In Dreams

by Kim Maddox

Chapter 18
Chris was running. His garage loomed just ahead of him. He hesitated for just a moment, fear paralyzing him. There was some reason he was afraid to enter the building, but he couldn´t remember what it was. He unknowingly slung the door up and entered the garage. The real thing had replaced the blue dye. There was blood running down the walls, dripping on him from the ceiling, and creeping toward his boots on the floor. His eyes darted frantically from one side of the room to the other, searching for his family. His search was halted by the sound of an explosion ripping through metal. He ran from the garage and saw the frame of his truck being engulfed in flames. He was about to run to the truck and try to rescue his family. A loud cry and sounds of a struggle from the garage interior pulled him back inside. Then he was standing in the center of the building, and all around him in various stages of death or dying were the members of his team. He ran to the closest man and turned him over to reveal the dead eyes of his oldest friend Buck, lying under him was JD Dunne, the older man protecting the kid in death just as in life. Josiah lay about three feet away, his skull crushed by a blunt force wound. Nathan had been attempting to help the profiler and had taken a knife in the chest for his trouble. The medic was alive, but fading fast, “Chris, you´ve got to…” Nathan´s last thoughts would never be known as he died in Chris´ arms. He laid the medic down on the floor and moved on to Vin Tanner. By this time Chris was numb to any pain or emotion. The sharpshooter had been cut from neck to belly and his heart had been removed. Ezra Standish was moving about five feet away from Chris. The team leader hurried toward him in what might be the last gesture of leadership and friendship he would ever make to anyone on his team. Ezra´s throat had a ragged cut and blood was pouring from the wound. Larabee knew the undercover agent didn´t have much time. “Ezra,” he spoke softly to his mortally wounded friend, “I´m sorry Ez, God, I didn´t want this to happen. God, please don´t let them die,” Chris lifted the southerner´s shoulders from the floor and held his battered body against his chest, frantically trying to stop the blood flow.

“Mr. Larabee, don´t. It will do no good, I am dying and nothing you can do will prevent it. Chris, there is something I have to tell you. It´s about, Adam…” the cessation of breath sounds from Ezra told Chris that the man was gone. Chris gently laid him back down on the cold hard concrete floor of the garage. He sat back on his heels and raised his eyes to the heavens and cried out with all his might, “No, God, don´t take them too; they didn´t deserve this, this wasn´t their fault. God, let them live.”

Chris took one last look around the building at the ruined bodies of his friends and wished with everything he had in him that he could wake up. The shit that Nathan had given him had knocked him out cold. He couldn´t get past the wall that the drug had put up to keep him out. “God, please let me wake up and find out this is only a dream,” Chris called out.

Chris slept for the remainder of the day and awakened about 6:00 pm only to return to bed an hour later. He had gotten practically no sleep for the past month and his body had rebelled. The dark circles under his eyes had not abated a bit after his forced nap and his friends had noticed that he was not as sharp and alert as usual. It worried them, a lot.

The next morning Chris arose and staggered into his kitchen. His mind processed the fact that there was already coffee made and he poured a cup and swallowed a healthy dose grateful for its bitter taste. Ezra joined him and casually observed, “Mr. Larabee, you could use a shave.” Chris replied by glaring and tossing the immaculately dressed undercover agent the finger. Ezra smiled and couldn´t help thinking that maybe Chris was on the mend.

Ezra could usually read someone right on the mark, but he was way off base in his assumption that Chris was starting to come to terms with the events of the past few weeks. Chris´ mind was in turmoil constantly. He would close his eyes for the briefest of moments and the dead bodies of his friends would appear in his minds eye. The charred remains of his family would come alive in his tortured mind at the hint of peace attempting to claim his soul. It was as if Chris could not let himself forget that he was responsible for the deaths of Sarah and Adam. Everyone had told him he was not responsible, but he couldn´t share the convictions. Now the fact that they had been killed in the garage and their bodies put in his truck and then ripped apart by the explosion, just intensified his thoughts that he had killed his family. Then the dream he had regarding his team. He knew if he didn´t get them away from him and the situation they would pay the ultimate price.

Chris decided what he had to do and just prayed that his team could live with it, and that they would forgive him for it some day. He quickly showered, shaved, and changed clothes. Larabee attempted to put a smile on his face as he descended the stairs and entered the kitchen for the second time that morning.

“Well, you are looking decidedly better Mr. Larabee. How about allowing me to prepare you some breakfast? Some Eggs Benedict perhaps?” Ezra asked with a flourish.

Chris shuddered at the thought of food. There was no way he could ever eat again after the nightmare he had yesterday. “No thanks Ezra, I just couldn´t handle that this morning. How about some juice and coffee?”

Ezra sighed, “Chris, that is not breakfast. Come on now, I´ll fix anything you want; even those little crunchy sugar things that Vin is so wild about. I bet you have a box of those Sugar Bears, or Captain Sugar, or whatever he calls that atrocious concoction.”

