Nelson was sure that he didn't want to do this. Not now, not at all. He might
be the most junior, and therefore expendable member of the local ATF, but
he wasn't stupid, he knew why all of the other senior agents had somewhere
else to be when this 'bigwig' arrived. No, he didn't want to do this. Chris
Larabee was an explosive personality to deal with, and he'd been burned before.
The man beside him, with all the arrogance of high position, waited impatiently
for him to go get the man, but Agent Nelson just wanted to make sure that
he had all of his appendages when he was finished.
Taking what little courage he could muster, Nelson approached the "corner"
cubicle. Originally it had been a closet, but because of the complaints of
other agents, it had been made into an "office" for Agent Christopher Larabee.
Larabee was a good agent, but his volatile temper made him hard to work with
and most agents didn't try.
"Agent Larabee?" Nelson asked. The Agent sat at his "desk," an old door propped
up on some cinder blocks. Larabee sat behind it, unconcerned for the decor
of his lair, heavily involved in the files he was reading.
"What?" He barked at Nelson. Nelson trembled, but was able to squeak out
"There's someone here to see you." The junior agent said, trying to hide
his trembling. Nelson took confidence from the current proverb that said
'if you've faced Larabee, Criminals are no problem.'
"I'm busy. Can this wait?" Larabee said making notes on a yellow pad in front
"No, SAC Taylor was quite insistent. This guy is really important."
"As important as catching the guys who sold the guns to Trager?" Larabee
"He's from Washington." Nelson squeaked again, hunching up. Larabee had never
thrown a punch that he'd seen but the younger agent had heard rumors of his
violent days with the Denver P.D.
"Well, maybe you should come?" Nelson whispered.
"What?" Larabee snapped. "Oh, for Pete's sake. I've got to get this damn
paper work done. Damn...All right. I'll come." The agent pushed back from
his desk in total annoyance. He had things to do that wouldn't wait for some
idiot from D.C. coming to tell him the latest way to do his paperwork or
which way to use the john.
Nelson led the way into the conference room where he'd left the "Bigwig."
As soon as Larabee entered the conference room, he scampered away, not wanting
to be caught in the explosion.
"Still your old charming self, I see." The man from Washington laughed.
"Wiley? Wiley Redd?" Chris Larabee said with a snort. "What are you doing
here you 'Over-Polished Suit Wearing Jack Ass'?"
"That the best you can do, Brat?" Wiley Redd laughed. "I used to powder that
butt of yours, nothing you've got surprises me."
"What are you doing here?" Larabee repeated. Wiley looked him over. The last
few years hadn't been good to Chris. Dressed in black from head to toe, the
younger man was tired looking and weary. Although he still looked fit, he
was a far cry from the Navy SEAL that Wiley had known. He'd lost weight and
the short cropped hair looked like it hadn't seen attention in a while.
"Can't I just check on my old friend's son without suspicion?"
"No." Chris said plainly. He paused for a moment. "How is the old man?"
"Doing okay, but he's worried about you." Wiley said seriously. "Chris, I
know that there's some hard feeling between you, but maybe you should talk
"I've said everything I have to say." Chris shut down the emotion, his face
showing his withdrawal behind his walls. "If that's what you're here to say,
we're done." He turned to leave.
"No, it's not all, Chris." Wiley said. "Please hear me out."
"What is it? I'm no help to your political career. I don't play the game."
"I know that, Chris. Listen, this is important. The Government is setting
up a group of special Teams in the ATF." Larabee's eyes narrowed. "They are
going to take on the hardest cases, the ones that the regular agents in place
couldn't solve. Cold cases, the politically delicate, the classified. Chris,
this is an opportunity of a lifetime."
"What does this have to do with me?" Larabee demanded.
"I want you to head one of the teams." Wiley said earnestly. Larabee snorted
and turned on his heel.
"You can tell my dad you tried. If you'll excuse me, I've got cases to work
on, real cases." Chris snapped and walked back towards his office.
"Chris, this has nothing to do with your father. He doesn't even know about
"Why else would you offer this to me? My temper is legendary, My work record
is chaotic, My boss hates my guts..."
"Because you're the best." Wiley said, Larabee glared at him. "It's true.
Once you get your teeth into a case, you don't give up. That's what these
teams need. You've always had it in you to be a leader and this would be
good for you. Chris, I know that you're grieving. Something in you died along
with your family... I know, I lost Madge, but nowhere near as tragically.
