ATF "Little Britches" Universe
Thanks to Barbretta Hayden for allowing me to use ideas from her story, Dreaming of Angels. In her story "Trolls" were arms dealers wearing night vision goggles.
Thanks to Kerry McMuse for going above and beyond "beta" duties and co-writing this story with me.
Buck strolled into the office and dropped the bag of goodies on his desk that he had purchased during his lunch hour. "I love this time of year."
Josiah watched with interest as Buck pulled a few of the Halloween decorations out of the sack. "Are you doing your big party this year?" asked the older ATF agent. Chris Larabee and Buck Wilmington's lives had changed dramatically with the addition of five-year-old JD Dunne and seven-year-old Vin Tanner. By some unheard of twist of fate, the courts had appointed the two ATF agents guardians of the orphaned boys. Under the watchful eye of case worker Nettie Wells, the two men had done fairly well in setting up a good home life for the boys, but there were times when Buck didn't use the best of judgment regarding entertainment.
"You bet, Josiah. The Buck Wilmington World Famous Haunted House and everything," replied Buck with a grin as he pulled a grotesque mask out of the sack.
"What about JD and Vin?"
"Hell Josiah, they'll love it. They're boys. What's not to love about scary gruesome stuff?"
Josiah shrugged. "Just remember that JD is only five. Five-year-olds take things a lot more literally than adults."
"Boy, do they! Yesterday JD fell off the steps on the front porch. He's sitting there crying and I asked him where he hurt himself. He stands up, turns around and points to the porch and says, "Right there." Buck chuckled and Josiah nodded with a smile.
"Josiah, I need to see you for a moment," called Chris from the doorway to his office.
"Sure Chris," said Josiah, rising to his feet. He turned back to Buck. "You might consider going less scary this year, just to be safe."
"Sure thing, Josiah," said Buck. He shook his head as Josiah entered Chris' office. "What's not to like about Halloween?"
JD watched in fascination as Mr. Buck put up black and orange decorations all around the house. "Whatya doin', Mr. Buck?"
"I'm decorating for Halloween, Little Britches," said Buck. "Hand me that roll of tape, would you, JD?"
JD grabbed the tape and stepped up on the bottom rung of the ladder reaching high with the roll of tape. "What's Hall'ween? Is it like Christmas or sumthin?"
Buck stopped his work, startled by the question. It had never occurred to him that the boys might not know about something as common as Halloween. He finished taping up the streamer he was working on, then climbed down the ladder and sat on the couch with JD.
"You've never been trick or treating?" he asked curiously. Black hair danced as JD vigorously shook his head.
With a little bit of sadness at what the boys had missed out on in their short lives, Buck explained the traditions of Halloween in a simplified, JD version.
"You mean we get candy?" JD's eyes were glowing with excitement.
Buck nodded again.
"Can I tell Vin? When's Halloween? Is it tomorrow? When can we dress up? When do we get candy?"
"Hold on there, Little Britches. Take a breath," said Buck ruffling JD's hair with a smile. "Yes, you can tell Vin. And it's not for a few days, but we need to get you a costume. What would you like to dress up as?"
"A cowboy!" chirped JD excitedly.
"Now how did I know you'd say that?" laughed Buck. Being a cowboy was all JD talked about. He walked over to the table and brought a sack back to JD. "Go ahead. Look inside."
JD squealed as he pulled out a cowboy hat. The hat slid down over his eyes as he plopped it on his head but JD was not deterred. Diving back into the bag he came out with a shirt, pants and boots. Those treasures were quickly tossed aside as he dove in and pulled out the ultimate prize. He turned around with a wide grin, brandishing the plastic six shooters high in the air.
"Oooo!" Eyes wide with delight, JD tried to buckle on his gunbelt. With a little help from Buck the job was accomplished and JD ran to the closet to get his stick horse. Buck grinned as his little cowboy rounded up imaginary bad guys while he finished hanging decorations.
Vin was skeptical. He looked to Mr. Chris for confirmation that what JD was telling him was true. He couldn't believe that there was a holiday where you dressed up and went to people's houses and they gave you candy for free. His eyes widened when Mr. Chris nodded that it was true.
"No!" Vin argued. "It ain't true. You're lying." He scowled at JD.
"Tell him Mr. Buck," cried JD not understanding why Vin was mad at him about such a good thing.