“No, I don´t, and even if I did I don´t want any Ezra, ok. Just quit bugging me about eating. I ain´t hungry. If Nathan asks, I´ll cover for you, all right?” Chris stated sarcastically, and started to leave the kitchen.

Ezra grabbed the hostile blond man by the sleeve and spun him around to face him. “No, Chris, it is not all right. I am not doing this for Nathan, or myself. I am doing this because of my deep concern for you and your well being. You haven´t eaten in days. Until Nathan forced you to take a drug induced nap, you hadn´t slept in days, and all you do is drink. You are killing yourself Chris; slowly but surely, little by little, day by day, killing yourself. Take a look at yourself. You are rail thin; your clothes are hanging off of you. Your eyes have bags under them that you could pack for a two-week trip. You´ve got to stop destroying your body Chris, it´s the only one you´ve got, and as much as you would like to believe otherwise, you are not indestructible.”

Chris stood glaring at his friend. He knew Ezra was right. He was destroying himself. He couldn´t stop. Sarah and Adam hadn´t had a choice. He saw to that by the lifestyle he forced them to live. Now he was paying for the choices he made for all of them, just like they had paid, with their lives. Payback was a bitch, and he would see to it that his friends didn´t have to suffer for his mistakes. He dropped his head and stepped back out of the southerners reach and turned and exited the kitchen.

Ezra cursed to himself and regretted the fact that yet again, he had failed to be the friend that Chris needed. He was still lamenting this knowledge when the phone rang. He hurried to get it before Chris could pick it up. Chris didn´t need the stress of dealing with the phone, especially if it had anything to do with the investigation into the blood splatters in the garage.

“Larabee residence,” Ezra answered in a southern drawl.

“I need to speak to Chris, now,” the female speaker demanded.

“That is not possible, could I take a message? I´ll have him return your call as soon as possible,” Ezra replied immediately getting bad vibes from the call.

“NO!” screamed the woman on the other end of the line. “Get him to the phone now. This can´t wait. Our son is sick and time is of the essence. Tell him I called and it is an emergency. Please, Adam and I need him,” the voice trailed off at that point and then the line went dead.

“What the hell?” Ezra asked himself out loud. He picked up the phone and called the office.

“Tanner,” Vin answered the phone.

“Mister Tanner, I just received a most disconcerting call on Mr. Larabee´s phone. A woman in a most distressed fashion informed me that Mr. Larabee´s son is sick. Vin, what the hell is going on? Is this whole episode getting stranger by the minute or am I losing my mind?”

“No Ez, you ain´t goin crazy. I got a phone call like that yesterday. JD set up a tap, check and see if you got anything,” Vin replied excitedly.

The undercover agent hurried to do Tanner´s bidding. He wasn´t sure he had been on the line long enough to produce a trace. After all, he hadn´t known there was a tap on the line. Had someone informed him, he would still be on the phone with the lady at that moment. When Ezra had a mind to he could talk the ears off a jackrabbit. He replayed the conversation and wondered why the voice on the line sounded so familiar to him. He listened intently over and over again. Unfortunately there was not enough time for the trace. He somberly informed Vin of that fact. Vin was disappointed but didn´t blame Ezra for the failure of the line trace. Now that Ezra knew, the same thing wouldn´t happen again.

JD decided that Chris was being too quiet. The blond had returned to his room pleading a headache. He was going to go back to bed for a week, he had told his fellow agents, babysitters, he called them. JD didn´t really believe that Chris was still in bed. Larabee was a man of action. He wasn´t one to stay in bed if everything was going smoothly, if things were off kilter, he was going to get them straightened out.

JD cautiously opened the door to his boss´ bedroom. Cautiously in case Chris was really asleep and so that if Chris was awake and in a foul mood, he would have the door to hide behind. The blond man was not in bed. JD went inside the bedroom and moved to the bathroom door. He pushed the door open and found emptiness. JD quickly searched the rest of the upstairs and made his way to the ground level. He frantically searched the downstairs and bellowed out, ”Damn!”

Standish emerged from the kitchen with a dishtowel in his hands. “What has gotten your dander up Mister Dunne?”

“Chris is gone,” JD stated dully.

“What do you mean “gone”, JD?”

“I mean gone, as in I searched everywhere and he isn´t here.”

“Did you look outside JD? Chris is not a prisoner. This is his home. Maybe he went to feed the horses.”

“I´ll go look. Damn, he´s got to be here somewhere.”

“I will accompany you Mr. Dunne,” Ezra stated, flinging the towel on the back of a chair.

Both agents went outside to look for the elusive team leader. The phone began to ring and the machine picked up. “You have reached 555-7849, please leave your name, number, and a brief message, and I´ll return your call if I feel like it,” brief and to the point. Ezra always laughed every time he heard Chris´ message.

