Stop the Press

by Sammie

2306 EST, 2106 MST

"That has to be her." Buck tapped the computer monitor, indicating the record Standish had just called up. "Has to be her. Print it."

"She's got a ranch out at Red Fork in Arizona." Danny leaned over Standish's shoulder to read from the screen.

"Well, she was in California the last time." Buck moved to the printer and grabbed the papers coming out.

Ezra turned his chair around to face the others. "Who was her lackey last time? Jack...Jack Averal."

"He's dead, Ez."

"Mr. Tanner, how difficult do you think it would be for her to hire another?"

Sighs. "Not hard."

"Do we even know she's in New York? Or that she has people in New York?" Danny asked doubtfully. "We haven't found any evidence to say that she is or that she did this. We don't know."

"Well then, let's find out." Vin grinned.

SAME TIME (2306 EST, 2106 MST)

"...but no one is to know about this," JD whispered. "No one."

"Why?" Martin crossed his arms. "I should at least tell Jack."

"Let's put it this way. No one who might tell Chris knows about this. Chris can't know we're doing this, not until we're sure."

"Who is she, JD."

"She's some crazy...she's in love with Chris or something. Killed Chris' wife and son. And nearly us, too." JD stopped. "She seems to think we're corrupting him or something and keeping him from her."

"You're saying that Mary and Billy Travis could be dead by now." Martin raised an eyebrow for confirmation.

JD sighed. "I hope not."


"We do not get paid enough to endure these absurdities," Ezra complained as he tugged on a jacket over his vest.

"We all take the same risks, Ez. Sometimes we just haveta get up early."

"'Sides, Ez, figured ya never went to bed." Upon seeing a glare that confirmed his words, Buck chuckled. "Come now, then, whatcha complainin' 'bout? Can't be 'bout it bein' too early."

"C'mon Ez, ya'll get ta see the dawn."

"Mr. Tanner, please spare me the details. I have no desire to have a flaming yellow sphere shooting its blinding rays in the precious eyes I do have."

"Aw Ez, that's only 'cause I betcha ain't ever seen the sun rise."

"Mr. Tanner, I beg to differ. I...."

Buck grinned at Danny, who was watching the scene in amusement. "Better 'n TV, huh?"

"Oh yeah."

0832 EST, 0632 MST

Samantha slipped into Jack's office, took a cautious peek over her shoulder, and closed the door behind her. "I think we should tell him."

Jack shook his head. "His men think it's better to wait until we're sure."

"Would you want to know?" Samantha persisted.

Jack sighed. "Who wouldn't. That's not the reason they want it this way."

"I still don't think he'll overreact."

"Samantha." Jack shook his head. "Not everyone is that levelheaded. Larabee's a good agent. He's a good man. But he's a bit explosive, and this would just be the match to set it off."

Samantha pressed her lips together and looked at Jack for a moment, then decided to abandon the subject. She flipped open a folder and put in front of Jack. "Ella Gaines. Daughter of a big rancher in Montana. Put her history side by side with Larabee's...they cross about 15 years ago." She put a matching folder in front of Jack and pointed at the dates.

"He does some ranch work in Montana."

"Right. Buck confirms it, said Chris mentioned something to that effect before. After the ranch work, Larabee ships out for the Navy. That's where he meets Wilmington, and they've known each other...thirteen years."

"Thought they weren't sure."

"We guess broadly." Samantha sat down. "Larabee and Wilmington go into the police department together after the Navy. Larabee gets married, has a son. Take a look at Ella's file."

"Runs liquor business for awhile. It's legit, works pretty well."

"Then? Record for a marriage certificate for Ella Gaines and Joseph Petrie two years after the date for the birth certificate for Adam Larabee."

Jack's eyes darted up to Samantha's before settling back down to the page. "Year before Sarah and Adam Larabee die, Petrie dies."

Samantha took a quick look at the door and then leaned forward. She said in a low voice, "Petrie wasn't exactly a Larabee lookalike. Probably not much taller than me or Vivian." She pushed a picture in front of Jack. "That's Petrie. From a local magazine right before his death."

