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
“Travis wants MCAT to move, we’ll still base here in Denver, but from a different location.” Chris received the response he expected. Six men tried to speak at one time and no one was being heard. He gave them a minute to get it out of their system.
“Enough! We’re not talking about today or tomorrow either for that matter, Travis wanted us to be aware of his plan, that’s all.” Chris clarified.
“Just what in the hell is his plan?” Buck groused
“First and most importantly, he has promised that we will have no more fluff cases or clean-ups.” Larabee let them digest that information. “However, we will continue to get the ugly ones. We can expect some assignments to take us out of the country and an intense focus on domestic threats. To quote our director, ‘Home-grown terrorism has always been here and it’s not a good idea to turn your eye away from what's happening at home’. Our current case has given him food for thought, the threats against MCAT and our agents, as well as our extended families concerns him a great deal.”
“As well it should.” Ezra voiced.
“I agree Ezra. While watching us train he came to the conclusion that we should not be so exposed. Who we are and how we do our jobs should be more private. I have a feeling that there may be more to it than that, but for now it’s enough to know that he is thinking about it. Orrin is looking into some places we can headquarter out of and have our lab as well as own training facility. I told him we could not even consider a move until this case is finished.”
“It not enough,” Vin spoke softly. “We need a place that we can keep under the radar. A safe haven, if one of us runs into trouble on a case.”
“What are you proposing Vin?” Josiah was very interested in his answer.
“MCAT has been a target from day one of its existence. Any place Travis finds will still be known to other government agencies and can be found. I think we also need our own private area here on the ranch and a contact point for emergencies.”
JD saw the direction Vin was going with this. “We need it for the same reasons we added a CASSIE contact for Chris and Vin here at the ranch. Shit happens and it usually happens to one of us.”
“That is a coarse analogy JD, but you are correct in your conclusions. We already have a makeshift firing range on the property. Why not expand on that and have a training facility accessible on Larabee 7 with a back-up contact point? If the worst were to happen and our offices or undercover identities were compromised we could endanger the entire unit by not having a safe environment to shelter in until help could arrive.” Ezra’s mind was already thinking of the possibilities.
Nathan huffed. “Money for one thing, it cost big bucks to put something like that together.”
Josiah answered. “That may be a challenge, but not an impossible hurdle. I’ve witnessed the mental fatigue a case like this one brings on and having an alternative place to work off stress would be beneficial.”
Ezra was mentally reviewing the available resources for the project. “It is feasible. I am certain that adequate funding is accessible.”
Chris had listened to all the comments and saw the wheels turning in their minds. “We will pursue this idea then, but we won’t act on it until after we finished our current case. I don’t like it that the unit will be spread so thin and we will have to cover so much area. I want our minds on getting out of this one intact and succeeding to stop at least this trafficking syndicate.”
“Amen to that brother.” Josiah expressed what they all felt. “Let’s close this out and join our families for a fun afternoon and some great food.”
The next two hours were full of family enjoyment and a great meal. Tired babies napped, while the older children took delight in the beauty of the day, their parents relaxing close by. Vin and Jason teamed up against Buck and Caleb for a rousing, yet amusing game of catch. After that, Uncle Ezra instigated a seemingly endless game of tag with all the kids, much to their delight.
“You go Ez, wear ‘em out. “Buck cheered him on after the young boys took off for the monkey bars after Standish. He knew that the more the children ran, the better they would sleep tonight, and he had plans for some adult time with Inez later this evening.
Linda made certain that Chris stayed with her and Grace as much as possible. She had to share him enough with work and had no intention of letting him spend more time with his brothers than he did with her.
Josiah sat next to Nathan waitin for an opportunity to converse with him alone. Within a few minutes Rain took Terrell inside to put him down for a nap and Sanchez decided that now was the time to confront his brother about his obvious anger. “Nathan, something on your mind is clearly troubling you. Is there anything I can do to help?
Nathan immediately turned on him. “Yeah, you can mind your own business!” Jackson jumped up and left Josiah shaking his head in disappointment.
Josiah watched his old friend relocate to a spot well away from the other members of the family. Since Sanchez was leaving tomorrow, he could only hope that Nathan would work through his anger and find a solution for his problem.
Vin sat with his back against a tree; Kelli next to him and one worn-out little puppy, the children had already named Tracker, curled up in his lap. “Damn, I’m glad this move is over, now maybe life can get back to normal. I feel as if I’ve been split in two for the last three months between workin’ over here and livin’ over there.
“Actually we have one more thing to bring in. It’s at Buck house now. Tanner you chill and we’ll be back real quick.” Chris said mysteriously. He, Buck Josiah and Ezra left with no explanation. They returned twenty minutes later, requesting that Vin and Kelli come over and see what they had brought.
“We wanted to do something special for a housewarming gift and we decided to go in together and buy this.” Chris stood aside and showed them the new pool table they had bought for the recreation room.
Vin laughed, he knew that they all had been trying to find a place for a pool table for the longest time. The problem was that no one had room for one until now. “Seein’ that it’s a gift, I guess y’all get to have the pleasure of settin’ it up and then we’ll have to try it out.”
Buck grinned, “All right! We’ll have it set up in nothing flat.”
Kelli laid her hand on Vin’s arm. “You go ahead with them. I have somethin’ I need to do.”
The brothers worked together to set up the billiard table and had fun during the process. Jimmy Buffet songs blared from the stereo, the beer was cold and Ezra directed the operation. Standish was done with the labor end of business for the day, besides he always thought he was better at supervising any way.
Chris looked at the finished project. “Done, rack ‘em up Buck.”
One hour of play turned into two and Vin realized that he hadn’t seen Kelli since they had started. She love to play pool and he figured she would be here demanding her turn. Tanner’s senses told him that his redhead was not close by and his gut said that he needed to find her. The Texan decided to let the guys continue their game without him, while he went to look for her.
Gunny was the first one that he ran into. “Have you seen Kel?”
“I believe if you check out your old house, you might find your missing spouse.”
“Thanks Gunny.” Tanner knew that the kids were well supervised and took off on foot back to their old place.
The house was cleaned and almost empty, ready for Max to move in next week. Vin found the object of his search in their former bedroom sitting on the floor. With her arms wrapped around her raised knees and her back against the wall, Kelli was so lost in her thoughts that she did not realize Vin was in the room. He quietly slipped in and sat down beside her.
Kelli looked over and smiled, “Hey Tanner.”
“Hey yourself, what are we doin’?” He did see the journal in her lap and had a good idea about what she was up to, but he wanted her to tell him. Kelli was strong in so many ways, but her deeply buried insecurities about belonging surface occasionally and when they did her emotions were fragile. She managed to keep her vulnerabilities well hidden, to everyone except Vin.
“I’m tryin’ to figure out how to close this chapter in our life. It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be. I feel the same way I did when we left the cabin after we were married.”
“We only left the cabin temporally; we’ve been back many times, Kel”
“I know, but we won’t be comin’ back here, at least not to live. “She sighed. “We made a lot of memories in this house. I remember the first time you brought me here; it was a turnin’ point for us and a big change for me. You wouldn’t let me hide my emotions anymore and look what happened.”
“We’ll we must have done somethin’ right, because amazin’ things happened baby and every day is better than the last one.”
