MCAT: Turbulent Transition #6
Chapter 1 -
3 | Chapter 4 - 6 | Chapter 7 - 9 | Chapter 10 - 12
Chapter 13 - 15 | Chapter 16 - 18 | Chapter 19 - 21 | Chapter 22 - 24
Chapter 25 - 27 | Chapter 28 - 30 | Chapter 31 - 33 | Chapter 34 - 36
Chapter 37 - 39 | Chapter 40 - 42 | Chapter 43 - 45 | Chapter 46 - 49
MCAT Office 9:00 am
Thursday ~ June 22nd
“Orrin, I’m sure there was a good reason... I know…I will take care of my agents! ...You will get a report when I get one! “Chris Larabee, Commander of Major Crimes and Anti-Terrorism, shouted into his office phone, gripping the receiver so tightly that it threatened to break into tiny little pieces at any moment.
“Damnit Chris! We’ve got enough problems with the FBI as it is, without two of your agents losing their tempers and causing an inter-agency incident! You had better be prepared to sooth some ruffled feathers because we have certainly not heard the end of this!” Travis yelled into his end of the phone. “Be in my office at ten tomorrow morning!”
Chris winced as the echo of Travis slamming his phone onto its base reverberated through his head. He refrained from doing likewise to his phone, instead easing it into its base, and turned toward the door. He stopped when he saw Vin Tanner leaning in the open doorway.
Chris sighed, “You heard.”
“I think the whole damn office heard. Want me to meet ‘em at the airport?” Tanner was prepared to leave.
“No, I don’t want them to be warned. I want to hear the details of what went down in California unrehearsed. If they are warned that I’ve been tipped off that things didn’t go so well, then they’ll have time to embellish the details of their individual reports.”
“If, Kel lost her temper, Chris, you know there had to have been a damn good reason.”
“I hope so Vin, I hope so.” Chris reached for the intercom. “Gunny, get in touch with Standish, Coulter and Dunne, I want them in my office as soon as they arrive back to Denver.”
“Why do you think Chris wants us to check in with him this fast?” JD asked as he tried to keep up with his two teammates. It was not an easy thing to do, since he was burdened with three bags and his laptop.
“I dare say it is associated to the fact that an obstinate redhead called the Chief of Police of Costa Mesa a braying jackass in the presence of his men!” Ezra shot an angry look at Coulter. “Not to mention the tirade she went on before that where she proceeded to insult the FBI agents and the Special Agent in Command of their field off ice three different languages.”
Kelli stopped walking abruptly and JD ran into her. She cast him a dark look, and then turned her attention onto Standish. “I know what I saw! You can either take what I said as fact, or you can go straight to hell!”
“We all misconstrue circumstances from time to time. Can you prove...?” Ezra started.
“Damnit, Standish! I know what I saw! It’s hard to miss seein’ everythin’ goin’ on below when I’m lookin’ down on it through a riflescope from thirty feet up. “
“I was up close and personal with the situation Kelli. JD was too and yet neither of us observed the events as you say they occurred. Don’t you think we would all be on the same page if they had played out the way that you perceived them to?”
“Hey guys…we are kind of blocking the way here.” JD said, trying to prod them along and decided he liked it better when they were not talking to each other. The long trip back from Costa Mesa had been refreshingly quiet.
Both Kelli and Ezra turned to JD, “Shut up JD!”
“As senior agent on the scene, I will be the one Larabee reams for the complicated debacle you’ve gotten all of us into. The least you could do is listen to reason. We require a story.” Ezra was going to get them out of this one way or another.
“You can tell them any story you want to Ezra, but don’t count on me to take any part in it. I’m goin’ to tell ‘em the truth!”
“Lord, you are an exasperatingly stubborn woman! Vin must have the patience of Job to put up with you!! Why can’t you just shut up long enough to hear me out? If you did, we might be able to salvage our jobs.” Ezra was yelling now. “When we get to the office I will do all of the talking! “
“Go to hell Ezra!” Kelli picked up her bag and stomped out of the airport to hail a cab.
“Whew…she’s sure mad.” JD commented as he watched the taxi with Kelli in it, drive away from the curb.
“Yeah, well, she isn’t the only one.” Ezra said coolly as the two agents hailed a cab of their own.
The ride back to the federal building was a silent one.
Larabee and Tanner stood in front of Chris’ door. From this vantage point they would be able to know the exact moment the three agents arrived. They didn’t have too long to wait. Standish and Dunne were the first to exit the elevators and they headed straight for the men that were waiting for them.
“Where’s Kelli?” Tanner demanded, when he didn’t see his redhead step out of the elevator along with Standish and Dunne.
“Uh… she took a separate cab and should be here any minute. We saw her enter the lobby as we got in the elevator.” JD reluctantly answered.
Just as JD finished speaking, the elevator arrived on their floor and Kelli stepped out of it. She secured her gun case and dropped her duffel bag at her desk before moving to join the others. By now, the entire office had gone quiet, as the other agents in the room focused all of their attention on watching their colleagues in front of Larabee’s office. If body language were any indicator, the tense silence that currently existed would not last for long.
Chris started to order them into his office, but after noting the audience decided their meeting room was better suited for this conversation. “Conference room now!”
The three agents marched silently into the war room and Tanner closed the door behind him. He tried to read Kelli, but the antagonism and tension radiating from her blocked everything else. He had not spoken to her since the day before, so he had no idea what could have happened since then to cause her to be this angry.
Chris started quietly, “Five days ago I sent three good agents to California to work on a simple case with the FBI. I get back three people who can barely stand to be in the same room with each other, had my ass chewed out by an irate Deputy Director informing me of an inter-agency incident that threatens to blow up on us due to my agents’ inabilities to keep their mouths shut and do their damn jobs!! I WANT TO KNOW WHAT IN THE HELL IS GOING ON AND I WANT TO KNOW NOW!”
JD cringed at every word; Kelli looked mutinous at being shouted at, while Ezra decided to take charge for explaining their actions.” Gentlemen I assure you this is all a misunderstanding that can be sorted out quickly.”
“Yeah right,” JD smirked and that earned an icy look from Standish.
“JD, why don’t you start?” Chris trained his fierce gaze in Dunne’s direction.
“Well…uh…maybe Ezra should…uh…Damn, I’m not sure what happened anymore. All I know is everything went to hell quickly and these two didn’t speak all the way home till we got to the airport here and then they decided to have a screaming match in the middle of the concourse. Then... uh we…” JD sighed and shut up.
“I believe this matter can be cleared up with a simple apology.” Ezra said, staring angrily at Kelli.
“I will apologize when hell freezes over Standish!” Kelli retorted, her eyes flashing dangerously.
”You might reconsider and reflect on the consequences of your actions!” Ezra shouted in exasperation.
“Screw you Standish! I won’t reconsider anythin’; the only thing I regret is that I didn’t shoot the SOB!”
“Guys, we’re in the office.” JD gave a gentle reminder
”Shut up, JD!” Standish and Coulter barked.
Standish addressed Coulter, “Perhaps if you weren’t so stubborn you could see your mistake!
“Stubborn! You have room to talk! You refuse to consider what I said as being possible, let alone the truth. If it wasn’t for me we wouldn’t even be havin’ this argument you and JD would be dead right now! No way in hell will you ever convince me it was a mistake! The only mistake I made was expectin’ my partners to back me up!”
“You, woman, could try the patience of a saint! It could not have transpired the way you thought you saw it! It’s just not possible!”
“No matter what your mother may tell you Standish, you’re no saint! I saw what I saw and it happened just as I said! Possible or not I don’t give a flyin’…”
Larabee and Tanner had stood back just to listen, but this was getting out of hand.
“Kel, don’t say it!” Vin knew what her next word would be, something he said often enough, but this was not him and he never expected to hear her say it, at least not here in the office.
