MCAT: Turbulent Transition #7
Size: Approx. 510K
Reconciliations Part I: Reclamation
Chapter 16 -
18 | Chapter 19 -
21 | Chapter 22 -
Chapter 25 - 27 | Chapter 28 - 30 | Chapter 31 - 34
Characters: Chris, Vin., and the rest of the seven~ Orrin Travis ~ Nettie, Rain, plus OC.
Rating: FRM, Profanity, Het, some violence and offensive language. 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 II ~ Revelations. Events coincide to reveal hidden truths, as life-altering affirmations are disclosed, and the entire family is forced to confront an evil that lurks in the shadows of their lives, hell-bent on destroying the life that they all cherish.
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
Excerpt from ending of Part 1 ~Reclamation
“…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.
Turbulent Transitions Series ~MCAT # 7~Continued
ReconciliationsPart II ~ Revelations
Journal Entry ~ November 18th~7:00am
In spite of the fact that the ranch has apparently become a target for the RMR, and life with Linda is deteriorating fast, I did attend my NA meeting last night. I feel good about the progress I have made in the four months since California, but anyone that tells you that it is easy to reclaim your life after you make a wreck of it, has never been in that position. It’s damn hard.
Here I am, though, with my job back a month early. My youngest daughter is asleep down the hall, my eldest is speaking to me again, and my health is good. Best of all, I managed to heal the hole I tore in the relationships with all my brothers, especially Vin. My mind is open again, and so is his. I can feel Tanner back in my life and as soon as he makes it home safely we have a lot of catching up to do. That is, after he gets over the shock of the delightful surprise that Kelli has waiting for him. They are finally going to have the baby they have wanted since the day they were married. The sooner I can get him home, the sooner she can tell him, so that is a priority for me.
Linda is due to have our second child in the last part of May. I know that it has not been easy for her over the last year, but it has not been bad enough to account for what she is putting us through now. She has changed… hell, maybe that’s the wrong word…I think maybe I always knew that Linda had a spoiled side to her, and that she was impulsive. I may have found that part of her personality endearing at first. Now it’s way past that…her childish demands are putting a huge strain on our marriage, even worse she seems to have lost interest in being a mother to Grace and that is unacceptable. I do know that something has to give soon because living this way will only hurt our children and do irrevocable damage to our marriage.
Today, Grace and I are headed over to the Dunnes and Wells' place. Casey has prepared a joint birthday party for Lilah, Daisy, and Terrell; all of them will turn one year old this coming week. I have a feeling we will also be celebrating Caleb’s adoption. It was finalized yesterday and the Wilmington's officially have a son, Caleb Evan Wilmington. Knowing that the adoption is official was only a formality for Buck, and Inez, and Caleb, too. From the moment that Caleb entered the Wilmington’s house, he had already become a member of their ‘forever family.’
Chris closed his journal, replaced it inside his desk drawer, and then went down the hall to say good morning to Grace.
Tanner Home ~7:00am
Kelli thought she had this morning sickness thing under control and was learning how to handle it, but today it had hit her with a vengeance. Twenty minutes of throwing up in the bathroom left her with a headache and feeling drained. She had lain down on the bed intending to only rest for a few minutes, but it turned into more like thirty.
Silently the bedroom door opened and Jason moved quietly into the room. He knew that his mom had not been feeling well for a while now, and he was worried about her. When he saw that she was fully dressed and lying across the bed, he decided to do what he could to make her feel better. He went into the bathroom, found a soft washcloth, and ran cool water over it before taking it back into the bedroom.
Kelli opened her eyes and saw Jason standing next to the bed. “Hey baby. Is somethin’ wrong? Where’s Andi?”
“Andi is in the kitchen with Max, and you’re sick. I brought you this.” He held up the washcloth and was pleased when she reached out and took it.
“Thank you Jason.” She ran the cool cloth over her face and managed a smile for her son. “That feels good.” The concern on his face was obvious and she wanted to reassure him that she was okay. “I’ll be fine; I just have a little headache.”
“Dad could fix it…if he was here.”
Patting the empty space on the bed beside her she invited him to lie next to her. “Come here.” He scrambled onto the bed without a second of hesitation. “I know you miss your dad. I do too, but I promise you he’ll be home soon.” She wrapped her arms around her young son and hugged him.” You don’t need to worry about me either.”
Kissing the top of his head, Kelli hugged him tighter. “I promise. You are good medicine for me, my headache is almost gone.”
“I love you, Mom.”
"I love you too, and don’t you ever forget that Jason Tanner.” Kelli tickled him and was delighted to hear his laughter. Jason had learned how to be a normal seven-year-old boy over the last year, but at times he showed little signs that Jason the protector was still around. This was one of those times; knowing that Vin was not here, and picking up on how Kelli was feeling, he had reverted to his old self again. This Jason was the one that was so much older than his years, and was in the habit of taking care of first his ill mama, then his dad, and finally Andi. It was also going to be up to her and Vin to make certain that he understood that the arrival of a new baby would not change the love they had for him or Andi.
Once his laughter settled down Kelli made a suggestion. “Let’s go see what Max is makin’ for breakfast before Andi beats us to it. We have a birthday party to attend today.”
1:00pm ~ Dunne/Wells’ Home
JD, Casey, and Nettie had worked all morning to make this party just right for the kids. Considering the fact that Walter had armed men patrolling the perimeter of the property to insure their safety, and the cold temperatures, they agreed to have the celebration indoors. Mallory and Rain were helping, while Josiah was at the hospital picking Nathan up so that he could attend his son’s birthday party. Buck steered Inez into a comfortable chair, and she immediately claimed Grace from her father’s arms. Linda had bowed out of coming, saying that she was not feeling well and Chris did not try to change her mind.
Ezra and Barbara had designated themselves to the task of entertaining the children and coordinating the games for them to play. The two of them had spent the early morning hours discussing their wedding plans. They had put off making an announcement because of the last case and the repercussion from it, but now that Chris had rejoined the family and was back at work, the holidays seemed to be the perfect time to tell everyone. Ideally they wanted Vin to be here too, but in the end they decided to go ahead and spring their news on Thanksgiving Day.
Buck grabbed a beer for himself and one for Chris, handing it to him as he sat down between Inez and Larabee. “Hey stud. Where is Linda?”
“She wasn’t feeling well and decided to stay home.” Chris sighed. “I suppose you’ll know soon enough. She’s pregnant again.”
Wilmington started to congratulate his old friend, but the look on Chris’s face stopped him. “Is there a problem?”
“Hell Buck, as far as Linda is concerned lately, everything is a problem. I had a long talk with Matt yesterday when I went over to tell him about the security breech. It seems that there is a lot more going on than even I was aware of.” Chris studied Buck’s expression. “You know anything about it?”
Buck took a long swig of his beer and tried to ignore the question. “Me? Hell, what do I know?”
“That’s what I am asking. Matt told me about Linda leaving Grace for a whole day, and him having to call Kelli to help out. He also told me that Kelli lit into Linda and dragged her out to the barn. What he couldn’t tell me was what occurred after you and Vin showed up. Is what happened that day the reason that Kelli and Linda are not talking?
“Tell him, Buck.” Inez said quietly to her husband.
“Linda's been doing her best to drive a wedge between you and Kelli.” Buck said reluctantly. “Kelli's most likely been trying to do her best to keep it all to herself, but after Linda had left Grace for hours without formula or diapers....I guess it was the last straw for Kel. When we got there, Vin and I literally had to pull them apart.”
‘I see...” Chris said. “And...?”
“I don't know the gist of the whole argument but Linda said some pretty harsh things about Vin, the Wild Bunch as a whole, and you. Kelli told her not to screw with her family and your eldest was fixing to kick your wife's ass when we arrived."
