Author's Notes: The medical advice in this story come from the CDC website, so I am assuming that Chris and Buck would consider it sound and follow it, even though to some folks, it sounds like overkill.
Thanks: a big mucho to Katy for helping with the little computer conversations.
This week was a good week because Uncle Ezra is here with us, but some bad stuff happened.
It wasn't that bad, Vin.
Getting infested with vermin was bad, JD.
I don't know what that means.
Me neither, but that's what Uncle Ezra said happened.
Yeah, and then Eli Joe and Stinky Freddy said all them mean things and Da told us to be nice to them.
I don't see why we have to be nice to them. Our ma's are dreaming with angels and we're not mean like them.
I dont wanna be nice to them.
Vin looked in the mirror next to the coat closet and giggled. The mirror was there so the little kids could look in it and make sure they had all their warm stuff on before they went outside in the winter. A poster next to it had a picture that looked like Kenny from South Park, which Vin wasnt supposed to watch, but sometimes he did when Chris and Buck fell asleep in front of the TV. Kenny always got killed, but then he would come back again, like the Coyote in the Roadrunner cartoons. Those kids said a lot of bad words, though.
Vin wasnt giggling at the poster. He was looking at himself wearing the funny hat Jelly Bean had brought to school. It looked just like the one the Cat in the Hat wore. Jelly lived in some partments close to school, so she walked. She found the hat in a trash dumpster. Vin wondered why someone threw it out. It was a good hat, a cool hat, even though it was kind of big and almost covered his eyes.
Buck and Chris had told Vin and JD that they didnt need to find things in dumpsters anymore. Good thing no one had told Jelly that!
Let me wear it, Vin! JD pleaded.
No, its my turn to have it. Jelly said so. Jelly had been loaning out the hat all morning. She said Vin could wear it all through recess.
Well, when is it my turn? JD whined.
Dunno. Ask Jelly.
Vin was about to walk outside to the play ground when suddenly the red-and-white striped hat was snatched from his head.
He turned crossly to JD, but JD had already walked out the door.
He turned to the other side and there was Eli Joe wearing Jellys hat!
You give that back! Vin shouted. Eli Joe made him so mad sometimes.
Make me! Eli Joe challenged.
But before Vin could do anything, Freddy Chaney snuck up behind Eli Joe and snatched the hat off of his head. He put it on and ran.
Dang it. Vin and Eli both ran after him. Catching up with him at the same time, Freddy didnt have a chance as the two boys tackled him to the ground.
Vin was happy to just take the hat, but as he turned to walk away, Eli Joe punched Freddy hard on the back. Freddy started to cry, and thats when Mr. Beidler came running over. Vin kept on walking. He wasnt fighting, so he wasnt going to get punished with Eli Joe and Freddy. He felt kind of sorry for Freddy. Eli Joe was the only friend he had, and Eli Joe was mean to him.
Vin wore the hat all through recess, but then Jelly said it was JDs turn. Mr. Beidler told the class that if anyone else fought over the hat, hed put it away, but no one did. Everyone got a turn to wear it, including Eli Joe and Freddy.
One week later
You boys act like you have ants in your pants, Mrs. Potter said. Settle down and eat your breakfast.
JD seemed unusually fidgety and Mrs. Potter wondered if the boys had been hoarding candy in their room again. She knew that with Uncle Ezra currently a guest at the ranch, they were getting more treats than usual. Ezras mother had sent him no less than two boxes of expensive chocolates and an assortment of imported cookies, and she seriously doubted that he had eaten them all himself. She made a mental note to mention it to Ezra when she prepared his lunch for him.
JD absently scratched at his head as he ate his cereal. Can you really get ants in your pants? he asked.
Mrs. Potter laughed. Thats just an expression. It means you cant sit still.
I can sit still! JD protested. And then he attempted to do so and succeeded for all of about 30 seconds, before he reached up and scratched his head again, more vigorously this time, using both hands.
Vin seemed to pick up whatever itch JD had and scratched at the back of his own head.
My hair is itching me, JD said.
When was the last time you washed it? Mrs. Potter asked.
I dont wash it, JD shrugged.
Mrs. Potter laughed. Now, JD, I know thats not true.
Yes it is. I dont wash it. Buck washes it for me.
I can wash mine by myself, Vin boasted, although Mrs. Potter knew for a fact that if the 7-year-old wasnt supervised, he would just stand under the shower long enough to wet his hair and then call it washed.
Well, maybe you arent getting all the shampoo out, Mrs. Potter theorized. Vins hair was long and JDs was thick - it was entirely possible that a quick rinse under the shower wasnt doing the job.
She urged them to finish their breakfast so they didnt miss their ride to school.
All of the agents recognized the phone number on the caller ID as belonging to Vin and JDs school, and they all held their collective breaths as Buck picked up the receiver. A call in the middle of the work day was rarely good news.
Their apprehension was not eased by the frown that crossed Bucks face and the one-sided conversation they were hearing.
I see . Hang on a moment I want to conference in Chris.
Buck motioned Chris over to Josiah's desk as he hit the conference button on his phone. Dialing Josiah's extension, he hit the button again as soon as Chris picked up.
How do you think it happened?
What should we do after we take them to see the pediatrician?
Josiah and Nathan were instantly alert at the word pediatrician.
Chris said nothing, but seemed relieved instead of more anxious when he heard whatever was being said. However, the frown never left his face. If anything, it intensified.
Great! he scowled, after they had hung up.
Aw, Chris, it happens to lots of kids. Dr. Two Eagles will know what to do.
Still . Chris sighed. He knew that being singled out was going to be embarrassing for both boys, especially Vin.
Whats going on? Nathan spoke for the two uncles present.
That was Mrs. Roquette. She thinks Vin and JD have Buck hated to say the word, but finally did. Lice.
Lice?! Nathan gasped.
Yeah, Buck sighed. She suggested we run them by Dr. Two Eagles so he can prescribe something, if necessary.
Nathan shuddered involuntarily. He knew from his military days that lice did not usually jump from person to person - they couldn't jump, in fact, having no hind legs. He also knew that they didnt survive more than 24 hours if they were removed from a human host, and it had been a little over a week since he and Josiah had last seen the boys. He was aware, too, that for some unexplained reason, Asians and African Americans, like himself, rarely acquired lice.
