"What are you still doing here, Ezra? You finished your report an hour ago." Chris sounded irritated but his concern for his undercover agent showed on his face. "Aren't you going to be missed?"
"Even villains get time off," Ezra responded sharply, then his demeanor relaxed. "I assure you, Mr. Larabee, I am not expected back for several hours."
Chris turned his gaze out the window as if he could see all the 'bad guys' who might be on Ezra's tail.
"I changed my appearance twice on the way here, my mode of transportation four times. I was not followed," Ezra declared confidently.
"So," Chris began as he turned his full attention back to his agent, "what can I do for you?"
Ezra sank slowly into one of the chairs in front of Chris' desk. Clearing his throat, he began, "Mr. Larabee, I have heard a rumor circulating regarding the future of the team."
Chris held up a hand to stop what he knew was coming. "Ezra..."
Ezra copied the gesture. "Mr. Larabee, please, let me continue."
Chris sighed. He had known that keeping this type of issue quiet was nearly impossible but he had had his hopes. He rolled his hand in the air signaling Ezra to go on.
"I would like to offer myself as the sacrificial lamb, so to speak. My experience in undercover work would make it relatively easy for me to locate alternative employment. The other members of the team have much more to lose by their termination. Nathan has Raine's medical school bills that they have barely made a dent in. Josiah practically single-handedly supports the church he spends so much effort on. And, well, Buck...and you...well, there are the boys to consider." Ezra took a deep breath and Chris could tell the words to come were coming at a price. "I am the only logical choice for dismissal from the team."
Chris closed his eyes as he took a deep breath and gathered his thoughts. Folding his hands in front of him on the desk, he opened his eyes and looked into Ezra's. "Nothing has been decided about what's going to happen yet, Ezra, but when and if that decision does come down, I can't make my choices based on who can or can't afford it. I have to do what's best for the team."
Ezra nodded. "I believe that what I am suggesting is what is best for the team. I am the one who primarily works alone so it would be least disruptive to the dynamics of the team to have me removed." Ezra actually looked hopeful that his arguments were being taken seriously.
Chris didn't want to deal with this. One of the worst things about being in charge was being the one called upon to make such decisions. Sometimes, he wished to be the low man on the totem pole, just coming in every day, doing his job, then going home.
"Ezra, nothing has been decided yet but when and if it does, I'll take what you've said into consideration." It was a brush-off, and Chris knew it. He just hoped that Ezra didn't.
"Thank you. I'm sure once you've reviewed the facts, you'll see that this is what's best for all involved." Ezra stood up. "I will continue in my present assignment to its completion, of course."
Ezra stopped him with a raised hand. "I understand nothing has been decided, but just so you know..."
Chris nodded. "Thank you, Ezra."
He tipped his head once then turned towards the door.
"Be careful out there."
Ezra turned back. "As always."
"Keep this to yourself?"
Ezra tipped his head again before he opened the door and took his leave, the door pulled silently closed behind him.
Chris sighed heavily as he leaned back in his chair. "Oh...god...," he moaned. He had anticipated that the rumors would fly over what was discussed at the meeting, but, damn, word got around fast.
"We're home, boys," Mrs. Potter announced as she turned off the engine of her car. It had been a typical ride with JD filling in most of the narrative. She got out of her car and helped the boys by holding their bookbags until they were out of their car seats.
"What do you want to do now, Vin?" JD asked as they entered the house.
"I've got some homework to finish," Vin told him.
"Awww. Don't you wanna go out and play? Can't you finish your homework later?"
"I just wanna get it done so I don't run out of time."
JD sighed loudly. "Okay."
"You boys ready for a snack?" Mrs. Potter asked.
Vin's stomach grumbled a little, used to having something at this time of day but he thought about how, when they lived on the streets, they needed to stretch out their food supply because they didn't know when more would come in. Thinking that Chris and Buck were running out of money, he decided to help stretch out the food by not having any more "extra" food. "I'm not really hungry right now, Mrs. Potter. Maybe a little later, okay?"
"Are you feeling all right, Vin?" she asked, concern in her tone.