Jack made a little face, looking at the small, oldish man. "Looks like...I'm not even going to say. Doesn't seem like someone she'd marry."

"But he's loaded." Samantha sat back with a confident expression on her face. "And take a look at his will." Jack flipped through the folder. "Will's changed just six months after the marriage so she inherits everything, including a huge ranch."

Jack looked up. "No one contested the will?"

"Nope. She doesn't have any kids, and he never had any. His only sister died before him, and she had only one child, a girl named Hilda--who wasn't a whole lot younger than Gaines herself. She died in a shooting accident last year. Besides, Hilda had no reason to go against her aunt. Ella took her in, provided for her. There was no one to question anything when Petrie died."

Jack nodded. "Try this on for size. Larabee leaves, she holds out and tries to wait. She sees him get married and have a son. She marries Petrie for the money. He dies...or maybe she knocks him off. He leaves her his huge spread, she comes into all his money. It becomes fairly easy to hire the men who killed the Larabees."

"Not just that." Samantha lowered her voice. "JD said that last year she asked the team to come out and help her with a man who was harassing her. Turns out she hired that man to 'harass' her in order to give her an excuse to get the team out there to help her. JD said that she tried to lure Chris into staying."

"What happened?"

"Chris found a mini-shrine to him in one of her rooms. Found his wife's locket--a little melted and charred--and pictures of him all over the place. Sarah's face had been scratched out and hers superimposed. Things like that."

"What I don't get is this." Jack pointed at one of the statements. "Larabee reports that Cletus Fowler said he was hired to kill Larabee himself, and that Larabee just wasn't there so he killed Sarah and Adam."

Samantha shrugged. "Maybe if she was mad or just didn't want him alive if he wasn't going to be with her."

"She's crazy." Jack sighed and pushed himself away from his desk. "Mary and Billy could've been dead the minute they disappeared."

Samantha looked forlornly at the folders on the desk. "Yeah."

SAME TIME (0832 EST, 0632 MST)

"There it is!" Buck yelled over the noise. "Car 'n everything!"

The helo touched down and Buck clapped the pilot on the shoulder. "Thanks, pard! We'll be back 'fore you can blink!"

The pilot threw them a thumbs up as the four agents ran across the pad to the small car waiting for them nearby. They piled in and Ezra started up the engine.

Danny tugged on the vest covering his chest. Ella's new location was even closer to Denver. The agent was surprised she'd bothered staying in the West. Of course, if she really were insane, there wouldn't be much explaining of her actions.

Her ranch would be 15 minutes from here the rate Standish was going, it was going to be five.

"Ya got it?" He heard the soft drawl behind him.

"No problem, Junior."

"Got what?" Danny asked suspiciously. He might be on friendly terms with the team now, but that didn't mean he was stupid.

"Nothin'." They looked at him innocently.

Danny sighed. They were definitely going to get him in trouble with Jack. He was spending more time in the doghouse than Martin.

0902 EST, 0702 MST

"Agent Malone, I think you need to see this." The FBI agent handed him a tape.

Jack raised an eyebrow at the agent.

"It's a tape of the victims." At Jack's look, the agent smiled. "Seems they're still alive, for now. We've already dusted it for prints and everything, but we can't find anything on it. Whoever made it did it with clean gloves. We're running analysis on it, but here's a copy for now. We think you should view it."

Jack nodded. "Thanks." He turned the tape over carefully and got up from his desk and headed to the bullpen. "Got a note," he called to the other agents as he headed over to the TV.

The agents gathered at the table as Jack popped in the tape. Static. Then a shot of a newspaper--New York Times...with a date.

Martin grabbed for his calendar. It was today's.

The newspaper dropped off and Mary Travis came on. Her soft, lilting voice came clearly through the video as she seemed to chat about everything and anything...a bridge club or something. There was only a shot from her shoulders up, so they couldn't tell what was actually happening.

Jack watched from the corner as Larabee sat frozen in his seat, staring at the screen with an unreadable expression on his face. Per JD's directions, Jack, Vivian, and Samantha had been instructed by Martin of what the four in Denver had suspected and then what JD had warned him not to say. Seems to have been a wise decision.