But all the same, Bucks words made his skin crawl.
Josiah unconsciously ran scratching fingers through his own thick, silver hair.
All four agents were wondering how Ezra was going to take the news. Hed probably be on the phone dialing a good exterminator within two minutes, if he didn't just pack up and leave entirely.
Its probably no big deal, Buck assured them. He didnt mention that when JD had been examined in the ER shortly after they had found the boys, it had been discovered that his head was crawling with lice and fleas. A special shampoo followed by a good combing with a fine-tooth comb had taken care of the problem. It was good bet that Vin had been similarly infested and the problem taken care of without Chris even realizing it.
Of course, at that time, JD and Vin hadnt been living in the same house with them. He unconsciously reached into the back of his collar and scratched the nape of his neck.
Buck and Chris arrived at the school to discover most of the class had been dismissed, and it was then that they learned that Vin and JD were not the only students in the class affected.
Vin sat quietly, eyes down cast. Mr. Beidler was supervising JD as he busily stuffed his backpack.
Mrs. Roquette sighed and held up a red-and-white striped top hat made of fake fur, sealed in a plastic bag. Im afraid this was the culprit. I think all of the children tried it on.
So, you dont know which kid brought the guests to school? Buck asked good-naturedly.
Well, one of our students, Angelica Bean, admitted she found the hat in a trash dumpster. My guess is there was a good reason why it was there.
Vin sniffed and wiped at his eyes.
Mrs. Roquette knelt beside him. Vin, its okay. Eli Joe was just being mean. You dont have to listen to him.
Whats the problem? Chris asked softly.
Mrs. Roquette straightened up and sighed. She put a hand on Vins shoulder. Vin, would you like to tell Chris whats the matter?
Vin looked up with misery-clouded blue eyes. Eli Joe says lice come from street trash - like me an JD, he sniffed.
Chris scooped the boy into his arms and hugged him close - somewhat guilty that he was trying to avoid close contact with Vins hair. So since when do we gotta listen to that dumb little sh brat?
JD came running and flung himself at Buck, who carefully held him at arms length, swinging him playfully into the air instead of hugging him. He loved JD, but hed never had lice, and he sure didnt want them now.
Buck! We gots to go to the doctor cause we has predicanosis.
Pe-dic-u-lo-sis, Mr. Beidler corrected him good-naturedly, while giving Buck an apologetic smile.
Yeah, that, JD nodded his head vigorously, sending his hair flopping in all directions. Buck suddenly felt like he needed a space helmet. Everyone gots to go to the doctor, even though we aint even sick.
Arent even sick, Mr. Beidler corrected.
Yeah! JD looked at Vin, and his demeanor changed. Eli Joe said we got bugs cause were dirty cause we lived in the warehouse.
Mr. Beidler touched Vins shoulder reassuringly. Im going to have a little talk with Eli Joe.
But how did we get bugs? JD asked.
Mrs. Roquette held up the hat. Its never a good idea to wear someone elses clothes, especially if you dont know who they belonged to.
Now JD looked downcast. Mrs. Roqette wasnt sure what she had said to upset the little boy. "What's the matter, honey?" she asked him
He looked up at her with his big eyes. "Sometimes me an Vin took clothes people didn't want no more. Is that how we got bugs?"
Her heart clenched as she hugged him. "No.... no... JD... We would have found them a long time ago if they came from that. I don't want you worrying about it, okay?"
JD nodded, but he remembered his head was all itchy like it was now when they were in the warehouse. Maybe the bugs had followed them.
Dr. Two Eagles carefully separated the fine strands of Vins hair with a nit comb, showing Buck and Chris how to make certain each section of hair was combed from the root out. He hadnt had much luck demonstrating the procedure on JD, who kept trying to look up to see what he was doing and examine the little bugs.
He found a half dozen adult insects and eggs, which he dispatched to a small vial of Lindane shampoo.
Well, they definitely have lice, he laughed. Im going to write out a prescription for the shampoo. Now, keep in mind that its basically a pesticide. Use it only as directed and use it only once. If one application doesnt get rid of them, youre going to have comb through their hair every day for a couple of weeks and remove them manually.
Youre kidding, right? Buck looked appalled at the thought.
Nope, afraid not. I dont like using too much of this stuff on kids this small.
I aint small! Vin protested.
Im the littlest kid in my whole school! JD announced, as if he were proud of that fact.
Dr. Two Eagles smiled. JD was never going to be intimidated by his small stature. He picked the tiny boy up off the gurney and set him on the floor.
I bet youre the wiggliest kid in your whole school, too, he laughed.
Dr. Two Eagles took Vin off the gurney, too, and they both looked at him expectantly, waiting for the treats he always had. Sure enough, he reached into a pocket and produced a small handful of Tootsie Rolls for each boy.
As they busily unwrapped their treats, he turned his attention back to Chris and Buck and handed them a sheet of instructions printed from the CDCs website outlining what they would have to do at home, including laundering all of the bedding and clothing the boys came into contact with, vacuuming the house daily for a week, and sealing stuffed animals and anything that couldnt be washed into plastic bags for 2 weeks.
Mrs. Potter was going to love all of the extra work, on top of looking after Ezra, which she had done without needing to be asked. Theyd have to make sure she got a nice gift certificate or something.
Chris had already called Ezra to give him a heads up. He wouldnt be surprised if the southerner had his bags packed by the time they got home.
Is this going to spread to all of us? Buck shuddered.
Dr. Two Eagles laughed. No, probably not. Lice cant jump or fly, so they usually stay on the host. If they do fall off, they only live for a day or so if they cant find a new home, so as long as you keep up with the vacuuming and dont share clothes or bedding, you should be fine.
What about the dogs? Chris asked.
These are human parasites. They wont survive on a dog, he assured him.
How long do we keep them out of school? Buck asked.
Well, that depends on the school, of course, but there really is no reason to keep them home. Just remind them about not sharing clothes with the other kids.
