MCAT: Turbulent Transition #6
Chapter 1 -
3 | Chapter 4 - 6 | Chapter 7 - 9 | Chapter 10 - 12
Chapter 13 - 15 | Chapter 16 - 18 | Chapter 19 - 21 | Chapter 22 - 24
Chapter 25 - 27 | Chapter 28 - 30 | Chapter 31 - 33 | Chapter 34 - 36
Chapter 37 - 39 | Chapter 40 - 42 | Chapter 43 - 45 | Chapter 46 - 49
MCAT War Room ~noon
Tanner shut the door as the last of the agents entered the room and then took his place beside Chris. Normally this group would banter with one another and take their time settling in, but today the mood of the room was somber.
“Nathan, why don’t you start?” Chris asked the medic, wanting the report about JD’s condition to be first on the agenda.
“I went to the hospital this morning and I am pleased to report that our young agent is alert and awake. According to the doctor, JD’s prognosis is good. The doctor figures that with some time and physical therapy, JD should soon return to his previous physical condition. In other words, the doctor thinks he should make a rapid recovery. There appears to be no permanent damage incurred to his spine. JD said to tell all of you that he’ll be back to work before you can blink.” A big grin accompanied the report.
“That is great news Nathan.” Chris was pleased to feel much of the tension leave the room at the medic's words. "Most of you should know Mallory Sanchez from the team barbecues I've hosted at Larabee 7. She is the newest member to the MCAT team."
“Now we move onto the business at hand. As of today we are officially closing our investigation into the events that transpired in California.” Larabee gave time for all the protests that he expected to hear.
The responses came fast and furious. "You can't be serious!" Mark exclaimed, astonishment written all over his youthful face.
“No way! We can't just walk away and let those creeps in California think they got the best of us!" Paul added his two cents in.
“Why in the hell would we do that?" Josiah questioned, gazing at Chris intently.
"What about the bastard that tried to kill JD, Ezra and Kel? …” Buck exploded, springing to his feet. “You can't sit there and tell me that we're tucking in our tails and gonna do nothing!"
Chris let the team members speak their minds for a couple of minutes before he glanced over at Tanner. Vin and Kelli had both remained silent throughout their team members’ outbursts, already aware of the real reason behind Chris' decision to officially close the case.
"Buck, sit down...the rest of you calm down and listen to Lar’bee.” Vin said, and waited for everyone to quiet down again before giving the floor back over to Larabee.
"Starting now, you are not to discuss this case with anyone outside of this unit.” Larabee scanned the room to assure that he had everyone’s attention. "Unofficially we have one case to work…this one. I want the all the players involved to relax and believe that MCAT has backed off the investigation. Kelli, albeit reluctantly, has even tendered an apology to the FBI and Costa Mesa PD for her ‘mistake’. We are going to dig all the way to hell if necessary, but we will find a way into this organization. A word of warning though, this case is going to get ugly."
"I do hate ugly.” Buck murmured, earning him an irritated look from Larabee for the interruption."
Each one of us will be mentally and emotionally stretched to the limit. I expect that when this case is over a few of you may even be requesting transfers. I am telling you this, though; we are not going to stop until we find the bastards at the top and bring them all down. I do want you to be well aware going into this investigation that it will be virtually impossible for us to save all of the children; however, we will do our damnest to save as many of them as possible.
Pam... Mallory is joining our unit as an assistant CASSIE operative. You will train her and in the process have CASSIE shake loose every detail she can find that pertains to this case. Now, I want all of you to go have lunch, we will meet again as a team in one hour and you will receive your assignment at that time. I need Standish, Wilmington, Sanchez and Jackson to stay. Dismissed,” Chris made it clear that he would not entertain any questions.
Chris waited for the other agents to leave and then asked the remaining men to join him in the conflict room where lunch was waiting for them. Tanner closed the door and Larabee waited until they were all seated.
“While I talk, feel free to eat. I have given this a great deal of thought and we will be handling this differently than cases we have had in the past. Nathan, according to Vin’s sources this is an international organization. I want you to research O’Mara Enterprises and find out what ties they have around the world.”
“Do we know have any other names yet?”
“Not yet and you will need another agent to work with you.” Chris addressed them all. “We will work out who works with whom in a few minutes. Ezra, you are our undercover expert. I need you to supervise the set-up necessary to infiltrate the operation in California. I will be going under on this one, so put that brilliant mind of yours into motion.”
“Most assuredly,” Ezra was looking forward to some payback.
“Buck, I have been in contact with Captain Brenner of the Denver PD sex crimes unit. You will be in command of a task force we are putting together to track the trafficking routes these people are using. Brenner will cover MCAT’s involvement; but you will base from here, the room next to the lab is empty, use that one. You will choose one of our agents and four of his officers to work with you, Travis has arranged for them to have temporary status as federal officers. As federal agents, you have the authority to cross state lines and your final objective is to expose the route that these children flow through, but if you can snag some scum along the way and rescue some kids, do it.”
“You’ll have it, Chris.” Buck was very pleased with his assignment.
“We will not use any other federal agency on this, if we need additional manpower we will work with locals and scrutinize anyone we select to work with us. It is important that we stay below the radar at all times, I do not want anymore of my team members targeted by these bastards. When Ezra establishes my new identity, I will be out of here and Tanner will be in charge, both of you will give him daily updates. Vin will have final say-so on any order and the authority to call it, if we need to pull out.”
Tanner stood and picked up a stack of files. “Ezra, these folders contain everythin’ we have so far on Juan Medora, Ray Carmichael, O’Mara Enterprises and the officers of the Costa Mesa Police Department, along with background information of the two FBI agents that were at the bust.” Vin set the files down in front of Standish.
“Josiah and Kel have put together some reports for you Buck.” Chris nodded to Sanchez who then gave the information to Wilmington. “Captain Brenner will assist you with any other intelligence that you may need. I assume you will want Mark to work with you on this one.” Chris reached for a pen to start a list.
Buck hesitated for a moment before answering. “No I don’t.” He waited until Chris looked up before continuing. “I believe Agent Coulter is best suited to partner with me on this one. She is familiar with the issue and has more investigative experience than Mark does.”
Several objections flew through Chris’ mind before he stopped his emotional reaction and considered the request strictly from a law officer’s perspective. He may not want Kelli Larabee Tanner in the middle of this, but he had to agree with Buck that Agent Coulter was the best qualified to take on this assignment. “Good choice, “Larabee wrote her name down under Buck’s. “You might consider using Mark as your contact within the unit, to keep us informed when you can’t be here in person.”
“Will do Chris,” Buck was writing his own notes.
“A word of caution Buck, do not underestimate Agent Coulter. She is a damned good agent and you can depend on her, but do not make the mistake of expecting her to follow orders blindly or just because you say so. If she thinks you are wrong she has no difficulty letting you know it and why.” Ezra spoke from experience. “Furthermore, I expect to get my partner back when all of this is over.”
Chris was pleased to hear that apparently Standish and Coulter has reconciled their differences. “Ezra, who would you like to work with you?”
“Other than you, Commander, I wish to use the services of Agent Michaels and Cordova. Anderson will also be helpful in retrieving information that is necessary for this undertaking.” Ezra made his request.
Chris wrote while he nodded his head in an affirmative motion.
Nathan added. “Paul can help me research and I’ll let you know if we find anything.”
