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
Within the first few moments of his arrival onto the parking lot, Chris had taken charge of the situation. He had cordoned off the crime scene, placing MCAT members at strategic positions to prevent anyone from trespassing onto the scene, and tainting evidence. He had given strict orders that no one outside of their unit would be permitted on the parking lot, except for the medical personnel when they arrived.
His instructions did not sit well with the head of the Federal building’s security personnel, who strolled onto the parking lot as if he owned it, ignoring Justin’s attempts to get him to stop. Chris shot the other MCAT agent a look to let Justin know that he would deal with man himself.
Agent Larabee, I’m well aware of your tendency to run rough shod of over other agencies heads in order to get what you want, but try and be reasonable. Securing the building and the perimeter of the parking lot falls under my occupational title more than it does yours. Please allow myself and my men to do their job.”
Chris glowered at the older man. “No one is stopping you from doing your job Crandall, as long as you understand that it no longer consists of this parking lot.”
Crandall opened his mouth to say something else, but Chris’ cell phone rang and he held up a hand to stay the other man’s protests. “Larabee…Kat? What? I’ll handle it.”
Chris hung up the phone and turned his attention back onto the security supervisor. “Call your men Crandall and tell them to let my forensics people out of the building. Now!”
The older man paled under the glare that Larabee fixed him with and angrily dispatched the order over his handset.
The MCAT forensics team arrived a few moments later, and after checking in with Chris, went to work meticulously going over the tangled, charred heap of metal that had once been Standish’s most prized possession.
“We’re not through here Larabee.” Crandall said angrily.
“I don’t have time to waste coddling your hurt ego Crandall.” Chris spat out. “It’s one of my men lying injured and unconscious on the ground over there and that makes this MY case.”
Larabee heard his name being called and cast a glance over his shoulder to see Buck walking towards him. “We’re done here Crandall.”
“I’m going to take a look around in the rubble. Try and see whether or not I can come up with enough pieces of the bomb to figure out what it was made of and how it was detonated.” Buck told him.
“Have Kat and Greg assist you.”
“I will.” Buck agreed.
“How does it look Nathan?” Chris asked Jackson, crouching down beside the unconscious undercover agent.
“It doesn’t look good Chris. He hasn’t moved a muscle since I’ve been here, and that’s never a good sign. The one thing going for him is the fact that Kelli was so close to him and was able not only to call in an ambulance right away, but that she applied pressure to his head to slow the flow of blood. He could have easily bled out here in the parking lot before we got to him. Damn it! Where the hell is that ambulance?” Jackson yelled at Larabee.
“Easy…Nathan. You are doing everything you can.” Chris told the medic, knowing that Jackson had a tendency to take too much on his shoulders when it came to caring for his fellow team members.
“It’s not enough.” Nathan snapped.
The wail of a siren pierced the air and a collective sigh of relief went up from the other team members, knowing that help had finally arrived.
Ezra still hadn’t regained consciousness by the time that the ambulance arrived. Vin helped Kelli to her feet and stood back to watch with Chris, JD, and Josiah as the EMTS went to work on Ezra. Nathan worked with them to get Ezra onto a backboard so that they could examine the still unconscious undercover agent more easily. He filled them in on what he had observed of Standish’s vitals when he had first arrived on the scene.
When they were loading Ezra into the back of the ambulance, Chris said, “Nathan you ride with them. I don’t want Ezra left alone until we catch whoever is responsible for doing this to him. Besides, if he wakes up in route to the hospital he’ll be more obliged to listen to the medics if you are there too.”
Jackson nodded his reply a moment before the doors were closed and the ambulance raced out of the parking lot with its sirens wailing.
Chris turned to the rest of the unit. “Buck, you’re in charge of the investigation until you’re finished on the explosives part. Then hand it over to Justin to oversee. He can track down the owners of some of these other damaged vehicles, while you hightail to the hospital. Pam and JD, I want you to head back to the office and set CASSIE to work on looking through all of our back cases, but especially one’s in which Ezra played a key part in taking someone down. I want to know who the hell is responsible for putting Ezra in the ambulance that he is in, and I want to know NOW.”
“We’re on it.” J.D. told the MCAT leader, starting across the parking lot.
“Keep us informed of Ezra’s condition.” Pam added as she hurried to catch up with JD.
Chris turned his attention onto Vin, Kelli and Josiah. “Let’s go.”
In The Ambulance…Ezra fought against the heaviness that weighed him down in the murky darkness. As he slowly drifted towards consciousness, he became aware of a cacophony of sounds that reverberated through his head with the intensity of a herd of angry elephants. He tried to lift his right hand up to his brace his head, but found that it wouldn’t cooperate. In fact, he couldn’t move any part of his body and that knowledge filled him with panic, and he was suddenly awake.
His green eyes fluttered open and he let out a groan as pain spliced through his head in reaction to the light shining directly into it. He closed them quickly and found the pain in his head alleviated just a little.
Nathan had been watching Ezra’s unconscious form close, not wanting to miss even the slightest flicker of an eyelid or intake of breath that would signal to him that Standish was coming to. His prolonged unconsciousness was worrisome to the medic, even though his vitals were stable.
Ezra winced against the pain that shot through his head at the sound of his name being said. The voice sounded familiar, but as hard as he tried to place the name of the person who had spoken, he found that he couldn’t. He frowned. Usually his memory was far more reliable than this.
He slowly opened his eyes again, blinking against the bright light that filled them, and felt another intense feeling of pain shoot through his head.
“Ezra? How are you feeling?”
Nathan asked, leaning over so that Ezra could see him when his eyes fluttered open again.
Two dark-skinned images swam before his vision for a few minutes, as he tried again to connect the voice, and face…or…faces with a name.
“Nat…han?” Ezra rasped out through the oxygen mask he had on his face, once his addled memory had locked onto a name.
Jackson breathed a sigh of relief that Standish was not only awake finally, but he was coherent enough to recognize him. “That’s right, Ezra.”
“What the hell happened?”
“You were in an accident but you are going to be just fine. We’re in route to the hospital now, and they are going to take real good care of you.” Nathan had decided that it was probably best not to tell Ezra what exactly happened to him, just yet. He knew that Standish would only aggravate his condition, if he knew that his car was in ruins and that he had been the target of a murder attempt. “Why am I so encumbered?” Ezra queried.
“Mr. Standish, we haven’t yet determined the extent of your injuries, so that is why we have you immobilized.” The EMT told him. “How do you feel?”
“Wonderful.” Ezra retorted, and Nathan couldn’t help smiling despite the situation. Ezra’s cockiness was a good sign, that the undercover agent wasn’t injured nearly as bad as what they had first estimated. Ezra’s eyes drifted shut as unconsciousness claimed him once more.
In route to the hospital…“Come on! Get the hell out of the way!” Chris Larabee shouted out the driver’s side window of Kelli’s truck. He slammed his hand down on the horn, making both Kelli and Vin wince, as he had commandeered the keys from his daughter when they had raced over to the vehicle after the ambulance, with Ezra ensconced inside, had sped out of the parking lot, and he had shouted orders to Buck and the other MCAT team members who were staying behind to investigate.
Larabee swerved around the car holding up traffic, cutting another car off in the right lane, and racing through the yellow light. He weaved in and out of traffic, forcing both Texans to grasp the dash with their hands to keep from being jostled around too much.
“Easy, Chris...we’re not going to do Ezra any bit of good if we’re involved in a car accident.” Vin cautioned his best friend from the passenger’s seat.
“Don’t tell me how to drive Tanner!” Larabee snapped, as he took another sharp corner, making the right side tires leave ground for a second or two.
“I’ll tell you any goddamn thing I want to when you are jeopardizin’ not only your life, but Kelli’s and mine too!” Vin shouted back.
