Thanks to my chat buddies for helping work out the "spiders" in this fic as I tried to write it at the last minute.
This story occurs a little more that a year after the boys have joined the family.
The Tree House is featured in the story, "Shields of Honor" by KT which was part of the "Everyday Heroes" Little Britches series.
Chris watched the boys scurrying around in the tree house with a chuckle. He hadn't been keen on the idea at first. He remembered how frightened the boys had been last Halloween when Buck had set up his haunted house, yet here they were, just a year later wanting to make their own haunted house. It was a testament to how far they'd come in trust and security in their new family. Now they were making secret plans and had extracted promises from Buck and Chris that they would not peek at the Tree House of Terror in its 'formative stages'.
Chris shook his head with a smile. Vin had been spending too much time with Ezra. Formative stages simply was not natural coming out of his little boy's mouth.
Don't look, Da! JD scolded from the draw bridge to the castle themed tree house. The draw bridge had been installed as an alternative entrance so JDs friend who had lost her leg in an accident could play in the tree house.
I'm not looking, Little Bit, Buck called back as he went into the barn.
JD and Vin giggled and ducked down into the castle continuing their project.
Chris laughed as he headed to the barn. The tree house was good sized, but not that big. He couldn't imagine what the boys were doing to make it frightening, nor could he imagine how the adults would be able to access the pint-sized scares.
They had continued working for most of the afternoon and for a couple of hours into the evening after dinner. It was dark out but Buck and Chris were finishing some repairs to the barn while the boys worked on the tree house. Declaring the job finished, Chris stretched aching muscles.
Time for bed, he said with a nod toward the castle.
Yep, said Buck. We've had a big day.
Don't move. The ominous sound of a gun being cocked froze both men in their places.
Buck cried out and went down to his knees as he was viciously hit in the kidney with the butt of a rifle.
Chris made eye contact with Vin, who was peering over the wall of the tree house with a hand clamped over JD's mouth. With an almost imperceptible shake of his head Chris warned his son from trying to help and felt a small sense of relief as Vin ducked behind the wall taking JD with him. It had been a long time since the boys lived on the streets, and while Chris had hoped they'd never have to rely on those skills again, he prayed now that they weren't forgotten. He hoped that those same street smarts that had helped Vin and JD survive until they were found by five ATF agents would now help them keep hidden until it was safe.
Without warning Chris was pistol-whipped and went down hard. He struggled to his hands and knees trying to stay conscious. He blinked, clearing his vision and looking to his left as Buck put up a fight. Using Buck's distraction, he tried with all his might to take out his own captor.
The boys' pups barked wildly, distressed by the violence but unable to reach Buck and Chris from the confines of the dog run where the boys had left them during their tree house work.
Above the struggle Vin covered JD with his body, still holding a hand over the younger boy's mouth. JD was blocked from seeing the fight, but Vin couldn't pull his eyes away, watching every blow with silent tears running down his cheeks. He wanted desperately to help his dad and Buck, but with a single look Chris had told him 'no'. And he knew his first job was to keep JD safe, so all he could do was hide and try to keep JD quiet.
Stop or I'll kill him! one of the attackers ordered. He held a gun to Buck's head and Chris had no choice. All he could do now was wait for another opening and try to keep these men from finding the boys.
What do you want? Chris snarled.
Food, clothes, money, transportation... and not necessarily in that order, said one of the men. Their orange jumpsuits indicated that they had been recent residents of the county jail.
Who else is here? the other man asked.
No one, Chris said flatly.
Inside, the man said nodding toward the house, still carefully watching Chris with his gun.
Move, the other man ordered giving Buck a shove.
Chris followed, worried not only about the boys, but Buck. Blood was trickling down the side of Buck's face from a cut over his eye. Chris supposed he didn't look much better. He could feel the wetness of his own head wound along with the throbbing ache and prayed he could stay lucid.
