JD the computer don't care of you don't say hi.
I forgot. Sorry Vin
????That's okay. You want to talk first.
Yeah. This week was fun. We started school again and Joey came back and Freddy got me and Vin in trouble when we went to the museum and Da and Chris ate lunch with us and we had pizza and Chris bought for everyone and
JD. Leave something for me to tell.
We didn't get to see much of the museum cause of a lack of organization. That's what Misses Roquette said.
What did she mean by that, Uncle Ezra.
I believe she was referring to not having any type of contingency plan should any of the children become lost or separated from the group.
What's a con-ting-c plan, Uncle Ezra?
She was referring to not having a place for you to go if you became lost.
Why are you still frowning Master Dunne?
Where could we go? We's too small to leave the building.
Don't laugh at me.
He means that we should have a place inside the building to go to.
Oh. Oh, I got it. A safe place.
Exactly, Master Dunne.
"Okay, everyone. Stick with your chaperone when we get inside," Mrs. Roquette instructed. She stood at the front of the bus, one hand on the handrail while a clipboard dangled from the other. Sixteen heads bobbed as the children sat quietly.
The woman smiled at the eager faces that gazed at her. This was the first fieldtrip for her class since early fall. Classes had resumed last week and the class had quickly fallen back into their daily routines. The one big distraction had been the return of Josephine Granger to school after her terrible accident two months prior. The girl was learning to walk on her new leg, but she used a wheelchair while in school. She would be in Carolyn's group today.
"Let's go then. Everyone off and head into the lobby."
She stepped back to allow the teaching assistants to step into the brisk wind. Terry stood at the door of the bus while Jackie opened and held the door to the building open. Carolyn counted the children as they got off, thirteen in all. That left only three children, Josephine, Vin, and JD. The three sat patiently waiting. The woman smiled as she moved to the back of the bus.
"All right, kids. Let's get inside." She opened the handicap door and lowered the ramp. JD dutifully stood behind the chair, ready to push the six year old off. After the kids got off, Mrs. Roquette closed the bus door and headed inside to join her class.
Consulting the clipboard, she called off names. "Listen up everyone. The museum is very large and to prevent a long straggling line, we're going to break into groups. Listen up everyone. I want you to remember what group you're in and who's in it with you. Jackie?"
Seeing she had the young woman's attention, she continued. "Jackie, you'll have Michael, Rachel, Teresa, Billy, and Sue. Charley, Carol, Ricky, Steve, Becky, and Freddy, you go with Terry. Vin, JD, Joey, Craig, Shelley, you will be with me."
"I want to go with Carol," Shelley whined. The two little girls were standing hand in hand, tears in their twin brown eyes.
Carolyn leaned down ready to explain to the two girls that they had to split up when Freddy stepped forward, his hand waving in the teacher's face.
"I'll switch with her," he offered.
The woman stood up and cocked her head to one side. "Well, that is very generous of you, Freddy. Very well, you come with us and the girls can go with Terry."
Vin rolled his eyes as JD groaned softly. Joey glanced up at them both and giggled. As the dark haired boy looked her way, she patted his hand and whispered, "It'll be okay. He won't pick on you while Mrs. Roquette is around."
JD sighed dramatically and nodded. "Maybe," he conceded. Vin rolled his eyes again.
Carolyn Roquette looked at the two teaching assistants. "You both have my cell number. Call if there are any problems. Children, follow your chaperones' instructions. Stay together and have fun. We'll all meet up right here at eleven thirty for lunch."
The TA's sorted out their groups and started the day's activities by heading in different directions. Mrs. Roquette led her group to the elevator as she explained, "Okay, children. We're going to start on the fourth floor."
The bell dinged as the doors slid open and the group started in. JD pushed Joey's chair on and turned her around. Mrs. Roquette followed JD, one hand hovering over the 'four' button as the other held the door open. Vin joined them, along with Freddy, who shoved his way in close to Tanner's shoulder. Craig stepped on, but ran back off.
"I forgot my bag, Mrs. Roquette."
"Craig, wait. Vin, hold the door." The woman turned to locate the little boy as he moved to the front door. "Craig Sherman, don't you dare touch that door." Glancing at the elevator, she stepped toward the boy as he slid to a stop.