Ornery ass Texan…
“You two arguin’ over Chris’ driving, ain’t going to do any one a bit of good.” Kelli told them both in a calm voice, glancing from Chris to Vin from her place between them.
Larabee let out an explosive breath at her words and knew that she was right. Hell, they were both right. Getting the three of them involved in an accident wasn’t going to do anyone any good. It was just that he was so fired up with anger over what had happened to Ezra. Fear two, played a part in his actions as well. Seeing the twisted and charred metal that had once been Ezra’s prized jag, had sent his memory spiraling back into time to when he had lost Sarah and Adam.
He eased up on the gas pedal. “I’m sorry…”
We didn’t lose him Chris…
It was close…too damn close, Vin
I know….we’re going to find out whoever is responsible and make them pay for what they did to Ezra…you can mark my words on that.
Damn straight we are!
Kelli gave an aggrieved sigh. “I wish the two of you wouldn’t do that when it’s only the three of us. A woman is likely to get a complex or somethin’.” Larabee and Tanner burst out laughing; Kelli didn’t mind. She had intended her comment to be the tension breaker that her father and husband had taken it to be.
They reached the hospital parking lot a few minutes later, and Chris found a space up front. Josiah, who had been following them in his own vehicle, parked his car further down in the same row, and jogged to catch up with the trio as they entered the hospital through the emergency room entrance.
Denver Memorial Hospital
Nathan had accompanied Ezra as far as the emergency room, and then handed over his injured friend to the doctors and nurses that swarmed around the gurney. He knew that Ezra was in good hands and moved into the waiting area to await the arrival of the rest of their team.
Larabee led the way into the emergency room, with Vin and Kelli a step behind him, and Josiah bringing up the rear. Chris shot the emergency room security guard a warning glare not to mess with him, seeing how the older man’s eyes had widened slightly, and knew the man had seen the guns that he and the others were wearing strapped to their waists.
Josiah flashed the security guard his MCAT badge, as he passed by the man, and indicated that his companions were also law enforcement agents too. The foursome didn’t break stride as they moved toward the triage desk to ask about Ezra’s condition.
Nathan called out from his position on the other side of the room near the doors that led into the triage area of the hospital. The MCAT leader changed directions at hearing his name called, and moved toward the medic with Vin, Kelli and Josiah following behind him.
Nathan’s brown eyes raked over the heads of the foursome, searching for his two missing brothers.
“Where are JD and Buck?”
“Buck’s overlooking the investigation and JD is running files through CASSIE to find the son of a bitch who did this to Ezra!” Chris informed him. “How is he, Nathan?”
“I don’t know yet, Chris. The docs are working on him right now.” Nathan told them. “Ezra regained consciousness in the ambulance on our way here.”
“Thank God.” Josiah exclaimed, casting a grateful look upwards.
“That’s good news, isn’t it?” Kelli asked.
Nathan nodded. “It is…it doesn’t mean he’s out of the woods yet, though. Head injuries are tricky things.”
“Was he able to talk? Did he know who you were?” Vin asked.
“He was able to talk, as much as the equipment would allow him too…and he didn’t know me at first. I could see the confusion in his green eyes…but then after a few moments he said my name.”
An hour had passed…. “Where the hell are they? Why hasn’t someone come out here to give us an update on Ezra’s condition?” Chris exclaimed heatedly.
“These things take time, Chris.” Nathan told the blond calmly. “The doctors will want to know all the results of the protocol of tests that they have put Ezra through before they come out here to tell us what’s going on.”
“Shouldn’t we call Barbara and let her know what’s happened?” Kelli asked, from her place beside Vin.
“No sense in tellin’ her about the explosion until we know more about Ezra’s condition.” Vin replied softly.
“She’s out of town on some court case anyway.” Josiah supplied. “Ezra mentioned it earlier today when we were at our desks. He had just received a phone call and then got up from his desk, so I asked him if he was going to meet Barbara for lunch.”
“A phone call?” Chris asked, stopping his pacing and turning to look at Sanchez. “He got a phone call right before he headed downstairs?”
Realization dawned on Sanchez’s face. “Maybe whoever has it in for Ezra placed the call…?”
“Pretendin’ to be one of Ezra’s informants’ maybe?” Vin added, “Ezra did say when he poked his head into the office that he was going to go check in with some of his ‘associates’. Maybe it was one in particular that he was plannin’ on meetin’?”
Chris digested the information. “Sounds plausible, I’ll have JD check Ezra’s phone records.”
He pulled out his cell phone and started to dial JD’s when he caught sight of JD and Buck walking through the emergency room doors. He turned off his cell phone and watched the two MCAT agents walk towards him.
Federal Building ~ earlier…It was taking all of Buck’s willpower to keep him focused on the task at hand, as he sifted through the charred, twisted remains of Standish’s cherished JAG, looking for clues. He, too, had flashed back on the night that Chris’s former wife and son had been killed in a car explosion meant for Larabee. Sarah and Adam had been his family too, and he had been the one to see Chris through those dark days.
Buck knew that it had been just plain luck that Ezra had spotted Kelli, and had moved to talk to her when he did. If he had been anywhere closer, or God forbid, inside, they would be planning a funeral right now. He hoped, no prayed, that the injuries that Standish had sustained weren’t life threatening. He didn’t think he could stomach losing another person he cared about to a car bombing, or any other way for that matter.
He shook his head of his morbid thoughts and went back to his search, being careful not to get in Greg and Kat’s way as they collected forensic evidence. He squatted down beside the hunk of metal that had been the driver’s side door, and carefully examined it. Blue eyes narrowed as he studied the door, and then shifted onto the ground in front of him.
A small fragment of shining metal caught his eye from underneath the door. He used one hand to lift the door up, and the other to pick the metal piece up out of the ashes. A slow smile brightened his face as he stared down at the intact keyhole, with Ezra’s keys still inserted in it. By the looks of it, Ezra had turned the key in the door, and for whatever reason the timing mechanism hadn’t set the explosives off right when it should have. That told Buck that the explosives hadn’t been planted in the door of the car, but mostly underneath somewhere, and that whomever had set them hadn’t done a very good job of it.
“Greg, Kat…come here.” He called out to the forensics team members.
“Yeah, Buck?” Kat said, as she rounded the car and came to his side. Greg joined them a moment later.
“Look what I found?” Buck held up the intact keyhole. He dropped it into the clear plastic evidence bag that Greg held out for him. “I’m going to let the two of you finish up here and head to the hospital to see how Ezra is, and let Chris and the others know what I’ve found. "
“Okay, Buck.” Greg said.
Buck started toward the underground garage where he had parked his vehicle, when he saw JD emerging from the exit, headed toward him.
“You are going to the hospital?” JD asked as they met up with each other.
“Yeah…I thought Chris told you to run files through CASSIE?” Buck asked him.
“He did…but I can’t get my mind off of Ezra. I want to go to the hospital too, Buck.” JD told him.
Buck sighed. “You know Chris isn’t going to be happy about this.”
"I don't care, Buck. I'm going to hospital regardless of whether I ride with you or I drive my own car. Either way I'm going, so don't try and talk me out of it."
"Don't say I didn't warn you."
Denver Memorial Hospital
Buck Wilmington led the way into the emergency room, pausing just inside the door long enough to scan the area with his blue eyes before catching sight of Chris’ lean figure watching them from across the room.
“There they are.” He said to JD as he threaded his way through the milling patrons and sporadically placed furniture over to the area that the four MCAT agents had staked out as their territory for the duration of their vigil.
“How is he?” Buck asked, concern for the undercover agent lining his face.
“Don’t know.” Vin told him. “No one’s come out to tell us anythin’ yet.”
“That can’t be good, can it?” JD said, looking from one face to the other.
