Josiah's quiet knock interrupted Chris' daily battle with his online calendar. Glad for the respite he waved the big profiler in. "What's up Josiah?"
"I believe I found Vin's mother." Josiah sat down across from Chris handing him a folder. "It seems she actually died up in Boulder at a shelter run by the city."
Chris took the folder scanning the contents with interest. He'd been quietly searching for the location of Vin's mother's body since they learned that the woman they originally thought was her, wasn't. Learning of the search Josiah had offered to help drawing on his knowledge of the various shelters and charity organizations in Denver. It had been harder than either man imagined to sort through the number of dead women reported by various shelters when they had only a vague description of the woman and an approximate date. It had helped when Major Carpenter gave Vin the picture of his parents. Still the image of the woman was small, so Josiah had still been forced to personally check the likely leads.
"Boulder is a long way from where we found Vin. How'd he get from there to that warehouse?"
Josiah shrugged, "Whoever took him from the shelter must have been responsible. You'd be surprised how far some homeless people travel."
"So how sure are you that this is Vin's mother?"
"I'm about ninety percent positive. I talked to the coroner's office up there. They have her listed as a Jane Doe. Said they had some personal effects, but no ID. They faxed a picture but I thought I'd go up and take a look just to be sure." Josiah quirked an eyebrow, "Want to come?" It was a rhetorical question since Chris was already reaching for his jacket. As the two men walked through the office Chris paused at Buck's desk. "Josiah has a lead on Vin's mother, we're going to Boulder to check it out. I might be home late."
"No problem, I'll manage." Buck looked solemn, "Hope this pans out."
"Me, too. Don't forget to pick up the boys."
"Shoot, that's right, Gloria left today." Buck made a face, "Sure gonna miss her."
As Chris and Josiah left, Nathan asked Buck, "What happened to Gloria?"
"Her niece had a baby; they had to do a C section. Gloria went to help out until mom is recovered." Buck sighed, "She left today and I already miss her. Doing chores, making dinner and keeping track of two boys is hard enough with two."
"Well I find myself with no pressing plans for the evening," Ezra drawled. "I might be persuaded to help entertain the boys tonight while you do chores."
"Rain's working late tonight, I might as well come out and make sure you guys eat something reasonably healthy for dinner," Nathan grinned.
"Any and all help is gratefully accepted," Buck said. "But we don't tell the boys where Josiah and Chris really are. Vin never has asked about his mother's body and Chris doesn't want to bring it up until he finds her."
The Jane Doe was indeed Rebecca Tanner. In her fine features Chris could see many similarities to Vin. He was doubly grateful to Major Carpenter for the pictures he given Vin. It meant that Chris didn't have to ask the boy to make an identification of the body. He'd been surprised to find Rebecca was still being stored in the morgue. The clerk explained that anyone coming in unidentified was kept for a period of three years then cremated. He'd been amazed when Chris said that he would be claiming the body and arranging for burial. The clerk had then gone on to explain that now she could be cremated and buried in the county cemetery. Since Chris had no legal obligation to pay for a funeral the clerk seemed to be having trouble understanding why he'd take responsibility. At that point Josiah sent Chris to the truck while he started the legalities. It was as much for Chris' sake as the poor clerk's. Josiah didn't think Boulder County appreciated people strangling their clerks. Besides it was clear that the entire situation was bringing up memories that tore at Chris' heart.
A solemn Josiah and glum Chris left Boulder with Josiah driving. Chris spent the entire trip with his eyes closed seemingly asleep. Josiah left him alone, knowing that sometimes it's easier to fight demons quietly. They made good time, cutting across from Boulder on the back roads and missing much of rush hour traffic. Turning into the long driveway to Chris' house, Josiah stopped the truck. Opening his eyes Chris asked, "I hope you're not going to make me walk home now."
"Just thought I'd give you a moment. Besides, if we pull in with me driving, a certain someone is going to know something's wrong."
Chris chuckled slightly, "He would, wouldn't he. I have a very smart kid." He sat for a moment then looked over at Josiah, "Do you think I'm doing the right thing? Vin's never mentioned wanting to know where she is. Maybe I should just let things alone. Bury her and wait for him to ask when he's ready."
Josiah gripped the steering wheel, looking out the windshield. "It's a hard question."
Both men sat for another minute in silence before Chris threw open his door. "Come on, switch sides with me. Buck's probably up to his you know what in alligators by now with no help."
"Chris is home!" Vin yelled before tearing out the front door.
The sight of his son made everything better instantly for Chris. Scooping up the little boy he tossed him in the air.
"Buck said you'd be late," Vin said as Chris caught him.