"He's right, Vin," said Buck. "We'll get you a costume too then me and Chris will take you door to door."
"No!" shouted Vin. "I ain't gonna do it and I ain't gonna let JD neither."
"But I wants candy!" pleaded JD, deeply disappointed that Vin wouldn't let him go.
"Vin," scolded Chris.
Vin looked at Chris and saw the disapproval in his eyes. Biting his trembling lower lip, Vin ran to the boys' bedroom and slammed the door.
"What the hell?" muttered Chris as he got up out of the chair and followed his charge down the hallway, leaving Buck to sort things out with JD.
Chris knocked on the door, but there was no reply. He grimaced knowing that he needed to correct Vin, but reluctant to do so. Vin was usually harder on himself than any punishment the blonde ATF Agent could come up with. Chris opened the door, surprised to find Vin with his face buried in his pillow sobbing.
"You want to tell me what's going on?" asked Chris as he sat on the bed.
"No." The pillow muffled the soft reply.
Vin knew that tone. It was the one that was not to be argued with. Sniffing and wiping his nose on his sleeve he sat up, but didn't look at Chris.
"What's bothering you about going trick or treating?" Chris ducked his head down, trying to catch a glimpse of Vin's expression. The few seconds of silence seemed to stretch into minutes. He could see the struggle on Vin's downcast face.
"Please don't make me go," pleaded Vin softly.
"Why not?" prodded Chris.
Vin squirmed uncomfortably. He obviously didn't want to say it out loud. "People don't give you something for nothin'," whispered Vin as he wiped tears off his cheeks. "They always want something from you."
Chris sucked in a sharp breath. JD's words in that rundown warehouse where they found the two boys so many months before assaulted his memory. As the older of the two, and the self-appointed protector of the five-year-old, Vin had schooled JD not to take anything from strangers because they always wanted something from you. JD's frightened voice rang in his mind, "Vin says I'm too little to give'm what they want."
Chris swore in anger and Vin leaned away from him. Damn. How was he supposed to make Vin understand this was different than all the boy had ever known? Chris groaned inwardly as it sank in. It wasn't simply that Vin didn't want to go. He thought Chris and Buck would force him to go and... He cursed under his breath for missing it.
"Vin?" Chris sighed when the seven-year-old wouldn't look at him. "Please look at me." Chris swallowed hard as frightened blue eyes looked up at him. "Vin, you don't have to go trick or treating if you don't want to, but it really is what JD told you. People don't want anything from you." Chris grimaced. Vin still didn't believe him.
"Do you know why they call it trick or treat?"
Vin shook his head.
"Well it used to be that if folks didn't give you a treat then you played a trick on them."
"That's mean," Vin stated matter-of-factly.
Chris nodded, "But that's how the tradition started. Now folks just find it fun to see kids in costumes and give them a treat." Chris watched Vin's expression. How could so much skepticism fit inside a little boy? "Do you want to give it a try? It's up to you. You can stop anytime you want."
Vin shrugged. That was a lot more than Chris expected. He could tell Vin was trying to believe him. "We need to get you a costume, if not for trick or treating, at least for Buck's party. What do you want to be?"
"Don't want no costume."
Chris rolled his eyes in frustration. "Why not?"
"Dress-up is for girls."
Chris swallowed his chuckle, seeing that the little man beside him was dead serious. "It's not that kind of dress up. JD's going to be a cowboy."
Vin snorted. "JD * always * wants to be a cowboy."
"So what do you want to be?" asked Chris.
Larabee smiled as Vin slipped under his arm and leaned against his chest. "I wanna be an ATF agent."
Chris gave Vin a gentle squeeze before assuring the small boy, "I think that can be arranged." The two of them sat quietly for a few moments before Chris spoke again. "Are we okay now?"
"Then you need to go tell JD you're sorry for calling him a liar." Vin nodded. "And Vin," Chris added, waiting for Vin to face him, "no more slamming doors."
"Yes, sir." Vin scooted off the bed to go find JD.
"Okay. Have we got everything?" Nathan looked around to make sure they hadn't forgotten anything. Chris had brought JD and Vin to trick or treat in Nathan's neighborhood. He grinned at the pint-sized cowboy and the miniature ATF agent who were standing in front of him. JD had on brown pants, a light blue shirt with a leather vest. His cowboy hat had to be stuffed with tissue paper to keep it out of his eyes. His prized six shooters glimmered in the lamplight. After a brief stand-off with Chris earlier, JD finally agreed that the stick horse was better off staying home for the evening so that he could hold all of that promised candy he had been dreaming of all week long.