Vin moved forward to hit the 'open door' button, but Freddy shoved forward. "I'll do it." He pushed past the smaller boy and slammed his hand against the operating panel. The little blond stumbled back, but recovering quickly, he moved forward and shoved the boy away from the panel. Seeing the doors start to slide closed, Vin looked at the panel and jabbed at the hold door button. But it was too late. The doors slid closed and the elevator lurched as it started up.
"Freddy! What'd cha do?" Joey cried.
In the lobby, the sound of the doors whishing closed had Carolyn Roquette whirling around. She ran back to the silver doors and repeatedly pressed on the button even though she knew it would not do any good. Taking a deep breath she pulled out the small phone from her pocket and punched in a number.
"Jackie? Where are you?"
Vin turned to glare at the bigger Freddy Chaney. "Why did you do that?"
The boy stood defiantly, his fisted hands on his hips. "I wanted to help."
"You wanted to cause trouble, Freddy. You hit the up button on purpose." This was from Joey.
"No I didn't," the boy exclaimed. He took a step toward the girl, his face red in resentment.
JD stepped around to stand beside the girl on one side as Vin stepped to the other.
Tanner held out a hand as he said, "Freddy, it doesn't matter. We can just go back down when this thing stops. Miz Roquette will be waiting for us."
The big seven year old stood rebelliously staring at the other three, but finally dropped his hands in submission. "Okay. Fine."
The foursome waited as the elevator came to a stop with a lurch. It took several moments for the doors to finally glide open. The kids looked out at the fourth floor display to see what looked to be a market, that impression confirmed by the large overhead banner that proclaimed 'Community Market'.
"Coool," Joey sighed. "Hope we get to come back up here."
"Yeah," JD agreed.
Vin sighed as he interrupted the two younger kids. "We better get back down before Miz Roquette calls for help." He reached for the first floor button.
Freddy once again jumped in front of him to the control panel and punched at the buttons. And once again, he missed the correct button, sending the metal box down to the basement area.
As Vin turned to rant at the boy again, the words froze in his mouth as he looked at the seven-year old. The red face of Freddy's earlier outrage was gone, replaced by a pasty white and sweaty pallor.
"Freddy, you all right?" Vin asked.
Wide brown eyes turned to the others. He swallowed hard. "I never been on a elevator by myself before." He swallowed again. "Is this thing getting smaller? I can't hardly breathe."
"Freddy, it's okay. Just breathe normal," Vin said as the boy started to pant.
JD and Joey watched silently as Vin attempted to calm the boy. No one noticed as the elevator once again lurched to a stop and the doors opened. Without a moment's hesitation, Freddy bolted for the opening.
"Freddy! No! Stay here." Vin's hands came up and rubbed his face, much like his foster dad. Dropping his hands, he started out the door, pausing to say, "JD, ya'll stay here. I'll go get Freddy."
JD nodded and stepped over to the control panel and hit the open door button.
"They stopped on four, Jackie. Would you come back and take Craig? I think Vin will bring them back down. He's a very responsible child. But just in case, I want to make sure Craig is with someone."
She listened to the young woman for a moment, nodding. "Okay. I'll wait here. Oh, the elevator is starting back down."
Watching the numbers as they clicked off, the woman held her breath.
"Damn" she whispered. "Oh, Jackie. They didn't stop; they went to the basement."
She listened for a moment. By the time she hung up, the TA, along with the five children in her care, reappeared at the end of the hall.
"Jackie, good. Craig, join the others. Jackie, I'll call you when I find them." The woman turned on her heel and headed for the administration offices.
Vin trotted down the hallway, glancing each way searching for the other boy. Freddy had disappeared. Tanner knew he had to find the boy. As mean as Freddy could be, the little blond felt it was his job to keep the group together and get them back to the others. He continued through the maze of cross tunnels.
"Freddy? Freddy? Come on. We need to get back upstairs." He listened and heard a faint sound to his left. Following the whispering sound, he finally caught sight of the bigger student and jogged to his side. Sliding to a halt, he watched as he rubbed the tears from his eyes.
"I'm not scared."
