The Fair #6
Making the Call

by Angie

Follows A Voice for Maddie

Buck’s story finally popped into my head along with Chris’s, which will be along after a while.

It was a sunny Saturday morning and Buck whistled as he poured a cup of coffee. JD was off camping with Casey and some of her friends so he had the whole place to himself. Kendra had left in the wee hours of the morning, having to get to the airport for her next flight and Suzanna wasn’t due in until later in the evening. After his coffee, he was planning to go for a jog around the complex.

Coming back up the sidewalk after his jog, Buck noticed Michelle and Melissa, the twins who lived in the unit downstairs from him. He had taken their mom to work a couple of times when the beat up old jalopy she drove broke down. The girls were about six and absolutely identical twins, he had often joked with Megan about how she managed to keep them straight. As he got closer to the girls, he heard one of them sniffling back tears.

“What’s the matter, sweetheart?” he asked as he stopped next to the retaining wall where they were sitting.

“Missy fell and skinned her knee,” Michelle answered.

“Wow! That looks like it hurts! Do you need a hand back to your place so your mom can fix it up for you?”

“She’s not home, she went to see one of her friends,” Missy volunteered.

Without pausing to consider what the child had said, Buck scooped Missy into his arms and headed for the elevator. “I’ve got some Band-Aids at my place.” In a couple of moments, he had the girl sitting on the kitchen counter as he carefully trickled water across the scrape, washing out the granules of dirt imbedded there. Missy hissed and whimpered but never moved as Buck attended to her. He used the pump spray medicine that he knew would numb the skin before applying a large bandage. As he leaned back in the chair to admire his work, he looked up at the child’s tear streaked cheeks. “Not too bad, was it?” Missy shook her head, her blonde hair flying this way and that as she swiped at the wet streaks. In the quiet of the apartment, Michelle’s stomach rumbled loudly. The other blonde covered her face with her hands as she blushed.

“E’scuse me,” she said softly.

“Sounds like you could use some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a big ol’ glass of milk,” Buck said to the little girl. After setting Missy on the chair he had been using, he gathered the ingredients for the sandwiches. It took only a few moments to make several and he cut them into triangles and put them on a plate. He poured each of them a glass of milk and put down napkins in place of plates for each of them. The girls attacked the sandwiches like it was the last food they were ever going to get. Buck refilled the glasses with milk and picked at the crust on his sandwich. When Michelle reached for another triangle, he noticed several small, fingerprint looking bruises on the fair skin.

After the sandwiches were devoured and the girls helped to clear off the table, they decided that they should go back out and wait for their mother. Buck told them to stop by any time when he was home and watched them as they ran happily up the hall. He heard a car door an hour later and looked out from the balcony. A rusty, beat up looking Chevy stopped at the curb and Megan got out looking like she had been out all night and was just coming home. The girls raced up the sidewalk and although he couldn’t hear what they said, he saw the woman’s eyes tighten as she scowled at them. Megan cocked her hip and spoke to the girls and their happy expressions quickly disappeared. Buck watched as the car peeled away from the curb, mentally noting the plate number. When he looked back to the sidewalk, the girls and their mother had already gone inside.

That evening, the fair Suzanna took Buck’s mind off of all his problems. When he awoke on Sunday morning, he heard the shower running. The buxom redhead came out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her torso and gave him a wink. After they dressed, they shared a cup of coffee before she had to grab a cab and get to work. As he was cleaning up in the kitchen, Buck’s eye fell on the box of Band-Aids that were left over from treating Missy the day before. On impulse, he picked up the box and the spray bottle and headed downstairs.

The television was playing loudly in the background when he knocked on the door to the apartment. A small voice called out asking who was there. When he’d identified himself, the door opened only as far as the chain would allow and a pair of soft brown eyes looked up at him.

“Michelle?” Buck asked.

“No, I’m Missy,” the blonde said as she giggled into her shoulder.

“I brought the Band-Aids and the Bactine for your knee in case your mom didn’t have time to get any for you. Here, take them and tell your mom I brought them. Okay?”

“Okay. Thank you, Mr. Wilmington. Momma’s sleeping right now. I’ll tell her when she wakes up,” the girl said as she took the items from Buck’s hand. Michelle peeked around her sister and smiled shyly at the tall man. Buck smiled back and then waved as they closed the door.