Chris’ green gaze fell on him. “I thought I gave you an order?”
JD looked him square in the eyes and said, “Yes, you did…but damn it, Ezra’s my brother, too, and I have just as much right to be here as you do.”
Chris glared at him.
“You’re right. Chris told JD.
“Gentlemen, Kelli. I am sorry that you had to wait so long for someone to come out and talk to you. I wanted to peruse the results of all of Mr. Standish’s tests, one last time before I spoke with you.” Dr. Landers said as he walked up. “Before I can give you the details of the tests results I need to ask which of you have the other POA for Mr. Standish?”
“I do.” Nathan spoke up quietly.
“So do I.” Josiah added. “Fire away, doc.”
Dr. Landers nodded. “Now that the formalities have been cleared up, we may continue.”
He glanced down at the clipboard he held. “Mr. Standish is a very lucky man. He did sustain a grade four concussion and for that reason I would like to keep him under observation for the next seventy-two hours. Amazingly he did not have any broken bones, but his left wrist is sprained, he’s got ten stitches in the left side of his temple, and asphalt abrasions down along the left side of his face, on the palms of both hands, and down the length of his left arm. Suffice it to say his body will be talking to him for the next week or so.”
Chris fixed his eyes on the doctor. “He will be all right?”
“Yes, he is a little bit groggy, but he is awake. Chris, he insists on leaving, convince him to stay.”
“Thanks, doc, I’ll see what I can do,”
“Can we see him?” Vin asked.
“We need to get him settled into a room first, and then I’ll have someone come back out to show you where it is.” Dr. Landers replied. “Only one or two visitors at a time please, and then only for a few minutes.”
“I’ll make sure no one stays too long.” Nathan reassured him.
“You do that.” Dr. Landers said and disappeared back inside the ER.
Chris made his way to Ezra’s hospital room and prepared himself mentally to face what he would find inside. Pushing the door open he did not expect to see Standish struggling to sit up on the side of the bed.
“Standish! Where in the hell do you think you are going?”
Denver Memorial Hospital
Ezra winced as Larabee’s question reverberated through his head, bringing one battered hand up to his equally battered and bruised face. “Mr. Larabee may I prevail upon you to keep your objections to my attempting to leave this dismal establishment down to a low rumble? My cranium already feels as if it is three times its size, and there is a rather obnoxious drummer beating out a distasteful tempo within it.”
Chris smirked at Ezra’s assessment of his concussion, but didn’t let it deter him from wanting to know why Standish was trying to flee the hospital when he could barely even move. “You still didn’t answer my question, Ezra. Where do you think you are going?”
“It should be perfectly obvious to you where I am going.” Ezra replied his head lowered as he worked single handedly to pull the lines to the heart monitor off of his chest. “I’m going home. I would much rather recuperate from my injuries within the comforts of my own adobe, than be confined to this sterile establishment one moment further.”
“Sorry to burst your fantasy bubble Ezra, but you’re not going anywhere until the doctor gives the okay. “ Larabee said, moving forward and taking the lines that Standish had already ripped off his chest and replacing them despite the undercover agents’ feeble attempts to stop them. “Leave them intact or so help me I’ll use duct tape to secure them.”
“You’re all heart.” Ezra said disdainfully.”
“I don’t know.” Chris told him honestly. “I suppose that is up to you and how well you cooperate with the doctor and nurses caring for you. Ezra, do you remember anything at all about what happened?”
Ezra leaned back on the pillow and closed his eyes. “Vin and I had walked out of the parking garage together. I left him at the exit because he didn’t see Kelli and he thought that she was late in arriving for their luncheon engagement. I continued across the parking lot toward my car and inserted the key into the door. I heard the sound of a motor and looked up to see Kelli pulling her truck into a spot several feet away from where my JAG was parked. I decided to walk over and inform her that her paramour was waiting at the exit to the garage, and perhaps apologize for my terrible behavior towards her. I don’t recall how far I have traveled before I heard what sounded like a sonic boom behind me and then I found myself propelled through the air. Last thing I remember is the asphalt rushing up to meet me at mach speed and feeling my head reverberate off of it before I passed out.”
“Nathan said that you woke up briefly in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Do you remember that?”
“Briefly.” Ezra said. “What exploded?”
Ezra grimaced. “Was anyone else injured in the explosion?”
“No…Kelli was shaken up a bit from witnessing it…but no one else was hurt.” Chris told him, keeping his own feelings about the situation buried. “I’ve got the team working on it. We’re perusing your cases, trying to narrow down a suspect. Until we find out who did this Ezra, you are going to have one of us with you at all times, and I don’t want any arguments.”
“Arguing with you would be futile.”
“Yes it would. Look, I’ve been in here longer than I should have stayed, but I wanted your input on what happened. There are quite a few people out in the waiting room chomping at the bit to get in here to see you.” Chris said as he moved toward the door. “I’ll drop by tomorrow and check on you.”
Ezra nodded and closed his eyes. Larabee left to allow the rest of the members of the original team come in and have a few words with the injured undercover agent.
“Ezra, you look like shit!” Buck exclaimed as he entered Standish’s room first, with JD behind him.
JD smacked Buck on the arm. “What was all that stuff you were spouting off to me in the hallway about being tactful about what we said, if you weren’t planning on using it yourself?”
“That was tactful.” Buck told the younger agent. “Otherwise I would have told him that he looks as if he…”
“It was an accurate observation JD.” Ezra cut Wilmington off, not in the least bit interested in hearing Buck spout off a string of colorful adjectives to describe what he looked like. Shit just about covered what he was feeling, and he assumed it was an accurate description for what he looked like as well.
Wilmington and Dunne left a few minutes later, and then Sanchez and Jackson came in and had a few words with Standish. The Tanners were the last to visit. Kelli had wanted to see Ezra with her own eyes to know that he was really going to be okay, but didn’t want to visit on her own. Her feelings were still rather raw over the way Standish at treated her; but witnessing the explosion and seeing Ezra injured firsthand had pushed back her anger with him. After all if she didn’t care about the man and his opinions in the first place, she wouldn’t have gotten so upset with him.
“How are you feelin’ Ez?” Vin asked softly when they entered the room.
Ezra opened one eye and looked at him. “I feel as if I hit asphalt at mach speed.”
Vin winced. “Sorry, stupid question.”
Standish sighed and opened both eyes to look at Vin, then Kelli. “No, it’s I who should apologize. I shouldn’t have snapped at you for showing your concern. I appreciate it.”
Appreciate. Show your concern. Don’t start back trackin’ on us now Ezra Vin thought, frowning at Ezra, not liking the tone of Standish’s voice. It was almost like how the undercover agent had responded to everyone the first time that he had been injured in the line of duty, and didn’t know how to react to the rest of ATF Team Seven being concerned about his well being. Of course, Ezra had suffered a concussion and that could very well be tampering with his emotions, how he was responding to things.
Kelli had remained silent beside him the entire time they had been in the room, and Vin knew it was because her feelings were in such a jumble where Ezra was concerned.
“Get some rest, Ezra.” Vin said at last. “And don’t be such a hard ass and not ask for pain medication when you need it.”
“If memory serves me well, it is you, Vin that has a penchant for being a horse’s ass when it comes to following doctor’s instructions, not I.”
"Like hell, you're as bad as I am." Vin laughed and the Tanners turned toward the door.
Kelli drew a breath and turned back around. “Yes?”
“Can I converse with you privately for a minute or two?” Standish asked.
“You really need to be gettin’ some sleep Ezra.” She replied softly not entirely ready to deal with the estrangement between them.
Kelli sighed. When asked so nicely, how could she possibly refuse? “Okay.”
“I’ll wait outside for you.” Vin said and left the room.
