Characters: Chris, Vin and the rest of the seven~ Orrin Travis ~ Nettie, Rain, Casey, plus OC.
Rating: Het ~ Strong R due to offensive language and violence. MCAT case deals with a sensitive subject matter.
Special disclaimer: The subject matter of the MCAT case is a sensitive one and in the course of writing about it certain offensive terms are used that do NOT reflect the views of either author.
Disclaimer: This is entirely a work of fiction, for entertainment purposes only, based on the characters from “The Magnificent Seven.” I don’t own them, but if I did I would run away with ‘em and never be seen again. CBS and Co., Trilogy Entertainment, and MGM had ‘em first and do not want to give ‘em away. I only play at this for fun and do not make any money doing it. No infringement of any copyrights is intended. This is strictly a piece of fiction, any references to locations or people are only for story use and is not intended to depict any real place or person.
MCAT AU: MCAT (Major Crimes and Acts of Terrorism) is under the leadership of Commander Chris Larabee. It is an independent, versatile, responsive, and respected premier Federal law enforcement agency, demonstrating excellence in all aspects of its operations. In the last year, this MCAT unit has done outstanding work on a number of cases. Most notably, this unit has neutralized three terrorist’s threats, halted at least two assassination attempts of high ranking officials, taken on serial killers, public corruption, computer crimes, and formed several specialized task forces to thwart major criminal activities.
Chris, along with three members of his extended family of brothers, (Vin, Buck, Nathan) and their families reside on the Larabee 7. The seven men work together, and jointly own the ranch, where they are raising thoroughbreds, quarter horses and children. Ezra lives in town, while Josiah and JD reside on adjoining properties to the ranch with their families. This first series establishes relationships and provides background for the characters in this AU. ‘Reconciliations” is the seventh story in this series.
MCAT Story #7 ~ Reconciliations (shared in three parts) follows the events that transpired in MCAT #6, Addition and Apprehensions, and references previous stories in this series. It unfolds a year of changes for the Wild Bunch filled with emotional upheavals and danger that will either break them apart or mend the cracks in their relationships that have weakened their bond of strength.
Part 1 ~ Reclamation ~ Chris encounters turbulence as he attempts to reconcile his life, his career, and his marriage. In the meantime Vin sets out alone on a quest to protect his brothers, MCAT, and his family; while Nathan encounters roadblocks in his struggle to recover the balance in his life.
Acknowledgments: I fell in love with this creative new AU for the Seven the first moment I read Transitions...and then the subsequent stories that followed that drew me further into the lives, relationships, and intriguing cases of the Seven. I'm grateful for the opportunity I had to write with Sherry because I found a dear friend along the way. I want to add my thanks to Sarai for her beta work and Jan for her inspired comments and advice...Wendy
My thanks go to my friend and co-writer Wendy for her talent, and great advice. It has been a fun experience to share the writing of this story with her. Sarai for your brilliant beta work, thank you. Jan, you are greatly appreciated, Jo your artwork is inspirational, and Tonny, thanks for your contribution…I also want to say a special thank you to all of you who have been with me from the inception of my MCAT AU, all the way to the end of this first set of stories. Your comments and suggestions have inspired many ideas along the way, and helped give me the encouragement to continue writing. Looking back to the first story in the series, Transitions, I find that I have also gone through my own transition as a writer. Hopefully I have entertained you with my take on the Seven, keeping the integral parts of each of their individual personalities in tact, while creating new characters for them to interact with, as well as realistic situations for them to work their way through. I will continue to write in the MCAT AU and appreciate y'all for taking the time to ride along....Tannertexaslady...
Both of us would like to thank Bountyhunter'slady for the great collage for this story.
Notes: Any mistakes are ours. The original characters I have created for this series are mine.
Size: Approx. 400K
Epilogue from MCAT # 6 Additions and Apprehensions
Chris had spent the last ten days in hell. He had yet to break through Linda’s defenses and be allowed to see his baby daughter. Every day he had at least two different family members stopping by to ‘check’ on him. Everyone that was, except Vin or Kelli. He had not even seen Jason or Andi over the last week and a half either, or any of the other kids. Not only that, he was shut out of any mention about MCAT. He didn't know what bothered him more, the fact that he was persona non grate where MCAT was concerned, or the fact that he was being kept away from all of the children. They were treating him as if he was some crazed junkie who couldn't be trusted around children, and Linda's behavior was far worse than anyone else's.
She was his damn wife for Christ's sake! She had promised to love and honor him, to stand by him in sickness and health, and what had she done at the first time of trouble? Linda had run home to Southern Breeze and taken Grace with her!
What in the hell did they all think he would do? Get so wasted on painkillers that he couldn't remember his own goddamn name? Or worse yet, forget where he had placed Grace? To hell with them, Chris, you know you can handle yourself, let them keep the kids away, sooner or later they will realize that you don’t need any outside help. They are the ones that need to wake up and smell the coffee, not you!
Chris stalked out of his house and headed toward the barn bent on working out some of his anger by cleaning out the stalls. Or maybe he would just take off on a long ride on Pony? It had been ages since he had ridden the gelding, and he was sure Pony was anxious to be out of his confinements just as much as Larabee was.
He was nearing the barn when he caught sight of a small figure standing at the corral, gazing through the fencing at the young foals frolicking inside it. A smile creased Chris's lips as he changed directions from the barn to the corral. He walked up to the corral and folded his hands over the top railing.
Jason had seen his uncle approaching and was torn between being glad to see him and the old fears he had whenever Jack was around. But he was a Tanner now and decided that he would not be afraid and he held his ground.
"They sure are a sight, aren't they?" Chris asked his nephew.
"Yeah, they are." Jason said softly. He didn't know what to do. It had been clear since his mom and dad had come home, that something wasn't right between them and their uncle Chris. His Dad had explained that Chris was going through a tough time right now, and that he needed to be left alone to make some hard decisions.
But Jason knew better, no one had to tell him, he had been around Jack too long and seen him make and break promises about not getting sick anymore. Jack always promised…and so had Chris.
Chris turned to look down at Jason and saw the troubled expression on the six-year-old's face. "What's wrong?"
“You’re sick again aren’t you?”
“What did your parents tell you Jason?” Chris felt his anger surge and tried to hide it.
"Only that you had some hard decisions to be making." Jason told him honestly.
“Then why do you think I’m sick?" Chris was watching the different emotions cross Jason’s face.
“Cause of him…Jack…he didn’t think I knew either, but I did. Just like I know you meant to keep your promise…but…it’s hard isn’t it? It always comes back.” The disappointment in his voice broke Larabee’s heart.
Chris felt as if someone had just thrown ice water in his face. How could a six- year- old child see so clearly what he had refused to? It always comes back.
It took him a minute to find his voice, but he did not want Jason to see him the same way he remembered Jack. “Sometimes it does, but ...there are ways to stop the sickness from ever coming back.”
“Do you know how to stop it Uncle Chris?” Jason’s blue eyes were filled with hope. Hope that his Uncle Chris could make it stop. He wanted to believe it …he needed to believe it.
Chris realized in that instant that he had only been fooling himself…This addiction was like some monster lurking in the darkness, just waiting for the next opportunity to grab him.
“Yeah... I think I do. It may take some time, but Jason, I will do it. Will you give me a chance to prove it to you?”
Jason threw his arms around his uncle’s neck and Chris held on tight. “I love you Uncle Chris.”
“I love you too, pard.” Chris reluctantly let him go. ”You best run on home, I bet your Mom and Dad are wondering where you are. Don’t worry any more I’ll be fine.” He watched as Jason jumped down and ran toward home.
Chris headed into the house…to make a phone call.
And now it begins…
Journal Entry September 14th ~Reclamation~ week two
I have not written in here for a while… It’s been too long, I’m afraid. I am not sure that I can even write about the last few months just now, but I can write about the last two weeks. It began September third…I can now admit that I have a problem with addiction to pills, and it took a six-year-old to lead me to the truth about myself. Regardless of the reasons, or how I became addicted…, I was in trouble, nonetheless. Jason’s four simple words reached deep inside of me in a way that no one else’s has since this whole situation occurred. While he might be a Larabee by blood, he has already become a Tanner through and through with his own unique ability to see into the hearts of the people around him, especially the adults, and call them on things that they don't want to admit. “It always comes back…”
Making the phone call to the counselor Josiah recommended to me, was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. After two weeks of intense, one-on one sessions, as well as participating in group meetings three times a week, I see my life from a different perspective now. Before I could attempt to untangle the mess I made with my family, friends, and work; I had to learn a few things. Most importantly that there is no quick fix, and it will take time to straighten my life out. I also had to realize that it will be an ongoing process that will never be finished. The counseling will end eventually, but I will never be an ex-addict, only a reformed one.
The withdrawal stage was hell. Recognizing, and admitting that I had a problem was even worse. A man doesn't like to admit that he's wrong about anything, especially me! It seems that I have been wrong about a great many things recently. Eating humble pie has never been my strong suit. I have learned that what is called early recovery pertains to the first two years of abstinence…not just the first two months. Finally I have come to accept that I must make an ongoing effort to keep a clean and sober lifestyle to remain free from addictive substances. This is where my counseling and attendance at recovery group support meetings come in to play... Recovery is not an event that happens at a given time. It is a process of involvement that encompasses all aspects of my life.
Narcotics Anonymous provides a recovery process and support network inextricably linked together. One of the keys to NA’s success is the therapeutic value of addicts working with other addicts. Members share their successes and challenges in overcoming active addiction and living drug-free productive lives through the application of the principles contained within the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of NA. These principles are the core of the Narcotics Anonymous recovery program. I believed that admitting I had a problem was the hard part, but making amends to everyone I have hurt is going to be a challenge.
Besides keeping a record of my progress, my counselor also informed me that I needed to find a sponsor. A sponsor is someone who will help me to stay on track, be brutally honest with me at all times, and see to it that I don't get away with using excuses to explain my actions or feelings. I wouldn't be honest if I didn't say that I was hesitant about getting a sponsor. I've never been one to talk easily about my feelings, outside of my brothers...especially Vin. To have to do so with a total stranger is something that I'm not comfortable with at all, but if it helps in getting my life and family back to some resemblance of what it used to be...then I'll do just about anything...even talk to a stranger.
Impatient, controlling man that I am, I wanted it all to be wrapped up in a neat little package, finished and for me to be able to move on…that is not gonna happen…not this time. I have found the hardest part to ‘fix’ is with those people closest to me. So, I started with the relationships outside my family first, and then moved onto the Wild Bunch.
I went to the hospital to see Raphael. He assured me that Victor Donner was the man he blamed for his being laid up in that hospital bed, and not me. Thank God he is recovering! Although I still feel at least partially responsible for his condition, he refuses to judge me, and said he would go undercover with me again if the need arises in the future. Cordova is a good man and a damn fine partner.
Josiah…well is Josiah. He has the patience and wisdom of a saint and I am humbled by his faith in me. He will bide his time and wait to see what I will do, and he has the tenacity to keep me focused if I wander off track. Buck has seen me at my worst too many times to reiterate here and no matter what, he always stays and I am extremely lucky to have such a steadfast friend in my life. I know we will be fine. Nathan sees my problem from a medical perspective and that’s okay. Ezra is not naive about the evils of the world and he is willing to let me work through what I need to. JD does not understand it all, but he has shown more insight than I would have given him credit for in the past. Underestimating him in anything isn't something I'm going to be so quick to do in the future. All of them, however, are waiting to see how I handle things with Vin.
Vin…At this point I am not sure how or if I will ever be able to ‘make amends’’ to him. I do know that it will take a good long time before we reach the level of trust and friendship we have always taken for granted. I went too far over the line this time to expect unconditional forgiveness from him. If it were only a matter of our friendship; I have no doubt that he would forgive me in a heartbeat. But I hurt more than our friendship. I struck at the core of who he is and the people he cares most about. I disrespected the man, called him irresponsible, and insinuated that he was not concerned about the unit, or the lives of the people on our team. I accused him of greed and valuing his temporary position as the commanding officer of MCAT as being more precious than the gift of life. I deliberately attempted to undermine his marriage and failed him as a brother. Yet he has not once said one judgmental word to me…
Some of the things that I had accused him of doing were the very things I was actually guilty of myself. I got too wrapped up in my own personal crusade to save as many children as I could, as if believing that by doing so I was making up for my not being able to protect Kelli from all she had endured as a child, and to prevent Grace from ever being hurt in such a manner in the future. The Demerol in Mexico may have been unintentional, but the pills I took after that were my choice to take, and I could have thrown them away. I refused to listen to anyone and damn near hit bottom before I realized what I had done. Several people that I care about were hurt in the process. Hard truths to swallow, but if I am to be completely free, I need to at least be honest with myself.
Tanner has been in charge during the rebuilding phase of MCAT and the new office will open in a couple of weeks. Our injured teammates are recovering slowly, but surely. Vin has done a helluva job under a tremendous amount of pressure and I should have told him that, but…. Once I return to work, I hope we can find our way back to the easy comradeship we had before, or close to it. Time will tell. In the meantime we will be polite to one another for the sake of our families and the children. Vin personally asked for a truce between us and wants me to attend Jason’s birthday party next Wednesday.
Kelli…I lost all the progress I had made with her as a father. Expecting her to choose me over Vin was a big mistake on my part and one that I will have to work hard to mend if I am to restore our personal relationship. As far as work is concerned, she is a professional and while we may not have the easiest time of it, I expect we will manage. I still have almost sixty days to work out how I will handle myself with the unit when Travis gives me the green light to go back.
Linda…Part of my recovery is to make amends to those that I have hurt. As difficult as the last eight months have been on me, they have been hard on her too. She has had to endure so much in just a short amount of time in our married life, that I'm going to try my damnest to make things up to her. I want to make her happy, but I realize that might not be as easy to do as I hoped it would. She has given me a list of her demands and I will make every effort to address each one, but we will have to reach some kind of compromise on more than one of them. I do want her and Grace back here on the Larabee 7 though, so I have agreed to accept as many of her ‘requests' as reasonably possible. Having Grace with me is worth a few sacrifices of comfort.
She wants me to quit working with MCAT…I agreed to stay more on the administrative side and do less field work.
She wants more time away from the Wild Bunch…I agreed on one family get together per month, along with the children’s birthdays. I refused to give up attending them, and she reluctantly agreed.
She wants to remodel the house with her money so her old jet-set friends can come visit for a week-end or two….I agreed to allow her to do the remodeling on the condition that she has to keep me informed of what she plans to do, before any of it takes place.
She insists that we do more together as a couple: romantic dinners, attend the theater, going to parties given by some of her friends, and traveling …I agreed to try to do more of these things with her, although I don't see us traveling much right now . Grace is far too little to be jet-setting all over the world, and I'm not willing to go more than a day without seeing my little girl.
She wants a full-time live-in Nanny for Grace…I agreed to a part-time Nanny that does not live with us.
She and Grace are coming home today…
MCAT Office ~8:00am
Monday September 24th
JD was in heaven. All the high-tech equipment now accessible to MCAT was mind boggling to most of them, but for Dunne it was ideal. There were big screens for teleconference calls, satellite links, and even more enhancements for CASSIE. He could now access any system in the world from here and still remain anonymous. The newest surveillance tools were at his fingertips making it easy to track just about anyone, anywhere and he loved it. Best of all, this was his baby, he was in charge of this computerized wonderland, and the operatives he added were under his authority.
Orrin Travis chuckled watching the younger man beam with pride. “I believe Agent Dunne is in his element.”
Vin agreed with a grin. “If it beeps, dings, rings, pings, whirs, or clicks he has it covered.”
“When I found this location, I saw many possibilities for MCAT; I have to admit, though, with your detailed plans, JD’s electronic wizardry, and the input of the others it is more than I imagined. Who would have believed that an old airfield with a few buildings on it now houses the best-equipped, specialized law enforcement Agency in the country? The remarkable part is that to the outside observer, it is still a small nondescript airfield situated in the middle of nowhere. Yet our lab rivals the one at Quantico and our training facilities are some of the best I have ever seen. Well done, Tanner.”
“Thank you sir, but I didn’t do it alone.” The Texan was quick to point out to Director Travis. “We all worked together to come up with a feasible way to implement your required guidelines, and added what we believed was necessary to get the job done. We should be operational within two weeks, and then we can put our attention to addin’ personnel. Greg and Kat will be out a few more weeks, but accordin’ to their doctors they will be able to return to their duties then. Raphael needs another six weeks before he’ll be at a hundred percent, and Mark will be back with us in a month or so. JD has even found a place in the computer sector for Ross, if he decides to come back.”
“I particularly like the fact that while you had the contractors allow a detached space for our jet and helicopter, my office is separated in the smaller building. Renovating the larger hanger into office space, and using the other one for the lab was perfect. I am close enough, but not too close.” Travis laughed. “I’m an old man and need my occasional solitude.”
Tanner grinned, “With all due respect sir, you’re one old man I wouldn’t want to tangle with.”
Travis laughed at the younger man’s remark and then became serious. “I did take note that you made sure that Chris’s office was included. Should I take that to mean that you two have worked out your differences?”
“It means…that I expect Commander Lar’bee to resume his MCAT duties.” Vin was not prepared to say more and was relieved when Josiah drew the Director’s attention.
“Sanchez, do you have your list of requests ready concerning your needs for your profiling team?” Travis questioned.
“Certainly sir, step into my office.” Josiah grinned and directed Travis around the construction that was still going on and into his new space.
Vin looked around and he felt good about what they had pulled together. When his eyes came to rest on the door to what would be Chris’s office he wondered if he would be around as Captain to see this unit operational? Time and fate will tell you Tanner.
Larabee 7 Ranch ~3:00pm
Chris sat on the porch with Grace in his arms. He could not get enough of holding his baby daughter. It seemed as if it had been forever since he had seen Grace and now that she was in front of him he was reluctant to let her go. She had changed so much since he had seen her last. The blonde tufts of hair he remembered her having when he had gone undercover, had grown longer into cute little waves. She seemed to have grown at least six inches, and gained some weight to boot. Her smile was a bit lopsided like his, but it had the ability to warm his heart with its innocence. Linda had come in with the baby ten days ago, and had quickly settled back in. The nights had belonged to Larabee and his wife, renewing their commitment to one another and making love. Today Linda had headed into town early, and it was just him and Grace sitting on the deck enjoying the beauty of the day.
Buck pulled into the driveway, spying Chris sitting on the porch from the front window of his truck. He got out, and walked up onto the porch. He stood and observed the pair for several moments before he spoke. “There’s just something about little girls that make grown men melt into puddles of mush.”
Chris grinned up at him. “I don’t know about all of ‘em Buck, but this one sure does.”
“Trust me, all little girls have the ability to wrap their daddies around their pinkie fingers.” Buck said, thinking of two particular little imps that held his heartstrings in their tiny hands. He pulled up a chair and sat down. “It’s good to see you two together again. How’s Linda?”
Larabee hesitated a moment too long in answering, alerting his old friend that all was not as it seemed. “She’s okay. I expect it will take a bit of time before she completely gets over all that happened. I agreed that she can do some remodeling around here to keep her busy and she is out shopping this morning. I expect that she’ll be hauling in a bunch of fabric samples and such for me to look at.”
Wilmington cringed. “Ouch. I hate it when Inez wants to redo anything. I’d just as soon she did it and then showed me afterwards.”
“You two don’t have that much longer for Tannis to arrive. How is Inez doing?” Chris shifted the now sleeping Grace to his other arm.
“Hell, you know Inez. She’ll be blowing and going right up to the time of delivery.” Buck brought up his reason for stopping by. “Walter said you looked over the plans for the new building project. I wanted to check with you and see if you had any changes in mind to make while we still can.”
“No, everything looked okay to me. He said it could all be finished quickly as long as we all approved, so I told him to continue working on it. Vin did a good job on the blueprints and camouflaging the facilities as barns was smart.”
Buck did not mask his surprise. “How did you know it was Vin’s idea about the camouflage and that he drew up the blueprints for us?”
“I’ve seen enough of Tanner’s plans in the last nine years to recognize his work when I see it. And before you ask…No, we haven’t had any serious discussions yet. Give it time Buck.”
“Okay, I won’t push. Ezra and Barbara will be back tomorrow. They didn’t want to miss Jason’s birthday party. I assume you and Linda will be there too.”
“Yep, and I’ll be on my best behavior so relax. This is a big day for Jason and I want him to have good memories of it. It’ll be his first real birthday party since he was two, and he has this huge new family to share it with. Besides, a boy doesn’t turn seven every day.”
“Nope, and Caleb can hardly wait. Those two have become best friends. He’s anxious to give Jason the birthday presents that we bought for him.”
“What did you get him?” Chris asked.
“More Denver Bronco gear, of course. I tell you, those two have become dedicated fans since Vin and I took ‘em to that exhibition game.”
“So I heard. We’re giving him tickets to next Sunday’s game.” Chris smiled, “Four of ‘em so you and Caleb can attend too.”
Buck grinned. “You’ll send him over the moon with those. Maybe you and…”
Chris interrupted, and shook his head. “I’ll get my chance to take him, just not now.” You hope Larabee, with time and fate’s help.
Linda returned home just then. She was excited about the plans that she had made for her and Chris, as well as the details of the changes that she wanted to do to the house to make it more hers. Her excitement dimmed a little when she noticed the other truck in the driveway parked beside Chris.Can’t any of his family leave us alone for one day? One day, is that too damn much to ask? She quickly stamped down on her anger, as she got out of her car. I’ll make the most of it by asking Buck for that favor I was going to have Chris call him about later.
As the sound of a vehicle pulling into the driveway, Chris glanced over the railing and saw that it was Linda. Buck too, noticed the new arrival and the conversation between the two men changed, as Linda came up onto the porch with her hands full of loaded bags. Chris cringed inwardly when he saw the bags, and wondered how much money she had wasted that day.
“Howdy Buck, I’m glad you’re here. I need a favor.” Linda set her packages down.
Chris was curious. “What kind of favor?”
“I booked Chris and me a week at the same chateau we honeymooned at and I need Inez to watch Grace for us while we’re gone.” She turned to Buck. “We’ll leave this Thursday and be back on October sixth.”
“Linda I have recovery meetings to attend; I cannot stay away for a week.” Chris reminded her.
Buck stood up. “I’m gonna let you two work on this. When you have it all figured out give Inez a call. See you later Chris.” He wasted no time getting out of the potential argument he saw brewing.
“I don’t see what the big deal is if you miss a session or two. I thought I was more important than any old meeting anyway.’ Linda pouted.
Chris sighed. “You are important, but I have to continue counseling or I can’t return to work.”
“And that would be bad because?” Linda recognized the stubborn look on Chris’s face. “I know why. You want to go back to that horrible job.”
Ignoring the jab at MCAT, Chris continued. “We might be able to go for one night, but that’s about all for now.”
“Fine! I’ll call and change the reservation.” She pulled an envelope out of her bag and handed it to Chris. “I got the Bronco tickets, but instead of one game I paid for season tickets for the entire family and added another set for all of Buck’s brood.”
“Linda that is way too much to spend on a birthday gift for a seven-year-old.” Chris shook his head when he saw that she had no idea what he was talking about.
“Never mind, I’ll handle it.”
“I don’t see the problem; it’s not as if we can’t afford it.” Linda sighed. “Do what you want Chris. Just let me know when you can squeeze me in.” Linda stood up and then went inside, leaving Chris and Grace alone.
Chris fingered the envelope trying to decide what to do about the tickets. Looks as if you’re gonna either have to change them yourself or talk to Vin. How in the hell did a simple birthday present become so complicated? Hell, when did your life get so complicated Larabee? When you started caring about life again Chris, you opened yourself up to all that goes with it. Now you have friends, brothers, sister-in-laws, nieces, nephews, a wife, and two daughters. They all expect you to be there. How can I be there for them? I can barely be there for myself right now.
Looking down at the little angel in his arms Chris knew that somehow, someway he would do whatever was required to keep her in his life. He could live with a few changes here at home and he had managed a standoffish attitude at work before. He could do it again. That was before team seven Chris, and … meeting Vin. Can you really go back to the way you were? I really don’t have a choice…do I?
Chris whispered softly to his sleeping daughter. “Don’t worry Grace…Daddy will move heaven and earth if he has to, but we will stay together. I lost Adam too early, and was not there for twenty-five years of Kelli’s life, but I won’t lose you.” He kissed the top of her head “For now, you and I will start some dinner before your old dad has to feed the horses.”
Linda slammed her bag onto the bed. Okay Larabee, I’ll let you slide on the weeklong second honeymoon, but you had better go along with my other plans or we will have a big problem. No more will I sit in the background and let your work and your brothers run our lives! I am your wife and it is about damn time that you remember that! I promise you that by the first of the year you will be out of MCAT and we will have our own ranch with a full-time Nanny for Grace. Then it will be just you and me.
Larabee Home ~Tuesday, September 26th
Chris and Grace started their day early. He had tried to get Linda to get out of bed with them, but she had only rolled over onto her side and gone back to sleep. He wasn’t sure if she was really that tired, or if she was still pouting over his telling her that he couldn’t go away with her. Once breakfast was finished, and he had put Grace in her playpen, Chris started making phone calls about the football tickets. After staying on hold, and being shuffled to five different people over an hour’s time, Chris came to the conclusion that the tickets were here to stay.Okay. Just call Tanner and explain, so he won’t be blindsided tomorrow. Hell, you can still talk to him on the phone without getting too close, can’t you?
Picking up the receiver, Chris dialed Vin’s cell phone number and waited for him to answer.
“Tanner.” Vin answered as he was walking over to the new lab building.
“I wanted to let you know ahead of time…when Linda went after Jason’s birthday present she got a little carried away.”
The Texan stopped walking. He had been hoping that Chris would reach out to him...maybe he was ready for a one on one conversation. He was disappointed that it was only to talk about Jason’s birthday gift, but…it was a place to start. “How carried away, Chris?”
“Bronco season tickets for your family and Buck’s, too. I had planned on tickets for one game but…bottom line they won’t take ‘em back. I know it’s excessive for a seven-year-old. Hell, we’ve got ‘em now though and Jason would be thrilled…”
Vin was quiet for a minute and then answered. “You’ll have to let Buck answer for him and Caleb. As for Jason…it’s a way too expensive for a gift, but I reckon we’ll have to live with it… we’ll pay for half; it can be a gift from Kelli and me too. “
Chris was relieved that Vin was offering him an easy resolution for the situation. “That will be fine, and I’ll talk to Buck.” Silence echoed on the line for more than a few seconds, until finally Larabee spoke. “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
“Tomorrow then…” Vin hung up first. Damn Vin, talking to Chris now is like talking to a stranger. Patience, Tanner, patience; just give it a little more time. Shut up Vin!
Gently replacing the receiver, Chris shook his head. Didn’t you promise yourself never to take that Texan and his friendship for granted? Yes, and I screwed up. Larabee you have a long way to go with that one, and you had better figure out a way to start fixing it…soon.
Larabee made his call to Buck and worked out how to handle the tickets. Since he was not here to participate in Caleb’s induction into the Wilmington family, it would be considered a late welcome gift from Chris and Linda to the newest member.
Linda walked into the den a few minutes after ten. “Good morning Cowboy.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and leaned over his shoulder. “What are you doing?”
“Giving Vin and Buck a head’s up about the tickets. I didn’t want any hard feelings about not telling them beforehand. Season tickets are not cheap, and when you are giving a kid a gift that cost a couple thousand dollars, you should tell his parents about it."
“I still don’t see the problem, we can afford it.” Linda slid around to sit on Chris’s lap and to snuggle. “But let’s not talk about it now. Isn’t it time for Grace to take a nap?”
Chris laughed. “In case you didn’t notice, she’s already asleep.” He nodded toward the playpen sitting by his desk and their sleeping daughter.
Linda grinned. “Then let’s put her in her crib and take advantage of some alone time. Until we hire a Nanny, we have to take the time for us when we can get it.” She set about convincing him one kiss at a time.
Chris didn’t need much convincing to spend some alone time with his wife. With one arm around her waist, and the other firmly holding Grace they made their way into their bedroom. He left Linda momentarily alone while he moved into the nursery and deposited their sleeping daughter into her crib.
“Now, where were we?” he asked Linda with a lustful look as he rejoined her in their bedroom, and closed the door behind him.
“Right here, sexy.” Linda said, slowly beginning to unbutton her blouse as she strutted toward him.
Tanner home ~1:00pm
Max and Walter were sitting at the kitchen table with Kelli going over the plans for Jason’s party the following day. Andi and her cousin Maria had just finished their lunch, and were getting cleaned up with Kelli and Max’s help, when the phone rang. Kelli ran to grab it while Max finished washing the little one's hands and faces.
“Tanner residence,” Kelli answered. “Yes, this is Mrs. Tanner… I’ll be right there.” Hanging up the receiver, she turned to Max. “I need to go to Jason’s school.”
“Go, I‘ve got plenty for these two to do while you’re gone and Walter will stick around to help entertain them, too.” Max and Walter took the two little girls by the hand and led them outside to the swings.
Kelli grabbed her keys to the Tahoe, thankful that Vin had ridden in with Josiah today. She also made a mental note to check on the new special ordered truck they had purchased to find out when it would be ready for them. She was taking the Tahoe as her own vehicle, and Vin would be driving the truck when it arrived. Her thoughts then turned to her son as she drove. Jason had been in a fight and was in the nurse’s office.
Fighting…Jason was not one to start a fight. But what if he did Kel? What could be bothering him so much that he would turn to violence at school? Could it be the problem between Vin and Chris? Damn, hit every red light between here and there why don’t you? Relax; it may not be anything…just a simple misunderstanding.
Even though she broke a few speed limits, it still took fifteen minutes for her to reach the school. Kelli jumped out of the Tahoe and rushed inside, heading straight for the nurse’s office. The principal intercepted her as she walked past the office.
“Mrs. Tanner, we should talk before you see Jason.” The principal tried to steer Kelli to her office.
“As soon as I see my son, I’ll be more than happy to speak to you Mrs. Ross.” Kelli insisted and did not change course.
Mrs. Ross sighed, “Very well, this way.”
The principal led the way to the nurse’s office and it was there that Kelli found Jason. His hands were red and slightly swollen from fighting. There was a large bruise showing along the right side of his jaw, and his top lip was cut and swollen, too. She sat down next to him and tilted his head upward to look into his pain-filled blue eyes. “Are you okay?”
Jason shrugged his shoulders. “I reckon.”
Kelli lifted his shirt to check for further damage, and found more bruises dotting his torso around the rib area. What disturbed her most were the distinctive blue marks left by fingers on his arms. Gently she touched his skin and he winced in pain. “I’m sorry baby, but we’ll have the doctor look at you just to be sure. Can you hold on for me a few more minutes while I speak to Mrs. Ross?”
She realized that he was very upset, and her first impulse was to grab him up and leave, but Kelli wanted to know what the principle had to say about the altercation that had left Jason in the condition he was in. “I promise, no more than five minutes and we are out of here.”
Jason only nodded yes.
Kelli stepped into the hall with Mrs. Ross. She was not going to follow the woman to her office. “You have three minutes startin’ now to tell me what in the hell happened to my son!”
“Mrs. Tanner, we really should…”
“You are wastin’ your three minutes.”
“Bottom line, Jason attacked two older boys and he will be suspended for the next three days for fighting. Now I know that they were both bigger than him, but we have a zero tolerance policy for fighting regardless of the reasons behind it. I realize Jason is adopted and may be a problem child but…”
Kelli’s voice turned to ice. “Adoption has nothing to do with this Mrs. Ross. The other boys…are they suspended also?”
“Well, no. Jason was the one that started…”
“Mrs. Ross, I am takin' my son to the doctor. You clear time on your schedule to see me at three o’clock. If you do not plan to suspend the other boys for their involvement in the fight, then you had best have someone with more authority than you here, when my husband and I return to talk to you. Kelli turned, went inside the room, and told Jason that they were leaving.
Jason did not say a word until they were in the truck. “I’m sorry I made you mad.”
Kelli was reaching for the ignition and stopped, turning to Jason. “I am not mad at you. I do expect to hear the truth, but my first concern is to make sure you are really okay. Whatever happened today Jason, we will listen to what you have to say. If you were wrong, then your Dad and I will try to explain why. If you weren’t, then heaven better help your principle because there will be hell to pay.”
“They were gonna jump on Caleb during recess…I couldn’t let them do that…he’s too small, and…” He looked up at her with tear filled eyes. “They called him a bad word…said his kind didn’t belong here… called him a nig…”
“Stop Jason, unfortunately I know the word, you don’t have to repeat it. We’ll work this out. I think you’re all right, but for now though we are goin' to go see Aunt Rain so she can check you out just to be sure, okay?” Kelli hugged her son tightly, working hard to conceal her anger from him. She would have plenty to say to Mrs. Ross when they met later that afternoon.
Punching one on her cell phone she called Vin. “Tanner, I need you to meet me at home. Call Buck and have him meet with us too. I love you.” She had to leave a message, but she knew he would get it soon enough.
Rain and Nathan were in their front yard when Kelli pulled up “Hey y’all. Rain, could you check Jason over and make sure he’s okay. I’ll explain later.”
“Sure thing, come here big fellow let’s go in the house and see what we’ve got.” Jason trusted Rain and had no problem going inside with her.
Nathan looked over to Kelli and did ask. “What happened?”
“Fight at school. I think he’ll be fine but I wanted to be certain.’ She was not going to tell him the fight Jason had gotten into had been about Caleb, just yet. Nathan had had a difficult enough time accepting the Wilmington’s decision to adopt him. This would only make things worse.
“Fighting? That doesn’t sound like Jason.” Nathan stated with a frown, his brown eyes studying her.
“I know. Vin and I will be talkin’ to the principal at three, but I wanted to get Jason checked out and home before then.” Kelli was kicking herself for not thinking about the concerned questions that Nathan and Rain would surely ask when she decided to bring Jason to the Jackson’s to have Rain examine him. I should have gone to his regular doctor to avoid this.
Before Nathan could ask more questions, Rain and Jason walked back outside. “Nothing seems to be broken, but he will have a few sore places by morning, and maybe even a black eye as well. I suggest plenty of rest, Motrin for the pain, ice packs, and liniment, he may have a black eye, but other than that he seems to be okay.”
“Thanks Rain, I just wanted to be sure.” Kelli said with relief evident in her voice as she draped her arm over Jason’s shoulder and kept him close to her as they walked to the truck
“No problem, call me if you need me, anytime.”
“I’ll call you later, “Kelli yelled as she got in the truck. “Okay Jason, let’s head home.”
“Okay, “Jason said, fastening his seatbelt as Kelli put the vehicle into drive and headed it down the road toward their home.
Buck was already at the Tanner home by the time Kelli pulled in front of their home, and Vin was on his way. She took Jason inside, gave him some Motrin and an ice pack for his face while they waited for Tanner. She did not want Jason to have to go through his explanation more than once. Buck wisely decided not to ask questions after she signaled for him to wait.
Vin arrived home ten minutes later, and Josiah was with him. One look at his son and Tanner was ready to explode. His concerned blue eyes strayed off of Jason's battered face to Kelli, and quietly read the warning look on her face that told him he needed to hold it together. He knelt down in front of Jason. “Hey pard, you wanna tell me what happened?’
Jason had no fear of Vin; he knew that no matter what he did, his dad would never hurt him, so he answered honestly. “I had a difference of opinion with someone.”
Tanner swallowed hard. Those were the exact words he had said when he came back from California covered with bruises. Okay Vin, talk yourself out of this one. “Can you tell me who, and why?"
Jason looked at his Mom, his eyes pleading for her to help him out.
Kelli answered for him. “It seems that two older boys began to pick on Caleb durin’ recess, they called him the N word and said his kind was not welcome here.
Apparently they were willin’ to hurt him to get their point across. Jason took on both of them before they had an opportunity to lay into Caleb. Our son has been suspended for three days for ‘startin’ the fight’. The other boys were not punished. We see the principal at three. Rain checked him over and although he’ll be feelin’ it tomorrow, he’s pretty much okay.” Her clipped answers told Vin that she was barely hanging on to her rage.
Buck cursed softly and Josiah’s face tightened with anger. Vin was only concerned for Jason at the moment. There was no way to protect him from bigotry in this world, but this was a hard lesson for child only turning seven tomorrow. “Jason, look at me. I understand why you felt you needed to stand up for Caleb and I’m proud that you did. But there are other ways besides fightin’ that you can do that. After we talk to the principal we’ll discuss this more, but for now I think you need to rest a while.”
“I’m okay dad. They called him a bad word... ‘m not sure what it means, but I know it’s bad. They were gonna hurt him. I just knew I couldn’t let them go after Caleb, he’s smaller than me and besides, being a Tanner, I had to do something, right?”
Being a Tanner… Yes you are son. Yes you are. Vin fought back the emotional lump in his throat. “Jason…you protected your cousin and that was a good thing. You and I are gonna talk about the other ways you can do that…besides fightin’, but first your mom and I are gonna go talk to your school principal.”
“Okay, Dad can I go to my room now?”
“Sure thing pard, we’ll talk some more later.” The adults in the room said nothing until Jason was out of earshot. Vin looked over at Kelli. “What else?” He knew she was ready to explode and feared that there was more to this than he had heard.
“That woman insinuated that because Jason is adopted, he’s a troublemaker. I told her she had better suspend those other boys and have someone there with authority higher than hers. I intend to give her a piece of my mind and then some!”
Vin knew that Kelli would have no problem handling this, but he intended to be there. “We’ll do it together baby.”
Buck could not stay quiet any longer. “I want to be there, too. I’m gonna pick up Caleb and Sarah. When you finish your conference I’m sure I’ll have some explaining to do to my son…after the principal hears what I have to say.”
Vin nodded. It was sad that children had to learn so early in life about intolerance, but he was certain that their children would learn how to handle it. He was going to make sure of that.
“Max has the girls; I think I’ll stick around here with Jason until you get back.” Josiah volunteered.
“Thanks Josiah, appreciate it.” Vin looked at his watch. “We’d best be leavin’; it’s already two-thirty.”
Mrs. Ross had her reinforcements ready. The father of the two brothers that had fought with Jason and the teacher that witnessed the exchange were in attendance when Vin and Kelli walked into the conference room. The two battered Harrison brothers, ages, 10 and 11, were sitting with their father.
The principal bristled when she saw Vin’s sidearm. “Mr. Tanner we do not allow weapons on the school campus!”
“Ma’am, that’s Agent Tanner.” Vin pulled out his badge and ID. “Uncle Sam says I have to have my weapon on my person at all times when I’m on active duty. The only reason my wife doesn’t have hers is because she is on vacation.”
“You’re both Federal agents?” The male teacher sitting next to the principle asked.
“Yep, as is the father of Caleb Wilmington, the child that seems to be in the middle of this …altercation.” Vin stated calmly.
“You are mistaken, Caleb was not fighting. Your son attacked Mr. Harrison’s two boys without provocation.” Mrs. Ross looked at her notes.
Mr. Harrison smirked at them. “Seems that your son is a bully Tanner, he owes my boys an apology.”