After spending the afternoon at the ranch with the team, minus JD, Buck arrived home after dark. Sitting in his doorway was a new box of Band-Aids and a bottle of Bactine. A note stuck in the box thanked him for his taking care of Missy. Buck carried the items into the apartment and sat them on the counter.

A couple of nights later, Buck heard a car burning rubber in the street and looked out. Recognizing the same car that Megan had gotten out of on Sunday, he shook his head. He had run the plate and knew that the young man was trouble. From the speeding tickets to a resisting arrest citation, he was not too far from prison. Letting the curtain drop from his hand, he turned back to the television.

It would be a couple of weeks before Buck would see the girls again. An urgent knocking in the middle of the night had him stumbling out of his room, gun in hand. He looked out the peephole and saw Megan standing in the hall, one of the girls draped over her shoulder. Waving JD back to bed, he opened the door.

“Mr. Wilmington, I didn’t know where else to go. She’s burning up and I need to take her to the hospital. Can you watch Missy for me?”

“Watch Missy? How are you getting to the hospital?” he asked as the woman strode past him pulling the other girl.

“I was gonna call a cab … or an ambulance. I don’t know, she’s so hot!”

“Give me a minute to get dressed and I’ll take you,” Buck said as he rushed back to his room.

A half hour later, Buck was sitting in the waiting area with Missy while the doctor was seeing Megan and Michelle. Missy was asleep in the chair next to him. He stepped away from her for a minute to get a soda out of the vending machine. When he sank into the chair again, he found a pair of brown eyes watching him.

“Are you thirsty?” Buck asked, seeing her eyes locked on his hands. When she nodded, he dug in his pocket and pulled out a handful of change. Missy’s eyes lit at the sight and she slipped from the chair. At the bank of machines, she stared for a long time at the snack machine. Remembering the way the girls had attacked the sandwiches he made, he dropped coins in the machine and punched the buttons to get a package of crackers with cheese spread. He could almost hear Nathan grumbling about the quality of the food in the machines and knew that this was the least objectionable selection. From another machine, he got her a bottle of juice. They returned to their seats and Missy dove into her snack. When she finished, he took her to the restroom to wash her hands. Megan came out of the examining room to check on her other daughter. She leaned against Buck’s chest for a moment before Michelle cried out for her and she rushed back to her side.

The sun was coming up by the time Michelle was discharged from the hospital. It turned out that she had an ear infection that was causing her to spike a temperature. Buck stood with Missy in his arms as the nurse explained to Megan about the medication. Megan nodded repeatedly and pocketed the prescription paper. Once they got back into the truck, Buck asked where she wanted to stop to pick up the medicine. She gave him a confused look and told him that she would have to pick it up later when she had some money. Buck stopped at the pharmacy and held out his hand for the paper.

“I don’t have the money with me, just take us home, please?” Megan pleaded.

“You can pay me back later.”

He took the prescription into the pharmacy and dropped it off to be filled. While he waited, he strolled around the small store. He picked up a few things for the girls, bottles of juice and freeze pops. By the time they rang everything up, the total came to almost fifty dollars. He carried the bag out to the truck. Megan asked him how much she owed him and he told her not to worry about it. He helped her get the girls to her apartment and headed upstairs to get ready for work. JD had just left the shower when he got in the apartment.

“Hey, Buck, how’s Missy?”

“She’s fine, it was Michelle that was sick. Let me get a shower and then do you mind driving us in today? I’m positively whipped,” Buck said as he kicked off his shoes.

That evening when he arrived home, JD dashed off on a date with Casey and Buck went down to check on Michelle. He knocked on the door and waited. He could hear the television playing, so he knocked again. Finally, the door opened to the end of the chain again.

“Missy, is you mom home?”

“No, she went out.”

“How is Michelle feeling?” Buck asked as his hackles rose.

“She’s asleep now but she threw up a little while ago,” the child announced.

“Can you open the door? I’d like to see Michelle.”

“I’m not supposed to let anyone in.”

“I’m sure your mom won’t mind. She knows me.” Buck waited for the little girl to make up her mind. Finally, she opened the door and let him inside.

The apartment was laid out identically to his own but where his was cluttered, this one was downright filthy. Beer cans and bottles lay wherever they fell. Several ashtrays were filled to overflowing with butts. The sour stench of trash permeated the living room. Michelle lay on the couch, a partially cleaned up puddle of vomit still lay on the carpet. Her little face was flushed and her eyes were bright with fever. Buck didn’t hesitate, he gathered the child in his arms and left the apartment with Missy hot on his heels. In his rage, he didn’t register that the little girl was protesting the move, vehemently.