Kelli leaned against him and he put his arm around her. “I know we have to move forward, but when I think about this place I think about all the great moments we had. Right over there was where our rocker was, you proposed to me while we sat in that chair. The first time we made love was in this room. And this is where you taught me all the ways to love you. If these walls could talk…”
Vin laughed, “Baby, if these walls could talk Max could never look at us again without turnin’ red in the face.
“You’re probably right, but Max is full of surprises. I do love havin’ her around, don’t get me wrong, but there is still a lot about her that she keeps concealed”
Vin reached over and pushed back her hair. “Maybe that’s why you two get along so well. You both keep your innermost feelin’s out of sight and put your strengths in the forefront to cover them. But … we’re changin’ the subject. I want to hear why you’re sittin’ in an empty house, alone, when you have a houseful of family just up the hill.”
“I love this place Vin; it was home for me, you and then the kids. I’ve tried to close out this chapter in my diary, but I’m not sure how… How do we say good-bye to our home?
The Texan wasn’t sure how to explain to her that it was only a place, nothing more, that there was no good-bye. Then it came to him, he reached for her journal. “May I?” With her permission he took the pen and began to write.
Kelli sat patiently and watched him as his bold script added to her last passage. When he was finished he handed the journal back to her and waited for her to read it. Her tears flowed freely as Kelli read the words that Vin had written:
| Down the road of life's journey that we walk together, the roof
of our love houses the home for our souls
We shall never be tethered to a solid foundation and need only the strength of our memories on which to rest
Permanent walls will not anchor us, but provide a mast to guide our spirits through the unlocked doorway of our hearts
Our bodies may dwell in many places, but our eyes are open windows, inviting our desires to enter with the morning light
While passion slips in the keyhole with the silences of the night, transporting us across the winds of time
The past will sleep, while destiny's path awaits our footsteps...
“Walk with me Kel, our future is waitin’ for us.” Tanner stood and offered her his hand. She took it willingly and stood with him in the room where they had started their amazing journey together. The Texan brushed away her tears and whispered softly, “Wherever we are baby …is home.” Capturing her mouth with a gentle kiss that was filled with tenderness and passion, Vin left Kelli with no doubts about where their home was and always would be.
Larabee 7~Sunday morning ~6:45 am
Chris approached the barn and was surprised to see that the Pony, Peso and Dancer were already in the corral. He smiled to himself when he sensed the reason for it and entered through the open door.
“I didn’t expect to see you here this morning Vin.”
“Mornin’ Chris,” Tanner continued to spread hay in Pony’s stall as he spoke. “After everyone left last night, the kids crashed and so did we. I left ‘em all sleepin’ this mornin’ and I’ve been here for a while.”
“I can see that.” Larabee grabbed another pitchfork to help. I called Walter when I got home and he said that he was interested in the job, but he needed a few days before he could give me a definite answer. I told him to take until the end of the week to think it over. If he says yes, then you’ll have to give the approval for what he does.
“He’ll be here by the end of the week anyway, to meet Jason and Andi.”
“How did the kids manage the first night in their new rooms?”
“Jason had Caleb with him, so he was fine. Andi invited Max to have an ‘overnight’ with her and we left the intercoms open in case there were any nightmares.” Vin laughed. “I think all of ‘em were too tired to dream, period. They played hard yesterday, hell even the pup was still asleep when I walked over here this mornin’.”
“I’m amazed that Max wasn’t up at the crack of dawn, putting everyone to work unpacking.”
“Why do you think ‘m here? I saw her ‘to do’ list on the counter, and decided this was easier. I’ll let Kel deal with Max.”
Chris chuckled, “You think Max and Gunny learned how to be bossy or that it’s a family trait?”
“My bet is that it’s hereditary.” The Texan grinned. “I think though that Max has met her match with Kel. Your daughter can be a mite bossy herself at times. Wonder where she gets that?”
With a straight face Chris answered. “It must be a recessive gene; she didn’t get it from me.”
“That is a load of bull Lar’bee and you know it. Kel is so much like you in disposition that it scary sometimes. I just can’t figure out why it took me so long to realize it.”
“You know what they say Vin, love is blind. Are you complaining?”
“Hell no, Lar’bee temperament I can handle and it’s a good thing I can, ‘cause Andi is showin’ all the signs of being just like you and Kel. Fortunately, Jason and I are patient men.”
“Remind me of how patient you are the next time you tear into someone that gets on your bad side.” Chris smirked.
Vin hid his smile; it was good to hear Chris in a lighter mood. The events of the last few weeks had been weighting heavy on his shoulders and Vin was concerned about him going undercover. There was one thing though that he had to know for certain.
“Chris, this is the only time ‘m gonna ask this, but I have to know. You’re takin’ a big gamble going under on this case. I hope the reason behind your decision is not some deep-seated guilt about not bein’ there for Kel when she needed help. That was a different time and a different place.”
Larabee was quiet for so long that Vin was not sure he would get an answer. Finally Chris responded. “I have to admit that when this situation came up I saw a way to make up for not being there for Kel. I guess some part of me still feels that way…but hearing those tapes, and after researching the information Josiah gave me…it became more than that. A small part of me though, had doubts about why I needed to do this and then this morning everything clicked into place…it wasn’t just Kel I was fighting for, it was all the kids like her and Caleb that need someone to be on their side. This morning, I knew for certain that I have to do this for them and for me…I couldn’t face myself in the mirror if I did not at least try to make a difference for some of those kids that are still out there.”
Tanner nodded his head; he had guessed that Chris was attempting to make up for a part of the past that he could not change. But he understood how easy it was to get caught up in a desire to help the other children in the same circumstances. “Fair enough, you just make damn sure you make it all the way back. I don’t like the fact that I can’t be there to cover your ornery ass.”
“It’s a dirty job Tanner, but someone has to be in charge and on this one…you’re that someone. I’ll be fine.”
“I’ve a good mind to low-jack your butt, so you don’t get lost.” Tanner grinned at the look on Larabees’ face. I wouldn’t want to lose you out there, not on my watch.”
“No low jack and you can’t sew my name on the inside of my clothes either. I’m not even gone yet and you’re starting to act like an old mother hen.”
Buck walked in and drew both men’s attention; effectively put a stop to the teasing.
“Damn Bucklin, you look as if you been rode hard and put up wet. Didn’t you sleep at all?” Vin was alarmed by Buck’s appearance. Wilmington still wore the same clothes he had on yesterday, had dark circles under his eyes, and obviously had not shaved since Friday.
“Buck?” Chris too did not like what he was seeing.
“It’s started. I hadn’t been home ten minutes last night when Rick Carson called to tell me that they were moving the kids. They brought the new ones in, stashed in a boxed u-haul truck, no windows, very little air and a helluva big lock on the outside door. They unloaded the new batch and then the bastards loaded the ‘old’ merchandise into the truck and took off to their next stop. Kellerman and Womack followed them to Phoenix where the same process was repeated. I had Garrison and Wright pick up the trail and they are shadowing the truck now. The rental traced back to Fort Worth, the driver used a fake ID with a bogus address. I went down to the office and ran it and listened to the tapes…it’s all so damn disgusting!”
“Where is the truck now?” Chris could only imagine what Buck had heard.
“Looks like it headed to Vegas, I have another team driving in that direction to meet up with Kellerman. If they do drop in Nevada, he and Womack with stay there while Wright and Jacobs follow the truck. We’ll leap frog the units until we can mark as many of the stops as possible. Once we have gone as far as we can, we’ll shut down the house here in Denver for good!”
