IF WISHES WERE HORSES by Barbretta Hayden and Pat Merritt

"Little Britches" (ATF) Universe

Follows Dreaming of Angels

If wishes were horses
I'd have a herd.

And if dreams had wings
I could fly like a bird.

"Vin? Why don't you come back over here? You can play with the Legos some more while we talk."

The sound of shuffling footsteps and the legs of a wooden chair scraping across the floor. A moment of silence followed by the rattle of hard plastic blocks and the soft clicking sounds of the blocks being snapped together.

"What's that you're building?"

Snap. Rattle. Snap.

"It looks like a cave."

Rattle. Snap.

"Is it a secret hideout?"



A quiet sigh.

"It's home."

"Who's home?"

"Mine and JD's."

"I see. Is this where you lived before Chris found you?"

Snap. Snap. Rattle.


The sound of chair legs against the floor and footsteps receding.

"Okay. Let's talk about something else. Do you remember what we talked about yesterday? Do you want to tell me some more about your mother?"








Chris jerked slightly in his chair as the tape player shut off with a loud 'click.' He looked up to see Dr. Lowery regarding him sadly. The child psychologist was a young man, brown-haired and clean-shaven. A little on the overweight side, his round face fairly exuded trust and gentleness. It was probably hard for him to admit that he had finally met a child he couldn’t win over.

"Now do you understand my concern with Vin being assigned to your care?"

Captain Larabee shook his head. "No, I don't. He just doesn't feel like talking right now or maybe it's just you he doesn't want to talk to."

"Has he talked to you about the months following his mother's death? Who took him from the shelter and built that 'home' for him in the warehouse? What happened while he lived there?"

"He'll talk when he's ready."

"Captain Larabee, I realize that you are in the ATF division of law enforcement but even so you must have had some training regarding victims of sexual abuse…"

"Jake said there's no physical evidence …!"

"A lack of evidence is not proof it didn't happen!"

"Whoa, whoa! That's enough." Dr. Jake Two Eagles held up his hands between the two men whose voices were growing steadily louder. "Let's not lose our focus here."

Dr. Lowery sat back in his chair and stared down at his clipboard of notes. Drawing a deep, calming breath, he let it out slowly through his nose. At the same time, Chris Larabee pushed himself to his feet and began pacing the small room as he ran one hand through his short, blond hair. Jake Two Eagles watched both men, his dark eyes filled with understanding and compassion.

"I think we can all agree that our main concern is the well being of Vin Tanner. And while 'yes' it is true there is no physical evidence of abuse," Jake held up his hand again to stave off the other doctor's protest. "As William said, we cannot rule out the possibility. There are many forms of abuse and Vin disappeared from the shelter six months ago. I'm sorry, but for his sake we have to assume the worst until we learn otherwise."

Chris knew that both doctors were right and he was also fully aware of the types of abuse they were discussing. The problem was, every time he thought of those things being done to Vin he was swamped with a wave of anger. No, anger was too mild a word for it. More like a killing rage. He wanted to find that son of a bitch responsible and pound him into sausage with his bare hands.

William, or Will as his friends called him, was very much aware of how Chris felt. He was an expert at reading body language but even a blind man would have been able to sense the pent-up fury radiating from the officer. "Of course, Dr. Two Eagles is correct. The main issue here is what will be most beneficial for Vin. Captain Larabee..."


"Chris, you and your men have done a wonderful job of tracking down Vin's background in a remarkably short amount of time. Discovering the identity of his mother and the fact that she died of pneumonia in a shelter for battered women has been an enormous help to me. I don't think I could have gotten more than two words out of Vin if I hadn't known his mother's name."

Dr. Lowery sighed as he leaned forward and rested his arms on the table. "But he still refuses to tell me who took him from the shelter and what happened between that moment and the time you and your men found him in the empty warehouse. Luckily his friend John Dunne is a great deal more talkative so we at least know that Vin was living alone at the time he found John last month."

