Additions and Apprehensions

by tannertexaslady and Wendymypooh

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

Chapter 13

MCAT Office

Chris could feel his anger colliding with what was left of his rationale thoughts. The only thing that stopped him from going into an uncontrollable rage was the thought of two little ones that had seen and heard enough violent behavior today. He paced his office while Buck watched and waited for the eruption that he knew had to be coming. Larabee thought about what Kelli had told them and one part stuck in his mind.

“Buck, let me see those notes.”

Wilmington passed them to Chris. “I’m ready to tear something apart and I have as good idea where your anger level is. How do you think Vin is handling this?”

“The same way he shoots. Vin will hold his rage until he has a target in his sites and the timing is right before he cuts loose.”

“What about you?”

“I’m working on it Buck.” Chris read over the notes to try and sort out what was nagging at him, suddenly he knew what it was. “If this is work related, then he should have known to check her for a weapon. This guy didn’t… he knew she wasn’t carrying…How?”

Buck shook his head, “I don’t know…unless our files have been compromised. The only place that would show Kel on inactive duty would be …personnel records.” Wilmington stood up, “I’m on it.”

Nathan walked in, passing Buck as he left. “Vin will be here in a few minutes. I examined Kel. The bruises you can see are the worst, her throat will be sore for a while, but aside from that it’s only scraped hands with some tenderness in the ribs and chest area from the pressure of the gun barrel. She’s also on the downside of a surge of adrenaline and emotional stress. Bottom line, she should be okay after a couple days of rest.”

“Thanks Nate. Is Ezra doing better?”

“He’s complaining constantly, so I guess that’s a yes.”

Tanner joined them, “Josiah still with the kids?” He sat in the chair opposite to Chris’ desk.

“Yeah, but he’s on his way here. Jason talked him into a tour of the building and Andi has made an impression on every floor they’ve been on.” Chris smiled, “You’re gonna have your hands full with that one, Vin.”

“Hell Chris, she’s just a younger version of your eldest daughter and I’ve had plenty of practice handlin’ Lar’bees.”

“You are a brave man, Vin. Living with a houseful of Larabees, I bet life is never dull.” Nathan concluded.

“No it’s never dull, my life is full of little moments of unpredictably that I live for and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” The Texan grinned when Josiah came in carrying a sleeping Andi.

Josiah acceded to Vin, handing Andi over to him. “Jason will be here in a minute, I asked Gunny to divert him because I wanted a chance to tell you what I think. These kids have not been isolated from violent encounters in their short lives and they both have some terrific coping skills for their ages. You should also know that they didn’t see anything from where they hid. However, they heard it all…every word and I suspect that Jason has some questions. Overall though, they both seem to be dealing with what happened today very well.”

“Thanks Josiah, we were both concerned about their reactions and I’ll give Jason a chance to ask whatever he wants. If he doesn’t then we’ll find another way to help him understand.” Tanner was patting Andi’s back reflexively as she slept on his shoulder.

“Jason has already come a long way, but today he took a giant leap. He called you...his dad… instead of 911 for help, showing complete faith that you would be there for him. I believe that he has finally put Jack’s cruelty behind him and he is looking forward. You and Kelli have done well with him and should feel good about what you have accomplished.”

Vin could only nod, he had waited a long time to hear Jason accept him as his dad and today was one that would be highlighted in his personal book of memories.

Feels good don’t it?

Damn good, Cowboy.

Tanner found his voice, “Kel’s takin’ a quick shower; as soon as she’s done I’ll put Andi on the couch in my office.”

“Until we find out what in the hell is going on, I want them to stay here.” Warning bells were echoing in his head, Chris did not believe in coincidence and having two of his agents targeted within such a short time period was unacceptable. At least here Kelli and the kids had plenty of protection. “You think Kel will have a problem with that?”

“No. If it were only her involved you might catch an argument, but the kids’ safety is our first priority.” Vin changed the subject when Jason came in. “I think Kel will love the idea of takin’ over my office for a while. What do you think, Jason?”

Jason came over to sit with Vin and Andi, he whispered so he wouldn’t wake her. “Is mom really okay?”

The Texan put his arm around him and whispered back, “Uncle Nathan checked her out and he said she will be just fine. She needs to rest some and can’t talk very loud, but in a couple of days her voice will be back to normal.” Tanner smiled when he saw Kelli standing at the door. “See for yourself.”

Nathan started to get up so she could have his chair and she gestured for him to stay seated. Kelli had showered and changed; the sweatshirt she wore was loose and the bruises on her neck becoming visible. However she chose not to try to cover them up, instead she wanted the kids to see her injuries so they would know that it looked worse than it was and that she was okay.

Jason slid off the chair and walked up to her. He pointed at the bruises and asked, “Do they hurt?”

Kelli knelt down and spoke softly. “A little, but no more than that bruise you got climbin’ the fence last week.” She pointed to the fading mark on his arm. “Next week these will be fadin’, too.”

The child reached out and tentatively touched her neck; she stayed still and let him. “When it gets real purple, you might have to watch Andi, she’ll want it to stay that way.” With those words, he accepted her assurance that everything would be all right.

“We need to let these guys get back to work. You wanna keep me company in dad’s office? We can veg on the couch and watch some TV.”

The boy looked over at Vin and grinned. “I think you’re right, she is gonna love taking over your office.”

”I’ll be back in a few minutes Chris.” Still holding Andi, Tanner stood and offered Kelli a hand up. “I’m gonna get these females settled and put Jason in charge of ‘em for a while.” Vin took his family back to their temporary refuge.

War room~2:00pm

All the agents were back in the office and present for this meeting. Forensics was running a few minutes late, but Chris was ready for a report from the others.


“We have no witnesses to the assault and any mall security officers for the parking lot are non-existent. However we did obtain the video from the cameras mounted by the exit door. Fortunately Agent Coulter parked close enough to the doors that everything was recorded.” He passed a copy of the tape to Larabee. “The entire incident is on here, as well as the vehicle that the assailant arrived in. Forensics has it and will be able to tell you what they found. From the time stamped on the tape, he appeared a few minutes after Coulter went into the mall at nine and waited over two hours for her to come back out.” Justin scanned his notes.

“Denver police reported that Kelli refused to give them any information and basically they waited for us. Her truck is also with forensics, but Mark brought the packages that were inside up here. We are still trying to identify the man…so far we don’t have a name. If you want to play the tape I can go over what we know from it.”

You okay seeing it?

Play it, Chris.

“Go ahead Justin, show us.” Larabee instructed.

Michaels put the video in the player and narrated. “Nine o’clock Kelli arrived and see that green car…that belongs to our mystery man” He hit fast-forward on the remote. “He made several phone calls while he waited and from where he was, he could see the exit, but not be seen…right here.” He froze the frame and pointed out where the perpetrator had lain in wait for Kelli and the kids. “There is no way Coulter would have seen him.” Justin fell silent while he waited for the others to absorb the information.

As Chris watched the tape he also kept an eye on Vin, especially when Kelli and the kids were shown exiting the mall and heading to the truck. Larabee rose from his chair and moved to stand directly behind Tanner laying a supportive hand on his shoulder.

Justin continued. “This is where he appears for the first time… note that the kids are on the opposite side of the truck. It looks as if Kelli argued with him and then … she evidently told the children to run. This is where he hit her the first time…note also Jason grabbing her cell phone; he went far enough not to be seen, but not too far…”

The commentary continued, but Tanner wasn’t listening anymore. As he watched Kelli struggle with the man, he could still hear Jason’s plea for help replay in his head. He realized how fortunate they were that this had not end in tragedy. Was it just this morning that he had told Kelli that her skills would be there when she needed them? It was Kelli’s training, and her fierce need to protect the kids that saved them. This man was there for one reason… to kill her and Vin had no doubt that had he succeeded he would have gone after the children. The pencil he held snapped into two pieces.

