MCAT: Turbulent Transition #7
Chapter 16 -
18 | Chapter 19 -
21 | Chapter 22 -
Chapter 25 - 27 | Chapter 28 - 30 | Chapter 31 - 34
Walking over to their truck, Vin mentally smiled when he heard Ezra’s JAG start up and pull off in the opposite direction. Kelli had the engine going, and the heater on, but she was sitting on the passenger side staring out the window. Settling himself in the driver’s seat, the Texan pulled her to him for a quick kiss. “We are not through talkin’ about this Kel.” It was a silent thirty minute drive to the cabin that Raven had provided for him. Vin slowly began to unwind and relax his guard. For the first time in weeks, he could be himself without looking over his shoulder to see who was watching him. Kelli was contemplating her condition and wondering if she would be able to keep the fact that she was pregnant from Vin, or if she even wanted to.
It was almost midnight when they entered the cabin. Tanner tossed Kelli’s bags on the couch and then immediately moved to the fireplace to start a fire. He had calmed down considerably since the initial shock of seeing her walk into Bubba’s Bar, but he had to admit that she had looked good…too damn good in his opinion. Kelli had outdone herself as Blaze Butler, that woman oozed sexy without saying a word. To Vin though, his wife was always beautiful and he thought she was sexy without all the accessories. The Texan now wanted Blaze to disappear, and he had even managed to leave Dusty out in the cold truck. He and his redhead may only have a short time together here at the cabin, but he sincerely wanted it to be Vin and Kelli with no Dusty or Blaze anywhere close by. Stacking some pillows by the roaring fire, he then sat on the floor to remove his boots.
The first thing Kelli did when they were inside was to pull off the high heeled boots that were killing her feet and then went into the kitchen to prepare a pot of hot coffee. Her plan had been successful, and she would be able to carry the information back to Chris that he needed. All she had to do now was get through the next couple of hours without falling apart, but it was going to be more difficult than she originally thought. In her opinion though, her husband’s reaction to her being there was a bit over the top, he had totally disregarded the fact that she was a trained agent. As soon as the coffee was finished making, she poured the brew into two cups and carried them into the main part of the cabin. She watched as Vin stoked the fire and then he sat back to enjoy it.
She held out one of the steaming mugs to the Texan and commented. “If you’ll explain what it is you want me to tell Chris, we can finish quickly and then we can drive back to your truck.”
Tanner took the offered mug and studied his wife, trying to read her demeanor. He did recognize the woman before him as his spouse. Yet, the words she spoke were more disciplined and formal than he was used to hearing from his fiery redhead. “What in the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Whatever you want it to mean.” She shrugged her shoulder and then added. “You said you wanted me back in Denver. Just give me the information and I’ll be out of your hair.”
“Aww hell,” he sighed. I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Sure sounded like it.”
Vin set the mug down and stood up. “I didn’t want you anywhere near the ugliness that is hidden in Rocky Meadows.” He moved over to where she was leaning against the couch, and attempted to pull her into his arms. “I did not mean that I didn’t want you.”
Kelli stepped back. “I expected you to be angry, and ‘m prepared to face Chris's wrath, but this was somethin’ I had to do Tanner. In spite of what you may believe, I am a trained Federal agent, not a child, and I do not appreciate being treated like one.”
“I know you're capable of handlin' yourself. Kel, but this situation is different from what you are used to. It’s not your run of the mill, undercover assignment, and you don’t belong in the middle of it.”
“Vin, we started this together, and I am not in the middle of it, you are. I saw a way to get the information you had out of here, and unless you are gonna tell me you had another plan for it; I don’t see what’s wrong with me being the one to help you get it to Chris.”
The Texan sighed deeply. “No, I hadn’t figured out another way, but damnit Kel…I hate like hell havin’ you anywhere near those people.” Vin pulled her to him. “I didn’t see Agent Coulter step into Bubba’s tonight, I only saw my Kel, and I reckon I forgot everythin’ else. I am glad you’re here, and I needed this break, especially after today." Vin wearily explained. "I’ve found that Dusty Slater is a difficult man to live with twenty-four hours a day.”
Kelli was experiencing her own hell trying to keep her emotions under control, and the greasy fries from Bubba’s were making her nauseous. She pushed Vin away and made a mad dash for the bathroom, slamming and locking the door behind her before throwing up.
The Texan reacted immediately and followed her to the bathroom; shocked to find the door locked, he began to pound on it. “Kel, open this door and talk to me!”
“What do you mean no? Open the damn door!”
“I mean…go away…I’ll be out …when I’m damn good and ready!”
“You either open this door voluntarily or I’ll open it my way!”
Kelli rinsed her mouth and washed her face. Looking into the mirror she was surprised to see that with the make up gone, the dark circles under her eyes were so noticeable.Kel you have damn sure made a mess of this! You can’t just tell him you’re pregnant, not until the timing is right, but one look at you and he will know that something is not right. You’ve made it this far, now you need to get hold of yourself and your emotions. Tell him… its stress, that’ll work. Surely Vin will believe that. Having made up her mind to be strong, she dried her face, straightened her clothes, and then opened the door.
Vin grabbed hold of his wife by the arm the second the door opened, taking note of the dark circles under her eyes, and he demanded an explanation. “Kel, tell me what’s going on with you!”
Her resolve to be stoic deserted her when she saw the lines of worry on his face and the concern in his blue eyes. “Nothin,’ I’ve just been a little stressed and worried about you. You know this hasn’t been easy on any of us. I’m not sleepin’ well; the kids are in bed with me every night. Hell, even the damn dog thinks he has to crawl into bed with us. Add all that to the fire at Nathan’s home, the explosives on the ranch, and the children havin’ escorts to and from school on top of all the stress from work and…”
Tanner cocked an eyebrow and gave her an intent look. “And?”
That one word from Vin was all it took for Agent Coulter to disappear and release the flood of tears Kelli had been holding back. She fell into his arms and began sobbing into his shoulder muttering inaudible words. Vin held her closely and waited for her to stop crying Damnit Vin, maybe this was asking too much from her, but none of what she’s told you explains her uncharacteristic behavior. There has to be something else driving her emotions to such an extreme level. All you have to do Tanner is to get her to tell you what it is.
The bed was the closest place to sit and that is where Vin steered her. Sitting with his back against the headboard he pulled her down with him, still holding her tightly. “Baby, I know it hasn’t been easy for you, and ‘m sorry that I yelled when I know you were only trying to help. I’m sure it’s been rough on the kids too, and it had to have been upsettin’ when Nathan was attacked, and then findin’ those damn explosives on the ranch.” Vin began gently rubbing her back in an effort to calm her,” It won’t be much longer, I promise.”
Kelli could not stop crying and was angry with herself because of it. She was supposed to be here to help him, yet she was acting like a hormonal driven female instead. Although she did not regret acting out her plan, she now knew that she had only been fooling herself to think she could get this close to Vin and not tell him the truth. She kept her head buried in his shoulder, and between sobs blurted out, “I’m pregnant.”
She had spoken softly, but Vin heard what she said and his hand stilled on her back. He shifted her enough so that he was able to look into her eyes. “What did you say?”
“I’m sorry…I didn’t intend to tell you until you made it home, and I don’t want to make it harder for you on your assignment. But, it’s too difficult to keep it to myself after all the time we’ve waited. I thought I could make it through seein’ you without … Damnit, this is not how I wanted you to find out; we were supposed to hear the news together.” Kelli started crying again and could not seem to stop.