We have to go to school? Vin said, disappointed. He didnt want more people to make fun of him and JD because they used to live in a warehouse by themselves.
Im afraid so, Dr. Two Eagles said and then addressed both boys. I want you to do just what Chris and Buck tell you to do, okay? We want to get rid of those nasty critters, right?
Both boys nodded.
Chris and Buck thanked the doctor and left with their work cut out for them.
BUT HE CANT BREATHE! Vin wailed.
Chris knelt down beside the distraught little boy and in his most patient voice said, Vin, now you know Cat isnt real, right?
Yes, he is! Hes right here! Vin countered with 7-year-old logic.
Chris ran his fingers through his short - and hopefully louseless - hair. Well, okay, hes real, but hes not alive. He doesnt need to breathe. You know that, right?
In his brain, Vin did know that, but he couldnt help himself. Cat was all smooshed flat in a plastic bag. His tail was twisted and one paw was turned backwards and his ears were all crinkled up. His nose was poking into his left eye. But he doesnt like it in there! he sniffed.
Their neighbor, Mrs. Cochran, had loaned them a vacuum sealer that had completely removed the air from the plastic bag in which Cat was sealed. It had also removed the air from the toys filling, and Chris had to admit that, squashed almost flat like he was, the formerly cuddly feline was a pitiable sight.
He stroked Vins long - and hopefully louseless - blond curls. Its just for a few days, cowboy. Then hell look good as new again.
Can I still sleep with him? Vin asked miserably.
Chris doubted that clinging to a sticky plastic bag all night was going to be comfortable, but he couldnt find any real reason to say no.
Sure you can, cowboy, he smiled, and resisted the urge to ruffle Vins hair. Both boys had been thoroughly shampooed, and combed, and they hadnt found any more live bugs, but, he wasnt taking any chances, just the same.
Vin only had Cat, but JD had an entire menagerie of stuffed animals. Chris proceeded to bag all of them except for JDs Scooby Doo, which was nowhere to be found. Scooby was a massive toy - almost as big as a real Great Dane, so how he'd gone missing was anyone's guess.
Of course, Ezra surrendered the jaguar the boys had given him while he was in the hospital. Though neither of them said anything, Chris and Buck were somewhat surprised by how well the injured agent was taking the fact that he was presently living in a household infested with vermin.
He had done his best to help in the critter extermination by gathering the sheets from the boys beds so they could be laundered in hot water and bleach. While they were going through the wash cycle, he collected their clothing for the next load.
Mrs. Potter had vacuumed the entire house while Vin and JD were having their hair treated.
Before leaving for the day, she had sealed the boys thick comforters and the afghans from the den in plastic garbage bags to await their trip to the laundromat where they could be washed in the heavy load machines.
Every stitch of clothing the boys owned was now piled on the kitchen table, having been left in the dryer for 30 minutes longer than it took to actually dry them. Any bugs on them were thoroughly baked by now.
Despite the fact that both Dr. Two Eagles and the CDC insisted that the lice could not be spread to the horses, Buck nevertheless gathered up their blankets and gave them each a good shot of flea killer then placed them in plastic bags, too, while Chris was seeing to the stuffed animals.
The last things into the washer were the towels that were used to dry the boys hair and to wrap them up in while they waited for their clothes to get out of the dryer.
Chris made sure Vins clothes were nearby before he took the shy little boys towel from him. The seven-year-old quickly donned his boxers and a teeshirt, then sat on the floor to pull on his socks.
JD, on the other hand, was happy to streak through the house without a stitch on until Buck finally grabbed him and literally dropped him into his little briefs. It was then that the younger boy noticed the misshapen appearance of his toys.
Hey! he said disapprovingly. What happened to Pooh? He held up a shapeless yellow blob encased in plastic.
Chris sucked out all the air so the bugs will get smothercated, Vin explained. He unconsciously stroked poor Cat through the plastic that covered him.
Pooh doesnt like being all squished! JD protested to Buck.
Chris gave Buck a 'been there, done that' look and left him to explain it to JD.
Pooh didnt like being in the bag, he couldnt breathe.
Thats what I told Dad bout cat even though toys dont really breathe you know that dont you?
Course I know that, Im not a little baby!
Sorry, I was just checking.
But I know Pooh didnt like it.
Yeah. Cat didn't like it, neither, and I got a rash.
Da told me that even though he didnt like it he knew he had to do it. It was his mission. Da said its a dirty job but somebodys gotta do it.
Cats not dirty. Pooh ain't neither!
I said that too, and Da said its just a saying and it means that sometimes people and toys gotta do stuff they dont wanna do but they gotta do it cause its portent to do it. Like when he was a soldier, sometimes he had to do missions and stuff that was portent even though it wasnt very nice and he got all cold and wet and dirty, it was portent so he had to do it.
See?It was a bad week.
Come on, time to eat, you can finish this later. Go get washed up.
You really tell him all that about the army?
He was upset.
What missions? You never left the country while you were in the service.
I didnt tell him they were dangerous missions, just unpleasant.
Well latrines dont dig themselves y' know?
Buck youre so full of...
Dont say it or little eyes will read it and then youll owe the jar another buck!
But were gonna delete this bit right?
By the time all the cleaning was done, it was well past the time the boys usually had supper. Since Mrs. Potter had spent the afternoon helping them with the cleaning, Chris and Buck had assured her that they could take care of feeding the boys, but now, Buck was rummaging through the refrigerator trying to gather together the makings of a meal that he would actually know how to cook.
He heard a commotion in the den as Vin and JD spotted a car turning off the main road onto the driveway. Ezra hobbled up behind Buck and, indicating the car pulling up to the house, informed him, I have taken the liberty of securing the evening meal.
Buck glanced out the window in surprise, because no one actually delivered out as far as they were. It was then that he noticed the vehicle was a taxi.
Ezra hobbled stiffly out to the car as the driver opened the passenger side. When Buck realized that Ezra was trying to get something out of the front seat, he hurried out to help him, and soon had his arms filled with several substantial containers that he recognized as being from an upscale Italian restaurant.
Ezra slipped the cab driver some money - Buck didnt see how much, but from the enthusiastic Thank you, sir! that he received in return, he guessed it was more than adequate to cover the cabbies expenses.