Before he spoke, Vin laid a hand on Kelli’s arm when he felt her tense up. “Mr. Harrison, my six-year-old son may have to learn about how to conduct himself when faced with a confrontation, but your two boys have a much more serious problem. Verbal assault is a crime. In the state of Colorado any child age ten or over is accountable for his or her actions and may be charged with delinquency. When racial slurs are attached to that assault, indicatin’ prejudice is the catalyst of that offense, and then under Federal law it can be classified as a hate crime. Add to that injury to a child and you are lookin’ at some serious legal issues.”
Kelli turned to the principal. “Now I know that any federally funded school district or its employees would never condone bigotry or prejudice on the school campus, so I believe we need to review all the facts. Don’t you?”
Mr. Harrison looked at his two bruised boys in amazement. “Are you telling me that you let a six-year-old do that?”
“Dad, he was defending that darkie and he…” The older boy attempted to explain.
“Shut up! You let a little kid beat both of you! I thought you two were tougher than that! Damn what have I taught you…?”
Tanner interrupted. “My son is a first-grader and all of fifty pounds soakin' wet. Caleb is in kindergarten and not more than forty-two pounds. Your sons look to be at least eighty-five pounds each or better. If you’re tellin’ me that my son is responsible for what they look like, then I’d say you are teachin’ those boys of your’s the wrong lessons.”
Mrs. Ross stood up. “Mr. Harrison. I believe I was missing some of the facts…” She pointedly looked at the teacher beside her. “If Thomas and Robert were harassing a kindergarten child and calling him racially derogatory names…then this is an entirely different situation than I was led to believe.”
“That kid is a nig…” Robert started to say.
“Shut up!” His dad stopped him and appealed to the principal. “My son doesn’t like being forced to attend school with kids like that, and may have overreacted.”
“This school is open to every child, black, white, or purple polka dotted. I will schedule a disciplinary hearing for Friday morning at ten. Until then your sons are suspended Mr. Harrison.”
“So you’re gonna side with them! You’re gonna let that badge scare you! I should have known this wasn’t gonna be fair to my boys.” He stood up and motioned to Robert and Thomas. “We’re leaving, and you, lady, will be hearing from my attorney!” Harrison stormed out the door.
The principal sighed. “Mr. and Mrs. Tanner, I assure you I will do everything in my power to make certain that this does not happen again; however, Jason was fighting…I will reduce his suspension to one day, and put an explanation of the facts into his records. I will also be meeting with my teachers and make certain that we all watch for further challenges to our younger students.”
Vin looked over to Kelli and she nodded. “That’s agreeable. We’ll be talkin’ to Jason about other ways to handle situations like this in the future should it happen again. I trust that he will be able to go to any teacher for assistance?”
“Absolutely, and I’m sorry something like this happened at all. I will also be speaking to the Wilmington’s to make them aware of the situation.”
Vin laughed. “That will be easy Mr. Wilmington is just outside the door and waiting to see you.” Tanner stood up as the others left, leaving only Mrs. Ross and them in the room. He had a feeling that his wife still had something to say.
Kelli stood, placed her hands on the table, and leaned over it. “Mrs. Ross. Just so we understand one another; if you ever say the words adoption, Jason and problem child in the same sentence again I’m gonna forget settin’ an example for my children and personally kick your ass. Jason is our son, period. He is a good kid and how he became our son is none of your damn business. Are we clear?”
Kathy Ross knew she had been out of line and looking into the eyes of Jason’s protective mother she was aware of just how much. “I believe we are, Mrs. Tanner. I won’t make that mistake again.”
Vin took his wife’s arm. “Let’s go home Kel and talk to our son.”
That same evening the Wilmington’s, the Sanchez’ and the Tanners sat talking with Jason, Caleb, Joanne, and Sarah for a long time about how to recognize bigotry, what to do when faced with racist remarks, and the need to set an example by practicing tolerance in all aspects of their lives. Hopefully the entire school-age Wild Bunch came away from the family discussion with a better understanding of the ignorance of prejudice, and how to handle it.
It was a hard, ugly, lesson, but unfortunately one which the MCAT Unit would soon be facing, too.
Journal Entry~ September 26~Reclamation
I shared tonight at the meeting for the first time. It wasn't so much that I wanted to get up in front of all of those people and talk about what a mess I've made of my life, but was prodded to do so by Colonel Mike Tai. He's a short, older Asian man who's a decorated Navy Colonel. He has been clean and sober for almost thirty years. He sort of dared me to speak in a play of words that were as philosophical as Josiah's, and elegant like Ezra's. Something about the man makes me think that I can learn a lot from him, and I've made a decision to ask him to be my sponsor at our next meeting.
Tomorrow I face the firing squad, correction… the whole Wild Bunch, and I'm not sure if I'm up to it yet. It is Jason's birthday though, and I wouldn't miss that for anything.
Tanner Home ~ Wednesday, September 27th~5:00am
Vin slipped out of bed and pulled on some sweats. He felt that Jason was okay, but had to check on him anyway. The thought of his boy standing up to the two bigger Harrison brothers both scared him and filled him with pride. “Being a Tanner I had to do something, right?” Those words were now etched in Vin’s memory, and his heart. Standing in the doorway of his son’s room he simply watched him sleep for a few minutes. The steady rise and fall of his chest said that Jason was resting peacefully. A quick check on Andi, and the Texan headed back to his bed, undressed, and then cuddled up behind his redhead.
“Is Jason okay?” Kelli had been waiting for Vin to return. Both of them were concerned about the long-term ramifications of the incident at school yesterday. She was aware that while her Texan wanted Jason to stay safe above anything else, he also wanted their son to learn it was all right to take a stand against injustice. It was a delicate balancing act, and one Vin was determined to ‘get right’.
“He’s sleepin' soundly, with no nightmares so yeah, he’s okay.” Vin wrapped his arm around her waist and nuzzled the back of her neck. “I tried not to wake you, but since you are… “The two of them had their own celebration before starting the day.
Jason’s eyes grew wide when Vin set a plateful of birthday pancakes down in front of him. The stack was put together like a cake and had ‘Happy Birthday Jason’ spelled out with syrup across the top. He could not remember the last time anyone paid special attention to the day of his birth. “Thanks Dad.”
“You’re welcome son.”
Andi grinned when she saw her name on her stack of pancakes, “Me, too!”
“Well Miss ‘Me Too’, ‘m gonna need your help today. We have a party to put together.” Kelli smiled as Andi excitedly shook her head yes because it was difficult to talk with a mouthful of pancakes.
“Since I have the day off from work and Jason has a day off from school, I thought he might wanna go with me to pick up our new truck.” Vin waited for Jason’s reaction.
“Yes! Can I really?”
“Yep, Uncle Buck is gonna be here at eight to drive us over there.” Vin grinned, “Caleb is comin', too.”
Andi started to pout about not getting to go with her dad and brother, until Kelli reminded her about the party. “Me ride in it when you come home Daddy?”
“Absolutely,” Vin tickled her until the pouting look was gone, replaced with giggles. “We have to have Sugar’s approval and as soon as y’all finish breakfast we’ll go take care of the horses.” Both kids busied themselves with eating so they did not miss their chance at helping with the horses.
Vin wrapped his arm around his wife’s waist and whispered in her ear. “If you’re good, I might take you for a moonlight ride in my new truck.”
Kelli shook her head and laughed when Vin winked at her with a Texas size grin. She was not so sure that she didn’t already have three kids. Although she definitely preferred Tanner’s playtime to that of the children she was feeling sassy. “If you promise to be real good…I might let you.”
Larabee home ~ mid-afternoon
Chris was having a difficult time psyching himself up to the day’s coming activities. Last night he had even found the nerve to bring up the problem at his group meeting. Yes, this was family, but this was also the first time since he left for California that he would be with all of them together in a family setting. One of the guys from last night recounted how he felt the first time he had to attend a family function after he had ‘cleaned up’. He said that the only one that had really changed was…him.
They are still the same old ‘Wild Bunch’, Chris. Yeah…but am I the same old Chris? Can I risk being the man I was only a few weeks ago? Face it Larabee, if you plan to follow the steps for recovery, keep Linda happy, be a good dad to Grace, and reestablish your place as commander with MCAT, you are going to have to stay reserved. You cannot take the chance of getting too close again…not now. Not until you get the rest of your life under control. Hell that should be easy for hard ass Larabee, right? Where does that leave you Chris? What does that do to your relationship with your brothers and with Vin?
Larabee had no answer for his last question. He had no idea how to get back something that he did not know how he got in the first place. All he knew was it was going to be different. It had to be because he could not let Grace go and if he went back to his old patterns then Linda would take the baby and leave. Rock and a hard place Chris. Sound familiar? Yeah, too damn familiar!
Josiah already had the grill going with a large beef brisket and barbecue ribs cooking slowly on it. His famous secret recipe for barbeque sauce had granted him the honor of manning the grill as chief cook for the day’s event. Mallory, Inez, and Casey were busy helping Kelli in the kitchen while the rest of the men watched the children, and set up tables outside for the food. As the assortment of side salads, rolls, and condiments were finished cooking, the ladies began to bring the dishes outside and placed them on the tables, before they moved over to the seating area to join their husbands.
Kelli was the last one out of the house, and had just stepped off the porch, when Ezra and Barbara arrived. She stood at the foot of the porch watching as they exited their vehicle, which was new. As the couple walked across the lawn toward her, she decided to have some fun, at Ezra’s expense. She knew how much Standish had cherished his last JAG, and was certain that this new one would be treated to the same degree of affection.
“How do you like my newly acquired vehicle Kelli?” Standish asked his partner as she walked toward him, gesturing at the sleek silver JAG he had just purchased.
“Looks like a monochrome coffin on wheels Ez.” Kelli told him. “Or a shiny new cartridge casing...ooh, you can even call it the Silver Bullet.”
“Why do I set myself up for remarks like that?” Ezra muttered, shaking his head, as Barbara stifled a laugh.
Kelli grinned at him. “If you didn't want an honest answer, Ez, you shouldn't have asked me what I thought.” She walked over to the car. “Hey partner, when can I drive it?”
“Does the term when 'hell freezes over', register with you, partner?”
“Geez, Ezra, chill out...It's only a car...”
“Only a car she says, “Standish murmured to himself, as Kelli and Barbara both looked on with amusement. “I’ll have you know that the Jaguar XK is more than a car she is... she’s sleek, has sexy curves, state of the art engineering, flawless performance, she drives like a dream, and you say it’s only a car!”
“Does Barbara know about your car fetish, Ezra?” Kelli asked him with a wide grin.
Ezra’s only response was to glare at her. The redhead turned her attention onto the brunette woman that had stolen the debonair MCAT agent’s heart. “Are you aware that you are goin’ to most likely be competin’ with a JAG for my partner’s affections?”
The resolve Barbara had made in not giving in to her desire to laugh at the barbs being passed back and forth between Ezra and Kelli finally broke, and the brunette burst out laughing. “If it wasn’t for the fact that she’s only a mechanical wonder, I’d be worried.”
Vin walked up and threw his arm around Kelli’s shoulder.” Hey Ez, this thing looks like a shiny new bullet.”
“I give up! I suppose I will be hearing about the ‘silver bullet” from now on until to eternity.” Standish acted as if he had been insulted, but he was enjoying the banter with Kelli. Their working relationship had hit a few rough patches over the last few months, but they were finally past it and ready to move forward.
“Count on it…partner.”
Vin shook his head. It was good to see things beginning to get back to normal, or as normal as anything was when this bunch was involved. Ezra’s new JAG, and Vin’s new Silverado truck that replaced Kelli’s totaled Avalanche helped to erase some of the bad memories of the last few months. Having the family together again for something as joyous as a child’s birthday celebration felt good, but having Chris back with them was something they were all looking forward to, both with expectations and apprehensions. Most of the adults settled in lawn chairs or stretched out on top of blankets spread on the ground with the babies while they waited for their other brothers to arrive. Vin had promised JD and Ezra an explanation for Jason’s bruises, but he wanted to wait until Nathan and Chris arrived so he would only have to explain what had happened one time.
Jason was having fun, but his eyes kept darting over to the table on which presents were accumulating. He watched as Walter, Max, his Uncle Nathan and Aunt Rain appeared and set even more wrapped gifts with the other ones. One look at his sister though and he began to worry about her being left out. With his mind made up, he went over to speak to his parents. Jason found Vin and Kelli sitting together under the shade of a large tree talking with Ezra and Barbara.
Vin saw the worried look on his face. “Jason, you okay?”
Looking around he was reluctant to say anything in front of the others, but his concern outweighed his shyness. “Dad, what about Andi?”
It took a few seconds for the Texan to understand what Jason was anxious about, but when he did Vin smiled. “If you look at the names on all those packages, a few of them have Andi’s name on them.”
Relief was written all over his small face. “Can I show her?”
“You sure can, but we’ll wait until after we eat before y’all open any.” Watching Jason run over to his sister and drag her to the stack of presents made more than one adult smile.
Nathan grinned. “That boy never ceases to amaze me. It’s his birthday and he’s more concerned about Andi being left out than what it means for him. So when are you going to tell us about what happened yesterday?”
Vin had been watching as the Larabees walked toward them and he felt Kelli’s tension as she saw her Dad and Linda approach. Grace was safely cuddled in her daddy’s arms and Linda was dressed in a chic, new, expensive outfit. “I reckon as soon as Chris and Linda get settled somewhere.”
“Uncle Chris, you’re here!” Jason ran over to greet Chris with Andi right on his heels. Within minutes Sarah, Maria, Caleb and Joanne had joined them and Larabee was quickly swamped with all the kids clamoring for attention. Chris relaxed as he enjoyed seeing all the children together again; however his concern over seeing Jason’s bruised face was obvious to all of the adults present, except maybe Linda. He was careful to pay equal attention to each one of the younger members of the family, patting heads, kissing cheeks, and talking softly to them in turn. Finally, Vin and Buck shooed the children off to go play, laughingly telling them that they needed to give their Uncle Chris some room to breathe.
Larabee cast a grateful eye their way as he settled down into a chair with Grace, a bristling Linda beside him. She had been certain that even if she wasn’t the center of attention at this function that her new outfit would garner some flattering remarks from the other women, but quickly realized that she was wrong. Inez, Casey, Rain and Mallory were only interested in seeing Grace; while Barbara and the rest of the brothers had been enjoying the interaction of all the children with Chris. Kelli‘s only focus had been on Jason and Chris. Worst of all, Chris hadn’t taken even a minute to see if she was all right, all his attention had been for his nieces and nephews.
Chris had relinquished his hold on Grace almost as soon as he had sat down, and decided that even though his arms felt empty without her, he wouldn’t dream of disturbing her where she laid comfortably in Inez’s arms, and was the center of attention. He tried to take Linda’s hand in his, but she pulled it away. He glanced questioningly at her, but she averted her gaze from his and with a sigh he didn’t push to find out what was wrong. These days it seemed that he could do nothing right with her, no matter how he tried, and he wasn’t about to let her sulky mood spoil his first day back with the entire family. Vin, Buck, and Josiah had been waiting for an opportunity to explain the events from yesterday to the rest of the brothers, but hadn’t had the chance yet to do so due to all of the activity going on around them. Now that everything seemed to have calmed down somewhat with all the older kids busy playing on the playground, and the younger one’s contentedly sleeping, Vin thought it was the perfect time to bring up the topic of Jason’s bruises, and how he had gotten them, however Linda beat him to it.
“What in the hell happened to Jason?” Linda blurted out to regain the group's attention.
JD was just as curious, but a little more tactful. “We’re all here and the kids are busy.”
Vin started. “Jason was involved in a fight at school. Seems he took on two older boys that were harassin’ Caleb. The Harrison brothers are ten and eleven, and evidently they took exception to Caleb’s color. Jason took exception to the fact that they intended to hurt his cousin, and as they say, the rest is history. Kelli picked him up, and took him to Rain just to make certain he was not more seriously injured. We went back to the school and confronted the principal and Mr. Harrison. I don’t expect this type of incident to be repeated.”
Buck continued. “We talked to all the school-age kids last night and they have a better understanding on what to do though if it does happen again.”
“You can damn well bet on it happening again!” Nathan said angrily. “This is what I was worried about. Caleb will have to face prejudice the rest of his life and you can’t stop it Buck! What if Jason had been seriously hurt? Do you know what could have happened?”
“We do know Nate!” Vin took a deep breath. “Jason made a decision to take a stand; I can’t fault him for that. We have discussed other alternatives to fightin’ and I do intend to show him how to defend himself though if those Harrison boys give him any more trouble.”
“It would appear that young Jason has the same sense of right and wrong that his father has.” Ezra commented. “Although I realize that he will be required to learn other methods of coping with bullies, I do commend him for standing up for his cousin.”
“That is why Paul and I are so involved with a group that meets twice a week. “’Without Prejudice’ is the name of the group and you would be shocked by what we’ve learned. Do you know that hate crimes in this country have risen by forty-two percent in the last year alone? Seventy percent of them involve whites against black individuals, or black owned businesses.” Nathan was prepared to say more, but was interrupted by Kelli.
“Nathan, I think all of us know what bigotry is and how it leads to hurt and injustice. We handled it with the kids and we will be there to help them learn to set a good example. But please don’t make more of this than what it was; a first exposure to the different forms of discrimination out there in the real world. Children learn their prejudices from their parents, but they can learn about tolerance, too. Our job is to teach them how to live without prejudice against anyone; we don’t need a group to do that for us.”
“I think we handled it okay with the kids. If we do our jobs right, maybe there won’t be a need for groups like that when our children are grown.” Buck stated as he watched Chris intently. He expected to see the infamous Larabee temper flare up at any moment, and was surprised when it did not.
Chris had been listening quietly to the conversation going on around him, and struggled to keep his emotions in check. He was making a conscious effort not to resort back to his old ways, thinking that if he slipped just a little with even how he dealt with a situation such as this, then it would make him more vulnerable. That was something he couldn’t afford to be this soon in his recovery. Instead of jumping in the middle of the discussion, as his brothers expected, he made only one comment. "It sounds as if you all handled it okay.”
JD held on to Lilah a little tighter and looked over at Casey with Daisy.” I hope we can do the same when the time comes for these two to face those kinds of issues.”
“I feel certain that you will JD.” Rain said softly.
Josiah stood up. “I’d better check on those ribs; the sooner we eat, the sooner we can help Jason celebrate.” His calm statement set the next phase of this get-together into motion.
Walter volunteered to help Sanchez, and as they walked off dinner was promised to be ready soon. They all insisted that Inez remain seated and relax with her feet up. Knowing that it was futile to argue with everyone, Inez did as was suggested and after shifting Grace into a more comfortable position on her lap, decided to enjoy the extra time off her feet. Rain took Adam and Terrell to the sandbox to play so Mallory could help her husband, and Casey followed with the twins.
JD stood up and addressed the remaining men. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’d like to see Vin’s new truck and Ezra’s Jag.”
Ezra grinned. “Gentlemen I assure you there is no comparison between the two.” He waited for Vin to follow JD and Nathan over to the vehicles.
“That’s for sure, my truck is useful, and Ezra’s new toy is just for looks.” Vin grinned and stood up. “Besides, who wants to ride around in a monochrome coffin on wheels all day?”
Standish looked over to Kelli with a disgruntled expression on his face. “You told him. You aren’t going to let it go are you?”
“You gonna let me drive it?” Kelli asked, smiling at him.
“Not a chance in hell.”
“Then no, I reckon not.”
Vin shook his head and grinned. “Damn, you two sound worse than the kids.”
“She started it!”
“I did not!”
“You did too!”
Barbara laughed. “Vin you’d better get him out of here or this will go on all day.”
Tanner bent down and kissed his redhead before whispering. “Behave yourself while I’m gone.” He was not sure it was such a good idea to leave Linda and her alone, but felt confident that with Inez and Barbara nearby, the two other women could run interference if things got heated up between Kelli and Linda.
Buck had been watching his old friend and did not like what he was beginning to see. Chris was here, but not really with the rest of them. “Chris, are you coming with us?”
Glancing first at Grace still cuddled with Inez and then to Kelli; Chris knew he had a long way to go to repair his relationships with his family. His eldest daughter had not said one word to him since he arrived. Looking over at his wife he recognized the signs that Linda was mad about something and he knew he could not count on her for support. The easy banter between Kelli and Ezra only reminded him of what he was missing out on. And when did Nathan get so vocal about racism? Even with the others he felt disconnected, especially with Vin. He felt as if he was on the outside of the circle looking in and found he did not like it. Hell, even Barbara seemed to have a hold on her place in the Wild Bunch better than him. Reluctantly he decided to join his brothers, and rose from his chair to move into step behind Buck.
Linda watched Chris leave and then she sighed. “Some things never change do they?”
“What things?” Inez was so engrossed in watching Grace’s facial expressions that she had not been paying attention.
“Them.” Linda huffed. “Don’t you ever get tired of sharing your husband with six other men?”
Inez was taken back by the question. “What kind of question is that? Buck knew all of them long before I ever met him and way before we were married. They are not only brothers, but they watch out for one another on the job. I thank God that he does have those six men in his life because it increases the chances of him returning home to me and our children safe and sound.”
“That may be in your case, but they sure as hell haven’t kept Chris safe and sound for the last year, have they?” Linda responded bitterly. “On top of that when I do have Chris home, I practically have to strip to get his attention! But Ezra and Vin get new vehicles or Grace barely whimpers, and off he goes.”
Kelli took notice of the tension Inez was giving off and even she knew that was not good for a woman that was seven months pregnant. “Linda, that’s enough! You are the only one that has a problem with any of that. Give it a rest!”
Barbara was experienced enough as an attorney to read most people well. She saw all the signs of a heated discussion coming and decided to try and get Inez into a calmer situation. “Inez? Would you care to walk with me and see the Jag yourself? Besides, I may need your help prying Ezra away from the new lady in his life.”
Inez knew what Barbara was doing and decided that before she said something she may regret it was time for a change of company. “Yes, I think I would, and whatever help you need with that southerner, I’ll do the best I can to assist you.” She handed Grace over to her mother and then left with Barbara.
“Are you happy now?” Kelli glared at Linda.
“I didn’t say anything that the rest of you haven’t thought about saying. You can’t honestly tell me that you like sharing Vin, especially with that weird connection he had with Chris. Thank God, it seems that at least we don’t have to contend with that anymore!”
“We have had this conversation before. I told you then I do not have a problem with Vin and his brothers. As for Chris, I may not like some of the things he said or did, but that ‘weird connection’ as you call it is a part of who he is as well as it is with Vin. It will only hurt both of ‘em if they don’t find a way to get it back.”
“That’s nonsense Kel. Chris will be fine as soon as he realizes that I am the one that should come first in his life. He doesn’t need Vin or any of them to be happy. I plan on hiring a full-time Nanny to take care of Grace and then Chris and I will be able to travel at will anytime, anywhere. I also plan on us having our own place, one we don’t have to share. You may like this communal living, but I don’t, and I damn sure don’t care to be ordered around by Vin or anyone else on my own land. My mother never had to give up being the mistress of her home and I won’t either.”
“You are a piece of work, you know that? You have always been a spoiled brat, but until now I have never known you to be as malicious as you are bein’ now.”
“I had no choices of my own when I took care of my dad. That was a full-time job. But now it’s time that I get what I want for a change and mark my words Kel, I intend to do just that. Chris will be a full-time husband to me; and I will not share him with you, his brothers, or his work.”
“What about Grace?”
“That’s why I want the Nanny.” Linda sighed. “You just count yourself lucky that Jason and Andi were not babies when you got them, because when they are that small it takes all your time and energy to care for them. Of course, not having gone through a pregnancy yourself, you wouldn’t know how miserable it is and then how much freedom you lose after you have a baby. Sometimes I think Chris loves her more than me. I thought…well it doesn’t matter what I thought, but I guarantee you Grace will be our only child.”
Kelli was determined not to ruin Jason’s birthday with a fight. As much as she wanted to kick Linda’s butt then and there she managed to hold on to her anger by a thread and stood up to leave Linda alone with Grace. “You want to be Queen Bee, then you go for it, but be careful what you wish for Linda, sometimes you get it.”
Chris stood and observed the men around him. Men he had known for years and trusted above all others. Yet today he felt like a stranger standing here among them. It seemed that every one of them were waiting for him to say or do something, anything to reassure them that he was really okay again. He knew that Buck was watching him closely and Vin, hell; he could not read Tanner at all. Fortunately, Josiah called out that the food was ready ending the discussion JD and Nathan were having about work trucks verses luxury cars.
The invitation to eat had them all moving toward the picnic tables. Vin called out to Larabee. “Chris, wait up a minute.”
Not now. I’m not ready to sort out what went wrong. It’s Vin, Larabee; your best friend and brother. Why are you suddenly so anxious about talking to him alone? Even as he thought about pretending that he did not hear Tanner, Chris stopped walking and waited.
Lord Chris, you look as if you’re waiting for an execution. What in the hell do you think I’m gonna do to you? Vin caught up with Chris. “I wanted to give you this before Jason opens his gifts.” Tanner handed him an envelope. “I made a call and got the prices, so this check should cover it.”
“Check?” Chris had to think about what Vin was saying.
“For the Bronco tickets, remember? We did agree to split the costs didn’t we?”
“Yes…yes we did. Thanks.” Damnit! Have we come to a point that we can’t even have a normal conversation? “I made sure that both our names are on the gift card.”
“Good…that’s good.” I’m willing to wait Larabee, just don’t make it too long. Reckon we ought to get to that food before it’s all gone.” They both continued to walk forward in an uncomfortable silence.
So far, the children apparently had not picked up on the tension that spread rapidly through the adults. In fact, since the children were the only ones doing any talking, it did not take long at all for the adults to finish eating. The only explanation that Vin, Buck and Ezra received from their ladies regarding the increased restlessness among the women was, ‘I’ll tell you later’.
Linda had handed Grace over to Chris the moment he returned, complaining about the baby spitting up formula on her white outfit. “She’s yours for the rest of the evening!” Chris did not mind at all. In fact seeing the children and being able to hold Grace was the only thing that made this family get-together bearable for him.
Once dinner was over with and the clean up had been completed they all gathered around the gift table. Jason’s only request was to let Andi go first and she did. By the time she was finished she had an entire stable of My Little Ponies and a case to cart them around with. It had been a joint collaboration with everyone to make certain that all the little ponies in the collection were now in her possession.
“Do yours, do yours, Jason!” Andi was equally excited to see what her brother was to receive
Jason was overwhelmed. Never in his life could he remember so many good things happening in one day, just for him. Ezra and JD had jointly given him his first computer with enough learning programs to almost guarantee that he would become a straight A student. JD promised to have it all operational, by the time Jason came home from school the next day.
Josiah and his family gave him a telescope with several astronomy books to help him discover all the constellations visible in this part of the country. Nathan and Rain gave him more books on Indian History and the beginning of a collection of genuine arrowheads. Caleb made the presentation of the Bronco gear and autographed football, all gifts from the Wilmington family.
Before both boys got too carried away, Chris presented them with their season tickets. “Jason, these are from Linda and I, and your parents too. Enjoy them.” He turned to Caleb. “I wasn’t here to do this sooner, but welcome to the family Caleb.” He grinned as the boys tore open the envelopes, and their parents helped them read the cards
“WOW! Tickets to every Broncos game this season!” Jason was jumping up and down with excitement, but did remember to say thanks.
Caleb was just as excited, “Thanks Uncle Chris and Aunt Linda!” The boys were already making plans for the next home game.
Vin picked up the last package and knelt down in front of Jason. “Before you have us packed up to go to the game, you might want to open this one.”
Jason took the package and reverently opened it. This one was from his Mom and Dad, and that alone made it special to him. Inside was a Denver Bronco’s jacket that Vin helped him try on.
“Check the pockets, son.”
Jason pulled out an envelope and opened it. He knew it was a certificate and he worked at reading the letters on it. “Dad, could you help me a little?”
“Sure thing pard, Vin placed his hands over his son’s. “This is a registration from The American Quarter Horse Association. It says that Jason Cameron Tanner is the owner of a horse named, ‘Jason’s Dreamer’. That little bay colt is yours son, all legal and proper.”
“Mine? He really belongs to me? “Seeing his dad’s affirmative nod, Jason felt his chest tighten up and he knew he was in serious danger of crying. “I promise to take good care of him Dad.” He was wrong; he was going to cry… so to hide his tears Jason threw his arms around Vin’s neck and held on tight.
“Happy Birthday, Son. I know you will take good care of Dreamer.” Vin was having a difficult time holding onto his emotions, too.
Kelli rescued both of them. “Time for cake and ice cream and then we’ll have to call it a night, some of y’all have school tomorrow.”
Everyone busied him or herself to take the attention off of Jason for a few minutes. He recovered enough to blow out the seven candles on his cake and dug in with the rest of the kids to enjoy the cake and ice cream.
Vin stood back with his arm around Kelli’s waist and grinned. “I think we have a happy boy.” He leaned closer to his wife’s ear. “Now, how do we make Mom happy again?”
Kelli shrugged a shoulder. “I’m not sure. You got any dynamite?”
Journal Entry~ October 3~Reclamation
It was a proud day for me when I received my thirty day sobriety chip tonight at the meeting. One month with the program and I am clean and sober, eleven more months and my first year of recovery will be something to celebrate. I didn't tell anyone in the family that I was receiving it. I don't want them to pat me on the back and say, “Good going Chris. That isn't what my recovery is about. It's about me taking back control of my life again. Although, this time around, I have to realize that to have control of my life, I've got to give some of it over to a higher power...Mistress Fate.
Larabee 7 ~7:00 am ~Tuesday
Journal Entry~ October 10th ~Reclamation
I don’t know if it was a result of my counseling sessions, or the fact that the MCAT office will re-open tomorrow without me, but my nightmares have returned. Visions of what the twelfth floor had looked like after the grenade attack invade my sleep. Maybe if I had listened…Do not go there Larabee. It is over and done with. Second-guessing yourself will not help anyone, especially you; at least that’s what they keep telling me at our meetings.
Seven weeks into my sobriety and I'm still no closer to having my life and family back, although I am making progress. Or so Col. Tai has told me that I am. He agreed to be my sponsor, and as I had expected, he's a hard taskmaster...but also fair one. Although I'm still having doubts about how things are going to work out in the end, I'm beginning to see things with more clarity.
It is getting a little easier to relax a bit at those meetings, but I still have difficulty talking about myself. More accurately my fears...I don’t know why it is so damn hard for me to talk to Vin or Kelli, but it is. Maybe I need to talk to Colonel Tai about it. He seems to be an okay guy and he does understand where I am coming from…
Linda walked in the kitchen and Chris quickly closed his journal.” Here you are.” She poured herself a cup of coffee. “I’m going into town to talk to the decorators today, and for some reason Inez refuses to watch Grace for me. You need to cancel your physical, or take her with you; I doubt that I’ll be back before five.”
“I can’t do that Linda. Dr. Gilford has several tests set up this morning and then I have a counseling session after that. As much as I’d love to take Grace with me, it’s just not possible. You’ll just have to stay home with her.”
“Well I can’t change my appointment.” Linda sighed. “You would think with your family crawling all over the place, someone could take her. Mallory is off somewhere with Josiah, and Adam, Casey, and JD took the twins for a day out, Rain is working, and Max said no.”
“Why don’t you ask Kel? With Jason in school it’s just her and Andi at home. Besides, she would probably like spending some time with Grace before she goes back to work.” Chris felt bad that his estrangement from Vin and Kelli had kept them from seeing Grace, too.
The blonde hesitated before answering; trying to decide how to handle that question and then an inspiration struck her. “No, I won’t ask Kel. I wasn’t going to tell you, but you do have a right to know. At Jason’s party she had some awful things to say about you. I tried to reason with her, but she wouldn’t listen to me. I’ve known her for a long time, but she even shocked me with some of her hateful remarks.” Sighing deeply she continued. “I suppose that even good friendship can not survive jealousy and lies. It’s really a shame though that she includes Grace in her contemptuous attitude toward us. I guess she is more like her mother than we realized.”
Chris was momentarily speechless and felt as if he had been stabbed in the heart. Damn Chris, you knew she was upset, but is Kelli capable of hating you that much? Look at Marissa, Larabee; she sure as hell hates you. Half of your daughter’s genes came from that wicked woman. Is it really so difficult to believe that Kel could be capable of hating you, too?”
“If that’s how she feels, then…I suppose we should keep Grace away from her. You had better make plans to stay with the baby yourself today.” Chris stood up.” I need to get dressed and out of here if I’m going to hit Gilford’s office on time. Chris’s disappointment was obvious as he left the room.
Linda watched him walk away with a sense of satisfaction.That was brilliant Linda! By the time he finds out the truth, it won’t matter. You will have your own place and Chris will see how happy you both can be without the distraction of family obligations. Kelli made it damn clear that she was not going to support you anyway. She chose Vin over you, after all these years of you two being friends! She also did without Chris most of her life and managed just fine. Kel is a survivor, she doesn’t need him now…not like you do. Besides, keeping Chris and Kelli apart will give you time to finish your plans before he and Vin have an opportunity to mend their differences.
Pleased that she was spared telling Chris about the disagreement that she and Kelli had, all she had to do is find someone else to take Grace for the day. Reaching for the phone, she dialed a familiar number and waited for her brother to answer. “Matt, I need a favor…”
Tanner Home ~ 1:30pm
Max and Kelli had been baking, cooking, and freezing prepared meals all morning, while two little girls helped. Inez seemed to be having a more difficult time with this pregnancy than she had with the previous two and Kelli wanted to help her out as much as possible. Since Inez was not feeling well, Maria was spending the day with Andi. Consequently they had spent the entire morning making enough food not only for the Tanner household for the next week, but to share with the Wilmingtons also. Looking at the clock, Kelli saw that it was almost time for Vin to arrive. He had only gone in to the office for half a day to make certain that everything was ready for tomorrow, and then he planned to pick Jason, Sarah and Joanne up from school on the way home.
Max closed the freezer door. “That is the last of it. Now I suppose we should pay our crew.” She reached for a plate of warm cookies and offered them to the girls.
Kelli laughed when two little blurs ran past her in a race to the cookies. “Y’all save a few for Jason and Sarah. They’ll be home and hungry before you know it.” She was still laughing when she grabbed the ringing phone. “Hello…”
Vin and Buck walked into the kitchen with Jason, Joanne, and Sarah. After a stop at the cookie plate, they barely had time to take a bite before Andi and Maria came running into the room.
“Daddy!!” Maria exclaimed and launched herself at Buck. “We make cookies!
“You home!” Andi yelled louder as Vin picked her up. “Good cookies!”
“Yes they are.” Tanner grinned. “Where’s your mama?”
“Gone,” Andi answered as she happily munched on another cookie.
“Gone? Where?” Vin suddenly felt uneasy.
Max came into the kitchen. “She went over to the Southern Breeze. All I know is Matt called and she was upset after talking to him. She asked me to watch the girls and then left without saying another word. That was about one-thirty and I haven’t heard from her since.”
“Matt called? Matt Dubois? What in the h…heck did he want?
Max reached for Andi. “Don’t know, but I’ll watch the kids while you find out.”
“Thanks,” he kissed Andi and then told Jason to help Max with the girls, before he headed out the door.
“Wait for me, you might need some backup, and even if you don’t I want to watch the fireworks.” Buck was grinning as he kissed his girls and followed Tanner.
Southern Breeze ~3:00pm
Kelli had walked the floor with Grace for almost an hour before her little sister finally fell asleep. When Matt had called and begged for her help with the crying child, her first fear was that the baby was ill. It was when he told her that Linda had left Grace with him at eight o'clock that morning with no formula, two diapers, and the promise that she was only going to be gone a couple of hours that Kelli became furious with Linda.
“I’m sorry Kel. When Linda didn’t answer my messages and I couldn’t reach Chris, I did not know who else to call.” Matt apologized for the umpteenth time. “I told her I was not good with babies and Martha was away for the day with Ben. She promised that she would be back before Grace even woke up.”
“It’s not your fault Matt. It was no problem for me to stop at the ranch house and pick up some diapers and formula on my way over here. So stop apologizin’’ to me. But, I promise you that when I see your sister, she is damn well gonna get a piece of my mind. We’re going on seven hours here. What in the hell did she expect you to do with a wet, hungry baby?”
Matt threw up his hands. “I have no idea what my sister expects anymore. I only know that she’s not happy and you know how she can be when things don’t go her way.”
“Yeah, I do.”
It was then that they heard a vehicle drive up out front and both of them went outside to see who it was. Grace was still asleep in her sister’s arms and Kelli was reluctant to lay her down. As soon as she saw it was Linda walking toward the house though, Kelli handed the baby over to her Uncle Matt and moved to intercept the blonde.
“Linda, you and I need to talk!” The furious redhead grabbed Linda by the arm and practically dragged her to the other side of the barn. Kelli wanted to have her say and not be in earshot of Matt or Grace. It was way past time for a one-on-one confrontation with Linda as far as she was concerned.
Linda pulled her arm loose from Kelli’s hold on it as the two women rounded the corner, the blonde gazing defiantly at the redhead. “What in the hell do you think you are doing, and why are you here?”
“I am about to kick your ass, that’s what I’m doin’. I’m here because you left Matt alone with Grace for seven hours with no formula and two diapers. You wouldn’t answer your messages and your brother called me for help when she would not stop cryin’!”
“Grace cries all the time and Matt is big enough to handle one little baby without your assistance! Hell, she is not gonna starve in a few hours.” Linda resented the insinuation that she had done anything wrong. “I had some important matters to tend to, and Grace would have been fine without your interference!”
Without warning, Kelli roughly shoved Linda against the wall of the barn and held her there. “I have known you for over ten years and I thought I knew what you were capable of, but you have hit an all time high with your bitchiness, most of which I have managed to ignore, but to leave your baby without a second thought about her welfare is too damn much!”
Linda pushed Kelli off. “It’s none of your business what I do. Ever since you met Vin you’ve made it clear that HE comes first in your life. Never mind that I have known you longer and I thought we were friends!”
“It’s not a damn competition Linda. I love Vin and of course he comes first in my life. You have always resented him though, not just my relationship with him, but Chris’s too. Even so, I have valued our friendship, but it’s getting damn hard to remember why! Over the last few months you have become a bitch and a half! Everythin’ is about you! As long as life is problem free you are fine, but when it’s getting a little rough you do everythin’ in your power to make it hell.”
“That’s not true! You just refuse to see what I’ve been through! Look at the last year! That loony serial killer took Chris and I was forced to take orders from your husband. Then I was kidnapped, and where was Chris when I needed him? In the damn hospital that’s where! Next I find out that I am pregnant and do I get any attention? No! Chris discovers that you are his daughter and again I have to pick up the pieces alone. He was more concerned about what he had done to your life than mine!”
“Linda you are being way too over dramatic about all this! You were not the only one that had a hard time, Chris did too!”
“Really? I had a miserable time being pregnant and instead of having Chris to help me; his demented brother kidnaps him and turns him to drugs! Again Vin is issuing all the orders and he refused to listen to me. On top of that Chris wanted us to adopt two kids and we weren’t even married yet! Again, did I have anyone interested in what I wanted? NO! We finally get married, have Grace, and at last I was able to do something that rated some attention and it lasted about two months! Chris just had to go undercover, leaving me with a baby that cried for her daddy constantly! Again I find Vin giving orders while Chris is back on drugs.”