Vin had heard enough to understand that they had been granted a miracle and he held onto his redhead as a slow grin spread across his face. He had a million questions to ask, but for now he would let her cry. He did offer her a gentle reminder to try and ease her tears. “Baby, I told you once before that whenever we’re together we are home.” With delight dancing in his eyes he pushed her hair back and cupped her cheek. “I love you Kel and knowin' that we’re pregnant will not make it harder for me to get through the next couple of weeks. Hell, it gives me more to look forward to. I will never be so far away that you can’t tell me anythin, and remember, in spirit ‘m always with you.”
“I wanted to tell you, but couldn’t do it on the phone.” She sniffed noisily.” Vin…Chris knows. He‘s the one that insisted on takin’ me to see the doctor when he thought I was sick. I was stunned when Helen told me and couldn’t stop cryin, he was waitin’ when I came out of her office and…”
Vin thought back to his phone conversation with Chris. Keep my family safe for me please.”…. “You know I will Vin. Kel and…all your children are under my protection and I promise you I will not let anything happen to them.
“Hey, it’s okay. If I couldn’t be there then Chris is the one person I’d want standin’ in for me. I’m sure you know that he is goin’ to give you holy hell for comin’ up here, and since I know that, ‘m not goin’ to give it to you double, but you are NOT goin’ to take any more risks for me. I understand that you believed that you had to do this Kel, and I reckon to your way of thinkin’ you had to do somethin’. Seein’ as I know about the baby though, I want your promise that you will let Chris and me worry about finishin’ this assignment. Are we clear on that?”
“Yes.” Kelli easily recognized the love in her Texan’s eyes, along with his obvious exhilaration about their expected child. Sharing moments like this with Vin was what she had sorely missed. Now that he knew about the baby she felt connected to him in a way that even surpassed the closeness they had before.
“We’ll tackle those damn maps and the stuff that Chris needs before we go back. Right now, I want to know everythin’ about our baby, the kids, and how you are really doin’. Then I plan to make love to my beautiful pregnant wife.” Vin drew her close and settled her across his lap, prepared to take note of all that he had missed.
Kelli told him all of it, including her miserable bouts with all day morning sickness. “Dr. Weeks said that she rated this as only a medium risk pregnancy because of the fertility shots and the previous problems I had, but that everythin’ looked good so far. I did have to take a few days off last week for some extra rest, but other than being nauseous most of the time, ‘m fine. She wants to do an ultrasound next week, but I want to try and hold off until you’re home.” The Texan had leaned back with Kelli in his arms and was listening intently to all she had to share with him, enthralled by every word she had to say.
She continued. “I know we can make the kids understand that this won’t change how we feel about them, but I am concerned about Jason, he’s already worried about my health. When he finds out about the baby, it’s bound to stir up memories of when his mother died givin’ birth to Andi.”
“We’ll keep communications open with Jason; he’ll see that this is not the same as his mother’s pregnancy. He may have a few bad memories to overcome, but with enough love and patience, we’ll help him through it.”
“Love, I’ve got plenty of, but I’ve been a little short on patience and long on tears lately.”
“You just hang on til I get home baby.” He kissed her brow. “We have a wondrous journey ahead of us. I’m gonna spoil you to no end and I will be there with you every step of the way.” The Texan kissed her again. “We’re damn lucky Kel. This time last year we thought we would not have any children, then Jason and Andi came into our lives, and now we are goin’ to have another child to add to our brood.”
Kelli locked eyes with the man that had changed her solitary life into one filled with love and family. “I love you Vin Tanner.”
Answering without words, Vin possessed her mouth with a passion filled kiss that released a raging river of emotions between them. Vin took his time because tonight he wanted to share with Kelli the physical pleasures of their love with a special tenderness they could both cherish and hold on to until they could be together again.
Their lovemaking was a gentle joining of two spirits soaring on the wings of desire and euphoria. Vin was a contented man as Kelli slept snuggled close to him, and Dusty Slater was miles away from his thoughts. Making love to his woman, knowing that she carried within her a living essence that they had created was something special that he would carry in his mental book of memories. How she had ever thought that he would not notice the changes in her body, he didn’t know. He could feel the difference in her breasts and the slight rise in her body temperature. In his mind he could already visualize the child nestled inside her body, and he was looking forward to the next few months. It didn’t matter to him if the baby was a boy or girl; he would do everything in his power to keep his children, the baby, and Kelli safe.
Tuesday~ November 28
Time slipped away and all too soon it was morning. As much as Vin hated to think about it, they had to take care of business and leave this piece of heaven. The sooner he finished his work in Rocky Meadows, the more time he would have to spend with Kelli and the kids. Vin ran his hand across her bare stomach thinking of their child and spoke softly. “Kel, wake up baby.” He grinned as she began to stir and then stretched. “I wouldn’t trade the time we’ve had tonight for anythin’ in the world, but we need to get movin’. I want to get through the evidence you’re takin’ to Chris and have you on the road to Denver before eight.”
Kelli raised her head to look at him and smiled. “I know we have to go, but ‘m glad we had this chance to be together, too.”
Vin lowered his head and took the time for a long loving kiss. “You did good Kel; a little R&R is exactly what I needed to endure another couple of weeks as Dusty, and this will all be over soon.” Reluctantly they rolled out of bed, dressed and straightened the room. She had to detour to the bathroom for her first bout of nausea of the day. This time Vin was with her, rubbing her back as she was sick, and then he had a cool cloth ready for her when she finished.
Throwing his arm around her waist as they walked out of the bedroom, Vin smiled, and made a request. “Hang onto that red thong. I’d like to keep it to remember Blaze.”
“Maybe Blaze will show up again sometime and wear it for you” Kelli grinned. “Of course, I doubt it will be anytime in the near future.”
“It better not be. “Tanner swatted her backside softly. “You are under strict orders woman. No more adventures, no risk takin’, no nothin’. Your only job is to take care of our children ‘til I get home. In fact, ‘m gonna have Chris get a non-traceable phone and all my reports are goin’ to him from here on out.”
Kelli frowned at that announcement.
He quickly clarified his statement when he saw that she was going to argue with him about it. “You’re gonna keep yours strictly for me to check up on you, and I will be doin’ that as often as possible. I trust you, Kel, but I also know you too well to think that you will quietly sit on the sidelines and do as you’re told. Call it insurance if you want to, but with Chris’s help I will know if you pull any more Blaze-like escapades. No arguments.” He kissed her to take the edge off his ‘order’.
The Texan pulled her down beside him and began to explain the treasure trove of information that she would be taking to Chris. Vin had drawn maps of the compound including locations of guards, stockpiles of illegal weapons, office locations, and entrances of underground tunnels. They watched him at work and away from the compound, but when he was there he had free access to the entire area. Tanner had secretly used a mini digital camera to take pictures of maps, documents, vehicles, and pages of what Chambers called his trophy book. Several film chips were bagged together for JD to process. He had even copied DVD’S that depicted some of their crimes. Tanner was also positive that paint scrapings he had taken from one of the vans, would match Nathan’s car. Piece by piece he had smuggled bits of evidence out and hidden it, waiting for the opportunity to get it to MCAT for processing.
Kelli felt a chill travel down her spine when she realized the risks Vin had taken to get this information.” I’m certain that there is enough here for Federal prosecutors to pursue and to get search warrants, but Vin, you are the only connection they’ll have for this stuff if they get to court. The RMR will make you their number one target when this all comes out in the open.”
