The tall, middle-aged man stood at the French doors that led out of his library, and peered at the light rain that pattered against the panes of glass. His casual Calvin Klein beige slacks and hunter green knit sweater molded immaculately to his muscularly fit body. His ruggedly handsome face was framed by neatly combed brown hair, with a smattering of gray at his temples. In one hand he distractedly swirled forty-year-old Scotch around in a cut crystal glass, in his other hand he tightly gripped a gold-flecked picture frame.
A fire crackled in the marbled fireplace, drawing some of the dampness out of the mahogany paneled room. The firelight danced off his Davenport rosewood desk with it's satinwood interior. Two French provincial, Louis XV winged chairs with molded and carved acanthus scrolled leaves were placed against the far wall, with Chippendale end-tables set beside each chair. Ivory bookends holding author signed copies of Moby Dick and Tom Sawyer rested on the tables. A 17th century Pennsylvania inlaid armchair with cabriolet supports and legs, sat across from his desk. Original artwork from Picasso, Warhol, and Renoir adorned the room's rich dark walls; a mixture of old and new.
The man stared out at the four hundred acres that his estate encompassed. Across the cobblestone driveway he watched a workman dressed in coveralls exit the building that housed his collection of rare cars and bikes. Stored in the climate controlled, three thousand square foot building, were a dozen cars ranging from an early 1900's Model A to a 2002 Turbo Porsche.
Beyond the large shop, acres of rolling green pastures surrounded by white rail fences provided the playground for thoroughbred fillies and colts to romp and grow strong in their quest to become future Kentucky Derby winners. If he squinted his eyes close together, he could just make out a horse jumping a round of fences in an outdoor sand ring. Why his daughter liked to train her Grand Prix jumper out in the rain, when she had a brand new state of the art indoor riding arena at her disposal, was a mystery him.
Situated a mile from his twelve thousand square foot mansion, an executive Lear jet could be heard making its final approach to his private landing strip.
Turning away from the doors he glanced once again down at the picture he held in his hand. Dark hazel eyes and a boyishly good looking face stared back up at him. From under the long, black spiked and gelled hair that had been the style at that time, the eyes sparkled with humor and a devil may care attitude.
Bile rose to the back of his throat and hate boiled up inside of him, churning at his guts. With a cry of anguish he slapped the picture frame facedown onto his desk.
Ten long years...ten miserable long years with this tearing at him; eating him slowly alive. Never releasing him from the anger or pain that twisted him up inside of every waking moment of every waking day. He could find no peace; no solace anywhere or with anyone...not since that day. But he hid it well, this rage that consumed his very being and ate at his insides. His family thought he was bravely carrying on. His business associates thought that he was more brilliant now, if that was possible, than he had been before the worst day of his life. No one knew...no one even suspected that he was self-destructing right before their eyes. Not those closest to him and not those who barely knew him...he was fooling them all, except himself. And now he was going to do something about it!
Systematically he would destroy them both...one at a time. With a hard, calculated expression wiping any humanity from his features, he picked up the folder on his desk from the private detective he had hired. Opening it, he read the hated names of Chris Larabee and Judge Travis and planned which of the two he would destroy first.
"Yo...Chris, you're wanted on line one...they're having trouble with calls coming in on the switchboard again." A tall handsome man with a full mustache stuck his head into his boss's office.
"Okay...just wait a second while I take this call Buck...I need to talk to you about the Milner case. Yeah...Chris Larabee here." Chris pointed at the spare chair and nodded at Buck to take a seat.
A brisk, but friendly voice came on the line "Hello Mr. Larabee...we have not had the privilege of meeting, but I am Judy Tyle. I head one of the policeman union committees and I just wanted to let you know first hand that...congratulations, you are the recipient of this years Law Enforcer of the Year award."
"Excuse me! I think you lost me here. I won what?" Chris shrugged his shoulders at Buck's questioning look.
"Someone in your office sent in your name to be nominated, along with an exemplary essay on your willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty. After reading such a glowing report, you were the unanimous choice of the whole board. You are highly regarded and respected by your fellow co-workers if this report is anything to go on." Chris looked up at Buck, just in time to see the mustached agent dunk his half eaten donut into Chris's coffee.
"What...?" Buck asked as Chris snatched his cup away.
Respected...ya right! "You sure you have the right name in front of you?" Chris asked unconvinced.
"Chris Larabee...head of the ATF unit nicknamed the Mag 7."
"Then I have the right person."
"So, do I have to dress up and go to some banquet dinner and give a speech to receive this award or will you spare me all sorts of humiliation and just send it over in the mail?"
"Actually Mr. Larabee, I will be sending you an information portfolio in the mail, but there is no dinner to worry about. You and one of your fellow officers are getting a paid five day, four night vacation to a lodge up on Willmere lake. Your trip has been pre-approved by Judge Travis and the dates for departure agreed upon, I have taken care of all the details. You just have to go and enjoy yourself, and once again congratulations."