JD sniffed and Vin moved his hand away from the younger boy's mouth. Sorry, he whispered. Both boys crawled to the far side of the tree house and peeked over the rail toward the ranch house. They couldn't see inside, but knew that two bad men held their father's hostage.
What we gonna do? JD asked with a whimper.
Vin patted JD on the shoulder trying to assure him. Vin wanted to whimper, too. He wanted to cry. He wanted Chris to hold him. But for now his only mission was to keep JD safe and keep the men from finding them.
We gotta stay put, Vin said softly. We can't let them see us.
But we gotta help, said JD.
Vin grimaced. He felt the same way, but Chris had with a single shake of his head told him not to try anything.
Chris's head snapped to the side, blood spraying from his mouth as the force of the slap made his teeth cut into his cheek. He and Buck were tied to dining room chairs and defenseless to ward off blows from their captors.
I thought you said no one else was here. There's a kid's room down the hall.
Chris looked up with a glare. That's my son's room. He's with his mother this week.
It was a simple lie, but easily believable. The house had almost no feminine touches anymore and judges still tended to place primary custody with mothers, not single fathers.
Two beds, the man continued.
He likes to have a friend stay over, Chris answered without missing a beat.
Go out and take a look around, the captor ordered.
The second man growled but followed the command.
Vin and JD ducked down as the door opened. The fear made JD breathe hard and both boys felt like it was abnormally loud. Vin rubbed his friend's back soothingly despite his own fear. They both held their breath as the man looked at the tree house.
He approached the tree and circled around it looking at the drawbridge ramp. The ramp was up as if not in use and protecting the structure from unwanted critters. Someone had gone through a lot of effort to make this castle tree house. He wished his dad had cared enough to do that when he was a kid. Leaving the tree he walked toward the barn. The dogs barked at the stranger and he kicked the gate of the kennel as he passed. The dogs barked louder, growling and snarling at the man.
Entering the barn he checked each stall, seeing only horses. He checked the loft and found no one. He checked the garage and the shed on his way back to the house.
They're alone, the boys heard him announce just as the door banged shut and he went back inside the house.
Vin waited a few minutes before crawling over to the main trunk of the tree.
What are you doing? JD asked softly.
I'm going to get help, Vin answered.
How? JD asked holding on to Vin's arm. He didn't want his brother to leave him behind.
I'm going to sneak to the barn and use the radio to call Miz Nettie, Vin said. After Chris had an accident with a chainsaw and the boys ended up driving and crashing the truck trying to help him, they had installed two-way radios in both the house and the barn and instructed the boys in how to use them.
Me, too, JD whispered.
No. You gotta stay here. It's not safe, said Vin.
It's not safe for you neither, JD insisted.
The bridge is up, Vin said harshly. I can't let it down without making noise. Then they'll hear it. I gotta climb down the tree, and you're not supposed to climb it.
Vin didn't want to leave JD behind, but he didn't want to take him either. If he took JD with him and they got caught...
You gotta stay here. Please, JD, he pleaded. You gotta stay real quiet and not let them see you.
JD wiped tears from his eyes and then hugged Vin.
Be careful, he admonished.
I will, said Vin. He moved to the tree and started his climb down.
JD lay on the floor of the castle and watched Vin's progress across the yard through the slats. Vin moved slowly, sticking to the shadows as he moved from tree to tree, then toward the shed. As he passed the kennel the dogs whined and yipped wanting his attention.
Both boys were horrified at the noise and Vin gave up all pretense of hiding and simply ran for the barn. He had to call for help. He had to stop the men that were hurting their dads.
Go see what that racket is about.
Jack, I already looked. Theres nobody out there.
Shut up, Denny, and go check, Jack ordered. Something has those dogs wound up.
They arent used to being left out, Chris volunteered.
They probably want to come in, Buck added.
Shut up, Jack ordered, waving his gun in Bucks direction. Both of ya just keep quiet.
Look, why dont you just take my truck and go? Chris suggested.