“Jesus! You make it sound as if you are a kid yourself Linda. Maybe it’s time you grew up and started to take on some real responsibilities! Like carin' for your child and helpin’ to support your husband through a rough period in his life! Chris has more than enough to face without havin' to baby sit a thirty- five -year old woman, too!”
“You’re one to talk! You turned against him and finally he sees that you don’t really give a damn Kel. You, Vin, and that so-called family of his left him hanging out to dry and I had to suffer for it. Vin was more concerned about solving that damn case than he was about Chris! You are so wrapped up with your kids that you can’t even make time to help me!”
"Bull! You are the only one that has turned against your husband, and tried to blackmail him usin' your daughter! Need I remind you that Buck and Vin both went to California to try and talk some sense into him, and they were prepared to quit their jobs to look for Chris when he went missin'. The rest of us respect Dad enough to give him his space and let him make the decisions he needs to without pressurin' him." Kelli shoved her again. “You say what you want about me; I can ignore it the same as I always have! But, at this point, Vin and his brothers care more about Chris than you do, and they don't deserve your criticism! Regardless of what you think, this family is standin' with Chris, and we do care what happens to him. Chris, along with the rest of this family, and my children are important to me, too. You only care about Linda and will even use your own daughter to force things to go your way!”
“No one will believe that load of crap Kel! You wait and see. Chris will never forgive you for siding against him. He’s also beginning to see your jealousy of Grace. He sees through the rest of this so-called family too.” Linda shoved her back. “But if it makes you feel better to make pathetic excuses for them and resort to violence, you are welcome to try to kick my ass. If you think you’re woman enough to do it!”
“I don’t think it, I know it!” It took only a few seconds for Kelli to grab Linda and put her into a chokehold. “I’m gonna say this one time and you had better damn well listen. When it was just me, I always let your outrageous behavior go, but now too many other people stand to be hurt because of it. Do NOT screw with the people I care about Linda! That means Vin, Jason, Andi, Chris and the rest of the Wild Bunch! And do NOT use my sister as a pawn in this stupid game you have decided to play.”
Vin and Buck came around the corner in time to hear the last part of their exchange and see what was taking place. Assessing the situation quickly they moved in to separate the two women. Tanner was well aware of what his wife was capable of, and had no intention of letting this get any more out of hand than it was.
“Okay, that’s enough!” Vin grabbed Kelli, pulling her back and then facing her, he placed himself between his redhead and Linda. "Settle down, Kel."
Buck grabbed Linda when she tried to take a swing at Kelli. “That goes for you too, Linda.” He held onto the angry woman.
“Linda, Grace is awake, maybe you should go see to her.” Vin stated calmly, his eyes never leaving his wife.
“I don’t need you to tell me what I should do, Tanner!” Linda pulled her arm free of Buck’s hold on her and addressed Kelli. “You made your choices Kel, but I promise that you’ll regret them. Chris will side with me, not you!”
“That may be, and if it happens, I’ll have to live with it. But you hurt that baby with your childish behavior and you’ll have more to worry about than me kicking your ass Linda!” Kelli tried to push past Vin, but he would not budge.
“That is not your concern! You want a baby to worry over, have your own because you won’t be seeing mine!” With that parting shot the blonde turned around and stomped off.
Buck shook his head. “Something tells me that Chris will never hear about any of this from her.”
“Unfortunately you’re probably right Buck. I know Linda too well; she’ll only tell him if it is to her advantage to do so.” Kelli agreed. “Did Matt tell y’all what happened?”
“Yes and he was inclined to let you two go at it. But Kel, this is not the way to get her to listen to reason.” Vin answered as he finally let go of Kelli.
“Vin, I wasn’t trying to get her to listen to reason, Linda is way past that point. I’ve just had enough of her bullshit and wanted to kick her ass. I would have too, if you hadn’t shown up.”
“I never doubted that baby, that’s why I stopped you. You need to reconcile yourself to the fact that you and Linda have grown in different directions over the last year or so. She’ll have to live with her decisions the same as you will.” Tanner grinned. “Besides, do you want to have to explain to Jason why you can fight and he can’t? I’m still tryin' to figure out how to explain that ‘difference of opinions’ stuff to him.”
Buck chuckled. “When you figure it out, let me know. I have a feeling I might need to have that conversation with Caleb myself.” Wilmington then turned serious. “Kel I have known Chris for twenty plus years, he may be standing on some shaky ground right now, but he won’t stay there. It’s just not in his nature to let things happen to him, sooner or later he’ll get tired of it and the Larabee we know and love will be back with a vengeance. He’ll make a stand with Linda, and all this will be just a bad memory.”
Vin pulled Kelli up next to him and threw Buck the keys to his truck. “You go on Buck, ‘m gonna take the long way home with my wife. Tell the kids we’ll be there soon.”
“Buck, we put up some meals for y’all this week so Inez can get some extra rest. Ask Max for them when you get to the house.”
“Thanks, I will. You two take all the time you need, I‘ve got you covered.” Buck was smiling as he walked away.
The Tanners walked slowly back to the Tahoe and stopped when they saw Matt still standing outside.
“Kel, I just wanted to say thanks again for coming to Grace’s and my rescue. I don’t understand where Linda’s mind is right now, but I hope you both know that I don’t agree with her. No one, including my baby sister, should ever let their child be nothing more than an afterthought.”
“At least we agree on that Dubois.” Vin shook his hand and then opened the truck door for Kelli.
Once Vin climbed into the driver’s side Kelli had a question. “It’s truth time, Tanner. Did you come over here because you somehow knew what Linda had done or because you’re still jealous when it comes to Matt?”
The Texan leaned over to claim a long leisurely kiss before he answered and then grinned. “I’m here, because you’re here.” It would be hours later before Kelli realized that he had not answered her question.
Chris pulled the Ram up in front of his house and just sat there thinking without getting out. Today’s session with his psychotherapist had been a particularly intense one. Impatience was making it difficult to wait for results. Chris wanted to go back to work now, the doctor said not yet. Chris wanted to get on even ground again in his marriage, the doctor said he could take a stand now, but he had to be willing to face the consequences of it. Chris wasn’t ready to chance losing Grace. He wanted to sit down and just talk with his best friend and not be uncomfortable when he did it. He couldn’t open up to Vin… not yet. He wanted his eldest daughter not to hate him, but…he was afraid it was already too late.
Damn Chris, all you want is your life back. Why is that so hard to do? Because Larabee, a big part of your life is intertwined with the six men that you call brothers, men that you would give your life to protect, men that cannot even share their work with you without Travis’s permission. They are part of your family and the same men that your wife resents and wants you to let go of. They are your friends that you let down when you gave in to those damn pills and lost all sense of reason.
Wearily, Larabee opened the door to step out of his truck and into the house that should be his retreat from the world, but instead was feeling more like a prison cell each day. Chris knew that the road back to being whole again was through that house; somehow he had to pick up all the pieces that made him who he was, and reconcile them into his life again.
Linda had their entire evening planned and when Chris walked in she set her plans into motion. “Hey darlin’, I have your favorite dinner almost ready. Sit down there with Grace and relax while I get you a cold beer.”
Chris kissed her on the cheek and smiled. “You do remember how to cook. What’s the occasion?”
“Nothing special, I just had a nearly perfect day and felt like cooking.” She watched as he went to the refrigerator and pull out a coke instead of a beer.” How was your day?”
Larabee sat down next to where Grace was and grinned at her reaction to seeing her daddy. “Okay I guess. Gilford said that physically, I’m doing great.”
“I could have told him that.” She set a plate down in front of him and took another one for herself before sitting down. “Your body is damn near perfect.”
“Only damn near?” Chris was beginning to relax, Linda seemed more like the woman he met and fell in love with. Maybe you have been overreacting Chris, maybe she hasn’t been the one to change. Maybe it was you all along.
“Grace and I had a fantastic day together, and you will never believe how great the plans for the house are coming along.”
Chris resigned himself to hearing about them and having to look at all her new purchases. “Really? Then I suppose you can show them to me after dinner.” He hated going over fabric and paint samples, but he did agree to compromise. How bad could it be to recover some furniture and paint a few walls?
“Linda, when you said you wanted to make a few changes; this is not what I was expecting!” Grace was down for the night and dinner was long past. Chris was now looking at the blueprints that were meant to practically rebuild his home.
“Chris, you said I could make this more my home than Sarah’s and this is what I want. Besides with a Nanny coming in we have to have a room for her.”
“I said a part-time Nanny, Linda, not a live-in one!”
“If we want the best for Grace, we have to be willing to provide for a full-time position. Otherwise we’ll have to settle for inferior help. Do you want to compromise on Grace’s care?”
“No of course not but…Linda, you are talking about a major renovation here.” He pointed to the plans. “That room has always been Ezra’s room and now you want to expand it and move a Nanny in there. And move Grace? I thought she would stay in the room we built for her for a long time. Hell, you want to double the square footage of the entire house and add a guest wing? What kind of guests needs their own living quarters and a swimming pool?”
“First of all, Ezra does not live with us, and he has his own home. Second, we need our privacy, and Grace should be closer to the Nanny’s quarters. Third, I told you my circle of friends are used to the best and we can damn well afford to indulge them! When people walk in here I want them to see Linda Larabee’s home, not Sarah’s!
“I’ll have to give this some serious thought.” Chris already knew he couldn’t live this way. Grace needed to be close to them at night, and he wanted his home to be open and comfortable for the Wild Bunch, not some strangers he didn’t even know.
“Well you had best think about it quickly. The Nanny that I hired starts in three weeks, and the contractors will be here in the morning!” Linda left him to think about it as Chris heard the bedroom door slam.
You thought the road to your recovery was through this home, Chris? If it is, it just took a detour through hell.
Larabee7 ~October 11 ~Larabee Home
Chris had spent most of the night going over Linda’s plans for the ranch house and was not in the best of moods by morning. He had worked out what he would be comfortable with, but he was positive that his wife would not be happy about it. He was willing to have ‘Ezra’s room’ remodeled, and add on one more bedroom to the house, but he had vetoed guest quarters and a pool. There were too many small children on the Larabee 7 for him to feel comfortable with having a pool on the property. There were already enough potential hazards for the children to get into on the ranch without adding another one. The changes that she wanted to make were not ones that he was ready to accept. Maybe he should let go of all the reminders of Sarah and Adam and someday that may happen, but not yet. He walked over to pour himself another cup of coffee and watched out the window as he saw first Vin, and then Buck followed by Nathan head off to work.
You should be leaving with them Chris. Instead you are stuck here and you know that today will be one more hurdle to overcome in your road to returning to your old life. Only forty-six days to go Larabee, and then you can confront Travis about getting your unit back.
The contractor pulled in about ten minutes later and Chris went out to inform him about the change in plans. Contractor first, Larabee, and then you can tell Linda what you have decided.
The smell of new wood, paint, and, sheetrock dust hung in the air; but it was good to have an office again. The time off was great at first, but the fun of it had worn off quickly for most of them. Every available agent was in early and anxious to get back into a normal work environment. Still, it would not be the same until all of their teammates could return and that would not be for a while yet.
Buck stood beside Vin and watched as the agents familiarized themselves with their new work areas. “It’s good to be here, but it won’t feel right ‘till we have the entire team together again.”
Vin was not certain that it was possible to accomplish that, but now was not the time to voice his doubts. “One day at a time Bucklin. In the meantime I’m headed over to Travis’s office to discuss our next assignment and when I return we’ll have a full briefin' with the team. Gunny will have the war room prepared by ten; you inform the rest of ‘em.”
Tanner walked the short distance from their building to the smaller one that housed Director Travis’s office. With the clean, fresh air and the view of the mountains not so far away, it was a totally different atmosphere here; than the one in the concrete and steel high-rise office they had previously occupied. Their MCAT jet and helicopter were accessible within minutes and the noises of the city were replaced with the soft whisper of the wind and the sounds of nature. Best of all it was only a twenty minute drive from home and there was no heavy traffic to fight on the way, just a few mountain curves and an abundance of beautiful scenery.
Suzanne smiled when Vin walked through the door. “He’s waiting for you, sir.”
Orrin Travis had been standing by the window enjoying the view when he heard Tanner come in. Turning to greet the younger man he smiled. “Good morning Vin, take a seat. You know I realize that I’ll have to do a helluva lot of commuting to make meetings in the city, but that view is worth every mile of it.”
“Yes sir, it is.”
Travis sat at his desk and prepared for the discussion to come. “Vin, I told you that MCAT would continue with the same type of cases we have had in the past, however, there are more than a few we’ll be taking that are very sensitive and will be handled in a more unorthodox fashion. This is one of them.” Orrin passed a folder to Tanner. “For our purposes we will call these assignments ‘shadow cases’. Our involvement will not be acknowledged in any way, but we are to get the job done using any means necessary. Doesn’t matter if conventional or unconventional methods are used, whatever works, we are authorized to do what is needed to accomplish our goals. In this age of Global Terrorist attacks on the United States of America, it would be desirable to believe that we could at least count on the loyalty of all US citizens to help protect and preserve our country's security. History has shown otherwise though, and as discouraging as it is, we must realize that some of the threat of terror and violence to the United States is from organizations with a twisted sense of values.”
Vin was all too familiar with the concept of clandestine assignments; he had been given enough of them while he was in the Army Rangers. He knew that Chris and Buck too, had survived more than their share of the same type of operations with the Seals. He looked at the folder that he held in his hand and saw the words ‘Domestic Terrorism’. His country had asked him to do many things to protect her on foreign soil; he had hoped that it would never become necessary to employ those methods on his home turf. But that was exactly what Travis was implying. Get the job done.
“What do you need us to do, sir?”
“First things first, Vin. Every agent will be required to sign a confidentiality agreement, which you will find in that folder. We will not discuss any of these assignments outside this unit with anyone, period. Our security clearance levels have been raised, and all new applicants will have additional background checks before they are assigned to this unit. Dunne will be responsible for the security measures for MCAT and our location will not be made public knowledge. There will be times that the only information we have will come on a need to know basis. Our standard assignments will remain the same however, and trust me; there will be more than enough of them to keep us all busy.”
Tanner read the first few lines on the pages before him. “Daniel Abbot? He’s an FBI agent missin' on an undercover assignment?”
“Yes, and we are to find him and bring him out or confirm his death, locate his body and give his family some closure. You have all the details that you will need in that folder. Put your team to work on it and let me know how you decide to handle it.”
Vin looked at the case file and raised an eyebrow. “You want us to handle this like a shadow case, why? Wouldn't it be faster if we use all our resources?”
“I have my reasons, Vin,” Travis stated. When he had told them, Vin nodded in understanding.
The Texan stood up, nodded his silent affirmation, and then made his exit, all the while thinking about what laid before him and the MCAT team.
Chris and Linda had been arguing over the same topic for the last thirty minutes. She had voiced her disappointment clearly enough when Chris told her about the changes he made in the plans for their home. He had not waivered on his position in spite of a barrage of tears and then a lengthy string of snippy comments.
“Linda, we are NOT going to add a separate wing to the house, or guest quarters, or a pool. If you invite people to stay the weekend, then they can damn well live like the rest of us, or stay home!’
“You just don’t want to get to know MY friends! They may not be able to talk about crime or guns and heaven forbid that they may not be perfect like YOUR friends!
“I talked to the contractor and he will return tomorrow to start work on the plans that I approved. That’s the best you are gonna get Linda, so I suggest that you find a way to deal with it.”
“Fine, Chris! But when they finish with our house, it had better be bigger than Tanner's. We should have the largest home on the Larabee 7, not them!”
Before Chris could answer, he heard Grace’s cries coming from her room. He immediately went to tend to her, leaving an angry Linda standing alone in the middle of the room.
MCAT Office~ war room ~10:00am
Compared to their normal meetings this one was small, however considering that they were here at all was nothing short of a miracle. The rocket grenades that took out the twelfth floor of the Federal building were meant to wipe out the existence of MCAT entirely. Their new war room was just that, a room to prepare for any situation they may come up against. Deemed to be the hub of their command center, bare walls were replaced by huge television screens that showed satellite imagery. Rotating security cameras transmitting video images that covered all the buildings and the surrounding forty acres, flashed continuously as well as monitors that could connect them to any government channel or agency. All the high tech gizmos currently available were at their disposal, including individual computer monitors on the table at each chair that could be linked to CASSIE or used to view video feeds. The old conference room furniture had been replaced with a huge horseshoe shaped oak table with cushioned captain’s chairs instead of the older uncomfortable ones they had in their former office. Not only did they each have more individual room to stretch out, the furniture was far more comfortable than what they had in their former office.
Bones immediately took a place, looking around with his usual quiet thoughtfulness. Buck sat down immediately as well, putting his hands behind his head and leaning back comfortably. Justin made himself at ease as well while Pam and JD took seats side by side and Josiah pulled out a chair for his wife. Paul and Nathan showed their growing closeness by seating themselves together at the far side of the table, a little away from the others. Kelli was still standing by the wall of monitors taking in all the images, when Ezra came in carrying one of his high priced lattes; having immediately stocked the kitchen area with it when it had hit him there would be no Starbucks around to go to anymore. To him Gunny’s coffee, while good, still was for emergencies only.
Tanner waited until everyone was seated before he began. “First off, welcome to your new home away from home. I expect y’all will be spendin’ many fun-filled hours here.”
“At least here we can see what’s coming at us long before it arrives.” Buck commented. “No more surprises.”
“Amen to that Brother.” Josiah added.
Tanner continued. “Nathan, you wanna give us an update on our missing teammates?”
Nathan started. “Both Kat and Greg are improving and I expect them to be with us in the next six to eight weeks. Mark has three more weeks of physical therapy and then he will be released for active duty. Raphael will be out for another month minimum and Ross still has a long way to go yet. Bottom line, the prognosis for all of them is good.”
They all looked at each other, knowing who Nathan hadn’t mentioned in his report. Vin cleared his throat, to get the meeting going again. “That’s good to hear. Okay gang. We have had a few changes with this move and I want to go over them with you. Josiah has been authorized to enlarge the profilin’ part of this team and he will be workin’ with and trainin’ at least two additional profilers. JD is now in charge of our communication system, includin’ satellite transmission, CASSIE, and all surveillance operations. Buck, in addition to being Chief investigator, will be workin’ to train our own bomb experts and as soon as Mark returns he will be trainin’ with our very own bomb sniffin’ dog. I will also be adding a couple more weapons specialists to the team as well as overseein’ a continued trainin’ regime. Ezra will remain our undercover specialist as well as teach classes on how to negotiate with terrorists. That gives you an overview of how the team will be laid out. Now, as for MCAT herself we have some things to discuss.” Vin pulled out a stack of papers to distribute to each of them.
“Before we go any further I need y’all to read what I am about to give you and then sign it, with Gunny as a witness. Then hand it back to me.” Tanner passed the stack of papers to the right.” Vin waited for the anticipated questions. It did not take long for the inquisition to begin.
“Confidentiality agreement, what in the hell is this for? Travis doesn’t trust us?” Buck snipped.
“Hey Ez, is it okay for me to sign this?” JD looked at the inquisitive faces around the room. “What? He’s my attorney and he said that I was never to sign any legal paper without his approval first.”
“While I am gratified to discern from your remarks that you trust me implicitly, this is not so much a legal document as it is one of commitment. I gather that our Captain has an important pronouncement to share with us and that our cooperation is requisite.” Ezra placed his signature on the document in bold script and then handed the pen to Josiah.
Josiah chuckled. “That would be a yes JD.” He then signed his document and passed it to Gunny.
One by one the others followed Ezra’s lead and soon Gunny placed ten signed and witnessed documents in front of Vin. Adding them to his own that he had signed earlier along with Gunny’s, Tanner slipped them into a folder and gave them back to her. “Originals go to Travis, copies in our main files, plus one for me and the Commander.”
“Yes sir.” Gunny took the folder and left the conference room.
“MCAT is no longer under the jurisdiction of the Attorney General’s office. We are now an independent Agency. Director Travis is still our boss, and he will send his reports to his superior. We will continue to handle the same types of cases we have always had with a few exceptions. At times we will be asked to run what Travis calls a shadow investigation. These 'shadow investigations' will entail keepin' MCAT involvement under the radar, and generally will involve sensitive requests or assignments. Some of our investigative methods may require confidentiality, and us usin' unconventional techniques. Our location while not totally blacked out will not be common or easily obtained knowledge outside those that work here. We also will be carryin’ a higher security clearance along with our added responsibilities.
As far as the outside world is concerned we only report to Director Travis and he will be responsible for addressin’ any further inquiries about our authority to operate. No MCAT agent will discuss a shadow assignment with anyone outside this office, and at times we will be workin’ strictly on a need to know basis. On the plus side we will have access to information not previously available for us to use. Once JD is connected into those sources he will be able to explain more to us about ‘em. Any questions so far?” Vin sat back and waited for his agents to digest the information he had given them.
JD was the first to speak. “When do I get connected?”
Tanner laughed, “This afternoon JD. Check with me after we finish and I’ll give you the name of the man you are to contact.” Looking around the room he saw ten agents that were ready to hear more. “Okay, our first assignment revolves around this man.” Vin pulled out a picture and had JD put it up on the wall size screen at the front of the room, as well to the table monitors in front of each agent.
“Daniel Abbott is an FBI agent who has been workin’ on an undercover assignment here in Colorado. With the assistance of an informant he was able to infiltrate the RMR or Rocky Meadows Resistance. This group has loose ties to the Ledger Militants that we were investigating earlier this year; however, they are an independent cell of predominately white supremacists that has formed their own militia. Abbott went in six months ago and has not been seen or heard from for the last three of those months. Our job is to find him and bring him out or confirm his death and try to recover his body for his family.”
“White supremacy groups are usually hard core and have a dangerous mentality. This group in particular is suspect in a number of hate crimes that have been committed in the last year in this area. Our group, ‘Without Prejudice’, has a lot of information on who some of these people are and we have been trying to get evidence that the local police would listen to about their activities. Paul and I can probably ask for and receive a list from them that may help.” Nathan explained.
“Nathan, while ‘m sure you could get it, we will not broadcast our involvement, if the man is alive we want him to stay that way, we also have an informant to protect. Askin’ a private citizen’s group for help is not gonna happen. If they can get that list then we should be able to get it too, without involvin’ them. Let me repeat again. This is a shadow investigation and our public involvement will be at a minimum. You may use your usual sources only, but do so discreetly and do NOT imply that MCAT is associated with your question in any way. We will not use any other organizations to acquire information. I do not want to see any one of you put yourself in a position to become a target for these fanatics. Are we all clear on this?” Vin studied each agent’s face to make certain they were receiving his message.
“I think we’ve got it.” Buck answered.
Tanner nodded; satisfied that everyone was paying attention. “JD, I made you a copy of the file, until Judy returns and she is cleared, only you, Mallory and Pam will have access to what you find. I want a background on Abbott, anythin’ you can find on this RMR and a list of crimes from the last year that could even remotely be considered a hate crime. Buck, you and Justin pull the case files on the Ledger Militant group, follow up on any possible connections. Kelli, I want you to work with Josiah on developin’ profiles for our players as we identify them. Nathan, I do want any info that you or Paul can personally remember from your meetin’s, but let’s keep it in house. Ezra, I want to know everythin’ that Agent Abbott would have had to know goin' into this type of operation. What he should have done, as well as what he could have done that caused him to turn up missin’. Okay y’all get on it and see what rocks you can turn over. You’re dismissed.”
As Vin watched the agents disperse, he was having a difficult time ignoring the knot in his stomach that usually meant trouble ahead.
MCAT ~late Afternoon
Vin had spent the afternoon reading over one file after another that concerned supremacy groups and militias. There were over 700 hate groups identified in this country and the message was basically the same from all of them. Their belief was that the white race should be protected at all costs against the Blacks, Jews, Native Americans, and Hispanics, or any race that was not considered white. They believed that a race war was inevitable and they were prepared to help it along by any means possible. Anti-government, Para-military groups had joined with splintered off factions from larger sects to form small cells of domestic terrorists that felt the lone wolf or smaller pack strategy was the best bet at not being caught.
The undeniable facts were that racism was still alive in small towns, large cities, on the Internet, and from both the old and the younger generation. Recruiting was an on-going process and even some that did not join secretly supported the movement with private donations or information to further the cause. There were also enough of the hard core right wingers that did not recognize the authority of the U.S. government and looked upon any Federal agency as the enemy, to cause as many problems as possible for America. All in all, Vin thought disgustedly, it was the kind of stuff that could give you nightmares, and created the situations at Waco and Ruby Ridge.
A quick knock on the door and Nathan entered. “Vin, you got a few minutes?’
“I reckon. Come on in, Nate. What’s on your mind?”
Nathan sat down and began. “Vin, I just want to make sure you understand what we may be up against. I know it’s difficult for a white man to understand because you have not had to live with racism or prejudice most of your life. It’s in the schools, and racial profiling is a fact of life, we have…”
“Hold on Nate. I am part Native American and I know what prejudice is. I’ve seen it in the schools firsthand as well as with Caleb and Jason. Discrimination hits all of us and it doesn’t matter if you’re Black, White, Hispanic, Native American, or any number of other races. Females are discriminated against, the homeless, gays, straights, the handicapped, young people and the elderly are not excluded. At any given time and place someone somewhere has it in for one segment of the population or another. I don’t have to be black to understand intolerance and I do not condone it in any form.”
“I know you don’t, but this is a subject I do know firsthand and I want a bigger part of this investigation.” Nathan argued.
“So noted, anythin’ else?”
Nathan felt that Tanner had dismissed him and bristled. “No…no, I guess not.” Jackson stood up to leave. “I will be watching how you handle this Vin.”
“You do that Nate.” Vin watched him leave and sighed. Welcome back Tanner. One day and it’s already started to be a bitch of a case.
Nathan stood outside Tanner’s door and looked around the room. Everyone was busy and immersed in his or her work, but he knew that none of them really understood what they were up against. He silently made a decision and went in search of Paul. Jackson would need his assistance to do what he felt needed to be done.
Larabee 7~Larabee Home
Chris slammed things around in his home office. Shortly after their argument this morning Linda had taken off and been gone most of the day. When she did return she was driving a Cadillac XLR infrared Roadster! A luxury sport car that cost more than his yearly salary with MCAT! It would only seat two people and just where was Grace’s car seat supposed to go? Of course he realized that she bought that damn sports car just to spite him for not agreeing with her planned changes.
Sarah never would have…Where did that come from Chris? Linda is not, never has been, or never will be Sarah and you knew that from the beginning. So why think about it now?
Wearily, Larabee sat down in his leather desk chair and leaned back. This is what he wanted and whatever Linda was really upset about would pass. Right? Maybe she should come to a few of his counseling sessions, too.
He heard Grace’s cries on the baby monitor and knew she was awake. Chris rose and headed off to the nursery to see what was wrong with her. He was surprised to see Linda sitting in their room curled up with a book, reading.
“Don’t you hear Grace, she’s crying?”
“Chris, Grace is always crying for one reason or another. It’s something babies just do.”
“Not my baby!” Chris went into the nursery and picked up his daughter, speaking softly to her to ease her tears.
“Well she's my baby too, and if there was anything really wrong with her, don't you think I would know it? I am her mother after all.” Linda yelled through the open door.
“Well, act like it then!” Chris snapped as he walked back into the bedroom and continued to rock Grace, hoping to soothe away her tears.
“Damnit, I do act like it! I got her a nanny didn't I? She's got the best clothes that money can buy, and as soon as the additions to the house are completed, she will have the best care twenty-four-seven. “
“What Grace needs most from you Linda isn't anything that you can buy, it's what you can give her of yourself...your unconditional love...”Chris told her. “But I am beginning to think that you are not capable of giving that.”
Chris charged out of the room with Grace before he said even more of what he was thinking.
The kids were asleep, and Max and Walter were gone for the night. It was just Vin and Kelli sitting on the deck, the skies were clear and a cold front was on the way, but for now they were comfortably snuggled together enjoying the beautiful night.
“Have you noticed how much time Walter spends with Max lately? I think those two have somethin’ goin' on that their not tellin’.” Kelli laughed. “Maybe the walls of our old place have been talkin’.”
“You want me to talk to Walter and see if his intentions are honorable?” Tanner grinned. “Get out the old shotgun?”
“Nah, I say more power to ‘em. I hope if they are startin’ anythin’ that they find even half as much happiness as we have.”
Vin pulled his redhead closer and kissed her temple. “If they do then I’d say Walter is a lucky man.”
“How do you feel about this shadow ops thing?
The Texan was quiet for a minute before he answered. “I’m not sure yet, but there is somethin’ I wanted to talk to you about. I’ve given this a good deal of thought and keep comin’ to the same conclusion. When Chris comes back to work he needs a shot at reclaimin’ his command. Over the last year I’ve been in charge more than he has for one reason or another. I think it’s time for me to step out and let him have it all. It will be easier for him that way and easier on the team.”
Kelli did not hesitate at all. “Vin, you do what is right for you and I’ll back your decision, but if you leave we’ll manage, and either way, we’ll be fine.”
Vin shook his head in wonder. “Just like that, you’ll back my decision, no arguments, no think it over Tanner?”
“You’ve already thought it over, or you would not have brought it up.” Kelli turned to look at her Texan. “We are in this together Tanner, what’s good for you is good for me. If this is what you decide, then so be it. Just make certain it’s what you want to do.”
“You are what’s good for me Kel, you and the kids. I just want Chris to have things good for him again too.”
“Then that makes two of us, Tanner, cause I want to see him happy again, too.”
Stretched out together on the double lounger, they had ample of room to leisurely explore their desires. Vin drew her into a long passionate kiss that left them both breathless. Kelli slid one hand down over his muscular chest and the other entangled in his hair to pull him closer. Lost in kisses that seemed to go on forever; they took pleasure in the moment of just being together in perfect harmony. It had been too long since they had had the opportunity to simply just be…
Vin gruffly whispered. “Why don’t we go inside, hit the bedroom and make us happy too.” He stood up and offered Kelli his hand.”
She took it. “Sounds like a plan to me.” Together they headed into the house.
Not so far away, Chris sat on his deck with Grace snuggled in his arms. I don’t know where we’ll all end up, but I promise you that I will always be there for you Grace.
Journal Entry~ October 11th-Reclamation
I wish I could talk to Linda about all that I'm feeling and thinking, but she doesn't seem to have the time for it. She does not find the time for Grace either, and when I try to bring up the family or my job, all I seem to get is arguments and attitude. It's seems as if attitude is all I'm getting from her anymore. She doesn't like my job, my family and friends, or my house. I'm beginning to think that there's not much she likes about me or our daughter either.
Maybe I'm being unfair to her, I don't know. I just wish that we talked and laughed with one another like we used to do. I know that things have been rough on her, but damnit, they've been rougher on me and I'm doing everything that I can to make things right again. Why can't she meet me in the middle and do the same? Why does everything have to be her way or no way at all?
MCAT War Room ~ Friday ~ October 27th
Two weeks into their investigation and the MCAT team had a fair idea of where Daniel Abbott disappeared from and why. Vin had watched videos of hate speeches, surfed the Internet, and found dozens of websites that promoted hate and bigotry, as well as read every file that JD had produced for him through CASSIE. They met this afternoon to go over what they had and then he had to make a decision on where they would go from here.
“Okay, I think we all have a good picture of the RMR by now and I know that none of us like what we have found. We have a job to do and it does not matter that we disagree with their principles; we are in this for one reason and one reason only. That is to locate Agent Daniel Abbott. Buck, what do you have to tell us?”
“The only connection we found with Ledger Militants is one shared training exercise back in March. It appears that the two groups had war games against one another during a two-week period at that time. Just as a side note, Frank Harrison, the father of Robert and Thomas, is suspected to be a member of the Ledger Militants. If we find reason to arrest him, I want to request ahead of time that I get to do it.”
“That explains his attitude, and why his boys picked on Caleb, and I will note your request.” Tanner answered. “Josiah, your profiles indicate that any of the members of the RMR are capable of extreme violence. Do you feel that there is any chance of Agent Abbott still bein’ alive after three months?”
“The probability is slim to none. They have no reason to keep him alive and every reason to eliminate him. I also profiled Abbott and I do not believe there are any circumstances that would convince him to convert and join them voluntarily. I would have to say that we are strictly on a recovery mission with no likelihood of a rescue.”
“After readin’ all the information JD gave me and what I have seen on the Internet about these clans, I would have to agree with you. Ezra, you and Kelli interviewed Abbot’s informant. Is there any indication he turned on him and got him killed in the process?”
Ezra answered for them. “That I believe is extremely unlikely. The man is scheduled to go into the witness relocation program and has too much to lose to risk putting Abbott in danger. Whatever went wrong with Agent Abbott’s cover had to have happened in Rocky Meadows.”
“In light of what we know, I want us to continue to use outside sources on this one. It is entirely too dangerous to try to put someone inside with no hope of a live rescue. Unless we receive information that changes the situation, ‘m recommendin’ to Travis that we keep our hand’s off this organization.” Tanner did not want to put his own agent’s life at risk to confirm what they were already ninety-nine percent sure of.
Nathan disagreed. “Vin this is a list of names of people that I know are members of the RMR. He handed the list to Tanner. “These men are responsible for three-fourths of the hate crimes that have been committed in and around Denver this entire year. They are too damn dangerous for us to walk away from.”
“Where did you get these names Nathan?” Vin had a feeling that he already knew and was not pleased to know that Nathan had disregarded his orders.
“Paul and I have been doing our own research. And yes, we used some of the records of the ‘Without Prejudice’ organization to do it. But damnit Vin, this is too important to me to sit by and let them get away with what they are doing!”
“Nathan I specifically told you not to involve them! What part of MCAT involvement of stayin’ under the radar is so difficult to understand?”
“Then we need to make this a full-fledged MCAT case and to hell with under the radar!” Nathan stood up and yelled. “These people need to be stopped and if we don’t do it they will continue to intimidate and injure more black people. We have a responsibility to protect those that cannot protect themselves, and damnit we need to stand up and be counted!”
“We have a responsibility to this unit, the MCAT Agency, Director Travis, and his boss, to follow directives, too! Your unauthorized inquiries may have put this unit at risk, as well as other innocent people. These fanatics have ears everywhere and they use them. Their paranoia is what fuels their hate and somehow or another they always seem to know when they are specifically bein’ targeted and by whom. Your personal investigation ends here and now! Are we clear?” Vin angrily yelled.
“Crystal.” Nathan scoffed. “We can talk the talk, but we are not willing to walk the walk! I should have expected that from this bunch anyway!”
“Agent Jackson you are out of line!” Tanner had seen and heard enough of racism rhetoric over the last ten days and had heard enough hateful garbage without being accused of indifference himself. “Go on home Nate and give some serious thought about what you expect from MCAT. I’ll see you on Monday. The rest of you are dismissed.”
Nathan stormed out, followed by Paul. JD busied himself with CASSIE along with Pam and Mallory. Justin went back to his desk in the bullpen
Captain Tanner gathered his papers and left the room, leaving behind several concerned agents.
Paul had caught up to Nathan outside before Jackson reached his car. “Hey Nathan, are we going to cancel attending our meeting tonight?”
“No way in hell! Tanner may not have enough backbone to fight those bigots, but I’m not about to give up! I’ll pick you up at seven and we can ride together.”
Paul nodded his affirmation. “I’ll be ready.” He watched as Nathan pulled out and then headed back inside the building.
Buck looked at the remaining agents in the room and shrugged his shoulder. “I, for one, am glad we’re not sinking any deeper into this shit. Unless we have proof, I think Vin’s right; this baby is too hot to handle quietly.”
“I agree, however I think Brother Jackson may have reached a different conclusion.” Josiah somberly commented.
“It’s too risky to launch our own undercover maneuver when our unit is not operating at full capacity. Whoever went in would virtually be on their own and that is unacceptable with the information we have at this time.” Ezra shook his head. “While I understand Nathan’s reluctance to accept that, we have no choice under the current circumstances.”
“Kel, is Vin having difficulty with this one?’ Josiah asked.
“You know Tanner; he hates to see injustice and prejudice in any form. It has been hard for him to sift through all these files and remain unaffected by all that garbage. A weekend away from all this will do him a world of good.”
“Hell, a weekend off from this stuff will do all of us some good.” Buck stood up. “Thirty minutes until closing time. Let’s get started; I’m ready to go home.”
Ezra waited until Josiah and Buck left and then told Kelli. “You go take care of our Captain; I’ll shut your station down. Have a good weekend.”
“Thanks, you too and say hello to Barbra for me.” Kelli headed off to Vin’s office and entered without knocking.
She walked over to his desk where he was sitting, and closed the file he was reading, reached over and closed the window on his computer. “Shut that contraption off cowboy and let’s go home.”
Tanner grinned. “Considerin’ it’s not five yet, you’re awful damn bossy Coulter.” Even as he half heartily complained he shut off his computer, and placed the files into his briefcase as he stood up.
“It’s already five o’clock somewhere, so move it, Tanner.” The redhead playfully slapped him on the butt and was delighted to see his mood lighten.
“Watch it woman or you’ll have to pay for that when we get home.” Vin grabbed his case with one hand and swatted her backside with the other.
Kellie sassily responded, “Promises, promises.”
They were both smiling as they exited Tanner’s office and stopped at Wilmington’s desk. “It appears Bucklin, that ‘m bein’ high jacked. Close up shop and send ‘em all home.”
Buck grinned and winked at Kelli. “You got it Captain. Have a nice weekend.”
Tanner drove through the open gates to the ranch and as he passed Chris’s house he saw Walter and the kids out by the corral. Stopping the truck by the fence, he and Kelli exited just as Jason and Andi spotted the Silverado and came running to meet them.
“Dad, Uncle Chris is working with one of the yearlings and he’s letting us watch!” Jason said excitedly.
“Me too,” Andi yelled as she threw her arms up to her Daddy to be picked up. “Grace here, too.” Walter stood by the stroller that the littlest Larabee was in.
Jason grinned and leaned into Kelli for a hug as they walked over to the fence. “You wanna see?”
“Sure thing, Uncle Chris is great with the horses isn’t he?” Kelli ruffled his hair as he took off and then knelt down to talk to Grace. “Hello darlin’, how are you?” Of course the baby did not answer, but her sister swore she smiled.
“If she answers you I wanna know what she says.” Walter chuckled. “I didn’t think y’all would mind if the kids watched Chris with the horses and Max said dinner was at least forty-five minutes away from bein’ ready.”
“Not a problem Walter. “ Vin answered. “I’d rather they be here watchin’ Chris work with the horses than have ‘em sit at home and watchin’ television.” Tanner looked over the fence and studied Chris. He noticed the tired lines on his face and recognized the signs of tension his old friend carried. It disturbed him that all this time off did not appear to have eased Larabee’s burdens.