“You should have called us Buck; you didn’t have to do this alone.” Vin spoke softly.
“The task force is my responsibility.” Buck kicked the slats on the front stall. “It was…Those sonsofbitches laughed when they described to Keats how they had tested the merchandise. Gang raped is a more accurate term and then Keats took his turn. You could hear screaming in the background when…shit, I want those bastards to suffer.”
Chris walked over and laid his hand on Wilmington’s shoulder. “They will Buck. I promise you they will.” Larabee knew his old friend too well. Buck had a heart of gold and listening to the sordid details of rape and abuse every day was taking a toll on him. “Go home, get cleaned up and hug Sarah and Maria. Then meet us back here in an hour and we’ll go back to the office together to work out a plan for the raid.”
“We’ll need a female agent once we get those girls out. I don’t think a male agent will get very far in questioning them. Cynthia is on her way with Brett to intercept Kellerman and Womack. Selina is here, but she’s not an agent and has no experience with interrogations. It’s a helluva time for Kel to be on suspension.” Buck doubted that any girl in there would show trust to another man for a long time.
“Then it’s a good thing that I know her boss, I think I can pull some strings and override that suspension. “Chris grinned. “You will have your partner back before we move in and take those bastards down. Now go home, you’re a mess.”
Buck nodded. “Thanks, I’ll see you guys in an hour.”
Once he was gone, Vin put up the tools and commented. “Looks like this week-end just got shorter, Cowboy. I’m sorry; I know you wanted to spend time with Linda and Grace before they leave for Louisiana.”
“It can’t be helped Vin. In a way I’m glad because at least now we can take some action. You call the team in with the exception of Josiah. Let him know what’s going on, but he stays on stand-by status only, his flight leaves at five in the morning for California and he needs to be ready for it. Inform Kel that her suspension is postponed indefinitely; I believe she got the message about wearing her vest. Make your arrangements for the kids and then meet me at the house in an hour. Prepare for some long hours, this is only the tip of the iceberg.” Chris sighed, “I need to go and tell Linda our plans have changed…again.”
MCAT Office ~ Sunday ~ July 30
The big map was on the display board with colored pushpins marking the route of the trafficking task force. The agents had followed the u-haul to Phoenix, then to Las Vegas, and the next stop appeared to be an unknown destination to the North or Northeast of Nevada. The MCAT unit had been working at this for the last six hours and finally felt that they had the situation covered.
“We have Kellerman and Womack watching a house in Phoenix. They have already advised the Phoenix Police on the location and plan to obtain assistance setting up a stakeout. Wright and Carson are doing the same in Vegas. It looks as if the truck is heading N/NW so I have Lawrence, Gonzales, Garrison and Carlson on a plane to Vegas. They’ll rent two cars there and while one team relieves the LVPD on surveillance, the other will try to connect with the team following the u-haul.” Buck gave the locations of his task force members to the others.
“That only leaves you, Kel, Jacobs and Cordova here to work the raid in Denver. The rest of the unit will assist your task force with the takedown. It’s going to take a helluva lot of cooperation to hit these places at the same time Buck.” Chris was working it out in his head. “It won’t happen fast.”
“Yeah and if that truck makes more than two more stops, I’ll have to rely on Local police departments to take over in the next city. It could be two or three days before we have all the pieces in place with warrants in hand and enough manpower to move in.”
Pam walked up and handed a report to Buck. “This is the property information on the addresses you gave me. Both are rentals and the names on the leases are clean.”
“Thanks Pam.” Wilmington passed the folder to Chris, “Same set-up that we have here.”
“First thing tomorrow morning let that federal attorney... What’s his name? ...Alders… Jed Alders, let him know where we are and what we need in the way of warrants. You have to see Sorenson, too. Get what you can out of him, also get a warrant to search his house, maybe we’ll get lucky and find a connection to Costa Mesa.” Chris then ordered. “Cordova and Jacobs can monitor things for you here. Go home Buck, you need to sleep while you can still get it.”
Standish stepped forward. “You too Chris, you have a wife and baby to take to the airport early in the morning. Besides, you need to keep a low profile on this one. I believe Vin is in charge as of tomorrow morning. Correct?” Ezra raised a brow and questioned.
“You’re right Ez, Chris put me in charge and I agree with you that he needs to keep a low profile. Lar’bee, go home.” The Texan crossed his arms in front of him and waited for Chris to reply.
Before their boss could answer, Ezra told Tanner. “You too, Vin. You and Kel have children waiting at home. I suggest you dismiss the rest of this motley crew as well. I am perfectly capable of monitoring the events as they unfold and will not hesitate to call, should your assistance become necessary. “
Chris eyed the Southerner for a moment before answering. “Cordova and Jacobs, stay with Standish, the rest of you go home. It’s going to be a long week ahead and Captain Tanner will need rested and alert agents for training classes. Next session begins at six tomorrow morning.” Chris laughed when he heard the moans and groans around the room.
Buck mumbled, “Vin’s gonna train us to death before the bad guys even have a shot at us.”
“Quit your whinin’ already.” Tanner called after Wilmington.
Larabee watched as his most of agents reluctantly left and then turned to Vin. “The warden over there,” He indicated Ezra, “Wants me to stay in the background on this one. As soon as I see Linda and Grace off to Louisiana in the morning, I’ll be in, but you’ll be in charge.
“Not a problem Chris and Ez is right. You’re too close to goin’ under to chance bein’ seen by the wrong people.” Vin knew that Chris preferred to be in the middle of any action, but it was too risky that word could get back to California that he was involved.
“You do know Vin that you’re getting good at being bossy yourself, don’t you?”
“Hell yeah,” Tanner grinned. “You’re a good teacher. Course, you’ve had more years …a lot more years to practice bossin’ than me. Years and years…” Vin moved toward the door.
“Tanner! I’m not that damn old!” Chris smiled as Vin disappeared around the corner. You life is never dull, Larabee, that’s for sure.
Linda silently shut the door to the nursery adjoining their bedroom, and made her way over to the bed, where her husband waited. Tonight was their last night together for a while and she wanted Chris all to herself. Snuggling close to him, she let out a deep sigh of contentment.
“Think she’ll sleep?” Chris whispered.
“Long enough Larabee,” Linda grinned and kissed his neck. “God, I miss you already.”
Chris wrapped his arms around his blond and held her tightly. “Linda, I don’t want you to take any chances while I’m gone. Stay close to family and do not let anyone except Vin know where you are going to be until you’re there.”
“Do you think Grace and I are at risk?”
“No, but …Hell, call me paranoid. This case involves some very bad elements and I want to make certain you are somewhere safe. Just humor me okay?”
“I already promised to keep Tanner informed, and I will not do anything impulsive. Don’t worry about us; concentrate on what you have to do. Then I want you to get your butt home to us as quickly as you can, and in one piece.”
“Deal,” Chris rubbed her back and smile.” Now we should talk about us.”
“Uh uh Cowboy, no more talking,” Linda grinned.
MCAT Office ~Monday ~ July 31
Tanner stopped at Gunny’s desk and gave her a list of things to do before the rest of the team made their way back from this morning’s training. Vin had Westin and Anderson put up the equipment, so he and Buck could get into the office and obtain an update from Standish.