Chris was quiet for a few minutes as he took in what Buck had told him. Inez bit her bottom lip, trying to decide if she should tell Chris about the argument that Linda had instigated at Jason's party. She decided that Chris deserved to know the truth about what his wife was trying to do
“Yes, Inez?” Chris turned his attention onto Inez.
“There's something else you should be told. At Jason's birthday party, after you and the other men had left to go check out Ezra's Silver Bullet and Vin's truck...Linda was not a happy camper. She was pissed that you were more interested in spending time with the kids and your brothers instead of with her. She started asking me questions; asking if it bugged me about Buck being so close to his brothers and I told her no...That I was thankful for them.”
Inez paused for a moment. “I told her that because of his brothers being in Buck's life, it makes it even more probable that he's going to come home to me and the children. She then went on to say that none of them had been there for you in the past several months, and that you didn't need anyone other than her to make you happy...especially Vin.” Inez fingered Grace’s blanket fretfully. “Barbara urged me to go with her because she knew that I was getting upset. We left and although we couldn’t hear what they said, I know that Kel and Linda had a heated discussion after that.”
“Damn.” Chris said, closing his eyes momentarily and trying to control his anger over Linda's attempts to manipulate his life, and the relationships with the people he was closest too. “She told me....it doesn't matter what she told me...what matters now is the fact that what she has attempted to do didn't succeed. It's been a rough few months, but now things are back on track again, and they will be even better when Vin gets back and he and I are able to have a long talk.”
“I’m sorry Chris; if I can do anything...I’m here.” Buck wished he could help, but he knew Chris well enough to know that his old friend would handle this his way.
“You’ve always been there Buck. Thanks.” Chris looked up and saw Kelli arriving with the kids. “Excuse me, I need to see Kel.” He stood up and walked over to help his daughter with her coat.
“Uncle Chris, look!” Andi was waving a card at him. “It’s from Daddy!”
Kneeling down to her level Chris looked at her prized possession. “That it is munchkin.” He opened the card, recognizing Vin’s scrawl and looked up at Kelli. She mouthed that she would explain later. “Let’s see, it says miss you Sugar, will see you soon, Love Daddy.’
“Yeah…I go show Uncle Ra.” Andi took off in a whirl.
Jason handed him the card he had received. “We both got one.”
Chris grinned as he read Jason’s card. “Your dad is proud of the reports he has been given on your school work.” He squeezed Jason’s shoulder. “I am too.”
“Thanks, “Jason leaned in close and whispered so only Chris could hear him. “I need to talk to you…after you finish with Mom.”
Whispering close to the young boy’s ear Chris answered. “I’ll come find you in a little bit, okay?” The young boy’s nod was all the answer he needed as he watched Jason take off to find his other Uncles.
Kelli waited for Chris to stand up and then explained. “Vin wrote out several cards for each one of ‘em before he left, and then he sent the entire packet to a friend he has in Virginia that mails ‘em to the kids once a week with a Quantico postmark.”
“Judging by the look of joy on their faces it was a worthwhile effort." Chris noticed that she looked pale. "How are you?”
“Okay for the most part, I just wish this whole thing was over already.” She laughed when she saw the look of surprise on Chris’s face and clarified. “I’m referrin' to the assignment Dad, not the baby.”
Chris was quiet for a few moments and then said softly. “That’s the first time you have called me dad in months. It sounds good.”
Kelli only nodded as she moved aside to allow Josiah room to help Nathan inside.
“Welcome back Nate, I supposed now that Daddy Jackson is in the house the real party can begin.” Chris moved to the other side of Nathan. “Lean on me if you need to,”
“It’s good to be back, thanks.” Nathan's eyes found his wife and son and he smiled. “If you two don’t mind, I’d like to get over there by that beautiful lady that is holding my son.”
“No problem brother.” Josiah grinned as he and Chris walked closely beside Nathan and seated him with his lady. “Tell me what you need and it’s yours.”
Nathan took hold of Rain’s hand. “I have everything I need right here.”
Once Nathan was settled, Chris scanned the room to find Jason. He was standing beside Kelli again, and it looked as if he planned on staying there.
“Kel, may I borrow your son for a few minutes?” Chris asked as he walked up to them.
“Sure,” Kelli smiled at Jason. “It’s okay, I’ll be right here when you return.”
Larabee grabbed both their coats and steered the boy to a quiet place on the screened in back porch where they sat side by side. “Jason, what’s on your mind?”
“Mom’s been sick, and since dad is not here, I need to take care of her. I was hoping that maybe you could help. Can you tell me what to do for her?”
Chris saw the concern in Jason’s eyes and knew that he was serious with his question. For a child his age he had seen too many people he loved get sick and disappear from his life. Somehow Chris knew that he had to alleviate the child’s fears. “I know that your mom has not been feeling well and that is why I took her to the doctor myself, so she could get better. The doctor gave her some medicine and told her to rest more and she’ll be fine”
Jason looked over to his uncle and studied him for a long time. “You said she needs to rest…You’re her dad, will you tell her she has to listen?"
“I already have.” Chris measured his words carefully. “I know you and Andi miss your dad, and that he would be proud of you for watching out for her, but I am keeping a close eye on your mom, too. If you think she’s not listening then you come tell me and I’ll make sure she does. She’s not going anywhere Jason, I promise, you just give it a little more time.”
“Okay, but I sure hope you don’t have to give her a time-out. I don’t reckon she’d like that much.”
Chris laughed. “I’ll keep that in mind. You feel better now?”
Jason graced his uncle with a big smile. “I love you, Uncle Chris,” and then he hugged Chris’s neck.
“Love you, too. Now we have a party to go back to. What about it?” Chris took Jason’s hand and they both went inside to join the fun. Larabee saw Kelli watching as they stepped back into the room, and Chris winked at her to signal that all was well.
JD kept the camcorder going and recorded practically every movement that Lilah, Daisy, or Terrell made. He made certain to capture all three cakes on camera before they were cut, one for Lilah and Daisy, one for Terrell, and one to celebrate Caleb’s adoption. For a few magical hours on a Saturday afternoon, the problems facing the adults were forgotten, and worries were set aside. Proud parents, aunts and uncles, looked on as children played and the smiles and laughter of happy children was the only thing that mattered.
Linda had feigned illness to avoid going to the party with Chris. Truthfully she felt great; this pregnancy was very different from what she had experienced with Grace. She was not having morning sickness, and did not feel exhausted all the time. Of course she was sleeping more and with all the extra help around the house she only had to do the things she wanted to, and had no demands on her time. She had no intention though of letting Chris know how good she really felt.
Since he was out of the house she took advantage of the time and slipped into his home office. She justified her snooping with the excuse that it was the only way she was able to find out anything that was going on with her husband. She knew he had a sponsor…Colonel Mike Tai, and she worried about how much Chris may be listening to him. She had her lawyer hire a private investigator to check the man out. It was beyond her to understand why he thought getting those silly chips was such a big deal. Chris did not need any of that garbage to interfere in his life. He just needed to remember that he was a married man and pay attention to her. It seemed to her that his therapy sessions simply stirred up things that were best left alone.
As was her habit over the last few months, she slipped his journal out of the desk drawer and began to read.
Something has to give soon though, because it is damn hard to live this way…This young man though reminded me of Vin when I first met him…meeting with Travis. I have to do that 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.
“Of course you had to go back to work for VIN! What about me?” Linda huffed.
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 NOT coming back was not an option.
“Tanner is a big boy, Chris, he does not need you and you sure as hell don’t need him.”
I can feel Tanner back in my life and as soon as he makes it home safely we have a lot of catching up to do. That is, after he gets over the shock of the delightful surprise that Kelli has waiting for him. They are finally going to have the baby they have wanted since the day they were married. The sooner I can get him home, the sooner she can tell him, so that is a priority for me.