“By then we will hopefully have these bastards locked up, baby. I wrote statements to match each piece of evidence I collected, describin’ when, where, and how I obtained it.” Vin saw the concern in her blue eyes. “It will be okay. There is nothin’ here Chambers or anyone else will miss before I get out of Rocky Meadows. All I need now is more information on the clinics they have targeted, and their plans for the Larabee 7. I promise that the minute I know that, ‘m out of there.”
“You don’t want me to take risks and that goes double for you Tanner. I promise to behave, but if you get your Texas ass in trouble, you had better know now that I will do whatever it takes to help Chris hunt you down.”
Vin did know that Kelli would try to do just that, which is why he planned to have a long talk with Larabee while she was on her way back to Denver. He knew that if the worst happened that Chris was the only one beside himself that had a chance in hell of stopping her from coming back here. In fact he was counting on his brother to do whatever was necessary to keep her in Denver, no matter what.
“I’ll be fine Kel and so will you.” Together they gathered the things that needed to be loaded into the Tahoe, locked up the cabin, and then drove back to Dusty’s truck stopping only long enough for a drive thru breakfast. This good-bye was different from their last one, not easier for sure, but knowing that in a couple of weeks he would be done and home did make it less painful. He cupped her chin and ran his thumb across her lips before leisurely kissing her. “You take care, baby, I’ll see you soon.”
Tanner watched to make certain that Kelli was safely headed toward Denver. As soon as she was out of sight, Vin turned in the room key at the front office, climbed into his truck, and headed for a pay phone.
Chris started the day off with a headache. For him sleep had been elusive last night, his body was tired, but his mind was too damn active. Yesterday could have ended in tragedy for his family. Rain and Josiah were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it damn near cost Rain her life. If they had discovered that Josiah was a government agent, Larabee had no doubt that he would have been killed. Additionally, any way you looked at what had happened it was not a great position for Vin either. Larabee knew that Tanner kept a good mental balance under normal circumstances, but having to act as if you killed your brother’s wife was anything but normal. Still, in this case it had kept her alive as well as Tanner and Sanchez. Vin would have blown his cover to protect both of them if necessary, and if that had happened Josiah would have tried to help the Texan and then…God only knows how that would have ended.
Even knowing that it was an improbability that Tanner would have been able to get a call out, Chris kept hoping that Vin would manage somehow. The only thing he had picked up from the Texan was anger and frustration until late last night and the brother part of him was concerned about keeping him under longer. The Commander side recognized the importance of finding out the ultimate target that the RMR was preparing to attack and their plans for the Larabee7.
Buck walked into Chris’s office without knocking and handed him a glass of water and two aspirin. “You looked like you needed this.”
“Thanks Buck.” Chris took the aspirin; it was the only pain reliever he used anymore. If plain old aspirin did not work, then he would just suffer through whatever pain he had.
“Are you ready to go over the reports for the unit meeting or do you want to wait til your headaches gone?”
“We can…” Larabee was interrupted by the intercom. “Yes Gunny.”
“Sir, Captain… I mean Vin Tanner is on line one.”
Chris knew that Vin would not be calling him here unless it was urgent. He snatched up the receiver and shouted. “What’s wrong?”
“Relax Cowboy, ‘m on a pay phone, and it should be safe, but while we’re talkin’ you might wanna have JD fix you up with a cell number that I can call you on. As of today you are gonna be receivin'’ all my reports. My cover is secure and those idiots think they gained a victory yesterday."
Chris let out the breath he had been holding. “Buck, tell JD I need a secure cell line ASAP and the number.” Buck was already half-way out the door yelling for JD and Chris turned his attention back to Tanner. “Go on Vin.”
“I hope that you’re sittin’ down brother,” Vin smiled, knowing exactly how Larabee was going to react. “Kel is on her way back to Denver as we speak, but she was in Rocky Meadows last night as Blaze Butler.”
Larabee stood up and roared. “What in the hell was she there for?”
“Evidently to get information that you said you needed and to confirm that I was okay.”
Buck walked back into the room in time to see Chris jump up and hear the string of curses that followed.
Chris stopped shouting abruptly and tried to calm himself before speaking. “And?”
“And she has everythin’ I’ve collected, but I need you to do somethin’ for me. I know about the baby and ‘m delighted, as well as grateful to you for takin’ care of Kel for me, but I want her off this case. I am countin’ on you to keep her in Denver no matter what happens. We’ve been through too much heartache tryin’ to get pregnant to take any chances now.”
“I know what you have been through and I’m happy for both of you Vin. You know that I’ll watch out for her and the kids. Believe me though; when she gets here I have plenty to say to her.”
Tanner chuckled. “You can write her up, ground her, put her in time-out, handcuff her to her desk, or send her home, but…you can’t yell at her Chris.”
“What do you mean I can’t yell at her? Of course I can!” Larabee shouted.
“Nope, you might upset her and as long as she’s carryin my child that ain’t allowed. I want Kel to stay as calm and relaxed as possible.”
Chris heard the pride and protectiveness in Tanner’s voice, but man was he in for a few surprises over the next few months if he thought Kelli would remain tranquil all the time. With a resigned sigh he answered. “Okay I promise I won’t yell at her. What else?”
“There’s not much I can do to keep her from worryin’, except to get the job done here and come home as soon as possible. Still, I need you to keep a close eye on her and the kids, especially Jason. If he finds out about the baby before ‘m back, he’s gonna need some reassurin’. He still remembers what happened when his mother was pregnant with Andi.”
Larabee was quiet for a moment; he had forgotten how Jason’s mother died. “I hadn’t thought about that. Jason is already worried about Kelli being sick and we have talked about it. I promise you Vin, if he figures it out before you’re home we’ll all be there to help him. I assume that this is not a secret anymore.”
“Hell, if I was there I’d be tellin’ anybody that’d listen to me. I…I can’t even describe how I feel.”
“I know,” Chris replied softly. “It’s an awesome experience and you will enjoy every minute of it.” JD walked in and handed Chris a piece of paper along with a cell phone. “You ready for that phone number?”
“Yep, fire away.” Vin committed the number to memory. “Got it Chris, I’ll check in with you when I can. Kel will give you the details about last night, or Ezra will; he’s the one that helped her. The information she’s bringin’ in should give the Federal prosecutors and Bones plenty to work with. The threat to the ranch is not over either so watch your back.”
“You too, Brother,” Chris heard the Texan hang up the phone on his end and then he thoughtfully replaced the receiver in his hand.
“What was all that about?” Buck questioned.
“I’ll tell you later.” Chris marched to the door, opened it and bellowed “Standish! Get your ass in here now!” Larabee’s growl echoed throughout the renovated hanger.
Since confirming that Blaze’s rental car had been picked up, Ezra had been periodically watching the clock as he waited anxiously for his absent partner to make her appearance. Larabee’s roar startled him enough to spill the hot cup of latte that he had been attempting to drink. Rivulets of scalding rich chocolate liquid trailed down the front of his shirt. Standish jumped up quickly to prevent the same fate to more tender areas of his anatomy.
Josiah was standing close enough to see the signs of distress in the Southerner’s green eyes. ‘What did you do now, Ezra?”
“By aiding and abetting my persuasive partner in the commission of a perilous escapade that allowed her to liaison with our undercover brother, I fear that I have written my own death warrant.” Standish walked toward the Commander’s office. He stopped and turned to Sanchez to issues some important instructions. “My last will and testament is filed in my lower left hand drawer. Please convey my love to Barbara and make certain that Coulter is not allowed to drive my Jag after my demise.” He continued his solitary journey to what he was certain was going to be at the very least an unpleasant experience, or worst case scenario, a lethal one.