However, there are a lot of people who've lost the ones they loved too and
don't know why either. You are someone who can find the truth, someone who
can bring them the facts they need to go on. Someone who can bring them some
"Nice pitch, but no way the government is going to allow that. If I found
out what happened in a case I'd never be allowed to tell the family the truth."
Larabee said coldly.
"I never would have pictured you as a "Conspiracy" believer, Chris. Yes the
government is sometimes Idiotic in it's decisions, but there's no great
conspiracy. Governments are too stupid to come up with them, people come
up with conspiracies. Chris, there is an awful lot riding on this. Yes, there
would be regulations to follow, rules, and the rest, but I know you, I know
you've worked around them to bring people some peace."
Chris glared at him, again. "I'll think about it."
"Which means you won't give it the time of day." Wiley snapped, angry now
as well. "Chris, Is this really what you want to be doing? Sitting in a corner,
doing make work for the rest of your life? I know that Taylor isn't assigning
you real cases to work and that you're going around him. He's not happy about
it. Do you really want to be kicked out of the ATF? What do you want to do
next? You've left the P.D., you're not going to last too much longer here...
Where to next?"
"Wherever the wind takes me. If Taylor intends to get rid of me, I'll find
somewhere else." Larabee snapped. Outwardly he was angry, inside he was a
little shaken, this job was his whole life, the only thing left other than
"You left the P.D. to avoid being fired. Your drinking was getting out of
"It never interfered with the job. I didn't drink on the job!" Larabee hissed.
"You didn't drink on the job, but it didn't help you. Your temper was totally
out of control. Chris. Please consider. If you hadn't dried out, Travis couldn't
have helped you get this job. You're scaring your fellow agents. Your temper
is still out of control. You're burning your bridges here too. Chris, please
take this job. You need it, need the challenge."
"I'll think about it." Chris said and left the room.
"That went well." Wiley told himself as he rubbed his forehead trying to
ease the ache. He hurt to see Chris like this. Once the man had been open
and had loved life. The murder of his wife and infant son had just about
destroyed him. For a moment, Wiley Redd, the consummate politician, did something
that he rarely did, he prayed.
Larabee went back to his 'office' and spent the rest of the day getting the
pile of paperwork done. It was late when he finished and looked around realizing
that all of his fellow agents had gone home a long time ago. No one had thought
to remind him that it was time to go, not even to complain about him racking
up the overtime.... Maybe he was scaring his fellow agents.
Leaving the nearly empty federal office, he nodded at security in passing,
and went to the parking lot for his car. The lot was totally empty and had
a thick layer of snow. He cleaned off his car, a beat up old clunker he'd
purchased after Sarah and Adam were killed in the car bombing that took out
it's predecessor. He missed his wife and son, more that he could ever find
words enough to say.
Fighting with the snow took a little of the edge off of his anger and Chris
drove carefully home. There were few other drivers on the road at this time
of night. In the distance Denver shown brightly, but he bypassed it, heading
for the dingy apartment he kept on the outskirts of the suburbs. Although
he still owned a ranch up in the foothills, he couldn't go there. Too many
Chris entered the apartment and tossed his keys on the counter. He went to
the cupboard and took out the whiskey bottle. For a moment he considered
it, but then he put the bottle back in the cupboard. He sat down on the battered
sofa and rubbed his temples. The incident with Wiley had given him a headache.
Why he thought, Why now? Sarah and Adam had been dead such a short time.
Couldn't they just let him grieve? All of this about work, about his temper,
it was too much to think about right now.
Maybe they were right... He'd felt the fine edge of his anger and knew that
he could be scary when angered. When Sarah was alive, he'd never felt this
out of control, but she was dead and their child with her. That was why he
was angry. He opened the fridge, pulling out some lunch meat. There was a
loaf of bread on the counter, so he made himself yet another sandwich.
He was tired, so very tired, that keeping track of life just seemed to be
too much. Chris drew his side-arm. For a moment he considered it, really
considered it, but he'd promised both Buck and Sarah, sworn it on her grave.
Buck, now there was a can of worms. He'd been ugly to his best friend after
the bombing. His old partner had made him stay, forced him to keep living
a life he didn't want. Larabee had taken out his fury on Buck, to his everlasting
shame. Larabee put the gun on the kitchen table.
Buck hadn't said anything, hadn't done anything, and although he endured
everything that Chris threw at him, something between them broke beyond repair.
He glanced at the gun again. Everything that had been Chris Larabee died
in that bombing. There was only a shell left, living on borrowed time.