She turned to Vin and Chris. “I take full responsibility for my actions and would do the same thing again. Standish and Dunne had no part in it. Ezra did try to stop me, but those men deserved a dressin’ down and a hell of a lot more. Those bastards left Ezra and JD out in the open with no back up and that is unacceptable. I will not apologize for what I said and if you want to fire me over it go ahead.”
“Kel, they did back us, the man behind me was shot before he could shoot me.” JD was confused. “Our backup was there just as they told us they would be.”
”It wasn’t your backup who took the shot that killed the man behind you JD. That was me! I know y’all don’t have the same confidence in my shootin’ abilities that you do in Vin’s; but it was my bullet that took that man out. It wasn’t anyone on the ground as it should have been. They set you two up and my guess is that they have somethin’ to hide. You can believe it or not, I don’t care, but if you think I’m goin’ to apologize or let you convince me that the events happened otherwise, you are sadly mistaken.”
Larabee called a halt to the heated conversation. “I want all of you to go to your desks, sit down and write out what you think happened.” Chris ordered.
“Vin, see if you can get us the tapes from the raid, we will find out what went on, one way or another.” Larabee watched the agents walk to their desks, shook his head and then went back to his office for some aspirin.
Ten minutes later, Tanner came in the door. “Copies of the video and audio will be here later this afternoon, complete and uncut, but it’s not official.” Vin sprawled in the chair across from Chris. “Orders came down from their SAC not to talk to us, but the agent I spoke said the man was an ass and is sending ‘m anyway.”
“What’s going on with Kel?”
“I haven’t talked to her since yesterday; so I can’t say, but I know she has missed the kids like crazy.”
“All the same I don’t want you talking to her about this until we get this confusion straightened out.”
Vin met Chris’ eyes. “I know she had a good reason for rippin’ into that SAC; just reserve judgment ‘til you find out what it was.” He accepted Larabee’s nod and then left the office without another word, leaving a meditative man behind.
JD was the last one to finish his report and knocked softly on Larabee’s door. Chris’ bellowed for him to come in. He was surprised to find both Tanner and Larabee waiting for him.
“You finished JD?” Chris asked, reaching for the offered report.
“Yeah, I only included what I knew for sure… the rest …” JD sighed, “I’m not really certain anymore what in the hell went on, but I wrote what I know.”
“Okay, I’ll let you know when I need you.”
JD recognized a dismissal when he heard one and returned to the bullpen. He noticed that Ezra and Kelli appeared to be immersed in paperwork. How could they act as if nothing was wrong?
“I could use your help with some data that came in this morning.” Pam attempted to distract JD and get him back to work on CASSIE.
“What? Yeah sure, I need to make a phone call first.” He needed to hear Casey’s voice and assure himself that she Daisy and Lilah were okay. Five days had seemed like forever to him, especially with how things had turned out, and he was anxious to see them. At least he was closer to them here at the office than he had been in California. He found an empty room and called her, the stress of the last few days fading away the moment he heard her sweet voice on the other end of the line.
“Hey sweetheart, how are my girls?” His heart tightened with emotion when he heard her voice.
“JD.” Casey said with a lift in her voice that told him just how relieved and happy she was to hear from him. “We’re all good, just been missing you like crazy. Are you still in California or back in Colorado?”
“We just arrived back at the office a short while ago. Chris wanted to talk to us about some things that occurred while we were in California. Otherwise I would have come straight home.” JD told her.
“Ooh, that can’t be good. “ Casey said. “Can you tell me anything about it?”
“To tell you the truth, I’m not even sure what really happened. All I know is that Kelli went off on the SAC, and that she and Ezra have been arguing ever since.”
“Kelli is usually pretty levelheaded JD; she wouldn’t just go off for no reason.” Casey said. “You know more about the situation than I do, of course, but don’t be too quick to discount her reasons for being angry.”
“I won’t.” JD assured her.
The two of them talked for a few minutes longer, Casey sharing a few snippets of things about the twins that had occurred during his absence, before JD hung up and returned to his desk and settled into work.
Chris tossed JD’s report to Vin and sighed, “Three reports, three completely different versions of what went on the last five days.” He stood up and came around the desk. “I don’t know what in the hell went down in California but we need to resolve this before I see Travis in the morning.”
Vin nodded, “How do you want to handle it?”
“In house, get the three of them in the war room, Nathan is out with Kat, but have Josiah and Buck join us for the review. Send everyone else home and we don’t leave until we have an agreed upon report for me to hand over to Travis in the morning.”
“You got it,” Vin started for the door, before he opened it he turned back to Chris. “Better call Linda and tell her you’re in for a late one, Kel and Ez are both dug in on this. It’s gonna take some time or dynamite to budge either of ‘em. I already called Inez about the kids.”
“Yeah, I know, I just hope that damn tape comes in soon.” Vin left and Larabee picked up the phone to break the news to Linda.
Vin watched the three agents; Ezra had pulled back behind the mask he used to shield himself from the outside world. Kelli fell back into the role as the detached, disciplined agent she used to be, keeping her emotions out of harms way. JD, well JD never tried to hide any of his thoughts or feelings, and they lay open for the entire world to see.
Josiah observed his three teammates. Each appeared to be angry, tense and frustrated, or a combination of all three emotions. Whatever had led them to this point, he was sure it was going to take more than one sitting to work it out. He just hoped Chris had the patience to see this through or he might very well lose an agent or two.
Buck saw three members of his family in pain and for him that was unacceptable, because when they hurt so did he. Wilmington was sure it was more than a bad bust that had them all so uptight and vowed to try to find the underlying cause of their distress.
Chris entered the room with an armload of folders, which he passed around the room. Inside the files were copies of all three agents’ reports, as well as the notes about the case that that they had been given prior to them accepting it. Once everyone had a set of reports, he began.
“Tomorrow morning I meet with Travis concerning this mess. No one in this room leaves tonight until we have a statement that you all can agree on. Understood?”
Buck, Josiah and JD began to read. Standish and Coulter however, did not even open their folders. Larabee was losing what little patience he had left and was set to explode at any second.
Sanchez decided an intervention was in order. “Chris, it might be easier if we used visuals instead to sort it out.” Josiah stood up, moved to the large white work board and started to write.
Tanner opened the file that started this mess. “We took this case supposedly at the request of the FBI. Accordin’ to this they needed an unknown agent to go undercover as an out of town buyer for a shipment of drugs. It was already set up and Ezra’s identity was pre-established. It should have been an easy bust with only a few days of work involved.”
“I decided to take this case as a favor to Travis. The man that requested MCAT is an old friend of his and specifically asked him for our assistance.” Chris added.
Ezra looked up. “Was it too much of an inconvenience for you to disclose that tidbit of information to me prior to you ordering me to undertake this assignment.”
“Standish, I was under the impression that as Commander of this unit that I make the decisions around here, not you!” Chris shouted and drilled him with an intense glare.
Kelly couldn’t help smirking at Ezra from across the table, as Chris dressed him down. She knew she was being petty, but she was still angry at him for his not backing her up as a partner was supposed to do.
“Okay, we know why we took the case and that it should have been uncomplicated.” Josiah wrote it down. “Now, Ezra was tagged as the out of town buyer and JD was to be his assistant. Kelli went so we would have one of our team as backup. Correct?”
“That’s the way we set it up.” Chris tensely answered.
“So when you arrived in Costa Mesa, Ezra and JD went immediately into their roles of out of town buyers. Kelli stayed at a separate location, working with the local PD and the FBI agents on the scene. That could account for a few different points of views but…” Josiah looked at the reports again. “But most of the conflicting statements are from the last few hours of the case, and there are no agreed upon facts concerning the actual bust from any one of them.”
JD had been silent, but was confused now and had to ask. “How could that be? We were all in the same warehouse. I thought only Ezra and Kelli disagreed on what happened, but according to these reports, neither of them saw what I did.”
