AU: Seventh Heaven Animal Sanctuary
Notes: Sanctuary: 1.) refuge: a safe place, especially for people being persecuted; 2.) place where wildlife is protected: a place or area of land where wildlife is protected from predators and from being destroyed or hunted by human beings
Thanks to the wonderful Musegals that helped me so much on this. Mary Ann and Sue, you gals rock! Without your help and suggestions this would not be nearly as good.
Chris Larabee woke with a start. Closing his eyes tight, he laid back down in the cold lonely bed. He always hoped that if he got drunk enough he would not see that moment again in his dreams. The moment when a car bomb had killed his wife and son. All the police could figure was that it was done by one of the groups that had been protesting the zoo’s endangered animal’s exhibit’s new acquisition. Two baby orangutans had been found in the custody of a black market seller who was taking them to his buyer. The pair had been given to the zoo for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that they were too young to be without a mother and their health had suffered from the stress of being taken from their mother and hauled to the U.S. from Borneo. There had been a huge protest about no attempt being made to return them to the wild. One of the groups had apparently decided to send a message by putting a bomb in the head zookeeper’s car.
Chris, not only head zookeeper but also a large cat expert, was staying at Buck’s helping him with the new arrivals. The large mustached man was a natural mother hen as well as a primate specialist and always fussed over his charges, especially the babies. The blond was giving him a hand until their health and age would allow them to stay at the zoo. Buck had done the same for his friend when he had had a pair of cheetah cubs to nurse.
Chris had never forgiven himself for not having been home to run the family errands so Sarah had to; and the mustached Romeo had never forgiven himself for asking his friend to stay one more night and help with the feedings.
Chris eyes shot open. Someone was in the house. He slowly reached for the gun he kept in the drawer of the bedside table.
“Rise and shine, Stud!” a familiar voice came from the hallway.
“Go away, Buck,” Chris called, groaning, but swinging his legs over the side of his bed and getting up.
“No can do. You got that job today,” Buck replied entering, holding out a cup of coffee.
Chris grunted acknowledgement and moved towards the bathroom. His heavy drinking had eventually cost him his job. With his savings nearly depleted, he was being forced to rejoin the world. It was either that or soon he’d be staking a claim under a bridge and begging for his meals.
“Looking good, Pard,” Buck greeted him while scrambling eggs for breakfast half an hour later when he entered the kitchen.
Chris raised his still half full coffee cup in thanks.
“What exactly is it that Orin Travis is looking to do?” Buck asked.
“I’m not real sure, something to do with an animal sanctuary. His letter sounded interesting enough that I agreed to a lunch meeting with him. Which, naturally, meant that you decided that I had to be up for breakfast.”
The large man grinned and nodded; happy that his friend was at least taking enough interest in life again to try and get a job. It was a beginning towards taking care of himself again, something he had not done in the three years since losing the family that had meant everything to him. Inviting himself for breakfast had been Buck’s way of helping by making sure that Chris was up and sober when lunch rolled around. Considering who the interview was with, the odds were that the job would take him to Idaho, which might not be a bad thing. It would be a new start in a new place. Could be just what Chris needed.
Taking a bite of his fish, Chris looked over at the gray haired, but still indomitable force, which was retired Federal Judge Orin ‘hang ‘em high’ Travis.
“So, what you’re wanting is a combined sanctuary and wildlife refuge?”
“My son, Steven, was a naturalist and conservationist. He loved animals and the wilderness. I want this to be a tribute to him. A way of saving the things he loved,” Orin explained.
Chris swallowed and nodded, having been a father, he could understand that. He had made a donation to the hospitals burn ward in Adam and Sarah’s name.
“I heard you were raised on a farm. You know a thing or two about livestock and domestic animals; as a zoo keepers you would have the knowledge to deal with the exotic pets that we sometimes get,” Orin continued.
“Could I pick my staff?” Chris asked.
“I’ll agree to that. Are there any people that you have in mind?” Orin asked. He had heard that Larabee had his own way of doing things.
“Dr. Nathan Jackson’s the best veterinarian around; he’s worked large and small animals, as well as done rescue work with wild animals. Buck Wilmington would be a good hand as well, and he could back me up with any exotics,” the blond suggested.