Larabee studied every man in the room. “We will not rush this. It may take weeks to set-up what we need, but the only outcome will be success. Failure is not an option, so let’s do it right.” Chris looked at his watch, “The rest of the team will be back in thirty minutes. We will pull them in on this and then you break off into groups and give your chosen team their assignments.”
Buck stood to leave the room. “I have a phone call to make before then.”
“I, too, have some notes to prepare.” Ezra stood to leave with Wilmington.
“I’m going to check on JD before we start again.” Nathan left the room to call the hospital.
Tanner could feel what Larabee was thinking. Kel will be fine with this, quit worrying about her.
I will when you do Tanner.
Josiah waited until everyone, but Chris and Vin had left. “They made good choices Chris and your confidence in their abilities will go a long way in helping them get past the vulnerability they have experienced in the last few weeks. Ezra as well as Buck needs to feel that they are fighting back and you have given them the opportunity to do that. I am positive that Kelli can handle whatever happens as well. Working with her on those reports, I made several observations about her.”
Vin leaned forward. “Anything you care to share?”
“Kel has a good read on people and her college majors were in psychology and criminology .Watching her methodically work on the facts for this case, I saw a side of her I had missed seeing before. Give her the right opening and I believed she would be a good profiler candidate. I know as our caseload grows we will have to consider adding another profiler to the unit eventually. With a little additional training and an experienced teacher, Kel could do it. That is if she was interested.” Josiah planted his idea now he would wait and see what became of it.
Chris did not have to wait for his agents to settle down because as they entered the room, each one had reclaimed their chair and did so in uncharacteristic silence.
“Since we have two directions to take this investigation, we will be working this one in a different way. Buck will be heading a task force that will be overtly investigating the trafficking end of this business. At the same time Ezra will supervise a covert operation that hopefully will connect Costa Mesa not only to the hits that were ordered on our teammates, but with a business that sexually exploits children. Ezra, are you ready?”
“It will require time, research and considerable patience to successfully penetrate the criminal association responsible for these atrocious acts of wrongdoings. Nevertheless, this is the sort of mission that I am extremely familiar with and have had a discernible amount of success in implementing over the course of my career in law enforcement. I have chosen Special Agent Larabee, and Agents Cordova and Michaels to be the operatives in the covert activity. Agent Anderson, I have need of your expertise with intercity criminal organizations to prepare the details for this project. We will meet in the conflict room at the conclusion of this meeting to further discuss your individual positions.”
Chris resisted the urge to translate Standish’s words. “When I take on my new identity, Captain Tanner will be in command of MCAT and he will oversee both the overt and covert part of this operation. Buck, you’re next.”
“I just got off the phone with Captain Brenner, sex crimes division DPD. We decided on four of his officers that will be assigned to this task force and be given temporary federal status with MCAT for the duration on this. I know this man from way back and we’ll have no problem working with his people. Our task force will set up in the empty room next-door to the lab. Agent Westin, you will be the contact man here at MCAT and Agent Coulter will partner with me for this mission. Soon as Chris gets through talking here, see me.”
“Nathan will handle the international connection for us, with Paul’s assistance, and Josiah, Pam and Mallory will work out of the office. You have your assignments; now meet with your respective team leaders for further instructions.” Chris watched their faces as they exited the room. The underlying excitement of taking on a new investigation was hard to hide; he just hoped that his team could handle what they would be experiencing in the next few weeks.
Ezra had no difficulty taking charge, in fact for the first time in weeks he felt as if his expertise was needed. He was already thinking of possibilities and obstacles, the biggest one was Larabee. Chris’ photo had been in numerous papers over the last year either for his involvement with MCAT, his marriage to Linda, or his own disappearance earlier this year. Placing him undercover would be a challenge, but not impossible.
“Chris, stop shaving and do not cut your hair. If we are going to put you under, your appearance will have to be altered and the sooner that you start living with the new you, the easier it will be for you to pull it off. I have a few ideas that may help though and I do expect your full cooperation.” Standish decided to see just how in charge he was.
“You’re the expert here Ezra and I am not changing my decision so whatever you have in mind I’ll adapt to.” Larabee wanted everyone present to here his message. “Agent Standish, this is your baby and you call the shots.”
“Very well, we will follow a line of investigation into the Costa Mesa Police department and O’Mara enterprises. I want to find Justin a way in to the CMPD and we need to build him a background. Ross, you will be working with me on that and you will be Agent Michaels contact to the outside world once he is inside. Raphael, you and Chris will be infiltrating O’Mara Enterprises. Chris, a working knowledge of Spanish appears to be necessary, do you speak enough to get by or do you need a crash course?”
Chris sighed, “I probably will need a refresher course.”
Raphael grinned, “No problem, amigo. I’ll be happy to refresh your memory, besides the words you’ll need to use, you won’t be finding in a traditional Spanish course.”
Standish plopped the O’Mara files in front of the two men. “Memorize every detail in these folders and then we’ll work on how to get you both inside. Ross, you will also be working with Larabee and Cordova. With a little luck the task force activities will draw all the attention publicly, making it easier for us to slip in unnoticed.”
“What about the FBI involvement?” Chris had to ask.
“Leave that to me, Vin is making some inquires for us and I expect to have a way to deal with the FBI in due time. Start reading while I confer with Pamela concerning CASSIE’s role in our mission.” Ezra left four men deeply immersed in reading while he sought out Pam to make his request.
Buck hitched his hip on the table at the front of the room and explained to Westin and Coulter about the new Task Force.
“We have four officers from DPD that will be assisting us, Rick Carson, Brett Jacobs, Cynthia Wright and Jose Gonzales. I know them all and they have experience with cases involving sexual exploitation of children. You will be meeting them here in the morning, for the time being I also arranged for a surveillance team to watch the activities going on at our suspect’s location until we have own schedules set.”
“You mean the prostitution house.” Mark interjected.
“Yes, but if what we believe to be happening is factual, then that is not accurate. It’s more of a prison for those kids and they are the victims here, not the criminals. We won’t act until they move these kids and bring in new ones, but we do need to have crisis counselors available that are familiar with dealing with sexual abused children, as well as their families. Kel, can you set that up?”
“Sure, let me make a couple of phone calls and then I’ll come back and help you set-up this room.” Kelli went to her desk in the main office.
“Say what you have to say Mark. I know you are biting at the bit to vent.” Buck watched the young man.
“If you wanted a new partner Buck, all you had to do was say something, not spring it on me in front of everyone else!” Mark let his anger show.
Buck had expected this reaction and was ready for it. “Mark, this is not about partners. MCAT works as a unit and we all have our strengths and weaknesses. Being good at this job means we use the best tools available and the right people for the job in front of us. You do not have the investigative experience needed for this particular assignment, but you can work it to your advantage and learn from it, if you keep an open mind. Don’t take it personal because it’s not and I sincerely hope that it will not be a problem because like it or not, this is not about you or me. It’s about putting a stop to a repulsive criminal act, and finding the man or men responsible for issuing the orders to kill three federal agents.”
Mark hesitated, but only briefly. “I will listen, observe and learn Buck. Whatever you need me to do I’ll do it, you can count on me.”
“I never doubted that kid.”
Kelli rejoined them within twenty minutes. “I talked to Barbara Lindsey; she knows the best counselors in Denver and is willin’ to help us connect with ‘em. She will be our coordinator not only for the counselin’, but to help us identify some of these victims and arrange legal representation for ‘em if necessary.”
“Identify them? Won’t they tell us who they are?” Mark questioned.
“We have to assume that they have been conditioned or threatened to be silent and some of ‘em may be reluctant to tell us anythin’.” Kelli sighed, “Some of ‘em may not remember where they belong.”