Ezra, Buck smiled, You are water to a man dyin of thirst. For a second there, I thought we were going to have lettuce sandwiches for dinner.
The boys were delighted by the unexpected treat, but were careful not to physically express their appreciation for fear of hurting Ezra. Instead, JD took Ezras free hand, and Vin walked carefully beside his cane. Together they escorted him to the den and a comfortable chair.
I think the shampoo killed all my bugs, Uncle Ezra! JD announced. It smelled bad, want to smell? He lowered his dark head so that Ezra could appreciate the lingering aroma of the pesticide underneath the scent of baby shampoo.
Ezra laughed and sniffed JDs hair obligingly. Well, now, I wouldnt say it smells too especially dreadful.
The food smells good! JD observed.
Buck had set the food on the coffee table and gone to get some plates. They had been eating supper in the den more often than usual since Ezra had come to stay with them, because the injured man appeared uncomfortable sitting in the hard, wooden dining room chairs, even though he never complained.
Well, lets see , Ezra began opening the containers. We have chicken marsala
JD peeked at the food. Thats a lot of mushrooms, he worried. JD didnt really hate mushrooms, but he didnt like them a whole lot, either.
Vin was less tactful. Yuck.
Ezra opened another container. Eggplant parmesian, he announced.
Whats eggplant? JD frowned. He knew eggs werent plants.
Why, its a delightful, large vegetable, in this case, sliced, breaded, sautéed and simmered with a lovely variety of other vegetables.
JD looked at Vin uncertainly. Do you like eggplant, Vin?
Vin shook his head. He didnt know what eggplant was, either, but if it was a big vegetable, he was pretty sure he hated it.
Ezra continued, offering the contents of another container. Succulent baby calamari
Both boys eyes widened.
Spiders! JD exclaimed.
I aint eatin spiders! Vin gasped.
Ezras eyes twinkled as he held back his laughter. They are squid, JD, from the ocean, like fish, he explained. Would you like to try one?
Uh-uh, JD shook his head vigorously. He sure hoped Uncle Ezra had bought something good to eat.
Lets see what we have here . Ezra opened the last entrée container. Mmmmm . Looks like A pepperoni pizza with extra cheese?
YES! Vin exclaimed.
Ezra offered the box and each boy eagerly took a slice.
Buck had grabbed a couple of juice boxes for the boys and a beer each for the three adults to complete the meal.
If ya dont mind my saying, Buck began, you seem to be taking this whole issue of our six-legged visitors extremely well, Ezra.
The southerner scooped a generous serving of calamari onto his plate. He had only recently really begun to have an appetite again, now that he wasnt on so many meds that everything tasted like styrofoam.
You forget, I literally grew up in boarding schools. Dozens of little boys living in close quarters I assure you, lice are not the least bit class-conscious.
Buck and Chris were actually surprised by that revelation. They could only imagine how horrified a fastidious little Ezra must have been to discover he had insects living in his hair.
Buck inhaled a mouthful of the chicken marsala. Like everything else - including the pizza - it was excellent. Mmmmmmmm, he sighed contentedly. It dont get much better than this.
Ezra sipped at his beer and smiled at the two little boys eagerly diving into their pizza. How had he almost given all of this up? No no, it doesnt.
Ok computer were back. We had pizza from the fancy restaurant and Uncle Ezra tried to make us eat spiders.
They were not spiders JD, they was squids.
They had lots of legs. Spiders got eight legs, and that's how come you know theyre not insects cause insects got six legs.
Like the hair bugs!
Uncle Ezra says that the bugs like clean hair the bestest.
Yeah, he looked at it on the inner net. He said that if Eli Joe and Freddy dont have them then it's 'cause they got dirty hair and I think that's why Freddy stinks, 'cause he don't wash his hair.
I think they did have them. That's why they said them mean things about us.
But I made Freddy shut up. I hit him good, just like you taught me to.
Yeah, JD, you did good but then you got in trouble, 'cause we ain't supposed to hit people no more.
I know. It's not nice.
But, I don't think it's fair that we's always the ones who get in trouble but they always start it.
Me neither. I guess that was another thing bad about this week.
Chris winced at the sight of the little blond fast asleep cuddling his shrink-wrapped toy Cat. Vin had a way to go before he was secure enough to sleep without it, but his attachment to it was not unusual for a seven-year-old. Since Ezra had been staying at the ranch, Vin had almost stopped having nightmares. Chris felt somewhat guilty that one reason he was now happy for that fact was that Vin hadnt crawled into his bed in over a week, and the sheets had been laundered at least once during that time, so there was little chance he had picked up lice, too.
He carefully covered Vin with one of the sleeping bags the boys were using for blankets until their comforters could be washed. As the boy shifted, the crackling of the plastic bag covering Cat echoed through the silent room, but didnt wake Vin.
He bent down and check on JD, who had opted to line his friends up along the wall where he could safely watch over them until they were ready to come out and be cuddled again. He made sure the younger boy was covered, and the dogs were settled, and then tip-toed out of the room.
In the den, Ezra was busy working on Vins jigsaw puzzle. The little boy had been too tired after their hectic day to work on it, but Ezra had promised hed fit a few more pieces for him.
Something had changed in Ezra. Hed stayed at the ranch before, of course, several times, but there had always been a sort of aloofness about him. He never seemed to feel unwelcome, exactly, but, he had always before been a visitor.
Now, he seemed perfectly at ease. His own place would be ready for him to inhabit soon, but for now, Ezra seemed to know he truly was family.
My mommy said it was probably you who gave us all bugs! Freddy accused JD.
Was not! JD protested. An you better shut up!
My mommy said she doesnt know why they let homeless brats come to a nice school.
Oh yeah? Well, we aint homeless. We have a better home than you, because we got horses an dads an you dont.
JDs five-year-old mind took great satisfaction in the hurt look that crossed Freddys face at his comment so he continued, Your daddy probably left because he didnt want a stupid kid like you.
Several feet away, Carolyn Roquette hurried to help one of the younger students carry her ceramics project to the art table. From overhearing the conversation between Freddy and JD, she knew adult intervention was in order.