"Yeah, Chris just packed a big lunch for me an' I'm still full from that." Vin hated lying to the people who meant the most to him but he couldn't tell what he had overheard, either. He wanted to help the family and if he had to tell a few lies to do it, he would.
"Okay. How about you, JD?"
"Well, I'm hungry so I wanna snack," he declared.
"Okay, dear. Go have a seat at the table and I'll get you a glass of milk and a few cookies."
"Yay!" JD scooted over to the table and climbed into his chair.
Vin knew that it was a waste for JD to have a snack. They had lived on a lot less food before and they could do it again. But he didn't want to tell JD what he had heard because he knew it would scare the younger boy to think they would have to go back to living on the streets. He would just have to make up for the food JD ate by eating less himself.
"Vin, why don't you go change out of your school clothes," Mrs. Potter suggested.
"Okay," Vin replied and made his way to the boys' bedroom, his backpack slung over one shoulder. Once in his room, he pulled the apple and banana that had been part of his lunch out of his pack and set them on the bed, intending to return them to the fruit bowl in the kitchen at his earliest opportunity. As he began to take off his pants, he emptied his pockets like he'd been taught. The unspent coins from lunch filled his palm and he tried to think of a way to get them back to Chris and Buck. He couldn't just hand them over, they would ask questions.
He thought about putting them in Chris' coat pocket or in the pocket of Buck's jeans but he knew the men would probably remember leaving money there. He thought about putting it in the swear jar. No one ever knew how much was in there until they pulled it out to count it and spend it. But then, the money wouldn't be going towards keeping the house. They had spent the last swear jar money buying the bullet proof vest for Denver police dog, Officer Zeus and they adopted Milagro. No, the money had to be for preventing them from having to go back to living in the warehouse.
Vin continued to change his clothes as he thought. As he was zipping up his jeans, he remembered Chris kept a little pile of change on his dresser where he emptied his pockets from work. He'd just toss his coins into the pile and hope Chris didn't notice that the amount there was changing. Grabbing up the coins again, he snuck into Chris' room to leave them for his dad.
"Chris, are you busy?"
"No, Nathan. Come on in." Chris turned from his computer terminal and faced his agent, an inkling of a notion of why the man was standing there.
Nathan entered the office and pushed the door gently closed. "I just wanted to talk to you for a minute."
"Before you start, Nathan, can I say something?"
The man stopped short in front of the big desk. "Sure," he agreed, bobbing his head slightly.
"I think I know what's on your mind and I have to head you off right now. Nothing has been decided yet and when it does, I'll have to make the best decision I can for the good of the team. Okay?"
Nathan looked confused for a moment before he spoke. "Sounds good, Chris, but I was just going to ask if there was a problem with me taking off now. Raine's just finished a double shift and her car won't start. I thought I might take a look at it before we call a tow truck."
Chris looked dumbstruck. This was not the conversation he was expecting. "Oh, uh, well, yeah, sure, go ahead."
"Okay, thanks." Nathan stood shuffling his feet a moment before he spoke again. "About that thing you were talking about."
"Oh, no," Chris groaned as he buried his face in his hands.
"I've heard the rumors, Chris, and I want you to know that if you have to make that decision, and if I'm the one, I'll be okay. The city rezoned and will be adding a new fire station soon. I could get on as an EMT. I know some of the guys already lined up to go there and they'd put in a good word for me. My certifications are all up to date so I think I have a pretty good shot at it."
"No, just so you know, you know, that I'd be all right...you know... if it's me."
Chris blew out a breath and lifted his head, slowly opening his eyes to stare at his agent. "Thanks, Nathan. I appreciate that."
Nathan nodded again. "Sure. Well, I'll be heading out now."
"Okay. Good luck with Raine's car. Let me know if I can help. And, uh, keep this quiet."
"I will. Won't say a word. Thanks." Nathan turned and left silently.
Chris watched as his office door closed and he leaned back in his chair. "At least that's everybody. I won't have to have that conversation again." Chris closed his eyes and rubbed a hand down his face.
"They all did?" Buck asked, amazed. He shifted in his seat to stare at Chris behind the steering wheel.
