Buck looked around the hall at all the laughing, happy people and felt a deep sense of satisfaction. The event had started three hours ago and was still going strong. He smiled in secret glee when he heard the screams followed by laughter coming from his haunted house.
He was especially proud of the house this year. He had combined some old favorites with new gags and enlisted JD´s help with constructing some of the new tricks. It would have been a crime not to take advantage of the young man´s expertise in electronics, and it had really come together when Buck had hit on the idea of having the students in the art department of the local university help design and put together many of the figures used the house and other decorations for the event. The theater students were playing the different roles needed in the house and some were wandering around the event in costume to help keep the partygoers entertained. Mrs. Travis´ contacts at the university had helped arrange is so the professors made it part of the students regular assignments. The students enthusiastically jumped on the opportunity to use their creativity, do some good for the community and get a passing grade all at the same time. Buck considered it a Win, Win situation, as Josiah would say.
Buck had a blast taking Angela Trick or Treating along the street they had setup around the perimeter of the hall. The treats were provided by area merchants and businesses who paid a small fee for the privilege of manning a booth and passing out the free candy and other treats to the children and their parents. When he heard the businesses were not only paying for the candy but paying for the chance to just to be there, Buck figured Mrs. Travis had run a scam worthy of Ezra.
He was glad he had the foresight to bring a shopping bag along with Angela´s orange plastic pumpkin for carrying candy. Angela´s gleeful greed whenever she had to empty her pumpkin into the bag when the weight became to heavy for her little arms to carry kept Buck amused and brought back memories of his childhood. Whenever he had tried to get Angela to stop she would beg for one more booth and he didn´t have the heart to stop her when she was having so much fun. They had made their way around three quarters of the booths and even the shopping bag was starting to get full when he finally called a halt, much to the disappointment of the little girl.
One more, Daddy, please? begged Angel as she looked up at her father.
Buck reached down and hauled the child into his arms and lifted her face even with his own. His amused smile shone at her as he chuckled and said, The last one was one more remember, and the one before that, and the one before that. I´m gonna have to teach you to count better than that, Angel. He gave the child a hug and set her on her feet once more. That´s enough candy to last you until next year, darlin´. Besides, you need to save some for the other kids.
Angel had to think about that one for a minute before reluctantly agreeing.
Why don´t we stash this and go try some of the games now, sweetheart? Buck said to distract the child, and Angela´s face lit up again with expectation.
They left the bags in the security booth and returned to the party. Buck had tried to include some games and activities that would be enjoyed by both adults and children when he was planning the party. Now Buck led Angela to the Marshmallow game, one of the games especially designed for young children.. The game was a version of the traditional bobbing for apples that had a tub of water set on The floor and had large marshmallows floating in the water. The object of the game was to use a straw to capture a marshmallow. Buck set Angela on the floor and kept a tight grip in the waistband of her skirt to make sure she didn´t wind up headfirst in the tub.
Okay, honey, you understand what you´re supposed to do? he questioned.
Uh huh. Can I try now? she replied eagerly.
At his nod, she leaned over the top of the tub and enthusiastically tried sucking air through the straw. One marshmallow started moving in her direction until she had to take a breath and accidentally exhaled causing the marshmallow to skitter across the water´s surface. Angela looked over her shoulder at her father with a grin when he laughed. She spent several minutes just blowing the marshmallow around instead of trying to catch it, before her father convinced her to try another game.
Buck and Angela both tried the Apple hang game. Apples had been hung on strings at different heights from a wooden rack. The object of the game was to try to take a bite of an apple using only your mouth. Angela stood next to Buck giggling as she watched her father contort himself trying to get his mouth in a position that would allow him to sink his teeth into the apple. Angela kept trying to rush at her own fruit and it kept swinging forward and then back, hitting her gently in the nose causing her to peal with laughter.
Come on, Buck. With a mouth as big as yours this shouldn´t be a problem, JD´s voice reached them from behind.
Buck turned around to find the man watching him with a smirk. You think its so easy, let´s see you do it, kid, growled with mock anger.
JD accepted the challenge and entered the booth and stood alongside his friend. Piece of cake, old man. Prepare to be amazed, he joked. JD took the pot that was part of his costume off and handed it to Angel. Hold this for me a minute, please, munchkin, he said.
The battle to be the first to get a bite of his apple ensued with much merriment and insults traded back and forth. Little Angela enthusiastically encouraged them both, clapping her hands against the pot in her hands and running in circles around both men. Buck was gratified to manage to get a small nip of his before JD. Whooping his victory, he slapped JD on the back. Who´s the master now, kid? he crowed.
JD shook his head in amusement. I still think the big mouth of yours gives you an unfair advantage, he said with a chuckle. Anyway, I better get back to work. I´ll see you both later. Thanks, Angel, he finished as he took the pot back from the child and returned it to his head.