John Dunne or JD as he called himself, was the other orphan discovered living in the warehouse and his story was even more tragic than Vin's. Piecing together the clues from JD's rather disjointed statements and the files at the police department, the ATF team had learned that the body of the child's mother had been discovered in a car not too far from the warehouse. The police report was listed as an ongoing homicide investigation since it appeared that woman had been struck over the head with a blunt instrument and left laying in the back seat of her car. Next to her body had been an empty child's car seat and one tiny sneaker. Police had assumed that her assailant had taken the child but had discovered no leads as to his whereabouts or a motive for the killing. It was also a mystery as to what Miss Dunne had been doing in the vicinity of the abandoned factories.

JD couldn't tell the men what had happened to his mother. All he remembered was falling asleep during a long drive and waking up with his mother apparently asleep next to him. He knew how to work a seat belt and had climbed out of his booster seat to try and wake her. JD told the officers how he had been hungry and had started crying when his couldn't get his mother to wake up. It was horrible to imagine and as the story was told more than one head had turned to hide the embarrassment of tears.

How Vin came to find JD and why he took on the responsibility of caring for the younger boy was still unknown and was likely to remain that way until Vin decided to talk. With no relatives to take them in, both boys would need foster homes and that was the current issue under debate.

Dr. Lowery continued to study Chris as he spoke. "There are foster parents who have special training and experience in dealing with children who are victims of abuse. They know how to talk to the children, the warning signs to look for and how to react when a crisis point is reached." Will saw the first hint of doubt in the captain's eyes and pushed his argument further. "Beside the possible abuse, we also have to think about his education. The few tests I've done are not conclusive but they do indicate a learning disability, possibly dyslexia."

Silence descended on the small conference room as each man wrestled with facts and emotions. Chris finally stopped his pacing in front of the window overlooking the hospital parking lot. Florescent lights glowed hazily in the soft drizzle of rain that had begun earlier that afternoon. He hated weather like this. Give him clear skies or a good heavy downpour, not this in-between, gray kind of shit. It didn't help matters that the weather matched his current frame of mind.

The good doctor had just shot to hell a whole week's worth of soul searching and careful planning. He thought he had covered all the bases, asked all the right questions and arrived at the best possible answers. His biggest concern had been his own motivation for taking in the homeless child. Was he looking for a replacement for his own lost son? A couple of sleepless nights and a long distance phone call to his father had finally put his mind at ease on that issue.

Finding the time to spend with Vin was a hell of a lot easier. Chris had been honestly shocked to discover just how much accumulated vacation he had available. Deciding that two months was really all he could comfortably take; he had put in his request for the time off with the assurance from his team that they could manage without him.

Chris couldn't help smiling as he thought back to the previous day. Word had gotten around that he was taking in a foster child and would be off duty for sixty days. Someone had made the leap in logic that two months was the same amount of leave time women got for giving birth so it seemed only right that Chris be given a baby shower. Buck had been included since he was also working on having JD's 'material witness' status changed to something a little more permanent.

'I hope his interview went smoother than mine seems to be going.' Chris turned back to the waiting doctors, forcing himself to ask the question that would decide once and for all if he would continue to petition for guardianship of Vin.

"So, in your professional opinion, it would be better for Vin to go to foster parents that have more experience in dealing with these issues?"

Dr. Lowery hesitated. "Not...necessarily." Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out another cassette tape and swapped it for the one in the player. The three men listened to another recorded session between Will and Vin.

"Vin, if you could have any wish come true, what would you ask for?"

"Wishes don't come true."

"Well, some wishes can come true. But pretend that you could have anything you wished for, what would you want?"


"Would you wish for your mother to be alive again?"



"I'd wish I was a horse."

"A horse? Why do you want to be a horse?"

"Cause then I could go live with Chris and I WOUDLN"T HAVE TO ANSWER NO MORE STUPID QUESTIONS!"

The sound of a wooden play table and assorted toys suddenly crashing to the floor caused both Chris and Dr. Two Eagles to jump.

"I'm sorry! I didn't … I'm sorry! I …I …"

"Shhh. It's okay. It's all right, Vin. Shhhh. No harm done."