"Our business didn't take as long as I thought it would." Chris smiled. "Have you been good for Buck?"
"Oh yeah, me and JD have been helping Uncle Nathan make dinner." Vin leaned forward to whisper loudly, "He's making his super special secret burgers."
"Unca Josiah!" JD yelled launching himself at the other man. "I's didn't know you were coming. Now everyone is here, Unca Nathan, Unca Ezra and you. Toss me like Chris is tossin' Vin, please?"
The big man laughed and complied looking over at Chris. He could see the other man's tension draining away thanks to the magic of a child's laughter.
Dinner was a rather loud and happy affair. Conversation was kept light in respect for little ears. The men instead spoke about the coming summer passing back and forth different ideas and plans. Talk then turned to the upcoming three-day weekend. With no important cases pending, the team had all three days off. A picnic and a ride on Monday was being discussed when JD piped up.
"When do we do the membering?"
"Membering?" Buck looked at the others to see if anyone else knew what JD was talking about. "I'm going to need a little more information Little Bit."
"Membering Day, we studied all about it in school today. We's supposed to member all the soldiers and thank them." JD's look indicated he thought it was something the adults should have known. "An' at recess Michael said that they's going to go visit their grandma and grandpa at the cemetery. Why's they at the cemetery?"
The men all shared a silent look. Chris looked over at Vin to find the other boy's head down. He couldn't tell if Vin was just eating or upset.
It was Josiah who finally answered JD's questions. "JD, you understand that sometimes people have to go away forever." He paused shooting a quick look at Buck and Chris, silently asking permission to continue. The men had all been very careful how they talked about death in front of the boys. At their nods of encouragement he looked back at JD. The small boy nodded, "They go dream with the angels."
"Yes, well when they do, the people that love them prepare a special place for them in a cemetery. So they have a quiet place to dream." Josiah drew a hand across his forehead, wiping away the moisture. Nothing like a child's question to make a man sweat. He was feeling pretty good about his answer until JD burst into tears. Buck had been expecting either more questions or tears so he was ready when JD slipped from his chair to throw himself in his Da's lap. Sobbing the boy said, "But I didn't do anything for Mama. She doesn't have a special place."
Vin, too, looked totally stricken. He was still in his chair, but all it took was for Chris to scoot back from the table a bit and hold out his arms. Soon both fathers had a lap full of upset boy. Josiah, who his last time in the hospital refused Novocain before being stitched up, looked ready to cry himself. "Chris, Buck, I'm so sorry."
Chris shook his head as he stood up. "Forget it, Josiah. Vin and I needed to talk about this anyway." With that Chris carried Vin out of the room toward the den.
"It's okay, Josiah, I was kind of expecting this," Buck said. Using his napkin he wiped JD's face, "Hey, Little Bit, it's okay. They don't expect little kids to handle that kind of thing. The city made sure your Mama got a quiet place."
"They did?" JD was starting to calm down.
"You bet they did," Buck's words were hearty.
"Can we go visit her on Membering Day?"
"Sure thing, we'll take her some nice flowers too. Would you like that?"
JD nodded slowly, laying his head on Buck's shoulder. "You know partner, it's been a pretty long day. What say we go take a bath, then Uncle Ezra can read to you before bed. Okay?" Buck smiled wanly over JD's head, "You guys mind hanging around?"
"Go," Nathan motioned, "we'll clean up."
"I wonder how Chris is faring with his explanation?" Ezra asked as they gathered plates.
"So I'm guessing you feel like JD," Chris held Vin in his lap. The older boy still hadn't said a word. "Maybe you feel like you failed your mama too."
Vin nodded against his chest. "I left her."
Chris took a deep breath, "Vin there is no easy way to say this, we found your mother's body."
Vin's eyes widened, "But the man said they wouldn't care about her. That they'd take me and get rid of her."
"What man?" Chris asked gently, not wanting to frighten Vin into claming up. He never talked about the day his mother had died.
"The old man at the shelter. He said she was dreaming with the angels and we had to get out of there. He said the trolls would get me and make me watch them cut her up." Vin burst into tears as he replayed the memory. Chris pulled him close making soothing noises. It took him a moment to understand what Vin was now sobbing into his shirt, "I left her to the trolls. I'm bad. I left her."
"Vin, Vin, you didn't do anything wrong. There was nothing you could have done for her," Chris crooned. "Vin, look at me, come on." When Vin finally looked up, Chris used a tissue to wipe his face. Once the boy was a bit calmer Chris said, "Vin, I don't know who took you away from your Mama in the shelter, but I think he was a very disturbed man. Sometimes people who end up on the street have problems with reality. I bet this man got confused a lot."