Freddy, not the brightest crayon in the box, had no immediate come back for JDs harsh words, but luckily for him, Eli Joe was a few feet away. It was unlikely that Eli Joe was truly motivated to defend Freddy, but, he never missed an opportunity to fight. Carolyn tried not to dislike children, and to see their good points, no matter how obnoxious, but when she envisioned the future Eli Joe, it was with a long number stenciled on his shirt.
My dad said only dirty people get bugs. You an Vin are dirty because you lived in a box an never took a bath.
Now it was JD who was at a loss for words. What Eli Joe had said was basically true. Nevertheless, the little boy was not about to be bullied. I said, you better shut up!
The next thing Carolyn knew, fists were flying. She set the art project down on the nearest flat surface and ran to the three boys. JD was just a little bitty thing, but he was a real scrapper and by the time she was able to walk the 5 or 6 strides to get to the fracas, Freddy had a bloody nose.
Carolyn sighed. She knew very well that Freddy had asked for it, but, the school had rules against fighting. She took some tissues out of her pocket and handed them to Freddy. JD, go sit in the time out chair, now!
She hated to do it, because she was aware that Vin and JD had been over some rough ground in the past few weeks because of their uncle being wounded in the line of duty and almost dying. Still, it would serve no good purpose to allow JD to get away with physical violence against another student.
Vin had come running over to see what the problem was as JD managed to march obediently to the time-out chair while exuding defiance.
Eli Joe held his nose when Vin walked up. Ewwwww . Someone stinks like theyve been living in the garbage can, he taunted.
Eli Joe Chavez, you go find a chair and sit in it, RIGHT NOW! Carolyn hated to raise her voice, but sometimes, it was called for. Vin, you too.
But I didnt do nothin! Vin protested.
GO! she commanded.
Jim Beidler, who had been teaching a math group, came over to see what the problem was, and ended up escorting Freddy to the restroom to clean up while she went to JD.
The little boy sat forlornly in the time-out chair. His earlier defiance had quickly evaporated and now he was crying. Vin had put his head down on a table and she could see his small shoulders heaving as he sobbed quietly.
Eli Joe was trying to balance his chair on its hind legs and so help her God, Carolyn found herself hoping hed tip all the way over.
She hugged JD and assured him that she was not angry at him, but that she could not let him hurt other people.
But we aint dirty, JD sobbed. Mrs. Potter cleans our clothes and Buck an Chris make us take lots of baths <hiccup> and I dont know how come everyone got bugs <hiccup> but Unca Ezra said anybody can get bugs and it dont mean <hiccup> yer dirty only that you got clean bugs and we lived in the warehouse cause our mommies were dreaming <hiccup> of angels and we stayed in the boxes so <hiccup> the trolls wouldnt get us an .
JD . JD . she soothed. Breathe, honey
I am breathin! JD insisted, and to prove it, he let out a heart-wrenching wail.
She hugged the little boy close then picked him up to take him to where Vin was. She sat down beside the older boy and gently rubbed his back. Vin, honey? Its okay. I just didnt want you and Eli Joe to fight. Im not mad at you.
Vin looked up at her with tears staining his little elfin face. Werent our fault we didnt have no home, he sniffed.
I know, honey, I know she soothed.
When Jim Beidler returned, the two teachers decided that the rivalry between the four boys had gone far enough. They decided to call the parents together for a conference.
Buck and Chris had left the boys with Ezra, under strict orders that they were not to make too many demands on their still-recuperating uncle.
Both had heard their sons version of the events that had lead up to the parent conference. Chris was ready to rip Eli Joes father a new one, so they were surprised when they entered the class room and a man in a Denver firefighters uniform extended his hand and introduced himself as Joe Chavez.
Carolyn Roquette and Jim Beidler were there, also, as was a woman who was doing her level best to appear disinterested. Carolyn introduced her as Elizabeth Chaney, Freddys mother. Dressed in an expensive business suit, she was slender and attractive - the kind of woman who spent an hour a day doing her hair and make-up and went to the gym instead of eating lunch. She was a startling contrast to Freddy, whose clothing was often unwashed and mismatched and sometimes didnt even fit, and who, from the looks of him, didnt get any exercise beyond flipping the joystick on his play station. The woman barely acknowledged them as she checked her watch and then her PDA, and then whipped out her cell phone and left a message for someone about a meeting the next morning.
The three fathers listened intently as the two teachers explained the problem. Mrs. Chaney, however, was unable to appear even mildly attentive, making notes on her think pad that they suspected had nothing to do with Freddy or the meeting.
Will that be all? she said coolly when Carolyn had finished speaking.
Excuse me? the teacher looked at her.
I was asked to come so you could explain Freddys issues. Youve done that, so I really must be going.
Perhaps you would like to provide a little input, first? Jim Beidler suggested.
Not really, Mrs. Chaney remarked casually. I work 15 hours a day, so I dont have the time to spare on this b.s. I pay you to teach my son. If you cant do that without all of this nonsense she indicated the three fathers at the table, Ill simply find another school that will. Now, if you dont mind, Im late for a dinner meeting with a client.
She gathered her briefcase, donned her expensive blazer, and without so much as a backward glance, she was gone.
Buck and Chris looked at each other, although it was Joe Chavez who said what they were both thinking.
Man, thats one cold bitch. No wonder her little brat is fucked up.
Mr. Chavez, please . Carolyn began.
Chavez raised his hands defensively. I know, I know My Eli Joe aint no angel, either. But, I do my best It just aint easy since his mama . He scrubbed his hands over his face and his voice softened. He aint been the same kid since he come home and found her with those pills . He cleared his throat and his tone of voice abruptly became more severe. I told him Id kick his sorry little ass if he got into any more fights.
Corporal punishment may not be the answer, Jim suggested. Have you considered counseling?
Yeah, yeah some social worker told me I should take him to a kid shrink, but I dont believe in that bullshit. In my day, if I acted up, I got a few good slaps on the butt. I turned out okay.
Jim Beidler gave the man a hard look. Your mother didnt kill herself.