"Yep. One by one, all three stopped by and volunteered to be laid-off." Chris drove his truck almost on auto-pilot, having made the trip from work to home hundreds of times. "I hope it wasn't you who let the word out," Chris added with a slightly reprimanding tone.
Buck shook his head. "I didn't say a word to anyone. I swear it." Buck held a hand up in pledge.
"Okay," Chris said, trusting his friend.
"You're not going to lay them off, though, right? I mean, we decided that it would be me, right?"
"No, Buck, no one has decided anything."
"But Chris, what we talked about last night, I thought you thought it was a good idea?"
"I thought it was a workable idea but I can't make this decision based on that, you know that."
"Aww, Chris, I already had my heart set on joining the PTA, or doin' some volunteer work at the school with all those single moms." Buck waggled his eyebrows. "Maybe joining an afternoon bridge club."
"You don't know how to play bridge."
"So, I'll teach them how to play poker."
"Don't break out the cards yet, Pard."
Buck threw himself back into the seat and threw up his hands. "But, Chris, it makes so much more sense to make it me!"
"Buck," Chris stopped him. "I don't want to talk about this anymore. Okay?"
Buck turned his hands into a gesture of appeasement. "Okay, okay. Not another word."
"Thank you," Chris said sharply.
"You're welcome," Buck replied and turned his attention out the front window.
"I just wish Travis would tell us something."
"I thought we weren't talking about it."
"We aren't...I'm just saying..."
Buck grinned at his friend. "Okay."
"JD's in watching television and Vin's in the boys' room," Mrs. Potter informed the two agents as they entered their house.
"They aren't fighting, are they?" Buck asked.
"No, Vin just had some homework he wanted to finish up."
"Hmmm," Chris mused, "that doesn't sound like my boy." He smiled as he left the room to go find Vin.
"Dinner's ready, it's just in the oven staying warm," Gloria said.
Buck looked around the room. "I see JD helped set the table again," he laughed as he saw the haphazard way the silverware was placed.
"He did. He's a good helper. Neatness will come." Gloria gathered up her things and headed for the door. "I'm in kind of a rush this evening. Say 'good-bye' to the boys for me?"
"Sure thing, Gloria. Have a good evening." Buck watched her exit the room and then went off to locate JD, finding him sitting on the couch in the den. The TV was on but all of JD's attention was on a book propped open in his lap.
"Whatcha readin'?" Buck asked as he stepped up beside the couch.
"Hi, Buck!" JD leapt up and swung his arms wide, disregarding the book that fell to the floor.
Buck reached out and grabbed up the little boy in a hug. "What were you reading?"
"A book I gots from the libary at school. It's about trains."
Buck shifted JD a little so he could look at him face to face. "When did you get interested in trains?"
"Well, you an' I gots that neat train set and Mr. Beidler was telling us about when they built the trains to come out west so I just wanted to read some more."
"Well, that sounds mighty fine, JD . Learn anything cool?"
"The book I was looking at is mostly pictures but I gots another one that tells stories of when they builded them."
"Sounds great. Maybe we could read that one together?"
JD smiled big, happy to share. "Yeah."
"Vin," Chris said softly as he tapped on the doorframe to the boys' bedroom.
"Hi, Chris." Vin looked up at the man in the doorway, a sad look on his face.
"Having some trouble with your homework?" Chris asked as he moved into the room.
Vin shrugged then rested his elbows on the table and his chin in his palms. "Not really, just thinking."
"Anything you can tell me about?" Chris took an uncomfortable seat in one of the child sized chairs.
Vin looked briefly up at Chris then back down at the table. He knew he should just come out and ask about what he had heard. He didn't think Chris would be mad that he had overheard since he didn't do it on purpose. And, Chris had said before that it's better to ask than to feel bad about something. But Vin just couldn't get himself to voice his fears. He was sure it would scare him more to find out that they were going to have to go back to living on the streets.
Finally, Vin shrugged again. "Naw, guess I'm just thinkin' I don't wanna do my homework." Chalk up another lie to a loved one.