Mark was perplexed. “How could they not know?”
Buck placed a hand on his shoulder, “Listen and learn son.” He knew that the young agent was in for some hard lessons. “Now, let’s get this room ready for tomorrow, first things we’ll need are some phone lines installed and at least five or more computers. Make a list Westin, we have a lot to do and a limited amount of time to do it in.”
“Yes sir,” Mark began to write.
Wilmington Home ~later that evening
Inez stood at the door and watched her husband, he had read two bedtime stories to the girls and even though they were sound asleep he was reluctant to leave their room. She walked over and took his hand, urging him to follow her to their room.
Once she had closed the door she turned to watch Buck. “This case is already getting to you and you are just starting on it. Are you going to be okay?”
Buck sat in the large chair by the fireplace and ran his hands down his face. “It started weeks ago darlin’, maybe longer than that.” He pulled her down next to him. “We have been so very lucky with our girls. They haven’t had to face any of the ugliness that’s out there and our new baby we’ll protect the same way. Some of the kids in this case have not had anyone to protect them in a long, long, time. I know that just getting them out is not enough and for some of them nothing we do we be enough to save them.”
She placed her hand on Buck’s heart. “But you want it to be, here, “she tapped his chest.” You have a strong heart, but don’t let it comes out of this with too many scars. Remember that for every bad outcome, there will be a good one. You will have to take the little victories and savor them as well as swallow the defeats.”
Shaking his head he agreed. “I know and it is gonna be hard spending so much time away from you and the girls. I won’t be able to be there for JD either.”
“We are not going anywhere and we’ll be here for you. JD will be fine, too.” Inez laughed, “Casey will have her hands full trying to keep him out of the office once she gets him home.”
“You are right about that.” Buck stroked her face. “I love you lady.”
Inez smiled and began to unbutton his shirt. “The girls are asleep and it’s time for us, let’s don’t waste it.”
Buck grinned, “Have I told you that I like the way you think?”
“Not lately,” Inez grinned.
Taking her in his arms, Buck claimed a passionate kiss and smiled. Lord he loved this woman, and had for what seemed like forever. She was gorgeous, smart, and sexy as hell. He loved to see her fiery Latin temper flare-up; she was a sight to behold when she was angry. Looking at her now, with desire in her eyes, she was simply beautiful.
“I’ll tell you later, but for now…we just enjoy being with one another.”
Inez smiled up at him, feeling a shiver of heat rush down her spine at the fire of desire etched out in Buck’s lustrous blue eyes. It was always this way between them. Buck had only to look at her in that special way of his and Inez felt as if she was consumed by desire. She was just as certain that she had the same affect on him, as he did on her.
Grace was finally asleep and her parents slipped out of her room hand in hand. Linda wanted to say so much to Chris, but found it difficult to find the right words. She did understand why he felt the need to go under on this case, but it did not erase her fears.
Chris knew that Linda was trying hard to support his decision. Wrapping his arms around her he whispered softly. “I promise you that everything will work out fine. I have no intention on leaving you and that beautiful child of ours on your own. Grace is only the beginning for us; we need to give her a few brothers and sisters to play with and just so you know, I plan to be here to contribute my part toward that effort.”
Linda tightened her hold on him, “You damned well better be Larabee.”
“Count on it babe.”
Friday~ July 14th
Denver Memorial Hospital
Two weeks seemed like a lifetime, JD was tired of seeing the same four walls and desperately needed to see his girls. Casey being here every day did help, but they had decided that the girls would not understand why daddy couldn’t play and opted to wait on bringing the babies to the hospital.
“What are you thinking sweetheart?” Casey had watched JD over the last few days and saw a growing anger inside him.
“Two weeks and Doc still hasn’t even hinted about how much longer I’ll be here! If he’s gonna do more surgery I wish he’d get it over with ‘cause I’m tired of waiting.”
Standing in the doorway, Dr. Gilford chucked. “Do I sense a bit of impatience, young man?”
“Yeah, tell me some good news Doc.”
Dr. Gilford sat in the chair beside the bed and spoke to both Casey and JD. “The progress you have made is remarkable and I am very pleased with the latest test results. The swelling along the spine is gone and there is no more paralysis.” Doc flipped through JD’s chart. “I will not be performing further surgery JD. The bullet in your back poses no threat to your mobility and the risk of invasion outweighs the option of leaving it alone.”
Casey wasn’t certain that she understood. “You mean to leave it permanently?”
“Yes, as long as it stays where it is, it poses no problem. If that changes in the future we’ll take another look at our options, but for now we are done and you should be back to your old self within a month or so. I do want you to finish two more weeks of physical therapy, but you can do that as an outpatient.”
“So I can go home?” JD was almost afraid to ask.
“You are not ready to resume all of your normal activities, but yes, you are going home. Give yourself time to regain all your strength JD, spend time with your children and come see me next Wednesday.” Dr. Gilford wrote on his clipboard and then handed Casey some papers. “These are my instructions, prescriptions and the forms you need to spring him from this place.”
A huge smile broke out on JD’s face. “Casey give me my clothes, I’m going home!
Dr. Gilford patted the younger man on the shoulder. “Take care son and don’t overdo. I’ll see you Wednesday, but if you have any questions before then call me.” He smiled as he walked out the door; it always felt great to see the young ones walk out intact.
Chris and Ezra were reviewing the information that they had gathered about Costa Mesa. They were attempting to piece together a plan to gain a credible entrance for Larabee and Cordova to work their way inside the criminal organization.
Ezra picked up the file on Ray Carmichael. “I believe it would be prudent for our profiler to visit Mr. Carmichael’s cousin, Samuel. He now resides an Arizona State correctional institution and his knowledge of Ray may be beneficial to us.”
“Talk to Josiah and…” Chris was interrupted as a furious Tanner stormed into his office and threw a folder on Larabee’s desk.
“That goddamn sonofabitch set us up and nearly caused Ez, Kel and JD to be killed in the process!”
“Travis’ friend that works in the Ag’s office, that’s who! Hell Chris, he is the AG and accordin’ to my sources he’s been using us from the get-go.”
The Commander opened the folder and began to read, it did not take long for his own anger to surpass Tanner’s. Without a word he stood, grabbed the file and brushed past Vin. Agents moved aside as Chris marched to the elevator, their boss was on the warpath and no one wanted to be in his line of fire when Larabee’s rage erupted. It took only a minute for the elevator to reach the floor below them, and Director Travis’ office.
Travis’ secretary, Suzanne made the mistake of attempting to divert Larabee’s attention by standing in front of the door. “Sir, the Director is in a meeting and…”
Chris stopped long enough to physically pick her up and gently move her out of his way before barging into Orrin’s office and slapping the folder on his desk.
“Did you know about this?!”
Orrin addressed the other man in his office, “We’ll finish our meeting later Charles. Excuse us.” As soon as the man exited, Travis opened the folder and scanned its contents. Sighing deeply, he laid the file down. “No, I didn’t, but knowing my friend as I do, it does not surprise me.”
“Your ‘friend’ doesn’t work in the California AG’s office, HE IS THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, and he manipulated MCAT, damned near costing me three agents!” Chris fumed, “We agreed that I would choose the cases we participated in and as a favor to you I allowed my agents to become involved in this mess. Now I find out that the AG has a man in that FBI field office and he knew in advance that my people were walking into a trap!”