Jack looked at Chris. Something about this blond man made him nervous. He and Denny hadnt thought through this part of their escape plan. They hadnt planned on the car breaking down in the middle of nowhere. They had hoped to be able to just steal another car, but then these two men had walked out of the barn and thrown their plan off kilter. Now they at least had a way to get a change of clothes, some food and money, and a place to lay low at least until daylight. A truck with two men in it would be a lot less conspicuous when the highways were filled with vehicles.
A blood-curdling scream made all three men snap their attention in the direction of the back door.
Jack cursed vehemently, backhanding Chris before shoving his chair over. Buck grimaced as he watched and heard the back of Chriss head hit the floor. Hed missed the fireplace hearth by mere inches.
A minute later Denny came crashing through the door carrying a wildly thrashing little boy. Found him in the barn trying to call someone on a radio, he said as he struggled to control Vin.
Did he get through? Jack demanded.
No, and he wont. I smashed the radio. Denny let out a string of curses and flung Vin away from him as the boy bit his forearm.
Vin landed against the side of Bucks chair, hitting his cheek on the rung of the chair. Buck growled. He wanted desperately to help Vin, but he couldnt move. You touch that boy again, he hissed, and youll regret it the rest of your very short life.
Wheres the other one? Jack demanded.
Theres no one else, said Chris, trying to gather his senses. His head pounded mercilessly.
Jack kicked him in the ribs. Thats what you said last time. Hearing the boy gasp at the mistreatment of the blond man, Jack approached him.
Wheres your brother?
Buck could feel Vin trembling as he leaned against Bucks leg trying to gain some comfort.
I dont g-got a brother, Vin answered.
Then who sleeps in the other bed in your room? Jack snarled.
JD, Vin said in a hushed voice.
Chris and Buck both felt their hearts sink at the name. Vin didnt realize he was giving up his little brother to be captured, too.
Hes my friend. He stays overnight sometimes.
Buck held in his sigh of relief, hoping that the captor would take Vins word.
Is he here now? Jack demanded.
Vin shook his head. He could honestly say JD wasnt here right now. JD was in the tree house.
If youre lying to me, boy, Im going to take it out on your dad.
As much as Vin wanted to look to Chris for reassurance at that moment, he didnt. I dont lie, he said softly. JDs not here.
You get over here by your dad, Jack said, uprighting Chris and the chair. I dont want to hear a peep out of you. If you try anything Ill hurt your dad.
Vin skittered the few feet over to Chris and positioned himself similarly as he had with Buck, leaning against Chriss lower leg.
Itll be all right, Chris said softly. Vin leaned a little harder on his leg.
JD lay on the floor of the tree house, hands covering his head crying silently. The bad men had Vin. They had his Da and Chris and now Vin, too. He saw the man slap Vin hard. He saw Vin fighting with him all the way to the house. Vin was smart and strong, but the bad man had got him. Now JD was the only one left to get help, and he wasnt big and strong like Vin.
He sat up and wiped his nose on his sleeve. He could do it. He had to do it. There was nobody left. He crawled over to the trunk of the tree. He could climb down. Hed seen Vin do it lots of times. Climbing the tree wasnt scary. Stepping off the floor of the castle and grabbing hold of the tree -- that was scary. But thinking about the bad men hurting Buck and Chris and Vin was even scarier.
JD took a deep breath and reached for the tree trunk. He stepped into the darkness, feeling for a branch with his foot. He found it and felt with his left foot for another branch. Step by step he cautiously made his way down until he felt the ladder Chris and Buck had attached to the tree. Gaining confidence he hurried down as fast as he could.
Reaching the base of the tree he sat down for just a minute. His legs were shaking. He grabbed a hold of his thighs trying to make the trembling stop. As he caught his breath he looked over toward the barn. He didn't know if Vin had been able to call Miz Nettie, so he had to try, but he couldn't go by the dogs. They would bark and then the bad men would find him, too. He would have to go where the dogs couldn't see him. He'd have to go all the way around the house. It would take longer, but the dogs wouldn't bark. But if he went by the house those special lights would turn on the ones that turned on when something moved outside. He'd have to crawl on the ground right next to the house. He and Vin had figured out if you crawled on the ground the lights couldn't see you.
