The front door of the house opened before Buck had even turned off the engine. As he opened the door of his truck, he smiled and waved at the older woman now standing on the porch, wrapping a sweater tightly around herself. Maneuvering into the back seat area, Buck unfastened JD from his car seat and hoisted the boy out, setting him on the ground. Grabbing the carrier, he shifted it around and pulled it out of the door then pushed the door closed.
Glancing at JD, he saw that the boy was looking at the expectant woman and smiling.
"Mrs. Lynch?" Buck greeted as they approached.
"Yes, yes, you're the gentleman who found my Lila?" she asked, her eyes riveted to the animal carrier, trying to catch a glimpse of her baby.
"Yes, Ma'am." Buck knew that right at that moment, the woman was more interested in getting her pet back than in meeting the two of them. "Is it okay to let her out out here or should we do it inside?"
The woman suddenly seemed a little flustered and let her gaze scan the yard and the random fat flakes that still fell. "Oh, well, yes, perhaps inside would be better." She looked again to the carrier briefly before she turned and led the way to the front door.
Once out of the weather, Buck set the carrier down on the tile floor of the entryway and took hold of the latch. "I guess I should warn you that she's a mite dirty." Buck swung open the crate door and Lila seemed to immediately recognize where she was as she poked her nose out.
"Oh," the woman gasped. "My little Lila!"
Lila rushed forward, tail wagging furiously, as the woman lowered herself to her knees. Disregarding the filth, Mrs. Lynch scooped up the little dog and planted a big kiss on the top of her head.
Buck felt tears sting his eyes as he watched the reunion between frantic owner and beloved pet.
Finally, after several minutes of cooing and snuggling, Mrs. Lynch looked up at her pet's saviors. "Oh, my, you must think I'm the silliest old woman for going on like this," she said as she wiped at her cheeks.
Buck shook his head. "Not at all, Ma'am. I can see that Lila is very important to you."
"I can't thank you enough for finding her and bringing her home."
"It was JD here who found the little thing in our barn," Buck said, tapping the boy on the shoulder.
Mrs. Lynch looked into JD's eyes. "Well, young man, thank you so much for finding my Lila."
JD scrunched up his brow in confusion. "I didn't do nuffin. Just looked in the stall and she was there."
She smiled at JD's explanation. "Well, thank you for looking in that stall." She began to climb back to her feet, the dog still clutched in her arms. Buck reached forward and grabbed her elbow, guiding and steadying her until she was once again standing. "Thank you," she told him then began to once again focus on her pet. "When the vet's office told me where you found her, I couldn't believe it. How did she get so far from home?"
Buck smiled as he watched the woman with her "child". "It's surprising how far they can go sometimes. How long has she been missing?"
"Nearly four weeks. I'd about given up hope of ever seeing her again." Mrs. Lynch's voice cracked a little and she buried her face in the dog's fur for a moment while she composed herself.
"That's a long time," JD began as he watched. "I'm glad she's home with you now."
Mrs. Lynch lifted her head and reached a hand into her sweater pocket. "I had offered a reward for her return," she began and pulled some folded bills out of her pocket.
Buck didn't know how much money was there but could see that the outer bill was a fifty and there were several bills folded together. Before Buck could decline, JD spoke up.
"We don't want no reward, thanks. Just want Lila home with her family."
Buck was momentarily surprised by JD's refusal of the money then felt himself overcome with pride.
Mrs. Lynch extended her arm further towards the two. "Please, I want you to take this," she pressed. When JD shook his head, she shifted it to the man but Buck also shook his head.
"Thank you anyway, Ma'am, but we can't take your money. It was our pleasure to see that Lila got home."
She shook her head and began fumbling with the money, separating out one bill and holding it towards Buck. "I have to give you something."
Buck raised his hands in front of him, palms out. "No, no thank you, Ma'am. We couldn't take any money."
JD looked sad when he spoke. "We can'ts take your money for bringing Lila home. We just done what's right."
