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This madness came upon me while I was trying desperately to write the next few installments of my ATF Vin/Ezra story Five Days In April. It pushed the other story away. I'm hoping to get at least one more chapter of Five Days done but I'm leaving on vacation for a month on Thursday. If I don't I promise to get back to it as soon as I get back and I want to thank everyone for being patient and for the gentle reminders.
"Ez?" Vin Tanner whispered the name softly as he stepped into the abandoned barn, his eyes adjusting to the dark shadows until he could make out a silent figure in the corner. He approached quietly, gently. "Ezra?"
After a long moment, the figure looked up and Vin closed his eyes against the flood of anger that overwhelmed him. In one graceful movement, he dropped to his knees beside the younger boy, carefully tilting the other's chin so he could examine the dark purplish bruises that covered almost half of the younger boy's face.
"Damm it Ez! What the hell did that bastard do to you. I swear I'm going to kill him this t....."
"No!" Ezra's outburst was sharp as he tried to rise to his feet, his body tense and agitated. He moved a few feet away from Vin. "You can't. They'll arrest you."
"Then we'll tell someone. We'll tell the police and they'll arrest him and..."
"They won't believe you. They didn't believe you when you told before."
"That bitch Snoddenberry didn't want anything upsetting her perfect little foster home. God knows you're not the first person the old man has done this to. Snoddenberry knows that if they start looking into Tucker she won't last more than a minute. That's why she won't do anything." Vin's voice gentled. "But she's not the only one we can tell. The nurse at school has to suspect something and the police chief seems like a good guy and...."
"No." Ezra shuffled his feet. "We can't tell. They can't stop him and telling....telling will only make it worse."
"Damn it Ezra how can it get worse." Vin shook his head. "He broke your arm last fall. How many concussions do you have to suffer? He's getting worse."
"I made him angry. I didn't mean to but I.....I dropped the dish....you know the one he brags about all the time...and it broke....and he was angry. He was just punishing me."
"He beat you Ez." Vin clenched his feet. "I should never have gone with the old lady to town. I know how he gets when he's drunk and I left you here all alone and....."
"It's not your fault Vin."
"Then it's damn well not yours either."
Vin stared at the other boy. He'd been at this foster home for a year and a half and it was hell. There was no other word for it. The Tuckers were nice, respectable folk whose farm was one of the biggest in the counties. Since both of their own children were grown and moved to the city (escaped was more like it Vin thought), they took in local foster kids to help around the farm. It was an ideal placement as far as Children's Services was concerned- a nice couple, country living, the American Dream. Until the car door shut and the official drove away. Then it became a nightmare of alcohol and abuse. Always timed well so that the bruises healed before the next "official" visit. Vin had put up with it for a couple of weeks before he had decided to leave, figuring that life on the streets anywhere was better than this.
Then, just as he was ready to take off, Ezra had arrived on the farm. Not as a foster kid, but as a distant relative. Ezra's mother had dropped him off for a "short visit." That had been nine months ago. Since then, Vin's own beatings had dwindled as the old man had realized that the younger boy was easier to control, less likely to hit back. Besides it hadn't taken that long for the old man to figure out that threatening Ezra was the best way to keep Vin in line.
There was nothing Vin wouldn't do to keep Ezra safe. Nothing.
Vin drew a deep breath. "We need to get out of here Ez. And we need to do it soon."
"I said I can't." Ezra turned away from Vin. "Stop asking me, okay? You can leave. Get out of here Vin. Go to St. Louis. You don't have to stay here for me. I want you to be safe."
"I'm not leaving you here for that bastard to kill. I'm getting out of here and you're coming with me."
"Are you listening to me? I'm not leaving. I can't."
Vin's eyes narrowed in frustration. "Come on Ezra. It's been long enough, don't you think. She's not coming back for you."
"Don't say that."
"No. She is coming back. She's left me before but she always comes back. Always." Ezra's voice cracked and he fought to regain control. "I'm not leaving. She will be back for me and if I'm gone.....I can't leave."