Make a choice, Chris. The voice whispered out of his childhood. You
can't stay here between life and death this way. He'd remembered that
voice from when he'd nearly died of an infection when he was nine. It had
been his constant companion in the SEALs where life was often on the knife's
edge. He'd carried it around Denver's P.D. with him. Make a choice to
go or to come about and live. But once chosen you can't go back. Drinking
had kept the voice at bay for a while, but it seemed to come from the deepest
part of himself, and he couldn't hide from himself much longer.
The thing was, he couldn't let go. He couldn't leave until he knew why, why
Sarah and Adam had been taken. And who... that was the thing that had driven
him so long. The Investigators had given up a year ago. It was a cold case,
like so many others. Like the ones Wiley wanted him to investigate, to find
out the truth... How could he? He couldn't even find out who murdered his
Make a choice to go or come about and live... the echo in his mind
repeated, quiet but insistent. He looked out the apartment's dingy window
at the now heavy layers of snow. It looked so quiet out there. Chris grimaced,
one could even call it beautiful. Sarah had loved snow. She used to say it
was a blank slate, and that rain washed the world's dirt away. Little things
that Chris had laughed at and loved, now hit him like sledgehammers.
Suddenly even more exhausted than before, Chris went into the tiny bedroom.
He put down his suit coat and removed his watch. Kicking off his shoes, he
sat down on the rumpled heap of blankets. Chris caught a glimpse of his
reflection in the mirror on the bedroom door. The empty, weary man who was
reflected there wasn't someone Chris recognized. Hollow eyed, thin and ragged,
he seemed to be the leftovers of a living being. Make a choice...
he closed his eyes against the whisper.
"They're gone, nothing will ever be the same. Nothing's worth living for."
He growled back.
Why then are you still here? The whisper became impatient. If
there was nothing left to live for, why haven't you gone?
"I want the Bastard who did this! I want the man who took everything in my
Is revenge enough? It's an empty life, an echo of what could have been,
and not what is.
"There is NOTHING!"
Then Go, if nothing holds you here. Chris moaned and tried to shut
out the insistent whisper, he knew was his conscience. Buck hadn't saved
him for nothing, the Judge hadn't helped him for nothing.... Sarah hadn't
loved him for nothing. Closing his eyes against the pain, Chris slumped back
against the mattresses. He'd let his life become nothing. He wasn't the man
Sarah had loved, he wasn't Buck's old friend, he wasn't the man who'd been
Adam's father, he had become nothing.
Choose to go or come about and live, Chris. There is nothing else. He
sat back up and looked into the mirror again. Choose, Chris...
"I don't want to go, not knowing..."
Revenge is nothing, Chris, if you stay, you must come about and Live!
"I don't remember how." He said. "I can't do more than exist..." Chris justified
himself. "I really don't know how."
Did you love Sarah? Did you love Adam?
"What kind of questions are those?" Larabee raged. "Of course I loved them,
they were my life, they were everything!"
If you loved them, then love them still, Chris, and be the man they loved.
The father, the husband, the son, the friend....
Come about and Live, Chris, Live or Go now. Chris moaned in torment.
He buried his face in his hands. Choose!
His head snapped up at the order. He looked at the reflection in the mirror.
It wasn't him, that shell of a man, it wasn't the Chris he'd been, it wasn't
the Chris he wanted to be. Not the man Sarah loved, not Adam's father, not
Buck's friend, not even his father's son. That haggard shell wasn't him.
"I choose to live." He startled himself by saying it aloud. "I choose to
live." He said it again to make sure the strange feeling inside him was what
he really felt. Chris sighed as he felt a tightly bound something inside
him loosen. It hurt, but he felt it, he really wanted to live.
The sudden prickling of his eyes made him realize that he was crying. He
wept, totally and deeply for the first time since the bombing. Chris wept
for his wife and child, for his lost world, for his broken friendship. After
what seemed like hours, he was exhausted by the emotion, but strangely renewed.
Gently, Chris sank into a deeper sleep than he'd known for a long time.
Chris was startled when he woke and found that it was very late in the afternoon.
He called the federal building and told them he was sick. It wasn't much
of a lie. His new desire to live had reawakened his body to the fact that
he'd been ignoring it's needs. A long shower helped him feel more like himself,
and he decided that he wasn't going to eat another sandwich for awhile. Grabbing
the phonebook, searching for something that delivered, but wouldn't cause
more upset to his stomach, he found he was ravenous. It seemed like he hadn't
eaten in a long time and his body felt the hunger acutely.
He ordered a massive amount of Chinese food, pausing a moment because Sarah
had loved Chinese food. Chris found it didn't hurt as much as it used to.
Thinking of Sarah brought a smile to his face instead of causing more pain.