Bye, Unca JD, Angel waved at the retreating agent before taking a big bite of her father´s winning apple after he had pulled it off the string and handed to her.
Are we having fun, Angel? Buck grinned down at his daughter who raised her head and returned his grin with a matching one.
YEATH! she shouted around a mouthful of apple.
The Pin the wart on the Witch game caused much merriment when the man and child took turns being blindfolded and trying to stick a red pushpin into a Latex figure of a witch. The pins wound up in her ear, her eyebrow, her nose and her forehead, before Buck led the giggling little girl away.
Angela showed surprising expertise in the pumpkin bowl. The object of the game was to roll a miniature pumpkin at 10 plastic bowling pins and knock down as many as you could in 3 tries. Buck looked on with pride as Angela jumped up and down with excitement when she managed to knock them all down with her first throw.
A strike, baby! You got a strike! he bent down and kissed her cheek, then ruffled her hair. That´s daddy´s girl!
Angela´s smile reached from ear to ear at her father´s praise. She managed to knock down 7 pins with her second try and got another strike with her third. Buck was almost as excited as the child when she won a small stuffed ghost. Ezra was the first teammate he came across after the win. Buck had to regale the man with a detailed account of his daughter´s prowess, while hugging the beaming girl proudly. Angela held out her prize to show her much impressed uncle.
Well done, my dear Angel, well done. It is a treasure truly worthy of our little sweetheart. It will make an excellent addition to your collection.
Ezra continued to praise the little girl as they walked up to the pumpkin carving booth. Buck had arranged for some of local artists to hold an exhibition of pumpkin carving on one side of the booth, and on the other side allowed patrons to pay a small fee and carve their own pumpkins that could be entered into the jack o´ lantern carving contest. The rather pretty brunette artist who was currently working on a carving looked up as Buck approached and smiled.
How´s it going, Melissa? You okay? You have everything you need? Buck called out to the woman.
Everything´s fine, Buck, thanks. Everyone has been so nice and helpful. I´m having a really great time, and I´ve already had two gallery owners courting me to display my regular work in their galleries. I can´t thank you enough for talking me into this, replied the young artist gratefully.
No, I´m the one that needs to thank you for donating your time, Melissa. You´re helping a lot of needy children tonight, Buck said with a smile before drawing her attention to the child in his arms and the man at his side. This is my friend, Ezra Standish, and my daughter, Angela. This is Miss Melissa. Say hi, darlin´.
A pleasure to meet you Melissa, Ezra said politely.
Angela waved her applejuice-brown hand at the woman and said , Hi. What sha makin´.
Melissa threw a sly look at Buck and turned the pumpkin she held in her lap around to face the trio. Can you guess who this is? The pumpkin bore an unmistakable resemblance to the man holding the young child.
Daddy! It´s Daddy, Angel cried with excitement. Look Daddy, she made a pun´kin look just like you. Angel tried to clap her tiny hands together and Buck just managed to catch the partially eaten apple she dropped before it hit the floor.
I´m flattered, darlin´, Buck winked at the woman as he pitched the remains of the apple in the garbage can at the artist´s feet. We´ll have to discuss my modeling fee later.
The artist laughed and turned pink. Right. Later, Melissa laughed.
Tipping his hat to the woman, Buck led his friend and daughter away from the booth. The trio followed their noses to the food section. They wandered through the various booths serving a variety of foods including roasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin pie, hamburgers, hot dogs, smoked turkey legs, salads, cotton candy, candied and caramel apples, popcorn and assorted other treats. Buck bought a hotdog and a large smoked turkey leg and he shared with Angela, tearing off small pieces and handing to her. Ezra bought a large whipped cream heaped slice of pumpkin pie. The group found one of the only unoccupied tables and set down to enjoy their smack. Ezra pulled the fake beard from his face in relief.
I believe I once heard the Chinese had invented some very subtle but effective tortures that could break any man. I think this hirsute appliance would qualify as one. Ezra said in disgust. When Angel giggled, he leaned across the table and held up the beard to her face with a smile. Angel grabbed the beard eagerly and tried to figure out how to make it stay on her face while the two men watched with amusement.
I must say I am truly amazed at what you and Mrs. Travis have been able to accomplish in such a short period of time, Mr. Wilmington, Ezra said. You have my commendations for your achievements. The children´s hospital owes you a debt of gratitude.
Buck flushed under the praise of the undercover agent. Uhh, thanks, Ez, but I didn´t do that much. Mrs. Travis did all the hard stuff.
I rather doubt the veracity of that statement. I have attended events planned and coordinated by Mrs. Travis in the past. This affair definitely has a Buck Wilmington flare that was not present at any of the other proceedings.
Look, Daddy. I´m Unca Ezra, Angela interrupted. She had figured out how to hook the wire pieces at the corners of the beard over her ears and the white beard hung off the little chin as she grinned at her father and uncle, causing both men to laugh at the hilarious picture the child made.