Standish walked through the open door and his spirits were bolstered by the presence of two of his brothers. He was fairly certain that Chris would not kill him in front of witnesses. “My posterior and I are present. You wished to see us, illustrious leader?”
“Cut the crap Standish. What in the hell possessed you to aid Kelli in defying orders?”
“To what orders are you referring?”
“The ones that you knew I would have given if you had not decided to play Tonto to Kelli’s Lone Ranger!” Larabee glared at JD when he snickered.
“You would have preferred that she enter Rocky Meadows without my assistance?”
“He’s got you on that one stud.” Buck grinned. “You do know that Kelli would go with or without Ezra’s help if she had her mind made up to do it.”
Ezra was beginning to think that he might just survive this inquisition until Chris lashed out.
‘“That may be true Buck, but some of us know better!” Larabee’s glare shifted back to Standish. “Did it occur to you to wonder why your partner was suddenly restricted to desk duty?”
JD narrowed his eyes and asked. “When was Kelli restricted to desk duty?”
“The minute I found out that she was pregnant!” Chris snapped.
Ezra paled and sat down in the nearest chair, his mind replaying the possibilities that could have transpired. “Dear Lord! Does she know about this?”
“That’s usually the way it works Ez.” Buck grinned as he took in this revelation.
JD’s mouth dropped open in reaction to Chris’s statement. “Does Vin know?”
“He does now. Tanner told me, Standish, that you would give me all the details about this unauthorized covert mission. Start talking and make it in a language I can understand!” Chris sat down and waited for Ezra to begin.
In the next thirty minutes, Ezra revealed all the details of Blaze Butler’s little adventure. It was all Chris could do to stay seated and not interrupt Standish as he spoke. Larabee was already regretting his promise to Vin about not yelling at Kelli, but if it took every ounce of control he possessed, he would honor his word. When the Southerner had finished his narration he sat silently waiting for Chris’s next order.
“Ezra, I want you and JD to go back to work. The second Agent Coulter walks in that door I want to see her.” Chris watched as Standish and Dunne left his office.
“So, Vin is finally joining the expectant fathers club. It’s about time.” Buck laughed. “I wondered when those two would decide to take the plunge.”
Chris was quiet for a moment and chose his words carefully. “It was not their choice to wait Buck. Kel’s old childhood injuries presented a challenge for them. I imagine that Tanner is going to be a tad overprotective in the next few months, not that I can fault him for it.”
“Damn Chris, I would never have teased them so much if I’d known. I thought…”
Chris stopped him. “You thought what they wanted you to think. Let it go, but I may need your help to slow Kel down until Vin is back to ride herd on her.” Chris laughed. “He said that I’m not even allowed to yell at her because it might upset her.”
“Wait ‘til he finds out that everything will probably upset her for the next few months. I know Inez has been a handful this time around. Thank Heavens we only have a couple more weeks to go. I’m not sure who wants Tannis to arrive more, me, or Inez.”
“My money is on Inez.” Chris grinned before turning his attention back to business. “Vin sent us everything he’s collected. Kel should be here in another hour and we’ll need Bones on standby. I’ll give Travis a head’s up so he can work on the arrangements for a Federal prosecutor to start a work-up on the evidence. Arrange a unit meeting for ten in the war room.”
Buck stood. “It’s as good as done, Chris.” Wilmington walked out as Chris picked up the phone.
By now, the entire office had heard about last night’s escapade and when Kelli did walk in she was met with knowing smiles from most of her fellow agents, and an intense glare from her partner. Ezra planned to have his own talk with Kelli, after Chris had finished chewing her out. Kelli’s attention was on making her way to Chris’s office with the packets Vin had given her.
“Chris wants to see you ASAP, Kel. You are in trooo…uble.” JD grinned and pointed to the Commander’s office.
Ignoring JD, she walked past Gunny’s desk and entered Chris’s office without knocking. Kelli was not sure how he knew, but the look on his face told her that he was well aware of her recent activities. “Don’t start on me Commander. You needed this information and here it is.” She laid both packets on his desk. “If you want, I can go over it with you.”
“Sit down Kel.” Chris stood and came around to the front of his desk, speaking softly. “It may be an inherited Larabee trait to push the envelope. If that is what instigated your recent outrageous escapade, I’m sorry as hell to have passed it on to you, but there will be no more lone ranger missions; in fact you are grounded until further notice.”
“Grounded? You make it sound as if I’m ten years old!” Kelli snapped.
“Vin called me and I gave him my word that I would not yell at you.” Chris leaned forward to make certain she heard him. “Do not push me Kel, or you may find yourself on medical leave for the next eight months.” He whispered.
“Damnit, I should have known that Tanner would call you! I’m pregnant Chris, not an invalid, there is no reason that I can’t continue to work in the office.”
“That remains to be seen. One more stunt like the one you pulled with Blaze and I will lock you up myself. Are we clear?”
“As Crystal.” Kelli grumbled, “Now what?”
“Unit meeting in the war room in five minutes, we’ll go over what you brought in then.”
Bones, Greg, and Katrina were waiting when Chris entered carrying the two packets sent in by Vin. Mark walked in and signaled for Bandit to lay by his chair and Nathan sat down next to Josiah. Mallory gave Kelli a sympathetic nod as she sat next to the redhead. JD and Pam took their usual seats and Buck positioned himself between Chris and Justin. Ezra came in last and sat on the other side of his partner, determined to stay mad at her for a while. Rafael and Alex were the only active missing members and they were at the elementary school until the children were dismissed.
Larabee waited until all his agents were seated and then took his customary place at the table to begin their meeting. He would deal with Ezra and Kelli about their unauthorized mission later, for now they would tackle the evidence. “During a covert mission, Agents Coulter and Standish were able to retrieve valuable information from Agent Tanner’s reconnaissance of the RMR. We have our work cut out for us to process and categorize this evidence as quickly as possible. Kel, since you already know what is in here we can speed things along if you help.”
Chris opened the first packet as Kelli came up to stand beside him and he dumped its contents onto the table. “According to Vin, the DVD’S are copies that show actual crimes being committed by members of the RMR. The smaller plastic bag contains paint scrapings that Vin believes will match Nathan’s car. He took them from a van on the compound grounds, after observing a similarity in tire treads of those we discovered at the scene of Nathan’s accident. Pictures of the vehicle and the pattern of the tires are included with other photos on these chips.” Kelli pointed to several chips on the table. “I don’t know what else is on them.”
The Commander opened the second package that contained mostly maps and documents. Kelli continued. “The map Vin drew of the compound is very specific, including the location of what the RMR called the torture room. Some of these documents are copies of financial records, membership information, inventory lists, and medical records, other maps, and pages from what he calls Chambers’s trophy book. He also included detailed statements of when, where, and how he obtained this information.”
Chris began dividing up the items laid out on the table. The photo chips and DVD’s he gave to JD. “Put your team on this immediately. I want to know what’s on there and I want to know now.” JD, Pam, and Mallory returned to their individual CASSIE stations to begin working on it right away.
The plastic bag of paint scrapings he handed to Bones. “See if these will match what we have from Nathan’s car.” Larabee picked up a handful of documents. “Ezra you take the financials, and Josiah you go over the membership information. Nathan, you do go over the medical records. Buck, you and I are going to memorize these damn maps. Mark, I want you and Justin on stand-by until we see what’s on those pictures and those DVD’S.”