Vin was dressed in black pants and a black T-shirt and the smallest ATF jacket Chris could find. When he had tried it on that morning, they had all had a good laugh when they saw him swimming in it. The sleeves had been rolled up and taped so he could find his hands. He wore his ATF cap backwards but even with it sized as small as it would go, it still slid down to his ears. Vin carried a large heavy-duty black flashlight that he hung onto for dear life, not allowing anyone else to hold it for him. They were quite a pair.
Nathan handed two colored gift bags to each boy and crouched down in front of them as he explained what to do. "Now remember, we put candy from people we know in the green bag and the treats from people we don't know go in the red bag. And you don't eat any of it until one of us adults goes through it. Right?"
"Yep. Can we hurry?" pleaded JD hopping up and down. He wanted to get going and start gathering all that candy.
Vin just nodded in response to Nathan's question. Chris could see Vin was still a little reluctant about this whole thing. Initially, Nathan and Josiah had planned to take the boys out while Chris helped Buck set up his haunted house at the ranch. As the big day drew closer, Chris figured it would be best for Vin's sake if he went along, so Josiah headed over to the ranch to help Buck set up.
"Ready Vin?" asked Chris. Vin responded with slight nod, clenching his flashlight a little tighter. He squared his jaw ready to do battle if he had to.
The foursome left Nathan's house and walked to his neighbor's house. Vin and JD stood in front of the door at a loss. JD turned back to Chris and asked in a loud whisper, "Mr. Chris, what's we supposed to do?"
"Just ring the doorbell and say trick or treat," encouraged Chris.
JD looked to Vin for leadership but didnt find his normal guidance the older boy usually provided. Vin just stared at the door, clutching his flashlight. JD looked back to Chris for reassurance. Chris nodded to him and JD reached slowly for the doorbell, his cousin's reluctance carrying over to the younger boy.
Both boys jumped back as the door opened. JD looked to Chris again, and Chris whispered, "Trick or treat?"
"Trick or treat?" said JD softly. Vin looked ready to run.
"Well, what do we have here?" asked the woman at the door. "A cowboy and, oh, and an ATF agent." Her smile was friendly. She held out a bowl of wrapped miniature chocolate bars. "Help yourselves boys."
Nathan caught a glimpse of the excitement in JDs eyes when he heard the lady invite them to help themselves. He laid a hand on the little boys shoulder and said, "Just one, JD. "
JD tentatively reached for a candy bar while his cousin stood frozen in place. When it became obvious that Vin wasnt going to make his own selection, Chris reached over Vin's shoulder and took a candy bar for him. "What do you say boys?"
"Thank you," said JD, staring at the candy bar in his hand. He looked over at Vin who still had not spoken and whispered loudly, "Vin, you's supposed to say thank you."
"Thank you," mumbled Vin.
"Come on, boys," called Nathan. JD grabbed Nathan's hand and walked down the sidewalk.
"Mr. Nathan?" asked JD squeezing his chocolate bar a little tighter than necessary.
"Do we know that lady?" JD stopped and looked at his two sacks slung over his arm. "I mean, which sack does she go in?"
Nathan chuckled lightly. "We know her, JD. You can put that candy in the green sack." Nathan glanced back to Chris and Vin who had only moved a couple steps from the brightly lit porch. He couldn't hear what was being said, but he could see Chris wiping tears from Vin's face, then swallowing the boy in a hug. Eventually the boy broke the embrace, grabbed Chris' hand and walked over to join Nathan and JD.
After a few more houses Nathan and Chris were finding it hard not to laugh at the transformation. JD had handed off his treat bags to Nathan, insisting on showing everyone who came to the doors that he could twirl his toy gun on his finger. A feat he accomplished... with a lot of help from his other hand.
"Come on, JD!" urged Vin. "If you didn't talk so much we could go to more houses and get more candy."
Nathan winked at Chris, pleased that Vin had discovered this really was fun, and thrilled that Vin sounded so much like every other little boy in his candy greed.
Nearly an hour later the two boys were groaning and complaining about how unfair it was that they had to stop going door to door just to go to Mr. Buck's dumb ol' party. Chris laughed as they begged for just one more house and Nathan acquiesced.
