ATF "Little Britches" Universe
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
Note: This fic is based on something that happened to a colleague of mine some years ago. Thanks to Kerry for the beta work.
"You do? That's great um, hang on." Buck put his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone. "Chris!" he yelled.
Chris leaned out from the kitchen, where he had been cleaning up. "Yup?"
"What ya got planned for Saturday?"
Larabee shrugged. "Why are you asking?"
Buck's beloved classic truck had been rear ended in a freeway shunt, the other driver's insurance company were paying for a new fender, but finding one for the 1950 Chevy short bed was proving to be a bit of a problem. Buck had chased down at least seven leads so far, only to find it was sold or the wrong model or the wrong date. Chris had tried to point out that so long as it was close to the right specifications no one would notice the difference. But Buck was a perfectionist about his truck, so he had kept searching, even though it was keeping the truck off the road, and he loathed the anonymous sedan the insurance company had supplied until his truck was roadworthy again.
"I found a fender for the truck, way up north of Bolder, I'd need t' borrow the Ram to go get it."
Buck turned back to his contact and began writing down directions.
"I was thinking," Chris began as they drove home from work on Friday.
"Careful there Stud, don't strain anything," Buck joked.
"Funny About tomorrow, do you think you could take JD with you?"
Buck frowned. "Well sure, why?"
"Was thinking, the weather's gonna be good and I'd like to take Vin out for a ride. It's not like I don't like having the little guy around, it's just that "
"He's never still and he's never quiet, I know," Buck finished. "It's okay, I understand, you two are gonna go do your silent thing together."
"Our silent thing?" Chris raised his eyebrow.
"Yeah, you two just like to sit and be together - or ride - but JD can't do that yet, it's cool, we'll have fun."
Friday had been hot, Saturday promised to be hotter, so Buck and JD set out early. JD was as good as gold, reading his books, playing with the games he had brought and looking out of the window. On Friday evening he hadn't been too happy when he found out Vin was going to go on a picnic ride with Chris, but Buck promised him they'd have fun and he'd take him out for a ride on Sunday. He was further placated by being allowed to stay up later than normal to watch a second DVD on Friday night. What he didn't know was that keeping him up late was a ploy on Buck's part, he was hoping JD would sleep for some of the drive. They continued north-west, past Bolder and up into the mountains, eventually finding their way to the little settlement of Cannon Ridge. Cannon Ridge was a 'one horse - one street town', there was a church, a store, a diner, a bar and a garage - Mike's Garage and Repair Shop.
"Hey son," Buck called over his shoulder as he pulled the big truck into the forecourt. There was no response; JD had finally fallen asleep, his little head resting on the window. "Come on JD, time to wake up."
The little head lifted off the glass. "Are we there yet?"
Buck tried not to laugh, JD didn't know it was a cliché. "Yeah we're here."
Mike Wind turned out to be a jovial Native American who'd served in army at the same base as Buck, though they hadn't been there at the same time. The sale of the reconditioned fender didn't take long. With their business concluded, Buck and Mike began to talk trucks, their joint passion. JD stood quietly beside Buck, one arm wrapped around his leg, giving him some security was he gazed around the workshop.
"You want to see my trucks?" Mike asked Buck.
"Sure, if you got the time?"
Mike laughed. "Believe me, around here, there's always time, if I didn't have the trucks to work on, I'd go mad, come on."
Behind the garage was a rambling single story house and a couple of old barns. Mike led them to the older looking one. Inside were three trucks similar to Buck's in various states of repair and two that were not much more than rusty hulks. Buck looked at the second truck; it had no tires, no fenders, the body so rusty it was hard to tell what colour it had once been.
"See that one Little Bit?" Buck squatted down.
"That's what my truck looked like when I first got her."
JD's eyes grew wide with amazement. Buck's truck was all shiny and clean. "Wow," he breathed.
Just then there was a commotion outside, children's voices, dogs barking. "Excuse me a moment." Mike walked back to the yard.