Ezra was in the conference room marking the map when Vin walked in. “Mornin’ Ez, tell me where we are.” Tanner did not waste any time on extra words.
“The truck is on the move again after halting overnight in Carson City.” Standish was tired and trying to control his underlying anger. “Garrison has it in sight and according to him the driver and his help went inside for the night, leaving the ‘merchandise’ locked in the truck. They made the exchange about thirty minutes ago. As of now the truck is still headed north and we have two teams tailing it. The Nevada State Police have been very cooperative with us and have freed up our third team so they may continue to follow the trail.”
“What does Nevada need from us to correlate the bust there?’ Buck was studying the map as he questioned.
“I have obtained the name of the man that will be our contact with the State Police, Captain Ron Nickels. It appears that Nevada is very interested in the fact that underage girls are involved and will cooperate fully with your task force. Samuel Carrington will be your man to talk to in Phoenix; he is a lieutenant in the sex crimes unit of the Phoenix PD.”
“Buck, what time are you going to hit Sorenson’s house with that warrant?” Vin was flipping through Ezra’s notes.
“Alders promised to have it in my hands before nine and forensics will be there waiting for me at the rendezvous site by nine-thirty. I’m going by the hospital first and see if the bastard is up to talking.”
Vin looked at his watch. “Carmen should be at our house right about now to see Caleb. Kel will stay with him until the counselor is finished, so call her and have her meet you. I’ll keep an eye on the truck’s movements for you. Chris should be back from the airport by eleven so let’s have a unit meetin’ at one and see where we’re at by then. Does that give you enough time to do what you need to?”
“Yep,” Buck was already walking out the door.
“Ez, get some sleep and thanks for stayin’ last night.”
“I did manage to accrue a few hours of sleep, but I will retire to our lounge for an additional hour or two, because I plan to be at that meeting.” Standish sighed. “When I think about those girls being locked inside that truck all night I want to do grievous harm someone.”
“We all do Ez.”
Greg Ramsey and Katrina Santos arrived at the two-story Tudor home, ten minutes before Wilmington. The MCAT mobile analysis’ Unit (M.A.U.) was a state of the art rolling lab on wheels. It was fully equipped with strobe lights and siren, which were standard on all MCAT vehicles. The difference was in the back that housed a stainless steel mobile command center. Online communication, satellite receiver, and three drawers with side slide storage were just a few of the many features on this truck. They were capable of performing all forensic activities, including fingerprinting. It also contained an array of ballistics tools, gloves, flares, lights and an illuminated slide out evidence tray.
When Buck arrived with a black and white unit behind him, they all met by the back of the truck. “I have the warrant and Kel should be here any…there she is now.” Kelli parked behind Wilmington’s truck, exited, and then joined the others. He smiled when he saw that she was wearing her vest.
“We’re ready when you are Buck. If the man has anything to hide, we’ll find it.” Katrina grinned. “Not much that we can’t find with all these gizmos.”
“Let’s do it.” Instructing the forensics teams to wait, Buck had the uniform officers split up, one sent around to the back and the other to the side door. He and Kelli knocked on the front door, identifying themselves as federal agents.
Mrs. Amanda Sorenson answered the door. She was a young, attractive, petite blond and she was obviously hostile to this intrusion in her life. “What do you want?”
“Ma’am, I’m Agent Wilmington and this is Agent Coulter. We have a warrant to search the premises. Who else is in the house?”
“You have a lot of nerve, harassing decent law-abiding citizens. First you chase my husband and cause him to have an accident, then you shoot him and I’m not allowed to even visit him in the hospital. Now you want to invade my home and scare the hell out of my kids!”
“Mrs. Sorenson, please call your children, and then I need all of you to stay here with this policeman.” Kelli indicated the uniform officer that now stood behind them.
Greg and Kat joined them as the team began a methodical search. The entire house was covered but they concentrated on Sorenson’s home office. His computer was confiscated and the agents went through his paperwork, hoping to find a connection to Keats or Donner. What they found was a picture of Caleb, with a phone number written on the back.
“We’ve got the bastard!’ This was the physical evidence that Buck had been hoping to find. He would also bet that once the hard drive on that computer was scanned, they would find more.
“Buck, it appears from these receipts that Mr. Sorenson keeps an apartment closer to town.” Kelli passed the receipts to Wilmington.
“We’re almost finished here. Can we get into that apartment?” Greg asked.
Already on the phone with U.S. Attorney Jed Alders, Buck was shaking his head. “We’ll meet you there.” He turned to his team. “Alders is procuring the warrant immediately and will meet us there. This picture gives him all the grounds that he needs.”
It took less than an hour to secure the warrant and gain entry into Sorenson’s’ apartment. Twelve boxes of kiddy porn magazines, explicit videotapes, and pictures were carted off, along with another computer. Restraints and sex toys found in the bedroom painted an ugly picture of what had gone on here and what had been planned for Caleb.
“You have enough Alders?” Buck asked the prosecutor, forcing himself to remain in control of the anger he felt building inside him.
“You don’t have to worry about this guy talking to the wrong people. The gun he used on you was registered in his name and twenty witnesses saw him shoot at you. The neighbors around here identified him by picture, as the man that lives here. The lease is in his name and with what you found at his home and here…Let’s just say he’s not going anywhere soon. His arraignment is this afternoon and I am sure I can have him held without bond.” He put his hand on Buck’s shoulder. “We got him right where we want him. If he has any information about a Californian connection, we’ll have it.” Jed Alders said his goodbyes and left.
“You okay Kel?” Buck asked as they prepared to leave.
“I just keep thinkin’ that if it weren’t for us Caleb could have been trapped in this hell. God, Buck this is only one guy, what about the ones we don’t catch? Who’s gonna help those other victims?”
“We’re not super cops darlin’. We do what we can and then move on to the next case.”
Kelli looked around the room and shivered from the images that flooded her mind. “Can you do that Buck? Just move on?”
Buck answered in a soft voice. “I hope so, I really hope so.”
MCAT Office ~Conference room
Chris felt as if he was caught between Adam Carmichael and his real self. Ezra had given him enough information to become a new person, complete with a background that made him sound like everything that Chris Larabee stood against. He gave in on wearing the clothes that Standish had chosen, and most of the jewelry, but he drew the line at the earring. No way in hell would he pierce his ear, not even to complete this case. He had decided that it was good that Tanner was taking charge today so he could get his mind wrapped around being one of the bad guys. He was soon to find out that that was easier said that done.
Tanner watched the body language of the MCAT agents as they entered the room. It appeared that even with the stimulus of the extra training, some of them were letting this assignment drag them down. In particular Mark, Paul and Pam were having difficulty dealing with the subject of this investigation. JD was acquainting himself with the facts on his first day back to work and so far he had not seen enough to be too disturbed by it. Mallory, Nathan and Ross showed no outward sign that it was different than any other case.
The ops team was a whole different matter altogether. Justin carefully kept his ‘Billy Ray Hackett’ cell phone within easy reach, and the Texan swore that Chris’ new appearance looked just like a guy they busted last year. Raphael was taking on his new persona with little effort; the years of undercover operations with the DEA had prepared him well. Vin laughed to himself when he thought about Ezra’s role in this case. He had turned into ‘mother hen Larabee’ and did not even realize it.