Vin nodded, "He did and he yelled at me. That's why I finally ran away from him."
"Did he ever hit you?" Chris had to ask the question. Who knew when Vin would again voluntarily talk about that time.
"Sometimes he shook me, but most times he was okay. He called me Eddy most of the time." Vin was calming down. "He never tried to give me bad touches and he wouldn't let anyone else do it either."
Chris said a quick prayer of thanks that Vin had been spared that. They'd never found any evidence, but it was good to know for sure. While he was collecting himself, Vin went back to the topic they started with.
"Did you really find my Mama?"
Clearing his throat Chris said, "Yes I did and with your permission I'd like to make sure she gets put in a nice place. Would that be all right with you?"
"Where do you want to put her?" Vin asked.
"Well I was thinking that it might be nice for her to be in the same place Sarah and Adam are." Chris was watching carefully for any indication one way or another of Vin's feelings.
"I think she'd like that." Vin said solemnly. "What do we have to do?"
"You don't have to do anything. Arranging this kind of thing is something grownups do. You can come with us to the cemetery when we have the ceremony if you want though."
"I'd like that." Vin sat silently for a moment, then looked up at Chris, "Dad, Dr. Will says that a hug can help bad feelings go away sometimes."
"He does huh?" Chris pulled Vin closer, "Then I think you and I both need a hug right now."
Later after both boys had been put to bed Chris gathered everyone in the living room. They had all been aware of his search for Rebecca Tanner and were pleased the search was over. Chris shared his talk with Vin. Each man expressed relief at confirmation that Vin hadn't been sexually abused.
"What are your plans for Mrs. Tanner?" Ezra asked turning attention to the other subject.
"I plan to bury her in the cemetery where Sarah and Adam are." The cemetery in question was old, dating from the late 1800's. Only families of original settlers were allowed to bury their dead there now. His great-grandfather had started Chris' ranch, making Rebecca eligible, even though it was a bit of a stretch. The request might have been denied except that the cemetery board was composed of Nettie Wells, Mrs. Cooper and Mrs. Cochran.
"That should be most appropriate," Ezra agreed softly. "I would be pleased to help with the arrangements."
"I want to keep it simple. Would like to arrange it for Friday afternoon. Josiah has already started the paperwork, maybe you two could work together on it." Chris looked grateful. He wanted to do the right thing for Vin, but this was clawing at his old memories.
As Ezra, Josiah and Chris discussed what needed to be done, Nathan noticed Buck seemed to get quieter and quieter. When he slipped out of the room Nathan followed. He found Buck out on the porch looking at the sky in deep thought.
"Am I interrupting?"
Buck turned to face Nathan, "No, in fact maybe you can help."
"Whatever you need?"
"Do you know what is involved in getting someone dug up and moved?"
Buck nodded, "You know when we found those boys everything was so fast. I was worried about getting custody of JD. Then there was the move out here. It never really sunk in about what happened to her body. I mean I took the time to find out where she was and I meant to get her a proper stone, but there just never seemed to be time."
"And now Chris' actions are making you wonder?"
"I know it's crazy, I mean once you're dead does it really matter where you are, but yet." Buck trailed off looking sad. "My mother wanted to be cremated and her ashes scattered on the ocean. I did it, but sometimes I wish," he paused swallowing, "I wish I had a grave to visit, you know."
"JD does have a grave to visit."
"Have you seen the county cemetery? It's on the far south edge of town, no trees or grass. Just a bunch of markers set flat in the ground." Buck snorted, "She deserves better than to be buried in that hot depressing place. I really don't want to take him there to visit her either."
"So let's get her out of there," Nathan said firmly. "If we can't get her buried in the same cemetery as Rebecca Tanner, we'll find somewhere just as nice. Let's go talk to the others."
As Nathan had expected the others agreed with Buck that Rachel Dunne deserved the same respect as Rebecca Tanner. Logistics were discussed. Nathan made a quick cell phone call to Rain who agreed to help him with the red tape involved in disinterring a body. Josiah would continue to deal with Boulder County while Ezra looked into the arrangements. Chris would call Nettie about getting another plot and either Buck or Chris would talk to Dr. Will about tonight's revelations. As they wrapped up things, Ezra cleared his throat.
"I must now bring up a rather unpleasant point, the cost of this venture. Funerals are not an inexpensive proposition. Even an simple casket will cost around a thousand dollars. Then there is the cost of the plot, the minister, flowers.
"The plots won't be that expensive, only a hundred dollars each," Chris explained. "But we are committed to helping keep the cemetery up. I already do that because of Sarah and Adam. It's part of the grandfather clause for original settlers."