Chris walked over to the edge of the fence next to Tanner. “I wanted to start working with some of the yearlings and this young filly seemed to be a good one to start with. I know she’s one of your projects, but…”
“Hell Chris, she’s a good choice and it’s not as if I have time right now to work with her. Go for it.” Vin knew Chris was one of the best men around to work with the young horses. “But I thought Linda was doing all the yearlin’ selections.”
Larabee shook his head. “Not anymore…I think she’s lost interest in ‘em. We need to find someone to work with ‘em on a permanent basis, but until we do I thought I’d get a head start on some of the older ones.”
Vin was not surprised that Linda had shifted her interest away from running the horse business of the Larabee 7, but he refrained from commenting on it. “You probably know better than any of us what to look for, do what you think is best.”
“I think George has someone in mind, a man named Angelo Lopez. I’ll follow-up with him.” Chris was puzzled by the different signals he was receiving. According to Linda, Vin and Kelli were both still very angry with him, but Vin did not sound angry and Kelli seemed genuinely glad to see him and Grace out here with the kids. “I’ll let you know as soon as I talk to him.”
“Whatever you decide is okay with me, and 'm sure the others will agree.” Vin could not read what Chris was thinking, but his instincts told him that Larabee was in the process of working something out. “I reckon we need to haul these two young’ns home for supper.”
“Yeah, I’ll talk to you later.” Chris watched as Vin and Kelli rounded up their two and lifted them into the truck.
Walter elected to stay for a while and help out with Grace. “If you would, tell Max I’ll be up directly.”
Kelli smiled. “I’ll tell her for you Walter. See you later Chris.”
“Bye Uncle Chris, see you tomorrow.” Jason waved.
“Me too,” Andi yelled.
Chris had a lot to think about as he watched them leave. Why would Linda mislead you Larabee?
Supper was finished. An ugly cold front was forecast to move in sometime tonight and this might be their last chance to play outdoors for the next few days. So, while Walter walked Max home, the kids took advantage of the remaining daylight to play outside with Tracker and Buttons, the baby raccoon they had found a few weeks earlier. Kelli and Vin sat together on the swing to watch as Jason and Andi played hide ‘n seek with their pets. It did not matter where they hid Tracker found them within minutes, much to their delight. Buttons on the other hand sat unperturbed in the nearest tree and observed her small humans as they ran and attempted to hide from the Australian Shepherd puppy that was growing by leaps and bounds.
“I don’t think they care that Tracker finds them so quickly.” Kelli commented
“They don’t, they’re just bein' normal kids that are enjoyin’ the moment. They’re a lot different from the children we found at the cabin with Chris nine months ago.” Vin smiled. “It seems more like a lifetime ago doesn’t it?”
“For them it was. After Andi’s birthday yesterday, they have both marked a new page in their lives. She loved her party and I think she now has plans to have a birthday once a month, just for extra presents.” Kelli laughed. “I know they have benefited from bein’ here, but I think we’re the lucky ones Vin. God has been good to us.”
The Texan kissed the top of his wife’s head and tightened his arms around her waist. “Yes he has.”
Kelli sighed in contentment. “What do you say we gather our little flock and get them inside? A couple of quick baths, a bedtime story and then we can talk about that promise you made earlier. Somethin’ about you makin’ me pay?”
Vin laughed, “Oh yeah. You’re gonna pay baby, but it will be my pleasure to collect.” They pushed off the swing and spent a few minutes playing chase with the kids, before they all went inside for the night.
In less than an hour two tired little Tanners were bathed, had heard a story about horses and were sound asleep. Vin locked the doors and turned out lights as he and his redhead retreated to their room. The Texan shut the door and then pulled his wife into his arms.
Vin lowered his head and gifted her with a slow sensuous kiss that left them both wanting more. “Still feelin’ sassy?”
“Absolutely!” Kelli laughed as Vin picked her up and carried her to their bed.
It looked as if the Tanners were turning in early for the night for their own private celebration.
Nathan and Paul left the ‘Without Prejudice’ meeting feeling good about what they had accomplished. MCAT may not take up the case against the RMR, but this group was fired up about making local law enforcement listen to them. They had done their homework and now had what they felt was enough information about that wretched group to at least call for them to be watched on a regular basis.
“Do you really think anyone is going to listen to us, Nathan? Paul knew they were working in the right direction, but even he was not convinced that they had enough solid proof for an investigation.
“We’ll just have to keep digging until they do Paul. This is too close to home to let it go. MCAT may not be willing to take these people on, but we can find someone who will.”
“The Captain appeared to be upset when he found out what we were doing. I don’t want to rock the boat at work because I like my job.”
“Vin’s not gonna fire us for speaking our minds. Besides what we do on our off time has nothing to do with the job so quit worrying over it.” Nathan slowed down as he approached the street that Paul lived on. “Why do you live so far out with so few neighbors?”
Paul laughed. “Coming from metro Atlanta, I suppose I wanted something as opposite to city hubbub as I could find. When I got here, this fit the bill perfectly. It’s quiet; I don’t hear the sounds of sirens running all night long, or heavy traffic under my window. I find that I can wind down out here like I never could in the city.”
“I hear you. Since we built our home on the ranch I’ve discovered a silence I never knew existed.” Nathan reflected, “You’re right, it is a good way to slow down.” Jackson turned into Paul’s driveway.” If you would call Rain and let her know I’m on my way home, I’d appreciate it. If it’s after ten, she starts to worry.”
“That’s what you get for having a family,” Paul laughed. At the moment he still enjoyed the freedom of his bachelor existence, but he did hope to settle down with the right person someday. Someone like Rain would be a dream come true. “No problem, I’ll call her and thanks for the ride. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” Paul stepped out of Nathan’s car and watched as he drove off before turning to go into the house.
Paul had barely made it to the top of the porch steps when he was grabbed by unseen assailants. His arms were pulled behind his back and someone gut punched him hard enough to take his breath away. “Welcome home jungle boy. We’ve been waiting for you.” Another fist came crashing into his face and the last thing he saw as he slowly sank to the ground was a hooded figure standing in front of him laughing.
A few miles down the road Nathan was cursing the small droplets of rain that had just started splattering on his windshield. He had forgotten that there was a cold front coming in, and apparently this was the beginning of it. “Twenty more minutes, that’s all I need to be home dry and warm in bed.” he muttered to himself. The road that was dry not ten minutes ago, was now covered by a glossy sheen of water and he slowed down as he approached the next curve.
Nathan saw a set of headlights in his rear view mirror that were approaching fast and his first thought was some damn fool did not know how slick these mountain roads turned with just a small amount of rain. As the vehicle began to overtake him he felt a small voice warn him of impending danger only a few seconds before he felt the impact to his car from behind. Then he had no time to think as his car began to slide, crashing into the guardrail, and over the rocky terrain below.
The ringing of the telephone drew Vin out of a sound sleep; he reached over Kelli and turned on the bedside light so he could find the noisy instrument. Lifting the receiver to his ear he was surprised to hear Rain’s panicked voice on the line.
“Vin, I hate to bother you, but I’m worried about Nathan. He should have been home hours ago and he’s not answering his phone.”
“Where did he go Rain?”
“He and Paul went to one of those meetings again. They’ve been attending two a week for a while now. Nathan was supposed to drop Paul off at his house and he should have been here by about 10:30 or so. With the weather turning bad …I’m probably over reacting I know but…”
Vin was now wide-awake and so was Kelli. “Rain, I’ll drive over to Paul’s house and see what I can find out. Maybe the weather turned bad and the phones are out, or the road is blocked for some reason. You just stay calm and I’ll call you as soon as I know anythin'.”
Kelli was already out of bed and starting to dress. “I heard. I’m goin’ with you. Walter is downstairs and ‘m sure he’ll listen for the kids while we’re gone.” She hurriedly slipped on her jeans and a pullover sweater.
Tanner did not spend any time arguing with her. He knew Nathan was angry this afternoon, but even so he would not stay gone without calling Rain unless he was somewhere he couldn’t call. “You go tell Walter we’re leavin' and I’ll meet you outside.” Vin picked up his cell phone and tried Nathan and Paul’s numbers with no results. He stopped at the gun safe to pull out both his and Kelli’s weapons and ID’S on his way out of the bedroom.
Walter and Kelli were both outside waiting for him as he walked out the door. He handed his wife her service weapon and ID as she handed him his jacket. Walter closed the truck door when Kelli was inside.
“Don’t worry about the kids; I’ve got ‘em covered. You two be careful though, ‘cause this is ugly weather.” The older man cautioned them.
“Thanks Walter, we’ll be back as soon as we find Nathan.” Vin slipped into the driver’s seat and started the engine. He decided they would check out Paul’s house first. His warnings to Nathan from this afternoon were now echoing through his mind and yelling at him to hurry.
In spite of his gut telling him to hurry, Vin drove slowly enough for Kelli to keep spotlighting the sides of the road as they reached the cutoff to Paul’s house. If Nathan had been in an accident he did not want to miss him because he was moving too quickly. He used the strobe lights on his truck, too, to help illuminate the darkness through the rain. They were about a half-mile off the main road when Kelli caught sight of the broken guardrail.
“Vin, stop! Look at that!”
Tanner pulled his truck over to the side of the road and turned on the flashers as he jumped out. Looking over the edge of the embankment his heart pounded when he saw a car about thirty feet down. “Kel, you call 911 for the rescue squad and wait here, I’m going down there.”
Although the wet earth made it more difficult, Vin was used to maneuvering on this type of terrain. He made it to the car in only a few minutes and had no problem recognizing it as Nathan’s. Pulling back shrubs he worked himself around to the driver’s side and tried to open the door that refused to budge. He could only see part of Nathan’s body with the flashlight through the window, but he did not see any sign of Paul at all. “Nate! Can you hear me? Nathan!” He desperately tried to open the other door with no luck.
An unrequited silence followed.
As slight movement drew Vin’s attention and a moan told him that someone inside was still alive. He stepped back and yelled up to Kelli. “Tell rescue to hurry and then throw me down a damn tire iron to break a window.”
It only took a couple of minutes for the tire iron, wrapped in a towel, to land close by. The Texan did not want to risk hitting either Nathan or Paul with glass so he went to the back of the car to swing at the rear window. It shattered immediately and using the towel, Vin removed enough of it to climb through the hole and then carefully worked his way to the front of the car. There he found Nathan barely conscious, but thankfully with a strong pulse. Paul, however, was nowhere inside and with both doors wedged shut it was unlikely that he had been thrown out.
Vin removed his jacket and covered Nathan, speaking softly to him as he held onto his hand. “Hold on brother, help is on the way.”
It seemed that it took hours for the rescue crew and the county sheriff to arrive, while in reality it was less than twenty minutes. The paramedics trekked down the embankment and once the fire department had the car door opened they took over the ministrations for Nathan. Vin eased back out of the way so they could work, however he stayed within Jackson’s sight.
Suddenly Buck was there beside Vin with his hand resting on the Texan’s shoulder, spreading a rain slicker across his back. “Damn Vin, you look like a drowned rat. You okay?”
“Yeah, how did you know?”
“Kel called me as soon as you confirmed that it was Nathan’s car. I contacted Josiah, Mallory is gonna take Terrell so he and Rain can meet us at the hospital. I imagine by now word has spread to JD and Ezra, too.”
“Well I didn’t tell Josiah not to call him.”
Vin only nodded slightly as he watched the medics place Nathan on a stretcher. “We need to find Paul.”
“You think there was more to this than an accident?”
“Not sure, but I intend to find out. Have forensics look over Nathan’s car, just in case.” Vin followed the medics back up the embankment with Buck right behind him.
Nathan was not fully conscious, and according to the paramedics he had sustained a couple of broken ribs as well as another fracture to his left arm. They would not know about internal injuries until they were at the hospital.
Buck called forensics and informed the deputy on the scene that they would handle the extraction of Nathan’s car. He walked over to Vin in time to hear him tell Kelli to go with Nathan, while he went on to Paul’s house to check on him.
“Vin, she can take my truck to follow the ambulance, and I’ll go with you.” Buck handed Kelli his keys and read the message in her eyes. “You stay with Nate and I’ll take care of Tanner here.”
Leaning over to kiss his wife, Vin told her. “We won’t be far behind you baby, as soon as we confirm that Paul is okay we’re on our way to the hospital. Drive safely.” He watched the ambulance pull out and Kelli leave. Then he turned to Buck, “Let’s go, Roberts lives about a five minute drive from here.”
At first glance nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary at Paul’s home as Vin pulled into the driveway. The two MCAT agents exited the truck and as a precaution they split up, with Wilmington headed to the back and Vin checking out the front. It was dark so Tanner used his flashlight to illuminate the ground In front of him. Cautiously he started up the porch stairs and then his boot slipped on the third step.
Cursing, he looked down with the light to find the culprit that was impeding his advance. When he realized that it was a trail of blood dripping down the steps that caused his misstep, he drew his weapon, prepared for whatever laid ahead. Once he reached the top, Vin almost tripped again. That was when he found Paul and his stomach lurched at the sight before him. Satisfied that any assailants were long gone, Tanner dropped to one knee and felt his agent’s neck for a pulse as he began to assess his multiple injuries.
“BUCK! Get your ass up here now!” Tanner yelled as he attempted to find the many sources of blood flowing from Paul’s body. Vin knew the man was in bad shape and while his eyes took in what he was seeing, he found it difficult for his mind to fully comprehend the inhuman cruelties that had been inflicted on Paul’s body. The only thing that he was certain of was the fact that Paul needed more help than he could offer.
Wilmington was there in two minutes and as he leaned over Vin’s shoulder his stomach threatened to revolt. “Oh my God!”
“We need flight for life, ASAP, get forensics out here, and notify the sheriff.” Vin barked orders, and Buck was already on the phone with the 911 operator.
“They’re on the way Vin. Is that…did they do what I think they did?”
“Yeah, Buck. Not only did the bastards beat the shit out of him, they attempted to castrate him, sliced off chunks of his skin, and apparently left a message carved into his chest.” Vin did what he could, but it was way beyond his knowledge of trauma care to know exactly how to help. “There’s a message written on the front of the house, too”
Buck directed his light to the front wall and swore when he read the message there that was scrawled in blood. The same derogatory, racist message that had been carved onto Paul’s body stood out against the white siding of the house, ‘Back the fuck off!’ Die, Nigger, Die’!
“Jesus, what kind of animals did this?” Buck fought the nausea that tried to take control of his stomach.
“The kind we’re gonna hunt down.” Vin answered in a lethal tone. He heard the sound of the chopper in the distance. “See how close they can get in Buck. I’ll ride with ‘em. You stay here until forensics can take over the scene. Let them know that Nate’s ‘accident’ is probably related to this attack, and then come to the hospital.”
“I’m on it.” Buck took off to meet the chopper and then directed the medical crew to their patient.
Denver Memorial Hospital
Rain sat quietly between Josiah and Kelli, waiting on any news about Nathan. JD could not sit still and paced the room while Ezra played the observer of the gathered group. Standish watched as Chris came in, spoke to Rain for a minute, and then stationed himself on the opposite side of the room from the rest of the family. It occurred to the southerner that Larabee was purposely distancing himself from the others, but for the life of him he could not figure out why.
“Shouldn’t we have heard from Vin or Buck by now?” JD looked at his watch for the umpteenth time. “It’s been almost an hour with no word.”
“Patience, Brother Dunne. You know as well as the rest of us that they will stay out there until they find Paul.” Josiah spoke softly. “We will hear from one of them soon, I’m certain.”
Kelli stood up and walked to the door of the waiting room. “The more time I spend in this place the less I like it. You would think by now MCAT could have some type of express service privileges or somethin’.”
JD waited and when Josiah did not comment he huffed. “I say something and you tell me to be patient, Kel says something and you have no comment. That’s not fair.”
Ezra chuckled. “With you it works. We all know that with Kelli, telling her to do something usually has the opposite effect on the lady.”
“Especially if it involves patience,” Josiah agreed.
“I have plenty of patience. I put up with y’all don’t I?” Kelli retorted with a smile and looked back down the corridor.” Especially you Ez, if...” Something down the hall drew her attention and the redhead took off without finishing her sentence.
“I wonder what that is all about?” JD questioned.
Ezra waited to see if Chris would follow his daughter, but when he did not, Standish decided that he would. “I shall see what our young sister is up to.”
Kelli had seen the gurney being pushed off the elevator with Vin right behind it. Where before his clothes had only been wet and mud streaked, now his shirt was covered in blood, too.
Tanner moved between her and the gurney as it disappeared into the emergency examination room. Even though he knew that Kelli had seen the ugly side of this job often, but he did not want her to see Paul in the shape he was in. Hell, he didn’t think any of was prepared to see him in this shape. “Kel, how is Nathan?”
“They’re still runnin' tests on him. Was that Paul?”
“Yeah… We just came in on Flight for Life and it’s not good. I’ll tell you all about it later, but right now I need to go in there. Bones is on his way in, when you see him, let him know what room we’re in.” He kissed her on the cheek and disappeared through the exam room door. Vin was counting on Dr. Metfield to find a way to get evidence from the carvings on Paul’s chest.
“From the look on my brother’s face I deduce that all is not well.” Ezra walked up behind Kelli and startled her.
“Damnit Ezra, don’t do that.” Kelli half heartily slapped at his arm. “Whatever it is, it’s not good and Vin is a mess. He asked me to watch for Bones. Why would he request the presence of our ME if Paul is alive?”
“I don’t know.” Ezra said thoughtfully. “But I do know that Vin will need a change of attire. You stay here and watch for the good doctor, while I acquire the necessary items for your Texan.”
“Thanks Ez,” Kelli did not plan to budge until she saw Tanner again.
Five minutes after Bones arrived with Travis, and went inside; Vin came out and joined her. Kelli had been holding onto the sweatshirt that Ezra bought in the gift shop and handed it to her tired husband. “You had better change before Rain sees all that blood.”
“Yeah, I never want to see this shirt again anyway and I need to scrub this grime off.” They stopped in front of the men’s room and Kelli waited for Vin while he went inside to cleanup and change.
“Did Vin say what condition Paul was in, or tell you where Buck is?” JD questioned Ezra.
“No he did not. I am confident though that we will obtain a full report when Vin is ready to tell us.” Ezra instinctively knew that it was not a report that they would particularly want to hear.
“But where is Buck and…” JD persisted.
“JD, sit down.” Those were the first words that Chris had spoken since he came in the room.
Those three words effectively ended the string of questions JD had, and a few minutes later Vin and Kelli walked in. Tanner nodded to Chris and then turned his attention to Rain.
“Any word on Nathan yet?”
“Only what the paramedics told me. They seemed to think that he would be okay.” Rain stood up and hugged Vin. “Thank you for going after him for me.”
Vin hugged her back and told her. “Not a problem, that’s what family does.”
Dr. Landers came in with a smile on his face. “Dr. Jackson, I have a patient that wishes to see you.” He patted her on the shoulder. “He’s a little worse for wear. He has a grade two concussion, bruised ribs, and his arm is broken again, but he’ll be fine. I’m keeping him overnight for observation. You should be able to take him home tomorrow. If you would like to see him, you can wait in the examination room with him while his room is being prepared. The rest of you may see him after we move him.”
Rain felt relieved tears fill her eyes in response to learning that Nathan had not sustained life-threatening injuries in the accident and accompanied the doctor out of the waiting room, just as Buck entered it. “I take it from all the smiles that Nathan is gonna be okay.”
JD jumped up. “Yes, and he probably will go home tomorrow. Where have you been?”
Buck looked at Vin and saw the slight negative shake of his head. For whatever reason he knew that Tanner had not told them about Paul. “I had to wait until forensics pulled Nathan’s car up and impounded it.”
Bones stood at the door and motioned for Tanner to join him in the hallway.
“I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Vin stepped outside the door. “Tell me.”
“In addition to the pictures, I used an infrared lens camera. From that we may be able to measure the size and pattern of the implement used to carve the skin. You find me a weapon and I should be able to match it for you.”
“Thanks Doc I’ll do my best to locate it. Anything else that your people find let me know.” Vin knew he had to talk to Travis before he proceeded, and Orrin was in with Paul now so he should not have to wait much longer. He rejoined the others in the waiting room.
Josiah finally asked the question they all wanted an answer to. “Vin, can you tell us what’s going on?”
Vin debated with himself about whether he should ask Chris to step out of the room. He decided to hell with it, If Travis wanted him to leave, then he could tell Chris to do it, as far as Tanner was concerned, he could stay.
“It looks as if Nate’s accident was not an accident after all. I believe someone tried to force him to stop and ran him off the road instead, someone that is associated with the men that assaulted Paul at his home.” Vin took a deep breath before he continued. “Paul was brutally beaten…had chunks of skin sliced off his body, and they tried to castrate him. Then he was left to die…after a message was carved into his chest, and written on his home with his blood. I won’t repeat it verbatim but basically it was a warnin’ to back off.”
Silence hung heavy in the room.
Tanner continued. “I reckon they had the same thing planned for Nathan, but fortunately for him, when his car slid down that embankment it saved him. Paul will be goin' up to ICU and it’s not certain that he’ll survive.”
“Do you think it was our investigation or their involvement in that group that triggered it?” Josiah broke the silence.
“Does it really matter at this point what started it?” Buck snapped. “Racism and hate are like a cancerous sore; it just keeps growing, until it explodes, or you die. We can’t stop it, and the best we can hope for is to try to keep it from spreading.”
Ezra was well aware of what this action meant. He mentally began to review the possibilities of an undercover assignment. Shorthanded or not, he was sure that they were going to dive into this one headfirst. When he saw Orrin Travis walk in, he knew that their involvement in some capacity was a certainty.
Orrin scanned the room and was only mildly surprised to see Chris Larabee present. His first impulse was to remind him that he was still on suspension; however this was part of Larabee's family that was involved so he said nothing.
“Vin, I want to find these bastards and bring them to justice, but for now though I want to secure the team. Tell me what you need and I’ll get it.” Orrin was deeply disturbed by the condition of Paul Roberts and the attempt on Nathan’s life.
“I need you to clear Alex Sandoval’s application for MCAT. I want to borrow four trusted agents from homeland security for a protection detail on Paul and Nate. I also want you to order that Nathan is to go into protective custody when he leaves here. When they find out he’s still alive; neither he nor Rain will be safe.”
Orrin nodded, “Anything else?”
“Probably, but that will do for a start.”
“Consider it done; I’ll have security on Jackson and Roberts within the hour. I’ll leave the rest to you, but I want a complete outline of any future plans on my desk by Monday afternoon. Now, if you will excuse me I need to call Paul’s sister and make arrangements to have her flown here to Denver. If anything changes call me day or night.”
“Yes sir.” Tanner waited for Travis to leave and then began to issue orders.” Buck, contact Justin and fill him in. JD, you wring out every last piece of information CASSIE or any of those new contraptions can give you on ‘Without Prejudice’ and its members. Some sonofabitch in there passed on Nathan and Paul’s information. I want to know who it was. Josiah, you and Kel are gonna pay Abbott’s informant another visit Monday morning. Make certain that he knows that he’s now workin’ for us. Ezra...”
“I am already on it Vin. I’ll have a list of possible scenarios prepared for you by noon Monday; however, my objection to a covert operation still stands. It’s too damn risky for anyone to go in there alone and as shorthanded as we are…”
Vin stopped him. “So noted Ez, just put it together for me and we’ll go from there. The lab is gonna work around the clock to process what we have. After y’all see Nate, go home, change clothes, and spend some time with your families while you can. Team meeting will be at noon on Monday.
Chris had stood back and listened to the way Vin handled the situation, and realized that he had covered everything that he would have, had he been in charge, but then he had always known that Vin was a good leader; and he had personally trained Tanner to be the best. He had just forgotten it for a while when he let the pills take over his thoughts. Suddenly Chris wanted this damned suspension to be over and to be back in the middle of the action with his brothers. He was only fooling himself if he thought that this was a part of his life that he could give up. Somehow Linda would have to see that, too.
Larabee stepped forward. “Is there anything I can do to help?
“As a matter of fact, there is somethin’. Once those animals find out that Nate’s still alive, they will try again to kill him. If they get a chance they will go after Rain and the baby, too. I need you to help convince our stubborn brother that protective custody is the best way of keepin’ ‘em all safe.”
“He’ll listen.” Chris stated confidently.
With a minuscule nod Vin acknowledged Larabee. “The rest of you, go in and see Nate for a few minutes and then go home. I’ll stay with him until we have some protection arranged.”
JD objected. “We can stay too.”
“No. You go home to Casey and the girls, spend some time with ‘em while you can. Travis will have agents here in an hour or so, so we won’t be too far behind you. Besides I reckon Nate’s not gonna be real happy about bein’ in protective custody and it could get ugly.”
Josiah chuckled, “And we do know how much Buck hates ugly.” He had watched the reactions around the room, especially Chris’s. For the first time in weeks he saw a spark in Larabee’s eyes that had been sorely missing. Sanchez hoped that maybe this case would be the catalyst in bringing their brother all the way back to them.
A nurse stuck her head in the door and announced. “Jackson, room 302, moved and stable.”
Josiah and Ezra went in to see Nathan first, followed by Buck and JD. Chris, Vin and Kelli decided to go in together. Tanner and Larabee were to present a unified front, Kelli was there to run interference if necessary.
Although Jackson was surprised to see Vin and Chris walk in the room together he hid it well. “Come on in” He waited until all three were closer to the bed before he said what was on his mind.” Good to see you Chris.” He then addressed Vin and Kelli. “Rain told me what you did and I appreciate you coming out to find me. It was dumb on my part for getting caught on that curve. I know how most idiots drive those roads and I should have been more observant.”
“We were glad to do it Nate, but there’s somethin’ you should know.” Vin looked him directly in the eye. “It was not an accident that sent you down that embankment. It was a deliberate act.”
“Someone purposely ran him off the road?” Rain retorted angrily.
“It looks that way.” Tanner hesitated before continuing. “Evidently Paul was assaulted shortly after you dropped him off at his house. We believe associates of his attackers followed you when you left intendin’ to do the same to you, but your car slid off the road instead.”
“Paul was attacked? “ Nathan shook his head trying to make sense of what Vin was telling him.
“Yes and the messages that were left lead us to believe it was racially motivated. Paul is in ICU in critical condition.”
“Those bastards! You know it was the RMR! We should have hit them first!” Nathan was up in arms. “I told you they were dangerous Vin. You should have listened to me.”
“I never said they weren’t Nate! I said it was not our call to take the damn case! Besides, until we investigate further we don’t know who is behind the attack on you and Paul.” Vin reined in his anger. “It doesn’t matter now. We’re involved, one way or another. Somebody made sure of that when they attempted to kill two Federal agents. You and your family are bein' placed into protective custody until we catch the bastards.”
“No way in hell you’re gonna leave me out of this one Vin!” Nathan yelled.
Chris chimed in.” Nathan, you need to think about Rain and Terrell. Your family’s safety should be your first priority. Protective custody is for your own good, too.”
“Are you giving the orders now Chris?” Nathan narrowed his eyes and challenged Larabee.
Vin knew that Nathan would balk about it and that is why he requested that Orrin give the order. “Travis gave the order; Chris is only followin’ his directive, consider it a done deal. You’ll have two agents stationed outside this door while you are here and they will escort you home when you are released.”
“I will be more than glad to escort you home Rain.” Chris offered.” The ranch should be safe enough, but you’ll have to make other arrangements about work.”
Rain looked to Nathan and then to Vin. “How long will we need to stay at the ranch?”
“I don’t know. It could be a while.”
Sighing deeply Rain spoke to Nathan. “I need to make provisions for the patients at my clinic. If I can’t go there, I want to make certain that they have access to good care.”
Nathan squeezed her hand. “You go with Chris, I’ll be fine.”
Chris grinned. “It will be my pleasure to see you home.”
Rain stood and kissed Nathan before leaving with Larabee. Jackson waited until she was out the door and then questioned Tanner.
“What are you not telling me?”
“I’m glad you’re okay Nathan, but I think I’ll wait outside while Vin explains.” Kelli knew it would be easier for Jackson to hear the details without her in the room.
As soon as Kelli was out the door Vin gave Nathan the details that he would not give in front of Rain. As much as Nathan hated hearing what had been done to Paul, he was ashamed to find that his anger was replaced with relief that he had been spared the same fate, and then felt a feeling of guilt that he was glad that he was spared.
Rocky Meadows, Colorado
Karl Chambers had been running the RMR for several years and had managed to further the cause of the resistance without bringing attention to this quiet community. His compound was actually ten miles outside of the town of Rocky Meadows, but most of his members that still held employment worked there. Anson Ricter his second in command knew that the strict laws of their order were there for a reason, but he had chosen to break several of them anyway. Now Karl was faced with a situation that could result in disaster for them all.
“Anson, because of your incompetence we may soon be facing the enemy on our home ground. Never leave a live witness in our work! You should have made certain that both those pieces of garbage were dead before you left them. Now we must prepare ourselves for a possible retaliatory attack!”
“I thought we were here to fight for what we believed in, not hide from the enemy. Isn’t that why we joined with the militia? So we would have the means to take down the armies that dare to lord over us!”
“Yes, but we fight on our terms, not theirs! If those two live, then we are certain to feel the repercussions from your reckless act. Now I will be forced to increase the size of our forces, and that means taking on new members.”
“I say it’s past time for the swine out there to hear our voices!” Anson yelled.
“Silence! You get the hell out of here so I can do what is necessary to protect us.” Karl waited until Anson left the room and then reached for the phone. He did not like the idea of bringing new members in, but if the enemy was coming he was damn sure going to be prepared to fight them.
Larabee7 ~ Saturday October 28th ~6;00am
Chris dropped Rain off at the Jackson home and then went to his house. He knew the second he walked into the door that something was wrong. Grace was crying so loudly that he heard her all the way to the back door. Rushing through the house to the nursery, Chris scanned each room along the way looking for Linda. Finally reaching the bedroom he found her, still asleep and apparently using earplugs to stay that way.
Continuing on through their bedroom to Grace’s room he found a very wet, cold, and unhappy baby. “Shh, it’s okay sweetheart. Daddy’s here and we’ll have you all dry and warm in just a minute.” Chris spoke softly as he tended to Grace’s needs and soon had her in better spirits. “Okay, now how about some breakfast for my girl. I’d bet you're hungry, too.”
Larabee decided to feed Grace before he confronted Linda about neglecting their daughter. First things, first, Larabee. Feed your child. It was not long before Grace was a happy baby again. Chris rocked her back to sleep and after safely securing her in her warm crib, he went back into the bedroom to wake Linda.
“Linda!” Chris took out the earplugs and shook her shoulder. “Wake up!”
“Ummm, what time is it?” Linda muttered as she turned over.
“It’s time we had a serious talk!” Chris growled, “NOW Linda!”
“Don’t you dare come in here after being out half the night with your buddies and yell at me Chris Larabee!”
“Our daughter was crying her head off while you slept. With earplugs yet! What if she had been seriously hurt or ill? What kind of mother are you?”
Linda huffed.” I’m the kind of mother that can afford a nanny to deal with my child’s temper tantrums. Grace is fine. The only thing wrong with her is that YOU have spoiled her and she cries when she wants her way.”
Chris was incredulous. “She’s only four months old. How in the hell do you figure she’s spoiled, much less deliberately throwing temper tantrums!”
“She’s a Larabee isn’t she? And we know Larabees have to have things their way or no way!” Linda threw back the covers and sat up. “You, Kel, and Grace are all the same! None of you even think about what I want and I’m damn tired of it! You know that I need help around here and that I depend on you to make things easier. Yet you refuse to hire anyone to alleviate some of my work and then the first time one of your ‘family members’ calls with a little problem you are off and running.”
“Linda, Nathan was almost killed last night! I’d call that more than a little problem! Now he, Rain, and Terrell have to be in protective custody here at the ranch”
“God, not again! Why is it that when someone needs to hide out they do it here and put the rest of us in danger? I hope that you don’t expect me to stay here under orders too, because I won’t do it!”
Chris was shocked. Had Linda always been this self centered and he just did not see it? Face it Chris. You made excuses for her outrageous behavior and then babied her when she was out of sorts. She told you early on that her father and older brothers spoiled her and protected her, but you thought that was all in the past. Linda has been used to always having the things she wanted without facing consequences for her outlandish acts. Even you played into that. You ignored what was staring you right in the face. A good part of the turmoil in your life is right here in this house and it’s time to do something about it Larabee.
“I suppose I don’t expect anything from you Linda. It’s pretty damn clear that there is not much about my life that pleases you and apparently that includes our daughter, too. I’m warning you, though. You can do what you want to me, but if Grace is hurt in anyway because of your anger or indifference you will pay dearly for it. I’ll make arrangements for her care so you won’t be inconvenienced and we’ll both try like hell to stay out of your way.” Chris went into the nursery and placed Grace in her carrier. The two of them would be spending the day away from here.
Linda watched Chris walk out the door with Grace and threw herself back against the pillows.Damn, damn, damn! This is not the way you had things planned Linda, so what do you do now?
Vin had waited until the protection detail was in place at the hospital and had stopped on his way out to see how Paul was doing. By the time he and Kelli made it home the kids were up and breakfast was on the table.
“Thanks Walter, for makin' breakfast. It looks great.” Kelli patted him on the shoulder as she passed by to first kiss Andi, then Jason. “Mornin’ kids, did y’all sleep well?” She sat down next to Jason.
“Me did,” Andi answered between bites of scrambled eggs.
“Dad, is Uncle Nathan okay?” Jason had been worried about his uncle, since Walter had told them where his parents were.
“He will be.” Vin tousled Jason’s hair affectionately and kissed Andi on the cheek. “In fact, he’ll be home later today.” The Texan sat down next to their youngest and took a sip from the steaming mug of coffee in front of him. “Thanks Walter.”
“No problem.” Walter joined them at the table. “I don’t know how your time is son, but if you get the chance I’d like for you to see what we’ve done to Camp Larabee.”
“Camp Lar’bee?” Vin laughed. “That’s a he…heck of a name.”
“Well, the compound didn’t sound right and the hole in the wall is too long so… Camp Larabee seemed to fit.” Walter passed the plate of bacon to Vin.
Tanner shrugged a shoulder. “Guess it does. We can ride over after breakfast. Maybe Jason would like to go with us and exercise Dancer for mom.” Vin’s eyes twinkled with amusement as he watched Jason’s reaction to his casual statement.
“Can I? I mean yes, I’d like that.” Jason looked over to Kelli, his eyes filled with excitement. “I’ll be careful with her, I promise.”
Kelli smiled and planned to head off Andi’s expected question. “I know you will son. Andi, will you go with me today? I want to stop by and check on Aunt Rain and then I thought we might run into town to meet Aunt Casey and the girls for some shoppin’. We need to pick up a few things for Aunt Inez’s baby shower and you might find somethin’ to spend your birthday money on.”
Andi liked that idea. “Yes!”
Vin chuckled. “Then since that’s settled, I reckon we should finish up here and get started.”
Breakfast was quickly over, the dishes were washed, Jason had a thermos of hot cocoa, and Vin had his thermos of coffee. Walter had gone down to the barn to saddle the horses. Andi and Kelli were ready to leave for Aunt Rain’s house.
As everyone prepared to take off in different directions for the morning, Vin stopped Kelli long enough for a long slow kiss before warning her to be careful. “Keep your eyes open Kel, and your phone handy. I don’t think you are a target, but better safe than sorry.”
“I’ll be careful and you two stay warm out there.” Kelli returned his kiss with a searing one of her own. “You enjoy the mornin’ with Jason, but save me some time for later.” Jason and Andi giggled while they watched and waited for their parents to say goodbye.
Tanner grinned, “Count on it baby.” Reluctantly he released her and waited as his wife and daughter drove off before turning to Jason. “Okay pard, let’s ride.”
Camp Larabee ~Larabee 7 Ranch~ 9:00 am
Chris stood in front of the new barns and shook his head in amazement. To an outside observer that is all they would see, a new set of barns for selected mares. No one would guess at what was inside. He laughed to himself when he saw the sign posted by the entrance to the first barn that said, “Welcome to Camp Larabee.” He entered the first barn, which really was just that with a corral attached. He had barely inspected the tack room when Chris heard riders approaching. Grace was asleep in her carrier that was securely sitting inside, and Larabee turned his attention to finding out who the new visitors were. He relaxed when he recognized the riders and smiled when he saw Jason.
“Uncle Chris is here!” Jason waved excitedly. “Look, I rode alone!”
Chris smiled. “I can see that.” He nodded to Vin and Walter as he swung Jason down from Dancer’s back. “You’re getting bigger every time I see you.”
“Dad says I’m ready for my own horse.” The young boy said proudly. “Dreamer won’t be ready to ride for a long time, so for now Mom said I could use Dancer.”
“Well, if your Dad approves maybe we can start looking for one that will be just right for you.” Chris looked to Vin before he said more and saw Tanner nod his consent. “I promised your mom and dad that when the time came, I’d buy your first horse. That is, if you want me to help you find one.”
‘Sure, you and Dad know more about horses than anyone in the world.”
“We’ll look ‘til we find one that’s just right for you, but today we’re here to see…Camp Larabee.” Vin took Dancer’s reins and turned her and Peso loose in the corral with Walter’s horse. “Walter promised us the grand tour. Are you in Chris?”
“That’s what we’re here for too.” Larabee answered. “Grace and I are ready when you are.” Chris picked up Grace’s carrier and waited for Walter to take the lead.
“We set up barns to cover the facility location, pretty much like Vin had the contractors use airplane hangers to cover MCAT’s location. Both are similar in that they have office space, state of the art communications, and even medical facilities. Our trainin' area is on a smaller scale than the one MCAT has but it’ll do.” He opened one of the barn doors to show them the fitness equipment inside. “There’s enough here to keep y’all busy. Each buildin' has a stocked kitchen area and showers. We have generators and survival supplies stored here too. The last buildin' has rooms that can be used for sleepin'. Best of all, to the casual observer this is just a new set of barns. I come up here once a day to check out the real barn, and we rotate some of the horses through here. We also have two other entrances that will bring you in through an underground route.” Walter spent the next couple of hours showing Chris and Vin the latest additions and what still had to be done.
Chris was impressed, and if this was similar to the new MCAT setup he was pleased. “You have done a good job Andrews. Hopefully we’ll never need this for an emergency, but it’s nice to know we’ll have it if the need arises.” He did feel a small bit of disappointment that Walter knew about the new MCAT facilities and he did not, but Chris forced himself to get over it and move on.
“Yep, I agree.” Vin added, “Thanks for headin’ this up for us, Walter, I know you’ve had your hands full.”
“No problem, it’s all part of the security package.” Walter grinned. “Anytime y’all want to jump in and take charge though, is fine by me.”
Chris hesitated. Well Larabee, you have to start somewhere don’t you? Besides, your alternative is to stay at home and fight with Linda Shaking that thought from his mind, Chris caught the look in Vin’s eyes. Tanner was waiting for him to decide, but Larabee could clearly see that the young Texan thought it was past time for him to become involved again with the plans for the future. Did you honestly believe otherwise Chris?
“I find that I have some free time on my hands lately. I reckon we could have it finished twice as fast if I helped”. Larabee answered and was strangely pleased to see Tanner’s nod of acceptance. Maybe this was not going to be as difficult as he had thought. The question you should be asking is why Linda wanted you to think it would be.