A forensics’ lab worker had called up and informed Vin that Greg and Kat would be delayed. That made Buck and Kelli the last ones to enter and judging by the look they both wore, it had been a tough morning. The remaining task force team members showed the strain of the last three weeks of surveillance duty. Tanner’s first objective was to get them to loosen up. The next few weeks would be hard enough on most of them and unit meetings should not add to their stress, but instead, keep them informed of the case status.
Buck nodded when he sat down and Tanner began. “Welcome back JD, we’ve missed you.”
“It’s good to be back. You guys give me twenty four hours and I’ll be caught up with the rest of you.”
“We’ll hold you to that.” Vin waited for everyone to finished saying welcome. “Startin’ today, I not only get to be your tormentor from hell in the trainin’ room, I’m also in charge of you yahoos. Chris is officially out on assignment and the man that is sittin’ over there is not Commander Lar’bee, but Adam Carmichael…or he will be when Ez is finished with him.”
Chris grinned, “That is if I don’t finish him first.” Most everyone laughed and they began to relax.
“Josiah made it safely to California and is already set in his new role at the mission in Costa Mesa. Chris and Raphael or Adam and Creed will be joinin’ him there after today. Justin AKA Billy Ray is waitin’ on a phone call to set his part of this operation into motion. Paul will be Josiah’s contact man here and pass him whatever information he needs from us. Ezra will be callin’ the shots on the covert ops and will keep me advised of how events are unfoldin’ in Costa Mesa.
On the home front the case is heatin’ up. Our trafficker is on the move and we have identified three other cities involved with this syndicate. Phoenix, Arizona, Las Vegas, and Carson City, Nevada, and it seems that Seattle, Washington is the next stop on the list for these guys. We have secured the cooperation of the Phoenix police department, the Nevada State police and the State police in Washington. When the last drop off is completed we will take down all the locations in sync with the other involved law enforcement agencies. Buck, you want to update us on Sorenson?”
“We executed the warrant this morning and searched his home. His wife and two children were in residence at the time. A thorough search led us to proof that he was involved in the conspiracy to kidnap Caleb Evans and to a second location that Sorenson used for his secret life style. Jed Alders procured a warrant and met us there where we found…an assortment of kiddy porn, explicit sex tapes, pictures, restraints and other…tools of the trade. We confiscated two of his computers that Greg and Kat will be bringing up with the other logged in evidence shortly. Sorenson’s arraignment is this afternoon and Alders is confident that he can keep the suspect off the streets of Denver.”
Larabee and Tanner both recognized that Buck was wound up tight and it was taking a huge effort on his part to stay in control.
“That will take care of Sorenson. Kel, what about Caleb? Did he talk to the counselor about what happened to him and Danny?” Vin questioned.
“He did open up and tell her what he could remember, but ‘m afraid it won’t help much.” Kelli did not want to go into details.
Nathan spoke up. “Caleb either is or is not a material witness. If he is then we need his statement and we keep him in protective custody. If he’s not he should be returned to California without delay.”
Kelli‘s temper flared. “I have his statement Nathan, and that child is NOT goin’ back to California. I don’t know what your damn problem is with Caleb, but I strongly suggest that you get over it!”
Chris started to stand up and intervene, but then he sat back in his chair and decided to let Tanner handle it. Two angry Larabee’s was one too many and Kel did not seem to need help to get her point across to Nathan.
Vin deliberately kept the anger of out his words and spoke softly. “Kel, just tell us what he does remember.”
Tanner’s softly spoken words had the desired effect. Kelli’s anger began to fade, and she repeated a shorten version of Caleb’s story. “Caleb and Danny were the last ones on the playground at recess Tuesday afternoon. Their job was to put away the bats and balls the other kids had used. He and Danny were talkin’ and never heard the two men that grabbed them or saw their faces. The boys were blindfolded and thrown into a vehicle that he thinks could have been a van. The boys were scared, cryin’, and told to stay quiet. He did remember hearin’ one of the men say, ‘Two sweet treats, as ordered, one vanilla and one chocolate.’ They were taken somewhere and forced to get into a box, probably the delivery crates that we saw. After that he said that he either cried or slept. He received no water or food and could only feel the movement of the box, sometimes a hard jolt.”
Mark interrupted. “Did he understand what the men were talking about?”
“No, thank God, and he still doesn’t. Anyway once the box was opened he was kept blindfolded. He worried because he couldn’t tell if Danny was there too. Someone took him and made him bathe to get cleaned up and he said he felt hands on him that he thought maybe belonged to a lady. He was dressed in clean clothes and told again to keep his mouth shut, while they took his picture. They then left him in a small locked room downstairs. He was too frightened to do anythin’ else, but did hear bits and pieces of conversation. After a while they came for him, made him get into an even smaller box and put into another vehicle. We know what happened after that, the smaller box was the dog carrier and the vehicle was Sorenson’s car.”
“They must have given him some water of food. Didn’t they?” Serena was almost in tears thinking about what it must have felt like to a six-year-old.
Kelli shook her head no. “The first water or food that he had since he was abducted was at the hospital. I understood enough of what he overhead to know that the only thing they cared about was that he was virgin merchandise, and dark-skinned. That was what Sorenson was paying $25,000 to receive.”
Silence reigned around the table until Buck started talking. “Take Caleb and multiply him a hundred times over. Keep in mind that the goal we want to reach is to rescue more kids like him and put away the bastards that are selling them.”
“We will stay on top of that u-haul and be on standby status for the duration on this operation. We…” Vin was interrupted when ‘Billy Ray’s’ cell phone rang, Justin picked it up and left the room. “JD, when Greg and Kat get here, I want you in charge of the evidence. Get into those computers and I want you to dig into the files, and then the information in goes into CASSIE”S databanks. Use the conflict room to store it all and keep it locked. The rest of you stay close to your own phones and carry on with your assigned duties. I’ll see most of you after work in the trainin’ room, dismissed.”
Justin walked back in as some of the agents were leaving. Only Chris, Vin. Buck, Ezra, Nathan and Kelli remained. “That was Costa Mesa PD. They want me there at ten in the morning for an interview.”
“Then I suggest that we practice for that interview this afternoon. We’ll meet in one hour and go over what Billy Ray needs to do to get hired.” Ezra instructed.
Chris had been quiet, but he had to ask. “Kel, how do you plan to keep Caleb in Colorado, now that he is not needed as a witness?”
“Vin and I decided to do what was necessary for him to stay, and I spoke to our attorney this mornin’. We are applying to be his legal guardians until we can find him lovin’ parents of his own. Barbara has already set the wheels into motion, by filin’ our petition with the court.”
Nathan smirked. “What happens if you don’t find him a new home?”
“I have no doubt that we will.” Vin answered firmly. “For the record though, he has a home with us, for as long as it takes.”
Kelli’s cell phone rang. “Hi I was… “She listened. “Are you okay? …Yeah, I’ll be right down, just stay calm.” She closed her phone and turned to Vin. “It seems that we’re not the only ones with jobs that are dangerous. I need to go to the courthouse; some disgruntled parent set off a small bomb in the family court center. Apparently there were no major injuries, but Barbara was at the courthouse at the time. She thinks she is all right, just shook up but…”
Vin stopped her and replied as he watched Ezra for his reaction. “Go, and call me if you need me.”