"I might have an idea on caskets," Buck said thoughtfully. "I'll make a couple of calls tomorrow. Let's wait and see if it pans out."
"Agreed," Ezra checked his list, "as for the flowers I will handle that. That only leaves the minister."
Chris and Buck shared a speaking gaze then both looked over to Josiah. "Would you do it Josiah, we really don't know what faith either woman followed. I think the boys would appreciate the service more coming from someone they're close to."
Buck's simple words clearly affected Josiah. It took him a moment to find his voice, finally in a hoarse tone he said, "I'd be honored."
The next morning not much work was done in the office of Team Seven. Instead each man spent most of his time on the phone dealing with the various tasks assigned to him. Around eleven everyone gathered in the conference room. Chris started the meeting.
"There are two plots right next to each other we can have. Nettie says it works out good since those plots are between two families who've died out so no one else is going to want them."
"I talked to the Boulder morgue," Josiah said. "If we can provide a casket and clothing they offered to prepare Mrs. Tanner for burial. They would have done that if the county buried her. The guy I talked to wanted to help."
"Dang, I forgot about clothing," Chris looked stricken.
"Rain figured you might, she said she would take care of it." Nathan picked up some papers he'd brought in. "I've also started the paperwork to get Mrs. Dunne disinterred. I called in a couple of favors, Rain called in a couple. Upshot is, the current casket will go to the Denver city morgue. Rain has a friend there who offered to move the body into the new casket. Looks like we can save mortuary costs that way."
"So all we need are the caskets." Chris looked over to Buck, "What did you find out?"
"Well I found two really nice ones, brand new, metal, real nice. We can have them for a bargain too." Buck's positive words were belayed by the nervous look on his face.
"I hear a but in there somewhere?" Chris raised an eyebrow, "Just how good a bargain is this?"
"Five hundred for both." Buck looked uncomfortable.
"I must admit my curiosity is peaked," Ezra leaned forward. "Where ever did you find such a deal?"
"The police impound. They were taken as evidence the last year I worked as a detective. All the court case stuff is finished by now, so they've gone to the impound for auction. Been offered twice and no one's bought them."
"You want us to use stolen caskets?" Ezra sounded horrified.
"They weren't stolen, they were used to smuggle knock off jeans from Canada. I went down and looked at them to refresh my memory. They're copper, almost identical except for the detailing." Buck shrugged, "If they'd been used for drugs or guns I wouldn't have wanted them, but it's an option."
The crash of Chris' chair drew everyone's attention. Everyone fell silent watching him pace, waiting. After several passes he turned back to the table, "Are we doing the right thing here? This is starting to feel like some sort of bad movie, not a respectable burial of two women. Impounded caskets, no mortuary, heck Nettie said she'd even get someone to dig the holes for nothing."
No one knew what to say for a moment, it was Nathan who finally stood and walked over to Chris. "Chris a hundred and fifty years ago, we would have built the caskets ourselves, dug the graves and filled them in. Just because this is going to be a budget funeral, doesn't mean it won't have the same care and respect of an expensive one. I doubt either Rebecca or Rachel would find this offensive. They'd probably just be glad we're doing this for their boys." He gripped Chris' shoulder firmly. "This funeral isn't about money. It's about the love we all have for those boys and the respect we feel for the women who birthed them.
Chris looked up, "You're right Nathan, I'm letting my old grief affect what we're trying to do now." Straightening up he took a deep breath, "So how do we get the caskets to the various places?"
"I figured one in my truck and one in yours. But I can take care of both if you want," Buck offered.
"Let Nathan, Josiah and I deal with the logistics of getting the ladies ready and to the cemetery," Ezra said firmly. "You two will have enough to deal with. Perhaps one of you should speak to Dr. Will?"
"I did this morning." Chris sighed. "He thinks what we're doing is a good idea. Let the boys make the choice to come to the funeral or not. He also said he'd be available if we needed an emergency session."
"So I guess we're having a pow wow tonight," Buck looked as concerned as Chris about the idea.
After dinner Chris and Buck called the boys into the living room. Each man pulled his son into his lap. For this pow wow they wanted and needed to feel close to the boys.
Chris started. "Boys, Buck and I have some very important things to tell you tonight. Things we've been working on."
Both boys looked rather dubious, they could feel the tension in their adopted fathers.
Buck drew a deep breath then looked down at JD. "Little Bit, remember I told you your Mama was already in a quiet place? Well Chris and I got to thinking, see the place she's in is a real long way from here. So we thought maybe she'd like to lie next to Vin's Mama. That way she'd be closer and not off with strangers. Would you like that?"