Vin was glad to see Chris acting more like his old self. He knew Larabee still had a ways to go before they could really talk about what had happened, but it was a start. “Looks like the weather is gonna take a turn for the worst; we’d best be headin’ home.”
Walter brought the horses up for Vin and Jason. “As cold as it’s gettin’, I’d bet that Max has a big pot of chili goin’ for lunch.”
“That sounds like a winner to me.” Tanner grinned as he helped Jason mount Dancer. “Chris, you want to join us?”
For the first time in almost three months Chris felt a brief connection with his young brother. They were not all the way back to where they started, but it was a damn site better than where they had been these last few hellish weeks.
Chris nodded and smiled slightly. “Yeah…yeah I think I will. I’ll drive over with Grace and meet you there.”
Rocky Meadows, Colorado
Karl Chambers had managed to find out that both Jackson and Roberts were still alive and he had spent most of his morning hours trying to figure out what to do about it. Using his contacts to gain information on the men, he was enraged to find out that they were both Federal agents and still breathing. Not that he minded those two bucks being attacked, but the fact they could be viable witnesses in a court of law, and they were still alive to talk was simply not acceptable.
Chambers had decided against bringing in a large number of new men. All he needed was a seasoned warrior to lead the younger men in his militia. He had already discretely put the word out that he was looking for new blood. It may take a couple of weeks, but he was confident that by the middle of November he would have the man he needed. The rest of the threat could be handled with a few called in favors. There were more than enough of like-minded men in this state to create a wave of havoc for law enforcement in the Denver area. Between the recruiting rallies and the pain in the ass crime wave they had planned, the Federal conspirators would be so busy putting out small fires that they would not have time to come looking for the RMR.
“Ricter, get your ass in here!”
Anson Ricter had been expecting Karl to call for him and was not far away. He only hoped that the older man recognized that this was the time to let their cause be heard. It did not matter to him how many people had to die in the process as long as they could get their message out. Although he was willing to hear what Karl had planned, he knew the day was coming that he would be the one in charge and then things would be much different.
“I’m here, you don’t need to yell.” Anson ambled into the room and sat slouched in a chair by Chambers’s desk.
“We have some damage control to do. I have already ‘arranged for a few diversions to take the focus off our group. Are you certain that you left no evidence that could connect those attacks to us?”
“I know what I’m doing! There is no way we can be connected, neither of those bastards saw our faces and we left nothing behind! You worry too damn much.”
“My worrying is what has kept us in business all these years! We cannot carry on our message if we have to disband, or spend the rest of our lives in jail. I want you to make certain that neither one of those apes talk about what happened. One of them is being released from the hospital today. Find a way to send him a message… If he continues to run his mouth… he is a walking dead man.”
Ricter grinned. “That will be my pleasure. I’ll make sure our message is delivered loud and clear.”
Chambers nodded as Anson stood up and exited the room. Ricter was a good man, but sometimes his enthusiasm for the cause made him reckless, but when it came time to silence troublemakers, he was the best man for the job. The next few weeks were certain to be challenging for the RMR, but it was not the first time they had been targeted, and Karl knew how to outsmart any government agency, no matter how good they thought they were. He had proven that with Daniel Abbott. Chambers chuckled to himself. That is one body they will never find.
Max had a huge pot of chili prepared for lunch, and while Chris waited for Vin, Walter, and Jason, she took the opportunity to visit with Grace. She had not seen much of the baby since those first two weeks that Linda was home from the hospital.
“She’s grown so much and I bet she is close to the perfect baby, too.” Max smiled as she rocked Grace in her arms.
“I think she is perfect.” As Chris watched Max handle the baby, he realized that he could not hand over the daily care of his child to someone that did not even know her. “Linda is determined to hire a nanny for Grace, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea.”
“Why on earth would she want to do that?”
Chris hesitated to answer, but he decided that if he wanted Max to help him, she needed to know the truth. “Linda was great with her at first, but…now she insists that taking care of an infant full-time is not what she expected and she wants more time for herself. Usually Grace is with me, but that will have to change when I go back to work.” He found that it was more difficult to explain than he had thought it would be.
Max decided that she had heard enough. Whatever was between Chris and his wife was for them to work out, but she knew from what Larabee was not telling her that this baby needed her. “I’d be happy to take care of Grace, if you want. Most days I only have Andi and Adam, at least until the older ones get out of school. She wouldn’t be any trouble at all. You just let me know when you’re ready.’
“Thanks,” Chris relaxed. Just knowing that Max was willing to care for his daughter was a load off his mind. “Whatever arrangement you have with Kel and Mallory, I’ll match, or pay more since she’s so little…”
“Relax Chris. I consider the Larabee 7 my home and like it or not, your Wild Bunch is the same as family to me. I take care of your eldest daughter; I can take care of your youngest. I don’t do it as a job; I do it because I want to. Vin and Kelli provided me with a rent-free place to live and compensate me more than they have to. I would love the chance to spend more time with Grace.”
Chris did not have an opportunity to say more, because the back door opened and Jason was the first one inside. Tracker jumped up from his resting place and greeted his young master. The youngster was followed closely by Walter and Vin. Somewhere along the way they had picked up Buck and Caleb, too. Max took the sleeping baby and laid her in the playpen she used when Adam was here and then turned her attention to her adopted clan.
“Uncle Chris! Dad says it looks like it might snow!” Jason was already thinking about the snowman he wanted to build. “Me and Caleb are gonna build a snow fort. You wanna help?”
“Might want to wait ‘til it actually snows pard,” Chris grinned at the youngster’s enthusiasm.
“Hey Chris, It’s good to see you.” Buck smiled when he saw his old friend relaxed and wearing a grin. Max, Inez is resting, the girls are with Mallory, and Vin said you’d have enough for us to join in for lunch.”
“There’s always room for one or two more Buck Wilmington, and you know that.” Max enjoyed it when members of the family dropped in.
“Kel called. She said Andi had talked non-stop all mornin’.” Vin laughingly informed Max. “She and Andi will be here in a few minutes and accordin’ to Kel, even though it’s only forty five degrees, it’s already freezin’ outside to her.”
“Vin, surely you’ve noticed that she thinks it’s freezing when the temp drops below seventy.” Buck grinned.
“I’ve noticed, Bucklin.”
Andi burst through the door and yelled, “We home!” She ran to her daddy first for a hug and then started talking ninety to nothing. “We saw Aunt Casey, Lilah, Daisy, Aunt Rain, Terrell, a big store, lots of toys and more. We gots lots of groceries, but mama said we had to come home. When we see Uncle Nathan he said a bad word…he said…”
“Andi!” Kelli came in with a shopping bag just in time to hear what her daughter was about to say and stopped her. “We’ll tell daddy later, okay”. She handed the bag to Vin and received a loving kiss in return. “Ummm, now that’s the best way to warm up that I know.”
Vin grinned, “I aim to please, ma’am.”
The kids were used to seeing Vin and Kelli being openly affectionate with one another, and truthfully it helped to make them feel more secure, but they giggled and grinned anyway.
“Jason, you, Caleb, and Andi can help me with setting out lunch in the other room while these gentlemen help unload the truck. “ Max redirected their attention and started handing out orders to the smaller ones, shooing them out of the kitchen to the big table in the dining room.
Chris did not miss the look of affection that passed between Walter and Max either. He chuckled when it hit him just how much he had missed being around his not so quiet family. Face it Chris, finding your way back into this circle is the only thing that matters. You have missed them in your life…you need this comfortable feeling of sitting in your best friend’s kitchen and enjoying the cloak of family around you. What you need Chris is your best friend, your brothers, and your daughter back in your life.
As Larabee observed Vin and his eldest daughter together, it struck him how well they balanced one another. Their caring and constant love encompassed all those around them and judging by the children’s reaction, they felt that love and approved. You want… no, you need that warmth and affection in your own home from your wife. Yes, hot sex with Linda is great, but when did that feeling of loving warmth disappear from your relationship with her Larabee? Chris frowned as he tried to recall the last time he and Linda had really connected on any level outside the bedroom.
Andi barely lasted through lunch, before her eyelids began to droop sleepily. Vin carried her to her bed, while Caleb and Jason took off to the loft to play. Max urged the adults to move to the den where a fire was roaring in the fireplace and she promised that hot coffee was on the way.
Kelli took the big chair closest to the blazing fire. When Vin came into the room he joined her while Chris and Buck sat on the opposite couch.
“Okay Kel. The kids aren’t here. “Where in the hell did y’all see Nathan and what was Andi about to say when you stopped her?” Vin let her snuggle next to him for warmth and waited patiently for an answer.
Buck was not as patient. “Nathan is supposed to be in the hospital until after three and under guard. I know the nurses did not allow Andi in there so...”
“Nathan checked himself out of the hospital this mornin’. I saw him when I dropped off the files that Rain asked me to pick up for her from the clinic.” Kelli sighed. “He was not happy that Alex refused to leave and when Rain said Sandoval was stayin’ Nathan hit the roof., He said it would be a cold day in hell when he hid at home from the bastards that attacked him and Paul.” The redhead laughed. “So when Andi calls it hell outside when it’s cold, you know that she took his words quite literally.”
“Damnit Vin, you’re gonna have to talk some sense into Nathan or he’ll never stay put.” Buck answered angrily. “Doesn’t he realize that he’s still a target?”
“Vin is not the one to convince him Buck. Nathan is not bein’ reasonable and he believes that if Vin had listened to him, Paul would not be in the hospital. I refused to listen to that rubbish and left him arguin’ with Rain.”
Larabee watched Vin for his reaction. No matter what he decided it was going to be rough going with Nathan on this case. Chris knew what he would do if he was in charge, but it was Tanner’s call.
I’ll talk to him.” Vin responded after thinking it over. “Nate can come in to work as long as he travels back and forth with Alex or Buck. But Rain and Terrell will be stayin’ here on the ranch for their own protection. That is non-negotiable.”
Chris nodded in agreement. He had been wrong to ever question Vin’s leadership abilities and he planned to tell that ornery Texan just that and clear the air between them as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Then they could work on repairing the damage he had done to their friendship.
Mistress Fate, however, had other plans.
MCAT Office ~Monday ~ October 30th
Talking to Nathan had not accomplished much. Jackson still blamed Tanner for what had happened to Paul and only reluctantly had agreed to Vin's terms for his return to work. The protection detail on Rain and Terrell would remain, but Nathan did not want anyone telling him what he could or could not do. His priority was finding the men responsible for the attack on Roberts, with or without MCAT's assistance.
Vin had spent Sunday doing some heavy thinking following his discussion with Nathan. After closing himself up in his home office for several hours and making numerous phone calls to a few trusted former associates, he had discovered that the RMR had put out the word they were looking for an experienced weapons specialist. They were also making plans for something big in the near future. Thinking over all the available options, he made a decision. He and Kelli discussed it thoroughly and with her support he was ready to move forward on it, if Orrin approved. After their talk on the phone he was certain that Travis would, and things would be moving fast in the next forty-eight hours. Several early morning conversations had set events into motion; all he needed to do now was talk to Director Travis and update him on the status of his proposal.
Tanner stopped at Gunny’s desk on his way out of the building. “Gunny, I need you to move the scheduled team meetin' from noon to three o’clock. I’m headed over to Director Travis’s office, and I may be gone a while.”
“Yes sir, will there be anything else?”
"Yes, when Buck returns, tell him I need an hour from him before the meetin' starts.” Tanner continued on toward the exit.
“Vin, wait up.” Nathan intercepted Tanner before he could leave. “I want a big part of this one Vin. When do we start putting the heat on the RMR?”
“Nathan, we’ll discuss it at the team meetin’ this afternoon. I’m on my way to see Travis and don’t have time now to talk about it.”
“Sure Vin, but I bet that you’d make the time if it were Buck asking.” Nathan retorted, before he stormed off.
Captain Tanner shook his head and opened the door feeling the cold blast of air that rushed inside. Vin shivered, pulled his coat tighter around him and walked out to brave the chill. He was afraid it was going to be colder inside than it was outside before long.
Suzanne smiled when Vin walked in. “He’s waiting for you Captain.” Vin entered the Director’s office, set a folder on Orrin’s desk and then sat down to wait while his boss read the contents.
Orrin read it through and then looked up at Vin. “I know that you told me last night that you and Kelli have discussed this. But are you certain that you are prepared for the consequences?”
“Yes sir. Kelli and I have talked it over and we know it will not be the easiest choice. But I am convinced that it is the best one under the circumstances.”
Travis knew that Vin Tanner did not react blindly without thinking about his actions and he was certainly qualified to take on this mission. He would feel a helluva lot better about it though, if Larabee was available to come back to work. But Chris still had almost four weeks to go on his suspension and then he needed time to reconnect with the unit. If Chris were here and the rest of the unit was healthy again they wouldn’t need to look at an alternative plan. Orrin looked at the papers in the folder again on the pretense of thinking over Vin’s proposal, but he already knew he would agree to it.
Vin waited patiently for Travis to consider his proposal. He was certain that the Director would come to the same conclusion he had. The MCAT family had been through enough over the last few months and there was no reason to paint a big red bulls-eye on them again. Specifically, he knew that Nathan would not let it go and accept protection for himself. This was a way to hopefully keep Jackson and his family out of the line of fire, but they were understaffed and Chris would not be back for another month. Now was not the time for the unit to take on another grueling case.
One man could take on this investigation and leave MCAT out of it. Vin had considered the options and it all came down to one conclusion. He knew that with his background in covert military ops, he was the one man available that was best qualified for the job. Admittedly he would prefer that he and Chris were on the same page again and that Larabee was here to work it with him, but this mission could not wait for that to happen.
Sighing deeply Orrin realized that Tanner was waiting for an answer. “It is obvious that you have given this a great deal of consideration Vin. The Director part of me agrees with you, but the other part of me is worried. Nevertheless, I am going to agree to your proposal, with a few additions of my own. Are you certain you want to leave MCAT this way?”
“I thought about it and I believe the only credible reason for my leavin' would be for me to move on to another position.” Vin then asked the question he most needed answered. “You are going to give Chris his command back, aren’t you?”
“Larabee will be back, as long as he has met my requirements and he will face a six month probation period.” Travis pulled a large brown envelope out of his drawer that he had prepared after speaking with Vin earlier, and handed it to Tanner. “Your new position is explained in these papers. It says that you will have a six-week training period at Quantico and then be assigned to the Homeland Security office here in Denver commanding your own unit. If anyone checks up on Vin Tanner it will be confirmed that he is in Virginia until December fifteenth. Today is your last day on duty here and I have officially waived your thirty day notice. Do you have your new identity set?”
Tanner took the envelope that held the papers that would officially explain his abrupt departure. “Yes sir. I contacted a few people I know and Dusty Slater now has a completely verifiable background.” Vin handed the information to Travis. “You’ll find all the details you need in that file, I have everythin’ I need to keep Dusty goin’; just don’t ask how I got it. The identity is rock-solid. While Vin Tanner is in Virginia, Slater will be infiltratin’ the RMR as a weapons specialist. The only people that will know differently are you, Kel, and I’ll tell Buck this afternoon. All my reports will come through Kelli and she’ll pass the information to you. MCAT will not be involved officially in any way.”
“I do have my reservations about this Vin, and I am giving you an order now that I expect you to heed. If you feel at anytime that your cover is at risk, you are to hightail it out of there. If I feel at anytime that you need assistance I will activate the unit. Are we clear on that?”
“I also want you to include Standish on this. “Travis held up his hand to stop Vin’s protest.” I understand why we need to keep the rest of the unit out of this mess and as good an agent as Kelli is, she is still emotionally involved. I want Ezra backing her up, and she will not meet you without informing him of where she is going and when she is expected back. Standish will also be second in command under our new Captain Wilmington, so he needs to be aware of our plan.”
Vin had no argument to offer, because truthfully he would feel better knowing that Kelli had a backup. He was confident that she would handle whatever was necessary to be his contact, but she would also have her hands full with the kids. Neither he nor Kelli wanted to lie to the children, but in this case, the less they knew about what their daddy was really doing, the safer it was for them. “I’ll tell Ezra and Buck together then.”
“When you make your announcement to the team, lay it all on me. It might make it easier when they find out that MCAT is being pulled off the investigation concerning Paul and Nathan’s attack. As far as the unit is concerned, I have arranged for the FBI to take over the case and they will keep me informed. Of course, they will do nothing, but it will make the team feel better. I also have several cold cases that you or Buck can assign that will keep the unit busy for a while.”
Taking the additional folders from Travis, Tanner inwardly cringed. He knew all too well how these assignments would be received, but that was going to be Buck’s headache, not his. “If you hear any unusually loud disturbances about three fifteen, just ignore ‘em. That will be me or Buck being bombarded with protests from the rest of the team.” The Texan grinned.
Nodding his acknowledgement, Orrin became serious. “Son, I want you back in one piece. Do NOT have me tearing up half of Colorado looking for you. I want the bastards that attacked Nathan and Paul as much as you do…but not at the cost of your life. If anything and I do mean anything changes and you need MCAT do not hesitate to call in for reinforcements.” Travis stood up and extended his hand to Vin for a handshake. “You take care and stay in touch.”
“Yes sir, but don’t worry too much. Kel has already told me that if I get into trouble that she’ll hunt me down and drag my butt home. I have no doubt that she would do just that.”
“You tell her, I’ll help.” Travis smiled as he watched Vin walk out of his office. Protecting MCAT and the agents that worked here was a priority and he knew it, but he hated that men like Tanner had to walk into hell to do it. “God speed, son.” Orrin spoke softly, yet Vin heard him just as the door closed.
Talking to Travis had been easy compared to the conversation Vin was going to have with Buck and Ezra. They knew him too well to accept that he was completely okay about taking on this mission alone. Before meeting his brothers, when he worked by himself he did not realize that with a team like theirs it could be so different. Now he knew what it meant to know that his back was always covered by men he trusted. He had come to depend on the bond that he and Chris had shared too, and it was going to be damn hard to get use to it not being there.
A loud rap on his door was the only notice he had before Buck and Ezra walked into his office. Wilmington took the chair on the right side of Vin’s desk, while Standish took the one on the left. Tanner mentally prepared himself for the arguments that he knew were coming.
“We’re here; I suppose you want to go over the case, right?” Buck stretched his legs out to get more comfortable.
“Actually Buck, we have a lot to cover and we’re short on time. So I reckon I’ll just dive in. Today is my last day at MCAT, and you Captain Wilmington will be actin' commander until Chris returns. Ezra will be your second in command.” Vin dropped his bombshell and waited for the explosion.
“Are you freaking serious?” Buck exclaimed, staring at Vin as if he had suddenly sprouted two heads. “You can't just up and leave us on short notice like this! Chris won't be back for another month, and MCAT needs you, regardless of what anyone else might think.”
“Mr. Wilmington is correct, Captain Tanner.” Ezra said quietly, studying Vin.
Tanner didn't seem in the least bit upset by this sudden turn of events, and in that Standish knew that there was something else going on. Vin had worked just as hard as the rest of them to make MCAT what it was, and regardless of whether the decision to leave was amicable or not, he would be showing some inkling of what he was feeling. Instead, Vin was giving him and Buck the equivalent of Tanner's poker face, and if Wilmington hadn't been too upset by their friend's words, he would have seen it too.
“Perhaps it would be wise if you would enlighten us with whatever else has you exhibiting that look of apathy, Vin.” Ezra leveled his gaze on Tanner. “I believe that I’ll have to call your bluff.”
Standish's words stopped Buck's tirade. Wilmington turned a sharp look at Tanner and saw that Ezra was right. “Damnit Vin, I'm getting too old for games. Tell us what's going on, and give up the pussy-footing around.”
Vin took a deep breath and began. “Officially I am leaving Wednesday for Quantico for six weeks of trainin’. When I return, I will have my own command here in Denver with Homeland Security.”
“Unofficially....you are doing what?” Buck prodded.
“Unofficially what I say is stayin’ in this room. Other than you two, only Travis and Kel will know the truth.” Vin made sure they understood that before he continued. “Vin Tanner is going to disappear for a while and Dusty Slater is going to try to infiltrate the RMR as a weapons specialist. I plan to find out what happened to Abbott and the identity of the men that attacked Nathan and Paul. My cover is rock solid and will hold up under scrutiny.”
“You're going in alone?” Wilmington's voice was incredulous. “Are you crazy, Vin? That informant today said word was already out that they were looking for a more seasoned weapons expert, but they were going to check and double check the background of anyone before allowing them in. Do you know how quickly things can turn ugly if they catch on that you're a fed?
“I am certain that Vin has considered the bodily danger to himself if his undercover ruse is discovered, Buck.” Standish said. “The question we need to be asking is how can we be of service?”
Buck looked first at Ezra and saw that he was serious and then to Vin who seemed to be waiting for his acceptance. “Aw hell, you know we’ll cover for you, but …Vin, are you sure this is necessary?”
“It is. MCAT is not in any position to become a target again. That’s the reason Travis had us workin' in the shadows on this case to begin with. Even with Mark coming back to work this week, we are still understaffed. Ezra is not a weapons expert, and although he is the best undercover agent I know, he has little experience with military operations. I do, however, fit the profile of what the RMR is lookin' for. Besides, truthfully I don’t think the team is ready for a repeat of the last assignment. Make no mistake in assumin’ that it wouldn’t happen, because as sure as ‘m sittin’ here I know it would. You do too, Buck.”
“Damn.” Buck said, knowing that Vin was right. MCAT was not operating at one hundred percent yet and any damage taken would be disastrous.
“Very profoundly put, Buck,” Ezra responded.
Wilmington shot Standish a glare.
Standish ignored it and addressed Tanner instead. “I am assuming that by revealing your intentions to go undercover and infiltrate the RMR that Buck and I are going to be involved to some degree in your plans. Am I correct?”
“Yes and no. Buck, you have been promoted to Captain. You’ll run things here. No one is to know where I really am. The director will tell you if anythin’ comes up that you need to deal with as far as ‘m concerned. Ezra, Kel is my contact. Travis wants you as her backup. She is to tell you if she has to meet me, where, when, and for how long. Other than that, y’all will not be involved; she’ll give my reports directly to Travis”.
“Now Vin, you know we can’t agree to that. You need…”
“Buck, I need you to take charge until Chris is back in command. Kel is gonna take off the rest of the week and be back on Monday. The unit is gonna stay busy with these cold cases Travis dug up and will not be investigatin’ the RMR or the attack on Paul and Nathan. The FBI will be takin’ the lead on that case. Now either I can tell ‘em that at the team meetin’ or you can. After that you, me, and Ezra are gonna go over the current work on this desk and then I am out of here. This office is yours Captain Wilmington.”
This was not what he wanted, but he would do his job as the new Captain. Shaking his head and sighing deeply, Buck reached out his hand. “Give me the damn case files. I‘ll give them their assignments, but you have to break the news to the unit about the investigation first, and then you have to tell them you’re leaving.”
The Texan laughed. “They’ll be so angry with me you’ll sail through those assignments, Bucklin.”
“Vin, I gather that you have your cover already arranged. As your brothers, what can we do?” Ezra felt a sense of dread fall over him.
“We are not tellin’ the kids anymore than the basic fact that I’ll be away from home for a few weeks of trainin’. Watch out for my family, keep Kel out of trouble, and Ezra, if you would make certain all my affairs are in order in case…”
“You are coming back! “ Ezra reacted and then composed himself. “I assure you that all is in order and we will take damn good care of your family until you return.”
Buck had another burning question. “This official new position is not genuine right Vin? You do plan to come back to MCAT when this is over don’t you?”
Tanner hesitated before he answered. “Let’s get through this and when it’s over… ask me again.” Looking at his watch Vin noted that it was almost time for the team meeting and stood up. “Y’all ready to face the mob?”
“Don’t worry Vin; we’ve got your back.” Buck smiled. “We’ll make sure you at least get out of the war room in one piece.”
MCAT War Room 3:00pm
Tanner, Wilmington, and Standish were the first ones in the room. Together they presented a united front, all of them knowing that the next thirty minutes would be tough to get through. When the team found out that they were being pulled off this case, there were going to be more than a few unhappy people in the room. The race issue itself was enough to provoke strong emotions, add to that, the fact that two of their own had been targets of an attack and you had all the elements for a volatile meeting.
Agents filed in and sat waiting for Tanner to begin, expecting to hear a plan for the new case.
Vin stood up. “First off, ‘m gonna give you an update on your teammates. Paul is still in ICU listed in critical condition, but stable. Mark Westin will be returnin’ to duty before the end of this week. Rafael Cordova will be out for another two weeks, Katrina Santos will be back next Monday and Greg Ramsey will return the followin’ week. I also want to welcome Alex to the team, Sandoval is a new member of the unit and y’all can introduce yourselves to him when we finish here, I spoke with Ross Anderson last Friday and reminded him that there was a place for him on JD’s team when he was ready. He said he would think about it, but he still has several weeks of physical therapy to get through first. I expect Commander Larabee to be back somewhere around the first of December.”
Pam smiled. “That is all good to hear.”
“Yeah it is." Vin decided to just plunge in. “As of today MCAT will not be handlin’ the investigation into the attack on two of our agents. That case has been handed over to The FBI and they will be keepin’ Director Travis advised of their progress. Agent Jackson, we will however continue to maintain extra protection for you and your family.”
“Wait a minute Vin!” Nathan jumped up. “That should be our case! It may not be important to you, but as a black man that was targeted, it sure as hell is important to me! You are supposed to stand up for us Captain Tanner. Why didn’t you?”
“What makes you so sure he didn’t?” Kelli snapped.
“I think we all know that Vin never wanted this case in the first place.” Nathan retorted. “Maybe if one of us was white we might pursue it, but two old black boys gettin’ hurt is not a case for MCAT status.”
Buck jumped in before Kelli had an opportunity to unleash her obvious anger on Jackson. “Nathan! That was uncalled for. You know as well as I do that Travis has the authority to pull us off any damn case he chooses to.”
“Perhaps our Director deems this to be an assignment that hits too close to home, and he prefers a more objective investigation. Given the quantity of raw emotion that I am observing in this room at this moment I find that I must concur with his evaluation.” Ezra stated calmly.
“You would.” Nathan huffed and sat down.
“If we’re not working on this case, then what are we going to be doing? JD questioned.
Josiah sat silently and studied the agents in the room. The body language he was seeing told him that there was more going on here than a change of assignment. The fact that Nathan was the one that was most upset was telling him that his friend’s issues ran deeper than the question of who would be investigating this case. Mallory and Justin had not joined in the intense exchange of words and seem to be okay with waiting for more information. Buck and Ezra were definitely unifying with Vin, and Kelli apparently was barely holding onto her anger with Nathan.
“We’ll get to that JD in a few minutes. I have a couple more announcements first.” Tanner waited for their attention. “Special Agent Buck Wilmington has been promoted to Captain.”
“All right Buck!” JD grinned as congratulations followed around the room.
“Starting tomorrow mornin’ he will also be actin’ Commander of this unit until Chris returns. I have been offered and have accepted a position with Homeland Security as commander of my own unit. I leave Wednesday for six weeks of trainin' at Quantico, Virginia. Today is my last day here at MCAT.” The Texan did not have to wait long for a reaction to his announcement.
“What? You can't be serious?” JD exclaimed. “You can't just leave us Vin. What about the new house you just built? What about....”
Josiah reached out for Mallory's hand and she gladly gave it. “JD...” he started in a calm voice.
“Don't JD me,” the younger agent snapped, clearly upset at this newest turn of events. “I know things are bad right now… especially between you and Chris, but Damnit, we're your family too and you can't just walk out on us...”
“This is a career decision, JD, not a family one.” Vin told the younger man quietly. “I’m not givin' up on the family. I don't know how things are goin' to work out with me havin' to commute to Virginia and all, but Kelli, the kids, and me aren't leavin' Larabee 7.”
Kelli met her husband's eyes across the table and offered him her silent support, knowing how much it was costing him to keep up with the facade he was creating.
“We will always be family, no matter where we are all at.” Josiah said, hoping to provide some comfort for JD, as well as himself.
“Kel will be stayin’ on with MCAT, but she is takin’ a few days off to help the kids adjust to me being’ gone, and I'll be back in Denver in six weeks. I do regret however, that I'll be missin' the girl's birthdays, as well as Terrell’s, and Thanksgivin'.” Vin sighed. “The only real difference is you won't see me here everyday.”
JD swallowed hard to dislodge the lump in his throat that had formed at Vin's earlier words. He didn't know how Vin could possibly think that they would let him go, but he was family, and he realized that Vin's mind was made up. There was nothing he could do to prevent it from happening, but he didn't need to make things harder on Vin either.
“If your mind is already made up, I guess there's no point in trying to change it,” he said softly. “Just so long as you and Kelli and the kids stay in Denver, you won't get any more arguments from me. Try to relocate altogether and you're going to have a fight on your hands.”
Nathan had sat back in his chair, his heart racing, and his mind volatile. He couldn't believe that they were just going to hand the case over to someone else to deal with, and that Vin was walking out on the team altogether. He rose suddenly; his chair falling back onto the floor with a clatter that effectively drew attention to him. He moved toward the door without saying a word, but Tanner's voice halted him in his track.
“Like my decision or not Nathan, I'm still your commandin' officer right now and you will stay until this meetin' is over.” Tanner challenged Jackson.
Nathan turned slowly around and locked eyes with Tanner across the room, as the rest of his MCAT teammates watched tensely to see what would happen next. Slowly he made his way back to his place at the table, bending down to lift his chair back up to its rightful position and sat down. “I’m almost glad that Buck is going to be in charge because maybe it will mean that someone else's feelings are going to be taken into consideration before cases are discarded.”
“You don't think that Vin considers anyone else's feelin’s but his own?” Kelli exclaimed, her temper flaring. “You don't know what the hell you are talkin’ about Nathan! Vin's...”
The one word elicited from Vin was enough to remind Kelli of how close she had been coming to disclosing her husband's true agenda, and she hastily swallowed back her anger. She settled into her seat, staring daggers at Nathan as she waited for the meeting to continue.”
“The subject is now closed for discussion.” Tanner turned to Buck. “You wanna give out the assignments, Captain?”
Buck gave out the case assignments and then dismissed the meeting. Nathan left quickly, but Pam, Justin, JD and the others stayed around to offer Vin well wishes on his new position. As soon as he could, Tanner escaped to his office, or rather Buck’s office. Wilmington and Standish followed, and for the next hour Vin updated them on current paperwork, said his goodbyes, and attempted to prepare himself for whatever laid ahead.
Then it was done….time to leave. Tanner walked out of his old office and smiled when he saw Kelli waiting for him. Vin was surprised…this was a helluva lot harder than he thought it would be. When they reached the outside door he turned for a last look around. Standish tipped his imaginary hat to him and grinned.
Journal Entry~ October 31st~ Reclamation
Grace and I have stayed busy the last few days. I am not sure what Linda has been doing, she sure in the hell has not shared whatever it is with us, but it probably involves spending money. I feel as if we are worlds apart from one another, hell maybe we always have been and I refused to acknowledge it. Something has to give soon though, because it is damn hard to live this way.
Last night at my meeting we had a new guy come in and I suppose I saw myself as I was the first time I walked in to that room. Angry, defensive, and just plain pissed at the rest of the world for having to be there. This young man though reminded me of Vin when I first met him…not the drug part, but he had that same me against the world look in his eyes that Tanner did eight…no nine years ago. I supposed that is why I made a point of talking to that young man after the meeting and letting him know that the first time is the hardest and it does get easier. When I had finished my little welcome, I looked up and saw Colonel Mike nod at me and I would have sworn that he smiled, but he never smiled so it must have been the lighting in the room.
As of today I have made my amendments to each one of my brothers, except for Vin. I couldn't bring myself to approach him before now, and I hope that I'm not too late. I said such awful things to him...accused him of so much. I can't help but wonder if too much time has already passed and he won't be able to forgive me. But I have to try…November is a new month...my new mission…talk to Vin and clear the air between us. Tomorrow will mark the beginning of a renewed friendship for us, hopefully one that will bridge the chasm that lay between me and my eldest daughter, too.
Chris closed his journal and marked November 1st on the calendar.
Larabee 7 ~November 1st
Breakfast was finished and Vin spent a few minutes alone with Andi before he and Kelli left to take Jason to school. Saying goodbye was hard on the Texan and he made certain that he had spent as much time as possible with the kids before he left.
Yesterday they had taken Jason out of school for the day, and along with Andi, they spent the entire day together. A trip to the mall had them Christmas shopping early, and then to McDonalds for lunch, followed by an hour spent on the playground. A quick stop at the hospital to check on Paul was the only non-kid activity of the day. They had done more shopping in the afternoon for Halloween costumes, a quick pizza for dinner and then visited the Halloween carnival at the Church. Vin read them three of their favorite bedtime stories to hold them over until he returned home again. He had already signed and addressed a stack of cards for them that would be bundled and sent to a post office box in Virginia to an agent friend. Over the next few weeks they would be sent to Jason and Andi with a Quantico postmark. Buck had also promised to take Jason with Caleb to all the Bronco home games. They were small details, but hopefully these few actions would make his absence easier for the children.
Pulling up in front of Jason’s school, Tanner cut the engine and hugged his son. “I’ll call every chance I get, but I expect it won’t be that often. You look after your Mom and Andi for me, son.”
Jason was determined not to cry. “I will Dad.”
“Max and Walter are stayin' at the house with y’all tonight and I’ll be home in the mornin'." Kelli hugged him, too.
Vin opened the door for Jason so he could walk him to the front door. “I love you son. Remember that, and I’ll be home as soon as I can.”
The Texan choked up when Jason threw his arms around his neck. “I love you Dad.” He finally released his hold and after hugging his Mom again, walked to the front of the school with Vin.
Kelli knew how hard this was on Vin as well as the kids; six weeks seemed like forever when you are a child. Hell, it seemed like forever to her too. She watched her husband as he walked back alone and her heart clenched when she saw him looking so miserable. He climbed into the driver’s seat, started the engine and drove for twenty minutes without saying a word. They were on their way to a cabin that one of Vin’s acquaintances had prepared for Vin Tanner to transform into Dusty Slater. Tomorrow morning Dusty would travel on to Rocky Meadows and Kelli would return home.
Tanner hit the steering wheel and cursed. “Damnit! What in the hell made me think that I could leave y’all for six weeks or more? When I get home Kel… I promise you, ‘m taking at least three months or longer to spend with you and the kids, before I do any damn thing else!”
“I’ll hold you to that time off Tanner, but I know as well as you do that this is somethin’ you need to do, and not just to protect Nathan or the unit. Remember what Jason said when he took on those bullies that harassed Caleb?”
“Yeah, he said that bein' a Tanner meant he had to do somethin’.” Vin clearly heard his grandfather saying those same words.
“That is why you are goin’ in there Vin. You have no other choice, any more than Jason felt that he had a choice to stand up for Caleb. What those men did to Paul and what they would have done to Nathan is wrong and they need to be held accountable for it. That Tanner code of justice that your grandfather instilled in you and that you are teachin’ our kids is part of who you are. You can’t change that any more than you could make the sun rise in the west. I would never expect you to either. It won’t be fun, but the kids and I will manage.” Kelli reached over and trailed her fingers down his cheek. “I waited a lifetime to find you, I reckon I can handle a few weeks of separation, as long as I know that you’re comin’ back.
Vin took one hand off the steering wheel and squeezed her hand. “I am comin’ back, baby. Count on it.”
MCAT Office ~10:00am
Buck had met with Director Travis for over an hour this morning and now sat behind the desk that he still considered Tanner’s, staring out the window. Watching the snow fall was supposed to be relaxing, but that was a state of being that was elusive for him at the moment. Wilmington had only been acting Commander for one day, but he already felt the extra weight on his shoulders that the job carried. Even before they were in law enforcement, back in their Navy Seal days, Chris had always handled the responsibilities of command much better than he did, and liked doing it. Vin hated being in charge but never shirked the responsibility when it was forced on him. Both men had set the bar high for MCAT and Buck was uncertain about measuring up to what was expected of him, but he would give it one hell of a shot.
Ezra rose from his desk and moved through the hangar toward the office that he had seen Buck disappear into a few moments earlier. He had a hunch that Wilmington was feeling a bit burdened with all of the hefty responsibilities his new title presented him with and wanted to give his brother a bit of support. He knocked softly on the door and waited for Buck to signal to him to enter.
“Come in,” Buck yelled.
“I thought perhaps you would have some work for me.”
“Hell, there is always more work to do around here.” Buck motioned to the stack of papers on his desk. “Travis sent us a whole mess of it.”
“Oh, joy.” Ezra said sarcastically as he settled himself down in one of the chairs before the desk.
“Is any of it worthy of our undivided attention and superb individual skills?”
Buck heaved a sigh. “Damnit Ezra, there should be something we can do to help Vin besides sit on our ass here and do…paperwork. He only left this morning and I’m already worried about him.”
It was the opening that Standish had been waiting for. The perilous solo sojourn that their brother was taking had kept him up most of the night, despite the fact that he had Barbara's luscious nude body curled up beside him. Tanner was gifted with his methods of defense, but even he had vulnerabilities, and the thought of him being without backup in an isolated situation didn't bode well with him. “It seems as we are both plagued with concern over Vin's welfare.” he said softly.
The intercom on the desk beeped and Gunny’s voice was loud and clear, “Captain?” Buck looked around hesitantly.
Ezra cleared his throat and pointed to the speaker. “I think that’s for you…Captain.”
“Right…uh” He fumbled for the speaker button. “Yeah…it’s me.”
“Commander Larabee is on line one and is requesting to speak to Captain Tanner.”
“Oh Crap...” Buck said...”Uh...thanks Gunny.”
His finger hesitated over the flashing yellow light that indicating a call was waiting. He glanced over at Ezra. “What do I tell him?”
“First you need to ascertain what Chris requires.” Standish told him. “Answer it.”
“Yeah right…Hey Chris, it’s good to hear your voice stud…Vin? ...No, he’s not here…he…”Buck hesitated too long. “Wrong? Nothing’s wrong exactly… Hell, Chris I guess you’ll find out soon enough, Vin is gone.” Wilmington pushed the button for the speaker to be on, and looked to Ezra for assistance.
“What the hell do you mean he's gone?” Larabee's voice bellowed over the speaker making Ezra wince.” Explain that cryptic remark Buck or so help me...”
Buck did not want to lie to Larabee, but he had his orders and he reluctantly gave Tanner’s cover story. “Chris…Vin left this morning for Quantico, Virginia. He was offered a new position with Homeland security…a chance to command his own unit, and he accepted. I’m in charge here until you get back and…”
“When did this all go down? Why didn't he tell me?” Larabee's voice was calmer than it had been and even over the speaker Wilmington and Standish could hear the thread of hurt in it.
“It was sudden, but it was too good of an offer for him to pass up. He told us on Monday and he left for six weeks of training today. He will be back…he is to be assigned here in Denver. Kel is staying with MCAT…” Buck swallowed hard. “You got me now as your Captain when you come back.”