It wasn't that he'd healed, but that he was beginning to.
Concentrating on his dingy little apartment, he cleaned as he never had before.
Each scrub, each layer of grime he removed seemed to remove one from his
battered heart. The Chinese food arrived and he smiled, though he had to
pay extra for out of area delivery. He tipped the boy some more and the teenager
frowned at him, obviously wondering what was wrong with him. Laughing, he
took the food in to the battered but now immaculate kitchen. It felt good
to laugh, Chris hadn't in so long he thought he'd forgotten how.
Chris took some care with the meal, he'd been keeping himself on short rations
for a long time and he didn't want his stomach to rebel. Slowly he tucked
into the food, savoring every bite as he used to do with Sarah.
"No turning back" he told himself, surprised by the rusty sound of his own
voice. He'd spoken more in the last 24 hours than he'd done in a long while.
Larabee didn't even feel like growling. He couldn't say that he was happy
precisely, but more that he was alive and wiling to be so.
He put the leftovers in the nearly empty fridge and pulled out the pack of
fortune cookies that went with the meal. Chris remembered Buck, how they
used to tease about following the first fortune that they received. Larabee
held that sacred, because that's what he'd been doing when he met Sarah.
With a little trepidation, he cracked open the cookie.
'Much is unknown, the wise man reaches for the opportunities afforded him
with great vigor.' Lucky numbers: 7
Shaking his head, Chris laughed a little, rustily, and cracked open the second
'Old friends are the strength of the past, New friends are the hope of the
future.' Lucky numbers: 7
He opened the third cookie and found that it too was a little too much on
'Anger blinds a man to potential and gives aid to his enemies, a wise man
balances both peace and fury.' Again the Lucky number was 7.
"Alright, I get your point!" Chris declared. At that moment he felt as if
Sarah was there beside him. "I love you and miss you both so much. I've been
lost and I'm sorry about the man I've been. Oh Sarah. I'll try to make you
and Adam proud of me again. I'll try to be that man, the one I should have
been...." he closed his eyes, trying to feel the memory as if it were the
here and now. "Nothing is going to bring you back, Sarah. But, I promise
not to forget, not to drown, but not to forget. I've lost you and I've lost
my world, but you'd have wanted me to make a new one. I'm not sure I can,
but I will give it all I have left. Sarah..." he drank in the feel of her
presence as a shield against her absence. "I Love you."
The ringing of the telephone brought Chris out of his revery. He might have
been angry at another time but right now he felt that it was right. Important....
It made him remember that there was life outside his pain.
"Chris," The uncertain voice of Wiley Redd came through the receiver. "I
just wanted to call and say I'm heading back to Washington. They told me
you'd called in sick. I know that things haven't been right for a long time,
that I probably made you angry with what I said, but I'm here, I still care...If
there's anything I can do for you, please don't forget to call. I'm sorry...."
"Don't be." Chris cut him off. "There is something you can do for me."
"There Is?" Wiley was astonished both by the comment and the tone of Larabee's
voice. "What can I do for you, Chris?"
"I've decided I want in on this Special team thing." Chris said with a laugh,
he hadn't even let Wiley explain it to him "Though I'd like a little more
information, but if you're heading out to Washington..."
"I'll cancel my flight. Where do you want to meet?"
"How about Delan's, I've eaten but I could really go for a slice of her lemon
"Sure Chris, my driver can find it. How about in an hour?"
"Make it an hour and a half, I'm way out here in "Boonsville"." Chris said,
"It'll take me a little time to get into Denver proper."
"I'll wait, take what time you need." Wiley's voice had an excitement in
It took Chris 75 minutes to get into Denver and get to Delan's. Wiley was
as good as his word, the fancy Stretch limo showed. He parked his hunk of
junk as close to the door as he could, Delan's was very popular.
Wiley Redd could tell something had changed. The Chris Larabee who walked
into the restaurant was nothing like the battered husk he'd met with yesterday.
Chris even smiled as he shook his hand. Wondering what had changed the situation,
Wiley began his pitch, less interested in the assignment than in the change
in man before him.
"This is an RMETF, a Regional Mobile Enactment Task Force, which doesn't
make any sense to anyone except the idiot who coined the phrase. The mission
is to take on the cases that none of the locals can unravel. You know that
the locals in most places do fairly well without Federal interference, you
were a cop and I know you remember how nasty jurisdiction could get." Chris
nodded with interest. He was eating a huge slice of Lemon meringue pie. Wiley
watched him eat, trying not to show his curiosity. Yesterday, Larabee looked
like he'd lost far too much weight, now he looked a little more healthy.