Ezra stood and declared. “I am going with you.”
“That’s not necessary Ezra. She called me, and…specifically asked me to come alone.” She hesitated. “I will call you and let you know how she is.” Kelli left without another word.
Standish was already one the phone with the head of security at the courthouse and yelling. “This is FEDERAL AGENT Ezra Standish! I want to know how anyone can get into that courtroom with a bomb! What in the hell are you running down there a kindergarten class for security agents?”
The undercover agent paced back and forth in a tight area of space, his lithe body coiled tight as he listened to the words of whomever was speaking to him on the other end of his cell phone. Chris, Buck, Nathan, and Vin watched their teammate as he paced, muttering under his breath words like “illiterate over grown orangutan with shit for brains, ‘Neanderthal’, and ‘imbeciles who wouldn’t know their guns from their asses.’
“Uh-oh…he’s so out of his head he’s resorted to usin’ language we can understand.” Vin commented to his fellow agents.
“Who put together your training manuals, Bart Simpson?” Standish yelled into his cell phone. “An Irish Setter has better observation skills than Larry, Curly, and Moe, who must make up the leadership positions of your security force.”
“I think that may be an insult to Moe.” Nathan whispered to his friends, making mental observations of Standish’s erratic behavior.
“I swear if I don’t get a full accounting of what transpired on my desk by the end of the business day, this is going to get ugly. “ Standish continued. “And I have friends who don’t like ugly.”
Buck grinned proudly at Standish and said, “That’s my boy.”
“And if it’s NOT on my desk your worst nightmare will come knocking on the door in the ominous form of Special Agent Chris Larabee.”
Vin, Buck, And Nathan lost all control of the laughter they had been suppressing as they continued to listen to Ezra’s heated tirade. Vin collapsed against the wall, shaking with laughter, while Buck and Nathan fell into each other, laughing so hard that they could barely stand on their own feet.
Larabee who had been struggling with his own laughter, immediately sobered, and after shooting a glare in the direction of his hysterical cohorts turned his attention onto the squirrelly Southerner and said, “Standish, that’s not funny.”
Larabee’s words hit him like a bolt of lightning quickly returning Standish to his senses. He paled momentarily under the twin cannons of green fire aimed in his direction. The cell phone suddenly felt hot to the touch. He took a deep breath, straightened his shoulders and spoke softly into the phone, “I’ll be expecting the disposition of your inquiry into this matter.”
Vin pushed off from the wall, wiping his face with the sleeve of his shirt, and took one look at the ‘deer in headlights’ expression on Ezra’s face, and dissolved into laughter again.
Ezra nervously brushed at the sleeves of his jacket, trying to compose himself. “Gentlemen, I apologize for my atrocious misuse of the King’s English. But I fear I may be a tad upset.”
“You think?” Larabee stated coolly.
More laughter erupted from the three out of control agents.
The door opened suddenly and Justin entered the room. Quickly accessing the situation, he looked from Ezra’s stricken pallor, to the three hysterical agents leaning against the wall, before catching sight of his commanding officer’s deadly glare.
Being a wise man, Michaels quickly started to back out of the room, stating as he moved, “I just came in here to let you know I can handle that interview on my own. I’ll be in the bull pen if you need me.” His voice trailed off as he closed the door behind him.
“As soon as you hyenas are finished cackling, we’ve got work to do.” Larabee said, unmistakably annoyed.
Vin’s cell phone rang. He quickly reached for it, realizing it was Kelli calling him by her special ring tone, Yellow Rose of Texas, and worked quickly to compose himself as he answered it. “What’s the situation over there?”
Buck and Nathan quit laughing, as all four agents waited for Tanner to relay to them the extent of Barbara’s injuries back to them.
Tanner listened for a few more moments as Kelli filled him in on the situation at the courthouse, before hanging up. He turned toward the others and said, “Apparently Barbara was thrown back into a wall and hit her head. Kelli’s insisting that she have her injury examined, and is personally driving Barbara to Denver Memorial.”
Vin was certain that Ezra was contemplating doing something that was even more foolish and out of character than his usage of common words in his tirade of a few minutes ago. “Buck, Kel has her pager on if you need her. Chris, would you pull the covert ops team in here? We’ll set our plans for the next phase of this operation, but give me ten minutes before we start. Ez, I need to see you in my office.”
Standish hesitated momentarily, but decided to followed Tanner to his office, and shut the door behind him. He waited for Vin to begin the lecture he knew he deserved, but was met with Tanner’s silence instead.
“Well, aren’t you going to tell me I’m crazy? That I deserve to be so damn miserable because I brought this disastrous situation on myself?” Ezra walked over to the window and stared out at the city below. “Go ahead, you tried to tell me and did I listen? NO! I did not!”
“Ez, I asked you in here because I thought you might need a quiet place to think and a friend to listen if you want to talk.” Vin waited while Ezra pulled his thoughts together.
“I am not an inexperienced adolescent. My life has been one of decorum and refinement, and I do not do anything haphazardly or without reason.” Ezra sighed deeply. “Then one woman transformed all that. Barbara came into my life like a breath of fresh air and everything changed. Suddenly, I am talking to goldfish, rising early on Saturdays to traipse from one yard sale to another and enjoying it. Do you have any idea what it feels like to find out that what you thought was a full and complete life was…boring?”
The Texan chuckled. “You’re talkin’ to a man whose life hasn’t been the same since he crossed paths with a certain spirited redhead.”
“If that was Kel in that emergency room, you would be there.”
“Damn straight I would,” Tanner admitted. “ But …if I shut her out of my life the way you did Barbara, then I’d have to do some serious damage control before she’d see me. Especially after the big deal I made in Texas about us workin’ together, but you were there and you know that she thought she was protectin’ me.”
“Who are you kidding Vin? Kel wouldn’t let you get away with doing something that stupid in the first place any more than you would her.”
Tanner voice took on a serious tone. “Now she wouldn’t because she is confident enough about me lovin’ her that she knows we can work though anythin’. We do have some lively conversations and disagreements though, spirited for sure. But in the beginning…If I had shown her any doubts, even for the right reasons, she would have been gone. In fact she tried to shut me out one other time, but I knew from my own experiences that it was her uncertainties takin’ control of her actions. She mistakenly believed that if I knew about her past that I’d walk away.”
“The point is that you did not do the pushing away, and you did not allow her too” Ezra lamented. “I foolishly did the shutting out and Barbara did not try to stop me. She’s old enough to know better, but…Hell… I’m the one that let her walk away.”
Vin leaned forward. “Kel was old enough to know better, too, but she was too insecure about us to talk to me about it. She was also too inexperienced to understand that some things concernin’ the heart are out of our control. I never claimed to be an expert with women, but I did know that I had to be patient and let her learn to trust me. It took time before she was certain enough about our relationship that she would discuss important issues with me and not pull back.”
“Dear brother, you were much more patient and fair with Kel than I have been with Barbara, I fear. I did not want to see her get hurt because of my work and in retrospect I see that I should have discussed that with her. Instead I practically threw her out of my life. I wanted to protect her and now she’s hurt because of her work, not mine. I need her back with me, but if I rush down to the hospital, I know that she won’t see me. How in the hell do I fix this?” Ezra implored, looking at Tanner with pain filled emerald eyes.
