery and was working all hours because we couldn't afford any help. We were living in a one room apartment over the shop. We borrowed money from Daniel's parents to buy the business, if I'd have taken her in, they might have called in the debt."
Chris was beginning to see what kind of position she's been placed in.
"I had to think of my family and my baby."
"I can see that. What happened when they approached you after Elizabeth died?"
"What was I going to do for him? I didn't know the boy, he was five, he was a Catholic and I had four children already. We had the house by then, the business was just beginning to do really well. If I took in a half breed, half gentile, Christian. We could have lost a lot of customers, not to mention our line of credit and made ourselves, and our children pariahs, outcasts in their own community. I'm sorry, but that is the reality of the situation."
Chris didn't like what he was hearing, but he did understand her motives.
"So will you sign?" he asked, pulling out the papers.
"Yes, hand them over. The rabbi thinks you are a good man and I guess if you're prepared to come all this way, you must really care about him."
"I love him, he's my son."
She took the papers, then looked up. "Do you have a pen?"
He hastily pulled his out and offered it to her.
"Do you," she began to fill in her name and particulars. "Have a picture of him?"
Chris pulled out his wallet and flipped it open, there was Vin, a gap tooth grin on his face. "He'd just lost his tooth," Chris explained as Judith examined it.
"I only met his father the once, but he looks like him I think, especially the cheek bones." She signed the papers and handed them back to Chris. "It says we need a witness, shall I call the rabbi?"
"Yes, thank you."
Once it was all done, Chris prepared to leave.
"Can I ask you something?" Judith asked.
"Is he happy?"
"He is now, he went through some tough times, in various orphanages, but yes, he's happy now. I live on a ranch with horses, with my brother." Brother seemed the easiest way to describe his relationship with Buck. "And his little boy, plus another boy we fostered. It's a wonderful place for boys to grow up."
"I'm glad he's happy and safe."
Chris had a sudden thought "Do you have a picture of her, of Beth? Vin has nothing."
"I can find one."
"If your husband could bring it to the bakery, I'll collect it tomorrow."
"I'll do that. Tell him "
"Tell him it wasn't him, it wasn't his fault I couldn't take him in. Tell him I'm sorry."
"I will." Chris stood as Judith turned to go. "By the way, what did you mean when you said he was a half breed, that he was half Jewish?" he asked.
"No, well yes, but no, I really meant James, his father - didn't you know?"
"He was a half breed, he was half Indian."
Chris stared at her for a while. "Really?"
"So l believe."
"Well I never."
Chris said his farewells to Judith and then the Rabbi, who he thanked for the hospitality. "Rabbi, can I ask you something?"
"Patterson? It doesn't sound very Jewish?"
The rabbi laughed. "No it doesn't. I believe it was originally Patizon, I Z ON, but someone at Ellis Island just wrote what they heard and that is what they are stuck with."
Though he had what he'd come for, Chris wanted to find out more, for Vin's sake and his own. Something was nagging at the back of his mind, something he needed to check out. It wasn't much of a diversion to travel home via Wichita Falls and, if needs be, Denver. He tried to call home, but wasn't able to place a long distance call, so he sent a telegram.
HAVE PAPERS SIGNED - STOP - TRAVELING NORTH - STOP - CHRIS
Buck read the telegram, and debated what, if any reply to send. Chris had the papers and was coming home, what else could 'travelling north' mean. There was no need to burden him with their sad news until he arrived. Besides, by the time the wire arrived, he might already be travelling. So he fished in his pocket for some coins to tip young Toby Gabet, who had diligently ridden out on his trusty paint pony to deliver the wire.
"No reply," he confirmed.
"Is Chris coming home?" Vin asked quietly as Buck closed the door.
"Yes, he's got the papers, and he's headed back."
"You didn't tell him about Ezra did you?"
Buck shook his head. "I'd rather tell him face to face. He'll have lots of questions; it would be too difficult to answer them while he's travelling."
Vin nodded his understanding. He looked up at Buck and once again Buck was struck by how old his eyes seemed.
"It was better he wasn't here."
"Chris would get mad and then he might get into trouble."
**Old before his time.** Buck sank down so he could look the boy in the eye. "You figured that out did you?"
Vin nodded. "I don't want him to go to jail."
"No, well, don't' worry, I'll keep him out of trouble."
A small smile brightened Vin's face. "Thanks."
Chris had to admit he knew even less about Wichita Falls than he did Corpus Christi, but he wasn't expecting a large, vibrant metropolis with a bustling down town area of high rise buildings.
"Shit!" he swore out loud, wishing he was back home, where if you wanted to know anything about anyone you just had to ask, because everyone knew everyone else's business.
Since it was late on Monday when he arrived, the court house would be shut, so he did what he'd done before and asked around the rail depot. To begin with, no one had heard of anyone called Tanner, until a freight train from Denver pulled in and he managed to speak to the driver.