"Thanks...oh...wait...just one more thing. Who was it that submitted my name?"
"I am not sure, I don't believe there was a name on the paper work. Good bye."
"What was that all about?" Buck asked at Chris's baffled expression.
"I won some award for being cop of the year. Someone from the office sent my name in."
Buck looked through the glass window that separated Chris's office from the main office where the rest of the team worked. "One of us sent in your name? Who? And when...why?"
"Oh thanks...I was going to ask you if you wanted to come with me. I won a five day stay at Lake Willmere Lodge, but I don't like your attitude so I'm just going to have to ask someone else."
"Lake Willmere! Isn't that a fishing lodge somewhere out in the boonies? If I'm going on a five day vacation, it's not going to be to some fish camp with a bunch of ripe 'ain't seen a shower in a week' bad smelling guys...if I'm going away I want to sit on a sandy beach with a little umbrella in my drink and watch frolicking girls in bikinis!"
"Well, Lake Willmere sounds perfect to me, it's about two hours from here in the Wyoming section of the Rockies. I could use a quiet getaway, and I just told you...you're not invited anyway!"
"Cause I wouldn't go."
"I ain't asking you!"
"Stop trying to get me to join you, dude...I'm not interested."
"Dude? Get out of my office Buck, and you are not coming with me!"
Buck untangled his long legs and pushed the chair back from Chris's desk. "I told you...I am not interested, so stop asking me!"
"If you were the last person in this office I wouldn't ask you to come on a relaxing camping trip with me, or anywhere else for that matter!" Chris yelled as Buck slammed the office door.
Chris leaped to his feet, scooted around his desk and threw the door open. "And just so you know...I will be informing you of the dates that we are going, as soon as they send them to me!" he hollered at Buck's retreating back.
"And I'll be packed!" Buck yelled over his shoulder as he entered the elevator and disappeared from sight.
Chris went back into his office slamming the door behind him. The other five officers in the office never even bothered to look up from their desks at the commotion.
The elevator doors opened and the four men in the office froze as Buck emerged.
"Oh god...not another one!" Vin muttered under his breath as Buck strutted across the office's shiny linoleum floor, pirouetting and pivoting in front of each desk like some runway fashion model.
"You twirl in front of me one more time Bucklin, you better be prepared to face the consequences...cause I will hurt you," Vin growled at the smirking man dancing around in front of him.
"I see both you and our illustrious leader wasted an afternoon shopping at our local Bushwear on a Budget store," Ezra's voice dripped distain at the appearance of the tall mustached agent. "If you must insist on going on this male bonding expedition, you could still do so and exhibit some class and decorum. At the very least you could have shopped at L.L. Bean and come away color coordinated."
"I'll have you know, that this is what all the best dressed fishermen are wearing this season," Buck posed in front of Ezra again.
"Buck...you look like a year's supply of Outfitter's Digest threw up on you!" Nathan remarked as he came out of the coffee room and caught his first glimpse of his teammate's attire.
"You're all just jealous because Chris invited me to go play and you all have to stay here and work. Speaking of Chris...he here yet?"
"Office I think..." Josiah pointed to Chris's door, but before he said anything else the office door flew open to reveal Chris.
Buck and Chris paused to look at each other, the five men around them stood with dumbfounded expressions on their faces.
"May I say, you look marvelous!"
"You may, and I must say you look outstanding yourself!"
"You both look ridiculous!" JD told them as he recovered his voice first.
Chris and Buck throw their arms around each other's shoulders and turned to face the others. "You deeply wound us JD...but we understand you are just saying that because you don't get to come with us," Buck responded, looking down with a fake compassionate glance upon his young roommate.
"No...he means you look ridiculous!" Vin muttered as he stared at the two men dressed in green and blue plaid flannel cargo pants that were tucked into leather ankle-high hiking boots with red wool socks. Buck wore a florescent yellow vest with fishhooks sticking out of it, over a tan tee shirt that read 'My Girlfriend says if I go Fishing One More Time, She is Going to Leave Me...Damn I'm Going to Miss Her.'
Chris had on a light green vest with thirty-two pockets so he had room to carry everything he needed to fish and survive in the woods, plus the kitchen sink. Ezra thought it was the same color as Kermit the frog; under it he had on a blue tee shirt that read 'Fishermen Do It On The Fly.' Both men had floppy rimmed cargo hats on their heads; Buck's a sky blue color and Chris at least in his standard black.
"I would advise you both look in a mirror before venturing out in public again," Ezra said as he returned to his desk.
'Hell...they don't need no mirror, they just have to look at each other to see how dim-witted they look. The only good thing is if you get yourselves lost in the woods the search and rescue party will be able to spot ya both a mile away!" Vin humphed as he also made his way back to his desk.