“There’s a retired preacher up there; land’s next to mine, he’s an old hand with animals. He’d be a good addition as well,” Orin added, after nodding his acceptance of Chris’s suggestions. He had heard of both men and liked what was said about them.
“We’d need someone to work the office part of the operation,” Chris said, knowing that neither he nor Buck would be good at, or have the time for, the administrative tasks.
Travis nodded, “I agree that someone with some business savvy is needed. I’d also like someone that would be specializing as it were with the smaller animals, the dogs and cats. The main thrust of your jobs would be taking in hurt, abandoned, or any kind of animal that’s been given up and then finding them a new home. The wilderness refuge would be a secondary part. I would like to have someone that has some knowledge of conservationism and such in the group as well.”
“I’ll look and see who we can find. I agree that it would be good to have someone like that,” the blond concurred. He and Buck were both experienced in wilderness survival and loved hunting, camping, and fishing; but, while they were responsible and always careful to keep the balance of nature first, they were not conservationist or naturalists.
“Any other questions?” Orin asked.
“Would this be a no kill shelter?” Chris asked.
“Killing would be a last resort, only animals that were in pain or had proven themselves to be dangerously aggressive even after our best efforts to retrain it would be put down.”
Chris nodded; that was what he had been hoping and expecting.
“And the wilderness part, how will that work?”
“Periodically someone would go through areas and check on things. Naturalists would be permitted to study the animals there. Upon request, tours through the area could be arranged,” Orin explained. “Mostly it would be left alone as a place for wild animals to live.”
Chris nodded; basically it would be a large preserved habitat for native wildlife.
“Understand, that if you show up at work drunk or hung over, even once, I will be looking for a new head of this project,” Orin warned him in a tone that left no doubt of his seriousness.
“Not a problem,” Chris assured him.
The two men shook hands sealing the agreement.
That evening Buck broke every speed limit in Cheyenne getting across town. Running to the door, he swore and went back to his car for the steaks he had left in the front seat. Meat in hand, he leapt into the house, eager for the news.
“Did you take the job?” He asked excitedly as Chris handed him a beer and took the steaks.
“How would you like to join me in Idaho working on a sanctuary and refuge combined?”
“I’m listening,” the large man told him eagerly.
Smiling, the blond laid out the plan.
“Count me in, stud,” Buck agreed after hearing the details. The zoo just wasn’t as much fun without Chris there. The change would do them both good.
“I’ll let Travis know.”
“Have anyone in mind for the conservationist job? I think HE would be perfect,” the mustachioed man offered hesitantly.
“He’s not even speaking to me,” Chris reminded him. There was only one person that Buck referred to that way.
Buck sighed heavily. He hated situations like this. “Have you tried talking to him?”
The blond said nothing, just went back to cooking the steaks he had pulled out the ice box.
“You have to at least try. Just talk to him,” Buck almost pleaded.
“We’ll figure it out, we always have.”
The large man backed off, he knew better than to press when Chris used that tone. He just hoped that his friend would figure out a way to patch things up with his nephew. The two had been close before the falling out.
A young man with long light brown hair pulled off his t-shirt to enjoy the warm sun of the late spring day on his chest. Settling himself by his fishing hole, he sighed happily, ready to do a little fishing and a lot of snoozing. It was his favorite way to spend a lazy Saturday.
Feeling the familiar tingling on his neck that meant someone was approaching, he opened his eyes.
Seeing a slender, intense blond heading towards him, he slowly got to his feet. It had been almost a year since he had seen or spoken to his uncle. If Chris was here, then maybe he had sobered up enough that they could make peace.
Chris smiled see Vin. He should have come before now. “You’re still a scrawny assed scrapper.”
“Never claimed to be anything else.”
“Like to talk.”
Blue eyes looked into green ones and the younger man nodded to the spot next to him and sat back down.
Nether said anything as they sat watching the lake and the occasional bird or animal that visited it. Vin doing an occasional whirl and cast.
“Yer looking better,” Vin offered, his Texas accent a little thicker than normal.
“Feeling better than I have in a while,” Chris replied.
“Good to know. I… I didn’t want to leave… It wasn’t easy,” he said suddenly engrossed in baiting his hook. “Seemed like I was doing more damage than good to us both by staying.”
“I never thought it was easy,” Chris assured him, surprised. Vin could not seriously have thought that he thought that. “You did what you had to do. Hell, I wish Buck had been that strong.”