"All right, but this is absolutely the last one," said Nathan sternly, hiding his smile.
Chris just smiled. Nathan was no better at turning down the boys than any of the rest of them. Chris fully expected an argument when they finished with the house, but instead the boys climbed quietly into Nathan's Jeep Cherokee.
"Oh boy! Now for the party!" JD bounced on the seat, squirming as Nathan made sure his seat belt was buckled securely.
As they drove along, Vin watched out the windows. "This ain't the way to the ranch," he said matter-of-factly.
Nathan glanced at him in the rear-view mirror. "You're right, Vin. We're taking a little side trip and then we'll head over to the party."
"Hey!" said JD as he figured out where they were. "How come we're at the Hop-sital? We don't got no boo-boos."
Chris just raised his eyebrows and watched Nathan try to explain his actions to the two inquisitive boys.
"Well, we're going to take your candy in here and let them x-ray it."
"Why?" asked Vin.
"Well, Vin. We need to make sure that no one put anything in the candy that doesn't belong there."
"Why would somebody do that?" asked Vin.
"You got me, Vin. But I think that its best to be safe," answered Nathan.
"That's mean," mumbled Vin.
With candy x-rayed and a few choice pieces examined by Nathan, the boys munched happily on the way to the ranch. Chris was concerned that Buck's haunted house might be a little much for the boys so he was careful to explain to them what was going to happen at the party. There would be scary things, but to remember that it was all make believe. None of the scary stuff that wasnt normally there was real.
Vin's tentativeness seemed to return as they entered the darkened house. Chris held his hand trying to reassure him that it was all for fun. A skeleton popped up from the corner and Chris jumped, startled by the movement. He knew it would be okay when he heard a giggle beside him. "Member it's just pretend Mr. Chris," the tiny Texan drawled.
Buck couldn't help but smile as he moved around the darkened house hearing the boys shout, giggle and outright laugh at the menagerie of scary stuff. Chris stayed close to the boys as they made their way through the maze. So far there had been wet, dangly stuff, things popping out at them. A really ugly head that roared at them. Vin laughed as he heard Mr. Ezra quietly curse as something startled him. As they stepped through another passageway, Vin stopped suddenly and turned back to Chris in the darkness. Chris heard the choked sob.
"I don't want to do this no more," said Vin, attaching himself to Chris' leg.
Chris glanced around the corner to see what had taken the fun out of the evening for Vin. He closed his eyes with an inward sigh. A coffin. "It's not real, Vin. Remember, it's all make believe."
"Mama," whispered Vin.
A single word pierced Chris' heart. He knelt down and pulled Vin into a hug. How many times were they going to stumble into things that frightened the boys, or worse, cause them pain? "I'm sorry, Vin. It was supposed to be funny scary."
"Ain't funny," the small voice mumbled into his shoulder.
"I know," said Chris, rubbing his back.
"It's mean," said Vin. Chris had to smile at Vin's blunt observations about Halloween. It was the third time Vin had commented that something about Halloween was mean.
Suddenly Vin realized that JD had continued without them. "JD!"
JD squealed at something and then howled with laughter.
Vin and Chris followed the sound of his voice. "JD?" called Vin again.
"Vin, look! Mr. Ezra falled in green stuff."
"Master Dunne, I fail to see the humor in my calamity," said Ezra with a smile.
"You look funny," said JD.
"Someone else is going to look funny when I get my hands on him," called Ezra loudly. He heard Buck's snort from somewhere nearby. "I think we need to find Mr. Wilmington and get even with him for scaring us."
"How we gonna find Mr. Buck?" asked JD.
Vin sighed. "Geez. Turn on the lights."
"Ah, my practical friend, what fun would that be?" asked Ezra. The southerner made a large production out of looking all around him before beckoning JD to come closer. When the small cowboy was standing right next to him, Ezra bent down and whispered in a loud stage whisper, "I do believe I heard Mr. Wilmington this direction."
The maze of the haunted house quickly became hide-n-seek for Mr. Buck. Chris, Nathan and Josiah stood to the side of the room while Ezra helped the boys hunt. "I think he's this way boys. I can smell his aftershave lotion." Everyone heard the sound of flesh hitting flesh, and an "Ow" as JD and Vin bumped heads. Ezra chuckled. "Master Dunne, Master Tanner. I believe we should spread out a bit."