Chris squeezed Vin’s shoulder to let him know he was not alone with his anger. They’re safe in your office…remember that.

“That’s the end of it… anything else we get will have to come from forensics.” Justin finished his narration of the video and turned off the VCR. When he turned his attention back to the room, he saw that every agent present had been affected by what they had seen.

Greg Ramsey stood by the door. He had waited for Michaels to conclude before he interrupted. He was not looking forward to showing Larabee or Tanner what forensics had found.

“Sir, I am sorry to be late, but I wanted to have a name for you.” Greg addressed Chris.

Sit down Cowboy, ‘m okay.

Larabee sat back down. “Go ahead Ramsey.”

“The man’s name is Juan Medora. Allegedly he was a professional hit man and did time in prison for rape. Authorities never had enough evidence to convict him for murder, but suspect that he was responsible for over twenty ‘hits’ in the last five years. He demanded the big bucks and got it or he did until today. The car was a rental and evidently he was confident enough of his ability to succeed that he left these in plain view.” Greg laid several photo the table. “These are some of Kelli with the children, taken over the last several days, as well as photos of Agent Standish.”

“Ezra? The sonofabitch is responsible for blowing up the Jag, too?” Chris grabbed the pictures. “Fucking bastard! “

“Sir, there’s more. When we hit the trunk we found the surveillance equipment and more pictures… of Agent Dunne.”

“I want Standish and Dunne brought in here!’ Chris was on his feet. “Josiah, Nathan, escort them in here, now!”

“Commander, we have a list of phone numbers that Medora called.” He handed a list to Chris. “As soon as Dr. Metfield releases his personal items we may have more information.”

“I checked with our personnel department and no one has asked for Kel’s records.” Buck reported.” Evidently, he had watched her long enough to know that she was not working and not armed.”

Chris looked at the pictures spread on the table. “Buck, Nettie is in Arizona with her sister, track Casey down, I want her and the rest of the women to stay on Larabee 7. Tell George to set up his men around the perimeter and nobody gets on the ranch, unless it’s one of us. The rest of you, secure your families, we don’t know who is behind this or how far they are willing to go and we will take no chances.”

“My family is out of town with relatives this week.” Justin informed.

“My wife took the kids to Detroit to visit her folks. Ross added.

Since Raphael and Paul had no wives here to worry about that accounted for the extended family.

“Pam, run these phone numbers and match them to addresses.” Chris handed her the list. “Also run Medora for known associates. Greg, you and Kat continue to process the evidence, let me know if you find anything else.”

You do realize that this all points back to California.

Yeah, someone wants us to stay out of their business.

It’s our business now, Vin.

Standish Townhouse~3:00pm

JD hung up the phone and stared thoughtfully at the instrument. Larabee had been brisk and to the point, “That was Chris; he wants us ready to move out of here and back into the office. Josiah and Nathan are on their way to escort us there.”

“Did our illustrious Commander provide any details or reason for our summons to headquarters or why he feels that we require supervision?” Ezra refused to vacate his prone position on the couch until they arrived, choosing instead to pamper his aching head and sorely abused body.

“Uh uh all he said was that they were on their way.” JD went to the window, lifted the slats of the blinds and looked out. “Guess we’ll find out when they get here.” He dropped the mini blind and turned toward Standish, feeling the impact that sent shockwaves through his back before he heard the window break. A burning pain shot through his body and he tried to speak, but found he could not make a sound. The young agent wanted to reach out and grab something to stop his fall; however his limbs would not respond to his commands while his uncooperative body slowly descended to the ground.

Ezra heard the sound of glass shattering and cringed. “Good Lord, please be careful. What did you break?” Instead of an answer he heard the thud as Dunne’s body hit the floor. “JD?”

Immediately Standish’s senses went on alert and he rolled off the couch, reaching beneath it to retrieve a weapon he kept there for emergencies. Gingerly he crawled toward the window, staying close to the floor. The sight of the young man’s motionless form before him sent a wave of dread through him. Quickly he reached JD, intently aware of the puddles of blood forming that were drawing the life from his brother’s body. Ezra tried desperately to stop the bleeding.

Tentative fingers brushed across the pulse point on JD’s neck and relief flooded though Standish when he detected a faint but definite pulsation. “Hang on, son.” Ezra fumbled with his cell phone and began punching in the three numbers that could send help. Although it seemed that it has been hours, it had only been three minutes since JD had walked to the window and Ezra was aware that every second counted.

“9-1-1, what is your emergency?”

Before Ezra could answer the front door was forced open and then a spray of gunfire permeated the room. Standish threw himself over JD to protect the young man while he fired at the intruder. Well aware that he hit his mark, Ezra was surprised when the sounds of gunfire continued, only now it was coming from outside. The assailant was face down on the floor as Josiah and Nathan burst in, guns drawn.

“Nathan we’re over here! Ezra moved aside to let the medic in close.

Josiah stopped long enough to confirm that the trespasser was dead and to remove his weapons. “Ezra, are you okay?”

”Yes, but our youngest brother is in bad shape.” Standish retrieved his phone, gave the required information to the 911 operator and held on to relay updates from the medic.

“Nathan how is he?” Ezra was afraid to hear Jackson’s answer.

“Tell them to forget the ambulance and send Flight for Life instead! Respiration is shallow, he is experiencing extreme blood loss, and it appears that at least one bullet entered through his back with no exit wound.” Ezra communicated details of JD’s condition to rescue.

Josiah was on his phone informing Larabee of the situation. “It’s bad Chris; I’ll call Mallory and have her take Casey to the hospital. Nathan will stay with JD and as soon as another team gets here to take over the investigation we’ll be on our way there, too.”

MCAT Office

Chris hung up the phone and read the apprehension on the faces around the room. “Justin I need a team at Standish’s house and tell Bones we have a DB on the scene. JD is being life flighted to the hospital, Mallory is informing Casey, and Nathan will stay with him. Josiah and Ezra will meet us there as soon as you can relieve them. Buck you and I will meet the helicopter at Denver Memorial. Vin, you should stay here with Kel and the kids.”

Buck was stunned; he was having a hard time accepting that JD was hurt badly enough to need Life Flight. “He will be okay, right?”

Larabee sighed, “I hope so Buck, I just don’t know.” He took Buck’s arm and urged him out the door.

“Justin, take Ross and forensics with you. Raphael, I want you and Paul to start checking out the addresses for those phone numbers. Pam…Pam!” Vin tried to get her attention.

She was in shock, not believing that JD was actually seriously injured. Tanner’s voice finally got through to her. “Sir?”

“Pam we all feel the same way, but I need you to concentrate. Give Raphael the addresses that CASSIE found and show Mark what he can do to help you.” Vin did not yell, but he was firm. “We can’t quit on this. If we’re gonna find the person responsible for these attacks we need CASSIE’s help and right now you are the only one that knows how to do that.”

It took a minute for Vin’s words to register and then realization set in. Pam composed herself, “I’m on it Captain.” She turned to give instructions to Judy and Mark.

Satisfied that Pam could function and having handed out the assignments, Vin knew he needed to let Kelli know about JD. For the second time today, Tanner felt helpless. A member of his family was hurt and there wasn’t a damned thing he could do about it. First it was Ezra, and then Kel, now JD; someone had a lot to answer for before this was over.

Vin stopped at Gunny’s desk. “It’s gonna be a long night, arrange for some deli food to be brought in for everyone and see if you can find a roll-a-away bed in this place. Kel and the kids will be stayin’ and I don’t wanna put them in the lounge.”

“Captain, if you need me, I have plenty of experience with children. I raised four boys and have ten grandchildren, plus worked with elementary schools kids for twenty-five years. I can watch the two little ones if you and the Mrs. want to go to the hospital for a while.”

“Thanks Gunny, I’ll keep that in mind.”