Chavez pointed an accusing finger. Look, you dont tell me how to raise my kid! If you want me to take him out of this school, I will, no problem.
Carolyn tried to disarm the tension. Is that what you want to do, Mr. Chavez? she asked gently.
Chavez sighed tiredly and shook his head. No . No. He might not act like it, but Eli Joe likes it here.
Roquette and Beidler exchanged surprised glances.
You think hes bad now, you should have seen him at his old school, Chavez commented. He looked at Buck and Chris. Im sorry hes givin your boys a hard time.
Chriss tone was gentle, but authoritative. Our boys see a psychologist named William Lowery. Hes good He left the suggestion unspoken.
Chavez raked his fingers through his dark hair. No. I dont want people thinkin my boy is crazy, he said softly.
Buck and Chris suddenly felt sorry for the man, and even more sorry for Eli Joe. Chavez clearly cared about his son, but, the little boy did not have much hope if his father was unwilling to set aside his pride for his sons welfare.
It was late when they got home, but Chris and Buck thought a pow wow was still in order. The boys knew they had met with their teachers because of the fighting at school, and they didnt want them to think that they were being excluded from the decision-making process.
Both boys seemed honestly surprised when Chris explained to them in simple terms that there might be a reason why Eli Joe wasnt so nice.
You mean his mama is dreaming of angels, too? JD said softly.
Yes, Buck said, hugging the little boy close. And his daddy is a firefighter, so maybe hes a little bit scared that something will happen to him and hell be all alone like you and Vin were.
JDs eyes widened. Eli Joe would have to go live in the warehouse?
Buck laughed softly. No, Little Bit. Someone would take care of him.
Just so he dont live here, Vin snorted, folding his arms across his chest.
Chris wanted to encourage his boy to be understanding and compassionate, but he also realized that Vin was only seven, and that was expecting a bit much where Eli Joe was concerned. I dont think there is much chance of that happening, Cowboy, he assured him.
They werent sure how to explain Freddys circumstances to the boy, especially with Ezra sitting right there. Both men were well aware that Ezra and Maude had not always had the closest of relationships when Ezra was growing up. Ezra seemed to understand the reasons for that now that he was older, but as a little boy, he may have felt as alone and abandoned as Freddy Chaney surely must with that ice queen of a mother.
And Freddy well, maybe if you tried to be nice to him, he wouldnt listen to Eli Joe.
But I dont like him, Vin said honestly.
Well, you dont have to like him, he said, but try not to fight with him anymore. If he says mean things to you, just walk away, okay?
Okay, Vin sighed.
Okay, JD echoed.
After the pow wow, the boys left to get ready for bed, with a promise that Ezra would read them a story.
Vin returned first, the squashed, misshapen, plastic-covered Cat tucked under his arm. He had awakened that morning with a slight rash on the inside of his elbow from hugging the plastic all night, but obviously, that was not going to deter him.
He settled onto the couch next to Ezra, careful not to jostle his injured leg, even though it was healing nicely and such precautions were thankfully becoming less necessary. JD soon joined them.
The southerner was both surprised and horrified when he realized the two youngsters were snuggled close to him and he hadnt even thought about the lice.
Yes, life with those two little boys had definitely changed Ezra P. Standish. He just hoped that, like Chris and Buck, he would somehow have an influence on them. He could think of no greater legacy.
Ezra was used to sitting back and relaxing from the weeks work on Saturdays, but that was not the case at the ranch. There were chores to be done and the family was up early to get them out of the way and maybe have time for some fun in the afternoon.
The weather was growing cooler, and there were some outdoor projects Chris and Buck wanted to get finished before they found themselves working in the cold. Even Vin and JD had chores to do, so Ezra found himself feeling pretty useless as everyone set to work right after breakfast.
He gathered up the breakfast dishes and loaded them into the dishwasher, and then settled into a comfortable chair with a copy of James Micheners Centennial which he had found gathering dust on a book shelf in the den.
Look Vin! I found Scooby! JD announced as he pulled the stuffed Great Dane from beneath a pile of straw in Pesos stall.
Youre lucky Peso didnt poop on him, Vin said. And he knew what he was talking about, because he was busy raking out Pesos stall. JD was supposed to be helping him. Chris had gone to the feed store for fresh hay and Vin had promised hed have the stall all raked by the time he got back.
Ya cant play with him, JD. He has to go in plastic like the other toys.
JD gave Scooby a cursory glance. He didnt think Scooby had an lice on him, but lice were hard to see. Okay, he agreed, and then trotted away with the toy.
JD! Come back here! Yer sposeta help!
Ill - be - right - back! JD huffed. Vin was always trying to be the boss of him.
He had to go find a plastic bag for Scooby. The big dog was too bulky to fit in the plastic bags from the kitchen, but he knew where Buck and Chris had some bigger bags. They were in the shed with Uncle Ezras Jag.
He pushed open the sheds wooden door and let his eyes get accustomed to the dim light from the solitary bulb that dangled from the middle of the ceiling.
Squinting, he spotted the yellow box up high on a shelf that said 5-ply Industrial Debris Trash Bags guaranteed to hold 60 pounds on it. He didn't know what most of those words meant, but the two important ones were "Trash Bags." He was pretty sure they were the same ones Buck had used for the horse blankets, the kind you had to peel off the roll like toilet paper. First, he had to get the bags, though. They were too high up for him to reach.
Normally, he wouldn't have stepped on Uncle Ezra's shiny black car, but Uncle Ezra couldn't drive it because his leg was hurt, so it was covered with a car blanket. If he climbed onto the JAG, he could reach the shelf.
He placed his feet on the cars bumper and boosted himself onto the hood, then took two big steps up onto the roof. Now, he was BIG, and could reach the trash bags just fine!
He pulled on the box of plastic bags, but miscalculated the weight and as soon as he slid them off the shelf, they started to slip out of his hands. He tried to hold on to them and almost lost his balance. The bags fell and had to grab onto the shelf so he didnt fall, too.
The bags landed with a loud plop, but JDs attention was already elsewhere, on the can of fly spray he had seen Buck use on the horses so the bugs didnt bite them.
He figured if it kept bugs off the horses, it would keep the lice off of Scooby, too. He grabbed the can and hopped down off the car.