When the message ended and the tone sounded, a frantic voice could be heard on the other end of the line. “Chris! Oh God, Chris pick up! Please pick up the phone. I know you´re there. Why aren´t you answering? I need you, Adam needs you! She won´t let us go. She´s keeping us here. I can´t talk anymore, Oh God she´s coming back! I love you Chris!” and the line went dead.

Ezra and JD returned to the house in a panic. Chris was nowhere to be found and one of the horses was missing. They didn´t know if he was up to riding or where he had gone. JD noticed the light flashing on the machine and decided to check the messages before they called and alerted the others to Chris´ disappearance. Ezra leaned over JD´s shoulder as he started the machine playing. Both agents were stunned when they heard the message. JD´s eyes were round as saucers and Ezra was sure if he had a mirror his own would be just as large.

“What in the hell was that all about?” Ezra finally found his voice to question.

“And who was it?” JD further queried.

JD´s fingers flew to the wire trace and checked to see if they had a location for the origin of the call. They had gotten one this time but it was a pay phone. Not very helpful considering the number of pay phones in the Denver Metropolitan Area, which was where the call originated. Not very likely that the woman was being held captive if she was using a pay phone.

Ezra called the other agents and told them to return to the ranch post haste. They needed to find Chris and decide what to do about the answering machine tape. Chris didn´t need to hear it, but if might be evidence in the future. They had to catch the woman doing this. She was going to drive Chris insane if they didn´t.

The other four agents returned and they all decided to replace the tape with a new one and keep the used one in a safe place. Chris was sure to check his messages and they didn´t want him to stumble on this unknowingly. They split up and went searching for their leader. Vin finally found him sitting on a boulder looking out over a canyon. The sharpshooter had known exactly where to find him, but had given him a little more time to think before blessing him out for just disappearing without telling any one where he was going.

Vin called out, “Vin,coming in,” before approaching Chris, unsure if the man was armed.

“Come on up, I ain´t packin,” Chris replied grinning. “I think you boys are doubting my ability to control myself, I can´t seem to find a gun anywhere. Even the one I keep in the barn for shooting rats is missing,” he continued. “I don´t guess you would have anything to do with that would you Cowboy?”

Vin smiled innocently, “Me? Naw, I ain´t got nothing against you shooting rats. I´d encourage you in that,” the sharpshooter shuddered at the thought of the rodents. “I wouldn´t care if you wiped out the entire population.”

Chris smiled at the memory of having to go to Vin´s home and play exterminator for him. If only his own fears could be controlled with a mousetrap and a box of D-Con. At times it seemed the only thing that could overcome his fears and guilt and terrible memories was a complete break with reality.

Vin started to light in on Chris about the whole ‘let someone know when you leave´ thing but the man´s relaxed demeanor just wouldn´t let him. “Chris,” he began gently, “you know you had us all worried. I know this is your place and I wouldn´t even try to tell you that you couldn´t get out and ride anytime you want. Please just let us know next time. You bout gave ol Ezra a heart attack. He was so sure that he had let you get out and ride to Tucson or something. You know as well as I do that you ain´t in no condition to ride off somewhere by yourself,” at this point Vin was interrupted by a very pissed off Chris.

“If this is going to turn into a lecture, Mom, about my eating habits, my drinking, or the amount of time I spend in bed; you can just head it off at the pass. Ezra already completed that particular lesson for the day. I don´t want anything to eat Vin, “ Chris started to shake. “I can´t,” he shivered again.

“Why Chris? You know you´ve got to eat or you´ll end up in the hospital. Nate is looking for a good excuse to get you in there anyway. He´s worried about your blood pressure. Says you´re in too good a health for it to be that high, it´s all the stress that you´re under. Come on, you don´t want to have to go to the hospital, do you?” Vin questioned.

Chris shook his head. When Larabee turned his face toward the sharpshooter, Vin´s eyes caught a glimpse of the blond man´s eyes. They were shadowed and empty. “Come on Larabee, fess up. What´s goin on in that head of yours?”

Chris took a deep breath and sighed heavily. “Well, I´ve come this far trusting you in this whole mess. I might as well finish it. But I only want to do this once, so let´s go back to the house. I want you all to hear this. It´s my decision and you might as well all know now.”

Tanner didn´t like the sound of what Larabee was implying but he climbed back onto the horse and waited as Chris mounted up. He tried to feel Chris out about what he was going to tell them, but Chris was closemouthed.

The two men stabled the horses and entered the house once again through the front door. Chris still avoided the garage like the plague, not that Vin could blame him. It´s not every day you find your garage has been the scene of a bloodbath. Chris went to the refrigerator and grabbed a beer. Nathan frowned at him, which prompted Chris to twist the top off and take a large gulp of the liquid and glare at Nathan, daring him to say a word. The medic wisely stayed quiet.

Chris really didn´t mean to cause Nathan any undue worry, not did he mean to be such a smart ass with the whole beer thing. He was really just trying to screw up the courage to tell his team what he had decided to do. It was going to be the hardest thing he had ever done in his life, with the exception of burying his family. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and began the speech he had rehearsed over and over in his head while he was supposed to be asleep but sleep had evaded him.