Vin sighed. "It's okay. I don't like them things either."
Freddy looked up at the smaller boy. He wiped his eyes again and stood up. "I wasn't afraid. I just just I didn't want to stay with you lame bunch anymore."
Vin scowled at the kid before grabbing his arm and dragging him back to the others.
"Maybe Vin got lost." Joey rolled forward to the edge of the doorway and peered out.
JD leaned over from where he stood, his finger holding the 'open door' button.
"Vin never gets lost.," the dark haired youth proclaimed.
The girl turned to look at him and smiled at the faith that shone in his hazel eyes. That smile faded though as she turned back to gaze down the dim corridor. "Something could have happened to 'im. How long has he been gone?"
Joey's worry was infectious and JD found his own worry and fear beginning to grow. He chewed on his upper lip as he wondered about what trouble Vin could have gotten in to.
"Joey, don't," he called as the girl rolled further out. Panic began to grow in the pit of the little boy's stomach. He was responsible for the girl. He couldn't allow her to go out the door and into the basement. As the back of the chair disappeared, he rushed forward to pull her back.
"I was only going out to see if I could see Vin or Freddy," she protested as JD attempted to pull the chair back. She placed her hands on the wheel rims and pushed forward, against the backward pull of the small boy. Both children gasped and spun around as the doors banged closed and the up arrow went dark.
"Nooo," JD wailed as he leapt forward to hit the call button. It was only then that he saw that instead of a button, there was a keyhole. The boy looked all around the door face in search of the button that he had always used to summon an elevator, but there was none.
Dejectedly, he turned back to the chair bound girl, tears in his eyes. "I can't get it back."
The kids stared at each other for a few moments. Then Joey sat back. "Well, we'll just have to find Vin and Freddy. Vin will know what to do." The boy's confidence in his friend was her lifeline to returning to the ground floor and the school teacher.
JD drew from her confidence and squared his shoulders also. "Yeah, Vin'll know what to do."
Mrs. Roquette entered the administrative offices and spoke to the first person she saw.
"I need some help. Four of my children are missing."
The room went dead silent at her proclamation and then a man from the back moved forward. Tapping a desk as he passed, he instructed the woman sitting behind it, "Mary, call security."
Approaching the teacher, the slender man asked, "Now, who are you and exactly what happened?"
Extending her hand, the two shook as she explained. "I am Carolyn Roquette. My class is touring the museum today. I brought sixteen children and two teaching assistants. The class broke into groups and my five were going upstairs. One of the children, a six-year old girl, is in a wheelchair, so we got on the elevator. One of the boys forgot something and ran out, heading to the front door. I told Vin, another of the boys, to hold the door and stepped off to call Craig back, but the door closed and headed up."
Seeing the man open his mouth, she held up a hand and continued. "Vin Tanner is an extremely capable and trustworthy child. I know that he would have done as instructed. There was another boy, Freddy Chaney, he's a bit of a problem. He could have interfered with Vin. But the fact remains that Vin knew where I was and I trusted that he would immediately come back down. And the elevator did come back down, but it went past and down to the basement."
The man's head bobbed the entire time Carolyn was talking and the image of a bobble-head doll came to the woman's mind. She shook her head to dispel the picture.
"Fear not, my dear. If the children are still in the museum, we shall find them."
"Still IN the museum? Of course, they are still in the building. Where would they go? Can you just take me to the basement "
The sound of her cell phone interrupted the plea and she pulled it out of her pocket and answered. "Yes?"
"It did? What floor did it go to? Okay. Why don't you start the tour and I'll call as soon as I have the children back."
The woman turned back to the man. "The elevator came back up, but continued past the first floor to the fourth. I'm hoping the children thought I might meet them up there."
The man nodded. He pulled a cell phone from his pocket and spoke into it. "John? Are you on four?"
Static accompanied a voice, "Yes, sir, Mr. Wilson."
"Check the elevator area for the kids." As he spoke, he gestured to Mrs. Roquette. "Let's head up there."
The voice called back as they stood at the elevator, waiting.
"Sir, we don't see any kids that match the description in the area. If they were on the elevator, they went into the workshop exhibit."
"Okay, John. Check around in there and we'll check around downstairs."