“DAMNIT! Not only has he reconnected with Vin, but now Kelli is pregnant!” Linda ranted aloud. “I will not let them take my place. I am your wife and you are damn well going to put me first! What’s more, I am not going to allow Kelli to get all the attention for her baby when I’m having a baby too.”
She has changed… hell, maybe that’s the wrong word…I think maybe I always knew that Linda had a spoiled side to her and that she was impulsive. I may have found that part of her personality endearing at first. Now it’s way past that…her childish demands are putting a huge strain on our marriage, even worse, she seems to have lost interest in being a mother to Grace, and that is unacceptable. I do know that something has to give soon because living this way will only hurt our children and do irrevocable damage to our marriage.
Linda closed the journal and replaced it to its original position. “Okay Larabee, I may have to change my tactics, but you will not put me second to Vin, Kelli, your brothers, your work, or our children. Cowboy, you may soon find yourself raising two children alone!” The blonde had some serious thinking to do, and plans to make, if she was going to have to compromise to get what she wanted, then so was Chris.
Sanchez home ~late evening
Nathan and Rain were using the guest bedroom in the Sanchez home. Despite the fact that Josiah and Mallory had assured them both that they were welcome to stay as long as they needed to, they were anxious to be back in their own home again. Terrell was finally sleeping in the crib that Josiah had set up for him in their room, and Rain had been fussing over Nathan’s injuries.
“Rain, I’m okay, by the end of the week the stitches will be dissolved and all the soreness will be gone.”
“You were damn lucky that your rib caught the brunt of that knife, otherwise I would have been attending your funeral today instead of our son’s birthday party.”
Nathan pulled her close to him as he lay stretched out on the bed. “If Buck hadn’t been there…”
“Shh, he was, and we’re fine. We were all very lucky. Ezra talked to the insurance adjuster and has information you might want to go over with him. The rest of the family pooled their money together and bought new clothes for Terrell and us, enough to get by anyway, until we can get out. Josiah and Mallory have been there for anything else we need. Chris has been working around the clock to increase the security on the ranch, and they have all offered to help us when we are ready to start working on the house.”
“I guess that I’ve kind of forgotten that we have such a great family
here…I…Rain, I have been an ass to all of them. This racist group thing has
gotten to me worse than anything I think we have ever been involved with. When I
think about Paul, and how easy that could have been me…Then this, you and
Terrell are what I should have thought about. If either of you had died in that
“Honey, this has bothered you ever since they found Caleb. Do you even know why?”
Nathan sighed. “I had some time to think while I was lying in that hospital bed. Although I’m not completely sure that I understand all of it, I think finding that boy and knowing how many others are out there like him, I started to feel guilty. You and I have a good life, friends, both black and white, and a family that have never seen color as an issue. It just seemed as if we were too comfortable and should have been doing more to help black children that don’t have the advantages that we have had.”
“Maybe there are some other ways that we can make a difference, but I’m not sure that being involved with a radical group whether it is a white one, or a black one is the right way. When all this is over we should see what other options we have.”
“You are probably right. I also need to make amends with a few of my brothers too.” Nathan drew her to him and claimed a long slow kiss. “Thanks for putting up with me baby, I know I have not made it easy for you either over the last few months.”
“I love you even when you are acting like a jackass.” Rain smiled and cuddled with her husband; thankful that she was getting her ‘old’ Nathan back, that her family was safe, and they still had a future to look forward to.
Grace was finally asleep, and Chris walked out of the nursery on his way to the guest bedroom that had been his for the last couple of weeks. Linda was waiting for him and asked him if they could talk.
After the revelations that Chris had heard earlier, he was wary about anything that Linda had to say, but he decided to hear her out. He sat down in the chair by the window. “I’m here, so talk.”
“I’ve been thinking, and have come to the conclusion that maybe…just maybe; I have acted a little capriciously concerning certain things. It’s just that I have found the last few months to be so damn frustrating. It is also difficult for me to admit that I am not the world’s best mother. I know some women are like that, but I never expected to be one of them. Anyway, with a new baby, you going undercover, and all the rest following behind the atrocious things that Jack did…it was just too much. I am not used to being pushed into the background and I did warn you early on that I was spoiled by my father and brothers, but I am now willing to compromise on a few issues if you are.”
“Compromise, Linda? I think we may be well past the stage of compromising.” Chris stood up and went to stand directly in front of his wife. “I may not like the obvious fact that you and motherhood don’t mix, but I can grudgingly accept that as long as you do nothing to endanger our children. Still, I will not stand for your attempts to manipulate me and my relationships with the rest of my family, or any effort to interfere with my work.”
“I have already told my brothers not to come for the holidays. We can reschedule getting together again at a later time. I will also make an effort to mend my friendship with Kelli, and open our home to your brothers and their families. In return, all I ask is for you and me to find some time to spend a few weekends alone, and occasionally go somewhere that is not connected to your brothers or MCAT. Take a few well deserved trips and enjoy a little freedom. Is that so much to ask?”
“Considering some of the damage you have inflicted recently, I think we should take one day at a time for now. I am making no promises until I see that you are sincere about making an attempt to put things right. You show me that you really care about fixing what is wrong with our marriage, and I’ll consider your requests.”
“Chris! I am trying here…” Linda’s voice rose in frustration. She had been certain that Chris would listen and respond to her words, but not like this.
“No more talking Linda, its time to put up or shut up. It’s your choice.” Chris headed for the door. “You know where to find me when you decide.” He grabbed the baby monitor and left the room.
Linda stomped her foot, this had not gone the way she had planned. Damnit Linda, now what are you going to do?”
MCAT Office- Monday~ November 20th ~4:00 pm
Chris threw his pen down and pushed himself away from the desk. Concentrating on paperwork was difficult with all he had on his mind, and he had dealt with enough paper today. His thoughts drifted back to the weekend. On one hand it had been great; the kids' party on Saturday had been a success, and he had enjoyed the Broncos game with Buck and the boys. On the other hand; the threat to the ranch and the children was very real, and although they had taken the necessary precautions, keeping his family safe weighed heavy on his mind. Linda had been unusually quiet after their discussion Saturday evening, and he wondered what in the hell to expect from her next. Chris would like to think that she had come to her senses, but he knew the likelihood of her giving in easily to his demands were slim to none. Standing up, he decided he needed to get out of this room for a while.
Larabee stood in the doorway of his office observing his agents. He was watching Kelli and had to smile when he saw her jump up and make a quick run to the ladies room. Nathan had been quieter than usual and Chris hoped that he was not pushing himself too hard by coming back in to work so soon. JD, Mallory, and Pam were hard at work programming a new thingamajig into CASSIE. Alex was at the hospital stationed in front of Paul’s room. Mark, along with his K-9 partner Bandit, was at a bomb detection training class. Raphael and Justin were at the elementary school and should be escorting the Larabee 7 children home about now.
“Planning an invasion?” Buck grinned as he walked over to stand by Chris. “You look like a General reviewing his troops.”
Chris smiled. “If I was, you sure as hell wouldn’t pass inspection, Wilmington. What kind of shirt do you call that?”
“Hey, the kids gave me this shirt. See the little turkeys on the collar?” Buck pointed at his collar. “That is in honor of the bird that is giving his life for us to have a big feast.”
Larabee grinned and shook his head, “I hate to be the one to break this to you Buck, but those aren’t little turkeys. They’re roadrunners, and I do hope you had another shirt handy to wear if you had actually been called out to work today.”
“Work? You mean you expected me to…” Buck saw Dr. Metfield walk in. “Uh oh, Bones looks as if he is on a mission.”
Bones set his sites on Commander Larabee as soon as he entered the room, and then made a beeline for him. Without stopping, he pushed by Chris through the door and gruffly stated, “Your office Larabee.”
Chris turned and followed Bones inside with Buck right on his heels, closing the door behind him. “What have you got Doc?”