JD nodded enthusiastically, "Yeah, she and Vin's mama can keep each other company. Vin, our Mamas are gonna be together."
"That'll be nice JD," Vin agreed quietly.
At first I was confused when Da said he wanted to put Mama in a nicer place. I thought she was already with the angels.
Buck explained it, JD. He and Chris are bringing them home.
Maybe they can bring your borned Dad here, too.
They can't do that, JD. He's in a special place just for soldiers.
Don't you want to be able to visit him too?
I don't want to talk about it ,JD.
Why? Hey, Vin, where're you going? Vin?
What's wrong, JD? Why did Vin just run out of here?
Hi ,Chris. I don't know. We was just talking to the computer. I didn't want to wait until the weekend to tell all that's going on. I'm done. Will you save this for us?
Sure JD, you run along.
Chris scanned JD and Vin's computer conversation before saving it. He left the den in deep thought. He found JD in the living room playing with some toy cars. "JD, where's Vin?"
The little boy shrugged, "Don't know."
Chris searched the house with no luck. He was starting to get concerned when Buck came back from his grocery run. "What's up?" Buck picking up on Chris' look of concern.
"I can't find Vin." Chris motioned toward the living room, "JD's in there. I'm going to go check the barn."
"Okay I'll start dinner, holler if you need help."
Chris approached the barn quietly. He knew that sometimes Vin told Peso things he wouldn't tell anyone else. It was a bit underhanded, but Chris also knew sometimes a parent needed any advantage he could get. His luck held, he could hear Vin in Peso's stall talking. Chris was still surprised sometimes that a horse who'd take a chunk out of a grown man behaved like a trained dog with Vin. He listened as Vin told his troubles to the horse.
"How can I honor my borned dad on Memorial Day when he's so far away? I asked Mrs. Roquette and she says Texas is miles and miles from here. I failed mama and now I'm failing papa." Vin rarely cried but Chris could hear his sobbing against Peso's shoulder. Backing up carefully, his own heart breaking Chris approached the barn calling for Vin. When he entered Vin was standing outside Peso's stall tears scrubbed away sort of. The traces were still there if you looked. Sitting down on a hay bale, Chris held out his arms. "You look upset, Pard. You know there isn't anything you can't tell me, don't you?"
Vin nodded slightly then in a rare burst of emotion threw himself into Chris' arms. Chris let him cry some more before asking, "Is this about your Mama?" He got a small nod. "Is it just your Mama, or maybe some of it's your Daddy too?"
Vin looked up in amazement, "How'd you guess?"
"Well I think it's normal to wonder about him this close to Memorial Day. And finding your Mama again is also hard." Chris waited watching as Vin worked through things in his head.
"Am I bad?"
"No, Vin, having feelings doesn't make you bad. Even adults find it hard to part with someone they love. That's one of the reasons we make sure they have a nice place to be. It's part of how we deal with our grief."
"But you still miss them don't you, like you miss Sarah and Adam?" Once again Vin cut right to the heart of something.
"Yeah, like I miss them." The words were a bit choked sounding. Vin wrapped his arms tightly around Chris' chest in a tight hug. The two of them sat like that until Buck called them in for dinner.
After dinner Chris and Buck met in the living room for their nightly sanity check. It wasn't something they ever planned but they'd discovered it was a good idea to check in each night. That way both men knew what was up with both boys. It helped head off problems and confusion.
Chris filled Buck in on what he'd overheard and talked about with Vin in the barn.
"Dang, that's hard on the little guy." Buck sighed, "What are you going to do?"
"Been thinking about that since dinner." Chris rubbed the back of his neck a sign he was unsure about what he was about to say. "My first impulse it to buy a couple of plane tickets to San Antonio for Sunday."
"Gonna be expensive this late," Buck said neutrally.
"Course it couldn't hurt to look. Maybe call Ezra. He always knows how to get the best deals."
Chris looked up from the floor, "It couldn't hurt."
Buck tossed him the cordless phone, "So call already. JD and I can hold down the place for a couple of days. This is important."
After a short conversation with Ezra, Chris hung up looking slightly amused. "He's going to look into it. Says he has some possibilities. I had a thought; do you think I should call Major Carpenter? He probably won't be able to get leave on such short notice, but I thought it might be a nice gesture to invite him."
"Can't hurt to call."
"You need a new phrase Buck," Chris said before heading into the den to look up Major Carpenter's phone number.
Wednesday was fairly quiet. Josiah and Ezra had asked for some personal leave time, which Chris felt slightly guilty about granting. He hated for them to use it on something that should be his responsibility. Ezra made it clear that Agents Standish and Sanchez were asking their boss for the time so that Uncles Ezra and Josiah could take care of personal business. While the statement confused Nathan and Josiah a bit, it sent Buck off into laughter. It also helped Chris with his guilt.