The Texan stood outside the door to his office and listened to the sounds of the kid’s laughter from inside. He sent up a prayer of thanks for their safety with a request to aid JD and his family through the crisis they were now facing. Turning the knob he opened the door to go inside to his wife and children. Andi was snuggled in Kelli’s lap and Jason was lying on the floor watching one of his favorite movies.

“Dad!” Jason jumped up off the floor and ran to the Texan. The child trusted that Vin would catch him as he launched himself into his dad’s arms. “You’re back!”

Tanner caught him easily and felt a warm rush of emotions stem within him from the boy’s enthusiastic welcome. “Hey pard, have I been gone that long?”

“Yep you have, for hours and hours.”

“Jason, daddy had to work.” Andi said with the voice of authority.

“I know that, but now he can see what we got him.” Jason whispered in Vin’s ear. “We can show you now can’t we?”

Vin sat on the couch next to Kelli, still holding Jason. “Sure you can.” The boy scrambled off his lap and went to rummage through the packages that Mark had left for them.

“Me help, too.” Andi slid off Kelli lap and went over to take part in the show and tell.

The Texan took his wife’s hand and squeezed gently. Kelli knew something was wrong, but she would be patient until Vin had an opportunity to share it with her. She squeezed his hand in return and smiled. “This won’t take long.”

The kids showed off this morning’s purchases and proudly gave the Texan his gift of music. “This is one of my favorites, thanks.” He hugged both of them. “Looks like we have a new game to play and you have some great new clothes, too.”

“We have something for Uncle Ezra, but mom says we’ll have to wait to give it to him.”

“You’ll see him soon.” Vin helped them to put the clothes back in their bags and then sat on the floor with them. “I need to let y’all know what’s goin’ on. I want all of us to stay here tonight. Gunny is having dinner brought in and we’ll fix up a bed in here, then tomorrow we’ll make other arrangements. A little later mom and I are going to go see Uncle JD; he was hurt this afternoon and has to spend some time in the hospital.”

“Is Uncle JD gonna be all right?”

Vin wasn’t sure how to answer that question, but they had always been truthful with the kids and now was not the time to change that. “I hope so Jason, that’s why we need to go to the hospital to see how he is. Gunny will be here to keep an eye on y’all.”

“Y’all will be coming back here, right?”

“Absolutely! We’ll eat first and then you can watch your DVD’s that I brought up from my truck with your clothes. We won’t be gone long.” Vin and Kelli both made a practice of keeping a bag packed for all of them in each vehicle, just in case they were called out to work in a hurry.

“We like Gunny so I guess that it’s okay.”

“Great, now how about we get this place turned into a bedroom for the night?”

They spent the next hour rearranging Vin’s office and preparing the kids for the evening. After they ate dinner, the children settled in to watch Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron with Gunny keeping a close watch on them.

Justin gave Tanner a report before they left for the hospital. “I’ll stick around here and call you if we learn anything new. Tell JD…we’re all praying for him”

Denver Memorial Hospital

JD had been in surgery for over four hours and it was a tense group that had gathered in the waiting area. Mallory and Inez sat with Casey, who had not said one word for over two hours. Chris stood staring out the window, while Buck paced the small room and Ezra sat still trying to keep his head from exploding with pain.

“It’s been long enough! Can’t they tell us something?” Buck had waited too long in his opinion for some answers.

“Buck, you have been here too many times not to know that these things take time.” Josiah tried to reason with him.

Nathan stood up, “I’ll see what I can find out, just try to stay calm.”

The Tanners walked into this simmering pot of emotions and it was not difficult to read the situation or to become a target of frayed nerves.

Chris launched the first attack. “What are you doing here and where are the kids?”

“We came to check on the family and the kids are with Gunny, in my office, watchin’ a movie.” Vin approached Chris and laid a hand on his shoulder. “They’re fine and everythin’ is under control at work, so relax.”

Kelli sat with Mallory.” Let me guess, Linda and Rain have all the kids.” She smiled thinking about that.

”Yep, and counting their own that’s eight children under the age of five.” Mallory smiled back at her. “Josiah told me what happened to you today. How are the kids doing?”

“Actually, they are doing great. I’m the one that has to resist the urge to not let them out of my sight for the next twenty years or so. I know I can’t give in to my fears, but…”

“It’s not easy and you would not be normal if you felt any differently” Mallory patted her on the arm. “When it gets bad call me and we can vent together.”

Dr. Gilford walked in and all conversation stopped as he sought out Casey. He sat down next to her and took her hand. “JD’s still with us, but I do have him on life support. There were two bullets, one I removed easily and repaired most of the damage it caused. The other one…is lodged against his spine. There is too much swelling right now for me to even attempt removing it.”

“So, that means more surgery?”

“Once the swelling reduces we will re-evaluate our options about more surgery. All we can do is to wait and see what happens, for now I will not even consider further surgical treatment.”

“You said he was on life support…why and for how long?

“I … I’m sorry that I don’t have better news to tell you Casey. JD is on life support for the immediate future because he is partially paralyzed and needs assistance to breath.”

Chapter 14

Friday ~July 7th

MCAT Office~5:30 am

Vin gave up any attempt to sleep, although knowing that his family was close by and safe was comforting, too many thoughts crowded into his head. The entirety of the last twenty-four hours was weighing heavily on his mind. By means of automatic motions, he dressed, made coffee and prepared the office for the coming day. He sat in Kelli’s chair at her desk, allowing her and the kids to sleep undisturbed, while he silently drank his coffee.

Tanner, you are a hypocrite, you talk big about facing fears, but right now you want Kel out of this mess and at home, no discussion. JD is laying in a hospital bed paralyzed, there was only five feet making the difference between Ezra being alive or dead and Kel…You could have lost her, as well as the kids yesterday Vin and why? Because of this job…is it worth the risk? Isn’t it enough that one of you is out here every day facing the bad guys? Do you both have to do it? Do you have the right to ask her to quit? Would you feel any better if she did? Hell Tanner, when did you turn into a coward?

The Texan saw the object of his thoughts coming toward him and he had to smile. Seeing her first thing in the morning was something that immeasurably pleased him. As he watched her gracefully move toward him with a smile on her face that he knew was for him, Vin again thanked the higher powers of fate that brought her into his life. He also wondered how many times you could fall in love with the same woman in one lifetime. “Mornin’, Mom.

Kelli slid her butt onto the top of the desk and leaned forward for a kiss, her voice was still rough sounding, but stronger. “Mornin’ to you too, Dad, you look as if you’re havin’ quite a conversation with yourself. Wanna share?” She sipped on her own cup of coffee.

“Just thinkin’ about things in general,” He rolled the chair directly in front of her, rested his forearms on her thighs, leaned forward, and sighed. “That’s not completely true. I was thinkin’ about how I could ask you to quit and stay at home with the kids without feeling like a first class hypocrite.”

She ran her fingers through Vin’s hair and tilted his head so she could see his eyes. “I’ll stay at home Vin, if you’re askin’ me for the right reasons. However a wise man told me just a few days ago, ‘don’t give in to your fear, but don’t keep it locked up either’. That was very sage advice.”

“Wise man huh? Well, that wise man has discovered that when it comes to his family, his apprehensions have the upper hand. This can be a damned ugly job Kel and I hate havin’ you and the kids touched by that part of it.”

“Vin, it’s an ugly job sometimes because it can be an ugly world and when good people quit fightin’, the bad guys will win. We cannot protect our kids from all the bad in life, but we can try and do somethin’ about the terrible things out there that can harm them. We have to let our faith guide us and do what we believe is the right thing to do to make this a better place for ‘em. I need to do my part in contributin’ to that goal without lettin’ fear, be it yours or mine, decide for me.”

The Texan knew from the beginning, that they would have to take each day as it came, love each other and have enough faith in a higher power that they would be granted a long life together. It seemed that he needed to hear that gentle reminder about faith and his own words repeated back to him, to put his fear in the proper perspective. “I reckon I should take my own advice” Vin stood up and drew her to him. “Do you remember everythin’ I tell you?”