Dr. Metfield handed Chris his written report as he began to talk. “The knife that was used on Agent Jackson is the same weapon that was used on Agent Roberts. I also lifted two fingerprints. One belonged to Charles Bellows and from the position of his print, I am confident that he is the man that attacked Jackson. After more intense examination I found traces of Agent Robert’s DNA on the handle and one distinctive print that I matched to Anson Ricter. I can also match the blade to the marks on Roberts' body.”
Chris took in the information that confirmed what Vin had already told him and laid the report aside for Director Travis. “Thanks, Bones. I appreciate you personally walking this over. For now this stays confidential.”
Bones added. “Judging from what I have seen of their work that bunch is no better than a nest of vipers. Tread softly, I would hate for any one of you to end up on my autopsy table.”
“That ain’t gonna happen!” Buck affirmed, thinking about Tanner.
Dr. Metfield nodded his concurrence and then he walked out of the office.
“Damn!” Chris swore. “Vin had better find out what their target is really fast. I’ll give him two more weeks. If he doesn’t have it by then I’m ordering him out and we arrest Ricter.” Larabee reached into his drawer and rooted around until he found the bottle of antacid he was searching for.
“Maybe it’s time we rattled their cage. We probably can’t talk to Vin, but after what the RMR pulled here the other night, you know they expect someone to nose around.”
“Did you have anyone specific in mind, Buck?” Chris knew exactly what Wilmington was thinking.
“As a matter of fact, yes I do.” Buck grinned. “Ezra and I are the only people besides you, Travis, and Kel that know where Vin really is. Once they find out your name is Larabee, they might use you for target practice, and Kel…Hell I hate to even think about how they would react to a woman agent.”
Chris nodded in agreement. “You and Standish work it out and leave first thing in the morning. Just make your presence known, and don’t push them too hard. I’ll tell Kelli to warn Vin if he calls tonight, so he won’t be surprised.”
Larabee sat down at his desk to review the reports of the mini crime wave occurring around Denver. There had been random shootings reported involving several minority victims, two suspicious fires set at predominately black churches, and it seemed that the city had been flooded with white supremacy propaganda flyers at every shopping mall and educational campuses in town. Three construction sites had been vandalized, as well as a new car dealership. All were businesses that were owned, or co-owned by minorities. The movement had been busy over the last two weeks, but Chris realized that it was all a smokescreen for whatever bigger crimes were coming. It was ugly anyway you looked at it. He was certain that they were not finished with Larabee 7 yet, and they were only biding their time for an opportunity to get to Paul and Nathan again.
When his office door opened, Chris smiled as he saw his daughter enter the room. His smile faded when he took a good look at her. “Damn Kel, you look like hell, come in and sit down.”
“That old Larabee charm strikes again.” Kelli sat in the chair opposite Chris. “You’re not supposed to tell a pregnant woman she looks like hell, even if she does.”
“Sorry, but you don’t look well.”
“I probably look better than I feel, so you’re forgiven. That’s what I came in to tell you. I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow and will be in late.”
“When you leave the doctor’s office, go home. It’s the last day we’re open before the holiday, and you obviously need the extra rest. Don’t plan on any work before Monday. If Vin calls tonight, tell him that Buck and Ezra will be snooping around Rocky Meadows tomorrow in full agent mode. They plan to rattle a few cages and generally be a pain in the ass for the locals.”
“If they need some backup I could…”
“No, you won’t. They’re not going to do anything that the RMR does not expect them to do. You are homebound until Monday, deal with it.”
“Fine, be that way!" She snipped. "You just make certain they don’t call any extra attention to Tanner, and don’t forget that you promised Jason to take him ridin’ since he’ll be out of school for five days.”
“I haven’t forgotten, now go home.” Chris watched with concern as Kelli left and then prepared to go home himself. As he thought about what tomorrow’s activities might reveal, he hoped that it would bring Vin one step closer to being home.
Hang in there Vin, it won’t be much longer.
Rocky Meadows, Colorado
Dusty Slater sat at a corner table nursing a beer and observing the men in the bar. It was fairly easy to figure out how the newer ones had fallen into the resistance; they were young, alone, and impressionable. Most of them came from backgrounds that had left them with a low self-esteem and no family to depend on. For them being involved was exciting and adventurous. It was the first time in their lives they had male influences to follow that they looked up to. They were followers, and if they were still on the streets they would probably have joined one of the many gangs that roamed the urban areas, be in jail, or be dead. Yet here, they erroneously thought they had found a place to belong, and had a just cause to fight for.
There was one person that he was having difficulty figuring out, and his instincts told him that this young man was different somehow. Dusty had read the file on Clay Waters during one of his midnight reconnaissance explorations into Chambers’s office, but what he had read did not match what he observed. Clay said all the right things and followed orders, but Dusty had the feeling that there was more to the young man than he was letting on to the rest of the members. He made a mental note to keep a closer eye on Clay.
Kelli had told him that Buck and Ezra were coming in tomorrow. He knew that it was something Chambers expected, and that he would not have an opportunity to pass any information to them. They would be able to get a better picture of how Rocky Meadows protected their own though. It was a joint conspiracy from the sheriff’s office to the local business owners, to the good citizens of the community to conceal the truth about the presence of the RMR. Those citizens that were not members of the resistance were sympathizers, and did all that they could to support the cause. That included stonewalling any outsiders that came around asking questions. Dusty finished his beer, said goodnight, and retired to his room. He still had time to catch a couple of hours sleep before he made another nocturnal excursion to search for more incriminating evidence against the RMR.
Tuesday~ November 21
Travis had arranged for a federally registered car to be at Buck and Ezra’s disposal, and for at least today they were both carrying FBI identification. There would be time later for MCAT to make her presence known in this investigation if necessary, but not now. Agents Standish and Wilmington arrived in Rocky Meadows shortly after eleven, and following procedure checked in with the local sheriff.
“They have the audacity to refer to this minuscule refuge as a town.” Ezra commented as he slid out from behind the steering wheel and closed the car door. Aside from the small motel just outside of town, there were a handful of rough-hewn log structures within the city limits. A general store, a service station/garage, and Bubba’s Bar and Grill made up the business district of Rocky Meadows. The Sheriff‘s office was a small brick building located in the middle of town with a grand total of two cars parked in front of it.
“Hell, Ez, I’ve seem towns smaller than this back home. If you blinked when you passed through them, you’d never know they were there.” Buck said with a grin.
Pushing open the front door, Ezra entered the outer office first and spoke to the woman seated behind the only desk in the room. “Please inform your superior officer that we require a few moments of his valuable time.”
“Hey Sam, the men in black are here to see you!” She yelled.
Men in black? Ezra pantomimed to Buck.
Buck shrugged is shoulders in response, as the two men continued to wait.
“Hell, Mabel, send ‘em on back!” A male voice yelled in response
Mabel jerked her head toward the left and said, “That way.”
“Thank you ma’am,” Buck smiled at Mabel. He then followed Ezra into the other inner office.
There were two men in khaki colored uniforms sitting behind identical desks that faced opposite each other. One of the men looked to be in his fifties with gray streaked brown hair, hard features, broad shoulders, and a stomach that obviously had not missed many meals. The other one was a younger version of the first man and they were clearly related.
“Sheriff? We are…” Ezra started.
“That’s me, and I know who you are. What can I do for the feds today?” The older man that they presumed to be Sheriff Sam Brodie questioned.
“We’re here to investigate the disappearance of our fellow agent Daniel Abbott.” Buck told the sheriff as they produced their badges along with a picture of the missing agent.
The Sheriff barely glanced at the photo and stated. “I haven’t seen him.”
“Maybe you haven’t seen him, but perhaps your deputy has or someone in town?” Buck showed the picture of Abbott to the younger man.
“He hasn’t seen him either, but you feel free to ask around, don’t be surprised though if you don’t get any answers.” He picked up a file and began to read, dismissing their presence.