“That’s not quite true; it appears that both JD and Ezra agree on one thing.” Buck spoke directly to Kelli. ”They agreed that Kelli lit into the FBI agents and the Chief of Police without apparent cause.”
Kelli had heard enough and was damned tried of it all. She stood up. “You know I can make this easy on everyone because it’s plain to see that my word is not good enough for any of you.” She took out her badge, gun and ID, laying them on the table. I quit! Tell Travis whatever the hell you want to!” She started to walk out of the room.
“Coulter, sit down!” Chris yelled. “We’re not finished here!”
“Maybe you’re not, but I damn well am!” She refused to let Larabee intimidate her. “You can save that glare for someone else because it’s not gonna work on me! I know what happened in that warehouse and nothin’ you or what any freakin’ report says will change my mind!”
A knock on the door interrupted any response that Chris might have had ready. A security officer had a package for Tanner; Vin took the package, he thanked the man and then dismissed him. It was the tape that Vin had requested from the FBI.
Chris grabbed the tape from Tanner and put it into the VCR to play. “Now we’ll all know what happened. “ He saw Kelli open the door to leave. “Coulter, close that door and sit down! You will stay here and watch it too!”
“Why? I already know what’s on it and will probably have the events replayed in my nightmares for weeks to come.” Kelli retorted.
Vin walked over to stand before her, speaking softly. “Stay and watch it Kel. You wanna leave when it’s over, I’ll take you home.”
Kelli reluctantly agreed and leaned back against the wall by the door, crossing her arms in front of her.
Tanner leaned back next to her and nodded to Chris. Larabee pushed play and the tape began. The camera was set up at an angle that picked up what was happening on the floor of the warehouse, and not Kelli’s eagle view from her location in the warehouse’s rafters.
The first few minutes of the tape showed the local sellers waiting for the out of town buyers to arrive. None of what they saw in that bit of video showed anything out of the ordinary.
It was only when Ezra and JD appeared on the scene that things began to look interesting. Ezra was his usual confident self, taking charge of the transaction as if he had been born to it. After the business deal was completed he gave the pre-arranged signal for their backup agents to move in and help him and JD make the bust. In unison JD and Ezra pulled out their hidden hardware, and began firing return rounds, as they sought out protective cover from the volley of bullets aimed their way, behind a stack of crates.
The other agents on the scene took part in the gunfight as well, covering each other’s butts, as they purportedly took the sellers down. However, it became quite clear to everyone in the war room that none of the locals considered Ezra and JD part of that team. A man came into view on the screen, from someplace behind JD and leveled his weapon at the back of the unsuspecting MCAT agent. Two more men were aiming their guns on an out of ammunition Ezra. In a span of ten seconds, all three men threatening the two MCAT agents were laying in pools of their own blood.
“Damn, Kel.” Vin knew where the shots had come from and was impressed with the speed and accuracy that she had dispatched the threat against Ezra and JD. He knew firsthand the kind of stress this type of situation put on a sharpshooter though and made it a point for them to know what she risked. “Making all three shots like that without Ezra and JD endin’ up dead, or wounded at the very least, is damn near impossible. The only chance of making it was to break cover and pray.”
Josiah sat back silently and observed everyone’s reactions.
JD was visibly shaken by what he had just seen. “I could be dead right now.” Thoughts of never seeing Casey or holding their daughters again flashed through his mind and had him leaning back in his seat.
Buck said what they all realized. “You two were left on your own out there.”
Larabee was livid, “It looks as if the fucking bastards deliberately tried to get my people killed!”
Ezra had turned pale, as well, as he witnessed the scenes unfolding on the tape. He turned his attention onto Kelli, where she leaned against the wall. “Kelli…I let my resentment of being forced to take this assignment cloud my judgment. I am so sorry…”
“Save it, Standish…I don’t want to hear it.” Kelli said, opening the door and walked out of the war room.
Vin moved to pick up his wife’s badge, gun, and ID from the table in front of Chris. “I reckon you’ve got all the info you’re gonna need for that talk with Travis. I’m takin Kel home.”
He shot JD and Ezra heated looks as he left the room and went in search of his wife.
Costa Mesa, California
“Damnit this whole thing could blow up in our faces!” Bob Zimmerman had ten years of service with the FBI and had run across this operation by accident. However the money they were paying him for his help was more than he could make in a lifetime of government service.
“Relax Bob, the only ones that made it out alive are those MCAT agents and Donner will take care of them if they cause any problems.” The Costa Mesa Chief of police was confident.
“This was supposed to be simple drug bust to take the attention away from our little enterprise.” Zimmerman paced the room. “You should have kept that bitch out of the warehouse.”
“Hell how was I to know she could really shoot? Pretty little thing like her, I figured had to have screwed her way into that job.”
Agent Zimmerman stopped pacing. “That’s your problem Blaine, you don’t think above you belt buckle. Now my SAC is on a tear about her insubordinate show of temper and is going to push for an official apology and reprimand. What if she tells her CO what she saw?”
“I told you before, she is just window dressing and no one in command will take her allegations seriously. They have only her word against ours because Dunne and Standish couldn’t see what was really going on from their positions.”
“We are fortunate that the SAC is angry enough that he refused to share the tapes from the bust and I made sure they were destroyed. I fixed the pictures before he ever saw them so we should be okay if MCAT calls for them.”
“They won’t. If her CO is smart he will make her apologize, give her a suspension and this will all blow over. In the meantime trust Donner to cover our ass. He has too much at stake not to.”
Vin caught up to Kelli at the dual elevators. Without a word he took her gun case and duffle bag from her and slung them over his shoulder. He was anxious to get her away from the office and talk to her alone. He could see how stressed she was by what had happened in California; and he was ready to listen to whatever she needed to say in order to relieve the tension she was feeling. He had been where she was and sometimes he found that just getting away from the office was enough; other times he needed to go somewhere else to work things out in his mind, especially after a bust had gone bad and he had had to kill someone.
In the parking garage he stowed her gear in the back of the truck. He opened the passenger door for her, and waited until she had climbed inside, before moving around the truck to the driver’s side. He opened his door and slid in behind the wheel. As he was turning on the ignition, he made a decision. Jason and Andi were at the Wilmington’s. They would be fine with Inez for a while longer and a detour was in order before Kelli was ready to see them. When Vin didn’t drive straight to the ranch, Kelli took note, but trusted him enough not to ask where they were going. They rode in comfortable silence and ended up parked in front of the lake by their cabin.
Tanner grabbed a blanket from the back seat, got out, went around and opened her door. “Come on baby, let’s take a walk.” He took her hand and started to walk around the lake.
Kelli breathed in the woodsy scent around her and began to feel her anger ease. It would take more than a walk to settle her emotions completely, but just being alone with Vin, at the place that meant so much to the both of them, helped.
They had been walking about five minutes before she said the first words since leaving the Federal building. “How do you do it, Vin? How do you deal with makin’ snap decisions concernin’ shots when your family members’ lives are on the line?”
Vin sighed and stopped walking. He turned to face her. “I wish that I could tell you some big secret for getting’’ past it, Kel, but I can’t. It’s somethin’ you just have to work through and it doesn’t get any easier.”
He drew her closer, “Kel, you did fine. Ezra and JD are still with us because you did your job. You stayed calm when you needed to, remembered what you were taught and the good guys walked out alive.”
“They should never have been in that position in the first place though. If I had followed my instincts I could have saved us all a helluva a lot of trouble.”
Vin spread out the blanket and he sat down close to the water, while Kelli remained standing. “Tell me, ‘m listenin’.”
“I knew somethin’ was wrong, and I should have warned Ezra and JD, but I didn’t. I tried to convince myself that I was takin’ things too personal.” Kelli was starting to let it all out and Tanner sat quietly as she began to rant. “It was not anythin’ that I haven’t heard before, but I suppose workin’ with MCAT I kinda forgot how much of a bastard some officers of the law could be. If I had listened; I mean really listened, I might have seen past the sexual harassment and realized that they were not decent lawmen.” At this point she was pacing back and forth in front of Vin.