Will let the tape play for a few seconds more, the wracking sobs of the distraught child causing more than one throat to thicken with emotion.

Chris bowed his head in defeat. "God. I hadn't realized that he …I would never have thought…"

"Yes, I think Vin even surprised himself." Dr. Lowery saw the dejection in Chris' face and quickly reassured him. "Oh, don't worry, this was a good thing. I had been pushing him rather hard trying to force some kind of emotional outburst. I'll admit, this was just a little more violent than I had anticipated but it was a positive sign."

"That was positive?" Even Jake was looking a little incredulous.

"Vin has been through some very traumatic events. We don't even know what he saw or experienced before he and his mother wound up at the shelter, let alone the six months afterward. He has to be feeling some pretty strong emotions and there needs to be an outlet. A carefully controlled outlet that will not let him harm himself or anyone else."

Dr. Lowery focused his attention on Chris. "Now do you understand why it is so important that we get Vin to talk?"

"Yeah." Chris nodded his head. After that little demonstration, how could he not? Shit. How am I going to break this to Vin? How am I gonna look in those blue eyes and explain that he won't be coming to live with me?

"Good. If you'll give me a number where you can be reached tomorrow, I'll get you a list of the dates and times of the sessions you'll need to attend." Will saw the confusion on Chris' face. "Unless you've changed your mind about being a foster parent?"

"But...I thought you said Vin needed people with training and experience?"

"He does but more importantly he needs to be with someone he can trust. That person is you. In the short time you've known each other, Vin has formed an emotional attachment to you. To break that bond now would be devastating."

Chris swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat. When was the last time someone had really 'needed' him? When was the last time he had let someone get close enough to form any kind of attachment? He knew the answers to both those questions and he knew he needed Vin just as much as Vin needed him.

"I'll give you my cell phone number, that way you can reach me at any time."

"Excellent. Do you have any questions before I go?"

"Only a few hundred or so but I'm not sure I could handle the answers tonight."

All three men shared an understanding chuckle as well as a feeling of relief at having the matter finally settled.

Jake Two Eagles was reluctant to end the meeting on a sour note but as a doctor he was somewhat resigned to being the bearer of bad news.

"I'm afraid Vin won't be able to leave tomorrow as we had planned."

Chris felt his heart skip a beat but Jake was quick to put his mind at ease.

"He's developed a cough and there is a small amount of congestion in his lungs. I don't really believe that it will develop into anything life threatening but I do want to keep him one more day. Better safe than sorry."

"Did you tell him?"

"Yes, I thought it best that he heard it from me." Jake smiled. "This way I'm the bad guy and you can be the hero."

+ + + + + + +

"Well, what d'ya think?" Buck stepped aside, allowing his three friends and fellow ATF agents to view the living room of his apartment.

The three men stood speechless with amazement. Ezra was the first to break the silence.

"I must say, this is quit remarkable. I had no idea you had hardwood floors."

Nathan fought to keep a straight face as he spoke next. "And when did you get the new coffee table. Or was it here all the time, just buried under that mountain of old junkfood containers?"

"Now brothers, let us not belittle Buck's remarkable accomplishment." Josiah's deep voice rumbled with a hint of laughter. "After all, he has been living here for well over two years. Things were bound to accumulate."

"Accumulate. Grow. Breed. Multiply. Yes, that about sums up Mr. Wilmington's living accommodations." Ezra Standish paced around the room, running his finger tips across flat surfaces and then checking them for dust.

"Look, I didn't invite you yahoos over to tickle your funnybones. I need you to look around and make sure I didn't miss anything."

"You mean like this?" Ezra was standing behind the couch, holding up a red-lace bra between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand.

"Damnit!" Buck lunged across the room and snatched the condemning piece of lingerie.

"Ah, ah, ah." Nathan wagged his finger at the blushing, mustached agent. "Got to watch those naughty words now Buck. Little jugs have big ears."

"Look! Just walk around and make sure that there ain't nothin' in plain sight that's gonna black list me. OK?"