“Mrs. Wise Eagle remembers every word.” Kelli wrapped her arms around him. “Vin, there will come a time that I will want to be at home with our kids, especially when we have five or six or seven or ‘em.” She had to stop and laugh at his expression of astonishment. “Okay maybe not that many, but at least a couple more. In the meantime I want to come back to work. I talked to Mallory last night and she offered to take care of the kids for us today, while Inez helps Casey. We can make arrangements with Max over the weekend to help, too.”

Tanner knew he would always worry about his redhead, but then she worried about him, too and fair was fair. “We’ll take ‘em out to the ranch together and then stop at the firin’ range on the way back here.” He took his time claiming a long leisurely kiss, taking advantage of their alone time before their day started.

They didn’t hear the elevator door open, but they did hear the unmistakable thread of amusement in Chris’ voice. “Okay time out, this is a G rated office.”

A lazy movement of his hand had Vin checking his watch and he groused. “Hell Chris, it’s barely six and besides we haven’t even made it to R rated yet.” He heard Kelli’s soft laughter against his shoulder and smiled. “What are you doin’ here so early?”

“I thought everyone would be hungry so I left early enough to arrange for breakfast to be delivered. It should be here in about fifteen minutes. You two the only ones up?”

“Yep, but we probably won’t be for long. I heard someone movin’ around in the lounge area and if the kids are on schedule they’ll be runnin’ around soon. I already called the hospital this mornin’ and there is no change on JD’s condition.”

Chris nodded, “We need to make some decisions today. Let’s have everyone meet at eleven and go over what we have.”

Kelli gave Vin one more tantalizing kiss. “I think I’ll get the kids up and turn Tanner’s workspace back into an office. Then I’m takin’ the kids to Mallory and comin’ back here to work.” She left to get started.

“Is she up to working?” Chris watched her go.

“Yeah and this is somethin’ she needs to do. She can take her truck to the house and I’ll follow ‘em. As much as I’d like to keep ‘em wrapped up here safe and sound…I know that’s not possible. We’ll leave her vehicle at the ranch and stop by the firin’ range on the way back here so she can certify. We should be back in time for your meetin’.”

“Who stayed besides Ezra?” They walked together toward the meeting room.

“Justin and Ross just traded off surveillance with Raphael and Paul; Buck is on guard duty at the hospital, Mark stayed and helped Pam with CASSIE.” Vin hesitated to bring up a sensitive subject. “Chris we need to have a back-up operator for CASSIE, Pam will need some relief, and we need Mark in the field.”

Chris stopped walking and was quiet for a minute. “I’ve already thought about that and as much as I hate to even consider that JD might not be back, we do need to find someone else that can operate CASSIE or be trained to do so. Truthfully, we should already have done so and regardless of the outcome with JD we will add another computer operative.”

A sleepy-eyed southerner joined them. “Gentlemen, do we have a report on our young brother this morning?”

“Sorry to say, nothing has changed.” Chris gave Standish the once over to assess his condition. “Breakfast will be here in a few minutes, coffee’s ready now.”

Vin stopped him before he moved to the coffeemaker. “”Ez, we’re takin’ the kids to the ranch, but Jason has somethin’ to give you before we leave,”

“I will make a point of conversing with the young man before you depart.” Ezra continued on to claim a cup of caffeine, hoping that it would see him through facing breakfast at this hour of the morning.

The food and the children arrived at the same time. “Thanks Uncle Chris, ‘m starved.” Jason immediately took the offered plate from Chris.

“Me too,” Andi chimed in.

Chris laughed, “Here you go, Miss Me Too.”

Kelli walked in and stood next to Vin. “Except for the roll-a-way bed, your office is back in shape and the bags to take with us are sittin’ by the door.”

Tanner handed her a plate of food. “You had best eat while you have the chance, as soon as they’re finished we’ll leave”.

She sat down next to Jason and the second he finished he turned and asked.” Can we do it now Mom?” Noting the Andi was done eating, too, she agreed and Jason zipped off to get his gift for Ezra.

Andi slipped off her chair and went over to Standish, pulling on his sleeve. “Uncle Ra, we want you feel better.”

Ezra sat the young girl in his lap and smiled. “How could I not when such a lovely young lady is concerned for me?”

Jason was back and seeing the look of confusion on his sister’s face, tried to help. “I think he means that you make him feel better Andi.”

“Indeed, you both know how to make your uncle feel better.” Ezra pulled Jason into a hug.

“We got this for you. Mom said she thought you would like it and we didn’t want you to forget so…” Jason handed him a beautifully wrapped box.

Two sets of little eyes watched Ezra handle their gift. “Perhaps y’all could assist me in opening this lovely package.” Quickly small hands were tearing off the paper and when the contents were revealed Standish was not sure what to say. Inside the box was an exact replica of his beloved jag, including its precise color. He lifted the model and was deeply touched that these two little ones realized how much that car meant to him. Not the monetary value, but as an extension of the persona he portrayed to the world “Thank you both, this is something that I will treasure always.” He hugged them again and was rewarded with two radiant smiles that he would never forget.

“Okay gang, time to move out.” Vin told the kids to grab their stuff and herded them toward the elevator, throwing a message to Larabee as they left. “We’ll be back in a couple of hours.”

Denver Memorial Hospital~9:00am

Dr. Gilford came by for the morning rounds and had nothing new to tell Casey. It would take time for the swelling to reduce and until then, he did not expect any changes in JD’s condition.

“Mrs. Dunne, we’re in this for the long haul, you need to rest when you can.” Dr. Gilford offered his advice. “Go home for a while and see your children, he won’t be conscience for at least another twelve hours.”

Casey was torn between needing to be here with JD and her need to be with the girls. She watched the machines and brushed his hair back with her fingers, wanting to be strong for him, but unable to stop the tears from falling. This was not supposed to happen to them! JD had a brilliant mind for computer programming and he should not be laying here in a hospital bed, unable to move from a bullet in his back. Not her JD!

“Hon, why don’t you let me take you to the girls for a while?” Inez spoke softly. “We can come back later this afternoon.”

“I…what if he needs me and I’m not here?” Casey could not take her eyes off the man that was the biggest part of her life.

Dr. Gilford tried again. “I promise to call you the second anything changes.” He placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Go hug your babies and tell them we are doing everything that we can for their daddy.”

“Darlin’, Nathan will be here in a few minutes and he will stay with JD until you get back.” Buck was having a difficult time himself dealing with this turn of events. He knew they all took risks, but for JD to be shot in the back by an unseen enemy and not even knowing why was tearing him up inside.

Casey made a decision, standing up she leaned over and kissed her husband. “I’ll be back soon, I’m going to see the girls and tell them that their daddy is going to be fine. Do not make a liar out of me, JD Dunne.”

Buck hugged Casey and kissed Inez before they left. He would wait for Nathan and then he was going back to the office. “I promise you JD, I will find the bastard responsible for this. You have my word.”

MCAT office ~10:45 am

Chris had called Pam into his office; she was having a hard time dealing with JD’s injuries, too. However he had to consider the needs of the unit and wanted her input before he made a decision on how to proceed.

“Pam, regardless of how things turn out for JD, we need someone else skilled to use CASSIE. I need you to tell me what qualifications are necessary for someone that you can train.”

“Sir, are you saying JD won’t be back?” Pam had never attached herself to the people she worked with until she came to MCAT and found it damn hard to even consider that JD might not be coming back.

“No, but it will take time. Even when he returns, I feel that we need at least one more person that can operate CASSIE. We should have done this a long time ago, but it’s time to correct that oversight on my part, prepare me a list of requirements and I will go over it.”

“Yes sir, will that be all?”

“Just keeping working on the information we need and Pam…We are not giving up on JD, not now, not ever.”