“Momma will be mad, Mr. Wilmington. Please take her back! I’ll get in trouble! Please?”

He settled Michelle on his couch and stormed to JD’s bedroom for a blanket. Folding it in half and half again, he tucked it in around the fevered little body. As he headed into the kitchen, he picked up the cordless phone. He speed dialed Nathan as he filled a bowl with cool water.

“Nathan, it’s Buck. Listen, I need you to come over here right away.”

“Is something wrong? Is JD all right?” The medic was instantly worried.

“No, JD’s fine. My neighbor’s little girl is … she’s burning up, Nate.”

“I’m on my way,” he promised as he hung up.

By the time Nathan arrived, Buck had bathed the little girl’s face and limbs and she was cooler. Buck left Nathan with the girls and went down to their apartment for clean clothes for Michelle and her medicine. He glared distastefully around the apartment. He found clothes for the girls and went into the kitchen to look for the medicine. Opening the refrigerator, he clenched his jaw to keep from yelling in his rage. Aside from the juice he had bought that morning, there was only the bottle of medicine and several bottles of beer in the refrigerator. Snatching up the bottle, he turned and opened the cabinets. With the exception of a bottle of soy sauce, there was nothing else in the apartment that might be considered edible. He found an envelope and a crayon and wrote a note for Megan telling her where the girls were.

Returning to his apartment, he handed Nathan the medicine and knelt down beside Michelle. The medic had washed her up and propped her up on a pillow taken from JD’s bed. Missy ran out of the bathroom and tugged on Buck’s arm.

“You have to take us back! She’ll be home soon and she’ll be mad if we’re not there.”

“I left her a note that you were here with me so she won’t worry. Relax, it’s okay,” he assured the frightened little girl. Nathan touched his shoulder and motioned him out of the way so he could give Michelle the medicine. Afterwards, Buck coaxed Missy into laying on the other end of the couch with her sister. He followed Nathan into the kitchen so they could talk.

“What are you going to do with them?” Nathan asked.

“I don’t know, Nate. You should see their place,” Buck shuddered as he spoke. “There’s no food down there. I made them sandwiches once and they ate like they were starving.”

The medic rubbed Buck’s shoulders in an effort to ease the tension he could see in the loving man’s body. He knew that it was tearing Buck apart to know that those beautiful little girls were being mistreated.

“You need to report this.”

“They’ll take them away from her,” Buck protested.

“Would that be worse than leaving them in that place? Buck, she left a sick child in the care of a six-year-old. How many times do you think she goes off and leaves them at home alone?”

Buck dragged his fingers through his hair. They had all heard the horror stories of the foster care system. The team had participated in an adoption fair nearly a year ago. It had really touched all of them but Buck hadn’t really found any way to help. Not like Nathan, who was mentoring a young man or Ezra who had become an advocate in the family court. Even Vin and JD had gotten involved with children in the community. Finally, he nodded.

“I’ll call Nettie.”

After Nathan left, Buck picked up the phone and called the caseworker. By the time JD arrived home after his date, Social Services was just arriving to pick up the girls. The older woman was not very friendly looking and Missy began to cry. Buck picked her up and tried to comfort her. Another worker and four Denver police officers went down to survey the apartment. The worker carried a plastic bag full of the girls’ clothes when she returned.

“All right, Mr. Wilmington. We’re going to take the girls to the hospital for a check up and then they will be delivered to their foster home. I know this is going to be difficult for you but you must not speak to their mother,” the senior worker said as she handed him a card. “I’ll be in touch.”

The other worker reached out and took Missy from Buck’s arms. The girl screamed and clawed at the ATF agent. Finally, Buck took her back into his arms and nodded toward the door. The police officers split up, two in the front and two in the rear as they carried the girls to the waiting gray sedan. A beat up Chevy pulled up and Megan got out, screaming for her girls. Missy saw her mother running toward her and buried her face in Buck’s shoulder.

“Where are you taking them? Those are my children! What’s going on? Where are you taking my children? You can’t do this!” Megan screamed as two of the officers prevented her from getting within arms reach of the girls. Buck leaned down and pried Missy’s hands from his clothes.