Mrs. Lynch froze as she stared at the small boy. Silently, she lowered her arm and slid the money back into her pocket. Smiling suddenly, she said, "Please, wait right here." She began backing into the room to their right, which appeared to be a small office, as she added, "I'll just be a moment." She turned and entered the room, stepping out of sight of the two. She continued to call to them to 'stay', 'not to leave', and that she would 'be right out'. Over that, Buck and JD could hear her opening and closing drawers.
Finally, she reappeared, Lila still wrapped in her arms and seemingly content to stay there. She stepped up to them and held out her hand.
"Please, take this."
Buck eyed the item for a moment before he reached out and took it from the woman. Turning it around, he saw that it was a professional portrait of the little dog, much cleaner than she was now with a happy expression on her face.
"I wrote on the back " she began and Buck flipped the photo over. Thank you for bringing me home. Lila. "When you look at that, just remember how happy you made an old woman."
Buck looked at the woman as he lowered the picture for JD to take. "This, we can take, Ma'am. Thank you."
"She looks a lot better when she ain't all dirty," JD observed.
This comment made the woman laugh. "Yes, she really can look a lot better than she does right now. She won't be happy about it but the first thing we're going to do is have a b-a-t-h."
JD looked up at her. "That spells bath," he told her.
Lila gave a little whimper as if she understood the word.
"Uh-oh, JD, I think you gave it away." Buck grinned as he looked between the boy, the woman and the dog. Finally, he added, "Well, Ma'am, it's time for us to be heading out. I promised the little one dinner at McDonald's."
"Oh, yes. Thank you both again so very much. I can't tell you how happy you've made me."
"I can see how happy you are, Ma'am, and it was our pleasure to help out."
"Lila's happy, too. See, her tail's waggin'."
Mrs. Lynch scratched her dog continuously as she saw her pet's rescuers out. She continued to watch until Buck had JD settled in his car seat and slid behind the wheel. Waving, she slowly closed her door.
"I'm proud of you, JD," Buck said as they backed out of the driveway.
"Hows come?" JD answered absently as he stared at the picture he held in his hands.
"Well, that was a lot of money Mrs. Lynch was holding out. I'm proud of you for not taking it."
JD shook his head slowly from side to side. "We didn't bring her home for that. Lila had to get home to her family. We was 'spons'ble."
"You never did tell me why you think we were responsible for making sure Lila got home," Buck said, glancing in the rear view mirror at JD.
The boy shrugged, still staring at the picture of the little white dog. "Before, Vin said he was 'spons'ble for me and he made sure I was took care of. Then, you and Chris said yous 'spons'ble for us and now we gots a family and there ain't nothing better than that." A simple explanation from a wise young boy.
Buck grinned into the rear view mirror. "You're right there, JD. Ain't nothing better."
It was the first lull in the conversation since the two had started talking about Vin's horse. The talk had moved on to school, and the ATF agents Vin called uncles, and JD, Buck and Chris. Now, Vin was sitting back against the cushions and looking down at his hands in his lap.
"What are you thinking about, Vin?" Randy asked casually.
Vin shrugged. "Lots of things but nothing stays in my head long."
Randy nodded, thinking he might know what was flying through the boy's mind. "Things about your father?"
Vin nodded. "I wrote down things to ask " Vin paused, suddenly remembering the list stuffed in his pocket. He squirmed in place until he could get his hand into his pocket and came up with the folded piece of paper. Unfolding it, he looked anxiously at the first item on the list and sighed. Suddenly, that item seemed like a silly thing to want to know. He skipped to the next item and pressed his lips together. That seemed dumb, too. Thinking he'd been silent too long, he started folding up the paper. "This isn't right," he said hurriedly.
"What is that, Vin?"
Vin slumped a little. "It's dumb."
"Can I see it?" Randy asked, holding out his hand.
Reluctantly, Vin placed the paper in the major's hand. Randy carefully unfolded it and scanned the first thing on the list. "This isn't dumb, Vin. I think pizza is very important."
Vin looked up, surprised. "You do? Really?"