“He feels guilty.”
“He’s Buck,” Chris snorted. No one could do guilt like the big hearted man.
Silence fell between them again. It was not the comfortable silence that had once been so common between them.
“Reckon I owe ya an apology. You were right, I don’t know what it is to lose a wife,” Vin said softly, looking over at his uncle.
Chris returned the look. “You do know what it is to lose a loved one. I wasn’t in a place to accept what you were saying.”
“Ya mean ya don’t like havin’ yer own words tossed back at you?” Vin grinned.
Chris just smiled. The kid was as much of a smart ass now as he had been when he and Sarah had taken his troubled seventeen year old nephew in.
The damage his parents had done to the younger man was still a hot issue in their family. The elder Larabee’s had never forgiven their daughter for running off with a half Indian rodeo cowboy. Chris had only just been in his teens at the time, but he hadn’t seen what the big deal was as long as she was finally happy. One of the first things he had done as an adult was to visit Kathy. She had been abandoned by her cowboy, but was making a life for herself and her son in El Paso. He had helped her as much as he could, but she had died only a year later. Try though he did, he was considered too young to adopt his five year old nephew so his parents were given custody of him. While never abused, the young boy was also not loved or given the attention he needed.
“Still drinking?” Vin asked, not hesitating to touch on the issue that had ripped asunder the strong bond they had shared.
“Not for the last three months.”
Vin smirked. “Still remember when ya caught me drinking that first time. Thought you were gonna kill me. Remember ya telling me it didn’t help and ta face the pain head on like a man.”
“I didn’t understand back then,” the blond said. “I knew that having lost your mom and then being with Grandma and Papa when they didn’t want you around had been bad, but I didn’t get how much finding out your father had been alive that whole time hurt.”
“No, you didn’t understand that, but I think you understood pain better then than you do now in some ways. Or, at least you knew how to deal with it. You made me face losing my dad before I ever meet him; wouldn’t let me use a bottle for a crutch. Then when Sarah was gone you forgot all you knew and got pissed when I reminded you and tried to be there for you like you were for me,” Vin told him, finally saying what he had wanted and needed to.
“I forgot a lot of things,” Chris agreed.
Once more the silence fell, but this time it was the old comfortable one.
“Saw that ranch you’re workin’ on. Obviously think the world of you. Lots of sweeping, mucking and feeding, but you’re not good enough to handle their horses.”
“It’s a job, something a lot of folks don’t have right now,” Vin shrugged.
“I can’t change the past, Vin, but I’ve got a new job and it has an opening for a Conservation/Naturalist. You’d be perfect if you’re interested. It’s a rescue and sanctuary in Idaho. We should have all kinds of animals, and about a thousand acres for you to roam around on communing with wildlife.”
“How long have you been there?” Vin asked interestedly. He was eager to catch up on what had happened to the man that offered him a place in his family and his heart.
“Three months, we’re almost done getting it set up. We could really use you, Whisperer.”
Vin blushed slightly at the use of a nickname his friends Chanu and Kojay had given him because of his way with animals.
Looking at his uncle, Vin clasped wrists with him. “I wasn’t planning on dying with a broom in my hand anyway.”
“Yeah,” Chris agreed. “I’ll let Buck know you’re a go. When can we expect you?”
“Give me a week to wrap things up here.” Vin smiled and shook his head. “Why am I not surprised that he’s still with you?”
“This is Buck we’re talking about,” Chris snorted. “Now, get your shirt on.”
“I’m enjoying the sun.
“You’ll enjoy a steak and beer more and I can’t take you anywhere without a shirt. I’m hungry, so hustle.”
Vin laughed, and grabbed his shirt.
His uncle was back. Maybe not the same man he had been, but back and Vin had a hunch that he’s like this man as much as he had the other.
Ezra took a deep breath he turned his face under the spray of the shower. Best Western, Maude would be apoplectic. Of course it was her fault that he was reduced to this. Her last scam had fallen apart at the seams when she had gotten too greedy and surprise, surprise; when had tried to help bail her out, he was left holding the bag.
It was one in a series of close calls. Laying low for a time was the only option. This was as good a place as any, better actually since no one would consider looking for him out here.