A lengthy silence followed. Buck raised a worried eyebrow at Ezra. Standish shrugged his shoulders. He didn't know any other way in which they could have possibly told Larabee about Tanner leaving...even if it was only a cover story.
“Damn.” Larabee was unmistakably disappointed. “I had hoped to talk to him today...about things.”
“Whatever you had in mind Chris, I reckon it will have to wait, at least until his training is over…” Buck wanted so much to tell him the truth, but held back. “Or maybe he’ll call when he gets settled in there.”
“Yeah…I’ll talk to you later Buck.” The line went silent as Larabee hung up the phone.
“Vin's mission, although admirable, couldn't have come at a more inopportune time.” Standish stated calmly. “It is a certainty that Mr. Larabee has finally come to some clarity with his life and most assuredly decided to try to atone for his grievances toward Mr. Tanner, and attempt reconciliation.”
Buck smirked. “I just hope Chris forgives me when he finds out the truth. He is not gonna be a happy man when he discovers where Vin really is and I have no doubt that he will find out.”
“Don’t worry Captain; I’ll be standing right behind you when he confronts you.”
“Standish you best be standing beside me when thundercloud Larabee storms into the office.” Buck told him. “He won't kill me in front of witnesses...”
Chris already knew that Vin was not at home and that he was not answering his cell, that’s why he had called the office. Now he sat and stared at the phone replaying Buck’s words in his head. Something was off, way off. Tanner wouldn’t leave MCAT for Homeland Security, he hated being in command, hated the paperwork, and hated the hours. He only did it…He did it for you Larabee, plain and simple, because you asked him to. “Damnit Vin what are you up to and why?”
Reaching for the phone again he dialed Travis’s number. Suzanne answered. “This is Chris Larabee; I need to see the man, ASAP!”
“Director Travis is out of the office for the remainder of the day, but I do have a morning opening at ten tomorrow. Do you want to see him then?”
“I’ll be there before ten, thanks.”
Chris pulled out his phone book; he had several other calls to make and errands to run before his NA meeting tonight. Orrin Travis may not know it yet, but he was going to be the center of a full-fledged paper assault tomorrow morning.
The directions to the cabin were not hard to follow and they arrived shortly before noon. Vin pulled up close to the door and killed the engine. A light snow was falling and it looked like a picture in a magazine, but Tanner knew that no matter how pretty it looked, this was where Vin was going to cease to exist for a while and he shivered involuntarily. There was a blue GMC pickup parked by the side of the house that the Texan knew was registered to Dusty Slater. He shook his head when he saw all the stickers on the back window. ‘White is right’, NRA Rules, ‘guns equal freedom’, and more.
“Are we gonna sit here or go inside? Kelli prodded.
“Right,” Vin grabbed their bags and they both trekked up to the front door. Tanner pulled up a loose board on the porch and produced a key. Unlocking the door he entered first, he was confident that it was safe, but all the same he wanted to make certain that there were no surprises waiting before Kelli walked in. “Clear.”
Kelli walked up behind him. “Are you really worried about bein’ compromised or are you just practicin’ paranoia?”
“Reckon ‘m might be overreactin’ a bit, sorry. I’ll feel better about things once I get my mind around Dusty and who he is.”
“That’s why we’re here Tanner. By tomorrow mornin’ you will be Dusty Slater and I’ll be…on my way home.” Kelli was determined to make this as easy as possible for Vin, but it was going to be damn hard for her. “Why don’t we explore and see what’s here for us?” She took off her coat and accepted his, hanging them both on the pegs by the door.
Tanner tossed the bags into the other room, which was obviously a bedroom, while Kelli checked out the rest of the cabin. He decided that the first item on his agenda was to get a fire going. Wood had already been laid in the fireplace and within a couple of minutes he had a blaze going and the room began to heat up. The Texan knew that all the information he needed was in that large brown envelope on the counter, but he was not ready to open it just yet
Instead he headed into the bedroom where Kelli had just finished changing and was putting their belongings in order. Vin leaned against the doorframe and smiled, as he watched his redhead. She was wearing nothing but one of his old shirts, barefooted and beautiful. It amazed him that as long as they had been together, she could still affect his senses now, as much as she did the first time he laid eyes on her. He also knew that no matter how much this mission may resemble the ones he used to take, that it was different. Always before it had been just him, there was no one that would be affected if he did not make it back, he had been a loner. Now he had his brothers, his kids, and this woman whom he carried with him in his heart wherever he went. You are a fortunate man Tanner, don’t lose sight of what you have.
Making his presence known, he spoke softly. “It should be warmin’ up in here real soon, baby.”
Laughing, Kelli walked over and hugged Vin. He had stopped shaving Sunday and he now had that scruffy look about him that she found so damn sexy. “I expect that we’ll be generatin’ our own heat. This is our last day together for a while and I plan to take advantage of every minute.” Kelli patted his stomach. "First though, ‘m gonna check out the kitchen and rustle us up some food.”
Vin swatted her backside as he gave her a quick kiss. “Good, ‘cause ‘m starved.” He waited until she walked out of the room and then sat on the bed to remove his boots and rid himself of his cumbersome clothing, in exchange for something more comfortable. Before joining Kelli in the kitchen he grabbed a couple of comforters, and some pillows to make a cozy love nest for them in front of the fireplace.
Kelli was impressed with Vin’s former colleague, the man known only as Raven to her, he had certainly thought of just about everything. There was enough food stocked in the cabinets for any situation. In the refrigerator there was a plate of chocolate covered strawberries and a bottle of expensive champagne. The note attached simply said, ‘compliments of the house’. She also felt better knowing that Tanner would have a safe place to come to if he needed it. She knew that her Texan trusted this man with his life and although she wanted to know more about why and who he was, she had refrained from prying into that part of Vin’s past. Still, she worried, so many things could happen out there and Vin would be facing them on his own. God, please keep him safe and bring him home to us.
Tanner came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. Looking over her shoulder he saw a plate full of cut up meat, sliced cheese and grapes. “Looks good, but you look better.” He nuzzled her neck and began to trail kisses across her shoulder.
Kelli leaned back into him. “I thought you were hungry.”
“I am baby, but man does not live by bread alone. Besides I want time for just me and you, before Dusty joins us.”
“Ummm…your friend left us champagne and chocolate covered strawberries in the fridge.”
“You grab the plate, I’ll get the champagne.” Vin used one hand to open the refrigerator to collect the bottle and the strawberries, while Kelli balanced the plate of food and two glasses. The Texan then led her to the love nest he had made for them by the fire, where after undressing each other they curled up under the soft comforter to enjoy their time of just being together. As they lay snuggled in front of the roaring fire and were feeding each other strawberries it was too painful to think beyond the here and now.
Kelli lay with her head close to her Texan’s heart, feeling the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed. Vin took in the vision before him, no make up, just pure natural beauty. The firelight bathed her skin with a warm glow, while her hair hung loosely over her bare shoulders. She was sexy as hell, and just looking at her, he knew that he had found his own private paradise as he felt currents of desire ripple throughout his body.
It was early evening before they thought about food again, and reluctantly they began the process of discovering Dusty Slater. Kelli worked in the kitchen, while Vin dressed warmly and went out to ‘Dusty’s truck’. He returned with his arms full of assorted weapons, including a rifle, handgun, and a bag just as Kelli set their food on the table. She started to take the rifle from him to lay it aside and he stopped her.
“Don’t touch it!” Vin laid it down along with the rest of his load. “Sorry for yellin’ Kel, I don’t want your fingerprints on any of these weapons. That’s why ‘m wearin’ gloves, I expect someone will try to lift prints from anythin’ I bring in.”
“No need to say you’re sorry, I should have thought about that. This is your show Tanner, you tell me what you need me to do and I’ll do it.”
Vin slid the brown envelope off the counter, sat down at the table with Kelli and they ate as he tore off the top of it and spilled the contents onto the table. The identifications, wallet, cash, and keys for the pickup he set aside, and then began to read the information that had been left for him. As he read each page he passed it to Kelli for her to look at. By the time they had finished eating they both had a good idea about who Dusty Slater was and neither of them was too fond of his background.
“It shouldn’t be too difficult to remember most of it. “ Vin commented. In fact, the basic information, such as birthplace, age and schooling, mirrored his life. Both men were weapons specialist and proficient in martial arts. They were both considered dangerous men to cross and worthy adversaries. The biggest difference was that while Vin Tanner entered law enforcement after the Rangers and a stint of bounty hunting, Dusty Slater became seriously involved in the anti-government militia, the KKK and the white supremacy movement. Three months ago the real Dusty Slater had been killed in a shootout with law officers. It had been fairly simple to keep his death quiet because he was a loner that no one really knew well enough to identify by sight. With no family to claim his body, he was buried as a John Doe and any documents with his name on them had been destroyed.
Dusty’s reputation lived on with the help of unofficial manipulation of the facts, and his identity had been added to, and now it appeared that Slater had left Texas not by choice, but out of necessity, apparently he was being investigated by the Texas Rangers in connection with several hate crimes, one of which had ended in the death of two black males. Slater had gone into seclusion and now was rumored to be headed toward Colorado.
“I think Slater’s record will be burned in my memory forever.” Kelli was suddenly apprehensive about Vin going through with this mission. “After readin’ his rap sheet, I don’t think I like Dusty very much.”
“I reckon that means that the RMR will love him.” Tanner resigned himself to the fact that the next few weeks were going to be a private hell for him. “I think I’ll go outside and check out these weapons, you can quiz me later on Dusty’s background.” Vin leaned over, kissed Kelli, and then picked up the guns as he headed out the door.
Kelli realized that Vin needed some time alone and after slipping on her own gloves, busied herself packing Vin Tanner’s personal effects into her bag and Dusty Slater’s into his. She cringed at the obscenities printed on the shirts that were suppose to be Slater’s, and almost cried when she took out Vin’s wallet and replaced it with Dusty’s. They had already left his cell phone, badge, and gun at home so the only way to communicate with him after today would be with Slater’s untraceable cell and the phone that was designated for her to receive his calls.
When Vin came back inside an hour later, Kelli immediately noticed the difference in his demeanor. Apparently he had locked the weapons in the GMC and he was satisfied that the Winchester 70 stealth was a good choice for him, but she detected a harder edge to his words and actions than before he had gone outside. It was very unsettling to watch Vin Tanner disappear before her eyes, to be replaced by Dusty Slater.
“I changed the duffel bag over for Dusty and yes, I used gloves and your stuff is in with mine, now. Are you ready for a review?”
“Sure, fire away.” Vin sprawled on the couch next to his wife, and for the next hour answered the questions about Dusty as Kelli asked them.
Kelli felt him distancing himself already and the more confident he became with Dusty’s background the more clipped his answers were. Finally he decided that he had answered enough questions and he felt he could handle anything the RMR wanted to throw at him.
“Enough already! I’ve got it and we’re done with the questions.” Vin pulled her over to him and fiercely claimed a possessive kiss that was lusty and provocative, but screamed detached, rough sex, not fiery loving passion.
Kelli was not about to have sex with Dusty Slater on the last night she would spend with her husband for possibly weeks. “Vin, stop,” she pulled away from him. “I love you and would do anythin’ within my power to make you happy, but I refuse to let Dusty into our marriage bed. If Vin Tanner wants hot lusty sex, ‘m ready, but I don’t think the man that just kissed me is my Vin and that is who I want to make love with in that bed tonight…my Vin.”
Tanner immediately realized that in the process of transforming his mind over to thinking like the persona of Dusty Slater, he had gone too far. “Kel, ‘m sorry, I…” The Texan drew her close again. “Baby, I love you and I don’t want to share you with him. Dusty doesn’t deserve someone like you.” He kissed her again, still with fiery passion, but also with the love she was accustomed to receiving from her Vin. “The only two people in our bed tonight will be you and me.”
Vin then proceeded to prove just that, sweeping her up into his arms, he carried her to the bedroom. It was hot and lusty lovemaking that they made, but it was between the only two people that mattered. The rest of their night was spent making sweet memories to sustain them over the long weeks that lay ahead.
Journal Entry~ November 1~Reclamation
It was a proud day for me; I received my sixty day chip. I didn't tell anyone in the family that I was getting it either. I feel better about myself than I have felt since before California. It is getting easier to talk at the meeting and as I see more first-timers come in, I find myself even reaching out to a few of the newer members. Who would have thought that I would be doing that?
I spent the rest of the day preparing for my meeting with Travis. I saw my shrink early today and then had an even longer discussion with my counselor at NA. Finally I talked it over with Colonel Mike. They all agreed that I was ready…now all I have to do is convince Travis. I have to do this because it’s the only way I can find out the true reason Vin left MCAT. I know the story Buck gave me sounds good, but my gut says that Tanner is walking on dangerous ground.
It was the real Vin Tanner that had spent the night with his wife last night and they enjoyed a wonderful morning; however as he dressed to leave he became more of Dusty Slater with each article of clothing that he added. On one hand, Kelli was glad to see Vin so disciplined and focused on his mission; it meant that it was less likely that anyone would think he was a Federal agent. On the other, she found herself missing him before he was even physically gone. The cabin was back the way they had found it, Dusty’s GMC was packed and Kelli had her keys in hand ready to leave.
Vin and Kelli walked out the front door into the cold and for a moment the silence between them was awkward. Dusty Slater turned to the beautiful redhead beside him, but it was Vin Tanner who reached up with one gloved hand to cup Kelli's face and stare deeply into her blue eyes.
“I love you Kelli Lar'bee Tanner. Don't you ever forget that.” he told her hoarsely, before he pulled her into his arms and kissed her.
Kelli fought to keep her composure, knowing that if she lost control of her emotions, Vin would lose his as well. “I love you too, Vin Tanner. Always remember that you are a good man, a loyal friend and brother, the best damn husband in the world, and a father with a family that loves you.”
“I will.” Tanner whispered softly, leaning his forehead against hers for several moments before he drew back and together the two of them walked down to the driveway. It took both of them several attempts to walk away, but finally Kelli turned toward her truck. Vin watched her get into the vehicle, before he moved to get into the GMC.
Kelli's fingers trembled as she inserted the key into the ignition and pulled the vehicle out of the driveway so that Vin could back the GMC out. She watched through her rear view mirror as Vin waved at her, before he stepped on the gas and sent the truck into motion down the road in the opposite direction. It was only then that Kelli managed to do likewise, her heart beginning to pound in her ears the more seconds past by and Vin wasn't with her.
She wasn't sure how far she made it down the road, before her resolve not to cry broke, and she had to pull the truck over to the side of the road because she couldn't see through the blur of tears. She leaned forward onto the steering wheel and wept.
Vin had not made it far before he slammed on the GMC's brakes and brought the vehicle over to the side of the road. He wanted nothing more than to turn the truck around and speed after Kelli, take her into his arms and hold her forever. He had known it was going to be hard to leave, but he had not figured on his heart being ripped out of his chest in the process.
One would have thought that he had never gone undercover before, but he knew that wasn't it. It was the fact that he was going undercover in unknown territory without anyone he trusted to watch his back, something he had not had to do in over nine years, thanks to team seven. That presented the very real possibility that he may not make it out of this mission alive. That prospect may not have bothered him all that much before, when he was alone, but it was damn well different now. Yet, despite the threat of bodily injury or even death to himself, Tanner knew that he couldn't walk away from what he was about to do. He couldn't let these radicals get away with what they had done to the missing FBI Agent...to Paul...and to Nathan. Regardless of his being on the outs with Jackson, the man was his brother in every sense of the word and he would be damned if he was going to let anyone hurt someone he loved and get away with it.
Ok Mistress Fate, it’s up to you, but whatever you have planned for me, please keep my family out of it and safe.
Travis’s Office~ 10:00am
Chris had been pacing in the outer office for twenty minutes, waiting for Orrin to finish his phone call, when Suzanne stood up and drew his attention. You can go in now Commander Larabee.”
Chris didn't need anymore prodding from Travis's secretary, but strolled into the office and closed the door behind him. This was the moment he had been waiting for, a chance to have an early return to MCAT. Stay cool Larabee. Do not lose your temper…yet
“Chris, you're looking good. What is it that you wanted to talk to me about?” Travis asked amicably as both men sat down facing one another.
“Me returning to work,” Larabee told him, getting directly to the point.” Hear me out before you say anything Orrin...please.”
“All right.” the director agreed.
“I know that the ninety day probationary period is not over yet, but I'm ready to return to work. I have obtained written recommendations from my psychiatrist, NA counselor, and my sponsor detailing the progress that I've made and all stating that they feel that I am ready to resume my command.”
Director Travis took the papers that Chris passed to him and read each one. He had been getting a few reports on how Larabee was doing and he was pleased to see that he had made good use of his time off. He looked up and saw the old Chris Larabee that he knew so well, but he also recognized the spark in the Commander’s eyes that usually meant a headache for him.
Chris waited with bated breath as Travis read the recommendations he had presented to him. He needed to come back to work. He needed to be in the know of where Vin went and why.
“These letters say a lot Chris, but you tell me why you think that you are ready to return to MCAT.” Travis waited for a response.
“Because this is where I belong.”
Orrin recognized the confidence and sincerity in those few words, no excuses, no pleas for sympathy, just one honest statement. “IF I defer the remainder of your suspension, you will still be facing a six-month probationary period, Chris. One slip with drugs for any reason and I would have no choice but to terminate your employment.”
“I understand Orrin and you would be right to do so. I assure you that I will not slip, I may still have a few personal challenges to meet, but the threat of using drugs again is not one of them. I intend to continue with my NA meetings. I will stay in touch with my sponsor, and if you want me to, I’ll submit to random drug testing.”
Travis nodded, “Very well, you’ll have your chance Chris. Commander Larabee, consider yourself reinstated to duty, but before you pounce on me with whatever it is that is going to make my head hurt, there are a few changes that you should be aware of. The director proceeded to update Chris on those changes, starting with their new boss and continuing through the explanation of shadow ops and confidentiality statements. “Captain Wilmington can fill you in on the newest agents and applicants. There is still a lot to be done before the first of the year, and that is when I want this unit fully operational, with all personnel in place.”
Hearing about the changes in operational procedures explained a lot to Chris. Why no one discussed MCAT around him and why Buck found it so difficult to explain Vin’s absence. The shadow assignments did concern him, and although he was certain that he already knew the answer he had to know.
“Where is Vin?”
Orrin opened his desk drawer and pulled out a file, handing it over to Larabee. “The only people besides me that are aware of what it contains are Kel, Buck and Ezra.” He gave Chris time to read through it and waited for the explosion that he knew was coming.
Chris stood up. “How in the hell could you agree to let him go into that hellhole alone! I understand that the unit is not ready for the trouble that this kind of case could produce, but to send Tanner into the same group that may be responsible for another undercover agent’s death with no backup, and no way out if he gets into trouble. Damnit Orrin, you should have called me, I would have gone in with him!”
“I know.” Travis said softly. “That is why I did not call you. There were only three people that possessed enough experience with this type of mission to take on this assignment. Tanner, Wilmington and …yourself, with Vin out, I needed Buck here and regardless of what you think Chris, you need time to readjust before you go under again.
“You may be right about that, but I sure as hell can supervise this type of mission. Have you run his cover to see what CASSIE shows? What kind of deadline does he have before he is forced to abort? What extraction plan is in place in case he runs into trouble? How often is he expected to check in? Have all the members of the RMR been identified and screened? It only takes one person to recognize him as Vin Tanner and he is a dead man. Just who in the hell is setting this up for him? Do we know?” Chris stopped ranting long enough to take a deep breath and Orrin jumped in.
“All good questions Chris, and unfortunately I do not have answers for all of them. You know what Tanner may be facing and I had to trust Vin that he knew too. He assured me that his contacts were reliable. Now that you are back in charge we may want to handle this differently. I know that you routinely handled this type of assignment in your Navy Seal days. The only requirements that I have is that at this point MCAT cannot be officially involved in anyway, and that I stay informed. I set it up that Kelli would give Tanner’s reports directly to me, if you decide to oversee this mission, she can report to you. If you are ready to step in, I’ll transfer controlling authority to you.”
“Damn right I’m gonna oversee it! “
“You might want to talk to Kelli before you start the inquisition on Buck. She will be back this afternoon and should have more information to add to what we already know.” Orrin stood up and shook Chris’s hand. “Welcome back. Do you want me to announce your return or handle it your way?”
“My way may work better.” Chris started to leave, but turned around. Thank you Orrin.” He then left the Director’s office and pulled out his cell phone as he walked across to the MCAT office.
“Max, I’ll pick Grace up after five, give her a hug for me, and tell her that daddy is going back to work.”
Rocky Meadows, Colorado
It was shortly after noon as Dusty Slater drove down the main street of the small town of Rocky Meadows. He had no problem finding ‘Bubba’s Bar and Grill’. It was the only business in town that had more than three cars parked in front of it. Dusty parked next to an old Ford pickup that had a back window covered in decals proclaiming the right to bear arms, membership in the NRA and a symbol he recognized as belonging to one of the white supremacy groups. He knew he was in the right place so he set his hat on his head, climbed out of his truck, and lazily made his way inside the bar.
He stood just inside the bar to allow his eyes to adjust to the dimly lit interior. The air was filled with a mixture of cigarette smoke, perspiration, warm beer, and fried onions. Immediately to his right was a row of pool tables with scratched surfaces and worn linings, there was a cluster of small circular tables with a few stools nestled in the corner. To his left was a small area in which a couple more of the small tables and stools were located, and on the chipped wall beyond them was a dartboard. Alongside the same wall was the bar, which he estimated to be about eight feet long. More stools were lined up beside it. Behind the bar was a large mirror covered with gilt, with rows of shelves on either side of it filled with an odd assortment of alcohol bottles in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors.
To the back of the room there were a couple of doors which he supposed were the supply closet, office, and restrooms. In the same area was a small dancing floor and a jukebox that looked as if it had just been plucked out of a junkyard. There were at least a half dozen or more patrons that were lined up at the bar, playing pool, dancing in the back to an old Kenny Rogers’s song or shooting the breeze. All movement seemed to have ratcheted to a stop the moment Dusty entered through the door because he suddenly found himself the center of attention. He did not let it faze him. He strolled confidently up to the bar and gruffly asked the bartender for a Budweiser.
The bartender slid the beer down the bar and Slater grabbed it without spilling a drop. “We don’t get many new faces around here. You lost or something, Cowboy?”
“Why? I got a sign on my forehead that says lost?” Dusty smirked.
“No, just asking. I like to know the people I serve in here; you see I’m kinda particular about the company I keep.”
“You ain’t alone on that.” Slater said, as he took another long swallow of his beer.
“You see, I’m Bubba Jones and I own this place. Like that sign says, ‘I reserve the right to refuse service to anyone’. More importantly, I’m not afraid to back it up. I only serve white bread, if you get my drift.”
Dusty pushed his hat back and looked the bartender in the eye. “Bubba, “he drained his beer. “On that we agree… seems to always be a coon or two that wants ta make like friends and yak at ya.”
Bubba smiled. “You've got trouble with coons too?”
“Ain't we all? They seem to be multiplyin' faster than jackrabbits. “
A few of the men at the bar burst out laughing. “Jungle bunnies are bound to do that. They'd be populating the whole damn country if it wasn't for folks like us doing something about it.” One of the men said. “You won’t have to worry about their kind around here.”
“That's for damn sure.” Bubba agreed. “We have to stand up against the tyranny of our government and let them know that we aren't going to just sit around and do nothing while they tear this great country down by allowing coons and greasers to overpopulate it, take our jobs away from us, infiltrate our race, and stomp on our rights.”
Slater nodded his head in agreement. “I heard tell that there was an openin’ fer an exterminator around these parts.”
A sudden tenseness filled the bar area in reaction to Dusty's words. Another man, one who had been following the conversation, but hadn't joined in, spoke up. “Where did you hear that?”
“Word gets around when ya got the right connections.” Slater said,” Was told that I needed to talk ta a man named Anson about the position.”
“That so huh, and who are these ‘right’ connections?
Slater cut his eyes to the man and drilled him with a steely blue glare. “That’s my damn business.”
“It was just a question.”
“I don't like folks meddlin' into my affairs.”
“It pays to know who you’re dealing with. You got a name, Cowboy?”
“Slater… Dusty Slater and judgin’ by the way these fellows are lookin’ at ya for direction. I reckon ya must be Anson.”
Anson Ricter had already heard about Dusty Slater. Word came up from Texas that the man was headed his way and looking for a place to light. He studied the man in front of him and then nodded. “I’ve heard about you. We should talk. Why don’t you step into my office? Bubba send us a couple more beers over.” Ricter turned to walk toward the back table, expecting Slater to follow him.
Dusty did not move immediately, he was aware that every man around the bar was waiting to see what he would do. There was not a one of them that dared to ignore Anson Ricter when he spoke, yet this Texan seemed unfazed by the ordered ‘invitation’ to join the man. Slater looked at Bubba. “I’ll take that beer; let the man know that if he wants ta talk to me, I’ll be over there till I finish it and then ‘m out of here.” Dusty threw some money on the bar, took the beer and ambled over to a table by the window. He sat down and stretched out in the chair that would put his back against the wall, so he could observe everyone in the room.
Bubba cleared his throat. “Anson, the cowboy…”
“I heard.” Ricter had stopped walking when Slater started talking. It rankled him that this man was challenging his authority in front of his friends, but Karl had been impressed by what he had read about this Slater fellow and insisted that they follow up with him. Anson did not want to have Karl Chambers breathing down his neck so he decided to bluff his way through this. He laughed. “Cowboy’s been here fifteen minutes and he has his own office.” He nodded to Bubba and changed direction.
Anson sat down in the chair opposite to Slater. “You seem to have a reputation that has preceded you. Tell me how much of it’s true.”
Dusty shook his head and smiled. “Hell, ya probably know more about me by now than I do, if ya have done yer homework right.”
“That may be, but we are a long way from making a decision. You need to answer a few questions; we have to complete a background check on your references, and then you will be expected to …”
Slater pushed his chair back and stood up. “Yer wastin’ my time Anson, I’ll be catchin’ up on my sleep at that motel right outside of town. Ya want me; I’ll be there ‘til noon tomorrow.” Dusty just nodded and then disappeared through the front door.
Ricter could not believe that the man walked out on him. Slater did not even ask for the job or try to sell himself with tales of his accomplishments. Damnit the man should have been full of questions like all the others that wanted in with the RMR. Instead he acted as if he didn’t care one way or another. Anson knew he would have to give a report to Chambers and even though he did not like this Dusty guy, he was certain that Karl would want to meet him.
Chris walked in the front door of the MCAT office and all activity ceased as he purposefully made his way through the bullpen to Gunny’s desk. He did not see Josiah or Nathan and he knew that JD was wherever CASSIE was. Buck and Ezra were not in sight either, but the other faces he recognized, and curtly nodded to as he walked through.
Standing directly in front of Ms. Montgomery he asked. “My office?”
Gunny grinned, stood up, and came around to the front of her desk, “This way sir.” She directed him through the door closest to her station into an office that was twice the size of the one he had occupied at the Federal building.
Larabee stood in the middle of the room and looked around. Everything seemed to be situated just as it would be if he had arranged it himself and the massive oak desk was one he would have chosen. It had felt like his office since the moment he had stepped inside. “You did well, Gunny.”
“Sir, I only took care of your files. Captain Tanner personally selected the furniture for you and ordered that it be grouped specifically this way. Your office was completed before his was sir. Sorry, I suppose I should say Captain Wilmington’s office, but I have not gotten used to Captain Tanner being gone.”
“It’s okay; change takes time to get used to. I want to see Captain Wilmington and Agent Standish ASAP. Send out an office memo notifying the team of the change in command, and schedule a team meeting for tomorrow morning at nine. I also want the latest medical reports on our injured team members and all pending personnel applications. Oh, and get me Sandoval’s records and have him in my office at three.”
“Yes sir, if you need anything else…”
“I remember." Chris grinned." Use the intercom.”
“Welcome back, sir.” Gunny left to carry out her orders while Chris tried out his new office chair. Checking the desk to familiarize himself with the locations of everyday items, he stopped when he slid out the middle drawer and he found an envelope with his name scrawled across the front of it. Recognizing the handwriting, he momentarily hesitated before opening it to silently read the enclosed letter. When he had finished he slipped it inside his jacket pocket and sighed deeply.
Damnit, Vin, we should have talked sooner. You always believed I would be back, even when I didn’t. I may be late coming around to what is important, but I promise, no more shutting you out. Now that I’m back I’m going to make certain that your ornery ass gets home in one piece. You have a family that needs you and a brother that wants you back in his life.
A short rap on the door as it opened announced the arrival of Buck and Ezra. Both men entered with solemn expressions on their faces and sat down quietly, expecting to face a raging black storm.
Chris gave each man an intense glare before he spoke. “Buck…my return has nothing to do with your leadership abilities. I am confident that you would handle MCAT with the same commitment you give to every other assignment that you have taken on, but it’s time for me to reclaim my command. I need MCAT and being around you guys probably more than you need me and now you are stuck with me.”
“I don’t mind at all Chris. Welcome back.” Buck was too emotional to say more.
“Indeed, your presence is most welcomed Commander and may I say well-timed.” Ezra stated, relieved that his brother had found his way back to them.
Larabee acknowledged their welcome with a nod and continued. “I understand why you could not tell me what was really going on here, but now that I know the truth about Vin’s whereabouts we have work to do. Travis has given me controlling authority over his mission, and the three of us are going to figure out a way to give that stubborn Texan some support and backup, whether he wants it or not.”
“Damn, it’s good to have you back at the helm again!” Buck grinned.” What do you need me to do?”
“You Buck, are going to catch me up on the last three months and bring me up to speed on the current status of MCAT. You have an hour to accomplish that.” Chris turned to Ezra. “Standish, I understand that Kel is Tanner’s contact and that you are her backup. I’ll talk to Kel, when I pick up Grace. In the meantime, I want a full report on Tanner’s current status and circumstances and I want it immediately. Then I want you to discretely rattle your own sources and find out who in the hell is helping him… and why. We won’t trust the safekeeping of Vin’s life to anyone, except us.
Ezra stood up to leave and smiled. “Consider it done.” Standish then left to make a few phone calls.
“Buck, let’s get started.”
Kelli had managed to stay busy since she had returned home and only thought about Vin a few dozen times…an hour. She was doubly surprised to find Max watching Grace, and to hear that Chris was back at work, but was pleased to hear that it had come about. She could not help but wish that he had come back sooner though, if he had, maybe Vin would still be here instead of out there alone. It was going to be a long night for her and even then she did not expect to hear from Vin until late tomorrow afternoon.
“Uncle Chris is here!” Jason yelled drawing his Mom’s attention.
Andi beat her brother to the door and giggled when Chris tickled her. “Hello munchkin, “he squeezed Jason’s shoulder, “Hey pard, how you doing?”
Jason shrugged. “Okay I reckon. Did you know that dad is gonna be gone for six whole weeks?”
“Yeah, I know, but we’re all going to get through it just fine.” Chris spoke to Jason, but he was looking at Kelli. “Your dad will be home before you know it.”
Max walked in to announce that dinner would be ready in fifteen minutes and to let Chris know that Grace was asleep.
“Thanks Max, I’ll let her sleep a little longer. I need to speak with Kel for a few minutes.”
“Jason, Andi, you two go wash up for dinner, okay?” Kelli smiled when she saw Jason leading Andi by the hand to go and do just that.
“I’ll go check on dinner.” Max excused herself.
Larabee wasted no time. “Kelli, we need to talk.”
Kelli nodded. “I heard that you’re back with MCAT, ‘m glad.”
“It’s good to be back, but that’s not what I wanted to talk about. I need to know everything you know about Vin’s mission. Travis gave me the authority to oversee it and I plan on him coming home safe and sound.” Chris pulled the letter out of his pocket. I also need to know if you knew about this.” He handed it to her to read.
“I don’t need to read it; I was there when he wrote it.” Kelli stalled, trying to decide how much to say.” It’s a resignation Chris, plain and simple.”
“I know that and there is nothing simple about it. What I don’t know is why.”
“Vin gave it a lot of serious thought. He believes that it will be best for everyone and that it’s time for him to move on to somethin’ else.”
“That’s bull Kelli and you know it. This is written more like a …he doesn’t think that he’s coming back from this assignment does he?
Sighing deeply, Kelli began to explain. “We both knew goin’ in that there is that possibility; he figures his chances of makin' it out are about fifty-fifty. He just wanted to make sure that you had your command back without anyone questionin’ if he planned to return to MCAT to challenge you for it, and that you…” Kelli choked up. “That you knew that he had no hard feelings about anythin’ that happened in California. You are his brother by choice, and he loves you Chris, it was important to him that you know that in case…”
“Don’t even think it! Vin Tanner is going to make it out of this alive and well! I intend to see to that and make certain that he returns to you and the kids. Then I’m gonna kick his ass for even thinking that he could leave MCAT. You can also count on the fact that one way or another he and I will work out our personal problems if we have to beat the shit out of each other to do it.”
Kelli only nodded and then went over to her bag to retrieve the paperwork on Dusty Slater. “This is what I have, I was gonna give it to Travis in the mornin’; but…” She handed the papers to Chris. “Vin should call me before six tomorrow evenin’ and he’ll let me know then when his next contact will be. I only know his former associate by the name Raven, and he is to send me any information that he thinks should be passed on to Vin”
“How are they to contact you?”
Patting the cell phone attached to her belt Kelli explained. “This cell is clean and untraceable, it’s the same as the one Vin has and he is the only one that will be callin’ me on it. Raven will only make contact if absolutely necessary and through e-mail. Vin has some kind of cyber block software on his computer that will decipher encrypted messages for him, so it will be a secure contact. There is also a safe house available if Tanner runs into trouble, and… has an opportunity to get there. The rest of what you need is in that paperwork.”
“We’ll make it work Kel.”
“Yeah,” she took a deep breath. “You want to join us for dinner?”
“I’ll take a rain check on dinner, though. Grace and I should be leaving.” Chris went in and picked Grace up from the port-a-crib and then returned to the kitchen area. “We’ll see you in the morning Max. Kel, you call if you need anything.” He then headed home. It was time to tell Linda about his return to work.
Linda was waiting to confront Chris when he walked in the door. “Just where in the hell have you two been all day?”
Rocky Meadows, Colorado ~November 3rd ~8:00 am
Dusty Slater was bored to tears. Sitting around a damn motel room with nothing to do, and the farm channel the only thing available on television until afternoon was not his idea of fun. He had been awake since five, walked two blocks to get breakfast and had finished with it over an hour ago. Reviewing mentally what he knew, and had learned from his hours on the Internet, about groups akin to the RMR helped him to pass the time.
Domestic Terrorists… militias and white supremacist organizations… They’re all very well organized, and they're very smart… They understand criminal conspiracy laws … They understand the First Amendment... And they take advantage of those laws in training their operatives to go out and do these activities. The leadership is careful about separating themselves from the actual criminal conspiracy, but they do set the motives.
SPIKE training programs (Specially Prepared Individuals for Key Events) involves such topics as lock-picking, counter-intelligence maneuvers, cryptography, and weapons. These trainings are designed to enable participants to create so-called “Christian Covenant Communities.” They are essentially self-sufficient, paramilitary enclaves within which patriots can enact their own laws and dispense their own brand of justice, separate from what they believe to be illegally constituted authority…extreme hatred of the Federal government…Militias advocate preserving gun rights and other individual freedoms, and armed resistance to what they see as government infringement upon those rights…
Violence motivated by bigotry, hatred, or bias. The Extreme Right in the United States is comprised of groups that overtly promoted White supremacy and anti-Semitism along with forms of heterosexual patriarchy. The White supremacy of the Extreme Right is rooted in pseudo-scientific theories of the biological superiority of the White “race.”…a mixture of armed groups and people who hate is a recipe for disaster…
A loud pounding on the door to his room drew Dusty from his mental review. Reaching for his weapon he walked over to the door, “What?”
“Open up Slater, my superior wants to meet you.” Anson Ricter waited for a response.
The door to Dusty’s room opened. “Where and when?”
“Now… at Bubba’s, and you can ride with me…”
“I don’t need no damn babysitter.” The door closed abruptly and left Anson standing out in the cold; cursing the man he was beginning to dislike intensely. Ricter turned and went back to his truck, angrily muttering something about damn Texans.
Bubba’s Bar and Grill~8:30am
Slater took his time getting to the bar and although the sign said closed; the front door was not locked. He opened the door, walked in, and stopped by the entrance long enough for his eyes to adjust to the dim light, before proceeding. It may be early morning and Bubba’s was closed to the public, but there were several men sitting inside. One older man however, sat alone at a table by the window. Even if he had not seen the picture of the leader of the RMR, Slater knew instinctively that this man was Karl Chambers.
Ignoring the rest of the men, Dusty walked over, pulled out a chair and sat down opposite Chambers. “You wanted ta see me…here I am.”
Karl Chambers considered himself a good judge of men, but he had not survived all these years in the resistance by taking anyone at face value. He had done an extensive background check on the man sitting in front of him and he already knew that Dusty Slater was a man that had made a few mistakes. He also knew that he had learned from those mistakes and was now reputed to be a dangerous sonofabitch. Slater was experienced with resistance work, known by reputation to most supremacy groups, skilled with a rifle as well as in martial arts, and he was wanted for questioning concerning the death of a black in Texas. The man needed a place to lay low for a while, and he appeared to be the man Chambers needed for what he had planned.
“It seems that you have made quite a reputation for yourself.” Chambers said at last, as he gazed across the table at Slater.
Dusty shrugged his shoulders. “That so?”
“You come highly recommended.”
Another shrug, “Job needs doin’...I do it.”
“I do have a question, why the gloves?” Anson had mentioned that the man never removed his gloves.
Chambers laughed. “You ever train a bunch of green recruits?”
“That's two questions.”
“So it is.” Chambers remarked.” Indulge me, then, with an answer.”
“I can train anyone, providin' they’re trainable.”
Chambers carefully considered his next words before speaking. “I suppose you’ll have to find that out for yourself. I have enough recruits, what I need is a man that can turn them into reliable soldiers.”
“I reckon you just found one”
“Be at the compound at six in the morning, and plan to work them six hours a day, every day for the next two weeks. You will of course have to find a legitimate job here in town as a cover for you being in Rocky Meadows. Talk to Bubba about part-time work, and then Anson will give you directions to our training grounds.” Chambers stood up.” I’ll see you in the morning.” Karl nodded to Anson on his way out the door.
Dusty didn't rise from his chair right away, giving Chambers's words some thought. Then he rose from his chair and moved over to the bar. “Ya heard the man. He wants me ta work here part-time, but I'll tell ya now that I won't be no slave ta ya or anyone else.”
Bubba grinned, “Stockroom, four to eight. Nine bucks an hour and you can start Monday.”
Slater nodded and then held out his hand palm up to Anson. “Directions?”
Anson did not approve of this turn of events, but he had no choice but to follow Chambers’s instructions. Without a word he slapped a piece of paper in Slater’s hand. Dusty glanced at the note, stuck it in his pocket and with only a slight nod of his head to the men at the bar, he walked out the door.