"Buck?" JD asked.
"Is Mr Wind a real Indian?"
Buck smiled. "Yes he is"
"Cool," JD gasped in awe.
Buck took his hand. "Come on." The two of them followed Mike out into the sunshine.
Mike had six children, the oldest was nine the youngest only three months, they had four dogs, three cats, five horses, several pigs, chickens and ferret called Norman. Buck and Mike spent the rest of the morning talking trucks and tinkering with trucks. JD made friends with his children and their pets, Mike's wife gave them lemonade and cookies, and while they ate, her mother told them traditional stories.
Buck had enjoyed his trip and impromptu visit with a fellow lover of classic trucks, but was beginning to think he had imposed too long and it was time head out, when there was an ear splitting scream, a scream Buck recognised instantly. He was up and running in a second, his hosts hot in his heels. Even before they reached the pigpen, where the scream had come from, JD was walking toward them grinning, the older Wind children following him, looking somewhat sheepish. JD was covered in mud from head to toe.
"What in the world?" Buck asked, once he relaxed, seeing that JD appeared to be unhurt.
"I was playing with the piglets and one got away, and I chased it." JD examined his hands and knees.
"Sorry Dad." Mike glared at his eldest.
"Bit late to be sorry now son." Mike turned to Buck. "There's a shower in the mud room, I'll ask Karen to find some of the boys old clothes for him."
Buck pulled his attention away from the mini mud lark before him. "Don't worry about the clothes, I got a spare set for him in the truck," he explained.
"Ah, a seasoned parent," Karen commented with a smile, as she came out to see what all the commotion was about.
"Yup, a whole seven months."
"Seven months?" Mike queried.
"JD's my foster son." He looked back down at the grinning mud lark beside him. "Come on Little Bit, let's get you cleaned up."
Half an hour later they were on the road again headed back toward Denver, Karen Wind tried to make them stay for lunch, but Buck didn't want to impose and besides he had a perfectly good picnic in the back of the truck. He had planed to stop at a well known recreation area, but Mike gave him directions to his family's favourite and secret picnic spot. It was a little further on, closer to Denver, and off the beaten trail, but it proved to be a wonderful spot. Higher in the mountains, and thus much cooler, it was an idyllically pretty clearing in the forest beside a shallow, slow flowing stream of crystal clear water and soft fine shingle bed. Buck had put the picnic together himself and it was full of all their favourites, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips, jerky, chicken wings, cookies, mini doughnuts, soda, apple juice and in a single nod to healthy eating, grapes and strawberries.
Buck lay back on the rug and patted his belly. "Ah."
JD copied him. "Ah," he sighed.
"That was one fine picnic," Buck commented.
"It's not all gone," JD pointed out.
"Well I couldn't eat another thing." Buck stretched out and placed his hands under his head, enjoying the pleasantly warm, dappled sunlight.
JD copied his father and managed to remain still for whole twenty minutes. Then he began to fidget. "Can I 'splore?" he asked.
Buck sighed, well, twenty minutes wasn't bad for JD. "Ok, don't go in the water and stay where I can see you." With that he sat up so he could keep an eye on the small five year old.
JD explored happily for nearly an hour, finding rocks, leaves and bugs that interested him and Buck rapidly acquired a collection of 'really important' treasures to look after.
"Can I look in the river now?" JD asked, as he stood in front of Buck, after bringing him a particularly large worm.
Considering how black JD's little hands were - again - a trip to the stream was going to be a necessity, so Buck agreed. "Come on then, let's go."
They both took off their shoes and socks and Buck rolled up JD's pants past his knees, then did his own. Though it was cooler where they were, it was still hot. Inevitably their pants got wet, but only a little. Time slipped by until Buck realised it was past the time he had planned to leave.
"Come on you, we have to be heading home." He headed for the bank.
"Aw, do we have to?" JD asked, giving Buck his puppy dog eyes.
"Yes, we do."