Buck looked over at Ezra and shrugged his shoulders. Both men exited the sheriff’s office to the outside.
“That went well.” Ezra commented.
“Ya think?” Buck's voice was laced with sarcasm. “Let’s try the General Store first.”
Standish silently agreed and the two MCAT agents crossed the street to the General Store. Buck opened the screen door and stepped inside, followed by Ezra. Wilmington felt as if he had stepped back in time as he took in his surroundings. A soda fountain was on one side the large room. A pharmacy was situated in the back and an array of dry good mixed with groceries filled rows of shelves. A barber’s chair also sat to the right of the front door. Buck grinned and moved toward the middle of the room where several men sat in chairs around a table playing cards while swapping tall tales.
“Gentlemen may my partner and I have a few moments of your time?” Ezra requested.
“Nope, we don’t talk to feds.”
Standish cleared his throat and tried again. “I assure you that we do not mean to bother you.”
“Well, you are. Go away.”
“’Bout as friendly as fire ants ain’t they?” Buck quipped to Ezra
“That is an astute observation Agent Wilmington.” Ezra agreed.
“Are you boys hard of hearing or just plain stupid?” One of the men asked. “My friend told you to leave.”
“All right, we’ll depart, but a word of advice.” Ezra tapped the shopkeeper on the shoulder and flashed a Cheshire grin at the other men. “Only a fool would place a bet when this man is holding four queens.”
Buck snickered as they walked out the door and burst out laughing once they were outside.
“It appears that at noontime everything closes down for lunch, except for Bubba’s Bar and Grill.” Ezra observed.
“Shall we?” Buck gestured toward the only business they had not checked out.
Together the two men headed for Bubba’s Bar and Grill. Once inside they removed their sunglasses and met the hostile stares aimed in their direction, none of which came close to a Larabee glare on a bad day. Ignoring the frosty attitudes of the other patrons, Standish and Wilmington walked over to the bar.
Buck glanced around the bar and whispered to Ezra. “I thought them fellows at the store were cold, but I swear the temperature in here is near freezing.”
“Perhaps some libation would help.” Standish attempted to get the bartender’s attention and was promptly ignored.
“Let me try.” Buck offered as he slapped the bar and barked. “How about we get some service over here?”
Bubba slowly turned around and snarled. “What in the hell do you want?”
“A couple cups of coffee and two daily specials.” Buck growled back.
Ezra cringed at Wilmington’s surly attitude and silently prayed that Buck’s infamous temper did not further antagonize an already hazardous situation. As a precaution Standish positioned himself so he could keep his eyes on the other customers. At Wilmington’s signal, they picked up the lukewarm coffee that Bubba has sloshed in front of them, and then moved across the floor to a table in the corner to sit down. Surprisingly the other men found their choice of seating humorous. The two agents shared a perplexed look.
“I wonder what they find so amusing.” Ezra queried aloud to Wilmington as the smirks grew louder.
“Do we really want to know?” Wilmington replied with a question of his own.
“No, we don’t.”
Thirty minutes later they were still waiting on their order and Buck was losing what little patience he had left. Between having no food and the unsettling looks they had been receiving from the other men present, it took all of Ezra’s calm to keep Wilmington from losing his temper.
The door opened and Dusty Slater strolled in. He exchanged ‘howdy’s’ with Bubba, ordered a beer and headed for his regular table. Dusty stopped two feet from it when he saw that it was already occupied. “Y’all are sittin’ at MY table.”
Buck looked at Standish. "I didn’t see no name on here, Ezra, did you?”
“Not that I recall.” Ezra grinned back at Buck, and then addressed the long-haired intruder. “You sir, must be mistaken.”
The room erupted in laughter as the other RMR members waited to see how Dusty would handle the two Feds. It did not take long for them to find out as Slater slowly removed the bowie knife from his belt, took aim, and heaved it into the air. The knife throbbed as it hit its target, embedding deeply into the center of the table.
“No mistake.” Dusty pointed to the knife. “It’s mine.”
Buck plucked the knife out of the table and studied it. “Nice knife, can I have it?”
Dusty growled and within three seconds had his knife in his hand and was holding it at Wilmington’s throat. “Where do you want it?”
Standish was immediately on his feet. His service revolver in his hand pointed at Slater. “Let him go!” He ordered.
The sound of a shell ratcheting into a shotgun chamber echoed through the otherwise silent bar behind them. “Drop the gun pig, or die!” Bubba shouted.
“Back off Bubba, I got this.” Dusty instructed. He pressed the knife tighter against Buck’s throat. “Unless you plan fer both of ya leavin’ town in body bags, you’d best holster that gun and take this piece of shit out of here.”
Standish read the hostile look in Slater’s eyes as well as the antagonistic stances of the other men in the bar, and slowly holstered his gun. Dusty released his hold on Buck and stepped back. Wilmington rose and moved over to Standish; together the two men backed out of the bar. Laughter erupted inside and Bubba yelled. “Drinks are on the house.”
Ezra and Buck did not speak until they were back in their car. Wilmington rubbed his throat and came away with a trace of blood on his finger, exclaiming in disbelief. “He nicked me!”
“What in the hell did you expect? You’re the idiot that asked him if you could have his knife.” Ezra retorted as he started the car and pulled onto the street. “It would be safe to report that our Vin has definitely been accepted as Dusty Slater. Since feds are definitely not on the welcome list in this community, I hope that Dusty stays in good standing with the RMR for a while.”
“Me too, but remind me when this is over to have a long talk with that boy about respecting his elders.”
“Let’s just get him home Buck, and then you can talk to him all you want.”
Chris listened as Buck and Ezra gave him an oral report on their trip to Rocky Meadows. He had not expected them to obtain any usable information, but he was very interested in everything they had to say about Vin. Evidently the RMR members accepted him as one of their own. It was apparent that they respected his abilities enough to stay out of his way and the incident today probably helped his reputation within the resistance. It did concern Chris to think that when this was over that Vin may have to deal with personal issues about being Dusty Slater, and the things he was required to do or say could come back to haunt him in nightmares.
“I believe it would be prudent to extract Captain Tanner without superfluous delay.” Ezra advised.
“The act he put on for them today was all Slater, but I do know that if they ever make Vin for an agent, he is not gonna last long in there.” Buck agreed.
Larabee looked out the window and tried to pick up on the Texan’s thoughts, but was unsuccessful. “I hear both of you, but we have to trust Vin to know when he needs to pull the plug.”
Buck studied his old friend. “Chris, maybe it would be best if we don’t let Vin make that call. You know as well as I do that once you’re in it’s hard to say quit.”
“I know what I did Buck,” Larabee snapped, “but Tanner is not on pills!”
“Never said he was Chris, and I was not referring to you specifically, so don’t get your hackles up.” Buck said softly. “All I’m saying is that it doesn’t matter who you are, once you’re deeply involved in a mission it’s easy to justify the risks and push to see it through. That goes for you, me, Ezra, Vin, and every other agent that goes under, anytime, anywhere”.
“Having been intimately familiar with that position, I can attest to the truth of that statement firsthand.” Ezra thought about his next words carefully. “The RMR deems itself at war, and Vin has enough experience in special ops, as have you both, to know that leaving a job unfinished is not acceptable. The longer he is in there, the harder it will be to walk away until the job is done. In this case the best that we can hope for is to stop the RMR for the time being. There will be others to step up for the cause once we take out Chambers, Ricter, and their men. Vin is already in far enough that it will be difficult to be objective about that.”
“After what we witnessed today, it may not be easy for Vin any way this goes down.” Buck added.
Chris knew exactly what they were talking about, but he was certain that Vin would be able to see the difference, regardless of how deep he was in. “You both have valid points, but you’re forgetting one thing. Dusty Slater may have difficulty keeping his priorities straight, but Vin Tanner has something Slater doesn’t. No matter how things come down, he has a wife that will be there to keep him grounded once we get him home.”