"Nine months Ezra. It's been nine fucking months."
"She's busy. Mother has......other priorities sometimes." Ezra shook his head. "It doesn't mean that she's not coming back."
Vin swore in frustration. "You want her to come back and find you in a graveyard?"
"It won't be that bad. I just have to stay out of his way and not do anything to make him mad..."
"Like breathing." Vin's words were pointed. "Ezra..... God I hate this."
"I have to be here when she comes back."
"You have to be alive."
"She'll come back."
"Not before he kills you."
"She always comes back."
"Not this time Ezra."
"She wouldn't leave me."
"Why would she leave me?"
"Come on Ezra..."
"She always leaves me."
"She's suppose to come back."
"Ez..." Vin could hear the muffled sounds that told him the other boy was crying. Someday he was going to get Maude Standish alone in a room and....he stopped, trying to focus on a way to make this right for Ezra. "Ez...I got this idea. Do you know where she went?"
"New Orleans I think."
"Then let's go to New Orleans, okay? You and me. We'll find her. Find out what happened to her."
"You think something happened to her and that's why she didn't come back."
Vin figured Maude was lying on some beach in the Caribbean having totally forgotten she ever had a son, but he wasn't about to tell her son that. Vin didn't like liars, but he'd say anything to keep that sparkle in Ezra's eyes.
"I think.....I think we need to go to New Orleans." Away from here. Away from that bastard.
Ezra was silent for a long moment. "You don't really think she's there do you?" A quiet sigh. "She's not coming back for me. I'm really alone this time."
"You're not alone Ezra. You ain't ever going to be alone again." He placed a gentle arm around Ezra's shoulders. "Come on, let's get you some ice for your face and you can tell me all about New Orleans."
"You still want to go there."
"As long as its away from here, I don't care where we go."
One week later
Sarah Conner frowned as she glanced over the papers in her hand as she made her way back to the classroom. At 23, this was her first teaching assignment since finishing grad school and she was having a blast. She loved the English language- poetry, novels, plays, you name it and Sarah loved it. Loved reading. Loved listening to it. And especially loved teaching others to love it like she did.
She opened the door to her classroom and stopped.
Vin looked up and the expression on
"I can't believe this. You're stealing from me." Sarah shook her head. "I can't....I thought...." She took a deep breath to steady herself. "What in the hell are you doing?"
Vin stared at her amazed.
Sarah found herself blushing. "What?"
"You cussed." Vin shook his head. "I never heard a teacher cuss before."
"Yeah well I think it comes from having a fiancee who's a cop and.... Wait a minute. This isn't about me, it's about you. What are you doing in my purse?" Sarah watched the young man. She hadn't had much time to get to know her students, but she genuinely liked Vin who seemed to have a deep affinity for poetry even if he couldn't read very well. She was actually contemplating asking the principal about some extra help for Vin, maybe there was a problem there and.... She stopped herself. The boy was about to steal from her and here she was trying to solve his problems. What would Chris say to that?
Sarah smiled. Probably something along the lines of what else could you expect from Sarah?
Sarah stepped forward. "What are you doing in my purse Vin?"
Vin looked down. "I needed money."
"I see." Sarah looked at the young man. "Why my purse Vin?"
"All the other teachers lock theirs up."
"Being trusting is a definite fault of mine."
"I don't think its no fault."
"What trusting people?"
"Yeah. I ain't never had anyone trust me...or trusted anyone except maybe for Ezra."
"Ezra? He's a freshman isn't he. I don't see him at school much."
A scowl passed quickly across Vin's face.
"He gets sick easy."
"Oh I see." A pause. "And why do you need the money?"
"I can't tell you that."
"Is it for drugs?"
"No." Softer this time.
Sarah came to a decision. "Okay then, how much do you need?"
"I asked you how much you need? I think I've got about a hundred in cash. If you can wait until tomorrow I can go to the bank after school..."
"You're giving me the money after I tried to steal it." Another pause. "Why?"
Sarah looked Vin straight in the eye. "Because I trust you."
Later that night.