“I know I´ve been a real ass lately and I apologize. I never meant to take all this out on you all. Nathan, I´m sorry for making your life miserable and Ezra, sorry for scaring you the other day. I am going to make it all up to you. Right now I can´t do anything without making a mess of it. I don´t know what gets into my head half the time. I just do things without even thinking about it. You know how I am; I have to be in control. I´m not in control now. I can´t even control my own life, much less a bust. I´m going to resign, effective immediately,” Chris put the bottle down on the table and left the living room.

The other agents felt like they had been sucker punched. Chris was resigning. They didn´t think they could do the job without him. He was their leader. He was their friend. This was just a sign of how far Chris had slid downward. They had to get him to change his mind. As certain as Vin was that he could get Chris to reconsider, Ezra was just as certain he couldn´t. “Mr. Larabee is in no condition to work right now and he knows this. Perhaps we should respect his wishes for now.”

“Are you crazy Ezra? What are you saying? You think Chris should quit?” Buck asked becoming angrier by the second.

“Of course not, Mr. Wilmington. All I am saying is maybe Chris feels like this is the only thing he can control at the moment. That this is one decision he can make that no one can talk him out of. I don´t know if you all have been listening to Mr. Larabee all this time or not. If you had been listening you would have heard what I heard. A man pleading for help. We are not helping him. We are telling him what to do. Eat Chris, don´t drink so much Chris, don´t remember the terrible thing that happened in your garage Chris, don´t quit your job Chris. Why, because we are only thinking of ourselves, and how your resignation will affect us. I can´t do that anymore, and I´ll tell you why. The rest of you didn´t see what I saw that day at the cemetery or the other night in the garage. You saw the aftermath. I saw the train wreck. Chris looked like a man at the end of his rope. I don´t want to have to identify his body after he goes ballistic and does himself in. I am going to do whatever Chris wants me to do. If that is leave him alone, then what´s what I´ll do. Of course I´ll never be too far away, but what he doesn´t know won´t hurt him. We´ve got to start thinking of Chris.”

Ezra´s heartfelt speech had the desired effect. Vin dropped his head and said in a low voice, “I agree. I know I´ve let Chris down. I´ve been so wrapped up in finding out what happened to Adam that I just ignored what Chris has been going through. Not any more. I´m gonna take a leave of absence and stay out here with him till this is over. If what Ezra is saying is so, then this is more serious than I thought. I don´t want to leave him out here by himself.”

“Mr. Tanner, you are second in command. You cannot take a leave with Chris turning in his resignation. You have to take over,” Ezra responded.

“I ain´t taking Chris´ job,” Vin snarled.

“Just till Mr. Larabee returns,” Ezra amended.

“No, somebody has to stay out here and watch him. He don´t need to be by himself,” Vin countered.

“I will stay here and keep an eye on our illustrious leader, if he will allow it,” Ezra stated,

“All right, but Ezra, I want up to date reports on Chris. I´m still a little nervous about leaving him,” Vin replied.

“We all are Vin, but there is still work to be done at the office. Just because Chris quit don´t mean we all can,” Buck countered. “I´m still wonderin´ what is going on with CSI. We ain´t heard nothing from them ol´ boys yet.”

“I don´t think we´ll hear anything from CSI Buck. We are the enemy as far as they are concerned,” answered Josiah.

“I guess they´ve never heard ‘Keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer´, huh? asked Vin quietly. The other agents could hear contempt practically dripping from his voice.

Chapter 19

Chris Larabee sat back on his bed and drank directly from the bottle of Johnny Walker Black that he had held in his hand for almost an hour. He couldn´t come out of the bedroom. His friends were still out there and he was afraid that one or two or a combination of all six of them would convince him not to resign. ‘It´s the only way,´ Chris thought to himself, ‘the only way to keep them safe. I´ve already got Sarah and Adam killed, I can´t take being responsible for anyone else dying.´

Chris´ mind wouldn´t even allow himself to remember that thus far no one had even been threatened. He was, at this point, so irrational that no one could get through to him. The whiskey was starting to dull his senses. He was getting very relaxed and sleepy. Sleepy, oh God, not sleep. He needed anything but sleep. The thought of drifting off to dream, prompted him to arise off the bed and head to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. He had to sober up and fast.

The other agents were sitting at the table discussing the investigation into Adam´s “death”. They barely heard Chris walk into the kitchen. “Hey Chris, you want to join us, we were just about to pass around the bottle?” Buck practically shouted to Chris.

“No thanks, I´m gonna get a coffee,” Chris replied staggering to the coffeepot. He poured a mug of the hot, bitter brew and grimaced at the taste. Vin must have made the coffee; thank God, it would keep him awake for days. ‘Just keep drinking it, no matter how bad it tastes,´ he kept thinking to himself.

