Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be
Note: Betaed by Phyllis
Feedback: Yes please.
Are we there yet? came the plaintive request from the back of the truck.
Ezra, if you ask that question one more time, I swear Im gonna come back there and hit you! Josiah growled from behind the wheel.
Nathan glanced over his shoulder, hoping their other two small passengers hadnt heard anything. From the passenger seat, he could see they were both asleep.
Its all very well for you two, up there, in luxurious comfort, Ezra griped.
We know its not much fun, but it was this or cancel the trip you agreed to it.
What was I meant to do? They were giving me the big eyes.
Right, so just quit your complaining; we get there, when we get there.
Some Hours Earlier
Theyre here! Theyre here! Vin shouted with excitement as Josiahs Suburban rolled into the yard.
So I can see, Chris commented. He picked up his sons bag. Well, come on then, get yer back pack. Where's JD?
Hes with Buck. Buck made him unpack his bag.
What? Now? Chris put the bag down and headed back toward the boys bedroom, as Vin flew out of the house to meet his uncles.
Hi Uncle Ezra, Uncle Nathan, Uncle Siah!
Well, good morning to you, young sir. It looks to me as if someone is ready to go. Ezra knelt down to intercept the boy and give him a welcome hug.
I sure am, but Dad said you have to put JDs seat in Uncle Siahs car first.
What about your booster seat? Nathan asked.
Vin gave a pained sigh. Yeah, that too, but I dont really need it, honest, none of the boys my age at school have to use one.
You four foot nine yet? Nathan asked.
Vins shoulders slumped. No, but I nearly am.
Not near enough, sorry, buddy. Nathan gave Vins hair a playful ruffle. Lets get these packed and then go and see about those fishing poles Ive heard so much about.
Vin brightened instantly. Sure, mines black and red and JDs is blue.
+ + + + + + +
JD was determinedly hugging at least six toys to his little chest and shaking his head.
Come on now, Little Bit, we talked about this, theres only room for two toys. You said you wanted to take GI Joe and T-Rex, remember.
But I might need them, JD reasoned, fixing his father with huge hazel orbs.
Youre only going for four days. Youre going to go fishing and swimming and paddle a canoe. I dont think youll have much time to play with your toys; its going to be too exciting.
JD chewed his lip as he thought about the coming weekend with his uncles. He had been excited about it, but as the day drew nearer, he was less sure about going someplace new without his father. It wasnt that he didnt love and trust his uncles, and Vin was going to be right there, but it was new, and he really liked to have his father around when something new happened, just until he got used to it.
Ill leave them at home if you come with us, he offered.
Sorry, buddy, me an Chris have to work this weekend, you know that. Come on, be brave, youll love it once you get there, I promise.
K, JD capitulated. But I want Scooby, I might need him most.
+ + + + + + +
Josiahs Suburban had been the only choice of car for the trip. The Jag was out of the question; Nathans Shogun was only a three door model and much too small. Bucks old truck had even less room than the Shogun, and while the Ram could accommodate them, there wasnt as much space, even if Chris and Buck hadnt needed it themselves which they did.
The Suburban was in its twentieth year, and, with hindsight, it was perhaps asking too much to expect it to drive the two hundred plus miles to Lookout Peak Lake, without incident. They were almost exactly halfway there when it happened. As they pulled off the road in a small town, looking for a restroom, lunch and gas, in that order and slowed to a stop, the car juddered alarmingly.
What was that? Ezra asked.
D no, Josiah admitted. Remind me to ask Buck when we get back.
No one thought any more of it until they tried to leave and found the car wouldnt move. The engine turned over, it revved, alarmingly, but it didnt move.
Um, guys, I think the transmission just died, Josiah finally admitted.
How long does it take to fix it? JD asked. Because Buck was a skilled mechanic, who always fixed his own truck, JD just assumed everyone fixed their own cars.
Im not sure, well have to go and ask at the gas station, they must know where the nearest repair shop is.
Will it take a long time? Vin asked worriedly.
I dont know, Josiah admitted.