Buck decided to help the boys out a bit by sneezing. "He's over there, Vin!" called JD excitedly, moving in the direction of the noise.
As their eyes adjusted to the darkness, the tiny bit of light in the room allowed Nathan, Josiah and Chris a shadowy view of the movements of Ezra and the boys.
"Sneeze again, Mr. Buck!" called JD.
"I'm not going to do that," said Buck teasingly. "Then you can find me."
JD giggled, knowing he was getting close to Mr. Buck.
Suddenly Buck jumped up and grabbed JD, growling like a bear. He was not prepared for what happened next. JD screamed in sheer terror, then began kicking with all his might. "Vin! Vin! Help me. Trolls! The trolls has got me!" JD's cowboy booted heel connected with a very sensitive part of Buck's anatomy and he lost his grip on the boy. JD ran blindly away from Buck, running headlong into the screen door, tearing through the lightweight mesh, falling on the porch, still screaming for Vin.
Chris flipped on the lights momentarily blinding everyone. He glanced at Buck, bent over trying to stand up. Buck was pulling night vision goggles off his eyes. "Trolls," said Chris. That was how the boys had described the arms dealers in the warehouses. They had worn night vision goggles and had only come out at night. Not knowing what the goggles were, the boys had described the arms dealers as trolls. The trolls had been responsible for shooting Vin and nearly costing his life. "Damn it, Buck. Trolls!" said Chris angrily, grabbing the goggles from him and shaking them in front of his face.
"Oh gawd," moaned Buck, realizing his mistake. "JD!" He began limping his way towards the screen door. Nathan and Josiah were already headed out the door.
"Chris, " said Ezra softly. Chris turned to Ezra and dropped the goggles as his eyes came to rest on Vin. The seven-year-old stood in the middle of the room, his feet frozen in place. His mouth hung open and he was staring wide-eyed at the place Buck had stood. His little chest was expanding and contracting quickly with too shallow breaths, his arms and legs trembling. Chris noticed the puddle on the floor at the same time that Vin seemed to kick back into gear.
Vin focused on Chris and followed his line of sight. Looking at the floor at his feet he was immediately ashamed. He looked at the damaged screen door with JD's screams echoing in his mind. Not only had he been so scared that he wet himself, but he had failed to protect JD. Before Chris could reach him, Vin bolted from the room racing upstairs to his bedroom.
Deciding to give Vin a couple minutes to take care of himself, Chris took a moment to look outside before heading upstairs. JD was huddled in Josiah's arms and Buck was kneeling in front of him presumably trying to explain. Nathan stood a few feet away, closer to the door. "Is JD all right?" Chris asked Nathan.
"A few scrapes and splinters. Nothing that a Band-Aid and lots of love won't cure."
"We scared the hell out of them, Nate," said Chris softly. "Damn, it scared Vin so bad that he wet himself. Gawd, Nate. He was frozen with fear."
Nathan nodded. "All you can do, Chris, is walk them through it."
Chris shook his head and walked back inside to find to his amazement that Ezra was busy mopping up the floor. Mister "I don't do menial labor" Standish was doing some of the most menial work there was. Chris smiled briefly. Ezra and Vin had an understanding of sorts. Ezra was simply removing evidence of Vin's humiliation. Chris stooped over and picked up the night vision goggles from the floor, taking them with him to show to Vin.
"Where's Vin?" asked JD as they brought him inside the house. "I want Vin."
"In a bit, JD," said Nathan. "Come on in the bathroom here and let's get those scrapes fixed up."
"You should'na scareded me Mr. Buck," said JD. "Now I breaked the door and I'm gonna be in trouble."
"No, JD. It's my fault. I'll fix the door," assured Buck. "I'm sorry Little Britches."
"Can I have a Spiderman Band-Aid, Mr. Nathan? They's in the cabinet up there." JD pointed to the cabinet over the sink.
Vin wouldn't look up when Chris came in, surprised that he would even bother. Vin felt he was a total failure. Chris moved quietly to the dresser, pulling out a pair of pajama's and underclothes for Vin. "JD's all right, Vin. Let's get you cleaned up."
Vin found himself torn between utter humiliation and the need for Mr. Chris to comfort him and tell him it was all right. "I can do it myself." Vin pulled the clothes away from Chris and carried them into the boys' bathroom.