Buck sat down to pull his socks on; he didn't see the mischievous look that came into JD's eyes. The little boy squatted down in the water, heedless of the fact that more and more of his clothing was getting wet. Suddenly Buck was showered with water droplets.
"Hey!" he exclaimed.
JD giggled and flicked more water at the man he had come to love and trust above all others.
"Oh I see, you want to play rough," Buck teased, he leaned forward and flicked water right back at the little imp, who was now giggling and laughing hysterically.
Fifteen minutes latter Buck was well sprayed with water and JD, who had over balanced and fallen back into the shallow waters, was soaked to the skin. Buck lifted the dripping, happy child up and held him at arms length. "So what am I gonna do with you now?"
"Don'ts know," JD admitted, still smiling.
Buck shook his head. "Come on, we'll think of something."
There wasn't much for it really, JD had no dry or clean clothes left to put on, it was a hot day, and as soon as they got lower it would get even hotter. The Ram had tinted windows, so Buck just striped JD of his wet clothing, except for his little under shorts and strapped him into his child seat, JD didn't mind, he had no inhibitions about nudity at all.
They had been back on the road for about an hour, JD was fast asleep, his head lolled, rocking gently back and forth with the movement of the truck as Buck pulled in to a get gas. The gas station was one of the kind that let you pay for the gas at the pump with a credit card, so he once he had opened up the door to check on him, Buck let JD sleep on. Filling the tank didn't take long, and minutes later they were on the road again - but not for long. Not twenty miles down the road the Buck noticed red and blue flashing lights in the read view mirror, not one but two patrol cars were following him. One car passed him and slowed, the other closed up behind him.
"What the hell?" Buck hissed, when he realised he was the one the cops wanted to pull over.
As he pulled in the patrol cars took care to park so close he couldn't leave until they moved, this he knew was a tactic used only for very serious offenders. What ever they wanted, it was more then a simple speeding ticket. As soon as he was stopped, Buck looked over his shoulder at JD, who was still fast asleep.
Uniformed officers were approaching the Ram on both sides and from both vehicles, hands resting on their guns, ready to draw them.
"Place your hands on the steering wheel were I can see them, Sir," the closest officer called.
Putting his hands on the wheel Buck tried to explain. "Look I don't know what's going on, but I'm a "
"Would you step out of the vehicle Sir."
Now Buck was getting pissed. "Look, officer." He lifted his hand away from the wheel and instantly both the officers beside the driver's door pulled their guns.
"Get out of the truck now!" The patrol man ordered.
Buck's first instinct was not to obey.
"Now Sir!" The second policeman shouted.
But he knew things were getting too tense, he didn't need JD seeing him being dragged out or - God forbid - bullets flying, so slowly and carefully opened the door and got out. Once he was outside, he was instructed to place his palms on the hood and spread his legs.
"My name is Buck Wilmington, I'm a federal agent and my badge is in the wallet," he explained, trying to remain and sound calm.
It didn't take long for the officer to find the ID.
"Can I get up now?" Buck asked.
"Look, what is this all about?"
"Is this your vehicle?"
"No, but then you probably know that, it belongs to my boss, Chris Larabee, I borrowed it."
The sound of a car door opening got Buck's attention. He looked up to see a uniformed officer opening the door beside JD.
"Leave him alone," Buck called out instinctively.
"Sir, please come with me," the cop closest to Buck instructed. Then before he could react, his wrist was grabbed, pulled behind his back and a handcuff snapped on. "Stand up and give me the other hand."
For a second Buck resisted, but then he remembered JD, whatever was going on was a mistake and could get sorted out. He was led away to the patrol car parked behind the Ram.
"Sir, if you'll get into the car we'd like to ask you some questions," one of the officers instructed.
When the local police had received a report of a man transporting a naked child in the back of a truck with tinted windows, they responded instantly. The whole sheriff's department had recently undergone training in how to identify and deal with suspected child abuse.
JD felt someone shaking him, he didn't want to wake up, he was comfy and tried, but the shaking continued. Eventually he opened his eyes. He had expected Buck to be beside him, or possibly Chris, but it wasn't Buck or Chris.