About three o'clock the office received a jolt when Judge Travis appeared. The Judge rarely came down to the offices of the teams. Instead he called them to him. With a nod to Nathan he waved a hand at Buck, "Agent Wilmington, join me." With that the Judge marched into Chris' office. With one stunned look at Nathan, Buck followed. Inside Chris was on his feet waving the Judge into a chair. Buck dropped into the other.
"So what can we do for you Orin?" Chris asked once everyone was settled.
"Evie informs me that you've found Rebecca Tanner's body and that you intend to bury her on Friday. She also tells me that at the same time Buck here is having Rachel Dunne moved to the same cemetery and re-interred. Is this true gentlemen?"
Chris and Buck shared a confused glance before Chris nodded, "Yes, we are. It's the same cemetery where we buried Sarah and Adam. We thought the boys deserved a nice place for their mothers."
"Very commendable. I wish you'd felt like it was something you could tell me." The Judge shifted in his chair, "It looks bad when Evie knows things I don't and should." The last bit was said in a rueful tone and the stern look melted from Orin's face.
"How did she find out?" Buck wanted to know.
"Nettie Wells called her. I think those two talk more than we know."
All three men shared slightly guilty looks at that thought.
"Anyway," Orin stood up, "I just wanted to let you know that we'd be there."
"Uh, be there?" Buck asked.
"At the funeral of course. Evie said to tell you that Nettie, Inez and her would take care of the reception afterwards."
"Afterwards?" Buck squeaked.
Chris was on his feet now, "But Orin we didn't plan to have a reception. We were just going to have a simple ceremony."
"Well, if you want it stopped you'll have to call Nettie and my wife yourself. See you Friday. Oh and you might as well take the whole day off." Judge Travis left behind him two stunned men.
"A reception." Buck looked over at Chris, "Now we have to explain that to the boys."
Chris opened a drawer pulling out his giant bottle of aspirin. Offering it to Buck after getting his own two, he said, "So, it's close to lunch, ready to go look at headstones?"
Buck swallowed his own tablets and nodded, "Might as well."
Friday was overcast as if the world was mourning with two innocent children. Buck and Chris had kept both boys home for the day. Both boys were fairly quiet all morning. Once in a while JD would ask a question about what was going to happen at the cemetery. Buck tried his best to answer, but he himself didn't know too many of the details. Once Ezra had hooked up with Nettie and her group the arrangements were totally taken over by them. Chris and Buck were told that the service itself would be at three, handled by Josiah at the gravesite. Afterwards Nettie and the other women had arranged a meal at the nearby Rocky Mountain Women's Club building. So at two-thirty Chris, Buck and the boys headed over to the cemetery.
What they found surprised them. Not only the Judge, Evie and Inez were there, but also the Torres family, Mrs. Roquette, Miss Lottie, the Cochran's, Mrs. Cooper and a few others that neither man recognized. The front row of chairs had four seats waiting in front of two copper caskets. There were flower arrangements from the ATF, Denver PD, Boulder County, and one from Major Carpenter.
Ezra greeted them, guiding the men and boys to the waiting chairs. The two boys were seated between Chris and Buck directly in front of the caskets. Ezra knelt in front of them, taking the hand of each child. "Gentlemen, just so you know which is which, the casket in front of you contains your mother." Both boys nodded silently. JD leaned closer to Buck who put a reassuring arm around his shoulders. Ezra stood to take his seat next to Chris. Nathan and Rain sat beside Buck. Behind the boys the Judge, Evie, Inez and Nettie formed another protective barrier. At a nod from Ezra, Josiah stepped between the two caskets.
Clearing his throat he said, "We are gathered here today to honor two women, Rachel Dunne and Rebecca Tanner.
"When I was asked to speak today at first I wondered what I could say about women I had never met. What did I know of them that I could share. Then I realized I actually know a great deal about these women.
"They share many traits. Both were mothers, who dearly loved their sons. Both did their very best to take care of those sons. And both were taken from this world much too early in life. In their sons they have left behind a precious gift.
"I know that JD's big heart and joyous outlook on life come from his mother. Vin's mother endowed him with great strength of heart and compassion. As these boys continue to grow into strong honorable men, we can know that one of the main reasons they will is the foundation of love both received from their mothers. So Rachel, Rebecca, we thank you, for the love you instilled in these boys that they now share with us. Let us pray.
"Lord, we come before you today to honor two who you have already had in your care for some time now. We know you've already found them a special place with you. Now we commit their remains to a special place here on earth. Amen."