“I don’ t wanna go, Mr. Wilmington! Where are they takin’ us? I’m scared!” The little girl’s eyes pierced Buck’s soul as she pleaded for him to help her.

“They’re going to take you to a safe place. You’ll be taken care of and have plenty to eat. You be a good girl now, okay?”

Buck watched helplessly as the car drove away with the girls. In the background, he could still hear Megan screaming at him. JD stepped around the police officers and took his teammate by the arm.

“Come on, she’ll only keep yelling if you stand here,” JD said as he tugged on the larger man.

In the morning, Buck was dismayed to find that someone had keyed the sides of his vehicle. The tires were all flat and eggs had dried in various places. After making a police report, JD drove Buck to work. The team was supportive. Nathan had already advised them of the situation so they knew what had precipitated the agent’s dour mood. Before lunch, Buck got a call from the caseworker and gave his statement. He was relieved to find that the girls were placed together but the woman wouldn’t say where. Buck arranged for a rental car and asked JD if he wanted to stay with Ezra or Vin so that Megan wouldn’t vandalize his Mustang. The young man agreed to leave his car at Ezra’s place but he insisted on staying in the apartment.

For the next few days, Buck and JD were kept busy cleaning up the rental car and replacing the windows in the apartment. Because no one saw the damage being done, the police were helpless to stop it. The owner of the building informed Buck that he had evicted Megan and was putting up video cameras in an attempt to stop her from breaking any more of the windows.

After a mostly quiet weekend, the team was preparing for a surveillance case when ADA Travis entered the offices and closed the door to Chris’s office. A few moments later, Chris was heard screaming and slamming his hand on his desktop. Travis’s voice was too softly pitched for them to hear what was being said but after a few more minutes, both men came out of the office. They approached Buck’s desk and stood there. Chris threw another pleading look at Orin before he sighed resignedly.

“Buck, turn in your gun and badge, you’re suspended until further notice,” the blond said.

Shock, rage and disbelief rolled across the faces of the other five men as Buck rose and pulled the Glock from its holster. Ejecting the clip and clearing the round in the chamber, he placed the gun in the center of the desk before dropping his badge case next to it. No hint of emotion showed on his face as Buck turned to get his jacket.

“Agent Wilmington, I need to speak to you in my office,” Travis said.

“Should have said your piece before he suspended me,” Buck fired back before striding out of the offices. JD bounced on his heels with indecision before hurrying around his desk.

“Hold your position, Agent Dunne. You’re still on the clock and you have a job to do,” Orin commanded, freezing the young man in his tracks. JD looked from Travis to Chris and his face tightened in anger as he watched Buck get on the elevator.

“As the team’s representative, I have the right to know why he was suspended,” Ezra challenged. Travis pinched the bridge of his nose, he knew why Standish was their representative, he used words like a sword, cutting to the heart of any matter and parrying any attempt to cut through to the men he protected.

“A young woman alleges that he threatened to have her children taken away if she didn’t have sex with him and the children in question were later removed by Social Services,” Travis said.

“You know that isn’t right! Those kids were being left alone, sick and without food in that filthy apartment!” JD protested.

“He will have a chance to present his side at the hearing tomorrow afternoon. I’m sorry, but that was the soonest I could put it together,” Orin said as he looked from one man to the next. In the highly charged atmosphere, he felt very much unwanted and excused himself. An explosive thud startled all of them as Nathan kicked his desk.

“Take it easy, Nate,” Chris cautioned.

“Take it easy, my ass! I’m the one who told him to make the call. I didn’t want to get involved with it.”

Unnoticed by the others, Ezra had taken a seat and was on the phone. He scrawled some notes as he listened to whoever he’d called. After a while, he hung up the phone and began to issue orders.

“JD, you will be receiving an electronic file in a few moments, please print the photos as soon as possible. Nathan, I will need to take your statement. Vin, when you have a moment, would you be so kind as to go to Mrs. Wells’ office and pick up the envelope she is preparing for me? Chris, will you contact Travis and get the suspension in writing? I will be taking some time this afternoon to prepare Buck’s defense.”

Enraged and hurt beyond belief, Buck tossed back another shot and motioned for the bartender to bring him another. He was still smarting from the fact that they had suspended him. For doing the right thing! His mind protested. His cell phone rang and he pulled it from his pocket. Seeing that it was Chris calling, he laid it on the bar and left it. A few minutes later, it rang again, Ezra this time. Tossing back another shot, he continued to ignore the phone until it stopped ringing.