Mr. Wilson turned to the teacher. "Madam, if they got off downstairs, we should have no trouble finding them. The elevator has a security lock on it. They would not be able to reopen the door, so they have to be downstairs."
As they headed to a door marked 'Authorized Personnel Only', the woman asked, "What is down there?"
"It's used for storage. Also the utilities come through there. There is a machine shop and repair area." He removed keys and inserted one into the lock as he spoke. Pushing the door open, he stepped through and gestured for the woman to follow. The two headed down the staircase.
Vin pulled the bigger boy along as he headed back to the two younger children and the elevator. He frowned when he saw them in the hallway and elevator door closed. His feet moved faster as he heard JD's voice, 'Vin'll know what to do.'
"What happened? Where's the elevator?" the little blond asked.
JD's jaw opened and closed as his hand pointed at the dull silver door. Joey's head dropped as she explained. "It's all my fault, Vin. I got off and JD tried to get me back on, but the doors closed." Tears dropped off her chin as she looked up.
Vin's mouth turned up to a smile. "That's okay, Joey. We'll get it back."
JD finally found his voice. "There's no button, Vin. I can't get it to come back."
Frowning, Vin moved to the door and examined the panel. After a moment, he turned. "Guess ya gotta have a key."
They stood in silence for a few moments. Freddy broke that silence. "So what are we going to do?"
"Well, Miz Roquette will be looking for us, so we can just stay here. She'll find us."
Freddy started shaking his head. "I don't want to stay down here. I'm going to get out of here." The boy turned and headed away from the others.
"Freddy! Come back here."
"No. I'm not staying down here. You can stay if you want, but I'm going to find the stairs and go back up."
"We can't split up. We should stay together."
"Well, I'm not saying down here."
He quickly walked away and the other three watched him. Joey looked at the two boys and then began to wheel herself after the boy. With a sigh, Vin followed behind her with JD right behind him.
It didn't take long for the boy in the lead to spot the door marked exit and pulled it open. As he started up the stairs, Vin called out, "Hey, wait a minute."
The bigger boy turned.
Vin walked up to him and gestured back at Joey. "We can't leave her and she can't get up the stairs by herself."
"That's not my fault. You stay with her if you want."
As Freddy turned to start up, Vin grabbed his arm and spun him back around.
"It's your fault that we're down here."
"Yeah, well, I didn't let the elevator go back up," he argued, staring pointedly at JD.
Vin stepped closer to the belligerent boy. "No, but it's your fault for getting off and running away. So you're going to help get Joey back upstairs."
The two glared at each other for several moments with Freddy being the first to turn away. Vin turned back to Joey and JD.
"Joey, JD and I will help you up the stairs while Freddy carries the chair."
Pivoting slowly, Vin put on his best 'Larabee' glare and said, "You have a problem with that?"
Pursing his lips tightly, the boy finally nodded.
Vin stepped over to the girl and held out his hands. Grinning, she took hold and stood slowly, making sure she had her weight correctly distributed. She took a couple of steps away from the chair which drew a giggle from JD.
"Joey, that's great."
Vin smiled also. "Heck, Joey, I don't think you need our help at all."
Smiling shyly, she punched him lightly on the chest. Looking at Freddy, she huffed as she slowly started up the stairs. "I'm not a cripple, only handicapped. There's a big difference."
Freddy just rolled his eyes and moved over to the chair and took hold of the handles.
Vin walked alongside Joey, who had a death grip on the rail as she moved from one step to the next. JD walked right behind her, talking the whole time. He could hear her labored breath and slight grunts of discomfort.
"Wow, Joey, you're really good with your new leg. I can't believe that you can walk on it already. I bet you could ride a horse with no problem. Stairs are a lot harder to do cause you have to step up and all. Wait 'til I tell Buck and Chris how good you are."
He continued talking and encouraging the girl and they soon arrived at the top. Freddy grunted as he pulled the small chair up behind them. Once at the top, he relinquished the chair to JD, who moved it around for the girl to sit in.
Joey dropped heavily into the chair with a sigh of relief. When Vin squatted in front of her, she gamely smiled even as she adjusted herself in the seat.
"That was fun," she lied.