"Feeling a little testy this morning ain't ya Junior!" Buck said as he quickly pirouetted around one more time, catching a fishhook on Nathan's shirt as the team medic had the misfortune of standing too close.
"When you've finished goofing off Buck, come into my office, we have some work to go over before we can leave in the morning," Chris said over his shoulder as he entered his office.
"Would ya look what Nathan just did?" Buck said joining Chris in his office, pointing to the new rip in his yellow vest where a fishhook should have been hanging. "You know they are just jealous because they can't come with us!"
"We look so fine...they wish they were us."
"We are a couple magnificent examples of the male species."
"You know we look totally absurd...right!"
"So you ever figure out which of them sent your name in for this honor? I would have, but I never even heard about it."
"Nope. I've asked everyone and to the man they said they didn't know anything about the competition or whatever they are calling it. Vin's been run off his feet finishing up the Taylor case, Ezra's been undercover most of the month. Nathan spent most of his time hitting the books for his yearly medical up-date tests."
"This is something JD would do, but he told me he never heard of it...and you know that boy is the worst fibber in the world, so if he said he didn't send your name in, he didn't. And Josiah says he didn't either, so I guess it will remain a mystery."
Chris and Buck jumped as the glass around Chris's office window shook.
"Ow...Vin, would you watch where you're throwing those things!" JD hollered.
Chris opened his door and immediately had to duck as another disk came flying by, right where his head had been.
"Useless...no good piece of junk!" Vin stood about six feet from his desk and whirled floppy disks in the general direction of his computer. All the rest of the agents in the room hid behind shelter as the little missiles ricocheted in every direction.
"Problem, Vin?" Chris cautiously asked his seemingly upset agent.
"ME...I don't have a problem, but this piece of so called modern technology better give me back my files or its going to be nothing but a pile of plastic rubble and nuts and bolts in another second!" Vin looked around the room, a manic expression on his face, before his eyes came to rest on a footstool shoved into a far corner. "It's going to have the problem!"
"Vin...don't you even think about it...VIN!" Chris instantly picked up on Vin's intention.
With a roar, Vin lunged across the room and grabbed the footstool in a death grip and stalked back towards his desk, waving the piece of metal at the other men as they tried to intercept him.
Josiah came at him from the right; Nathan came at him from the left and Chris decided enough was enough so he just tackled the sharpshooter from the back, sending them both sprawling across the shiny linoleum floor.
Vin struggled against the hold Chris had on his legs, and swung at the offending computer that sat just a mere foot out of his reach.
"Come on Chris...just let me hit it once...I ain't asking much...just one little pop!" Vin cursed as Josiah sat on his back and Nathan grappled with him for possession of the stool.
"JD stop standing there, retrieve Vin's files for him!" Chris shouted to his youngest agent, who seemed at first to be shocked at the sharpshooter's action. By the time Chris yelled at him he was watching the proceedings with far too much amusement.
"No...let me get them back Chris...I'll teach it too not mess with me...rotten, lousy piece of cheap junk!" Vin yelled from under Josiah's armpit.
"I don't think so buddy...why don't we go sit in my office and cool off a tad while JD and Ezra fix up your computer." Chris nodded at the other two men holding Vin down and pointed to his office with his head.
Buck held the office door wide open as the agents dragged Vin through the door and pushed him onto the spare chair. Like an NFL linebacker, Chris stuck his shoulder in to Vin's midriff and held him there until Nathan and Josiah got the door closed and stood outside the office hanging onto the doorknob.
"You got something bothering you Vin? You seem a little out of sorts the last few days." Chris moved off Vin and sat on the edge of his desk to rub a sore rib that had come in contact with the end of Vin's running shoe.
"Nope," Came an unusually sullen reply.
Josiah poked his head in the door. "JD's got your system all sorted out, Vin, and he even made back-up files for your case. You are set to go! So I'm guessing we can let go of the door now?" Josiah shot a questioning look towards Chris and then departed at the affirmative nod.
"Nope, you don't have anything bothering you or nope you are not out of sorts?"
"Either," The quiet agent answered, "I'm going to finish this damn case then take a couple hours down time." Vin got up off the chair, made his way past Buck and went back to his own desk.
"That boy is as owlie as a mama grizzly bear with a thorn stuck in her foot! You got any idea what's eating his craw?" Buck asked as he watched the normally mellow sharpshooter pound angrily on his keyboard.
Chris could just shrug his shoulders and shake his head no.
"JD, come in here," Buck reached out and grabbed his young roommate around the neck and dragged him into Chris's office as the kid wandered past on his way to the coffee room.
"You have any insight into why Vin's such a grumpy Gus right now?" Buck asked.