Carefully he crept toward the house and started his belly crawl around the perimeter, blinking back tears of fear as he went. He had to stop a couple of times when his shirttail got caught on the bushes, but eventually he made it to the front corner of the house.
Now for the hard part. He had to cross the driveway. The bad men would be able to see him if they looked outside. He hoped they weren't looking.
Don't look, he whispered as he crouched low and crept across the driveway. He made it inside the barn and let out a breath. He hurried to the storage area where the radio was kept.
Oh no! he cried aloud as he saw the broken radio. The bad man must have broken it when he grabbed Vin. What was he going to do now? It would take too long to go to the neighbors' house and the only phone here was inside the house.
Wait! he said before covering his mouth, afraid they could hear him. Da's phone, he whispered. Buck frequently left his cell phone in his truck. He'd lost his charger and usually had to use the cigarette lighter in the truck to charge it. He'd have to cross where they could see him again, but he had to get to a phone.
JD made he way across the driveway again, stopping at Buck's truck. He opened the door, gasping in fear when the dome light came on. He scrambled into the truck and closed the door as quietly as he could, hoping they didn't hear the thump.
My son needs to use the bathroom, Chris said, drawing attention to himself. He had a direct view of the driveway and had seen the light come on inside Buck's truck. His heart clenched in fear for the little boy outside, praying the prison escapees would not find him.
He can wait, said Jack, tucking in his shirt. He'd taken some of Chris's clothes and changed out of his orange jumpsuit. Denny was now in the bedroom changing.
I gotta go bad! Vin added, picking up on his father's lead. He was scared, but if Chris needed him to pretend he had to go to the bathroom... well, it wouldn't exactly be pretending.
Jack grabbed Chris by the hair and yanked his head back. I said shut up.
Sorry. Sorry! Vin apologized hoping that the man wouldn't hit Chris again.
Jack grinned and shoved Chris's head. That's better. Hurry up, Denny!
Buck and Chris exchanged glances. Despite his silence, Chris knew that Buck had seen the light in the cab of the truck as well. Buck gave a slight nod, confirming to Chris that his phone was in the truck. They just had to keep the captors distracted until little JD could summon help. They both knew that JD knew what to do, how to dial the phone and what information to give, but learning it in a classroom and through practice drills at home was not the same as trying to react in an emergency. Calling for help was a tall order for a little boy.
JD dialed 911.
911, what's your emergency?
I'm JD Dunne. Some bad men in orange pajamas beat up my Da and Chris. And they taked Vin in the house, too.
All right, JD she said calmly as caught the attention of the operator next to her. Can you tell me where you are, JD? she asked as wrote out orange jumpsuits so her coworker could see it and notify the police. They were all aware there were two escapees from the county jail on the run.
Im in Das truck, JD answered.
What is the address where you are? she asked calmly.
Oh! said JD. Our address is 14911 Rock Ridge Drive. I live here and Da and Chris and Vin. Hes eight.
Okay, she said as she keyed in the address and set the wheels in motion. Im sending the police but I want you to stay on the phone with me.
"'Kay," JD sniffed
JD, how old are you? asked the operator.
Six. Are you going to call the policemen? My Da is an ATF agent. So is Chris. We need policemen right now!
"JD, can you tell me if anyone is hurt?"
Ya-huh..." JD blinked away tears. "Can you call Uncle Nathan? The bad men hit Da and Chris and Vin and Uncle Nathan always fixes us up. Hes an ATF agent with my Da and Chris.
Are they hurt badly? she asked, hating that she was probably causing the child more fear.
Da was bleeding, JD said with a hitching breath. Please call Uncle Nathan.
All right, JD, she soothed. Whats Nathans last name?