Buck glanced up, hearing the water running in the shower upstairs. JD was now adorned with more Spiderman Band-Aids than he really needed. "Where's Vin?"
"I think he's upstairs taking a bath," said Buck.
"I don't want to take a bath. We didn't get all dirty," protested JD.
"Don't worry," Buck assured his young charge, "you don't need to take one tonight." He indulgently watched as JD peeked out of the bathroom to check if it was safe to leave the small room.
"Did you catch the troll, Mr. Buck? He catchted me."
Buck knelt down next to the serious little boy and put both hands on the small shoulders. "JD, there was no troll. That was me. I was wearing night vision goggles so I guess I looked like a troll. I didnt know that it would scare you all. I never would do anything to hurt you, Little Bit."
"That's mean," said Vin. Nearly the same conversation was going on upstairs as Chris helped Vin dry off and slip into his pajamas.
"Well, Buck didn't realize that it might scare you," said Chris.
"JD could'a got hurt bad."
"Yes," said Chris, then he paused before continuing, "but that isn't the only reason why you are upset?"
Vin shook his head.
"Well, what is it?" encouraged Chris.
"I just stood there," said Vin. "JD was getting hurt and it was like I was frozen. I couldn't make myself move."
"You had a big shock. You understand now Vin, that it wasn't one of your trolls?"
Chris pulled Vin onto his lap as they sat down on the bed. "I want to show you something." Chris handed Vin the night vision goggles. "That's your troll, Vin."
Vin's hands trembled as he held the goggles. He examined them thoroughly. "I'm going to turn off the lamp Vin and I want you to look through them."
Vin seemed nervous, but he nodded. Chris turned off the lamp and Vin peered through the goggles. "Wow! I can see you."
"Yep. That's all the goggles do, Vin. They help you see in the dark." Chris paused and turned the light back on. Those were bad men in the warehouse who wore these goggles. But we use them at work too to do good things."
"You do?" asked Vin incredulously.
"Yes, we do. Buck borrowed them from work. It's how he could always tell where we were in the maze."
Vin fingered the goggles. "Can we show JD so he knows it's okay too?"
"Sure," said Chris with a smile. "Come on."
When he led Vin downstairs, he could see that Ezra and Josiah had been very busy. Much of the house was back to its normal state. Nathan, Josiah and Ezra were sitting around the cluttered dining room table enjoying a cold beer. Vin walked over and sat down on the couch by JD, putting his arm around his little cousin. "You okay?" he asked the younger boy.
"I breaked the door," whispered JD.
"I know. You was scared," answered Vin.
"Was you scareded Vin?"
Vin nodded and whispered, "I was so scared, JD that I peed my pants."
JD gasped and put his hand over his mouth. "That why you had to take a bath?"
Vin nodded. "I got something to show you." Vin pulled out the goggles. "It weren't really trolls after all, JD."
"Are these them nighttime seeing things?" asked JD.
Vin nodded and showed JD how they worked. Chris turned off the light so JD could look through the goggles. JD began to giggle as he looked around the room.
"What?" asked Vin.
"Nuffin," said JD, breaking into giggles.
"What?" asked Vin again.
"Mr. Ezra's all green again."
Ezra threw up his hands in mock exasperation making JD giggle more. Chris flipped on the lights as he and the other men stood nearby marveling at the resiliency of kids.
When Vin rubbed his tired eyes the older men smiled. "I think it's about time for bed," said Chris.
"Come on, Little Britches. Let's get your pajama's on and then we'll have one cookie and a glass of milk before bed."
"Yay!" called JD as he ran upstairs.
Vin handed the goggles to Buck. "Mr. Buck?"
"I don't like it when you scares us."
"Me neither, Junior. I'm really sorry." Buck took a few steps toward the staircase.
"The boxes you put people in when they die ain't funny neither."
"You're right, Vin. Next year, I'm gonna let you and JD help me set up, okay?" Buck smiled. "We'll decide together what's fun."
Vin nodded and Buck took a few more steps.
"Buck?" Chris called out.
"You get first watch, old pal."
Buck nodded and, with a resigned look, followed the two boys upstairs. If there were going to be nightmares in the house, they were Bucks to deal with.
Ezra and the others finished their beer and, after bidding Chris goodnight, made their way to their cars. Chris locked up behind them, turning off all the lamps except for the small nightlight in the hall. As he climbed up the stairs, he heard his name being whispered. Looking over towards the boys room, he caught sight of Vins head sticking out, signaling him to come in.