The color in his face was better, not so wan and well 'wrong'.
The waitress came back by and Chris ordered a glass of milk as well as a
sandwich, with a self deprecating chuckle.
"After dessert?" The lady asked in confusion.
"I'm still hungry and I don't want to have a sugar fit, besides I used to
tease Sarah about eating dessert first." Chris grinned. Wiley was startled
by the reference to Chris's dead wife. He'd been so adamant about no one
talking about his losses. What the hell had happened and who did he have
to thank for it?
"So what is the chain of Command? Who has the final say?" Chris asked, bringing
him back to the conversation.
"Judge Travis does though he has to answer to the Head of Operations, Denver,"
at Chris's raised eyebrow, Wiley explained. "They wanted a Federal Judge
to ride herd on the teams, entrapment and other illegalities are not what
we're going for here. We need clean cases, clean arrests and convictions.
This is highly dangerous stuff to be dealing with. It's not the penny ante
crooks you'd be going after, but the real scum... Chris?" He couldn't hold
it back anymore. "What happened? For the last couple of years you've been
driving yourself into the ground, threatening people who so much as mentioned
your dead wife's name and trying to get yourself killed. Yesterday, I honestly
thought that you weren't going to last much longer. You weren't eating well,
and if Taylor didn't kick you out, your next physical would have. Now you're
eating like there's no tomorrow, you're joking about Sarah's dinner first
rule, and you just.... Well, look better. What's going on?"
"I made the choice to live," Chris said. "I've really been walking on the
edge for a long time, ever since I lost them. It was like I was dead too.
I wanted to be, but eventually you come to a crossroad and have to choose.
I chose life. I want to be the kind of man that they loved. I can't ever
be the one I was before they were taken away, but I don't want to live that
empty life anymore. I've shamed them by it. Sarah would have kicked my ass
if she'd seen the way I've been behaving."
"That she would have." Wiley laughed, trying to keep a hold of his astonishment.
Chris wasn't the boy he'd known, hadn't been for a long time, wasn't the
young husband, wasn't the grieving widower, This was a new Chris, but somehow
each part of him seemed to be connected to what had been. He was alive in
ways that Wiley couldn't see but could feel. That empty shell yesterday had
frightened him, made him feel that he'd be attending Chris's funeral with
the Larabee parents all too soon. Now here Chris was, the same man he'd known
and different, but alive as he hadn't been for so very long. Redd wanted
to jump up and down screaming his joy. He hadn't been as close to Chris as
a father, but he'd loved him as much as if he were his.
"So this RMETF?" Chris prompted, a little disturbed and a lot gladdened by
the racing expressions on Wiley's face. The old man had been like a favored
Uncle all of his life, and he found that he was suddenly glad of the connection.
"Well, they have assigned specific regions, yours would be the Rocky mountains,
but you'd probably get pulled into the South and South-Eastern as well. The
team they have there is competent but not stellar. You'd be mostly autonomous,
but you'd have to work under Judge Travis and the Local Operational Head
here in Denver. You'd be based at the Rout Federal Building, in your own
offices though, you'd stay ATF, but to be truthful the Team would be something
else, more independent from the main body of the Bureau."
"How about the team? How many?"
"Four to six men. You'd get to choose your own. I made that arrangement with
Travis. I know you too well. You wouldn't put up with agents who'd been placed
there for political reasons or weren't competent. This kind of thing is
frequently an excuse for those of us in high position to arrange things for
good friends and protegees. You wouldn't put up with it, and I want to see
some functional teams out there. The couple I've seen in operation resemble
a 'three stooges' movie. You'd have to do training at Shackleton, but you've
been there before and with your background, I don't image it will be a problem."
"Probably won't" Chris agreed.
"If you don't want this, Believe me, I'll understand." Wiley said. "It's
just so good to see you...Alive."
"I want this, Wiley. I really want this." Chris said. "It's been too long
for me. I need to be doing something and as you said, make work and I just
don't get along."
"Okay." Wiley laughed seeing the truth in Chris's face. "How about you leave
for Shackleton on Monday. You'll be back by the 20th."
"Do you think Taylor will let me go?"
"Faster than grabbing a hot griddle. Taylor's been trying to get rid of you
for a couple of months."
"I'm in. With the ususal reservations." Chris laughed, thinking back to his
"No question there!"Wiley chuckled, thinking back to those same days.
Chris finished his milk and found that he could smile at the memories it
raised. It was right, it was good to be alive...
Continues in Partners