Come on, boys, let us adjourn to the diner again, I think I saw some ice cream in there, Ezra encouraged.
Can I have tachio? JD asked.
What was that?
He means pistachio, its his favourite at the moment, Vin explained.
Ezra eyed the diner. I think it unlikely they carry that flavour, but we can ask. Would chocolate be an acceptable alternative?
JD cocked his head to one side and thought. I guess, but Id rather have both.
Despite the ice cream chocolate - it was a long, boring hour before Josiah returned with the tow truck from Stan the Man's Red Devil Auto Shop'.
Sorry guys, its going to take all weekend to fix it.
Two little faces fell. Does that mean we cant go to the lake? Vin asked.
Im sorry I dont see how we can get there now; well have to see about getting back to Denver from here. Though I dont know how."
The tow truck driver informed them there was a rental car firm in the next town. "It's only a little local place, but they're okay. You decide to pick up a car there, there's a bus leaving in about fifteen minutes. Here's the number." He handed over a business card for 'Mike's Cars For All Occasions.'
While Josiah spoke to Mike, the others unloaded their luggage, and went back into the diner, where he joined them a few minutes later.
"Ok, guys, we have two options. We can have a regular car and head home or he's got one SUV left. It's a bit smaller than the Suburban, but we can carry on to the lake," Josiah announced. "But I need to know now because the bus is leaving in five minutes."
"What do you want to do, boys?" Nathan asked.
"Will Buck be at home if we go back?" JD asked.
"No, they'll be on their way to the conference by now," Nathan reminded.
"Oh, well then I want to go to the cabin, what about you Vin?"
"This other SUV, do I take it I'll have to share the rear seat with the two young gentlemen and their car seats?" Ezra asked.
"Errr, yes, it's a lot smaller," Josiah admitted.
Ezra looked around to find two pairs of 'big eyes' gazing up at him imploringly.
"Far be it for me to be a party pooper."
"We's not going to a party Uncle Ezra, it's a holiday," JD explained seriously.
"Of course it is, silly me."
+ + + + + + +
Had Ezra known the rental car was going to be a Toyota RAV 4 he might have held out against the 'big eyes'. With Vin's seat behind the driver and JD in the middle. Ezra was jammed into a small space between the door and JD's large car seat, which was digging into his hip. They'd placed JD in the middle because there was no head restraint for the centre seat, and JD's car seat had its own head restraint.
"Can we have some 'lypsos?" JD had asked as they set off again.
"Sure we've got Calypsos," Josiah confirmed.
Nathan found the CD and pushed it into the player. The third time around everyone but JD had had enough.
"How about some Beatles?" Josiah suggested. He had taken it upon himself to widen the boys music tastes, beyond their fathers normal diet of Elvis, the Eagles and film scores.
"Okay, JD agreed reluctantly, he loved Harry Belafonte.
"Vin?" Nathan asked. "You get a vote, too."
"I don't mind."
Shaking his head, Nathan hit eject on the CD player - nothing happened. He tried again, still no success. There followed the usual questions and 'helpful advise' between the three men, but the CD player refused to do anything but blink 'Err' at them and nothing more, it wouldn't play the CD in it, it wouldn't eject it, and it wouldnt switch over to the radio.
"Sorry guys, looks like no more music," Nathan told the boys.
"I can sing!" JD offered, then before anyone could stop him, he launched into his version of 'Angelina'. Unfortunately, he only knew the chorus and pronounced concertina as 'concerpeena'. And he sang it very loudly.
"Angelina, Angelina, please bring down your concerpeena and play a welcome for me 'cause I'll be coming home from sea. I said Angelina "
"Angelina, please bring "
"down your concerpeena and play "
"Not what, pardon," Ezra corrected automatically. "Now, how about we have some candy and then we have fifteen minutes of quiet."
When all else failed, bribery and corruption worked every time, and fifteen minutes quiet was all it took to lull the hyperactive five year old off to sleep, Vin followed a little later.
+ + + + + + +
Despite his words, Josiah was well aware how uncomfortable Ezra was and, thus, was doing his best to get them to their destination as soon as possible, a little too soon as it turned out.