Sarah sat on the porch of her grandmother's house, staring up into the stars and hugging her knees.
"Sarah?" Chris Larrabee dropped down next to his fiancee, his fingers gently pushing the unruly strands of blond hair back behind her ear. "Is something wrong? You've been awfully quiet all evening."
Sarah sighed and rested her head against Chris's shoulder. "A boy tried to steal money from my purse today."
"What?" Chris tensed up immediately. "Why didn't the chief let me know?"
"Because I didn't report it."
"You didn't what? Sarah he tried to steal from you. At least tell me you let the principal know what happened."
A guilty silence followed.
"He was just a kid Chris."
"None of them are just kids." Chris spoke with all the authority of a police officer who had been on the job two years.
"This one is."
"Okay." Chris tried to keep his worry in check as he spoke. He loved Sarah. Loved her more than anything or anyone. But she was too damn trusting and he was so afraid that someday that trusting nature of hers was going to ...... "Tell me what you did do."
"Okay, but just remember you asked and we are getting married in two months and strangling your bride before the wedding has to rank up there with seeing the wedding dress and not having something borrowed and all that stuff...."
"I gave him the money."
"I gave him the money."
"Because he said he needed it."
"Damn it to hell Sarah."
"Lovely." An exasperated sigh. "Okay tell me the rest."
"I can't help thinking of how desperate this kid was and then I start thinking about why he was desperate and....."
"Whoa. Let's slow this down. Tell me who the kid is first."
"Vin Tanner, he's in my literature class third period."
"Isn't he that foster kid the Tuckers have?"
Sarah nodded. "One of them. There's another boy out there. An Ezra Standish I think ."
Chris felt a tightening in his gut.
"Chris...Vin almost seemed....afraid. Desperate and afraid . So I checked with the nurse. The younger boy, Ezra, the nurse says he's been absent a lot because of these accidents he keeps having. Nurse says the Tuckers have the boys work around the farm and Ezra isn't used to the work yet and tends to hurt himself." Sarah shivered. "Last fall he broke his arm falling out of the hayloft. A few months before that he came to school with a concussion and same major bruising. Said he fell off a horse."
"Sounds convenient to me."
"I know. But you know how big the Tuckers are in this town and if something was happening, I mean if it was, who would they tell? Who would believe them?"
"I would." Chris's voice was low and steady.
"I know you would but."
"No I mean I would believe them period." Chris sighed. "I was a few years younger than the oldest Tucker boy in school but even I noticed the bruises that he always had and the stories and the excuses. It was kind of common knowledge but no one ever said anything you know. Day after he finished high school he took off, hasn't been back since."
Sarah stared at Chris. "You don't think...."
"I don't know but I think its time that someone paid a visit to the Tucker farm to see for themselves what was going on."
"I'm coming with you."
"Sarah this is police business now."
"I said I'm coming with you so stop arguing. You know you never win when we argue."
"I..... come on, let's go."
Four Corners Memorial Hospital
"I think he's opening his eyes."
"Vin. Vin can you hear me?"
Vin stared at the fuzzy being in front of him. "Miss Conner?"
"Yeah it's me Vin."
"You're in the hospital Vin but you're going to be okay. The doctor says you have a concussion and the cuts on your body needed stitches but you're going to be okay."
"Two days Vin. You've been unconscious two days."
"How? What happened?" Vin tried to clear his thinking. "I remember getting home and the old man was caning Ez and I..." Vin gulped in air like a drowning man. "I thought he was killing him and I yelled at him to stop and he turned and ....."
"Shhhh... It's okay Vin. You're safe."
"I don't get it how?"
"I was worried about you so a friend and I went to check up on you."
"Your friend he had a gun."
"Yeah. He's a police officer. He arrested Tucker."
"He hit him."
Sarah shrugged. She was never going to forget the scene they had walked into, the screams that had torn the air when they got out of the truck. Chris's reaction to what was happening hadn't phased her at all. She'd felt like hitting the man herself and only wished he had "resisted" arrest a little more strongly so that Chris could have pounded his head in a few more times.