"Need some help with it or just having trouble concentrating?"
Vin glanced up quickly then looked back at the book and papers in front of him. "Concentratin'."
"Well, why don't you take a break. It's just about dinner time. You can come back to this after we eat and see if you can tackle it any better, okay?"
Vin nodded sadly, pretty sure that it would be just as hard to concentrate after dinner.
Chris pushed himself to his feet and turned to leave the room. Spotting the two pieces of fruit sitting on the bed, he reached down and picked them up. "What are these for?" he asked, showing Vin the fruit.
"Uh, well, after school, I couldn't decide which I wanted so I grabbed one of both of them but when I got to my room, I guess I forgot about 'em."
"Okay, I'll put them back. Come on out to dinner."
"Okay." Vin sighed and looked down at his feet. Tack on one more lie.
Vin lay wide awake in his bunk. He had managed to focus enough to finish his homework after dinner and to spend a little time playing with JD. In between the evening activities, he tried to think of ways he could financially help his family.
He thought about trying to get a job himself but wasn't sure if seven year olds could do that.
He thought about trying to organize another bake sale like they had done before but knew he'd have to come up with a good reason or Chris wouldn't let him do it.
Then he thought about selling some of his things. He had lots of toys and he knew some of them were worth quite a bit. He wasn't quite sure how to go about selling them, especially without Chris or Buck finding out. Maybe he could take some of the small ones to school and see if his classmates would buy them, or maybe the teachers would buy them for the whole class to share. After school tomorrow, he would go through his toys and find ones to sell.
Deciding he'd made a plan that would help, he finally drifted off to sleep.
Chris glanced out into the bullpen. All the desks were empty. Buck had just left to deliver some paperwork to the district attorney. Josiah and Nathan were giving depositions and Ezra was still undercover and not due to report back in for days. Chris smiled briefly as he thought of the boys saying Uncle Ezra was "under covers".
Taking one last look to make sure the coast was clear, Chris stood and left his office, on his way to personnel. The possible decision hanging over his head was making him very uneasy. He knew that when the word came from the higher-ups, they would want immediate action. Chris did not want to make a hasty decision. He got the personnel files of all him men, intending to review them along with the case files from their work as a team. He hoped, somewhere in all that paperwork, would be the sound basis for cutting out a member of his family.
Vin stared down at the half a sandwich and apple from his lunch. He had told Chris that one of his classmates was having a birthday today and would be bringing in cupcakes for those in his grade level so he didn't need a full lunch but that JD's grade level wasn't included so JD needed a regular lunch. Another lie. Vin sighed and wondered how many he'd have to tell.
He looked up at all the kids around him, wondering if he'd still be able to attend school if he was living in a warehouse. He spotted Eli Joe and Freddie, the two boys he'd had an adversarial relationship with practically since the day he started at this school. His thoughts immediately went back to the previous week when he and JD had put skunked dog fur in their backpacks, ruining their lunches. He hadn't meant to ruin anything, just get back at the boys for being mean.
The ruined lunches came back to his mind. Last week, he was just remembering the past, how food was not to be wasted. Now, just a week later, it might become his reality once more. He found himself standing up and walking over to the two boys.
"What do you want?" Eli Joe sneered. He knew one of his teachers was standing close by so he didn't say what he was really thinking.
"Just wanted to say I'm sorry for ruinin' your lunch last week," Vin told him solemnly, then glanced at the other boy. "You, too, Freddie."
"You done told us that before, dummy."
"I know but it ain't right to waste good food 'cause you don't know when it'll be gone."
Eli Joe scoffed. "Yeah, right."
Vin stood looking sadly down at the two boys. He knew it was hard for someone who never had to scrape together an existence on the streets to understand what it was like.
"I'm sorry," Vin repeated before he turned and slowly walked back to his spot at the table.
Mrs. Roquette watched the sad little boy make his way back to his place and take his seat. She had heard Vin apologize this second time to the other two children and couldn't help but wonder what had prompted it. She also noted the size of the child's lunch and wondered if there was a problem at home. A call to Mr. Larabee might be in order.