Shit! he suddenly cursed.
Slowing down, he began to pull onto the side of the road.
Whats the matter? Nathan asked.
Look behind us.
Nathan didnt need to; the red and blue flashing lights were now so close they were being reflected around the interior by the rear view mirror. This woke the boys.
Uncle Ezra, whats happening? Vin asked.
Ooh policeman, look, Vin! JD exclaimed.
Boys, it would be well if you were to sit still and say nothing, Ezra cautioned.
But whats happening? Vin asked again, more anxiously.
I believe your Uncle Josiah was driving a tad too fast, its nothing to worry about.
Is they gonna put Uncle Siah in jail? JDs excitement had turned to worry.
No, now just hush up and be as good as gold for me, okay?
The officer appeared at Josiahs window; he glanced around the car and then asked for Josiahs licence and registration. In response, Josiah pulled out the rental agreement and his licence, he was careful to make sure he accidentally pulled out his ATF badge at the same time. However, there was to be no professional courtesy, and he was issued a ticket.
So where are all you fellers off to? the policeman asked as he wrote the ticket.
Lookout Peak Lake.
Well, I expect youll have a fine time. He handed Josiah his ticket. You folks have a nice day now. Drive carefully.
Once they were on the road again, Josiah started muttering about jobs worth county cops who wouldnt know professional courtesy if it bit them on the ass.
Uncle Siahs saying a lot of bad words, JD observed.
JD, hush up, will ya? Vin warned, sensing the atmosphere in the car.
But he is.
I know, but you gotta just sit still and keep quiet now, its a grown up thing. He glanced at Ezra who nodded in agreement.
JD looked from one to the other. Something was wrong but no one would tell him what. Reaching down, he pulled Scooby up by his tail and hugged him as silent tears fell down his cheeks. He wanted Buck, Buck would have explained it to him.
The drive continued in silence for another half an hour, or mostly silence, JD took to telling Scooby all about his current favourite DVD the original 101 Dalmatians movie. He did it quietly and no one stopped him.
Hey, this is it! Nathan suddenly announced, pointing ahead toward a homemade wooden sign.
+ + + + + + +
The little Toyota bounced down the rutted track for about two miles. While the driver and navigator concentrated on the roadway, in the back Ezra complained, Vin viewed the woodland scenery with its glimpses of the lake with excitement, and JD just enjoyed the bumps.
Weee! That was a big one, he shouted. Do it again, Uncle Siah!
Thank you, Master Dunne, but I think hes doing just fine with out any further encouragement. Ouch! The side of JDs car seat slammed into his thigh one more time. Do you think you could at least try to avoid the larger craters?
Ezra, do I have to remind you what I said earlier?
JD looked from Ezra to Josiah and back again. Uncle Ezra, are you in trouble? he asked earnestly.
Then you have to say sorry.
Im not sure thats
Uncle Siah, Uncle Ezras sorry and he didnt mean it.
Uncle Nathan, its not nice to laugh when someone is in trouble, Vin reprimanded before any of the men could respond.
Further discussion on the correct manners for contrition was cut short as they pulled into the entranceway. There was a moderately sized loghouse in front of the lake with a single storey office and reception area to the side of it; behind this were storage sheds. There were already several cars in the parking lot.
+ + + + + + +
Lookout Peak Lake nestled at one end of a valley. There were two dozen cabins dotted around the lake and the valley. Although each cabin could be reached by a track, cars werent permitted, other than to drop off or pick up luggage.
The boys couldnt wait to get out of the car as it pulled up behind their home for the next three nights. Since it was only three in the afternoon, there was plenty of time to explore.
Ezra, why dont you take the boys and explore some and me and Nathanll unload the stuff and then Ill take the car back.
How will you return here? Ezra asked.
The owner said hed drive me back.
+ + + + + + +
The boys and Ezra quickly discovered that each cabin had its own boat dock, come swimming and fishing platform out over the lake, and each cabin was provided with a large canoe.