The other agents could tell that Chris had already been drinking and couldn´t fathom why he would rather drink Vin´s swamp juice than some good Jack Daniels. They followed his lead though, they always did. No one drank that night.

The agents finally declared that they should be in bed and started getting ready to head for home. They all had work in the morning. There was an awkward silence as everyone prepared to leave. Ezra yawned and blinked sleepily, “Mr. Larabee, if I could impose on your hospitality for another night, I am just really too tired to attempt the drive back to the city tonight.”

“Sure Ez, just take your pick of rooms. I´m gonna stay up for awhile. All that coffee has got me jittery. Maybe I´ll just watch a little tv and then turn in,” Chris replied.

“Very well, Mr. Larabee. Goodnight Gentlemen.”

“Night Ezra, see you tomorrow. G´night Chris. You sure you don´t wanna come in tomorrow?” asked Buck hopefully.

“Nah, Buck, this is for the best. I ain´t right somehow, and I don´t want to take any chances that something I do or don´t do will cost one of you your life. Just let it go,” Chris replied dropping his head to look at the floor. “I´ll see you around,” Chris said dropping down onto the sofa and turning on the tv.

“Well, that went well,” said Josiah sadly.

Chris sat up all night. Every time he felt himself dropping off to sleep he got up and paced the floor from the living room to the kitchen, stopping only to pour another cup of coffee. When he wore a groove in the carpet with that route, he took to the outdoors. He rambled the grounds of the ranch on foot and on horseback. He fell asleep in the saddle and almost fell from the horse. That woke him up. He stabled Dixie, the little bay mare that he had acquired recently and named for Ezra, and then returned to the house. Ezra was making a fresh pot of coffee when Chris walked into the kitchen.

“Sorry Ez, I didn´t mean to wake you up,” Chris said quietly.

“That´s perfectly all right Chris. This is your house, you shouldn´t have to tiptoe around in it,” Ezra said with a smile.

“I feel like I´m walking around on eggshells with all of you, Ezra. I don´t know why it feels that way. I´ve always been comfortable with ya´ll before. I guess I wonder just exactly what everyone thinks of me now. I mean, look at me, I´m a mess. And now I have to wonder if they are starting to look at me like the CSI and IA do,” Chris´ voice trailed off as if he thought he had said too much.

“Whatever do you mean Mr. Larabee?”

“Come on Ezra, I ain´t stupid. I know about the IA investigation. I know all about them checking on my alibi for the night that Sarah and Adam were killed. I know that they checked my bank account. They have checked my credit report, my passport, credit cards, insurance policies, everything there is to know about me, except the way I like my eggs. You don´t have to lie to me about it.”

“Mr. Larabee, I assure you I know nothing of an investigation by Internal Affairs. I know that CSI took some evidence from the garage, but that is normal. Who told you that you are under investigation?”

“Perkins, from CSI.”

“I knew I should have strangled the man with his own tongue the other night. I only stopped because Mr. Tanner threatened to, in his words, “Whup my ass,” remarked Ezra angrily. There was anger directed at Perkins, and at himself as well. They had let Perkins get to Chris. How? Chris had barely been out of their sight for the past several days. He knew he was going to have to inform the team of the latest developments.

“Hey Ez, why don´t you go on back to bed. You look beat. I´m gonna turn in myself. I can´t believe that it´s only 2 am, it seems like this night has gone on forever,” Chris said yawning.

“I believe I will attempt to acquire a couple of hours sleep before I have to return to the city. I´ll see you in a few hours Chris, Good night,” Ezra replied.

Standish returned to the bedroom and dropped onto the bed and almost immediately fell into a deep sleep. His dreams caught up with him and images of Sarah Larabee filled his mind, troubling images. Sarah was coming toward him, pleading with him, for help. “Help him, Ezra, please help him.” It was the most mournful, sad, grief filled voice he had ever heard. It was also very familiar.

Chapter 20

The illuminated screen of the television set was alive with images; images from his life, a life that was long gone. Larabee watched as his son blew out the candles on a huge cake, opened the huge pile of gifts, mostly from Buck, and scowled at his mother for her public display of affection as she kissed him on the cheek. Chris had tears in his eyes as he watched his wife serve cake and ice cream to six little boys and four little girls that Adam had called his best friends. She was wearing jeans and a red t-shirt and had her long curly red hair pulled back into a loose ponytail. She had chosen her wardrobe carefully that day, opting for comfort instead of what would look good in photographs. Chris had argued with her then that it wouldn´t matter what she was wearing he would always think she was beautiful. He still did.

Buck was on the tape too. Chris smiled when he caught a glimpse of his old friend. Four years had brought changes to the ladies man too. He was running around in the background, chasing all the single moms in the crowd. No one was safe from his ‘animal magnetism´. That hadn´t changed, but there were noticeable changes in the way Buck looked now. There was a little gray starting to show in his hair, and the grief he felt at the loss of his best friends family was evident. Chris had never realized how evident until now. The Buck that Chris saw on the tape had a carefree youthful air about him that the Buck he knew now just didn´t have anymore.