Vin stiffened at her words, “What kind of sexual harassment?”
“It was only verbal, but it was callous.” Kelli sighed, “You know what ‘m talking about, all kinds of sexual remarks meant to be deliberately offensive. Who did I screw to get on an important unit like MCAT? Do my breasts get in the way when I shoot? Constant comments about my ass or degrading sex talk … I just ignored ‘em and I should have seen the resentment of our presence on this case instead. If I had maybe …”
The Texan was having a problem with remaining calm himself. He was ready to hop on a plane to California and have a little talk of his own with those bastards about respecting women, especially his wife. He knew that he couldn’t think about his own feelings right now; helping Kelli work through her emotions was more important. Instead he filed that information for future reference and concentrated on his redhead. “Maybe they did resent MCAT’s presence and maybe they were just bein’ asses. The only thing that matters is that all three of you made it home safe and reasonably sound.”
She stopped directly in front of him. “I’m fairly certain that I didn’t help matters when I lost my temper. I can’t remember the last time I was that angry and I don’t believe I acted very ladylike at all. In fact ‘m sure that I was cursin’ in at least three different languages or so Ezra tells me.”
“That’s your Lar’bee genes showing through. If Chris had been there, it would have been worse because ‘m positive he wouldn’t have stopped with words.” Vin smiled, took her hand and invited her to sit next him. She readily accepted and he drew her to his side “Feel better now?” He knew that she would still need to work through it all and later he would talk to her about work, but this was a good start
Surprisingly she did. “Yeah, I do, but I missed you and the kids more than I thought was possible.” Kelli leaned back in his arms and turned her head to rest her cheek on his shoulder, needing to feel the intimacy of their relationship to reconcile her rampant emotions.
“Welcome home baby.” Vin took advantage of her captive position, he brushed his lips across her brow and slowly worked towards the sensual mouth waiting for his kiss, which was filled with all passion that had built up inside from their separation, and each felt an electric shiver of desire course through their bodies. They may have only been apart for five days, but that was too long in his book so he took time to reacquaint his hands with her body. When he traced his tongue down her neck, he heard a soft moan escape from her throat, which only fueled his need for more. Vin had always held the power to unleash her wildest desires and tonight her unrestrained need for him was overwhelming. All thoughts of waiting until they got home to make love vanished.
All barriers between them disappeared quickly and their need for intimacy united them with a wild rush of unfettered passion.Desire may have brought them to this point, but their love transcended them to the inimitable pleasure that they only found in each other.
Their impromptu love session appeased their immediate needs and soothed Kelli’s ragged emotions. Vin whispered softly as he held her close, “This is just a warm-up baby, let’s go pick up our kids and spend some time with ‘em. After they’re asleep, we have some catchin’ up to do and I plan on makin’ love to you most of the night.”
Sighing in contentment and with a husky voice, she whispered. “Sounds like a plan to me, Tanner.”
Chris had trouble shaking his own anger as he left the federal building. All the way home he thought about the contents of that damn video.How in the hell did something so simple turn into such a goddamn mess. He knew that JD was having a problem dealing with it, and Ezra felt that he should have seen the signs. Kelli was hurt and angry, rightfully so, but she would have to find a way past it. The big question now was, what in the hell was really going on in Costa Mesa? Why were his agents so unwelcome? Who was responsible for them almost being killed? Well, tomorrow morning they were going over it again, step by step, before he talked to Travis.
Pulling up in front of the house he looked at his watch, it was almost midnight. Too late to talk to Kelli, he would see her in the morning with the others. He was positive Linda would be asleep; since Grace had arrived sleep was something you took when you could get it in the Larabee household. He had eaten at the office, so he bypassed the kitchen and went straight through the bedroom, careful not to awaken his sleeping wife, to the nursery. His wide-awake daughter was excited to see a familiar face when he bent over the crib and gazed down into it. He picked her up and realized that she was dry and apparently fed not long ago.
The rocker was his personal choice for the room. He settled into it with Grace in his arms and began to rock, talking softly to this new love in his life. “Hello sweetheart, I hope you had a great day with Mommy. I’m sorry I wasn’t here earlier, but Daddy had to take care of a few things for the rest of family. Your sister had a rough few days, along with your Uncles, Ezra and JD. It’s nothing for you to worry about and I’m sure it will all work out fine.”
Linda, awakened to the soft sound of her husband’s voice in the nursery, and crawled sleepily out of bed. She moved to stand in the nursery doorway and watch father and daughter converse for a few moments, before going back to bed, knowing that Grace was in safe hands.
Coming home to an empty house was not a new experience to Ezra; but since Barbara had come into his life it was not the norm. Barbara was out of town and would be until some time next week; her court case in Phoenix was taking longer than she had initially expected. Standish wished that she were there for him to talk to, because he really needed her level head to keep him calm. He fixed himself a stiff drink and settled on the couch, thinking over the events of the past week.
He was extremely angry with himself for not catching onto what was really going on around him. How could you have missed it Ezra! You were the senior agent! You are the one with the innate sense of knowing when things are not right! You of all people know how important it is for your partner to be there for you. You are also the one that knows how devastating it is when they aren’t. You know how it feels to not be believed. So why were you so far off the mark on this one? I will tell you why Standish. You did not want this assignment in the first place, a waste of your talents I believe you said. You discounted the importance of this one from the word go and it almost cost you your life and JD’s It could still cost you a partner and a good friend. Even more important Ezra is to decide how to go about making things right again.
JD replayed the contents of the videotape in his head as he drove home. He and Ezra arriving on the scene, both playing the parts that they had been arranged for them to play, and then signaling for the backup agents to move in when the buy had gone down.
Everything had happened pretty fast after that; he and Ezra pulling their weapons and diving for cover behind the crates, as the sellers had opened fire on them. He remembered feeling confident that things were going to be okay because he and Ezra had other agents backing them up, besides Kelli.
Only there had been no one backing him and Ezra up, except for Kelli, and if it hadn’t been for her extraordinary talents with her rifle, they would both very likely been coming home in body bags.
A shudder ran through him at the thought of just how close he had come to dying, leaving Casey a widow and their twin daughters fatherless. JD was used to one of the guys always watching his backside. Hell, they were all used to Vin watching over them and JD had not considered how much he took that for granted. Never before had he realized just how valuable it was to work with a team of men and women that you could count onto watch your backs at all times.
As he let himself into the house, he was met with the sight of Casey dozing in her favorite chair. An open suspense novel was folded into her lap.
JD smiled lovingly at her as he set his laptop down, along with his other gear, and moved to kneel down beside her. His dark eyes swept over her beautiful face, etching it in his memory. He reached up and caressed her face with his hand and whispered softly,
Casey’s eyes fluttered open at the sound of his voice.
“JD. “There was no mistaking the joy in Casey’s voice as she said his name and the way her doe eyes lit up as they focused on his faces. Both caused JD’s heart to do a little flip in response.
JD’s smile widened as he leaned forward and gently kissed her. Casey’s lips were soft and welcoming, and with very little effort the kiss turned more passionate as both of them gave into the longing that each had suffered through during their absence from one another.
Casey’s eager husband slid one arm under her legs, and the other around her back and lifted from the chair, straightened into a standing position and carried his wife into their bedroom. He was anxious to set his eyes on his daughters, but that could wait until after he and Casey had satisfied their hunger for one another.
Their kisses continued as he made the short walk from the living room into his and Casey’s bedroom, and he used his foot to close the door behind him. He set her down upon their bed and with gentle urgency shed her nightgown, and then allowed Casey’s hands to aide him in removing his own garments. He stretched out on the bed beside her, his hands and lips caressing her, evoking within her the fiery flame that only he could assuage, and felt his own desires surge.