He managed to get a plastic bag off the roll, but opening it up was harder than it had looked when Buck had done it.
Finally, he managed to get the sides of the bag separated and worked his arm inside. He shook the bag the way he had seen Buck do, but instead of opening up, it just flopped on the end of his arm. The problem was that the bag was as long as he was tall, so he couldnt give it a good enough shake to open it.
Sighing, he used both arms to pry the bag apart and then stuck his head and shoulders in. Finally, he had an opening large enough to fit Scooby, but he was still too short to lift the bag up so that Scooby would fall all the way to the bottom.
Puzzling briefly over the problem, JD decided the only thing to do was to crawl into the bag and push Scooby all the way in but first, he would have to spray Scooby good to make sure the bugs got smothercated.
He pushed the nozzle on the spray can and was startled when a jet of pesticide squirted upwards and just missed his face.
He batted the mist away, coughing, and turned the can around. That time, he got the spray on Scooby. He sprayed him real good, until his fur was wet in spots.
Awkwardly, he maneuvered the large toy into the opening of the bag and gripped the edge of the bag with one hand while shoving Scooby inside with the other. When he got to the tail, he could see Scooby was only about halfway in the bag, so he crawled in after him, pushing the big stuffed dog ahead of him as he went. It wasnt easy, because the bag kept moving, too, until he was all the way under the car.
The bug spray smelled bad and made him cough. He didnt like it and tried to turn around and crawl out of the bag, but his shoe got caught on the edge and twisted it shut.
JDs little fist pounded the side of the bag, but it didnt even stretch. He coughed again, because now the bug spray really smelled bad and felt like it was inside his nose and mouth and head.
He kicked frantically at the opening and felt it separate as cool air hit his feet. He began to crawl backwards out of the bag, but something funny was happening .
He had started to see little lights like stars everywhere and there was a loud buzzing sound that was all inside his head. He began to feel like he was a balloon, floating away. He tried to sit up inside the bag, but then felt himself falling over sideways as the all those noisy stars got bigger and bigger and turned black .
Vin was not going to do his own work and JDs, too. He put down his rake and went looking for his brother.
It wasnt hard to find him. He had left the door of the shed open and the light was on. JD! he huffed.
He marched into the shed and then stood staring at the spectacle that greeted him, not immediately sure what to make of it.
He saw JDs feet under the front wheels of the Jag, sticking out of a black plastic garbage bag. Alarm and dread suddenly seized him when he realized the little boy wasnt moving.
JD! he yelled. He tried to pull on his feet, but all that did was cause one of his legs to wedge under the tire.
Vin knew this was not good, and that he needed to get help. He ran out of the shed. He could see Buck, but he was just a dot on the horizon. He had gone up to the meadow to fix the fence. He called to him frantically, waving his arms, but realized Buck would never hear him. He ran into the house.
UNCLE EZRA! UNCLE EZRA!
Ezra had fallen asleep with Micheners weighty tome in his hands and was startled by Vins cries. Instinctively, he knew something was wrong. Vin was never that loud.
He carefully rose from the chair as he called out In here, Vin!
The little boy rushed in with his face flushed and panic in his eyes. JDs in the shed! Somethins wrong with him! He wont wake up!
Cold fear gripped Ezras gut and he hobbled after the boy, his cane forgotten.
JD hadnt moved and Vin tried again to pull him from beneath the car.
Ezras heart began to race when he saw that it was not going to be easy to get to JD. The shed was not intended to be used as a garage, and there was just barely room for the Jag with maybe 6 inches of clearance at the front and on the passenger side where JD was wedged under one of the front wheels. Ezra couldnt even get close enough to tell if the plastic bag was covering him or only lying on top of him. He quickly dismissed the idea of moving the car, because he couldnt actually see where JDs head was.
Vin was frantic - he had climbed over the hood and was attempting to reach JD. Ezra grabbed him and pulled him off the car.
Vin . Run go get Buck
Vin reacted instantly and turned to leave, but before he could get away, Ezras arm shot out and grabbed him again. No! Wait Vin, listen to me You need to go into the house and call 911.
He tried to keep his voice calm. He wanted to make sure the little boy understood.
Can you do that, Vin? Call 911 and tell them to send paramedics, then just stay calm and do whatever they tell you.
Eyes wide with fear, Vin nodded that he understood and raced toward to the house.
Buck had happened to glance towards the house at the same time Ezra was hobbling towards the shed. A few moments later, he saw Vin running full tilt towards the kitchen door.
Something wasnt right.
He decided to check it out, and even though he started out walking, he suddenly had a premonition that he should run, instead.
It took him about 3 minutes to reach the shed, where he discovered Ezra under the car.
What the hell
Buck! Its JD! Hes hurt! Ezra gasped.
JD was jack-knifed around the Jags tire, and Ezra was having a difficult time positioning him so he could pull him out from beneath the car.
Buck dove to the floor to help, but quickly discovered that he could not easily maneuver his larger body under the low-slung vehicle as easily as the small southerner had.
Stay back, Ezra cautioned Buck, fearing that if the larger man tried to crawl under the car, hed just make it more difficult for him. Ive got him! Vins calling 911 - go make sure he got through!
Ezra wasnt used to barking out orders, but he had an aching fear that JD might be dead. He didnt want Buck to see that.
Buck, however, didnt move. He was numb with dread, and he could hear Vin talking to the 911 operator. He wasnt going anywhere.
Ezras movements had been slow and awkward ever since hed been shot, but now he moved quickly and purposefully as he lifted JD and carried him out into the sunlight.
Oh, dear God, Buck gasped when he saw JDs lips and fingernails were blue.
Ezra had never, ever actually performed CPR, but all ATF agents were required to update their certification yearly, and suddenly, on a wave of pure adrenalin, it all came flooding back.
He checked JDs airway and found it clear, then tilting the little boys head back slightly, he blew two quick breaths of air into him. There was no obstruction, so he checked for a pulse. It was weak, and rapid, but definitely there. Thank you God!
He blew another small puff of air into JDs lungs. There was no response at all. The little boy lay limp in his arms like a broken doll.