"Relax Buck." Josiah gave him a hearty slap on the shoulder. "That's what we're here for." Taking charge of the mission, Sanchez quickly gave out assignments. "Nathan, you take the kitchen. Ezra you seem to be doing a good job in here so I'll take the bedrooms."

"What about …?" The three men did not let Buck finish.

"Oh no brother, you're on your own for the bathroom."

Buck sank wearily into a chair as his three comrades began their inspection of his home. JD's caseworker was due to arrive in just one hour to interview him as the child's possible foster parent. The thought was both terrifying and …and…oh hell, it was just plain terrifying. He thought about the bags of trash filling the dumpster outside his building. Bags of not just old food containers but also porn mags, videotapes and a few other things like the ladies underwear that Ezra had found behind a cushion. On the one hand it bothered him to be throwing out what felt like pieces of his life. On the other hand, it bothered him that the stuff in those bags did represent the last two years of his life. He was a confirmed bachelor and lived the role to the hilt. What business did he have trying to be a foster parent?

"Buck! Buck! Look'it what I found under my bed!" The four-year-old child who's future home was in question, shouted as he ran up to the worried man.

"Good Lord! What is that? A rat?" Ezra looked as if he was about to reach for his gun but Buck was quick to wave him off.

"Relax Ez, it's just another dust bunny." Buck took the wad of refuse from the child and carried it to the trashcan in the kitchen.

"I knew they called them 'dust bunnies' but until now I had no idea why. I see that some actually do get as big as rabbits."

"Oh, I found some lots bigger." JD grinned as he wiped his hands on what might have been a once clean t-shirt. "I'm a 'fessional bunny snatcher."

Nathan caught the tail end of the conversation and had to ask, "Bunny snatcher?"

"Yeah! Buck say's I'm just the right size cuz I can fit under all the furniture. I crawls in with a flash light and a special catchin' glove and scoops'em up." JD turned a beaming smile on his mentor. "And I gets paid a quarter for every one so this makes…" He had to think about it a moment. "Eleventeen."

"That's all?" The words were blurted out before Nathan could stop himself.

JD nodded his head. "Today."

"Ohhhhh. Today."

"Look, are you guys gonna inspect or are you gonna stand around jawin'?"

"Actually Mr. Wilmington, I was just about to give you an 'all clear' on the living room."

"Same for the kitchen. Although it might have been better if there was actually food in the refrigerator."

"Damnit, I knew I forgot somethin'!"

"Ah ah …"

"Damnit! I know! Watch the da…darn language! I'm tryin' to!"

"Well, the bedrooms look good." Josiah joined the others in the kitchen and was immediately tackled by a miniature bundle of dark-haired energy.

"Pick me up! Pick me up!"

"Hey there little man. Up you go."

With a squeal of glee, JD rose into the air until his back bumped the ceiling.

"How's the weather up there?" Laughter was Josiah's only answer. The other men smiled at the joyful sound and Buck felt his doubts fading away. How could something that felt this right possibly be wrong? He'd show that caseworker. This was one dog that wasn't too old to learn new tricks.

Buck's thoughts were interrupted by the sound of Nathan clearing his throat. "I hate to spoil the party but it might be best if JD had a b-a-t-h before…"

"Yay! Bath! Bath! Bath!"

Josiah struggled to retain his hold on the twisting, flailing child just long enough to get his feet on the floor. JD was running before his toes hit the ground and as soon as he was free he disappeared down the hallway.

Nathan was shocked. "You mean he likes taking baths?"

Buck simply rolled his eyes before following his charge out the kitchen door. Josiah and Nathan were left to exchange puzzled looks behind his back.

"Well, we may as well go wait in the living room. I don't guess it will take that long."

Ezra smirked at the dark skinned agent. "Obviously you have not had the pleasure of witnessing one of JD's bathing sessions."

What followed next was like something from an old radio program, the sounds escaping past the closed door of the bathroom nothing if not entertaining. On more than one occasion both Josiah and Nathan stood as if to go to the rescue only to be waved back to their seats by a grinning Standish.