"Hey, Chris," Buck said from his spot leaning in the door to Chris' office. "I just wanted to let you know I was back."
"Okay," Chris responded absently.
"Something wrong?" Buck asked, stepping into the room. "You hear something?"
Chris shook himself and focused on Buck. "Not about what you're thinking. I just got a call from Mrs. Roquette."
"Vin or JD?" Buck asked as he sank into a chair.
"Vin. Seems he apologized again today to those two boys for ruining their lunches last week."
Buck raised his eyebrows. "Well, that was...uh...nice...of him."
"She wondered why he wasn't eating so much for lunch the last couple of days. I told her that he told me this morning that one of the kids was bringing in cupcakes today and he didn't need a big lunch. She told me no one brought in anything special."
"Why would Vin say that?"
Chris shook his head. "I don't know. It's not like him to make things up."
"Maybe he's just not hungry," Buck speculated. "We've been trying to fatten him up since we found him. Could be he's meant to be skinny and you and I both fuss over him too much to eat more."
"I don't know," Chris doubted. "He's not one to lie."
"Well, sitting here wondering isn't going to help. Just ask him about it tonight." Buck pushed himself back to his feet.
Before Buck returned to his own desk, he asked, "Hear anything about that other thing?"
Chris huffed out a breath
"Sorry," Buck grinned, enjoying ruffling his friend. "Just asking." He quickly sidled out of the room.
Chris stared at the door for a moment then slowly lowered his eyes to the folders strewn across his desk. "Sorry...yeah...sometimes I'm sorry I took this job," he muttered as he tried to straighten up the mess.
Vin looked down at the meager pile in front of him. There wasn't a lot there but the toys that were were some of his favorites, and they would fit in his backpack so he could get them out of the house without answering any questions.
While he was rummaging around in his stuff, Vin remembered his stash of money that he'd collected from gifts and doing extra chores. He never had to spend much money because Chris and Buck paid for everything he and JD needed and then some. Vin had decided to leave his money, in small increments, in places that Chris or Buck would find it and think it was theirs. His first plan had him dropping a five dollar bill on the closet floor in Chris' room, hoping Chris would think it just fell out of a pocket at some point. Checking the hallway to make sure Mrs. Potter or JD wasn't around, Vin snuck into Chris' room.
"Gloria, has Vin been acting strange the last couple of days?" Chris asked the family's sitter shortly after he and Buck had gotten home.
"How do you mean?" Gloria asked in response.
"I'm not sure...secretive...upset...anything?"
"He's been spending a lot of time in his room. He says he has homework. I didn't think to question him about it. Is something wrong?"
"I'm not sure," Chris admitted. "I got a call from one of his teachers and she said something about him not eating and being a little preoccupied."
"Not eating, hmmm?" Gloria rubbed her chin. "He's turned down his afternoon snack the last couple of days. Says he had a big lunch."
Chris shook his head. "Something's going on and I intend to find out what."
"Be gentle," Gloria advised though she knew he would never be anything else with the child.
"Vin?" Chris said, seeing the boy crouching down in the depths of his closet.
Vin turned to look at the man towering over him. He hadn't known that Chris had gotten home.
"What are you doing?"
Vin sat back on his heels and stared dumbly up at Chris. Suddenly, the lies had dried up and he had no idea what to say.
"Come on out here," Chris instructed then moved across the room to sit on the end of the bed. Vin sat still for a moment, then slowly stood up and stepped hesitantly out of the closet, stopping just inside the room. "Come over here," Chris said softly. Slowly, Vin stepped over to stand in front of Chris.
Chris gently took Vin's hands into his own and rubbed their backs with his thumbs. Looking at their joined hands for a moment, he asked, "What's going on with you, Vin?"
"Nothin'," Vin responded too quickly.
"Your teacher called me today..."
"You don't have ta 'dopt me," Vin blurted out.
Chris looked both confused and stunned. "Wha...what do you mean? Vin, I'm not gonna stop the adoption."
"But you don't gotta 'dopt me. Buck's gotta still 'dopt JD 'cause he's little an' he wouldn't understand. I know it costs lots to 'dopt and you don't gotta 'dopt me." Vin spoke rapidly, stumbling over some of the words but the meaning got through to Chris.