"Who are you?" JD asked.
"My name's Bob." Bob pulled off his cap and smiled. "And I'm policeman, see?" He pointed to his badge. "What's your name?"
JD had been taught not to speak to strangers, but he was allowed to talk to policemen. "I'm JD."
"Do you have another name JD?"
The little boy looked puzzled. "My name is Bob Yamada, and you are JD ?"
"Dunne," JD filled in happily, then his smile faded. "Where's Buck?"
"Well he's talking to one of my friends," Yamada explained. "Can I talk to you?"
JD frowned, he wasn't so sure. "Buck's an ATF agent," JD informed Bob seriously.
"I know that, that's a special kind of policeman isn't it?"
"JD is Buck your father?"
JD shook his head. "He's my Buck," he announced proudly.
"I see." Yamada wasn't sure what that signified, his training hadn't covered children who had 'Buck's'. He tried another question. "What about your mother? Where's she?"
JD's smile disappeared and he hung his head. "She's dreaming of angels." He sighed deeply, then looked up at the kindly Japanese officer. "You don't wake up when you dream of angels," he explained sagely.
To his credit Yamada understood instantly. "Thats true, I'm sorry JD. Can you tell me where you live?"
"At Chris' ranch with him and Vin."
"What about Buck, were does he live?"
JD though that was a very stupid question. "At the ranch of course."
Yamada asked what the address was, but JD wasn't sure. "Ask Buck, he knows," he suggested brightly. "Is Buck still talking to your friend?"
The young police man nodded. "JD, if Buck isn't your father, do you know were your father is?"
"I don't got a father, neither does Buck, we're two of a kind," JD announced happily, brightening up considerably.
Putting this information aside, Bob moved onto the main point. The real reason he was there. "JD where are your clothes?"
Suddenly JD looked nervous, was he in trouble? Was falling over in a pig pen and having a water fight against the law? He tentatively pointed to the heap of muddy and wet clothing on the floor of the cab.
"I didn't mean to get all muddy and wet, I'm sorry," he added, when the policeman looked at the heap suspiciously.
Buck was working hard to keep his temper, he'd told them, coolly and calmly that he was JD's foster father. Yet, because it was Saturday, finding someone to verify the fact was proving some what difficult. He pointed out that the child seat in the car was well used, as was the booster seat beside it. He told them to look in his wallet, where he kept pictures of not just JD, but Vin, Chris and the 'uncles' as well. Chris wasn't answering, he and Vin were no doubt still out riding, worse - his cell was off line, probably because there was no signal, where ever they were. Nettie wasn't answering either, though they left a message on her machine.
"Look just call the guys, they're all federal agents, call Travis," Buck demanded.
"Sir we will investigate, if you're story checks out then we'll be happy to let you go, but you must understand, we have to investigate this."
"Investigate what? What law did I break? None, I used to be a cop, I'm a federal agent, I know my rights!"
"Sir, please calm down, or we will have move this to the station."
Buck forced himself to get his temper under control. "Look, could we at least have some professional courtesy here and take the cuffs off?"
"Sorry sir, its procedure."
Buck looked around him, not one of the officers was more than about twenty five, or so it looked to him. Too young, too eager and too insecure to think outside the box. he lamented silently.
"Well your procedures better not be scaring my son," he warned. "Because if you do, I'll make sure you all get busted back to cadet."
With Buck's warning ringing in their ears the officers moved away from the patrol car. While he watched the young cops trying to decide that to do, Buck found himself thinking how sad a state of affairs it was, that a man couldn't take care of his son without the worst being thought. Was this how his life would be from now on? Until JD was all grown up, would people look at him with suspicion, just because he was a single man in the company of a child? He was already contemplating getting a copy of the official documents giving him custody of JD, and carrying them everywhere he went. Did people look at Chris this way, or did Larabee look like a real father, did he somehow put out the right, safe, 'real dad' signals, which he, the confirmed bachelor, didn't?