"Lord!" Josiah exclaimed after a particularly loud splash. "The Titanic didn't make that much noise going down."

"Oh, trust me," Ezra's gold cap glinted in the light as he spoke. "The best is yet to come. The grand finale is actually a visual experience."

Nathan was about to demand more details when a loud knock sounded on the front door. All three men looked at their watches in dread.

"If that's the caseworker she's thirty minutes early." Nathan jumped to his feet and headed down the hall to warn Buck. "Josiah, you start some coffee. Ezra, try to stall her at the door."

"Ah well, so much for the floor show." Agent Standish straightened his tie and checked his reflection in the glass of a picture frame before opening the door.

Standing on the threshold was a small, gray-haired woman dressed in a denim skirt and a white blouse. Her eyes narrowed in speculation as her gaze took in the well-dressed ATF officer. "Mr. Wilmington?"

"Ah, no. Ezra Standish at your service, Mrs. …?"

"Ms. Wells. Is this the Wilmington residence?"

"Yes but …" Ezra found himself brushed aside as Ms. Wells stalked purposefully into the apartment.

"I'm here to speak with Mr. Wilmington. This is to be a private interview so close the door behind you."

"Now see here ma'am …"

"Ma'am? Son, it's Nettie to my friends and Ms. Wells to everyone else. I don't know you so that definitely puts you into the second category. Now, where is …?

"JD! Come back here!"

"Wheeeeeeee! Catch me! Catch me!"

"I've got the coffee started but …"

"Ezra! Shut the damn door!"

"Grab'im Josiah!"

Ms. Nettie Wells had seen many things in her years of working for the Department of Human Resources. She had seen abused children, abused parents, families reunited, families separated, moments of joy, times of profound sorrow and blistering anger. But in all her years of service, she couldn't remember seeing the spectacle that was currently taking place in front of her.

"What …?!"

Naked as the day he was born, trailing soap bubbles and little, wet footprints, JD streaked down the hall with a joyful cry and loud, jubilant giggles. Dodging between Josiah's long legs, the little exhibitionist fled into the kitchen and before Sanchez could turn to pursue, the tall agent found himself nearly bowled over by the child's dripping-wet pursuer.

"JD! Come back here!"

Ms. Nettie listened to the sound of kitchen chairs crashing to the floor and actually winced when she heard a deep grunt of pain.

"Ugh. Somebody… catch'im."

Josiah crouched low and actually managed to lay his hands on the child but the thin layer of soap allowed JD to slither his way to freedom and the continued pursuit of his happiness. Nathan was the next to make a grab but wound up stumbling over the newly revealed coffee table. Ezra decided his best bet was to remain on guard at the front door, which all things considered, was probably a very good idea.

Dodging about like a mad little cherub, JD led his three would-be captors on a merry chase about the living room furniture. The game might have lasted several more minutes if not for the intervention of an unexpected player. As JD rounded an end table and was about to make his way back down the hall, he suddenly found himself enveloped in a large, thick towel and swept off his feet.

"Gotcha!" Ms. Wells tried to look stern as she held the wiggling boy in her arms but the sparkle in her eyes was plain to see. And she certainly wasn't fooling JD who regarded her with his own wide, dark eyes that were guaranteed to make the coldest heart melt.

JD was no less surprised than Buck and the others who had not even noticed the arrival of the caseworker let alone her trip to the bathroom to retrieve the towel, which she had then used as effectively as a net. But unlike the men who stood about speechless, the child was quick to satisfy his curiosity.

"I'm JD. Who'er you?"

"Hello JD. You can call me Ms. Nettie. I'm here to have a talk with Mr. Wilmington and we can't do that with you running around like a wild Indian."

JD frowned. "Dr. Jake is an injun and he ain't wild. He made Vin all better so he gets to come play with me."

Nettie Wells arched an eyebrow in amusement. "Well then, I stand corrected. What I should have said is that you were running around the apartment like a wild, naked little boy who ought to know better. You could slip and fall and hurt yourself badly."