That was her. Trusting but bloodthirsty at the same time.
"Don't worry about Tucker or his wife. Neither of them are going to hurt you or anyone else."
"He's okay. Bruised but okay."
"Thank God." Vin pushed himself to an upright seating position. "I need to see him."
"Vin calm down okay? Ezra's okay."
"I've got to see him."
Sarah hesitated. "You can't."
"But you said."
"He's fine. But he's not in this hospital. Not any more."
"Where is he?" Vin felt the sinking feeling build in his stomach.
"The authorities they found his family."
Sarah shook her head. "No a grandmother I think. She came and got him earlier this morning. She took him home with her."
She took him home. Took him home. Took him. Vin felt the pounding of each word as the fuzziness grew darker until it engulfed him.
Three Weeks Later
Vin sat on the picnic table at the group home, trying his best to focus on the words on the page in front of him but all he could think of was Ezra. Was the other boy safe? Was there someone there to hold him at night when he cried? To make sure he ate all of his food? Took care of himself when he was sick?
The other boy had disappeared, Vin knew it. Had heard his new social worker talking about it. The address his mother had given them had turned out to be old. No one knew where they had gone. The social worker was blaming the hospital for releasing Ezra to his grandmother without any authorization. The hospital was blaming Children's Services for not making the boy a ward of the court so that the grandmother couldn't legally take him.
Vin didn't give a damn who was to blame. All he knew was that Ezra was out there alone. Just like he was in here alone. And none of it, none of it was fair.
Vin looked up. "Miss Conner?" He stared at the teacher and the silent stranger next to her. "What are you doing here?"
"We're here to talk to you."
Vin shook his head. "I'm a little too old for you to adopt."
Sarah grinned and even Chris felt himself relaxing a little. "Please. We have to get married first before we even consider the idea of having a child. Although some day I want to have a little boy just like....never mind. Actually I'm here to ask you a favor. I've already talked to Mrs. Walker about it and she's okay with it if you are."
"What kind of favor?"
Sarah sat down next to Vin. "A big one actually. My father is a doctor. Right now he's spending a few years at a reservation in Wyoming. He's the only doctor for about a hundred or so miles in any direction. The reservation is really poor and there's no one to help my dad...."
"I'm no doctor."
"No but you're young and strong. Two things my dad isn't anymore. My dad can handle the medical part. It's the rest. The buildings that need repair. There's no running water in some of the houses. No electricity. I've talked to some of your teachers. Your woodshop teacher thinks you can be a great help in the Indian village. So does your autoshop teacher. And..." Sarah hesitated. "You learned a lot about farming and stuff working for the Tucker's..."
Vin hesitated. God knew he didn't want to stay. And he'd already been getting some threats from people who couldn't believe that that nice Mabel and Howard Tucker could really do all those things and those boys must have been lying to keep their own neck out of trouble and......
There was no point staying because Ezra wasn't coming back.
"What about school?"
"You've got two years left. I've talked to the principal and she says you can work on your studies at the reservation. Kind of an independent study type thing. I'll send you the assignments and you send them back when they're finished. When you complete the requirements for high school we'll talk about college."
Vin shook his head. "I don't know what to say."
Chris grinned. "You might as well say yes now because she's only going to keep bugging you until you do say yes."
"Chris Larrabee! You make me sound like ...."
"Like the woman I love." Chris leaned down and gave her a soft kiss, causing Sarah to blush even as she turned back to Vin. "So what do you say?"
Vin stared at the two of them, aware somewhere in the back of the mind that this decision was going to change his life forever.
He knew what he wanted. He wanted to find Ezra. But he couldn't right now. Didn't even know where to start looking. So if he couldn't do what he wanted, he'd do what he had to do. Like finish school. Maybe think about what he was going to do after high school.
Maybe find himself a real home where he could help people. Maybe make up in some small way for the way he had been unable to help Ez.
He nodded and held out his hand. "You've got yourself a deal."
Please send feedback to Olivia
Story posted to A Gambler's Lust, The Magnificent Two