Bob Yamada showed JD the pictures from Buck's wallet and asked him to tell him about the people in the pictures.
"Who's this?" he asked.
"Thats Vin and Peso, Peso's his horse, I'm too little to have a horse of my own and it's not fair 'cause I can ride real good but Buck lets me ride with him and Beau. Have you got a horse?"
Yamada was caught of guard by the sudden question. "What was that?"
"Do you have a horse of your own?" JD asked again, slowing his speech the way his teacher did when some of the children at school didn't understand her.
"Oh, no, no I don't." Trying to get the conversation back on track, Yamada flipped to the next picture. "Who's this?"
JD grinned. "That's Uncle 'Siah, Uncle Naffan and Uncle Ezra, they're the best uncles," he assured.
It was clear to Yamada that the men were not related, so he assumed they were friends of Wilmington. The next picture as of smiling blond man on a black horse.
"Chris and Pony."
"Is Chris Vin's father?"
"He's his new dad, not his born dad 'cause he died when Vin was little." JD looked up from the picture, gazing trustingly at the young policeman, with huge hazel eyes. "Vin's mama is dreaming of angels as well," he informed him solemnly.
Bob Yamada flipped to the last picture a rather tatty black and white shot of a pretty woman with dark hair. "And who's this?" he asked JD.
"That's Buck's mama, she's in heaven," JD explained sadly, then he looked up and smiled. "But she's watching us, me and Buck and so is my mama."
"Okay little guy, you just sit tight a moment." Yamada stood up.
"Where's Buck? I want my Buck," JD stated firmly.
"He's just behind us, in the police car. You sit still and be a good boy and I'll be back soon, okay?"
JD didn't think it was okay at all, but he'd been taught to be polite to adults and to respect authority figures such as police officers.
"Ok," he reluctantly agreed.
The young officers were in a quandary, their call to the AFT to check on Buck's badge number hadn't been returned yet, but it looked genuine to them.
"Mind you, just 'cause he's a fed don't mean he can't be a pervert," the youngest cop, who's name was Schmidt, pointed out. "I mean look at all of them priests."
"I reckon he's on the level," Yamada stated. "That kid is bright, smart and seems very happy, he didn't show any of the signs they told us to look for. He told me all about his family - this guy and the others, Vin and Chris."
"Chris, as in Larabee, the guy who owns the Ram?" Schmidt clarified.
"I guess so. Any way I reckon it's just like he told us, the kid's his foster son, all above board. Everything they say checks out, not one inconstancy. I say we let him go."
JD was worried, he could see the policemen, but not Buck, he hadn't seen his father once since he woke up. Grown up's didn't always tell kids the truth, he knew that. What if there was something wrong with Buck and on one would tell him? He'd told the nice policeman he's stay in the car, but he hadn't promised. Making short work of the buckles, he released himself from the car seat. Turning around he looked over the back seat toward the patrol car behind him. He could see someone in the back of the car, but not who it was. Well there was nothing for it; he was going to find his Buck.
The ground looked a very long way down. JD had never got out of the Ram on his own; normally someone lifted him down. Undeterred, he climbing down on to the floor, turned around and backed out of the door, lowering himself, still dressed in nothing but his under shorts, down onto the side of the road. Then he set off for the car. Not one of the police officers, standing just feet from him, saw anything.
Buck had been trying to watch the cops and keep an eye on the open door of the Ram, as luck would have it he missed JD's escape. Then suddenly there was a thumping on the door beside him and a dark mop of hair and two huge hazel eyes appeared at the window.
"Buck!" JD called desperately, trying to open the locked door.
Ah hell! "It's okay Little Bit, just stay there, don't move, promise me you won't move!" Buck shouted.
Visions of JD running out on to the road flooded his head. Despite the futility of his situation Buck struggled against the hand cuffs. Even as he did, Yamada appear beside the car and took hold of JD's hand. Instantly JD began to panic.