Inside, the open plan cabin was decorated in a simple, comfortable, country style. Since there was no electricity or mains drainage, light came from oil lamps and candles. Battery lanterns were provided if young children were present. There was no phone, though there was a pay phone was at the entrance. There was a call button, connected to the office and the owner's house, but this was strictly for emergency use only.
Each cabin had a wide, covered veranda, this extended some yards past the end of the front porch, providing an extensive log store and fire proof storage for the bottled gas that provided hot water, refrigeration and cooking. A covered walkway led to a pit outhouse at the far end.
Ezra looked less than pleased at the prospect, but had to admit the facilities were clean and free of unpleasant odours.
JD announced he needed to use said facilities, then and there.
Well? Vin asked him, as he emerged, shaking water off his hands this was an outhouse with running water for hand washing, at least. Whats it like?
It tickles; the wind blowed up my tushie!
+ + + + + + +
In what remained of the afternoon, the boys helped to unpack their things and, most importantly, placed Cat and Scooby on the big double bed they were going to share downstairs in the cabin. Their three uncles would sleep in the loft over them. Or, at least, two of them would. Though the boys were unaware of it, there had been something of an argument as to who was going to be sleeping on the one bunk bed. Nathan and Josiah both argued that they were too tall. Ezra countered that he wasnt a midget and was equally too tall. The result of this was that Ezra was now sleeping on the pullout bed in the living area.
After the unpacking, there was time for a swim in the lake before a supper of barbequed homemade burgers and baked potatoes, followed by foil baked bananas with chocolate sauce.
"What are we gonna do now?" JD asked, even before Nathan had started trying to clean the chocolate sauce off his face.
How about we call your dads so you can say goodnight? Ezra pulled out his cell phone. After five minutes of wondering around outside, Ezra returned. Im sorry boys, I cant get a signal.
Nathan and Josiah tried their phones with no more success. Two little faces fell.
We cant say goodnight? Vin asked forlornly.
"Well, how about we take the canoe and paddle over to the entrance, we can call from there?" Josiah suggested.
This proposal was greeted with glee. While the boys spoke to Chris and Buck, Ezra spoke to the owner.
Sorry about the phone, only a few of them work up here and even thats patchy - at best.
On a brighter note, he had some suggestions for the next day's activities. He pointed to the large map on the wall.
"On the far side of this horseshoe bend, there's an old beaver dam. Its flooded the valley, and because of the topography at this point, you're only a hundred and fifty yards from the lake. If you're prepared to carry the canoe that far, there's a clearly marked path, you can do a nice round trip in a day, easily."
"That sounds perfect."
+ + + + + + +
The night went well, once they'd found a way to make a nightlight by covering one of the battery powered lanterns with Nathan's red tee-shirt. Ezra was only awakened once in the night to escort a small boy to the outhouse.
It was almost two in the afternoon when they tied up their canoe and climbed out to eat their picnic lunch on the banks of the beaver lake. Josiah seemed to have taken on the role of wild life expert. Once they'd eaten, the boys set about finding tree stumps left behind by the beavers. This quest occupied them for almost an hour, before the adults called them back. The trouble was they didn't want to stop running and exploring.
What followed was an extended game of tag, in which big tough ATF agents Sanchez Jackson and Standish attempted to catch two small lightening-fast, squealing boys. It took some doing, and once they had them, they didn't want to lose them. After making them put their life jackets on, Nathan lifted each boy into the canoe.
"Okay, you two sit there and sit still, while we put pack up the rest of the stuff," he instructed. "We can't leave anything behind. Remember what the rule is?"
"Leave only footprints, take only pictures," Vin recited.
The beaver dam was old and while the weather was warm and dry now, only a few days before there had been heavy rain. The river was running high, water lapped over the dam. High up in the mountains, miles from the boys and their uncles, rain was still falling. That water was still flowing into the lake and the lake was still funnelling the water into the river.
It was sheer bad luck-bad luck that the boys were in the canoe at that moment, alone. Bad luck that just below the surface, the tree stump they had tied up to was rotten.
The water under the canoe suddenly began to flow faster; the untethered end of the canoe began to swing out into the lake.
"Uncle Nathan!" Vin called out, alarmed.