JD walked back in. “Chris, the first DVD is ready to go. The photos should be downloaded in another fifteen or twenty minutes.”
“Start it up.”
All eyes were directed to the screens in front of them as the DVD began to play. It was difficult to watch as they realized that FBI Agent Abbott was the star attraction. As they watched him being interrogated by disembodied voices, and tortured by unknown hands, the air in the war room was filled with muttered curses and gasps. In spite of the horror of watching a fellow agent being tormented, they continued to view as he was taken through a mock trial, found guilty of treason, and sentenced to death by a firing squad. Kelli left the room before it showed Abbott’s actual death in the next day’s timeframe. Ezra nodded to Chris and followed her.
Finally the disk ended and a dozen agents sat shell-shocked by what they had just seen. Chris decided that a break was needed. “We’ll meet back here in fifteen minutes.”
Buck waited until it was only him and Chris before he spoke. “You do realize that Vin has put himself in the middle of a potentially explosive trial. There is no way to get around him testifying when this gets to court. The defense will do everything they can to discredit Vin's methods of obtaining this stuff, and if that fails Tanner will be marked for elimination.”
“I know that, and I think Kelli knows it too." Chris threw down one of the disks. "Viewing the other DVD’S and pictures I believe should be optional to the members of the team. I think I’ll go check on Kel while we are on break.” Chris walked out, leaving Buck reading maps on the table looking for Vin's escape line.
Kelli had bolted out of the war room and headed straight for the ladies room. Her stomach had revolted against her as her mind replayed the horrific scenes of Agent Abbott’s torture and execution, substituting Vin’s face for Abbot’s. She barely made it into a stall before she lost the contents of her fast food breakfast. By the time Kelli had finish retching, she was shaking and weak, with tears cascading down her face. She moved out of the stall and over to the bank of sinks, where she turned on the cold water and proceeded to splash it on her face.
Outside the bathroom door Ezra leaned against the wall and waited for his partner to exit. The unmistakable sounds of heaving from within alarmed him. He was contemplating going inside to offer his assistance when Chris joined him.
“How is she?” Larabee asked.
“Compared to what?” Ezra retorted. “She’s sick, how in the hell is she supposed to be!”
Chris glared at the Southerner. “Who’s in there with her?”
“Not for long. Keep watch for me.” Chris pushed the door open and went inside announcing his presence. “Dad is coming in.”
“I’m fine, go away.”
“Sure you are.” Chris replied with a soft smile, taking in her tear streaked face and pale complexion. “Try again.”
Kelli’s answer was to burst into tears.
Chris pulled her into his arms and held her against him as she cried. He whispered soothing words into Kelli’s ear as he stroked her hair with one hand and waited for his daughter to regain control of her emotions.
In between sobs she said. “That could be Vin.”
Chris tilted her head to meet her eyes and attempted to reassure her. “It won’t happen to Vin, not on my watch.”
“I know you will do your damnest, but don’t make promises about things that you can’t control.” Kelli shuttered and then sighed. “I’ll be okay and ‘m probably holdin’ up your meetin’.”
“The meeting is on break time, and I’m making the viewing of the rest of the DVD’s optional. What do you say we blow this place and go back outside?” Kelli nodded and they walked slowly out the door. Ezra was relieved to see Kelli making an effort to smile and he silently vowed to keep a close eye on his young sister.
Once back in the office, Nathan hesitantly approached them and offered Kelli a cup of herbal tea. “This should help sooth your stomach.”
Kelli glanced at the cup and looked up to see the uncertainty in his dark eyes. She also recognized the signs that their old Nathan was finally coming back. Taking the mug as a peace offering she whispered, “Thanks. If it works I’ll need a gallon of this stuff to take home.”
Nathan tentatively smiled. “I’ll start on it now.”
MCAT War Room
After spending the next few hours in the war room, a clearer picture of the RMR was beginning to evolve. The DVD’S and some of the documents that Tanner had managed to copy were very graphic and shocking. Not only had these men committed disgusting crimes against minorities, they had recorded them for their own enjoyment. The pictures that Vin had taken and the documents he had copied would be the basis for a detailed Federal racketeering case. The group would be charged with offenses such as Violent Crimes In Aid of Racketeering, using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law, also known as RICO.
“Justin, you and Mark start tying this information to official case files. I want correct dates, places, and names of the victims involved. CASSIE can help; just let JD know what you will need.” Chris continued to study the maps.
Josiah finally made the comment aloud that they all had been thinking. “Vin took a great deal of time to copy so much material, and it had to have been risky for him to do so. Chris, in light of what we have before us, wouldn’t it be a good time to pull him out?”
“We will Josiah, soon. I am aware that the prosecutors will be basing their case on connecting Tanner to the evidence and they'll want him out, too, but we still need more information on their target. All we know is that it involves twenty -two clinics; we need to know where, and when. It will be a priority for us to figure that out. We also have this to deal with.” Chris threw out the picture of Nathan and Paul with a red X across their faces. “The hit on our agents is still active and according to one of these maps they have more plans for Larabee 7.”
Nathan had been unusually quiet as he had been mentally kicking himself for ever doubting Vin. The proof of his erroneous thinking was sitting on the table before him. In spite of all the outrageous accusations he had leveled at Tanner, the man had gone into a perilous situation to see that justice was served. He knew that he could not undo what he had done, but he could damn sure help to see that the Texan did not pay for his mistakes. “Chris, what does the map of the ranch show?”
Chris looked up and saw the sincere concern in Nathan’s eyes. “Not much. There are several X’s marked on the map and we’ll have to physically go to these spots and see what we can find. Vin only knew the locations, but not what Chambers had planned. He did tell us though that they intended to target the kids if necessary to get our attention, and we know after last week’s incident that they are willing to follow through on that threat.”
Ezra had been looking over the inventory lists and commented. “According to this list, they have an entire arsenal at their disposal. It appears that they have obtained a large amount of assorted explosive materials. That would explain how they came into possession of antipersonnel mines, but doesn’t provide a connection to the RMR.”
Greg came in with a report on the paint scrapings and handed it to Larabee. “Commander, it’s a match. The vehicle that Tanner took these scrapings from was unquestionably the same one that ran Agent Jackson’s car off the road.”
Larabee looked at the tired and strained faces around the table. “We will work straight through on this until we have what we need to bring Vin out. You all have assignments, get to work on them.”
Agents moved to the outer office and to their desks, but Kelli stayed behind to talk to Chris. “You did not assign me to anythin’.”
“No I didn’t, and I’m not going to. “Chris sighed. “Kel, I know that you think that you need to help, but take a good look in the mirror. You have dark circles under your eyes, you’re way too pale and I can tell that you are close to exhaustion. I’m ordering you to go home and rest. I plan on talking to Max to make certain that you follow those orders, and if memory serves me right, you have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow. See Dr. Weeks and then take some time off with the kids.” He saw that she was going to argue and he beat her to it. “I promised Vin that I’d watch out for you, and even if I hadn’t, as your father I won’t stand by and watch you make yourself sick with worry, or from being overworked.”
Kelli saw the concern in his eyes. “I’ll go home as long as you promise to keep me informed about anythin’ that involves Vin.”
“You got it.” The father part of Chris reacted and he hugged his daughter. “I know you won’t stop worrying completely until Vin is home, but let me shoulder some of it while you take care of yourself and my grandchild.”
