Chris Larabee had more or less written the day off the moment the Section Supervisor had told him that a journalist was coming to meet him this morning for a preliminary discussion on her requirements for the ‘story’ she intended writing about them for the local paper. It was more or less decided by himself and he was sure by his Section Supervisor as well, who sounded just as enthused as he was about the subject, that this was nothing more than PR gimmick conjured by some bored bureaucrat. Unfortunately, whatever its origins, the fact of the matter was that in approximately ten minutes, he was going to have to endure a reporter in his office while keeping in mind that shooting someone for being in his face was illegal in this state and most others as well.
Damn, he muttered to himself. They make everything fun illegal.
Glancing past the open door to his private office, Chris noticed that every member of his team had managed to make an appearance today. With the exception of Vin, who amazingly enough did actually look like he was working on something legitimate, the others were using paperwork as an excuse to be in the office. After all, why bother to following leads, carry out background checks on suspects or hell, for that matter even doing anything that might resemble field duty, when there was a new piece of tail walking into the office?
As he waited impatiently for the arrival of Mary what’s-her-face Travis, Chris took a moment to observe his men as they were engaged in the terribly important paperwork that could not wait and had to be done today. Buck was showing his diligence in that endeavour by stroking his moustache every two minutes as if in that time, growth had been achieved and he needed to smooth the new sprouts into cohesion with the rest of his face. Ezra on the other hand could be considered to be working on paperwork since the playing cards in his hand were technically made of paper. The gambler had been performing shuffling tricks for the last twenty minutes and if he did not soon stop, Chris was going to show him a trick that could only be performed anally and to a very select audience.
Nathan and Josiah fortunately were more subtle than that and actually promoted the illusion by having a stack of files perched on either corner of their desk. It was just such a pity that neither had considered that he might be skeptical of their efforts when they were still working on the same file they had each started with this morning. Lord only knew what JD was doing but Chris made a mental note to talk to the software guys in personnel tomorrow and have that goddamn solitaire disabled in the kid’s computer.
It was true to say that at this point, he was not exactly in the state of mind for visitors.
Still, he was a creature of duty and loathe it as he might, Chris knew he would be cooperative when Miss, Mrs…whatever, Travis arrived. He had endured worse things in his life and knew that one journalist could not be so bad. He snorted derisively as he pictured her to be one of those masculine, bad tempered women with khaki coloured clothes and cigarette breath who were always getting into trouble on every Salvador, Killing Fields type movie about journalistic grit he had ever seen. If she wasn’t that then she was probably the other extreme, teased and permed like a poodle with too much shoulder pad and looking like a Mary Hart, Barbara Walters wanna be with an ego to match.
In either case, this next week was going to be sheer hell.
He questioned how the team was going to function with one of these creatures in pursuit, every time they had to go out on a stake out or a bust. Once again, he felt his ire bubble with annoyance at the thought of the imposition being made upon him and the men under his command. As curious as Ezra was at this moment to see their guest, the gambler did make a valid point when he had stated that it was not wise to show the public just how they did things. There was enough trouble with smart operators without letting them in on ATF secrets as well.
Quit bitching about it Larabee, he told himself and wished it was not too early in the day for a drink because he had this premonition he might need a head start for what he was going to have to put up with for the rest of the week. Letting out a sigh and straightening up in his chair, Chris surveyed his desk and made sure it was just as tidy as it had been when he did the same thing about two minutes ago. Wondering if he looked as tense as he felt, Chris told himself to relax. Besides, if he showed her any signs of anxiety, she would probably interpret that as a sign of weakness and then go for his jugular and Chris was not about to let this usurper have any more power over himself and his team then she already had.
He was busy ruminating on this point when he noticed Buck suddenly coming to life behind his desk like a lion at noon feeding. Telling himself for the hundredth time that he was going to take the upper hand the minute she arrived, Chris did not rise from his seat to greet the lady. Instead, he eased further into the leather office chair, grabbing a file off his desk and pretending to read it with an expression of practised indifference on his face. Chris stayed in this position even when he heard her voice speaking politely to Buck, who being completely and irrevocably Buck, immediately oozed charm when he directed her towards Chris’s office.
“I’ll find it,” Chris heard her thanking Buck as she headed towards his open door.
Chris did not look up from his file, determined to take the upper hand as he had been instructing himself to do all this morning. He knew these reporter types who liked using the power of the press to intimidate people. Well, if Miss, Mrs …whatever, Travis thought such a strategy would work with him, she had another thing coming. This was his team and he if decided that this whole thing was a load of crap, he was perfectly justified in pulling the plug before anyone got killed just because some reporter thought first amendment rights made her God.
He was still ruminating on this when she reached his door and tapped lightly. Chris, who had resisted the urge to look up until now, lifted his eyes over the file at the sound of her knocking and realised that he was in a lot of trouble.
For starters, she had the audacity to look nothing like the images he had been visualising in his head prior to her arrival. He had been psyched for a chain smoking harridan or prom queen. How dare she look the way she did! She was neither caricature. Instead, she stared at him patiently behind her sunglasses, her hair not at all permed but worn in a comfortable braid with loose strands of gold brushing her slender neck, fully exposed to him by the white singlet she was wearing over a pair of loose fitting draw string pants. She could not even allow him the dignity of being partially right by wearing heels or something impractical as her shoes were soft canvas white with laces in front.
“Mr Larabee?” he heard her ask and realised that it was the second time she had made the inquiry and had not been answered.
“Sorry,” Chris swallowed hard, tyring to hide that his eyes were moving over her shoulders, taking note of the well defined muscle of her arms that appeared cultivated by an healthy exercise regimen or at least some strenuous activity. “Aerobics?” Chris blurted out the word before he knew what he was doing.