Buck realized more than anyone how much it had hurt Chris that Linda had not stood beside him after California. He also knew that Chris would never admit it. A wife should be there for her husband when he was down, the same as it was a husband’s responsibility to be there for her when she needed support. Somewhere along the way Chris and Linda had mentally separated and instead of growing closer during a time of adversity they had moved further apart. Wilmington did agree with Chris that it was different for Vin, he had no doubt that Kelli would be there for Tanner no matter how this came down, good or bad.
“How much are you going to tell Kel about the situation in Rocky Meadows?” Wilmington asked.
“She and Vin went into this with their eyes open Buck. In fact they figured that he had less than a 50/50 chance of coming back, and still agreed that it was the right thing to do. I don’t think Kel would be surprised by anything you saw today. I won’t lie to her, or try to make it something it’s not, she can handle it.”
“As long as Kel knows what is going on. I agree with your assessment Chris. I believe she can take on whatever comes, but the stress is wearing on her and I think we should keep a close watch on her for our brother.” Ezra had already noticed the changes in his partner, not all bad, but it did merit some concern.
Chris nodded. “I plan on it.” He rubbed his hands over his face. “You two call it a day and go home, get an early start on the holiday. I’ll be through here in about half an hour and then close up. I’ll stop and see Kel on the way home.” Larabee wanted to find out what her doctor told her, and check on his daughter.
When Buck and Ezra had gone, Chris stood and moved over to the window. Staring out at the snowcapped mountains in the distance his thoughts went back over the conversation here in the office.
Why did you automatically assume that Buck meant you specifically Chris? You’re supposed to be putting California behind you. No one has ever said they believed your behavior was foolish, they only agreed that you had made some bad decisions. In fact, they have made it very plain that you have nothing to prove to them. You’ve spent many an hour with team members bouncing ideas and possible scenarios around to make certain that all the bases were covered on an assignment. So, why did you snap at Buck when he was only doing what you would do in his place? Because you still feel guilty Larabee, that’s why. You have two choices Christopher, you can let the guilt creep back into your mind or now that you recognize the problem, admit that it’s there, and do something about it before it eats away at all the progress you’ve made.
Chris turned away from the window, went to his desk and made a phone call. Colonel Mike Tai was a good listener, and he understood how old doubts could sneak into a recovery. He was also the only one outside the family that Larabee would talk to openly.
“Mike, this is Chris. I’m leaving my office in a few minutes, and I need to talk. Can we meet for coffee?”
Journal Entry~ November 22 ~6:00am
Today is the day before Thanksgiving and I suppose I should write down a few things that I am thankful for. My children are an unexpected, but wanted blessing in my life. My unborn child is still a mystery, but he or she already has a place in my heart, and my youngest daughter has truly lived up to her name as my saving Grace. She has given me a new outlook on life, and her presence makes each day special. My eldest daughter has showed me that guilt and what if’s have no place in my life. Kelli never held me responsible for her turbulent childhood, although she could have, and she did not criticize me for my bout with pills. The only thing she exploded over and rightfully so, was when I unfairly blamed Vin for things he had no control over. That is what a wife should do. She should stand up for her husband and she did, not only to me, but to Linda also. I think we may have finally made it to a solid father-daughter relationship, and I am looking forward to being there as she goes through her first pregnancy.
My family of brothers and our crazy Wild Bunch are a blessing too. We have been through years of ups and downs with one another and still know that together we are strong enough to face anything that comes our way. I need to add Colonel Mike Tai to my list, the man has been a great support for me and talking to him brings things more into focus. Last night he listened as I attempted to work through feelings of guilt that were trying to resurface. He made me realize that while we are not able to completely erase those feelings, admitting that they are there, and keeping them in perspective makes a big difference. It did for me and today, I feel 100% better about myself than I did last night.
I told Linda that I expected her to mend some fences over the holidays, and I hope she was listening. If we are to have any chance of getting back to a comfortable relationship, she has to realize that my extended family will always be a part of our lives. I will be watching to see if she was sincere when she said she would make an effort to fix some of the wrongs she has done. School is out starting today and I promised Jason that I would go riding with him. I know how much he misses Vin and maybe I can help. I hear Grace letting the world know that she is awake and ready for a new day so I will close for now.
Chris rose from the kitchen table and headed to Linda’s bedroom. He knocked once on the door and entered moving immediately toward the doorway of the nursery. Linda sat up in bed and rubbed her sleep filled eyes. “What are you doing in here? “ She asked Chris.
“Our daughter is awake and in need of some parental attention.” Chris replied as he entered Grace’s room. The baby’s whimpering quieted as her green eyes caught sight of her father. Chris smiled at his baby girl as he lifted her into his arms and walked over to the changing table. He talked softly to her as he removed her soiled garments and dressed her in dry clothing. “Good morning, sweetheart. Are you ready for some breakfast?” She did not answer his question, but she did respond to his voice with a smile.
As he left the nursery with Grace in his arms and headed toward the bedroom door, Linda’s voice stopped him. “If it isn’t too much of an inconvenience, I’d like to wish our daughter a good morning as well.”
“Alright,” Chris agreed. He walked over to the bed and sat down on the side of it. Linda scooted into a sitting position with her back to the headboard and held out her arms for Grace. Chris reluctantly released his hold on his daughter to his estranged wife.”
“Morning Grace,” Linda spoke softly as she gazed down into her daughter’s face. The rare moment of tenderness between mother and daughter moved Chris. He could almost forget all of his and Linda’s problems if only she would become a better mother to Grace.
Linda looked up at her husband and ruined the moment by saying. “Since you are off work until Monday, I gave the Nanny a few days off to spend with her sister. I plan to take it easy and do a lot of sleeping, but I knew you wouldn’t mind taking care of Grace. She’s all yours until the Nanny comes back.” Actually she hoped that once Chris realized how restrictive it was to care for Grace full-time that he might see things from her viewpoint.
“Aside from saying good morning, what are you doing with her during that time?” Chris asked as he took Grace from her.
“Not a lot, but I will be with both of you tomorrow at the dinner.” Linda replied. “Matt will be there and he’ll probably want to spend some time with her, along with YOUR family. So, it’s not as if you won’t have any free time.”
“Don’t put yourself out too much.” Chris said trying to keep hold on his growing temper, “Grace and I will be fine. You make sure you find the time to mend some fences with MY family with all YOUR free time.” He rose with the baby and headed back to the bedroom door.
“You make certain that you tell YOUR family that I’m expecting another Larabee baby and THEY need to be nicer to ME.” Linda yelled after him.
Chris shook his head, knowing that Linda still did not get it. His family was not the problem, she was.
Tanner Home ~8:00am
Max and Nettie began early preparations for tomorrow’s dinner. Today they planned to bake an assortment of goodies for the Thanksgiving feast and prepare some of the side dishes ahead of time. The other ladies would be over later to help, but the two older women wanted to get started before they arrived. Max also wanted to keep a close eye on Kelli. She had her suspicions about the cause of the younger woman’s sickness, but would wait until Kelli was ready to share that information before saying anything about it. In the meantime she was aware that Kelli’s doctor had told her to rest and Max was determined to see that she did just that.
Jason and Andi sat at the table with their mom for breakfast and they were just finishing when Chris arrived.
“Morning ladies, “Chris spoke to Max and Nettie. “I need to leave Grace for a bit, while Jason and I go riding .I hate to ask, but do you have room for one more?”
“Nonsense Chris, we always have room for Grace, you know that.” Max dried her hands and took the baby from Chris.
Chris squeezed Jason’s shoulder. “We’ll be out until at least noon, Buck and Caleb are gonna meet us at the barn.”
“Andi and I will be here Dad, we can handle Grace.” Kelli offered.