"Tanner? Sure I knew a Tanner, George, stoker, good man, taught me when I was an apprentice."
"Do you know where he might be? Is he still alive?"
The man shrugged. "No idea, he left the railroad, had to take over the family farm I heard."
"Any idea what kind of farm, where it was?"
"Sorry," he turned to go, then turned back. "I have an idea it might have been cows, milk cows."
First thing on Tuesday morning, Chris headed straight to the court house and the records office. The Tanner family bible told him James' parent's names, dates of birth and date of marriage. With this information, the clerk was able to find the relevant documents, which were revealing. The marriage licence actually didn't tell him anything new, but James' birth certificate told him that his mother - Vin's grandmother - was from the Cotton County in the Oklahoma Indian Territory and was not - as Judith had stated - Indian, but 'mixed race'. His father was from Littleton County in Colorado. He found no death certificates for either of them, supporting the story he'd been told that they had returned to Colorado, either that or they were still alive.
Since he was done at the court house by noon, and Cotton County was just over the river, he hitched a lift on a truck and once more head north. The county seat, Walters, turned out to be refreshingly small, the square, three story courthouse was clearly the pride of the town, and boring as it was to look at, it did dominate the town. In such a sparsely populated area, it didn't take long to find Vin's grandmother's birth certificate. Kathleen Cizik was born to Margaret Kelly and Vincent Cizik, a Comanche Indian. Since James had named his son after this man, Chris was sure he had been proud of his Indian heritage. So Vin was half Jewish and one eight Comanche, quite a mix.
He didn't feel he had enough information to make it worth his while to travel to Colorado, so from Walters, he headed back to Wichita Falls. From there, he caught a train and began his journey home. As he looked out across the almost featureless land, he found himself longing for mountains. Home had never sounded so good.
Chris looked out of the train window like an excited child as he approached Four Corners. He had good news and he was going to see his boy again. He couldn't believe how much he'd missed his family and Vin in particular. He'd be getting into town around two, so Vin and Ezra would be at school. Still, it would be good to see Buck and JD.
He was jumping down from the train before it even stopped. He could see Buck standing by the corner of the station building, but there was something off about the way he stood, something not quite Buck, and JD was nowhere to be seen. As he got closer and Buck neither waved nor called out, he grew more suspicious. When he got close enough to see his expression, he knew something was very wrong.
"What happened?" he asked as soon as they were together. "Is Vin ?"
"Vin's fine, JD's with Gloria. Ezra's "
"Gone, what the Hell do you mean gone?" Chris fumed.
"His mother turned up with a court order, Orin tried to stop it, but he couldn't. She took him."
Chris just stood there, in shock, his bag dropped to the ground. "Why didn't you tell me?" he demanded.
"Because I didn't know where hell you were! By the time you sent that wire saying you were coming back, it was all over."
"But that was It happened that fast?"
Buck nodded. "She arrived on Friday and took him Saturday."
Chris looked heavenward and drew his hand thought his hair, taking a deep breath. "How are the boys taking it?" he asked as he looked back down.
"About as well as you'd expect."
When JD saw Chris, he ran the straight to him. Chris knelt to meet him, engulfing him in a hug.
"Ezra's gone," JD told him sadly.
"I want to go home."
"We have to wait for Vin to get out of school," Buck reminded.
JD gave a big dramatic sigh of disappointment.
Chris made sure he was outside the school in good time for the end of the school day, gratified when Vin didn't hesitate to run into his embrace.
"Ezra," was all he managed to say, his face buried in Chris' shirt.
"I know. Come on, let's go home."
As down as they all were about Ezra's departure, Chris still had good news to impart. While Buck heated up the strew he'd collected from Inez and baked some potatoes, Chris explained to the boys what he'd achieved.
"So with theses papers signed, Judge Travis says the adoption is only a formality."
"What's a fom-laty?" JD asked
"Formality, it means that there shouldn't be any hold ups or delays, it should all happen quickly. Now I have some other news, but I want to talk to Vin about it first, okay?"
"'Kay," JD agreed.
"How long until supper?"
Buck shrugged. "An hour or so."
"Give me five minutes, then come to my room."
Vin glanced at the clock in the kitchen then nodded.
With his stomach all aflutter, Vin knocked on Chris' door, exactly five minutes later.
"Come on in," Chris called. He had Vin sit beside him on the bed, then he began. "I have a lot of things to tell you and all, well, most of them good."
Vin looked at him intently, his butterflies of apprehension replaced by ones of excitement.
"Your aunt didn't take you in because she couldn't, it's all very complicated and I'm going to ask you to be patient and wait a few years, so that when I tell you the whole story, you'll understand it."