Shaking her head, Kelli smiled. “I can see you as Dad, Uncle, Commander, and Chris, but grandfather? That may take some getting' used to, especially since you have another baby comin'”. She was excited for Chris, but wondered how in the hell Linda would take care of two children when she was having trouble caring for one. “I reckon you and Vin will have to compare notes when he gets home.”
“Yep, someone has to educate him about how to handle a pregnant woman; it might as well be me.” Chris grinned.
Kelli smiled back. “Vin will manage quite well, thank you.” She then resigned herself to the fact that she was to be homebound for the next few days. “I’ll go home as soon as I talk to Ezra. I reckon I need to apologize to him for not tellin’ him the whole truth yesterday.”
Chris watched her go and silently prayed that he would not have to eat his words about Tanner’s safety. The sooner this whole mess was over, the better he would feel.
Kelli went straight to her desk and Standish was waiting for her. “You should have told me.” He admonished her not only with his words, but a stern look as well..
“Would you have helped me if I did?”
“That’s why I didn’t tell you. I needed to see Vin and do somethin’ to help. I’m sorry that I held back the complete truth from you, but ‘m not sorry that I went to Rocky Meadows. If it makes you feel better, Chris is sendin’ me home and not allowin’ me to work on this case.”
“Your apology is accepted and I don’t blame Chris one bit for ordering you off this one. You go home and take care of yourself and try to stay out of trouble for a while.”
“I’ll try, but ‘m not makin’ any promises.” Kelli picked up her bag and kissed Ezra on the cheek.” Thanks Ez for your help, at least now Vin knows about the baby and I can quit worryin’ about how to tell him.” Kelli slipped out the door leaving Standish to wonder how she had managed to transform a risky adventure into a disguised blessing.
Journal Entry ~November 28~11:30pm
I no longer attend my meetings three times a week, now I’m down to only one, and I have finished the counseling sessions with my therapist. I was running late tonight, but I did make it. It’s funny, I never thought I wanted any part of this routine in the beginning, and now I find that I miss it when I cannot attend. Maybe it’s because I can see the difference in my counterparts each week. It’s not the same as family, but having shared similar experiences makes it comfortable to be in this group. The feeling of accomplishment is great, and being able to help new members is gratifying.
When I arrived home Grace was still awake and I spent time with her before rocking her to sleep. I tried to talk to Linda, but she was still upset over our morning argument and refused to listen to anything I had to say. After my conversation with Vin and hearing his excitement about their new baby, it started me to thinking. I really would like to be more involved with Linda’s pregnancy, and I miss hearing all the little details that are happening with our unborn child. I suppose Linda believes she is punishing me for not going along with her plans for us, and in a way she is. Hopefully we can find some middle ground soon.
I am concerned about Kelli; she has been too stressed and does not look well. I talked to Max and she assured me that she will be able to keep her in line at home. If it had not been for the fact that Kel was pregnant I think I would have still been yelling at her for that stunt she pulled last night... But, she made it back safely and I will reluctantly admit, although not to her, that we do have more information to work with now. Hopefully with what we have, and a few more days of Tanner reconnaissance we can get Vin out of there and home where he belongs. The two of them have waited long enough for this baby to be a reality and now they deserve the opportunity to share the experience.
If I could just get that knot in my stomach to disappear I would feel as if we were home free, but I learned a long time ago,…it ain’t over til it’s over.
MCAT Office ~Thursday ~ November 30th ~ 2:00 pm
Chris poured over heaps of information that the team had compiled since Tuesday. JD’s satellite hookup had sent back dozens of images, but none of them could add much to what they already knew. Tanner’s maps had been very detailed, and Larabee felt confident that they had the best possible picture of the layout of the compound from them. Nathan was spending his time on the list of members of ‘Without Prejudice’ group, determined to ferret out the leak that past on information about him and Paul to the RMR. Even with all the sources they had access to though, the elusive Raven was still a mystery.
Larabee’s office door opened and Buck walked in with Ezra. “You wanted to see us?” Wilmington questioned and he stretched out on his favorite chair as Ezra sat down opposite him.
“Standish, Agent Selina Cordova starts to work here tomorrow morning.” Chris stated. “I want you to be her training officer
“Why?” Buck straightened up in his chair. “What about Kel?”
“She is going to be out for a while, on the doctor’s orders.” Larabee hesitated before continuing. “As of yesterday her pregnancy is considered high risk. The doctor cited low blood pressure, higher than normal hormone levels, and stress as the contributing factors, but I think there may be more to it than what Kel told me. Regardless of the reasons, she has been restricted to limited physical activity, partial bed rest for the next few weeks, and told to reduce the stress in her life. That means no driving, no work, and no running sixteen hours a day.”
“Damn, did that trip to Rocky Meadows cause it?” Ezra was feeling a ton of guilt for assisting her.
“No, it‘s a combination of several things, but Dr Weeks assured her that it is not due to anything she did or did not do. Once she gets past the next few weeks, she and the baby will be on safer ground.”
“I’m sure Max will keep her off her feet, and the doc can help with the blood pressure, but as long as Vin is under she’s gonna worry. What can we do to help reduce the stress of that?” Buck asked.
“Get the answers we need quickly, and bring him home.” Chris stated the obvious.
“Of course, I will assume the role of teacher for Miss Cordova instructing her of the requirements expected as an MCAT agent, and oversee her edification.” Ezra assured Chris. “I will as well, continue to assist in the efforts to bring our brother home.”
“We can now match names to eighty percent of the faces Tanner took pictures of, and we have narrowed the RMR’s potential target to five medicinal corporations that operate clinics in multiple cities. JD is running all the information through CASSIE as we speak.” Buck informed them “If we can identify it from here, then we can pull Vin out. We’ll just have to cover our asses on the ranch without further risk to Vin.”
“I’m starting to have a bad feeling that I don’t like, and he’s coming out on Monday, even if we don’t have all the answers.” Chris vowed.
“It is definitely going to be a long four days.” Ezra said what they all were thinking.
Chris nodded in agreement. “I’m leaving here in an hour. The contractors are coming in tomorrow to start work on the Jackson home, and Walter and I are working on a security arrangement to assure that they are the only ones that will have access to the property. You two keep things rolling here and call me if anything new comes in.”
“You got it.” Buck and Ezra both stood and exited the office as Chris began clearing his desk of paperwork so he could leave.
After a few days of searching, Linda had finally given up looking for Chris’s journal, at least for now. She wanted to go back and see where she had missed the fact that Tanner had quit MCAT. Her husband had not left the book in any of the usual places that he wrote, and she was not ready to rummage around his bedroom for it. That meant that she would have to wait until he used it again in his home office. The blonde placed phone calls to Casey and Inez, finding out that Kelli was home for a few days, and she decided that if she wanted to know what was going on she would have to talk to her oldest friend directly. She was certain that enough time had passed for the redhead to cool down and talk to her. Making one last phone call she then headed out the door.
Kelli hung up the phone and then went to find Max to inform her that a guest was on the way over. She found the older woman in the family room with Adam and Andi, apparently in the middle of reading them an engrossing story. Grace was sound asleep in the playpen next to her.
Max looked up from the book and frowned at Kelli. “You are supposed to be resting. What are you doing up running around?”
“There is just so much rest I can take Max. I was on my way to the kitchen to find somethin’ to drink, and the phone rang. Linda is coming over, it sounds as if she wants to talk. I wanted you to know that we would be in the livin’ room if you came lookin’ for me.”