Jackson, said JD. Hes an ATF agent.
The operator passed the information to her coworker to check out the accuracy of the information and place the call.
JD are you somewhere safe? the operator asked.
If they dont see me, said JD. Oh no! Theyre coming outside! Theyre coming to the truck!
The operator tensed as the phone went silent. The connection was not lost, but the little boy had stopped talking. She remained silent, afraid that any noise would give away his location.
She could hear a rattling noise, then pounding, and then cursing. There was more rattling, a disgusted curse and then silence. The operators were holding their breath hoping to hear the voice of a brave little six-year-old. The first sound they heard was a sniff, then soft sobbing.
JD, can you hear me? the operator asked.
They heard more sniffling, then some scuffling around as the boy picked up the phone.
JD? she asked again.
He tried to get in, JD cried. I holded the handle like me and Vin do when were teasing Da.
You are a very smart and brave young man, the operator said. The police will be there very soon... but I want you to stay on the phone, can you do that?.
Okay, JD said with a whimper.
@&*#($%! keys wont unlock the truck, Denny complained as he went back into the house.
Chris & Buck exchanged glances. Neither had seen JD leave the truck. He had to still be inside, but how?
You're an idiot, Jack growled, shoving Denny.
Vin, Chris whispered while Jack was distracted, if he lets you go to the bathroom, try to find a way to turn off the security lights.
Vin looked up at Chris and nodded. He was scared, but he'd try.
Jack grabbed the keys and turned toward Chris. The keys won't unlock the truck, he said in a low growl.
Those are my keys, Chris said.
Denny cursed. I bet they go to the truck in the garage.
Is that right? Jack asked.
I thought you were checking my truck, Chris said flatly. You said give me the keys and I did. I didn't know you were going to try them on Buck's truck.
You son of a - he cut off his own words with a vicious blow to Chris's face.
Dad! Vin screamed. Jack shoved him away from Chris's chair.
Leave him alone! Buck yelled.
Jack turned his attention away from Chris and punched Buck. Shut up! Everyone just shut up!
Vin sobbed in fear.
I said shut up! He grabbed Vin by the upper arm and shoved him toward Chris's chair.
Buck let out a roar of rage trying to pull attention away from Chris and Vin. He received another blow across the face for his efforts.
Jack took a step away and looked at the blond man. The little boy was clinging to his leg and sobbing. You watch them! he ordered Denny as he stormed out of the room.
Chris couldn't hold his boy, couldn't offer a hug. I'm all right, Vin. Shh, he soothed. He could feel Vin shaking. I love you, Son, he said.
Vin sniffed and looked up at him and Chris tried to give him a reassuring smile. Vin took his sleeve and wiped some of the blood that was running into Chris's eye.
Better sit down, kid, Denny said. You don't wanna make Jack any madder than he is.
Vin slid to the floor and wrapped his arms around Chris's leg.
JD, when the police get there, they aren't going to have their sirens on or their police lights, the operator said.
Okay, said JD.
A police man will come up to the truck and hold his badge up to the window so you know it's safe to go with him. But until he does, stay out of sight, okay?
Okay. Is Uncle Nathan coming? JD asked.
We're working on that. We're sending paramedics, too, but they won't be able to go in until the police make sure your dad and your friends are safe.
JD sniffled again.
Tell me about your dad, she said trying to keep him talking.
His name is Buck, said JD, Buck Wilmington and we live here with Vin and Chris. Chris is Vin's dad. Vin's eight and he's my bestest friend.
As JD rattled on about his family the first police vehicles arrived, parking at a safe distance from the house.
Oh! JD yelped in fright when someone tapped on the passenger window of the truck.
Are you alright? the operator asked.
Someone's here, JD whispered. He saw a face at the window and then the man held up his badge. It's a police man.
Alright, JD. You go with him and do whatever he says. He'll help your dad.
Okay, said JD. He closed the cellphone and crawled across the truck seat and unlocked the door. The police officer opened the door and JD willingly climbed into his arms and was whisked away to a safe distance.