Finishing his shower and other ablutions, Ezra headed to Starbuck’s for his morning coffee, getting a paper on the way. Returning quickly before Ace could make a disturbance, He was soon sipping his latte with his miniature black poodle in his lap. Opening up the paper, he went to the want ads. He would need a job to support himself after all.
He smiled on seeing an ad for an office manager at a local animal shelter and sanctuary. A non-profit organization was the perfect place to hide. After all he did love money; so would not be looked for where there was none.
Calling the number, he set up an interview for the next day.
Next was the apartment section, and finding a domicile. Living in the hotel with a dog was hardly an option when he would likely be here for a year at least.
By the time he dropped Ace off at the groomers and went to meet with Mr. Larabee, living arrangements had been found. A bank account was set up and Ezra had become familiar with the city. Thanks to Maude’s training he could almost instantly set up residence anywhere.
The facilities impressed him as he headed to the main building and his appointment. The kennels were large and airy. There was even what amounted to a doggy playground where the canine inhabitants could romp and play together. He could see a pasture behind the kennels with horses grazing and basically just enjoying the day.
Stepping inside, he was greeted by a large gray tabby on a cat tree watching him with interest. A girl was sitting behind the desk.
“Can I help you?” She smiled.
“Indeed, I’m Ezra Standish; I have an appointment with Mister Larabee.”
“I’ll get him for you,” she motioned that he should have a seat and headed down the hall.
She returned moments later with a slim, intense blond.
“Chris Larabee,” he offered his hand.
“Ezra Standish,” he took the extended hand and followed him to his office as indicated.
Both men settled into chairs on their respective sides of the desk.
“So, why should I hire you?”
“Because you need someone to bring in funds and see to it that those funds are handled in the best possible way to help the animals and get them adopted out. I have an MBA and a great many social connections. I will be able to use both of those to your advantage,” Ezra replied answering as directly as he had been asked.
Chris leaned back, green eyes looking into green eyes.
“I’ve made some calls since we talked yesterday. I know you’ve made your living as a liar and a cheat. You have one chance.”
The Southerner nodded, and inclined his head.
“You have a six week trial period. Don’t disappoint me,” the blond warned him.
“I assure you, I have no such intentions.”
“I’ll show you around,” Chris got up.
Ezra’s office was next to Chris’s. The volunteer at the desk was a local girl named Jessie.
Attached to the main building was a large and well equipped veterinary clinic. A tall, slender black man had a number of boxes open and was busily shelving the contents.
“This is Nathan Jackson, our vet; Nathan, this is Ezra Standish our new office manager,” Chris introduced them.
The two men shook hands.
“Welcome. Are you from around here?” Nathan asked.
“Atlanta,” Ezra replied. He had never lived anywhere long, but he had lived there longer than anywhere else and had loved it there. “And you?”
“A truly unique and fascinating locality, we shall have to compare experiences,” Ezra smiled.
“Yeah, we should,” Nathan was almost certain that their stories would be very different.
The two visitors left, allowing the doctor to return to his work.
Next was a large mustached man working with a hyperactive yellow Labrador. He waved in greeting and held up a hand while returning the overgrown pup to its kennel.
“Thanks, Sunny’s still a bit excitable,” he came over and joined them, the leash draped around his neck like an unknotted tie.
“Ezra, Buck Wilmington; Buck this is Ezra Standish the new office manager,” Chris introduced them.
“Nice to meet you,” the big man smiled, exuding bonhomie, and shook hands with him.
“Charmed,” Ezra replied, hoping that none of the dog hair covering the friendly man had gotten on him.
The tour continued to the barns.
A slender man in his mid-twenties with shoulder length hair had a young bay horse that looked to be little more than a yearling on a line.
The two men watched as the young man whistled and made a clicking noise. The horse stopped nibbling on the grass and, looking up, ambled over to him.
Ezra lifted an eyebrow as he heard a click from the cowboy’s hand. He had heard of clicker training but never seen it used on horses.
Chris smiled as the previously unhandled colt, followed the pressure when Vin pulled to the right. There was another click and a treat. They Pitter had been with them a week and he was coming along nicely.
They watched as the youngster followed the long haired man wherever he led him without pulling or baulking.
“Most impressive,” Ezra complimented as Vin joined them, letting the line out so the horse could graze and wander a bit while they talked.