There was silence for a moment except for the clearing of throats. It was Ezra who finally stood to address the crowd. "Refreshments have been provided. If you will follow Judge Travis' car, he will show you the way. The family will be along shortly." Everyone took the hint, until only Team Seven, Rain and the boys were left. Ezra nodded to the two silent boys, "I thought perhaps they might like some time alone with their mothers. We will see you at the reception. Please, though, do not feel you need to attend. If it looks like they need to go home everyone will understand."
"Thanks Ezra." Buck stood with JD cradled in his arms and walked over to Rachel's casket.
"Yes, thank you Ezra, this was perfect," Chris said.
"Oh, one more thing," Ezra pulled an envelope out of his pocket. "The plane tickets you needed. I caught a last minute deal."
Chris nodded again, before turning to Vin. Kneeling down he asked, "Vin, do you want to go say anything to your Mother?"
Vin nodded, then whispered, Chris had to lean close to catch the words. "Of course you can, I'll wait right here okay." Chris sat back down watching as Vin walked over to the waiting casket. Buck and JD had finished their goodbye and joined him. JD was sniffling slightly, almost asleep.
"Saw Ezra hand you something," Buck said quietly as they waited for Vin.
Chris removed the envelope, "Sunday afternoon. We come back Monday night." Shaking his head he returned the envelope to his pocket. "There's even a note inside that says it's cleared with the Judge."
"Quick trip," said Buck, "But at least that way, Vin won't have to miss another day of school."
Vin came back and without saying a word climbed into Chris' lap.
"I think these two have had enough for today." Chris studied the limp form in his lap.
"Yeah, let's go home."
On the way they called Ezra's cell. He promised to make their apologies and bring by some dinner.
Chris waited until later that night to tell Vin about the purposed trip. He wasn't sure how the whole thing would be perceived at this point. Surprisingly it seemed to actually cheer Vin up.
"We're going to visit my borned Dad for Memorial Day?" Vin looked excited.
"Yes, we will fly out on Sunday. I talked to Major Randy and he said that he was sorry he couldn't be there."
"That's okay, maybe next time."
"Maybe next time," Chris promised knowing that he'd do whatever he could to make sure Vin got to make this trip whenever he needed to.
Buck and JD saw them off at the airport with JD promising Vin that he would make sure to put flowers on Vin's Mama's grave tomorrow. He also promised Chris to take some to Adam and Sarah.
The flight was smooth, Vin spent most of it playing an electronic Tetris game and smiling shyly at the flight attendants whenever they offered him something. In San Antonio as they departed the plane Chris was surprised to see two men in uniform holding a sign that said 'Larabee and Tanner'. Carrying a half asleep Vin on his shoulder Chris approached the men. Both were younger looking to be in their late twenties. One was a tall slender Hispanic, the other would have looked like a blond beach bum if not for the uniform. At Chris' approach they snapped into attention.
"I'm Chris Larabee," Chris nodded at the sign. "Can I help you gentlemen?"
"Mr. Larabee," the Hispanic man stepped forward, "I'm Corporal Juan Garcia, this is Corporal Ben Miller. You don't know us sir, but we knew Sergeant Tanner. When we found out you were coming to visit his grave we took it upon ourselves to meet you." Corporal Garcia looked over to Miller.
"That's right sir, we were hoping to be of service while you're here," Miller added. "We have a car outside and can take you anywhere you'd like to go. We'd also like to go with you to the cemetery tomorrow. Then if the kid there would like it, we thought we take him around the base. Show him where his daddy worked."
As ex-military himself, Chris wasn't all that surprised by the offer. It was clear that both men had looked up to Sergeant Tanner. Shaking Vin's shoulder slightly he asked, "Did you hear the gentlemen's offer Vin? Would you like them to show us around tomorrow?"
Vin looked up for the first time, spearing the two Corporals with his blue eyes. "You knew my borned Dad?"
"We sure did," Garcia said in a gentle tone. "He was a great man, taught both of us a lot."
"Pleased to meet you," Vin solemnly stuck out his hand. Garcia shook it then stepped back to allow Miller the same privilege.
"You've got your old man's grip, kid," Miller said.
Vin smiled at the compliment. He looked up at Chris, "I think I'd like that just fine."
The way the tension drained out of the two men told Chris how much Vin's agreement had meant to them.
"We're parked out here, sir," Juan pointed toward the exit while Ben shouldered the duffel and suit bag Chris had been carrying.
"Better make it Chris, every time you say 'sir' I start looking for my boss."
"Hey, Vin, I bet you're hungry aren't you?" Juan asked as they walked toward the suburban parked outside.
Vin nodded, "Yep, they just had pretzels on the plane."