JD grinned as he took out a handkerchief that Mrs. Potter made sure each boy carried and wiped at the sweat that ran down the girl's neck. "You did great, Joey. I'll bet your dad would love to see you do that."
She giggled and shook her head. "Daddy would have a cow if he saw me do that. He barely lets me go to the bathroom by myself."
Vin stood and once again took charge. "Okay, let's go find Miz Roquette."
The four students moved down the hallway.
You gentlemen did a wonderful job of extracting yourselves and your companions from the bowels of the building. I am very impressed.
What's a bowel?
The basement silly.
Uncle Ezra dad said that I should have made better choices. What did he mean?
I would venture to say that he was making reference to the fact that instead of remaining in the lobby where you last saw your instructor, that you decided to go in search of another teacher.
Unknown to the kids, the two adults had descended a staircase on the opposite side of the bank of elevators and were now searching for the children in the recently vacated basement.
"Vin. Joey. Can you hear me?"
Mr. Wilson moved to the elevator and used his card to bring the car down and lock it with the doors open on the basement level. He moved back to join the woman.
The woman moved around the well lit area but heard nothing, saw nothing to indicate that the children were there. After searching for several minutes, the two adults decided that the kids had never gotten off at the basement, but instead had taken the elevator back to the fourth floor and gotten off. The security man had simply missed them.
Resigned to the fact that their search would have to move to the fourth floor of the museum, they entered the elevator car and headed up.
Moving from the stairwell, the four kids moved to the place they had last seen their teacher. Not finding her, they stood, wondering what to do. Unbidden, three looked to one for guidance.
"What?" Vin asked.
JD looked at the older boy with total confidence. "What 'cha think we should do, Vin?"
Blinking, he looked at each of the others and mentally accepted the role of leader.
"Okay, there's two other teachers around here somewhere. Let's see if we can find one of them."
JD and Joey nodded. Freddy stood with his hands jammed into his pockets, a sullen look on his face.
Rolling his eyes, the heavy-set boy responded with a surly, "Whatever."
Joey huffed at the boy as JD stood with his hands fisted on his hips. Vin shook his head and stepped around to push the girl. Along with JD, they moved to the exhibit area in search of the teaching assistants. Freddy slowly followed.
Chris sat at his desk, staring at the file in his hand. A knock on the door drew his attention back to the file and the room.
The door opened, Buck walked in and dropped into the chair in front of Larabee's desk.
"So, we got a quiet day, huh?"
"Looks like. The others get off okay?"
"Sure did. Travis' driver picked them up and took them to the airport. They'll arrive in LA by lunch and be back this time tomorrow." Buck leaned back and propped his feet up on Larabee's desk, his hands folded across his abdomen. "They should have fun. Those three evaluating another team? Can't imagine what Travis was thinking."
Chris glanced up and hissed at his friend, "Get your dang boots off my desk."
Buck chuckled as he dropped his feet down.
Raising an eyebrow, Chris asked what he found so humorous.
"Dang? It's obvious that we have little ones around, ain't it?"
Both men froze and then broke up, laughing.
Wiping his eyes, Chris shook his head. "God, I'm turning into my parents."
"Yeah, well, they did a pretty good job with you, so maybe that's not such a bad thing."
They grew quiet, comfortable in the silence. Having known each other for over twelve years, the two didn't need to fill the quiet with words. Buck kicked back and closed his eyes. Chris turned back to the report.
The clock ticked on.
"Cool," JD exclaimed as they moved to the front exhibit. The room bore the banner 'Arts a la Carte'. Children danced and spun around the room to the music that played. On one side were easels where other kids were painting with watercolors, crayons, or pencils.
"Wow, this is neat," Joey exclaimed. Her eyes followed the dancing youngsters around the room. Freddy wandered over to look at the artists as they worked.
Vin looked around, but did not see either of the teachers.
"Joey, we have to go." His voice was soft, seeing the girl's reaction to the dancers.
"Okay." Her voice had a wistful quality to it and JD reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder.
"We can come back, Joey. I bet you can dance if you want to."
"Sure you can," Vin added. He took the handles and moved the chair from side to side with the rhythm of the music.