"Mr. Chris," Vin said after dragging the mystified man into the room, "JD and me was talkin and ."
"We need to get Mr. Buck back!" JD interrupted with a mischievous grin. "Hes the only one who aint been scareded yet."
Chris looked at both boys and waited. He could see by the look in Vins eye that they had already come up with a plan.
Vin slowly pulled the night goggles out from under his pillow and cocked his head to the side as he looked up at Chris.
"What do you boys have in mind?"
"We think that he should meet the trolls!" Vin said with a lopsided smile.
"Yeah!" JD crowed, bouncing up and down on the bed. "Wes gonna wait until he goes to sleep and is makin all that racket he makes and then sneak in!"
"Then," Vin continued in a low voice, "right when he starts talkin real sweet like "
"Talking real sweet like?" Chris asked, his brow creasing.
The two boys giggled quietly at Chris expression of disbelief. Vin shoved JDs head into the pillow when the younger boys laughter threatened to explode. It wouldnt help their plans if Buck came in and saw the three of them plotting.
"Yep. You know, he thinks hes talkin to some sweet thing of his," Vin said with a twinkle in his eye. "Sometimes, hes so far gone, he will reach out as if he was huggin some lady!"
Chris had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from roaring with delight. He reminded himself to file this juicy tidbit away for future use.
When Vin saw that Chris wasnt disagreeing with them he continued. "We figure that when he reaches out to hug whoever it is he hugs, he can hug a troll instead!"
"So whos going to be the troll?" Chris asked, his curiosity getting the better of him.
"Mr. Siah!!!!" JD crowed!
"Josiah?" Chris asked in confusion.
"Yes, Chris?" boomed a voice from the closet, causing the blonde to jump off the bed.
Chris relaxed when he saw the large form belonging to his agent unfold itself out of the closet. "What in the he " Chris cut himself off quickly when he caught Vins eye. In order to not curse around the boys, Buck and he had decided that whenever they were caught using a bad word, they would have to pay the boy who caught them a dollar per bad word. "What in the world," Chris said, stressing the lack of curse word, "are you doing? I thought you went home."
"You were suppose to think that!" JD bubbled. "He snucked in with Mr. Ezra and Mr. Nathan."
Chris looked over his shoulder and, sure enough, his other two agents were lurking in the doorway of the boys bathroom. "How did you get in? I set the alarm."
When Ezra took a step forward, Chris help up a hand. "On the other hand, I dont want to know, do I?"
"No," Nathan agreed. He still couldnt believe how easily the sly southerner had bypassed the ranchs security system.
"So, Mr. Larabee," Ezra softly said, "how do you feel about having a troll patrolling the premises?"
The two small boys giggled at the question, waiting anxiously for Chris response.
Looking around at the people assembled in the small room, Chris heart swelled. Here were three grown men who were willing to help two small boys settle a score. "Well, just as long as the troll doesnt take up permanent residence here," Chris growled with a smile, "I cant see why he should be allowed to visit tonight."
"Wonderful!" Ezra exclaimed, bending over a gym bag he had secreted below Vins bed. He pulled out a top-of-the-line digital video camera and set about checking the settings and lens.
Josiah and Nathan followed Vin and JD into the bathroom to begin to get ready for their mission.
After one final bed check, Buck returned to his room satisfied that the two boys were safely tucked away and sleeping peacefully. He was relieved that it didnt seem like either of them were so traumatized by the events of the evening. There had been no cries from the room or any late night excuses to sleep with one of the grown-ups. Proud of the way he handled the necessary explanations, he stripped down to his pumpkin and black cat boxers and slid between the cool sheets.
About forty-five minutes later, the first wave was underway. A black garbed southerner skillfully made his way down the darkened hallway and stood guard outside the unsuspecting victims room. Shortly, he was joined by a camouflaged ex-medic who was clutching the heavy-duty flashlight that Vin had used earlier that evening. Vin slid next to Ezra, holding the video camera to his eye, just how he had been shown earlier. JD slipped onto his tummy and held the stethoscope to the door, listening to the sounds inside the door. Finally, the group was joined by a dark shadow that was guiding a troll.