Randy nodded solemnly. "I do. And, I can tell you that your father liked pizza a lot. I think his favorite was pepperoni and extra cheese but sometimes he liked the ones with all the meat on them."
Vin's excitement level was rising again. "He did? I like those, too. Chris won't let us get extra cheese 'cause he says they put too much cheese on to start with. JD and me like pepperoni best." Vin smiled up at the man.
"Pepperoni is good," he agreed. He looked down at he paper again and saw the second question. "Did my born dad like 'torkuses'?" Randy read then looked at Vin questioningly. "I'm not sure I know what a 'torkus' is, Vin."
Vin peered over at the paper briefly. "Chris says they're really called tortoises but me and JD called ours Torkus. He's out in the barn sleeping. He's supposed to wake up soon."
"Ah," Randy said as he caught on. "Well, I can't tell you if he specifically liked 'torkuses' but he liked most other animals and treated them all very well so I'm gonna guess that he liked torkuses, too."
Vin smiled at the answer, his mind conjuring up a picture of his born father playing with Torkus.
Randy looked down at the paper. "Do I look like him?" He turned and looked at length at the boy beside him, scrutinizing his face, hair, and stature. Finally, he started nodding slowly. "I can see it. I see a little of your father in your eyes, your hair and," Randy reached forward and gently tugged on an earlobe, "your ears."
"And, I can see some of your mom in you, too."
Vin's expression turned to one of surprise. "You remember my mama?"
Randy nodded. "I do. She and your dad got married while he was in the army. I was the best man at his wedding. She was a special lady and she loved you and your dad very much."
Vin looked down at his lap and twisted his hands together uneasily. "I remember mama but not so good as before. She's been gone for " Vin fell silent both because the subject matter hurt and because he wasn't sure exactly how long she had been gone.
"I know it must be hard, Vin. You do have Chris now. He seems like a very good man," Randy was trying to steer the conversation back to better things.
Vin smiled and looked up at the major. "Yeah. Chris is real good. He didn't have to keep me but he did."
Randy agreed then looked back at the list. "Let's see what else you have here." The next several minutes were taken up with Randy answering the questions Vin had written down, never letting Vin think that any of them were "dumb" questions. Yes, his father did like to ride horses, but, no, he didn't have one, at least, not while he was in the army. No, his father didn't really seem to like to read because he read very slowly. He'd much rather be out playing at some sport. No, Randy had never heard the man play an actual tune on the harmonica, he'd rather just blow through it and listen to the sounds that came out.
"Anything else you can think of?" Randy asked once he had gotten to the end of the list.
Vin pondered a moment before he started shaking his head. "I guess not."
"Well, you remember that you can email me with anything you think up, right?"
"Yeah, I remember."
"Good. Now, I have some things here that I want to share with you." Randy reached down and pulled his satchel up onto his lap. Unfastening the buckle, he flipped open the top and reached inside. He pulled out several sheets of papers and a small box. "You may want to have Chris here for this. These are some pretty special things," he said as he set the box down on the coffee table and replaced the satchel on the floor.
Vin's eyes were wide with anticipation and he nodded his agreement before he hollered out, "Chris!"
A few moments later, Chris stepped into the room from the den. "Yeah?"
"Randy says you should be here for this."
Chris nodded as he took his place in the chair he had been in earlier. "Okay."
"First, this is a picture of your father when he was promoted to sergeant. That's our commanding officer awarding him his stripes. One of the guys in our platoon had the picture copied for you." The major looked over at Chris. "I've been asking around a little on Vin's behalf," he explained.
Vin gazed at the picture silently for several long moments. "Is sergeant a good thing?"
Chris and Randy both smiled at the question. "It's a pretty good thing, Vin," Randy told him. "A man or woman has to be in the service for a certain length of time and perform at a certain level in order to be promoted. Your father was awarded every promotion just as soon as he was eligible for it. That says a lot about how seriously he took his responsibilities."