Chris leaned back in his chair when she left and thought about the situation with his unit. What in the hell is so important to someone in California that warrants trying to kill three of my people? Drugs? Guns? Hell, if it was just that why risk killing three federal agents when they could protect their activities by simply moving their base of operations. What in the hell did we fall into the middle of?

Good question, Cowboy.

Vin walked in and threw a file on Chris’ desk. “Accordin’ to my sources, the hits were ordered by someone high up in an international organization as a warnin’ to MCAT to back off from our investigation. They’re still workin’ on a name, but we are talkin’ about some big time players. Looks as if drugs may be part of it, but I think it’s somethin’ more than that. What exactly it is, I don’t know yet, but I will.”

“I want to keep surveillance on that address we have here in Denver. We won’t hit it until we know what we are dealing with; it may be our only way to connect to a name in California. It may take time, but we will do it right.”

“Ez refuses to take any more time off, he volunteered to do the backgrounds on the men we have identified going to that address.”

“If he’s here we can keep an eye on him, Kel too, until we know if the hits have been cancelled or aborted. We keep someone with JD 24/7 and I’ve already informed Ezra he staying at the ranch.” Chris ran his fingers through his hair. “I know it doesn’t seem like it with JD laying in the hospital, but we have been lucky. We could have very easily been attending three or more funerals this week.”

“That is not somethin’ that ‘m likely to forget anytime soon and I have no intention of lettin’ Kel get too far away from me. She won’t like it, but she’ll have to live with it until ‘m convinced this threat is over. Max is gonna stay at the house with the kids and they should be safe at the ranch.

“I’m sure Inez will stick close to Casey and I’ve asked Mallory to stay on the ranch with the kids until we know where we stand.” Chris looked at his watch, stood and stretched. “Let’s get ‘em all in the war room and see what we’ve got.”

War Room ~11:00 am

Justin and Ross were still on surveillance duty, while Nathan was at the hospital with JD, but everyone else was present. Chris scanned the room and took in the condition of his agents. Buck looked awful after spending the night at the hospital with the Dunnes. Ezra and Kelli still wore visual proof of their recent attacks, yet they were willing to do whatever was necessary to help. The rest were in various stages of shock and just plain tired.

“Pam, what do you have for us?” Chris deliberately started with her because she was having the biggest problem shaking off the events of the last few days.

“I have the information and backgrounds on the known associates of both assailants.” She gave Larabee a stack of folders. “I also cross-checked the phone numbers on both their cells and in addition to the address we have under surveillance, they had one other number in common. It traces back to an O’Mara Enterprises, which is the same company that was listed on the work visas for the men killed at the warehouse. I am still working on the other phone numbers, but most of them go to disposable cell phones that are untraceable. I also have the list you requested.” Pam passed the list of qualifications for a CASSIE trainee to Chris.

Raphael was next. “Paul and I have been checking into the background of the people that went into the home at the address we have under surveillance. All are Caucasian males, generally under the age of forty, well dressed and after running their license number we found many other similarities. Ninety-eight percent of them, are college educated, employed, make over thirty thousand dollars a year and seventy-five percent are married. They are definitely not your average drug dealers and did not carry any bags either in or out of the residence.”

Paul continued. “None stayed longer than one hour and did not appear to be high or intoxicated when they left. In a twelve-hour period there were thirty-six males that entered that house. The house is a rental and the name on the lease agreement does not come up in our database, it is probably an alias. The current occupants have been in residence for eighteen months.”

“When we used heat-sensitive surveillance equipment we found several people on the ground floor that appears to be adult males. However upstairs, there were smaller bodies, women or perhaps younger individuals, at least six or seven of them that never came downstairs. Although several of the visitors did go upstairs and got damn close to whoever was waiting for them,” Raphael added.

“Are you suggesting that all we got from those bastards was the address of a whorehouse? Buck was exasperated. “We’re wasting out time on prostitution?

“The evidence does imply that whatever is going on in there is of a sexual nature.” Paul answered. “Of course that does not mean that there are no drugs on the premises.”

“Raphael, you said that the bodies upstairs could belong to women or of young people. How young do you think?” Kelli had something nagging at her and could not place what it was.

“It’s hard to tell, but you can bet none of them are innocents in a place like that.”

That was it! Kelli whispered to herself, “The right buyer will pay well for all that young blond innocence and I know where to find them.” She felt sick and turned pale. “God, help them!” Pieces were falling into place and making sense to her.

Vin immediately saw the change come over her and was concerned. “Kel, are you all right?”

“NO! That bastard wasn’t just spoutin’ off to hear himself talk; he knew exactly what he was sayin’. ‘The right buyer will pay well for all that young blond innocence’! He was talking about Jason and Andi because he knew where a buyer was!” Her fears had just turned to anger and for Kelli that meant doing whatever she could to stop the abuse going on in that house.

“What are you talking about?” Paul was lost.

CSEC, Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. I’d bet you that there is not a girl in there over the age of sixteen and that they take special orders from their clients for other preferences. Talk about a money-makin’ business…the profit on drugs pales in comparison to what they can make sellin’ children. Did you know that child traffickin’ is the second most lucrative business in the world?”

Buck though she had lost her mind. “Kel, we are talking about the good old USA here, not some third world country

“So am I, 50,000 to 100,000 women and children are victims of traffickin’ each year in the United States, with no sign that this modern- day form of slavery is decreasin’. In fact, accordin’ to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, traffickin’ is the fastest growin’ criminal industry in the world. Unfortunately there is plenty of merchandise out there for them to pick up at any given time.”

Josiah had been looking over the reports. “Your description of the ‘customers’ fit the profile of men that look for young girls or boys to satisfy there needs. Kel is right about the availability, too. In this country there are over one million homeless children annually and according to the FBI stats, over two thousand people are reported missing each day. We still have over three hundred and fifty children missing from the foster care system in Louisiana since hurricane Katrina.”

Kelli added. “On top of that, over 450,000 children runaway each year from the ages of eleven to fifteen and most of them end up on the street, prime targets for traffickin’. Add to that another 438,000 that are lost, injured or otherwise missin’. Then you have the throwaway kids, more than 127,000 children each year are thrown out by their families and left to fend for themselves and these figures do not even include children at risk from internet predators. One twelve-year-old female can be worth thirty thousand dollars to a trafficker. Younger children from the ages of two and up are not only sexually exploited, but are used to make pornographic materials that can be sold. There are individual traffickers, but there are also organized crime syndicates that not only import from other countries, but export from here, also.”

“They keep them in line though, violence, intimidation, change of identities, isolation and drug addiction. They are not cared for and often end up with STDs, Aids, or other complications from sexual abuse. These kids have no one to go to for help because corrupt local officials take payoffs to turn the other way. These kids either earn their quota or risk being beaten or killed as an example for the others.” Josiah had seen too many of them come into the shelters. “Even the ones that are not used by others end up have to use sex just to survive the streets.”

“A house like the one you’re watchin’ can make over 1.5 million dollars in a two year period with as few as eight kids. They rotate them from one house to another all over the country so they cannot form attachments and to keep fresh merchandise, for their customers.” Kelli could almost recite the statistics from memory.

For Chris the pieces were starting to fall into place. Costa Mesa certainly had access to shipping, the locals were hiding some form of money making operation and that could very well the import and export of humans. Vin’s informant said an international organization was involved in ordering the hits on his people and taking the risk of killing three federal agents to hide this type of lucrative business made sense.

“Paul, Mark, I want you to relieve Justin and Ross, for now we observe only. Pam get me more information on O’Mara Enterprises and Raphael, I want you to get me an exact number of immigrants that received work visas for O’Mara, if possible a list of names to go with it.” Chris was already thinking ahead. If this was child trafficking he wanted to go after the men at the top of the organization. “Go on, get to it!” The agents scrambled out of the room to work on their assignments.