"I can understand it now," Vin insisted.
"No, to be honest, I'm not really sure I understand it, but in a few years we'll sit down, and I'll try and explain it."
Vin could see Chris wasn't going to budge, so dropped the subject.
"But you must believe me when I tell you, she would have taken you if she could have. She told me to tell you she was sorry she couldn't, it wasn't your fault, and she said she was pleased you were happy now."
Chris had already decided not to give Vin the picture just yet, it was small and rather yellowed, so while waiting for his connection in Seattle, he'd found a photographic studio who had taken a picture of the picture. They had assured him they could not only enlarge it, but touch it up and make it look like new. Chris wanted this picture to be a surprise.
"Does she have kids?"
"Yes, but I never saw them."
Vin accepted this.
"Now, about your father and his family." Chris pulled out the bible. "Did you know that you are one eighth Comanche?"
"Comanche, like an Indian Comanche?"
"Yes, your father's mother, Kathleen, was half Comanche."
Vin just stared at him.
"Is that good news?" Chris asked tentatively.
"Oh boy!" Vin exclaimed.
"I'll take that as a yes. But it gets better, here." He showed Vin the bible. "That is you, Vincent James, this is your father James, and his father George and George's father Matthew." Vin followed Chris' finger as it traced up the family line. "It says that George Tanner was born in 1846 and died in 1913. Now that is the first entry in this book, but." Chris pulled out another bible. "In this book, we have another family called Tanner. See here, we have William, who died in 1872 and his son George, born 1846 and died 1913."
Vin looked from the book to Chris. "It's the same."
"I think so, same name, born in the same year, died in the same year, it has to be the same man, so " Chris' finger moved down to the next name. "This person, Mary Tanner, is his sister and she married Geraint Owen and they had a son called Adam and daughter called Helen." Chris pointed to the names. "Sadly, Adam died without having any children, but Helen married and she had a son." Chris looked at Vin, grinning. "Can you think who she married and what she called her son?" Vin frowned and looked at the book, but Chris had his hand over the text. "No?" Chris prompted. Vin shook his head. "She married Thomas Larabee and had son called Christopher, or Chris for short."
For a moment Vin didn't move, he just sat there and then, quite suddenly, he leaped to his feet.
"That's you!" he shouted.
"Yes, it is, and do you know what that means?"
Vin was so excited he could hardly speak. "It it it means we're 'lated?" he gasped out.
"It does, we're cousins, your great, great grandfather and my great grandfather were the same person!"
Vin was now whooping, shouting for joy and hugging Chris. Later, Chris would explain to Buck that he'd almost forgotten that the ranch was called Circle T for Owen and Tanner. Only when he was told that Beth had travelled north to find her husband's family, did he began to wonder about the name, but didn't really think it could be true, because Tanner is such a common name. He'd also tell Buck the real reason Judith Patterson didn't take in her nephew, but for now it was too complicated an issue for Vin to really understand. Besides which, the boy would probably have questions he couldn't answer. When the time came, he was planning to have Josiah there with him to field some of those questions. He also hadn't mentioned what he knew about James' disappearance. If Vin asked, he'd tell him, but there was no need to burden him with any more information. Finding out your foster father is actually your cousin was information enough.
"Can I tell Buck and JD?" Vin asked excitedly.
"Sure, you go ahead."
"Buck! JD!" he shouted as he ran though the house.
"Where's the fire?" Buck asked as Vin burst into the kitchen.
"What?" Buck asked bemused.
"He said; him and Chris is cousins and that means they're family for real," JD translated.
Buck looked at both boys then up at Chris, who was now standing in the doorway. "That true?"
"Yup, I'll explain it all later."
"You can explain this?"
"If you say so."
Although they all missed Ezra very badly, things did settle back into a routine quite quickly. School, work, chores didn't change and that constancy and familiarity helped everyone. October drew to a close and that meant Halloween. The day it's self was a Monday and that afternoon the school threw a party to which the younger children in the town were also invited. JD was very excited about this, since Vin has insisted he go dressed at an Indian, a Comanche of course, JD wanted to do the same. At first Vin had not been too happy about this. He felt JD was stealing his thunder, but Chris solved this crisis by producing his old tobacco card album and locating a nearly complete set of Indian tribes. From this, they selected a Mohawk costume for JD; Buck even used a thick soap paste to pull his hair up into a spiked ridge. Not to be out done, Chris found an old beaver pelt in the barn and fashioned it in to a head dress for Vin. True, it didn't smell so good, but Vin didn't care, he thought it was the best thing ever. At the weekend, the boys had helped make Jack-O-Lanterns. JD, in particular, had enjoyed pulling out the stringy flash and then playing with it. Buck couldn't decide what was worse, his brother's love of spiders or being so enthusiastic about being elbow deep in sticky orange goo.