"Le' me go! I want Buck! Le' me go! I don't like you, you were mean t' Buck, you let him go!" With that he sank his sharp little teeth into the hand that held him.
The door on the far side of the car had opened. "Get me out of these, now!" Buck demanded twisting to present his cuffed hands to the young cop.
They all joked about Chris' glare, but when he was pushed too far, no one glared like Buck.
Buck turned around some more, so he could be released, then shot out of the car, knocking the cop over on his backside in the process.
JD was still kicking, hitting, and biting Yamada, all the while calling for Buck. In a second Buck was there and snatched his son from the uniformed policeman. The effect on JD was instantaneous; he calmed, wrapping his arms and legs around Buck.
"Hush Little Bit, I'm here, Buck's got you," Buck soothed.
At that moment a cell phone rang, it turned out to belong to the cop Buck had just knocked over.
"Groves hello? What? Oh right, okay, thanks for calling." He put his phone away. "That was the ATF head office, they confirmed his badge number and ID," he explained to the others.
"So is that it?" Buck asked. "Are we done with this?"
The four young men looked at each other and then almost as one, nodded. "You have to understand," Yamada began. "It did look suspicious, what if it hadn't been your truck, what if someone else had taken him?"
"Is someone gonna take me away?" JD asked in a tremulous voice.
"No, no one, youre my little boy now - right?" Buck promised.
"Right," JD confirmed, instantly assured.
Buck put JD back into the Ram and shut the door.
"Now you lot listen to me!" He rounded on the four young police man. "I got no beef with you tryin' to protect little kids from the kinds of monsters who would prey on them. But there are ways to do it. And protecting kids also means making sure they're safe, keeping them off the roads! And," he glared at Yamada. "Not scaring them by talking in front of them about things they don't need to hear! Do I make myself clear?"
"Protecting kids is a specialisation, it's not something you do on the road side, like a speeding ticket!"
"Yeah? Well it's a little late for sorry now, expect your boss to be hearing from me."
Chris didn't know what to say to make Buck feel better. Once the two of them had made it home JD had lunched into a rapid fire, colourful description of their day including the encounter with the police. Vin had been enthralled.
"See the policeman thought Buck wasn't my Pa and he had took me, so, so they made us stop. But Buck told them the truth and they let him go. Buck said they were only doing their job, they didn't know I was Buck's now and so no one can take me."
Once the two boys had been put to bed and were sound asleep, Buck poured himself a large measure of whiskey, and downed it in one, then poured himself another one.
"Come on, let's get some air, I need to lock up and check the horses." Chris put a hand on Buck's shoulder. "Bring your drink."
Buck nodded and followed him outside. While Chris locked the various outbuildings and took one last look at the horses before he closed and locked the barn, Buck lent on the corral fence, drank his whiskey and looked at the mountains, illuminated by the strong moonlight.
"How are you doing?" Chris asked.
"I honestly don't know," Buck admitted. "I was scared and angry and disgusted or ashamed or oh I don't know." He looked up at the stars. "What kind of a world are we living in? I mean, when I was a kid I ran about all over the place, I never felt unsafe. My Ma told me to watch out for the road, not people, and we lived in some really bad neighbourhoods."
"It was different then, or, more likely it wasn't any safer then than now, but we, or our parents, perceived it as different, safer."
"Maybe, but do I look like a pervert - no don't answer that one, I know they can look like anyone. But," he turned to face Chris. "when I walk down the street with JD, what do people see, a man and his son or a monster and his victim?"
"Does it matter? So long as JD is happy and safe and thriving, does it matter what other people, strangers, see when they look at you? Your friends, your family, we know the truth, Nettie, the Judge, the boys teachers, they all know the truth."
"Know what truth?"
"That you're a good father."
"Yes, and don't you doubt it." Chris turned toward the house. "Come on, you promised to take JD for a ride tomorrow, you know what that means don't you?"
"A small dark haired alarm call at five A.M.?"
"If not earlier."