Buck was overwhelmed by all this information. “I had no idea that could be happening here”

Josiah answered. “Buck, children as young as three or four can be victims, often sold by family members. But it can be any age up to seventeen and still be considered sexual exploitation of a child.”

“Jesus, those are the ages of my girls! How can… Who could…What happens to those kids that are abuse at such a young age?

Kelli thought hard before she answered, but decided it was time to follow though on her promise to herself. “Some of them simply perish and some stay workin’ at prostitution, they die from drug overdoses or diseases or end up homeless on the streets. Others survive, grow up and try to help new victims. I was one of the survivors.”

The silence around the table after her revelation was deafening. Ezra knew most of the story about Kelli’s past, as it had been he, who had gone with Vin to Texas to track his wife down and he had heard the entire story. He knew how painful a subject it was for Kelli to talk about and was therefore, amazed that she had decided to talk about it in front of Josiah and Buck. Vin, however, was not surprised. He knew that Kelli had finally reached a point, emotionally, that she felt that she was able to share her history with the other members of their extended family. She had only been waiting for the right opportunity to do so.

“What do you mean, you are a survivor? Buck asked, shocked by her bold statement.

“I mean exactly that. What Chris did not tell you, was … what happened after Marissa abandoned me; her father stuck me into an overcrowded system that had no places open to put another child.”

Chris had remained silent as he listened to his daughter talk about a subject that she knew too much about. “Kel you don’t have to explain.”

“I know I don’t, but sometimes to see the future you have to let go of your past. My future revolves around our kids now and I believe it’s time to let go and quit hidin’ what happened to me.” She looked to Vin for his reaction and saw only his support. “I handled things by closin’ off my emotions, and thanks to Vin, I don’t have to do that anymore.” Kelli was ready to tell the men her father and Vin considered brothers, and with whom she had become close to, everything about her past.

“When I was two, I was placed into a foster home in Austin. Six months later the woman was dead and the man that turned out not to be her husband disappeared with me. Two years later I was dumped in front of a church in San Antonio, near dead. I had been abused physically as well as sexually and no one had a clue to my identity or where I had been durin’ that time. The state gave me a name, guessed at a birth date and shuffled me around different foster homes for the next three years. The third time I ran away, a Texas Ranger named Jake McKenzie found me, became my guardian and taught me how to channel my anger into somethin’ constructive. That’s when I learned how to handle guns.” Kelli added that last statement as a footnote.

“Last year I finally pieced my life all together and found out about Chris. The missin’ two years are still unaccounted for, I know what resulted from what happened, to me but I will never have all the answers. I am only certain about how it has and always will affect my life. The man that took me died on death row in Florida awaitin’ execution for the rape-murder of a seven year old girl after he had spent a lifetime of preyin’ on children.”

Hearing Kelli’s explanation about her past, explained so much for Josiah. It told him why Chris’ battle with guilt over not discovering that he had a child had been so intense. Chris wasn’t only feeling bad for not being in his daughter’s life, but because as a father he felt that he had failed to protect her. It also helped him understand the depth of her relationship with Vin, why their marriage was strong and why she had only showed limited trust to the family in the beginning. Listening to her now however, proved just how far she had come over the last year and the profiler made a decision.

“You know your facts Kel and have a good understanding of the issue. Maybe you could work on this with me and see if we can find some answers.”

“Thanks Josiah, I’ll help anyway that I can.”

Buck didn’t know what to say. After everything that Chris had gone through in losing Sarah and Adam, it sure in the hell didn’t seem fair that his oldest friend was burdened with knowledge that the daughter he didn’t know he had, had survived such cruelty. He understood now why Chris hadn’t told him everything that had happened last year. It hadn’t been that Chris didn’t think that he could trust Buck with the knowledge, but because it hadn’t been his story to tell. It was Kelli’s and he felt privileged that she felt that she could trust him with something so private.

Costa Mesa, California

Victor Donner was not a happy man. When he paid to have a job done, he expected results. Those MCAT agents were still alive and he was short two of his men. Now all he could do is to wait and see if those dumb feds got his message. He turned to his assistant and issued an order.

“Tell Zimmerman that I want to know the outcome of the MCAT investigation and that he is responsible for making it ago away. Also tell him if they persist…he is a dead man.”

Chapter 15

MCAT Office

Buck was still trying to digest all the information presented at the meeting on child trafficking. “How is it that this is happening here in the United States, and we see nothing about it on the news or in print?”

“It’s not something that most Americans want to acknowledge, but in the last few years at least our lawmakers are taking a more serious stand on it. A new law passed by Congress last year allows stiffer punishment for those accused of crimes against children and will be used against the defendants. If convicted, some face potential life sentences without parole. Our AG has also launched an ongoing investigation dubbed ‘Innocence Lost,” which involves a nationwide crackdown on child prostitution and sex trafficking.” Josiah tried to keep up with all the newest information.

Chris possessed a little more knowledge about the subject than most. He had made a point to learn as much as he could so he could understand better what Kelli had been through. Although her experiences did not last more than two years, he realized that it was only fate that took her out of that situation. His research proved that most of the young victims did not fare as well. If they were dealing with child trafficking, he knew this case could have an effect on every member of his unit.

“We’ll give it another day or two and then we have to take a hard look at how we handle this one.” Chris was already mulling possibilities over in his mind. “Buck, check with Nathan and see how JD is doing. Ezra, I want you and Kel to put some background together on the people we can identify from that house. Josiah, I need a word with you please.”

Vin, stick around.

Larabee waited until everyone left, except Sanchez and Tanner. ”Vin, is Kel really all right with this?”

“Yeah, she has already talked to Rain about it and she wants to use her experience to help others. She figures that if she can tell the family, then she can work up to talkin’ to the potential foster parents at our meetin’s about it, when we start goin’ again. It will help ‘em to better deal with kids that have been in similar circumstances to hear from someone that knows how these children feel.”

“I have a feeling that this case is going to have an effect on all of us. Josiah that is one of the things I wanted to talk to you about. Let’s make sure and keep an eye on all the agents that work this one, when kids are involved emotions tend to wreck havoc on our resolve, whether we want them to or not. Tell me if you notice anyone that may have a problem handling what we find.”

“I will make sure they all know I am available to speak with at any time. It’s already hard for some of them dealing with what happened to Ezra, Kel and now JD.” Josiah watched Pam through the window. “Pam and Buck are the ones I am most concerned about for now and then Ezra. He seems to have pulled back from all of us since the explosion and I know he feels partially responsible for what happened to JD.”

Chris nodded; he had sensed the same thing with Standish. “That is one reason that I put him back to working with Kel. She has a good read on him when they are working together and she is straightforward enough to call him on any unusual behavior.”

“Ez will come around; he just needs some time to works out a few things.” Vin remarked.

“We’ll see if we need to do more.” Chris had a question for Josiah. “A few weeks ago Mallory told me she was thinking about going back to work. Is this something that you two have discussed?”

Josiah nodded. “We have, but Mal can’t decide what she wants to do. She loves law enforcement, but now that we have two children she doesn’t want back in the field.”

“I have an offer for her then, and plan to discuss it with her tonight. She is the perfect candidate to train on CASSIE and I believe she would be an asset for the team.”

Denver Memorial hospital

Chris arrived at the hospital about four and headed for JD”S room. Nodding at the guard at the door, he found Casey sitting alone with JD. Inez had stepped out to find something for the younger woman to drink besides water.

“Casey,” Larabee spoke softly. “Has Dr. Gilford been in yet?”

“No, he should be in soon though.” Casey was tired, worried and afraid, all of that showed on her face. “JD hasn’t woken up yet.”

Larabee stood on the opposite site of the bed and observed the young man in the bed. “JD, you are more than the computer guy, you are an exceptional agent. This should not have happened to you this way. I promise you, that we will find the person responsible.” Chris was not sure that he spoke aloud, but judging from the look on Casey’s face, he must have. “We will Casey.” He felt the need to reassure her.