“Chris! You know that I would never deliberately put any of our MCAT agents in jeopardy. Of course, this does explain how we obtained an unedited version of the videotape from the bust.” Travis held his hand up, “Let me make a phone call before we jump to conclusions. The man may have acted own his own and not on orders from the AG.”
Larabee ceased his pacing and sat in the chair opposite the Director, making it clear that he had no intention of leaving without some answers. Travis tried to ignore the intense green-eyed glare aimed in his direction as he made his call. Chris listened, as Orrin’s voice grew louder, until finally the man was shouting.
“I want every last report you have and I want it today! As of now you will take orders from us! Are we clear?!” Travis slammed the phone receiver down so hard that Chris was certain it would shatter; only it bounced and hit the floor instead.
“You know, with a little practice you might break my record, but I’ve made my receiver bounce at least three feet higher than that.” Chris could not help but grin thinking about all the times that Travis had chewed his ass out concerning phone equipment that he had busted in anger. He also found that the angrier that Travis became, the more his own rage diminished.
Travis took a deep breath, cleared his throat and slowly sank back into his chair. “Bradley…the AG, is expressing us detailed reports of his investigation. It seems that he has indeed been conducting his own operation and wanted to use us to help it along. His man in the FBI field office made certain that you received the video from the warehouse to insure MCAT’s involvement. He was also aware that the bust was a set-up to gain publicity for the SAC and the Costa Mesa Chief of Police. It was supposed to draw attention away from the low arrest rate in the area; however he did not think that our agent’s lives were in danger. He is now aware that he was wrong and that his mistake could have gotten them killed.”
“We get everything he has?”
“Everything and he is suspending his investigation until he has further instructions from us on how to proceed. I have assurances from him that he will cooperate with MCAT one hundred percent and he has offered to provide any resources that you may need while you are there. I’m sorry Chris; I had no idea that Bradley would sink this low to make a political name for himself as the AG tough on crime. The only thing we can do now though is to use his information to further our own investigation.”
Chris nodded an affirmative answer. “The man should get on his knees and thank God that my agents are still alive because that is the only reason I can think of not to tear his head off his shoulders.”
“You should have those reports by early afternoon, they are being sent directly to you. Once you review them and decide what you need him to do, tell me. I will personally make certain that he does it.” Orrin guaranteed it.
Larabee stood up and directed his words to Travis the Director. “You let him know Orrin, another one of my agents gets so much as a scratch because of him and I will personally make sure that his political career is finished.” Chris picked up the file on Travis’ desk and walked out.
Task Force Office
Buck has his team assemble for a briefing and to set their schedules for the next few days, Mark came in carrying a stack of documents and set them next to Wilmington with several folders.
“Thanks Mark.” He waited for the other agents to be seated. “We have had a fairly productive week. Along with getting a few bugs inside the house, thanks to our phone repairmen, Rick and Jose; we have also gained the cooperation from several other police departments. With their help we have a tentative trafficking route in place. Originating in San Francisco to El Paso to Dallas and then here to Denver, it is likely that the next stop is Las Vegas or Phoenix and then back to California, after that…we don’t know. However this particular operation stays west of the Mississippi and according to what we are hearing a change of ‘merchandise’ will occur within the next week or so.”
“Could it be more than one route involved?” Cynthia asked
“Yes, I’m sure there are more, but finding out where they move these kids from here is our priority. After the new ones come in we’ll raid the premises, hoping that the syndicate will think their leak is from the last place of operation. Until then, we will continue to monitor this house 24/7, during the daytime we have two teams from DPD out there, but at night I want us to be the primaries. Agent Coulter and I will be out there from five until midnight. Brett, you and Cynthia will swap with us then and stay until the DPD team replaces you at seven. Tomorrow night Rick and Jose will work the five to midnight and Kel and I will relieve you then. Cassie is running the names we have collected and soon we will have enough information to make more than a few arrests here in Denver.”
Mark was reluctant to show his inexperience, but he had to ask, “What about the kids that are there now? We know what is happening to them from the wiretaps but we’re gonna let them be moved anyway?”
“Yes, we have no other option if we are to have any chance of finding the entire route. I’m not thrilled about it, but following the merchandise is the only way we’ll get that answer.” Buck knew that was hard for the young agent to understand. “Mark, it’s not easy, but you have to think of those kids the same way you would a shipment of weapons or drugs. We could take them all now, but a few kids here in Denver weighted against several hundred out there that we might save …’”Buck sighed. “We have to look at the entire picture and work toward the end result of shutting this syndicate down for good.”
Rick empathized with the young agent. “If it helps Westin, after a while it gets easier to separate the emotion from the job, but we’ve all been where you are now and understand how you feel.”
“For every child that is in that house there are a thousand more out there waiting for a break. If you think about trying to reach them all, you’ll do nothing but cause yourself an ulcer.” Cynthia added.
Brett was nodding his head in agreement. “It is a full-time battle and sometimes we lose the skirmishes, but the war will go on. Each child that we save is a victory for the good guys.”
“Unfortunately we are badly outnumbered and the sad reality is that we cannot save them all.” Jose looked around the room. “I think we all carry a few battle scars though.”
Buck supposed that Mark had enough advice to consider and moved on. “Mark, you stay on top of CASSIE and I want you to hand deliver these transcripts to Jed Alders at the U.S. Attorney’s office. Kel, give Barbara Lindsey an update. I want to have everyone ready to move as soon as we move on that place. Brett, Cynthia, go home and sleep, we’ll see you at midnight. The rest of you can go on to lunch and then afterwards work your contacts.”
Kelli stopped to have a word with Buck. “I’ll be back here before four, but I wanted to remind you that I have a doctor’s appointment this afternoon.”
“I remembered and we won’t leave here before four-thirty so don’t rush.” Wilmington picked up the folders, “I’m on my way to give the boss a report, see you later darlin.”
Chris had just finished telling Vin about his meeting with the director. He was still angry, but the worst of it had worn off and he at least could talk without pounding on something.
“You think that bastard will keep his word to Travis?” Vin had his doubts.
“He damned sure will if he values his existence!”
“We’ll see Chris, if he fucks this up though it’s open season on AG’s” Tanner promised. “By the way, while you were in with Travis, Ezra and Josiah took off for Arizona to talk to Sam Carmichael. They should be back in Denver sometime late this evenin’.”
“Between Carmichael and the reports from the AG, maybe we can find the break we’ve been looking for.” Chris finally sat down just as the phone rang and there was a knock on the door. “Enter,” he bellowed before answering the phone. Buck walked in and sat while he waited for Chris to finish his call.
Chris hung up the phone and grinned, “That was Nathan, and he’s with Casey. Doc released JD this morning and you know Nate, he wanted to see for himself that the kid got settled in at home okay.”
“Hot damn, that’s the best news I’ve heard in a month!” Buck yelled. “That is another cause for celebration tomorrow.”
“Planning the surprise party for Kel has Linda in high spirits already, now with a double reason to celebrate she’ll be even more thrilled.” Chris was pretty happy about it himself. “Kelli doesn’t suspect anything does she?”
“Hell Chris, she never has acknowledged her birthday because she knew it wasn’t real. I don’t think it’s even occurred to her that this year, for the first time she has a true birth date to celebrate.” Vin smiled, “Even the kids have managed to stay quiet about it and trust me for Andi it hasn’t been easy.”
“It just got easier for her then; Kel and I are working from five to midnight on surveillance tonight.” Buck supplied that bit of information. “So Andi should be good and asleep by the time we make it out to the ranch. Just make sure Kel gets to rest sometime, ‘cause we are on for the midnight shift tomorrow night.”