MCAT office ~8:45am
Chris had come into the office early because he needed a quiet place to think. Linda had been in fine form when he got home last night and she did not stop waging her battle to change his mind about working until well after midnight. She had yelled, threatened and cried with her attempts to make him quit. In the end he had to compromise and promise to hire Linda a full-time housekeeper, but Grace would be staying with Max during the day and that was what was important to Larabee.
After Linda had stormed off to their bedroom for the night he was finally able to sit down and read the file on Dusty Slater. There were some similarities between Dusty Slater and Vin Tanner. The obvious being the physical attributes, his record as a Ranger, and the fact that he was a weapons expert and skilled in various martial arts forms. That was where the similarities ended. Dusty Slater was a nasty piece of work. He was a man who you would never allow at your back, because it was a certainty that you would have a knife in it as soon as you did. Involved with all kinds of sordid activities within the KKK, and white supremacy organizations, he was even wanted for questioning in the death of two black men in Texas. By the time that he had finished reading the file, there was a bad taste in Larabee's mouth, and a knot in his stomach the size of Texas itself. Dusty Slater was the sort of man that committed the types of injustices that Vin Tanner had fought against most of his life. Chris knew that it was going to be difficult for Vin to mentally keep up that pretense for long.
The intercom on his desk beeped and Gunny’s voice announce that Agent Jackson was waiting to see him.
“Send him in Gunny, and ask Dunne to step in here for a minute.” Chris wrote the name Dusty Slater on a piece of paper and marked it ‘confidential, for my eyes only’.
Nathan walked in. “Chris it’s great to see you behind that desk again.” Jackson sat down in the chair opposite Larabee.
“Thanks Nate, although for a while yesterday I thought all of you were going to try to chain me to my desk so I wouldn’t disappear.” Chris grinned. “So, I know you’re not here to welcome me back again. We have a few minutes before the team meeting so...What’s on your mind?”
JD knocked and entered before Nathan had an opportunity to answer.
“Hang on Nate.” Chris gave JD the note he had written. “I need a detailed and deep background check on this name ASAP”
Dunne saw the notation that Chris had made. “No problem, I’ll get right on it.” He nodded and smiled Nathan’s way and then headed back to CASSIE to begin his search.
“Sorry for the interruption, go on.” Larabee watched as Nathan collected his thoughts.
“Chris, I want you to reconsider our involvement into the investigation of the RMR. I know Vin was dead set against it and talked Travis into backing out, but considering what those bastards did to Paul, this is something MCAT should handle not the FBI.”
Larabee had read the reports and he remembered how devastated Buck, Vin and Nathan had been about what had happened to Paul. Hell, the entire unit and Travis had been outraged as well. Chris measured his words carefully to respond. “First of all, we have no proof that it was the RMR responsible for the attacks on you and Paul. Second, look around you Nathan, this unit is just now getting back on its feet after the damage that Donner threw our way. We still don’t have the entire team healthy and back at work. MCAT is in no position to take on this type of investigation yet. Third, it was Travis that made the call to pull us out, not Vin.”
“That is all bull! We’ve taken on more criminals with fewer agents than we have now many times, and we never backed down! You and everyone else know that it was the RMR that ordered the attacks on Paul and me. I also know that if Vin had stood up to Travis we would have this investigation. Instead he had no interest to take on racism and the hate crimes that it leads to. He either let his personal agenda influence his decision or worse yet he just didn’t give a damn! The only thing Tanner was thinking about was his future, hell, he didn’t even stay around to wait for you to come back before he deserted the team.”
It took all Chris’s self-control not to blast Nathan for his outrageous accusations. He answered in a soft, but firm voice.” I agree with the decision that was made.”
Nathan huffed. “I should have known. Some things never change.” Jackson stood up. “I can’t let this go Chris. If I have to fight alone, so be it, but I will not stand by and do nothing while those racist bastards try to control my life.”
“You have your orders Nathan; make certain that your activities stay within them.” Larabee watched Jackson leave without a word and then tried to relax his tense muscles. He had a feeling that he had not heard the last of this subject.
Chris had been listening to Ezra’s report his findings, and his words had done nothing to eliminate the knot in his stomach. If anything it only made it worse to hear about Karl Chambers and Anson Ricter. The RMR was a dangerous group of radical militants and now Vin was sitting smack-dab in the middle of them.
Buck had been listening too. He could not help but react when Standish began to list the things that Chambers and Ricter were suspected of being responsible for. “Damn, do you think Vin knew all this before he went in?
“I think he knew most of it Buck and that’s why he went in alone.” Chris was certain that Tanner had known. “These men would not think twice about killing Rain or Terrell to get to Nathan. Plus you can damn well bet they would have come after MCAT.”
Ezra agreed.” The biggest problem is that groups akin to the RMR have sympathizers in positions that we would never suspect. Certain members of law enforcement, judges, public officials, and a multitude of others, all secretly aiding the ‘cause’, either by donating funds or passing along information.
“Closet bigots,” Buck snorted with disgust.
“Regrettably yes, Ezra sighed. “The good news though, is that according to what Kelli provided us and JD’s search results; Dusty Slater does have a rock-solid cover. There is no reason for anyone to connect Slater to our Vin. The bad news is I have thus far been unsuccessful in ascertaining the identity of the source that is aiding Mr. Tanner.”
“We are going to have to depend on Vin to get us a layout of the RMR compound too. As soon as he does we will put together an extraction plan. Hopefully we won’t need one, but we’ll be prepared if we do.” Chris affirmed.
“What do we do in the meantime?” Buck questioned.
“Trust Tanner to communicate with us, and… pray,” Chris replied. He realized that Vin had trusted him to do the same thing when he was under as Adam Carmichael, and he had betrayed that trust. How could you have put him in that position Chris?
Southern Breeze Ranch
“Life is just not fair!” Finally she was getting some of what she wanted. A husband that was sexy as hell that supposedly loved her, a fulltime housekeeper, someone to keep Grace during the day until Chris was home to take over and she had free reign to spend her own money on the things she wanted. She could practically feel and taste the freedom she had been denied for so long. Liberation at last! Now…that would all disappear…again. Damn, damn, damn!”
Linda paced angrily in front of the massive fireplace in Matt’s den. She could not believe how fast all her plans were falling apart. Chris had gone back to work without even discussing it with her. The rift between him and most of his family was closing fast and it was only a matter of time now before he and Kelli were talking again. Hell, before long he and Vin would be back to their silent communicating and she would be pushed even further back in his thoughts than she was now. She had already been replaced as the working manager of Larabee 7 when Chris hired a new trainer to handle the work with the horses that she had been doing. Admittedly she had not done it in a while, but damnit, he should have talked to her about it.
“You do know that this is not the end of the world don’t you? You should be happy and counting your blessings instead of railing at the universe about life being unfair.” Matt found Linda’s tirade amusing.
“What the hell do you know about it? I loved my father, but in all the years that he was ill and I cared for him, not one of my loving brothers ever offered to spell me, even for a weekend. That was okay though because I knew that someday I would have my own life again, my own home, my own husband, and we would be able to do all the things I had to miss out on when dad was sick. Well, I got Sarah Larabee’s home, a husband that I have to share with half the world and a child that demands what little bit of free time I might find for myself. Now when I am on the verge of changing all that and actually getting what I want…one phone call slams the door shut on me and you say I should be happy!”
“Linda, you should see this as a gift, not as a life sentence to prison.”
“A gift, Matt? Having my husband drop everything and fly me to Paris for a romantic holiday as a surprise is a gift. Finding out that I’m pregnant again is the same as being sentenced to life in prison!”
“You didn’t get pregnant by yourself. Talk to Chris, I’m sure you two can work things out.”
“There is nothing to work out Matt. With Grace I was thrilled because I thought that when I gave Chris a child he would be more loving to me. It did not work out that way; I ended up alone having to take care of her while he did what he wanted. Face it; I am just not cut out to be mother material. I do not want another baby, but I’m the one that has to be miserable for the next several months anyway. If Chris wants another child then he can damn well quit his job, stay at home, and take care of it himself. I refuse to give up my freedom for a man that obviously does not give a damn about what I want.”
“When are you going to tell Chris?”
“I’ll tell him when I get good and ready to and it will be when it’s best for me, not him.”
Matt loved his sister, but he found himself sympathizing with his brother-in-law right about now. Linda loved new ideas and situations, her stint at the police academy, her five months of sky diving, her rounds at all the horse shows as an exhibitor, and so on. The problem was she always became bored quickly and was off to find another adventure, Then she was grounded, so to speak, when their dad became ill, and she was forced to stay doing one thing for several years. It saddened him as her brother to think that she was already tired of motherhood, but it did not surprise him. Even on her best behavior, Linda could be a challenge to handle, but an unhappy Linda could be a real test of fortitude.
Larabee 7 ~ 5:15pm
Kelli was sitting on the living room floor playing a board game with Jason and Andi to take her mind off the phone call she had not received yet. The kid’s laughter did make it easier, but she worried all the same. Grace was in her carrier sitting next to them and even though she had no idea what these other little people were doing she seemed to be enjoying the show.
Max let Chris in through the back door and when he heard the children laughing and giggling, he had to smile. This was what he wanted to hear in his home when he walked in every evening. He followed the sounds of the children’s voices to the living room and found toys and games spread across the floor. In the middle of all of it was a wide-awake Grace apparently attempting, as much as a five-month-old was capable of, to join in the fun.
“Wanna play, Uncle Chris?” Jason grinned. As he moved his playing piece two spaces.
“You play, too? “Andi gave him the big eyes look that always melted his heart.
“You two appear to be winning, How about you keep playing and let me talk to your Mom for a couple of minutes?” Two little heads nodded and he said hello to Grace while Kelli handed over the ‘bank’ of play money to Jason.
“I’ll be with you in a minute Chris, I need to get somethin’.” Kelli disappeared, but was back in a few minutes carrying a fair sized box. She motioned for him to move to the other side of the room so the children would not be able to hear their conversation.
“What’s in the box?
Kelli handed it to Chris. When he opened it, he immediately recognized the jewelry pieces that Linda had given to Kelli. “This was a gift to you.”
“One that I never felt right about takin’ in the first place,” Kelli tried to explain. “Those heirlooms should belong to Grace, not me. And quite honestly even if they were the type of jewelry I was accustomed to, I wouldn’t want ‘em. Linda and I are not on close terms anymore and I don’t see that changin’ …Please take ‘em, and put ‘em up for my sister. If it makes it easier, then call it my gift to her.”
Chris wanted to ask Kelli to enlighten him about her obvious riff with Linda, but after watching her expression he decided that it could wait until a better time. “Okay, but we will talk more about this down the line.” He did not miss the show of relief that crossed his daughter’s face. “Now tell me, have you heard from Vin?”
“Not yet, he said he would call before six, so he still has thirty…well twenty-five minutes. He will call.” Kelli said firmly.
“I know. I was hoping however that he would get through while I was here. I wanted to talk to him.” Chris quickly explained when he saw Kelli raise an eyebrow." I only want him to know that we are working on a few things that may help him.”
“It shouldn’t be much longer; you’re welcome to wait with us.”
“Thanks, I think I will.” Chris moved back over to sit on the floor by Grace and the other kids, so Kelli could have a few minutes of privacy when Vin did call.
Ten minutes later the cell phone did ring and Kelli answered it immediately. After a few minutes she came over to let the kids talk to their dad and the game was history. Tanner spoke to Jason and Andi and then she handed the phone to Chris.
“I still want my time, Larabee and I already told him that you were back at work.” She hustled the excited kids off to wash up for dinner and picked up the toys while Chris talked to Vin.
“Tell me where we are.” Chris listened as Tanner told him about the training he was to give and the two week window before whatever they were planning went down. Plus detailed descriptions of the men he saw in the bar. Larabee wrote on the pad that Kelli had slipped to him and easily fell into a familiar working pattern with Vin. This was something they had done for years and it was second nature for them. Personal discussions would come later after Tanner was home again. But for now Chris felt damn good that they at least were working this mission with both of them on the same wavelength for the first time in months.
They talked for fifteen minutes, made contingency plans, and agreed to a schedule for contact. Chris handed the phone to Kelli and then took Grace with him to join the kids in the kitchen while she and Vin talked. Twenty minutes later with her face freshly scrubbed, she joined them.
Rocky Meadows, Colorado
Vin Tanner stared at the phone that was his lifeline to home and took a deep breath. As long as he could talk to Kelli and the kids he could keep the Tanner part of him grounded when the Dusty part threatened to overwhelm him. He had never worked with a partner long distance before, but it was better than not having one at all. He was pleased to hear that Chris was back and that he sounded confident again. Knowing that Larabee had his back did make him feel better and he figured that the odds of him making it out of this place alive had just increased dramatically in his favor.
Journal Entry-November 3-Reclamation
I am sitting here alone and it is close to midnight. Linda was in a strange mood this evening, she never mentioned the fight we had last night and turned in early for the night. It was unsettling because I have a gut feeling that I have not heard the last of it about my going back to work. Sooner or later, though, she is going to have to explain why she and Kelli are on the outs, too.
Travis did listen to what I had to say and took to heart the recommendation letters I gave him. He deferred the rest of my suspension and I now have my command back, but not my entire unit. I still have a few agents out due to injuries, and I have a missing Captain. Tanner is out there in the middle of a potentially explosive situation with no one to cover his ass if he runs into trouble. Correct that… with Vin it is not if he runs into trouble, but when trouble finds him. Orrin gave me full control over this covert mission and I plan to get that smart-ass Texan home. I was able to talk to him tonight and made certain that he understood that anything less than his safe return was NOT optional.
I have to admit that it felt good to talk to him again. I know that there is a long road ahead of us in getting back to the closeness we once had, but I’m no longer doubtful that we can reclaim the friendship my actions nearly destroyed. It is even more imperative now to make sure that Tanner returns home safe and sound to the wife, children, and family that loves him. I’ll be looking out for them for him while he’s gone, but it will not be a hardship for me, in fact I plan to enjoy it. At least my eldest daughter is talking to me again.
I know I will still face some challenges with my recovery; however for the first time in a long time I can truthfully say that I feel self-assured again. Still there are a few things missing to make my life complete. Only when Vin is home again, and the entire family is back on an even kilter with one another, will I feel that everything is fully alright again in my world.
Rocky Meadows, Colorado
November 4th~ 5:30am
The RMR compound was nestled down amid a hundred acre parcel of fenced-in land located 9.2 miles west of the city limit sign of Rocky Meadows. It was set up to resemble a small village from mid-evil times that sprawled out around the castles of old. Instead of a clay and mortar structure, the main building was a massive two-story log cabin that housed offices, a medicinal facility, classrooms, and a communal dining area. Married men lived with their families in cottages that were dotted across the acreage that led up to the main building. Most of the members were married, and the few that were not, were required to find lodging in town.
Not visible to the casual observer, underground storage areas and tunnels that crisscrossed the property served a dual purpose. Enough provisions and ammunition were stored beneath the main building to sustain them for months in the event that they were held under siege and cut off from normal supplies. As a last resort, escape routes were in place that led into the mountains where caches of food and water were hidden, along with cash and new identifications.
Karl Chambers and Anson Ricter stood on the training ground that had been set aside for preparing their soldiers for the war they were continuously waging to carry the message of their cause. Their enemies were the government, whose authority their movement did not recognize and all the non Aryan people that sat back and allowed this country to be taken over by inferior blood.
“Are you certain that this Slater is the right man for us to allow in, Karl?
Chambers shrugged a shoulder. “He checks out as the real deal. We’ll see how he handles this group of new recruits. If he is the badass he supposed to be we’ll see soon enough.”
“What if he’s not?”
“Then you can kill him.”
Dusty arrived early to the RMR training grounds, but Chambers and Ricter were already there. Yesterday afternoon he had used the directions that Anson had given him and scoped out the area. Unseen, he had observed the comings and goings for hours and committed the terrain to memory. He was satisfied that he could now find his way around there blindfolded if necessary.
Approaching the leader of the movement Dusty thought about how different Chambers was from Chris Larabee. Chambers ordered all the dirty work to be done, but kept his own hands clean. Chris never asked his men to do anything he was not willing to do. Men followed Chris because they respected him. These RMR members followed Chambers because they feared him.
Not me, you sonofabitch. I plan to take you down with the rest of these lunatics.
“Mornin’,” Dusty nodded at Chambers and ignored Ricter. He already knew that the man did not like him and that was fine by him. Karl was the one that had kept the resistance alive in these men and he had a long reach with his established contacts. Anson was a wannabe leader; he thought he was smarter and tougher than Chambers, but Dusty was certain that Ricter wouldn’t last a week before he was challenged, if he were put in charge. Karl Chambers was the madman behind the RMR, and once he was convicted for his evil work in a court of law, and put behind bars the RMR would fall apart. Until that happened though, his influence within the movement should not be underestimated or ignored. Chambers may appear easy-going, but was a dangerous man and it would take permanent imprisonment to strip him of his power.
“Did you get situated in town, Slater?” Karl watched the younger man as he prepared for the training with warm-up stretches.
“Do you ever answer a question with more than one or two words?” Anson huffed. “The man wants to know details!”
Dusty stopped his stretches and shot a glare at Anson before he looked over to Karl. “Start work Monday at four, Bubba offered me a room in back of the bar, moved in yesterday.”
Karl was amused by the exchange between his second in command and this newcomer. “Bubba’s a good man.” Chambers nodded to the men approaching. “Here come your greenhorns. They’re eager, and think that they know it all.”
Dusty sighed, “They always do.”
“Men I'd like you to meet Dusty Slater...he'll be in charge of training you in hand to hand combat and weapons.” Chambers introduced the new man to the group.
“He sure doesn't look like much.” One of the recruits said to another, in a voice that was meant for both Chambers and Slater to hear. “I bet I could take him.”
A slow predatory grin spread across Dusty's face in reaction to the men's response to Chambers's introducing him to them. “Want ta give it a try?'
The young man with the big mouth grinned back at him and moved forward. “What kind of fighting are you…”He never finished his question. Dusty had the young man sprawled out on the ground with one deliberate movement of his leg knocking the young man off his feet and was prepared to attack him, almost before the words were out of his mouth.
“Rule number one. Expect the unexpected.” Dusty slowly took off his jacket and weapons and dropped them into a pile beside him. “Next?”
“Hey! That wasn’t fair. He wasn’t ready!” A blond kid about eighteen-years-old yelled. “But, I know now what to watch for.” He cautiously moved forward.
Dusty watched the boy approach, studying his movements, and waited for the teenager to get within reach, before he swept the kid's legs out from under him. “Obviously ya weren't payin' attention the first time I spoke.”
He turned to the others and asked, “Anyone else?”
Anson had stood in the back with the more experienced soldiers and smiled at the men surrounding him that he had previously trained. “Think it’s time I showed this boy how it’s done.”
Slater knew that Anson would not be able to resist showing off and mentally prepared himself for a little pain. “Bring it on Ricter.”
“My pleasure,” Ricter replied stepping forward.
His movements were experienced as he advanced toward Slater, alerting Dusty to the fact that the man had martial arts knowledge. What kind was yet to be seen. A lot of the earlier stances in most forms were similar to the one he was demonstrating now. As soon as he stepped back into his first move, Slater went into action. He went into a whirlwind of roundhouse kicks and punches combination that kept Ricter on his toes defending himself. The man squeezed in a few punch and jab combos that Dusty had to work to block, and felt one of the punches connect with his jaw. The hit stung, but it did not distract him from defending himself. As he tasted the coppery tang of blood in his mouth, he set himself into another series of movements that allowed him to get a couple of really good shots in at Ricter.
Ricter glared at him, his face flushing with heat that indicated his anger at Slater, but Dusty only smiled back at him. One of the first rules of martial arts, or street fighting was not to allow yourself to get angry or flustered, because it distracted you and made you careless. It also gave your opponent an advantage over you. Obviously Ricter hadn't paid close enough attention in class, because as he lunged forward Slater used his momentum to his own advantage. He reached out and grasped the elbow of the arm nearest to him, while at the same time he used his right foot to tuck itself under Ricter's knees, buckling them.
Dusty twisted to the side, bringing the arm that he held up at a jagged angle, and was prepared to pop the elbow out of place when a voice yelled. “Stop!”
Karl Chambers was impressed with what he was witnessing, but he felt that his man needed a rescue before he ended up wearing a sling for the next two weeks. He stepped up to the two men.” I think you have proven your point Slater. I am certain that these young men will be paying attention to whatever you plan to teach them.”
Slater released his hold on Anson and then waited to make sure that Ricter was listening to his leader. He watched as Anson walked off without saying a word. Satisfied that the fight was over, Dusty nodded to Chambers and then turned to the young men that were still slightly shocked by what they had seen. “Let’s start with somethin’ easy.”
For the next two hours Dusty worked the young men in pairs and taught them how to take advantage in a street fight. They learned that the second rule was that there are no rules. If you wanted to win against a savage attacker, you had best be willing to fight dirty, and you had best be ready to do so immediately.
The last three hours were spent on the gun range where the targets were cut outs of black men. Dusty saw each recruit in action, and knew that none of them were anywhere near the skill level that Chambers wanted. He also made certain that his own skills were not put on display. That was a card he was not ready to play…yet. When he finished, Chambers was waiting for him.
“Let’s walk.” Chambers wanted to talk to Dusty away from the rest of the group. “Anson is a hothead, but he is dependable. Try not to put him out of commission for a while. I need him healthy for the next few weeks.”
Dusty grinned as he walked beside Chambers. “That’s up to him, but I’ll try not ta break him ‘til yer done with him.”
“Fair enough, but he doesn’t trust you, you know.”
“He shouldn’t. Trust will get ya killed in this war.”
“Are you saying that I shouldn’t trust you either?” Karl waited for Dusty’s answer.
“I’m sayin, that if ya want a job done, ‘m yer man. But if yer lookin’ fer a faithful lap dawg, find someone else.”
Karl nodded, that was the type of answer he was looking for. He did not stay in command of the RMR by making friends and trusting anyone. Slater was a man that understood that to win this war you had to have men that were willing to break the rules and get the job done, regardless of the consequences. “I think you’ll do for what I need.” They had walked back to the compound and Chambers told Dusty to follow him to his office.
Dusty walked behind Chambers. Karl was in his mid-fifties, six feet tall, and in excellent physical condition for a man of his age. The only sign of his aging were streaks of grey hair at his temples. Walking into Chambers’s office, Slater immediately took note of a large project board like the one MCAT kept in the war room. He took in as much as he could see of it before Karl blocked his view, and flipped the board over.
“Sit down Slater.” Chambers sat in his big leather chair and once Dusty was sitting opposite him he began to explain a few things. “We have two weeks to get those new boys in shape. Some of my associates have already begun a hate crime wave across Colorado and we will be joining them soon. In the meantime you should know that I fully expect the feds to be poking around Rocky Meadows, and I plan to let them snoop, within reason. While we are preparing for our part of this battle we have a few loose ends to snip off.”
Slater shifted uncomfortably. “In my experience, a snoopin’ Fed usually means trouble.”
“Don’t worry; they won’t be looking for you.” He stood again and flipped the board back to its original position pointing to a row of photos.” We have two feds that need …to be erased. Anson is taking care of it, but I expect we will be looked over when it happens. They usually come around anytime something happens to one of their precious bull dogs. We can handle the Feds, but what I need from you is to make certain that our boys are prepared to create some hell in the next few weeks. Can you have them ready to do that?
Dusty masked his reaction when he saw the pictures on the board that Chambers had previously blocked. Nathan and Paul’s faces were there with a big red X covering them He knew that the X meant that both men had been marked for execution. Any doubts that he may have had about the RMR being involved in their attacks were gone. He moved his mind away from the faces of his fellow agents and back to Chambers’s question.
“I can have ‘em ready ta jump off the Empire State Buildin’ if ya want.”
“That won’t be necessary, but I do want them to be prepared to terrorize a few niggers.”
“Ya got it.”
“Keep the same schedule we had today. After noon each day, you head back into town and do some respectable work at Bubba’s. The closer we get to the time the mission is to commence, the more specifics I’ll give you” Karl stood. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
Dusty knew that he had been dismissed and took his time exiting the compound. It seemed that his schedule was to be a repeat of today for the immediate future. When he started work Monday at Bubba’s, he was hopeful that he would be able to pick up additional tidbits of information in the bar. Most of the members heeded the directive to keep their mouths shut about RMR activities, but after a few drinks, even the most disciplined men tended to brag. Ricter was the man that concerned him the most. Anson may be an ass, but Dusty knew that he could be a deadly ass and the sooner he could get word back to Denver about the hit that was ordered for Nathan and Paul, the better he would feel.
Nathan paced and ranted while Rain sat quietly on their couch. He was damn tired of no one listening to him and dismissing his warnings. Waving the ominous letter they had received in the mail today through the air, he cursed.
“Damnit I told Vin, then Buck, and finally Chris. We should be investigating these bastards! You’d think that after what happened to Paul and me that I would not have to beg for them to pay attention to what is going on in our own back yard! Now the sonsofbitches are threatening us openly!”
“Honey, no one denied that these men were dangerous. In fact I believe that is what Vin said when he insisted that we go into protective custody.” Rain tried to get Nathan to see reason. “Buck and Chris both explained why MCAT was not taking the investigation on, and even you have to admit that it makes sense. The last few months have been hard on everyone and you don’t even have all of your agents back yet. Why deliberately make yourselves a target for this hatred if the FBI can handle it?”
Nathan quit pacing. “That’s just it Rain, I haven’t been able to find one source at the FBI that knows anything about this investigation. My own sources tell me that The RMR is gearing up for something, but they’re not sure what. I guarantee though that I will be finding out. Chris may not want to take this on, and Vin has deserted us, but I’ll find enough proof that will damn sure get somebody’s attention.”
“Are you positive this is the right way to go about this?”
“Rain, this letter makes it damn plain that those racists have no intention of letting this go. I have no other choice.”
Larabee 7 ~ 4:00pm ~Chris’s home
Chris was tired of arguing with Linda; it seemed that all they did lately was disagree with one another. Grace was with Max this afternoon because Linda had a headache and did not want to hear her cry. They had been arguing about Linda taking her over there while he had gone to the feed store for the last hour. His wife had now quit talking about Grace, and was using their disagreement as an excuse to point out all the things he was doing wrong in her opinion. Chris had tuned out her ridiculous rant, and he thought back to a conversation they had not long after they had become lovers.
“I had already been in college, law, can you believe it? I thought it would be a great career; I got these dreams about courtroom dramas like in the movies. Turned out things were quite boring, and finally I didn't even finish. I hung around at the ranch after that, but there is nothing like a father and four brothers trying to protect you as their little one, to get your hair standing up! At least, for me there isn't. I felt smothered and the police academy, well, I guess a lot of my desire to go there was rebellion against all those protective men. Choosing a dangerous job was just the thing to do!”
“And now you're right back in the arms of an older man who wants to do just the same! Protect you in every way.”
She told you then Chris that she was spoiled, bored easily, and wanted adventure, but you were too wrapped up in lust to really hear what she was saying.
“You’re not listening to a word I have to say Chris! We have some serious problems and I damn well think we both should be talking here, not just me!” Linda stomped her foot to emphasize her point.
“I am not quitting my job, and I am not moving off the Larabee 7.” Chris sighed wearily. “Linda, you knew when you married me what I did for a living, and what this ranch means to me. You also knew about the Wild Bunch and my brothers. What makes you believe that because I am not willing to write off that part of my life that it has anything to do with how I feel about you?”
“It has everything to do with me Larabee. If you love me, what I wanted would be the most important thing in the world to you.” Linda decided that it was time to play her ace. “It’s decision time for you Chris. We are having another child and I promise you, either I come first as your wife and the mother of your children or you will regret the day you ever crossed this Dubois woman. “
Chris was stunned. “What did you say about another child?”
“It’s not difficult to understand Cowboy. I’m pregnant again and you might as well know that I am not happy about it. I expect no arguments about hiring all the help I will need in addition to the housekeeper we already agreed on. Besides, I do not like the idea of Max keeping Grace at the Tanner’s. If she cannot be here exclusively for our daughter then we need a new caretaker anyway. We will have a full-time live in Nanny for Grace and this baby or you can quit work to stay home and do it yourself. I want a new home built on our own property, so if we have to buy out the rest of the family’s share of Larabee 7, we will do it. I also want you here at regular hours, no more late nights or days working on a case where you don’t even make it home. If I am going to be pregnant and miserable then you can be miserable right along with me!”
“Linda, you are being unreasonable…”
“No, I am standing up for myself for a change. I will have this child Chris, but if you don’t meet my demands by the time it’s born, then you can damn well raise your children on your own because I will not be here!”
“Damnit Linda!” Chris felt his blood pressure rising. “Being married works two ways, when are you going to start being a loving wife and mother?” You cannot use our children to blackmail me into doing what you want!”
“Watch me Larabee, and until you decide to be MY husband first and foremost, you can damn well move into the guest bedroom. This discussion is over!” Linda went into the master bedroom and slammed the door.
Although Chris was excited about the prospect of having another child, he wished that the timing had been better. It was fast approaching a point that he would have to make some serious decisions where Linda was concerned. He was who he was, and no matter how he felt about his wife, there were some things in his life that he was unwilling to change even for her. The problem was that it was not just his and Linda’s lives that were affected by her absurd demands. Grace… and now another little life depended on him to at least try to keep their marriage together.
The pressure from work is nothing compared to the stress of trying to sort out your personal life with Linda, and it’s enough to drive any man to look for some relief. It’s a good thing you have your head on straight about the pills now Larabee, or you would be sinking back into that muddled hell all over again. No matter how bad it gets Chris, you will not ever be repeating your walk down that road.
Kelli had spent most of the day running with the kids and although she hated to admit it she was exhausted. She was making every effort to stay as calm as possible, but the stress of worrying about Vin was taking its toll on her health. It was going to take every ounce of patience she could muster to make it through the long weeks ahead, and right now she had no idea how she was going to manage that.
Jason was setting the table while Andi ‘helped’ with dinner. “It feels weird, just setting three places at the table. How much longer before Dad comes home?”
“Not for a while yet, Jason,” Kelli answered and saw the worry cross her son’s face.” Hey, the time will pass quickly, and tonight you, me, and Andi will have dinner, make some snacks, and then watch The Lion King.”
“Max, too?” Andi asked.
“Not on Saturday Andi, you know that!” Jason reminded her. “It’s just us on the weekend unless Mom and Dad have to work!”
“Me forgot,” Andi’s voice trembled. She did not like it when Jason yelled at her.
Kelli shot Jason a look that said ‘fix’ it.
“That’s okay Andi, we all forget sometimes, sorry I yelled at you."
Andi smiled back at her brother, “Okay.”
“All right gang, lets eat, we have a movie waiting for us.” Kelli moved the food to the table and sat down.
Five minutes into the meal ‘Vin’s phone’ rang. Kelli answered it on the first ring as she moved to the other room. “Hey Baby.”
“I’ve only got a minute, Texas. Tell Chris that Nathan and Paul are both on a hit list for the RMR and to expect serious trouble soon. Anson Ricter is the man that’s coming after them and he is damn good at what he does. Hug the kids for me, and remember I love you. I’ll try to call tomorrow.”
“Love you too.” Kelli disconnected the call and stood there for a while fighting her emotions. Then the agent part of her kicked in and she reached for the home phone to make a call to Chris.
“Larabee,” he growled into the phone.
“Chris, Vin just called, we have a problem.”
“I'll be right over.” Larabee hung up the phone and let out a sigh. His leaving was not going to go down well with Linda, but what could he do? He considered knocking on the closed door to his and Linda's bedroom, but then thought better of it. She could stew in her own juices for awhile; the outcome of her latest temper tantrum wasn't going to change his mind in the least in regards to work, the ranch, or his family. Nevertheless, he jotted down a brief note to her that he would be back in a little bit as he headed out the door, and left the note lying on top of the kitchen counter where he was sure she could find it.
Kelli was waiting for Chris by the front door when he arrived, while the kids were watching the movie. She let him into the house and led the way into Vin's home office, telling the children that she had something to discuss privately with Uncle Chris, and closed the door behind them.
“What did Vin have to say?” Chris asked her as soon as the door was closed.
“Nathan and Paul have been targeted for execution. Vin didn't know the specifics, only that a man called Anson Ricter is comin' after them and he's damn good.” Kelli revealed.
“Damn.” Larabee stated, his mouth tightening into a thin line. “Those bastards have another thing coming if they think they are going to get away with attempting to murder two of my Federal agents again.”
“I understand that Chris. But they have probably already killed Abbot and now Tanner is in there. What do you plan to do about it, and how are you goin' to keep Vin’s part in this concealed?
“Just as we have been doing,” Chris told her.” No one except for you, Buck, Ezra, and I are to know that we got this information from Vin. We will tell the others that either an anonymous caller gave us the info, or that one of Ezra's informants passed on the details to us.”
“You think Nathan will cooperate?”
Chris shook his head. “He will. I will not lose him due to his own stubbornness, even if I have to kick his ass to get him to listen.” He squeezed Kelli’s shoulder. “Listen to me Kel; I won’t do anything that will jeopardize Vin’s life either. We’ll find a way to bring down these bastards and make certain that Vin makes it home. I promise.”
Kelli nodded, trying to keep her emotions under control. “I'm goin' to hold you to that promise.”
“You do that.” Chris told her.” I've got to pick up Grace at Max’s, and then head on back to the house. Will you be all right?”
“I'll be fine.” Kelli assured him.
He took her at her word and the two of them exited Vin's office and moved back out into the living room where Chris spent a few minutes talking to Andi and Jason before leaving.
And that's a promise I intend to keep. You hear me Vin? Chris thought to himself as he exited the Tanner's house to pick up his youngest daughter and head home.
MCAT Office ~Monday~ November 13th ~9:00am
Chris sat at his desk and ran his hands over his face. The last week had been hell and it did not look to be any better this week. His discussion with Nathan was volatile for sure, and that was an understatement. Jackson had dug in his heels on this one and had refused to just trust Chris and let go of his determination that MCAT become more involved in this investigation. The lab found no usable evidence on the threatening letter that had been sent to Nathan’s home either. The only things he did agree on was keeping Rain and Terrell at the ranch, and doubling the guard on Paul, but he balked about protection for himself.
Vin’s reports had been sporadic and short, which had Kelli on edge even more than Chris. He was concerned about his eldest daughter, she looked tired and the stress of Tanner’s undercover assignment had her snapping at everyone. Between working here, trying to pretend that all was well with Vin’s new job, the kids, and Nathan’s constant jabs, he was afraid that Kelli was set to explode sooner rather than later.
Home life had not been a picnic either; Linda was complaining about feeling sick most of the time and would not even discuss a compromise on her demands. He did find out that their new baby was due sometime around the last part of May, but she even refused to allow him to accompany her to the doctor’s office. Grace’s presence was the only thing that was making it bearable for him at home these days.
The good news this week was that as of today all his injured agents, with the exceptions of Paul and Ross were back on active duty and it was beginning to feel like the old team was ready for some action.
Buck walked in without knocking and slumped into the chair closest to Chris’s desk. “I don’t know about you stud, but Nathan’s attitude is really starting to wear on my nerves. What’s more, if we don’t watch it, Kel is liable to shoot him if he keeps making cracks about Vin walking out of MCAT.”
“I know Buck. That’s why we’re going to work on some of these nuisance crime sprees that some of the other hate groups have instigated.” Chris tossed a file to Buck. “It’s mostly minor stuff, but it will hopefully keep everyone’s focus away from the RMR and satisfy Nate that we are at least doing something.”
“We can hope that it satisfies Nathan.” Buck replied. “I'd really like to know what crawled up his ass and started him on this whole 'holier than thou' crusade of his.”
Chris stood up and grabbed the folders that Gunny had prepared. “I don’t know Buck, but we’ll soon find out. It’s time for our team meeting.”
MCAT War Room
Nathan sat sullenly in his seat at the table and waited for the rest of the MCAT members to enter the War Room. Kelli was next, followed closely by Ezra who had appointed himself as her conscience for the day. It seemed that his partner was being far snippier than she usually was and the Southerner was concerned about her. Standish was afraid that at any moment, one of Nathan's thoughtless remarks about Vin was going to send her over the edge. They seated themselves together and Kelli flashed a blue-eyed glare across the table at Jackson.
The rest of the agents were finally seated in place and the tension in the room was so thick that you could cut it with a knife. Chris did not delay in beginning the meeting.
“First off, welcome back to Raphael and Greg. It’s good to see you both sitting there. With Kat coming in last week, and Mark now training with his new K-9 partner, Bandit,” he looked at the German Shepherd laying next to Mark’s chair, “we now only have two agents out on sick leave. All the reports on Ross are good and he sends his hello to all of you. Paul’s condition is still critical, but stable. We’ll keep a close watch on the progress of both of them.”
“We shouldn't be just keeping a watch on him, Commander Larabee; we should be taking down the racist pigs that put him in that hospital bed.” Nathan spat out.
Larabee's jaw clenched as he fought to control his anger.” Everyone on this team is well aware of your extreme displeasure about the way that Vin and I have handled that issue. You are entitled to your opinion; however, by vocalizing that opinion over and over again it is getting quite old Agent Jackson. Enough is enough. Reel in your emotions and start conducting yourself like a Federal agent, or else...”
Nathan threw his own folder on the table, and shouted, “Or else what Chris? While Vin, and now you have had us sitting around on our asses doing nothing the RMR has been recruiting their own specialist! They have a man now that is reputed to be the best damn exterminator in the business! If you don’t believe me then check it out for yourself! Their man, Dusty Slater killed two black men in Texas after organizing a wave of hate crimes that resulted in injury to dozens of my black brothers! Bastards like him deserve to die a painful death!”
Kelli stood up, her face turning a deep shade of red, and her blue eyes flashing fire at Jackson. “That's it! I've heard about all I'm goin’ to take about you badmouthin’ Vin’s decisions! You have no idea what he's thinkin’ or doin’, you are just so all fired to believe the worse of him and he's...
Ezra reached out and placed a soothing, warning hand on her arm, alerting her to the fact that she was very close to spilling the beans.
Kelli realized how close she had come to revealing what Vin was really doing and scrambled to cover her mistake.” Vin made the right choice for this team and so has Chris. How dare you compromise this unit by going behind Larabee's back and doin’ your own investigatin’!
Nathan opened his mouth to respond, but Larabee beat him to it.” Coulter, sit down! Jackson, unless you want to find yourself on suspension for insubordination until hell freezes over, you will sit down and shut up!”
Instead of sitting down Kelli made a hasty exit and a worried Larabee motioned for Mallory to go after her.
JD had watched the byplay of words in awe, but he reached out to take a look at the folder that Nathan had thrown on the table after recognizing the name Dusty Slater. “Chris?”
“What JD?” Larabee snapped.
“Isn’t this the same name you…”
“JD now is not the time for more questions.” Buck interrupted. “Let Chris talk.”
Larabee decided that he had heard more than enough. “Jackson, I want to see you in my office, now! The rest of you, we're going to take a break, dismissed.”
Mallory followed Kelli to the ladies room and as soon as she entered she realized that the younger woman was sick. She waited for Kelli to come out of the stall and handed her a wet paper towel.
“Are you sure that you’re okay?