While Vin studied the picture a few more moments, Randy stood up and stepped over to Chris, leaning over to speak softly to him. He showed him a document and waited while Chris read it over. Chris handed it back with a nod of his head.
"Vin, this next thing is a certificate issued by the military that details where your father is interred." At Vin's confused expression, Randy elaborated, "Interred means where he's buried. Because he was in the military, he was eligible to be placed in a national cemetery. He was buried with full honors at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery near San Antonio, Texas."
Major Carpenter didn't want to linger on the subject of where Vin's natural father was buried, just wanted him to have that information. He sat back down beside the boy, put the document on the table and picked up the small box he had set there earlier.
"This is something very special, Vin. It is a great honor that was given to your father after he saved the lives of all those men. You and your mother had left Texas before the army was able to give it to her so now I'm giving it to you." Randy opened the hinged box and turned it so that Vin could see what was inside. Slowly, he moved his hand towards Vin and encouraged him to take the box.
"This," Randy began, "is the 'Soldier's Medal'. It was awarded to your father for his act of heroism." Randy picked up the certificate that accompanied the medal and read the official description of the honor. "The Soldier's Medal is awarded to any person of the Armed Forces of the United States or of a friendly foreign nation who, while serving in any capacity with the Army of the United States, distinguished himself or herself by heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy. The performance must have involved personal hazard or danger and the voluntary risk of life under conditions not involving conflict with an armed enemy." Randy set down the certificate and watched as Vin gently touched the medal with a finger. "The Soldier's Medal is the highest honor for valor that a soldier can receive during peacetime."
Vin seemed mesmerized by the item in the box, repeatedly touching it lightly with the tips of his fingers. Randy let him have a few moments to absorb the importance of the award. He glanced at his watch and knew he had to be heading on his way shortly.
Silently, Vin stood up and, without taking his eyes off the medal, worked his way over to the chair Chris was sitting in. He sat on the arm of the chair and held the little box in such a way that Chris could easily see the medal inside.
"That's very impressive, Vin. Your father deserves that honor for what he did. You should be very proud of him." Chris was truly impressed by the medal and by Randy's efforts to get it to Vin.
Vin continued to stare silently at the medal and neither adult seemed inclined to break the spell.
"Wow," Vin finally breathed out as he lifted his head and looked at Randy. He couldn't think of anything else to say so he just smiled.
"I hate to do this, Vin, but it's getting late and you have to start thinking about getting ready for bed," Chris started winding down the evening. "You have school tomorrow and Randy still has to drive to Fort Carson."
With the thought of his guest leaving, Vin felt a little of the formality he had felt at the beginning of the evening return. He stood up and walked over to the major. "Thank you, sir, for comin' and for bringin' me this stuff of my born dad's. And for tellin' me stuff about him."
Vin smiled shyly. "I mean, Randy. Thank you, Randy."
"You are very welcome, Vin. It was my pleasure to do it and it was wonderful to finally meet you."
"You, too." Vin scrunched up his forehead a little and bounced on his toes a couple of times. Suddenly, he turned and rushed back to Chris, bending over and whispering in his ear.
Chris tried to hide a smile as he answered. "I don't know, Vin. You'll have to ask him."
Vin scrunched up his brow further and took a deep breath. Coming quickly to a decision, he turned and stepped back over to Randy. "Would it be okay if I hugged you good-bye?"
"Well, I think I'd be hurt if you didn't," Randy replied as he opened his arms wide.
Vin smiled big as he practically dove into the waiting arms and wrapped his around the man. For a moment, he let himself imagine that they were the arms of his soldier father and he felt proud.
Chris stood up and moved to stand beside the pair. Tapping Vin lightly on his shoulder, he said, "Come on, Vin, time to go to bed." He really hated to break this up but he also knew how long it would take Vin to settle down and go to sleep which would make it very hard to get him up in the morning.
Vin pulled away and stood up straight. "I hope you have a good meeting at the fort. And drive real careful in the snow." Vin was trying to remember all the good advice he'd heard grown-ups give each other when they parted ways.