JD tugged on Ezras pant legs, signaling the others that the show was about to begin. Nathan quietly turned the doorknob and eased the door open. As silently as the mists outside, the six made their way into the bedroom and took up their appointed positions. Vin punched the red button on the camera while Nathan turned on the flashlight, cupping the lightbeam in his hand.
"Oh, darlin" Buck muttered, moving slightly. "What are you doin all the way over there?"
JD buried his head on Nathans foot, stifling his giggles.
"Thats it "
Vin crept a couple of inches closer to the sleeping man. He wanted to be sure to get all of the event on tape. Besides, this part was the best!
"Come here, baby," Buck said, reaching out a hand and narrowly missing Nathans arm. The black man hastily stepped back, stepping on Chris foot. The injured man retaliated by reaching out and tweaking the offenders ear.
"Darlin" came floating up from the king-size bed. "What are you doing? You naughty girl!"
Chris and Ezra locked eyes and silently came to the agreement that they had better bring this mission to its conclusion and fast before the two young boys became educated in things they had no business in knowing for many more years. Ezra reached out and tapped the troll on the shoulder, motioning him to take his spot.
A low laugh broke the silence as Buck made himself more comfortable. He stretched out his arm and crooked a finger. "Come here, you vixen!"
Josiah moved over and stood just outside of Bucks reach. The next time the slumbering agent reached out, he would finally capture his dream. All of them felt like they were holding their breath, waiting for the finale. The alarm clock sounded abnormally loud as the seconds inched by.
"Sweetcheeks," Buck muttered, a smile creasing his face, "ready or not, here I come!" He reached out and grabbed his darlin, freezing as his sleeping mind tried to process just who it was he was holding. With a scream, he sat up in bed, only to come face to face with the troll. He stared up at the frightening monster for a minute with his mouth hanging open only to finally realize there was no sound coming out. "What in the hell .!"
He scrambled backwards as Josiah pushed forward keeping physical contact with the terrified man. When his bare back hit the headboard, he began kicking out and wiggling to freedom. The troll wasnt ready to allow his chosen victim to escape and kept a firm grasp on Buck.
"Chris! Get your damn gun and get the f*** in here!" Buck bellowed.
Ezra stepped back to the door and quickly flipped the light switch, flooding the room with light. As soon as Bucks eyes adjusted to the sudden invasion of light, he finally saw all five people in his room and the troll who was practically sitting on his lap.
"What in the "
"Buck," Chris warned between gasps for air. He was laughing so hard, he could feel the tears threatening to fall.
JD was hysterical, rolling on the floor holding his tummy. Nathan and Ezra both had thought it wise to retreat to the door, just in case their teammate didnt see the humor in the situation. Josiah had yet to remove his troll looks. When Buck looked back at the thing sitting in his bed, he involuntarily jumped back again. Between Nathan, Vin and JD, the troll was a revolting spectacle to behold. There was green slimy "hair" dripping down past his broad shoulders. He was wearing a shirt of reptile scales and the night vision goggles over his multicolored face paint.
"Get out of my bed!"
"Now theres a line I never thought I would hear Buck Wilmington utter!" Nathan whispered to Ezra, causing the southerner to break out in a fresh round of chuckles.
"What in the world are you all doin?" Buck stuttered. "Do you know what this can do to a mans well-being?"
As the entire drama unfolded, Vin had carefully continued to catch everything on tape. By the time this was over, they would have a prime piece of entertaining blackmail that they could share with some friends.
Buck caught sight of the amateur Spielberg and lunged at the camera. Chris stepped in between the irate man and small boy. "Now, Buck," Chris said holding his hands out. "We were just having a bit of Halloween fun."
"Yeah, Mr. Buck! Just like you tolded me. We was trickin ya!" JD added from the safety behind Vin.
"This aint funny! You could hurt a man by doin what you just did!" Buck protested.
Josiah pulled off the goggles and grinned. It was spooky seeing his face, even without the goggles. All you could see was the huge white teeth and the whites of his eyes. Every other bit of skin was hidden under the special paint.
"Damn, Josiah! You need to do something with your bedside manner. You are enough to make a man go blind."
"Mr. Buck. You owe JD and me four bucks!" Vin said, as soon as the larger man quieted down.
Chris looked back at Vin and nodded. "Yep. You said four bad words and the younguns were here."
"Aw," Buck muttered, trying to still his racing heart. He looked around at all the people in his room and had to smile. "Thats plain mean!"
Comments: Joy K and Kerry