“You take yourself in there now Missy and prop your feet up. When we finish with this story, I’ll bring you some hot tea.” Max gave the younger woman a stern look. “Go on now, and I warn you, if I hear an argument between you two, I will intervene.”
Kelli sighed. “I hear you and ‘m goin now.” Settling in the big chair by the fireplace she wondered what on earth Linda could have on her mind. It was not a long wait to find out because Linda was knocking at the entrance within a few minutes. Max waved Kelli off when she started to get up to answer it, and met Linda at the front door.
Linda entered under the older woman's scrutiny and sat in the chair opposite Kelli. She waited until Max had left the room to begin speaking. “I thought it was time for us to have a talk.”
“Not sure what we have to talk about, Linda, but say what’s on your mind.”
“Kel, we have had our differences many times over the last ten years and have always found a way to resolve them. I think it’s time we both mended some fences and work to get things right between us again, especially now.”
“What do you mean, especially now, Linda?”
“Well, you know that I am pregnant and from what JD told Casey so are you. I wished that you had told me yourself, instead of me hearing it secondhand, but now that I know, we can go through this ordeal together and make it fun.”
Kelli ignored the comment, and had another agenda she wanted to follow. "I've had a lot of time to think about things, and I have come to a few conclusions. Do you want to hear them?”
“Of course I do.”
Kelli chose her words carefully. “I think the reason we managed to stay friends for so long was the fact that we lived in separate states, saw each other only two or three times a year, and had our own lives. When you would call and complain about yours; I could listen, offer some comfortin’ words, and then return to my life. I knew you were high maintenance, but it never bothered me because frankly I had nothing else going on with me, except for work. I overlooked a lot of the outrageous things you said or did for a long time. Knowin’ you as well as I do, I did not believe that anythin’ you could do would surprise me, but I was wrong.”
“It’s because you know me so well and accept me for who I am that we are friends Kel.” Linda said. “You know me, my family, and all the crap that I put up with from my older brothers. I thought you understood why I did all those things.”
“Oh I understand you, Linda. You are spoiled to the bone, you have a need to be the center of attention, spend money to impress others, and get tired of new things almost before you have the price tag off of them.
The smile on Linda’s face began to slip as Kelli continued.
“Life is one new adventure after another for you, and the only time you stopped in one place very long was durin’ the last year of your dad’s life when he needed your help and your brothers weren’t around. When your father died, you were lost, he had always been there to support your outrageous activities, and rein you in when necessary. You found yourself having to face life on your own for the first time ever. Then you met Chris, and jumped right back into your old habits, only your dad was not around to keep your wild side in check. Your target was always the best lookin’ man you could find, and then you would use your good looks and sex to keep him interested…until you got bored. Chris was a challenge for you, though. He was the one that you had to catch because he was so elusive and you were positive that you could get him thinkin’ your way sooner or later.”
“That’s not true! Chris was...is the love I have always wanted, and our life should be perfect. It would be if he could just let go of the past.” Linda exclaimed, her voice rising a little.
“That’s just it, he has let go of the past, and your life is still not what you want. There are no fairytale relationships Linda, marriage takes two people willin’ to work together to make it a success. It’s a partnership that may not always be fifty-fifty, but if it’s strong that doesn’t matter because there is no score to keep. Its being two individuals that blend there lives together, not one dictatin’ what the other should do or else. Havin’ a family is part of sharin’ your love, not an ordeal to get through or take away from what you have.” Kelli thought about how different it was for her and Vin, and wanted the same kind of relationship for her father.
“Chris is not trying to compromise, or work at our marriage. He only cares about Grace, his brothers, and the rest of the damn Wild Bunch. I come last on his list, behind all of them. That is not how it is supposed to be.” There was anger instead of hurt in Linda’s words.
“What have you done for him? Were you there when he needed your support? Do you care about the things he cares about? Can you be a good parent to Grace and your new baby, or are you goin’ to compete with them the rest of your life? Are you willin’ to accept Chris Larabee for who he is, or does he have to change to suit your idea of perfect? Answer those questions and you might find out the reason you are havin’ problems, because you get back from a marriage what you are willin’ to put into it.”
“Maybe I do want more out of life, is that so wrong?”
“That depends on who you are willin’ to step on to get to where you want to be. You have already managed to successfully destroy our friendship. I’ll be civil to you, but we will never be close friends again. I know that you dislike my husband, but I love him. Vin and our children are the most important people in my life. Chris is my father. He and the Wild Bunch are all part of my family. You have a problem acceptin’ that, and ‘m tired of your manipulations to have things your way. I am also aware of how you tried to destroy my relationship with Chris, and for me that is an unacceptable line to cross.”
Linda snipped. “I suppose Chris told you that I interfered.”
“It doesn’t matter how I know, what matters is that I do.” Kelli sighed. “What you decide to do about your marriage is your business, but you had better make damn sure you don’t hurt your children in the process.”
“You have made it clear that you are siding with Chris and Vin against me.” Linda stood up “Maybe it’s time we both made some changes. Don’t worry; I won’t bother trying to patch things up between us again. I hope you don’t regret this Kel, you may need me someday and I just might not be in a forgiving mood.”
“I reckon I’ll have to take my chances on that Linda, but I sincerely hope for your sake that you find whatever it is that you’re lookin' for.” Kelli watched as Linda walked out of the house without saying another word, and was disappointed that she did not even look in on Grace while she was here.
Max came in with a cup of hot herbal tea as soon as Linda left. “You okay?”
“I will be. You were listenin’ weren’t you?” “Kelli shook her head at her new mother hen. “I’m sorry it came down to this, but I’ve had time to think about the friendship that Linda and I had and where we are now. She hasn’t changed, but I have, and ‘m not willin’ to overlook the outrageous things she does, as I have in the past.”
Max nodded her agreement. “For everything there is a season, and the winds of change are blowing for you, Missy. Moving forward is the only choice you can make. Now, what about that rest you are supposed to be having?”
Kelli groaned. “I know, you’re not goin' to let me up on it, but I think that I’d like to sit here and enjoy my tea until Jason gets home.”
Max reluctantly agreed. “Just so you know I am watching the clock. I intend to see that you stay off your feet a minimum of fourteen hours today, and every day until your doctor says different.”
Kelli smiled and saluted her as Max went to check on the other children.
Chris looked at his watch as he climbed into his truck and started the engine. The thirty minutes he had spent on the phone with Travis had thrown off his timing, but he felt fortunate to leave the office behind by three thirty. His mind was working overtime as he drove, and his gut was churning right along with it. He knew they were close to having all the information they needed to break the RMR, but those few small pieces that were still missing were driving him to distraction.
It may have been the mental overload or just plain not paying close enough attention, but Chris did not see the truck that pulled out in front of him until it was too late. Cutting the wheel to a hard right to avoid a collision, he hit the shoulder of the road at a high speed and slid his truck sideways attempting to stop. When the truck finally ceased moving, he sat there for a moment to get his bearings, and then jumped out to see if any damage had been incurred.
Larabee was so intent on inspecting for damage that he failed to hear the man that moved in behind him until he was grabbed and shoved forcibly onto the hood of his truck. A second person quickly blindfolded him, and handcuffed his hands at his back as he struggled to break free.
“Easy Larabee, we were told to deliver you in one piece, and I am inclined to follow those orders, but don’t push me.” A male voice hissed.