Vin nodded, “I will.”
Buck remembered the reason he was here in the first place. “Here’s the latest report on the task force investigation. I know you both listened to the tapes already, but it’s all transcribed through last night and I included the information we got this morning from the Las Vegas PD.”
“I know it’s hard to listen to young girls being abused and raped repeatedly by multiple attackers. The intimidation techniques that I’ve heard are enough to make any normal person sick. How is everyone holding up?” Chris was concerned.
“It’s been difficult for Mark, but the rest of the team is okay. They are all professionals and they are aware of what’s expected from them.” Buck answered, “Mark will be okay too, and he just has to learn that sometimes we have to make difficult choices to reach our objectives.”
“This is a hard one to learn on for him, but if it helps, tell him that because of your team we have a connection to California confirmed. The name Donner has showed up on three independent reports, yours, Ezra’s and CASSIE traced a phone number we found on Medora to Donner, they all lead back to Costa Mesa.” Chris set the folders off to the side for now.
Buck stood to leave, “Vin, you going with Kel to her appointment?”
“Of course he is,” Chris answered for Vin. “Raphael and I can start on the information we get from California. I’ll fill you in when you get back and no arguments Tanner. Take her to lunch and spend some time with your wife, you both have put in some long hours this week. The work will still be here when you get back.”
“Are you sure Chris?”
“Get the hell out of my office, both of you and that is an order.” Chris grinned, “I’ve got work to do and I can’t do it with you two jawing at me.”
“You heard the man Vin, but don’t believe that crap about work. He just wants to call Linda and have a hot phone conversation with her. You know the old man’s been doing without for…how long has it been stud?” A book sailed past Buck’s head as he ducked. “See what I mean, he’s just dammed ornery lately.”
Buck and Vin were both laughing as they exited the office.
Kelli was in the break room rummaging around in the refrigerator, looking for a something to drink
“I hope you don’t expect to find anything edible in there, Kel.” Mallory stood in the doorway.
“Nope, I’m just lookin’ for somethin’ other than coffee or coke to drink, but ‘m not havin’ any luck, so I reckon a coke will have to do.”
“Pam and I are on our way to lunch if you want to join us.”
“Thanks, but I have an appointment in a bit, so I’ll have to take a rain check. How are you doin’ after a week away from the kids?”
Mallory sighed, “Truthfully, it has been hell for me, but they love being with Max and the kids are doing great. I understand she’s staying on to help you and Vin right?”
“Yep, as soon as we move to the new house, she’s gonna take our old one. The lease on her apartment is up the end of next moth and dependin’ on how things go here on this case, we hope to be moved within the next three weeks or at least before school starts.”
You don’t mind sharing her with me do you?”
“Hell no, Mal, the main reason she takin’ on our old place is to stay available for all of us and still maintain her independence. This way she can be there when we need her and she can still have her own place to go home to. One that is close enough to get to us, if there is an emergency call out for MCAT and we have to leave suddenly.”
“I think it’ great that she will be there and being ex-military myself, we have a lot in common. Hell, I like the woman as much as the kids do.”
Kelli laughed, “Me too, she takes care of me and Vin as much as she does the kids. Of course after knowin’ Gunny, I think that tendency must run in their family.”
I agree,” Vin walked up beside Mallory. “She’s fantastic with the kids and I like her, plus she stays on Kel’s butt about takin’ care of herself, too.”
“Hey guys,” Pam joined them. “Let’s make a break for it while we can Mallory or we may miss lunch entirely. Are you coming with us Kel?”
“Not today, but Mal gave me a rain check for next time.”
Mallory laughed, “I think we should leave before the Captain here decides CASSIE is needed again. See you two later.”
“Take your time, ‘m off for a couple of hours, Chris is preoccupied and most everyone else is gone so I think your safe for a while” Vin reassured them and then remembered. “By the way, JD got released from the hospital this mornin’ and I’d bet that you’ll be hearin’ from him real soon.”
Pam grinned, “That is good to hear and he can call all he wants to. I’m just glad he’s okay and I know Casey is relieved.”
Mallory urged Pam along. “Before he does call, let’s go eat, I’m starved.”
Vin waited until they left and he was alone with Kelli. “Chris is kickin’ me out for a while so let’s grab some lunch before your appointment.”
“Sounds like a plan to me, Tanner.”
Larabee 7 ~early evening
Chris and Vin sat on the deck watching the kids play while they waited on Linda. Grace slept contently in her Daddy’s arms unaware of all the activity around her or her Mother’s list of to do’s for the men.
Linda joined them and sat next to Chris. “Okay, everything is on schedule, I talked to Casey and she said JD is anxious to be here with the rest of the gang. Vin, Kel still doesn’t know right?”
“Nope, me and the kids are gonna spring a surprise in the mornin’ and as far as she’ll know that’s it.”
“I need you to keep her away from here from eleven until at least one. All the family will be here by eleven-thirty.” Linda looked over her list. “That should give us enough time to set things up.”
“I’ve got it covered, Chris is gonna ask the kids over here and ‘m taking Kel out ridin’ the mornin. We’ll probably go up to the cabin for a while and then stop by the new house, before we head the horses back toward the barn. If she notices anythin’ out of the ordinary, I’ll just say it’s for JD’s homecomin’.”
“Well, you just keep track of the time and don’t get totally sidetracked.” Linda knew how easy it was for the Tanners to get preoccupied. “You two might as well know that I invited Barbara, and Chris it will up to you to make sure Ezra behaves, I don’t know what is going on with those two, but I really had to convince Barbara that we wanted her here and that as Kel’s friend she needed to set aside her difference with Ezra for the day.”
“Ezra will be a gentleman, but if you’re expecting more than that you might be disappointed.” Chris hoped that Linda wasn’t planning to ‘help’ Ezra and Barbara along. “Whatever is between them though, they will have to work it out.”
“Of course they will, but wouldn’t it be great if…”
“Linda, there will be no interfering, period.”
“Okay, no interfering,” Linda answered. “I guess that’s it, I have everything else taken care of.”
Vin stood up, “In that case ‘m takin’ the kids home, we have a few things to finish up and Kel won’t be in til late. See y’all in the mornin’.”
Chris and Linda watched as Vin rounded up the kids and headed for home.
Now that they were alone Linda had a thousand questions she wanted to ask Chris about what would happen in the next couple of week. She did not want him to leave her, but she had agreed to support him and now she was stuck living with her words. She decided to ask the question she had been afraid to since Chris had come home. “How much longer do we have?”
Chris sighed, “At least another week or two. It will take that long to finalize our plans.”
“Good, I go back to see Dr. Ryder on Monday and this should be our last couple of days of waiting. You just make certain we have at least next weekend for ourselves before you have to leave. You got that Larabee?”
“I wouldn’t miss it for anything. We have a lot of time to make up for and starting Monday night, I plan to do just that.”
Tanner Home ~July 15th
Saturday morning ~2am
Vin awoke and with one glace at the clock he knew Kelli would be home soon. Deciding to stay up for her, he turned on the bedside light and gathered some reports to work on in bed while he waited. Buck’s truck stopped in front of the house ten minutes later and then Tanner tracked his wife’s movements by sound alone. The Texan could tell from the way she moved that she was extremely tired from her long day, but he had to smile when he heard her stop at the kid’s room to check on the sleeping imps. Certain that her next stop would be at the gun safe to secure her weapon, he got out of bed to meet her there.