The screen fizzed off for just a second before another face came on.

Martin winced.

The little boy was sitting on a large sofa, a blue jacket covering his little shoulders. One could still see the dried tears on his dusty cheeks.

Billy smiled a little at the camera. "Hi Chris." He sniffled and wiped the back of his hand across his nose. "I miss ya."

Samantha looked at Jack, worried, when Larabee rose from his chair almost inadvertently, entranced by the little boy on the screen. Billy didn't say much. There wasn't much to say. Chris reached out a hand to touch the boy's face just as the screen fizzed off. He suddenly seemed to wake up and turned around, looking a little puzzled.

"They're doing analysis down the hall," Jack said quietly. "We'll have a report soon."

"They're alive," JD mouthed across the table to his other two teammates. Martin could see the absolute glee on the kid's face.

1132 EST, 0932 MST

Danny put his hand on the doorknob to open the door when Vin shook his head. Looking at him strangely, he watched as the three ATF agents paused outside of the room where they planned to question a man they'd found at the ranch.

Ezra said, somewhat more loudly than normal, "If I may, allow me to interview Mr. Merritt."

Buck replied just as loudly, "Why you?"

"Don't take this the wrong way, but you gentlemen...occasionally lack the essential skills of tact and diplomacy."

"What are you saying?" Buck faked indignation, his eyes laughing merrily.

Vin supplied the next line with a grin. "Think he's sayin' we're rude."

"Rude? No. Rude would be a definite improvement. I'm saying that however inadvertent it may be, you scare people, and perhaps terrorizing the man won't buy you any answers this time. No, Mr. Tanner, you are not allowed to question Mr. Merritt today."

"What have you got in mind?" Danny jumped into the game.

"I believe--" Ezra laced his words with his real intent "--a little subtlety is in order." He grinned and opened the door.

These guys were quick on the draw and could read each other's moves like an open book. Danny was impressed. As he walked into the room where the suspect sat sulking, he knew he was going to enjoy this.

SAME TIME (1132 EST, 0932 MST)

"Vivian, Jack, I need you to look at this." Samantha popped into Jack's office and handed him a folder. "Research just brought up the reports Martin had requested."

Vivian looked at her. "And?"

"He and JD had them run a series of names through the databases--Gaines, Petrie, Averal, the like--looking for homes or businesses related to Gaines. The list is long. But there are a couple of Petries on the list, three of which are within two hours of here."

"You think it's her?"

Samantha shrugged. "I don't know. They're doing background checks on them now."


"Mr. Merritt," Ezra warned.


Buck hauled the man off his feet and hissed, "There's a woman and a little boy out who might be dead and you aided it!" He shook him.

"Mr. Wilmington, please desist such despicable displays of force," Standish drawled.

Danny had a feeling Standish didn't think they were all that despicable.

"If Mary and Billy so much as have a paper cut, I'm going to make him look like he bumped into a whole truckload of paper," Buck threatened. "Repeatedly."

Standish propped his feet up on the table and began to shuffle his cards nonchalantly. "Mr. Merritt, please understand that while our leader did put me in charge of this investigation--"

Danny couldn't help a small snort of disbelief; Larabee would shoot him for that.

"--I can only restrain my teammates to a certain degree. For one, give thanks that I have forbidden Mr. Tanner to begin the questioning."

Tanner grinned ferally on cue.

Merritt shrank a little into his seat.

Danny had to admit, they were good. Subtle. Sort of...not quite in the dictionary definition of subtle. Merritt looked pretty scared...actually, he had already looked scared when the four of them walked into the room. He had looked at them nervously as they stationed themselves around the room and promptly began talking when Standish first started questioning him. He'd gotten more stubborn and quiet as time went on.

"Ella hired us to raise some horses for her. Hired us about two weeks ago--just me and my four boys."

"Please continue."

"There ain't nothing else to tell."

"Casey Merritt?" Danny made a show of writing down the man's name. "Thank you, Casey." He nonchalantly snapped the little notebook closed. "Just a bit of advice. This is a federal investigation, and impeding a federal investigation could mean some really bad things. Of course, as there's the possibility we could slap you with a charge of aiding and abetting two kidnappings and a double murder--" he shrugged nonchalantly "--well, it's up to you."