"Yes ma'am." JD ducked his head, the very model of regret, until he peeked up to check for the proper response from the adult holding him.

Nettie could tell from that one brief exchange that this child was going to be a challenge for any parent to raise. Looking over the top of the boy's head to the men standing about the room, her eyes fell on the one with the dark hair and dripping mustache. "Mr. Wilmington, I assume."


"Do you think you might be able to finish John's bath and get him dressed on your own? Or do you actually require the assistance of your three friends?"

"Uh, yes ma'am. I mean, no ma'am. That is …"

Buck's stammering reply did nothing to relieve Nettie Well's concerns but she was a fair woman and would give the man the benefit of the doubt. Handing JD to him, she simply said, "Ten minutes Mr. Wilmington. I'll wait here for you."

"Yes'm." Buck took JD and hurried down the hall, uncomfortably aware of the stares following him and blissfully unaware of the red piece of lingerie hanging forgotten from the back pocket of his jeans.

Ms. Wells tsked at the sight then turned her attention back to the other men still standing about the apartment. It was Nettie's opinion that all men were just overgrown boys and the sheepish looks these three were giving her only re-enforced that idea. "Well…?"

"Uh, we were just leaving." Nathan nudged Josiah toward the door and quickly followed. Any good ATF officer knew when to make a tactical retreat although his urge for self-preservation was at odds with his loyalty to his friend. He hated the thought of leaving Buck to face the formidable woman on his own but figured they didn't really have a choice. He and the others would just have to be there after the dust settled to help pick up the pieces.

Ezra realized that truth as well but he also knew how important first impressions were on government officials. Stepping forward, he held out a sealed, manila envelope and handed it to Ms. Wells as he explained. "If, during the course of your interview you should find yourself favoring a decision against Mr. Wilmington, I urge you to read the contents of these documents." Without another word and not waiting to see the reaction to his offer, Ezra turned and followed the other two men out the door.

Nettie Wells stood alone in the living room and wondered just when her name had changed to Alice and how far down did the rabbit hole go?

+ + + + + + +

Buck knew that when the day came and he stood before the pearly gates to heaven he would have to face Saint Peter and answer for all his actions during his life on earth. He also knew that after a one-hour session with Ms. Nettie Wells, facing Saint Peter would be a cakewalk.

"Which daycare will John be attending?"

"Well, I haven't quite decided yet…"

"You are aware that many have a waiting list?"

"Well, no…but…"

"What about the days when you work late? Do you have someone that can pick him up and care for him?"

"Well, I mean I'm sure that I …."

"You are an ATF officer. Who will care for John if you are injured or called away for an extended period of time?"

"Well, I reckon that…that…"

"Has he had his immunizations? Has he had any of the childhood illnesses? Who is his pediatrician?"

"Well, I guess I could find out…"

"Where does John stay on the nights you want to 'entertain' guests? What time does he go to bed? Does he take a daily nap? Do you monitor what he watches on television? How much time does he spend in front of the television? Does he eat well-balanced meals? Do you allow him to have junk food? How are his teeth? What are his current school assessment levels?"

Finally, only the ticking of a clock filled the otherwise silent apartment. JD had fallen asleep at the beginning of the interview after eating just one cookie and drinking a half a glass of milk. He lay stretched out on the couch with his head resting on Buck's lap, one arm draped across the man's leg. Buck stared down at the child, letting his hand rub gently across the small shoulders. He was trying very hard not to think about how empty his life was going to be when JD was gone. Because while it had been made painfully obvious to him that there were a lot of things he didn't know, one fact had become crystal clear; there was no way in hell that he was going to be approved as a foster parent.

Ms. Wells watched the silent exchange and truly regretted having to make her decision. The love that Mr. Wilmington felt towards John was easy to see but the man was simply unprepared to be a parent. He even admitted to being a bachelor and had no intention of settling down to a married life. What had he been thinking, petitioning for guardianship of a four-year-old child?