You want me to go try the other truck? asked Denny when Jack returned to the room.
No, Jack snapped. We're not leaving until it's light. It can wait.
I thought we were -
You don't think at all! Jack hissed. We go out now and for sure we'll get pulled over. There's hardly any traffic this time of night. We leave during rush hour and blend in with all the other traffic. For now we just sit tight and wait.
Mister, I gotta go bad, Vin said shakily.
Jack swore. Take the stupid kid to the bathroom and then find us something to eat. Maybe you can do that right.
Chris prayed he had not put Vin into deeper danger with his request. Vin was a smart and brave little guy and would try to help however he could. If he could get the security lights turned off, the police could have a better chance at getting close to the house without being noticed.
Vin walked down the hall with the man and gratefully relieved himself. He opened the bathroom door and stepped out.
Come on, said Denny. Let's get some food.
Vin led him to the kitchen.
You got any beer? Denny asked.
Vin nodded and walked to the refrigerator. He opened the door fast and let it slam into the wall. Oh no! he said pulling the door away from the wall and running his hand down the wall and over the light switch flipping off the power to the security lights. His heart pounded in his chest and he prayed the man didn't know what he had just done.
Worry about the wall later, Denny said.
Vin nodded and pulled a six pack out of the refrigerator for him.
Let's go, Denny ordered, pushing Vin back toward the living room.
Vin couldn't help but think Denny was going to get in trouble again because beer wasn't food. He quickly scrambled over to Chris's chair and sat down on the floor.
Got us some beer, said Denny.
Jack cursed at him but took one of the beers and popped the top, taking a big swig.
Vin nodded without looking at Chris, hoping he understood that Vin had turned off the lights. Then the boy continued what he had been doing the whole time trying to untie Chris's ropes without being seen.
And there's two men in orange pajamas, JD said from the back of the police car with Officer Davis.
So your dad and his best friend, and your best friend?
JD nodded. Vin's eight.
Okay, do you know where they are in the house?
Nuh-uh, JD said. I couldn't look in the window because the special lights would come on and they'd know I was there.
Security lights? Officer Davis asked.
JD nodded. I crawled on the ground so they couldn't see me.
Mitch Davis wanted to smile. He had a very bright little boy on his hands.
Can you tell me what the inside of your house is like? he asked.
Do you mean what color? JD asked.
No, Mitch said with a smile. Can you tell me how many rooms, where the rooms are?
Okay, said JD. When you go in the front door you're in the great room. They must call it that 'cause it's great big. It's 33 steps from the TV to the dining room.
Which side is the dining room on? Mitch asked.
This one, said JD waving his right arm.
Mitch looked at his partner standing outside his car with a half smile. The kid knew the room was 33 steps across, but couldn't tell you right and left.
E'cept the dining room's not really a room. I don't know why they call it that. It's just part of the great room and has the table and chairs in it. It gots a doorway into the kitchen though.
Harvey Thomas made notes as JD described the layout of his house to his partner.
And the kitchen is ten steps this way, JD made a motion with his hands, and 24 steps this way. He made a side ways motion. And if you go that way in the kitchen you go into the mud room and can go out the back door. But if you go that way, he added pointing the opposite way, You go right into the hall. The hall is really really long. It's almost 62 steps.
Almost? asked Mitch.
JD nodded. It's 61 but my toes don't touch the end.
Okay, said Mitch. Does the great room have a door to the hall way, too?
Yep, said JD. But it's more of a rainbow.
A rainbow? Mitch asked.
JD nodded and traced an imaginary arch with his finger. You know, a rainbow.
Yeah! The room right by the kitchen is me and Vin's bathroom. And then our bedroom. And then Chris's bedroom. His bedroom is really big and he has his own bathroom. Da's bedroom is 'cross the hall but he has to use me and Vin's bathroom. Chris says he's gonna build another bedroom and bathroom. Da says it's because Chris wants his office back.