“I don’t have the answer to that Ezra, but I do know that you’re a smart man. I‘m sure you can figure out a way to let her know that you’ve come to your senses.” The Texan stood up. “Let’s take care of business and then you put that Standish brain to work on winnin’ back your lady’s heart.”
“Contrary to what you may believe Vin, you are a connoisseur of people, and your instincts about your friends and family are superlative.” Ezra smiled at the perplexed look on Tanner’s face. “I am trying to say thank you friend for listening.”
“Hell Ez, you’d do the same for me, in fact I seem to recall your voice of reason screamin’ at me in Texas last year” Tanner grinned. “That’s what brothers do.”
“Touché, now as Chris would say, let’s get this show on the road.”
Standish and Tanner joined the group that was already assembled in the conference room. Ezra was back in control and began to review their plans for the next twenty-four hours.
He okay now?
He will be, Chris.
“Gentlemen, are you prepared for the next few weeks?”
Raphael answered first. “My family knows I am going under and we have our contingency plan in place.”
“What kind of contingency plan?” Justin questioned, wondering if he had done enough for his own family.
“The usual details I take care of when I go undercover. Important documents, such as my will and power of attorney are signed and accessible to my daughters. They also know to take particular precautions about any strangers that may come into their lives asking questions when I’m under. If they encounter an extreme emergency or have any out of the ordinary contacts, they will get in touch with Vin. They know that they will have to work things out on their own until I get back, if there are any problems, but they will not hesitate to advise Tanner if they are uneasy about any special situations.” Raphael explained.
“I’ve sent Linda to visit with her family. It gives her something else to think about besides me, and I know she will be safe with them. Vin has my POA and my will with a list of instructions to carry out if anything goes wrong and I don’t make it back. We have also arranged extra security at the ranch. I don’t believe that we’ll have any problems, but I feel better knowing that it’s done.” Chris added.
Justin nodded thoughtfully. “I have done most of that, but I probably should warn my wife about any strange contacts and tell her to call Vin if she has any uneasy feelings.”
“Give Beth my personal cell and home number too. Tell her to feel free to call anytime, day or night. Part of my job is to support y’all and to be there for your families if they need anythin’ or have questions.” Vin assured and then questioned Ezra. “Do we have the contact with Donner in place?”
“Yes, Sam put the word out that he knew where Donner could find replacements for Ray and Juan. Donner is expecting to meet with Adam Carmichael and Creed Cortez at a strip club in Santa Ana called The Silver Slipper, tomorrow night. Josiah is in place at the homeless mission in Costa Mesa and will be expecting to hear from each of you on a scheduled basis. One missed check in call will raise an alarm, but two consecutive ones will have the cavalry coming in to pull you out.”
“I want these bastards, but understand this. If at any time you feel as if your cover may have been compromised I want you out. Same thing goes for Vin; if he receives information that may put any of us in jeopardy he will make the call to abort this operation.” Chris wanted to make certain everyone was clear. “This is NOT a mission that we will pursue at any cost. I value my agents too much to risk sacrificing any one of them for the sake of making a case.”
Ezra cleared his throat. “Speaking from personal experience, I suggest you heed Commander Larabees’ words.” Standish then passed out three packets.” Inside, you will find your airline tickets, credit cards in your assumed names, and five hundred dollars in cash. You each have a clean cell phone to use and I expect you to memorize your contact schedule. Justin, your flight leaves at five in the morning; you will fly to LAX and commute to Long Beach where a car will be waiting for you and then drive to Costa Mesa. Once you are hired then make living arrangements for yourself. Whatever funds you need will be available on your credit card. Chris, you and Raphael will leave at ten tomorrow morning, same route, and then you know the drill from there. Paul will be responsible for keeping tabs on your cell phone and monetary activities. Are there any questions?”
“I’m going to talk to Travis and advise him of our plans. I have a few things to take care of here before I go, so if any of you want to leave early, feel free. Buck will be here monitoring his group and between the task force and the two of us we call handle anything that comes up. Vin is driving me and Raphael to the airport tomorrow. Justin do you need one of us to take you?”
“No, I’ve got it covered, thanks. I do have a question though. What’s to stop them from checking the fights and finding out that I did not fly in from Tennessee?”
Ezra grinned. “That’s the magic of computers Justin or to be more specific, the amazing abilities of CASSIE. Billy Ray Hackett left Tennessee early this afternoon on a flight to LAX as well as reserved a rental car, and if any one checks it can be confirmed. We will take care of covering your background and any inquires will be addressed from here.”
Justin leaned back and smiled. “Then, I guess I’m set and good to go.”
Tanner smiled. “Seein’ that this is y’all’s last night at home, I am cancellin’ the trainin’ exercise for today.” He was bombarded with balls of scrunched up paper from his ‘grateful’ teammates.
Chris exited the elevator and smiled at Suzanne. “I need ten minutes with the man.”
Suzanne shook her head. “That smile will get you nowhere Larabee, but it just so happens that the director is free. Follow me.” She opened the door to Travis’ office and announced Commander Larabee.
“Chris, am I to assume by your appearance that we are getting close to losing you for a while?” Orrin knew that somewhere under that look was the real Chris Larabee.
“Actually, that is why I’m here. I leave tomorrow morning.” Chris gave Travis a folder. “This contains all the details of our operation, as promised, and we’re all good to go.”
Orrin looked over the file. “I talked to my friend and he has the full support of State Senator Bryant Hansen to continue his investigation, Costa Mesa is in his district and he wants to stay informed of the AG’s finding. Aside from being senator the man is a very successful businessman from San Diego and backs all candidates that are strong advocates for law enforcement.”
“How much does this man know about our involvement?” Chris asked warily.
“None, the AG has managed to hold MCAT’s part in this separate. No one knows except him that he has asked for our help and I fully anticipate that that will not change.”
“I hope not, we do not need any political complications. I don’t like have the team split up as it is and…”Chris sighed. “Never mind I’m just ready to make this happen. Vin will keep you up to date on the situation in California and with the task force.” Larabee stood up to leave.
“Chris, do not take any unnecessary chances, and take care.” Travis shook his hand and then watched Larabee walk out of his office. Orrin knew that Larabee was well aware of what he was doing and of the risks involved, but he still could not shake the feeling that there were some rough waters ahead for Chris and MCAT on this one.
Dr. Landers was convinced that Barbara was not seriously injured. However he did suggest that someone be with her for the next few hours because anytime the head was involved he preferred to proceed with caution. Kelli took her friend home and called Buck to let him know that she was available to work if needed.
“Keep your pager on, and if I need you I’ll call, but I think we are several days away from any action. You take care of Barbara, and I’ll see you tomorrow.” Buck knew that Kelli would come back to the office, if necessary.
“Barb, I’m stayin’ so you go change into somethin’ comfortable, while I invade your kitchen and find us some food.” Kelli ordered.
“I am certain that I will be fine, but thanks for being here Kel. Since I have always concentrated on my work, I have become acquainted with many people, but you are one of a very few that I consider a close friend.” Barbara actually had not considered anyone a close friend until she met Kelli at the CASA meetings and for some reason they had just clicked. They came from different backgrounds, but still had much in common. Both had been isolated from the normal growing process for children. Barbara at private girls’ schools with only bi-yearly visits from her parents and Kelli had spent most of her growing-up years alone. Each one had poured their interest into their work early in life and not on pursuing the opposite sex.