"Mr. Wilmington…"

"Buck. You can call me Buck and you don't have to say it. I know I didn't pass the test. Hell. Only test I ever did pass with flying colors was my physical fitness exam for the army." Buck glanced up briefly to flash Nettie Wells a quick smile to let her know that he wasn't really blaming her and there were no hard feelings. "I guess I was just having so much fun with the little guy I didn't stop to think that there might actually be work involved with keeping him."

"Is that why you want to be his foster parent, for the fun of it?"

"Well, sure. I mean, why else would a person have a kid?"

"Some people settle for dogs."

"Nah. Had one of those once. Just not the same." Buck gave a quiet, sorrowful kind of laugh. "Dogs don't wake you up at two in the morning wanting a drink of water and a bed time story. And they don't eat their waffles with peanut butter and applesauce or try to hatch chicken eggs with a heating pad under a couch cushion."

Shaking his head, Buck sighed wistfully as he continued to watch JD sleeping in his lap. "My friend Chris, he always said I made a great uncle but would be a lousy father. Guess he was right. I guess I just wasn't thinking in the long run. Or not thinking at all. Just feeling. Felt good having the little guy here. Can't tell you what it's been like hearing him laugh, seeing him smile up at me, watching him play... Ain't no dog on earth can give you that kind of feeling."

Nettie looked down at the notepad in her lap with all the angry red check marks and actually felt a pang of regret. She made tough decisions all the time so why should this one be any different? As she closed her book, she caught sight of the manila envelope given to her by that Standish fellow. Her brow wrinkled in confusion and she remembered his words as she opened it and pulled out the papers. "If, during the course of your interview you should find yourself favoring a decision against Mr. Wilmington…"

Ms. Wells didn't know what she expected to find but it certainly wasn't documents outlining a very generous trust fund set up in John Dunne's name. Or an investment portfolio. Why, the child would have no problem paying for college when he turned eighteen. Would probably even be able to afford to buy his own car! Nettie quickly scanned through the rest of the papers and found medical records for John Dunne obtained at the request of a Nathan Standish as well as a completed enrollment form for a church-sponsored daycare filled out by one Josiah Sanchez. There was even a neatly organized contact list of people and the times they were available for babysitting.

"Mr. Wilm…Buck, those gentlemen that were here earlier…"

"Oh, their good friends and I trust each and every one of them with my life but I wouldn't go so far at to call'em gentlemen."

"The one named Standish…"

"Him especially."

"Yes, your probably right but were you aware of the fact that he has set up some long term investments for John?" Nettie saw the surprise and confusion on the agent's face. "And it would seem that your other friends have taken it upon themselves to make the arrangements that you were too busy having fun to think about."

Buck took the thick sheaf of papers and slowly read through them. Shaking his head sadly, he finally handed them back to Ms. Wells so that she could replace them in the envelope.

"Yeah, they're a great bunch of fellows. Sorry I let'em down so bad." Buck gave JD a light pat on the shoulder. "Even more sorry I let this little guy down." Looking back up, he tried to meet Ms. Wells' eyes but found himself too embarrassed. Clearing his throat, he decided it was time to bring the session to its obvious conclusion. "Do you have to take him with you when you go or can he stay for just a little while longer? I'm sure the fellows would like to see him one more time and I…I kind of would like a chance to try and…explain things to him. Let him know it's all for the best and …and stuff."

Nettie Wells slowly folded the metal tabs closed on the envelope and was shocked to discover that her fingers were actually trembling. "Oh for the love of Pete!"

Buck's head jerked up, a comically surprised look on his face and even JD stirred at the sudden outburst but did not quite awaken.

"Mr. Wilmington, there is one statement that you made today that was absolutely correct, you didn't think before you applied for guardianship of John. But lucky for you, you have friends that don't seem to mind doing the thinking for you. Now, I suggest you go put JD in his bed and start a fresh pot of coffee because we have a lot of territory to cover."


"You are about to get a make-up exam and believe you me," Nettie shook her finger at the stammering ATF officer. "This time you are going to pass."