Chris fell back into the chair he was sitting in and fought to regain some control over his emotions. He finally got them in check and moved to the edge of the seat. He sat with his arms resting on his knees, staring at the tv screen, rewinding and watching the tape, over and over till he knew every detail of the action unfolding before him. He studied Sarah´s face, memorizing every freckle, every line, every dimple, before moving on to put to memory every curve of her body. Adam´s face was seared into his brain. The close cropped blonde hair, the freckles, and Chris´ own trademark green eyes looking out at him from his son´s face were indelibly engraved forever in his memory. The tape continued to replay throughout the rest of the night until dawn was about to break.

Ezra awoke before dawn to the sound of a woman´s voice. He opened one eye expecting to have sunlight streaming through the opened blinds; but was instead greeted by darkness. He frowned as the voices continued, this time joined by a chorus of voices, some singing ‘Happy Birthday´ in a very off key manner.

Standish pushed back the sheet and blanket and reached out for the khaki pants he had stripped off only a few hours earlier. Pulling the trousers on, he stumbled a bit as he walked to the closed bedroom door.

The undercover agent glanced around the corner into Chris´ living room. The blond man was fully dressed and sitting on the edge of a chair gazing at the tv. Standish studied the set for a moment realizing that it must be a videocassette recording of Adam´s birthday party. Standish feeling as if he were intruding on Chris´ privacy, turned to go back to the bedroom. A small table by the bedroom door was undetected by the southerner until he tripped all over it, knocking a small figurine over. The figurine fell to the carpeted floor, but was not broken.

The sound in the hallway prompted Chris to call out to Ezra, “Ezra, you all right?”

Ezra came back into the living room with an embarrassed blush on his cheeks. “I am fine Chris and truly sorry for disturbing you. I´ll just retire back to bed and get up again at a more respectable hour,” Ezra said turning back to the hallway.

“Ezra, you ain´t disturbing me. Now that you´re up you may as well have some coffee. There´s a pot made in the kitchen. Help yourself,” Chris offered.

“I think I´ll just get some water and take a couple of aspirin. I seem to have developed a headache overnight. I´ll just get them and maybe take a shower.”

“Go ahead, make yourself at home,” responded Chris.

Standish stood in front of the sink and drank a glass of water chasing the three aspirin tablets he had swallowed. He could still hear the joyful sounds of a child´s party coming from the living room. ‘A strange out of place sound for this house these days,´ he thought to himself. He was about to go through the swinging door into the living room when a specific voice on the tape caught his attention. He recognized the voice from somewhere; he just couldn´t remember where he had heard it before. It was so familiar to him. A soft voice, with an accent that was a delightful mix of light Irish brogue and soft southern drawl. Ezra stepped into the living room and stood transfixed in front of the tv set. Chris had laid back in the chair and was sprawled out still staring at the scene unfolding in front of him. Ezra broke the silence with a soft sigh, “She was beautiful Chris.”

“I know, not just on the outside either. She was beautiful through and through. There was not a mean, spiteful bone in her body. She wanted everyone to be happy. I know I´m making her sound like a saint, I don´t mean to. Sarah would be the first to tell you she wasn´t perfect. She had a temper. God, she had a temper. We had some real barnburners. She wasn´t afraid of anything, well, except my job. That´s the only thing that scared her. She risked the wrath of her father to marry me. Sometimes I don´t know why she did. Look what it got her, dead.”

“But Chris, at least you had her. She had you; you both had that little boy that was the light of your lives. You had something real, something tangible. You left your mark on the world. For a little while you had the best of everything. Be thankful you did. Take it from someone whose whole life is a series of fictional works. Real life is hard, and it´s tragic, but God Chris, real life can be beautiful too. Just look at that little boy, you only had him for a while, but think of all the joy he brought to your life. That´s what you have to think about now Chris, the beauty of their lives, not the ugliness of their deaths.”

“I know Ezra, it´s just that every time I get to the point that I think I can pick up the pieces of what´s left of my life and move on with it, something happens and it´s right there in my face again. I don´t think this feeling will ever go away. Don´t you think I´m tired of walking around in the dark all the time? I am, I just can´t seem to find my way out of it,” Chris said wearily.

Ezra, seeing the despondency and tiredness in his friend by the drop of his head and the slump of his shoulders replied, “You will my friend, someday you will.”

Chapter 21

Standish quietly made his way to the sofa where the blond man was lying. Chris had finally fallen asleep. After days of fighting slumber with coffee and nervous energy, his body had finally betrayed him. He was sleeping deeply at the moment and Ezra took advantage of the opportunity. He slipped to the VCR and removed the videocassette from the machine. Something on the tape sparked something in his subconscious. He had to have time to figure out what was niggling at him about that tape. The voices, something about the voices on the tape. They were familiar, yet they shouldn´t be. ‘Well, a quick trip to the lab should clear up a little bit of the mystery,´ he thought to himself.