Dr. Gilford chose that time to make his entrance, after reading the chart and examining his patient he turned to Casey and Chris. “I know that to ask you to be patient is asking a lot, however that is what you will need to be. JD’s wound is what we call an indirect injury to the spine. While the spinal cord was not hit directly, the shockwave from the concussion of the shot caused massive swelling. The good news is that there were no fragments to deal with, the bullet stayed intact and is lodged in a place that will not cause any further damage. I have every reason to believe that when the swelling is reduced, JD will make a full recovery.”

“How long?” Casey asked.

“We should be able to see significant improvement within a few days. For the long run it may take two to three months for him to be back where he started from.” Doc explained.

“But he will make it all the way back, right Doc?” Chris wanted to hear it directly.

“Yes he will, as long as he follows my directives, gives his back time to heal and with the support from his family. I am keeping him sedated through tonight so if you want to take this time to be with your children, Mrs. Dunne, it is a good time to do so.”

“Thanks Doc, we will make sure he follows your orders.” Chris assured him as the doctor left the room.

Inez rejoined them in time to hear the last of the doctor’s comments. “He’s right; you need to spend time with the babies to keep yourself sane.”

“I know Buck is own his way. Why don’t you let me drive you to the ranch and Inez can ride back with him?”

Casey was torn about what to do, but good sense won out “All right, but I want to be here first thing in the morning.”

Chris acknowledged her statement with an affirmative nod of his head and watched as the young woman kissed her husband, preparing herself to leave.

“Let’s go before I change my mind.” Casey was out the door and ready to leave.

Larabee 7 Ranch

Larabee Home

Chris spent the evening thinking about and observing his family. Mallory and Rain had dinner prepared for the entire bunch and one by one they trickled in, each with a heavy burden on their mind. Casey of, course, tried to keep up a good front for the twins, but her heart was at the hospital with JD. She turned in, with the babies, immediately after dinner to catch up on some much needed rest.

“I’ll see you early in the morning and thanks Chris for letting us stay here. I don’t think I could face our home by myself just now.”

“No problem Casey, make sure and get some rest.”

Once Nathan had been filled in on their conclusions from the meeting today, Chris noticed that he hovered around Terrell. Nathan hated to see injustices and this one was eating at him because it potentially involved those least able to defend themselves. Larabee made himself a wager that by tomorrow Jackson knew as much about child trafficking as Josiah and Kelli did. It was in his nature to seek out all the facts.

“I’ll check on JD first thing in the morning. We’re going home for now, but Rain will be here early to help Linda and Mallory with the kids.”

“Goodnight Nate, and Rain, thanks for all you help.” Chris watched them leave.

Mallory refused to leave until everything was in order. Larabee had talked to her and made his offer that would give her a place on the team. She promised to have an answer for him within twenty-four hours. Josiah carried Joanne and Mal had Adam cradled in her arms, they were going home for the night.

Josiah could almost hear the wheels moving in Chris’ head. “Try not to think about it for a few hours. The news on JD is good, Ezra will be staying here for a few days, Kel is in good shape physically and Vin will make that she has the mental support she needs. Give yourself some time to plan things out.”

“Goodnight Josiah. Mal, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

Ezra had not said three words all evening. Chris knew that this entire situation was weighing heavily on him and until he worked things out in his own mind, Standish would be reticent. Larabee was also aware that Ezra did not like being here under these circumstances.

“I am retiring for the evening, goodnight.” Standish turned and went to ‘his’ room.

Buck and Inez had stayed at the hospital until after seven. Both of them showed the strain of spending so much time there, but there is no other place that either of them would choose to be. Chris knew that Buck was having a difficult time dealing first with JD’s injury and now the information he heard today was foremost on his mind. Wilmington had sought Kelli out and gained permission to tell Inez what she had shared with them today. He needed to talk it out and try to put it in the proper perspective before it consumed his every thought. Now with another baby coming, it hit home for Buck more than ever.

“I’ll see you in the morning, stud. I’m taking my girls home.”

“Night Buck, hug them extra tonight, it will make you feel better.”

It never ceased to amaze Chris when he watched Vin and Kelli together. Larabee knew that Vin was the catalyst that not only had pulled him from the brink of darkness, but also pulled Kelli into the light. Jointly they could accomplish most anything and they had taken to parenting Jason and Andi like ducks take to water. As he watched his daughter, he could not help but admire how she had handled her own past and now had reached a point in her life that she could use her experience to perhaps help others.

Full circle…from losing one family to gaining six brothers…finding a daughter and a new love with Linda that had produced yet another child… Tanner had always believed that fate played a large role in all their lives and there were times in the past that Chris had disagreed with him about that, but no more. Taking inventory of his life Larabee could see where the hands of fate had touched every part of it. Vin played a major role in getting him to this point mentally and finding Kelli was in large part responsible for Chris being able to let go of all the tragedy in his past. Meeting Linda and having Grace was the promised rainbow after the storms of his life.

Larabee you are a damned lucky man. Now it’s time that you give back some of what’s been bestowed on you.

You’re thinking too hard, Cowboy.

Maybe, but if I am it’s all you’re doing, Tanner. You are the one that helped me fit all the pieces together in my life, so deal with it.

Don’t sell yourself short. You put a few pieces together for me, too.

“Okay you two enough. We have kids to take care of so save you silent conversations for another day.” Kelli prodded them along. “See you tomorrow Linda, goodnight Dad.”

“Goodnight Red and in case I forgot to tell you, I’m proud of you for having the courage to share your story today. Now take these babies home, I’ll see you in the morning.” He hugged Jason and Andi, “Vin, goodnight.”

Chris looked over a Linda and smiled, he could not imagine what his life would be like had he not met her. It had been a rough road for them to get to where they were, but he would not trade it for anything. As he watched his baby daughter sleep in her mother’s arms, he again felt the emotions that he was sure he had buried forever with Sarah and Adam. Yep life had brought him full circle…he had one hell of a family surrounding him and Chris knew that he would do whatever was necessary to protect their future. He only hoped that when it came time to do it that they would support the decision that he had mentally just committed to.

Saturday ~July 8th

Larabee 7 Ranch

Casey decided to drive herself to the hospital to spend the day with JD. She promised to call Chris as soon as Dr. Gilford made his rounds and gave her the latest report. Chris got the message that she wanted to spend some time alone with her husband and told her he would be there later in the afternoon. Mallory and Josiah took the twins for the day and called Rain, telling her to spend time with Nathan and Terrell agreeing to reverse the arrangement for the next day.

Chris was in the kitchen preparing breakfast and talking to Grace. Her infant seat sat on the table with the baby strapped securely inside, her eyes tried to focus on the form that belonged to the familiar voice that was speaking to her.

“I’m making food for your Mama and Uncle Ezra. They are not like you and me, up at sunrise, they like to sleep late, but that’s okay. This way you and I have a chance to visit. I know you probably are too young to understand what I am about to tell you, but I’ll try anyway. Sometime in the next few weeks Daddy will be gone for a while. I want you to know that, I will be back, but this is something I need to do …”

“Is this one of those situations we should discuss? “ Linda stood in the doorway of the kitchen listening to this one-sided conversation.

“Yeah it is,” Chris set her coffee on the table. “Sit down and let me tell you a story…”


It had taken him most of the morning, but Vin was putting the finishing touches on the wooden swing set that he had built, his latest addition to the playground he had crafted for the kids. Jason was already on the monkey bars and Andi had to be the first one to try out the slide that was just her size. The Texan decided that he had to try the tire swing, just to be certain that it was secure.

Kelli stood on the unfinished deck of their new home and shook her head. Vin had stopped working on the house to build the miniature playground for the kids and she was not sure who was having more fun with it, him or the kids. She went down to join them and see Tanner’s handiwork firsthand.