Kelli turned back toward the bed and waited.
Ezra struggled to find the right words to say to make things right between himself and his partner. It was a harder job to do with the drum solo going on in his head, but he wanted things to be settled between him and Kelli. “I want to apologize for my appalling behavior in California, Kelli, and after we returned to Denver. I let my own pettiness and irritation over going on another clean up case fester up inside of me until it boiled over onto you. It was not only unprofessional, but it was extremely unfair to you. Especially since I recall a time not too long ago when I told you that I wouldn’t ever underestimate you or your abilities because of your gender, and I didn’t stick to my word. I would understand if you would prefer not to be partnered up with me on any case in the future, but hope that you would accept my apology nevertheless.”
Kelli took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “You are right. It wasn’t fair to me, and it sure in the hell wasn’t professional, but if you were perfect you wouldn’t be one of us. I’ve had a lot of time to think about my own actions in California, and I realize that as right as I was to lay into the SAC and the other officials there for them not providin’ you and JD with proper backup, I shouldn’t have gone off like I did without lettin’ you in on what I had witnessed. You were the senior MCAT agent on site and if anyone should have been rippin’ into them, it should have been you on my behalf.”
“I thought I was the one that was supposed to be apologizing here?” Ezra said, a slight smile creasing his battered lips.
“You are.” Kelli said, fighting a smile of her own. “I’m not apologizing’. I’m just admittin’ that there was another way I could of handle things.”
“Sounds like an apology to me.”
“Shut up, Standish.”
There were a few moments of silence as the two MCAT agents stared at each other.
“Does this mean that you are accepting my apology?” Ezra asked.
“I’m acceptin’ it, Standish.” Kelli told him finally. “Now get some sleep.”
Without waiting for a reply, Kelli left Standish’s room and found Vin waiting for her just as he had said.
“How did it go?” Tanner asked as he slipped an arm around his redhead’s waist and the two of them walked toward the waiting room where the others were gathered.
“We cleared the air between us.” Kelli told him.
Once the Tanners had rejoined the others in the waiting room, it was decided that Josiah would take the first watch with the undercover agent. The rest of the team made their departures, while Josiah moved back down the hallway towards Standish’s room. As he walked, he dialed his home phone number. The phone rang twice before Mallory answered.
“Hello, right back at you. How’s Ezra?”
“Damn lucky to be alive. He’s got a grade four concussion, several stitches in his head, an assorted minor lacerations and abrasions. If he had been any closer to his car…”
“But he wasn’t…God was looking out for him today, Josiah. It wasn’t his time to be taken from us. I know you believe that as much as I do.”
“I do…just wish sometimes that God didn’t have to show us in such a traumatic way. Listen, I was calling to let you know that I’m going to be taking the first watch with Ezra tonight. Larabee doesn’t want him left alone until we find out who’s responsible for putting him in that hospital bed.”
“I’ll keep our bed warm for you.”
Josiah smiled. “What will you be wearing when I get home?”
“Nothing …but a big smile on my face,” Mallory huskily whispered into the phone.
“I’m going to hold you to that.” Josiah told her. “I love you. Give Joann and Adam hugs and kisses from me.”
“I will. I love you too, Josiah. See you when you get home. Goodnight.”
“Good night Mallory.”
Josiah hung up his phone and pushed the door to Standish’s room open and went inside.
Thursday ~June 29th
Ezra Standish was a man swathed in pain and misery. Imagines of the ground approaching him at a speed in excess of mach 3 had chased away any thoughts of trying to sleep. The construction going on inside his head did not help matters; nor did the constant interruptions from nurses inquiring about how he felt aide his efforts for slumber. The final insult came when he attempted to move and he found that his bruised and battered body refused to cooperate
“Hell and damnation!” Ezra shouted at no one in particular.
“I’m glad to see that you are still with us Brother Ezra.” As far as Standish was concerned, Josiah’s booming voice sounded loud enough to cause an avalanche or at the very least a minor earthquake. Both seemed to have taken up residence inside his head.
“That sir is debatable.”
Josiah had watched the young man struggle with nightmares during the long night and he knew Ezra was hurting this morning. “Can I get you anything?”
“Yes, out of this prison.”
“Sorry brother, I can’t do that, but I can come close. I happen to know of a lovely young woman that is chomping at the bit to come see you. Barbara got back into town last night, and when she couldn’t find you, she called the office. I happened to be the one fortunate to take that call and explained your absence. She was ready to rush down here immediately, but after I assure her that you would be okay, I convinced her to wait until today.”
“Tell her not to come.”
“Ezra, I don’t understand, she’s worried about you…”
Standish interrupted. “I am certain that you understand the words of the English language Josiah. Tell her I said not to come!” Ezra turned his back to Josiah and refused to explain.
Josiah sighed, “I think I’ll go find some coffee. I’ll be back in a while.”
Ezra sighed when he heard Josiah leave. Standish, it’s better this way. You have only been fooling yourself into believing that you could actually have someone as wonderful as Barbara in your life. You have made too many enemies in this business and she would never be safe. It is better to end it now than to see her pay for you choice of careers down the line You are a loner Ezra and that is the way you need to stay.
MCAT Office ~War Room~9am
Chris wanted answers and he wanted them yesterday! It was bad enough that the fiasco in California had happened to set his unit off balance. Now someone had attempted to kill Ezra on their home territory and that wasn’t acceptable! Of course if that damn southerner did not stay put in the hospital until the doctors cleared him to leave, Chris would be hard pressed to not strangle Standish himself. Buck was the last agent to sit down and Larabee was ready to begin.
“Buck?” Chris cut his green eyes to Wilmington.
“The explosive device was supposed to be initiated when Ezra put his key in to unlock the door. Fortunately the timer was defective and delayed the blast for sixty seconds, otherwise Ez would be history. The explosives were placed beneath the Jag and whoever set this up did a half-ass job of it. Whether it was out of ignorance or because they were in a hurry, I don’t know. The timer was old and we are trying to find out now where and when it was purchased. He, they or whoever, used c-4 for the explosive, unfortunately non-traceable. The bottom line …it could have been ten times worse than it was if everything worked right,” Buck was at the end of his notes. “That’s all I can tell you for now.”
“Pam and I pulled all of Ezra’s old cases and eliminated anyone still incarcerated, dead or accounted for as of today. If we look only at suspects that have any knowledge of explosives we can narrow that down to maybe forty files, give or take a few.” JD set the files on the table.
“Raphael and I talked to some of Ezra’s snitches at least the ones I know about and came up with nothin’. My own contacts haven’t heard of any contract out on him, but they are still checkin’.” Vin shrugged his shoulder. “It’s quiet on the street and usually if somethin’s going down there are some rumblin’s.”
“The call that came in just before Standish left yesterday was from a pay phone down the street. Forensics checked it over, but so far nothing.” Nathan added.
“JD, divide up those files, everyone take a stack and work through it. Somebody out there wants Ezra dead, and that is not gonna happen on my watch. Get to it!” Chris dismissed his agents and sighed in frustration.
“I’m gonna relieve Josiah at the hospital, he’s been there all night.” Vin said as he stood up and stretched before he picked up some folders. “I’ll work on these while ‘m there”
Chris nodded in agreement. “Just make sure he stays put.”
“Don’t worry, I will.” Vin assured him before he departed.
Denver Memorial Hospital
Tanner had been in the room for over two hours and Standish had not said ten words, not even one complaint had left his lips. Vin didn’t mind the silence, but he was concerned about his brother. Josiah had warned him about Ezra’s attitude regarding a visit from Barbara and his refusal to discuss the reason.
The door opened and Dr. Landers entered the room. Chart in hand, he acknowledged Vin’s presence with a nod as he went over to Ezra’s beside. “Mr. Standish, how are you feeling?”