After the party, they headed over to the jail, where Buck and Chris explained they were intending to stay in town and eat, so the boys could go trick-or-treating around the town later. They had expected an enthusiastic response to this plan, but what they got were two silent and uneasy boys.
"What's the matter?" Buck asked.
Vin sighed. "Ezra was gonna take us trick-a-treatin', he told me all about it, he said he knew how to get the best treats. We was gonna "
He never did tell them whatever it was Ezra had planned, because as at that point, JD burst into tears. In the end, they decided to head home, roast wieners and marshmallows on the living room fire and tell ghost stories.
Thanksgiving came and went, eaten not at home, but at the rectory, with Josiah, Nathan, Nettie and Inez and while the food and company could not be faulted, it was clear to all, that the members of the Larabee-Wilmington household were somewhat subdued. A week after this, with Christmas tantalisingly close, Chris' court date to formalise the adoption came up.
The hearing was in to be held at the county court house in Eagle Bend, before Judge Gideon, the very same judge who had given Maude custody of Ezra. Orin was fairly sure this wouldn't prejudice their case but, just in case, he should make every effort to look like a responsible parent. So it was that on that morning, Chris appeared from his bedroom in his deputy's uniform. Vin and JD didn't even know he had a uniform. JD immediately demanded that Buck put his on, but he refused. As was his right, Chris had placed his medal ribbons on his chest as well.
He sat and waited for the appointed time for the hearing, which came and went, an hour passed, then two. Just as Chris was about to go and ask what was happening, he was called. The first thing he did, as he walked into the court, was look at the judge. He wanted a good look at the man who had so cavalierly sent a boy back to the woman who had abandoned him.
As soon as everyone was in place, the clerk made an announcement.
"All rise for his honour, Judge Matthew Harris."
Confused and astonished in equal measure, Chris watched the judge walk to his seat. He looked relatively young for a judge, with greying temples and a neat moustache. What, Chris wondered, had happened to Gideon?
"All those having business with this court draw near and ye shall be heard," the clerk declared. "This court is now in session."
The Judge banged his gavel and everyone sat.
Chris' was the first case called.
"I have here a petition of adoption," the Judge began, looking at documents before him. "Of the minor child Vincent James Tanner, orphan. Petitioner is Deputy Sheriff Christopher Thomas Larabee of Eagle County," he looked up. "Is the deputy in the court?"
Chris rose to his feet. "I am your honour."
"I have had only a limited amount of time to revue this case, which is somewhat unusual." He looked up at Chris. "It says here you are a single man?"
"A widower," Chris corrected.
"Ah, still you aren't married at this time?"
"Still, I see that the boy is not an infant and we have here a wealth of testimonials, Judge Travis, Farther Sanchez, Doctor Jackson, Sheriff Marsterson, Mrs Greer, they all seem to think you are just what this boy needs. Taking all this into consideration, in conjunction with the fact that the boy's aunt has signed custody over to you, you are an officer of the law and you are Vincent's distant cousin, I see no reason not to authorise this adoption."
Chris could hardly believe it was over that fast, even as he stood there, the Judge was signing the papers. The gavel came down and that was it.
"Congratulations Deputy Larabee, you are now a father. You will need to see the county clerk to get these documents registered and completed."
And that was that. Half an hour later, he was waiting to collect his copy of the papers.
"What name sir?" the clerk asked.
"Your new son, do you want to change his name to yours?"
"Do I have to?"
"No, but it can be advantageous, it cuts down confusion."
Chris knew Vin didn't want to give up his name and explained this to the man. "Well, you can always add your name, either as part of his surname or as a third given name."
Chris didn't think Vin would mind that, so that was what the man wrote on all three copies. 'Vincent James Tanner, from this day is to be known as Vincent James Larabee Tanner'. With that completed, he stamped all three and handed Chris the bottom copy.
"Is that it?" Chris asked.
"Yes, we keep one copy, one goes to Washington and you keep one. He is now legally your son."
Chris couldn't help but smile as he walked though the lobby of the court house. He was a father again, something he hadn't planned, and didn't think could ever happen, because he had long accepted that Sarah had been the only one for him and no one could ever replace her and yet, it had happened. He didn't know why the judge had been changed at the last minute nor did he care. All he knew was, it had worked out fine for him and Vin and the sooner he got home the better.
He spun on his heals at the sudden, urgent call. Orin Travis, his gown flapping behind him, came running in a very un-judgely way toward him.
"What happened, is everything okay?" he asked, breathlessly as he arrived.
"Everything is fine, went without a hitch, got the papers right here." He patted his breast pocket.
"Thank goodness, all Hell's broken loose here. Gideon..."
"Yeah, what happened to him?"
"What?" Chris exclaimed.
"Keep your voice down, will you," Orin hissed.