Harvey handed Mitch a sketch of the layout.
So does it look like this? Mitch asked JD.
It's a lot bigger, said JD seriously.
Yes, said Mitch patiently, But are the rooms in the right places?
A guy from the power company will be here in about an hour to cut the power, Harvey reported.
They're going to make the lights go off? asked JD.
We gots a generator by the barn.
Does it start automatically? Mitch asked.
It's supposed to, said JD, but Da says it's a piece of... JD stopped himself and covered his mouth, wide-eyed at what he almost said in front of a policeman.
So it doesn't start by itself? Mitch asked ignoring the boy's embarrassment.
Nope. Da or Chris has to go out and make it go.
Good, said Mitch. That can work in our favor. Maybe get them to split up.
Boss, said another officer, I got a man down here who says he's the kid's uncle. Name's Standish.
Uncle Ezra! said JD.
Easy son, we have to be quiet, said Mitch. Bring him up, he told the officer.
It was only moments before Ezra stuck his head in the car. JD?
Uncle Ezra, JD cried wrapping his arms around Ezra's neck and sobbing uncontrollably.
Ezra drew him into a hug, holding the boy tightly. Agent Ezra Standish, ATF, Ezra said to the officer. The two men in the house are my boss and coworker. The boy is my boss's son.
Mitch nodded. Let's get him a little further away from the scene.
Ezra nodded in agreement. My car is just down the road.
By the time the man from the power company arrived, Nathan and Josiah were on scene. Each man had comforted JD as much as they could, but the boy was glued to Uncle Ezra and would not be moved. Ezra either didn't realize that JD was grinding dirt and snot into his fancy suit, or he simply didn't care. His nephew needed him.
There wasn't much information the agents could give to add to JD's description other than some details about Chris and Buck and their likely reactions to different scenarios. Looking through open window blinds, the police officers had determined where Chris, Buck and Vin were being held. Josiah, Nathan and Ezra had offered their assistance but the officer in charge wanted them to stay back so he could work with the team of officers he was familiar with.
Ready to cut the power, Boss, said one officer.
The chief looked around at his men making sure they were ready. Do it, he ordered.
It was hard to wait. Both Chris and Buck were stiff and sore, but there was no way to get relief. The stress of the night had finally claimed Vin around 2 am. and he was dozing against Chris. It had been at least an hour, probably a lot longer since they had seen the light in the cab of Buck's truck a second time. They hoped that JD had indeed reached the police and was now safely in their protection. They just had to bide their time until the police made their move.
The lights went out.
What the @#$$%^! said Jack.
Happens all the time, Chris said in the darkness. Probably a tree branch on the lines or a blown transformer. There's a generator by the barn.
Take the kid, ordered Jack. Go start the generator.
I don't know nothing about a generator, said Denny.
Just shut up and do it, Jack growled.
Vin yelped in the darkness.
Dad! he cried.
Go with them, Son, said Chris. Do what they say.
Denny stumbled when Jack shoved Vin against him in the darkness. Man and boy tripped over things as they made their way to the back door and went outside.
The dogs woke and started barking hearing the movement in the dark. Where's the generator? Denny growled in frustration.
Over there, said Vin.
Let's go, Denny directed. How do you start this thing?
Vin yelped when someone grabbed him from behind, covered his mouth and dragged him around the corner. Vin struggled with all his might against the new captor.
Denny froze and carefully raised his hands at the quiet order of the police officers. They quickly cuffed him and moved him out of sight.
Vin fought hard digging his elbows into his captor and kicking his feet.
Vin... Vin, it's all right.
It took several tries before the familiar voice penetrated Vin's terror. He suddenly stopped fighting and turned his head toward the voice.
Come here, son, said Josiah.
Vin nearly dove into Josiah's arms, sobbing uncontrollably as the giant of a man held him tightly and walked down the driveway to reunite Vin with JD.