"I don't understand, Vin. I thought you were happy about the adoptions." Chris tried to comprehend the turnaround in Vin's attitude.
"I can get a job," Vin declared next.
Chris shook his head, the subject change way too quick. "Why?" he finally asked.
"For money, so I can help."
The light bulb suddenly shone brightly in Chris' head as the meaning of Vin's comments made sense. He straightened up and nodded slightly. "Vin, did you hear Buck and I talking the other night?"
Vin froze, eyes wide, afraid of what Chris would say next. He didn't want to hear that he and his family would lose their home. Frantically, he bolted from the room. Chris barely had a chance to stand up before he heard the door to the boys' room slam shut. Rushing to follow, he was forced to stop when the doorknob refused to turn.
"Vin, open the door, please," Chris said in a calm, gentle tone. He knew how upset Vin was and Chris wanted him to know that he was not upset with him. Chris jiggled the knob again. "Please, Vin." Chris stood still, listening, for several moments. When it became obvious that Vin was not going to let him in, he sighed heavily, put one hand on either side of the door frame and leaned forward until his forehead rested on the door.
"Talk not going well?" Buck asked softly from a spot nearby. He'd come to investigate when he heard the door slam.
Chris didn't lift his head from the door as he shook it. "No," he whispered hoarsely. "Not well at all."
Buck stepped up behind Chris and placed a hand on his back. He leaned forward for a moment, glancing at the doorknob. As he straightened back up, he said, "I can open this. Let me just get a bobby pin." Once said, Buck headed for his own room.
Chris rolled himself off the door and stood to one side, his posture weary.
Buck returned a moment later and bent over to push the pin through the tiny hole in the center of the doorknob, feeling for the button that would disengage the lock.
"I won't ask why you have bobby pins."
Buck grinned as he straightened up, gently turning the knob and pushing the door open slightly. "So I can open locked bedroom doors," he said conspiratorially, then quietly stepped away.
Chris took a deep breath before he turned and entered the boys' bedroom. He had a feeling he'd know where Vin was so he looked immediately to Vin's "safe place" and saw the boy wedged between the bed and the dresser. Chris silently closed the door and moved to a spot close to Vin.
Vin sat pressed against the wall, his knees up and his head down. Chris couldn't see his face but could hear the sniffles and knew he was crying. Chris slowly lowered himself to the floor and watched the small figure.
"Talk to me, Vin."
To Chris' surprise, Vin slowly unfolded himself and crawled out of his spot and over to him. Without lifting his head, Vin crawled right up onto Chris' lap. Chris let him settle before he wrapped his arms firmly around the trembling boy.
"You did hear me and Buck talking, didn't you?" Chris spoke in a soft voice and gently rested his chin on the top of Vin's head.
Vin sniffled softly before he replied, "Yeah."
"And you think we're out of money?"
"Would you believe me if I told you that that isn't true?"
Vin remained still. He didn't think Chris would lie to him but he couldn't imagine that Chris and Buck would have talked like that if it weren't true, especially if they thought the boys couldn't hear. Vin stayed quiet.
"It's not true, Vin. We aren't going to lose the house or the ranch."
"We won't have to go live in the warehouse?" the quivering voice asked.
Chris closed his eyes and sighed. He should have known that Buck's comment would come back to haunt them, not that he held Buck responsible for the current trauma, but it had just been that kind of week.
"Never, Vin. We're not losing the ranch but even if we did, do you think Buck or I or your Uncle Ezra, Uncle Josiah, Uncle Nathan, or Aunt Raine would let you go back to the warehouse?"
Vin thought for a moment. He knew he'd heard Chris and Buck offer the ranch up to one or more of his uncles at different times for different reasons. Wouldn't his uncles do the same for them? That thought instantly warmed his heart and he began to feel safer. He snuggled deeper into Chris' lap and Chris tightened his hold.