Buck had knelt beside Ezra, watching as the southerner did the unimaginable. Oh God, please, not JD. Not my little boy. Buck prayed. But in the back of his mind lurked the heart-shattering certainty that God could take his little boy - just like Hed taken Adam.
He couldnt find the strength to move, but could only stand by and watch in mind-numbing terror as Ezra continued attempting to breathe life into JDs still little body.
Three more puffs.
Breathe, Little Bit, breathe Buck prayed. Oh dear Lord . How many times had he said that to the little boy?
How had he ever taken that wonderful, incessant chatter for granted?
Three more puffs.
Breathe, Little Bit Oh dear God, please, BREATHE!
Three more puffs. Ezras heart felt like a large stone in his chest. He knew what it meant that he was getting no response, but he wasnt going to quit. Not while there was an ounce of breath left in his own body. Breathe, Little Bit, breathe he echoed Bucks silent prayer.
Two more puffs of air and then, miraculously, a tiny cough.
Ezra grabbed JDs face and shook it. Cmon, JD thats it breathe
He blew two more breaths of air into those precious little lungs and suddenly, JDs arms began to flail and his little feet began to kick.
Buck scooped him out of Ezras tired arms and gently slapped JDs back as the little boy coughed violently and then began to cry as he took deep gasping breaths.
Thats it, Little Bit, Buck soothed. Breathe . Breathe
I <cough> . Am <cough> breathin, JD wheezed.
Ezra noticed Vin standing timidly on the porch. Hes okay, Vin, he said, and held his arms out to the little boy.
Vin ran to him and only then belied his fear with tears.
Chris had heard the 911 call dispatched over his police scanner and his truck came racing up the driveway just ahead of the rescue unit and ambulance.
By this time, JD had managed to tell everyone how hed ended up in the plastic bag, and Buck quickly explained the situation as he handed the boy over to the paramedics.
JD cried pitifully as they strapped him down to a backboard and covered his face with an oxygen mask. After a quick examination to make sure he wasn't injured, all of his clothing was stripped off and his skin was rinsed with a saline solution. He screamed heartily when they stuck him to start an IV.
It was the sweetest sound Buck had ever heard.
JD was admitted to the hospital for 24 hour observation, but luckily, his test results all came back within normal limits. Thankfully, the fly spray wasn't especially toxic, and he hadnt inhaled enough before passing out to cause serious complications. And, thanks to Ezra, he hadnt been without oxygen long enough to cause brain damage.
After a couple of hours, he was able to let everyone know that he expected a present, a card, and a balloon, because he was in the hopsital.
His family was all too happy to indulge him.
Ezra tried to ignore the clammy feeling that being back in the hospital gave him. Vin helped by taking him to the gift shop so that he could select yet another stuffed animal for JD - one that would not need to go into a plastic bag.
They were walking back to the elevator with a big orange Nemo when Ezra looked proudly down at his nephew.
Vin, you know that youre a hero, right?
If you hadnt found JD and run to get help Ezra wasnt sure he should finish the comment, but Vin did it for him.
JD woulda gone to dream of angels, he said somberly.
Good thing you were there. Ezra smiled, and was rewarded by a rare grin from the little boy.
They met Buck getting out of the elevator. JD wants ice cream and M&Ms for lunch, he explained, indicating he had every intention of honoring that request.
Ezra laughed and made a move to get into the elevator, but Buck stopped him.
Ezra . If you hadnt been there today . Buck shivered. He knew that he would have been able to get his shit together and do the rescue breathing if Ezra hadnt been there to do it, but what both men knew was that with his larger frame, it would have taken him much longer to get JD out from under the car - maybe too long.
It was as if fate had ordained that Ezra be there.
Hows the leg doing? Buck asked, trying to lighten suddenly somber mood once again.
Quite honestly, Ezra had almost forgotten he was injured, and told Buck so.
Now, I believe you best go fill a certain young mans dinner request, Ezra tried to casually brush him off.
Buck would have none of it, though. He yielded to impulse and wrapped the southerner in a big bear hug. Thanks, Ezra, he whispered. Thanks for being there.
Ezra stepped into the elevator and a warm feeling rushed through him. Partly, it was embarrassment at Bucks unaccustomed display of affection, but mostly it was the secure feeling that, if he never did another thing to prove it to himself, the events of that day were enough that he would never regret his decision to come back to Denver.
He had made a difference.
As Buck walked into the room and saw JD being doted over by Chris, his uncles, Aunt Raine, and even Vin, he couldnt help but think how everything fit together like that puzzle Vin was working so hard on.
There would never again be any doubt that the bonds of their odd little family would forever include Ezra.
Ezra had saved JDs life. JD had needed saving all because of some useless critters that maybe God had a reason for putting on earth after all.
Damned if hed ever figure it out how everything just seemed to fit together like that, but as he looked at his family he knew that one puzzle, at least, was complete.
I had to make sure Scooby didn't have the bugs, and I got him in the bag just like Da and I put the spray on him but I got all tangled up and then it got dark.
I got real scared when Uncle Ezra made me call 911, and you had to go to the hospital.
Yeah, but it was cool you got to talk to 911!
JD, going to hospital is not a good thing. It was a bad week I don't care what you think.
I had to go to the hospital and stay there a whole day and I got presents and a card and a balloon and I got ice cream for lunch and Uncle Ezra saved me and you called 911 that was so cool I wish I got to do that but not 'cause anyone was hurted but just to call them and
Breathe, Little Bit, breathe.
But Da I am breathing. Why does everyone think I don't breathe? If you don't breath you can't do nothing and I can do lots of stuff look
Stop waving your arms around, JD. The computer can't see you.
But I can do stuff so that means I am breathing, right Da?
Right, Little Bit.
Oh hi Uncle Ezra.
I couldn't help overhearing your conversations. Surly something good happened this week?
Come gentelmen, something must have been good.
Uncle Ezra saved me, and I got presents.
JD came home safe and sound.
See that was good. What about you Vin?
You got a lot better Uncle Ezra, and that was the best of all.
Next up - Curthed by Estee
Index - Puzzling Out Life's Little Lessons
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