It was sometime later, after Casey had fallen asleep beside him, spent from their lovemaking, that JD was still awake. He slipped out of bed and slipped into his robe, hanging on the closet door and left their bedroom.
He moved across the hall and into the nursery. Quietly he made his way over to the dual cribs. He stood in the little area between them, and gazed down at first one sleeping daughter, and then the other. They were so perfect, so innocent. They needed the love and the support of both parents to grow up in the dangerous world they had been born into. He said a silent vow to himself that he would do everything in his power to see to it that he not leave them any time soon.
After another few moments with them, JD slipped out of the nursery and headed back into his and Casey’s bedroom. He took off the robe, slid back into bed, reached out and drew Casey into his arms before he allowed sleep to claim him at last.
Friday ~June 23 ~5:00am
The distinctive sound of gunshots echoed through the darkness. Startled from her sleep, Kelli resisted the urge to scream out a warning as scenes from the warehouse bust played over yet again in her mind. The gunfire had seemed real, but she quickly realized that she was in her own home, in her own bed. She felt the solid presence of her husband beside her and tried to relax.
“The dreams won’t last forever Kel, after a while they’ll just disappear.” Vin strong arms wrapped around her and his soft and steady voice held reassurance
Comforted by the sound of his soft drawl she snuggled closer. “How long, Vin?”
The Texan stroked her back as he spoke. “It depends, a few days, maybe a few weeks, but I promise you it will go away and you will quit seein’ JD or Ezra dead.”
Kelli was not surprised that he knew what she had been dreaming about. Vin was too experienced as a sharpshooter not to know how she felt and he was the only one that could understand the thoughts that were running through her head. Even surrounded by people that cared, it was hard for them to comprehend the emotions that accompanied the singular responsibility for another’s life. In many ways it was a solitary journey, one that only those that had made it could understand.
Although she was grateful that he was here for her, she also knew that he had made that journey many times and had suffered through his own recurring dreams. However he had faced them alone and that thought saddened her. “I’m sorry.”
“You didn’t do anythin’ wrong and have no reason to be sorry!” He answered a little more forcibly than he intended, but he was not going to let her blame herself for what happened.
She raised her head to look into his eyes. “I was talkin’ about you, ‘m sorry that you didn’t have someone with you that understood when you woke up alone, and had to face your nightmares. I wish I could have been there to make it easier for you.”
Hell, she was the one that needed comforting as far as he was concerned. Yet Kelli’s thoughts lay with him and the solitary battles he had fought with the demons of his past. All the love and concern for him that he saw in her eyes touched him deeply, Vin managed to tell her in a raspy whisper. “You just did, baby.” A surge of powerful emotions drew them together. Vin possessed her with a insatiable kiss, washing away all the nightmares and hurt like a cleansing rain that quickly turned into a wild storm of passion.
Tanner arrived well before the start of work time, but it was later than he usually came into the office. He was somewhat surprised to find the same group from last night in the war room hashing out details for the report to Travis.
Vin took the cup of coffee that Gunny handed him and joined them, “Damn, did y’all even go home?”
“I ordered everyone back in this morning. I didn’t tell you because you and Kel are always here early anyway. “Where is she?” Chris was looking forward to talking to her.
“She’s at home, spendin’ the day with the kids.” Vin sat down and sipped on his coffee.
JD expressed his disapproval. “Hell Vin, I’d like to be home with my kids, too, but I managed to get into work today.”
“She quit yesterday or did you forget that?” Tanner shot back, irritated that JD was critical of her actions.
“I am not going to let her quit! Damn it Vin, you couldn’t talk her into staying?” Chris was sure that after a night at home, she would be back.
Tanner stopped him “I didn’t even try. I’ll write it up as unpaid personal time off, but she needs to work through this and I won’t rush her. It’s gonna take a while before she’s ready to come back to work.”
“I certainly understand her annoyance with us; however we cannot express regret for our lapse of good judgment if she stays away.” Ezra was a bit disappointed too.
Buck laughed, “The Larabee temper strikes again.”
“You call and get her in here now or I will!” Intense green eyes flashed with anger and Chris expected an immediate response.
The Texan stood up and gave each of them an uncomfortable glare of his own before he spoke. “Y’all just don’t get it, or else you choose to forget. This is not about being angry with Ezra and JD. Hell, do any of you care to remember how damn hard it is to be solely responsible for the lives of people you care about? One mistake in timing or accuracy and you have to watch ‘em die because you failed to protect ‘em.. Then you add in the guilt because you couldn’t prevent ‘em being in that situation and finally regardless of who it is, you have to kill one or more human beings to end the threat. It takes time to reconcile your feelin’s against the right or wrong of what you had to do.”
Silence hung in the room before Josiah voiced his observation. “I believe that our brother is speaking from personal experience that we all should be able to relate to. Even though this may have been caused by the ineptness of certain law official it does not change the outcome.”
“I think it was more than bad police work Josiah, I think it was premeditated. Those bastards deliberately tried to keep Kelli out of that warehouse and she had to put up with the five days of hellish treatment in the process. It was never intended for either Ezra or JD to walk out of that place alive. I want to know why.” Tanner dropped his bombshell and waited for the reactions.
“That’s a strong accusation Vin. You want to share with us how you came to this conclusion?” Chris was willing to listen.
Tanner thought long and hard before he answered. “Mostly a gut feelin’, even though I do know that Kel was subjected to five days of crude sexual harassment, questions about her abilities and that the locals tried every way possible to persuade her to be just an observer. They didn’t have the authority to order her not to go in there, but if they had ‘m sure they would have used it. It was just pure stubbornness on her part that she insisted on being inside when things went down.”
Chris knew better than to dismiss Tanner’s gut feeling. “JD, I want background information and financials on every man that was there. Buck, you and Ezra go over that cover story and look for any detail that may help us prove it was a set-up. Also take a good look at that FBI field office and get some stats on their arrest record. When the other agents come in, enlist their help wherever you need it. Josiah, I want a profile of the Chief of Police and anyone else that had command authority on this operation. We dig all the way to hell if we have to, but I want some answers.”
Larabee waited until the others had left before turning to Vin and asking, “How bad and does she want to file harassment charges?”
The Texan couldn’t hide his anger from Larabee. “Bad and brutal, but I don’t think she’ll file on it. Kel’s still kickin’ herself for not seein’ past it, she believes that if she had she could have stopped this before the bust.”
Chris was now aware that it was more than anger at her fellow agents keeping Kelli out of the office “Vin, I want to talk to Kel over the weekend, but if you think she needs some alone time first, we’ll take care of the kids for you. Maybe you could take her up to the cabin.”
“Thanks anyway, but close of business today, we’re takin’ off campin’ for the entire weekend and the kids are goin’ with us. We’ll be back Sunday afternoon.”
“Then, we’ll see, Chris.”
Travis’ office ~later that morning
Suzanne Mills had been the administrative assistant for Orrin Travis for three years and was very familiar with the many moods of Chris Larabee. When he exited the elevator she knew he was ready for battle and wasted little time warning her boss that a black storm was fast approaching.
Chris did not know yet what was actually going on, but he would and he intended to make sure that Travis knew it. Once inside the office he sat and waited for Orrin to say what he had to say.
“Chris, I have the FBI report and the pictures that had been sent overnight to him. I see nothing that indicates the apathy that Coulter accused them of, she was out of line.” Travis handed the FBI report and pictures to him.
Larabee viewed the pictures and read the statement. “Orrin, I think you should see this,” He took the tape and gave it to Travis. “This is the actual tape from the bust.”
Orrin immediately put the video in his VCR and watched it to the end. ““I was informed that the video camera malfunctioned and that there was no tape. Where did you get this?”
“We requested it and were told that the SAC ordered that it not it to be sent to MCAT. One of the agents evidently was not so good at following orders that he did not agree with and sent it to us by special messenger, unofficially.” Chris explained.