"Hired us two weeks ago. Said she wanted to raise horses. When we showed up on the ranch, she had one or two really nice ones, and bought a few more on our suggestion. She didn't know a thing about raisin' 'em, though, and didn't seem ta want to learn."

"Then why'd she want 'em?"

"Said she had a boyfriend who had done it before, and she was just starting stuff up while waiting for him to come down to live with her. I asked, but she didn't say who, and I didn't press the matter. She seemed a little annoyed about my asking."

"Anything else?"


"Anything about her boyfriend?"


"Nothing at all about anything else?"

Merritt scowled.

Standish brought his feet to the floor with a bang. "Excuse me, gentlemen, I find a most unquenchable thirst parching my throat. I shall return presently."

"I want a Twinkie, Ez," Vin called.

"Yes, what else is new." Standish rolled his eyes. "Gentlemen?"

Buck and Danny shook their heads. Standish barely got his hand on the doorknob when Merritt screeched, "Okay, okay! She said that some stupid blonde was distracting her boyfriend or something like that."

"Anyone else?"

"No, she just mentioned the blonde. Used some...ah...choice words, but didn't say who or anyone else."

Danny nodded in mock approval and quickly scribbled down some notes. "So why were you alone when we got to the ranch?"

"Look, I'm just hired to do a job. What my clients do in their--"

Danny saw Vin nod at Buck. The larger man reached down, yanked Merritt out of his seat, dumped him flat on the ground, and then picked up the smaller man upside down by his ankles.

Danny's first thought was that Martin would have had a whole litter of kittens if he saw this.

"Mr. Merritt." Standish sighed theatrically. "I warned you, did I not?"

Vin seated himself on the ground near Merritt's head. "Now, you look like a smart feller. How many times we gonna haveta drop ya on yer head 'fore yer neck breaks?"

Buck growled, "Now, Mister, I know you're not from arooouuund here, but only a fool takes money from a stranger ta keep quiet 'bout somethin' like this. Now, I know you're not a fool, are ya?"

Merritt gave a frightened little squeak.

"I can't hear a word this boy's saying. Can you?" Buck yelled.

"Nope," Vin replied sorrowfully.

"Okay, okay!" Merritt cried.

Buck slid him down to the ground. "You ready to start talking now?"

Merritt scrambled into his seat, looking fearfully at the two agents. "She left about a week ago for New York. Said she had business there. When I asked what, she scowled a bit but told me she had a little shop run by a relative that she had to check up on once in awhile. What kind of shop, I don't know. What kind of relative, I don't know. I didn't press. She wasn't willing to talk about that."

"She ever call back here? Come back here?"

"Ain't heard from her since she left. It was the Wednesday last week."

Danny nodded at the three agents' questioning looks. "Thank you kindly, Casey. You've been most helpful."

1246 EST, 1046 MST

"Agent Malone." The agent handed him a report.


"Everything." The agent looked a little nervous. "Including a ransom note we just got."


The agent nodded. "Just came in. It's all in there."

"Well?" Vivian approached. "What is it?"

"They want a ransom."

"How much?"

"Not how much." Jack flipped open the last page. "Who."

SAME TIME (1246 EST, 1046 MST)

"It's all yer fault, Ez."

"I think not, Mr. Tanner."

"Ez, ya definitely weren't thinkin' this time." Buck stretched his aching muscles.

"What'll we do now?" The sergeant turned to his chief.

"Call Larabee."

"I done tole ya, Whitesmith, Larabee's in New York. With Sleepin' Beauty's boss." Vin nodded at Danny, who was still knocked out cold on the cot.

"Got a number for me?"

"Danny's probably got one." Buck moved stiffly over to the cot. "Lookit him there. Snug as a thumb in a baby's mouth." He grinned. "Too bad." He sat him up.

In seconds, Ezra produced a wallet.

"Ez! Ya weren't supposed ta pick his pocket!"

"Mr. Tanner, I doubt Mr. Taylor would have the desired phone number simply hanging around his pockets. He most likely has it memorized. Therefore, it becomes a necessity to find it by some other means."