Andi squealed with delight when her mom caught her at the end of her slide. “Hey princess, are you havin’ fun?”

“Yep, this is the bestest.” She ran around to climb up the ladder to do it again.

Vin untangled himself from the tire swing and walked over to Kelli, sliding his arm around her waist. “What do you think?”

“I think that you enjoyed doin’ it, but do they really need all of this?”

“Sure they do, a big slide for Jason, a smaller one for Andi, two sizes of monkey bars and…” Vin guided her over to the freestanding swing seat for two that he had made especially for them. “The smaller swings are for the kids and this one is for us” Pulling her onto his lap, he used his foot to set it into motion. “From here we can watch everythin’ they do.”

Kelli smiled and relaxed against him as she listened to the laugher of the children. “You did good Tanner. There’s room here for all the Larabee 7 kids to play and we have two very spoiled, but extremely happy little ones.”

“They deserve a little spoilin’ and so do you.” Vin held her close and for a while they watched the kids explore their new playground. There would be time later on to worry about work, but for the here and now all was right with their world.

The sound of an engine drew Tanner’s attention. “It looks as if we have company.”

“Uncle Ra, look at me,” Andi shouted as she took off down the slide.

Ezra easily caught her and lifted her into the air, much to Andi’s delight.

“Brilliant display of dexterity, princess,” The southerner grinned.

Jason ran over and Standish put his arm around the boy’s shoulder. “You young sir seemed to have mastered those monkey bars rather easily.”

“Yep, I learned how on the playground at school, but isn’t this great? Dad built all of this just for us.”

“Outstanding!” Ezra turned to the adults that were observing them. “Linda has lunch ready and sent me to insure that y’all would join us. The Wilmingtons are already in residence and your presence has been requested.”

“Food sounds good about now, as soon as I put up my tools we’ll be there.” Vin answered.

Ezra looked at the kids. “It would appear that I have acquired two additional appendages. With your permissions, I will take them with me and see your there shortly.”

Jason and Andi were not positive that they understood what Uncle Ezra had said, but it sounded good for them.

“Okay you two, ride over with Uncle Ezra and we’ll be there in a few minutes.” Kelli laughed when they both shouted yes loud enough to make Standish cringe.


When lunch was over the Tanners and Ezra went back over to the new house to work. Inez and Linda sat in the yard watching the girls and talked, while baby Grace slept. Buck sat opposite Chris in a lounge chair on the deck gathering his thought to begin a conversation.

“Just say it Buck. I’ve known you long enough to know when something is bothering you.” Chris waited for Wilmington to respond.

“That’s my problem Chris, I ‘m not sure what is bothering me. I knew when we started MCAT that some things would change, but I suppose I didn’t expect any of us to have difficulty with any of it. But now …Hell, a lot has changed and I’m not sure if I’ve changed with it.”

“Growing pains Buck. Ezra’s feeling ‘em and he’s not certain what to do about it. Josiah is dealing with adjusting to being in demand as a profiler; Nathan and Kat are going back to school to keep up with new forensics techniques. Vin is adjusting to a new leadership role, while Paul, Mark and Ross are learning how the feds work verses the locals. JD spends most of his time with CASSIE and Raphael is used to how the DEA works. Pam and Kel have always been distant with their co-workers and now have a team that they belong to. On top of that Kel is facing some challenges with her new role as sharpshooter. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.”

“So where does that leave me? I know how you think so overseeing these yahoos is easy. My experience with explosives and bombs is another given, but I feel as if my investigative skills are just sitting there, you know. I need a challenge Chris, something I can sink my teeth into and really feel like I’m making a difference.” Buck finally voiced what was dancing around in his head.

Chris studied his old friend. “This child trafficking issue has gotten to you hasn’t it?”

“Hell yes! It’s bad enough that I never realized that it was out there like it is. To find out how close it hits to home is a whole different ballgame. Aside from what Kel told us about, it was too close, knowing that Medora would have taken Jason and Andi if he had succeeded taking Kel out and… I want… no I need to be a part of this one Chris. Not just as back-up, but as a primary investigator.”

“Okay Buck, you got it, but make damn sure you can handle what you find.”

MCAT Office~6:30

Monday ~July 10th

Chris was in early and looking over the overnight surveillance reports from the weekend. Reading over them only confirmed for him that he was making the right decision. There were times that in order to get the desired results, you had to take a few steps backwards and be patient, despite what most people believed, Chris Larabee could be a patient man when necessary.

“Gunny!” Chris yelled for her.

When she came to the door she gave Chris a glare that he thought was worthy of any drill sergeant. “Sir, you do have an intercom, you don’t have to shout.”

“Either way, you’re here. I need you to contact Suzanne and set an appointment for me to see Travis this morning. I also need to speak to Captain Brenner, Denver Police Department/Sex crimes division ASAP. When Kelli gets here, send her in immediately.”

“Affirmative sir.”

Within two minutes his phone rang. Gunny had reached Captain Brenner and Chris quickly arranged for the man to meet with him here at MCAT before his afternoon briefing with the team. Part one of his plan had been set into motion, now came the hard part.

Kelli came in about fifteen minutes later. “You wanted to see me?”

“Yep, close the door and have a seat.” Chris waited for her to get comfortable. “Kel, I want you to write an apology to the SAC at the FBI field office in Costa Mesa and copy one to the Costa Mesa Chief of Police for losing your temper.” Larabee settled back and was ready for the explosion.

“Like hell, those are the bastards that turned their backs on us and waited for Ezra and JD to die! Why in God’s name would I apologize, when I know that I was right?”

Chris sighed; he knew from personal experience how hard it was for a Larabee to back down from a righteous position. “Kel…I want these bastards to pay for what they did as much as you do…but they are smalltime players. I want the sonofabitch that sits on top of this nest of vermin and directs their actions.”

She was quiet for a minute and then said, “I assume that you have a plan and a damn good reason for wantin’ me to do such a stupid thing.”

“I do and I will explain it all to you this afternoon.”

She considered her options, she knew that she could refuse, quit or raise hell, but in the final analysis it all came down to one issue and that was trusting Chris to do the right thing.

“It will be on your desk in fifteen minutes.” Kelli stood up to leave, “Anythin’ else?”

“No, that’s all I need.”

The intercom buzzed as Kelli was walking out the door. “Sir, Director Travis will see you at nine.”

Travis’ Office

11th Floor

Larabee laid out his plan to Orrin and told him what he needed.

“Chris, are you sure about this?”

“Officially our investigation has to end, it’s the only way I can protect my team. It will take longer this way to get results, but we will nail the sonofabitch responsible for the attempted hits on Ezra, Kel and JD. We also have an opportunity to shut down at least one crime syndicate that preys on children.”

“I see where you are going with this, but you must realize that this is going to be hard for everyone in the unit.”

“MCAT is supposed to take on the tough assignments, the ones no one else wants to touch…so we will. This one will be one of the hardest and my team will need some downtime once it’s over, but we will be successful.”

Travis thought about the proposal on his desk and what the cost of completing it could be. “I’ll make sure this apology gets to the right place and that they know that your investigation is closed. You make sure you can pull this off because I do not want to have to replace you Commander Larabee or attend your funeral.”

“Orrin, this is one that I have to follow through on to the end, for my daughters as well as for all the children that we can’t save.”

“Whatever you need, you’ll have, but I expect you to keep me informed.” Travis the director disappeared and Orrin the friend spoke. “Chris, MCAT going into this alone without using another federal agency for backup us risky. You make damn certain that the locals you choose can be trusted. Don’t take any unnecessary chances and do not let your paternal feelings get in the way of making smart decisions. I will support you every way possible, but I do not want to lose you on this one.”

”Thanks Orrin, I promise to be careful, I have a wife and two daughters that for some reason want me to stick around for a while. I plan to accommodate them.”