“Fine,” Ezra was not ready to make this easy.
Dr. Landers examined his patient, checking his reactions to light, sound, and touch. Satisfied that his head injury was not impeding his responses, he removed the bandages on the worst of the abrasions. “It is going to take some time for these to heal. You are a lucky man Mr. Standish, considering what your body was subjected to, you are in reasonably good condition. If you behave today and rest, then I will think about releasing you in the morning.”
The doctor shook his head, “I see no reason to restrict your diet and if you need anything for that fine headache you don’t have, let one of the nurse know. I will see you in the morning.” He wrote in the chart as he spoke.
Before he left he gave Tanner a message. “Vin, tell that lovely wife of yours hello for me.”
“Will do doc.” My hardheaded brother may not have said it, but thanks for takin’ good care of him for us.”
“Don’t knock it too much, that hard head of his probably saved his life.” He patted Vin on the shoulder as he walked out the door.
Ezra turned to face the wall. Vin started on another folder and silence reigned in the room again. Standish did not react at all; when twenty minutes later there was a knock on the door.
Tanner had his hand on his gun as he answered. “Who is it?”
“Me, and my hands are full, so a little help would be appreciated.” Kelli responded.
The Texan relaxed, opened the door and took some of the bags from her, not passing up a chance for a quick kiss of hello. “You must have read my mind baby, ‘m starved.”
She noticed that Ezra had not moved since she came in. “Ez, I brought some of your favorites.” Kelli sighed, when that didn’t even get a response from the undercover agent; she narrowed her eyes at him. “Say thank you Kel; I appreciate you checkin’ with my doctor about what I can eat and then runnin’ all over town to find me a blackberry cobbler and my favorite glazed chicken from that special deli on fifth street. I reckon you enjoyed havin’ to listen to that eighty year old Miss Elsie at the deli go on and on about how that sweet southern boy has the prettiest green eyes and how that cute little dimple shows when he smiles and makes his whole face light up. You really shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble…because ‘m being an ass today and don’t deserve it.”
Vin smiled when he saw Ezra try to conceal a chuckle.
“Thank you.” Ezra mumbled from the bed.
Kelli ignored the sulky southerner, reached in the bag and passed Vin a covered plate. “I brought you one of your favorites too.”
Tanner grinned when he uncovered the dish to find pot roast and new potatoes. “It looks good Kel, thanks.”
“You are welcome,” She emphasized the word you and smiled. Then she turned toward the hospital bed, “Unlike that ungrateful jackass over there.”
“I did say thank you and…” Ezra heaved a sigh. “I am appreciative of the effort you made to bring me substance. Even a can of chili would be preferable to what the dieticians in the cafeteria believe passes for food around this deplorable place.” He sat up and pulled the bedside tray over the bed to bring his meal closer. “Miss Elsie is a sweet little old lady and she means well, but that woman can outtalk anyone that I know.”
“So I noticed. Now eat your lunch and try to make nice so I won’t have to kick you butt, Standish.” Kelli grabbed her own plate and the threesome ate in companionable silence.
After dessert, Kelli stood to leave. “Ez, ‘m going home, you do what Dr. Landers tells you and get well soon. I’d hate to have to train a new partner because the old one didn’t listen to his doctor.”
“Taking into consideration the fact that I haven’t completed your training young lady, I believe that it would be prudent for me to adhere to the doctor’s orders.” Ezra smiled, “It is my responsibility after all as senior agent, to be certain that you are properly instructed.”
Vin laughed, “I think I’ll walk my wife to the elevator before I need to dig out my hip boots, it’s getting’ kinda deep in here. By the way, I can see the door to your room from there Ez, so do us both a favor and stay put.” Vin walked out with Kelli, leaving Ezra to his own thoughts for a few minutes.
“Vin coming in,” Tanner announced as he reentered the room.
“Pray tell, how did you know I was armed?” Ezra took his hand off the gun concealed beneath the sheet.
“I know you Ez, someone tried to kill you yesterday and you are not about to relax your guard no matter who’s here with you. Vin smiled, “Besides Josiah told me that you insisted on havin’ that peashooter of yours close by.”
“I have been giving the matter some serious thought and have drawn a blank as to who may be responsible for my current condition.”
“You’re not alone,” The Texan pointed to the stack of folders on the table. “I’ve just gone through twenty of your old case files and found nothin’, same with the rest of the guys. I did talk to a few of your snitches and they we’re helpful either.” Vin pulled a chair close to the bedside. “The call you received just before you left the office came from a payphone three blocks from the Federal buildin’. Who was it?”
Ezra hesitated a moment. “I don’t know. The caller did not identify himself. He said he had some information that I would be interested in hearing and if I wanted to know more I was to meet him at a bar over on Wheeler Ave….The Wagon Wheel, I believe was the name of it.”
Vin nodded, “Yeah I know where it is. Did the voice sound familiar at all?”
“No, but …”Ezra tried to remember everything the man had said. “He did have a slight accent…maybe…hell I don’t know.” Standish rubbed his temples.
“Don’t make your head hurt worse, if it’s important it will come to you.” Vin placed a hand on Ezra’s arm. “In the meantime we’ve got your back.”
A knock on the door had both men placing their hands on their weapons.
“Who is it?” Vin answered.
A female voice responded. “Barbara Lindsey.”
Tanner heard Standish curse under his breath. “You want me to step outside so you two can talk?”
“For a few minutes, if you would.”
Vin stood and went over to open the door, allowing Barbara to come inside. “Hey, Barbara.” Tanner greeted the young woman with a soft smile, feeling sympathy for the hurt he knew was about to come her way. Even though Standish hadn’t confided in him, he had a feeling that his injured brother was going to do something foolish in an effort to protect the woman he loved.
“I’ll be right outside the door Ez.” He stepped into the hallway leaving Standish to face Barbara alone.
“Before you say anything, Josiah told me that you did not want to see me, but I needed to see for myself that you were okay.” She sat in the chair next to the bed.
Ezra put on his best poker face before he answered. “You should have listened to Josiah. I have had an opportunity to think about us while you were in Arizona and I had planned to talk to you when you returned.” Visions of the two of them flashed through his mind, making love, laughing, and enjoying life. Not now, Ezra!
Barbara did not like the tone of this conversation and felt very apprehensive about asking her next question. “Well, I’m here now so what did you want to say to me?”
After a brief hesitation Ezra plunged ahead. “I believe that we may have rushed things a little too much. It would be better for both of us to spend some time apart and sort through our feeling for one another. We should both date other people for a while and then…”
“I am not a child Ezra; please do not address me as one. You don’t want to see me anymore and you don’t have to sugarcoat it. I get the message. I’ll go and save us both some discomfort.” Barbara rose to leave, “It’s been fun, and I’ll see you around.” With those parting words she was gone and Ezra felt the invisible knife twist into his heart.
It is better this way. So why do you feel so empty Ezra?
Friday ~June 30th
“That fucking sonofabitch is still alive! There were enough explosives in that car to blow him to kingdom come and he’s out of the hospital by the end of the week!’” Ray was furious. “Donner will have our asses if we fail on this one!”
Medora sat calmly and watched the older man fume.” Will you calm down? We know where he’s going and he’ll be staying put for a while. Right now they will be on high alert, looking for trouble. We’ll let things cool down before you take out the young one. I will take care of the bitch and then we’ll both pay Mr. Standish a visit.”
Ray stood up and towered over Medora, “You get her because?”
“You’re the one that screwed up with the Jag, that’s why! Besides you and I both know she’s not your type.” Medora laughed, “Or have your preferences changed?”
“Fine,” Ray spat. “But when we finish all three of them had all better be dead!”