"Yeah," JD said, jumping in front of the girl. He jumped around, flinging arms and legs around in a mad imitation of dance. Laughing, Joey joined in the fun by waving her arms in the air.
Freddy moved back to stand, staring at the three. "What are you three doing?"
"Dancing" Vin responded.
A snort of disbelief had the other's movements slow and die in embarrassment.
"Guess we better get going." Vin turned the chair and headed back to the elevators.
JD started after them, but paused to glare at Freddy. He finally stuck his tongue out at the boy and then ran to catch up to his brother and protector, Vin Tanner.
"You little jerk," Freddy growled. He jogged to join the others and reached out to grab JD's collar when Vin stepped forward and slapped his hand down.
"Don't even think about it."
Freddy turned on Vin, but froze as the elevator dinged.
JD pushed Joey onto the car and turned her around. "Come on, Vin." His shaky voice drew the seven-year-old's attention and Vin grabbed Chaney and pulled him into the elevator.
"Don't be a baby. We're just going up one floor."
The doors closed on the foursome.
Stepping out of the elevator onto the fourth floor, Mrs. Roquette and Mr. Wilson moved to the exhibit of the community market. As they moved around the large open floor plan, the teacher searched the multitude of children for the two blonds and the two dark haired kids.
She moved through displays of marketing and nutritional information. Kids were shopping, learning about nutrition and making pizzas. If she wasn't so distracted by the hunt for her missing students, she would have enjoyed and been impressed with the vast array of information available to the children.
"Mrs. Roquette? Over here, please."
Carolyn moved quickly in the direction Mr. Wilson called from. The man and a security guard were standing near a display of store prices. She rounded the display to see a group of children gathered around the men. Three of the children were in wheelchairs.
"Are your children here?"
She shook her head, smiling at the wide-eyed gathering. "No. These are none of my children." Seeing the tentative look on the young faces, she knelt down. "Are you kids having fun?" She kept her voice light and soft.
Several heads nodded.
"It looks like a lot of fun. I hope I get to come up here with my kids." She smiled brightly as she stood straight. "Are you here with your teacher?"
One of the little boys nodded and responded, "We get to shop just like my Mama does. See?" He held up a bag of play food. "I spent twenty-five dollars and thirty-two cents. I had to earn the money to pay for the food." He glanced down as he said, "Mama has to work hard to earn money to buy food." A spark of pride shone in the little boy's eyes.
"Yes, she does. All the parents work very hard." She stroked the boy's head as another woman approached.
"Excuse me. Is there a problem?" She gathered a couple of the kids in close to her sides as she spoke.
"No problem. We were asking the children if they were enjoying our museum," Mr. Wilson explained.
"Oh, well, I believe that everyone is having a good time. Right, guys?"
A chorus of voices proclaimed their delight with the museum.
Carolyn and Mr. Wilson nodded at the woman and, along with the security guard, John, moved away from the group. The teacher rubbed her hand along her cheek, swiping the tear away. Feeling the need to do something, the man placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.
"We'll find them. I doubt that any student of yours would run away, so I'm sure they are still in here somewhere. Hopefully, enjoying one of the many displays."
She straighten her shoulders, she patted the man's arm. "If they know what's good for them, they better not be having fun without me. And, not while I'm worried sick."
The morning dragged on as the two men did clean up work around the empty office. They did not have a case to occupy their time. No court appearances, no evidence to inventory.
Chris had finished the proposed budget for the second quarter and now sat staring at his slumbering partner. He picked up a wad of paper and tossed it at the man.
Buck jerked up and swatted at the paper as it bounced off his lap. "What'd you do that for?"
Grinning, Wilmington sat up, his hands still clasped in front of him. "Well, ya have any suggestions?"
Cocking one eyebrow up, Larabee leaned forward, his arms bracing his weight on the desk. He grinned at the younger man. "The kids are at the Children's museum. It's only a few minutes from here."
Buck slapped his hands on his knees. "Think they'll mind if we drop in?"
"Only one way find out."
The two men stood and headed to the door.
Exiting the elevator on the second floor, JD grunted as he pushed Joey's chair off. Vin and Freddy followed them. Only Vin's clutching grasp on Freddy's arm kept the boy from bolting out as soon as the doors slid open.