"Okay, okay," Chris assured in a softer voice. "But what is going on?"
"Seems he's been taking bribes, all kinds of cases, there's going to be an almighty stink, re-trials, law suits, the man is a disgrace!"
An alarming thought hit Chris. "He's the one gave that woman custody of Ezra!"
"I know, I'm thinking either she bribed him or more likely blackmailed him. Whatever happened, that judgment is unsafe and might be overturned. If you can find Ezra and get him back, you'd have an excellent chance of getting guardianship back."
Chris nodded. "Sounds great, if only we had some idea where he was."
"None the less, I'll have my office draw up a petition for temporary custody and present it to the court. I don't see a how it can be refused, under the circumstances. That way, if you find him, you'll have the have the legal power to take him."
With all the legal papers in place, there was little Buck or Chris could do to find Ezra, other than put out an alert to as many other sheriffs' offices as they could to be on the look out for a woman and a boy matching their description. Christmas was fast approaching, there was snow on the ground and it should have been a joyous time at the Circle T Ranch, but like Thanksgiving, things were subdued. Then, one boring afternoon while Buck was passing the time in the Sheriff's office playing chess with Josiah, there was a phone call.
"Open up in there!" The pounding on the door became more intense. "I want my money, woman!"
Ezra stood watching the door, too scared to speak let alone open it.
"Now! Do you hear me. Now!"
He backed away from the door into the corner of the room and reached for the phone.
"Hello, Four Corners Sheriffs office, Deputy Sheriff Wilmington, how can I help you?"
"Help me." Buck could hear the noise in the background.
"Ezra what's going on?"
"They want their money and I don't have it I don't know where she is she left and now they want her I don't have any money, not one cent!"
"Ezra where are you?" There was no reply from the terrified teen. "Ezra?"
"I know son. Who's out there, the police?"
"No, just some men, they're very angry. Mother said she hadn't done anything illegal, but she did take their money."
That didn't sound good. If Maude had taken their money legally, the men at the door had only one way to get their money back - take it. Buck knew from experience that scenario could push them perilously close to becoming a mob and he couldn't think of a more dangerous scenario for Ezra to be caught in the middle off.
"Where are you?" he asked Ezra urgently.
"Did he say Sacramento?" Josiah asked; he'd craned his head so he could listen in the moment he heard Ezra's name. "Where exactly?"
"Ezra son, where exactly are you, what's the address?"
"The Price Hotel, it's on 5th street, but I can't stay here, I Buck, I wouldn't help her she wanted me to, but I just couldn't and she got so mad "
"Don't you worry, we'll figure this out," Buck assured him.
Josiah gestured that he wanted the phone, so Buck passed it over.
"Ezra, its Father Sanchez,"
"Is there some way to get out, is there a fire exit?"
"No, it's at the end of the corridor outside."
Josiah held his hand over the receiver. "I know somewhere he can go, until you get there, if he can just get away."
Buck nodded and took the receiver. "Father Sanchez knows somewhere you can go, somewhere safe, but you have to get way from those men."
"But I can't get out," Ezra repeated.
"I know, you're going to have to let them in and then get way."
"I don't "
"I know you don't, but it's the only way. I have faith in you Ezra P Standish, you'll figure it out, lie to them, charm them, con them, what ever you have to do, do it to get away."
Before Ezra could answer, he handed the phone to Josiah.
"I know where you are," he began. "Do you know were the Cathedral is?"
"Don't worry, it's easy to find. You need to go up town to 11th and cut across to the J street alley. Go to the kitchen door, ring the bell and ask for Sister Clare. Tell her Big Joe sent you. I'll call her."
Buck took the phone back. "I'm gonna come get you, I swear it. You get to the church, I know you can do it. You're a smart boy, go now, go!"
With that, Ezra was gone.
Buck looked over at Josiah. "You better do some praying, Big Joe, I reckon that boy needs all the help he can get."
With a knot in his stomach so tight he thought he was going to be sick and hands trembling so badly he could hardly get his fingers to work, Ezra unlocked the door and stepped back. There were at least a dozen men outside, who all surged forward at once. Ezra backed up as fast as he could, moving to the side, hoping to slip past the knot of men as they crowed in. He almost made it, too. Suddenly, a large hand clamped down on his shoulder.
"Not so fast!" Ezra turned his head to look back at the man. "Now, where are you going in such a hurry, back to your Ma?"
"No Sir, I don't know where she is."
"Come on boy," another man called. "just tell us were she is, what she's done with our money."
"I don't know were she is, she left, she just left."
The man who had Ezra began to shake him, demanding to know where Maude was.
"Come on, there's no need to mistreat the boy," someone called.