Thursday ~ July 6
The spectacular array of colors on the horizon announced the coming sunrise. There was something special about the time just before the sun came up to turn the light on for a new day. A fresh pallet on which one could paint a piece of their life on or mark in such a way to make a memory to hold forever. For Kelli the problem was she had too many questions about what she wanted to paint on her new pallet, to even decide on which colors she wanted to use Standing at the kitchen window awaiting the morning sun, she was lost in thought.
Vin stood in the kitchen doorway for a few minutes just watching her, before speaking softly. “I can hear you thinkin’ from way over here”. He walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. “Want to share?”
Kelli leaned back against him. “I’m thinkin’ too much probably. I have enjoyed spendin’ extra time with the kids and hate to imagine givin’ it up. I’ve had a chance to reacquaint myself with all of our horses again and have even been able to start some packin’ for when we move to the new house. I really hope we can finish it and be settled in before too much longer. Once we are there, then we need to think about bein’ available again for emergency foster care.”
The sun was peaking over the mountain and as they watched Vin chose his words carefully. It wasn’t what she had said, but what she hadn’t said that concerned him. “I know the kids have enjoyed you being here, the horses have loved the extra attention, and our house is comin’ along just fine. As soon as we know the kids are okay with it we’ll go back on the foster care list, too. Why do I get the feelin’ that you are tryin’ to justify stayin’ at home?”
Tanner felt her sigh, “Maybe because I am and ‘m lookin’ for a good excuse not to go back to work.” Kelli turned in his arms to face him. “First it was Costa Mesa, then those damn nightmares and then seein’ Ezra get hurt when his car exploded…I don’t know if I can do this anymore. What if I can’t shoot again? What if I freeze up in the middle of a raid and someone dies because of it? If I make one mistake…”
“Hold it right there, Kel. You don’t want to work, that’s one thing and you’ll get no opposition for me, if that is what you really want. But if you are thinkin about quittin’ because you doubt yourself, then plan on us arguin’ about it. You are damn good at your job and have a natural aptitude with firearms. I know there haven’t been too many opportunities for you to demonstrate it yet, but when it counted, you were right on the mark. I love you, but I would never have certified you if I didn’t believe you are capable of handlin’ the job of a sharpshooter.”
“How do you know I can still do it, if I don’t?”
“If you weren’t apprehensive about it then I’d be worried. Havin’ a conscience is the difference between bein’ a good marksman …or woman and a cold-blooded killer. Sometimes that conscience sneaks up from within the compartments in our minds that we have to push the ugly side of this work into. Every law enforcement officer that has had to kill to save others, includin’ you and me, has had to deal with their consciences at one time or another. It’s part of the job, baby.”
Kelli laid her head against Vin’s chest; she always found it reassuring just listening to his heartbeat. “It’s not the first time I’ve had to kill someone, so why is this time different?”
“It could be because it was your first solo assignment as a sharpshooter outside the unit, and until now you have not had to kill to protect anyone in the family. Now you know that Ezra and JD were left with no one else to cover ‘em and that they would have died if you weren’t there. Before MCAT you stayed distant from you co-workers and worked with multiple temporary partners, not as part of a team so that makes it different. Or maybe it’s because it the first time you found yourself in the position of havin’ to kill someone since we adopted the kids. Of course the fact that you had to contend with doubts from people you counted on didn’t help, but you knew the truth and stood your ground.”
“You may be right; I just wish I could be certain.”
Vin lifted her head and looked into her eyes. “You are gonna have to trust me on this one, Kel. Believe me when I tell you, if you need to count on your skills they won’t fail you when the time comes.”
“Tanner, one thing I am certain of is that you will not lie to me and I do trust you. However, work will have to wait until tomorrow because I already have plans for this mornin’. Today ‘m going to brave the mall and take the kids shoppin’, Jason needs new clothes because he is fast outgrowing the old ones and they both want to make a list of ideas for their room furnishings. I also promised Andi that we would look for some purple boots.”
“You and shoppin’, I wish I could be there to see that.” Vin smiled, “Maybe I should issue some kind of alert to the mall.”
“Very funny, I never said I couldn’t shop, I just don’t like to do it.”
Vin became serious again, “Kel, if you make your mind up later that you want to quit work to be at home, you know I’ll support your decision. I just want it to be right for you.”
“I know and that is one of the reasons I love you.” Kelli kissed him as she handed him his coffee. “Of course after a mornin’ at Park Meadows Mall, goin’ back to work is gonna be the easy part of my week.”
The Texan sat down and pulled her onto his lap. “Why don’t we discuss some of the other reasons you love me?” Their long leisurely kiss quickly threatened to become more and would have except for the sound of four little feet running down the hall. Vin sighed,” Reckon we’ll have to finish this later.”
Jason ran into the kitchen with Andi fast on his heels. “Vin, we’re going to the mall today!”
Kelli stood up and Andi did not hesitate to climb onto Vin’s lap. “We gonna find some purple boots.”
“So I heard,” Tanner grinned. “I can’t wait to see ‘em and Jason, while you’re there, show Kel that new video game we talked about.”
“Oh yeah, it’s the one with the race cars and…” Jason was prepared to go into detail, but Kelli stopped him.
“The one Vin wanted to play, right?” Kelli smiled at both of their innocent looks, “I do listen you know and we’ll try to find it. Breakfast first, the horses next and then we go to the mall. Maybe later we can check in on Uncle Ezra and see how he’s doing.”
It never ceased to amaze Vin how Gunny was able to be the first one in the office, no matter what time he arrived, “Mornin’ Gunny.”
“Morning Captain, the coffee’s on, mail is on your desk and a fruit plate is in the fridge for you.”
“Thanks,” Vin started for his office and stopped. “Gunny, call Charlie at the firin’ range and tell him I need a couple of hours tomorrow on the tower.”
“Affirmative sir, and will that be for you only?”
Tanner shook his head and grinned, the woman had a sixth sense. “Actually Kel’s comin’ back tomorrow and she’ll need some time to qualify for active duty again.”
Gunny smiled, “It’s about time that girl got her butt back in here.” She saw Chris walk in. “Morning Commander, coffee’s made; mail is on your desk and your breakfast in waiting for you, sir.”
“Thanks,” Chris waited until she was back at her own desk before he asked. “Your sources have anything on Ezra’s attack?”
“Nothin’, but I still have a few more to contact. The names Ez gave us can all be accounted for, but we’re cross checkin’ new prison releases with his old cases. If I know Standish, he also is doin’ some research of his own.”
Good, one less person to worry about.
Chris headed toward his office and called back over his shoulder. “JD will relive Nathan at Ezra’s before noon; have the rest of the team meet in the war room at eleven.”
Park Meadows Mall ~11:00
Two hours at the mall and Kelli was ready for the plains of Texas. But they did have new clothes for Jason, purple boots for Andi and a new game for Vin, along with a few extra items and a wish list of stuff that both children wanted for their new rooms. They were taking time for a pizza break before leaving.
“You shop faster than Aunt Linda.” Jason said between bites of pizza.
“Honey, everybody shops faster than your Aunt Linda.”
Andi was so busy admiring her new boots that it took both Jason and Kelli to keep her from toppling out of her chair. “Pretty boots,” She giggled.
“I think Vin will like what you found for him, Jason.”
“Yeah, he likes to listen to that kind of music when he’s driving.” Jason found a CD of Native American music that Vin did not have and insisted on getting it for him. “I kinda like it, too.”
“Okay, let make sure we have everything before we leave, new clothes, racing game, ideas for decorating your new rooms, a get well gift for Uncle Ezra, and…”
“Boots!!!” Andi shouted.
“Yes, purple boots for our little princess.” Kelli wiped the pizza from Andi’s face and hands. “Did we forget anythin’?”