"I don't know for sure, but he mentioned a few days ago that the city's been resurfacing the bridge right beside his apartment. They're doing most of the work at night so they don't hold up rush hour traffic during the day. Vin doesn't seem to need as much sleep as the rest of us, but I gather he has been going on only a couple of hours of sleep a night for a few weeks now."
"Well, what's the matter with the little turd, anyone of us would have put him up. He just had to ask or at the very least, tell us what was happening." Out of habit Buck nonchalantly swatted the back of JD's head.
"Ow...I will pay you a thousand dollars to stop doing that! And I did tell him he could crash with us, but he said he's been working late every night on the Taylor case and didn't want to disturb us."
"Oh hell!" Buck and Chris stood exchanging glances.
"What...?" JD looked back and forth between the two men, "What am I missing?"
"I told you I didn't want to go anyway, I was just being polite," Buck moved to the office door.
"Next time...it's me and you, big guy," Chris said and placed a appreciative hand on his oldest friend's shoulder.
"Vin!" Chris hollered over the office hum, a mixture of voices, footsteps and electronic equipment. "Finish what your working on then go home and pack...Buck has decided to do me a favor and not come to the Lodge after all, and I see no reason to let a paid trip go to waste." Chris returned to his office as his phone rang a sixth ring.
Vin shot Buck and JD a suspicious look as they immerged from the inner office. "You went and spent a whole pile of hard, cold cash to look like a fishing fashion nightmare, why would you back out now? And why is Chris asking me along?"
"I have been on so many vacations with Chris...I need a vacation from my vacations with him. This is more your idea of a good time than mine, I was only going to be polite."
Vin still looked doubtful.
"Okay...okay...I'll tell ya why I decided not to go. I sent the lodge an e-mail last week and they just now sent me a reply," Buck looked around to see how might be in listening range and then placed an arm around Vin's neck and pulled him in closer, whispering in his ear. "There isn't a single woman at this place, and by single I don't mean not married, but as in not one woman even on the premises. You and Chris might find listening to the birds chirping and the lapping of waves on the shore relaxing, but if I don't have a soft, sweet body to share it with me, well I would rather stay home and watch the start of the hockey season with JD!"
"Well...if you're sure? I don't want to go if you really want to."
"Yes...I am sure all ready. Just go before I change my mind, so we can end this conversation. I am sure, go have fun and help Chris have fun too!"
"Well...Chris is out of luck in the 'having fun' department and so are you Buck," Chris interrupted them after hanging up his phone. "That was the DA's office, they just moved up the Milner case. We are in court tomorrow as of 7:00 am," Chris said with disappointment written on his face and in his voice.
"So, it seems I suddenly have a spare ticket to a fishing lodge up for grabs. Any takers?" Chris asked the men around him.
"I already have plans to see my sister this weekend," Josiah said.
"And I have some more studying to do and Rain bought tickets to a dinner theater on Sunday night." Nathan shook his head.
"I realize we don't always see eye to eye Mr. Larabee, but I honestly can't imagine I have done anything so vile that you would see fit to send me to a fishing lodge for one day, let alone five!" Ezra shuddered at the thought. "Mosquitoes and gutting fish...pray tell you will not subject me to such cruel and unjust proceedings?"
"You trying to tell me you don't want to go, Ez?"
"That is exactly what I am telling you!"
"Well I don't know who I am going to send then?" Chris said, ignoring the pulsating bundle of energy that stood vibrating with anticipation before him. "Guess I'll phone the lodge and cancel the extra ticket...you don't mind going alone do ya Vin?"
"Fine by me."
"What JD?...Wait a minute, maybe someone in another department would like to go."
"JD," Chris finally looked at his youngest agent.
"Go phone the other ATF office and see if you can get rid of the spare ticket for me," Chris nearly laughed out loud at the crestfallen expression that washed over JD's face.
Dejectedly, JD nodded his head and reached for the phone.
"Oh...I guess there's no chance that you would want to go in my place, eh JD?" Chris asked as if the idea had just occurred to him.
JD quietly hung up the phone and looked Chris in the eye, "I might be willing to go, just to help you use up the ticket and all." JD nodded sincerely.
Chris nodded back, just as sincerely, "Well, you can go get ready when Vin leaves. Remember the float plane departs Cherry Creek Lake at 3:00 in the a.m." Chris smiled as he returned to his office.
JD watched Chris shut the door to his office, then let out a squeal and grabbed his roommate in a headlock. "Yeehaw...I'm going fishing Buck!"
Chris just shook his head, he watched his two agents roughhousing from his office window. As long as Buck was leading the parade, Chris doubted either agent would ever grow up, and while he would adamantly deny it in public, Chris was secretly glad they were that way.
Chris slowly started to turn away, when a loud squeal and yelp brought him back to the window. A huge grin split his face and laughter rumbled deep in his chest, as he watched Buck and JD struggle to get fishhooks from Buck's vest dug out of their hides.