Deep in thought, Orrin did not answer for a full minute and the said. “We have to go by the authorized release, find me some proof that makes it clear that it was falsified.
“Orrin who called you for our assistance”
He hesitated. “My friend is with the California Attorney General’s office. He just has a feeling that all is not what it seems in beautiful Costa Mesa.”
Chris picked up the pictures, and report to take with him. “Tell your friend that he was right. I intend to find the truth and when I do, beautiful Costa Mesa may not be so beautiful anymore.” Larabee left without another word.
Costa Mesa, California
It was late in the afternoon and Agent Zimmerman barged into the office of the Costa Mesa Chief of Police. “We need to talk!”
Blain dismissed the officer he had been talking to and as soon as the door closed behind him he angrily turned on the FBI agent. “What in the hell do you think you are doing, barging into my office and making demands!”
“No apology, no reprimand! MCAT is conducting its own investigation of what transpired here!” Zimmerman spat back. “I thought you said that bitch was going to be taken care of!”
“For Christ’s sake, lower your voice! Do you want everyone in the damn office to know what we are discussing?” Blaine told him, settling into his desk and drumming his fingers on its top.
“I don’t see how you can be so fucking calm when we’re about to get screwed two ways, when MCAT discovers our money-making operation.” Zimmerman told his partner. “Becoming someone’s love slave in prison or getting whacked into a million pieces isn’t exactly my idea of having a good time.”
“Nothing’s going to happen to us.” Blaine said, looking up at Zimmerman. “I’ve got the perfect plan to make MCAT think twice in following through with their investigation.”
Zimmerman stopped pacing and looked at him. “What?”
“MCAT agents can’t cause any problems if they are dead.”
Sunday ~June 25th
When the Tanners retuned home it was mid-afternoon and the entire family was outside for the Sunday barbeque. Any thoughts they may have had about making a quiet entrance were squashed when Sarah, Joanne and Maria spotted Andi getting out of the truck. While Jason and Vin put up the camping gear, Kelli was overrun with chattering little girls.
“Aunt Kelli, can Andi come play?” Sarah turned on the Wilmington charm and was impossible to refuse.
“Sure, just stay where I can see you.” Kelli smiled and shook her head as they ran off; it amazed her how well Andi had made a place for herself in a relatively short time.
Vin and Jason were back with Jason adding his request. “Can I go tell Uncle Chris about the fish I caught?”
Tanner grinned, “Go on pard, we’ll be over there in a bit.” He took off running, eager to share his camping adventures.
Once they finished unloading the truck, Vin knew there were no more excuses for not visiting with the rest of the family. He was convinced that the weekend getaway had been good for Kelli, bit he wasn’t sure if she was ready to face the rest of the wild bunch. “Are you up for this, Kel?”
“Don’t worry, ‘m a big girl and I can handle this bunch, besides Vin, ‘m not going into hidin’, I just don’t want to go back to work, yet. I’ve enjoyed playin’ this weekend and I’m not so sure ‘m ready for it to be over.” She popped his butt with a rolled up towel when he bent over to pick up one of Andi’s dropped toys and laughed when he yelped in surprise.
The Texan shot her a mock glare. “I can tell. Your sassy side is showin’, but I do know how to take care of that.”
Kelli started walking off and threw her last words at him as a challenge. “Guess you’ll just have to prove that, Tanner.” With her back to him, she missed the impish grin on Vin’s face, but was not surprised when he caught up with her and swatted her butt.
Throwing his arm around her shoulders, he stole a kiss as they walked toward the others. “I think I should take you campin’ more often.” As they approached the deck, Jason was animatedly retelling the story about catching his first fish without help. They stood and listened until he was finished; delighted that he was simply enjoying being a little boy, instead of the role as primary caretaker for his younger sister that his father had forced on him.
Chris was please to see him so happy, too. “It sounds as if you had a great weekend.” He couldn’t help but notice that the boy’s attention was now on the water spray that Buck and JD were using to wet down the girls. “Looks like fun doesn’t it? Why don’t you join them?” Jason didn’t need any urging, it was hot and that water looked cool. It wasn’t long before he was in the middle of all the fun.
She coming back to work, Vin?
Not yet, Cowboy.
Linda smiled, “You two look as if you enjoyed the weekend.”
Vin stood behind Kelli with his arms around her waist. “I’m not complainin’.” Tanner grinned, “Two days in the wild with this woman is quiet an experience.”
Kelli leaned back into the Texan and said teasingly, “Beside the weekend is not over, yet.” She looked at Chris with baby Grace snuggled in his arms and had to smile. “Linda, do you get to hold her at all when Chris is at home?”
“No, not very often, I only get her when he absolutely positively has to do something with both hands or it’s feeding time.” The blond laughed when Chris grunted.
“That not true, I only hold her ninety percent of the time that I am home. Besides, Linda has her all to herself the entire day so I’m entitled.” Chris said defensively.
“Is Max still here?” Vin wanted to talk to the woman as soon as she was finished with her duties for Chris and Linda.
Linda shook her head no. “Yesterday was her last day for us, but I tell you that lady is a treasure. She said to tell you that she would be expecting your call by the end of the week. I know she fell in love with Grace, but Jason and Andi I think she relates to more. Jason loves her stories and Andi loves her cookies.”
“I think between Max’s attention and Vin’s spoiling them while you were gone, that Jason and Andi came out ahead in the game last week.” Chris grinned.
What? You think I wouldn’t tell how much you spoiled them?
“Don’t worry Chris, Andi told me everythin’ about last week, The trips to the ice cream shop, McDonalds, Chucky Cheese Pizza…”
“Okay, ‘m busted by a three year old. I confess.” Vin laughed. “But we did have a good time.”
They were watching the kids and when JD picked up a water gun to soak the overheated children Kelli tensed. When he turned it toward the girls she froze. Suddenly she saw the scene in the warehouse play over again in slow motion, everything around her disappeared and she only saw the guns aimed at Ezra and JD and heard the shots…
Vin felt his wife tense up suddenly, and following the line of vision of where Kelli was looking, he understood that she was not seeing anything but the bust again. He tightened his arms around her, and whispered softly in her ear, “The kids are alright, Kel, it’s only a water gun. Don't give into your fear, but don't lock it up either."
Taking a deep breath she let his words seep into the vision and it began to fade. Her pulse slowed as she again became aware of her surrounding, while Vin’s solid presence and soft words provided support to anchor her to the here and now.
Although Kelli did not answer verbally, her body language told the Texan that she was relaxed once more. Josiah’s call to eat was timed perfectly, giving Vin an excuse to get the kids away from the water guns and it gave his redhead something to do. Together they helped Jason and Andi dry off, prepared their plates and after dinner they helped cleanup.
“See y’all in the mornin’.” Vin picked up tired Andi. “We need to get these two cleaned up before they crash. I think the last couple of days are catchin’ up to ‘em.”
Ezra opened his mouth to ask Kelli if he could talk to her privately, feeling the need to settle things between them. As if he was anticipating what Standish was going to do, Chris flashed him a wordless order that Ezra understood perfectly. His talk with Kelli would have to wait until another time.
“Goodnight.” Chris watched as the new family walked back toward their house. He was worried about all three of his agents and the riff that existed between them, but he acknowledged to himself that he was much more concerned about his daughter. Seeing her struggled though the results of what took place in Costa Mesa made him more determined to find the reasons that caused the turmoil that she was experiencing.
Two baths later, the youngest Tanners were finally in bed. The Texan had read three chapters of The Black Stallion to the children and then passed it to Kelli to read the next ones. While she read he prepared for the rest of their evening. He hurried though their bedroom to their private enclosed patio where they had installed a hot tub several months ago. Since the kids came to live with them they kept a lock on the cover, but tonight he had plans. He quickly had the cover removed and turned the water spigots on. He placed stereo speakers nearby, along with one lone candle that saturated the air with the scent of sandalwood. His final task was to place two fluffy bathrobes on the chairs and the romantic scene was set.