Kelli had just closed the door to the safe when Vin slipped an arm around her waist. It did not surprise her that she had not heard him because the man moved in absolute silence with the agility of a mountain lion. She turned to take in his appearance. His hair was tousled; his face needed a shave, he was barefooted and he had pulled on a pair of Levi’s, but hadn’t bothered to zip them. Lord, did he know how irresistible he was.
“You got me again Tanner, but I think ‘m too tired to yelp.”
“Then lean on me and let me take care of you, baby. Are you hungry?” Vin picked up her duffel bag with one hand, and still held onto her with the other.
“Nope, Buck hit a McDonald’s on our way to the surveillance van so we had food. We stopped by the agency on the way home for him to file tonight’s report and while he did that I used the shower in your office and then changed into some fresh clothes.” Together they walked to the bedroom. “It was a rough Friday night; there must have been over a hundred men in and out of there. Just listening to all the perverse acts they put those young girls through makes me want to throw up. I felt so dirty after hours of hearin’ it that I needed to feel clean again.”
The Texan threw her bag in the corner and then turned to help her undress. “If you weren’t so tired, I’d make you forget all about what you heard. But tonight you rest because in the mornin’ you and I are gonna take the horses out, they need the exercise and we haven’t ridden together in a good while. We’ll ride back and we will have plenty of time to make JD’s homecomin’ party.”
“That’s sound great, but what about the kids?”
“Chris asked them to help him tomorrow; Linda has a list for him to do before Casey brings JD over so it will be just me and you. Tanner stepped out of his jeans.” They crawled into bed and Vin pulled her close enough to cuddle.
Kelli laid there for a minute enjoying the feel of being with her Texan, then with a smile she said, “Vin…I may be tired, but ‘m not dead. How did you plan to make me forget?”
Tanner grinned because he remembered saying the same words to her not too long ago. “Reckon I’d have to show you how.”
She wrapped her arms around him, “Reckon you would at that Tanner.
“I thought I’d start with this.” Vin nibbled at her ear lobe. “And then…” It was much later that Tanner wrapped the comforter around them and they both fell asleep secure in the familiar warmth of each other’s arms.
Tanner Home 6am
Vin heard the kids moving around and slipped quietly out of the bed to help them prepare their surprise. He knew Kelli had not had enough sleep, but he also knew she wouldn’t want to miss what the kids had planned for anything in the world. Tanner pulled on his sweats and grabbed a gown for his redhead.
Kelli was more asleep than awake, but Vin’s words registered somewhere in her brain. “Kel, the kids will be in soon. Put this on.” Vin assisted her with the gown, kissed her gently and smiled when she turned over to go back to sleep. Enjoy it while you can baby, it won’t last long.
Thirty minutes later Jason and Andi were finally satisfied that the breakfast tray for their mother was acceptable. Vin helped by carrying it for them to the bedroom and when he opened the door, the two little ones ran to the bed yelling,
“Happy Birthday Mom!” Kelli managed to open her eyes just as both kids bounced onto the bed.
“We brung you breakfast, mama.” Andi shouted, “And presents!”
“Dad helped, but we mostly did it ourselves.” Jason explained.
Vin held on to the food until he was certain Kelli was awake and she pulled herself into a sitting position. Sitting next to her, he kept one hand on the tray to keep it steady as the kids continued to bounce on the bed.
“This is wonderful…” It had not registered with Kelli that today was really
her birthday; she turned to Vin for help, inquiring blue eyes showed her
“When I told ‘em it was your birthday, they planned all this just for you.” The Texan watched her eyes and knew exactly when his redhead pieced everything together. “Of course we made enough for all of us, so you wouldn’t have to eat alone.”
Kelli looked at the dishes of assorted sliced fruit and large plate of buttered toast, thankful that Vin had selected food that was easy to eat with your hands. However it was the mug of coffee he handed her that held her interest. “By all means help me out here y’all, I could never eat all this by myself.”
That was all the invitation the children needed and it did not take long for the large amount of food to disappear. Vin set the tray aside and then let the kids give their gifs.
“We made this for you.” Andi’s turquoise colored eyes were shining as she proudly showed Kelli the card they had made and received a big hug in return.
Jason was next. “This is from all of us. Dad had to help us, but we thought you needed it.” Handing his new mother a small gift-wrapped package, he waited with excited anticipation for her reaction.
Taking her time, Kelli pulled the paper off the beautiful gift to find a jewelers box and tears sprang to her eyes when she opened it. Vin’s touch was unmistakably evident in the design of the beautiful family ring nestled inside, precious stones were set into a platinum band that she could wear and not damage when she fired her gun.
Jason pointed out each gemstone and identified who it represented, “This green one for May is dad, the red one for July is you, the blue one is sapphire, that’s September, for me and the pretty rose October one is for Andi.”
Emotion threatened to choke off her words as she slipped it on her finger, but Kelli managed to say, “I love it.” She hugged Jason really tight, pulled Andi in close and whispered. “Thank you; this is just what I needed and I love both of you to pieces.”
“Okay you two, time to get a move on, Mom needs to get dressed so go straighten your room. We’ll be out in a few minutes, and then you get to spend the mornin’ with Uncle Chris.” Vin herded them out the door, giving Kelli a chance to control her emotions.
Vin came back over and sat beside her again, “I know that you never have acknowledged your made up birth date, but now that you know your real one and we have the kids, I thought it was time we celebrated.” He reached into the drawer of the nightstand and brought out another package, handing it to her. “This one is from me to you baby.”
“I don’t know what to say. I didn’t even realize that today was…” Vin stopped her with his words.
“Just enjoy it Kel, and mark it into our book of memories. It is way past time for you to have your own day and I for one think that the day you were born deserves celebratin’. Now indulge me and open your gift.”
“I’m not sure what I did to deserve you, but I love you Tanner.” Kelli unwrapped his gift to find a book, bound in leather, and inside was every note and poem that Vin had written to her since the day they had met. On the last page was a poem he had written especially for today.
From the moment
I saw you
I wanted to meet you.
From the moment
I met you,
I wanted to know you.
From the moment
I knew you.
I was in love with you.
From the moment
I loved you,
I wanted to share my life with you.
...and from that moment
To this moment,
And for all the moments to come,
I will love you with all of my heart.
Kelli did not even try to hide her tears as she read the words that expressed his sentiment. “Vin, it’s beautiful.”
The Texan leaned over and kissed her, “So are you lady.” Vin’s tender kiss quickly turned passionate and lustful. It never took much to fan the flames of desire that was always there between them and when want became need they were in a whole different realm. For a few minutes the rest of the world was shut out and only the two of them existed.
The sound of children’s loud voices in the next room reminded them that it was time to get moving. Kelli reluctantly got out of bed and then put her book in a safe place as Vin picked up the tray to take to the kitchen.
Before he reached the door Tanner stopped and said, “I almost forgot, I had you new prescription filled on the way home yesterday and it’s on the shelf in the bathroom.”
“Thanks, I’ll be out in a few minutes.” Kelli could not decide how to take having a birthday, but when she looked at the new ring on her finger she smiled. Her own family…yep that made it easy to accept. She would celebrate with them and take pleasure in every single minute of it.
Larabee Home ~8:00am
Chris was holding Grace with one arm as he grabbed the phone receiver with his other hand. “Larabee…” Chris listened. “If it’s that important Ezra, come on over now and we’ll discuss it… Yeah, that will work.”