There were two exhibits on this level, one to each side. JD turned to the right, toward the 'Around the Block' area. As the foursome moved around the area, looking for their classmates, they also took in the displays. There were building blocks to construct a town and a felt board where several younger children were making up a story and laying it out on the felt with their teacher's assistance.
Not finding anyone they knew, the group left that area to check out the second exhibit. None of them noticed as the group of students led by Jackie headed down the staircase at the end of the hall.
Vin and JD stood frozen, silly grins on their faces, in the doorway of the exhibit hall. The sign in front of the room proclaimed it was 'Bucking Broncos' exhibit. In the room, several children were building horses out of cardboard. Others had finished and were now making the cardboard steeds buck and leap amid the muted cheers of their classmates.
"Oh, Vin, can we stay here? Pleeaase," JD begged.
Vin's grin diminished slightly as he gazed at the room, but he slowly shook his head. "No, we gotta find Miz R."
Reluctantly, the group scanned the area. The openness allowed them to see almost everyone without entering more than ten feet into the room. With a sigh, Vin turned the chair away from the room and they once again moved to the elevator. As JD hit the up button, Freddy took a step back.
"Don't go anywhere. We're only going up one floor."
The doors opened and three kids moved in. Freddy hung back a minute, but with a deep sigh, the boy stepped on and closed his eyes as the doors slid closed.
Carolyn phoned both of the assistants as she rode the elevator down to the second floor. Everything was going well for them, but neither had seen the kids. Hanging up, the woman informed the man standing next to her that one of the groups were going to the third floor, while the second group had moved on to the fourth floor
The doors opened and the couple moved to the right. They entered the room and began the search. Behind them, four kids left the other room on the floor and moved to the elevator. Moments later, the doors slid closed before them
Carolyn and Mr. Wilson exited the room and headed to the second one.
As the doors closed, Vin glanced at the clock that was mounted on the opposite wall. Eleven fifteen. Instead of punching the third floor button, he hit the one for the ground floor.
"Vin, you hit the wrong button," JD exclaimed.
Blond hair flew as he shook his head. "No, it's almost the time that we were going to meet for lunch. The others will be down there and they can call Mrs. Roquette."
Before anyone had time to agree, the elevator stopped and the doors opened. The kids exited the car and moved across the lobby. There they found a bench and sat down to wait.
Mrs. Roquette and Mr. Wilson left the 'Bucking Broncos' exhibit and the woman hesitated as she realized the time. She was torn between continuing the search and going to check on the rest of the children.
The man stood patiently, waiting for her to decide where to go next.
Finally, she turned to him.
"I need to go down and check on the others, then we can proceed."
With a nod of his head, the two headed to the staircase.
Vin glanced at the clock. Eleven thirty.
The elevator dinged and all four kids turned to look as Terry stepped off, followed by her group of students.
Vin smiled in relief. He stood just as Jackie and her bunch came through the door of the same staircase the foursome had used to escape the basement.
The classmates and teachers merged in the center of the lobby, excited voices filling the room with sound.
This was the scene that greeted Carolyn Roquette and Mr. Wilson as they descended the staircase. The woman moved toward the group and was halfway across the open expanse, a frown marring her features, before she saw the reason for all the noise.
"Oh," she exclaimed as she plunged into the crowd of bodies. She took each child into her arm and hugged them tightly. "Where have you four been? We have looked all over this building for you."
The four children looked at each other and then began to talk all at once. A sharply barked order brought silence to the assembly.
It took only a few minutes for the two men to close up the office, leave messages, and get to the garage. Chris pulled out into traffic and headed to the museum.
"Maybe we'll get there in time for lunch," Buck commented as he watched the cars roll by.
"Hey, that would be nice. I've been wanting to see this museum. Sounds like a lot of fun for the kids."
"Kids, huh?" Buck chuckled.
Chris glanced at the other man and then laughed softly. "Why didn't they have stuff like that when we were kids?"
Buck shrugged. "No idea, stud. Does make ya feel kind 'a deprived, though."
Chris parked the truck and the two headed into the museum. The scene that greeted them brought smiles to their faces, but the words from the teacher had those smiles disappearing.