“Nope, we got it all.” Jason was about as ready as Kelli was to get back outside and away from the crowd of people in the mall.
“Then how about we blow this place and go see Uncle Ezra?” Kelli helped Andi down and took hold of her hand. She knew Jason would stay right beside her, but Andi tended to get distracted too easily. “Jason, why don’t you be in charge of my keys, that way you can unlock the truck for us.”
They walked out of the mall at eleven fifteen, laden with packages and full of pizza. Jason took his job of key keeper very seriously and was ready to hit the remote to unlock the truck as soon as they reached it. Kelli let her guard down and quit being a cop first, for today she was just a mom enjoying a day with her kids.
“That’s the last one, and we are done.” Kelli threw her bag in the front seat, Jason took Andi’s hand went to the passenger side and opened the door to get in.
Kelli had turned to close the back door when she felt the barrel of a gun jam against her ribs and heard a gravelly voice close to her ear whisper. “Tell the brats to come to this side of the truck.”
“Leave them out of this, you want money, take what I have and go.” She cursed herself for not paying more attention, but no way would she make any risky moves when the children were involved.
“I plan on taking what I want, but it ain’t money.” The man moved the gun slowly across her breasts in an abhorrent way. “Get them over here now, bitch.”
“Andria … you take your brother’s hand.” She spoke softly and hoped that Jason would understand her reason for using Andi’s given name. “Stay with Jason and …run!” Kelli screamed.
“Bitch!” Medora reacted by hitting Kelli across the face and then forced her ahead of him around the truck. The door was open, but the kids were gone and he was enraged. With a gun to her upper body, he dragged her by the neck against him in a lewd way. His free hand grabbed her butt cheek and squeezed, then he crudely rubbed his lower body against her thighs to emphasize his next coarse remark. “I had planned on fucking you first.” He pressed the gun harder into her breast. “But now you’ll have to die and I’ll take your brats instead. The right buyer will pay well for all that young blond innocence and I know right where to find one.”
Suddenly the alarm on the truck was activated and Kelli took advantage of the momentary distraction. Years of training took over her actions; Kelli twisted her body in the opposite direction and with her bent elbow shoved into the man’s arm broke his hold on her throat, she brought her left hand up to strike him in the face. She then had her right hand on the gun, finding herself in a life or death struggle to gain control of the weapon as it alternated direction between them.
Safely hidden between two vans, Jason opened Kelli’s cell phone that he had grabbed from her bag when he ran with Andi. He punched number one and counted the rings, on the third ring it was picked up by someone other than Vin. “I need my Dad now!” Jason yelled into the phone
Gunny answered Tanner’s phone that he had left on his desk when Chris began the case review in the war room. Easily identifying the caller and recognizing the panic in the young boy’s voice she tried to calm him. “Hold on Jason, I am getting him now.” She burst into the meeting ignoring the warning glare from Chris for interrupting him and she spoke directly to Vin as she held out the phone. “Captain your son needs you now!”
Tanner grabbed the phone and heard Jason still yelling for his dad. “Jason ‘m here, calm down and tell me what’s wrong.” As he listened he snapped his fingers and indicated he needed paper to write on. “Don’t hang up, no matter what, ‘m on my way, just keep talkin’ to me” He wrote Park Meadows Mall, parking lot, call for closest assist. Chris picked up enough from Vin through their mental connection to know some of what was happening, but there was only so much the boy could tell them. “Stay where you are and hold on to Andi ...Kel will be okay, just stay put.” He prayed that he was right.
Chris was on his phone giving information on Kelli’s truck to the local police while he and Vin raced down to the garage. Larabee drove his truck while Buck and Josiah followed him in Wilmington’s. Even with lights flashing and sirens blaring it was going to take at least ten minutes for them to reach the mall. Vin kept Jason talking, he wanted to keep the boy calm, but when he heard two gunshots he was having a battle to keep himself composed. He knew Jason was really scared because until now he had always called him Vin, today he was dad and his son trusted him to make his world okay again.
During the struggle with her assailant, Kelli had managed to get the gun they were grappling with between them aimed away from her and the muzzle directed toward her opponent. She wasn’t certain if she pushed it far enough, but her finger found the trigger and she fired anyway. Two gunshots sounded and as her attacker started to fall, a look of disbelief crossed Medora’s face; he was dead before he hit the ground, a bullet to the heart ending his life.
The threat to her children gone; Kelli threw the gun inside her vehicle, locked the door and leaned against the truck to catch her breath. Now she had to find the kids and she prayed for their safekeeping while she screamed their names.” Jason! Andi! Jason!”
An extremely relieved Texan heard his wife’s voice in the background and instructed Jason to answer her. “It’s okay to answer son, she wouldn’t call for you, if everythin’ wasn’t all right.”
”Here, we’re here!” Jason stood up, still holding Andi’s hand and waving his arms to gain her attention. Tanner listened as she found them, but all her could hear was the sound of a dropped phone and the three of them crying.
“Damnit Chris, hurry, I need to be with ‘em!”
“Five more minutes, Vin, but help should be there by now.”
Kelli had hold of Jason and Andi with no intent of letting them go anytime soon. She sat on the ground with them and the only thing that mattered to her was that they were safe and sound. Denver police arrived and tried to talk to her. She ignored their efforts and declined to answer any of their questions.
Jason told her. “I called dad, he’s coming.” He suddenly remembered the phone and managed to pick it up from where he had dropped it when Kelli grabbed him. “Dad?”
“Still here son,” Vin wasn’t sure he could talk to Kelli without giving in to his own emotions so he didn’t press to do it.
“Mom needs you and … me and Andi do, too.” Jason managed to get out between the sobs that he attempted to conceal.
“I’ll be there in about two minutes, just hold on a little longer for me. You hear those sirens? That’s Uncle Chris and Uncle Buck makin’ all that noise.” Vin felt helpless and wanted to be there now.
You hold on too, Tanner
Just get us there and I’ll be fine.
Chris slid to a halt with Buck right on his bumper.
Vin opened the door, jumping out before Chris could put the Ram into park only to find several Denver cops between him and his family; they quickly discovered that was not a safe place to be. While Buck and Josiah took over the crime scene, Tanner and Larabee pushed their way through the officials that were trying to stop them.
“Get the hell out of my way!” Vin did not take time to show his badge as he physically created a pathway to reach his family. Fortunately Chris thought to have his ID shoved into their faces and the officers made the wise decision of moving out of Tanner’s approach pattern.
Although Vin had an idea of what to expect, he was not prepared for what he saw and his underlying anger threatened to erupt .Kelli sat on the ground clinging to Jason and Andi ignoring the cops that were pelting her with questions. A large crowd of onlookers had gathered around his family, ogling them and trampling over possible evidence without restraint.
Chris scalded the closest officer with a blazing glare. “Do your damn job and get these people back!”
“Dad!” Jason saw him first, but he wouldn’t leave Kelli to run to him. Obviously she was injured, but she refused to have anyone touch her or the children.
Tanner knelt down beside them, placing one arm around his wife, the other around the kids and spoke softly, “Baby look at me.” She responded to his voice and looked up at him. Vin saw the stressed look in her anguished eyes and he knew that he needed to get her off the ground, away from the people crowding around her. “Come on Kel; let’s go sit in Chris’ truck.”
Chris was immediately beside him lifting Andi into his arms so Tanner could help Kelli to stand. Larabee knew better than to get out of eyesight with the child, so he stayed close, keepin Jason sheltered between him and Vin. The Texan secured his arm around his redhead’s waist and she leaned into him for support as he assisted her to the backseat of the Ram.
Jason and Andi sat in the front seat with Chris while the Texan assessed Kelli’s injuries. He cleaned the blood off her cheek, noting the bruises beginning to form on her throat and saw the mark left by a man’s fist on her face. He swallowed the curses he wanted to make and instead spoke softly. “You need to see a doctor, Kel.” Although recognizing how close to she was to breaking down concerned him the most.