A knock on the door disrupted his thoughts. He moved quickly to the door to prevent any further sound from the other side. Chris surely didn´t need to be awakened. Nathan stood on the threshold when Ezra answered the door.

“Hey Ezra, where is Chris?” Nathan´s voice boomed, echoing throughout the room.

“Shhh, Mr. Jackson, please keep your voice down. Mr. Larabee has finally fallen asleep. I am desperately trying to keep him that way,” Ezra whispered frantically to Nathan.

“Oh, sorry Ezra. I´m sure glad that Chris is getting some rest. I´ll check on him before I leave.”

“Which prompts me to ask a favor of you Mr. Jackson. Would it be possible for you to stay out here with our friend for a couple of hours? I´ve got something I have to check out at the office. I´m still not comfortable with leaving him alone. He is asleep, but who knows for how long. If he awakens it would be better if there was someone here,” Ezra glanced worriedly at the still sleeping form of Chris Larabee.

“Sure Ezra, I´ll stay with him,” Nathan answered in amazement, “but, let me ask you one thing.”

“Certainly Mr. Jackson,” Ezra returned a little warily.

“Why have you all of a sudden started acting like Chris´ daddy or something, and furthermore why is Chris letting you?” Nathan asked curiously.

Ezra took a deep breath and sighed. “I don´t honestly know the answer to your questions Mr. Jackson. It´s just that all of a sudden I feel a kinship to Mr. Larabee that I have never felt before. He is hanging by a thread and I know that feeling all too well. That may be it, or maybe it is seeing him in such a fragile state that brings out my “paternal tendencies”, I can´t tell you. As for why Chris is allowing me to baby-sit him, I think he is looking for something solid to grab onto. Something that is steady when everything else around him is sliding down. I hope that he feels that way about our team and our friendship,” Ezra finished thoughtfully.

“Ezra,” Nathan began as the southerner started out the front door, “In case I haven´t told you this, you´re a good man…and a good friend.”

Standish reddened slightly at the compliment and the sentiment behind it, “Thank you Mr. Jackson, the feeling is quite mutual,” and with that, the undercover agent left heading for the office.

Standish pulled into the parking structure at the Federal Building and noted that all the corresponding vehicles for his teammates were present. ‘Good, I will need all their help, especially Mr. Wilmington and Mr. Dunne.´

The elevator ride to the 12th floor was brief and Ezra stepped off into the ATF offices. “Mr. Tanner,” he called to Vin who happened to be the first agent he saw. “We need to talk right away. Can you assemble everyone in the conference room in about ten minutes?”

“Sure Ez, we´ll be waiting,” Vin assured the undercover agent.

Vin gathered Buck and Josiah while Ezra rounded up the energetic JD. They all met in the conference room a few minutes later.

Josiah broke the silence, “What have you found Ezra?”

“Mr. Sanchez, as usual right to the point,” Ezra grinned at the profiler. “Gentlemen, I would like for you all to watch and listen carefully to the tape that I have brought in with me. When it is through, tell me what you hear.”

Standish started the tape. Buck´s features froze. ‘Oh God, where did that come from?´ He thought that Chris had put that tape away a long time ago. Buck was finally able to put voice to his thoughts and asked Ezra the question that he had thought to himself moments before.

“I was awakened by the sounds on this tape this morning about four a.m. I left the comfort of Chris´ guest room to see where the sounds were coming from and I found our leader sitting by himself watching said tape. I can´t describe the emotions I felt seeing him respond to that tape. It was raw anguish. I decided that the tape needed to be removed from the house, at least till this was all over. I started walking to the kitchen, trying to figure out a way to get the tape from Chris when I heard a voice. The voice sounded very familiar to me, yet it shouldn´t. I know none of the people on that tape, with the exception of Mr. Wilmington, and of course, Mr. Larabee. Then I remembered where I had heard that voice. The tape from the wire tap, I believe that it is the same voice,” Ezra paused to let the other agents get on the same page he was on. “Gentlemen, I have cued the tape to the frames in question, I don´t know if I believe myself what I am about to suggest, but bear with me.”

The tape was cued to a frame that began just after the crowd had finished singing the birthday song to the adorable little boy sitting beside a very happy, relaxed looking Chris. The camera had zoomed in on Sarah and she could be heard very clearly saying, “Happy Birthday Adam, I love you baby,” Buck shuddered and had to look away from the screen. “Please Ezra, turn that off,” Buck pleaded quietly.

“I know that this is painful for you Buck, but Ezra may have something here,” Josiah responded to Buck´s grief filled plea, “go ahead Ezra.”

“Very well,” Ezra replied, looking to Buck for confirmation. Buck simply nodded his head and Ezra continued. “Now listen to this audio cassette tape that we removed from the tape recorder we set up on the wire tap of Chris´ phone.”