But it was too late. Even as Nathan turned, the beaver dam gave way and, with the rush of water, the rotten stump pulled away and the canoe and its two terrified passengers were swept toward the crumbling dam.
"HELP!" Vin shouted.
"HOLD ON!" Nathan shouted back, already springing along the bank, trying to keep track of the canoe, Ezra and Josiah in hot pursuit.
"Vin?" JD was petrified, but his fear helped Vin deal with his own as looking after JD occupied his mind.
"JD, just sit still and hold on!"
Just then, they reached the dam and shot through the gap as if they were shooting the rapids. The, boys facing backwards, were unable to see what was coming. Water cascaded into the boat, behind Vin it all but went under the water
+ + + + + + +
The river smoothed out, but it was still running fast, carrying the boys downstream swiftly. Still facing backwards, they were carried along for several miles.
"What's happening?" JD asked.
"I think the rope broke. Don't worry, Uncle Nathan and the others will find us."
"I want my Buck!" JD wailed, then he tried to turn around.
"No, JD, you have to keep still."
"I wanna see."
"Please, JD, just sit still."
JD heard the command and obeyed, just as he had when they lived on the street, just as he'd learned to do exactly as Vin said in order to say alive.
Vin was beginning to get control of his fear; they weren't going as fast now. "Get a paddle," he commanded, as he picked up one himself.
"They's too big for me," JD protested.
"Just do your best. Start paddling back the way we came."
The boys did their best, but against the strong current, they made no headway, but at least their efforts slowed them down.
+ + + + + + +
The boys three uncles were running along the riverbank as fast as they could, fear driving them on. Sometimes the undergrowth was so thick they had to stop and go around it. Branches bruised and scratched them, clothes were torn and boots waterlogged with mud but they kept going, shouting the boys names whenever they had the breath.
"Stop!" Josiah shot his arm out to halt Nathan, who he had caught and passed. "Ezra hold up!"
Ezra, some twenty yards ahead of both men pulled up, turning back to face the other two.
"What?" he asked.
"VIN!" Josiah shouted once more, then he held out his hand to make sure the other men didn't move.
"Help!" came the faint reply from somewhere beyond Ezra.
"Oh, thank God!" Ezra exclaimed and turned on his heel and took off again.
It took the men another ten minutes to catch up to the boys, who were no longer paddling the canoe, the trailing tether rope, with its attached tree stump had snagged on some underwater obstacle.
"Boys!" Ezra shouted as he burst through the bushes on the riverbank closest to them.
"Uncle Ezra! Help!" Vin responded.
JD, hands gripping the sides of the canoe's sides with a vice-like grip, turned his little face turned to Ezra. Even as far away as he was, the pleading in those hazel orbs tore at Ezra.
"I'm coming, I'm coming." He began to pull off his shoes.
"No!" Nathan came up. "I'll go."
"You? I'm the stronger swimmer."
"Look at the rope, it's snagged, river can't be that deep, but it's fast, I'm the tallest, I'll have the best chance." Nathan was already stripping.
"He's right," Josiah announced.
"Very well," Ezra conceded.
While Nathan was still pulling off clothes, Josiah was pulling one of the laces out of his discarded boot. By now, Nathan was down to his underwear and socks.
"Wait," Josiah commanded.
"Yes, wait." Josiah placed his pocket knife, hung from the bootlace, around Nathan's neck. "You my have to cut the rope," he finally explained.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan waded out into the stream, the water pulled at him, threatening to tug him away from his target, but he forced his feet to dig into the silt as he angled his body upstream.
The boys sat still and waited, until he was almost within range, then JD began to reach for him, leaning out and rocking the canoe alarmingly.
"JD, sit down!" Vin cried out.
"It's okay, boys, I'm here," Nathan managed to get a hand onto the vessel and steady it. "JD, son, you just sit still for me, alright?"
Reluctantly, JD sat back and nodded obediently.
The current was so strong, Nathan wasn't sure he could carry the boys safely, so he worked his way to the end behind Vin and pulled out the other tether rope. Taking the coils over his shoulder, he turned to the bank.