Why didn´t I remember to bring my camera, Buck bemoaned as he laughed. The three were startled by a flash of light and turned to find Vin lowering a 35 mm camera.
Gotcha covered, pard, Vin said proudly.
Buck grinned back at the sharpshooter, My hero! Thanks, Vin. I knew I was forgetting something when I left home this afternoon, but didn´t remember what until just now. I´m glad we´ll have photos of tonight after all. I would have been real sorry if we´d missed having pictures of this.
Look at me, Unca Vin. I´m Unca Ezra, Angela stated while trying to keep the wire pieces from sliding off her ears.
Time for a break, Vin? Buck asked.
Yeah, I´m starving, Vin smiled. Watch this for me, will ya? he said as he lifted the camera strap over his neck and laid the camera in front of Ezra.
Ezra quickly pulled the camera close to him when Angela made a grab for it as Vin set it on the table. Certainly. I will endeavor to prevent any harm from coming to your property, Mr. Tanner., Ezra said, If you are indeed that ravenous, I found the pumpkin pie to be particularly delicious. I highly recommend it.
Go on and look around, Vin. There´s lots to choose from, Buck encouraged. We tried to find something for everybody to enjoy, especially someone with a sweet-tooth like yours.
Okay, Vin grinned, I´ll be back. Vin wandered by the various booths, stopping at several different ones to make purchases while his friends watched in amusement. Soon he returned to their table with his arms full of candy, popcorn, cotton candy, caramel apples, and of course, pumpkin pie.
You sure you got enough sugar, Vin? Buck smirked. I think you missed some in that booth around the corner.
Hey, I´m a growing boy, Vin joked. I burn up a lot of calories, not like someone I know who really needs to start watching his manly figure a little closer. That middle age spread is starting to spread at a faster rate.
M Middle- age Buck sputtered, who you calling middle aged, boy? I´ll have you know I am in the prime of manhood, and this manly figure can still attract more woman in an hour than you´ll have in the next month! Buck finished causing his friends to hoot with laughter at his indignation.
While the men were laughing at her father, Angela climbed down from her chair walked around the table to Vin. Vin pulled the child into his lap and gave her a hug.
Are you having fun, Angel? Vin asked looking down at the girl he held in his lap.
Yeah, Unca Vin. We´s having lots of fun, Angel said and proceeded to give a blow by blow account of her evening. Vin happily shared his treats with the young girl and listened indulgently as the child rambled. He made appropriate responses, adding his praise to that of her father and Ezra when she told of her adventures in pumpkin bowling, in between bites of his snacks.
Well, lady and gentlemen, I believe I must return to my duties, Ezra said as he pushed the camera back to Vin, got to his feet, and reached for the hated beard . He hooked it over his ears once more. If you should hear me start ranting and see me sprinting around in a mad frenzy you will know this infernal torture device has stripped me of the last shred of my sanity.
You had to start with some sanity before you could lose it, Ez, Vin joked. Ezra to raised an eyebrow and opened his mouth to blast his teammate, but he was interrupted before he could speak.
Vin, don´t give her anymore of that junk, Buck growled. You´re going to make her sick, and if that happens you´re gonna be the one to clean it up the mess, and sit up with her all night when she gets a stomach ache.
Vin glanced down at the child apologetically, and nodded at Buck.
Just one more one candy corn, please, Daddy? Angel turned her pleading eyes to her Uncle Vin and then her father.
No, your Daddy´s right, sweetheart, Vin said. I sometimes forget you´re still such a little thing. We don´t want to make ya sick. That would spoil all your fun, wouldn´t it? Ya don´t´ want to wind up having to go to bed early because ya got a stomach ache, would ya? There´s still so much to see tonight.
The last thing Angel wanted to discuss was going to bed so she eagerly agreed with her uncle, her little head bobbing up and down vigorously as she nodded.
Good. I better take the temptation away, and get back to work myself, Vin said as he gathered the rest of his snacks and stuffed them into his pockets, then lifted Angela from his lap and set her down on her feet by her father´s chair. He stood up and slipped the camera strap over his head, adjusting it until it lay comfortably around his neck. I´ll catch you later. Vin bent down and gave the child a kiss on her cheek. You have fun and be good, sweetheart. He looked up at Buck and smirked at him, You just be good, Bucklin, he said as he backed away from the table with a grin before he and Ezra disappeared into the crowd once more.
Buck shook his head in amusement, and looked at Angel. Buck took one of the pre-moistened towelettes he always carried when he traveled with Angela out of his pocket and cleaned the young child´s face and hands before discarding it and the other trash on their table into a nearby trash can.
Are you ready for some more fun, Angel?