Kellie hoarsely whispered, “No doctor ’m okay.” She swallowed hard, “The gun is in my truck and Jason has my keys. Please get us out of here, Vin.” Her voice wavered and Tanner felt her body tremble.
The Texan held her securely at his side and spoke quietly. “It’s over baby, and ‘m right here with you. Jason and Andi are safe and Chris will take us to the office.”
I’ll tell Buck where to find the gun and that we’re leaving.
I want the kids back here with us before you do.
Vin was certain that he would not like hearing the details of what had transpired this morning, but that explanation could wait, along with his anger. Tanner protectively held on to his wife as Jason and Andi snuggled close to both of them. Today he and Kelli had graduated to being parents; his family needed to draw from his inner strength and calm presence, giving them that was his priority.
Justin took over the crime scene relieving Buck and Josiah while the MCAT forensics team moved in to do their work.
Larabee and Tanner had similar offices; each one was big enough to meet with several agents at one time. Both had a small refrigerator, couch, TV, assorted chairs and a private bathroom, complete with a shower. Even though it was designed to be home away from home during demanding cases, for today Vin’s was a sanctuary for his family, he took them inside and shut the door.
“Gunny, I need a status on Jackson.” Chris ordered on his way to Tanner’s office.
“Sir, he just called. Agent Dunne stopped to pick up some lunch for them and is on his way to Agent Standish’s home as we speak.”
“Call him back, tell him I need back here the minute JD arrives. Tell him to use to his lights and siren if he has to, but get here!”
Chris walked into Tanner’s office hoping to get some answers for his at least twenty questions, but it appeared that Kelli’s only agenda at the moment was making certain the kids were unharmed and not overly traumatized by the day’s events. He studied his daughter and knew she was hurting, but she gave no indication that she was ready to discuss details.
Although he hated the circumstances that had brought them to this point, he reminded himself that out of the worse times of our lives good things could happen. Chris, along with the Tanners had waited for the day that Jason was ready to call them Mom and Dad, instead of Vin and Kelli. Evidently Andi had only held back until Jason came around to it before she would say it, but she was all for the idea. For Jason though, there was no going back, he had established his claim on them as his parents and planned to keep it.
A knock on the door announced the return of Buck and Josiah before they came inside. Wilmington turned on his charm. “Wow, would you look at those boots!”
Andi immediately stood up to show them off. “Pretty boots and I didn’t get ‘em dirties either.” She said proudly.
“We got lots of other stuff too, but it’s still in the truck.” Jason was a little disappointed that the gifts that he picked out weren’t here to show them.
“Well, I thought you might want those packages, so Agent Westin is gonna bring them in here for you in just a bit.” Buck grinned. “Anyone interested in a trip to the vending machines? Uncle Josiah is buying.”
Jason looked over to Kelli. “Mom might want us to stay here, she thought we were lost, but we weren’t.”
Kelli knelt down next to both of them and spoke softly because her throat was still sore. “No they weren’t, in fact I can’t tell you how proud I am of how they acted. Andi listened to her brother and stayed really quiet for a long time and I know that was hard.” She hugged Andi. “And Jason was a real hero today. He took charge of his sister, got her to safety, thought to grab my cell phone to call for help and was smart enough to set off the alarm on the truck to create a diversion for me. He is the best key keeper that I know.” She hugged him, too.
“I’ll take good care of Mom while y’all are gone and I reckon you both deserve somethin’ special. Pick anythin’ you like and Uncle Josiah will get it for you. I can personally recommend the snickers.” Vin was satisfied that they were unharmed and he was anxious to hear the full story of the assault from Kelli.
“I am okay and ‘m not goin’ anywhere without y’all, besides you know everyone that works here and your only goin’ down the hall.” Kelli wanted Josiah to listen to them because he would recognize any problems they might have dealing with today’s events. “Jason can I count on you to make sure Andi doesn’t get too carried away showin’ off her new boots?
Jason thought for a moment, he knew his dad would take care of things and a snack sounded good. “Yep,” He grinned. “I won’t let her fall over looking at the darn things either.” Josiah picked up Andi, took Jason’s hand and they were off for the snack machine.
“God, do you think they’ll really be okay with what happened today?” Kelli felt the tears she had been holding back come to the surface.
“Kel, those are two tough kids, Jack put them through worse than this and they learned early on that bad things can happen.” Chris knew from experience how tough they could be. “Nathan will be here soon and he will decide if you need a doctor, but we need to know what went on in that parking lot while the kids are not around. I know Josiah will keep them busy and give us some warning before they come back.”
“I realize that it hurts you to talk darlin’, so let me tell you what we know. Buck pulled a chair close to the couch. “I know this is not easy, but it’s important to know as much about what he said as what he did. He was waiting specifically for you for a long time Kel, we have to know why and then figure out how he knew where you were.” Buck saw the surprised look on her face and decided to explain. “We found enough to prove that this was not a random assault, what we don’t know is if he was acting on his own or for someone.”
“Sorry, I...’m not sure that I can...”
“You don’t think we’ll blame you for what that bastard did or said do you?” Chris thought she knew better than that.
“No,” She met Vin’s eyes, “But this is worse than what I told you happened in Costa Mesa.”
The Texan knew that there was very little holding his redhead together at the moment and he was ready for the tears. If she was going to have to relive what happened, she needed his support to get through it. Sitting with her on the couch he held her close and gave her the time she needed to think.
“It’s only you and me Kel, forget anyone else is in here and start where you want to, ‘m listenin.” Vin did not let go and he tried to will her the strength to hold together.
She understood that he was reminding her of what she already knew. Vin was her shelter from the storms life threw at her, giving her his protection and his promise that his feelings would wait, no matter what she had to say. Suddenly it all began to pour out, every word, every touch and all her fears, especially the anxiety and fear that if she failed, the kids would be lost in a world of hurt and unspeakable abuse.
Buck took notes and somehow resisted the urge to display his anger. He despised any violence toward women, but especially one that was family. Most of his questions were answered by Kelli’s recount of how the events had played out.
Chris sat quietly and listened, he felt his anger rise, but deferred to his parental love and held it in check. He realized that this was not easy for his daughter to tell or for his brother to hear. As Kelli came to the end of her narration, he knew that her emotions were spent and the stresses of the day’s events were wearing on her. When she finished Chris and Buck slipped out of the room unnoticed.
Her voice was almost gone and fresh tears appeared to replace the last of her waning resolve to get through the accounting of her assault.
Tanner wasted no time on anger; there would be an opportunity later for that. He drew his redhead to him and surrounded her with his love, offering her the reassurances she needed to regain control of her emotions.
“Kel, it’s over, you’re all safe. I don’t know who sent that bastard, but he won’t have another chance to hurt you or the kids. We’re together and no one is gonna change that.” Vin tiled her head up to look at him. “I love you baby and ‘m damned proud of how you handle things today.”
All Kelli could do was nod and hold on to her Texan.
A knock on the door was followed by Nathan’s tentative entrance. “I hate to interrupt, but I want to check Kel over for injuries before Chris has a coronary.” He smiled to ease the tension.
“Come on in Nate, we’re ready for you.” Vin responded for both of them.
Ray was getting impatient; he had followed Dunne straight to Standish’s house and watched the other agent leave. He knew both targets were inside that townhouse and if Medora didn’t call him soon to report a successful hit on that bitch; he would take these two out without any help.
How hard could it be? An injured man and a young agent wouldn’t be much of a challenge. He looked at his watch it was one-thirty. Three o’clock Medora. You screw around any longer than that, these two are dead and I’m on my way back to California alone.