Linda watched her husband slowly hang up the phone, deep in thought. “Chris? ...Please tell me that we can have one day of fun without having to discuss your work.”
“Sorry Babe, It won’t take that long, but it is important.” He moved to sit in the empty deck chair, next to his blond. “I promise nothing will interfere with your party. It will take thirty minutes, tops. All you need to do is find enough to keep Jason and Andi busy in the meantime. They should be here anytime now.”
“Don’t worry Larabee, I already have some things that they can help with for the party. I also talked to Barbara last night and she said that she has everything that you requested. You do realize that you haven’t told me what she is doing for you?”
“Good, and yes I do know. Maybe we’ll find out that you are not the only one in this family that can pull off a surprise.” Chris grinned mischievously. “Grace and I make a good team; I tell her all about my planned surprises and she doesn’t tell a soul.”
“Yet Larabee…doesn’t tell on you yet; but give her time and that will change.”
Vin led Peso and Dancer out of the barn while Kelli was having a last minute conversation with the children.
“Are you both certain that you don’t want to go with us?” Kelli had trouble believing that the kids were turning down a chance to ride.
Jason looked at Andi and then answered for the two of them. “We’re sure. We promised Uncle Chris that we would spend the morning helpin’ him and like dad says, a promise is a promise.”
“He’s right, when you make a promise you need to keep it.” Overhearing Jason’s remark as he walked up, Vin had to smile. He helped them out some by changing Kelli’s focus. “The horses are saddled and ready to go Kel. We’re burnin’ daylight standin’ here and we really should get movin’.”
Kelli glanced at Vin and then back to the kids, she was certain that that something was going on that she was not supposed to know. The children had passed on riding this morning and instead of working on the house as he usually did in his off time, Vin had insisted that she ride up to the cabin with him.
“Okay, you two give us a hug and then run on up to Uncle Chris’ house while we can watch you.”
Jason and Andi sighed with relief; their part in this plan was working. They gave their parents a hug and then took off before there were any more questions. As soon as Vin saw they were safely at Chris’ house he handed Kelli the reins for Dancer.
“I’ll race you to the second meadow and even give you a head start.” Tanner knew that his wife suspected something, but he also knew that she would not ask what it was.
“Don’t need a head start Tanner; Dancer and I can outrun you and Peso any day of the week.” Kelli laughed as she mounted her horse and left before Vin even started.
Kelli had slowed down a little until Vin caught up to her and then urged Dancer on faster. The horses were ready to cut loose and enjoyed the fast paced run to the big meadow that lay at the base of the mountain path. Both riders reached the other side at the same time, Vin rode up beside his wife and stopped close enough to Dancer to lean over and kiss his wife.
The Texan grinned, “Peso and I took it easy on you two. Otherwise we would have beaten you by a good quarter of a mile.”
“A quarter of a mile Tanner? I don’t think so. If I hadn’t waited for you to catch up…” Vin silenced her with another kiss.
“Now that I have your attention,” Vin chuckled. “How about we ride up the mountain instead of going to the cabin?”
“After a kiss like that I’d follow you anywhere; lead on.” Kelli laughed.
The truth was it did not matter to her where they went as long as Vin was with her. As they rode single file up the mountain path, she studied the man that had taken the point position. Before meeting him she could never have imagined any one person becoming so important in her life. Now she could not imagine a life without him in it.
Face it Kel, you are not near as strong as you want people to believe. If it were not for Vin you could never make it through a case like this one. Knowing that he is there for you is the only reason that the old nightmares do not take up permanent residence in your sleep. Hell, if it were not for that blue-eyed Texan you would have nothing but that empty existence that you called a life, before you met him. First he helped you discover feelings that you did not know were possible to feel, and then he taught you about the power of love. Vin is the terrific dad that you knew he would be and you now have the family that you believed you would not have. But all that talk about leaving things to trusting fate and faith… Don’t fool yourself Kel, it scares the hell out of you that the worst could happen and you would have to go on alone. You may say you could live on the memories you two are making, but you know that is not true, you might force yourself to keep existing, but you could never really live again.
Kelli was lost so deep in her thoughts that she did not realize that they had stopped moving. Vin had already dismounted and was talking to her, but she had not heard a word that he said.
“Kel?” Vin stood beside Dancer waiting for her to acknowledge him. He did not
know which direction her musing had taken her, but he was certain she was
somewhere else at the moment. When he knew she was listening he tried again.
“You wanna join me or stay on that horse all day?”
“Sorry…I guess my mind wandered.” She slipped off the horse to the ground.
Vin took her hand. “Come with me, I wanna show you somethin’.” He led her to the edge of clearing. “You are lookin’ down on all 4000 acres of the Larabee7; this is the only location on the entire property that you can see it in one view. Look closely and you may see some deer, elk or if you’re lucky a big horn or two.” He handed her the binoculars. “And if you look over there to the right where those three huge boulders are, you can see where our land joins it.” Tanner pointed to a landmark she would recognize.
“Lord, it’s a beautiful view and so much bigger than I thought, I guess knowin’ the square mileage and actually visualizing’ it, are two different things.” She knew how much Vin loved the land and even building their home he had taken great pains to make sure that as little of the natural beauty of it was disturbed as possible.
“Sometimes it hard to envision what you can’t see and all you need is a different perspective to grasp the bigger picture. Take those boulders for instance; it’s easy to forget that they have been in the makin’ for thousands of years and will still be standin’ strong long after we’re gone. The strength of ‘em won’t change just because we are not standin’ beside ‘em, able to reach out and touch ‘em. We’re all guilty once in while of forgettin’ that there is more than what’s in front of us and that some things will always be there, whether we see ‘em or not.”
Kelli leaned back as Vin wrapped his arms around her waist, he may be talking about the land, but what he was saying applied to their love as well as the case they were working on. Don’t lose sight of what is in front of you Kel. Trust that there is a bigger picture, even if you can’t see it right now. Now is the time to make more memories and not let your fears about the future rob you of the pleasures you can enjoy today
“Have I ever told you how amazin’ you are Tanner?”
“Maybe you have a time or two, but ‘m up for you tellin’ me now if you want to, “The Texan grinned and drew her into his arms. “I brought a blanket just in case we needed to discuss … anything.”
“Talkin’ is not what I had in mind.”
Larabee 7 Ranch
Chris’ thirty minutes had turned into two hours; but the information Ezra had gathered from Samuel Carmichael was just what they needed. Between that and the reports from the AG, Larabee could feel their plans coming together. Tomorrow they would secretly meet with Michael Vance aka Michael Welch, the man that the AG had on the inside and the ‘agent’ that had sent them the video of the bust in California. He was flying in first thing in the morning, specifically to meet with their covert operations team and then be back in Costa Mesa before nightfall.
However that was tomorrow, right now they had a birthday and a homecoming to celebrate. It was time to rejoin their family.
“It about time, Larabee,” Linda whispered as he walked up beside her and took Grace from her arms. “I thought I would have to call in SWAT to get you two out of your office.”
“Sorry babe, it took a little longer than I had expected.”
“Did you remember to warn Ezra that Barbara will be here?”
“Yep, and according to him he is fine with it.” Chris did not believe that for a minute, but Ezra was not confiding in him about his and Barbara’s situation. Until Standish wanted to talk about it with him Chris was staying out of it.
JD and Casey arrived with the twins. Family members surrounded the youngest brother before he had made it two feet inside the door.
Buck was the first one to reach him and gave him a big hug, careful not to squeeze too hard. “Damn, it’s good to see you walking around.”