“Yeah…I just.” Kelli rubbed the cool towel over her face and sighed. “Hell, I don’t know…I haven’t been sleepin’ well. I miss Vin, the kids are havin’ a hard time adjustin’ to him bein’ gone, and then Nathan throwin’ one hissy fit after another is wearin’ on my nerves big-time. I reckon the stress of the last couple of weeks is catchin’ up to me.”
“Kel, are you sure that’s all it is? You look too damn pale, and I’m almost certain this is not the first time you’ve been sick. Maybe you should see your doctor; I’ll go with you if you want.”
“I…damn…” Kelli ran back into the stall and was sick again.
Mallory pulled down some more towels and ran them under cold water. After handing them to the redhead she waited again for Kelli to come back out. When she was certain that Kelli was over it she simply stated. “Okay lady, call your doctor and make an appointment. If you don’t, I’ll make that call myself.
“I appreciate it, but I’ll be fine, really…”
“No arguments. If Vin were here, he would insist that you go and you know it.
Kelli reluctantly agreed. “Okay Mal, I promise to make that call.”
Commander Larabee was seething and gave Jackson no quarter. “I don’t know what in the hell has gotten in to you Nathan, but it stops NOW! You were ordered to back off, you didn’t. I am in command of this unit and I expect my orders to be followed. You are not exempt from that! You will cease any and all investigating of the RMR immediately! You’re damn digging marked you and Paul as targets and I will not have my unit’s safety jeopardized because you can’t follow a directive!”
“Chris, this is important to me and you can’t blame me for what happened to Paul.” Nathan started to argue but Chris cut him off with a fiery glare.
“Either you will follow my orders or you can get the hell off my team! Key word there in case you missed it is TEAM; No one works their own agenda here! I told you that I would handle the RMR; if you don’t trust me to do that, then you request a transfer and I’ll sign it! Otherwise get the hell out of my office and get back to the work that has been assigned to you!”
Nathan stood up angrily. “Fine, you handle it, but if anyone dies because you did not listen to me, their blood will be on your hands, not mine!”
Buck and Ezra walked in as Nathan stormed out and they closed the door behind them.
“That was too damn close in there. You think Nathan will back off?” Buck sat down opposite Ezra.
“Indeed, I fear our young sister has had enough, she seems to be in a rather snippy mood today. “Ezra commented.
“She’s not the only one!” Chris snapped. “Nathan’s digging could come back to haunt all of us, especially Vin. The last thing we need is Nathan spouting off at one of his damn meetings about Dusty Slater.”
“Since we have not been able to identify the source that passed on the information about Nathan and Paul, it could be disastrous.” Buck agreed. “I’ll talk to JD too and make sure he knows that Dusty Slater is a closed subject.”
A soft knock on the door stopped their discussion.
“Come in.” Chris bellowed.
Kelli entered the office. “I just wanted to apologize for leavin’ the meetin’ the way I did, but I had to get out of there or break somethin’.”
Chris studied his daughter and did not like what he saw. “You don’t look so good. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, but I did promise Mallory that I would make an appointment with my doctor. I called and I’ll see Dr. Weeks at three, if it’s okay for me to leave early.” She noted that Chris narrowed his eyes at that statement. “I’m fine really, ‘m just tired. I haven’t slept well and it’s been a rough couple of weeks.”
“When you’re not used to it, sleeping alone takes some adjustment.” Chris knew all too well how difficult it was when you had been used to a warm body next to you at night.
“I wouldn’t know about that. I share our bed with a four-year-old tornado, a seven-year-old cover thief, and an Australian Shepherd that thinks he needs half the damn bed.” Kelli explained. “Tracker has stationed himself on the bed every night since Vin left, and then Andi was havin’ problems sleepin’ so I would lay down with her, then once she was asleep, I’d go to our room, twenty minutes later she’d be in there too. Jason would hear her get up, and then he’d end up in bed with us. After a couple of nights of that routine, we just skipped the pretense of tryin’ and they have been sleepin’…well in Andi’s case bouncin’ around in our bed ever since.”
“No wonder you look so damn tired.” Buck grinned. “I know from experience that they may be small, but kids have a way of taking over the entire bed and they suddenly have ten elbows and extra feet that always seem to find the softest parts to jab.”
“That’s our Andi, for sure.”
“I will gladly offer my services to escort you to your appointment.” Ezra proposed.
“Thanks Ez, but I think I can manage.”
“Buck, instead of resuming the unit meeting, I want you to pass on the new assignment to the team. Ezra, you see if we can nail down that source for us.” He waited for Wilmington and Standish to exit the room. “Kel, you crash on my couch for a while, and no arguments, it’s plain to see that you need the rest. I’ll wake you in time for your appointment and then drive you there myself.” Chris reached into the cabinet and tossed her a pillow and blanket.
“Chris, is Vin in more danger with Nathan pokin’ around about Dusty?” Kelli had to know.
Larabee was not sure how to answer that. “I don’t know. We don’t want to call undue attention to Dusty Slater, but I did run his name through CASSIE and I am confident that his cover is tight. I also have it set that if anyone runs Vin’s prints through AFIS that the identity will come back as Dusty Slater.”
Kelli simply nodded, truthfully she felt too bad to do more and that couch looked very inviting. Accepting Chris’s offer she laid down, making sure to keep the cell phone close by.
Larabee pretended to be interested in the paperwork on his desk while he was actually watching Kelli. It only took her two minutes to fall into a deep sleep, but he had no doubt that if that cell phone rang, she would be wide awake. Vin’s mission was a difficult one and the type of assignment that wore on the nerves. Chris had no doubt that it was hard for Tanner to be stuck in the middle of a nest of militant racists. Mentally he needed to stay sharp and he knew that talking to Kelli could help the Texan stay balanced. Stress was also taking its toll on her and the kids, and it alarmed him how quickly it appeared to be affecting his daughter’s health. Chris planned to keep a closer eye on them until Vin returned home. Positive that Kelli would sleep for a while, Larabee decided that he needed to try and find some answers to diffuse the tensions in the office.
Silently exiting his office, Larabee’s eyes searched for Josiah and found him standing by the water cooler. With a slight movement of his head he signaled to Sanchez that he wanted to talk, and moved toward the smaller conference room.
Josiah shut the door behind him and joined Chris. “Mallory told me that Kel was ill, is she feeling better?”
“She’s resting in my office and has an appointment to see her doctor at three.” Chris sat down opposite Josiah. “I need a sounding board.”
“I’m here and listening.”
“First, do you have any idea what Nathan’s problem is?”
Sanchez had already given it a lot of thought and had a quick answer. “Basically, survivor’s guilt is motivating his actions now. Even though Paul is not dead, what happened to him was horrific. Nathan on one hand is relieved that he was spared, but on the other hand feels that he owes it to Paul to somehow find justice for him. Our brother was already having difficulty finding his balance after this last case hit so close to home for him. Caleb’s recovery jolted Nathan into the misguided frame of mind that somehow he had been taking his heritage for granted, getting too comfortable so to speak, and not paying attention to the issues that many Black Americans were facing.”
“You’re telling me that our Nathan is having some kind of identity crisis?” Chris asked in disbelief.
Josiah chuckled. “Why is that so hard to believe Chris? We have never made Nathan feel black; he is our friend and brother period. Race has not been, and never will be an issue for us, but seeing Caleb’s situation up close and personal made him think that maybe he should be better informed and involved in matters that affect black men and women every day. Admittedly he may have carried it a bit far, but if this racial attack had not happened I believe he would have worked it all out and found a good balance for himself.”
“So what do we do about it?”
“Nothing until he is ready to talk, Nathan will have to find his own way on this one. Hopefully Rain and Terrell will help him to focus on what is important, but you of all people should understand that he has to be the one to set things into motion. It’s not something we can force on him.”
Chris thought about his own situation with the pills and nodded. “Yeah, stubbornness can blind a man if he’s not careful.”
“You said Nathan first, so I assume that there is something else on your mind.”
“Hypothetically and totally off the record.”
Josiah understood, “Absolutely.”
“If…I were to send someone into the RMR, and if they were successful in infiltrating that group of lunatics…What kind of mental stress would this person be experiencing, and how long could he or she hold up to it before it became a problem?”
Sanchez studied the man in front of him. Chris Larabee did not deal in hypothetical’s or what ifs. He was asking for a specific reason and Josiah was beginning to think he might just know why. “In your hypothetical situation…is this person a man or a woman, and is he or she working with a partner? Is contact outside that group available?
“Male, experienced, and no backup; some contact would be available.”
Josiah was starting to piece together a picture that concerned him. “In practical theory it would depend on the man, but for our conversation let’s say the man you are speaking about was…Vin or someone like him.”
Chris nodded, “Go on.”
“Someone who is experienced as Vin will go into a scenario like the RMR already conditioning himself to handle his exposure to any and all experiences he may have while involved with such a group. The person that he is will take a backseat to the persona he has become, and that closing off of himself will be a safety net so that he doesn't fully indulge in what his persona will have to see or do. Regardless of one's experience in handling such situations, there is no way that one can come back unscathed by what he has seen, heard, or done. There will be some mental and emotional damage done, although it might be of a percentage a lot less detrimental than it would be if someone inexperience had been sent in.” Josiah told him.
“What type of time frame are we talking about Josiah, days, weeks, months?”
“Damage done to a person's psyche, Chris isn't in absolutes. There have been cases where a person has experienced one traumatic episode in their lifetime, and fell apart. Others have lived through many, and while they do suffer some detrimental effects of the experiences that they have lived through, they have survived and come out stronger in the long run. Such is the case of our resident sharpshooter. Out of the seven of us, Vin has perhaps the most varied background.”
Chris frowned. “All of Vin’s experiences were not the best, Josiah.”
Yes, but his diverse childhood, and military training can help with his mental defenses. For example, we know that after his grandfather died he spent time in a variety of foster homes, and then he was on the street by the time he was a teenager. He faced life basically on his own until Nettie latched onto him, and then he went into the army the day after he turned eighteen. As a sniper for the Rangers he took on missions that he has never been permitted to talk about, then bounty hunting, two years with the U.S. Marshals, and that was all before he came to us in the ATF. Until he joined up with us, he met most of what life threw his way head-on and alone, but he was a survivor, and you just take a good look at the man he is now. All of the defenses that he's built up over the years would serve him well in a mission such as this hypothetical one.”
“Thanks, Josiah. If I were going to send someone in at least I have a better idea of what to watch for.”
“Anytime brother, and Chris?”
“I am available twenty-four-seven, just in case you, or… someone needs me.”
Chris grinned. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Kelli had been awake when Chris returned to his office and he insisted that he would take her to her appointment. It had been too long since he had been able to do anything fatherly with his eldest daughter and he hoped that this might help them to get their relationship back on even footing again. The ride over had been quiet until they reached the doctor’s office.
“Chris, I don’t think they will let me take the cell in with me. Would you… Hell, I’m not ever sure Vin will call but…”
“I won't let it out of my sight.” Chris assured her as they got out of the car and approached the entrance to the doctor's office.
“Thanks, hopefully this won’t take long.” They went inside and Chris sat down to wait while they took Kelli straight in. Once in the exam room, the nurse took her vitals, and then handed her a sterile paper gown to put on after she undressed
Dr. Weeks did not make her wait long and joined her within five minutes. She closely monitored all her patients that were in infertility therapy, and considered any change in their health noteworthy. “Hi Kel, I understand that you don’t feel so hot.”
“I think it’s probably stress, but I haven’t felt good for the last week or so. Of course those damn shots you have me takin’ always make me feel different each time I get ‘em so that could be it.”
“I don’t think so, since you’ve missed the last two appointments to have them.” Dr Weeks began her examinations and continued to talk. “Where is the stress coming from?”
Kelli bit her lip, “It’s mostly work related and I'm really not at liberty to tell you much more than that.”
Dr. Weeks chuckled. “I assumed as much. Well, I'll make sure to run a full battery of tests so that we will have a clear idea of what is going on with you.”
“Sounds like my kind of fun.” Kelli grumbled.
Twenty-five minutes later Kelli was dressed and waiting for Dr. Weeks in her office.
When the doctor walked in she smiled and told Kelli to remain seated. She sat down at her desk with Kelli’s medical records in front of her. “Is Vin here with you?”
“No, he’s out of town due to work. He won’t be back for a few more weeks and it’s difficult for me to contact him.”
“So you came in alone?”
Kelli was beginning to feel uncomfortable.” No, my dad is in the waiting room. Look, Dr…Helen, if something is wrong, just tell me, I’m a big girl and can take whatever you have to tell me without someone holdin’ my hand.”
“Nothing is wrong.” Dr. Weeks smiled. “Congratulations Kelli, you are pregnant.”
Kelli was stunned. “I can’t be! Vin isn’t here! I mean… of course I can be but…”She started to cry.” Vin is supposed to be here for this…”She cried even harder and uncontrollably.”
Helen Weeks was used to an array of emotions being displayed in her office. Most of the couples that came to her had been told that they would never have children. That was the reason she chose to go beyond obstetrics to become an infertility specialist, and her practice was dedicated to women such as the one that sat before her. Women told that they should have major surgery that would end any possibility of ever bearing children, or that getting pregnant was too risky. The couples that came to her were more than patients, they were her extended family. She understood Kelli’s desire to have Vin here for this announcement, and stood up to move around her desk to hug the younger woman.
“You cry all you want to honey. I know you’ve had more than your share of disappointing tears, enjoy the happy ones.” Helen Weeks empathized with her young patient, and was prepared to see her through whatever challenges the upcoming months may present.
Kelli could not stop the tears; she was thrilled to be pregnant, but she needed to share this with Vin. She knew she could not tell him until he was safely back at home, but… What if something went wrong and he never knew? “I’m sorry; I’m not usually this way I just…Damnit!”
The doctor laughed. “Whatever you usually do just flew out the window. I feel safe in saying that in the months ahead nothing you do will be usual, but we do need to discuss what we’re going to do to see you and your baby safely through this pregnancy. You said Vin would be gone for a few weeks… Do you want me to ask your Dad to step in here so he can hear what I have to say, too?
Kelli tried to think through her storm of emotions. What would Vin want you to do?
Tell him. Came an unbidden voice in her head. Vin would want her to tell Chris, since she didn't have him there with her.
After a few moments more of silence, Kelli wiped the tears from her face and said. “No, I think I would like to tell him myself. What do I need to know about this pregnancy?”
“You are due July 14th, which means that you are only a month into this pregnancy. I will schedule an ultrasound and then be able to tell you more specifically, but I would like to hold off on that for a couple more weeks. It appears that you are going to be one of those ladies that experiences morning sickness all day, and early. I’d like to see you in my office once a week so that I can keep a close eye on your progress. Getting pregnant is only half your battle, now we want to keep you that way, and get you through at least thirty eight weeks. You should begin taking prenatal vitamins right away. Try to reduce as much stress as you possibly can from your life, eat right, drink plenty of milk, and make sure you get enough rest.” Dr. Weeks told her writing a prescription for the prenatal vitamins and gathering pamphlets for her to read when she got home. “Call me day or night if you have any problems or questions.” The doctor knew that not much of what she was saying was registering right now and urged Kelli to go home to give it all a chance to sink in.
Kelli walked out of Dr. Week’s office in a dazed state, not quite believing the last hour was really real. Chris stood up as she entered the waiting room.
Larabee took in the reddened eyes and stunned expression on his eldest daughter's face and braced himself for whatever it was she was about to tell him. He moved silently towards her and placed a hand on the curve of her back as he guided her out of the doctor's office. He knew that if she was going to tell him anything, it would be in a place where they could be alone.
He waited until they were both seated in his truck before he turned to her and said, “What is it Kelli?”
The first part of whatever she said was drowned out by tears. He heard the words, “Vin, baby,” and something about timing.
It took him a moment to understand her cryptic message, but when he did a delighted, relieved grin appeared on his face. “A baby? You and Vin are finally going to have that baby you've been wanting?” Chris was elated for his daughter and brother. I’ll take care of them for you Vin.
“Uh huh,” Kelli could not stop crying. “But…what if…Damnit I hate to cry! Why now when Tanner is completely out of reach? I can’t tell him… ‘til he’s home safe and…”
Larabee leaned over the seat and pulled Kelli into his arms and held her. “It'll have to be your decision on when you tell him, Kel. What is important is that you take care of yourself, and I’ll be here for you if you need me. Of course this means that you are desk bound for the duration. But when Vin does come home, he's going to have something so special to hold on to that all the ugliness he has experienced during his time with the RMR will be nothing more that a faint memory.”
For Kelli, it was as if the last few turbulent months had been erased. The Wild Bunch was great, and she and Chris had made small steps in the right direction in the father-daughter area, but most of her experience with a parent offering support was still new territory for her. Chris may not have been there when she was growing up, but right here and right now she needed her father more than she had ever thought possible. She gave in to her emotions, and let go completely.
As he held his weeping eldest daughter in his arms, Chris thanked fate that he had his daughter back in his life again. Kelli was lost to him as a baby and he fervently hoped that this new baby would be the catalyst that would help form a permanent bond between them as father and daughter. He did have to smile though when he thought about the irony that he was not only going to be come a grandfather for the first time, but his new son or daughter was expected only weeks before Kelli would be delivering her and Vin's baby.
You wanted to reclaim your life Larabee and you’re just about there. You just didn’t know that fate had so much waiting for you did you?
Larabee 7 ~November 16th~ 1:00am
Rain Jackson had been in bed for hours, but Nathan was still awake and sitting at the kitchen table. He had been trying to make some sense out of Chris’s refusal to listen to what he had to say. They had disagreed before, but Chris had never declined to hear him out. In fact all of his ‘brothers’ had turned their backs when he began to talk about racial issues, the RMR, or the outrage that he had about Paul’s fate. Why now? Why after all these years had their attitudes about color changed?
Did they change Nathan? Or have you? Why are you so angry with the men that have stood beside you and watched your back time and time again? Prejudice is nothing new to you; it has been a part of your existence for your entire life? Every day since you saw Caleb sitting in that office though, and read the report that the director of that children’s home wrote, you have been an angry man. You have ranted and railed about injustice, but why to those who have never been unjust to you? When did your life become so complicated, damnit?
A loud noise coming from the front of the house drew his attention. Running out the door, Nathan was met with the sight of a cross burning on his front lawn and one side of his home was in flames. Grabbing the water hose he screamed for Rain, and as he began to spray water on the house he felt a burning pain in his side before a blow to his head caused him to black out, and hit the ground.
Buck was never quite sure what had awakened him, but when he looked out their bedroom window and saw fire he knew what he had to do. Throwing on his clothes as he ran outside to his truck, he yelled to Inez to call the fire department and the rest of the family. It only took a few minutes for him to reach Nathan’s home, and he was out of his truck before it had even completely stopped. He saw an injured Nathan on the ground, but no sign of Rain or Terrell.
Making a split-second decision he ran into the house yelling for Rain as he entered. He saw her trying to make her way down the hall to the baby’s room. Buck took a deep breath and rushed over to her grabbing Rain around the waist and then pushed her toward the front door.
“You get out, I’ll get Terrell!” Wilmington did not wait to see if she was following his instructions.
Rain stumbled down the hallway, using the wall to guide her, coughing harshly as she fought to catch a breath. She made it as far as the living room and then collapsed onto the floor. The air was only slightly better at ground level, but it was enough to get her up on her hands and knees. She grasped out for something to help her raise herself up into a standing position once again, and felt a masculine arm slip around her waist as Buck had made it back into the living room carrying a crying Terrell.
He was met at the door by Larabee, who scooped Rain up into his arms and carried her out the door with Buck following closely behind with the baby. From her position on the ground, the distant sound of tires squealing to a stop, and the voices of other family members arriving on the scene to help, reached Rain's ears.
Kelli knelt down beside her with Terrell in her arms. Buck had handed the baby off to her; so that he could go help the others fight the fire that was trying to devour the Jackson home.
Josiah leaned over Nathan holding a towel to stop the flow of blood around the knife that was still imbedded in his side. Even as he checked his vitals, and tried to rouse him with his voice, sirens sounded in the near distance.
Nathan heard the deep baritone voice calling his name and tried to respond through the pain in his head and right side. “Rain… Terrell…inside…”
“They are both safe brother, you stay with me, help is on the way.” Josiah said a silent prayer of thanks that his friend was still with them.
“I’ll try,” Nathan’s voice was weak but his pulse was strong.
The EMT’S arrived first and one of them took Josiah’s place to tend to Nathan while the other one checked on Rain and the baby.
Mallory arrived having left Adam and Joanne with Max at the Tanner’s home, and to her it appeared that the men had the fire just about out before the fire truck came in behind her. Fireman took over the task of making certain that the Jackson home was checked out thoroughly. There was more damage done by smoke and water than fire, but it was necessary to confirm that there were no smoldering areas left undetected.
Chris stood back and looked over the scene. Somehow the security for the ranch had been breeched, and it had almost cost the lives of the entire Jackson family. He intended to know how, and by whom. “Walter, get me the video from the perimeter cameras and put together a patrol for the rest of the night. I don’t think they’ll be back, but you never know. We will set up at…” Chris knew that Linda would throw a fit if their house was used, “…at Vin’s house. Buck, call forensics, Greg will have the lead on their investigation. Have him get a team out here, if there is any trace of useable evidence they’ll find it. Also have Justin and Alex meet the ambulance at the hospital. They are to stay with Nathan and Rain until I can arrange for another security team to relieve them.”
Josiah walked up beside him. “The paramedics are going to transport Nathan to the hospital, he’s stable and they think he will be okay. They also want to take Rain in as a precaution; the baby seems to be fine. Mallory and I will follow them in and keep you posted, while you try to find out who the bastards are that did this.”
Kelli heard what Sanchez had to say “I’ll take Terrell to our house. Max said Adam and Joanne are back to sleep so they’ll be fine.”
“We’re going to set up at your house Kel. Ask Max to put on some coffee, it is going to be a long night.” Chris thought about Grace. He may not like the Nanny that Linda had hired, but he knew that the woman would at least take care of Grace if she woke up while he was gone. “JD is on his way over and will probably need access to Vin’s office to get to CASSIE.”
If Josiah had any doubts left about what Tanner was actually doing, the fact that CASSIE was still accessible from Vin’s office erased them. Looking over to where Nathan was being loaded into the ambulance he shook his head. Brother Nate, you had better be okay because you are going to have to eat crow and do some apologizing soon.
“No problem Chris. Do you want me to call Ezra now or wait ‘til morning? “Kelli asked.
“Better call him now, the sooner he knows what is going on the more information he will have for the insurance company.” Chris was ready for some answers and began the first in a series of phone calls.
The report from the hospital was good. Josiah said that Rain was fine and that Nathan’s rib had deflected the knife blade that was plunged into his side, allowing for only minor damage that was easily repaired with stitches. Katrina waited at the hospital to claim the knife as evidence and rushed it to the lab. Jackson did have a concussion, but the doctor’s felt confident that he would be released within twenty-four hours. Their home was another matter; it would take a while for all the damage to be fixed enough to make it livable again. In the meantime Nathan, Rain, and Terrell would be staying with the Sanchez family.
It had been a long night. Once forensics had left the scene, Buck went home to check on Inez before joining the others at Vin’s house. JD had been hard at work on CASSIE, and Casey brought over some diapers and essentials for Terrell. Ezra and Barbara arrived around two-thirty, and with Standish helping the others sort out details; Max and Barbara kept the coffee going and prepared a huge breakfast for everyone; while Kelli helped Jason and Joanne get ready for school.
Chris outlined their morning. “Gunny, Pam, and Mark will hold down the office. Justin and Alex are staying at the hospital with Nathan, while Josiah and Mal bring Rain home. Buck, you and Kel will meet with the principle at the kid’s school to insure that she understands what we need. Travis has already talked to the school superintendent and received a verbal okay for Raphael to station himself there during regular hours. He will pick up a written consent on his way over to meet you at Mrs. Ross’ office by eight. When you return .we will all go over these videos again and work out a defensive plan for the ranch with Walter.”
“You think the children are at risk? JD questioned.
“I would rather play it safe JD. Right now we don’t know how far these bastards will go to get to Nathan. Paul is out of reach to them, so all their efforts will be directed to Nate.” Chris sighed. “I’m going to go check on Grace. We will all meet back here at…ten. That should allow everyone a chance to shower and change.
Buck nodded. “I’ll run to the house and hustle Caleb and Sarah along. Tell Kelli that I’ll pick her and the kid’s up in thirty minutes or so.” He also wanted to see how Inez was doing. She had less than a month to go before Tannis arrived and this pregnancy had been more exhausting for her than the previous two.
“I’ll stay here Chris, and work from Vin’s office…unless you want me to disconnect his CASSIE link. Do you?” JD was not sure why Chris had not thought about that, but he was not going to push him to do it.
Chris studied JD; his question was a good one and reasonable given the circumstances. “Leave it for now JD.” He knew that Dunne would not ask for an explanation.
“Whatever you say, boss.” JD grinned and took off toward Vin’s home office.
“We brought a change of clothes. I will speak to the insurance adjuster and arrange a time to meet him at the Jackson home. Barbara called in to take a personal day off so she can help out with the children.” Ezra elucidated.
“I’ll be back.” Chris headed over to his house. Wondering as he walked, what new revelation might be waiting for him there.
Chris had a dull headache and was hoping that for once he would be able to walk into his home without a confrontation with Linda. His hopes were dashed when he entered the kitchen to find not only their regular housekeeper Louisa, but another unidentified woman in his house.
“Good morning Mr. Larabee.” Louisa greeted him. “This is my niece Mila; she is going to help me prepare your home for the Thanksgiving holidays. Ms. Linda said to expect company and we want everything to be perfect.”
“Company? She didn't talk to me about inviting anyone over for Thanksgiving.” Chris replied, feeling his anger start to stir. This was certainly the last thing he needed to hear right now. After some unknown number of racist assassins had breached the Larabee 7's security system and burned a flaming cross in the Jackson's front lawn, catching their house on fire and nearly killing all three family members. He and the others still had to gather at the Tanner's home to discuss what had happened, go over what evidence that Greg and the others on the Forensics team had managed to dig up to try and piece together who was responsible and what their next step was going to be, and Linda was planning holiday parties? He didn't think so.
Chris made a fast exit and went in search of his wife, expecting her to be in bed. He came to a sudden stop though when he found her in the living room directing two men to remove all of the furniture.
“Linda! We need to talk…NOW!”
“Do you have to bellow at the top of your lungs like an enraged bull, Chris!” Linda snapped back, annoyed that he had interrupted her as she was directing the furniture movers.
“What in the hell do you think you are doing?”
Linda glared at her husband before taking him by the arm practically dragging him into the bedroom. As soon as the door was closed she lit into him. “I am running my household! My family will be here for the holidays and we need new furniture.”
“And just when did you make this decision?” Chris snapped back.
“You promised that since we did not have a big wedding that I could invite my family to come to the ranch for a get-together. Well they are coming over the holidays and I expect you to at least pretend to enjoy it!”
“Don't tell me what I'm going to do, Linda! If it was any other time then I would be more than willing to entertain your family since I really haven't met any of them except for Matt, but having them here right now is out of the question!” Larabee exploded. “Furthermore, we are not getting rid of any of my furniture! I like it and so do the boys!”
“With you there is never a right time Larabee! Besides, in case you haven’t noticed the boys don’t live with us! They have their own damn homes and it’s about time they started using them!”
“Linda, while you slept peaceably through the night, the Jackson home almost burned to the ground taking Nathan, Rain, and Terrell with it! Until we find out who started that fire there will be NO extra bodies allowed on the ranch! That includes your family!”
“I don't know what the hell has come over you Chris Larabee, but you certainly aren't the man I fell in love with and married! That man would have never taken his work and family over me! He wouldn't consistently knock down any of my attempts of making this house more my own, or balk at trying to incorporate more of what's important to me into our relationship!”
“You are unbelievable! I just told you that Nathan, Rain, and Terrell barely escaped death last night, and you want to make this argument about our relationship.” Chris said incredulously.
“I’m sorry about what happened, but I don’t see why it is our problem. My family is coming and you will just have to fix it where it’s safe for them to be here!” Linda started to leave and then turned around. “We are getting new furniture, too!”
Larabee reached out and grabbed her by the arm to halt her progress from the room. “You are not getting rid of the furniture, and your family is not coming to the ranch until this all blows over and that's final Linda!”
Linda recoiled from his touch, “Fine Chris. You can forget Thanksgiving, my family can stay at the Southern Breeze, at least there they are welcomed, and that is where I will be spending the holiday. Don’t you dare invite one member of that Wild Bunch into my home until my kin are welcome here, too”
“The Wild Bunch also happens to be part of MCAT, and there may be times in the weeks to come, that one or more of them will be in this house Linda. You need to get it through your head once and for all that you are not going to dictate to me who I can and cannot associate with, what is going to happen in my house or on my ranch, and that includes getting rid of all the extra help that you hired .”
Bristling with anger Linda retorted. “Don’t take that attitude with me Larabee. You want to see your precious agents, go to the office, or go to that secret place you built, but do not bring them here! As long as I am pregnant, I am not getting rid of the extra help either. You do remember that I am pregnant don’t you, or has that slipped your mind along with everything else I have said?”
“Damn straight I remember! You just make sure you remember that that is my child too, and regardless of how you feel about me, you will not use this pregnancy as an excuse to do everything you want to!
Linda refused to respond to him and slammed the door as she left the room.
Chris sat on the bed after she stormed out and ran his hands through his hair, exclaiming aloud. “Damnit! Why does every thing always have to turn into an argument with her? Why can't she just support me for once and not make it seem like I'm ignoring her?”
Wearily he stood up, he still had to take a shower, change clothes, and try to put his house back in order, before he had to meet the others at ten.
Rocky Meadows, Colorado
RMR Training Grounds
Vin knew that something had happened last night, and that Karl was not happy about it. Several of the men had been dressed down, and he was giving Anson hell. He was only half way paying attention to the conversation until he picked up on the words, ranch, failure, and Jackson. Tanner stealthily moved closer to the arguing men to find out more.
“Damnit Anson, you should never have sent inexperienced men to do a job that important!” Chambers yelled.
Ricter argued, “They did a helluva job sending our message, Karl. Jackson may still be alive, but that is one nigger that is shaking in his boots right now. In fact everyone on that ranch now knows that we can get to them anytime we want to. Their damn cameras, alarms, and fences are not a problem for my men. Fear and intimidation are stronger weapons than death sometimes. Isn’t that what you have always said?”
“Sometimes Anson, but make certain that you know the enemy you are dealing with. Failing to kill the man is one thing, but that woman and whelp of his made it out too. You need to teach Johnson, Stevens, and Bellows the right way to kill rats if you want men to fear your power. Now that you have started, do not let up on any of them; let the residents of the Larabee 7 know that there is no place safe for them to hide, and that we can always reach them…or their families. We may not be able to touch that black buck in the hospital, but men do seem to pay attention when you rattle their cages with threats to their offspring.”
“Even the white ones?”
“If they are willing to live on the same property with a black man, then they are to be treated no differently than him.”
A cold chill ran down Vin’s spine when Chambers told Anson to threaten the children. Those were his kid’s they were talking about, along with his nieces and nephews. A silent rage was beginning to build inside him. It was bad enough that they were teaching the children that lived on the compound that only the white race counted, and that killing any non-white was acceptable, but they had just made one helluva mistake to target his family. Vin knew that Larabee would not be intimidated, but he planned to make a phone call as soon as he was away from here to warn him anyway. Tanner’s grip on the gun he was holding tightened as his resolve to see this through, and to bring these bastards down strengthened. Whatever it takes Chambers…you are going down.
Larabee 7 ~Tanner Home
Chris, along with his brothers, daughter, and Walter had gone over several plans to strengthen the ranch’s defenses. They had been watching the videos from every camera stationed around the Larabee 7 for over an hour. One thing was becoming very clear; there were only a small number of places on acres of ranchland that anyone could breech without being detected, and one of their most vulnerable areas was on the side that bordered the Southern Breeze, and it appeared that was where three men crossed onto the Larabee7 property
“Damn they’re good. They found our weakest point and took advantage of it. Almost like special ops.” Buck observed.
“That is how they train Buck. The same way we were trained in the Seals. To them this is a war, and nothing is spared in preparing them to fight. As far as the paramilitary are concerned, we, meaning the government, are the enemy. For the supremacy members, anyone that is not white, straight, and anti-government, or those that sympathize with inferior races are their enemy. Put the two together and you have a dangerous group with a lethal attitude, and that pretty well sums up the RMR.” Chris explained.” We will have to be better, stronger, and smarter than they are to beat them.”
“Clearly we will need to speak to Matt about supplementary security from the direction of the Southern Breeze.” Ezra stated “Perhaps that is where we should concentrate our efforts, and money.”
“I will be talking to Dubois, but we also need to look at the Well’s property. We are secure enough between us and them, but they have an exposed area on the side of Nettie’s property that does not border the Larabee 7.” Chris pulled out a map of both properties and pointed to three areas. “These are the places we should be looking at.”
JD saw the weaknesses. “Chris, do you think that they will try to get through our land to get to Nathan?”
“I think they will try to get to any of us they can reach, JD. We have to be ready for anything.”
“For now Raphael is at the school, but…should we pull the kids out?” Kelli asked. “I mean, surely they would not go after our children, would they?”
Josiah had joined them after he dropped Rain and Mallory off at his house. “Hate knows no boundaries Kel. Age, color, or status will not stop men that exist to spread hatred, and they are not afraid to use violence to do so. Although we may be acting prematurely if we pull the children out of school at this point”
“We are going to spend the next twenty-four hours fortifying our defenses here. While we do that, we will continue our protection detail on Paul, Nathan, our families, and at the school until we are certain that a threat no longer exists. We won’t have any lab results for a while so we will have to wait on that, but I want to know what we have scheduled for any family member over the next week.”
“Tomorrow morning at nine, Inez and I are scheduled to be in court for the final adoption hearing on Caleb.” Buck reminded everyone.
JD listed some of the upcoming events. “Saturday, we planned a joint birthday party at our place for Lilah, Daisy, and Terrell. Nettie and Casey already have most of the arrangements made. We were going to do it on Sunday, but Buck said he was taking Caleb and Jason to the Bronco game.”
“Right, I’m supposed to go with them, Okay, what else?” Chris answered.
Kelli spoke up,” Max and Nettie have helped me plan a Thanksgivin’ dinner here. It will be an open house, Gunny, Pam, Mark, and Katrina already said that they were comin’, and I extended the invitation to any of the agents that had no family here to celebrate with. Raphael said he and Selina would be here because Alicia is going to her in-law’s house that day with her husband, and Greg said he would let me know. I even asked Bones if he wanted to come.”
“Did I miss this somehow?” Chris asked
“I reckon you must have. Mallory, Casey, Inez, Rain, and Barbara agreed it was logical to have it here. Inez needs to take it easy, Casey is handlin’ the birthday party, Rain said it was fine for them, and the rest of us will be off work, so it only seemed fair that we all pitch in. I also thought it might be easier for Jason and Andi to have family here since…well... I’m sorry I thought you knew.” She did not state the obvious reasons for not asking Linda to host the dinner.
“Did you tell Linda about your plans?”
“I haven’t talked to Linda in weeks, but Inez told her, so I’m sure she knew.”
Chris nodded thoughtfully; he knew Linda would not have offered to have the Wild Bunch in their home. “We’ll be here.” He cleared his throat. “If that’s it then we make certain that we have everyone covered”
“Barbara and I will be at the courthouse with the Wilmington’s in the morning, and I am assuming that we will all be at the birthday party on Saturday.” Ezra looked around at the nodding heads. “Then we need to examine your agenda for Sunday and the holiday festivities for Thursday.”
“The kids are out of school from next Wednesday to the followin’ Monday.” Kelli added. “I’m sure that if goin’ to the game is a problem, Caleb and Jason would be happy to watch it on TV.”
“We’ll see…” Chris was interrupted by Kelli’s ringing cell phone. She knew that it was Vin and her heart raced as she grabbed it, and immediately moved out of earshot of the others in the room.
“I heard about what happened, is everyone alright?”
“Basically, Nathan will be in the hospital another twenty-four hours, Rain is with Mallory and Terrell is here. Their house was damaged by the fire, but it could have been much worse. How did you know?”
“The bastards were talkin’ about it this mornin’. Kel, I need to talk to Chris.’
“Everyone is here. We were just finishin’ a meetin about what happened. I’ll get him for you.”
“Wait a minute. It’s not safe for y’all baby. I want you to be extra careful, and keep the kids with you as much as possible. Do not drop your guard for any reason until I tell you too, understand?”
“Yes I understand. Vin I…” She wanted to share their miraculous news with him, but stopped herself. He had enough to be concerned about right now without her adding more, and she could not tell him on the phone. “I love you Tanner, and when you do get home ‘m not lettin’ you out of my sight for at least the next fifty years or so.”
The Texan smiled and she could feel it over the phone. “I’ll hold you to that, baby. I love you.” He sighed.” I’m short on time, go ahead and put Chris on.”
Kelli motioned for Chris and handed the phone to him when he walked over. After Larabee took the cell from her, she rushed off to the bathroom to have a good cry.
“Vin you okay?”
“For now I am. Listen Chris, the three men that hit you last night are Robert Johnson, Charles “Chip’ Bellows, and Michael Stevens. Ricter sent them, and Chambers gave him the go ahead to continue their campaign of intimidation against y’all. The sonsofbitches are plannin’ to use the kids to get their message across if necessary. They know that Paul is unreachable so expect them to come at you with every dirty tactic they know, and trust me they know most of ‘em. Just …keep my family safe for me please.”
“You know I will Vin. Kel and…all your children are under my protection, and I promise you I will not let anything happen to them. I do need you to figure out a way to get me a map of the compound though; in case I have to come after your ornery Texas ass.”
“I know, but right now I can’t get anythin’ out…I’ll work on it though and see what I can come up with.”
“Tanner if you need to haul your butt out of there we’ll manage to get them another way.”
“Are you orderin’ me out, Chris?”
“Larabee hesitated before he answered. “No, your cover is good, but if I say the word I expect you to move your ass and come home, but you can abort anytime you want to.”
“Not yet Chris, they have somethin’ bigger planned and until I know what it is ‘m stayin’. I need another week, maybe two, but definitely by the first of December I should know what it is. I gotta go before someone sees me usin’ this phone…Keep Kel safe, and watch your back.”
“You too, Vin, and if you need me, I’m listening for you.”
“That’s good to hear…brother, ‘m open on this end too. Take care.”
Chris held onto the phone, even after Tanner hung up, ”m open on this end, too. Only a few words, but to Larabee it was the final piece he needed to reclaim all that he thought he had lost forever with Vin. Closing his eyes and concentrating; he could almost feel that invisible door in his mind swing open, allowing him to reestablish that unexplainable connection that had always flowed effortlessly between them, …a friendship older than this lifetime, …brothers by choice.
Continues in Reconciliations II: Revelation
Information on chapter 12 ‘review notes’, was compiled from numerous news articles found on the Internet.
Chapter 13- Quotation from Connections, MCAT #2 written by Tonny.