Chief Whitesmith sighed.

Ezra deftly flipped through the credit and ID cards before producing an emergency contact card. One of the two numbers was for the FBI office. He smiled. "Chief Whitesmith?"

Whitesmith, rolling his eyes, copied down the number.


"Chris." Jack stopped behind the seated agent.


Jack handed him a copy of the ransom note. "Got this this morning with the video. Came in a bit later."


"None. They're trying to trace the type, too, to see what typewriter it was typed on. We're at least lucky they didn't use a computer."

Chris nodded and began to read. When he finished, he handed the paper back. "Who sent it?"

Jack shook his head. "Usual guesses."

"Sunday at noon." Chris pressed his lips together. "That's almost two days away."

"I know."

"It's already been almost 60 hours since they disappeared."

"I know."

Chris turned an intense gaze onto Jack. "Where's this warehouse?"

"Whatever's going on," Jack replied noncommittally, "wait until we get more information."

Chris snorted.

"You have no idea where to go, Larabee," Jack retorted. "This isn't Denver, where you can find Billy Travis in a few hours. You don't even know who took them, much less where to find them. If you turn yourself in, there's no guarantee that they'll let the Travises go," Jack said pointedly. "We meet in five minutes." He turned to head back to his office.

Chris nodded.

"Oh." Jack turned at the doorway. "In case you were wondering, that warehouse in the letter got torn down last year. There'd be nowhere to take you as ransom."


Danny stirred. The mattress was really hard. He started to sit up when he felt a pounding in his head. He inhaled sharply.

"Well hey there. Was hopin' you'd wake up soon."

Danny held a hand to his head as he sat up, trying to get his bearings. His eyes widened at the bars. He turned. "We're in JAIL?"

The other three shrugged as if it were an everyday occurrence.

Danny was starting to think it least for them.

"What happened?"

"Hopin' you could tell us. Got a little worried when ya hit yer head, knocking Merritt ta the floor."

"We brought in Merritt and his tried to escape, headed for the convenience store across the three went after him. We questioned Merritt...then were taking him out to a cell.... Wow, this is some headache." Danny winced. "What happened? And you still haven't answered as to why we're in jail."

"Well, 'bout your head...perp tried to run past ya, and ya got knocked up a bit taking him down."

"And this?" Danny waved at the iron bars.

"Convenience store's owner got a bug up his--"

Whitesmith rolled his eyes. "Wilmington, you three trashed the convenience store."

"You didn't tell me this when you brought the perp back here."

"Details, Mr. Taylor. Mere details."

"Pretty big ones to keep from your friend, I'd say," Whitesmith interjected.

Tanner made a face. "Chief, Potts was a suspect! We hadta get him."

"You went after Potts, trashed up the store doing it, and the owner got mad? That's why we're here?"

The three at least had the shame to look sheepish. "Sorry?" Buck tried.

"So why am I in here with you?"

"Guilty by association?"

Danny rolled his eyes and then winced at the pain.

Vin grimaced in sympathy. "Ya got a bit of a gash there on yer forehead. Ez cleaned it up real good, though." Vin paused. "Fer now."

Danny tried to think...he remembered tackling the perp, he remembered hitting his head...then everything was so woozy: cold water, then something stinging...what was that smell? "Do I smell alcohol?"

"I unfortunately was forced to use just a little to address the wound on your forehead to prevent infection," the Southerner said quietly.

Danny looked around the three other serious faces. He guessed that they knew why he didn't drink, and he was glad they hadn't said anything about it. He doubted they ever would. Looking at the quiet countenances around him, he put on his characteristic smirk. "Standish, do you ever speak English?"

Snorts. Snickers.

"I'm calling right now," Whitesmith called as he walked across the room to the phone.

Danny looked up and asked the other three, "Someone coming to bail us out?"

"Whitesmith swears he's calling New York," Buck sighed.

"Can't we just call someone around here? How 'bout Inez Recillos?"

"Sorry, pard."

Danny sighed resignedly. Maybe he should get a dog dish and dog bed. He was going to be spending the rest of his life in the doghouse, anyway.


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