The man who had hold of Ezra turned to face whoever had spoken, and in doing so, loosened his grip. Ezra didn't waste any time taking this opening. He twisted and ducked, in one movement, freeing himself. Before anyone could react, he was out of the door and running down the corridor. Not bothering with the lift, and with a posse of men on is tail, he ran for the stairs and began to head down, taking the steps two and three at a time. He might not be the biggest boy for his age, but he was fast and agile.
In the main lobby, he ducked and dodged as he headed for the door. Behind him, someone shouted 'catch him!' but he evaded all the hands that made a grab for him. Once outside, he ran straight out across the road, swerving to avoid the traffic, then headed up the street. In the rush of his escape, he had forgotten the address he was headed to, but he did remember it was up town, not down, so that was way he headed. For a full three blocks, he ran flat out, turning right then left at alternating intersections. Finally, when he had no breath left and with his legs feeling like jelly, he stopped and looked back. There was no one, no one following him, no one shouting at strangers to catch him. Taking a long deep breath, he began to walk, forcing his mind to think and remember where he was to go.
The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament was very impressive, but Ezra didn't linger to take in its beauty. With a cold December evening fast approaching, he headed for the rectory and the kitchen door.
"Hello?" the nun who opened the door greeted. "Can I help you?"
"I need to see Sister Clare," Ezra informed her.
"Well dear, she's very busy. Why don't you go home, it's getting late now." Ezra really didn't appreciate her patronising tone.
"Ma'am, I really need to see Sister Clare, it's a matter of some urgency," he insisted, laying on the charm, just the way Maude had taught him to when he needed people to do something for him.
She sighed, clearly trying to think of another reason he couldn't come in.
"Who's there?" came a voice from the interior.
"It's a boy, Sister, he wants to see you."
Suddenly there was a much older nun at the door. "Are you Ezra?" she asked in what was clearly a French accent.
"Oui Soeur. Grand Joe a dit que je devrais venir ici."
"Of course, come on in boy, have you eaten?"
"Well, come into the kitchen. We're only just back from Mass, so supper will be another hour or so. Now, you can't wait that long, let me see "
Before he knew what was happening, he was sitting in a big kitchen with a plate of ham, cheese and bread in front him, along with a glass of milk and a slice of fruitcake. As he ate, Ezra observed. He wasn't yet sure he was safe, and when it came to survival, knowledge was power. Sister Clare was apparently the cook. She bustled about the kitchen with endless energy, despite her apparent advancing years. Then, in what seemed like no time at all, more food appeared, hot food, chicken in creamy mushroom sauce, hashed brown potatoes and broad beans.
"Eat up boy, you are too thin by far," she told a bewildered Ezra. "I'll be back once all the Fathers have eaten and then we'll find you someplace to sleep. Joe said he didn't think your guardian will be here before tomorrow evening at the earliest."
Almost in a daze, Ezra spent the evening in the kitchen. Since he had nothing with him but the clothes he stood up in, she found him a nightshirt and a toothbrush, before showing him to small attic room with one narrow bed.
"This was young Father Andrew's room, he moved on last month to start teaching," she explained.
Ezra spent a night and a day at the rectory. He spent most of the day in his little room reading. A young curate called Phillip leant him a copy of Father Brown detective stories. Ezra liked all kinds of detective fiction and was instantly hooked. When Buck found him, late the next evening, he was curled up on the bed asleep, the book still in his hand. Buck woke him only long enough to let him know he was there and would see him in the morning, bright and early, ready to catch the train home.
"This time she can't take you back, we got another court order, giving us back custody."
"She'll just get the judge to issue another order," Ezra responded despondently.
"No, not this time." Buck explained about the judge being corrupt. "No honest judge would ever give her custody, at least not without a hearing."
"I did wonder about that," Ezra admitted. "Mother was getting money every month, but she wouldn't tell me where from."
"She was probably blackmailing the judge."
Ezra nodded. "She wouldn't pay to get me back, but if she could make some money "
"Ezra, you quit that thinking! You have a family waiting for you that want you home very much, that's all you need to know - right?"
"Yes," Ezra agreed less than convincingly.
The next morning, Buck arrived bright and early to pick up Ezra, he was even carrying Ezra's bag.
"How did you get it back?" Ezra asked. "I left it behind when I ran."
"I know, which is why I stayed at The Price last night, the rest was easy."
Ezra didn't look convinced
"You see," Buck continued in a conspiratorial voice. "There was this pretty little chambermaid and she was most obliging." He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.
"Er hum!" Sister Clare announced her presence.
"Oh, gosh, sorry Sister." Buck's face flushed bright red.
"I'm sure. Right, here you go, I've packed you some food for the trip." She handed over a canvas bag that appeared to be stuffed with food.