After two more chapters, Jason and Andi were asleep. Vin met Kelli outside of the kids’ bedroom, and took her by the hand, leading her through the darkened house toward the patio and out onto the deck that was bathed in moonlight. He had already made sure the front door was locked so that they could enjoy their evening together without worry.
Vin pulled Kelli into his embrace. “Now, what was that you said earlier about provin’ somethin’, Sassy?”
Kelli smiled and shrugged a shoulder, “I forgot, reckon you’ll have to remind me, Tanner.”
“Reckon I will,” The Texan possessed her mouth with a reckless kiss that pushed all thoughts of Costa Mesa into oblivion.
Linda sat next to Chris on the couch, Grace was finally asleep and this was the first time they had been alone all day. “There seemed to be a bit of tension with the family today. You want to tell me what’s going on?
“It is all work related babe. We had a few complications on that case in California and then things got ugly from there. I plan to give it some time, if the situation doesn’t resolve itself then I may have to push, but I hope that it doesn’t come to that.” Chris drew Linda close to his side. “That’s enough about work. When did you say you go for your check-up?”
“We have over two weeks to go Larabee, so don’t start anything that we can’t finish.” Linda laughed and snuggled closer to her husband. “Of course we could make-out here on the couch.”
“That’s the best idea I have heard all day.” Chris dropped his head and nibbled on her ear lobe, trailing light kisses down her neck and he began to unbutton her blouse. Grace’s cry on the baby monitor brought a screeching halt to any other ideas Larabee may have had. He sighed deeply, “I think our daughter objects. I do hope she outgrows this little habit or she may ruin her chances for having any siblings in her future.”
“Come on dad.” Linda stood up and offered her hand to Chris. “Let’s go check on the little angel.”
Ezra poured himself another drink, sat down on the couch and dialed the hotel in Phoenix. He had talked to Barbara early this morning and felt good most of the day. However, he was no closer to resolving the problem with his partner and now sitting alone at home he knew it would be a long night. The switchboard connected him to Barbara’s room and after seven rings he was compelled to accept the fact that that she was not there to answer.
Standish hung up the phone and downed his drink. Great Ezra, you are thirty-six-years old, have lived alone most of your adult life. Now this woman comes along and after eight days without her you are sitting here in the dark, drinking alone and counting the hours until she returns on. You do have it bad Standish. Maybe it is time to quit running solo in your life and make some permanent changes.
After all Standish, everything else has changed in your life the past year. Your entire career has focused on being someone else, taking on a role in undercover work, knowing that your teammates depended on you to ‘get it right’. One slip up and you along with the rest of them could die. Isn’t that why you always have preferred to work on your own Ezra? Do you think they understood what it was like to be out there on you own, cut off from the team and alone? Did they know how long it took to recover my true identity after a long assignment? Hell, Ezra what is your true identity? Why are you having doubts again? Thought we lost our doubts when we came to Denver and found this family of brothers?
I will tell you why Ezra, your role as undercover agent does not exist in the unit. MCAT does not need the long clandestine assignments that you are used to. There are others that fit in our new types of case better that you could. The only undercover work you are needed for now is to mop up some other agency’s mistakes. You have retrained as a negotiator and it is your vast undercover experiences that they need. So why aren’t you adapting Standish? Why are you so angry?
Ezra poured himself one more drink before he went to his lonely bed and tried to sleep.
Overlooking Larabee 7 Ranch
Wednesday morning~ June 28
Through the binoculars he watched as one by one several vehicles left the ranch. “Damn, are you sure this is the right place?”
“According to Zimmerman, the phone number the bitch called is on this ranch somewhere.” Medora checked the slip of paper again. “Yep, that phone number belongs to a V.J. Tanner at this location.”
Ray sighed, “In case you can’t read, the sign on the entrance says Larabee 7, not Tanner and beside I though her name was Coulter.” He kept the field glasses on the buildings closest to the ranch house.
“Hell, how should I know why the names don’t match? I just follow orders and my orders are to kill the bitch, but after seeing this picture I might have some fun first.”
“We have to damn well find her before... Wait…Let me see that picture.” Ray looked at the photo and then picked up the glasses again. “That’s her! I guess Zimmerman is good for something after all. Shit, she’s talking to someone that looks like a ranch hand and she’s got two kids with her.”
Medora snatched the binoculars from Ray to see for himself. “Donner might be interested to know about the kids. I want to get my hands on her, but we’ll have to wait and catch her away from here. Who’s next on that list?”
MCAT Office ~War room 11:00am
Although the room was full of agents, Chris was acutely aware of the empty place next to Ezra. According to Tanner there was still no indication when or if Kelli planned to return to work. Taking his chair at the head of the table he was ready to begin.
“Tell me.” With those two words the reports started.
JD began to rattle off information. “There were two FBI agents there for the entire five days. Robert Zimmerman, ten years of service and he was assigned to that office two years ago. Michael Welch has two years of service. He was assigned there eight months ago and then partnered with Zimmerman. Both men have a few disciplinary reprimands in their jackets and live a very good lifestyle, too good for what they pay government workers” He flipped the page.
“The SAC was there as an observer only, I suppose hoping to get some press coverage. That particular field office does not have a history of any high-profile arrests, mostly small collars. In the last two years a large number of those have been thrown out of court for one reason or another …42% to be exact. The bust was definitely the boost he needed to hold his job.” He moved on to the locals.
“Costa Mesa Chief of police William Blaine, twenty-two years in law enforcement, has been chief for fifteen of those years. The two men he had at the bust are Jefferies, fifteen years and Shipley, sixteen years, both have work with the Chief on every bust he take part in. Nothing happens there that Blaine does not know about or give his approval to. Crime stats show a low crime rate and something interesting that CASSIE found. Even though 82% of the citizens in that town are married there has not been one single incident of domestic violence filed there in…fifteen years. However there have been several missing persons reported, mostly young women.”
“No domestics in a town that size? What about drugs?” Chris was curious.
“Very few drug busts even at the teenage level. Costa Mesa appears to be the perfect town.” JD answered. “A complete list is in this folder. He passed it over to Chris.
“I am working on the profiles, but I can tell you that every man there was capable and experienced enough to make it a clean bust…if they wanted to. All of their extra-circulative activities are expensive and according to their jackets they all lean toward aggressive behavior, especially where women are concerned. Give me the day on this and I’ll have more for you.” Josiah turned it over to Buck.
“The cover story was tight, but on a hunch Ezra and I checked out the perps. All of them recently arrived in this country on work visas, on the same day and had no criminal records. Raphael is going down to immigration today to obtain a rundown of who came in at the similar time to work for the same employer. Also to find out just how much labor that company uses from overseas or south of the boarder. Ezra and I are following up on some possible leads, but so far nothing else.”
“I have something I think you might be interested in.” Dr. Bones Medfield, head of the MCAT forensics department stood. “The FBI report states that the suspects were killed by the local police and FBI agents. I used my authority and a few persuasive tactics to retrieve these from the FBI lab” He laid a plastic bag on the table, containing spent shell casing and bullets. “There were five bodies, two was clearly killed by Agent Standish and the last three…all met their demise from Agent Coulter’s rifle. There was not one bullet fired in that warehouse that hit any of the suspects, except theirs.”
“Sonofabitch!” Buck jumped up, turning his chair over in the process. “Chris, that’s enough to prove that those bastards did this deliberately and then tried to cover it up.”
Chris cut his eyes to Bones, “You’re positive?”
“Without a doubt, Captain Tanner supplied me with Agent Coulter’s rifle. Agents Standish and Dunne volunteered their weapons for me to test and the results were conclusive. I have documentation from the FBI lab and a copy of the autopsy reports. I will stand behind my findings in any court in the land.”