“Who in the hell are you, and who wants to see me bad enough to risk the penalty for kidnapping a Federal agent?” Chris identified that there were at least two men holding him, and he thought that there was a third one, but he couldn’t be sure yet.
“You’ll know soon enough, for now be a good boy and make this easy on all of us.” The men holding onto him dragged Larabee to a waiting vehicle; one man shoved him into the backseat and then got in beside him, while the other one took the driver’s seat.
Chris heard his truck start up in the distance. “Adding car theft to the charges?”
“Shut up Larabee!” They started moving in what seemed to be a westerly direction.
“You’re not much for conversation are you?” Larabee said sarcastically. A sharp jab to his ribs took his breath, but Chris mentally detached himself from the pain. He tried to concentrate on sounds that he could hear above the road noises, and keeping track of the turns that were made. Something about the way the men were acting reminded Larabee of the military, and he never heard any names mentioned. Whoever these guys were they were good, but he could not resist taunting them. “Are we there yet?”
“Unless you want to involuntarily sleep the rest of the way, I’d advise you can the sarcasm.” The man seated next to Larabee growled.
“You know, a nap sounds damn good, thanks for suggesting it.” Chris laid his head back against the seat and feigned sleeping, all the while making mental notes of the things he heard, and the movement he could feel. His internal clock told him that approximately twenty minutes had passed when he felt the vehicle come to a stop and the man sitting beside him roughly shook him.
“Wake up Larabee! We’re moving out!” The unknown man opened the car door and pulled Chris out of the backseat to his feet. “Don’t try anything stupid, just follow directions and this will be over soon.” The man took the blond by the arm and guided him inside a nearby building. Once inside Chris heard a chair scrape across the floor for him to sit on.
“Lieutenant Larabee, I hear that you have been looking for me,” said a voice from the surrounding darkness.
“Hard to say since I don’t know who in the hell you are.” Chris retorted.
“Remove his blindfold and release his hands. “The voice ordered, and within moments Chris found himself freed from his restraints and allowing his eyes to adjust to the bright light aimed in his direction. The only name you need to know is Raven.”
Chris saw the outline of a man standing behind the light, but could not see him clearly enough to distinguish any features. “You could have called, written a letter, or sent a telegram.” Larabee quipped.
With a thread of amusement laced in his voice, Raven answered. “I could have, but I wanted to face the man that Hawk calls his brother. Your reputation has preceded you Lieutenant. In addition to what our mutual friend has told me about you, I did some research of my own.” A file was thrown on the table.
“That, Lt. Larabee, is a folder that outlines the highlights of your life.” Raven began to recite from memory. “Chris Larabee, oldest of two, one brother, John Andrew aka Jack and your parents Clint and Clarice are deceased. You graduated at the top of your class and excelled in sports. One year of local college and then you joined the Navy to finish your education. You applied and were accepted to the SEALS, and served ten years. During that time you participated in numerous black op assignments, earned the Navy Cross and two silver Stars, and you were honorably discharged. Your law enforcement career began with the DPD and you partnered with Buck Wilmington in homicide, during which time you received countless citations for service above and beyond. When your wife Sarah and son Adam were killed you quit the DPD, grieved for a year, and then received an offer to join the ATF. Eventually you gained your own command of team seven, then MCAT. You are married and have one baby daughter and last year discovered that you had another grown one. How am I doing?”
“You’ve done your homework.” Chris answered cockily. “I’m impressed; you get a gold star for excellence."
“Hawk tells me that you are a good man, and he trusts you implicitly, that is good enough for me. He sought out my assistance and I gave it, no questions asked. You have my word that I only have his best interest in mind with my actions and my only need is that you return that trust. Why I am helping him does not concern you, suffice it to say I owe him, more than that I cannot tell you. It is not necessary that you know who I am or how I do my job and I must respectfully request that you cease your inquiries about me. I am aware that Lady Hawk is no longer taking his reports and that you are the one I should contact with any news concerning our young friend.”
“That’s correct.” Chris bristled a bit. He knew nothing about this man, but Raven knew everything about him and his family.
“When Hawk contacts you, it is imperative that you order him out no later than 6:00pm on Sunday the third of December. Several groups will be converging in Rocky Meadows Monday afternoon. My information indicates that there are at least two individuals among them that will know that he is not Dusty Slater.” Another folder hit the table. “My interest is not in case building, but inside this folder you will find additional information that could aid your team in gathering evidence against the RMR, and the name of the informant that passed on the information about your agents. My objectives are to insure that Hawk makes it out of there alive, and stays that way.”
“Then we both have the same objectives. Keeping Tan…Hawk alive is my main priority.” Chris now had a good idea of who he was dealing with, and while he had questions, he would not pursue them. Larabee was confident that whatever his reasons were, this man was only interested in Tanner’s wellbeing and that was enough to know. “I will withdraw my inquiries, and although this meeting has been enlightening, I hope like hell we do not have a reason to communicate again.”
“As do I, Commander Larabee, but rest assured I will be vigilantly keeping watch until you have our friend safely home. We will not meet face to face again. If you will give me your word that you will wait five minutes after we depart before leaving this room I will not have you restrained again.”
“You have my word.” Chris would honor this man’s request, if for no other reason than he was someone that Vin considered trustworthy.
A set of keys landed on the table beside the folders. “Your truck is parked outside; give my regards to Hawk when you see him.” Suddenly the light went off and the room was thrown into darkness. Larabee heard the men move out the door and then waited for five minutes before he gathered the folders, picked up his keys, and exited the room.
Brother Vin, you have some strange friends.
You just now figuring that one out Cowboy?
Chris climbed into his Ram and picked up the cell phone that was lying on the seat beside him. Dialing a familiar number he waited for an answer.
“Buck, we have a change of plans. This is what I need you to do…” Larabee outline several tasks for the Captain to set into motion, and then hung up. He started the engine and then smiled when he realized that he was only a five minute drive away from home, apparently Raven had been keeping a close watch on all of them.
Rocky Meadows, Colorado ~3:30pm
Dusty stood at the front of his class of RMR recruits, watching them perform the fighting techniques he had been teaching them over the last four weeks, and was reminded of another class he had taught not long ago. As he continued to observe them, he received a sudden flash of alarm concerning Larabee. He was careful not to make any noticeable movements to indicate that anything was wrong, and he focused his attention inward. The quicksilver connection between him and Chris had been opened again, and he was now receiving a jumble of broken questions as well as a sense of darkness. He was not able to decipher what the incomplete questions were about, but he knew they were not directed at him. It was as if Chris was answering someone else’s inquires with smart ass remarks, and had no idea who he was speaking to. Except for the initial flash of alarm, Larabee was not indicating the presence of immediate danger, but he was pissed off.
Slater relaxed as he felt Larabee’s anger turn to comprehension. Dusty’s unease turned to amusement when he realized that Chris had somehow become acquainted with Raven’s odd sense of humor.
Brother Vin, you have some strange friends.
Satisfied that Larabee was okay, Dusty shifted his concentration back to the here and now. He already realized that his time was close to running out with the RMR. Karl told him this morning that as of the Sunday he wanted Slater to moved out to the compound, and to forget about working at Bubba’s after tomorrow. The first of several groups would be arriving at the compound beginning Monday to combine forces with Chambers’s men, and unless he pulled out soon, he would be unable to leave when that happened. The last thing Dusty would do in his role of RMR trainer would be to attend the strategy meeting Sunday afternoon, at that time he would be given the rest of the details of Chambers’s plan. After that, Dusty Slater would simply disappear.