“Don’t like using harsh training if I don’t have to. He’s a nice horse, and as willing as the day is long, so no reason ta get in a fight with him,” Vin replied.
Chris introduced them to one another.
The colt came up and nudged the new human.
Turning to the equine, Ezra crooned some soft words.
Green eyes meet blue, and they shook hands.
“Like’s getting his neck patted,” Vin said, impressed that Ezra had not taken initial curiosity as affection.
When the animal stayed interested, Ezra patted his shoulder.
Chris relaxed slightly; while not unfriendly, his nephew was usually aloof until he knew someone. He must have had a good feeling about Ezra. He would not have told him about the horse’s favorite pet spot otherwise.
Two well grown calves were contentedly chewing their cuds while watching a large man with slightly gray haired working on a fence.
“Hello, Brothers,” he greeted them, wiping his brow.
“Hey Josiah,” Chris greeted him and then introduced the other two men.
“You have an interesting flock, preacher” Ezra told him, shaking hands.
“Amen, lost sheep every one of us,” Josiah laughed. The newcomer had evidently noticed his wooden cross.
Meetings and greets of his new coworkers done, Ezra left for the day and went to collect his dog.
“Courage, Ezra, courage it’s only for a year,” he tried to assure himself. They were, however, an interesting lot and that would help tremendously. He laughed thinking what Maude would do if she saw his new place of employment.
“I thought we agreed that I got to pick my own people?” Chris snapped into his phone. He was not a happy chipmunk.
“I agree that we need a small animal specialist that can back up on horses, but I don’t want to have him picked for me,” Chris replied to Travis.
“Fine, I’ll give him a chance, but I decide if he stays or goes,” the blond insisted.
If cell phones could be slammed down, Chris would have slammed his.
“I take it that our last position has been filled?” Ezra commented as Chris stalked by.
Chris glared at him.
“I was not listening in, you were loud enough for me to hear even with both our office doors closed,” The Southerner pointed out.
Chris grunted, and continued on his way.
Stepping outside, he saw a kid chatting with Buck.
“Hey Stud, this is,” Buck began.
“JD Dunne, you must be Mr. Larabee,” The kid was almost bouncing.
“Name’s Chris. Orin said you know something about animals.”
“I was the stable and kennel boy for the family my mom worked for as a maid. The Travis’s were friends of theirs and the judge mentioned there was a job here for me,” JD explained.
“You’re here on trial. Hope you’re up for job. Orin seems to think you are. Hope he’s right.”
“All I want it a chance to show you I can do it,” JD told him, meeting his eyes.
Chris nodded. The kid had guts, he’d fit in just fine as long as he could do the job.
“Buck, show him the kennels and see what he’s made of,” the blond instructed.
“Come on, kid,” Buck said leading the younger man towards the dogs.
“So where ya from?” Buck asked as they walked.
“Boston, always wanted to go west so after Ma died I looked for jobs out here. Mrs. Evie heard and the judge offered me a chance at this job.”
“You know the Travis’s?” Buck was surprised.
“Not real well, My mom was a maid for Mrs. Evie’s niece. Evie likes dogs and horses so whenever they visited they’d come and see the stable and kennels where I worked. We’d chat and they thought I’d be good at this job.”
The large man brought out Belle, a young English setter.
JD grinned at her. “Hey Sweetie,” he tickled her ears and offered her a liver treat.
Buck smiled as the kid took time to gain the slightly timid dog’s trust and then did some basic handling.
Next Sunny was brought out, trying to drag Buck and nearly bowling JD over in his excitement at having a new playmate.
The large man was impressed. JD was as firm with the energetic pup as he had been quietly encouraging with Belle.
They made short work of feed time and cleaning the kennels.
“You legal?” Buck asked, as they took a break leaning against a pen.
JD grinned at him excitedly. “You have to ask?”
“If I buy you a beer and you’re not legal I’ll get in trouble,” Buck grinned. He had looked twenty one when he was in teens. JD on the hand looked like he was about fourteen and he was at least eighteen.
“I’m nineteen,” JD laughed.
“Then how about I buy you a cold soda?” Buck offered.
JD happily followed Buck when they got waved over to Josiah’s back yard.
Fifteen minutes after them, Chris came.
He smiled on seeing his crew of six spread out on the patio.
Heaven help him, he had his crew.