“Good work Bones; anything else you can persuade them to release would be appreciated.” Chris made a decision. “For now, this information stays in this room. I want to see what else they try before we let them know we are onto their game. They are hiding something and I aim to damn sure find out what it is.” Chris stood and scanned the room.
“Paul, you and Ross work with Josiah. Justin, you’re with Raphael. Nathan, I want you to work the leads with Buck. Ezra… you know who to talk to, JD and Pam keep CASSIE going, dig into the company that’s using alien labor. I want anything you can get on these bastards, hell I want to know what they eat for breakfast. Move it people!”
Tanner waited until the room emptied. “Chris, ‘m workin’ some of my old contacts from my huntin’ days; I figured we might need some outside help on this.”
“Good, outside our unit we can’t trust anyone from law enforcement on this one. At least until we have proof of who the players are.” Chris agreed.
“Ezra stuck his head in the door. “I am departing to converse some associates of mine.”
Vin stood up, “Hang on and I’ll walk down with you. Kel is meetin’ me for lunch and should be waitin’ for me now.”
Ezra nodded and waited for Vin to catch up to him. They didn’t speak as they moved through the office and onto the elevators. The moment the elevator doors closed, Standish spoke.
“Vin…it was never my intent to malign Kelli’s abilities as a sharpshooter, or make her feel inferior in her role as my partner. I allowed my own pettiness in having to take the assignment interfere with my better judgment…”
“I think you need to be sayin’ all of this to Kelli, not me. She’s the one that needs to hear it. “Vin told him.
“I know…and I will gladly offer it to her as soon as she allows me the first moment of privacy that I can have with her. I just hope that things between you and I haven’t been adversely affected because of this.”
Standish’s green-eyed gaze was intent on Tanner’s face.
“Hell, Ezra, I wasn’t mad at you in the first place. I’m just mad over the whole situation and what those bastards put Kel through.”
“I look forward to seeing the terror on their faces when you get your hands on them.”
Vin laughed and slapped Ezra on the back as the elevator doors opened.
Together the Texan and the Southerner walked through the first level of the parking garage, and towards the adjacent lot connected to it. Ezra was adamant about parking his beloved green Jag there, instead of inside. Tanner stopped at the exit of the garage and glanced around for Kelli, not spotting their truck yet, he said.
“I’m goin’ to wait here for Kel, Ezra. She must be runnin’ late.”
Ezra nodded and continued walking towards his Jag. He reached it a few moments later, and inserted a key into the lock. Just then he spotted Kelli pulling her truck into a parking stall several feet away, and realized that since she had entered into the parking lot from the opposite entranceway, that she hadn’t seen Vin waiting for her by the exit.
“Kelli, “ he called out to get her attention as he started towards her, hoping that she would allow him a few moments to apologize to her for the terrible way he had acted.
He was several feet away when an explosion rocked the parking lot behind him, and propelled him off of his feet and into the air. He connected hard with the ground a few minutes later; the air left his lungs in a rush, and his head bounced off of the asphalt. There was only a moment or two of panic that assaulted him when he found that he couldn’t breathe, before his head swam and darkness settled over him.
Kelli had just set the alarm on the truck when she heard her name being called and turned to see Standish walking toward her. “Great… ”She muttered, not at all in the mood to deal with him just yet, when an explosion rocked the parking lot. The concussion of the blast slammed her against the tailgate and she watched in horror as Ezra was thrown into the air and landed hard on the ground. Any thought of anger fled from her mind as she took off at a dead run to her fallen partner.
Pulling out her cell phone Kelli was dialing 911 as she knelt next to Standish, “Ezra!”
The emergency operator answered after one ring. “What is your emergency?”
“MCAT Agent Coulter badge ID # 6753. Explosion, Federal Buildin’, parking lot west entrance, agent is distress, needs immediate medical assistance.” Kelli yelled into her phone.
“An ambulance has been dispatched. Can you give me any details of the condition of the agent?”
“Unconscious male, lying face down on the ground, severe blood loss from head wound. “Kelli reported into the phone, as she took in Ezra’s condition. “He’s breathing, but it’s shallow and his pulse is weak, unable to establish if any bones are broken.”
Vin watched Ezra as he moved through the parking lot toward his green Jag while he waited for Kelli to arrive for their lunch date. He saw the undercover agent bend slightly to unlock his car. A moment later Ezra straightened up and looked off into the parking lot at something he couldn’t see from his position, due to the many cars in his line of sight.
As Tanner continued to watch for his wife, he saw Ezra step away from his car and move in the direction of whatever he had been looking at, and then felt the whole ground shake as Ezra’s car exploded.
“Ezra!” Vin called out, breaking into a sprint across the parking lot.
Vin raced through the lot toward where he knew Ezra’s car had been parked. He rounded a car onto the aisle and saw Ezra sprawled unmoving on the ground several feet away from him, with Kelli kneeling down beside him. He realized then that it had been Kelli that Ezra had spotted and started walking toward before his Jag exploded.
Kelli spotted him running towards them and felt relief flood through her. Ezra still hadn’t regained consciousness, and she was beginning to fear the worse. She pressed her hand against the wound in Ezra’s head, knowing that it was imperative that she stopped the flow of blood or he could very well bleed to death before emergency care could arrive.
Vin dropped to his knees beside them both. “You okay, Kel?” The Texan asked, his blue eyes sweeping over his wife, even as he asked the question.
“What the fuck was that?” Buck Wilmington exclaimed as he was thrown off balance into his desk as he returned to it after refilling his coffee mug. Hot amber liquid sloshed onto his hand and he let out a muffled curse as he quickly set the mug down and dried his hand on the back of his pants.
“Sounded like some kind of explosion.” Nathan commented, already on his feet.
“Shit! “ Chris exclaimed suddenly, rushing out of the war room, and heading toward the elevators at a dead run.
“What is it Chris? Something happen to Vin?” Josiah called out as he broke into a run after his leader.
Chris’ cryptic message spurred the rest of the MCAT team into motion, filling the elevator to its capacity as they headed down to the lobby of the building that was by now in lockdown mode.
“I have an agent down! Open this fucking door!” Chris shouted to security.
“Commander, it’s an automatic lockdown, I can’t open…” The security chief sighed, he knew Larabee well enough to know that he would shoot his way out if he had to. “This way, sir, It the only way out until we have an all clear.” He showed them an exit reserved for emergency personal.
Once outside sirens sounded everywhere, the smell of burning metal and leather filled the air. Panicked people were running to get away from what they weren’t sure, but memories of news footage from preciously attacked Federal buildings spurred them on.
West Parking lot.
“This way!” Chris ran and as he rounded the corner that exposed the charred remain of Ezra Jag he felt fear clutch his heart. Suddenly he saw another twisted mass of metal and burning vehicle from the past and froze, Not again!
“Nathan saw them first. “Chris, Chris! Over here!
Nathan’s word’s reached through the years and brought him back to the here and now.” I’m right behind you Nate.” Chris only prayed that they were in time.
“Let me get a closer look Vin.” Nathan said as he arrived on the scene, and dropped down beside the two Texans and their prone friend.
Vin scooted out of the way to allow Nathan room to examine Ezra’s injuries, slipping an arm around Kelli’s shoulder as Chris arrived with the rest of the MCAT team.
“What in the hell happened Vin?” Chris demanded.
“Ez and I separated when we reached the exit to the parking garage. I stayed there since I didn’t see Kelli yet, and Ezra continued on to his Jag. I watched him reach it, and insert his key into the door, then look up as if something caught his attention.”
“That was me,” Kelli broke in. “I came in from the south entrance and parked my truck in a stall about thirty feet behind us. Ezra called out to me to get my attention and started walkin’ towards me. He had walked about halfway when the Jag exploded behind him, threw him into the air and then he landed here. The blast threw me back against my truck, I got up and then I called for an ambulance as I ran over. They should be on their way. “
Nathan looked up, “Chris, you better get on that phone and tell them to hurry.”