Nettie was already shaking her head. “You, young lady will follow your doctor’s orders and rest. Andi and Grace are gonna help us do some baking and you are headed to the couch.”
“You have your orders, Kel, and I wouldn’t argue with Miss Nettie or Max if I were you.” Chris crossed his arms in front of him and challenged his eldest daughter.
“Mom, if you don’t, I bet they tell on you, and Dad won’t be happy when he finds out you’ve been sick.” Jason attempted to copy his uncle’s stance.
Andi had taken Kelli’s empty plate to the kitchen sink and now she was pulling on her mama’s hand. “I take care of you.”
Max and Nettie offered no chance of escape and as Kelli looked at her children and her dad, all of them insisting that she rest, she sighed deeply. “I reckon, ‘m outnumbered.”
“Looks that way,” Chris grinned. “I’ m gonna put Jason on Dancer and JD said Caleb could ride his little mare. Buck is taking Pony out for me, and I’ll take Peso so he can get some exercise.” Larabee was the only one besides Vin that the ornery horse would tolerate for long.
“Vin would appreciate that, thanks.” Kelli knew that it would still be a while before her Texan had time for his horse.
“We’ll have lunch ready for you men when you get back, so work up a good appetite.” Nettie smiled.
“Yes ma’am,” Jason answered as he hugged his mom and said bye to Andi before leaving.
Once they were gone, Max directed Kelli to the couch, and she slept while Andi helped Max.
RMR Training Grounds
Dusty had finished the morning training and Chambers was waiting for him. It seemed that word of yesterday’s little tussle with the feds had reached him. Slater prepared himself for Karl’s reaction. He was either here to congratulate Dusty for standing up to them or to chew his ass out for drawing attention to Bubba’s Bar.
Chambers fell into step with the younger man as they walked back to the main compound. “Would you have done it?”
“That depends on what yer referrin' to.” Dusty answered cautiously.
“From what I hear, you came damn close to killin’ a Fed. I thought you were here to lay low.”
“There’s a difference between layin’ low and runnin’ scared. I ain’t hidin’ from a Fed or nobody else. They get in my way, and I’ll move ‘em…one way or another.”
Karl nodded. “Just thought you should know that if you had, any man in that bar would have helped you dispose of the bodies, and no one in town would ever admit to seeing them. They wouldn’t be the first Feds to interfere where they shouldn’t and they damn sure won’t be the last.”
“I would have handled it; I clean up my own messes.”
Karl nodded and changed the subject. “I expect you to share dinner with us here tomorrow. It’s Thanksgiving and I‘d like to have our entire group together. Food will be served in the communal dining hall at one. If last night’s maneuvers were successful I expect some explosive news from Denver soon, and then we will have another victory to celebrate.
“Nothing for you to be concerned about, but some of our white brethren will find out what happens when you choose to live with inferiors.” They reached the compound and Dusty’s truck. “Come with me to my office, I’d like to get an update on how the new recruits are doing.”
Dusty saw his opportunity to make a phone call slip away, so he did the next best thing. Cowboy, you had company last night, look for something explosive.
It was almost noon and Chris and Buck were headed back toward the barn with the boys. It bothered Larabee that they had seen small signs that indicated a large animal or possibly a human had been moving through the woods close to the houses on the property. He wanted to get back to confer with Walter, and take a good look at the video that had been recorded from the fence line in the last twenty-four hours.
The boys were riding behind Chris and Buck rode up beside him. “I know that look. What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know Buck, but something doesn’t feel right. The sooner we get home, the better I’ll feel. I think…” Chris suddenly heard Vin’s voice in his head and his message was crystal clear.” Cowboy you had company last night, look for something explosive.” Chris felt a chill travel down his spine as he realized that his instincts had been right. They did have unwelcome guests last night, the two legged kind. I’m on it now brother, thanks.
“Trouble, Buck. I’ll tell you on the way; keep the boys between us, and let’s ride.”
The smell of lunch cooking was more than Kelli could take when she awoke. She quickly grabbed a magazine and jackets for her and Andi, talking to Max on the way out. “We’re goin out by the swings for a while, I need some fresh air.” She hurried her daughter out the door and then sat on the wooden glider that Vin had made for them, while Andi played on the jungle gym.
Caught up in reading, it was Andi’s shrill yell at Tracker that drew Kelli’s attention. “Tracker, stop it!” The dog had hold of Andi’s shirt in his teeth, and was trying to drag her backwards.
Rising to go to her daughter’s aid, Kelli shouted a command to the dog, “Tracker down!” He ignored her, continuing to pull on Andi as the child yelled at him. Before the redhead was able to reach them, Tracker had actually managed to drag Andi to the ground, and much to the little girl’s outrage, forty pounds of dog was sitting on her, preventing her from getting up.
“Mama, make him move!” Andi was not hurt, but she was clearly annoyed with the Australian Shepherd.
Once Kelli was close enough, she grabbed the dog by the collar and attempted to move him. Stubbornly he refused to go willingly. “What is wrong with you?” Suddenly he broke free of Kelli’s hold and ran about two yards in front of Andi, barking continuously. Helping Andi to her feet Kelli realized that something was seriously wrong for the dog to behave this way and she held onto her daughter’s arm. “Tracker, sit.” This time he obeyed her command immediately, and ceased barking.
“Bad Tracker,” Andi started toward the dog and Kelli stopped her.
“Let me check on the dog, Andi, you stay put.” As Kelli approached the Aussie, he stood up and would not allow her past him. “What’s so important that you don’t want us over there?” She spoke softly to the animal and knelt down to pet him. Scanning the area around the dog she saw what he had been protecting Andi from and she drew in a sharp breath. Recognizing the device as something that she had seen in one of Vin’s weapons manuals, she knew that shifting any weight on the ground could be dangerous. “Andi, listen to me carefully. When I tell you to, I want you to walk, not run, back to the house and go exactly the way you came over here. Tell Max I need to see Walter, and then you stay inside. Now start walkin’.”
Andi hesitated. “You and Tracker come to?”
“Soon baby, now go,” Kelli watched as Andi made her way up to the house and breathed a sigh of relief when she was safely inside. “Ok Tracker, it’s you and me. We’re going to stay very still until reinforcements come, and they figure out how to get us out of this mess.” Kelli continued to stroke the dog’s head to keep both of them calm as she watched for Walter and wondered how in the hell an antipersonnel explosive device found its way onto the kid’s playground.
It seemed as if it took forever, but it was only ten minutes before Walter arrived with Chris and Buck. He had been at the barn when Max called and the other men rode in as he was talking to her. Although none of them knew what the problem was they sent the boys into the house with orders to stay there on their way to investigate. As they approached the area where Kelli was with Tracker she stopped them with an upraised hand.
“Don’t come any closer, and watch where you step. Tracker and I are less than twelve inches from some type of antipersonnel explosive device. We’re not movin’ so I hope you have a suggestion as to how to get us out of here.”
“Damnit,” Buck mumbled below his breath. “Of all the things those bastards
could have done, placing that type of device on the kid's playground is the
worst. Even jarring the ground around it could set it off, and if one of them
had stepped on it…”
“I know Buck. You’re the bomb expert, how in the hell do we neutralize it and get Kel out of there?”
“It depends on what it is, and we can’t assume it’s the only one. You keep talking to Kel, I’m gonna call Mark. I’ll need some equipment, and then we need him and Bandit to sweep the area. Be back in a few minutes.” Buck started toward the house.
“Better call Inez and the others while you’re up there. Tell all of them to stay inside until we know what we’re dealing with. Also have Raphael use the copter to get Mark out here with that equipment; he can land on the road outside the gate and it will be quicker.” Chris instructed. “Walter, I need you to get the video that was taken last night. I want to know how the bastards are getting on the property.”
As soon as Walter and Buck left, Chris sat on the ground and began a conversation with Kelli trying to keep both their minds off the present danger. “I gather that Tracker is the hero of the day.”