It should have taken them a day to get to Olympia and from there the best part of the next day to take two more trains, before they would be home, but almost as soon as they started heading north it began to snow. By the time they were at crossing into Washington, the train had slowed considerably and when they reached Olympia, half a day late, they were told there were no trains out. For two long days, they stayed at the hotel by the station and waited. The first day it snowed nonstop stop. Then, on the second day, it eased off. Finally, on the third day, the track was clear enough for a train to head east. Even so, it took them all day to reach Eagle Bend and, since the engineer wasn't prepared to drive in the dark, they had to wait another day to head up the valley to Four Corners. All these delays meant, that by the time they arrived, it was the 23rd of December and almost dark.
Doctor Jackson, wrapped up against the cold, met them at the station.
"You can't get out to the ranch tonight," he explained. "Chris said not to even try. He's put runners on your big wagon and left it and the team at Tiny's."
Buck frowned. "It's that bad?"
"Wind's been bad, lots of drifts," Nathan explained.
There was no more snow over night and the wind hadn't returned, so bright and early, Buck hitched the team to the wagon, its wheels replaced by runners, turning it into a sleigh. Twice, they had to dismount and dig a path through snowdrifts so that they could proceed. And, more than once, they diverted into a field to avoid heavy drifts, something they couldn't have done in a truck. Finally, under a grey sky on Christmas Eve morning, they arrived home.
"Ezra!" JD's ear piercing screech greeted them, causing the horses to toss their heads nervously.
"Little'n, what have I told you about shrieking near the horses?" Buck admonished.
"Sorry." JD looked crestfallen.
"Okay, now you go in with Ezra and get reacquainted and I'll put the team away."
Buck returned to the house almost half an hour later to find everyone looking happy, drinking hot chocolate and admiring the Christmas tree. That evening, Buck read "'Twas the night before Christmas" to Vin and JD, as a bedtime story. It was much later than normal, JD was so excited, it was a wonder he didn't levitate off the bed. They had hoped to go to Midnight Mass, but the snow made that impossible. None the less, they kept JD up as late as possible, in the hope that he would actually sleep past dawn. Ezra stood in the doorway and listened to the poem, before returning to the living room, to curl up with his latest book in front of the fire. The trouble was, he couldn't concentrate, his eyes kept drifting to the tree.
"Looks like you're thinking some deep thoughts there," Buck commented.
Ezra looked up sadly, but didn't comment.
"Come on, we're family, family doesn't keep secrets."
Ezra dropped his head, about to say 'mine do' but then he realised he had to stop thinking of Maude as family. She wasn't, not any more. He was never going back to that life! This was where he lived now. This was his home now.
"There are so many gifts and none of them from me."
Buck glanced over to the brightly wrapped packages under the tree.
"Ezra, we don't care about that, all we wanted for Christmas was you, back here, where you belong. JD's been praying for you to come home every night."
"You bet. Gifts mean nothing compared to having your family home, where they belong." Buck cocked his head to one side, trying to get a look at Ezra's expression. "Okay?"
Chris was awake. He looked at the window, no light showed around the drapes meaning it was still dark outside, so why was he awake? Some sixth sense told him there was something off, something was out of place. It wasn't that JD was awake already; he'd have been able to hear that, he suspected the next farm would be able to hear that event. Curious but not worried, he got up and instantly pulled on his robe and boots. It was, despite the banked fire in the grate, bitterly cold. The door to the boy's room was open. Flicking on the passage light, he could see that while JD was thankfully still asleep, Vin was missing. He checked his watch, it was just gone five. Moving on, he passed Buck's door, he always kept it slightly open, so JD could get in easily if he needed to. He pushed it slightly and looked around. Buck was still asleep, sprawled across the bed as usual. It was much too cold for anyone to head out to the outhouse at night, they all had pots under the bed for that, so where was Vin? He checked the kitchen, added some fuel to the kitchen range and the fire in the living room, noting that the gifts under the tree, and in the socks hanging from the fireplace, seemed to be untouched. He was about to consider checking the barn when he heard a noise above him.
With a lightness of foot that most men in bare feet, let alone in boots, would have found hard to replicate, he mounted the steep stairs to the loft were Ezra slept. The door to Ezra's room was open, but there was no light on. Inside, he found both boys sitting up on Ezra's bed, wrapped in blankets and looking out of the window.
"Everything okay here boys?" Chris asked, causing both boys to jump.
"You scared me!" Vin accused his new father.
"Didn't mean to, so what's so interesting outside?"
Vin shrugged. "Nothin' just the snow. I couldn't sleep and then I heard Ezra moving so I came up to see him."
"Vin asked me to help him to read the poem again," Ezra explained.
Chris now noticed the book lying on the corner of the bed.
"But we got tired, so we was just looking and waiting," Vin continued. "Waiting for Christmas is hard."
Chris tried not to laugh and there they had been worrying it would be JD up at the crack of dawn and it was these two all along.