Inside the house, Jack didn't know what hit him. There was a roar in the darkness and he got off a wild shot before he was knocked to the floor. Police officers rushed the house at the sound of the gunshot. The generator came on and they were greeted with the scene of Buck Wilmington holding a limp man by the collar. It had taken a while, but he had managed to untie his ropes, thanks to the nimble fingers of Vin who had loosened the knots when he was next to Buck's chair.
Buck dropped Jack in disgust. He'd knocked him unconscious when he tackled him. He hadn't even been able to get in a good punch. Slowly he raised his hands in surrender. Buck Wilmington, ATF, he said.
It took a few minutes to sort out who's who inside the house but Buck and Chris were soon moving out into the yard looking for their boys.
Vin? JD? Chris called.
Right here, Mr. Larabee, said Ezra moving forward with JD. Josiah was close behind with Vin. Physical injuries were unimportant in comparison to emotional needs. Both boys reached out to their fathers and several minutes passed as the men just held and hugged on their boys. There would be interviews, statements and reports, but for now everyone, including the officers on scene, just needed to celebrate a happy ending.
Halloween had dawned before they had even gone to bed. Nathan and the paramedics had checked out all four of the Larabee-Wilmington-Tanner-Dunne household and found no serious injuries. A few butterfly bandages closed up wounds and ice bags eased bruises. Neither boy slept in his own bed and neither was required to go to school. Chris and Buck had both requested and received emergency personal leave days.
The boys told their stories of what they had done and Buck and Chris praised each of them for their courage and smarts. Despite their unease with what had happened, the boys beamed with their fathers' praise. Their uncles and the police officers had told them the same thing last night, but the words coming from Buck and Chris made them proud.
As evening approached and the time drew near for the uncles to arrive to take part in the boys' Tree House of Terror, Vin and JD grew quiet. At the supper table Buck asked JD what was troubling him. Both men knew that the boys were likely to have nightmares for awhile and it was only natural for them to be troubled by what had happened.
Little Bit, something's bothering you. Can you tell me what it is? asked Buck.
JD looked at Vin, but the older boy didn't give him any kind of a response.
We don't... JD looked at Vin again. We don't want to disdappoint you.
Son, you won't disappoint me, Buck assured. What's wrong?
Me and Vin, well, we don't want to do the Tree House of Terror no more, JD confessed.
Chris and Buck exchanged glances. It had meant a lot to the boys to do their own haunted house and it didn't surprise either man in the least that the boys didn't want any more fright. They had more than enough real terror in the last 24 hours.
That's okay with us, said Buck. We can just play games and do fun things tonight.
You don't think Uncle Nathan and Uncle Josiah and Uncle Ezra will be sad?
Heck, no! said Buck. They like funny things just as much as scary things. So let's figure out what games we can play...
An hour later the uncles had arrived and were helping set up the new events of the evening. None of them minded that the Tree House of Terror would not be open tonight. All that mattered was that two little boys were safe.
Oh no! Our Jack-o-lanterns! said JD. They's in the tree house.
Can you get them for us, Uncle Ezra? asked Vin.
Certainly, Master Tanner, said Ezra. He understood that the boys needed time away from the terror they had experienced in the tree house. He sauntered over to the castle, happy to help his nephews.
JD suddenly covered his mouth, but he couldn't hide the grin that formed. The men looked at them curiously as Vin returned the goofy grin.
Ayeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Ezra's squeal drew everyone's attention to the tree house.
Both boys started giggling.
Aghhhhhhhhhhhhh! Ezra yelped.
The pure joy of the little boys' laughter was contagious and Buck, Chris, Nathan and Josiah found themselves laughing as well.
Ezra stood up and looked over the edge of the castle wall. The six members of his family standing on the ground laughed even harder. The Tree House of Terror had claimed him as a victim.
He sighed as he tried to look dignified. A smile quirked at his mouth hearing the boys' giggles. The smiles on their faces made it all worthwhile.
Chris would still get the dry cleaning bill.