“Yeah, he dragged Andi down and sat on her to keep her from walkin’ over here and then stopped me when I came over to check on him. The only problem I see is that he parked his butt too damn close to the thing.” Kelli kept her voice low. “Dad, what kind of monster plants one of these things on a playground?"
“One that disregards human life and believes that his message is worth any sacrifice necessary to be heard.”
“That’s the kind of men that Vin has to deal with every day, right?”
Chris sighed. “Unfortunately yes, in fact it was Vin that sent me the warning, but he only knew that it was some kind of explosive. I’m glad he didn’t know where it was or he might have killed the sonsofbitches by now, and I want to be there when those bastards go down.”
Buck returned. “Raphael and Mark are on their way to the helicopter now. Kel, can you describe to me what you can see?”
For the next fifteen minutes, Buck asked questions and Kelli answered the best she could as he wrote down everything she said. By the time he was finished, he had a fairly good idea of what kind of explosives they were dealing with, and knew what he would have to do to disarm the mine.
“That’s good darlin’. Are you doing okay?” Wilmington attempted to keep the anxiety he was feeling, out of his voice.
“That depends. Tracker and I are fine for now, but if my doctor hears about this, I think I may be in big trouble. She told me to reduce the stress in my life, and somehow I don’t see that happenin’ today.”
Chris thought about her condition and whispered to Buck. “We need to get her out of there Buck, talk to me.”
“We can’t risk it with her that close Chris. Even if we told her to run, she could never make it far enough to avoid injury if that thing goes off. According to what she is seeing the pin is out of it and anything could set it off. The radius of the blast would kill all of us. As soon as Mark gets here with our equipment I can replace the pin and you can pull her out. As long as she has been kneeling there, I doubt that she could even stand unassisted, much less walk.”
“It’s not polite to whisper, you know. I already am fairly certain that there is not much you can do without the right stuff to do it with so you don’t have to keep it a secret.” Kelli attempted a smile. “Besides, if you keep whisperin’ I might just get paranoid and I know that is not good for reducin’ stress.”
Shaking his head, Chris did smile. One thing he had passed on to his eldest was Larabee grit and she was making the best of a bad situation. “You are reprimanding me? Didn’t you ever learn to show respect for your elders?”
“I reckon I missed that somewhere along the line.” She shifted slightly. “My leg is beginnin' to cramp though, so whatever you have planned, anytime is good as far as ‘m concerned, but you had better have a way to get Tracker out of harm’s way too. I owe him for savin’ our daughter’s life.”
“I’ll make sure he gets a steak for dinner, and we’ll get him out.” Chris heard the helicopter in the distance.” Buck, take my truck and meet them at the gate.” Buck left again and Chris continued to talk to Kelli until Wilmington returned ten minutes later.
Mark and Buck put on specialized suits that used flame and fragmentation-resistant material similar to bulletproof vest. The suits were designed to increase the odds of survival for them should the munitions detonate while they were close. Buck planned to replace the pin in the mine beside Kelli to render it harmless and have Chris help out as soon as he was in position to work on it. Moving in slowly they had to get past the dog, and he was not too happy about the strange looking men coming close to his mistress.
“Easy boy, it’s just Buck and Mark”. Kelli kept Tracker calm while the men moved around them. As soon as they were between her and the mine Buck quickly replaced the pin. Without delay, Chris was there helping Kelli to stand and assisting her away from the area. He had one arm around her waist and the other on Tracker’s collar.
Within minutes, Buck called an all clear and then Mark dug up the neutralized bomb and carried it to a secure container. Their job was not finished until Bandit searched the surroundings and indicated that there were no more explosives in the immediate area. He would have to repeat that process again close to the Larabee, Wilmington, and Jackson homes, but additional handlers were coming in with more dogs to cover the larger area.
Chris took Kelli and Tracker inside and made her sit down before she saw the kids. “Dad, let’s not tell Vin specifically where it was when he calls, there is nothin’ he can do about it, and it would only make it worse for him if he did know. “
“We’ll hold off with the details, for now, but sooner or later he’ll find out.”
“Later, I hope.” Kelli stopped the conversation as Jason and Andi ran in the room to check on her. Max fussed over her and then insisted that she go to her bedroom and rest until suppertime.
Buck, Mark, and the other bomb technicians worked all afternoon, finding two more devices. One was near the Jackson home, and the other on the trail that laid between the Tanner and Wilmington home that Caleb and Jason used all the time. Finally satisfied that they had found all the mines, and had disposed of them, Mark and the others left, while Buck met with Chris and Walter.
“You did good Buck. Thanks to you and Mark we have more to give thanks for tomorrow.” Chris squeezed Wilmington’s shoulder; he knew how stressful the day had been for him. “Walter and I figured out how the bastards got in, but since tomorrow is a holiday all we can do now is to put a man on the surveillance camera, and keep someone on it twenty-four seven. We can’t do anything else until Friday, and then we plan to start electrifying the fences, it may take a while to cover the entire ranch that way but we’ll do it. Go home, hug your kids, and give Inez my love.”
“I will, and you make sure to give Tracker that steak, he deserves it.”
“Absolutely and then I’m gonna check on Kel before I take Grace home. Walter and Max are staying here tonight to keep an eye on her and the kids for me. JD escorted Nettie home and said they would be over early in the morning.”
Buck said good evening and left. Walter promised to call Larabee if he needed him and Chris peaked in on Kelli to make certain she was sleeping, before he picked up Grace and headed home.
Wilmington Home~ 9:00pm
Bedtime had finally come to the Wilmington household. Buck had sent Inez onto their room with a kiss and a promise to join her shortly. He oversaw Caleb and the girls changing into their pajamas, brushing their teeth, and hearing their prayers. Two stories later found all three children tucked into their beds, and Buck making his way down the hallway to his and Inez's bedroom. He entered the bedroom and smiled when he saw Inez sprawled asleep across their bed, fully clothed
He moved over to the bed and kneeled down to remove her socks and shoes. Inez stirred at the touch of her husband's hands on her legs and struggled into a sitting position.
‘I’m sorry. I must have fallen asleep.” Inez said around a yawn. “The children tucked in?”
“Yes.” Buck replied.” Sarah wanted another story read to them, but I drew the line at two and told them that it was time for bed.”
Inez laughed. “They usually get only one story from me when I tuck them in. Sarah seems to be picking up techniques in persuasion from Ezra.”
Buck chuckled. “I'm going to have a talk with Ezra and make sure he finds new ways to embellish his stories to the children, other than teaching them some of his tricks in manipulation.”
Inez laughed again. “Don’t be too rough on him...he does try his best not to do or say anything that can give the children any ideas.”
Buck rose and moved into the adjoining bathroom and came out with a tray loaded down with lotion, a basin of water, washrag, and a hand towel. He set it on the nightstand and then walked over to the dresser and pulled out a nightgown for Inez and a pair of pajama bottoms for himself. He changed and then helped Inez out of her clothes and into her nightgown.
He settled her back onto the bed and proceeded to first wash, and then massaged each of her feet. Now that she was in the last few weeks of pregnancy, Inez's feet tended to swell and ache. Massaging them had become an almost nightly ritual, and one Inez had come to appreciate.
Buck's tender administrations didn't end with massaging her feet that night. He moved onto the bed and after applying more lotion to his hands, he began to work at the tired muscles in Inez's neck and shoulders. As the massage continued, Buck trailed soft kisses along her elegant neck, and added tender caresses to all regions of her body.
Inez moaned in response to the fire that Buck's lips and hands ignited within her. Buck eased his wife back onto the covers and stretched out his long frame beside her as he continued his assault on her senses. This close to giving birth made it uncomfortable for Inez to make love in the normal way but there were other ways to pleasure her, and Buck proceeded to do just that, immensely grateful that they had been given another day together.