Chris placed a hand on the younger man’s shoulder, “Welcome home JD.”
“How are you feeing brother?” Josiah asked
Nathan shooed everyone away. “Let him inside so he can sit down before you well wish him back to the hospital.”
“It’s okay Nathan, I’m just glad to be here.” JD looked around the room and smiled. “I wasn’t sure for a while I’d make it back here.” He noticed Ezra standing off to the side and thanks to Casey informing him, he was well of the fact that the southerner was still carrying feelings of guilt. JD decided that it was time to set things straight.
“From what the doctor told me, if Ezra hadn’t protected me when Carmichael came rushing in firing his gun, I’d be a dead man. Thank you Ezra, from me, Casey, and our girls.” JD walked over to Standish and grasped his shoulder. “You could have reached cover but you stayed with me and stopped the bleeding instead, Doc says that made the difference between me living and dying. I’ll never forget that brother.”
Ezra was speechless; he had not realized that his actions that day meant so much. He thought he had failed his fellow agent, friend, and brother. Suddenly he felt a huge weight lift from his shoulders and embraced JD, holding on long enough to calm his emotions that threatened to overflow. In a soft southern drawl he whispered, “Welcome home, brother.”
Casey was aware that it had bothered JD a lot that Ezra blamed himself for his injuries. She knew how important it was for her husband to set things right, she owed Ezra too, more than he would ever know. “Hey, I thought this was a party. Where is the birthday girl?”
JD released his hold on Standish. “Yeah we need to get this celebration going. We brought the video camera and it’s ready to record.”
Linda laughed. “I made the mistake of putting Tanner in charge of keeping her busy. Only the good Lord knows when he’ll bring her back.”
Jason boldly spoke up. “You told Dad to keep Mom away ‘til one o’clock. He’ll be here at one.”
“You’re right Jason.” Chris ruffled the boy’s hair. He respected the trust the child had in Vin and he was proud of his courage for speaking up. “Linda, you ought to know by now that Tanner keeps his promises and according to the clock he still has twenty minutes.”
“Thank you Jason for reminding me, I did say one didn’t I?” Linda had forgotten that the children were in hearing distance and they would not understand her teasing remark. “There is an open buffet so if anyone is hungry feel free to grab what you want.”
JD settled in a chair next to Mallory. “Welcome to the CASSIE team Mal, I hear you are doing well. We’ve needed the extra help for a while now and I appreciate you being there to help Pam and the team while I’m out.”
“Pam has been a good teacher, but I know when you get back she will be relieved. I’ve got the basic concept down, but I’m afraid I work a whole lot slower than she is used to.” She and JD discussed computers while they other family members were either eating or talking.
Barbara arrived shortly before one and avoided Ezra altogether. He watched her move around the room greeting the others, but he could not bring himself to risk talking to her. Courage, Ezra, courage you must stay strong, her life could depend on it.
“They’re back! I told y’all!” Jason yelled. He had been watching for his parents to return and he was excited about the surprise Miss Barbara had shared with him and Andi yesterday, even his dad didn’t know about it.
The horses were taken care of and Vin looked at his watch, it was twelve fifty-six. Perfect timing Tanner. It had been a very pleasant morning, after spending some time up on the mountain making love, he and Kelli had stopped at the new house on the way back here. Together they had finished painting the stars on Andi’s ceiling and they had a good start on Jason’s mountains. A few more days of work and their new home would be ready to move into.
The Texan grabbed his wife by the waist and brought her to his side. “Looks as if the whole gang is already here baby, let’s go and join ‘em.” Together they walked up to the ranch house.
Vin took her to the front door and opened it so Kelli could step inside before him. She was greeted with screams of “Surprise,” and there was a big banner hung across the room that said Happy Birthday Kel!
Jason and Andi ran up to them. “Are you surprised? “
“I certainly am. I reckon I know now why y’all didn’t ride with us this mornin’.” She turned and whispered to Vin. “You should have warned me.”
“Just enjoy it Texas,” he whispered back to her.
Chris made his way over to his eldest daughter. “The kids have done really well at keeping our secret, but I’m not certain how much longer they can last. For that reason and before this bunch makes it impossible to hear anything. I have a few things to say.” He took her hand and led her over to stand in front of the fireplace.
Kelli knew that Linda was behind this party and although she appreciated it, she was not prepared for anything like this. Vin stood close by with the kids and Linda had a big smile on her face.
“Quiet!” Chris waited for the talking to subside. “I’ve got a couple of things to say and then you can party on the rest of the day.” He held on to Kelli’s hand so she couldn’t move away.
“We’re listening big dog!” Buck yelled.
“Almost nine months ago, I stood here and told all of you that I was damn proud to find out that Kelli was my daughter.” He turned to Kelli. “You not only got a father, but you got this bunch of family too. I know this is the first time you have had a real date of birth to celebrate and I have twenty five other birthdays to make up for, but I wanted this one to be special.” Barbara handed him a large envelope. “I told Barbara what I wanted to do and she made it happen. Kel, this is something you should have had many years ago, I’m sorry it took so long, but I’m glad to be the one to give it to you.” He handed her the envelope.
Taking a deep breath, she opened the envelope and pulled out the contents. It was difficult to read it all through tear filled eyes, but she tried until she got to the third line and had to stop. “This is real?”
“Real and official, Barbara went to Austin, Texas and filed it in person.” Chris saw the impending flood of tears that was coming and pulled Kelli into a hug. “I love you Kel.” His own uncontrolled emotions made it difficult to continue, but he knew he had to. “It’s an amended birth certificate… for Kelli Coulter Larabee…born July 15 and under the space where the father’s name is placed, it says Christopher Adam Larabee. I also had her federal employment records changed accordingly.”
Kelli did raise her head at that statement. “But the age difference…”
“Travis took care of all that… with JD’s help “
“Anyone who has Kel’s birth date down as December 1st can delete that date. Six weeks ago, Director Travis cleared it and I changed all official documents to reflect Kelli C. Larabee Tanner born on July 15th and she is twenty six years old today.” JD added proudly. “However, her name at work won’t change; it will still be Agent Coulter.”
“I just had to make sure that you didn’t see any of the records before today. “Vin confessed his part, relieved that it was now out in the open. Keeping a secret from Kelli was hard for him.
Jason looked at Barbara, “Now?” She answered him with an affirmative nod.
That drew Vin’s attention. “Jason?”
“Andi and I have a surprise too, Dad. You need to stand over by Mom.”
Vin did as Jason asked and all the adults waited to find out what was going on. Barbara was the only one that knew and she was going to let the kids take care of it.
Jason took Andi’s hand and stood in front of their parents. “Miss Barbara helped make us ‘fficial too.” Andi gave Vin an envelope and Jason gave one to Kelli. “I know it’s not both your birthdays but…well this is from us.” They each pulled out the paper inside and read the two new certificates that listed Vincent Jamison and Kelli Larabee Tanner as the children’s legal parents.
It’s… our new… mended birth tickets. Andi managed to get out. “We ‘fficial, too, just like mama.”
“Birth certificates, Andi.” Jason corrected and then explained. “The court made y’all legally our parents and now we are ‘fficially Tanners.” He had been practicing that all day and was pleased that he got it right. “But … we don’t need no paper, y’all belonged to us already.”
Vin and Kelli were not the only adults in the room unable to stop the flow of their tears. As they pulled Jason and Andi close, a wet eyed, Buck took charge of livening up the room by exclaiming.
“Let the celebration begin!”