“He won’t answer for me either,” JD said dejectedly.

“He is a man of deep feelings,” Josiah said, “And right now he is hurting deeply.”

It took several minutes for the cell phone company to triangulate Buck’s location. Chris scribbled the address on a Post-it and grabbed his coat.

“O’Shaughnessy’s,” he said as he headed for the elevators.

A pleasant buzz had begun in Buck’s head as he ordered another drink. The bartender pretended not to notice for several minutes until he saw the mustached man reach under the bar for the bottle he knew was there.

“Slow down, mister. It’s a mite early in the day to be so deep in the cups, isn’t it?”

“Do the right thing. Make the call. My responsibility,” Buck slurred as he pulled the bottle onto the bar and unscrewed the top. “And get suspended for my trouble.”

“And appearing hung over at the hearing will not endear you to the board,” Ezra said as he took the bottle and handed it back to the bartender. “A pot of strong, black coffee, my good man, and keep it coming.” When dark blue eyes queried, the southerner smiled. “It simply wouldn’t due for the girls to see you drunk.”

Ezra had pulled some strings and made a few phone calls and found out who the advocate was that was representing the girls. The woman was pleasant and surprised that Buck was being punished for making the call that got the children removed from their home, there had been several other calls on them from other concerned neighbors. She gave Ezra the address on the understanding that the girls not know that Buck was there. Until his hearing was over, he couldn’t talk to them but there was no harm in him watching them.

A few hours later, Buck and Ezra sat in the Jag watching Missy and Michelle playing with a Springer Spaniel puppy in the yard of their foster home. Tears filled Buck’s eyes as a pleasant looking woman came out of the house with snacks for the girls. She glanced up, briefly making eye contact with the two men in the car before turning her attention back to the girls.

“She saw us,” Buck said.

“I know. She knew we were coming,” Ezra explained.

The next afternoon, all of Team 7 gathered to offer support for Buck. Ezra had his folder ready and coached his teammate repeatedly to remain calm during the questioning, no matter what they asked. Travis had already told them that the hearing was a formality but a necessary one since the woman had made the charges and would not back down.

Buck fought to control his temper as Megan took the stand. She told them how he had propositioned her on several occasions. She talked about him taking the girls into his apartment and giving them sandwiches but she stopped short of accusing him of any impropriety toward her daughters. Her most damning statement was about him paying for the medication when Michelle had been sick. She implied that he told her that she owed him.

“He said that he had connections and that he could have them taken away from me. I had to sell my car to get the money to pay him back and when I got home, they were already there taking by girls. What was I supposed to do? He and his friends could do whatever they wanted and I can’t do anything!”

Ezra stood confidently when Megan’s attorney took his seat. He picked up the stack of folders he’d had JD copy for him and handed them to each of the men on the board before handing the last one to Megan herself.

“Ms. Fulton, could you tell me where the first photo was taken? And before you answer, look at the certification on the lower right corner. The photo was taken by a Social Services worker in the presence of four Denver police officers who are right outside waiting to be called to testify. Never mind, the next photos were also taken in your former apartment. Ms. Fulton, how long were your children alone when Mr. Wilmington carried your daughter up to his apartment? Long enough for her to have thrown up, leaving her sister to try to clean up the mess? It was almost four hours before Social Services arrived after they received the phone call. How long before that had you left your daughters alone?”

Megan seemed to curl in on herself as Ezra’s voice hissed the truth. She glared at Buck before tipping her face up and refusing to answer. It took less than ten minutes for the inquiry board to decide the charges were unfounded and restore Buck to regular duty.

The team celebrated at the saloon that night. Buck was just relieved that the charges had been dropped. He was still miserable that the girls had to be taken away from their mother. As he sat staring forlornly into his beer, Ezra nudged him.

“Mrs. Peterson said that the girls would love to see you and I took the liberty of having you certified as a visiting resource for them,” the southerner said. “I also took the liberty of making an appointment for you on Saturday at ten in the morning.”

“You sure are quick about taking your liberties with me,” Buck said just loudly enough for his teammates to hear. Ezra blushed to the tips of his ears as JD dissolved into giggles.

“Something you want to share, Brothers?” Josiah asked as he tossed a wink toward JD, who toppled off of his chair, holding his stomach as he continued to laugh.

The End