He saw her brows shoot up over the top rim of her sunglasses before her lips curled into puzzled smile. “Not at this hour of the morning,” she said with good humour. “What about you?” She asked extending her hand towards him.
“Not while I’m on duty,” Chris replied meekly and wondered what happened to siezing the day and taking the upper hand. Well shoot Larabee, it just sailed off with a goddamn aerobics class! he thought to himself ruefully. “You must be Mary Travis. Is that a Mrs, Miss…?” he asked innocently and stumbled into yet another faux pas.
She could almost see him wincing inwardly as he realised how that must have sounded to her. For some reason, Mary Travis was suddenly reminded of one those puppies that tried to impress you in the pet store by doing something clever and being even more appealing when they botched it up utterly. Mary had read the file on Chris Larabee before she walked into this office and expected to find a hard nose ATF veteran who was going to give her hell. Instead, she was standing here wondering if he had any idea just how cute he was trying to be cool and collected when all he was doing was making one obvious blunder after the other.
“I’ll just assume that you’re just very nervous and not read any more in that question then I should,” Mary replied, trying to hide the smirk that was threatening to steal across her face.
“I ain’t nervous,” Chris retaliated quickly.
“Good,” she said deciding he was not going to take her extended hand and sat down instead. “You shouldn’t be. This isn’t root canal surgery, it's just a nice little magazine story the Sunday afternoon accountants will get a kick out of reading over their Cheerios and coffee. Trust me, I can find a lot better stories to cover if I want an exclusive expose that will make the front page.”
“Well okay," Chris nodded somewhat taken back by how easy that was. “I’m glad we got that all sorted out because I’m not having you come in here and turn my department upside down. We don’t just sit around and have coffee and doughnuts you know; it gets bloody down here. You want to ride with us for the week, you got to expect things to be rough.”
And that concludes the cute portion of his little display, Mary thought to herself. Moving onto testosterone induced male posturing segment of the show.
“I’ve seen rough,” she said, not all perturbed by his abrasive manner, since it was all part of the ritual. Perhaps she should send him a copy of the mating ritual of the highland gorillas of Africa when this was all over and let him see how predictable he appeared at this moment. The only thing he was not doing was thumping his chest and spitting bananas at her, but then he was a man so he had to be given time to work up to that.
“Really?” Chris looked at her skeptically, unable to hide the sarcasm or the disbelief from his voice.
“I’ve just spent two months covering the Timor crisis in Indonesia and before that I was spending some quality time in Kosovo. While that may not be as physically and mentally demanding as spending the entire week with you and your team in New Mexico, I think I can handle it.”
She said all this with not the slightest bit of hostility in her voice and still regarded him with that amused expression on her face, he could not for the life of him understand. Chris had been diligently following all the rules he had set out for himself prior to her arrival about maintaining his authority and taking control of the situation but at the moment, she was more at ease with this encounter than he. Chris could not fathom how that had come about. He was supposed to intimidate her. Hell, Chris knew he intimidated most people - but Mary was just looking at him with that little smile on those perfect lips, (hey where did that come from?) and appeared nonplussed.
“Fine," he said, clearing his throat and unable to think of anything else to say because he felt like such a moron as it was. “When do you want to start?” Chris sat up in his chair, deciding that he was at least going to sound intelligible instead of the monosyllabic jerk he must be surely appear to her at this moment.
“Monday will be fine," she replied. “My plan is to follow you until Friday. You understand that I want to be involved in everything. Well, within reason of course and I’d like to talk to your men, get a personal angle to what you people do.”
“Okay.” Chris answered, unable to find anything about that request to offer protest and wondered since when did he get so agreeable. He should be kicking up all kinds of fuss about her interfering with the men under his command but when she took off her sunglasses and gazed at him with the most incredible blue-grey eyes he had ever seen the arguments seemed somewhat reactionary. Besides, what could it hurt? His men did a hell of a job and seldom gained any credit for placing their lives on the line. Who was he to begrudge them their fifteen minutes of fame? As that line of reasoning crossed his mind, a smaller voice made a smug remark.
“Any questions?” she asked, unable to believe that he was being so accommodating when everything in his records indicated that he was one tough customer who had the lowest casualty rate of any ATF team leader in the field. Chris Larabee did not merely do his job and lead his men; he also protected them with near fanatical devotion to their safety. From all accounts, her research prior to this meeting had implied that he was a sombre, moody and somewhat brooding man whose was suffering the loss of a wife and son. As someone who had lost her husband to violence, Mary had felt an empathy with Chris Larabee’s sorrow.
“Why are you doing a story here in New Mexico, when you’ve been to all those places?” Chris inquired with genuine curiosity.
“I meant with the story," she said firmly, having no desire to talk about her private life to him.
“In that case, no.” Chris shook his head, somewhat intrigued by her past now that Mary had refused to answer and was determined to find out all he could about her once she walked out the door. Hey, he had a right to investigate the person whose presence was going to effect his men the next week. His interest was purely professional. Once again that inner voice had something to say on that point.
Sure it is Larabee.
“Then I think we’re done, Mr Larabee.” She rose to her feet and started to leave.
Chris almost wished he had a question to ask, other than the most obvious one, but there were demons inside him that would not allow it to escape his lips just yet. For the moment, Chris was simply reeling from the fact that something inside him had just shaken itself awake after a very long period of hibernation. “I guess we are," he said making no move to walk her out. He had to maintain some dignity after all.
“Monday morning then,” she nodded at him and slipped her sunglasses back over face before adding finally. “Incidentally,” Mary looked over her shoulder briefly as she walked out of the room. “It's Ms. Travis.” With that she breezed out the door with Chris Larabee coming to one firm conclusion in the wake of her departure.
His life just became a hell of a lot more complicated.
Continues in Monday
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