+ + + + + + +
Buck and Angela continued to roam around the convention hall stopping to play any game that caught their fancy. They were stopped repeatedly by friends and acquaintances who wanted to congratulate Buck on his achievement. Angel showed the gregarious nature she had inherited from her father as she happily chatted with anyone that smiled at her, charming everyone she met.
Would contestants and judges for the costume contest please make your way to the stage area, please, Mrs. Travis´ voice said over the public address system.
Buck jerked his arm up and checked his watch, then swept Angela up into his arms and made his way hurriedly through the crowd towards the stage area at one end of the hall.
There you are, Buck, Evie said as he approached. I thought we were going to have to find a another judge for the costume contest.
Sorry, Mrs. Travis. We were having so much fun that I lost track of the time. Buck smiled contritely at the woman.
Evie smiled back and then turned her smile on the girl held in her father´s arms.
Have you been having fun, sweetheart? Evie asked and held out her arms to the child who happily leaned forward and allowed the woman to take her from her father.
Yes, ma´am. Daddy and me watched the contest where the people wrapped each other in paper like munnies, Angel said.
Mummies, Angel, not munnies. Mummies, Buck corrected.
Mummies. They went real fast! They were funny! Angela laughed. Turning to her father she asked, Daddy, what´s a mummy?
Uhh , Buck struggled to come up with an explanation the small girl could understand for what he thought was a pretty morbid topic. Buck did not believe in lying to his child, or making up stories to explain difficult or complicated concepts as some parents did. He always tried to be truthful and give her the facts, but this frequently gave him problems in finding ways to explain things so her young mind could understand. Thank God for his friends, Buck thought. He often found himself leaning on Josiah and Ezra who both seemed to have a natural talent for communicating with children. Why don´t we wait until we get home and I´ll try to answer that one, Angel, alright? I think I have a couple of books that might have pictures in them we can look at, okay? Buck held his breath. Sometimes his daughter would allow her curiosity to be diverted or postponed , but sometimes her need to know required an immediate answer. He lucked out this time as Angela had enough activity going on around her to distract her enough to be content to wait for the answer to this particular question.
Evie Travis grinned at the relief on the grown man´s face. She winked at the agent and questioned the child about the rest of her evening. Angela was, of course, happy to recount the tale once more.
I´m here, Buck, Chris´s voice said from behind the agent and he walked up to join the group.
Buck, knowing his presence was required for the costume contest, had made prior arrangements with Chris to watch Angela during the contest. As soon as Chris had heard the announcement for the costume contest he made his way to the stage to take charge of the child.
Thanks, pard. I appreciate it, said Buck.
No problem. Were gonna go have so fun of our own, aren´t we, Angel?
Yeah, Unca Chris. I can show you how to pun´kin bowl, and everything!
Way cool, as JD would say. We´ll see you later, Buck, Mrs. Travis. Chris took the child from Evie and lifted her onto his shoulders. He turned and began to walk away. What should we do first, Angel?
We could go Trick r Treatin´, Angel said innocently, causing Buck to break out into laughter as the two walked away.
+ + + + + + +
Buck shifted the sleeping child to his left arm and used his right to open the door to the hotel room. He slipped inside and quietly closed and locked it again. Buck set the shopping bag and orange plastic pumpkin he carried looped over his right arm inside the closet, and deposited the cowboy hat he wore on the dresser before turning to one of the beds and gently laying his daughter down. Buck stood by the beside, smiling down tenderly at the exhausted child for a moment, love and tenderness softening his face. He left the bed and went to the dresser where he had stashed the child´s pajamas when he had unpacked earlier. Turning back to Angela he started to undress her which caused the child to wake. She smiled sleepily up at her father.
Let´s just get you into your PJs, little darlin´. Then you can go back to sleep, okay?
Angela set up and the change was accomplished swiftly. Buck pulled the covers on the bed back and laid her down, pulling them back up to her chin and tucking her in.
I had fun, Daddy, Angel murmured , blinking rapidly, trying to hold sleep at bay for a little while.
Me too, baby, Buck whispered back. He reached out his hand and tenderly stroked her baby-fine hair from off her face, and gently stroked the back of his fingers down her cheek.
Can we do it again tomorrow? child said around a yawn.
He laughed softly and said, Not until next year, pumpkin. It´ll take you that long to eat up all that candy you got tonight. We´ll have a whole year to get ready for the next one. Now, it´s time for bed.
Buck leaned down to press a soft kiss on her forehead. The little arms crept from under the covers to wrap around his neck in a hug, and the little head raised to plant a kiss on her father´s cheek.
Happy Halloween, Daddy. I love you, Angel said.
Happy Halloween, baby. I love you, too.
So, did you guess the costume theme and who each character was supposed to be? Send me your guesses and I´ll let you know if you´re right. (Yeah, I know. It´s a sneaky way of getting feedback, but hey! I have no pride. <BG>) P. L.
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