The agents all listened carefully and were astonished at the similarity of the voices on the two tapes. “Oh my God,” Buck uttered with a gasp, “It´s Sarah.”

The other agents turned all eyes to Wilmington. Buck struggled to keep his voice from quivering, “I heard the wire tap but I didn´t realize until hearing that video tape that it was Sarah´s voice.” Josiah placed a comforting hand or the upset man´s shoulder, “brings it all back don´t it Buck?”

“Yeah, the good stuff and the bad Josiah,” Buck replied.

The agents continued to watch the videotape listening closely to Sarah´s voice. Ezra was especially intent. “Who is that?” Ezra blurted out.

“Who are you talking about Ezra?” asked Buck.

“There, the young blond woman off to the left,” Ezra said grabbing the remote and rewinding the tape to the place he first glimpsed the object of his curiosity.

“Oh, that´s Sarah´s sister Rachel. Real beauty, but not playing with a full deck, if you get my drift.”

“I wasn´t aware that Chris had a sister-in-law. Where is the young lady?”

Ezra asked, his interest piqued.

“The last I heard she was in some kind of institution. After Sarah´s death I kinda lost track of her. Before Sarah died Rachel lived with them though. Her and her daddy had some kind of falling out and she called her sister crying her eyes out and Sarah couldn´t stand for the girl to be upset. Sarah practically raised that girl. Their Mama died having Rachel and their brother Jake was only six. Sarah became mama to them both and she was only ten years old. She cooked and cleaned for her father and brother, took care of a newborn babe and went to school in the process. She was remarkable,” Buck stated, amazed at Sarah´s abilities.

“Please go on Mr. Wilmington, what was Rachel like?” urged Ezra.

Buck was a little confused at the interest Ezra was showing in Rachel, after all he hadn´t heard from the girl in years. “What ya want to know Ezra?”

“What happened to her, where did she go after Mr. Larabee´s wife´s murder?” Ezra replied.

“Well, I don´t know where she went but I do know that she was real unstable after Sarah died. Course, I think she had problems before. Her daddy threw her out of the house when she was sixteen. He thought she was too wild, promiscuous, he called it. Told her she would never be any good. Chris agreed to let Sarah bring her here from Virginia. Chris loved that kid too; she was a part of Sarah. She wasn´t a bad kid, just confused. She baby-sat with Adam when Chris and Sarah went out. She was real good with him and Adam just adored her. Her daddy just didn´t give her a chance. He was too wrapped up in his own grief to pay much attention to Rachel or the other two for that matter. Jake did the best he could till he got grown. He joined the Navy and never looked back. Sarah took care of her daddy till she told him she was gonna marry Chris. Sarah´s daddy never took a shine to Chris. He told Sarah that he wasn´t good enough for his little girl. He didn´t want her to marry a SEAL, told her Chris would just break her heart. Sarah and her daddy never spoke again. She went to her grave with hard feelings between her and her kin. Chris let him know that he was a grandpa. It didn´t make a difference; he was too angry and sad to accept that Chris and Sarah were married. Hank never even saw his grandson. It was a crying shame. Anyway, Rachel hung around a few days after the funeral, but Chris was… well, Chris was a mess. The funeral was over at 4:00 and he started drinking at 4:01. He didn´t stop for days. Rachel tried to talk to him but he just told her to go away. I told her to stay away from him till he sobered up, but she didn´t take my advice. She showed up at my door a couple days later crying like her heart was broken. I asked her what had happened. She told me that Chris didn´t want her there anymore. She was too much of a reminder of Sarah, and he just couldn´t take her being there anymore. She just left. I heard later on that her brother Jake had to have her committed. She tried to kill herself, and no one really knew why. She was just totally insane. As far as I know she may still be there.”

“That is a tragedy indeed, Mr. Wilmington. It is truly sad to become so overwhelmed that one loses oneself. I hope that unfortunate occurrence can be avoided for Chris,” Ezra said sadly.

“We´ll just have to see that it don´t happen,” stated Vin quietly. “JD can you get your buddy down in the lab to run these tapes, see if you can get a match. Buck you better be the one to talk to the guys at CSI. I don´t think Ezra can and I know I´ll lose it, Josiah, why don´t you tag along and see if you can help persuade them. Ezra, you and I have got somewhere to be. Let´s get this done,” Vin finished his directions with his fist banging on the tabletop. He didn´t want Chris´ job, but he was going to see that it was done right.

“Gentlemen, the mention of CSI made me think of something else I have to tell you. Chris told me morning that Perkins from CSI informed him that he is now under an IA investigation,” Ezra reported with a frown, “I knew that I should have hit first and asked questions later.”

“Sorry, Ez. I shouldn´t have pulled you off of him. Iff´n I had known what he was gonna say to Chris, hell, I´d a shot him,” Vin said with a grim smile.

The agents all moved to do their assigned tasks, knowing that Chris´ future depended on finding out what was going on with the mysterious phone calls.


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