“Then, this friend says, you’re welcome, now let me snoop in your kitchen and I need to call Vin to let him know that I’m stayin’.”
Barbara changed and then stretched out on the couch. Kelli had made tea and put together a fruit plate for them to snack on. Both women were comfortable in each others presence and passed the time talking.
“I did manage to obtain the guardianship order from the judge before that idiot decided to blow up the courtroom. Are you and Vin ready to take on a third child?”
“Sure, Caleb is no problem. He is a sweet kid that has had some bad breaks in his young life. Carmen is certain that we can find him a lovin’ home and he can stay with us as long as it takes to do that.”
Barbara laughed. “Kel, you would take him on as well as every other kid that out there needing a home. I have a feeling that you may become one of my most active clients.”
“You’re right, but I believe that Vin would draw the line somewhere. We’re blessed to have Jason and Andi and we still hope to have a baby or two someday. We did see the doctor you recommended and she convinced Vin that my situation might not be as risk involved as we were told before. Dr. Weeks explained that one is six couples in America have problems getting’ pregnant and then she gave me a prescription along with a barrage of shots that she believes will help. If we get lucky and it works, then I’ll have to be monitored closely but she thinks there is a high probability for a good outcome.”
“I’ve known Helen Weeks for several years and she has saved many women from having unnecessary surgery. Several of them now have healthy, happy babies, and I hope you have the chance to be another one of her successes.” Barbara looked over at Kelli. “You do know how lucky you are already I hope. You and Vin are great with kids and have a great marriage. You seem to have missed the problems the rest of us have making relationships work.”
Kelli laughed. “Oh we’ve had our share. I did everything possible to keep Vin at arm’s length, but I have to give him credit, he never gave up on me.”
“I have a hard time believing that. I thought…” Barbara wasn’t sure what she thought.
“You thought that you and Ezra were the only ones that could crash a relationship?” Kelli shook her head. “I tried every way I knew to make Vin behave the way I expected him to. He saw through my efforts though and stood firm. I was scared Barbara, I thought that once Vin figured out what an emotional mess I was that he would run the opposite direction. It took him the longest time to convince me that he was not going anywhere.”
“I didn’t push Ezra away; he did that on his own.”
“Maybe, I suppose that he believed that he had a good reason.” Kelli hesitated and then decided to tell Barbara about her own foolishness. “Last year, when I went to Texas and found out the truth about my biological family, I ran. I mistakenly thought that I was protectin’ Vin by doin’ so. I didn’t care about myself, but I could not stand the idea that he could be hurt because of me.”
Barbara sat up and wanted to know more. “So what happened? Obviously something changed your mind.”
“Vin happened. He tracked me down and let me know in no uncertain terms that whatever we had to face, we would do it together. Ezra was with him and saw for himself that I was wrong in thinkin’ that I could just walk away. That’s why it surprised me that Ez would try to do the same thing.”
“Ezra thinks that he is protecting me?” Suddenly everything fell into place for Barbara. “Of course he does! Barbara Lindsey you are the idiot! Why didn’t I see this myself? I have spent the last few weeks trying to figure out what I did wrong and it wasn’t me after all. If he thinks that he can get away with this that man has a lot to learn about me!”
Watching Barbara talk to herself had Kelli chuckling. “So what are you going to do about it?”
“I will need your help, but before this day ends Ezra P. Standish will know where he belongs!
Chris was hanging up the phone when Vin walked into his office. “I take it that Linda and Grace made it okay?”
“Yep, and Grace is the center of attention with all those kids. Luke and his wife have eight of their own.” Chris laughed. “Lord I hope Linda doesn’t expect us to catch up with them.”
“You might not catch up Cowboy, but think of the fun you can have trying.” Tanner grinned. “I came in to let you know that we expect you to have breakfast with us and the kids. Afterwards, we’ll pick up Raphael and take you two to the airport in the mornin’”
“That sounds good to me. I want to finish up a few things here and I’ll leave the information Travis gave me on your desk before I close up shop. When are you going home?”
“I’m waiting to hear from Kel now; she has the truck at Barbara’s.” Tanner’s cell phone rang and he knew it was Kelli. “Hey baby, how’s it goin’?” Vin listened, “Yeah I can do that, if your sure…Okay see you in about twenty minutes.” He hung up and sighed. “I’m not certain what she and Barbara are up to, but she wants me to have Ez drive us over to Barbara’s apartment.”
“Uh oh, that does not sound good for Ezra. You go on, I’ll see you in the morning,” Chris smiled. “I’ll expect to hear all the details.”
Tanner left Larabees’ office and tracked down Ezra. They departed within five minutes and headed to Ms. Lindsey’s apartment.
“Are you certain that she requested me to come?” Ezra was surprisingly nervous.
“Yep ‘m sure, and Barbara knows that you are comin’. Relax Ez; this is your chance to start makin’ amends.”
“I would be more relaxed if I had planned this myself.”
Tanner knocked on the door and Kelli opened it, keys in hand and ready to leave. Barbara stood behind her and was only waiting for Kelli to do her part before she spoke.
“Vin let’s go, if we hurry we still have time to have dinner with the kids.” The Texan was a bit surprised, but he did not argue.
“We’ll see you later, Barb.” He whispered to Ezra, “Damage control, remember.”
The Tanners closed the door behind them and that left Ezra standing alone to face Barbara.
“Ezra, we need to talk.”
Standish knew the moment that he saw Barbara that he had been incredibly foolish in thinking that he could give this woman up so easily. Immense relief flooded through him to see that she was really okay and he silently vowed that he would do whatever it took to gain back her trust. “Barbara... There is no excuse for my recent dreadful behavior and I am truly sorry that my foolish action have caused you distress”.
“You should be Ezra, but then I suppose my behavior has been lacking also. I’m afraid I reverted to my insecure younger self and failed to recognize the signs that were flashing in front of me. I should have realized that you were trying to protect me; instead I reacted as an immature schoolgirl. Make no mistake, your words hurt like hell and it will take some time to repair that, but I will never allow you to do that to me again. If we are to have any chance for a future, it has to be together and we need to talk about the things that we are feeling.”
Ezra looked into her beautiful hazel eyes and saw the hurt, but he also saw that the love she had for him was still there too. “Barbara, I love you and I do want a future with you. I know I have no right to expect your forgiveness and I am willing to wait for as long as it takes, but I need to know that we still have a chance.”
Barbara knew without a doubt that she loved the man standing before her, she also knew that he was not used to being open with his feelings. A chance? Hell yes, but it would take time and patience. “If you mean that Ezra, then we start now. We must have open communications between us, and no more one-sided decisions. Whatever comes, we face together and I am warning you. If you’re in, you in for the full run so if you need time to think about it I understand.”
Ezra knew that his life as he knew it would change with the decision he was about to make. No more hiding the real Ezra Standish, no more secrets, and no more solo decisions, but he found that all of that did not matter anymore. He loved Barbara and come hell or high water he wanted her in his life. “I don’t need time to think about it. I want you back in my life and I promise, no more running. We’ll take the time to communicate and whatever happens in the future will happen for both of us. Tonight, let me take care of you and then tomorrow when you feel better we’ll talk more about our future.’
Relieved to hear that they still had a future to talk about Barbara was ready to give in to the exhaustion of the days events. “Deal Standish.”