As the four kids began to chatter away, Chris stepped forward with Buck just behind him.
The entire room froze at the stern words.
Vin and JD had bolted as soon as they saw their fathers, both boys talking at once and hands flying in explanation. Carolyn Roquette moved toward the men, a look of trepidation on her face. Both men were very protective of the boys and the idea that she had 'lost' them for almost three hours was not a subject she wished to broach with either of the ATF agents.
Both men were squatted down, listening to the boys. When the children finished, they glanced at each other and stood up as one. Buck Wilmington picked up the small boy and held him on his hip, when Chris Larabee placed a hand on the slender shoulder of Vin Tanner. As the little blond looked up, the man gestured toward the teacher with a slight nod of his head.
"Vin, what do you have to say to Mrs. Roquette?"
The boy frowned in confusion, but a raised eyebrow had the boy's eyes widening and his mouth opening in protest. Before any words came out though, Chris gave the slender shoulder a gentle squeeze.
Tanner's head drooped as he turned in the direction of the woman. "I'm sorry that we worried you, Miz R." As he spoke, he toed the floor with his sneaker repeatedly, making a low squeaking sound as the rubber rubbed the marble floor.
"But, Da "
"JD," Buck interrupted, "did you want to worry this nice lady?"
"No, but " the boy started.
"Was she worried for your safety?"
"For Vin's? Joey's"
JD's lip began to quiver as his looked at the teacher and back to his father. "I'm sorry, too. We didn't want to make anyone worry."
The boy felt the man's arm tighten around him and he looked up into the smiling blue eyes. He returned to smile when one blue eye winked at him.
"Gentlemen, I don't believe that the boys were trying to make trouble." The woman stated. "It was all to due to a lack of organization."
Chris drew the slight figure of his son against his legs as he said, "Maybe, ma'am, but the boys know that when they get separated from the adults, that they should look for someone to help them." The man glanced down when he felt the boy's head tilt back to gaze up at him.
"So it's like being lost in the mall?"
"Yes, Vin. Or even in the woods. What's the rule?"
The blue eyes closed as he recited, "If you get lost, stay where you are and let the rescuers come to you." The blue eyes opened and the brows rose in question.
"Right. You let them find you. You don't looking for them. Got it?"
Vin smiled and nodded. "Got it."
"I got it, too." JD piped up. "Next time Freddy is on his own." His small fist punched the air to punctuate his statement. Freddy crossed his arms as the others laughed at his red face, while Buck just shook his head and pulled the boy's head into his neck, ruffling the dark hair.
Chuckling, Carolyn asked, "We were just about to have some lunch before returning to school. Would you two gentlemen care to join us?"
Chris nodded as Buck replied, "That would very nice. Thank you, ma'am."
The sixteen kids, three teachers, and two ATF agents headed out the door leaving Mr. Wilson standing. He turned back to his office, shaking his head and muttering, "I need to find a quieter job. One with less children."
So is that the end, young sirs?
Well, except for Dad telling me that I should have stayed still. He also told me that he was proud of me for taking care of everyone. I think he was mad about us scaring Misses R mostly.
Da said that we should have left Freddy in the basement.
Master Dunne that is not a very nice thing to say about a classmate.
Freddy is mean, Uncle Ezra. You wouldn't like him.
Yeah, he smells and pokes at you.
???Please refrain from jabbing me in the chest, JD.
Well, that's what Freddy does.
Yeah, Uncle Ezra. He's not nice. Not even to Joey and she's a girl.
Yeah, you know what he said about her, Uncle Ezra?
What was that , JD?
That's she's a worthless cripple.
Mr. Wilmington was correct in his decree. You should have left the young man in the basement.
Mr. Larabee. I did not see you there.
Figured that. Let's not encourage the boys listen to Buck's 'wisdom' if you know what I mean.
Of course not. I was merely. Never mind.
Well does that conclude this week's adventure, gentlemen?
Yeah. Let's go see what Da is burning.
Wait for me JD.
It would appear that I am not the only one that is encouraging inappropriate behavior.
Turn that damn thing off, Ezra
Next: A League of Their Own
Things We Learned (Index)