"I know that the stuff you heard me and Buck talking about was scary but we were just talking about a 'maybe' situation. Something at work that might happen. Buck and I were just talking about what we could do if it did. If anything 'for sure' happened, Buck and I would tell you and JD all about it. Okay?"
There was a pause before Vin replied. "Okay."
Chris leaned down closer to Vin's ear and spoke softly, "Can I still adopt you?" Chris felt his chest tighten as the silence drew on. "Vin?"
"I lied," Vin admitted.
Chris blinked a few times. "You lied? About what?"
"Lunch...and snacks...and stuff."
"Hmmm," Chris acknowledged as he nodded his head. "Trying to help us out...save some money by not eating as much food?"
"Yeah," Vin agreed. "I told a bunch. I hated that but I..."
"You wanted to help and were doing it the only way you knew how," Chris completed Vin's thought.
"Yeah," Vin said, sagging in Chris' lap, expecting there to be some kind of punishment for lying.
Chris just shook his head. "You must be pretty hungry then, huh...skipping all those snacks and all."
Vin tilted his head back and looked up at Chris.
"What do you say we go see what Mrs. Potter has whipped up for dinner?"
A smile crept over Vin's face. "Okay," he said and started to work his way off Chris' lap and to his feet.
Before Chris would let him go, he said, "You never did answer my question."
Vin's brow drew down as he tried to remember a question.
Chris smiled as he repeated what he had asked minutes earlier. "Can I still adopt you?"
Vin smiled big and fell forward into Chris' arms, wrapping his own skinny arms around Chris' neck.
Chris sniffed once, feeling a warm happiness flow over him. "I take it that's a yes."
Vin held on tighter.
"I've got to go, Ken. Travis is here," Chris said into the receiver as he looked at the big man standing in his office doorway. Trying to suppress a smile, he replaced the phone and rose to his feet. "Judge," he greeted and the man stepped into the room and closed the door behind him.
Travis stood in front of the desk and frowned down his nose at his agent. "I see no one follows my orders."
Chris tried to look contrite. "What do you mean, sir?"
"Don't play dumb with me. You've already heard the news I swore every agent I spoke to to secrecy about."
"Oh, you mean about the, uh..." Chris said, waving his hand vaguely through the air.
"Yes, about the restructuring. I had intended to deliver the news personally to every team leader."
"I'm all ears, sir."
"Fine," Travis huffed out, then softened his posture and his tone. "They're going to start at the top levels with the restructuring and see if that does to the bottom line what they want it to. It doesn't completely get our collective butts out of the fire but at least we're not in the middle of the flames for now."
"How long do you think it will be before they decide if it works or not?"
"Who knows. Could be two weeks, could be twelve years. All I know is it isn't right now."
Chris nodded his head. "Good enough. Thanks for letting me know, sir."
Travis smiled at his agent, knowing that Chris was happier about this news than he would ever let himself show. "I guess it's useless for me to tell you not to say a word to anyone."
"My lips are sealed, sir."
"Uh-huh." Travis shook his head, turned and slowly left the office. He wasn't gone one minute before the members of team seven found their way into Chris' office.
"What'd he say?"
Chris held up his hand to quiet his men. "Nothing happens for now. That's the best I can tell you."
Buck shifted his weight to one hip and stuck a thumb in his waistband. "Shoot, those bureaucrats will be arguing this for years. We'll all be able to retire before they make up their minds."
"I hope you're right. I like this job," Nathan muttered as he made his way back to his desk. Josiah followed behind, grinning from ear to ear.
Once the others were out of ear shot, Buck turned to Chris and asked in a low voice, "Did you ever come to a decision about who you'd let go?"
Chris stared hard at Buck, not sure he should answer but finally gave in. "Yeah, I think I did."
"So, it was gonna be me, right?"
Chris just smiled as he lowered himself into his leather chair.
"Dismissed, Wilmington. Back to work."
Buck shifted his stance. "Aww, come on, Chris. You can tell me."
"Just a hint?"
"Good bye, Buck."
"Okay, okay," Buck conceded and turned. "It was me," he muttered to himself with confidence as he left the office.
Next up - Losing A Piece by Joy K
Comments: Chris G
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