"I'd like to invite you both to my home for dinner. Ben's wife and mine have been cooking all day. That is if you're not too tired."
"Sounds good to me, how about you, Cowboy?" Chris sent a questioning look at Vin who looked excited at the prospect.
"Great, I've got a boy just a couple of years younger."
"Explains the car seat then." Chris said.
Dinner was a delicious. Afterwards while Vin played with Juan's son, Tony, Chris asked the two men why they were going to so much trouble.
"Well, I don't know if we should tell Vin about it, but we were both there the day Sergeant Mike died," Ben said. "I was one of the men helping him dig the men out."
"And I was one of the men trapped," Juan said quietly. "If it wasn't for the Sarge, I'd probably be dead."
"We were both brand new privates at the time, barely out of basic. Sergeant Mike sort of took us under his wing. Taught us the stuff they don't cover in basic." Ben raised his glass in a silent toast. "He was a great man. Guess part of it too, was, we wanted to meet you. Major Carpenter said you were a good man, but well," he trailed off looking embarrassed.
"You needed to see for yourself." Chris nodded, "I understand. I'm ex-Navy. Spent 10 years in the service, was a SEAL."
"Well, now, we won't hold that against you. Not everyone can be army," Ben said.
The three men's laughter drew Vin and Tony's attention. Recognizing the slightly owlish stare that indicated Vin was getting tired Chris called a halt to the evening. The Millers dropped them off at the hotel with arrangements to meet at nine o'clock.
Vin woke up feeling excited and guilty at the same time. He still wasn't sure that he should be excited to see his borned Dad's grave. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt Chris' feelings. In this mood he was sitting cross-legged on the bed brooding when Chris came out of the bathroom.
"Hey." Chris sat down on the bed. He'd been expecting Vin to have second thoughts at some point. "Feeling uncertain about today?"
"Yeah." Vin looked up checking to see if Chris was upset.
"Vin, it's okay to want to see where your Dad is buried. It's okay to ask Corporal Miller and Corporal Garcia questions about him. Can I tell you a secret?"
Looking curious Vin nodded.
"I'm kind of excited to learn about your Dad, too. He's part of the reason you're such a great kid. I want to get to know him, too."
"Really?" Vin's face lit up.
"Really." Chris reached over and ruffled his hair. "Just be honest with me and yourself today partner and everything will be okay. I promise."
"Thanks, Dad." Vin stood on the bed and threw his arms around Chris' neck in a huge hug. Letting go he hopped off the bed yelling, "I have to get ready," before dashing into the bathroom.
Chris took the opportunity to call Buck. After explaining about the night before and the day's plans, Chris shared the morning's discussion. Buck offered encouragement and support, which in some strange way helped. Chris hung up feeling prepared to face the day.
Juan and Ben picked them up promptly at nine. Juan drove straight to the cemetery, navigating the place as if he'd been there before. Chris figured both men probably had. Parking, Juan turned back to look at Vin and Chris. "The Sarge is buried over there under that tree." He pointed at the appropriate one. "Take your time, we'll wait here."
Chris nodded his thanks as he helped Vin from the SUV. Once they were close enough for Vin to see the stone, Chris stepped back giving him some privacy. Vin stood for the longest time talking to the stone. Finally he looked back and motioned to Chris to come over. When Chris stood next to him, Vin took his hand. "Dad, this is my borned Dad, Michael Tanner. Daddy, this is my new Dad, Chris Larabee. He says he's gonna take care of me now since you and Mama had to go. He's a real good Dad, he makes sure I have enough to eat and a warm place to sleep. He likes horses just like you and he helps and protects people just like you did. He says one of the reasons I'm such a good kid is because I've got Tanner blood." Vin looked up at Chris, "I told my borned Dad all about you and Buck and JD. I wanted him to know that I'll be okay."
Chris had to clear his throat before he could speak. "I bet he was glad to hear that."
"Yeah, and I asked him to look after Sarah and Adam for you since your taking care of me."
Chris picked Vin up holding him close. "That was a pretty nice idea pard. Thanks."
If Juan and Ben saw any traces of tears on either Chris or Vin they kindly ignored them. The tour of the base was a delight for Vin, seeing where his dad had worked and lived. All the soldiers they met went out of their way to make the little boy's tour special.
It was a tired, yet happy boy that Chris would put to bed than night. The day had so exhausted Vin that he wasn't quite awake as they got ready to board the plane. Ben and Juan each got a mumbled thank you from Vin and contact information from Chris. The two waved goodbye, content that young Tanner was in good hands.
Everyday Heroes Index
Next: Adventures in Babysitting
Comments: Gina D