"Yes it is," Chris agreed. "But it is still early, so why don't you two try and get just a little more sleep, before we all have to wake "
"BUCK ITS CHRISTMAS!"
"Oh never mind. Merry Christmas boys!"
"Merry Christmas Chris!"
"Merry Christmas Pa!"
JD quickly discovered that each boy had a sock full of gifts hanging from the fire place, and came racing up stairs to tell Ezra and Vin all about them. By the time all three boys and Chris were downstairs again, a drowsy Buck was wandering in to the room. The boys were permitted to take the gifts out of their sock there and then. It wasn't much; each boy received a quarter, an orange, a bar of chocolate, a peppermint candy cane, a new pair of socks and small clockwork car.
There was much moaning and groaning when the men insisted that chores be done and breakfast taken before any other gifts were unwrapped. Nonetheless the horses were seen too, and, since it was Christmas, each one received a carrot. Buck even held JD up so he could give one to their stallion Tsar, who despite his size and power was always gentle around the small boy.
After they'd eaten breakfast, the family gathered around the tree to exchange gifts. One by one, the gifts were given, opened and the giver thanked, until the only person who hadn't given anything was Ezra. Despite the conversation he'd had with Buck, the night before, he hadn't been able to rest knowing he didn't have gifts for anyone. Once the house was still he'd snuck down stairs and collected some materials, then, in his room, had set to work.
"I have gifts for you all," he announced quietly. They all looked at him; Buck in particular looked very surprised. "They aren't much, just a token, nothing like these wonderful gifts I have here "
"Ezra," Chris interrupted softly. "What ever they are, we'll be very happy with them."
Ezra nodded almost shyly, before hurrying upstairs to collect his gifts.
"He was upset last night, because he had nothing to give us," Buck explained hurriedly.
Chris only had time to nod his understanding, before Ezra was back.
"I didn't have time to wrap them," he explained, putting the objects in his hand down behind the couch. "But well, I took some writing paper, I hope you don't mind?" he looked at Chris.
"It's there to be used," he assured.
"This is for JD." He produced a bird; it was made of folded paper. "A Japanese gentleman in San Francisco taught me how to do this." Before he gave it to JD, he demonstrated how the origami bird could be made to flap its wings. It wasn't just a plain white bird; Ezra had taken the time to decorate it in bright colours.
"Wow, look at it fly," JD enthused as he took the bird, immediately making its wings flap as he showed it to Buck.
Ezra held out a strip of paper to Chris. "I made you a book mark, because you keep turning down the corners of the page to keep your place."
Chris gave him a quick grin he was guilty as charged. The strip of paper, six inches long and two inches wide had been intricately decorated. Ezra had drawn a complicated grid pattern on both sides and then diligently coloured it in, using red, orange, yellow and black.
"This is perfect Ezra, you sure did work hard on it, I really appreciate it." Chris turned the paper over in his hands and admired both sides.
Vin was next. "Buck told me your news, about the adoption and what Chris found out about your family and, well I've had this for some time and I want you to have it, for luck." With that he handed over a bright, Indian head penny. "It's an old one."
Vin stared at it, and then held it out, offering it back to Ezra. "You don't have to give me nothing Ezra, if you wanna keep it."
"I want you to have it; I know you'll look after it."
Vin smiled, closing his hand over the coin. "You can rub it anytime you want," he assured.
"Thanks." Ezra then turned to Buck, his saviour. "You're always looking for something to pick up the kettle with, and you keep burning your hand so I made you this." He held out a six inch square of cotton, it was clearly made from the cloth taken from the shirt Vin had torn, back in September. Ezra had cut out six squares of check flannel and stitched them together.
"My," Buck accepted his gift. "When did you do all this? How did you do this?"
"I did it last night, I remembered that the shirt had been placed in the rag bag, I knew we had a small sewing kit and well, a gentleman must be able to maintain his wardrobe when the need arises."
"You mean you can sew?" Chris asked.
"If needs be, I can affect repairs."
"Quit quizzing the boy Chris," Buck admonished. "Ezra, this is great. You know you didn't have to do all this, but I can see how hard you worked last night and I know it was very important to you, thank you son."
Ezra positively beamed, his gifts were appreciated, he was home, he had a family and Buck called him son.
Later that day, there was one more gift exchange. Chris took Vin aside and gave him two things. First Chris showed him his mother's gold crucifix, which he gazed on with wonder but then gave back to Chris for safe keeping. Then Chris handed over a gift box.
"Your aunt gave me something; I had it well look."
Vin gently lifted the lid and gazed in silent joy at the framed enlargement of the picture of his mother. His hand stretched out, one finger gently stroking the picture wistfully.
"Thank you," he whispered.
Geneology Chart - click for larger image
Next - Home for Christmas by Jeanne