"You ready to catch it?" he called to the other men, both of whom had already taken off their shoes and socks and rolled up their trousers past their knees and waded someway into the water.
"We're ready," Ezra assured.
It took two goes, but once they had it, Josiah and Ezra began to pull the canoe around, while Nathan returned to the other end and cut the rope free. Once the canoe was secured and the boys were lifted out, Vin wrapped his long, thin, spindly legs around Josiah tightly, his ankles crossed behind the big man.
"It's okay, I've got you, you're here, you're safe, it's all going to be okay," he soothed, rubbing gentle circles over the bony spine.
JD was clutching onto Ezra as hard as his little hands could manage, small boots digging into Ezra's hips.
"Hush little one, I'm here, your Uncle Ezra has you safe, hush, shush now." Ezra wrapped his arms around the small boy and hugged him close.
"Want my Buck," JD stated firmly.
"I know, I know."
+ + + + + + +
Despite what had happened, there was no option but for all of them to get into the canoe and cross the river. The boys weren't happy but they sat still and didn't fuss. On the far bank, they started to walk back up the river, looking for the path that would lead them through the woods and back to the lake. Nathan and Josiah carried the canoe, upside down above their heads, while Ezra followed behind, JD on his shoulders, Vin walking just in front of him. Because of the curve of the river, they didn't have to walk the full five miles, yet it still took more than two hours before they were able to put the canoe into the lake.
"Do we have to?" JD asked, eyeing the large expanse of water.
"It'll be okay," Vin assured. "Be brave."
Once back at the cabin, Josiah hit the emergency call button. The owner needed to know what had happened and the boys, now clean and dry, needed to be able to speak to their fathers.
The owner was very sympathetic and concerned, considering what might have happened.
"How about I lend you my boat?" he suggested, then he turned to the boys. "What do you think, boys? Would you be happier in a boat with an engine?"
JD didn't say anything; instead he looked to Vin, waiting for a lead. Vin thought long and hard. "I guess," he finally admitted.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan spoke to Chris and Buck first, telling them just what had happened and assuring them the boys were just fine.
"Dad?" Vin took the phone from Nathan.
"Hi, there, junior, I hear you had an adventure."
"Yeah, the dam broke and we got swept away."
"Wow, that must have been scary. But you had your life jackets on right?"
"So even if you fell out, you'd have been safe - right?"
"I guess. I tried to paddle but the water was goin' too fast. I got a blister on my hand."
"You did? I'm sorry I can't be there to take care of that for you."
"Uncle Nathan fixed it, he's got these real cool things to go on blisters, they're kind of like Jell-O."
"Goodness, I don't have those, sounds like you're in good hands. You gonna be okay?"
"I'm okay, is the conference nice?"
"It's okay. Vin, son, Buck wants to talk to JD now."
"Love you, son."
"Love you." Vin handed the phone up to JD, who was still attached, limpet like, to Ezra.
"Hey, there, Little Bit."
"Hi, Buck, we got swooshed away."
"Swooshed away? That sounds exciting."
"It was sort of, but it was scary too, 'cause we was on our own and the canoe, it was rocking and I couldn't see Vin 'cause we was going backwards and then we paddled but the paddle was too big for me and then the rope it got stuck and then Uncle Nathan rescued us and then "
"Goodness me, that sounds like a real adventure. I bet you were the bravest little boy ever."
"JD, I can't see you when you shrug," Buck reminded.
"I was scared."
"I know, but you've got your uncles there, haven't you? And I'll see you on Monday, okay?"
Chris and Buck had already discussed with Nathan the possibility of cutting their conference short, but it was important that they be there and they didn't want to miss it if at all possible.
There were a few rough patches during the night, but the boys were eventually happy to stay. The next day - Sunday - they fished and swam and took a trip in their loaned powerboat. The boys relaxed again and, come Monday, were wishing they could stay a bit longer, not that they weren't happy to be going home and excited about the prospect of telling their fathers all about the great river adventure. Ezra was just happy to see the Josiah's Suburban again, something he never would have thought possible.