"I will, Vin. Thank you. And I hope you have a great day at school tomorrow."
Vin looked doubtful. "I'll try."
Both men smiled at that. Chris tapped Vin's shoulder again. "Go on, Vin. I'll see Randy out to his car."
Vin took one step then turned, reached up and grabbed Chris' sleeve, pulling down until Chris was brought to his knees. Vin wrapped his arms around Chris' neck. "Thank you for letting him visit. I love you, Dad."
Chris tightened his arms around Vin's small body. "Your welcome. I love you, too, Vin."
Vin pulled away and started out of the room. He waved and shouted, "Good night," as he disappeared down the hallway towards his bedroom.
"Good night," both men called back. Randy grabbed his satchel and stood up as Chris pushed himself back to his feet.
"He's some boy," Randy commented.
"That he is," Chris agreed.
"I'm glad to see that he's so happy."
Chris could think of nothing to say so he just nodded.
"There is one more thing I want to share with you. Do with this information whatever you feel is right." Randy reached into his bag one last time and pulled out a sheet of paper. "This is the contact information for the army's benefits office. Vin and his mother were entitled to benefits under the military's survivor's program. His mother collected for a while but the army requires that a form be submitted every year in order to continue benefits. When she neglected to file, they stopped the payments. Vin is still entitled to those payments. I'm not sure how much it amounts to but it might be worth looking into. After all, someday, he'll go to college."
"College," Chris said the word right along with the major. Chris knew that as Vin's guardian, he would probably be the controller of the money for Vin, if he were to collect it. He could set up an account and set aside this money for Vin's education. It could mean the difference between him having to work while in school and have school loans to deal with afterwards or, depending on where he wanted to go, having his education paid for. "I'll check into this, thank you. The way school tuitions are skyrocketing, we'll probably need it."
The two men made their way to the front door. Randy slipped on his overcoat and pulled the keys to the rental car out of his pocket. "I think it went pretty well, even with the slow start," Randy commented on the evening's visit.
"What I saw of it seemed like it was a success. I want to thank you for taking the time to come by and visit with Vin. It means a lot to both of us."
"Well, Michael Tanner was a very close friend of mine. I kind of feel like I failed him because I didn't keep track of his family, make sure they were okay. Now, I can make up for it a little by keeping in contact with his son." Randy regarded Chris for a moment before he continued. "I know I've said this before, but now that I've met you, I feel it even stronger. Vin has a good man taking care of him."
Chris almost felt himself blush and tipped his head down a moment before he looked Randy in the eye. "Thank you. I will always try to do my best with him, and for him."
Randy nodded. "I know you will." He offered his hand and the two men shook.
Chris opened the door and allowed Randy to precede him out onto the porch.
"Snow's quit," Chris observed. "Should make the drive easier. Think you can find your way back to the highway?"
Randy nodded. "Yeah. I shouldn't have a problem." He turned one last time to his host. "Good night, Chris."
"Good night, Randy."
Chris watched as the major walked back to his car, opened the door and climbed in, tossing his satchel on the passenger's seat. Randy started his car and got it turned around. One last wave and he was on his way down the driveway.
Chris watched until the red taillights faded into the distance before he turned and went back inside.
Boys, you know you have to actually talk to the computer for this thing to work.
Maybe you should come back and do this later.
No, we can do it now.
Yeah, now is good.
All right. Go ahead.
What are you going to do with your picture, JD?
I don't know. I like looking at Lila and knowing she's home. Maybe I can frame it and hang it on my wall.
If you want to do that, we can, JD.
Thanks, Buck. What are you going to do with your dad's medal, Vin?
I don't know. I want it out where I can see it but I don't want nothing to happen to it.
Maybe you should put it in a box. Then you could bury it in the backyard. That's what Elvis does with all his special toys.
That's what Elvis does with everything.
Vin, we have a safe we can keep it in. It'll be protected in there and we can take it out so you can see it anytime you want to.
Maybe you should say good night, boys.
Everyday Heroes Index
Next: Shields of Honor
Comments: Chris G